Returning to the Fold

The death of Pope John Paul II prompted some of the most powerful voices from Protestant denominations to sing praises for the mother church. It’s time we understood what lies behind the historic division between Catholics and Protestants—why the two are now moving toward unity—and where it will ultimately lead.

When Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, sat in the front row across from the coffin of John Paul ii, he was making a statement of allegiance that would have been unthinkable not many years ago. He was the first Anglican leader in history to attend a pope’s funeral. He called the pope “one of the very greatest” Christian leaders of the 20th century (Daily Telegraph, London, April 4).

While in Rome, the archbishop made statements signaling that “the rift between Anglicans and Catholics stemming from the Reformation could finally be healed …” (Australian, April 12)—speaking of the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. A Guardian headline in London read, “It’s as if the Reformation had never happened.” The archbishop’s actions and words reflect a new type of relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and its protesting, or Protestant, daughter churches.

This relationship between Protestants and Catholics is one we have been following closely over the years. Back in 1963, Herbert W. Armstrong wrote, “Protestant churches everywhere are gravitating toward union with the Roman Catholic Church. These religious movements are speeding the fulfillment of the prophecies of the resurrected Roman Empire” (Oct. 27, 1963). In the Plain Truth magazine, Mr. Armstrong also boldly stated: “Protestantism will be absorbed into the ‘mother’ church …” (October 1961).

Today we see this happening. John Paul’s death created an outpouring of allegiance to the Vatican from the Anglican Church and dozens of other Christian groups the likes of which this world has never seen! As our editor in chief commented recently, “I believe the pope’s death will be the single greatest event to unify Protestants with their Roman Catholic mother.”

Reconciliation in Rome

While in Rome, Rowan Williams conducted a joint prayer service with the cardinal archbishop of Westminster, Cormac Murphy-O’Connor—head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales. Murphy-O’Connor stated that ecumenism, or the drive for church unity, was “a road with no exit” and that “we desire from the depths of our hearts that our churches should come closer” (Times Online, April 11).

In an interview prior to the pope’s funeral, the archbishops of Westminster and Canterbury described how the pope’s death had highlighted the existing ties between the Catholic and Anglican churches and their hopes for those ties to become closer. Dr. Williams said that his being at the funeral was “a mark of the deep bonds of personal closeness and intimacy that have come to exist between the office of the archbishop and the papacy” (Press Association, April 8).

The archbishop also said that “although the breach with Rome was ‘not yet at an end,’ there had been an irreversible reconciliation between Anglicans and Catholics during the reign of John Paul ii for his successor to build on” (Times Online, op. cit.; emphasis mine throughout). Williams stated, “The roots we have put down in recent years are far too deep to uproot.”

Heightened Urgency

Although church unity was an ongoing mission throughout his reign, John Paul ii appeared to highlight a new urgency toward the end of his pontificate. At the annual meeting to exchange Christmas greetings with church officials last year, the pope reinforced the church’s Christian-unity focus. He told the assembled cardinals, archbishops and bishops that the church had received the “high mission” of being the instrument “of the unity of all mankind” (Vatican Information Service, Dec. 21, 2004). “Unity among all people, beginning with believers, is our priority commitment,” he stated, adding that “it is urgent to rebuild full communion among Christians” (, Dec. 21, 2004).

Further, John Paul said, “The ecumenical effort is being intensified at different levels, thanks to constant contacts, meetings and initiatives with our brethren of the different churches and Orthodox and Protestant ecclesial communities” (ibid.).

That intensification has been reflected in public shows of unity over the past few months. For example, following the Asian tsunami last December, the heads of the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches in Britain held a prayer session together in the Catholic Westminster Cathedral.

The Vatican’s annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in January marked a new stage in its collaboration with the World Council of Churches, made up of 342 religious communities around the world. For the first time, the preparation of the document that Catholics used in the Week of Prayer meetings was written jointly by World Council of Churches and Vatican bodies. During this week, Catholic priests traded places behind the pulpit with clergymen of a variety of denominations.

Now, with the death of John Paul ii sweeping Protestant churches along in the euphoria of papal adulation, we can expect to see a further cementing of Catholic-Protestant ties. Besides the fact that both sides strongly desire reconciliation, the Bible long ago predicted first the division, and then the end-time reunion, of this mother-daughter relationship.

