What’s Behind Pope Francis’ Ecumenical Efforts?

Pope Francis has been transforming the tone and approach of the Catholic Church. What’s behind his ecumenical overtures to other churches?

What’s Behind Pope Francis’ Ecumenical Efforts?

Pope Francis embraces the president of the Lutheran World Federation during his trip to Sweden to mark the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

In the last 40 years, the Roman Catholic Church has been a leading proponent of ecumenism by reaching out to non-Catholic denominations to reconcile ancient differences. In his three-year papacy, Pope Francis I has emerged as one of history’s most ecumenical popes. His spirit of inclusiveness has brought the Catholic ecumenical movement to the forefront.

But to understand the significance of Pope Francis’ ecumenical efforts, we need to understand why these churches split from the Catholic Church in the first place.

East-West schism

The rupture between eastern and western Christendom, the Great Schism, occurred in 1054. This split caused churches in the Eastern Roman empire to separate from the Western Church, centered in Rome.

On July 16, 1054, representatives of Pope Leo IX strode into the Hagia Sophia (in what is now Istanbul, Turkey) and placed on the main altar a parchment officially excommunicating the patriarch of Constantinople, Michael Cerularius. They then shook the dust off their feet and left the city. A week later the patriarch responded by excommunicating the pope.

There wasn’t a single event that caused the schism; the differences between the churches grew over centuries, culminating in the excommunications of 1054. Here are some of the major differences in teachings that led to the split:

Pope Francis has certainly continued the efforts for greater reconciliation with the Orthodox churches. Consider these headlines: This state of division lasted for about 911 years, until the Catholic-Orthodox Joint Declaration of 1965 was adopted. The excommunications were lifted, and the two sides resolved to work together toward greater reconciliation.

Protestant split

In 1517 Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk from Germany, penned a document known as his “95 Theses,” protesting the corruptions in the Catholic Church. Some of Luther’s doctrinal differences with the Catholic Church included:

  • The doctrine that we are saved by grace alone (Catholic works are not needed).
  • The Bible alone should be the source of beliefs.
  • Rejection of the pope’s authority.

Luther was the first of many reformers who would break from the Catholic Church. Since the 16th century, Protestants have continued to protest among themselves and splinter into thousands of denominations. But in recent decades many denominations have begun to deemphasize doctrinal differences and focus more on feelings and experiences. Few Christians today see as sharp differences between Protestants and Catholics as Martin Luther did 500 years ago.

Pope Francis has also made great efforts to reach out to Protestants. He has recognized Protestant churches as valid paths to salvation, calling Protestants “separated brothers.” His efforts have included the following headlines:

Other forms of ecumenism

Pope Francis’ ecumenism has not been limited to Christianity. He is also considered the most ecumenical pope in history because of his efforts in support of the environment, combating extremism, humanitarianism and uniting other faiths.

Prophetic significance

Many may see these as all positive steps toward different groups coming together. But it’s important to see what the Bible says.

It prophesies that just before Jesus Christ returns, two great leaders will arise on the world scene. One is known as the “beast” (a political leader rising out of Europe) and the other as the “false prophet” (a charismatic religious leader). These two men will work together to deceive the nations (Revelation 16:13-14). This involves a false religion that will be worshipped around the world (Revelation 13:8). The book of Revelation indicates the religious leader will arise from Rome (Revelation 17:1-9). This is why Pope Francis’ ecumenical moves are prophetically significant.

Is Pope Francis, through his gentle and conciliatory approach, trying to bring Rome’s daughters back home? This great false church is identified as a “mother of harlots” (Revelation 17:5)—indicating that she is a church who considers herself a mother over “daughter” churches. The Catholic Church not only describes itself as “the mother” of Christianity, but also has given birth to numerous “daughter” churches—including the Orthodox and Protestants. Both trace their roots back to Rome. Is Pope Francis, through his gentle and conciliatory approach, trying to bring Rome’s daughters back home?

God’s faithful followers must hold faithfully to the Word of God (Revelation 13:8). The Bible also warns that this future religious leader will perform “great signs and wonders” that could potentially deceive God’s people (Matthew 24:24). Watch these ecumenical movements and “take heed that you not be deceived” (Luke 21:8).

For further insight into end-time events involving the Catholic Church, read:


Topics Covered: Prophecy, News and Trends, Religion

About the Author

Isaac Khalil

Isaac Khalil

Isaac Khalil is husband to his lovely wife, Natasha, and father to son, Eli and daughter, Abigal. He loves to spend time with family and friends doing various things like watching movies, playing chess, playing board games and going out. He enjoys studying biblical topics and discussing the Bible with his friends. He is also a news junkie and is constantly reading and sharing news connected with Bible prophecy.

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