By Ray Yungen
It is not just a fluke or an aberration that the evangelical churches and the Catholic Church are coming into alignment with each other. The Catholic Church is taking a softer approach to the evangelical church, and the evangelical church is starting to downplay the traditional and significant differences that have kept it at bay with the Roman Catholic Church. While church history has witnessed martyrs who would not bend on doctrinal issues concerning salvation, today, we are witnessing a paradigm shift from an emphasis on biblical doctrine to the experiential and the mystical. The consensus is becoming that it’s not so important what we believe anymore but what we do—namely that we need to experience God and get along with everyone. And this is where the Catholic Church comes in as it promotes oneness (a unifying of all religious traditions under the umbrella of the Catholic Church) and a vast array of religious practices stemming back to the Church fathers to satisfy the draw to the experiential.
The following examples illustrate how this changing landscape is occurring—
Rick Warren and EWTN
In 2014, evangelical Purpose-Driven pastor Rick Warren was interviewed by EWTN (Catholic T.V. network) host Raymond Arroyo.1 In this interview, Warren made it very clear that he saw nothing within the Catholic Church that would keep him from uniting with Catholics from a spiritual point of view.
The interview also showed Warren’s affinity with Catholic contemplative prayer.* He listed a number of Catholic mystics whom he turned to (Thomas à Kempis, Brother Lawrence, The Desert Fathers, St. John of the Cross, and Teresa of Avila2) and told Arroyo the writings of these mystics were “great, classical devotional works.”3 Warren told Arroyo that his own “spiritual director” at Saddleback Church was trained by a Catholic mystic named Jean Vanier. When you read the following description of Vanier, I believe you will understand why Rick Warren is included in this section of Simple Answers:
Vanier is a contemplative mystic who promotes interspirituality and interfaith beliefs, calling the Hindu Mahatma Gandhi “one of the greatest prophets of our times” and “a man sent by God.” In the book Essential Writings, Vanier talks about “opening doors to other religions” and helping people develop their own faiths be it Hinduism, Christianity, or Islam.4
The Warren/Arroyo interview revealed much more about Rick Warren’s proclivities toward the Catholic Church. For instance, he admitted that he loves watching EWTN, and one of his favorite shows is the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, which is comprised of “unbiblical practices rooted in paganism.”5
Beth Moore is the most popular women’s Bible study teacher in the world today. Many men read her teachings as well. She was in a 2015 Christian movie titled War Room that remains very popular and is considered the epitome of conservative evangelicalism. However, she has been a proponent of the contemplative prayer movement for a number of years. In her book, When Godly People Do Ungodly Things, she endorses and resonates with Catholic contemplative practitioner Brennan Manning.6 And in the contemplative infomercial film Be Still, Moore said we cannot really know God without the contemplative “stillness.”7
Like Rick Warren, Beth Moore has delivered a message to her followers that she sees the Catholic Church as a legitimate part of the body of Christ. For example, she has been a regular teacher on James and Betty Robison’s show, Life Today. The Robison’s have made statements that show their strong comradeship to the Catholic Church. For instance, in a May 2014 article written by James Robison on his website titled “Pope Francis on Life Today,” Robison states:
I believe there is an important spiritual awakening beginning in the hearts of those truly committed to Christ in the Protestant and Catholic communities. Is it possible that Pope Francis may prove to be an answer not only to the prayers of Catholics, but also those known as Protestants?8
Some may think it is guilt by association to say Beth Moore agrees with Robison on the Catholic issue just because she teaches on his show. But to further illustrate her affinities, at a conference where Beth Moore was speaking, she called up several women from the audience to the stage and had them sit in different groups based on their religious affiliations. She told the attending women that these groups were all part of the body of Christ. While most of the groups would fall within the Protestant church, she also included a group from the Catholic Church and said these different groups combined form a community that is “the church as Jesus sees it.”9 This is just another example of how the gap between evangelicalism and Catholicism is being narrowed.
