U.S. Catholics and Protestants agree: 500 years after Reformation, they have more in common than not

Emily McFarlan Miller
CRUX

According to a new survey, more Protestants reported they believe salvation comes through a mix of faith and good works (52 percent) — the traditionally Catholic position — than through “faith alone” (46 percent). That belief — “sola fide” in Latin — is one of five “solas” that form the backbone of Protestant Reformers’ beliefs.

The theological differences that led to the Protestant Reformation 500 years ago have dwindled since in both the United States and Western Europe.

That’s the finding of a Pew Research Center survey released Thursday (Aug. 31), weeks before late October’s 500th anniversary of the schism in western Christianity.

Among U.S. Protestants, many seem unaware of the differences, voicing beliefs today that are more traditionally Catholic than they are Protestant.

“I think it’s fair to say the differences between the two groups have diminished to a degree that might have shocked Christians of earlier centuries,” said Greg Smith, associate director of research at Pew Research Center.

“Maybe it’s not a huge surprise in the context of modern-day United States, but if you look back at the longer term – at the 500th anniversary of the Reformation – that would be quite surprising to a Christian of 300, 400, 500 years ago.” Continue reading

Hundreds of Evangelicals to Share Word of God With Catholics at Massive Fátima Event

Stoyan Zaimov
The Christian Post

Hundreds of  Portuguese evangelicals are reportedly planning to engage with Roman Catholics at the massive Fátima two-day event, where Pope Francis is set to canonize two shepherd children who 100 years ago claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary.

Evangelical Focus reported on Friday that Francis is visiting the famous Marian sanctuary near Lisbon on May 12 and 13, which has become one of the most important Catholic sites of the 20th century.

Some evangelicals are using the opportunity to speak with Catholics at the event marking 100 years since the sighting to “support the people going to Fátima in their needs, be they physical, emotional or spiritual,” said António Calaim, pastor and president of the Portuguese Evangelical Alliance.

Calaim explained that hundreds of evangelicals, mostly young believers from several churches, will be engaging in dialogue with pilgrims, tackling topics about God and the Bible, even if they disagree with Catholics about teachings concerning the Virgin Mary.

“These people heading towards Fátima these days deserve our consideration,” the pastor told Portuguese news agency Lusa.

The pastor explained where evangelicals and Catholics disagree:

“We do not agree with the idolatry of Mary, the worship of the saints and images, and the leadership of the Church in the whole world under one man,” he said, referring to the pope.

He added that evangelicals do not believe the apparitions claimed by the shepherds to be a real fact.

Still, Calaim insisted that the point of the engagement will not be to confront Catholics, but  “to give a hug and share the Word of God” with the people present there.

BBC News said that more than a million pilgrims are expected to attend the Pope Francis event at Fátima, with many believing that the visions of Mary, the first recounted on May 13, 1917, reveal truth to help mankind.

The Guardian recounted the story behind the Fátima, stating that “the children being canonized, brother and sister Francisco and Jacinta Marto, who were nine and seven at the time of the apparitions, died of influenza two years later.”

“Their cousin, Lucia dos Santos, who became the main raconteur of their tale, is on track for beatification, the first step toward becoming a saint. Her case couldn’t begin until after her death in 2005,” it added.

The children, who were grazing sheep at the time, claimed to have seen half a dozen visions of the Virgin Mary, in which she revealed to them “apocalyptic messages foreshadowing the second world war, hell, the rise and fall of communism and the death of a pope.”

The pontiff sent a message to Portuguese Catholics, asking them to “whisper into the ears of each one of them, and assure them that her Immaculate Heart is a refuge and a path leading them to God.”

Francis noted that the logo of the event is “with Mary, I come as pilgrim in hope and in peace.”

With terror concerns high in Europe following a number of Islamic radical attacks in recent years, BBC noted that Portugal has deployed 6,000 police and emergency workers at the site, and have erected concrete blocks on approach roads to stop any “ramming” attacks with a vehicle.

Pacifist Jehovah’s Witnesses now banned in Russia as “extremists”

John Burger
Aleteia

The pacifistic religious group known as Jehovah’s Witnesses has been declared an “extremist group” in Russia and forbidden to carry out public activities.

