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Pope warns Lutherans of new Christian challengers to mainline churches

September 23, 2011

(Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) head Bishop Nikolaus Schneider (L) walks to the cloister with Pope Benedict XVI in the Augustinian Monestry (Augustinierkloster) in Erfurt September 23, 2011/Max Rossi_

Pope Benedict, visiting the German monastery where Martin Luther lived before launching the Reformation, warned his Lutheran hosts on Friday that what he called “a new form of Christianity” posed a challenge to mainline Protestants and Catholics alike. While not naming them, it was clear that the pope, whose visit to this small city south of Berlin was sparsely attended, was referring to the evangelical and Pentecostal churches which have been attracting converts from more established churches, especially in Third World countries.

“Faced with a new form of Christianity, which is spreading with overpowering missionary dynamism, sometimes in frightening ways, the mainstream Christian denominations often seem at a loss,” the pope said on the second day of his third trip to his homeland as pontiff. “This is a form of Christianity with little institutional depth, little rationality and even less dogmatic content, and with little stability. This worldwide phenomenon poses a question to us all: what is this new form of Christianity saying to us, for better and for worse?”

Benedict appealed for unity between Roman Catholics and Protestants, who began their split from the church in the 16th century with the posting by Luther, who lived in Erfurt as a Catholic monk, of his 95 Theses in 1517.

At the same time, he deflected appeals from Protestants for a relaxation of rules barring them from participating in Catholic communion.

Here’s our news report on his comments in Erfurt — Pope warns Lutherans of Christian challenges. In a later story, we have an evangelical reaction:

Geoff Tunnicliffe, Vancouver-based secretary general of the World Evangelical Alliance, told Reuters his organisation had recently issued a code of conduct for responsible missionary work with the Vatican and World Council of Churches. “I don’t see this as a blanket statement on evangelicals, which includes Pentecostals,” he said. The three groups that signed the pioneering code of conduct in June, after five years of work, claim to represent over 90 percent of Christianity.

(German Chancellor Angela Merkel (5L) and President Christian Wulff attend the Ecumenical Service of the World led by Pope Benedict XVI and Nikolaus Schneider, Chairman of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) in the church of the Augustinian Monastery in Erfurt, September 23, 2011./Norbert Neetz)

Benedict’s quote on this new challenge came at a point in his speech after he said that Catholics and Protestants had come much closer in recent decades but “the risk of losing this, sadly, is not unreal.” He then elaborated:

“The geography of Christianity has changed dramatically in recent times, and is in the process of changing further. Faced with a new form of Christianity, which is spreading with overpowering missionary dynamism, sometimes in frightening ways, the mainstream Christian denominations often seem at a loss. This is a form of Christianity with little institutional depth, little rationality and even less dogmatic content, and with little stability.

“This worldwide phenomenon poses a question to us all: what is this new form of Christianity saying to us, for better and for worse? In any event, it raises afresh the question about what has enduring validity and what can or must be changed – the question of our fundamental faith choice.”

In the days and weeks preceding Pope Benedict’s meeting with the German Protestant leaders, several of them publicly urged the Bavarian-born pontiff to show some movement on issues that still split the churches. One central request was for joint eucharistic services, something the Protestants accept but Catholic refuse because of a different definition of the eucharist. Another is for permission for Protestants married to Catholics to receive communion at Catholic Mass with their spouses. Benedict made it clear in a short television address at the weekend that the Protestants shouldn’t expect any surprises.

His indirect reference to these requests came in his speech in the church at the Augustinian monastery in Erfurt where Martin Luther was ordained and lived before he posted his 95 Theses in Wittemberg that signalled the start of the 16th century Reformation. “Prior to the pope’s visit, there was some talk of an ‘ecumenical gift’ which was expected from this visit,” he said. “There is no need for me to specify the gifts mentioned in this context. Here I would only say that this reflects a political misreading of faith and communion. ” Heads of state exchange gifts when they visit each other to work out a treaty or trade agreement. “But the faith of Christians does not rest on such a weighing of benefits and drawbacks. ”

(Pope Benedict XVI walks with Nikolaus Schneider (L), Chairman of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), before an ecumenical prayer service at the Augustinian Monastery in Erfurt, September 23, 2011S/Guido Bergmann)

Asked about dashed hopes the Pope would lift a ban on Protestant spouses of Catholics receiving the Eucharist at Catholic mass, Bishop Nikolaus Schneider, head of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD — the association of Protestant churches here), said: “In view of our shared values, this question is particularly pressing for families that jointly live their faith in their respective churches or communities. How can we strengthen that common faith? We said that within foreseeable future, it should be possible for a  freer choice of community, Eucharistic community should be possible, that is something I put out to him in those terms.”