In January of 2014, Tony Palmer, an Anglican priest who served as an ambassador for Pope Francis (calling the pope his mentor) to the evangelical church, visited charismatic leader Kenneth Copeland’s church. In a video of the meeting, Palmer told the congregation that he was coming in “the spirit of Elijah” similar to that of John the Baptist.10 Palmer said what was coming was “reconciliation” (meaning Protestants reconciling with the “Mother” church) and that there was no need for the Reformation any longer. Palmer told Copeland’s congregation that division among Christians was diabolical and that it was doctrine that divided but God’s “presence” that united us.11 As Palmer spoke, the congregation enthusiastically applauded and affirmed him. Palmer said that “Luther’s protest is over,” and “if there is no more protest, how can there be a Protestant church?”12 When Palmer was finished talking, he played a clip of Pope Francis greeting Copeland’s congregation. Pope Francis spoke of the separation between Catholics and Protestants. He stated:
I am nostalgic that this separation comes to an end and gives us communion. . . . We have to encounter one another as brothers. . . . Let’s pray to the Lord that He unites us all. . . . The miracle of unity has begun.13
In June of that same year, Tony Palmer met with Pope Francis and handed the pope a document called the “Declaration of Faith in Unity for Mission” that Palmer hoped the Vatican and evangelical leaders would sign in 2017, the 500th year anniversary of the Reformation. The Declaration stated that the evangelicals and Catholics both preached the same Gospel, and therefore, there should be unity.
One month after Palmer had the meeting with Pope Francis, Palmer was killed in a motorcycle accident in the U.K., halting his ecumenical work. Many recognized his efforts as the Boston Globe reported at the time of his death:
The news stunned . . . many across the Christian world who were aware that, behind the scenes, the unlikely friendship of Palmer and Pope Francis was the catalyst of an extraordinary historic breakthrough in relations between the Catholic Church and the evangelical world. . . . [Pope] Francis created the strong impression that the work he and Palmer had begun would continue.14
And so, though Palmer is gone, the efforts to bridge the gap between evangelical/Protestant Christianity and the Catholic Church are still continuing on with others.
Alpha Course/Nicky Gumbel
In 2015, there was an Alpha Leadership Conference, hosted by Nicky Gumbel (the current head of the Alpha program and vicar of the Holy Trinity Brompton Church in the UK). Incidentally, the popular name-it, claim-it teacher Joyce Meyer was also one of the speakers at the event. The following are some quotes taken from Gumbel’s talks at the conference and given to my publisher by someone who watched the talks online:
This crisis [of lack of unity] is a massive opportunity for the church to stand together and fight together.
Ultimately, unity is not doctrinal, it’s relational.
Unity is not an option—Jesus is still praying for our unity—so that the world will be one.
I have come to love the Catholic Church—If God has given them the same Spirit, who are we to oppose God?
The same Spirit lives in the Catholics, and the Orthodox, and the Pentecostals and the Protestants, even the Anglicans have the same Holy Spirit living within them. That’s what makes us one!
Unity doesn’t mean we’re not interested in the truth! The only way to get truth is through unity!
We live in a divided world that demands a united church.
Root of all problems in the world is division. Paul gives us the answer to this—it’s in relationships!15
In a 2004 Alpha News commentary, Gumbel, who is Anglican, stated the following, which shows his acceptance and promotion of Roman Catholicism and the Catholic papacy:
It was a great honor to be presented to Pope John Paul II, who has done so much to promote evangelism around the world. We have been enormously enriched by our interaction with Catholics in many countries.16
And in a 2009 interview between Nicky Gumbel and the UK newspaper The Guardian, Gumbel stated:
Probably one of the strongest movements of the Holy Spirit is in the Roman Catholic Church, so there’s not a huge theological difference between the official teaching of the Catholic Church and the Anglican Church, for example.17
On March 26, 2012, evangelical Wheaton College held an event titled “A Conversation on Unity in Christ’s Mission.” The two speakers for the event were evangelical pastor, author, and adjunct professor at Wheaton John Armstrong and Catholic Cardinal George of Chicago. A flier for the event read:
An evening of dialogue exploring the common ground and current challenges that face Catholics and evangelical Protestants in Christian faith and mission.18
This was not a debate by two people with opposing views. On the contrary, the discussion was focused on how to bring unity between evangelicalism and Catholicism. In January of 2012, Armstrong posted the following on his blog:
There is a long history behind the worldwide call to prayer for Christian unity but I became acutely aware of the history of this call at the Center for Unity in Rome last March. Then in June . . . I visited the grave site of Fr. Paul Wattson, the man who launched this global week of prayer for Christian unity. As deeply interested as I am in this subject I am pleased to share news today from the Vatican Information Service of January 18. The Pope’s comments provide a gracious reminder of our common duty to the whole of Christ’s Church, not just our own communion or fellowship.19
Armstrong then posted an article from the Vatican news, which in part stated:
Ecumenism, as defined by Vatican Council II and Blessed John Paul II, is “the responsibility of the entire Church and of all the baptised, who must augment the partial communion that already exists among Christians until achieving full communion in truth and charity. Praying for unity . . . must then be an integral part of the prayer life of all Christians, in all times and places, especially when people from different traditions come together to work for victory in Christ over sin, evil, injustice and the violation of human dignity.20
Wheaton College is just another spoke in a wheel that is pushing forward to unite the evangelical church with the Catholic Church.
