Results tagged “Islam” from Reformation21 Blog

The question of religious or spiritual unity between Christians and Muslims has come up in recent days, largely in response to political debate over the danger of admitting Muslims into our country.  On one extreme was the purported statement by Liberty University President Jerry Fallwell, Jr. that Christians should carry guns so as to kill Muslims.  In response, Wheaton College students wrote of Christians' obligation to pursue unity and solidarity with Muslims based on our shared human dignity.  Larycia Hawkins, an associate professor at Wheaton, , has gone further by donning a Muslim headscarf and declaring not only her human solidarity but her theological solidarity with Muslims.  She validated the proposition that "Muslims and Christians worship the same God."  Reacting to this statement, Wheaton College has suspended Hawkins pending an inquiry into her violation of the college's doctrinal statement.  Wheaton should be commended for acting clearly but also deliberately and fairly in this matter.

There are various issues in this debate that Christians should carefully consider and on which we may legitimately differ.  But whether or not Christians and Muslims worship the same God is not one of them.  Let me offer three reasons why Christians must steadfastly declare that we do not worship the same God that Muslims do:

1.       The Christian Doctrine of the Trinity.  The Bible proclaims that there is one God in three distinct persons.  Jesus therefore instituted baptism "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Mt. 28:19).  Muslims vehemently deny and condemn this teaching, seeing it as a fatal compromise of its central tenet of monotheism.  This means that Islam denies the deity of Jesus Christ, saying, "the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, was nothing more than a messenger of God" (Qur'an, sura 4).  This means that Muslims profess belief in a God who is fundamentally different from the God of the Bible in his very nature. 

2.       God Revealed in Christ vs. Mohammed.  In her statement of solidarity with Muslims, Dr. Hawkins stated that Christians and Muslims are both "People of the Book."  The question is, of course, which book?  While Islam shows a certain measure of respect to the Old Testament, it holds that God's chief revelation came through Mohammed, a man of considerable violence.  Christians believe in a God whose chief revelation is through Jesus Christ, God's Son and the world's only Savior, as he is presented by the prophets and apostles in the Bible.  To put it mildly, there is a fundamental difference between those who look to Mohammed versus to Jesus for their belief in God. 

3.       The God of Grace.  The God of Islam shows grace only to those who merit his approval by faith and good works.  The Christian God distinguishes his grace by bestowing it upon the unworthy and defiled.  Paul's teaching that "God justifies the ungodly" (Rom. 4:5) and through Christ's death showed "his love for us while we were still sinners" (Rom. 5:8), is fundamentally at odds with the Muslim belief concerning God.  So while Muslims and Christians both use the terminology of grace, Islam denies the grace of God on which Christians rely for their salvation.

However laudible it may be for Christians to express kindness and human solidarity with members of other religions, the one thing we must never do is deny our faith in the Triune God who is revealed through Jesus Christ, God's Son, who alone died to free us from our sins.  In denying the exclusivity of our faith, apart from all other religions, Christians are not exhibiting the love of Jesus.  At the very heart of our message to the world we must always affirm - all the more so during the Christmas season - that Jesus alone is Savior and Lord.  As John declared, "In him was life, and that life was the light of men" (Jn. 1:4).

"I can drive no man to heaven or beat him into it with a club." So observed Luther on March 11th, 1522, in a sermon to Wittenberg parishioners. Though his point was rather obvious, Luther felt compelled to make it because in his absence from Wittenberg during the preceding ten months, certain persons had grown impatient with the progress of reformation in the city and had resorted to means of legal compulsion and/or violence to bring about the changes in doctrine and worship they desired.

Luther had, in fact, made the same point in a sermon to the same audience the preceding day. Having insisted in no uncertain terms upon the necessity of faith in Christ for salvation, from which faith love for God and others as well as pure worship necessarily springs, Luther emphasized in that earlier sermon that such faith itself properly springs from the proclamation of God's promises, not from the use of force: "I cannot, nor should I, force anyone to have faith." Indeed, the use of force is ultimately, in Luther's estimation, unnecessary and unfruitful for the successful expansion of God's kingdom, because the divine word of promise -- first as it is encountered in Scripture and then as it is proclaimed by God's ordained ministers -- accomplishes that very task. "The Word created heaven and earth and all things; the Word must do this thing [i.e., achieve the conversion of men], and not we poor sinners." For our part "we should give free course to the Word and not add our works" -- that is, our means of coercion -- "to it." "We should," that is, "preach the Word, but the results must be left solely to God's good pleasure."

