Relevant ProMundis Blogposts
WEA Human Rights Ambassador speaks with the Muslim President of Albania about the situation of Christians in his country
The Ambassador for Human Rights of the World Evangelical Alliance and Director of the International Institute for Religious Freedom presented the concerns of Christians in a one-hour meeting with the Muslim President of Albania, Bujar Faik Nishani. Schirrmacher thanked the president and the Albanian government that the relatively new Albanian Evangelical Alliance has been officially recognized by the state. Now is a good time for both church and state to recognize that the once closed churches can be good citizens. Because the Albanian Evangelical Alliance did not exist before 1989, it is not directly involved in the complex and partly discriminatory process of restituting church properties that were nationalized by a previous regime.
Nishani and Schirrmacher first met in June 2013, on the occasion of a visit of Nishani to Berlin. Nishani was elected president in 2012, before which he had been Interior Minister and Justice Minister in Albania.
In preparation for this meeting Schirrmacher met with church leaders of various confessions. This included two discussions with the head of the autocephalous Albanian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Archbishop Anastasios Yoannoulatos. In a further discussion after the meeting with the president, the Archbishop thanked the World Evangelical Alliance for its engagement on behalf of his church.
Archbishop Anastasios spent many years as a theology professor in Athens. Previously he developed Orthodox mission work in Africa and worked on an Orthodox theory of missions. In 1992 he accepted responsibility for the almost totally destroyed Orthodox Church in Albania, which he has redeveloped. From 1984 to 1991 he was chairman of the Commission for World Missions and Evangelism of the World Council of Churches. Since 2006 the Archbishop has also been one of the presidents of the World Council of Churches.
“for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; …” (Ephesians 4:12)
1. What Do We Want Martin Bucer Seminary To Be?
“Many German seminaries are becoming increasingly irrelevant to ministry. Either they emphasize ‘practical theology’ at the expense of important subjects like ethics, church history, sects, original languages, etc., or they give academic degrees with little emphasis on character development, and provide little contact with experienced pastors or missionaries. MBS seeks to provide the best of both.” Prof. Dr. Thomas Schirrmacher
Innovative and Flexible
MBS allows students to create a course of study that equips them specifically for their ministry, rather than forcing the student to “fit a system.” It is one of the few theological institutions that recognizes work done at other theological institutions. MBS caters to those who can only study part-time. And we would rather send a seminary to the students than send students to a distant seminary.
Only God’s eternal commandments are inviolable, not our cultures or traditions. To paraphrase Jesus’ comment on the Sabbath, educational institutions and theology are for man, not man for education.
MBS does not see the world as an enemy, but rather as a part of God’s creation that is to be reconciled with Him; therefore, we aim to take every thought captive (II Cor. 10:5) and to test our thinking and actions regarding how they address and transform the surrounding culture.
Multicultural and International
Christianity is not limited by national borders; consequently, MBS is intentionally open to learn from Christians from other cultures. We welcome teachers and students from all over the world to give our students a global perspective on God’s kingdom.
Thomas Schirrmacher, founder of MBS writes, “The MBS goal is that all aspects of theological education are directed towards church planting and world missions. Missions are at the center of the curriculum.”
Our training program is intended to enable our students to fulfill their various personal ministries not only in their own lives, but also in the lives of their congregations and in the global church (2 Tim. 3:17). We consciously judge our program on its relevance for practice. Our instructors have practical experience in ministry and missions. Experience in church and missions is central to our study programs.
Theologically Grounded in the Word of God
Paul’s missions mandate is spelled out in greatest detail in the book of Romans. MBS sees good, thorough biblical doctrine as the motor which drives us to evangelize. Germany is the beachhead for theological liberalism in Europe. The undermining of the authority of Scripture still riddles the church and its seminaries. MBS is one of the few theological schools based in the German speaking countries which holds to the infallibility of the Word of God.
Just as Paul based his missionary activity on the careful and extensive explanation of his gospel in the book of Romans, we want to encourage local and global missions based on thorough, thoughtful, biblical foundations. We will strive for academic excellence without retiring into an intellectual ivory tower or speaking a language incomprehensible to educated lay people. Like Paul, we will attempt to speak the whole counsel of God both to believers and to our cultures.
We are not satisfied with summarizing and repeating old familiar truths, but seek to discover new depths of understanding in various fields of interest and to stimulate our students’ enthusiasm in questioning, study, and research. We encourage them to test and improve on what they have learned rather than merely accepting the opinions of others. We think this research orientation will help students become future leaders.
