The Problem with Unity

ppeThis past month, when several prominent leaders from the Charismatic church met with Pope Francis on the topic of unity in the body of Christ, Mike Bickle (director of the International House of Prayer of Kansas City) took a moment in the discussion to pointedly ask the pontiff his views on the errors of universalism and the idea that ‘all paths lead to God’.  Mike’s report was that the Pontiff affirmed that Jesus was, indeed, the only way of salvation.

But, unfortunately, it leaves one to wonder what it all means.  The very fact that Mike Bickle even had to ask is grounds to know that something is wrong, regardless whatever direct answer he was given.

The truth is, over the three years of his pontificate Pope Francis’  has done little to reinforce doctrine, but rather has, in many ways, diminished it. Instead of defending the faith, he has choosen “dialogue”, and at times, even apologized for the tradition and church history. The object here is not to point fingers, or raise a “railing accusation”, but simply to ask questions–the same questions Mike Bickle asked, but deeper.  An accuser is often only the tool of evil (Proverbs 6:16-18), but we are called to test and prove all things, to use righteous judgment, and to guard the flock from wolves and false teaching.  We ask in order that we may hold fast to the good and reject what isn’t.

Make no mistake…  There is both much more, and much less, going on here in this meeting.  As much as a meeting between the current Pontiff and the leaders of the Charismatic church may be historic, three months before, he was meeting with the heads of Apple and Google (and others).  Two months before, he met with another foreign leader of a country.  A month before another.  And, he’s continuing having private meetings with leaders of all sorts.  The fact is, this Pope is meeting with just about anyone who seems to have authority.  Simply because some of those ‘world-leaders’ happen to be Christian may or may not make much of a difference, other than the language that is used.

I for one am for Biblical unity, But I am also aware that there is no unity without God and His Word as the center.  Unity without boundaries is anarchy.  And, if there is no tangible difference between the conversation with Protestants and, for example, the proclaimed athiestic CEOs of the largest anti-christ organizations on the planet that hate Christians, and if both Christian and secular leaders walk away with glowing reviews and an awe-struck “once-in-a-lifetime” chance to meet “His Holiness”…  It does beg the question, what is the Pope doing?

One does not have to look far in this pontificate to see a plentitude of errors, both small and large.  Take, for instance, the Pope’s very first YouTube prayer video.  In it, he said Bhuddists, Jews, Muslims, and Christians are all seeking God.  In the video, they are all placed on an equal level, with no distinction between the religions.  One has to wonder, as head of one of the largest Christian denominations in the world, what is Pope Francis’ intention?  It’s effect is quite clear.  There is no doubt that, intended or not, it is being interpreted in the most blasphemous sense by those who view it, that all paths are, indeed, valid.  Whether the intent is there, the effect is, and once that is witnessed for what it is, it would seem that at least some level of culpability falls upon those who publish it to either quickly to remove or rectify the video. That is to say, if it is not the desired effect. Yet elsewhere, to the homosexual, he says, “Who am I to judge?”  To the atheist, he says his service can bring blessing from God.  Of the Jew, he actually said we should not try to convert them, that their covenant with God still stands and that they should seek Him in their way!  Well, either he hates Jews and wants them to all burn in hell, right?  Or, possibly, he does not believe that Jesus is the only way to God.  No offense, but that does not sound like a Christian leader.  And, regardless of his intent, it is taken that way.  Even if one tries to give him the largest benefit of the doubt possible, both claims cannot both be true. So, what is he thinking?

It is clear that simply from Mike Bickle’s need to ask that something is very wrong with this Papacy.  The situation is not overlooked even among Catholics, some of which say many more things about the current head of their church.  Some have even called for him to resign, as has a major news outlet in an opinion column within the last few weeks.

