The Swedish Evangelical Alliance has responded to former megachurch leader Ulf Ekman's decision to convert to Roman Catholicism, praising him for all his efforts in bringing the Word of God to Swedes and people around the world, but also highlighting the "crucial dividing lines" between Catholics and Evangelicals that can not be ignored.
"Ulf Ekman, despite all the controversies along the way, is undoubtedly the most dynamic and influential Christian leader we have had in Sweden during the past half century. His international significance goes far beyond what most Swedes understand; countless people around the world thank God for the ministry of Ulf Ekman," Stefan Gustavsson, general secretary of the Swedish Evangelical Alliance, stated, as reported by IRD President Mark Tooley on Tuesday.
"In other matters, there are crucial dividing lines which can't be avoided," he added.
Former Word of Life leader Ekman is said to have "partially stunned" some members of his congregation when he announced on Sunday that he and his wife Birgitta are joining the Catholic Church, and explained that after a long search, they realized that Jesus Christ was calling them to unite with the Vatican.
"We have seen a great love for Jesus and a sound theology, founded on the Bible and classic dogma. We have experienced the richness of sacramental life. We have seen the logic in having a solid structure for priesthood, that keeps the faith of the church and passes it on from one generation to the next," Ekman explained in a statement.
"We have met an ethical and moral strength and consistency that dare to face up to the general opinion, and a kindness towards the poor and the weak. And, last but not least, we have come in contact with representatives for millions of charismatic Catholics and we have seen their living faith."
Credited for founding the charismatic Livets Ord (Word of Life) in Uppsala, Sweden, in 1983, Ekman's ministry has also constructed Scandinavia's biggest free church building, and expanded globally to countries all over Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union and Asia.
Gustavsson was quick to praise Ekman's work, and said that he wishes blessings for both him and his wife. He said that for those who have followed the Word of Life founder's ministry, his conversion is not a surprise.
"He has over a long period of years been enthusiastic, both in books and articles, about a clear Catholic theology and written about the necessity of a Magisterium which the Pope claims to possess," the Swedish Evangelical Alliance general secretary explained.
"In the Swedish Evangelical Alliance, we have had the pleasure of working with the Catholic Church in a number of important issues, dealing with the definition of marriage, human dignity and freedom of religion and conscience."
And while he noted that there are several issues on which Evangelicals and Catholics stand united, such as the belief in the Father, Son and Spirit, and the confession of Jesus as both God and man, he also pointed out a number of important issues on which the two church bodies disagree.
"This applies to the matter of salvation where we do not agree on the importance of justification by faith. The matter of authority where we do not agree on the relationship between Scripture and tradition and it also applies to the view of the Church where we do not agree that the body of Christ has a visible organizational structure led from Rome, to name some of the main issues," Gustavsson explained.
"Unity is a prayer and desire that all Christians share – or should share – and is one of the reasons that Ulf Ekman gives for his decision. At the same time there is also an underlying problem. The claim by the Catholic Church to be the visible expression of the Body of Christ have ever since the split between orthodox and catholic in 1054, is just one of the causes of division – and continues to be so."
Gustavsson added that because of this shift in beliefs, Ekman's leadership can also be seen as partly contradictory over time, and even though the pastor has said the conversion is a personal choice, it contains "built-in criticism" of parts of the movement he built up and supported.
"One should not underestimate the pain and disillusion that this creates in many people today," he added.
Gustavsson's full statement can be read on the IRD blog.