Remembering God: A Response to Grace or an Act of Merit?

I attended a wonderful worship service today in a small town in California where I’m presently on sabbatical, writing a book. During the Communion service, the pastor reminded us that every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we are called to remember – to remember what God in Christ has done for us to win our salvation. He remarked on how easy it is for us to forget the grace of God, and to revert to the fleshly notion that scaling heaven is dependent on our efforts. Regular times at the Communion Table drive through our calloused hearts the truth that salvation is of grace – when Jesus uttered “It is finished” on the cross before his final breath, he meant it. The work of salvation has been wrought by the Son of God, and there is nothing we can add to it, only to receive it by receiving Him, with gratitude and allegiance. Remembrance plays a crucial role in weaning us from the striving of “works righteousness.” In the words of Robert Robinson, penned in 1758:

O to grace how great a debtor

Daily I’m constrained to be!

Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,

Bind my wandering heart to Thee.

As he was speaking on this topic, my mind jumped to the principal meaning of remembrance in Islam (looming in my mind because of my present book project). The Arabic word dhikr is used by Muslims to signify the call to keep the thought of God front and center in the mind. The command to remember God is found plentifully throughout the Quran. Here’s one representative verse: “O you who believe! Remember Allah with much remembrance” (Sura 33:41). But in Islam, remembrance isn’t a way to keep us focused on God’s costly grace; in fact, it’s the opposite. It’s a way to earn brownie points, either deducting some of our sins from our eternal bank account, or accruing extra merit if we’re already super spiritual. For example, Islamic scholars have determined that the absolute best form of dhikr is reading the Quran – or even better, reciting it from memory. They have calculated (don’t ask me how) that every letter read racks up ten rewards, and since there are about 321,180 letters in the Quran, to read it through completely rings up almost four million “rewards” in your merit bank. (I don’t know for sure, but I assume that various sins have differing values of demerits, so if you have a lot in your debit column, you’ll want to be reading your Quran voraciously.) But there are other ways you can earn rewards as well: repetition of the phrase Subhanallah (Glory to God) a hundred times a day will be the same as earning one hundred good deeds, or erasing one hundred bad deeds. Other phrases also count in like measure. You get the idea. (For a chart of all these “remembrance phrases” and what they ostensibly earn, see this chart as developed by one Muslim who researched the early documents of Islam: http://salahtimes.blob.core.windows.net/documents/DhikrChart.pdf

Once again we see the huge chasm between the Christian and Muslim world views. The biblical message announces what steps God has taken to wipe away our sins and adopt us as His beloved children. The quranic message declares what humans must do to overcome the demerits of our sins by using praise of God as a spiritual scrub brush. Grace vs. works. It’s the same old story.

Yesterday I was reading a powerful expose of Muslim theology entitled The Muslim Doctrine of God, authored in 1905 by Samuel Zwemer (who earned the sobriquet “Apostle to the Muslims”), and came across this pithy summation on p. 52: “As regards the moral code Islam is phariseeism translated into Arabic.” So true. So sad. Dhikr is a case in point.

May God raise up a new generation of mission-minded believers whose hearts are tender toward the Muslim world and whose lips are seasoned with the grace of the gospel!

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Muslims More Christian Than Presbyterians? Perhaps in This One Instance!

In a previous post (The Clash of Civilizations — A Snapshot [Part 1]), I alluded to a common understanding in the Muslim world that any land conquered/added to the Islamic kingdom of God must never be relinquished to unbelievers. It belongs to Allah and must be used for His purposes. This understanding is contained in the Arabic term “waqf”, and the Charter of Hamas employs it to justify the persistent effort to destroy the nation of Israel so as to reclaim for Allah the land of Palestine.

Those aware of the recent history of the Presbyterian Church (U.$.A.) may descry a hauntingly similar viewpoint in that denomination’s policy book, known as the Book of Order (BO). Known as “the property trust clause” and found in G-4.0203, it reads in all its glorious legalese:

All property held by or for a congregation, a presbytery, a synod, the General Assembly, or the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), whether legal title is lodged in a corporation, a trustee or trustees, or an unincorporated association, and whether the property is used in programs of a congregation or of a higher council or retained for the production of income, is held in trust nevertheless for the use and benefit of the Presbyterian Church(U.S.A.).

