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 organizations 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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What Can Sister Sledge Teach Us About Islam and Christianity?

With regard to ultimate truth, there cannot be a positive without a corresponding negative.

Every enduring religion distinguishes itself by its unique claims to ultimate truth.  If its central beliefs were common to itself and another religion, then it would cease to be a religion standing on its own. Instead, it would be simply a minor “variation on a theme” — what we would call denominations or sects.

I point this out to highlight the futility of trumpeting what competing religions hold in common (and yes, I use the word “competing” intentionally, because every religious or philosophical world view denies that others “get it right” in the ways that matter most).

To politically correct ears, it sounds appealing to seek the common ground between opposing systems of thought.  And certainly this is important when attempting to live in peace with those of different convictions.  Yet when it comes to seeking ultimate truth, settling for the lowest common denominator is a waste of time.  What matters is a discussion of the competing truth claims, wherein one can weigh the positive, unique claims of each religion. 

For example, let me compose a list of 10 areas of common ground between Christianity and Buddhism:

1) Both were founded by thoughtful individuals;

2) Both recognize that worldly pursuits will not lead to fullness of life;

3) Both agree that human suffering is caused in large measure by wrongful attachment to things and relationships.

4) Both religions are reform movements, Christianity of Judaism and Buddhism of Hinduism;

5) Both Jesus and the Buddha practiced meditation;

6) Both teach that wrongful actions have consequences;

7) Both call their adherents to speak and act in truth, non-harmful ways to others;

8) Both believe that all human being inherently seek happiness;

9) Both believe that ignorance is a great impediment to spiritual growth;

10) Both agree that life in this world is always evanescent.

11) (Bonus points) Both commend prayer, bowing, sacrifice, pilgrimage, fasting, etc., as regular spiritual practices of adherents.

So, what do you really learn about each religion that is useful? Would a Christian say that this list presents what is at the heart of orthodox Christianity?  Hardly.  Would a Buddhist tout this list as a fair reflection of Buddhism? No way.  So what have we accomplished?  Perhaps we have made ourselves feel better that we have some bridges to walk over together, even though they won’t get us very far on the road to truth.  Perhaps, if we are feeling apologetic or ashamed of our own religion’s bold and exclusive truth claims, we can squirrel those away behind the smokescreen of what we believe in common.  In the end, though, the exercise of promoting what we have in common with other religions in leaves us with a false syncretism that does injustice to the unique convictions of each religion.

Back in May, during a weekend men’s conference I taught a seminar entitled “10 Ways That Jesus Outshines Muhammad.” It was a clear, well-documented presentation that received much attention and positive response.  Recently I learned that a Presbyterian minister (Mr. Matt Curry) who attended the conference but did not come to my seminar was apparently unhappy with my focus highlighting differences between the two religions.  Unhappy enough to write a blog about it soon after the conference end — “10 Areas of Common Ground Between Muslims, Christians.”

His contention? “…knowing that Christians are called to live in peace with everyone to the best of our abilities (Romans 12:18) and coming from a theological perspective seeking positives instead of negatives, I began to wonder if I could make a list highlighting common ground.” Apparently, my negativity needed to be countered by his positivity. The problem is, only the most grossly self-evident statements are free from the need for many qualifications. A couple of his common agreements are actually incorrect.

I won’t bore you with a full analysis, but let me offer some salient points to drive home the truth that we learn most about what others believe when we do a “compare and contrast” that is fair to both sides..

His first point of common ground: Muslims and Christians both bear the image of God.  From a Judeo-Christian point of view, this is accurate.  However, Muslims do not believe that human beings are created in the image of God — in fact, such a statement verges on blasphemy since God is wholly other.  Mankind bears no special likeness to God.  Hence in this statement, Mr. Curry misrepresents Islam in seeking to create common ground.  His approach is naively “bibliocentric,” and hardly politically correct. 

Second, God plays no favorites, hence none of us can speak from a position of superiority but only seek understanding from the Light we have been given. This sounds good, until Christians declare that Christ is the Light of the world, and the Bible is the unique, infallible revelation of God that points us to Jesus. Muslims counter with the unyielding claim that the Quran is composed of the literal words of God, spoken to Muhammad through the angel Gabriel.  Both groups claim to speak from the platform of God’s revelation, which privileges their declarations over those of anyone holding to a different authority.

