Updated September 28, 2000
WEIGH DOWN WORKSHOP AUTHOR CHALLENGED OVER DOCTRINAL
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (EP) - The author of the Weigh Down
Diet, a popular Christian weight loss plan, lost a book contract with Thomas
Nelson publishers because of her controversial views on the Trinity, according
to a report by Christianity Today.
Gwen Shamblin's business has grown from a garage-based
startup to a multimillion-dollar corporation in the last eight years. Her
1997 book The Weigh Down Diet sold more than a million copies, and there
are 30,000 Weigh Down Workshop groups meeting each week around the world,
thousands of which are affiliated with evangelical churches.
The current controversy flared up after Shamblin sent
a weekly e-mail message to followers Aug. 10, explaining her view of the
Trinity. "As a ministry, we believe in God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit,"
Shamblin wrote. "However, the Bible does not use the word 'trinity' and
our feeling is that the word 'trinity' implies equality in leadership,
or shared Lordship. It is clear that the scriptures teach that Jesus is
the Son of God and that God sends the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit does
not send God anywhere. God is clearly the Head."
Shamblin quickly discovered that her view is rejected
by much of the Christian world. She was removed from the Women of Faith
web site and several influential evangelical churches dropped her program.
On Sept. 6, Thomas Nelson canceled her new book, Out of Egypt, which had
been scheduled to ship in late September.
"Gwen has touched the lives of untold thousands of
people," Michael S. Hyatt of Thomas Nelson told Christianity Today. "We
had the joy of publishing Rise Above and seeing it appear of the bestseller
list. However, because of the recent controversy created by her doctrinal
position we do not feel that we can go forward with this project."
L.L. Don Veinot Jr., president of the apologetics
ministry Midwest Christian Outreach, spoke with Shamblin after the controversy
erupted. He told Christianity Today, "Her views are closer to that of Jehovah's
Witnesses than anything resembling the historic biblical faith." He added,
"The material on the Web site makes a distinction between the Father and
Son that is heretical. She is clearly anti-Trinitarian."
Shamblin's e-mail insisted, ""If God wanted us to
refer to Himself, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit as the 'trinity,' He
would not have left this word completely out of the Bible." To that, Veinot
replies that the word "Bible" is not in the Bible.
Shamblin told Christianity Today that she believes
people are making too much of her views on the Trinity. "A few people have
been on a witch hunt in the last month," Shamblin said. "People don't care
about this. They don't care about the Trinity. This is going to pass. What
the women want is weight loss. They care about their bodies being a temple
and their lives turned over to the Lord. That's what my ministry is about."
Shamblin's views probably reflect her background in
the Church of Christ, which has historically had an ambiguous view of the
In a related story, a former Weigh Down employee says
he was fired for questioning Shamblin's doctrinal views. "She told me I
couldn't embrace the message of grace and then she fired me," said Carney
Hawkins, who worked for Shamblin for four years. Hawkins told Christianity
Today that co-workers were ordered to shun her. "Anyone who leaves is labeled
a devil. She orders them not to speak or fellowship with those who leave
the ministry. There is a spirit of fear."
CHRISTIANS FALL FOR HARRY POTTER HOAX
BERKELEY, Calif. (EP) - Christians are falling for
an Internet hoax involving the Harry Potter books, according to Christian
apologist Tal Brooke. Brooke criticized Christians for being taken in by
a fabricated Harry Potter Satan story that has have been circulating among
Christian groups by e-mail and originating from an Internet publication
called "The Onion." The false story's headline states, "Harry Potter Books
Spark Rise In Satanism Among Children."
The story includes fabricated quotes by British author
J.K. Rowling. It says Rowling told the London Times, "I think it's absolute
rubbish to protest children's books on the grounds that they are luring
children to Satan. People should be praising them for that! These books
guide children to an understanding that the weak, idiotic Son of God is
a living hoax." The story also includes fabricated quotes of a vulgar and
Brooke's suspicions were aroused by the obscenities
in some of the alleged quotes, since he did not believe that England's
most prestigious newspaper would have printed such words. He also doubted
that Rowling's agents or handlers would allow her to say anything that
could hurt the marketability of the popular book series.
