by Rev. K. D. Macleod
FOLLOWING reports of other Protestant bodies in discussions with Rome, there comes news of a document presented to the Pope by the International Roman Catholic-Pentecostal Dialogue, which has been in progress for more than 25 years. Pentecostal leader Cecil Robeck, Jr, was pictured sitting awkwardly beside the Pope, who, significantly, was sitting on a special chair with elaborately carved arms and raised on a small platform above the level of others present. The Pentecostal side in these discussions, it should be said, is represented by individuals rather than denominations, some of which take a strong line against ecumenism.
The report, entitled Evangelisation, Proselytism and Common Witness, repeats the common ecumenical line of deploring the Church’s failure to demonstrate the unity Jesus prayed for in John 17. This of course ignores the fact that there can be no genuine unity – the unity the Saviour prayed for – except in the truth. It requires no deep study of the Scriptures to see that the errors of Rome are many and serious. How then can anyone with any understanding of Protestantism engage in dialogue with Rome? And that should apply particularly to someone like Professor Robeck, who teaches church history. The call of Scripture, “Come out from among them, and be ye separate”, is totally relevant to relations with Rome. “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness,” we are told also, “but rather reprove them.” Those who would even contemplate dialogue with Rome on any other basis are certainly not submitting to the authority of Scripture. Pentecostalism has its own errors, but those of Rome are of a different order altogether.
It was doubtless considered politic for both sides to make some confession of past mistakes. The Roman Catholic side admits to having used political and economic power to intimidate Pentecostal pastors. It is one thing to state this in a document that will probably get little publicity outside the Vatican and the United States; it is another matter for Rome to give directions to the men on the ground in Latin America demanding that they cease from persecution while large numbers of their flocks depart for Pentecostalism. (It is estimated that by 2005 Guatemala will have more Pentecostals than Roman Catholics, and that within another 30 years five other Latin American countries will also have a Pentecostal majority.) But did the Pope squirm when he read a condemnation of how Pentecostals and Roman Catholics have described each other? He could have cast his mind back to a visit to Latin America when he accused Protestants of threatening to pull down “the structures of faith” in numerous countries and spoke of Protestantism “spreading like an oil stain”.
Not surprisingly, the report disapproves of what it describes as proselytism: “a disrespectful, insensitive and uncharitable effort to transfer the allegiance of a Christian from one ecclesiastical body to another”. One suspects that this statement is intended to condemn every effort on the basis of Scripture to draw the attention of Roman Catholics, however graciously, to the danger of their position in a body so full of false doctrine and idolatry. Rome can surely see clearly that it is in her interests to have Protestants conditioned to believe that what they may think are her errors are not very serious. Then, she hopes, those Protestants will see no need to encourage those who belong to the Roman Catholic Church to flee from her idolatry.
Many Protestants are impressed by the number of Roman Catholics who claim to be born again. Would they be so enthusiastic about these claims, would they be so unconcerned about the spiritual state of these people, if they pondered the responses made to questions posed by a missionary in Quebec? Those Roman Catholics who professed to be born again, often at a charismatic meeting, were claiming to have received Christ previously – at baptism or at confirmation. They obviously had no real understanding of Scripture doctrine, only a willingness to use some of its terminology.
During the 20 years of his reign, the present Pope has been determinedly consolidating the position of Roman doctrines, Mariolatry in particular. True Christians are still under obligation to expose the errors of Rome; cosy dialogue will never further the interests of truth.