Originally Published in the Rochester-Hills Patch
I am a Muslim. And since the age of 15, I have immersed myself in religious studies finding Christianity the most fascinating. I have read the New Testament cover to cover, found countless arguments in favor and against Christian Doctrine, and spent more time in Churches then I have in my own Mosque discussing these points. With that being said, I can honestly say with confidence that regardless of what Pope Francis puts forth, the debate on salvation is far from settled.
Last week, The Pope (whom I have the utmost respect and love for) gave the impression that Non-Christians can achieve salvation. Since then people have given interpretations to his remarks. Some saying that individuals have that ability because the door is open. Walking through means accepting Christs (peace be upon him) sacrifice and Gods grace or Sola Gratia (Grace Alone). Others have gone to say this means good works for even atheists can be recognized by God and he will reward them for it. And some on both sides of the fence have gone to the extent of admonishing his statements. My question to everyone is, how far does interpretation go?
I don’t just mean The Popes remarks. Even Dogma and Scripture can be taken in so many different ways, that we would never truly be able to know what really is “Truth”.
If we were to look back in history, the concept of Sola Fide (Faith Alone) became prominent in the early 16th century during the Reformation movements. Faith without works was never accepted in the church or sanctioned by scripture at that time. Today people can find numerous passages in the New Testament to solidify that belief. Were people just getting it wrong for 1500 years?
Even in the first few centuries of Christianity, interpretations ranged across a wide spectrum. Looking at the divinity of Jesus (peace be upon him) as an example, we see a large difference between the Macionites, Ebionites, and what we would today call Orthodox Christians. The Marcionites believed he was 100% divine and not human. The Ebionites believed he was 100% human and not divine. And the Orthodox Christians believed he was both at the same time. Each group had scripture to support their claims, each had viable arguments in favor of their beliefs and against the others while deeming them as heretics. So what does interpretation get us? This creates a problem for the concept of Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone).
When looking at today’s scriptures, we can find overall themes in each Gospel that would contradict the others and the letters of Paul as well. Was Jesus (peace be upon him) the Jewish Messiah, sent by the Jewish God, to the Jewish people, in fulfillment of the Jewish Law like in Matthew? Or was he sent for all mankind including the gentiles like in Luke? Did Christ (peace be upon him) proclaim that belief in him only will get someone eternal life like in John, and the concept of Solus Christus (Christ Alone)? Or did one have to follow the commandments and do good works like in Mark? Endless interpretations.
At the end of the day, Salvation is only given by God. My own take on Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone), is that if we as religious people truly believe in his glory, we need to believe that his judgement is only acceptable. Not the condemnations of Man. We cannot say what he deems as acceptable or not, we can only praise him and love our neighbors as ourselves. We should teach and preach, but not condemn or disregard. A Muslim cannot say that God would not reward a Christian if he was true to his faith and made the world a better place. Neither can a Christian for certain say that any Muslim is beyond redemption because he has not accepted Christ (peace be upon him). These judgments are for God and God alone. Our job, is to love and promote good.