As the year 2000 arrives, the drive toward uniting Christian religions, called ecumenism, is quickly gathering speed.
Yet, if one is not aware of this trend, much apparently unconnected religious news can seem unimportant. This is unfortunate, for much of this news is indicative of a carefully orchestrated drive toward doctrinal consensus among the largest Christian denominations, especially during the year 2000. Prophetically, all of this can be very significant.
Without a doubt, Pope John Paul II is a leading force behind ecumenism. He has openly emphasized its importance in his apostolic letter titled “The Coming of the Third Millennium.”
“Among the most fervent petitions which the Church makes to the Lord during this important time, as the eve of the new millennium approaches, is that unity among all Christians of the various confessions will increase until they reach full communion… The approaching end of the second millennium demands of everyone an examination of conscience and the promotion of fitting ecumenical initiatives, so that we can celebrate the Great Jubilee [of the year 2000], if not completely united, at least much closer to overcoming the divisions of the second millennium… The ecumenical and universal character of the Sacred Jubilee can be fittingly reflected by a meeting of all Christians” (emphasis added throughout).
In order to attain closer doctrinal unity and boost declining memberships, many concessions are being made by Protestants and Catholics alike. Christianity Today reported, “Anglican and Roman Catholic leaders in May  released a consensus statement on the papacy, saying it is ‘a gift to be received by all the churches… Archbishop of Canterbury George L. Carey says recognizing the pope’s role as a spiritual leader is an urgent task for Christians” (July 12, 1999, p. 23).
On the Catholic side, two months later, Pope John Paul II declared that heaven is not a physical place but a “relationship with God.” A week later he said hell, instead of a place, is “the state of those who freely and definitely separate themselves from God.” These admittedly vague beliefs are much closer to what Anglicans and Lutherans teach.
Meanwhile, Lutherans and Catholics took a step closer toward reconciling their differences by recently signing a joint declaration on the doctrine of justification. “The accord was signed on Reformation Sunday by senior clerics in the German city of Augsburg. It marks a symbolic end to a theological dispute which triggered the Protestant Reformation almost five hundred years ago… Luther’s thesis led to a religious revolution which divided much of Christian Europe and provoked decades of war” ( BBC News, October 31, 1999).
On the Catholic end, a previous draft of this accord was hailed by Pope John Paul II as “an important ecumenical achievement that will encourage and reinforce the declared aim-that Lutherans and Catholics pursue the achievement of visible full unity” ( Christianity Today, August 19, 1998).
What’s wrong with Christian unity?
On the surface, “Christian unity” appears to be a good idea. After all, who likes disunity? We also know Christ will one day bring true religious unity to the world-but on His terms. Zechariah describes this moment: “And the LORD shall be King over all the earth. In that day it shall be-‘The LORD is one,’ and His name one” (14:9).
Yet, in this humanly devised ecumenical system, the underlying motives and beliefs for unity are suspect. We can look at four common areas being stressed in the current pursuit for unity. They are: Sunday worship, trinitarianism, communion or Eucharist services, and the liturgy and formal prayers.
Sunday worship is a key tenet of the majority of churches seeking unity. They see in Sunday a common bond, since it is the day when worship primarily takes place and where similar formats are used for communion services.
In his letter titled “The Lord’s Day,” Pope John Paul II stated, “The coming of the Third Millennium, which calls believers to reflect upon the course of history in the light of Christ, also invites them to rediscover with new intensity the meaning of Sunday: its ‘mystery,’ its celebration, its significance for Christian and human life.” During the year 2000, plans are being made in Rome to hold many joint services among different churches on Sunday.
Significantly, the recent accord between the Catholic and Lutheran churches took place while they celebrated a joint service on Sunday. The Associated Press reported, “Putting aside five centuries of differences in theology, Roman Catholic and Lutheran church leaders embraced at a service Sunday where they signed a declaration ending a dispute over salvation that sparked the Protestant Reformation and led to the Thirty Years’ War… The prayer service and signing ceremony included representatives of two dozen countries” (November 1, 1999).
Since Sunday is seen as a central belief of ecumenism, stronger words are being heard against those “nonconformists.” Yet, in the Bible, it is the Sabbath and not Sunday that is designated as the day on which God’s people worship Him. It was the Supreme God who said to His people about His Fourth Commandment: “Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you” (Exodus 31:13 Exodus 31:13Speak you also to the children of Israel, saying, Truly my sabbaths you shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that you may know that I am the LORD that does sanctify you.
