The Presbyterian Church USA has hammered one more nail into its own coffin — one wonders whether there is space for any further nails. Last Saturday, at the opening business session of its 222nd General Assembly in Portland, OR, the denominational leadership orchestrated an event which denied the gospel and lordship of Jesus Christ. Here’s what happened.
The Stated Clerk had asked the staff of the Ecumenical and Interfaith Ministries of the PCUSA to create a liturgy of repentance/remembrance for the recent victims of gun violence in Orlando (and last year in Charleston, SC) as the first order of business for the GA. It was predictably leftist in its political emphases, with no wrestling over the impact of radical Islam, which was to be expected. Indeed, as a token sign of its expansive tolerance, a Muslim was invited to participate in leading this liturgy. His name is Wajdi Said, president of the Muslim Educational Trust in the Portland area.
When it was his turn to lead, Mr. Said began by chanting in Arabic, most but not all of which was translated into English on the screen for the ignorant participants. Hardly anyone there, I’m guessing, had any idea where the words Mr. Said chanted came from. The first sentence was not translated — apparently, Wajdi threw that in on his own. This is what he said: “I seek refuge with Allah from Satan the accursed.” Within the Muslim world this is a common interjection when one fears the presence and power of evil spirits. Since Islam teaches that Christians and Jews who reject the claims of Muhammad are the vilest of creatures, under the sway of Satan, it is not surprising he would begin with this intercessory prayer for himself. Apparently, he need not have worried.
The remainder of his Arabic chanting was the most well-known chapter of the Qur’an, the Fatiha, which observant Muslims recite a minimum of seventeen times a day. Often called “the Mother of the Qur’an,” this chapter, composed of seven verses, is a prayer to Allah. Its main request is that the petitioner be led on “the straight path,” that is, the path revealed through Muhammad, and not be misled on the paths either of those who have incurred Allah’s wrath (popularly understood to refer to the Jews), or of those who have gone astray (popularly understood to mean the Christians). So here at the start of the business of the PCUSA General Assembly is a Muslim man praying to the Allah of the Qur’an that the gathered delegates be led to Islam and away from the cursed Jews and the wayward Christians. What an uplifting way to begin the national meeting of a denomination once faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ….
After he finished this chanted prayer of Islam, Mr. Said then spoke a seemingly extemporaneous prayer in English seeking blessing, where he once again invoked Allah’s power to “…lead us to the straight path, the path of all the prophets, Abraham, Ishmael and Isaac, Moses and Jesus, and Muhammad, peace be upon them all. Amen.” To the untrained theological ear, this may sound somewhat innocuous. But in his prayer Mr. Said made three bold claims antithetical to the gospel:
- Praying to Allah (a god different from the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ), he was pleading that the Presbyterians gathered there would be converted to the straight path, i.e., become Muslims. That is the definition of chutzpah, to use a Yiddish term.
- He revealed the Islamic belief that all true prophets were in fact Muslims, i.e., believers in the straight path that Muhammad taught. In other words, there is no plan of salvation that God is unfolding, pointing to the coming of a Messiah for the world, but only a static message which prophets have been repeating unchanged from the time of Adam, the message of surrender to Allah and his will, to be rewarded or punished for eternity depending on how well or poorly you please him.
- Jesus is only one among these numerous prophets. To be sure, he has high ranking in the prophetic pantheon, but like all the rest he is only human.According to Islam, Jesus is no mediator between God and humanity, he has no divine nature, he did not die for the sins of humanity, he was not raised from the dead, he did not open the way for the Holy Spirit to indwell and transform human beings into his likeness, he is not the Lord and Savior of humanity.
But Mr. Said was not finished. The remainder of his liturgy, printed and projected on the screens, was apparently written by him and vetted by the PCUSA staff. He read it, with a few ad libs based on the original Qur’anic texts from which the material was taken. Here’s a breakdown of the readings which he led for the GA:
“In the name of Allah, the beneficent, the merciful: Let us praise the Lord of the universe who….” This comes directly from the Sura 1, the Fatiha, which opens with “In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful. All praise belongs to God, Lord of the Universe…” (1:1-2).
“who has created us and made us into tribes and nations, that we may know each other, not that we may despise each other. Incline towards peace, and trust in God, for the Lord is the one who hears and knows all things.” This is a conflation of two verses from the Qur’an: “O mankind! We have created you male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another…. Verily, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware” (49:1), and “And if they [the unbelievers] incline to peace, incline thou also to it, and trust in Allah. Lo! He, even He, is the Hearer, the Knower” (8:61). Interestingly, the GA text left out the phrase from the Qur’an “male and female,” but Mr. Said added that in as he read out loud. I’m guessing the PCUSA leadership didn’t want to be accused of “gender binarism” but Mr. Said hasn’t yet learned that latest quirk of political correctness, so he quoted the Qur’an faithfully.
“And the servants of God most gracious are those who walk on the earth in humility, and when we address them, we say ‘Peace.'” Sura 25:63 is the source for this: “And the servants of (Allah) Most Gracious are those who walk on the earth in humility, and when the ignorant address them, they say, ‘Peace!'” Note the difference at the end. The Qur’anic text focuses on how the servants of Allah (i.e., faithful Muslims) are to respond when the ignorant verbally demean them — they are to respond with words of peace. Mr. Said understood this, because he “ad-libbed” at this point, saying, “…when the bigots and hateful and Islamophobes address them, they say ‘Peace….” Who are the ignorant, according to Mr. Said? Those who are opposed to Islam. This apparently flew completely over the heads of the Presbyterian creators of this liturgy, who tried to turn this Qur’anic verse into a demonstration of our own peaceful approach to the Muslim world.
The following facts should lead members of the PCUSA to indignation and outrage at the theological incompetence and infidelity of their leadership:
- a practicing Muslim is invited to lead the worship of Christians
- he invokes the name of Allah in Islamic prayer, and prays the anti-Jewish, anti-Christian prayer of the Fatiha
- he asks Allah to convert the assembly
- his prayer implicitly denies biblical salvation history pointing toward the culmination of the Incarnation of God the Son into this world for our salvation
- he disparages the person of Jesus by demoting him as “one of the prophets” without any corrective from Christians present
- the liturgy he leads is woven from Qur’anic passages, with no Biblical input
- so far there has been no clamor from the assembly or apology from the podium for allowing this to transpire.
Many liberal Presbyterians have castigated evangelicals for leaving the denomination over the diminished place accorded Jesus in the life of the PCUSA. The theological left says this is nonsense, that the PCUSA still stands for the unique lordship of Jesus, and for the truth that salvation is uniquely through him. But if the denomination lets stand this travesty, they will show once and for all that their words have no meaning.
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the path is easy1 that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the path is hard that leads to life, andithose who find it are few” (Mt.7:13-14).
“On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’….and I will say to them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you workers of lawlessness'” (Mt. 7:21-23).