“Our training program is intended to enable our students to fulfill their various personal ministries in their own lives as well as in their congregations, and in the global church.”
We consciously seek to link theology with other fields of learning, such as medicine, psychology, law, linguistics, politics, literary analysis, and Islamic studies – to mention a few. We always benefit from taking a look at the other side of the fence! Many of our students and instructors seek training in “secular” fields as well in theology, because we see the secular world as a place to serve God!
Since most of our branches are close to state universities, we can easily visit academic lectures or seminars held in other fields and many of our students acquire other academic degrees along with their degree in theology. We do not want to leave any aspect of private or public life untouched by Christian thinking and activity.
2. Educational Principles
You will find our educational philosophy stated in 21 proposals in the article “An Appeal for Alternative Education Models for Church and Mission.” It is available as a download as MBS Text 14.
Here is a short summary:
- Our program is designed to fit the student, rather than insisting that students fit our program. We try to create a flexible program for every student, no matter the circumstances in which he lives or the learning style he prefers.
- We combine high academic training and research with practical experience and discipleship. The skill to research a topic independently and the skill to be a good leader and visionary in church and missions are interdependent.
- It is often better to send a seminary to the students than to send students to a distant seminary.
- Being and working in a local church is part of the training. Many students officially work part-time in their churches and have been asked by their local churches to study with us.
- All teachers have extensive experience as pastors, missionaries, etc., and without exception are still engaged in ministry to varying degrees. Their goal is to communicate an authentic Christian lifestyle, together with passionate theological conviction.
- Students learn to know and understand different theological traditions in their best present form and are encouraged to work toward unity among evangelicals while still holding strong convictions. Debates over theological differences (e.g., baptism, tongues) are not avoided, but are initiated by those lecturing and are viewed as necessary to a well-rounded education.
- We urge students to acquire knowledge from other schools, from specialized organizations (e.g. media, business), and from other believers, churches and schools in the Third World. We encourage trips to and internships in Third World churches.
The Pope and the World Synod of the Catholic Church invited the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) to present their view of “Evangelism” on the occasion of the 50th jubilee of Vatican II and the synod’s topic “The new evangelisation”. Therefore the Theological Commission of WEA developed a statement “Evangelism: The Hallmark of Evangelical Faith”, which the Secretary General of WEA presented personally to the synod and the Pope.
The speech and declaration opened with the sentence: “Evangelism is the proclamation in word, deed and Christian character of the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross and through the resurrection. Evangelism lies at the core of the identity of being evangelical. We affirm that it is not possible to be truly evangelical without a radical commitment to world evangelisation.”
Still in the first paragraph, WEA states, that beside evangelism the other two characteristics of Evangelicalism are, “that Jesus Christ is the unique Saviour of humanity and Lord of all creation and that the Scriptures are the ultimate authority in all matters of faith and conduct.”
As World Evangelical Alliance we were present at the World Synod of the Catholic Church in the Vatican and experienced how it’s documents emerged. I would like to show, how many positive statements are found in the propositions of the Vatican Synod, which Evangelicals can only agree with. You can read the text of the propositions here and here.
The third paragraph has the heading “The personal encounter with Jesus Christ in the Church” and begins with the words:
“Before saying anything about the forms that this new evangelization must assume, we feel the need to tell you with profound conviction that the faith determines everything in the relationship that we build with the person of Jesus who takes the initiative to encounter us.”
Beside the personal relation to Jesus stands a church centering around loving relationships, as found in the same third paragraph:
“We must form welcoming communities in which all outcasts find a home, concrete experiences of communion which attract the disenchanted glance of contemporary humanity with the ardent force of love – ‘See how they love one another!’ (Tertullian, Apology, 39, 7).”
From the personal relationship to Jesus the document naturally goes on to the role of the Bible under the heading of the forth paragraph:
“The occasions of encountering Jesus and listening to the Scriptures” it says: “The frequent reading of the Sacred Scriptures – illuminated by the Tradition of the Church who hands them over to us and is their authentic interpreter – is not only necessary for knowing the very content of the Gospel, which is the person of Jesus in the context of salvation history. Reading the Scriptures also helps us to discover opportunities to encounter Jesus, truly evangelical approaches rooted in the fundamental dimensions of human life: the family, work, friendship, various forms of poverty and the trials of life, etc.”