The Daughter of Babylon

In Isaiah 47:1, God identifies a “daughter of Babylon”—not the Babylon of old, but a daughter that emerges out of that system and exists even during the last days of man’s civilization. In Bible prophecy, where there are references to a woman, or daughter, the meaning is church. God’s Church, for instance, is referred to in Scripture as the woman, or bride, who will marry Jesus Christ upon His return to this Earth (Ephesians 5; Revelation 19:7). The woman mentioned in Isaiah 47, however, refers to a great false church.

Revelation 17 pictures this woman as a lewd harlot, arrayed in scarlet-colored clothing, and straddling a seven-headed beast. (This beast represents the seven resurrections of the “Holy” Roman Empire. For more on this subject, request our booklet Germany and the Holy Roman Empire.) “And upon her forehead was a name written, mystery, Babylon the great, the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth” (Revelation 17:5). It’s the same Babylonian mystery religion of old, but now, in this end time, grown so large that it encompasses the Earth, ruling over many peoples, from many nations, speaking many different languages (verse 15). It’s a global religious system—a universal church—that will ultimately guide and rule a geopolitical superpower in Europe. That’s why Isaiah 47:5 refers to her as “The lady of kingdoms.

And in Revelation 17:5, this daughter of Babylon is represented as a “mother of harlots.” She came out of that ancient Babylonian system and produced offspring. It’s important to note that God also considers her protesting daughters harlots—just like their mother. They broke away from the mother church, but essentially retained the same character and makeup of their mother.

Roman Catholic teaching was not the cause of the Protestant Reformation. It was the obvious corruption and abuse at the top of the Catholic hierarchy that triggered the breakaway. The Encyclopedia Britannica states, “[T]he medieval church was essentially an international state, and … the character of the Protestant secession from it was largely determined by this fact.” According to Britannica, the “religious elements in the Reformation have been greatly overestimated” (“The Reformation,” 11th edition).

In protesting against their mother, Protestant denominations rebelled against her authority first and foremost. Here is how Herbert W. Armstrong explained it: “The Roman church continued many centuries undivided. But the system of applying the principle of church government was all wrong. It ruled by the will of man, Satan-inspired. It preserved unity by physical force. It was the instrument of Satan. Therefore its fruits were evil!

“The Protestant movement failed to correct what was wrong. Because the Catholic government was a counterfeit misrule, they abolished the rule, instead of yielding themselves to the divine government of God. They reasoned that every man ought to do what was right in his own eyes. …

“Some … wanted democracy—government by the whole congregation. …

“They went the way that seemed right in their own eyes. But, devout though they were, they had no firm basis for unity. They split and re-split, and today we have hundreds of Protestant denominations!” (Good News, January 1957).

Satan is the author of this Babylonian mystery religion, along with the widespread religious confusion and division it has produced. One may wonder, then, if the devil is now behind this movement toward reunification and unity. More on this later.

Unity Does Not Mean Compromise

All the talk of church unity may lead some to think that the Catholic Church is going to become more liberal—that a middle ground, or compromise, will be found between the Catholic and Protestant faiths.

But John Paul ii, in his 1995 ecumenical encyclical, “Ut Unum Sint” (“That They May Be One”), said the objective of ecumenism was to unite other churches under the “Magisterium of the church”—or Roman Catholic Church authority. The document states: “To believe in Christ means to desire unity; to desire unity means to desire the [Catholic] Church.” Regarding what appeared to some as concessions within the document, including the acceptance of some “Christian communities” as “churches,” a Global News Wire article had this to say: “These concessions represent neither a shift nor a softening of the dogmatic positions long held by the Roman church. Rather, the dogma remains deeply entrenched and the concessions are merely a part of the strategy or means by which ‘other Christians’ will be led to accept and unite under Catholic dogma” (Nov. 27, 2003).

Church unity, or ecumenism, has a nice ring to it for most people; it is taken for granted that such unity is something to be desired. But to the Catholic Church, unity emphatically does not mean tolerance or compromise.

A Vatican watcher stated that the hardliners who were in the Vatican conclave want “ecumenical dialogue between Christian denominations … to be conditional on a clear reaffirmation that only the Roman Catholic Church holds the truth and is the world’s supreme moral authority” (Agence France Presse, April 10).

