By Roger Oakland
Understand the Times
For those who are not aware of the Catholic Church’s New Evangelization program, let me provide a brief overview. The Catholic Church plans to establish the kingdom of God on earth and win the world to the Catholic Jesus (i.e., the Eucharistic Christ). This will be accomplished when the world (including the separated brethren) comes under the rule and reign of Rome and this Eucharistic Jesus.
The Eucharistic Jesus is supposedly Christ’s presence that a Catholic priest summons through the power of transubstantiation, the focal point of the Mass. Many Christians believe the Christian tradition of communion is the same as the Catholic tradition of the Eucharist. But this is not so. The Eucharist (i.e., transubstantiation) is a Catholic term for communion when the bread and the wine are said to be transformed into the very body and blood of Jesus Christ. The Catholic Catechism states:
In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist “the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained.”1
The host is then placed in what is called a monstrance and can then be worshiped as if worshiping Jesus Himself. The implications are tied directly to salvation itself. With the Eucharist, salvation becomes sacramental (participation in a ritual) as opposed to justification by faith in Christ alone, described in Galatians 2:16. While this mystical experience is a form of idolatry (as well as the very heart of Catholicism), there is a growing interest by evangelical Christians in this practice, particularly by the emerging church.
The Catholic Church leadership, concerned with apathy for the Eucharist within the Catholic ranks, is hoping to “rekindle the amazement”2 of the Eucharist through what is called their “New Evangelization program.”3 With a two-fold purpose–to keep present Catholics and to bring evangelicals into the Catholic Church–church leadership has a plan to re-emphasize the Eucharist as the focus of the Catholic faith. By saying “rekindle the amazement,” they mean bring out the mystical, supernatural element of the Eucharist.
All Catholics are expected to worship the host (Eucharistic Adoration of the transformed wafer), and church leadership says it is anathema (to be accursed) to reject this teaching.
While it is true that during the Reformation and Counter Reformation, many who refused to believe in transubstantiation were tortured and executed for their faith in the Gospel, time has a way of forgetting the facts of history.
In April of 2003, the pope wrote an encyclical promoting the “New Evangelization” program for the purpose of “rekindling amazement” for the Eucharist.4 Then in October of 2004, John Paul II initiated “The Year of the Eucharist” as part of his evangelistic plan to bring the world to the Eucharistic Christ. Following his death in April of 2005, Pope Benedict XVI picked up Pope John Paul’s mission immediately. He called the “faithful to intensify” devotion to the Eucharistic Jesus, and said the Eucharist is the “heart of Christian life.”5
The New Evangelization program plans to revitalize the Catholic faith by reigniting strong interest in the Eucharistic Jesus. It is not just the pope who is enthusiastic about this–cardinals, bishops, and priests all over the world are joining in to help with the mission. Something very significant is happening. Eucharistic adoration is becoming the foundation for the new evangelization of the Catholic Church.
In speaking of the pope’s view on the Eucharist, Protestant-turned Catholic Scott Hahn states:
The coming of Jesus Christ – what the Greek New Testament calls his “parousia” – is not simply some far-off event. It is his presence in the Eucharist. Fundamentalists reduce the meaning of “parousia” to Christ’s coming at the end of time; but for the first century Greek speakers the word meant “presence.” Catholic theology holds on to that original meaning.6
The presence of Christ in the Eucharist is the Second Coming Catholic style. Unfortunately, many evangelical Protestants are not even aware of this.
While Eucharistic adoration contradicts biblical Christianity, a growing number of popular evangelicals (especially those leaning toward emerging spiritualities) seem to find no offense in such a doctrine. And with the increased acceptance of mysticism and an attraction to imagery within evangelical circles, it only makes sense that many evangelical Christians find nothing wrong with the Eucharist and Eucharistic adoration. Such acceptance, however, is neutralizing former evangelical resistance to all things Catholic.
In Doug Pagitt’s book Church Re-imagined, he describes his initial attraction to rituals associated with the Eucharist:
The first day of Lent this year brought the first Ash Wednesday gathering in our church’s history and in mine…. Until this point, Ash Wednesday had not been part of my Christian faith experience. Not only had I never applied ashes to anyone’s forehead, but I had also never had them applied to mine. After this experience I wondered how I could have celebrated 19 Easters as a Christian without this tremendous experience.7
Scot McKnight, another emerging church influencer and the author of The Real Mary and The Jesus Creed, in referring to an Anglican service, McKnight speaks of the Eucharistic focus. He states:
[T]he point of an Anglican gathering on a Sunday morning is not to hear a sermon but to worship the Lord through the celebration of the Eucharist… First some scripture readings and then the sermon and then some announcements and then the Eucharist liturgy–with everyone coming forward to kneel and participateâ€”publicly–in the body and blood.8
McKnight says that “the Eucharist profoundly enables the grace of God to be received with all its glories and blessings.”9 No doubt, McKnight will have an impact on those in the emerging church movement, and his views on the Eucharist will rub off. He has been a popular speaker at many events including Willow Creek’s Small Group Conference and the National Pastors Convention. Both of these events have reached the “postmodern” generation.