"Unfortunately this article is currently being promoted
in many Christian circles - especially fundamentalist ones - as proof that
Harry Potter is satanic," says Brooke, who is president of Spiritual Counterfeits
Project. "While I have not the slightest doubt that Harry Potter books
promote witchcraft among young people, the problem is that we need to ensure
that we not blow our case by then falling for a sensationalistic invention
that will only come back and embarrass us." Brooke notes that "The Onion"
is known for satire, and suggests that that the Harry Potter story is intended
to lampoon scare tactics about Satanism sometimes used by Christian leaders.
"The fact that so many Christians have fallen for
this obvious fabrication, especially when it only takes a minute to check
the web site where it came, is a sad reflection of the way Christians hunger
for sensationalism," said Brooke. "In some ways this is a deep indication
of corruption within the Christian ghetto. We don't seem to have any discernment
here at all about what is truth or about how the real world operates."
Brooke notes that the web site operated by "The Onion"
is filled with intentionally ludicrous stories, many of which are also
blasphemous. For instance, one issue's religion section has headlines announcing,
"Christ Announces Hiring Of Associate Christ," "Christ 'Categorically Denies'
Speaking To Lutheran-College President" and "Christ Converts To Islam."
Brooke noted that immediately beneath the Harry Potter
story is one with the headline, "Headless Barbie Doll Found In Shallow
Shoebox Grave." He said, "It's the humor of Mad magazine with an X-rated
Brooke notes that his own web site (www.spc-inc.org)
carries well-researched material on the Harry Potter phenomenon.
"The real issue we have here is this pattern of Christians
looking for shocking and scurrilous materials that they can quickly circulate
unthinkingly around the world by e-mail while doing zero background checking,"
Brooke said. "It shows the low level of Christian reporting and how naive
and gullible so many are."
Brooke concluded, "If we don't stop this kind of scare-mongering
we will soon have no credibility with the world. Christians must wake up
and stop this kind of simple minded lack of discernment!" CHRISTIANS PLAN
TO PICKET FAMOUS CATHEDRAL, SITE OF UPCOMING 'HARRY POTTER' FILM
QUEDGELEY, England (EP) - English evangelical Christians
are threatening to picket Gloucester Cathedral if plans to use the church
in the filming of the upcoming "Harry Potter" movie aren't changed.
The 900-year-old Gothic cathedral will be cast as
Hogwart's School of Wizardry and Witchcraft, the place where title character
Potter and his friends are enrolled as apprentice witches and wizards in
the popular children's book series by J.K. Rowling.
However, evangelical Christians in Gloucester told
the cathedral leadership and Warner Brothers, the studio producing the
film, that they object to the church being portrayed as a place of witchcraft.
Residents Derek and Paula Clare told the Sunday Times,
"Witchcraft is about rebellion against God, it is about manipulation and
control. God speaks out against it in the Bible. As adults we should be
protecting children and standing up to say that witchcraft is wrong...If
we can't persuade Warner Brothers to go somewhere else we shall be in favor
of some sort of protest."
The Rev. Nick Bury, dean of Gloucester, defended his
decision to let Warner Brothers use the cathedral. Bury told the Times
the Harry Potter books were, "extraordinarily wholesome books" and "children
should be encouraged to read them."
"They emphasize that truth is better than lies, good
overcomes evil and the use of gifts should be responsible," said Bury.
NATIONAL NEWS SHORTS
ATTLEBORO, Mass. (EP) - Members of a cult based
on Old Testament teachings lost custody of their children after refusing
to answer questions about the death of their leader's young son. Eight
adults have been in jail since last November for refusing to talk about
the deaths of two children connected with the group, which does not recognize
the government and bases its teachings on passages from the Old Testament.
Dennis Mingo, who left the group in 1997, told the Boston Globe, "It began
as a harmless Bible study. But before you knew it, you're caught in a thing
that you would never have imagined in a million years." The group is led
by Jacques Robidoux, whose son Samuel is believed to have died of malnutrition.
Another child is believed to have been stillborn. Juvenile Court Judge
Kenneth P. Nasif, who is holding the cult members in contempt, called Robidoux
a "false prophet." KODIAK,
Alaska (EP) - The Rev. Sun Myung Moon, 80-year-old head of the Unification
Church, faces charges of overfishing in Alaska. The cult leader and his
wife took 16 coho salmon between them; the legal limit is five per person.
The pair face fines of $250 each. The Unification Church is the largest
taxpayer in Kodiak, where it operates a fish-processing plant and a fleet
of fishing boats.
