On June 24th 2014, Carol and I went with a small group of leaders to visit Pope Francis in Rome. We spent about three hours together: a one hour private meeting and a wonderful time of fellowship over lunch.
The group of people attending were: Carol and I (representing Catch The Fire & Partners in Harvest), Tony Palmer (The Ark, an Anglican community in England), Kenneth Copeland (Kenneth Copeland Ministries), James & Betty Robison (Evangelists & Presidents of Life Outreach International & Christian Relief Organization). and Geoff Tunnicliffe (Secretary General of World Evangelical Alliance). Brian Stiller and Thomas Schirrmacher who accompanied Geoff also joined us.
We had the privilege of a very personal meeting with Pope Francis. We discussed several concepts concerning the topic of Salvation through faith in Christ alone. We found him to be a gracious, humble, and dedicated Christian man. He spoke from his heart as a man of God and as a man of the heart. He is a man of prayer and commitment who loves and serves people and who wants all to come into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
We were there to cultivate a friendship, to hopefully be reconciled in the midst of our diversity, and to come together in a joint effort to reach the world for Christ. He coined the relationship as ‘Reconciled Diversity’. I am unclear if the term originated with him, but what he meant by that term is that regardless of our various distinctives, we can all work together. Regardless of who we are historically: Protestants, Evangelicals, Catholics, Charismatic, or Orthodox, the hope is to be reconciled as Christians and come to a formal consensus about what we all truly believe the basis of salvation is really about. We all agree, including Pope Francis, that salvation is through faith in Christ alone as he is the only Saviour, the Son of God.
Pope Francis, in his document entitled, “Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium”, starts off by saying the following:
“The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all those who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness, and loneliness. With Christ, joy is constantly born anew. In this exhortation, I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark on a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy. Pointing out new paths for Christ’s church journey in years to come.”
The document goes on to talk about a lot of things that I agree with. The heart and truth with which Pope Francis writes could have been written by any one of us as Evangelicals.
Pope Francis was very clear that he is not expecting or desiring any of us to join the Roman Catholic Church, but rather to partner and work together for the cause of Christ in the context of John 17:20-23;
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
It is very important to him, and to us all, that the world begins to see Christians of all denominations walking together in love, acceptance, and forgiveness. We talked in detail about creating a cooperative position; to go before the world and proclaim Christ Jesus as the only hope of Salvation. Pope Francis truly wants unity and oneness with Jesus as the head of the Church. He is committed to a greater unity in the Body of Christ irrespective of doctrinal differences as in John 17:20-23 mentioned above. This is demonstrated by telling us how he plans on attending a Pentecostal Church in Rome to ask their forgiveness for persecution and the way they were treated by Catholics during the World War II era. The pastor of this church is now a good friend of his.
It was truly surreal for us to be there, and we were thinking this might be something very big in the Kingdom. I remember about 10 years ago when we sat with Harald Bredesen in Joe and Sarah Call’s living room in Raleigh, North Carolina. Harald had a ministry of meeting with Christian leaders from all over the world and reconciling them together in Christ. He met with all kinds of high profile people, even the Pope of that time. In Raleigh that day, Harald prayed over Carol and me and blessed us to continue in his anointing. His desire was to see us meet with world leaders and bring reconciliation and love to the world. Being in Rome and meeting with Pope Francis brought me back to that moment in North Carolina. It is an amazing feeling when you see prophecy come to life.
It is also an amazing story how Bishop Tony Palmer was able to coordinate our meeting with Pope Francis. Tony is a long time friend of Kenneth Copeland. He led his ministry base in South Africa for some time before being called to Italy and then to England. In the course of many years of ministry, Tony also went to Argentina and met with and became good friends of the Catholic Archbishop of Buenos Aires, who is now Pope Francis.
Several months ago Tony Palmer was again meeting with Pope Francis at his invitation, and Tony was sharing about Kenneth Copeland’s Ministry and his desire to join forces for the cause of Christ. Tony spontaneously took a video message of Pope Francis who sent heartfelt greetings and appreciation to Kenneth Copeland. This video was shown at one of Kenneth’s conferences in January 2014, and ended up being posted and going viral on YouTube. As a response to that video, our group was invited to meet with Pope Francis. Altogether we represent upwards of 700,000 various Protestant/Evangelical/Charismatic Christians. I don’t think there has been a time in history like this for a very long time where the leader in Rome, perhaps the most influential man on the face of the Earth, so openly demonstrates his radical love for Jesus, his love for the Holy Spirit, and who has a desire to see Christ come into peoples’ hearts. Pope Francis asked us to pray for him. I have noted that the media seem only too happy to misquote him and make him say things with sound bites that he had never intended to say.
I believe that this is a great opportunity to see more Catholics and others come into a deeper personal relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. Every denomination has people who are part of the institution, who might not yet seem to be born into the family of God. Each Wednesday, Pope Francis preaches the Gospel to a crowd of about 100,000 in Saint Peter's Square in Vatican City. He hands out booklets of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John to each person, while encouraging the people to invite Christ into their hearts and to read the Gospels daily. He arrives forty minutes before the service to greet all the people, and he afterwards stays to pray for the sick who are there.
Following our private meeting with Pope Francis, Carol had an opportunity to speak to him personally and to honour him. Carol recounted the following: “I want to thank you from the Father, but also from my heart, for loving the Holy Spirit like I see you love him. Every time I hear you speak, talk on YouTube, the Holy Spirit comes out so powerfully. You love Jesus with all your heart. Thank you for that. Thank you for loving God the Father in the manner you love him. Thank you for loving the people and caring that they get to know Jesus as their personal Saviour. I just love your heart and your spirit.” He looked at Carol and said “Thank you” and his eyes shone and he had a beautiful smile on his face. Carol said, “In my circles, I would hug you”, and he said, “You can do that!”, so she hugged him. You could see that he felt honoured and really came alive with a vibrant smile.
For what it's worth, we all liked him. His sincerity, his words, his actions of humility and his love were so obvious. I believe that his motives are real and to be trusted. We already are seeing a much greater openness amongst Catholics toward us.
Much love in Jesus,
President | Catch The Fire
Apostolic Overseer | Partners In Harvest