Russia’s Supreme Court on Thursday accepted a request from the justice ministry that the Jehovah’s Witnesses be considered an extremist group and ordered its national headquarters in St. Petersburg and all 395 local churches closed. It banned all their activity immediately, and ordered their property seized by the state.

This is the first time that a court has ruled that a registered national centralized religious organization is “extremist” and therefore banned, according to Forum 18 News Service.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses intend to appeal Judge Yury Ivanenko’s decision and have said that, if necessary, they will take their case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Russia’s estimated 170,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses now risk criminal prosecution if they continue to meet for prayer or Bible study, Forum 18, a religious freedom monitoring organization, said:

Any attempt by Jehovah’s Witnesses to share their beliefs, even within the restrictions of the July 2016 so-called “missionary amendment” to the Religion Law, will now be illegal, as the amendment prohibits any missionary activity by former members of banned “extremist” organizations (see Forum 18’s “extremism” Russia religious freedom survey). The July 2016 changes also imposed harsh restrictions on anyone sharing any religious beliefs, including where and who may share them, as nges (see Forum 18’s general Russia religious freedom survey).

The news service said that Russia’s Federal Financial Monitoring Service (Rosfinmonitoring) had already added the Jehovah’s Witness Administrative Center to its list of “organizations, against which there is evidence of involvement in extremist activity or terrorism,” and the Center’s financial transactions are already blocked.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom said Friday it is disappointed, but not surprised, with the ruling.

“The court’s decision sadly reconfirms the disregard of the government for religious freedom in present-day Russia,” commented Jesuit Father Thomas J. Reese, chairman of the commission. “Individual and community expressions of faith, and even private religious beliefs, are not safe from state-sponsored repression and coercion in Russia today.”

And Sen. Roger F. Wicker (R-MS), chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, an independent agency of the Federal Government charged with monitoring compliance with the Helsinki Accords, stated: “People who practice their faith peacefully should never be in danger of being harassed, fined, or jailed. The court order to seize organization property owned by Jehovah’s Witnesses adds insult to injury.”

But Daria Kirjanov-Mueller, who teaches Russian at the University of New Haven in Connecticut, said the development needs to be seen in the context of the the Law on Freedom and Religion enacted under former President Boris Yeltsin in 1997. In the first years after the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate “was struggling to serve a huge population of atheists just finally entering into a post-Soviet reality and ready and excited to take on a faith,” Kirjanov-Mueller said. “There was competition, but the majority of the seekers sought Russian Orthodoxy. Nevertheless, there was a selection of religions, and the Russian Orthodox Church lost many ‘native’ Orthodox to various other Christian and non-Christian denominations.”

The 1997 law was meant to address the “unwelcome competition” between the Moscow Patriarchate and other Christian denominations, she said.

“Several churches foreign to Russia were barred from registering” as official religions, Kirjanov-Mueller said. “Twenty years later, the situation has not changed much. The main issue as I see it lies in the fact that the Moscow Patriarchate, along with other branches of the Russian Orthodox Church (such as the Orthodox Church of America) as well as with the support of the Muslim clerics, sees such religious groups’ activity in Russia as a threat. They actually do not see them as pacifist, because their methods are quite activist and, perhaps in the Russian view, ‘extremist.’ Proseletizing is not a part of the religious culture in Russia, and many Russians, as well as the government and the religious establishment are suspicious of it.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses are not the only ones affected, she said. The law applies also to Mormons and Seventh Day Adventists, for example.

She said that the Orthodox in the south of Russia are generally very religious and see groups such as 7th-Day Adventists as competition. “There have been many examples of people from Christian [sects] going into Orthodox churches and distributing literature or in some way disturbing church services,” she said. “They go door to door…and the Russian Orthodox Church sees them as aggressive because they talk to people very openly, they give out literature, they often say very negative things about the Russian Orthodox Church, they’re very good at debating. … They are being perceived — by a very conservative religion that is in the process of reshaping itself and has been doing so for 25 years after a very long time of atheism — they are being perceived as the guys coming in and taking away our future converts.”