Even though the church in good Catholic fashion has an official interpretive function at this point, in good evangelical form the relationship with Jesus along with listening to the Holy Scriptures as they relate to each other, and constant, renewed study of the Bible, combine to help orient all areas of life towards the gospel.
It is also evangelical to see God’s agency and iniative always put first in the sixth paragraph:
“In the face of the questions that dominant cultures pose to faith and to the Church, we renew our trust in the Lord, certain that even in these contexts the Gospel is the bearer of light and capable of healing every human weakness. It is not we who are to conduct the work of evangelization, but God, as the Pope reminded us: ‘The first word, the true initiative, the true activity comes from God and only by inserting ourselves in to the divine initiative, only by begging this divine initiative, will we too be able to become – with him and in him – evangelizers’ (Benedict XVI, Meditation during the first general Congregation of the XIII General Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, Rome, 8 October 2012).”
It is pleasing – in fact even for me personally – that in the 10th section fundamentalism is no longer considered to be a certain understanding of Scripture. Rather, it is seen as I conceive of it in my book Fundamentalism, i.e., the use of force and the violation of human rights in the name of truth. That a reference to Christian persecution and a call for religious freedom directly follow are things which lie along the same line:
“The dialogue among religions intends to be a contribution to peace. It rejects every fundamentalism and denounces every violence that is brought upon believers as serious violations of human rights. The Churches of the whole world are united in prayer and in fraternity to the suffering brethren and ask those who are responsible for the destinies of peoples to safeguard everyone’s right to freely choose, profess and witness to one’s faith.”
Which special Catholic doctrines are mentioned in the document? Beside the already mentioned magisterium of the Church (chapter 4) and the “consecrated life” (chapter 7) the whole last proposition 14 is dedicated to Mary, even though – as it is typical for the time of Benedict XVI. – non of the major Marian dogmas is mentioned.
An Interview with Thomas Schirrmacher after testifying in the Swedish Parlament by the magazine ‘Eins’ (‘One’)
EINS: What is the World Evangelical Alliance doing to combat the restrictions on religious freedom around the world?
The question is sufficient to fill a special issue from cover to cover, since this comprises an enormous breadth of very different activities which are mostly organized into separate departments or handled by different institutions. There are eight of these subject headings: prayer – aid – ecumenism – media efforts – legal assistance – political action – peace talks – research.
EINS: Would you please give an example of prayer and aid?
The WEA’s Global Day of Prayer for the persecuted church at the beginning of November has been so successful in Germany that more and more large churches have incorporated a similar day into their liturgical calendar. Aid ranges from providing for affected families if the breadwinner is in prison, and it goes all the way to successful educational seminars put on by the WEA’s Religious Liberty Commission. This is where experienced leaders from countries where persecution occurs offer one-week courses to people in leadership.
EINS: Ecumenism? How can that help against the persecution of Christians?
On the one hand, theological discussions between confessions and denominations should not be an excuse for not helping other Christians. The WEA offers massive support politically and in the media for Orthodox Christians in the Near East, and the leaders of these churches have repeatedly and officially shown their gratitude for this.
However, it is also important that we coordinate our efforts against infringements on religious liberty. I discussed this with the Ecumenical Patriarch and many patriarchs and metropolits, in short with the old and the new Pope, as did WEA’s Secretary General. It is more and more seldom the case that one encounters what was common 20 years ago, which was that churches stabbed each other in the back if they were not themselves affected. Things operated under the motto of: “No wonder that they are persecuted, after all, they are . . . ”
And finally, there is no way around cooperation of all churches in connection to transnational organizations such as the EU, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), or the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, unless from the outset you do not want to accomplish anything. Therefore, the World Council of Churches and the WEA have recently conducted a joint hearing before the United Nations Commission on Human Rights against the blasphemy laws in Pakistan, which is not only of benefit to Christians since Muslims are much more frequently falsely accused. I was recently with Coptic Christians before the EU Human Rights Committee. Each individual introduced a Coptic girl who had been kidnapped and forced to marry a Muslim. We had before and after photographs. By the way: We also do this sort of thing in the cause for the Bahai and atheists!
EINS: Let’s jump over the media efforts and come to legal assistance. Are Christians even allowed to take issues to court?