Third, Muslims and Christians both acknowledge they are sinners, we are told.  But for Muslims, sin is basically seen as forgetfulness of God’s sovereignty through neglect of His commands. There is nothing so serious as to demand atonement. God simply forgives or doesn’t according to His will.  No mediator, no sacrifice, no cross, only reminders not to forget God in the future. For Christians, sin is an irreparable breach in relationship with God, irreparable from the human side, but covered from the divine side by the atonement of the Son of God on behalf of helpless sinners.  It is true that both religions speak of sin; but what they mean by it is discovered only by contrast, not by common verbalizing of the word.

I could go on, but you get the point. Well, let me give one more statement of common ground, only because it makes me smile. Mr Curry in statement #5 says, “Like Christianity, Islam has many different interpretations.”  Now that’s something we can really sink our teeth into.  Except that one could substitute any religion or serious work of thought for “Islam” and say the same thing. “Like Christianity, the Constitution has many different interpretations…, the Law of Maritime Admiralty…, the PCUSA Book of Order…, voodoo…, European Union common law…, The Iliad and the Odyssey…. 

Finding common ground is certainly essential when one is trying to build relationships, but not when trying to discern unique truth claims or to test them.  Then it is crucial to do the hard work of uncovering the real meanings of words and practices rather than skimming along on surface appearances while humming “We Are Family” with Sister Sledge.

 

 

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“At the Next Available Exit, Please Make a U-Turn”

Most new cars come equipped now with a GPS mapping system. We’re all familiar with those voices which prompt us to make the appropriate adjustments in our driving to get us to the destination we’ve entered into the unit. All too often, when I’ve gotten lost, I’ve heard this embarrassing refrain, “At the next available exit, make a U-turn.” When I’m not too stubborn, I usually obey.

Metaphorically, I see my writings concerning the PCUSA (and other mainline denominations) as one of those GPS voices. The destination for the church has been plugged in by the Scriptures and our confessional documents, but for a long time now, the drivers have been ignoring the suggestions given to keep them going in the right direction, and are so lost they are headed away from their intended destination. Much of my blogging could be summed up with the exhortation, “At the next available exit, please make a U-turn.” Those in the driver’s seat are so tired of hearing this that they have turned off the GPS, or just tuned it out completely. In their minds, they are headed the right way, even if it is at odds with the stated destination coded into the unit.

There are many voices serving this guiding function. I have been but one, and a minor one at that. Yet recently I have come up on the radar screen of a neophyte PCUSA pastor who vented some negative energy by blogging about me. A good friend from my congregation drew my attention to a piece entitled “PC(USA) antagonist to lead conference in denomination he fled“. It was written by Matt Curry, whom I don’t believe I have ever met. Yet he seems to believe he knows me well enough to characterize my mind and heart, in a less than flattering way.

*****UPDATE: THE BLOGPOST IN QUESTION HAS BEEN REMOVED FROM http://www.witnesstograce.com AS OF 7/24/2013*****

I am an antagonist to the PCUSA, stirring up rancor through my blogs, writing only negative things about the leadership and apparent theology of the denomination, “a bitter opponent who helped form a rival denomination,” “someone engaged in open warfare with the PC(USA).” But what sticks most in his craw is that I have accepted an invitation to be the keynote speaker at the next Presbyterian Men’s Conference at Mo Ranch. Mr. Curry seems offended that I would be offered this opportunity, even more so that I would take it. Perhaps a few facts will soothe his ruffled feathers:

- I accepted the Mo Ranch speaking invitation over two years ago, more than a year before the 2012 GA and long before our church session made the decision to seek dismissal from the PCUSA.

- After our church determined to seek dismissal, the incoming president of the Mo Ranch Men’s Conference Council (whom Mr. Curry rightly identifies as a member of our congregation) and I contacted the leadership of Mo Ranch with the offer to step down from our commitments so as to spare Mo Ranch any potential embarrassment. The trustees and president of Mo Ranch decided not to accept our offers to resign, but in the spirit of deeper unity in Christ to reaffirm our roles.