The late Robert Webber was very influential in closing the gap between Eucharistic adoration and the evangelical church. A document he authored called “A Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future” states: “We call for a renewed consideration of how God ministers to us in … Eucharist.”10 Two well-known evangelical publishers, Baker Books and InterVarsity Press (both of which now publish emerging church authors) sponsored the document as did Christianity Today. The AEF, which the document is called, is endorsed by various emerging church leaders such as Brian McLaren who calls it “a preaching resource” that “emphasize[s] the importance … of Advent or Lent.”11
Participants of the AEF include numerous Christian seminaries like Bethel Seminary in Minnesota, Dallas Theological Seminary, and pastors from many different denominations including Nazarene, Wesleyan, Mennonite, Reformed, and Baptist.
To those who traditionally haven’t had much ritual in their lives (i.e., Protestants), the ambience of the Mass would have great appeal because of its religious novelty – thus the interest in the Eucharist by those who promote contemplative spirituality. And for many Catholics, the Mass (where the Eucharist is presented), in, and of itself, is not a mystical experience. However if the contemplative dimension is added, one actually can enter the mystical realm. On the surface, this phenomenon seems complex, but once we begin to understand mysticism, it all makes sense. Within the contemplative prayer realm, the meditator is actually getting in touch with a spiritual power or force. Combining the tradition of the Eucharist, which appeals to many raised in the Catholic Church, with the relatively recent explosion of contemplative practice, the Catholic Church sees this as a way to recover its robust state of previous decades.
Right now, some may be asking, is the physical presence of Jesus held inside the elements of the Eucharist? Or as some evangelicals and emergents have suggested, is there a special presence and power in the Eucharist? The answer to both is a resounding no! Jesus Christ indwells the heart of every person who is born again and who belongs to Him by grace through faith. He promises never to leave or forsake us, meaning that His presence is in our lives at all times. We are not required to partake in a ritual to experience His presence, nor is He confined in benign, lifeless wafers and wine (or juice). As Jesus said:
It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit [spiritual as opposed to physical], and they are life. (John 6:63, emphasis added)
Jesus said this in response to his disciples’ confusion over His statement “my flesh is meat indeed” (vs. 55). Paul adds further clarity in writing to the Romans that all we need to do is call upon the true Jesus, and He is there:
But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. (Romans 10:8-13)
At this point, we see the great chasm that separates Catholicism from the light of the Gospel – a light the reformers saw, for which many of them gave their lives. They recognized that participation in the sacraments is not what saves people.
The Catholic’s New Evangelization is no small issue. Darkness has fallen over the Christian church the same way an avalanche sweeps down a mountain. Every day new unsuspecting victims are being swept away and buried. And the role the emerging church plays in bringing this about is something that should alarm every discerning Christian.
To read more about the emerging church, read Roger Oakland’s expose, Faith Undone.
1. Catechism of the Catholic Church, para. 1374, page 383.6
2. H. J. Schroeder, The Canons and Decrees of The Council of Trent (Rockford, IL: Tan Books and Publishers, 1978), page 79, Canon 1.
3. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, “The New Evangelization” (http://www.ewtn.com/new_evangelization/Ratzinger.htm).
4. Zenit: The World Seen From Rome, “Why the Pope Would Write an Encyclical on the Eucharist: To Rekindle Amazement,” cited April 17, 2003, http://www.zenit.org.
5. “Pope Benedict calls on faithful to intensify devotion to Eucharistic Jesus,” http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/new.php?n=3686.
6. Interview with Scott Hahn, “Eucharist in the Pontificate of Benedict XVI” (Pontifications, June 12, 2005, http://web.archive.org/web/20070209234229/http://catholica.pontifications.net/?p=940).
7. Doug Pagitt, Church Re-Imagined, p. 103.
8. Scot McKnight, “An Anglican Service” (Jesus Creed blog, http://www.jesuscreed.org/?p=2258 – link no longer online).
9. Scot McKnight, Turning to Jesus, (Louisville, KY: Westminister John Knox Press, 2002 edition), p. 7.
10. Robert Webber, “A Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future” (Online at: http://www.aefcall.org/read.html.
11. Brian McLaren, “The AEF Document as a Preaching Resource” (From the AEF Call website: http://www.aefcall.org/documents/TheAEFDocumentasaPreachingResource_000.doc).