Any normal run-of-the-mill Christian can see the decrepit state of our world and know deep inside themselves that Christ alone is the remedy for all the pain and heartache. The Mystical Body of Christ, as it were, consists of the Catholic Church and upwards of 30K non-Catholic denominations or divisions. The clear fact is that divisiveness is likely the greatest stumbling block to the Church’s effectiveness.
Immediately many of us wonder “How can we work together? Our teachings are so different!” While that is a legitimate question that ought to be addressed in due time (meaning God’s, as directed by the Holy Spirit, and not our own) there are strides being taken NOW towards greater unity within the Church.
Previously we wrote about the Catholic Ecumenical Track that was featured at one of the leading evangelical Christian conferences in the US. In that post we were able to interview one of the leaders on the Catholic end of it and just talk about the need for unity among all believers in the Church.
Keith Major and his wife, Iwona, are two – what I call – Ecumenical Missionaries. These two, along with their family, came into the Catholic Church a few years back after years on the mission field in a Protestant/Evangelical setting. Because of them I have been able to stay informed as to the latest developments between Catholics and Evangelical Protestants.
Recently there was a meeting held at the Vatican between Pope Francis and many evangelical leaders from the United States. In somewhat of an informal dialogue, Pope Francis welcomed their questions with openness and great humility. This reception of our evangelical brethren without any pretense or buffer was actually a vitally important step.
Many non-Catholics have misconstrued and downright distorted views of the Catholic faith. They’ve been fed lies and have built up whole ideological approaches to ministry aimed at countering the ‘evil’ that they so falsely believe to be the Catholic Church. I think of these famous words:
There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate The Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.
-Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen
Getting right to the point, I wanted to share with you two statements: one from Kris Vallotton of Bethel Church in Redding, and another from Joshua Ryan Butler of Imago Dei Community in Portland. These two, along with many other heavy-hitters in the evangelical movement shared their thoughts in their own post-papal meeting summaries.
Kris Vallotton pulled no punches when writing of his experience at the Vatican. In a very direct fashion he recounted some of the pivotal and historic moments of the meeting. When questioned about the many doctrinal and theological differences between Catholics and non-Catholic Christians, Kris remembers Pope Francis having this to say:
Theology is a very complicated subject and we should let the theologians argue it out. In the meantime, we should love each other and learn to value people who are different than ourselves.
From there, it became apparent that this Jesuit Pope was the real deal. Many of Kris’ colleagues continued to posit their questions so that they might get a better handle on Francis and the flock over which he was shepherd. Kris recalls:
…one of the most historic moments happened when the Pope spoke of the atrocities the Catholic Church perpetuated on people through the centuries. Then he asked us all to forgive them for their sins. This inspired us to do the same.
You can read the rest of Kris’ comments HERE.
Joshua Ryan Butler, another Evangelical pastor was generous enough to leave his own thoughts on the visit as well. Butler mentioned early on that “[Pope Francis] believes (as do I) we have much to learn from each other…” Butler, ahead of the meeting, appeared to have done some of his own independent reading, familiarizing himself with the ‘Catholic view’ on many issues.
Butler remembers Pope Francis’ strong emphasis on unity among Christians:
[Pope Francis] also talked about unity. What do we share in common? We are the people of Jesus. “When enemies of Christ seek to kill Christians, they do not ask if you are Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox—being Christian is enough.” The problem is simply if you are identified with Jesus.
Drawing upon his own pastoral knowledge and experience, Butler continued to recount the many memorable moments from that private meeting and used his summary as an opportunity to explain to his readership the significance of many of the Pope’s comments. Butler even landed upon his own realization that sparked a change he vows to carry out back at home:
But my confession is that I/we have not worked hard enough to build bridges with our Catholic brothers and sisters in our city as part of the movement of the body of Christ, and when I go back I want to be intentional about that.
You can read the rest of his comments HERE.
After reading their thoughts on the meeting it is hard not to feel, as a Catholic, somewhat connected with them. Their desires are ours, their objections are ours, we are their brothers and sisters yet we stand on opposite sides of a wall that we’ve all built for ourselves.
That wall is coming down, my friends.
We may never solve our doctrinal differences, but we can come together in mission. Through ecumenical prayer and works of social justice the whole Body can be the most powerful vehicle of God’s grace and mercy this world has ever seen. Together we will be far more effective than we are separated.
Below, Pope Francis endorses and invites young people to an Evangelical-led, Ecumenical Gathering coming soon to Washington DC. Give it a watch:
Leave your thoughts in the comments.