Thursday, October 18, 2007

An Open Response to an Open Letter

 

 

In my previous post I made mention of a letter which calls Muslims and Christians to unite under one ecumenical banner.  The letter in question was entitled "An Open Letter and Call from Muslim Religious Leaders."   The originators of this document (A Common Word, www.acommonword.com) addressed this work to several leaders representing Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran, Baptist and Reformed communities.  Here is a summary of their group's intent: 

In A Common Word Between Us and You, 138 Muslim scholars, clerics and intellectuals have unanimously come together for the first time since the days of the Prophet r to declare the common ground between Christianity and Islam. Like the Open Letter, the signatories to this message come from every denomination and school of thought in Islam. Every major Islamic country or region in the world is represented in this message, which is addressed to the leaders of all the world’s churches, and indeed to all Christians everywhere. 

The final form of the letter was presented at a conference in September 2007 held under the theme of “Love in the Quran,” by the Royal Academy of The Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought in Jordan, under the Patronage of H.M. King Abdullah II. Indeed, the most fundamental common ground between Islam and Christianity, and the best basis for future dialogue and understanding, is the love of God and the love of the neighbor.

Never before have Muslims delivered this kind of definitive consensus statement on Christianity. Rather than engage in polemic, the signatories have adopted the traditional and mainstream Islamic position of respecting the Christian scripture and calling Christians to be more, not less, faithful to it.

It is hoped that this document will provide a common constitution for the many worthy organizations and individuals who are carrying out interfaith dialogue all over the world. Often these groups are unaware of each other, and duplicate each other’s efforts. Not only can A Common Word Between Us give them a starting point for cooperation and worldwide co-ordination, but it does so on the most solid theological ground possible: the teachings of the Qu’ran and the Prophet r, and the commandments described by Jesus Christ u in the Bible. Thus despite their differences, Islam and Christianity not only share the same Divine Origin and the same Abrahamic heritage, but the same two greatest commandments.

At the end of the introductory address, their letter is extended to "Leaders of Christian Churches, everywhere..."  Based upon that final invitation, I will offer my own Open Response to their Open Letter.

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Greetings in the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ: I would like to address your recent work entitled, "An Open Letter and Call from Muslim Religious Leaders."   In this letter you did the following:

1. You offered an invitation for Christians and Muslims to unite in order to establish peace.  It would appear that you are convinced that without such an ecumenical endeavor, hostility will only continue to ensue, or as you say: “Muslims and Christians together make up well over half of the world’s population. Without peace and justice between these two religious communities, there can be no meaningful peace in the world. The future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians.”

2. You also made an appeal to unity via the first and second greatest commandments – loving the Lord God and loving one’s neighbor by citing Mark 12:29-31 as well as the Qu’ran: Surah 73:8. "But keep in remembrance the name of thy Lord and devote thyself to Him whole-heartedly."

3. You then offered citations of the Qu’ran in order to prove your solidarity with the Bible’s teaching concerning Christ.

I would like to respond to these points, in reverse order, in order to address the subject of true peace. I too desire that we enjoy peace with one another, understanding that the Bible is very specific about how such peace can be achieved. In offering this response, I desire to be more, not less, faithful to the teachings of the Bible – just as you have advised Christians to do on your own website.

I. Point 3 [Christ in the Qu’ran]: Your citation of the Qu’ran, concerning Christ, must be addressed first. Here is what you supplied in your letter:

"Muslims recognize Jesus Christ as the Messiah, not in the same way Christians do (but Christians themselves anyway have never all agreed with each other on Jesus Christ’s  nature), but in the following way: '…. the Messiah Jesus son of Mary is a Messenger of God and His Word which he cast unto Mary and a Spirit from Him....' (Al-Nisa’, 4:171). We therefore invite Christians to consider Muslims not against and thus with them, in accordance with Jesus Christ’s words here."

I must respectfully ask you why it is that you omitted the rest of the Qu’ranic text.  The full text of this verse is very important:

Al-Nisa 4:171. O "People of the Book! Commit no excesses in your religion: Nor say of Allah aught but the truth. Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) an apostle of Allah, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a spirit proceeding from Him: so believe in Allah and His apostles. Say not 'Trinity': desist: it will be better for you: for Allah is one Allah: Glory be to Him: (far exalted is He) above having a son. To Him belong all things in the heavens and on earth. And enough is Allah as a Disposer of affairs."

Your omission here is troubling and calls into question whether you are aware of the Qu’ran’s teachings, or worse, it calls into question the sincerity of your overall presentation.  You must certainly realize that in order to believe in the Jesus of the Qu'ran, one must deny His deity, and therefore the Trinity itself.  To do this would require apostasy from one of the most central truths in Christendom that has been upheld for over 2000 years.  Those who deny these truths are not Christians by definition.  Thus, your little caveat of "Christians themselves anyway have never all agreed with each other on Jesus Christ’s  nature" is either disingenuous, or it may be the result of your misunderstanding of Christian doctrine itself.  While it would be more generous to believe the latter, I must say that your scholastic credentials leave you with no viable excuse.  As men who profess a knowledge of the Bible and who profess the right to teach it - you are indeed left without excuse. 

Additionally, you also failed to mention the Qu’ran’s teaching concerning the crucifixion.  This is yet another shocking omission:

Surah 4:157. "That they said (the Jews), 'We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Apostle of Allah'—but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not—"

In reality, your invitation to peace is actually a call to condemnation and judgment from God, for the Lord Jesus Christ is in fact God The Son (John 1:1-14) who became flesh (Phil. 2:1-8) and was crucified for the sins of many (Mark 10:45), being raised again on the third day as the exalted King of kings and Lord of Lords (1 Cor. 15:1-19). Alternatively, the Jesus of the Qu’ran is no more than a Gnostic myth. What you are asking Christians to do here is to deny the central tenants of true faith. While I am sure that there will be many apostates who will gladly toss their Bibles for your peace treaty, I can assure you, no real Christian will. 