Luther discovered a perfect example of the Word's ability to grow God's kingdom sans a baton or baseball bat in his own experience of the preceding years. "I opposed indulgences and all the papists, but never with force. I simply taught, preached, and wrote God's Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends..., the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the Word did everything."

It's questionable whether Luther retained his position on the exclusive prerogative of the Word to accomplish the growth of Christ's kingdom in later years. Increasingly alarmed over time by the extreme efforts of Anabaptists to implement their own version of a spiritual/civil kingdom by force (which means, thankfully, they never possessed in sufficient measure), Luther grew ever more tolerant of the use of reciprocal force to keep the Anabaptists in line, civilly and (perhaps) religiously. One could, maybe, argue that his position remained consistent, and that the force against the Anabaptists he eventually endorsed was purely towards the end of political restraint rather than religious uniformity.

Regardless, the willingness Luther showed even in the 1520s to see civil offenders repressed by military/legal means reminds us that his doctrine of the Word's power was specifically a theological point about how Christ's kingdom is sustained and increased, not a generic endorsement of persuasion vis-à-vis coercion in every conceivable context.  A strong hand is sometimes required to keep wayward citizens -- or, for that matter, wayward children -- in line. Only the Word, however, can produce genuine faith, hope, and love directed towards God within a man, woman, or child.

Luther found a biblical example of the Word's exclusive power to bring about renewal and reform in the Acts 17 account of Paul's missionary work in Athens. "When Paul came to Athens, a mighty city, he found in the temple many ancient altars, and he went from one to the other and looked at them all, but he did not kick down a single one of them with his foot. Rather he stood up in the middle of the market place and said they were nothing but idolatrous things and begged the people to forsake them; yet he did not destroy one of them by force. When the Word took hold of their hearts, they forsook them of their own accord."

Luther might, had he wished, have found a further illustration of his point in church history, from a consideration of how Christianity spread in its earliest centuries. The first three centuries of Christians spread the gospel exclusively by means of proclamation. Indeed, they had little choice. Because their newfound religion was deemed illegal, they were consistently marginalized from positions of political, social, or military influence, and were at least occasionally made the victims of intense persecution. They witnessed to the reality that God in Christ was reconciling the world to himself with their lips and, on occasion, with their lives. By the very nature of their situation, they were prevented from promoting Christ's kingdom by establishing "Christian" nations or by commandeering the legislative or judicial machinery of existing states. Significantly, it was the greatest period of growth the Christian church has ever experienced, even in the absence of the factor of Wittenberg beer.

The early expansion of Christianity stands in marked contrast to the early expansion of Islam in this regard. From early on, Mohammed and his followers employed whatever military means they could muster to further the spread of their religion. Within a decade of Mohammed's death, Muslims had spread from their base in the Arabian Peninsula to conquer Palestine. Within little more than a century of Mohammed's death, Islam had conquered Syria, Persia, Northern Africa, and much of the Iberian Peninsula. All of this, of course, was by force, even if forced "conversions" as such grew thinner (being less politically expedient) the farther Islam stretched from its geographical home base. Such military accomplishments were remarkable, but not unprecedented (think, for example, of Alexander the Great), and thus no sure sign of divine favor. The rapid expansion of Christianity without means of force (indeed, in the presence of much persecution), by way of contrast, is remarkable, and arguably points to a providential kindness towards the doctrine championed by the earliest Christians.

Christians have rather often been a bit slow to learn the lesson that Luther, Scripture, and church history jointly teach us in this regard. The temptation to trust in force -- whether personal, financial, or political in kind -- for the expansion of Christ's kingdom, even when force is not actually employed, is constant. It is the flip-side of the temptation not to believe that God's Word can actually, in God's perfect timing, bring sinners into his Kingdom, or bring that Kingdom to its eschatological realization. One gauge of where our confidence for the success of the gospel actually lies might be the optimism/pessimism we feel over the outcome of political elections or particular pieces of government legislation. There is, of course, every reason to participate in political processes to bring about the best conceivable civil state for ourselves and our neighbors, believing and unbelieving alike. There is, equally, every reason not to get too worked up over either our successes or failures in such efforts; we are, after all, heirs of a kingdom which will not be achieved by political process, but will flourish through the proclamation of God's promise and the power of that proclamation to generate true (that is, justified, sanctified, and eventually glorified) citizens of the same.

Aaron Clay Denlinger is professor of church history and historical theology at Reformation Bible College in Sanford, Florida.

T4T?