CHRISTIANITY SNUBBED AND INSULTED AT U.N. MEETING OF WORLD RELIGIOUS LEADERS
NEW YORK, N.Y. (EP) - A recent summit of world religious
leaders at the United Nations to discuss world peace has instead caused
Over 1,000 religious leaders representing 70 of the
world's religions gathered at the U.N. General Assembly hall Aug. 28-31
for meetings designed to promote peace between religious groups. The group
also established a permanent advisory council of religious leaders to the
U.N., designed to help prevent and solve religious disputes.
Controversy started before the meeting began, mainly
due to the absence of the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists
and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Organizers of the summit reportedly
did not initially invite the Dalai Lama because of a request from U.N.
advisors and pressure from Chinese delegates. After public outcry, the
Lama was invited to attend the final two days of the summit; he declined
that offer. When Tibetan representatives read a prepared statement to the
assembly on his behalf, delegates from China walked out of the room. The
Chinese government accuses the Dalai Lama of creating unrest in the small
country that was taken over by the communist government of China in 1959.
The Lama is currently exiled from Tibet.
Another noticeable snub was the lack of evangelical
Christian groups at the meeting. The Rev. Dr. Hans Ucko, representative
to the summit from the World Council of Churches, said the meeting would
have benefited from a broader constituency base - a base that should have
included more Christians.
If more Protestant Christian representatives had been
invited, they probably wouldn't have enjoyed the floorshow. Ted Turner,
honorary chairman and primary financier of the summit, took the opportunity
of his keynote address to criticize Christianity.
Turner described to the delegates his desire to become
a pastor and Christian missionary when he was a child, but said that upon
further study he later decided that his Christian upbringing was wrong.
"What disturbed me is that my religious Christian sect was very intolerant,''
Turner said. "We thought that we were the only ones going to heavenŠIt
just confused the devil out of me because I said heaven is going to be
a might empty place with nobody else there. So I was pretty confused and
turned off by it." The billionaire also called for the establishment of
a new world religion based on New Age principles.
Ironically, during the rest of the speech Turner implored
the assembly to stand up for religious tolerance (as well as nuclear disarmament).
Turner gave his remarks after U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan asked religious
leaders "to set an example of interfaith dialogue and cooperation."
This is not the first time Turner has publicly spoken
against Christianity. In an interview with the Dallas Morning News, Turner
said that Christianity is "a religion for losers" and "I don't want anybody
to die for me."
"Listening to Ted Turner criticizing Christianity
was like listening to nails on a chalkboard," said Darren Logan, a policy
analyst at the Family Research Council who attended the summit. "Mr. Turner
supposedly wanted to sponsor this summit to pursue global goals of 'peace'
and 'tolerance,' but then used the podium as a soapbox to malign Christian
teaching. How does Mr. Turner expect to strengthen religious tolerance
when he is criticizing the tenets of one of the major world religions?"
Christian leaders questioned what the meeting of leaders
would achieve. According to Bawa Jain, secretary-general of the summit,
organizers hoped to "build a global network of support for the work of
the United Nations." "Tolerance" and "interfaith cooperation" were buzzwords
also tossed around in media reports, but Christian groups charge that the
leadership of the summit is more interested in liberal causes rather than
"The so-called Peace Summit in New York in the United
States this week is nothing more than another attempt by another international
bureaucracy to undermine the faith and culture of Christians," said Father
Matthew Habiger, president of Human Life International, the world's largest
pro-life, pro-faith, pro-family group.
The summit was organized in part by the United Religions
Initiative, a group that reportedly favors population control, abortion
and same-sex marriage. While not officially organized by the United Nations,
the summit was financed by several international funds tied to the U.N.
(including Turner's Better World Foundation) that have financed causes
encouraging abortion rights, acceptance of homosexuality and sex-education
"Some representatives voiced concern over the agenda
of the summit and its purpose. More specifically, delegates questioned
why a number of Christian groups had not been invited, and what were the
intentions of the funders," said Jonathan Gallagher, United Nations liaison
director for the Seventh-day Adventist Church. "Other concerns centered
on what role would be played by the proposed International Advisory Council
of Religious and Spiritual Leaders. Any attempt to work towards a kind
of 'unified world religion' or single religious voice - as some are proposing
- would be doomed to failure."
Robert Maginnis, vice president of foreign policy
for the Family Research Council told Charisma magazine that the meeting
was "a wolf in sheep's clothing, cloaking anti-life, anti-family politics
in the robes of religion."
