New Pope: evangelist to meet evangelist

Interesting column from John Coulter in the Irish Daily Star which looks at the slow change in the Catholic Church’s direction. A change that may be facing evangelic Protestants with something of a dilemma. The next conclave begins on Monday, after the period of offical mourning is complete.

By John Coulter

Whilst more than a billion Catholics globally continue to mourn the loss of John Paul the Great, ironically his legacy will have the biggest impact on hardline Ulster Protestant fundamentalists.

Many Protestant missionary groups now work virtually unhindered in former Soviet bloc nations because John Paul was the man credited with breaking the back of atheistic communism throughout Europe.

However, for Biblical Protestantism, John Paul’s greatest achievement was his personal support for the development of the worldwide Evangelical Catholic movement, especially in Ireland and Africa.

These are ‘born again Catholic believers’ as defined by the Biblical New Testament who chose to remain and work within the Catholic Church rather than leave for one of the Protestant sects.

John Paul’s active encouragement of Evangelical Catholicism has left many Protestant fundamentalist groups, such as the Caleb Foundation, the Evangelical Protestant Society, Ian Paisley’s Free Presbyterian Church and the Independent Orange Order, in a real theological dilemma.

Such fundamentalists term those who are going to heaven as being ‘saved’ or ‘born again believers’. How can such Protestants say they are ‘saved’, yet condemn Evangelical Catholics who have accepted Christ as their personal Saviour as not being equally ‘saved’?

The most visible clash between Ulster Protestant fundamentalism and the late Pope came in October 1988 when Paisley was ejected from the European Parliament when he interrupted an address by John Paul.

But fundamentalism is now singing from a different hymn sheet in terms of John Paul. Paisley himself and the DUP Mayor of Ballymena Hubert Nicholl expressed sympathy to the Catholic community on his death.

Could it be Protestant fundamentalism now recognises the man it once branded as the Biblical Anti-Christ has been the one Pontiff who has revolutionised the Evangelical Catholic movement?

It is also ironic some sections of Protestant fundamentalism criticise the Catholic Church for having a pope. In 2002, Paisley celebrated the 50th anniversary of the formation of his fundamentalist Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster.

Whilst mainstream Irish Presbyterianism elects a new Moderator each year, Paisley has been the one and only Moderator of the Free Church.

Ironically, in spite of being poles apart theologically on how to get to heaven, conservative Catholicism and fundamentalist Protestantism shared common ground on a number of issues, including stiff opposition to homosexuality, divorce, abortion, and contraception.

Amongst many Ulster Protestants, the Pope has been a figure of crude sectarian songs, especially around the Twelfth. The North’s large flute band fraternity, known officially as Blood and Thunder bands, are referred to as ‘Kick the Pope’ bands in numerous working class loyalist districts.

Many Protestants also seem to conveniently forget that in 1690, after hearing that the Protestant champion King William had defeated the Catholic King James at the Boyne, the then Pope, Alexander the Eighth, held a special Mass to commemorate the Prince of Orange’s victory.

Many pundits believe the next Pope should be an African, where the Evangelical Catholic movement is competing head to head with radical Islam in the numbers game.

Two leading contenders are the supposed favourite, Francis Arinze from Nigera, closely followed by Wilfrid Fox Napier, a black South African.

The election of an African pontiff will see a worldwide expansion of Evangelical Catholicism.

The real dilemma for Protestant fundamentalism – and the main Orange Order in particular – is how its ‘born again believers’ will work and worship with similar ‘born again believers’ within the Evangelical Catholic movement.

First published in the Irish Daily Star on Monday 11th April

  • Alan2

    Dr Coulter really needs to read a bit more theology before he comments on such things. The Free P`s are governed by Presbytries and each Church is more or less self governing. Evangelical Catholicism is all fine and well IF Evangelical Catholics have accepted Christ as their personal Saviour and salvation is in Christ ALONE not in works, or particular people or saints or any type of idol (real object or just something like sport that comes before God), indulgences, purgatory..all the usual stuff.

    Also the Orange Order does not come into it as neither it nor the Independents are “evangelical” and nor do they preach being “saved” or “born again” as it is a fraternity only and the likes of Church Of Ireland members do not usually subscribe to such things.