On August 15-17 2014, a gathering called “Three Rivers Festival of Hope” in Pittsburgh, PA was led and organized by Franklin Graham. For the opening prayer on stage in front of a large audience, Graham brought in Catholic Bishop David Zubik. The bishop, during his prayer, acknowledged his belief that Protestants and Catholics are all part of the same church. While we know that Graham’s father, Billy Graham, allowed Catholic counselors at his own crusade meetings (which sadly set a precedent), it’s a big leap to give a Catholic priest the platform at an evangelical event to lead in an ecumenical prayer that puts Catholicism on par with Protestant Christianity.
A newspaper article advertising the Franklin Graham event stated:
Bishop David Zubik said the festival dovetails with calls by recent popes to a “new evangelization,” bringing back cradle Catholics who drifted or became estranged from the faith.
“We felt as long as there was a Catholic component to this particular crusade, we wanted to be a part of it,” Bishop Zubik said.
Those who respond to Rev. Graham’s invitation to make a decision for Christ, and who identify as Catholic, will be given the opportunity to go to Epiphany Church—adjacent to the Consol Energy Center—for the sacrament of reconciliation, or confession.
“We’re right next door,” Bishop Zubik said.
Bishop Zubik said Catholics don’t share all of Rev. Graham’s controversial political statements but added: “That’s not what this is all about. The whole point is to bring people back to Jesus.”21
In an pastoral letter written by Bishop Zubik titled “The Church Evangelizing!,” Zubik expresses his support for the papacy’s “New Evangelization” program. In the letter, Zubik states:
As Catholics, we invite others “to come to Jesus” not only at events in stadiums, but to come to Him in the sacraments, most especially the Eucharist.22
Many evangelicals do not understand what the Catholic church teaches about the “sacraments” and the “Eucharist.” They do not realize that the Catholic belief is that Jesus Christ is actually in the wafer and his blood in the wine, and this “transubstantiation” takes place only when a Catholic priest prays over the bread and the wine. This continual re-crucifying of Christ is the benchmark of Catholic Church doctrine.
Lifeway Survey (Southern Baptist)
Probably the most telling example of this paradigm shift is a study done by LifeWay Research (a division of LifeWay Christian Resources, the resource arm of Southern Baptist Convention). A Christianity Today article called “From Antichrist to Brother in Christ: How Protestant Pastors View the Pope,” details the survey. The first reference is about the negative attitude that evangelical pastors had over the last five hundred years regarding the Catholic Church, which was based on hostility and rejection by Protestantism. In other words, most evangelical pastors would see the Pope as an enemy of the Christian Gospel. But now, according to the survey, 58% of evangelical pastors view the Pope as “a genuine Christian and a brother in Christ.” Another 19% are not sure.23
The general current of evangelical thought is beginning to flow in the direction of the Catholic Church as being a valid and legitimate expression of Christianity. I heard an interview in 2016 that illustrates this perfectly. The interview was with popular Catholic contemplative priest and author Richard Rohr who revealed that his publisher told him that his largest segment of readers is young evangelical men!24 This would have been virtually unheard of a few decades ago.