Religious relativism was also a main theme expressed
by several religious leaders attending the conference. Anne Graham Lotz,
daughter of evangelist Billy Graham, told the assembled leaders during
her speech that Jesus was the only true way to heaven. A Buddhist priest
then countered her statement saying, "Every river leads to the ocean and
every religion leads to God."
This vague, relativistic ideal was repeated by other
leaders at the summit. "The spirit loves diversity," said Sri Sri Ravi
Shankar, a Hindu teacher quoted by the Ba'hai World News Service. "The
time has come to love each other's religions as one's own." This sentiment
was also favored by Turner who said, "We are all one race, and there is
only one God who manifests himself in different ways."
The actual impact of the summit on the world's religions
remains to be seen. One outcome was the Commitment to Global Peace, a document
written before the summit began, which was amended and signed by the attending
leaders. The document asks the religious people of the world "to cooperate
in building peaceful societies, to seek mutual understanding through dialogue
where there are differences, to refrain from violence, to practice compassion
and to uphold the dignity of all life."
Another outcome was an effort by Hindu, Buddhist,
Jain and Sikh delegations to draft a resolution to the United Nations declaration
of human rights, passed by the assembly in 1948, that would demand a better
clarification on religious conversions. The delegates asked the U.N. to
clarify the statement in the declaration that says, "everyone has the right
to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom
to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community
with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief
in teaching, practice, worship and observance."The
delegates say Christian missionaries are misinterpreting this passage to
favor "unhindered conversions" and "proselytizing" in India. In a Sept.
1 meeting, the delegates drafted their own resolution condemning what they
consider organized proselytism which, according to these leaders, "has
a long history of creating tension, conflicts, between religious communities
and which continue to impair inter-faith goodwill, tolerance and harmony."
There is no report yet on how the resolution will be submitted to the U.N. FCC
GETS FRESH MAIL ON 26-YEAR-OLD HOAX
Atheist leader Madalyn Murray O'Hair is tormenting the FCC from beyond
WASHINGTON, D.C. (EP) - O'Hair disappeared five
years ago and is presumed dead. But that hasn't stopped a fresh tide of
letters to the Federal Communications Commission protesting an alleged
plan by O'Hair to end all religious broadcasting.
This rumor began in 1974, and has proven unstoppable.
This year, the volume of mail has increased because of a new version of
the rumor which claims that O'Hair's group, American Atheists Inc., is
trying to ban broadcasts of the hit CBS series "Touched by an Angel."
The original rumor claimed that atheists had gathered
thousands of signatures on "petition 2493" to ban all religious broadcasting.
According to the rumor, the FCC had scheduled a hearing on the matter.
The rumor is spread through a photocopied counter-petition which Christians
were urged to sign and send to the FCC.
Like many rumors, the FCC hoax has a tiny kernel of
truth. Once upon a time, there really was an FCC petition 2493. Presented
to the FCC in December, 1974, the petition by California men Jeremy Lansman
and Lorenzo Milam, asked the FCC to temporarily freeze the awarding of
TV and FM channels to religious and government institutions while it studied
whether existing non-commercial stations were fulfilling their obligations
to broadcast truly educational programming.
Their petition was denied nine months later. Richard
Wiley, who was chairman of the FCC when the petition was submitted, said,
"We dismissed it while I was chairman of the FCC. There's never been anything
since then. There was never any truth to this, and I don't think the current
commission would see religion as not being part of the public interest,
which would be the issue. That's the way we saw it when I was there, and
I wouldn't expect the current commission to see it differently."
Current messages spreading the O'Hair-FCC rumor still
bear the number of that long-defunct petition - RM-2493. They often urge
"concerned Christians" to respond, claiming, "We need one million signed
letters." The current version of this hoax letter, dated January of this
year, has found new legions of gullible readers through e-mail. It claims
that "CBS may be forced to discontinue 'Touched by an Angel' because they
use the word God in every program."
The FCC received an estimated 700,000 letters from
Christians during the months it took for the original petition to be heard
and rejected. That number had risen to 25 million by 1989. The agency continues
to receive a couple of million pieces of mail each year, and answers hundreds
of calls each month on the subject.
O'Hair is a natural bogeyman for such a hoax. She
was involved in lawsuits in the early 1960s which banned religious activity
- particularly Bible reading - from public schools.