They may, but they do not have to. Paul is a good example for both. He was able to tolerate injustice, but in other instances he utilized his Roman citizenship and appealed to the Emperor. That is the equivalent of a Supreme Court today. The affected individuals have to decide for themselves when to go to court. However, if they want to have legal assistance, they should be assisted with a sign of international solidarity. Through ‘Advocates International,’ the WEA has a global network of thousands of lawyers who deal with smaller issues in like manner to the test cases they have won before the European Court of Human Rights. And by the way, not all of these cases won by Evangelicals were cases for Evangelicals, but for all kind of churches, eg Orthodox churches from Eastern Europe. You should also not forget: All the freedoms which we have today were at some point successfully contended for in the past and did not fall into our laps like fruit from trees.
EINS: Now to politics and peace talks. Should the state protect Christianity again?
First of all regarding the peace talks: In the realm of politics, the ‘Peace and Reconciliation Track’ of WEA is promoting joint dialogs and projects between adherents of different religions. These efforts promote peace, even in cases where the state is not actively playing a role. For instance, we are very strongly involved with this in Nigeria and in the Holy Land.
Now to politics: Since Christians are against the use of self-defense involving violence and advocate the state’s monopoly on force, along with the separation of church and state, they are not able to protect themselves by violent acts. Rather, they have to call upon countries to protect their human rights if their human rights are massively restricted or even find their lives endangered. In Germany, we call the police if someone sets a synagogue, a mosque, or a church on fire and do not take this into our own hands. When one’s own state does not intervene, Christian may turn to other states with the request to exercise pressure on those countries which are passive.
The state, however, should not protect people because they are Christians. Rather, they should protect them because they are humans with human rights, and they should naturally offer the same protection to adherents of all religions as well as those who are not religious! Christians do not ask for special rights, but just the rights that everybody has.
Unfortunately, the state often has to protect religious freedom by offering protection to religious and non-religious people against other religious or ideological people. But just to make things clear: In order to spread the Christian message, we do not need and do not want the state!
EINS: Is advocacy for all religions just a matter of political calculation in order to be heard or to receive credibility?
No, a part of the heart of Evangelical faith is that true belief in God can only occur as a result of personal conviction and not through state pressure, by means of coercion, by overpowering anyone, or by offering bribes. A conversion obtained by fraud or through coercion is not even a real conversion. Only an individual who trusts in God as his Lord and Redeemer from the bottom of his or her heart believes in the proper meaning of the word. It is completely in this sense that we issued a joint declaration with the Vatican and the World Council of Churches on missions efforts devoid of any kind of compulsion.
God has given us the mandate of witnessing to this faith and not, however, to punish those people who do not believe it or to pass final judgment on others. Fortunately, he has reserved that for himself, for, as he said to his prophet Samuel: “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
Jonah as well as the Twelve Apostles wanted fire to come down from heaven. God and Jesus emphatically rejected that. When Peter cut off the ear of a soldier, Jesus said the following momentous words: “Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.“ This is demonstrated all too well by all the wars between religions.
EINS: I sort of hesitated with research: Weighty tomes against persecution? Footnotes against hate?
All other seven fields of activity, therefore also including prayer or legal assistance, presuppose qualified, credible information, which are even more important in the era of the internet when there are a lot of hoaxes and exaggerations in circulation. We can introduce a lot of questions before the United Nations, provided that we can document it well. Additionally, I consider it important that we not veil the truth through a one-sided set of Christian glasses. Rather, we should openly and honestly give an account of the situation as it is on the ground. How things are going for other religious and non-religious people is just as much a part of it as the influence exerted by economic elements, racism, or hostility towards women.
The International Journal for Religious Freedom, published by the International Institute for Religious Freedom, is a state accredited, recognized scholarly medium for which experts from all religions and many universities around the world write. The Institute itself has the task of making scholarly sound statements on the topic of religious freedom available, which are above all provided to the political world. Through the Institute, there are several universities which have set up their own research programs or have created a chair for these issues.
Together with the University of Tübingen’s Geographical Institute, and under the leadership of our Nigerian colleague, Joseph Yakubu, we have just begun a project on the topic of religious freedom at the University of Jos. There are many Muslim professors who are participating in the project.
Dear fellow Christians, virtually all more than 2 billion Christians are against burning Qurans, bit some individuals feel called by God to do so. Please pray that they do not succeed and speak out against their ideas whenever they are made public. Below you will find some reaons, why burning Qurans is against what the Christian faith stands for.