The simple truth of the Catholic Church is simply, a single Pope does not make make something “canon law”–only their tradition and rules do that.  One pope cannot change, for instance, the Council of Trent, in which all Protestants are damned to hell.  If one Pope can change it at his will, the next can change it back, but it doesn’t work that way.  Despite a document called the JDDJ (Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification) which is being talked about these days, written and signed by a few cardinals and some Lutherans, nothing has changed in “church law”, “canon law”.  Protestants are still damned to hell  (according to the Catholic Church) by the “anathemas” of Trent, and the Catholic Doctrine is completely unchanged.  No non-authoritative document by a few cardinals or bishops can change that.  Not to mention the hundreds of lives slaughtered over the centuries because of it on both sides.  These things do not just “go away” because one Pope says he wants “unity” and refuses to live in the Papal palace.

So, what is one to make of a Pope who so blatantly flaunts and discredits his own church and heritage, so diminishes his own office, that other Christians have to ask if he is even a Christian?  Why, in the end, is meeting with him any greater than meeting with another pastor, other than simply the pride of life.  And, when he meets with the heads of corporations, surely that was not about a “spirit of John 17 unity”, was it?  I would hope not.  We have not, I hope, become so blind that we do not see that “a meeting with the King of Kings” is of greater worth than meeting with a mere “King of men”, have we?  We must be wise as serpents, and innocent as doves.

What I see from the current Pope, in his own words, and in the words of his predecessors, is a Pope who is trying to “build bridges not walls”.  To stay in the dialogue, rather than push others away.  And, so I have to ask myself some serious questions…  When the Pope says that Jesus is the only way to God when directly asked by Mike Bickle, that question was a deal breaker.  If the Pope had not answered doctrinally, the meeting would have been over, and everything, including his papacy, would be finished.  While I hate to have to ask, for myself, I must.  Is this a statement of his actual beliefs, or is this an example of “building bridges and not walls”, and not “pushing people away” so that they can stay in the “dialogue”.  And, to the world, he paints one portrait of himself, yet, when directly questioned by a leader who would get up and walk away (as we all should, if we’re not too star-stricken and intimidated by popularity and position to even ask in the first place), he paints another.  While only one or the other can be true–either what he told Mike Bickle is a flat out lie or what he presents the world is false–after a while, it no longer really matters.  If one is going to be dishonest or allow blatant, wide-spread misunderstandings even, without clarification and careful practice, you are not leading a people towards unity, and certainly not towards righteousness. Discussing where on this spectrum we are and how far along we are are, indeed, all important to discuss, but the basic notion that two different stories are coming forth from the same church house is not.  Either he means something different by his words than normal people do, or something else is going on, or there is a great error here.  While he did answer Mike Bickle correctly, one thing is certain–that was not what Pope Francis told Barack Obama when he met with him.  It was not what he told the CEOs of Apple and Google when he met with them.  That’s a problem.

A certain priest, Father Martin, now passed away, commenting on Pope John Paul II during the end of his papacy said that he believed that John Paul II did not and would not control his church or his bishops.  He said that John Paul II’s vision was to gather as many Christian’s together under some kind of excuse or pretense, a call for unity, and that together with the Jews and the Muslims (he could probably have added Bhuddists), man kind could solve most of the world’s great ills–the social, geo-political problems of the world. While humanitarian and a good social system, this is not the primary doctrine of the church.  His comments, though, were made in the late 1990s.  How little-far it feels that the apple has fallen…  For words spoken 20 years ago, a little too close for comfort.

Do I know what is in Pope Francis’ heart?  Of course not.  But, I know that what he has put out has been so bad that both Catholics and Protestants have to ask the question:  Is he even a Christian?  Is he so blinded by wanting to “help the poor”, that he fails to realize he cannot do it without the true Comforter, the true hope, the true light?  And, that nothing outside of Christ’s salvation is really love?

As a bit of an analogy, I want to end with this passage on the four horsemen from Zechariah 1…

I asked, “What are these, my lord?”

The angel who was talking with me answered, “I will show you what they are.”

Then the man standing among the myrtle trees explained, “They are the ones the Lord has sent to go throughout the earth.”

And they reported to the angel of the Lord who was standing among the myrtle trees, “We have gone throughout the earth and found the whole world at rest and in peace.”