II. Point 2 [The 1st & 2nd Greatest Commandments]: Your call to unity via the Bible is interesting, but it fails to unfold the important details of the very text that you cited in Mark 12:28-31. In that passage Christ was quoting from Deuteronomy 6:4-5:

Deuteronomy 6:4-5: 4 “Hear, O Israel! The Lord [Yahweh] is our God, the Lord [Yahweh] is one! 5 “You shall love the Lord [Yahweh] your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

In this text it must be noted that each reference of “Lord” is actually God’s own covenant name [Yahweh], as in:

Exodus 3:15: 15 God, furthermore, said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘The Lord [Yahweh], the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is My name forever, and this is My memorial-name to all generations."

This memorial name is the very name that was manifested by the Lord Jesus Christ (John 17:6, 8:58) and it defines the object of true worship. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is the very God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who fulfilled the promise given to Abraham through the incarnation and sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Gen. 22, Gal. 3:16-29). Thus, when Abraham was thwarted from sacrificing the son of promise, Isaac, a sacrificial substitute was given in his son’s place. It was then that Abraham called that mount: Yahweh yera’h [Jehovah-Jireh] – The Lord will Provide. Jesus Christ, the sacrificial Lamb of God, is the very fulfillment of that name - for God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.  Loving God can only be a good thing when one worships the true God and Savior. Without Christ, there can be no fulfillment of these commands of love.

 

III. Point 1 [Unity Between Christians & Muslims]: I end here with your initial statement:

“Muslims and Christians together make up well over half of the world’s population. Without peace and justice between these two religious communities, there can be no meaningful peace in the world. The future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians.”

Certainly, you must know that this invitation to “peace” is distinctly one-sided. Christians are being called to believe in Islam’s falsified version of Christianity. The consequences for our failure to do so is even cited in your "Open Letter and Call from Muslim Religious Leaders":

"Say (O Muslims): We believe in God and that which is revealed unto us and that which was revealed unto Abraham, and Ishmael, and Isaac, and Jacob, and the tribes, and that which Moses and Jesus received, and that which the prophets received from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and unto Him we have surrendered. / And if they believe in the like of that which ye believe, then are they rightly guided. But if they turn away, then are they in schism, and God will suffice thee against them. He is the Hearer, the Knower." (Al-Baqarah, 2:136-137)

When Christians call Muslims to convert – they are to be rejected, according to Al-Baqarah, 2:135 (a text which you failed to cite). However, according to verse 137 (above), those Christians who do not believe what Muslims believe, then God will “suffice” Muslims “against” them. The chilling point here is this: Christians are being given two options:

1. Deny Christ by believing in Islam’s false version of the Bible and thereby experience “peace” with Muslims.

2. Otherwise, hostility will continue because “Allah will suffice thee [Muslims] against them [Jews and Christians].”

The shorter version of this is: submit to Islam, or suffer ongoing hostility.

To the creators of this letter, I appeal to you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ that you repent of your sin and believe in Him, the Word, who was in the beginning; who was with God and who was God (John 1:1-2). He is the One through whom all things came into being (John 1:3) and it is He who became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14), dying on the cross for the sins of many. I pray that you would trust that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob has indeed provided the promised Lamb who was sacrificed as the sinner’s substitute and that He was raised again in glory forevermore (Revelation 5:9-14). He is the Prince of Peace, therefore no one can confer peace upon Him.  Ultimately, He is our only hope for true peace with the true God (Isaiah 9:6-7, Romans 5:1, Eph. 2:14). Should you deny Him, our resolve (unlike Islam) will not be to afflict or persecute you for your unbelief. As messengers of the Gospel of Peace (Eph. 6:15) true Christians, by grace alone, will love even their enemies:

Matthew 5:43-45: 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

Clearly you know that the examples of Muhammad and Christ reveal an infinite polarity.  The Qu'ran is filled with justifications for subjugating, afflicting, and slaying those who are deemed as munafiq, kafir and fasiq (Suras 2:191; 216-217; 4:74-76, 89; 8:39; 9:5, , 12-13, 73, 123; 48:25-29; 66:9). Perhaps it your assumption that most non-Muslims will ignore the text of the Qu'ran itself, while accepting your partial citations and allegorical interpretations.  Sadly, many will.  However it is indisputable that the teachings of Muhammad and Christ yield no legitimate comparison, because the Savior calls His disciples to love those who are the enemies of the Gospel.  Even when Peter was about to take vengeance upon those who were arresting Christ, in the garden of Gethsemane, the Savior declared:

Matthew 26:52: 52 ...“Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword."

Unlike Muhammad, and his true followers today, the disciples of Christ are called to advance the Gospel of Peace by peaceful means.  We do not seek religious dominion through threats of hostility and actual bloodshed because we know that:

"...though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ..."  2 Corinthians 10:3-5.

Perhaps one of the most pragmatic differences between genuine Christianity and Islam is that the Christian message is never to be advanced by means of vengeance and hostility:

Romans 12:17-21: 17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. 19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

As Christians, our hope is that you will turn to Christ, in faith, and experience true peace.  Your failure to do so will not stir hostility from our end; as already stated, vengeance is the prerogative of God alone (Deut. 32:35) – and Christ will have His day of judgment indeed (Acts 17:31).  Yes, we too desire peace, but our desire is for true and lasting peace – the peace that can only be found in Christ alone.

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