American Atheists President Ellen Johnson told the
Washington Times, "At least more Christians are bothering to ask whether
it's true. Our members still see it circulating in some office, and they
e-mail me, 'You won't believe what's circulating here.'" Johnson said atheist
groups have protested against public funding of chaplains, tuition vouchers
for religious schools, funding of faith-based social work, and the use
of the slogan "In God We Trust" on currency, but has never asked for an
FCC hearing on religious broadcasting. "I think there is somebody behind
this," she said of the FCC hoax. "Christians should be upset that it's
making them look pretty foolish."
The current FCC rumor may have roots that stretch
back farther than the Lansman-Milam petition, according to Bob and Gretchen
Passantino, cult research experts who direct the California-based Answers
in Action. "The rumor has gone through an evolution," says Gretchen. "It
started out much earlier as a [rumored] petition by Madalyn Murray O'Hair
to ban any astronauts from taking the Bible on space flights, or from saying
religious things on space flights. It's kind of metamorphised into the
The mail is likely to continue, according to Jan Harold
Brunvand, a professor of English at the University of Utah and one of America's
leading folklorists. Brunvand, author of The Vanishing Hitchhiker and other
collections of urban legends, says, "I don't think it's going to die out
or ever be debunked successfully. No matter how hard we try to debunk it,
there will be people who haven't seen it and will help spread the rumor
the next time around. These things are photocopied and can lie around in
somebody's drawer for years and then be brought out again and posted on
a bulletin board. The fact that it has a coupon and a petition number and
address makes it seem real."
The ease with which one can respond also gives the
hoax life, says Brunvand. "It's not very difficult to fill this thing out,
put a stamp on an envelope and send it in. It's not asking for a lot of
money, or to take radical action. People can lend their voice to the right
side for the price of a stamp."
The Madalyn Murray O'Hair petition to the FCC is the
best-known hoax circulating in the Christian community, but is certainly
not the only one.
Another rumor driven by a photocopied sheet with shelf-life
involves an alleged film being made about the sex life of Christ. The photocopied
flyer, which resurfaces from time to time, claims that an organization
known as "Modern People News" is planning to produce a film about the "sexual
life of Jesus Christ." The flyer claims that Christ will be portrayed as
a homosexual, and the part of Mary Magdalen will be played by a notorious
French prostitute. Concerned Christians are asked to "do everything possible
to halt production of this film." (Halting the film should be easy, since
there's no such film being made.)
The roots of this rumor can be traced to November,
1977, when Modern People, a weekly magazine then based in Franklin Park,
Illinois, published an article claiming that a group of European filmmakers
planned to make a film depicting Christ as a bisexual. The article said
that the part of Mary Magdalen would be played by a French prostitute.
In a later article, the magazine reported that the
producers had given up on the film. But in 1980, a letter began to be circulated
claiming that such a film was being made by a group called Modern People
News. A year later, the office of the Illinois Attorney General had received
more than 40,000 letters opposing the film - most of them photocopies of
the anonymous letter.
The letter urging Christians to take action isn't
dated, and doesn't include an address or telephone number of a sponsoring
organization, making it difficult for its claims to be verified or for
the letter itself to be recognized as outdated.
The third of the "big three" rumors making the rounds
in Christendom involves Procter and Gamble. In this rumor, the president
of the company is falsely alleged to have appeared on Phil Donahue's talk
show and admitted that his company gives its profits to the Church of Satan,
and that its familiar "moon and stars" logo is a satanic symbol. Variations
have had the president of McDonald's appearing on "The Tonight Show," and
Liz Claiborne appearing on "Oprah" to make similar admissions about their
corporate ties to Satanism.
In reality, the president of Procter and Gamble has
never appeared on any talk show to discuss Satanism. (Donahue once tried
to get him to appear to debunk the rumor, but the company determined that
being able to say he had never been on was more convincing.) The company
has successfully filed lawsuits over the years against a number of people
who were intentionally spreading this rumor - some of whom were multi-level
marketing businesspeople selling products which compete with Procter and
The company has an information kit it distributes
to media which includes a letter from Donahue confirming that the rumor
is false, and letters from a number of religious leaders, including Jerry
Falwell and an executive with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
The "big three" hoaxes account for most of the pointless
mail and phone calls in the Christian community, but there are many other
examples of "things we know that just aren't so" circulating:
* NASA scientists are reported to have been puzzled
while calculating the historical orbits of the planets because of a "missing
day." In this legend their dilemma was resolved when a Christian member
of the team showed them passages in the Bible where God stopped the sun.
