Ecumenism, Unity and End-Time Prophecy | Tomorrow's World

Ecumenism, Unity and End-Time Prophecy

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How do you feel about church unity? The Psalmist wrote, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1). The Apostle Paul wrote of his hope for a time when “we all come to the unity of the faith” (Ephesians 4:13). But what exactly is unity? How do modern efforts toward church unity fit into all of this? And what are the implications of unity among those who profess Christ?

Consider one of the fundamental doctrinal issues that spurred the Protestant Reformation nearly 500 years ago. The Protestant doctrine of sola fide—salvation by faith alone—caused Martin Luther to break away from the Roman church and ultimately spawned many subsequent churches in “protest” against what was considered an inappropriate emphasis on the role of human works in Rome’s idea of salvation.

So firm was Luther’s insistence on sola fide that his German translation of Romans 3:28 actually inserted deliberately a word not present in the original Greek. In the New King James Version, we read the translation, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.” Luther, however, added the word “alone” after “faith” to underscore his belief that salvation is by faith alone. Was Luther at all humble or modest about his bold insertion? Not at all. When confronted by a critic objecting to this blatant mistranslation, Luther testily answered, “Should your Pope give himself any useless annoyance about the word sola, you may promptly reply: It is the will of Dr. Martin Luther that it should be so” (Alzog, Manual of Universal Church History, p. 199).

Given this strong sentiment, it is no wonder that many were startled by the 1999 “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification” between Roman Catholic and Lutheran leaders. In that 1999 document, church leaders jointly made this statement: “By grace alone, in faith in Christ's saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works …”

The implications of Luther’s by faith alone were for centuries a foundational source of division between the Catholics and the Protestants. Yet with the controversial 1999 Joint Declaration, this disagreement was resolved, despite the sense of betrayal felt by some traditionalist Lutherans. Even so, in the 15 years since its release, very little in the way of practical unity between Lutherans and Rome has been achieved. So it is no surprise that many took note recently when Pope Francis reached out to Anglican bishop Tony Palmer, a “Pentecostal” friend with whom he had engaged in ecumenical communications.

Palmer stunned the Christian world when he made a striking public presentation of Francis’ message at a gathering led by Pentecostal evangelist Kenneth Copeland. In his message to Copeland’s gathering, Palmer explained the importance of ecumenism. Citing the 1999 document, he asked his Protestant audience: “Brothers and sisters, Luther’s protest is over. Is yours?”

Rome has long sought unity with Protestants and Orthodox and others whom the Roman church considers “separated brethren.” From Scripture, we understand that the “daughter” churches that have sprung from Rome will reunite with their “mother” church before Jesus Christ returns (Isaiah 47:1–11; Revelation 17:5). That church will for a brief time be a great power on the world scene, influencing a revived “Roman Empire” led from Europe that will dominate the world economy and impel billions to submit to its leadership.

But how will that unity be achieved? Will millions convert en masse, taking up Roman Catholic doctrines as their own, following the example of many Anglicans who have recently returned to Rome? Or will Rome speed the process by compromising on long-held doctrinal differences, as in its joint declaration with Lutheran leaders? Time will tell.

Will you be ready when the prophesied end-time ecumenism reaches out to you? How will you respond? To prepare yourself, read our powerful and informative Tomorrow’s World magazine articles, “The Trap of Ecumenism” and “Returns, Rebellions and Rome.” Or order your free copy of our booklet, Satan’s Counterfeit Christianity. You need to be ready to act on your faith.