The real Lord’s Prayer, that is the prayer that Jesus prayed for his disciples (John 17), makes it abundantly plain that he desires the unity of all believers. The simple point made in the text is beyond serious doubt (John 17:21). There are many ways Christians have approached this text, and several major explanations have been offered and accepted, but the basic direction of the prayer cannot be in doubt. When we are in a relationship of oneness, or unity, with fellow Christians the world will believe our message. The key word here, I am convinced, is relationship. What Jesus desires is our relational oneness. The problem comes when we seek to apply this to macro issues like the unity of the whole visible Christian church. (In reality, most Christians have the real problems in how they handle everyday relationships with other believers in the same congregation!) Most evangelicals tend to give up when they get to this issue and believe they are safe by making no real effort to pray for, or concerted attempts to experience, this God-given unity. God is teaching me otherwise.

On the Catholic calendar, this week is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Pope Benedict XVI is one of the finest theologians Rome has produced in our time. He is also very serious about advancing the progress made by the late John Paul II in this area. In fact, Benedict is an even better Christian ecumenist than John Paul II, at least in terms of understanding the real theological issues that still divide us. At the same time he gives thanks for what he calls “the new situation.” So do I.

Vatican Council II rightly argued that the movement toward unity belongs to the Triune God and thus it is a gift of God to his people. Benedict XVI, in a message given this past week, reasoned that Matthew 18:19 (“if two of you agree on earth”) was Jesus’ solemn assurance that his disciples can experience unity. Vatican II’s decree on ecumenism expressed the desire for a common effort for unity by saying, “Such prayers in common are certainly an effective means of obtaining the grace of unity.” Benedict reasons that when believers draw closer to the triune God they draw closer to one another.

Simply put, the place any effort at unity must always begin is in the unity of common Christian prayer. Concludes Pope Benedict: “The presence of Jesus in the community of disciples, and in our prayer, guarantees efficacy.” He refers to the present time as a “new situation” for which we should thank God and then concludes that we should “not forget that God has given us much

[in recent years] on the path to unity.”

My own testimony to this process is quite simple. I once feared conversation with Catholic brothers and sisters very deeply. I had a myriad of reasons for my fears, all rooted in arguments I had learned to embrace from those who taught me out of their own fears. My study of history led me to see Catholic errors and to miss my own, and those of my own tradition. In my last year in pastoral ministry (1991-92) I preached through the Gospel of John. My last Lord’s Day ended with me in the final words of John 17. I prayed during those last months in the pastorate that God would open my eyes to His Word mroe adn more. When he did I was shocked. I wanted to run away from what I saw so plainly. I knew there would be a cost if I obeyed. There always is a cost. But an invitation to love, right from the words of Jesus, changed my life. I began to pray, “Father, lead me to your people. Show me how to love those whom you love as your Son’s bride.”

My story of a journey into knowing and loving the whole community of Christ is unfolding every day. I carry on growing friendships with theologians, priests, and ordinary Christians who come from every part of the church on earth, Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant. My life is being changed through this process in ways that have radically altered a number of my attitudes. My wife, and closest friends, all agree that these alterations have been for the better. My love for Christ is growing in intensity every day and my desire for Christian unity is a burden that is truly light and profoundly joyful. The opposition that I have experienced from strong Protestants has only increased my love for Christ. And by that love for Christ I believe that I have come to love the whole church, including those who speak ill of my journey and those who suggest, quite wrongly, that I have denied the core convictions of my Reformed Protestant confession.

In an address on January 18, Benedict XVI referred to John Paul II as one who truly “suffered for the ecumenical question.” I pray that I will be able to do the same, with a much deeper sense of joy and a growing love for all. I encourage you who read these words to open your lives up to this great journey of faith and to invite the Holy Spirit to make you an instrument of peace within the whole body of Christ!

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  1. Nick Morgan January 25, 2006 at 2:28 pm

    Terrific article. All I can say is a loud AMEN! I know God has put the same passion in my heart as he has placed in yours. Also, for me there has come a peaceful freedom to interact with other members of Christ’s Body in its various traditions without having a “compulsion” to critically analyze what I can disagree with them about. Like you, the more I have become willing to listen with humility, the more I have learned about the rich treasures and Traditions of our historic and Apostolic Christian Faith. I spoke as a guest speaker at a small Bible Church this past Sunday, and as I spoke on the nature of the Church, and the responsibility to recover the Ancient Tradition while striving for true Christian unity was the heart of my message, and it seemed to be well received. I preached from I Cor. 12:12-26 and Eph.4:1-6. Thank you for being one among a small but important and growing number of voices calling for the whole Church to begin to live and love and look like the catholic (universal) Body of Christ!

  2. pseudo-augustine January 26, 2006 at 6:17 pm

    Good thoughts. Do you have any suggestions for prayers for Christian unity that might be used during this week? Also, any thoughts on the encyclical concerning divine and Christian charity?