- I have participated in three of the last four Mo Ranch Men’s Conferences as a seminar leader (I missed two years ago to attend our daughter’s graduation from pharmacy school). No one could come away from encounters with me at the conference and have the impression that I am in open warfare with the PCUSA, or an antagonist in any form. Each of my seminars had to do with teaching on Islam, and I am told they were the highest attended of any seminar each year. In another blog, Mr. Curry — who did not attend my seminar entitled “10 Ways That Jesus Outshines Muhammad” — nevertheless seeks to undermine my teaching by offering 10 areas of common ground between Muslims and Christians. I will respond to that specific blog tomorrow. In any case, I have done nothing at any Mo Ranch Men’s Conference to stir rancor or ill will toward the PCUSA.

- The new Presbyterian movement (ECO) to which my congregation and I now belong has never defined itself as a “rival denomination” to the PCUSA. Instead, we see ourselves as a sister Reformed denomination. The fact that Mr. Curry describes ECO this way says more about his own ecclesiology than it says about me or the Covenanted Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.

- It is true that I have used the word “apostate” with regard to the PCUSA. To my knowledge, I have not used that word of any individual in the PCUSA, but applied it specifically to the institution and the direction it has unrepentantly and increasingly headed for the past 40 years or so. (Anyone interested can view my arguments in support of this found in an August 2011 post entitled “An Evangelical Declaration.”) Mr. Curry seeks to link me to those of another age who burned apostates at the stake, though relents a bit by admitting I confine my pyrotechnics to the blogosphere. I resist this categorization: the farthest I will go is to admit that I have burned many steaks in the past on the grill. I am willing to debate anyone on the merits of the arguments I have put forward concerning the present state of the PCUSA. I am not impressed by those seeking to sway others by innuendo and mischaracterization of my position.

- Mr. Curry notes that most of my 43 blogposts have had to do with the PCUSA. He has taken the time to comb through them enough to discover that I have apparently used the word “homosexual” some 50 times total (make that now 51). What can one learn from this? He apparently leaves that to the reader’s imagination. I recently did an RSV Bible concordance search for the word “pomegranate.” Did you realize it occurs 33 times throughout the Bible? What would you conclude from this? Nothing, I hope, without going to each of the references and reading them in context. Innuendo is often the mark of a weak or lazy argument. I would prefer a cogent response challenging my suppositions or conclusions on biblical/theological grounds. Then perhaps we could make some headway.

– I am not bitter toward the PCUSA as a denomination of real people. I am deeply saddened by the long slide into sin, darkness and disobedience allowed (perhaps even encouraged) by those in leadership who felt they knew a better way than the teachings of Scripture to pilot a once honorable denomination into a free-fall of theological and behavioral ignorance.

- As a Christian committed to seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, one does not need to be a member of the PCUSA to express concern and attempt to speak truth to power. It is certainly possible that I have failed miserably as a GPS voice pointing out the misdirection of the denomination. If so, leaders and people like Mr. Curry have every right to ignore my voice. But what I have found is that few take issue with the matters I and others point out as signs of lostness; instead we are merely castigated for urging a U-turn at the next available opportunity.

- Lastly, Mr. Curry’s blogsite goes by the name “Witness to Grace,” a phrase taken from the Confession of ’67 which emphasizes the theme of reconciliation, a truth Mr. Curry heartily endorses. Since I have apparently so offended him unwittingly by my writings and speaking commitments, I would have hoped he would have sought to be reconciled by following the teachings of Jesus outlined in Mt 18, coming to me personally to address his concerns before airing publicly his faulty assumptions about my actions and character. Perhaps, if he continues to have concerns in the future, he will do just that. In the spirit of Christian charity and unity, I certainly hope so.
Wouldn’t that be a wonderful witness to grace! On the other hand, our Lord does not let me off the hook. In Mt 5 he declares that when we know someone has a grievance against us, we are to take the initiative in seeking reconciliation. I guess it’s time for me to make a U-turn….Pray it goes well, please.

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