The Pope and the Patriarch

Some folks have asked what I thought about the meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew. There are some folks who see sinister signs whenever Christian leaders meet. I think this is sad, as the last prayer of Jesus for his followers was that they be one. The schism between the Catholic and Orthodox churches is over 1000 years old. It was marked by acrimonious curses, and centuries of silence, but in the past decades has seen renewed dialogue and understanding and respect.

I find it ironic that some Protestants are just now noticing that there is an Orthodox church. Some portrayals of church history by Protestants make it seem as if this thing called the Roman Catholic Church, headed by an infallible pope, popped into existence in 538 AD, and was the sole Christian authority until the Reformation dawned. The papacy is seen as the antichrist, and it is accused of bringing all sorts of innovations, so these Christians are hard pressed to deal with a branch of Christianity that shares those same traditions but never accepted an infallible papacy. Now that the Patriarch of Constantinople is finally on their radar, for meeting with the pope, suddenly they pay attention.

I think any time Christian leaders humble themselves meet together to pray, to confess sin, and to preach Jesus, it is a good thing. I do think that it needs to be accompanied by humble searching for Bible truth, as well.

I think the Orthodox and Catholic churches share many errors–and these predate the papacy, an institution whose growth prompted their split. The Bishop of Rome was just one patriarch of the early church, sharing jurisdiction with the Patriarchs of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch (and later, Jerusalem). The spread of Islam diminished the influence of the churches of Alexandria and Antioch. Linguistic and cultural differences were dividing East from West while the Roman Empire was still unified, and the fall of the Western Empire was the final step in the process. The collapse of civil authority facilitated the rise of the papacy as a religio-political power. It helped to bring some order to the chaos of the West, but the increasingly extreme claims of the popes alienated the Patriarchs of Constantinople, who saw the papacy as but a tool of semi-pagan barbarian warlords.

We can’t say that “the papacy” “changed the Sabbath,” because the Sabbath was abandoned by the early church, starting in Rome, long before there was a papacy. I think we need to instead see that there were influences spreading in the church from Greco-Roman culture that led to the adoption of many unbiblical practices and teachings that had nothing to do with what power structures existed in the church at that time or later. This is most clearly seen in the case of the churches of the East, which readily embraced Platonism. They’ve consistently had a more mystical Platonic bent in their theology and spirituality, in contrast to the more juridical approach of the West.

Bible prophecy sees the church as a woman–in Revelation, she is at first pure and faithful, and flees into the wilderness to escape the dragon. When we next see a woman in the wilderness, she’s a prostitute riding a beast. Some want to see these women as two separate entities–but I think the Old Testament imagery used of Israel (e.g., Hosea) suggests we see this as the transition of the church. The woman who was persecuted becomes a harlot. And God’s final call is to “come out” and to be faithful to God and to his commandments.

I do think Platonic mysticism is a bridge that could unite not only Eastern and Western Christians, but Christians with non-Christian religions. I think the illicit relations that both Eastern and Western Christianity had with the state are contrary to the teachings of Christ and the Bible. But I don’t think the Patriarch of Constantinople is going to accept the infallibility of the pope. I don’t think there will be a single church headed by the pope, in union with the state. I don’t think there needs to be. The same spirit of antichrist can manifest itself in different ways, in different places.

And I think the way to protect ourselves in the last days is to humble ourselves, and to pray, and to confess our sins, and to seek the Lord while he may be found. And if Frances and Bartholomew do that, I will not fault them.