2017: The Year of Jubilees; Toward the Unification of Christendom

picture of St. Peter's Basilica at night
Johann Tetzel’s selling of indulgences to finance the building of  St. Peter’s Basilica (pictured above) in Rome angered Catholic priest Martin Luther leading to the Reformation.

This year marks the Jubilee of events in church history — from the 500 year anniversary of The Reformation to the 100th anniversary of the Fatima apparitions to the 50th anniversary of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. Celebrations around the world, held to mark these landmark events, strengthen the ecumenical agenda for the unification of all those who name the name of Christ, pointing all ‘Christians’ onto the road that leads to Rome.

Pope Francis has continued the policies of his predecessors, going back to Pope Paul VI under whose pontificate the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council was formed, to tone down the rhetoric of the Council of Trent. Vatican II was ratified in 1963, labelling Protestants as ‘separated brethren,’ thus holding to the idea that some of them are true Christians that just don’t have the fullness of the Catholic faith.

The goal of the ‘unification of the faith’ by the Roman Catholic Church has been the highest priority of every pope since. Many mainline Protestant denominations and Evangelical church leaders have adopted the ecumenical vision and have made strides in the past 50 years to make that goal a reality. Joint declarations, such as the ECT pact (Evangelical and Catholics Together), have been signed by leading theologians on both sides of the divide.

At the 2014 Summit of Catholics and Evangelicals held at Regent University, televangelist and President of Regent, Pat Robertson, welcomed the mixed group and led the prayer of unity to kick off the conference attended by various pastors, priests, and monks. One of the monks read a greeting by Pope Francis and keynote speaker, James Robison, went on to visit the pope at the Vatican shortly thereafter. A photo of the two of them high-fiving one another went viral on social media. Robison reviled all believers who practice biblical separation as being in sin and violating Jesus’ teaching in the 17th chapter of the Gospel of John that His followers were to be as one.

“We’re here as Christian witnesses – a city set on a hill. We are His body, salt and light. We stand together, not alone,” Robison told the gathering. Apparently Robison’s words inspired a new movement that has its own website and conferences and is calling on Protestant and Catholics in every city around the world to get on board. Founder, Joe Tosini, writes the vision statement on the John 17 web page:

“The John 17 Movement is a contagious call to all professing Christians to relate together properly, beckoning us to embrace the final prayer of Jesus. On the eve of his death, He pleaded: ‘Father may all who believe in me be one so the world will know you sent me.’ This final plea stands as the most authoritative strategic direction for followers of Jesus.  As we respond, the church—in all her rich diversity—will emerge as the attractive ‘city on a hill’ potently demonstrating the authenticity of Jesus’ claims. “ [www.john17movement.com ]

Joining Tosini on the ‘John 17’ board is Catholic Bishop Eduardo Nevares of Texas, Robert Briggs with the American Bible Society, and a graduate of Biola and Fuller, Gary Kinnaman, among other Catholics and Evangelicals. The rallying cry for all of them is, ‘Can’t we all just get along’?

The Reformation – or the Undoing of it

Most of the groups celebrating the 500th anniversary of The Reformation are actually working against the principles Martin Luther stood up to that led to the big church divide of the 1500s in Europe. The Counter-Reformation is in full gear although the Protestant world is oblivious.

In 1986 under Pope John Paul II’s leadership, Evangelization 2000 was initiated with the aim of converting Christians to Catholicism before the turn of the century. If they could not lure believers to outright convert, then they would ramp up their ecumenical talks with leading Christian movers and shakers. This would be step one in building bridges that would eventually take them to their goal of the reunification of Christianity with the Vatican as its capital.

The Catholic World Magazine declared, “Evangelization 2000 has organized a Worldwide Prayer Campaign that involves 4,000 contemplative communities, countless prayer groups, and thousands of people around the world.”