Indeed, the cardinal who emerged from that conclave as Pope Benedict xvi had previously described other denominations of Christianity as “gravely deficient.” In 2000, Ratzinger’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published “Dominus Iesus” to help clarify the church’s position on ecumenism. Many outsiders had interpreted John Paul’s attempts to extend an olive branch to Protestant groups as a sign that he might be willing to meet them in the middle.

Not so!

The Roman church is 100 percent behind ecumenism, Ratzinger essentially said in the document, so long as Protestants submit to Catholics—not the other way around. The “mother” wants her “daughters” to move back home, but only if they obey the rules of the house.

Just weeks before releasing “Dominus Iesus,” Ratzinger distributed a letter, approved by John Paul ii, to all the church’s bishops worldwide in which he banned the use of the term “sister churches” when used to describe other denominations of Christianity. “It must be always clear … that the one, holy, catholic and apostolic universal church is not the sister, but mother of all the particular churches,” he wrote.

It’s as if he got his language right out of Revelation 17:5! But think about what he wrote for a moment: We don’t consider them sisters—they’re daughters! And rebellious ones at that, he might have added.

Compare Ratzinger’s letter with what the archbishop of Canterbury said prior to John Paul’s funeral. He described how, for him, it was the most natural thing in the world to share the “prayers, hopes, grief and thanksgiving of our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters” (Times Online, op. cit.).

Shame on Rowan Williams! Doesn’t he know they’re not brothers and sisters? The Catholic Church is the mother church! That’s certainly the way Pope Benedict xvi sees it.

So when the new pope says, in his first mass after the conclave, that his “primary task” would be to work without fail to unify all Christians, it’s important to understand what he really means. As Ratzinger himself wrote in “Dominus Iesus,” “[T]here exists a single Church of Christ, which subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter [the pope] and by the bishops in communion with him.” And only those churches that subject themselves to the pope’s authority are to be considered “true particular churches.” Ratzinger said they could use the term “church” to describe Orthodox churches that split with Rome 1,000 years ago, but as for denominations that broke away after the Protestant Reformation, absolutely not. They are “not churches in the proper sense,” Ratzinger said in the document. According to him, they are not even churches—unless they return to the mother church.

The Vatican’s desire for church unity, or ecumenism, is actually a desire for dominance. And the only way protesting daughters will be accepted back into the fold is by recognizing the supremacy and absolute authority of the papacy.

Leading Anglicans and Protestants reacted with anger and shock to “Dominus Iesus.” Less than five years later, at the pope’s funeral, they spoke like repentant daughters, returning from their wayward journey. At the pope’s funeral, Bishop John Flack, the archbishop of Canterbury’s representative in Rome, said that when John Paul ii came to power 27 years ago, “many Anglicans would not have accepted that he was the leader of all Christians”—inferring that now they would. If only they knew how their outpouring of support and allegiance to the papacy is a sign of the imminent fulfillment of Bible prophecy.

Return of the Daughters

Let’s return to the prophecy in Isaiah 47. This mother church is referred to as an end-time daughter of the Babylonian religious system. Verse 1 describes this church as having a throne, which makes its identity obvious.

“Therefore hear now this, thou that art given to pleasures, that dwellest carelessly, that sayest in thine heart, I am, and none else beside me; I shall not sit as a widow, neither shall I know the loss of children” (verse 8). The mother church may have lost its protesting daughters centuries ago, but it has a master plan to ultimately force those daughters back into the fold! This prophecy is speaking of a time when the Catholic Church would wield supreme power, boasting that she will not know “the loss of children,” or daughter churches. In other words, a time when the Catholic Church would attain a state of “unity” with its Protestant daughter churches.

This is the prophecy that prompted Herbert W. Armstrong to state, with absolute certaintyand more than 40 years ago—that Protestant churches would gravitate toward unification with Rome. This prophecy is why the Trumpet has followed in Mr. Armstrong’s footsteps, making such bold predictions (see, in our November 2000 issue, “A Spanking From the Mother Church”). Now, with the death of John Paul ii prompting headlines such as “Anglicans Talk of Unity With Rome,” this prophecy is near the point of fulfillment.

But the question yet remains, why? Why is Satan—the author of Babylonian confusion and division—intent on bringing all Christian denominations together under the unifying force and power of Roman Catholicism?