I find it ironic that LifeWay, which conducted the survey showing this paradigm shift in attitude toward the Catholic Church by evangelicals, is itself part of the problem. Through their online and walk-in bookstores, they sell numerous books written by those who are helping to bridge the gap between Catholicism and Protestantism. In one book they sell titled A Guide to Prayer for All God’s People are the writings of Catholic mystics such as Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen.
Another book LifeWay sells is contemplative pioneer Richard Foster’s book 25 Books Every Christian Should Read: A Guide to the Essential Spiritual Classics (where he includes a number of Catholic mystics and emergent** authors). One of the people listed in the book as being on the editorial team is Richard Rohr. Rohr’s spirituality would be in the same camp as someone like Episcopalian panentheist Matthew Fox (author of The Coming of the Cosmic Christ). On Rohr’s website, he has an article titled “The Cosmic Christ,”25 which is the “christ” whose being they say lives in every human (i.e., christ consciousness). It’s disheartening to know that Rohr’s largest audience is young evangelical men!
Judgmentalism or Profound Differences?
I haven’t named all these people or organizations in this chapter with the intent of lambasting them. My motive has been to show with this small sampling how the evangelical church is helping to bring about an ecumenical Catholic-bound landscape.
The Catholic-friendly individuals I’ve just quoted would certainly acknowledge there are differences between the evangelical and the Catholic faith. But they would relegate these distinctives as minor issues, and focusing on them in any negative way would be seen as theologically acerbic and divisive. The response most often given by evangelical pastors, church leaders, and those in authority is that criticism is judgmentalism—a vice rather than a virtue—and that those who bring up these objections, seen as minor issues, lead people away from what’s important.
However, our focus here is to show there are profound differences that affect salvation, that are not just unscriptural but anti-scriptural and anti-Gospel. The controversies are not just based on misunderstanding or bigotry but have a solid footing in scriptural discernment. Certain ideas presented as truth must be given the litmus test whether they are actually of God or have gone off the mark, hence the term discernment, which means to have the ability to distinguish or discriminate. The important part is to differentiate between mere human opinion and objective truth.
In actuality, there must be a gauge, something that will measure a perspective or teaching. And in Christianity, that gauge is the Gospel as presented in the Bible. Otherwise, anything and everything is permissible and as is commonly said today, “all paths lead to God.” We can see this illustrated in the Old Testament account of the golden calf, which was supposed to honor Jehovah God who delivered them out of Egypt, but the people did something that was not pleasing to God. Rather than pure worship to the Lord, they used an image (which is idolatry) as a vehicle and actually ended up worshipping another god under another gospel.
A few comments need to be made on what ecumenism is all about from the official Catholic point of view. While this chapter is titled “A New Openness,” openness is not real unless it is honest and forthright. The true meaning of Catholic ecumenism is that in time the “lost brethren” (i.e., Protestants) will be reabsorbed into the Catholic Church, and this is what the New Evangelization is all about. Now, while it may be true that a few Catholic clergy see evangelicals as true Christians, and while most Catholics are at a loss on what official Catholic doctrine teaches, officially the Catholic Church sees the “lost brethren” as just that—“lost.”
The honest approach, of course, would be for the Catholic Church to let evangelicals know where they stand doctrinally. But, as Machiavelli’s old axiom goes, “the end justifies the means,” the Catholic Church has taken the friendly approach to win Protestants back into the fold. If you keep in mind that “unity” here really means “reabsorption,” the pieces of the puzzle will fit together and seemingly contradictory behavior of the Catholic Church will begin to make sense.
*Contemplative prayer is a practice that has entered the evangelical church through the Spiritual Formation movement and has its roots in Catholic mysticism and panentheism (God is in all things). The practice entails repeating a word or phrase (often called a sacred word) in order to “remove distractions,” put the mind into a neutral state, and in this altered state, the contemplative practitioner hopes to hear the voice of God. I discuss contemplative spirituality and its dangers in depth in my book, A Time of Departing.
*** Emergent or “emerging church” refers to those who follow a loose set of doctrines promoting a redefinition of Christianity and incorporating into their fellowships some or all of the following: Roman Catholic mysticism and contemplative prayer, eastern meditation techniques, pagan religious practices such as walking the labyrinth, Lectio Divina, entering the silence, mantras, etc. The emerging/emergent church is highly ecumenical, and the focus is on social justice and cultural relevancy rather than the Gospel and the Word of God. Emphasis is on a social gospel as opposed to a personal Gospel. (This definition taken from Kevin Reeves booklet D is for Deception: The Language of the New Christianity published by Lighthouse Trails.)
