Many efforts have been made to heal the breach between the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox religions. So far, all have failed. Will there ever be peace and unity between these churches?
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Recently, another attempt was made to establish common ground in what has been a rocky relationship between two churches with a checkered history. The current Pope of the Roman Catholic Church has made numerous attempts at reaching out to many religions. However, his strongest attempts have been to the Patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Pope John Paul II has even gone so far as to apologize for his church’s actions against those in the Eastern Orthodox faith—a move that would have been unthinkable two decades ago.
Over the last 15 years, meetings between these powerful religious leaders have become more frequent. Both offer a deep commitment to seeing their churches join under one banner and share their power to preach a common message.
Their latest meeting, on July 1, 2004, produced many concessions by both sides that may quickly see these two churches unite. Suddenly, past disagreements are being overshadowed by a common cause: “to restore to the European continent the awareness of its Christian roots…” (L’Osservatore Romano, July 7, 2004).
As the budding European Union forms its constitution, some of its member states have resisted the idea of espousing one religion, or religious tenet, as the official belief of the Union. Both of these powerful churches wish for Europe to espouse an official religion. This is why their unification is so important. If they stand under one banner, their ability to influence the EU—and the world—will be much more successful. So far, many attempts have been made, but have come short of this goal.
However, their past is common. These churches share a common ancestry, but events occurring thousands of years ago caused their paths to fork. How did this happen? Will those events stop these two churches from reuniting? And will they be able to make certain that, as their recent Common Declaration stated, “the European Continent does not forget its own Christian roots”?
Events happening today were actually foretold thousands of years ago—that not only would these churches split, but that they would eventually reunify! And that reunification would be given the power to unite the European Union under their banner. While this may sound like an incredible—or even impossible—outcome, its fulfillment is certain and it will have a very deep—and REAL—impact on you!
To understand events as they unfold in our time, we must pull back the curtain of history and see why these two churches separated in the first place. These events and their results will shed much light on the history imposed by the universal church at Rome.
After the death of Jesus Christ and the formation of the New Testament Church, certain figures began to appear. Their purpose, however, was not the same as that of the apostles, and neither were their teachings. The apostle Paul was already warning the early Church about a movement within their membership: “I marvel that you are so soon removed from Him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:6-8).
The apostle Jude sheds even more light on this counterfeit movement: “For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness [license to sin], and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ” (vs. 4).
Members of an ancient religion—“ordained of old”—were appearing within this young Church, seeking to change the message that Christ delivered into something else—a different gospel!
Mankind has always attempted to fight against God’s way of life. When presented with the choice, man will almost always choose his way over God’s. And this was clearly evident with the “ungodly men” who attempted to avert the Church’s focus.
As time passed, the visible church changed rapidly. By A.D. 300, the church that called itself Christian was altogether different from the Church formed in A.D. 31, as can be seen by the writings of Bishop Eusebius, who lived during this time: “…we sank into negligence and sloth, one envying and reviling another in different ways; we were almost on the point of taking up arms against each other…people rising up against people, and hypocrisy and dissimulation of rising to the greatest height of malignity…some who appeared to be our pastors, deserting the law of piety, were enflamed against each other with mutual strifes, accumulating quarrels and threats, rivalry, hostility, and hatred to each other, only anxious to assert the government as a kind of sovereignty for themselves” (The Church History of Eusebius, bk. viii, ch. 1).
Amazing words—and remarkable conduct—from those professing to be Christian. Much of this fighting centered over who should lead this counterfeit church—the Eastern or Western leg? While their teachings differed slightly, the battle was not over doctrine, it was over POWER! This power struggle continued until the western branch received support from an unlikely source—the imperial Roman authorities.
Shortly after the Council of Nicea (A.D. 325), occurring in Asia Minor, Emperor Constantine changed the battle of these churches into a slaughter of many thousands. Constantine felt that unity was critical to ensuring that Roman power was maintained. And that unity, as stated in a public edict following Nicea, was to be executed by force:
“Victor Constantinus, Maximus Augustus, to the heretics [including those of the Eastern church]…we give warning by this present statute that none of you henceforth presume to assemble yourselves together. We have directed, accordingly, that you be deprived of all the houses in which you are accustomed to hold your assemblies: and our care in this respect extends so far as to forbid the holding of your superstitious and senseless meetings, not in public merely, but in any private house or place whatsoever. Let those of you, therefore…take the far better course of entering the catholic Church…And in order that this remedy may be applied with effectual power, we have commanded, as before said, that you be positively deprived of every gathering point of your superstitious meetings, I mean all the houses of prayer…and that these be made over without delay to the catholic Church; that any other places be confiscated to the public service, and no facility whatever be left for any future gathering; in order that from this day forward none of your unlawful assemblies may presume to appear in any public or private place. Let this edict be made public” (Life of Constantine, Eusebius, bk. II, ch. 64, 65).