  3. Amy January 26, 2006 at 9:18 pm

    Dr.Armstrong, could you please elaborate on what you’ve written here? Are you saying that Catholics do not need to receive the Biblical gospel (as opposed to the false gospel of Rome of doing good works to earn salvation, receiving the sacraments to be saved)? What is the basis for this unity? exactly who are you saying Christians should unite with? what about Jehovah Witnesses, Mormons, ICOC, UBF, and other cults? Where exactly do you draw the line? What about the many, many warnings in scripture to not join with false teachers or welcome their teachings? In Galatians 1 Paul had some very strong words for those who preach a false gospel of salvation by works. Rather than unite with the false teaching Judaizers Paul says, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel-which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!” In Matthew 23 we see Jesus give scathing rebuke after rebuke to the self-righteous Pharisees who sought to establish a righteousness of their own (like Catholism and most other cults); we don’t see Jesus and his disciples ever joining together in prayer or any other uniting with the Pharisees or other false teachers. Look at Jesus’ words in Revelation 2 to not tolerate false teachings/teachers. In your article you refer to Catholic “brothers and sisters”? On what basis are they (specifically those who accept Rome’s gospel) bothers and sisters to Christians? Perhaps I must misunderstand you; if you could kindly clarify I would appreciate it.

  4. Nick Morgan January 27, 2006 at 2:31 pm

    Dear Amy,
    Spend some time reading “Catholic Christianity” by Peter Kreeft; Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Diferences” by Dr. Norman Geisler and Ralph Mackenzie; “Catholicism and Fundamentalism” by Karl Keating; and “Is The Reformation Over” by Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom; then you might begin to understand and appreciate what Dr. Armstrong and others like him are saying and working for. God bless you!
    Nick Morgan