This decree has been used by denominational leadership to seek to dissuade churches wishing to depart the denomination for more theologically orthodox homes. Many have been told coldly, “You are free to leave the PC (U$A) and join another denomination if you so choose, but all your property and assets (including congregational bank accounts, endowments, etc.) belong to the presbytery (representing the larger denomination) and you must leave them behind. If you try to take them with you, we will take you to court.” Indeed, in some cases this threat has been carried out. In most instances, however, the denomination imposes a cash settlement demand on the congregation to see just how willing the congregation is to pay for its property and buildings a second time. Many congregations, in their longing to be released, bow to the ransom-like demands of their presbyteries (who hold all the power cards), even though it costs them dearly.

The viewpoint of the PC (U$A) is that all these properties belong to the national institution, not to the congregations which have built and paid for them. In belonging to the denomination, these churches have demonstrated an implicit agreement to the property trust clause of the Book of Order, even though they never had any direct or conscious part in affirming that trust. Apparently the denominational leadership believes that the institution exists for its own benefit, and so all resources under its grip must stay within its iron fists, or be released only after suitable recompense has been provided.

For quite some time I have been convinced that the “property trust clause” reveals the PC (U$A)’s idolatrous heart. Notice the declaration “…held in trust nevertheless for the use and benefit of the Presbyterian Church(U.S.A.).” Where is the recognition of Jesus Christ as Head of the Church, not just the PC (USA) but the Church Universal? Where is the understanding that “God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made him head over all things for the benefit of the church” (Eph. 1:22, NLT)? Can a denomination rightly say to the people of a member congregation, “You all may belong to Christ, but your church property and assets belong to us!”, all for the purpose of benefitting that denominational institution? If Christ, the Head of the body, is calling a congregation to align itself with a different part of His body catholic, can the diminished part of the body say, “Sorry, you must compensate us first in order to be released”? Such a sense of self-importance, such an obsession with possessions, such an affront to the supremacy of Christ in all things, should not characterize any group that claims to be Christian.

Sadly, when comparing the “property trust clause” with the “waqf” of Islam, the Muslim concept ironically seems more biblical. At least for Islam, the ownership of land and possessions is recognized to be God’s, and to be used for His glory. In the fiefdom of the PC (U$A), it all belongs to the denomination, and must be kept for the “use and benefit” of said denomination, whether in the end that brings any glory to God or not.

Would it not be a witness of grace and catholic unity for the denomination to freely release and bless all congregations seeking to depart, and for such congregations in turn to offer a gift of gratitude to the denomination for its kindness and blessing? In such a scenario, amity among believers would reign, resources would be utilized for the spread of the gospel rather than the litigation of ownership, and the Lord’s authority over all His people would be acknowledged and embraced.

May this embarrassment to the cause of Christ come to an end quickly, being replaced with the desire to outdo one another in showing love and honor (Rom. 12:10).

 

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The Clash of Civilizations — A Snapshot (Part 2)

The Muslim mind, as evidenced by the Hamas charter, sees an evil conspiracy behind every non-Muslim group or power, and believes that such entities are under the guidance and sway of Jews around the world. The Zionists of the world have infiltrated international media giants, entertainment industries, national curricula, the United Nations, Western culture, and so on. Many seemingly innocent organizations are really fronts seeking the demise of Islam: Rotary Clubs, Freemasons, Lions Clubs, the “Capitalist West” and the “Communist East” are all plotting the destruction of Islam.  Article 22 depicts how the Zionists have amassed wealth so as to advance their plan by buying up most all the world media groups, and by stirring up revolutions around the globe to then raid the assets of those weakened by war.

You probably think I’m exaggerating, so let me quote extensively from this Article of the Hamas Charter:

They stood behind the French and the Communist Revolutions and behind most of the revolutions we hear about here and there. They also used the money to establish clandestine organizations which are spreading around the world, in order to destroy societies and carry out Zionist interests…. All of them are destructive spying organizations. They also used the money to take over control of the Imperialist states and made them colonize many countries in order to exploit the wealth of those countries and spread their corruption therein. As regards local and world wars, it has come to pass and no one objects, that they stood behind World War I, so as to wipe out the Islamic Caliphate. They collected material gains and took control of many sources of wealth. They obtained the Balfour Declaration and established the League of Nations in order to rule the world by means of that organization. They also stood behind World War II, where they collected immense benefits from trading with war materials and prepared for the establishment of their state. They inspired the establishment of the United Nations and the Security Council to replace the League of Nations, in order to rule the world by their intermediary. There was no war that broke out anywhere without their fingerprints on it: ‘…As often as they light a fire for war, Allah extinguishes it. Their efforts are for corruption in the land and Allah loves not corrupters.’ (Sura 5:64).