The ‘Catholics Come Home’ ad campaign began in an effort to win back the ‘separated brethren’ with television commercials and billboards presenting an inviting picture of Catholicism as conservative and family-friendly. Then EWTN, the largest Catholic TV network, launched a new series, “The Journey Home” that welcomed former Catholics back into the fold who had strayed away into other churches.

The results were less than stunning as Catholic membership continued to crumble after the pedophile priest scandal. And so when Pope Francis came onto the scene, he used a new tactic he called “unity and diversity.” If he couldn’t succeed in undoing the Reformation literally, he could do so philosophically by convincing Christians to acknowledge one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. And he would welcome many of their representatives to The Vatican where they would pay him homage and present him with gifts.

Evangelist and former Catholic Mike Gendron wrote in his 2014 issue of Proclaiming the Gospel: “More than a few eyebrows were raised when Pope Francis sent a video message to Word of Faith preacher, Kenneth Copeland and his congregation requesting they, as separated brothers, seek unity with the Catholic Church. In the video message, the pope said he was their brother in Christ and God will complete the miracle of unity. Using the story of Joseph, he described how Joseph’s separated brothers reunited with him as they were searching for food. Bishop Tony Palmer declared: ‘Luther’s protest is over.’ Copeland found this development incredible. He said, ‘Heaven is thrilled over this.’”

And now in the year of the 500th Jubilee of The Reformation, Pope Francis has held out the olive branch to the late Martin Luther, referring to him as “a great reformer.”  He even celebrated the anniversary at a Lutheran church service in Sweden sponsored by “leaders of the Lutheran World Federation.” NPR reported, “the trip is ‘in keeping with his efforts to reach out to other branches of Christianity — like the Russian Orthodox Church — and other faiths, including Islam and Judaism.’”

On November 1, 2017 there will be another celebration in Wittenberg, Germany, in honor of Martin Luther. In its purpose statement it reads, “We desire that our gathering be one public expression of a new worldwide movement of God towards the unity of the body of Christ.” [http://www.wittenberg2017.us/2017—the-500th-anniversary.html]

Their idea of ‘unity’ is in keeping with Pope Francis’ view of “Unity and Diversity,” as the sponsors spell out in their FAQs:

“By ‘unity,’ we mean relational unity. As our Guiding Principles outline, we believe diversity strengthens the Church, including styles of worship and forms of governance. Amidst this diversity, we believe greater relational unity holds the potential of bringing healing and reconciliation, and serves to encourage, empower, and embolden the Body of Christ. We are encouraged that the term “reconciled diversity” is gaining traction among leaders in the body of Christ.”

Some Evangelicals have been outspoken about this undoing of the Reformation, but some traditional Catholics, who are in the minority, are equally averse to it. Michael Voris, host of The Vortex, a Catholic news program critical of liberalism in the church, blasted liberal Catholic Bishop Robert Barron, of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, on his June 28, 2017 video update:

“A few days ago Bishop Barron dropped a whopper. He called Martin Luther a ‘mystic of grace’…yeah, a man who ripped apart Christianity 500 years ago… He views Martin Luther as some kind of hero for Christ… Luther viciously attacked the papacy, the mass, the priesthood, the Church, Catholic scriptures, the sacraments, purgatory – you name it… How in Hades is this man a ‘mystic of grace’?… Luther did the work of Satan.”

Fatima Jubilee – 100 Years

This year also marks the 100th anniversary of the Marian apparitions to three shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal. Pope Francis marked the event by declaring a year of Jubilee from November 27, 2016 to November 26, 2017, granting a plenary indulgence (time off in purgatory) to those celebrating the anniversary with a pilgrimage to the site or by venerating a statue of “Our Lady of Fatima.” He also made an ‘apostolic visit’ to Fatima in May to canonize two of the children, Francisco and Jacinta, proclaiming them saints.