This effectively made it illegal to worship outside of the Catholic faith. Unity was forced upon the people of that time—by the edge of the sword! It seems that this is how human beings, if left on their own, achieve unity. Men are always divided—be it in word, action, or belief—unless they are forced to agree.
Would God’s Church be so divided that its unity would need to be forced by the army of a civil government?
Look at the professing Christian churches today. Do they appear to be in unity? Do they agree on teaching, governance or any other matter? Their unity would have to be forced, like it was centuries ago. It has been said that the only thing man has learned from history is that he never learns from history. Soon, the universal church will be given power to once again force unity!
This forced unity of the fourth century only held for a short period of time. Constantine’s powerful persona—and massive army—temporarily united these two fighting branches of the Greek and Roman churches. But it was only his personality that kept them together. The forced unity again turned into a power struggle after his death. In 1042, the Western and Eastern branches of the church once again separated, with each branch publicly declaring the other as a heretic.
This further shows what a strong leader with a powerful personality can achieve. There was no sense of unity or togetherness between these two branches. Yet, Constantine was able to hold them together with his personal presence.
The same is seen today. Powerful leaders are almost worshipped and when they die, the unity they were able to achieve crumbles. Only those with character are able to endure after a leader has left the scene. And from the quotes we have read, it is apparent that there was very little character in this counterfeit church.
In 1439, another attempt was made at unification, but this also ended in failure. Soon, however, another powerful attempt at unity will take place—and it will not fail. Again, this will only be because men will be forced to unify—by the might of an army!
The most recent meetings of the leaders of the eastern and western churches are just the latest step in moving them toward unity. Other steps have taken place, behind the scenes, to facilitate this move. One such event occurred in 1948, with the formation of The World Counsel of Churches (WCC). Its primary goal is to unite all professing Christian churches around the world.
While not an active member, in 1965, the Roman Catholic Church formed a Joint Working Group with this organization to promote the unity of these religious bodies. This is particularly interesting because the Eastern Orthodox Church holds much of the power in the WCC.
This is just one of the attempts to develop the ecumenical movement among the many churches. In light of the recent meeting between the Pope and the Patriarch, this serves to show that steps are very much underway, even if they are not as often reported.
The August 28, 2004 Economist did point out the aging pontiff’s driving desire to complete this unification in his lifetime: “There is another indication that the pontiff is preparing for the end [of his life]: his increasingly determined push for reconciliation between Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians, who have been formally divided for almost a millennium. As an eastern European, he is particularly sensitive over this issue.”
Not only could these and other attempts serve to unite the eastern and western churches, they could also pave the way for all professing Christians to come under the common banner of the Roman Catholic Church.
However, even with all this politicking, it will take much more than agreements and understanding to unite these disagreeing bodies. As previously stated, the only way men will unite is by force, and this is almost certainly what will happen in the near future.
Ask yourself: Does the conduct of “hypocrisy and dissimulation…strifes, accumulating quarrels and threats, rivalry, hostility, and hatred to each other” sound like a church that Jesus Christ would have built? Of course not! Consider Amos 3:3. As the God of the Old Testament, Christ asked, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?”
Christ is not divided—therefore, this was not Christ’s Church! As shocking as that sounds, it is true! Notice this New Testament verse describing how unified the Church should be: “For as the body is one, and has many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body…that there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it” (I Cor. 12:12-13, 25-26).
As you can see, God not only wants unity—He requires it! His people must be unified. This is not indicative of any church in the world at large. They cannot agree on the most basic of teachings—yet they profess to be of Christ. If they were truly His churches, Christ would not only be confused—but, in light of the above scriptures, also a liar! And God cannot lie!
There is a small Church running parallel with this great counterfeit church—one that focuses on what Christ taught. It has often been persecuted by these larger churches, but it refused to bend—refused to change. God’s little flock stayed together in unity! And because of this, it still exists today. Its history is worth telling, because that history leads you to its doorstep today. To learn more about this small, persecuted flock’s experiences over the last 2,000 years, read our book Where Is the True Church? – and Its Incredible History!.