North Texas evangelicals meet with Pope Francis

06/26/2014 5:32 PM

06/26/2014 5:33 PM

Euless-based evangelist James Robison and other Protestant evangelicals met with Pope Francis this week and talked about the need for all Christians to work together in a troubled world.

“This meeting was a miracle,” Robison said Thursday, shortly after returning from Rome. “This is something God has done. God wants his arms around the world. And he wants Christians to put his arms around the world by working together.”

During a meeting and luncheon on Tuesday, Robison got a high five from Francis after they talked about the need for all churchgoing believers to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

“Pope Francis didn’t know what a high five was, but the translator told him,” Robison said. “It was just a joy-filled meeting.”

Robison said he was impressed by the Roman Catholic pontiff’s humility and his courtesy to all who attended.

The Protestant group included Betty Robison, co-host of the Robisons’ Life Today television program; Fort Worth television evangelist Kenneth Copeland; the Rev. Geoff Tunnicliff, outgoing CEO of the New York-based World Evangelical Alliance, and two of his associates, the Rev. Brian Stiller and the Rev. Thomas Schirrmacher; and the Rev. John Arnott and his wife, Carol, leaders of Partners for Harvest ministries in Toronto.

Bishop Tony Palmer, a friend of the pope’s, translated between Italian and English for the group. He’s an evangelical and bishop of the Anglican Episcopal Church in the United Kingdom, which broke away from the Church of England in 1996 because of doctrinal differences.

“Tony’s the person who brought us together,” Robison said. “Tony met Pope Francis before he became pope when the two were working together in poor communities in Argentina. They’ve remained best friends.”

One event that led to the meeting, Robison said, was an appearance by Palmer at one of Copeland’s pastors conferences at the Eagle Mountain International Church in Newark last January. During the meeting, Palmer showed a video welcome from the pope calling for Christian unity, and the video was played again May 5 on Robison’s Life Today television program.

“The pope, in the video, expressed a desire for Protestants and Catholics to become what Jesus prayed for — that Christians would become family and not be divided,” Robison said.

Francis also mentioned the biblical story of Joseph uniting with his brothers in Egypt, Robison said. “He said the brothers came looking for food in Egypt but found far more than food. They found their brother. He said Christians need to do the same — to find their brothers.”

Copeland responded at the conference with a prayer for the pope, Robison said.

Response to the video in general, Robison said, was very positive and Francis asked Palmer whether a meeting could be arranged with the evangelicals seeking Christian unity.

Robison said he believed he had a divine call to seek greater ties with other Christians while he was hospitalized several years ago with a serious illness. During that time, he said, he was impressed by a prayer of Jesus in John 17:21, pleading that all Christian believers be one.

“We’ve tried to focus on being an answer to Jesus’ prayer,” Robison said. “We want to see Jesus’ prayer for unity answered in our day.”

Robison has led several conferences with evangelicals, Catholics and other faiths in the last three and a half years, and as a result co-wrote a book, Indivisible, with Catholic philosopher Jay W. Richards.

Not everyone is happy about the closer ties evangelicals and Catholics are forging. Several comments on websites from Catholics have been critical, citing strong doctrinal differences.

The Rev. Ken Silva, a Southern Baptist pastor in New Hampshire who has a website critical of those who stray from traditional doctrines, said in an interview that Robison and others are trying to undo the Protestant Reformation.

Silva said he agrees with Pope Francis on many things such as helping the poor.

“He may be a nice guy, but how can I say he is a brother in Christ when the Catholic Church preaches a different Gospel?” he said.

Francis presented all the participants with a statement labeled Evangelii Gaudium, meaning the joy of the Gospel, which was sent to all Catholic bishops, clergy and lay people.

“Here is a tremendous statement about how God asks everything of us, yet at the same time offers everything to us by filling us with grace and joy,” Robison said.

“The pope said we should be witnessing out of the overflow of our joy. It’s amazing. That’s, of course, what evangelicals believe.”

Robison said Francis talked about diversity and said Christians could work together without compromising their beliefs.

“The world is suffering,” said Robison. “We as Christians have too much love to share without fighting one another.”

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