The stoppages, we're told, exactly equal led the unaccounted for "missing
time" that had stumped the scientists. This rumor persists despite NASA's
denials, and despite the scientific impossibility of a "missing day" -
a finding that would presuppose a precisely known starting point for the
* The Christian version of the "Vanishing Hitchhiker"
story has a person, often a pastor, stopping to pick up a hitchhiker, who
delivers a prophetic warning (often of Christ's imminent return), then
vanishes. The "hitchhiker" is often assumed to be an angel or Jesus Christ.
This story has also turned up in Australia and New Zealand.
* Amsterdam and Brussels are popular locations for
a rumored super computer that the anti-Christ will use to usher in his
one world government. The computer, nicknamed "The Beast" by its operators,
will contain information about every person on earth. Some versions of
the story have "666" as the code command that activates the computer's
plan for world domination.
* Another legend with a "666" component has a retired
pastor or missionary going to the social security office to get a check
for a missed payment. In this rumor, the director of the office provides
a check with the number "666" in the lower left corner, then hurriedly
takes it back, explaining that a mistake has been made that those checks
aren't to be distributed yet.
* Scientists in the Soviet Union are alleged to have
drilled a hole straight to Hell. In this story, scientists on an oil drilling
platform in the North Sea drilling the deepest hole ever stopped when they
heard human screams of anguish and smelled sulfur, leading them to conclude
that they had drilled right into Hell. This supermarket tabloid story was
once reported as truth by the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN). A bogus
English-language translation of a non-existent Norwegian newspaper account
of the incident was sent to TBN as a hoax by someone who wanted to see
if the network would bother to check its sources.
SIDEBAR: WHY DO CHRISTIANS FALL FOR HOAXES?
COSTA MESA, Calif. (EP) - Why do Christians fall
for hoaxes? Bob Passantino of Answers in Action (www.answers.org
gives several reasons such hoaxes take root:
* "It fits into our world view. [The fact that] something
is possible, doesn't mean that it is true; and [the fact that] something
exists, doesn't mean every report we receive of it must be true.
* "We accept what we're told. It's not that we don't
want to be critical, but we don't always have time to check everything
we're told. We forget that finding someone willing to tell us what to think
about a certain situation is not the same as finding the right person to
tell us what can be verified.
* "We base our knowledge on common sense. Often common
sense parallels the truth - that is, what we commonly think makes sense...It
may even correspond to truth, but common sense is not a trustworthy method
to find truth.
* "We place too much faith in 'experts.' We seem to
think that truth gets truer if someone important says it, even if that
important person has no particular knowledge of that field. Believing an
expert without appropriate authority and without corroborating evidence
is not a trustworthy way to discern truth.
* "We believe what makes us feel comfortable."
Passantino offers several tips for identifying false
legends. "Use extra caution if the story fits any of the following characteristics,"
* There's no evidence to back it up. "Sometimes there
is no evidence because of the very nature of the story," he says. "That
doesn't mean such a story can't be true; it just means that it's not a
story that can be considered trustworthy research. At most it's an illustration
* It's so detailed or bizarre that we can't believe
someone could make it up.
* Its strongest commendation is that it ought to be
true. "Be careful that you are not persuaded to believe a particular story
simply because you wish it to be true," Passantino concludes. "This can
be a strong temptation, but don't give in to it. God won't excuse us for
supporting made up stories because they serve a useful purpose."
NEW VATICAN DOCUMENT REAFFIRMS DOCTRINE THAT CATHOLIC CHURCH IS THE ONE
ROME, Italy (EP) - The Catholic Church reaffirmed
its doctrine of being the only "true" church on Sept. 5 with the release
of "Dominus Iesus, on the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ
and the Church." The document is reportedly aimed at fringe Catholic theologians
who believe in religious relativism - the belief that all religions offer
equally valid paths to salvation. However, the leadership of the world's
Protestant churches and denominations reacted with concern to the arguments
contained in Dominus Iesus.
The document, a 36-page exposition approved by Pope
John Paul II, was released by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger at a press conference.
