Ecumenism and the Gospel Preacher

Dan PhillipsI very much enjoyed reading this article entitled “My night at the preachapalooza” by Pastor Dan Phillips (original source here):

Once upon a time, when I was a pastor in a very small town, the Ministerial Association decided to have a Good Friday service. They invited me to preach. Six others, and me.

I had declined to join the Association, since I was new, busy enough, and saw real no purpose in it. As I recall, it featured a Mormon clergyman, a female clergytype, a Roman Catholic, an Episcopalian, and a few others. Nice enough folks, I suppose, and you could argue this way and that — but I just saw no reason to join.

Nevertheless, they asked me to preach at a sunrise service, and I said “Sure.” Again, later, they asked me to preach at this service. I said “Sure!” My philosophy of preaching is this: if someone asks you, do it. If I can preach, I do it. Anywhere, anytime. I can only recall choosing to turn down one invitation, and that was both a special case and a very hard call for me.

Their plan was actually to have a preach-a-thon. Seven clergy preaching on the seven last words of Christ from the cross. One saying per preacher.

I could not have been more delighted with my assignment: John 19:30 — “When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” Tetelestai — I was praising God!

So comes the night of the preachapalooza, and it’s all flowing along well enough. I mean there were no explosions, no bloodshed. In fact, I don’t remember anything about the sermons preceding mine — except for one.

The sermon was on this passage:

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. (John 19:26-27)

To whom did the assigner, in his wisdom, allot this text? To the Roman Catholic priest. (I imagine that he, in his way, was just as happy with his assignment as I was with mine.)

Now, “Father” Chester was a very nice man. We had dinner once, and enjoyed a nice talk. I had the opportunity of telling him the Gospel. It was as if he had never heard it before. In his fifties, from the Old Country, Roman Catholic priest — yet no sign that he had a clue about the Gospel.

But on this night he spoke of something clearly very dear to his heart, something he did know well, something for which he had great enthusiasm: the adoration of Mary. From this text, Chester drew the application that Mary is mother to all of us, for Jesus entrusted us to her, and her to us. As we keep a picture of our mothers in our wallets, we should keep a picture of Mary in our wallets. And, if we have needs, we should tell them to Mary. It will work now just as it did on earth: we tell Mary what we need, Mary tells Jesus what to do, and, like a good Son, He does it.

As Chester preached, two things happened:

The audience grew very quiet.

And I re-composed my sermon.

When I came to the pulpit, I had a brand-new introduction. It went something like this:

I love to hike in the Sierra. One time recently I was on a hike, by myself. I had gone four or five miles back to a beautiful lake. Circling around to the back side of the lake, I took some pictures. Up the rocky shore, I saw a spot that looked like it would be a perfect vantage point for a great picture. So I started to make my way across the rocks to this spot — when suddenly the bank gave away under my feet! The rocks tumbled and rolled, and so did I. In a flash, I found myself dunked in the lake.

I was fine, but what a terrible feeling it was. It’s a terrible feeling to trust yourself to something, to put all your weight on it, confidently, and then find that it can’t hold you. It’s a terrible feeling when your support collapses from under you. It’s a terrible feeling when the very ground gives way beneath you, and you fall.

To what shall we trust our souls? To whom? Who or what can bear our weight, the weight of our sin and guilt, of our immortal selves? If we trust our souls to any mere mortal, no matter how holy or saintly, no matter how godly — they are sinners, too, and they cannot hold us. They will collapse. Joseph cannot hold us. He would collapse. Mary cannot save us. She would give way. No mere child of Adam can hold the weight of our sin and need. All would dissolve into rubble beneath us.

Only Jesus can support us. He shows us this in His cry from the Cross: It is finished!

Know well: this is no cry of despair. Jesus does not say, “I am finished.” No, it is a cry of victory. The Greek tetelestai means that it has been brought to consummation, to perfect completion. The word was used of bills that had been “paid in full.”