 

Russia Bans Jehovah’s Witnesses as Extremists

Kate Shellnutt
Christianity Today

It’s official. Jehovah’s Witnesses can no longer practice their faith freely in Russia, where the Supreme Court on Thursday declared the pacifist religious organization an “extremist group” and banned all of its activity.

The judge ordered all 395 local chapters and its Russian headquarters to close and authorized the government to seize all property. Under the ruling, distributing copies of the Watchtower, discussing their beliefs in public, or even worshipping at a meeting hall has become a crime. Continue reading

Kentucky PCUSA Congregation Being Kicked Out of Church Building After Rift Over Marriage Definition

Samuel Smith
Christian Post

A congregation in Kentucky could soon be evicted from its church building by its regional Presbyterian Church (USA) governing body after the congregation voiced disapproval with the denomination‘s decision to recognize and allow gay marriage.

The Presbytery of Western Kentucky has given First Presbyterian Church of Calvert City until April 19 to vacate its church building.

Paul Ambler, clerk of session and husband of the church’s pastor, told The Christian Post on Tuesday that the congregation received a notice to vacate the building, which is owned by the presbytery, last week. Continue reading

Alabama Senate votes to allow church to form police dept.

AP

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) – The Alabama Senate has voted to allow a church to form its own police force.

Lawmakers on Tuesday voted 24-4 to allow Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham to establish a law enforcement department.

The church says it needs its own police officers to keep its school as well as its more than 4,000 person congregation safe.

Critics of the bill argue that a police department that reports to church officials could be used to cover up crimes.

The state has given a few private universities the authority to have a police force, but never a church or non-school entity.

Police experts have said such a police department would be unprecedented in the U.S.

A similar bill is also scheduled to be debated in the House on Tuesday.

Church in North-America Reinforces Position on Church and State Separation

North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists
Adventist Review

Recent events by both the legislative and executive branches of the U.S. Government have brought the Johnson Amendment and participation in elections by non-profits (including churches) to the forefront. The Johnson Amendment is the 1954 amendment to Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code prohibiting tax exempt organizations from endorsing or opposing candidates for office. This amendment is so named because of its sponsorship by then Senator Lyndon Johnson who had been targeted by a non-profit during an election.

While not controversial when passed, it is now viewed by some as an infringement on the religious liberty and speech rights of churches. Critics contend that it regulates what can be said from the pulpit, normally one of the most sacrosanct places free from government intrusion. Others have raised concerns that it creates an environment for further regulation of churches via the tax code. Continue reading

United Methodist Congregation’s Satellite Campus Splits From Church Over Homosexuality Debate

Michael Gryboski
Christian Post

A satellite campus of a United Methodist congregation in Kansas has left the mainline denomination over the church body’s homosexuality debate.

Asbury United Methodist Church of Wichita’s west campus, which had an average 350 regular attendance, decided to cut ties with both the main campus and the denomination.

The vote came at a meeting held last Thursday which featured Asbury Church Senior Pastor Rick Just and West Campus Pastor Aaron Wallace. Continue reading

Vatican Scholars will study the figure of Luther to understand why the Reformation occurred

The Vatican will examine the figure of Luther from both an academic and historical point of view. It is more than theological issues that explain the beginning of the Reformation.
P. JOHANNES GROHE
“Luther does not act in union with the Emperor. It is the regional princes in Germany who take the reform as an occasion to go against the Pope and the Emperor. Charles V is seen in this struggle against Luther and against the Protestant princes in order to maintain the unity of the Empire. Thus the reform, in 10-15 years, becomes, from a matter of reform of customs and ideology, a political struggle.”
This political maneuver of the German nobles against the emperor, Charles V of Germany, accelerated this division. Although the Church was not a rigid institution, it had already underwent reforms, such as those relating to religious orders. The meeting will analyze these historical and political circumstances that accelerated the division.
P. BERNARD ARDURA
President, Pontifical Committee of Historical Sciences
“In past centuries, Luther has been seen as the incarnation of the devil, as one who has broken communion. Today is not about saying that he has done something good, but we can explain how it happened.”
Five centuries have passed since Martin Luther‘s famous 95 theses. Since then, many steps have been taken to bring the two branches closer.  This can be seen particularly following the Second Vatican Council, where the Church favored a change in attitude.
P. BERNARD ARDURA
President, Pontifical Committee of Historical Sciences
“It’s an open wound, but the look is not the same. We have a look of charity, a reciprocal look, which sees good will in the other.”
For example, proof of this was Pope Francis‘s trip to Sweden to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.
The conference on Luther will be held from March 29 to 31. It seeks to delve into the past in order to walk together in the future. As Pope Francis says, it must be done through dialogue, but without losing one’s identity.

