Arecent (September 2000) doctrinal state  ment from the Vatican caused quite a stir  amongst non-Catholic Christian churches  and the Jewish community.

The document Dominus Iesus (Lord Jesus)  and a leaked four-page letter from the Vatican’s  Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to the world’s Catholic bishops attracted a blaze of international media  publicity and concern among other faiths that the  statements were a setback to ecumenism—moves toward Christian unity and cooperation.

For example, regarding ecumenical dialogue the statement said that despite a certain level of  communion with other Christian churches, the  “church of Christ… continues to exist fully only  in the Catholic Church”.

As far as salvation was concerned, the document  said that whilst salvation is possible for  those outside the Church, it always takes place  through a special grace from Christ, and in an  “indispensable” though mysterious relationship  with the Church.

The non-Catholic Christian churches were  greatly disturbed by the document’s assertion that  ecclesiastical communities that have not preserved  the valid episcopate through apostolic succession  and the valid Eucharist “are not churches in the  proper sense”. ˙The document stated that Christian  churches other than Roman Catholic had  “defects”, partly because they did not recognise  the authority of the Pope.

Jewish religious leaders were upset by the  Vatican’s claim that non-Christian faiths had  “gravely deficient” chances of salvation.

The ecumenical stance promoted by the  Vatican in recent years had led other churches to  believe that Rome accepted the premise that there  was more than one way to heaven. It now seems  they were under a delusion, as Rome has now  made it very clear that if anyone wants salvation it  must be through the Roman Church. Critics of the  document said it seemed to contradict Pope John  Paul’s frequent appeals to non-Christian religious  leaders to find common ground in one Divinity.

Whilst the document was not actually signed  by the Pope, a senior Vatican official Monsignor  Tarcisio Bertoni, who was the signatory, said it  had the Pope’s explicit approval.

We are well aware that the book of Revelation  describes the Roman Church as “The Mother of  Harlots” (Rev 17:5), and Rome herself is described  as saying “I sit a queen, and am no widow” (Rev  18:7). Both these quotations portray Rome as having  a position of eminence in the last days.

It is therefore highly significant that in the  twilight of the current Pope’s reign the Vatican has  seen fit to make it clear to all, her position as head  of all the churches. It is not without significance that  Rome is described in the book of Revelation as the  adulterous mother church. The four-page letter from  the Vatican’s Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger cautioned  against lax use of the term “sister churches” when  referring to other churches, because as far as Ratzinger  was concerned the “one, holy, catholic and  apostolic Universal Church is not sister but mother  of all the particular churches”.

Once again we see a remarkable fulfilment of  the prophetic word which is an impetus to our faith  in these last days.

Interesting Developments in Europe

Last November, Europe’s ‘top military brass’ assembled  in Brussels for a momentous meeting  which commentators have said:

“… might well mark as a turning point for the  European Union and its ambition to become a  global political power on a par with its economic  ‘clout’.

“Generals and defence ministers from all but  one of the EU’s 15 member States pledged troops,  combat aircraft and warships to a new 60 000-strong  ‘rapid-reaction force’, which will be ready for action  by 2003.

“This pan-European force will give the bloc a  joint military capability separate from the United  States-led North Atlantic Treaty Organisation for  the first time in its history” (The Australian Financial  Review, 23/11/2000).

What is most interesting is that the EU has  indicated that its troops might be deployed well  beyond European and Nato borders, perhaps even  to such conflict areas as East Timor. Whilst the EU  did not say so, the scene portrayed in Ezekiel 38  of Western European powers being involved in the  invasion of Israel is now obviously something that the EU nations could get involved in if it served  their interests.

The French defence minister, Mr Alain Richard,  said that this recent development was a decisive  moment for Europe’s role in the world. On the  other hand, the British Opposition Conservative  Party attacked the EU military initiative as anti-  Nato and proof positive that the EU was developing  super-power ambitions. This different outlook on  Europe’s role in the future is exactly as we would  expect it to be from our understanding of Bible  prophecy.

Republicans, who control the US Congress,  have already signalled reluctance to see the US  military take on extensive peace-keeping duties  in Europe, where the US up until now has been  heavily involved. In other words, the Republicans  would like to see the US less involved in the affairs  of Europe.

Whilst these interesting developments were  taking place, the Russian President, Mr Vladimir  Putin made a visit to Paris (in October 2000) for  an EU-Russia summit aimed at boosting bilateral  relations and stressing economic cooperation. Before  his departure from Moscow, Mr Putin made a  remarkable statement. He told a public television  station that he “did not rule out Russian integration  with Europe in the future.

