Now that the container fun is behind , we wanted to share an encouraging/challenging story with you about our brother in Christ, Gjergji. Gjergji is a dear brother and we have grown to love him and his wife very much. We spent a lot of time with their family when we were last here and we are thankful to God for how He is growing them in Christ. Gjergji is a thinker and Scott has enjoyed talking through many tough things with him.
In the last month Gjergji has faced some ridicule and harsh words from people that go to his previous church because of a Facebook post Gjergji recently made. In order for you to understand, we need to give you some background info.
First, the pope recently came to Tirana. We were surprised at all the commotion the pope (head of the Catholic church) caused in a very Muslim city. The officials had a bunch of billboards torn down (can’t have the pope seeing all of the salacious beer advertisements in town), removed all of the roaming strip club and other deviant signage removed (which are back in full force already), and lined a long street the pope was to drive down with newly planted trees. The religious leaders all lined up to meet with the pope and thousands of Albanians gathered to hear his benediction in one of the open centers in town.
Secondly, there is a group in Tirana known as the VUSH. In Albania there are four formally recognized religions by the Albanian government: Islam, Orothodox, Catholic and Evangelical Christianity. The VUSH is the group that represents evangelicals in Albania. We are a part of this group by being part of Campus Crusade and by being an evangelical church. The VUSH represents us to the government (they help our church stay tax free) and in the public spectrum.
Third piece of info you need is there is a popular television show that airs every Friday night. It is mostly a comedy show for adults (touching on adult subjects and using foul language, ala Saturday Night Live) but for the beginning portion they invite political and religious figures to have serious talks about the topic du jour. In the week or two leading up to the pope coming, the Secretary General of the VUSH was invited onto the show to talk about various subjects including the coming of the pope.
Which finally brings us to the problem at hand. While the Secretary General of the VUSH, the group that represents Evangelicals to the government and to the Albanian public, was on the show, he was asked why there are such strong factions between the Catholic church and the Evangelical church. His response was that the divisions were over minor issues (they have a pope and we dont, they have “fathers” and we don’t) but, he said, in the main items we are the same. He went on to say we have the same Trinity, the same Bible, and the same salvation.
Now, after the pope came and left and the dust started to settle, some members of the Evangelical community were upset (a minority but a large enough one to make some noise). The reason for their objection was that the head of the VUSH met with the pope and paid respect to him with the other religious leaders that came. Oddly enough though, nobody seemed to notice or care about what the Secretary General had said earlier in the week. On Facebook the complaining about the meeting between the pope and the president of the VUSH stated to grow and Gjergji decided to get involved, but instead of complaining about the president of the VUSH, he voiced displeasure over the comments made by the SG. Gjergji argued that paying respect to a world leader (giving honor to whom honor is due) is not wrong, but defaming the gospel by saying that the Catholic version of works righteousness is the same gospel that we have is wrong and heretical.
As you might imagine, this set off some fireworks. Members of Gjergji’s previous church, defenders of the Secretary General, and other Christians slammed Gjergji for his views on the Catholic church and for speaking against the Secretary General (a popular figure in some Evangelical circles here). Gjergji took the brunt of comments that were made publicly, online, and on Facebook- some indirectly aimed at him and some quite aggressively aimed at him. Either way, Gjergji has faced some tough words, plenty of them not kind. So the question remains: was it worth it?
As a side note: This is only going to continue to get worse. The world, inside and out of the church, is putting on more and more pressure for ecumenicalism. Theology is a by-word and theology that divides is an archaic notion better left romanticized by those ultra-conservative nuts. While thousands of our brothers and sisters that have spilled their blood for the reformation of the church roll over in their graves at the sentiment espoused by the Secretary General, it is hardly rare these days. Almost everything we see in the church and coming out of the church is working toward this end. Think about it: how do you get saved now-a-days? If you believe Jesus died on the cross and pray the prayer, you are good to go. No difference between us and the Catholic church there. The prosperity gospel, come to Jesus and get the stuff, is agreeable to the palates of Catholics and Christians too. No problems there. And from many of the new movements in Christianity where experiences trump theology and “works of the Spirit” trump the Word of God, the Catholic church is boasting the same experiences and the same works of God. Looks like there isn’t much reason for us to divide today is there? But for those of us who do hold onto the Word of God over superficial unity and theological reasoning over temporary appeasement, this is going to be a battle that is only going to get worse. The tide doesn’t appear to be slowing much less changing.
So, back to the question at hand: was it worth it? Was standing up to the idea that Catholics and Christians have the same salvation worth the hurtful comments, public attacks, and division among the churches? We are so thankful that Gjergji is at the place where he is not only making out error from the truth but that he is standing up for the truth no matter the personal cost. We are personally challenged to follow in his steps and in the steps of the many that have gone before us to stand up to the false theology no matter the cost. We hope this small testimony of self-sacrifice, even if public ridicule was all it was, has both warmed your heart and challenged you like it does for us.
May God guide and protect you friends.