Defining Truth; Understanding Error; 2: Ecumenism – The False Unity

Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world…We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.

1 John 4:1,6

John, writing one of the last of the apostolic messages for the Church was particularly keen that God’s people would recognise the distinction between truth and error.  Inspired by the Spirit of God he anticipated the false teaching that would be a recurrent theme as the New Testament age developed.  

In every period of Church history falsehood has been a constant challenge for the people of God and our generation is no different. It is our responsibility to recognise error and know how to refute it while jealously holding onto the truth.

ECUMENISM – The False Unity

I can think of no ideology that is so subtle yet so dangerous, so absolutely destructive to our Protestant ethos and our Biblical understanding of the Gospel, as the spirit of ecumenism.

Ecumenism, which is essentially joint worship between Protestants and Roman Catholics, is so engrained into the fabric of religious life in Northern Ireland that it is accepted as normal by all the main Churches. Protestants within the Church of Ireland, Presbyterian and Methodist denominations including their clergy either support ecumenical activities or they suffer in silence and will not object. Christians outside these denominations are often unwilling to make too much of their concerns so as not to annoy or disturb the unity of the wider Protestant family.

It seems to me that gone are the days when we boldly sound the trumpet and call upon Bible believing Christians to separate from the churches of their fathers obeying the commands of scripture to come out from among them and be separate, touch not the unclean thing, to depart from Babylon and be not a partaker of her plagues. This tacit toleration of ecumenism must stop. The true Biblical Protestant cannot accept or tolerate ecumenism because the future of the Gospel is at stake.


We need to begin by defining the word ecumenical. This is an example of a very honourable term, which has been distorted out of recognition by the enemies of truth. The pure body of Christ is truly ecumenical because it comprises all those who belong to Him from throughout the world. The word ecumenical comes from the Greek oikoumene , and refers to the inhabitants of the whole world. It did not become a religious term until the late 16th Century when it was used to describe all those who were part of the Christian world. From this perspective ecumenical and catholic are very similar terms. Both in their proper usage define the true universal church.

Biblical Ecumenism

Ephesians 4:4
There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;

A true Biblical Ecumenism begins on the premise that there is one Church. All denominations are entities within the one Church but not one single denomination or assembly of believers is the Church. We are part of a much wider body.

Denominations exist for two main reasons. They are firstly a product of our sin and secondly they are a consequence of our natural differences: cultures, nationalities, history, background, attitudes and character. It was never in the plan of God for His Church to be dismembered into the many factions that we see in the world today. The first four hundred years of Church History there was but one body and the idea of a separated denomination only took root after Reformation. In heaven we will be one, according to the manner in which God intended us to be. Every difference will be settled forever and all will discover that we erred in more ways than we ever would have thought possible.

Our understanding of the Church is framed by the Scripture; she is the pillar and ground of the truth. There are certain truths that the Church must hold to if she is a genuine member of Christ’s glorious body. These include Creation, the Holy Trinity, the Deity of Jesus Christ, the Fall of Mankind, the Virgin Birth, the Atonement by Blood Shedding of Christ our Redeemer , the Death, Resurrection and Ascension of Christ, the Necessity of the New Birth through Faith in Christ alone and Repentance from Sin, The Authority of the the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, the Second Coming of Christ, Heaven for the Redeemed and Hell for the Unregenerate, the Last Great Judgement. Where other denominations and assemblies of believers uphold these truths we ought to engage in fellowship and accept their place within the Body of Christ.

True ecumenism must exist in some form if the Church is a genuine member of Christ. One of the characteristics of a cult is a body which claims that anyone outside the pale of its jurisdiction is lost. It is unworthy of the name of our Lord if we treat our brothers and sisters with disdain and act like a cult. A spirit of love ought to permeate our relationships with all of God’s people.

Counterfeit Ecumenism

2 Corinthians 11:14
And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.

Everything that is good and wholesome is counterfeited by Satan. He appears as an angel of light and can even produce scriptural arguments, which are spurious but well argued, as to why we should adopt certain practices or believe particular lies. This is particularly true in the realm of Ecumenism.

Ecumenism is a name which has been given to the joint fellowship that is ongoing between the main Protestant denominations and the Roman Catholic Church. At the heart of this False Ecumenism is the acceptance that the Roman Catholic Church is a true Church. Our last study, here referenced shows that the Roman Catholic Church is false and on that premise it is quite wrong to regard it as a true member of Christ’s body.

The Source of this Counterfeit Ecumenism

This counterfeit ecumenism is spawned by Rome herself. There is no body more keen on ecumenical advances than the Roman Catholic Church. There are two reasons for this, both of which relate to the Papacy. The Pope understands that he is head of all Christians and secondly, he believes that he takes Christ’s place as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Therefore Roman Catholic Evangelism is partly geared around bringing the Protestant Christians back into the fold, where they belong. Furthermore Rome will go beyond the Protestant Church and makes overtures to other faith groups such as the Moslems and Jews seeking to embrace them under the umbrella of the Holy Father, because that too is their proper place. There is no spiritual body in the world which claims such authority over the souls of men and women as Roman Catholicism and no man believes he so powerful in the spiritual realm as the Pope. Therefore the subtle, yet real danger is this – Rome designs it so that ecumenism flows in one direction only.

A couple of examples will highlight this.