Article 28 expands upon this paranoia, painting Jews (Zionists) as devoid of any goodness, behind all the worldwide drug cartels, ingenious in their growing web of deceit and infiltration, and committed to the destruction of Islam, and to world domination:

The Zionist invasion is a mischievous one. It does not hesitate to take any road, or to pursue all despicable and repulsive means to fulfill its desires. It relies to a great extent, for its meddling and spying activities, on the clandestine organizations which it has established, such as the Freemasons, Rotary Clubs, Lions, and other spying associations. All those secret organizations, some which are overt, act for the interests of Zionism and under its directions, strive to demolish societies, to destroy values, to wreck answerableness, to totter virtues and to wipe out Islam. It stands behind the diffusion of drugs and toxics of all kinds in order to facilitate its control and expansion.”

All Islam must rise up and destroy Israel because “Israel, by virtue of its being Jewish and of having a Jewish population, defies Islam and the Muslims” (my emphasis).

On the other hand, Hamas view itself as a humane organization, and Islam as the only solution to lasting peace on earth. “It is only hostile to those who are hostile towards it, or stand in its way in order to disturb its moves or to frustrate its efforts. Under the shadow of Islam it is possible for the members of the three religions: Islam, Christianity and Judaism to coexist in safety and security. Safety and security can only prevail under the shadow of Islam, and recent and ancient history is the best witness to that effect.” Essentially, this is a call for all religions and powers to give up their autonomy and vision, bowing in submission before Islam. Then there will be peace, because there will be no more opposition to the iron fist of Allah.

This would be laughable, if it weren’t so tragic. Any hope that Hamas might truly be humane is continually dashed by the terrorist organization’s actions. We all know about the millions spent on tunnels for terror rather than on the welfare of Palestinians. About a week ago, I read a truncated headline on a news media website: “Hamas executes tunnel builders.” My heart nearly skipped a beat at the thought that perhaps Hamas leadership was declaring its opposition to the tunnels through this draconian step. When I pulled up the article, however, I discovered that the reason for the executions was to silence any potential squealers. Even though the executed were Palestinians, their lives were of less importance than maintaining the hiddenness of the tunnels. Though innocent, these workers were expendable for no fault of their own, only the paranoid anxiety of their leaders to whom their lives apparently meant nothing!

So much more corroborating evidence could be culled from the 36 Articles of the “Charter of Allah” to demonstrate that the mindset of the Quran and those who believe it (as the early Muslim world did) is one of clear black and white, painting all the non-Muslim world as enemies of Islam (even fellow Muslims are expendable, should their death aid the cause), but reserving special enmity and spite for the Jews (and all Zionist partners). As a final witness, let me share the charter’s quotation of one more Hadith tradition, and contrast it with a passage from the Bible. Both deal with the end of time, and with how God will deal with the Jews in that day:

Article 7 declares that Hamas is looking forward to the promise which Allah made through Muhammad concerning the destruction of the Jews: “The prophet, prayer and peace be upon him, said: The time will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them); until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him! This will not apply to the Gharqad, which is a Jewish tree (cited by Bukhari and Muslim).” The names in parentheses refer to the two most highly revered collectors of Hadith traditions in all of Islam, and this account is found in seven varied iterations, indicating that it is not a one-time anomaly. Hence, the Muslim perspective is that Allah will finally punish and exterminate Jews for their despicable rebellion against him, and their presence as a blight on humanity. Hamas openly and eagerly awaits the fulfillment of this promise.

The God of the Bible, on the other hand, promises that in the end days His people, the Jews, will bring untold blessing to the world by their presence after they have returned to God’s ways:

This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Many peoples and the inhabitants of many cities will yet come, and the inhabitants of one city will go to another and say, ‘Let us go at once to entreat the Lord and seek the Lord Almighty. I myself am going.’ And many peoples and powerful nations will come to Jerusalem to seek the Lord Almighty and to entreat him.”