In his homily at the mass, Pope Francis said, “Mary came to remind us that God’s light dwells within us and protects us… In Lucia’s account, the three chosen children found themselves surrounded by God’s light as it radiated from Our Lady… Fatima is more than anything this mantle of Light that protects us, here as in almost no other place on earth… We have gathered here to give thanks for the countless graces bestowed over these past hundred years. All of them passed beneath the mantle of light that Our Lady has spread over the four corners of the earth, beginning with this land of Portugal, so rich in hope. We can take as our examples Saint Francisco and Saint Jacinta, whom the Virgin Mary introduced into the immense ocean of God’s light and taught to adore him {sic}. That was the source of their strength in overcoming opposition and suffering. God’s presence became constant in their lives, as is evident from their insistent prayers for sinners and their desire to remain ever near “the hidden Jesus” in the tabernacle. [http://saltandlighttv.org/blogfeed/getpost.php?id=75583]

Some Protestants have adopted the Mary fascination. The Episcopal Church celebrates the ‘Ecumenical Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary’ “to promote ecumenical interchange and prayer. Its aim is to show that in Mary, Christians of many traditions may find a focus in their search for unity. The ESBVM was formed by Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Orthodox, and Presbyterian Scholars.” [www.episcopalchurch.org]

The Fatima apparitions began in 1917 out in a country field where the three children were playing. ‘Saint’ Lucia’s description of the first visitation, this one by an angel, is recorded in an article on EWTN’s website celebrating the Jubilee.

“We had only been at it a few moments (playing a game with pebbles) when a strong wind began to shake the trees and we looked up to see what was happening, since it was such a calm day. And then we began to see, in the distance, above the trees that stretched to the east, a light whiter than snow in the form of a young man, quite transparent, and as brilliant as crystal in the rays of the sun. As he came near we were able to see his features.” [https://www.ewtn.com/fatima/first-apparition-of-the-angel.asp]

The angel referred to himself as “the angel of peace” and recited a prayer three times, asking for pardon for those who do not believe. He instructed the children to “Pray in this way. The hearts of Jesus and Mary are ready to listen to you.”

Eight months later, on May 13, 1917, the apparition of the lady showed up, the first of many reported visits. One witness observed, “I then saw, clearly and distinctly, a luminous globe, traveling from the east to the west, and gliding slowly and majestically in space. Suddenly the globe, with its extraordinary light, disappeared from our eyes.” (This description brings to mind the arrival of Glenda, the good witch, from the Wizard of Oz movie or the description of modern UFOs.) [http://www.fatima.org/essentials/facts/1917appar.asp]

According to the oldest visionary, Lucia, who was ten years old at the time, the lady had her write down the famous “three secrets” that supposedly contained prophecies of coming catastrophes that were to occur before the end of the 20th century. The children were also told they were to personally suffer for the sins of those in purgatory. Lucia gives this account:

“Some days after [the apparition of August 19], we were following a path with our sheep and I found a piece of rope which had fallen from a cart. I took it and amused myself by attaching it to one of my arms. I did not take long to notice that the rope hurt me. I then said to my cousins: ‘Look, that hurts! We could attach it around our waist and offer this sacrifice to God.’ The poor children accepted my idea immediately and we then decided to share that rope among the three of us. A sharp stone, rubbing on another, served as a knife. Whether because of the size and roughness of the rope, or because sometimes we squeezed it too much, that instrument made us suffer horribly. Sometimes Jacinta shed some tears because of the discomfort which the rope caused her. I told her on several occasions to take it off, and she replied, ‘No! I want to offer this sacrifice to Our Lord in reparation and for the conversion of sinners.’”

Since the turn of the century, you won’t hear priests mention the timeframe the three children gave – although the warnings heard from many Catholic pulpits, especially since the beginning of the Cold War with Russia in the 1960s, included the Fatima warnings of a pending World War III in the second half of the Twentieth Century.

Catholic Charismatic 50-Year Jubilee

A huge celebration is scheduled for the weekend of July 20, 2017 at the Convention Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The 50-year Jubilee of the Catholic Charismatic movement that began at the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio, just a short distance from Pittsburgh, is the focus of the event. The then president of the college, ‘Father’ Michael Scanlan, has been credited with introducing the baptism of the spirit to the campus. This coincided with the charismatic renewal happening within the mainline Protestant denominations and became a catalyst for ecumenical unity under the common experience of ecstatic worship.

