- This is a gathering of Pentecostal pastors and leaders in Texas hosted by Kenneth Copeland Ministries, which is led by Kenneth Copeland.
- Bishop Tony Palmer, a friend of Copeland, is not a Catholic bishop; he is a bishop within the Anglican Episcopal Communion of the CEEC (Celtic Anglican Tradition), and is the Communion's international Ecumenical Officer. (see their website)
- Bishop Palmer is longtime friends with Copeland, but also long time friends with Pope Francis whom he knew before he became Pope. He's the link between Pope Francis and the gathering in Texas.
Copeland introduces Bishoper Palmer, and then Bishop Palmer explains his own background and the story behind how he got the video message from Pope Francis. You then see Francis' heartfelt message, which is followed by the Pentecostals praying for Pope Francis and making their own video to send back. I recommend watching the whole video.
While there's lots of positive things about what happened here, I would also like to make a few comments of clarification regarding three things Bishop Palmer talked about since it's vital to effective ecumenism that we get our facts straight.
He says that for the first thousand years of the faith there was just one Church, but that then there was the East/West split making two Churches, then Luther making a third, and then thousands after that. This is simply false.
First, there is only one Church: "We believe in one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church," as Catholics say in the Nicene Creed. There is only one Body of Christ, and Christ is not divided. That gift of unity of the Church, Catholics believe, subsists in the Catholic Church.
Second, schimatic movements are not something unique to the second millenium. There have been many from the beginning: Montanists, Donatists, Nestorians, etc, just to name a few from the first few centuries of the Church.
Contrary to what Bishop Palmer seems to say, the Catholic Church hasn't changed her position on justification since the Reformation. The teachings of Session 6 of the Council of Trent still stand and are in fact dogmatic, which means they can't change.
Regarding the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification agreed to by the Catholic Church's Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Lutheran World Federation in 1999, it's important to note a few things. First, the document does not jointly affirm sola fide, as Bishop Palmer claims. Second, the Vatican also issued a complementary clarifying document, which acknowledged that "there are many points of convergence between the Catholic position and the Lutheran position," but qualifies that the agreement is limited: "The Catholic Church is, however, of the opinion that we cannot yet speak of a consensus [...] On some points the positions are, in fact, still divergent." The document then goes on to make some clarifications of the first document.
While there has been some progress in ecumenical dialogues, the Catholic Church maintains her original position and the doctrinal conflict remains. In other words, unless Protestants are willing to give up sola fide, the protest regarding justification is not over as Bishop Palmer claims. In addition, while the doctrine of justification is important, it is certainly not the only doctrinal issue that divides Catholics and Protestants (ecclesiology, the sacraments, mariology, the biblical canon, etc).
What Christian Unity Is
At one point, Bishop Palmer says that as long as everyone is following Christ, the doctrinal differences don't matter and that God will sort everything out in heaven.
This is a strange position since Jesus himself says we must worship "in spirit and truth" (John 4.24), and I don't think St. Paul let the Galatians off the hook when they departed from the Gospel he had preached to them. Besides, all doctrine ultimately has some practical import. Is our primary worship the Mass, or is it something different? Should we baptize babies or only adults? Are there 66 books in the Bible or 73? Does the Bishop of Rome possess the charism of infallibility or not? These real world problems don't go away just because we have good feelings about each other.
While Catholics certainly agree that Christian unity is found in Christ with the Holy Spirit, Catholics believe that unity is displayed visibly in three ways: unity in doctrine, unity in worship, and unity in governence. Meaning, we're only in full visible unity if we believe the same things, worship with the same Sacraments, and are in communion with bishops that are in communion with the Bishop of Rome, the Pope. Catholics and Pentecostals are not in full unity as long as Pentecostals remain outside of full communion with the Catholic Church.
Nonetheless, I do want to reaffirm that what happened here was very good. The posture of openness to the Catholic Church on the side of the Protestants was commendable, Pope Francis' message was very charitable, and, of course, people praying for each other is always good.
As Elizabeth Scalia recommends, watch the whole thing. Yes, it's 45 minutes, but it's worth it.
UPDATE: Regular Aleteia contributor Fr. Dwight Longenecker has some questions about the credentials of Bishop Tony Palmer.
Brantly Millegan is an Assistant Editor for Aleteia. He is also Co-Founder and Co-Editor of Second Nature, Co-Director of the International Institute for the Study of Technology and Christianity, and is working on a M.A. in Theology at the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity. He lives with his wife and children in South St. Paul, MN. His personal website is brantlymillegan.com.