  5. Amy January 27, 2006 at 11:58 pm

    I would like to ask you to read the following article from the Reaching Catholics for Christ website and to biblically refute it.
    The Vatican’s Call For Unity
    Mike Gendron
    Since the dawn of the new millennium, we have been witnessing the greatest push toward ecumenical unity the world has ever seen. Under the banner of AD 2000, all professing Christians are urged to join hands in a unified effort to fulfill the Great Commission. This ecumenical movement has captured the hearts of many professing Christians.
    However, the mandate for all Christians to overlook their differences and unite for the purpose of evangelizing the world is not biblically based. It completely ignores the fact that Roman Catholic, Orthodox and many Protestant churches preach another gospel that denies the sufficiency of Jesus Christ. The success of this unity effort is to seek common ground. The guiding principle is to “tolerate everyone?s beliefs as long as they love Jesus.” What they do not understand is this: if they all loved the Lord Jesus as He is revealed in the Scriptures, they would not tolerate another gospel. The Jesus of the Bible brings division (Matt. 10:32-39). He separates those who deny Him and His finished work of redemption from those He saves by grace through faith. He divides those who are “in Christ” from those who merely profess Christ but do not believe His word (Matt. 7:21-23; John 12:48).
    Ecumenical evangelism has provided fertile ground for rebuilding the religious tower of Babel. False teachers, false apostles and false Christs who proclaim a compromised gospel are influencing multitudes. Many more, who lack discernment, are being persuaded by highly visible evangelicals to join the unity bandwagon. It comes as no surprise that the Vatican is the driving force behind this ecumenical movement. Throughout history, the Roman Catholic Church has sought to bring all religions under the power and influence of the papacy. No longer able to openly force people to submit to its popes under the threat of death and persecution, the Vatican has changed its strategy to win the world. Since the close of the Second Vatican Council in 1965, the Roman Catholic Church is wearing a new mask of seduction for “separated brethren.” She is now urging all Protestants, whom she once called “heretics,” to come back home to the “one true church.”
    Tragically, many pulpits are incredibly silent about the dangers of the compromised gospel of ecumenical evangelism. Paul?s admonition to another church in another time appears to be ignored by many church leaders today. “I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent?s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough” (2 Cor. 11:3-4). There are also numerous scriptural warnings for believers to remain separate from unbelievers.
    Jesus and His disciples never tolerated ecumenical evangelism. Time after time zealous religious leaders, with their own agendas for building the kingdom, were strongly rebuked. They all had one thing in common, a refusal to submit to the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ and His word.
    ? Jesus opposed and condemned the religious leaders of His chosen people for blocking the way to the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 23:13).
    ? Paul did not unite with the Judaizers who loved Jesus but wanted to add only one requirement to the Gospel of grace (Gal. 1:6-9).
    ? Jude refused to unify with those who crept into the church unaware to pervert the grace of God (Jude 4).
    ? John did not seek to establish unity with those “who went out from us because they were never really of us” (1 John 2:19).
    ? Peter never joined hands with the false teachers who had forsaken the right way and gone astray, following the way of Balaam (2 Pet. 2:15).
    ? The writer to the Hebrews did not seek unity with those who ignored such a great salvation (Hebrews 2:3).
    In light of these “cloud of witnesses set before us” one must wonder how evangelicals are so easily seduced by the Vatican?s push for ecumenical unity. Surely they are not ignorant of many additional requirements Rome has added to the gospel of salvation. Surely they are not ignorant of the 100 anathemas the Roman Catholic Church uses to condemn those who do not believe their false gospel! How can Christians join hands with a church that condemns them? Could they be so easily persuaded by the Catholic Church?s worldly influence, incredible wealth, one billion followers and a leader that is so loved by the world?
    How are Christians to protect themselves in the midst of the religious deception so prevalent in the world today? The Bible exhorts us to search the Word of God for wisdom, understanding, and discernment (Prov. 2). We are to test every teaching. “Examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good” (1 Thes. 5:21). We are warned not to believe every spirit because many false prophets have gone out into the world. It is only by God?s Word that we can discern the Spirit of Truth from the spirit of error (1 John 4:1,6).
    We are to be like the Bereans who examined the Scriptures daily to verify the truthfulness of the Apostle Paul?s teachings (Acts 17:11). If the one who wrote over half the New Testament was tested, it stands to reason everyone?s teaching must be examined in the light of God?s Holy Word.
    What are we to do with the false teachers within Christendom? We are to expose their false teachings and refrain from participating in their endeavors (Eph. 5:6, 11). With gentleness, we are to correct those who are in error in hopes that God may grant them repentance leading to the truth (2 Tim. 2:25). Those who “profess to know God but by their deeds they deny Him” must be exposed and silenced so others will not be deceived (Titus 1:9-16). We are commanded to separate from those who persist in false teaching (Rom. 16:17; Titus 3:10). For some, this may mean finding another church. For others, it may mean withholding support from ministries that continue to compromise the Gospel. The apostles warned us that if we do not separate from false teachers we could be disqualified for service (2 Tim. 2:20), become identified with them and their error (2 John 10-11), and risk being partakers of their fate (Jude vv. 11-13).
    As end time deception increases and more people are led into apostasy, we must contend fervently for the faith that was once delivered to the saints (Jude v. 3). As more Christian leaders seek the approval of men rather than the approval of God, the way of truth will become more narrow and less traveled. Those who remain on it will face persecution for refusing to compromise the Gospel (2 Tim. 2:12). They will be accused of being intolerant, unloving and narrow minded.
    As the ecumenical movement grows in popularity within the church, maintaining doctrinal purity will be an unpopular position to pursue. Yet it is indeed what we are called to do! By pointing out false doctrine and practices, we will be good servants of Christ Jesus as we are nourished by His word and sound doctrine (1 Tim. 4:6). Upholding truth can and will be divisive within the church, but division is not always bad. Sometimes it is necessary to show which ones are approved of God (1 Cor. 11:19). When we “know doctrine” we will “know division” but when there is “no doctrine” there will be “no division.”
    Often times those who contend for the purity of the Gospel are criticized for quibbling over things that don?t appear to be significant. However, contenders for the faith realize that the most dangerous lie is the lie which most closely resembles the truth. Conversely, ecumenists consider anything that appears close to the truth as an opportunity for unity. Thus they embrace the false gospel of Roman Catholicism because it is the cleverest and best of all Christian counterfeits.
    The church today is suffering from a lack of discernment because many of its leaders are teaching partial truths and tolerating doctrinal error. Paul rebuked those who put up with this is the first century church. In these days of apostasy, the church needs Christians who will boldly and courageously proclaim the whole counsel of God and expose as error everything that opposes it. Christians need to seek God for the grace, power, discernment and courage to be contenders for the faith.

  6. Nick Morgan January 28, 2006 at 12:30 pm

    Dear Amy,
    Thank you for the article. I am a former Roman Catholic, who became an Evangelical 13 years ago. Since then I have attended Bible College, studied and read voraciously Scripture, Evangelical systematic theology, and church history, and am now studying the history of Christian Doctrine and theology. All of this has lead me to seriously reconsider the claims of the Roman Catholic Church and the biases I had against it that were primarily grounded in my serious misunderstanding of what Rome teaches and the issues surrounding the reformation. I also was amazed how truly “Catholic” in the best sense of the word that the great reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin actually were. The reformation has tragically gone much farther, and less desirable in many ways over the past 500 years than any of them could have imagined. Unfortunately I don’t have the time to personally refute each point in this article, but they are all points that I have had to wrestle with myself over the past several years. So again the best I can do is recommend that you obtain and read the books that I have recommended; then maybe we can discuss these points at another time and on a different blogsite so that we don’t needlessly tie up Dr. Armstrong’s site. Thank you and God bless you my sister.
    Nick Morgan

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