The Pope and the Pentecostal

The pope’s video message to a pentecostal gathering has been going around. Some of my Protestant friends feel one way about it, some of my Catholic friends feel a different say. 

Here’s the Catholic News Service story (

Francis knew Tony Palmer when in Argentina. That’s the background.

He acknowledges that at the root of disunity is human sin, and that Christ alone can bring unity. I agree with that. And I believe that because of human sin, unity will only come with the coming of Christ. He did pray for unity (John 17), and prayed that the Father sanctify the church through the Truth, that is, through his Word. That’s how true unity must come about. I think Catholics agree with that–one can’t become a Catholic without saying, “I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God.”

So I am concerned, as I think serious Catholics would be, about any claim to unity based merely on sentiment or supposed “spiritual” power. At most, the “yearning” of which Francis speaks, though spurred by emotion and a sense of both sin and brotherhood, is accompanied by study.

And so the most disturbing part, for me, is not Francis’ appeal, based on friendship, but Tony Palmer’s claim that all issues are over.

“Brothers and sisters, Luther’s protest is over,” Palmer told his audience. “Is yours?”

“We are not protesting the doctrine of salvation (taught) by the Catholic Church anymore,” he said. “We now preach the same Gospel.”

Many Protestant and Catholic theologians would disagree. Yes, the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation signed a Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification in 1999, but it didn’t deal with merit, or indulgences, or the saints, or any of the other issues that are wrapped up with the subject of justification and which prompted the Protestant Reformation (not just “Luther’s protest”). And many Lutheran theologians, in the LWF and without, thought the statement glossed over serious differences on justification–as did some Catholics. Catholic apologists continue to argue against “justification by faith alone.” Catholicism still teaches that indulgences are proper and essential, as is purgatory, as is the belief that you can merit justification after initial justification. So let’s all be careful. Let’s all study. But let us treat each other as Christians.

(A number of articles I have written on Catholic topics may be found here)