London's Daily Telegraph has informed the world that Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Communist leader of the Soviet Union, has confessed to being a Christian. For years, Gorbachev publicly proclaimed himself an atheist and rose to power on the strength of that avowal. President Reagan thought that Gorbachev was not really an atheist at all but a "closet believer." Now Gorbachev has come out in public and has claimed to be a Christian. Accompanied by his daughter Irina, he paid a surprise visit to pray at the tomb of St Francis of Assisi and spent half an hour on his knees in silent prayer at the tomb. Gorbachev explained that St. Francis of Assisi had always fascinated him: "St Francis is, for me, the alter Christus, the other Christ. His story fascinates me and has played a fundamental role in my life," he said. "It was through St Francis that I arrived at the Church, so it was important that I came to visit his tomb. I feel very emotional to be here at such an important place not only for the Catholic faith, but for all humanity."
A priest who accompanied Gorbachev, Miroslavo Anuskevic, said: "He was not recognised by any of the worshippers in the church, and silently meditated at the tomb for a while. He seemed a man deeply inspired by charity, and told me that he was involved in a project to help children with cancer."
Mikhail Gorbachev is 77 years old and I would be delighted to know that he had come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. However, when I read how he defines Christianity I must say I have no great confidence that he has come to experience the saving grace of God in Christ. Gorbachev talks about St. Francis bringing him to the church. There is not the slightest hint of anything like a personal confession of the Lord Jesus Christ, apart from whom no man can be saved. Gorbachev seems to be interested most of all in continuing the campaign that he conducted as a Communist and professed atheist, namely, a campaign of social and economic reform.
As a Communist and professed atheist, Gorbachev was part of a machine that sought to crush every last vestige of Christian faith from the life of the Soviet people. Ronald Reagan might have thought him a closet believer and the press may now herald his "coming out" as a believer but one must ask: can a believer pass himself off for years as an atheist for political gain? And without a confessed conversion from atheism to the truth of the gospel, how can such a man now be celebrated as a believer?
Perhaps Gorbachev has at last had the courage to admit that despite the rantings of atheistic Marxists, God is. That is a welcome advance. But it does not make him a Christian. Saving faith is specifically faith in Christ as the Son of God, by the merits of whose blood and righteousness we can alone be reconciled to God. I hope that Mikhail Gorbachev comes to that faith-and I trust that you will, too.
Anything less is powerless to save.