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A non-Christian friend of mine recently returned from a trip overseas. When I asked him how his trip was, he looked me in the eye and, with finger pointing and shaking in my face, steadfastly declared to me, "There is no God."  That was the first thing he wanted me to know. He knew I was a Christian, and he was anxious to give me one more reason why he was not. His reasoning was that, if there were a God, the places that he had seen on his trip would not be in the reechy and augean conditions that characterized so much of what he saw. For him, the suffering that he saw was so overwhelming that it was a sure and certain indication that God could not exist. My response to him was very simple, and it stopped the conversation (at least for a while). I simply said to him, "What makes you think that God is responsible for such things?"


The first epistle of Peter is written to a group of suffering Christians. These are Christians who have been "grieved by various trials" (1:6), they are in exile (1:17) and thus living in places that are foreign to them; they are encouraged not to be surprised when fiery trials come upon them (4:12) - note: not if fiery trials come, but when they do. The Christian perspective on suffering is in diametrical opposition to my friend's. This is not surprising; there is an antithesis between Christian and non-Christian. That antithesis is not theoretical. It applies to the way we think, the way we act and the way we view the world. In the midst of their suffering, Peter gives this command:

...sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence (NASB; 1 Peter 3:15).


The command is to "sanctify Christ as Lord." In the previous verse, Peter refers to Isaiah 8:12ff., which includes a command to regard Yahweh as holy. Peter attributes the prerogatives of Yahweh to Jesus Christ. The New Testament application of Isaiah 8:12f. is that Christians, in the midst of their suffering, are to remember and recognize, in their hearts, that Jesus Christ is Lord. Instead of looking at the overwhelming suffering around them and declaring that there is no God, they are rather to declare, "Jesus is Lord." They are to "sanctify" or "set apart" the Lordship of Christ in their hearts by showing his Lordship when suffering comes. Peter then goes on to tell them (and us) that the way to sanctify Christ as Lord - the command to set Christ apart as Lord - is met as we ready ourselves for a defense of that which we believe.


If we are honest with ourselves, it may be that our mindset is more in sync with my friend's oftentimes than with Scripture. It may be that, when suffering comes, or when it threatens to overwhelm us in some way, we may think that belief in God seems foolish. How could God allow such a thing to happen? Why wouldn't he prevent this?


Last month, I had the privilege of teaching in Jakarta, Indonesia for two weeks. Indonesia has the highest Muslim population, by ratio, than any other country in the world; 86% of its population is Muslim. I have no idea what it must be like to live there from day to day, but I had a glimpse of it when I was there. It is impossible to put into words the intensity of the pressures and problems that persist in a country like this, especially if one is a Christian.


A few decades ago, Dr. Stephen Tong determined that the best response to the overwhelming suffering and pressure that is replete in Indonesia was to build a Christian church as a testimony to the truth of the gospel. So, in keeping with the law of the land, he applied for a permit to build. He waited and pleaded and waited and pleaded. As expected, his petition was either ignored or delayed - for fifteen years!


When the authorities finally agreed to let him build his church, they insisted that he could not put a cross on it. The cross is a sign of offense to Muslims; it is an affront to their religion, he was told. Dr. Tong told the authorities that he had to put a cross on the church. There was no other way, he argued, to show that this was a Christian church. Whether the authorities relented or not is unclear. What is clear is that a cross sits atop this Indonesian "megachurch," now housing a few thousand Christians on Sunday morning. After preaching to the initial hordes at 7:30 each Sunday morning, Tong moves into the Mandarin service, on a separate floor of the church, and preaches there. Meanwhile, someone is preaching on another floor at the English service.


The church building itself (see picture below), designed by Tong, is cylindrical. As one drives along near the church, visible from any side of the cylinder are carved, in bold relief and written in Latin,  one of the "Solas" of the Reformation - Sola Fide, Solus Christus - or the command to Love God and our neighbors. Tong has made sure that anyone who drives by that building will know what it is. The building itself clearly indicates that Christ alone is Lord.


On Monday thru Friday, over 400 children attend the Christian school that is housed at the church. They are preparing for the future of Christianity in Indonesia. In a Muslim culture, young people of all ages are daily learning about Christ. Not only so, but conductors from around the world reserve the Concert Hall (also designed by Tong) in the church and bring their orchestras to perform in the largest Hall in Indonesia. The Jakarta Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Dr. Tong, performed on one of the weekends that I was there. The orchestra is composed of some from the church, but others from outside, and many who are Muslims. Dr. Tong conducted the orchestra through Haydn's "Summer" and "Spring," and made sure that the near-capacity audience understood that the music itself was testimony to the fact that Jesus Christ is Lord.


