We surely live in a dramatic hour. Change is the order of the day. Even things that for centuries seemed impossible to alter are now undergoing change. For example: Who could have believed that the liturgical mass of the Roman Catholic Church, with its historic intonations in the Latin language, would give way to the pressure of these modern times? Reliable reports from both inside and outside the church indicate that during the next few months here in the United States and in other areas of the world Roman Catholics may be hearing mass not in the Latin cadences of the centuries but in "stately English prose." Even more important, this could well point the way to many other changes and adaptations this medieval church will make in deference to modern pressures. Though the mass, it is claimed, is offered in eleven different languages, yet each of these is ancient. Latin, however, is the official language of Catholicism.
For some time the leaders in this age-old hierarchy have sensed the need for reform in order to meet the demands of our rapidly changing materialistic age. And Pope John seemed to give the lead in his recent plea that "this is the time to be, above all things, pastoral," and that every priest and bishop must consider it his spiritual duty to do everything ecumenically possible to reunite Christendom and to seek to reach all, both Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Deeply significant indeed! How different this is from the historic position of this church—that of defending the faith and denouncing all Protestants as heretics.
While impressing the importance of "the common welfare," a distinct effort is being made to overcome religious differences. In place of the heated doctrinal discussions of earlier years, the distinctly "pastoral spirit" is attempting to resolve all differences. In her effort to be understood, Rome is now seeking to speak a world language.
As an example of this changed attitude, we cite the experience of a certain Catholic theologian who a few years ago, because he dared suggest the abandonment of the celibacy of the priesthood, was severely dealt with by the conservative Curia and forthwith banished from the Eternal City. When Pope John XXIII came to power, however, he not only "retrieved the theologian but attached him to the Council's advisory staff"!
In preaching our distinctive message and unfolding the great prophecies of Revelation, Seventh-day Adventists have for a century been declaring that changes would be brought about to make possible some kind of union between Roman Catholicism and apostate Protestantism, if not organically, at least spiritually. Moreover, the power that will bring about such a union will be none other than Spiritualism.
And the whole religious world knows that for decades there has been a constant infiltration of psychic influences into both Catholic and Protestant communions.
Revelation 13:3 is surely in process of fulfillment, for it says, "And his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast." As The New English Bible renders it, "the whole world went after the beast in wondering admiration." *
While occult science has been gaining influence in the Western World, there has been a resurgence also of Roman Catholic power. When President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940 proposed sending Myron C. Taylor from the United States to the Vatican as an "observer" with ambassadorial status, a tremendous hue and cry was raised. Not only unfavorable comment but vigorous protests came to the White House from many different groups. But much has happened since then. In fact, we have become so immune to surprise that the appointment of an Episcopalian "observer" would cause no comment. Even if the President of the United States were to pay an official visit to the headquarters of the hierarchy, very few would pay any attention. Of course, President Kennedy, like any other citizen, has a perfect right to have a spiritual visit with the ruling head of his own church, which in his case would be Pope John. But if and when he did, it would be the first occurrence in the history of this country of such a visit. The significance of events we are seeing and are about to see must not pass unnoticed. In Revelation 16:15 we read: "Blessed is he that watcheth." Are we watching?
Surely there should be some meaning for us when we see practically the whole world complimenting Pope John on his recent encyclical. Expressions such as these from the Washington Post, one of the leading newspapers in the nation's capital, are legion. In an editorial entitled "A Lamp Is Lighted" the editor says that the voice which speaks to mankind in this encyclical "is not just the voice of an aged priest, nor that of an ancient church, but it is the voice of the world's conscience and of its hopes and of its aspirations." Then he continues:
Its inspiration is not sectarian or national but universal, rising out of the finest and noblest intuitions and impulses of civilized man. Its audience is not just the faithful of one great congregation, or the assembly of only the believers, but the whole family of man, each member of which is endowed with human dignity. . . . The need for a public authority of world-wide power that can raise the common good above the narrow pursuits of the nation states is eloquently argued. . . . The Pope has lighted the great lamp that burns before the altar of what ought to be done. . . . The eloquence and pertinence of the Pope's appeal to the nations is exceeded only by the compassion and persuasiveness of his appeal to individual men and women. . . . Men everywhere in the world, who read or hear or understand the message of the venerable Pontiff surely will raise their eyes, their minds and their hearts above the tangled troubles of a turbulent world.—April 12, 1963.
It is not surprising that journalists of the Western World express themselves in this way. But when the leader of Communism in Europe, the bitter enemy of Catholicism, pays favorable comment, emphasizing particularly the appeal for worldwide peace, that truly is news. All right-thinking people naturally rejoice in efforts to restrain the elements of war, and we would be the last to decry this. But there is much more here than meets the eye.
Prophecy indicates plainly that before the end of all things there will be a global movement for peace when "nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more" (Isa. 2: 2-9). Micah also gives the same prophetic picture (chap. 4:1-5). The apostle Paul with clear insight reminded the believers in Thessalonica of former instructions he had given them on this subject. Then he said, "Of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them" (1 Thess. 5:1-3).
Before the final curtain falls and the great drama of redemption closes, an appeal will go forth summoning the allegiance of every man, woman, boy, and girl; the educated and uneducated, the religious and irreligious. In fact, it will be more than an appeal; it will be a demand or the decree of a "universal voice."
The precise details leading up to that last dramatic act no one knows, for prophecy has not revealed it. But as "the children of light," called of God to prepare a people to stand for truth and righteousness, we should and must know what to expect in the important days just ahead. Our Lord's admonition to "watch and pray" was never more pertinent. As preachers of prophecy we are commissioned not as prognosticators but as interpreters.
A divine principle in prophetic interpretation was clearly set forth by our Lord when He said, "I have told you before it come to pass, that, when it is come to pass, ye might believe" (John 14:29). Three times on that memorable night of His betrayal He thus expressed Himself. Had those men known the prophecies, they would not have been taken by surprise, for the very things they were seeing had all been foretold. They could have known, and would have known had they read with their eyes instead of their prejudices. And we too can know, if we will study with open mind the great prophecies relating to this our day.
Our unique contribution as Seventh-day Adventists to prophetic study is contained largely in chapters 13 to 19 of the book of Revelation. It was when our pioneers were united in their understanding of this portion of the Revelation that they became the heralds of the message of truth now being preached in all parts of the world. And to us, their children, comes the counsel to "keep abreast of the times," that we may be able to present truth in the contemporary setting.
History reveals that God has always had His divinely appointed messengers ready to interpret prophecy at the time of its fulfillment. And He has them now. While we cannot know every detail leading up to the climax when all the world will wonder after the beast, we can clearly discern the general trend. The shaping of events which challenge the world today declare with certainty that the return of our Lord is near, even at the door. What a privilege is ours as preachers of prophecy in this mighty hour. But it is more than a privilege; it is a tremendous responsibility. God make us equal to our task.
R. A. A.