  This is what the Lord Almighty says: “In those days ten people from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.’”   (Zechariah 8:20-23)

Quite contrasting visions of the end-times! Quite contrasting visions of the character and purposes of God! Which God are you inclined to believe in? I know whom I have chosen. Hamas is clear about whom they and their Muslim brothers have embraced. May the true God make Himself known in these coming days. Amen.

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The Clash of Civilizations — A Snapshot (Part 1)

Islam claims to be the restoration of the true revelation of God given to His people in prior ages through the Old and New Testaments. According to Islamic orthodoxy, the Bible became corrupted by self-serving Jews and Christians over the centuries after its impartation, and Muhammad was sent to restore the truth in the transmission of the Quran to the world.

One of the many problems with this claim is the venomous anti-Semitism found in the Quran, which finds no parallels in the Bible, but which pours unending fuel on the fires of hatred in the Muslim world toward the Jews in general and Israel in particular.

The recent clashes between Hamas and Israel illuminate this clearly. While Israel would like to find a lasting solution enabling it and its neighbors to live in peace, Hamas is religiously committed to the destruction of Israel as a calling from its god, Allah. So it declares in its charter.

In fact, Hamas calls its charter “The Charter of Allah: The Platform of the Islamic Resistance Movement” (‘Hamas’ is the Arabic acronym for “Islamic Resistance Movement”). It sees its calling as the rightful and necessary response that all Muslims should make to the commands of God in the Quran for the obliteration of Jews from the face of the earth. Why? Because they are the enemies of God, worse than all other peoples. The very first lines of the charter boast that Muslims are the best of all nations, and that they will ultimately destroy Israel:

“‘In the Name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate. Ye are the best community that has been raised up for mankind. Ye enjoin right conduct and forbid indecency; and ye believe in Allah….’ (Sura 3:109f). Israel will rise and will remain erect until Islam eliminates it as it had eliminated its predecessors”(my emphasis).

The following introductory paragraph baldly asserts:

For our struggle against the Jews is extremely wide-ranging and grave, so much so that it will need all the loyal efforts we can wield, to be followed by further steps and reinforced by successive battalions from the multifarious Arab and Islamic world, until the enemies are defeated and Allah’s victory prevails.”

Lest you think that Hamas is just exploiting an innocent religion to advance its own hateful agenda, the charter quotes the Quran again and again to substantiate its vision and claims that its position is based wholly on the teachings of Islam. Article 1 states:

The Islamic Resistance Movement draws its guidelines from Islam; derives from it its thinking, interpretations and views about existence, life and humanity; refers back to it for its conduct; and is inspired by it in whatever step it takes.”

Hamas defines its constituency as “…Muslims who are devoted to Allah and worship Him verily…” (Article 3), and welcomes to its ranks all Muslims who are equally committed (Article 4).

The religious vision of the Quran as held by traditional, orthodox Islam is its “be-all and end-all,” according to Article 5:

Its ultimate goal is Islam, the Prophet its model, the Qur’an its Constitution. Its special dimension extends wherever on earth there are Muslims, who adopt Islam as their way of life; thus, it penetrates to the deepest reaches of the land and to the highest spheres of Heavens.”

The slogan of Hamas is written in Article 8: “Allah is its goal, the Prophet its model, the Qur’an its Constitution, Jihad its path and death for the cause of Allah its most sublime belief.”

According to Hamas, the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf (similar to the Pharisaic term Corban, to which Jesus referred in Mark 7:11-12). Literally meaning “detention,” Waqf refers to a land that is now irrevocably devoted to Allah, and must never be taken back from him and his kingdom. Hence the nation of Israel has terribly transgressed the will of God by seizing from Allah what it has no right to possess. In the name of Islam, Hamas commits itself to setting right this wrong. Palestine, and all other lands heretofore conquered by Islam for Allah, are to be managed by Muslims for the benefit of Allah. The existence of Israel is an abrasive offense against Islamic sensibilities (see Article 11).

According to its charter, Hamas denies the possibility of any peaceful solution with Israel, citing religious reasons! Article 13 states unequivocally:

“[Peace] initiatives, the so-called peaceful solutions, and the international conferences to resolve the Palestinian problem, are all contrary to the beliefs of the Islamic Resistance Movement. For renouncing any part of Palestine means renouncing part of the religion…. Those conferences are no more than a means to appoint the nonbelievers as arbitrators in the lands of Islam. Since when did the Unbelievers do justice to the Believers? [This is followed by a Quranic quotation – 2:120.]… There is no solution to the Palestinian problem except by Jihad. The initiatives, proposals and International Conferences are but a waste of time, an exercise in futility” [my emphasis].