American King James Version×). Also, Jesus Christ expressly mentioned He was the “Lord of the Sabbath”-not of Sunday or any other day (Mark 2:28 Mark 2:28Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.
American King James Version×).
Consequently, true Christian unity should first be based on an agreement to keep the Sabbath holy or we will be going against God’s express will. It is that simple.
Trinitarianism is the second area of consensus among most Christian churches. Even the World Council of Churches, founded in 1948, with a membership of about 500 million and encompassing 332 denominations, mentions its purpose is “to follow the gospel of the Triune God -Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Although it faces problems, this organization hopes to soon add the Catholic and Pentecostal churches to its membership and thereby represent almost 2 billion people.
The pope’s plans for the Jubilee 2000 celebration at the Vatican are filled with trinitarian terms. He says, “A separate chapter will be the actual celebration of the Great Jubilee, which will take place simultaneously in the Holy Land, in Rome and in the local churches throughout the world. Especially in this phase, the phase of celebration, the aim will be to give glory to the Trinity, from whom everything in the world and in history comes and to whom everything returns” (“The Coming of the Third Millennium”). The teaching of the trinity has long been a major tenet of mainstream Christianity. Since the Council of Constantinople in 381 C.E., persecution and exclusion has been the fate of those groups who do not accept this doctrine. It is ironic that a teaching whose fruits have never achieved unity is invoked during a period intended to bring people of faith together.
Communion services or the Eucharist
Another common feature of the churches that are melding together is their similar communion services that the Catholics call the Eucharist.
The pope puts great stress on this area. “The year 2000 will be intensely Eucharistic. In the sacrament of the Eucharist the Savior, who took flesh in Mary’s womb twenty centuries ago, continues to offer himself to humanity as the source of divine life. The ecumenical and universal character of the Sacred Jubilee can be fittingly reflected by a meeting of all Christians. This would be an event of great significance, and so, in order to avoid misunderstandings, it should be properly presented and carefully prepared, in an attitude of fraternal cooperation with Christians of other denominations and traditions, as well as a of grateful openness to those religions whose representatives might wish to acknowledge the joy shared by all the disciples of Christ” (“The Coming of the Third Millennium”).
In this manner, these representatives of other churches and religions will be partaking at some level of the common communion cup being offered by Rome.
Lutheran and Anglican churches already have similar communion services. Dave Hunt writes about the Eucharist, “Martin Luther was unable to shake free from much of his Roman Catholicism (infant baptism, etc.), and it remains within the church that bears his name to this day. While denying that they teach transubstantiation, Lutherans declare: ‘The true, real body and blood of Christ are somehow present, in a unique way, in, with, and under the bread and wine which are set aside” ( A Woman Rides the Beast, 1994, p. 384).
The BBC news network reported, “The fact that the two churches [Catholic and Lutheran] are worshipping together in Augsburg, Germany, where the first attempts to make up were made 400 years ago, marks something of a milestone in church history” (October 31, 1999).
The pope is trying to convince other Protestant churches to compromise with their beliefs by joining this fraternal drive. Catholic editor Richard Neuhaus is quite frank when he writes, “To Catholics, full communion means everybody is in communion with the bishops who are in communion with the bishop of Rome” ( Christian Science Monitor, October 29, 1999).
During this century, Pope Pius XII wrote, “We must not pass over in silence, or veil in ambiguous terms, the truth of Catholic teaching… that the only true union is by the return of separated Christians to the one true Church of Christ. For those who do not belong to the visible body of the Church…none can be assured of eternal salvation, because…they are still deprived of the helps and heavenly favors found only inside the Catholic Church” ( Mistici Corpus document, June 29, 1943).
However, the Eucharist or communion services as they are taught, were not practiced by the New Testament Church. Instead, Scripture shows the apostolic Church faithfully kept the yearly Passover services, now filled with new meaning as Christ became the Passover sacrifice for their sins. The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church: “For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:7-8 1 Corinthians 5:7-8 7 Purge out therefore the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, as you are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us:
8 Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
American King James Version×).
Liturgy and formal prayer
A fourth common element which ecumenism stresses is the similar rites, ceremonies and established prayers. Webster’s defines liturgy as, “a rite or body of rites prescribed for public worship.”
Recently, the rites of several Protestant churches were unified. On October 4, 1998, members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Presbyterian Church, the Reformed Church and the United Church of Christ, agreed to share ministers, sacraments and members. “The service opened with a four-way processional leading to a central baptismal font-the symbol of the basic sacrament of membership in each of the bodies. A common recitation of the Nicene Creed and a Renewal of Baptismal Vows emphasized common beliefs each tradition holds” ( Christianity Today, November 16, 1998, p. 18).
