Pope Francis Reaches Out to Pentecostals…

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Pope Francis’ Message to Pentecostals….

…But who is Bishop Tony Palmer?

Yesterday the Catholic blogosphere lit up with Pope Francis’ heartwarming video message to a gathering of Pentecostals in Texas. The whole video lasts about 45 minutes, and it is worth watching the whole thing because, while Pope Francis’ message is heartwarming and truly moving, in the full video you see Kenneth Copeland introduce his protege Bishop Tony Palmer. Tony gives a long, enthusiastic message to the gathered Pentecostals, and I’m sorry to be a party pooper, but Bishop Palmer’s message really needs to be analyzed.

As a former Evangelical and former Anglican priest I guess I am pretty well qualified to sniff out what is really going on here.

First of all we have to ask who “Bishop” Tony Palmer is. He is billed as a bishop in the Anglican Episcopal Communion. However, in an online search I couldn’t find such a body. This webpage lists the well over one hundred Anglican breakaway churches worldwide. For readers who do not know what an Anglican breakaway church is–it is a group of Christians who, for some reason or another, have split away from the official Worldwide Anglican Communion which has the Archbishop of Canterbury as its head. There is an Anglican Episcopal Church in the USA, and here is the webpage of the Anglican Episcopal Diocese of Europe. If this is the organization that Bishop Palmer belongs to, then it is one of the many Anglican schism groups.  Mr Palmer is also listed as a leading member of “EuroChurch” which seems to be a confederation of Protestant Evangelical leaders working in Europe.

At the EuroChurch page it says Mr Palmer is a member of the Anglican Episcopal Church of the CEEC (Celtic Anglican Tradition). CEEC stands for Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches. The CEEC website is here and it seems this Anglican body accepts women as priests. Is this the CEEC that Mr Palmer belongs to or is it another one of the many Anglican styled groups, and what is the “Celtic Anglican Tradition” The CEEC website says they “stand in the Celtic and Anglican traditions.”

If by “Celtic” they mean that they affirm Celtic spirituality there would be nothing wrong with that, but I suspect they have embraced a bogus historical theory that has been growing in popularity in Anglican circles: this is the idea that there is a pure strand of British Christianity which dates right back to the Roman times when Coptic Christians brought Christianity to the British Isles along with Joseph of Arimathea who came to Glastonbury as a missionary. This Anglican legend has been promoted because they then claim that “from the beginning there was a pure British church that was not tainted by Roman corruption. This British Celtic Church existed in an autonomous way separate from Rome until the Synod of Whitby where Rome imposed her authority on this church. Therefore Anglicanism continues that same ancient strand of Christianity free from the dominance of Rome. The whole theory is completely and crazily bogus–rather like British Israelitism or the Mormon claim that the native Americans were the lost tribes. You can read my demolition of the loopy theory in an article here that I wrote for Catholic Answers some years ago.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy that the pope sent a heartwarming message of love to the Pentecostals, and I’m happy that he is friends with Tony Palmer, but we can’t be too starry eyed or sentimental about this.

Tony Palmer is clearly from one of these enthusiastic (and usually conservative and for the most part theologically orthodox) schism groups. If he is then I have a novel and potentially exciting proposal for him. If he is an Anglican bishop of sorts, and if he truly desires unity with the Holy Father, then he should join the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. Bishop Palmer lives for a good bit of the year in Wiltshire in England. Why don’t he and his fellow clergy and people in the Anglican Episcopal Church join the Ordinariate?

Such a step would strengthen his claims to desire unity. It would also provide encouragement and a bridge for other schismatic Anglicans to come into full, corporate and recognizable unity with the Bishop of Rome in a way that they can still exercise their ministry and affirm their Anglican traditions.

There are a couple of other questions that arise from Bishop Palmer’s presentation. For one so enthusiastic about union with the Catholic Church he is poorly informed. He says in his talk that before the Reformation the Catholic church taught salvation by works. No. That’s called Pelagianism and it was the Catholic Church that firmly refuted both Pelagianism and semi Pelagianism in the early centuries.

Mr Palmer’s most gross error is telling the Pentecostal audience that doctrine doesn’t matter and that it will all  be sorted out in  heaven. This is totally irresponsible. If doctrine doesn’t matter why was Mr Palmer so intent to prove to the Pentecostals that the Catholic Church and the Lutherans now agree on justification? For that matter, if doctrine doesn’t matter why doesn’t Mr Palmer and all the Pentecostals simply join the Catholic Church? If it all doesn’t matter then it would be fine for them to join the Catholic Church. It would all be sorted out in heaven. No, I think doctrine does matter, and most self respecting Evangelical scholars and commentators would also pick up the enthusiastic Mr Palmer for such a lazy error in thinking.

Brantley Millegan over at Aleteia picks through the Bishop’s message and discovers several other howlers which indicate a skewed theology, leaky historical understanding and weak understanding of ecumenism and ecclesiology.

 But let’s be positive!

Here’s a way forward. As I have said, let Mr Palmer join the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, then let the Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter (which is also based in Kenneth Copeland’s Texas) reach out to the Pentecostals and Evangelicals. Let the leaders of the Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches get together with Monsignor Steenson the Ordinary of the Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter and talk about real re-union and talk about the hard work and sacrifices that are required.