Dr. Tong, and a goodly number of his parishioners, have been prepared to defend their Christian faith; they are ready to give an answer. They have to be ready in a culture that is so hostile to them. They've defended their right to build a Christian church, to have a Christian school, to have a Concert Hall, a museum, a seminary... These things wouldn't happen without a defense of Christianity. They wouldn't happen unless one was convinced that Christ, not Allah, is Lord.


It is impossible for most of us in the West adequately to recognize the tremendous, almost miraculous, developments that have allowed this church to exist. In the midst of an overpowering Muslim presence and control, there stands this enormous church building. To drive by this building and read the words, "Solus Christus" which tower high above the bustle of the city is incredible beyond words.


I wondered, as I tried to take in something so foreign to me, how many Christians in the West would have the same tenacity as Tong, were they in his shoes. Would the hegemony of Islam cause confusion and fear among us? Would Western apologists, in these circumstances, try to form a syzygy with Islam and call it "Together for Theism" - T4T? Would we Westerners, like my friend, in the face of so much suffering, pressure, and persecution conclude that there is no God?


It is difficult to translate my Indonesian experience into a Western context. Whatever the context, however, Peter's admonition is the same. Our responsibility as Christians is to be prepared to give an answer to those who would ask us the reason(s) for our hope.


Perhaps the most significant point of Peter's command is the reason that he gives for it. It is as simple as it is profound: "For Christ also died for sins, once for all..." (3:18). The ironic twist that just is the transposition of the gospel is not that when we see suffering we should conclude that there is no God. Rather, it is that when we see suffering, we should remember that God himself, in the Person of his Son, did exactly that, so that suffering and sin would one day cease. Suffering is clear evidence that Christ is Lord; it is not a testimony against that truth. Dr. Tong recognized that, and defends the faith, giving testimony to Christ in the midst of enormous opposition.


The suffering that is the cross of Christ - the very thing that, on the face of it, might lead us to believe that there is no God - is, as a matter of fact, the deepest expression of his sovereign character as Lord.


Sanctify Christ as Lord, and be ready to give a reason for the great and only hope of the Christian gospel.

megachurch-outside.jpg


Full Version of "Towards a Faithful Witness" Available

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The full print version of Pastor Seaton's response is now available for download as a PDF. Simply go to the article "In Pursuit of a Faithful Witness" at reformation21.org and scroll about halfway down. Read the full version and pray for this important issue!

Christ and/or Muhammad

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I want to thank John Piper for his bold rejoinder to A Common Word, an ecumenical movement to foster peace among Muslims and Christians.and especially to the Christian response from over 300 Christian leaders, including many leading Evangelicals.  As Piper points out, the problem with this initiative is not the sincere desire to promote peace and mutual respect, but in what it concedes in order to do so.  In short, the Christian endorsers of A Common Word laud the "common ground" that Muslims and Christians share in our convictions regarding the love of God and our calling to love our neighbor.  Piper points out, however, that the Muslim ideas of God and God's love are radically opposed to the Christian beliefs of God and His love.   The unavoidable effect of this joint resolution is strongly to suggest that when it comes to God and His love, Muslims and Christians believe substantially the same thing.  Piper calls on Christians to seek peace and respect with greater honesty, i.e., that which refuses to downplay the fundamentally different beliefs of Islam and Christianity -- not merely in degree but in kind -- and which refuses to demure from calling all men to faith in God's only Son and our only Savior.

I suppose that a survey of the history of religion and war would show that in times of great violence there is usually an impulse to downplay important religious differences so as to soften inter-religious anger and hatred.  But it is always distressing to see Christians so willing to downplay the most central and vital aspects of our faith in pursuit of some "higher" end.  I am sure that the signatories of the Christian response mean well.  But for Christians there must never be a higher end that the glory of God as revealed in his Word and the spread of the biblical gospel with clarity, love, and courage.  At the very moment when increasing numbers of people have concluded that "all religions believe the same thing," the very worst thing Christians could do -- the least loving and ultimately the least peaceful -- is to foster the idea that one's understanding of God need not embrace Jesus Christ as the unique revelation of God and as the Savior-Son God has sent as the only hope for a sinful world. 

In this respect, the most distressing part of the Christian response was the willing and favorable comparison between Jesus and Muhammad as exemplars of divine love.  Have we so lost our nerve?  Have we so lost our sense?  Have we so lost our devotion to Christ as the unique and essential revelation of God and His love?  If we have, we can be sure that the result of our apologetic compromise will not be either love or peace.

HT: JT