Then the angel of the Lord said, “Lord Almighty, how long will you withhold mercy from Jerusalem and from the towns of Judah, which you have been angry with these seventy years?” So the Lord spoke kind and comforting words to the angel who talked with me.

Then the angel who was speaking to me said, “Proclaim this word: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I am very jealous for Jerusalem and Zion, and I am very angry with the nations that feel secure. I was only a little angry, but they went too far with the punishment.’

“Therefore this is what the Lord says: ‘I will return to Jerusalem with mercy, and there my house will be rebuilt. And the measuring line will be stretched out over Jerusalem,’ declares the Lord Almighty.

Zechariah 1:9-16

In this passage, Zechariah sees four horsemen of various colors, and asks (v9), “What are these?”.  The angel goes on to explain what they are, and these four horsemen give their report to the angel.  They say (v11) there is “world peace”, peace and rest in the whole world.  And, then (v12) the angel prays, reminding the Lord of His Promises concerning Jerusalem.  And, the Lord said (v14), I will stir it all up for the sake of the Word that I had spoken concerning Jerusalem.  Because of God’s prophetic promise to Jerusalem, He commanded a city to be rebuilt which would result in bloodshed, war, disquiet, and lack of peace, and some of the worst geo-political upheavals the world would ever know.

The point is this… Unity outside of Jesus is pointless.  Jesus did provide for the poor during His ministry, but providing for the poor was not His ministry.  He came to preach the Word, and He helped the poor, in that order.  No unity, no matter how powerful, matters, outside of Christ’s Words, the Gospel of His Kingdom, matters in Eternity.  No peace, no matter how world-wide, will ever last, so long as His prophetic purposes concerning His people are not fulfilled.

As Mike Bickle’s organization, the International House of Prayer, sings, “If it’s not Jesus, it’s not Justice”.  Whether Pope Francis was telling the truth to Mike Bickle when he said Jesus was the only way to the Father, or how many of his statements in the media are represented is more accurate, perhaps we may not know for now.  But, they are being understood that way, presented that way, not countered by the Vatican, and this is more so than any other Pope.  What other pope has had so many “misunderstandings” and “errors in translation”?  None.

As for unity, Jesus’ prayer in John 17 was for a ‘vertical’, or union-with-God kind of unity, rather than a ‘horizontal’ brother-to-brother one.  “That they may be one even as you and I are one”.  In the same way that Jesus and the Father were one, this was his prayer for his followers, that they would be one in the very same way.  While this begins with the Holy Spirit coming in at regeneration, and is perfected as we walk with and keep in step with the Spirit, it is not, primarily, relational unity in a visible brother-to-brother sense (although it may be the result).  This is the essence of what Jesus’ was praying for in John 17, fulfilled when we are saved, further fulfilled as we walk in sanctification and perfect holiness, and perfectly perfected upon our resurrection and becoming thoroughly like Him.

But, as for working with another, true unity among brothers comes when we unswervingly, boldly, and clearly enunciate the fundamentals of our belief in Christ, and put Him and His Words first.  It comes only in the context of holiness, and living by His Spirit.  We are to know those who labor among us, and we are to rebuke the brother in sin, and to forgive the one who repents.  We are not to have fellowship with darkness, nor with a so-called believer who does not hold and proclaim (as able), the teachings of Christ  We are nor even to bid them godspeed to him or we share in his evil work.

But, this is not what has been coming forth from the current Catholic Church administration, despite a few right answers at times.  No, the history of this Pope is one of disorder, devaluation, and destruction, and, sadly, it appears the times are blinding too many to the simple fact–Francis, at the very least, like it or not, is not sending out any clear, distinct word as to what he believes, nor does he have the authority to actually do what is being presented as the objective of the meetings, horizontal unity.  This, just on the face of it, is dishonesty.

When it matters, I would be found standing on the side of the Lord, rather than to trust in princes.  You either stand by the Word of God, or you fall for anything.