Many were surprised a couple of weeks ago when pope Francis sent a message to a Word of Faith conference led by Kenneth Copeland, speaking about unity and asking them to bless and pray for him, as he blesses and prays for them. And Copeland got excited and blessed him back. It’s surprising because Francis and Copeland are very distant theologically – besides the usual differences between Catholicism and Pentecostal Protestantism, Francis is a guy who is well-known for economic simplicity and an emphasis on redistribution to the poor, while Copeland is well-known for his capitalist prosperity preaching. He not only owns a mansion worth 6 million dollars and several private jet planes, but also his own freakin’ airport, Kenneth Copeland Airport, where he stores his private jet planes close to his 6 million dollar-mansion!
However, this surprise doesn’t come close to what Christians in Sweden experienced two days ago when it was revealed that Ulf Ekman, the leader of the Word of Faith movement in Scandinavia, converts to Roman Catholicism. Ulf Ekman is probably the most well-known Swedish Christian living today, his international ministry reaches millions and he is well-known among both Christians and non-Christians, mostly because he manages to be constantly controversial.
He brought the “name it claim it”-teaching from Kenneth Hagin and Oral Roberts to northern Europe, emphasizing health, wealth and success, and gathered prayer warriors wanted charismatic revival in Sweden and political domination for Israel in the middle east. And they despised Catholics, arguing that they represented a dead religion that quenched the Spirit and stood for countless heresies.
Nowadays, Ekman is a Catholic, he leaves the Word of Faith movement to become a layman in the local Catholic church in Uppsala. This has been a process for over a decade where he slowly has regretted his past, built up relationships with other Christians, sought stability and discovered the Catholic charismatic renewal, of which around 100 million Catholics are a part of. He says:
It really challenged our protestant prejudices, and we realized that we in many cases did not have any basis for our criticism of them. We needed to know the Catholic faith better. This led us to the realize that it was actually Jesus Christ who led us to unite with the Catholic Church.
It should be noted that charismatics often have been a bit more open to the historical churches than cessationist protestants, simply because Catholics and Orthodoxs strongly believe in miracles and the supernatural gifts of the Spirit. What differs is that Catholics and Orthodoxs often have restricted those experiences to special saints, while the charismatic movement emphasizes that this is for all. But with the growth of the charismatic movement within catholicism, that pope Francis welcomes, more and more Catholics acknowledge the importance of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This has made it much easier for protestant charismatics to acknowledge their Catholic brothers and sisters – if the Spirit is doing miracles there, why should we reject them?
I’m not one of those who claim that Catholics aren’t saved, or that their miracles are satanic or that the coalition between Copeland and Francis is a demonic alliance. But I am convinced that the Catholic teaching of today is not what the New Testament church believed, and that creates several problems. The early Pentecostals called themselves apostolic because they preached the apostolic Gospel in the apostolic power of the Holy Spirit, not because they had a position from a used-to-be-apostolic institution. And at the same time, the American prosperity Gospel of Kenneth Copeland isn’t Biblical either. The true Gospel looks like Heidi Baker – simple, radical, Biblical and life-changing.