Editor’s Note: At the request of Ray Yungen (before he passed away and while he was writing his book Simple Answers), he asked the editors at Lighthouse Trails to co-write chapter one (which is the content of the above article).
1. The interview can be viewed by clicking on the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dVCY8pW-ACs. Roger Oakland wrote about this interview in his booklet Rick Warren and His Dangerous Ecumenical Path to Rome (you can read this booklet at http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blog or purchase it at www.lighthousetrails.com).
2. To understand the meaning of contemplative prayer and learn about some of these Catholic mystics, read my booklet 5 Things You Should Know About Contemplative Prayer, or for a more exhaustive study read my book A Time of Departing, both available through Lighthouse Trails Publishing.
3. Warren/Arroyo interview, op. cit.
4. Roger Oakland, Rick Warren’s Dangerous Ecumenical Path to Rome (Eureka, MT: Lighthouse Trails Publishing, 2015), p. 11.
5. Ibid., p. 17.
6. Beth Moore, When Godly People Do Ungodly Things (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2002), pp. 72-73.
7. Beth Moore, Be Still DVD (Fox Home Entertainment, April 2006), section: “Contemplative Prayer: The Divine Romance Between God and Man” (transcript on file at Lighthouse Trails).
8. James Robison, “Pope Francis on Life Today” (May 2, 2014, http://www.jamesrobison.net/pope-francis).
9. Lighthouse Trails Editors, “Is Beth Moore’s ‘Spiritual Awakening’ Taking the Evangelical Church Toward Rome?” (http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blog/?p=15914). You can watch the video clip of Moore on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IqUiqdGYit8.
10. Watch this video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uA4EPOfic5A.
14. Austen Ivereigh, “Pope’s Protestant Friend Dies, But Push for Unity Lives” (Boston Globe, August 7, 2014, http://www.bostonglobe.com/news/world/2014/08/07/pope-protestant-friend-dies-but-push-for-unity-lives/v7y0x8NglzPe6oNWoXIKdJ/story.html).
15. “Letter to the Editor: Alpha Course Founder, Nicky Gumbel, Asks for Ecumenical Unity with Catholic Church” (http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blog/?p=17458).
16. Roger Oakland, “Alpha and the Pope” (http://www.understandthetimes.org/commentary/c25.shtml), quoting Nicky Gumbel from Alpha News, March-June 2004, p. 7.
17. “Nicky Gumbel Interview Transcript” (The Guardian, August 28, 2009, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2009/aug/28/religion-christianity-alpha-gumbel-transcript).
18. “Wheaton College ‘Dialogue’ Evening—Exploring ‘Common Ground’ with Catholicism in ‘A Conversation on Unity’” (http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blog/?p=8647).
19. “The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity” (http://johnharmstrong.typepad.com/john_h_armstrong_/prayer).
21. Peter Smith, “Revival Headliner Franklin Graham Has Trail of Support, Polarizing Comments” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, August 9, 2014, http://www.post-gazette.com/local/2014/08/10/Franklin-Graham-coming-to-Pittsburgh-known-for-outreach-but-also-divisive-comments-on-Islam-Hinduism-and-gay-marriage/stories/201408100022).
22. Bishop David Zubik, “The Church Evangelizing!” (April 17, 2014, http://www.dioceseofpgh.org/sites/default/files/FINALchurchevangelizingnewsrelease.pdf), p. 8.
23. Lisa Cannon Green, “From AntiChrist to Brother in Christ: How Protestant Pastors View the Pope” (Christianity Today, September 25, 2015, http://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2015/september/antichrist-brother-christ-protestant-pastors-pope-francis.html).
24.The Liturgists Podcast (April 11, 2016, http://podcast.theliturgists.com/e/episode-35-the-cosmic-christ-with-richard-rohr).
25. Richard Rohr, “The Cosmic Christ” (The Center for Action and Contemplation, November 5, 2015, https://cac.org/the-cosmic-christ-2015-11-05).