A peace between Christians and Muslims has been proposed by Pope Francis after his meeting with Muslim leader, Sheik Ahmed al-Tayeb, the Grand Iman of Al Azhar. How should we, as evangelical Christians, respond?
If you haven’t been watching the news, let me fill you in. Pope Francis has been making an historic visit to the United Arab Emirates. This is the first time in history that the Roman pontiff has visited an Islamic country in the Arabic world. These indeed are incredible times! Rather than sending armies, two religious leaders have met in an attitude of graciousness.
But what should we make of it? Before I say any more, let me again reaffirm my absolute commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I believe in Acts 4:12! “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved,” I affirm and reaffirm that Christ, through His life, death and resurrection are the only hope of salvation and reconciliation with God. Salvation is found in no other name!
Does Pope Francis have any authority?
Furthermore, I also wish to emphasize the fundamental Protestant objection to the papacy. I do not believe that the bishop of Rome holds an apostolic office, neither do I believe he has any of the authority believed to be his in Roman Catholic theology.
That being said, I find myself fascinated by this visit. The Pope and Sheik Ahmed al-Tayeb, the Grand Iman of Al Azhar and the head of Sunni Islam’s most prestigious seat of learning signed a “Human Fraternity Document,” calling for peace between religions, especially between Muslims and Christians. They called for protection of synagogues, churches and mosques, and denounced terrorism and the use of force against a differing religion. Both leaders condemned violence in the name of God. The document pledges that all work together to fight religious extremism.
I know there are those who will argue that this is but another example of major world leaders working towards a one-world religion and the blurring of the Biblical distinctions of the Christian faith. Those who argue this way may well be right. Furthermore, there is hypocrisy in the document. Open Doors, which monitors discrimination and persecution of Christians around the world states that the UAE government does not allow Christians to evangelize, or even to pray in public. Any converts to Christ in that country endure persecution in a number of different ways, including extreme pressure to recant their Christian faith. Hence, while making bold public statements, one suspects that nothing will change in the UAE. This may be no more than a publicity stunt.
Are Muslims now acknowledging that the persecution of Christians is wrong?
All this being said, I rejoice at this albeit weak admission in the Muslim world that persecution of Christians is wrong. I rejoice that Dr. al Tayeb called for tolerance of Christians in the Muslim world. I rejoice that it was said by a Muslim leader.
Additionally, I rejoice that Francis and al Tayeb met. Even if only symbolic, it tells us what evangelicals have always said: we believe that any faith that relies on political power to do its work to be fundamentally evil.
How then should Bible-believing Christians respond to this historic visit that focused on peace between Christians and Muslims? I would suggest that we respond with wisdom and insight, rather than with reliance on worn out knee-jerk responses. Let us neither get on board with unbridled enthusiasm nor with unchecked condemnation. Let us also be reminded to pray for our Christian brothers and sisters in Muslim countries. Let us also pray for the conversion of many in Muslim countries. But, let us also rejoice that words of peace can be spoken between Muslims and Christians.