For the year 2000, Pope John Paul II is emphasizing the common bond Catholics and several Protestant groups have with rites and formal prayers. He announced, “I therefore decree that the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 will begin on Christmas Eve 1999… At Saint Paul’s Basilica, the holy door will be opened on Tuesday, January 18, when the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity begins, as a way of emphasizing the distinctive ecumenical character of this Jubilee” (“The Coming of the Third Millennium”).
Ecumenism’s final goal
Where is the drive to ecumenism headed? It seems right to where Bible prophecy said it would-to the formation of a global religious Babylon. Christ warned His true flock to stay away from a great religious movement which would be united in the last days behind the one He calls, “the false prophet” (Revelation 19:20 Revelation 19:20And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that worked miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone.
American King James Version×). He said this man and system would eventually deceive “those who dwell on the earth” (Revelation 13:14 Revelation 13:14And deceives them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he had power to do in the sight of the beast; saying to them that dwell on the earth, that they should make an image to the beast, which had the wound by a sword, and did live.
American King James Version×).
Christ predicted this religious movement would be enormously alluring, popular and powerful, but would actually be a false religious organization presiding over a great part of the world. He said about this great religious Babylon: “For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich through the abundance of her luxury [economic union and profits]. And I heard another voice from heaven saying, ‘Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues’ ” (Revelation 18:3-4 Revelation 18:3-4 3 For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies.
4 And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that you be not partakers of her sins, and that you receive not of her plagues.
American King James Version×).
Two rivers, two opposing views
In his letter on the coming Jubilee 2000 celebration, the pope compared this amalgamating of churches to a great river, into which all the tributaries will eventually flow. He wrote: “On the basis of this profound renewal, the [Catholic] Council opened itself to Christians of other denominations, to the followers of other religions and to all the people of our time… Seen in this light, the whole of Christian history appears to us a single river, into which many tributaries pour their waters. The year 2000 invites us with renewed fidelity and even deeper communion along the banks of this great river…” (“The Coming of the Third Millennium”).
A great river flowed through Babylon, the Euphrates, which spread far and wide. Prophetic Babylon symbolizes the same religious unity that Rome envisions for all religions.
Already, ecumenism is reaching out to Buddhists, Hindus and even pantheistic groups. “One of John Paul II’s most amazing feats,” writes Dave Hunt, “was the gathering at Assisi, Italy, in 1986 of 130 leaders of the world’s 12 major religions to pray for peace. Praying together were snake worshipers, fire worshipers, spiritists, animists, North American witch doctors, Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus, as well as ‘Christians’ and Catholics. The pope declared that all were ‘praying to the same God’ ” (ibid. Hunt, p. 424).
A contrasting symbol—the Jordan River
In contrast to the many tributaries of this great river of Babylon, there is a much smaller river, where a few tributaries flow from Galilee and create the Jordan River. This river is narrow, as true Christianity also was described (Matthew 7:13-14 Matthew 7:13-14 13 Enter you in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leads to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:
14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leads to life, and few there be that find it.
American King James Version×). In this river’s waters Jesus was baptized by immersion (not by sprinkling), yet most ecumenical churches reject immersion.
The Jordan River flows through the area where Joshua and the Israelites crossed its waters and claimed the Promised Land granted to Abraham, which is symbolic of the future establishment of God’s kingdom on this earth. This biblical truth about a future resurrection on this earth is very different from the undefined states of heaven and hell that are currently being taught in Protestant and Catholic circles.
The river also passes near the city that is Babylon’s opposite-Jerusalem, which Paul expressed as spiritually being “the mother of us all” (Galatians 4:26 Galatians 4:26But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.
American King James Version×). This refers to the Church where all true Christians belong-those who have “the love of the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:9-10 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10 9 Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, 10 And with all delusion of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.
American King James Version×) and keep their religion as pure and unadulterated as a pristine river.
Will the nations drink from the grand and popular river flowing from a spiritual Babylon, called in Revelation 17:1 Revelation 17:1And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying to me, Come here; I will show to you the judgment of the great whore that sits on many waters:
American King James Version×“the great harlot who sits on many waters “? Or will they drink from the small but pure river flowing from the unpolluted principles of the Holy Land? Prophecy shows a spiritual deception is coming upon the nations. The elect of God will understand the difference between the holy and the profane. WNP