Not only is Palestine a Waqf – one of many lands conquered by Islam and so holy to Allah – it bears a special religious significance since it was the place of the first Qibla (the direction Muslims were to face when praying, till Allah changed his mind and commanded them through Muhammad to face Mecca instead), and the place where, according to tradition, Muhammad ascended to heaven on a short sight-seeing journey. Jerusalem is also the location of Islam’s third holiest shrine (al-Aqsa mosque). Thus, it is incumbent on all Muslims, says Hamas, to answer the call to jihad individually and as a nation. This view is articulated in Article 14 and summed up at the start of Article 15 with these words:

When our enemies usurp some Islamic lands, Jihad becomes a duty binding on all Muslims. In order to face the usurpation of Palestine by the Jews, we have no escape from raising the banner of Jihad.”

Article 15 ends will the quotation of a tradition (attributed to both Bukhari and Muslim, but which I could not locate) saying, “I swear by that who holds in His Hands the Soul of Muhammad! I indeed wish to go to war for the sake of Allah! I will assault and kill, assault and kill, assault and kill (told by Bukhari and Muslim).” This is meant to drive home the rightness and blessing of participating in jihad against Israel.

Not only boys and men, but women and girls must participate in this all-encompassing work of jihad, according to Article 17. “The Muslim women have a no lesser role than that of men in the war of liberation; they manufacture men and play a great role in guiding and educating the [new] generation.” How interesting to see the value of women defined in functional terms: they “manufacture men” (i.e., have babies who will become jihadists one day), and they educate children to understand their future roles as Muslim adults pursuing the advancement of Islam.

(End of Part 1; Part 2 will be posted tomorrow)

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Islam Means “Peace?” Not for Israel.

As long as Islam remains a potent force in the world, the Jewish nation of Israel will never have tranquility. It may enjoy relative peace through strength and vigilance, but it will never be able to let down its guard. There are three major reasons for this, as far as I can tell.

First, the formation of the modern state of Israel stemmed from the unjust arrogation of power by the Allied powers after WWII who were seeking to ease their consciences as well as avoid waves of European Jews immigrating to their shores. The establishment of a Jewish homeland, backed by biblical precedent, seemed a heaven-sent solution. The only problem was that it created a forced dislocation of the unfortunate people who already inhabited that land – Palestinian Arabs who lost their land and homes and possessions, other than what they could carry as they were “sent packing.” My father’s family, who lived in the Golan (then part of Syria) but had farming land near the Sea of Galilee, lost this land once the borders of newly-formed Israel became secure and they could no longer traverse previously well-worn roads to their farmland. It became the property of newly immigrating Jewish squatters, sanctioned by the United Nations and the Great Powers of the United States, Great Britain and France. Until the leadership groups of Israel and the Palestinians arrive at a mutually agreeable resolution (which I believe is possible) of the original injustice done to the pre-1948 inhabitants of the land, Israel will not have peace. A major reason for this is not that the Palestinians themselves have the power to disrupt life in Israel, but that the Islamic world has taken up the cause of the Palestinian people (who are mostly Muslim), and is using this cause (under the guise of seeking justice) to pursue a more nefarious agenda.

That agenda is seen in reasons two and three why Israel will not find tranquility. Reason two is rooted in Islamic triumphalism. The Muslim eschatological imperative teaches that from the time of Muhammad God has been on the move to conquer all the rebel territory of the world that refuses to submit to Islam. Territory once conquered has now become the possession of Allah and is part of “the Kingdom of God.” Once in the fold, it will never be relinquished. So, orthodox Muslim ideology prescribes that the Kingdom of God/Islam will always be expanding, for God is all-powerful and cannot be withstood by puny infidels. Islam has never developed a robust theology of weakness/loss, and so lands that were once claimed by past caliphates but now enjoy freedom from the domination of Islamic rule confound the dogmatic fiction that Islam is always advancing, never retreating, certainly never being defeated. The loss of the Iberian Peninsula still sticks in the craw of historically-aware Muslims, but the nation of Israel is a cancer which threatens to expose and destroy their theological fantasy, so it must be destroyed instead, and the land (which contains Islam’s third holiest site) returned to Islam (and secondarily, to the Palestinians, provided they in principle remain Muslims). As long as Islam continues to be a major world influence, this theology of conquest will put the non-Muslim world on the defensive.