  • Dr. Pritchard

    Dear John Coulter,

    In reply to your letter, I must inform you that you are sorely mistaken! Friend, the Roman Catholic Church is steeped in idolatry! Answer me these few, simple questions. Firstly, why pray to Mary? Was it not Christ Jesus who went and hung upon the tree at Calvary to bare the sin and transgressions of the world? Why not pray to Him? Why not pray to the one who gave His life for you?

    Secondly, why confess to the Priest? What can the Priest do for you? Friend, the Priest has no power over the Lord God! It is He that you need to confess your sins to!

    Thirdly, yes, you need to be saved. For clearly in the Bible it says, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) Now, do tell, are you going to rebuke the word of God and accecpt the word of the MEN of the Roman Catholic Church?

    I will pray of the Catholics of the world, and do faithfully every day, that they might see what the Lord hath done for them at Calvary, and see that they do not have to go and confess to the Priest etc. because, thank God, the Lors Christ finished the work at Calvary and defeated eternal death with His ressurection! All that you have to do is “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved”!

    Your Friend in Christ,

    Dr. Pritchard.
    (a concerned Free-Presbyterian)

  • Ian Major

    Alan2 says it well.

    The problem real Evangelicals have with ‘Catholic Evangelicals’ is that of knowing whether they are Evangelical OR Catholic. These are mutually exclusive theologies: they share essential doctrines like the deity of Christ, but do not do so on other essentials such as justification by faith.

    I would want to know from a Catholic Evangelical if they denied the Roman Catholic dogma on these disputed points. If they do, then they are no longer Catholic – for the Catechism of the Roman Catholic church makes it explicit that rejection of ANY of their dogmas AUTOMATICALLY excommunicates the offender.

    I have no problem accepting such a Catholic as a brother in Christ, even though I disagree with their continued presence in an apostate church. I have similar regard for my brethren in other apostate/compromised churches, such as Presbyterians, Anglicans, Methodists.

    History tells us that there are many Roman Catholics who held to the Evangelical doctrine, yet remained within that church. However, from what I read by the leaders of Evangelical Catholics in Ireland, I doubt they are among them. Would that they prove me wrong!

    By His Grace


  • Barbara

    (I think I hit the wrong button, so my first message was incomplete.)

    Being “evangelical” and “Catholic” are not “mutually exclusive theologies” as Ian has stated. One can rightly put the word “evangelical” in front of any religion or denomination. All it means is that a person in that group spreads what he/she perceives to be the good news of their gospel.

    As I understand the word “gospel,” it includes the following thoughts:
    1. We are sinners
    2. We need a savior
    3. Jesus is our Savior
    4. We need to be born-again
    5. We need to repent and follow Jesus

    Although these ideas are biblical, we need to be very careful that we don’t take these statements at face value without looking further into any groups claim that it is Christian based soley upon the above list. Recently, and to my utter shock, my pastor stood in front of our church and refered to John Paul II and how he spread the gospel. My pastor felt justified in doing this because Catholics believe in the above list, at least on the surface. It is only when one researches their doctrines thoroughly that it becomes painfully evident that Catholics do not have the same understanding as Christians do.

    Having been delivered from 41 years of Mormonism, I put to my pastor the following question and asked if it was legitimate: Can I be an evangelical Mormon? Of course, the answer was no, but Mormon doctrine includes the above tenets. According to the liberal use of the word “evangelical,” then, a Mormon could be evangelical. Of course, when the complete doctrine of Mormonism is understood, we know that their understanding of the word “gospel” is not biblical because they not only do they define the list differenly than Christians, but they include much more than is biblically sound.

  • emer

    “steeped in idolatry” “You must be saved” “rebuke the word” etc … etc… maybe im doomed, but you guys are just nuts i reckon. why not lets all try and treat one another as we would like to be treated ourselves. maybe i Am an idolator like you say, but compared to the potential bigotry you guys generate, what HARM does it do? How about this for a blinding bit of theology? You be good = go to heaven and be rewarded. You be bad = you dont. Why overegg the pudding?

  • G2

    “All it means is that a person in that group spreads what he/she perceives to be the good news of their gospel. “

    Does it not also mean how different Christians interpret the Gospels. Which group sect or branch of Christianity, be they traditional Orthodox, Protestant ,Roman Catholic, or new age pentecostal have exclusive access to the ultimate truth?

    Are Catholics Born Again?

    Catholics and Protestants agree that to be saved, you have to be born again. Jesus said so: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).