“This is a topic we have been dealing with for quite some time and I have to admit that sometimes it is a bit of a nuisance as well and given that it is such a pressing issue I had to raise it,” Schneider said.

Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, head of the Catholic bishops conference in Germany,  said that while the pope did not say anything concrete about this issue, he did discuss the issue with Cardinal Kurt Koch, head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and recognised it was a “very sailiant pressing issue”.

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“Pope Benedict…warned his Lutheran hosts on Friday that what he called ‘a new form of Christianity’ posed a challenge to mainline Protestants and Catholics alike….it was clear that the pope…was referring to the evangelical and Pentecostal churches which have been attracting converts from more established churches, especially in Third World countries.”

As I read this, I thought of how sad it is that the leader of the Roman Catholic Church is further promoting divisions, rather than seeing how all of us Christians are alike.

I am a practicing Catholic and I found the Charismatic Renewal in the Roman Catholic Church was uplifting. Under Pope Benedict XVI, I do not hear about the Charismatic Renewal Movement anymore. The theology of this Pope seems to be based on fear rather than love.

There can be unity in diversity. I think God is pleased by the diversity in our ways of giving praise and worship to God.

For the leader of the RCC to more or less say “it has to be my way or the highway” is not respecting what God is working in each person’s heart. This German Pope has been indoctrinated a certain way, and is not open to a more generous respect for the promptings of the Holy Spirit in each person’s life, as Pope John XXIII was when he opened the Second Vatican Council fifty years ago.

In reading the book CHRISTIAN SPIRITUALITY written by a Dominican priest, I learned that Martin Luther was a well respected Augustinian priest for many years and was even in charge of eleven Augustinian monasteries. Luther had given his life to the celibate priesthood. He loved the Roman Catholic Church and wanted his church, the RCC, to correct some of its abuses in Rome.

Rather than respecting Luther’s recommendations, the ego-centered leaders of the RCC in Rome decided to call Luther a heretic, making it impossible for Luther to remain in the church that he loved.

Why is Pope Benedict XVI, in my opinion, acting like the ego-centered leaders of the 16th century Roman Catholic Church who pushed Luther out of his own church?

Now that many of us Catholics are aware that it was the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church who treated Martin Luther unjustly, I am happy to welcome Lutherans as fellow followers of Jesus on the way.

I wish the Pope did not have such a narrow vision of what it is to be Catholic. The word Catholic means Universal. More and more the Roman Catholic Church is becoming the church of fewer and fewer, rather than more and more, under the present leadership from Rome.

I guess it is all about who has the power, rather than how can we unite to give God all the glory!

Sincerely, Dr Rosemary Eileen McHugh, Chicago, Illinois, USA

Posted by Physician | Report as abusive
 

Said the Pope: “This is a form of Christianity with little institutional depth, little rationality and even less dogmatic content, and with little stability.”
So how are these new groups so successful?

And: “This worldwide phenomenon poses a question to us all: what is this new form of Christianity saying to us, for better and for worse?”
The mainstream religious systems in Jesus’ day [Pharisaic Judaism and Jupiter worship] both failed after unsuccessfully opposing the “new” religion. The Pope and his kind should heed the words of a noted religious scholar:
“Then stood there up one in the council, a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, had in reputation among all the people, and commanded to put the apostles forth a little space; And said unto them, Ye men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what ye intend to do as touching these men. For before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered, and brought to nought. After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him: he also perished; and all, [even] as many as obeyed him, were dispersed. And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought: But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.”
Acts 5:34-39, KJV

If another worldwide cleansing from God is imminent- like the Flood, but not the Flood (Gen 9:15)- then it’s appropriate to ask: How many arks was Noah told to build? (Gen 6:14) How were people to be given an opportunity to come to the only safe place? (2 Peter 2:5) Who decided that people had been given enough time to change their course? (Gen 7:16)
Doug in New Mexico

Posted by noprem | Report as abusive
 

‘overpowering missionary dynamism’ is great. Rather than a new departure this is a return to that church which was blitzing the world before Constantine subverted, and almost totally quenched, the leading of the Holy Spirit, and replaced it by the leading of Peter. It is the church against which ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail.’ .old men shall see visions, and young men will dream dreams.’ It is a powerful endtime pentecostal putsch.

Posted by Pentecostal | Report as abusive
 

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