“We intend to expand our relations [with the  EU] in all areas and I am not ruling out that at some  stage, relations between Russia and Europe could  take on a character of integration” (The Australian  Financial Review 31/10/2000).

More recently (December 2000), the leaders  of the 15-nation European Union got together to  decide common policies for the future. In the sixmonthly  summit in the French resort of Nice, the  EU leaders were being asked “to take yet another  bold step in the development of Europe’s great  unfinished project—a fully integrated, frontierfree  single market of 370 million consumers, one  which the bloc hopes will soon match the clout of  the mighty United States. In essence, they are being  asked to give up more sovereignty” (The Australian  Financial Review, 4/12/2000).

On the other hand, British critics believe that  the EU has already moved well beyond its original  mandate of establishing a free trade bloc—to that  of creating a European super-state.

All of these remarkable developments highlight  for us the continuing hand of God amongst the  nations. The opposing power blocs, as delineated  in Ezekiel 38, are gradually taking shape, and the  reality of a Russian led, European supported invasion  of Israel, opposed by the Tarshish merchant  powers, grows nearer daily. Hardly a day goes by  when we are not reminded of the wonderful fulfilment  of Bible prophecy before our eyes.

Where to Now for Israel?

As we are all aware, over the past two months or so  there has been considerable unrest between Israel  and the Palestinians. On 28 September Israel’s opposition  leader Ariel Sharon, reviled by Palestinians,  made a visit, with soldiers, to the Haram al-  Sharif/Temple Mount, a shrine in Jerusalem sacred  to both Muslims and Jews. It is widely believed that  Yasser Arafat, who was frustrated by his inability  to obtain what he wanted in his negotiations with  Ehud Barak, the Israeli Prime Minister, used Mr  Sharon’s visit as an excuse to foment the violent  reaction by Palestinians, which has seen some 300  people killed in riots, shootings, and terror attacks,  in the worst fighting in a decade.

At this stage, there seems no solution to the  continuing wave of violence which has swept the  area, and until Mr Arafat gives the Palestinians the  order to cease the unrest, there seems little prospect  of peace coming to the area. Some commentators  believe, however, that matters are even beyond  Mr Arafat’s control to bring about a cessation of  hostilities.

On the other hand, the Bible does make it clear  that there will be a measure of peace and security in  Israel prior to the invasion by Russia and her allies.  In the midst of the unrest, the Israeli Prime  Minister decided to call an early election, hoping  that some time between now and the likely election  time in May 2001 he would be able to reach  an agreement with the Palestinians and thus ensure  his re-election. As part of his pre-election posturing,  Mr Barak has launched a revised, staged peace plan  with the Palestinians. He said he would recognise a  Palestinian state with contiguous areas in the West  Bank, but he would put off the most sensitive issues  of the future of Jerusalem and a solution for  Palestinian refugees. Jerusalem has thus once again  reared its head as the “burdensome stone” on which  nations fall (Zech 8).

Yasser Arafat, who has been a very shrewd  survivor in the Arab world, probably knows that he stands a better chance of getting an acceptable  deal from Mr Barak than he has from any rightwing,  Likud-led government that may replace him.  Already, the previous right-wing Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has signalled his  intention of throwing his hat into the ring for the  top job. An Israeli poll, taken in December, showed  Mr Netanyahu defeating incumbent Prime Minister  Ehud Barak by a decisive 51–37 per cent. Mr  Arafat may also prefer dealing with the current US  President, Bill Clinton (who is most anxious to stitch  up a peace deal in the Middle East before his term  expires), than trying his luck with the incoming US  President, whoever he may be. So the incentive for  both Mr Barak and Mr Arafat is clearly to stitch up an acceptable peace deal before the Israeli election.

Can Mr Barak pull off a coup and strike a peace  deal with Yasser Arafat before the May 2001 elections?  We do not know what the future holds, except  what the broad outline of the prophetic scriptures  reveals to us. Up until recent times the peace moves  between Israel and the Palestinians were very  strong, and yet all this has been shattered over the  past two months. Even Egypt, which was the one  Arab nation which had reasonable ties with Israel,  withdrew her ambassador from Israel as a result of  the violence. The 1993 Oslo accord, which set the  Middle East peace process in train, is now in tatters.

And yet Ezekiel 38 reveals that Israel, dwelling  in safety, will be caught unawares by the lightning  invasion by Gog. Obviously the measure of peace  which Israel enjoyed up until recently must be restored  before the Russian invasion. How this will  come about we do not know, but we wait with great  interest to see the exciting developments taking  place in the Promised Land.