The Renewal for both Catholics and Protestants was a spillover from a true outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the 1960s and 70s that transformed thousands of hippies into saints. The Jesus People Revival was not a planned event within the institutional church. The Holy Spirit went out into the highways and byways and turned rebels into Jesus Freaks – all outside the established church. When the hippies were unwelcomed in traditional church settings dressed as they were – long hair and all –Chuck Smith put up a large tent in Orange County, California and welcomed them in without a dress code.

The newly saved hippies showed their devotion and appreciation to Jesus by writing many tunes they played on their guitars and other musical instruments. Those ‘contemporary’ songs are now on the worship song lists of churches of all stripes. The soon return of Jesus in the fulfilment of Bible prophecy was the main focus of the new saints and the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit were manifest among the hippies.

It didn’t take long for the revival to catch the attention of the professional churchmen. Crossover ministers that broke off from Calvary Chapel and formed other groups, such as the Vineyard, were happy to package the outpouring with a good imitation. Men like John Wimber who taught a class called Signs and Wonders, as if the gifts could be taught, became a sought-after speaker at various ‘Renewals’ staged by the denominations.

The older Pentecostal denominations like the Assemblies of God and the Foursquare Church got in on the act and also peddled the ‘gifts.’ Among those ranks was Jack Hayford, pastor of Church on the Way in Southern California, who had a big influence on his friend “Fr.” Michael Scanlon. These men were clever at teaching glory seekers how to speak in tongues by practicing babbling. This caught on with other Protestant leaders, particularly with Dennis Bennett, an Episcopal priest in Van Nuys, California whose book, ‘Nine O’clock in the Morning’, helped ignite the Charismatic Renewal.

In spite of these manmade efforts to spread the Jesus Movement by formulae, many Roman Catholics and mainline Protestants got saved out of dead religion and found a personal relationship with Jesus. That led to a mass exodus out of the institutional churches, much to the chagrin of the Catholic and Protestant Renewal superintendents. As more Calvary Chapels sprung up all over the country and then abroad, half of those attending grew up Catholic.

However, the Charismatic Renewal went into high gear under the ecumenical banner. Major conferences started that attracted thousands of participants from institutional churches. Protestant leader Vinson Synan organized mass gatherings called, The Congress on the Holy Spirit, with Renewal leaders – pastors, priests and nuns – singing ‘Kum ba yah’ — Catholics praying in tongues to Mary and no one batting an eye.

The Jubilee celebration’s master of ceremonies, Monsignor Joseph Malagreca, invites all to attend. “Come join the family reunion. Come unite with your brothers and sisters in the Lord; where rivers of living water flow leading us to recognize and cherish these charisms and to proclaim more than ever before with one voice, Jesus is Lord! [http://www.2017jubileeconference.org]

Vinson Synon will be on the stage, alongside Catholic Renewal lay-leader Ralph Martin, and the final session of the event is titled, “That They May Be One – Going Forward with Ecumenism.”

Although the pope is not scheduled to attend, he no doubt is with them in spirit. He spoke these words recently when he visited religious leaders in Egypt:

“In facing this great cultural challenge, one that is both urgent and exciting, we, Christians, Muslims and all believers, are called to offer our specific contribution: We live under the sun of the one merciful God… Thus, in a true sense, we can call one another brothers and sisters… May the sun of a renewed fraternity in the name of God rise in this sun-drenched land, to be the dawn of a civilization of peace and encounter. May Saint Francis of Assisi, who eight centuries ago came to Egypt and met Sultan Malik al Kamil, intercede for this intention.”

And that is the ultimate goal of the Vatican – the final Jubilee – when all religions can unite as the brotherhood of man in the neighborhood of Rome.