What Lies Ahead

As the “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4), Satan obviously uses the civil magistrates and rulers of this world to further his purposes. But 2 Corinthians 11:13-15 reveal that he also works through ecclesiastical rulers—false ministers masquerading as servants of Christ—“angels of light,” Paul said. The Bible plainly reveals that the devil has his own churches, false ministers, and unscriptural, Babylonian doctrines. When God inspired John to write in Revelation 12:9 that Satan deceives the “whole world,” he didn’t mean everyone except the 2 billion people on Earth who call themselves Christian. (He meant everyone except for His “little flock” of mostly scattered, and oftentimes persecuted, very elect saints—see Luke 12:32 and Matthew 24:22.)

Here, then, is why Satan is moving the hearts of his ministers in this drive toward unity within the Christian world. For one, it is because of the coming clash between Christianity and Islam, in what will be the final chapter of the “Christian” Crusades. According to the World Christian Encyclopedia, in 1970, Catholics outnumbered Muslims by 20 percent. As of 2000—just 30 years later—the tables completely turned with Muslims outnumbering Catholics by about 12 percent. In just one generation, we have seen the Islamic religion race past Catholicism to become the world’s largest and fastest-growing religion.

Of far greater concern to Vatican officials is the trend inside Catholicism’s birthplace: Europe. While the number of Catholic converts has been shrinking in its own backyard, Islam has enjoyed expansive growth all across the Continent.

As we have repeatedly noted in the pages of this magazine over the years, these two religious giants are on a crash course of epic proportions (see “A Headache for Benedict” on page 37). Since the Bible says a Catholic-dominated European Union will eventually conquer the Islamic king of the south with an overwhelming show of force (Daniel 11:40), we know the spread of Islam will not outpace Catholicism for much longer.

One way for the demographic trend to reverse, almost overnight—looking at it strictly in terms of numbers—is for church unity. Taken together, Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox and Protestant denominations have about 2 billion adherents worldwide, compared with 1.3 billion Muslims.

That’s not to say that Catholics and Protestants will be completely unified before this prophesied religious clash with Islam. What we can expect, though, is a partial unity prior to the Daniel 11 prophecy being fulfilled. Indeed, in many ways, this has already happened.

Total unity between the Roman church and its protesting daughters won’t actually occur until immediately after the clash between the kings of the north and south—the event that triggers the beginning of the Great Tribulation. At that point, the mother church will abandon her efforts to woo her daughters back by flatteries and instead revert to the age-old method of preserving “Christian” unity by exerting physical force—Inquisition-style. And the Bible clearly indicates that most daughters will fall in line with mother’s misrule rather than be killed.

Thus, the stage will be set for another great clash—the titanic battle of the ages! Look into your Bible and see what it says about the prophesied return of Jesus Christ to this Earth! Let’s return to the account in Revelation 17, about the scarlet-clad whore riding the seven-headed beast. Verse 15 says, “The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.” And what does the Bible say about this globe-girdling, religiously guided beast power? Look at verse 13: “These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength unto the beast.” What unity! What oneness of mind—all of them giving their power and strength to this religiously dominated beast! And for what reason?

Verse 14: “These shall make war with the Lamb ….” This is where the ecumenical movement is ultimately leading—into a head-on collision with Jesus Christ! This is the real motive behind “church unity” in the Christian world, as far as the devil is concerned. This is why he’s working overtime, even nowbehind the scenes—to unite all the world’s religious denominations and sects: It’s so they might then jointly oppose and fight against the coming rule of Jesus Christ on this Earth!

Satan is the author of confusion. He loves division—even within his own deceived Christian community. But Satan hates Jesus Christ more! So he’s gathering all of his forces of evil to make one last unified stand—against Christ!

And Then, Unity Under Christ!

When Jesus Christ returns to this Earth to restore God’s perfect government, He will not be welcomed. Every denomination and sect, every religion on Earth, will oppose His loving rule, except for a “little flock” of followers that will be supernaturally protected by God during the Great Tribulation. But thank God for the fact that Satan’s Babylonian system will not prevail!

“These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful” (verse 14).

Isaiah 47 also speaks of the stunning demise of this powerful mother church, once she gains back the daughter churches she believes are rightfully hers and wreaks the destruction that is prophesied to occur in the coming Great Tribulation.

But the real news is this: The disastrous results of church unity Vatican-style will herald the arrival on the world scene of true Christian unity—under the Christ-led government of the Kingdom of God.

God speed the day.

With reporting by Donna Grieves