No Pope in history has striven for unity with other faith groups like Pope Francis. When meeting Islamic Leaders he talks about Christians, Moslems and Jews praying to the one God, the God of Abraham. This is terribly confusing because the Jews and the Moslems deny Christ and do not accept the Scriptures. Their God is not the God of Christianity. But for the sake of reaching out Francis fudges core Christian values and doctrines. This shows that Rome will go to any length to impose the authority of the Papacy and bring all men and women into its web.

Pope Francis attends the inter-religious prayer at the ancient archeological site of Ur, traditionally believed to be the birthplace of Abraham, in Ur near Nassiriya, Iraq March 6, 2021. REUTERS/Yara Nardi

To read more about Pope Francis and his interfaith outreach to Iraq and what it teaches us about his theology

Closer to home the four main Churches last October convened a service in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral Armagh to commemorate one hundred years of Northern Ireland. Protestants and Catholics worshipped together, Protestant Ministers and Priests standing as equals before God to mark our centenary as a nation. The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh stole all the headlines by emphasising in his remarks, the pain and distress that the Partition of Ireland had caused the nationalist people. The fears that Protestants had in the decades leading up to 1921 that their way of life was under threat coupled by their desire for freedom and liberty which underpins the true reason for Partition did not get a mention. It seemed that in a service of thanksgiving Northern Ireland was an embarrassment, something that should not have happened. Of course, within an ecumenical context it would have been impossible to articulate great slogan of the early 20th Century that Home Rule was Rome Rule and post Partition, Protestants in the Free State and later in the Republic discovered the distress and difficulties they would face in such a religious environment. This is an example of how ecumenism plays to Rome’s advantage and fudges the truth.

Dr Peter Trumper, the late Protestant leader from Wales, wrote a piece called Pastor Newboy. It was about a young minister who was invited by a fraternity of clergy to join their group for coffee and discussion. After all they belonged to the one community. He was a bit nervous but they were all very nice and pleasant people. Eventually after several sessions the fraternity moved to prayer and worship with the Parish Priest welcoming all to attend his ministry. The lesson was clear, ecumenism always plays to Rome’s advantage and involves a weakening of true New Testament Christianity.

The Betrayal in this Counterfeit Ecumenism

Acts 20:29
For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.

From a Protestant perspective ecumenical activities with Rome is an utter denial of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. No Protestant ever can or ever should place himself or herself under the ministry of a man who claims he can act as God in hearing confession and forgiving sin and who performs Masses continually. I will talk with and have conversation with Parish Priests as I would with any other person in our community but I will not engage to joint worship or place myself under their ministry. I would all lose all credibility as a minster of the Gospel in so doing.

Ecumenical worship is also a betrayal of our Protestant martyrs who were burned to death rather than submit to Papal authority. They purchased our freedoms with their blood. We are in their debt. Rome believes the same doctrines as she taught in those dark times, doctrines that our forefathers rejected with vigour.

The Response to this Counterfeit Ecumenism

Ephesians 6:13

Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

Under the reign of Mary Tudor, Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, Bishop of London, were tied to a stake to be burned to death. Old Hugh Latimer told his colleague to be of good cheer and play the man because by their death they would light a candle in England that never would be put out. Today in Ulster the candle is burning dimly, more dimly that it has burned since before the Plantation of Ulster. One reason why the flame is burning so low is due to Ecumenism which has watered down the truth considerably.

The Protestant population does not warm today to teaching about the errors of Rome. Nor does the positive message of the Gospel gain wide acceptance, it has no popular appeal. It is difficult for clergymen to teach these truths when their brethren in the ministry are accepting Priests as fellow Christians and undermining the truth. Therefore the people are left in ignorance, led in some cases by the blind.

Protestants today are in the dark about who they are, their identity, their beliefs, their convictions. Ignorance slips in when truth is not presented and ignorance will be to the destruction of our people.

“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.”

Hosea 4:6

Therefore we must respond logically by teaching what truth is and what it is not. We need the courage to take our stand for truth when the circumstances require it. And pray for a revival of true Protestantism.

It seems that Protestants are either driven to godless and cruel sectarianism on the one hand or to a spineless ecumenism on the other hand. In this uncertain age we must hold onto the ground of truth for the sake of Christ and for the glory of His Gospel.

Paul’s words to Corinth continue to present the classic case for separation when the Gospel has been compromised

2nd Corinthians 6:14-18

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.

There is another argument, however, based on the example of the great missionary apostle. During his many travels he spent sone time in the great city of Athens. This was was one of the Greek centres of learning, philosophy and religion. His spirit was so stirred as he saw this city given to idolatry that he must do something.

Did he attempt to reconcile his faith in Christ with the paganism of the Greeks? Did he pray with them; he to God through Christ and they to their gods?

Such an approach would have been against the principles of a man who declared curses upon those who preached another gospel. He knew nothing but Christ, would countenance no other message and believed that the woes of God would be poured out upon him if he preached not the Gospel.

This was Paul’s approach whether in synagogue or before Kings and Governors. When confronted with the Greek scholars on Mars Hill he delivered his soul in the usual custom, He was scorned, treated like a babbler, but despite the opposition he summonsed his hearers to the resurrected Christ on the judgement day.

“Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.”

Acts 17:31

The cause of Christ goes forward when it is fuelled by this singular conviction; but when the resolve reduces and compromise sets in the church retreats.

Let us learn and relearn this lesson . The cause of truth in our nation depends upon it.

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