When our Lord cries thus on the Cross, He is signifying that He, He Himself, He alone in His own person, had fully paid every last farthing, every penny, of His people’s debt to God. He had left nothing undone of what the Father’s plan of salvation required. Alone, unaided, hanging on the cross, under the holy wrath of God for sinners, Jesus Christ made full atonement for all the sins of His people.

And now we believe Jesus, or we do not. If we look to “Jesus-and” — to Jesus and our pastor, to Jesus and Mary, to Jesus and any other mortal or any other sect or any other practice or any other thing — then we do not believe Jesus. We do not accept His word, “It is finished.”

We must look to Jesus, to Jesus alone, for salvation. We must trust ourselves to the One who cried “It is finished!”

…and a few other thoughts. The temperature lifted a bit, and a few “Amen”s were heard.

Chester lived next door to me. A few days after the service, he waved to me. “Pray for me, the sinner!” he called out. “I do,” I answered.

But as far as I know, he stayed with Rome.

The Same God?

Various articles…

MohlerDo Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God? – an article by Dr. Al Mohler (original source)

A statement made by a professor at a leading evangelical college has become a flashpoint in a controversy that really matters. In explaining why she intended to wear a traditional Muslim hijab over the holiday season in order to symbolize solidarity with her Muslim neighbors, the professor asserted that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.

Is this true?

The answer to that question depends upon a distinctly Christian and clearly biblical answer to yet another question: Can anyone truly worship the Father while rejecting the Son?

The Christian’s answer to that question must follow the example of Christ. Jesus himself settled the question when he responded to Jewish leaders who confronted him after he had said “I am the light of the world.” When they denied him, Jesus said, “If you knew me, you would know my Father also” (John 8:19). Later in that same chapter, Jesus used some of the strongest language of his earthly ministry in stating clearly that to deny him is to deny the Father.

Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God. Christians worship the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and no other god. We know the Father through the Son, and it is solely through Christ’s atonement for sin that salvation has come. Salvation comes to those who confess with their lips that Jesus Christ is Lord and believe in their hearts that God has raised him from the dead (Romans 10:9). The New Testament leaves no margin for misunderstanding. To deny the Son is to deny the Father.

To affirm this truth is not to argue that non-Christians, our Muslim neighbors included, know nothing true about God or to deny that the three major monotheistic religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — share some major theological beliefs. All three religions affirm that there is only one God and that he has spoken to us by divine revelation. All three religions point to what each claims to be revealed scriptures. Historically, Jews and Christians and Muslims have affirmed many points of agreement on moral teachings. All three theological worldviews hold to a linear view of history, unlike many Asian worldviews that believe in a circular view of history. Continue reading

Ecumenism: Perspective of an Italian Protestant Pastor in the City of Rome

Leonardo De Chirico​Leonardo De Chirico is pastor of the Church Breccia di Roma and lecturer in historical theology at the Instituto di Formazione Evangelica e Documentazione IFED in Padova. He blogs on Vatican and Roman Catholic issues from an evangelical perspective at Vatican Files. His recent article, “Roman Catholic Ecumenism: Let the Italian Evangelicals Speak” is well worth reading. Original source here.

Defining it as “historical” may be an overstatement. However, what happened on July 19 is a landmark in 150 years of Italian evangelicalism. For the first time ever, nearly 100 percent of Italian evangelical churches and bodies (85 percent of the 500.000 Italian Protestants) signed a common statement reinforcing their evangelical commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ. This statement provides biblical standards to assess the mounting ecumenical pressure coming from the Roman Catholic Church to expand its catholicity at the expense of biblical truth.

Never before have Italian evangelicals reached such a large consensus and spoken with one voice on such a crucial topic. The churches and bodies that endorsed this statement represent the near totality of evangelicals who have a conservative Protestant theology and a strong evangelistic commitment.

