Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Standing for truth. . . in love

The most anticipated event in Gainesville on Saturday isn't the Florida/USF football game, it's the ritualistic burning of copies of the Qur'an at Dove World Outreach Center church. (I hesitate to call DWOC a church but I'll keep my Reformed ecclesiology out of it.) With counterdemonstrations planned, and the inevitable media circus, the Gainesville P.D. are going to have their hands full! Everyone from General David Petraeus to the Vatican have weighed in on the wisdom of this stunt. I believe Carl Trueman put it best. Qur'an-burning (and book-burning in general) is "legal but stupid."

I went on DWOC's website and it's obvious that "exposing Islam" is the primary mission of this congregation's senior pastors, Dr. Terry & Sylvia Jones. The church displays a sign on it's property with the words "Islam is of the Devil" and you can buy books and t-shirts with the same message. In support of this message the website reads:

Christians must return to the truth and stop hiding. We need to speak up against sin and call the people to repentance. Abortion is murder. Homosexuality is sin. We need to call these things what they are and bring the world the true message: that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6).

Any religion which would profess anything other than this truth is of the devil. This is why we also take a stand against Islam, which teaches that Jesus is not the Son of God, therefore taking away the saving power of Jesus Christ and leading people straight to Hell.

I'm actually going to agree with those statements, and say that the New Testament does too. For example 1 John 2:22-23 says:

Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.

Not only could one say that Islam is of the devil because it denies that Jesus is the Christ -- that he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life -- one could also say that Hinduism is of the devil, and Mormonism is of the devil, and Buddhism, and Unitarianism, get the idea. If we set about burning the holy books of every religion that denies that Jesus is Lord we'd need a lot of wood.

Of course, Pastor Jones would probably remind me that adherents of those religions didn't kill thousands of Americans on 9/11. True, but the New Testament also commands Christians to love our enemies and to do everything in our power to live peaceably with all men. It admonishes us to speak the truth in love and to count it a privilege to suffer for the sake of Christ. What's lacking in Jones' crusade against Islam is what the Bible calls discernment. Tragically this episode will be seen as representative of more than what it is, which is a fringe "church" with a very distorted view of what it means to stand up for the exclusive truth-claims of the gospel.

In Acts 17 we have a counterexample of how to stand up for truth in a pluralistic society. The Apostle Paul arrives in Athens and Luke reports that "his spirit was provoked" (ESV) when he saw the idols that filled the city. "Provoked" actually isn't a strong enough translation. From my limited understanding of Greek, it's more like Paul was enraged -- his whole being was gripped with indignation. Note that Pastor Jones says burning the Qur'an is his way of expressing hatred of Islam.

However, Paul doesn't go out and take a sledgehammer to the idols or go out of his way to provoke the worshippers of same. Rather the text says he "reasoned . . . every day" in the synagogues and marketplaces of Athens. Eventually his apologias for Christ (1 Peter 3:15) gained him an audience at the Areopagus -- the center of Greek antichrist philosophy. Here Paul seeks common ground while at the same time preaching a message of repentance. The result? Some mocked Paul, but others believed.

I won't be surprised if the event on Saturday fizzles. But the damage has been done. No follower of Islam will be tempted to believe in the Jesus presented by the organizers of Burn a Koran Day.

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