Swedish Pastor’s Call For Unity Criticized

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Some observers say charismatic minister Ulf Ekman is opening the door too wide to Catholicism
After stoking controversy through the last 25 years for
his Word-Faith message, Swedish pastor Ulf Ekman is again at the center
of debate, this time for his embrace of Catholic and Protestant leaders
who advocate uniting all Christians “under the pope.”

In recent years, the prominent pastor of Word of Life in
Uppsala has been associating increasingly with Catholic leaders, and
introducing his followers to Catholic and Orthodox theology, in
particular through his teaching magazine, Keryx. Yet Ekman insists he is not adopting Catholicism but simply broadening his theology and promoting a “unity of the heart.”

“God has spoken to me as powerfully concerning unity as He did concerning the faith message,” Ekman told Charisma.
“With secularism and Islam taking over in Europe, revival slogans won’t
suffice. The need of the hour is a powerful, effective unity including
the historical churches.”

Viewing the Roman Catholic Church as the “whore of Babylon” is
“untenable,” he added. “With so much apostasy and denying of
fundamental truths among Protestants, even in Pentecostal and
charismatic churches, who are we to point fingers at the Catholics?”
Ekman said. “The whore is present in all denominations. But then again
the body of Christ is also in all denominations and certainly in the
Catholic Church.”

Ekman’s views are being welcomed by many Swedish church leaders
as interest in Catholic and Orthodox spirituality, Catholic pilgrimages
and monastery-like retreats grows rapidly in Pentecostal and
charismatic circles. The Catholic bishop of Sweden, Anders Arborelius,
told Charisma that so “many Protestants approach the Catholic Church with high expectations” that he is “barely coping.”

Others are deeply worried. In April and October evangelicals
gathered in Örebro, Sweden’s evangelical center, to point out that
to Catholics unity always meant, and still means, bowing to the pope.
Arborelius seemed to affirm that view, saying: “We cannot bypass the
personal wish of Jesus that all unity must relate to the apostle
Peter,” that is, to the papal office.

The criticism doesn’t deter Ekman. He speaks at Catholic
charismatic gatherings and is interacting increasingly with Oasis, a
hub of the charismatic Lutheran renewal in Sweden. Combining a high
church, liturgical profile with a broad ecumenical approach, Oasis may
be the largest charismatic movement in the country.

A Lutheran priest before he planted his independent charismatic
church, Ekman often sparred with his former denomination in the 1980s
and 1990s because of his prosperity message. But in 2007, Ekman
preached at the Oasis Pentecost Conference, and in 2008 he was a guest
of honor at the Oasis Summer Conference, taking a seat on the platform
during the sermon of the event’s most renowned speaker—the pope’s
“personal preacher,” Franciscan monk Raniero Cantalamessa.

Ekman has also invited Arborelius to a “night of exchange” at
Word of Life, intentionally not confronting him with controversial
questions and hugging him as a brother in Christ. “My heart is to do
away with prejudices,” Ekman said. “We need to discover and recognize
each other. Unity begins at heart, not with theology.”

Ekman said he does not feel “under obligation” to address the
theological issues dividing Catholics and Protestants—“that is not
where we are at.” But supporters and critics alike interpret Ekman’s
new thrust in theological terms.

Arborelius told Charisma that Ekman and others are
seeing some controversial Catholic “dogmatic accents” as helpful. And
though the Catholic position is “not fully accepted,” he said, “I think
that [Ekman and others] now see the key role of the pope as a symbol of
unity and the importance of the Virgin Mary.”

As he avoids theological debates with Catholic leaders, Ekman
challenges those in revivalist circles to rethink some of their
theology. “The Lakeland, [Fla.], events highlight the need to tie in
with classical doctrines and with a stricter understanding of the
church offices,” Ekman said.

“If anybody can proclaim himself a leader, the result is
confusion. We need to develop a consciousness of history. The early
church was not [a bunch of] happy charismatics. There was much more
order and structure than we have been taught.”

Particularly upsetting to many critics is Ekman’s involvement
with the Östanbäck monastery, located an hour’s drive west of
Uppsala. Though nominally Lutheran, the monastery’s leader, Abbot
Caesarius Cavallin, is an ardent advocate for uniting all Christians
under the pope, and he publicly refers to Ekman as a “pillar of

Ekman has donated money to the new Church of Unity to be built
at Östanbäck, and in a sermon at the monastery he referred to
Mary as the “eternal virgin”—Catholic terminology signifying that Mary
remained a virgin in spite of her giving birth to Jesus and being

“That was but one sentence that I threw out to test if there
are dogmas that we have let go off,” Ekman said of the reference. “I
find it very interesting that all reformers up until and including
Wesley held the view [of Mary’s virginity]. The other interpretation
was first introduced by liberal theologians.”

He said he likes the atmosphere at Östanbäck, and
Cavallin is an old colleague. “That is why I have contributed to their
new church,” he said.

—Tomas Dixon in Uppsala, Sweden

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