But even worse for the survival of Israel than Muslim triumphalism is reason number three: Islam is inherently and virulently anti-Jewish. Hatred for Jews is woven throughout the Quran, particularly in Muhammad’s later “revelations.” Those viewpoints were never abrogated by Muhammad, but stand today for Muslims as God’s final word on how Muslims should view Jews. They are to be exterminated whenever possible, because they are the enemies of God, having rebelled against Him in their refusal to follow God’s will as defined by the Quran. This religious hatred is inculcated in Muslim children from their youngest days, and is stoked by the fuel of the most authoritative writings of Islam, not just the Hadith literature and the Sira (biographies) of Muhammad, but the Quran itself. Such traditions call the Jews “descendants of apes and pigs,” based on three passages in the Quran: 7:166, 2:65, and 5:60. The first recounts a fable, not found in any ancient Jewish literature, about a group of Jews who, against God’s express command, continue to gather fish on the Sabbath day. In Allah’s own words, “But when even after this they disdainfully persisted in that from which they were forbidden, We said to them, ‘Become apes—despised and disgraced!’” The second and third passages portray God as referring back to this story with a warning to Muhammad’s contemporary listeners. 2:65-66 declares, “And you know well the story of those among you who broke Sabbath. We said to them: ‘Be apes—despised and hated by all.’ Thus We made their end a warning to the people of their time and succeeding generation, and an admonition for God-fearing people.” It implies that God may do the same to any today who remain recalcitrant. Should there be any lingering doubt, 5:60 seals the deal: “Then say: ‘Should I inform you [i.e., the Jews and Christians listening to Muhammad] of those, who will have even worse recompense from Allah than the transgressors? They are those whom Allah has cursed; who have been under His wrath; some of whom were turned into apes and swine; who worshiped idols; those are the people who are in a far worse plight and who have turned farthest away from the Right Way’.

A favorite anti-Jewish tradition (found in seven similar iterations throughout the two most highly revered Hadith collections – Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim) quoted with regularity throughout the Muslim world is the following: Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah’s Apostle said, “The Hour will not be established until you fight with the Jews, and the stone behind which a Jew will be hiding will say “O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, so kill him” (Bukhari: 4.52.177). This tradition is actually quoted in the Hamas Charter of 1988 as a justification for their intention to destroy Israel, as a stepping stone to Islam’s wholesale slaughter of all Jews at the day of Judgment. (I’ll take a closer look at the Charter of Hamas in my next posting.)

While I am not in agreement with the way in which Israel as a modern nation was created, nevertheless this country has now been in existence for sixty-six years. The clock cannot be turned back without creating further injustices to those now inhabiting the land. The only reasonable solution will be for both Israelis and Palestinians to compromise by accepting an agreement in which both give up some claims in order to gain lasting peace. Unfortunately, as long as the ideology of Islam and the fanaticism of orthodox Muslims feed the animus of Palestinians against Jews generally and Israelis in particular, the prospects for enduring peace, are in my lowly opinion, bleak.

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My Statement Released to the OGA: “Practice What You Preach”

The PCUSA Office of the General Assembly has been quite busy the last few days, issuing public statements calling on all sorts of people and institutions to act with regard to the atrocities in Mosul, Iraq, and the lethal conflict between Israel and Hamas. These are matters about which I know something, and so may comment in days to come about the content of these statements.

My motivation for blogging today, however, stems from the increasing reports of harsh and unloving actions taken by numerous presbyteries of the PCUSA against congregations seeking to follow the Spirit’s leading by peaceful departure into denominations where they seem to be a better fit for effective ministry in the Kingdom of God.

While the General Assembly leadership seems to feel well-qualified to tell others how they should clean up their acts to accord with “progressive” notions of justice and dignity, they are decidedly silent concerning matters within their own metaphorical house. Since the Scriptures tell us that “Judgment begins with the household of God” (1 Pet 4:17), it would behoove the Louisville leadership to address its own denominational nastiness, so as not to be guilty of hypocrisy and worse.