No Minority Report

Italy is a unique place. Vatican City is “in” Italy, exercising widespread influence. The Roman Catholic Church has been a major religious, cultural, and political force for centuries. Religious minorities have been persecuted for ages. The Italian Reformation gave to the wider church some excellent men in the 16th and 17th centuries (including Peter Martyr Vermigli, Jerome Zanchi, and Francis Turretini) but was prevented from taking root in the country. Still today the situation is unbalanced with the Roman Catholic Church having enormous privileges while other religious groups are discriminated. Italian evangelicals have many reasons to be resentful. However, this is not the point of the new statement. With this document they are sending the message that their assessment is not a result of historical frustration. They want to look at Roman Catholicism according to biblical principles. It is not a minority report. It wants to be a truly biblical report.

Italian evangelicals are increasingly puzzled by the way in which evangelicals globally relate to the Roman Catholic Church and to Pope Francis in particular. Some analysis is based on personal impressions or the seemingly evangelical language of the pope, or on truncated bits of information that fall short of taking notice of the complexity of Roman Catholicism. There is much naiveté and superficiality. The wider evangelical Protestant family needs to hear the voice of their Italian fellow-brothers and sisters who look at Roman Catholicism from inside and with long experience in dealing with its full ideological and symbolic force.

‘Italian Evangelicals on Contemporary Catholicism’

Here is the full text:

Following a round table promoted by the Italian Evangelical Alliance, the Federation of Pentecostal Churches, the Assemblies of God in Italy, the Apostolic Church, and the Pentecostal Congregations held in Aversa on 19th July 2014 at the Pentecostal College of Religious Sciences on the topic of “Roman Catholicism in Evangelical Perspective,” the above mentioned churches and bodies, being alerted by the recent ecumenical openings by national and international evangelical and Pentecostal circles with regards to the Roman Catholic Church and its present-day pontiff, without passing judgment on the faith of individual people, believe nonetheless that it is incompatible with the teaching of Scripture to have a church that operates as mediator of salvation and that presents other figures as mediators of grace since God’s grace comes to us by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8) and without the agency of other mediators (1 Timothy 2:5).

They also believe that it is incompatible with biblical teaching to have a church that took the liberty to add dogmas (such as the Marian dogmas) to the faith once and for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3; Revelation 22:18).

They also believe that it is incompatible with the teaching of Scripture to have a church whose heart is a political state that is a legacy of an “imperial” church from which it has inherited titles and prerogatives. Christian churches must refrain from imitating “the princes of this world” and follow the example of Jesus who came to serve and not to be served (Mark 10:42-45).

Furthermore they also believe that what appear to be similarities with the evangelical faith and spirituality of sectors of Roman Catholicism are not in themselves reasons for hope in a true change.

All the standing theological and ethical differences considered, they cannot initiate nor advocate for ecumenical initiatives with regard to the Roman Catholic Church.

They invite all evangelicals at the national and international levels to exercise a healthy biblical discernment (1 John 4:1) without falling into unionist initiatives that are contrary to Scripture and instead renew their commitment to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to the whole world (Matthew 28:18-20).

Why “Reconciled Diversity” is Not the Way Forward

“Reconciled diversity” is a technical expression in ecumenical theology firstly used by 20th-century Lutheran theologian Oscar Culmann. More and more evangelicals think that this is the way forward. It basically means that you agree to disagree and that you accept your ecumenical partner as is.

However, the Roman Catholic Church is not a simple denomination. It is a church-state, with a monarch, political claims, and an army. It has never renounced any unbiblical dogma of the past and has all the apparatus in place to exercise “imperial” practices. Do we really want to say that we accept to be different with such an entity? While it is true that evangelicals should point to the fact that we are united with those who trust in Christ alone for their salvation, they should still find the Catholic church as an institution to be in need of radical reformation according to the Word of God. There is no “reconciled diversity” with sin and rebellion and with “arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Quite the contrary!

If evangelicals apply the “reconciled diversity” approach to the Roman Catholic Church as it stands they will stop being a prophetic voice according to the gospel, and they will become part of the present-day religious cacophony. The Bible warns God’s people to make alliances with a “splintered reed of a staff which pierces the hand of anyone who leans on it” (2 Kings 18:21). Biblically speaking, “reconciled diversity” grossly misunderstands the nature of the Roman Catholic Church and fails to be faithful to the task of maintaining unity in biblical truth and love.