Ratzinger is director of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of
the Faith. Dominus Iesus was released along with a note from the cardinal
himself, stating that Catholic bishops and theologians who refer to Protestant
churches as "sister churches" were causing ambiguity. Instead of referring
to Protestant churches as "churches," both documents use the term "ecclesial
"Dominus Iesus" also affirms that Catholicism is the
only true church, arguing that other churches which lack the "valid Episcopate
and the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery are not
churches in the proper sense." Whatever truth other denominations possess
is derived from the Catholic church and its traditions, it says. The only
other churches the document recognizes as keeping closely to the Catholic
tradition are those in the Orthodox tradition.
The document goes on to say, "If it is true that the
followers of other religions can receive divine grace, it is also certain
that objectively speaking they are in a gravely deficient situation in
comparison with those who, in the church, have the fullness of the means
While the doctrines contained within "Dominus Iesus"
are nothing new to Catholicism, the timing of the document's release is
surprising. Recently, the Catholic Church has made several ecumenical overtures.
Catholics offered an olive branch to the Lutheran church in the form of
the Joint Declaration on Justification, signed by representatives from
both churches last year. Ecumenical talks were also held between Catholic
and Anglican representatives during the past two years. However, both Anglican
and Lutheran denominations are now dismissed as ecclesial communities,
rather than churches, according to "Dominus Iesus."
The Rev. George Carey, archbishop of Canterbury and
leader of the world's Anglicans and Episcopalians, told Reuters, "The idea
that Anglican and other churches are not 'proper churches' seems to question
the considerable ecumenical gains we have made." Carey also said he does
not agree that the Anglican Church is preaching a form of Christianity
that is deficient when compared to Catholicism.
Evangelicals reacted to the statement with a similar
defensiveness. In response to the document Jerry Rankin, president of the
Southern Baptist International Mission Board, said "I think most Southern
Baptists would strongly agree that the trend toward religious relativism
and pluralism should be rejected. The way to salvation is a narrow path.
We emphatically disagree with the Vatican, however, on the direction that
path takes. Salvation comes by God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ
and Christ alone - not through any institutional church body, be it Baptist,
Catholic or otherwise."
Christians in Germany, the birthplace of Protestantism,
said the doctrines emphasized by "Dominus Iesus" will inhibit future ecumenical
efforts. "The declaration suggests that the Catholic and the Protestant
church are not on equal terms with each other,'' the Rev. Manfred Kock,
chairman of the council of the Evangelical Church of Germany, told Reuters.
"This will not help discussions between the two churches."
A statement from the Lutheran World Federation (LWF)
indicated that the release of "Dominus Iesus" requires more discussions
between the two churches. "We are disappointed that 35 years of ecumenical
dialogue between Roman Catholics and Lutherans seem not to have been considered
in the formulation of the letter and documents issued by the Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith. The impact of these statements is more painful
because they reflect a different spirit than that which we encounter in
many other Lutheran-Roman Catholic relationships," said Dr. Ishmael Noko,
general secretary of LWF. "The Lutheran World Federation remains committed
to ecumenical dialogue. We believe that ecumenism is not optional but essential
to the church. Temporary setbacks should neither be allowed to cloud or
darken our vision for Christian unity as willed and prayed for by Christ
Concern for the cause of ecumenicism in the wake of
the document was expressed by the leadership of the World Council of Churches
(WCC). "All churches have gained enormously from the recent entry - through
the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s - of the Roman Catholic Church
into the ecumenical movementŠIn the wider ecumenical movement, many sensitive
conversations are underway about the relationships of the churches to one
another. What a loss if these were hindered - or even damaged - by language
which precludes further discussion of the issues," said the Rev. Dr. Tom
Best, a member of the WCC's Faith and Order Team.
A common and credible Christian witness is needed
to the many ethical and social challenges facing the world today, including
issues of globalization, prophetic witness and mission, asserts a statement
released by the WCC. "What a tragedy," added Best, "if this witness to
a hurting world were obscured by the churches' dialogues about their relative
authority and status - however important they may be."
Ruth Ward Heflin Dies
RICHMOND, Va., (EP) - Ruth Ward Heflin, a central
figure in the "gold dust" revival, died Sept. 15 after battling cancer
for several months. She was 60. Heflin worked with the Calvary Pentecostal
Campground in Ashland, Va., which attracts tens of thousands of visitors
each year. The camp has drawn attention in recent years because of reports
of gold dust miraculously appearing on people and claims of tooth fillings
turning to gold. More recently, some say they've seen gemstones falling
during services. Heflin spent nearly 40 years of her life in ministry.
She lived in Jerusalem for more than 25 years and founded the international
prayer ministry Mount Zion Fellowship.