Let me illustrate with words taken from the OGA statement decrying the recent attacks against Christians in Mosul by members of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, words with which I agree:

We denounce the fear and hate-based tactics of Islamic extremists being used to force Christians to convert to a particular expression of Islam, pay an unspecified tax (jizya) for their safety, leave with only the clothes on their backs, or stay and be killed.”

Now let me make necessary changes to put the same ideas in the context of what is happening in the PCUSA as churches are seeking to leave over the liberal direction that the national church has unmistakably and officially embraced:

We denounce the fear and hate-based tactics of liberal presbyteries being used to force evangelical Presbyterian churches to convert to a particular expression of progressive post-Protestantism, pay an unspecified ransom for their uncontested departure (i.e., dismissal), leave with only the clothes on their backs (i.e., disaffiliation), or stay and be excluded.

In the interests of full disclosure, my congregation was dismissed from the PCUSA to ECO 18 months ago through a “process” that was anything but gracious. Though the presbytery had had four and a half years to follow through on a 2008 GA resolution urging all presbyteries to create consistent and gracious dismissal processes, Indian Nations Presbytery simply sat on its hands, as did most of the other 172 presbyteries then in existence. Instead, we were subjected to the vagaries of an administrative commission whose decisions and demands changed almost as often as Lady Gaga at one of her concerts. Nevertheless, after nine months we were ignominiously dismissed, after paying the presbytery $510,000.

At the time, we felt rather abused, but grateful to no longer remain in relationship with the abuser. Now, however, a year and a half down the line, reading what other congregations have to put up with in ever-hardening and and voracious presbyteries (there are a few exceptions, but unfortunately precious few) seeking to drain as much blood from departing churches as they can, I confess that our process was almost gentle by comparison.

Why has not the Office of the General Assembly directed some of its wide-ranging attention to the cruelty, greed, oppression and mean-spiritedness being consistently demonstrated by the institutional powers within its ranks? In these matters, presbyteries seem to hold all the power in the “negotiation process.” Where are the progressive leaders who so readily mouth the mantra that God and the church stand with the powerless and oppressed, demanding justice and dignity for those with no standing to defend themselves? Apparently, like most radicals, they are fairly adept at shining the spotlight on the sins of others, and even more adept at dodging the spotlight when it swings their way.

Many who know the recent track record of the PCUSA in dealing with evangelical churches might be more inclined to listen to the seemingly endless drone of political posturings of the OGA if that office showed the same moral indignation toward the evils being perpetrated by its official governing bodies against its own members. We might call it “practicing what you preach.” What a novel idea!

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Up and Coming Apologist to Speak on Islam at our Church!

This coming Sunday, Feb 9th, First Presbyterian Church, Edmond, OK (where I pastor) will be hosting a fascinating speaker in our morning worship services and an afternoon seminar. Nabeel Qureshi, formerly a devout Muslim, will be speaking on the theme “Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus.”

Coming from a long line of Muslim leaders and apologists, Nabeel sought to continue this defense of Islam as well as to become a medical doctor. The latter goal he accomplished, graduating with an MD from Eastern Virginia Medical School. But in 2005, he gave up Islam to become a follower of Jesus Christ, causing great consternation in his extended family. We are excited to hear Nabeel’s testimony, and to learn of the evidences which convinced him to take this often dangerous and certainly life-changing step of leaving Islam to become a Christian. Such radical changes are not undertaken lightly, and I am sure that all who hear Nabeel will find both strength and challenge in his presentations.

All are welcome this Sunday to hear Nabeel, either at our 8:15 or 11 AM service, and then again for his afternoon seminar from 4-6 PM. Q&A time will be especially lively, I should think. Nabeel has guest lectured at a number of U.S. universities, and participated in 17 moderated, public debates in the U.S., Europe and Asia concerning Islam and Christianity. He is particularly adept in the areas of the foundations of the Christian faith and the early history and teachings of Islam. I have seen Nabeel in action, and am deeply impressed with his grasp of the Quran and Hadith traditions, as well as with contemporary Muslim devotional practices.

If you have any interest in such topics and are within driving distance of Edmond, please avail yourself of this opportunity to benefit from the ministry of a rising Christian voice in the field of Muslim apologetics. I’m definitely looking forward to it!

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