Rome Congress: The Reformation Is Not Explained by Religious Differences Alone‘Luther 500 Years Later. A Rereading of the Lutheran Reformation in the Historical, Ecclesial Context’

Zenit

‘Luther 500 Years Later. A Rereading of the Lutheran Reformation in the Historical, Ecclesial Context’

Historical studies and their perspective enable one to understand today that the Protestant Reformation cannot be explained by theological reasons alone. And although there were misunderstandings at the root of the break, there was above all an historical, political and economic context, without which a rupture of Christianity would not have been possible, said on Thursday the President of the Pontifical Committee of Historical Sciences, Premonstratensian Father Bernard Ardura who, accompanied by Johannes Grohe, current Professor of Medieval History at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, held a meeting with journalists in the Holy See Press Office.

There they explained that an International Study Congress organized by the Pontifical Committee of Historical Sciences, on the occasion of the 5th centenary of the Lutheran Reformation, will be held from March 29-31 at the Mary Most Holy Maiden Institute, located very near the Vatican.

The title of the meeting is “Luther 500 Years Later. A Rereading of the Lutheran Reformation in the Historical Ecclesial Context,” in which a series of historical data will be provided, which will make possible a better understanding of what happened.

Questioned by ZENIT, Father Ardura said that in the Reformation “there are re-readings which enable one to discover that there were misunderstandings and we have already experienced this in the Orthodox Churches. He pointed out, for instance, the subject of justification, in faith and works, which was key in the Reformation and which recently “was the object of an agreement between the two Churches, which enables one to understand that, with different words, we have communion in the same faith.”

He acknowledged that there are still “other aspects” that are pending, such as the constitution itself of the Church, the role of the ministry within the Church, the Apostolic Succession, the place of the Sacraments.” All these are “subjects that are still open.”

The historical perspective, enables us to understand in greater depth, because Luther did not arrive in the middle of a Church that should be discarded;” on the contrary, he “arrived in a Church that, in the second half of the 15th century, already experienced elements of reform.”

He noted that in the Congress, “we will present many examples in various countries of Europe, at the level of bishops, and also the reforms within the religious orders, whether Benedictine, Premonnstratensian, Cistercian – be it in England, Bohemia, Italy or France.”

Thus, the historical perspective “enables one to understand better another aspect: what were the non-theological elements that led to the rupture. Let us not forget that in Germany there were tensions between the Princes and the Emperor, who was the head of the Holy Catholic Empire and the embodiment of the Catholic Empire.” Moreover, he recalled that the Emperor was called “Imperial Apostolic Majesty.”

In that context, “Protestantism found in the German Princes especially its point of diffusion,” not forgetting “economic aspects such as the secularization of ecclesiastical properties.”

For all these reasons, therefore, “theological questions alone do not explain the Lutheran Reformation,” stressed Professor Ardura, because “the Church is semper reformanda and already then the Church was in a process of reform.”

The challenge, however, was to “coincide in communion,” as were the reforms that Church had within herself in the course of the centuries.

Another aspect pointed out by the Director of the Historical Committee was “the concrete praxis of indulgences, which is the spark that lights the powder. Because there were ways of doing that one realizes, after so much time, were not in consonance with the spiritual reality.” And he specified this idea by pointing out that “today also, when indulgences are requested from the Apostolic Penitentiary, written in large letters is: ‘this is free,’ because an indulgence is a gift of God which is not purchased. And there were ways of doing things that were very contestable.”