Though Jesus prophesied to his followers: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. . . . Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:5,9), and though the Apostle Paul exhorts us, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18), there are some people who claim to be Christians but who do not follow these commands. Instead they speak about burning the Quran. Thereby they decide that playing with fire is the order of the day.
Though none of us fully lives up to the expectations of Jesus, there is something that God has said that specially applies here: “’God’s name is blasphemed among the non-Christians because of you‘“ (Romans 2:24). We believe this principle applies to people burning Qurans. The people who speak about burning the Quran make neither the God of love nor Jesus and his Good News of reconciliation and forgiveness known around the world. They only bring themselves into the media and present a distorted picture of the Christian faith. Let me explain.
Quran burners try to win capital for the faith out of the political mood against Islam. Still: “’ . . . all who draw the sword will die by the sword’” (Matthew 26:52). In stark contrast Paul wrote: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness . . .” (Galatians 5:22-23). Our God-given requirement is different from Quran burning: “Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone“ (Titus 3:1-2).
Quran burners confuse the mandate of the church and the mandate of the state with regard to Islam in a manner that leads to total chaos regarding the relation between religion and government. In the end Quran burners are loyal neither to the church nor to the state, but rather an individual takes things into his own hands in the place of a church that is supposedly too friendly and a state that is supposedly too lax. It is not a Christzian idea, that the individual may exercise force if the state fails to exercise force when it should, thereby rejecting state monopoly with respect to law and the use of force.
Of course we know that many Bibles are burned daily in different parts of the world, and we recognize the bias when Western media and politicians criticize single Quran burnings but never mention the thousands of Bibles burned each year. But what is our reaction as Christians to such things? Should we or do we burn houses of worship when churches are burned? No. It is one thing to defend one’s own life or the life of one’s family if threatened by violence. But it is unthinkable that we should take revenge for burning Bibles by burning Qurans. Paul teaches us, “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all” (Romans 12:17).
It is, of course, wrong and unreasonable that Muslim extremists react to such provocation with violence. And we appeal to all our neighbors not to respond to the provocations of a tiny number of people who do not represent the Christian church. However, in spite of this, anyone who so excessively provokes in a manner that knowingly fuels violence, and in the process utilizes the language of war, is at least partly responsible for the violence that may result. For that reason, the World Evangelical Alliance rightly notifies Quran burners of future visits of widows of Christians if their husbands would be killed by Islamist violence in reaction to their deeds. The price for their anti-biblical ideas will probably not be paid by themselves, but rather by innocent and vulnerable people from other parts of the world. A truly courageous person would endanger himself, not others.
Christians are glad that God himself is the judge and has retained all final judgment for himself. Only God can look into the hearts of people, and in the end we cannot see his verdict, since “the Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
God has forbidden us from enforcing any sort of punitive sentence on our critics and from punishing other people for their ‘unbelief.’ Even Jonah had to learn by experience that God was more merciful than Jonah himself, for Jonah would have rather seen judgment come upon Nineveh than to see the people repent (Jonah 4:4:1-10). Jesus clearly rebuked the desire of his disciples to send down fire from heaven upon any villages that rejected him (Luke 9:51-56). Christian preachers may regret with a bleeding heart that people reject the offer of salvation in Christ, but they never have the right to declare such people to be evil, to attack them, to incite the state against them, to entreat judgment against them, or to carry out judgment themselves.
According to the biblical understanding, the monopoly on the use of force in this world is a matter held only by the state, which has neither the mandate to proclaim the gospel nor to increase the size of the Christian church. Indeed, the state has to stay out of questions of conscience and religion. It is for this reason, conversely, that the state, as God’s servant, expressly has to punish Christians who do evil (Romans 13:1-7). The state has to protect Christians only insofar as they protect everyone who does good, and, in its efforts to promote justice and peace, the state has to hinder anyone who plans violence or exercises violence, whether they are religiously motivated or not.
Would Jesus probably have burned a Koran? Would Paul have spoken out in favor of it? Indeed Paul was truly “distressed” about the many idols in Athens (Acts 17:16), but he then engaged in a friendly, serious, and respectful dialogue with the Greek philosophers (Acts 17:22-23), attempting to honestly convince them of the truth of the gospel. Paul implemented the principle articulated by Peter, that Christians must always defend their faith “with gentleness and respect” in relationship with their critics (1 Peter 3:15-16). We call on all Christians to follow these New Testament principles today.