January 8: The World of Islam

THE WORLD OF ISLAM

 The story of Muhammad Idn Abdullah—and indeed it is a story—began with a zealous leader of Arabia. He was a trader from Mecca, Saudi Arabia. When he was twenty-five years old, he married a woman who was fifteen years older. When he was eventually expelled from his hometown of Mecca because of his teaching, one of his followers brought him his six-year-old daughter to marry, which marriage was not consummated until the child was nine-years-old. Muhammad eventually added more wives as he grew older.   So what would we think a religious leader would do to justify such multiple wives? You guessed it, write some scriptures that justify one’s behavior.   aS Surah 33:50,51 of the Qur’an, Muhammad wrote,

O Prophet! We [Allah and his messenger] have permitted to you your wives to whom you have given their dowries, and those you already have, as granted to you by Allah …. … if the Prophet desires to marry her, exclusively for you, and not for the believers. We know what We have ordained for them regarding their wives and those their right-hands possess. This is to spare you any difficulty. You may defer any of them you wish, and receive any of them you wish. Should you desire any of those you had deferred, there is no blame on you.

The story is told that when Muhammad was forty, he was praying in a cave on Mount Hira, and subsequently had a surreal emotional experience. While in prayer, the angel Gabriel supposedly appeared to him and said that he was now the messenger of God. He was commanded by Gabriel to write, but Muhammad refused. It is said that Gabriel squeezed him to the point that Muhammad thought he would die. Muhammad then began to recite the first verses of what is now called the Qur’an.   Since it is believed that Muhammad could not read or write, he dictated words to a scribe who in turn transcribed his words on any writing material that could be found. Muslims affirm that because Muhammad could not read or write that this is evidence that his words were directly dictated to him by Allah.

The beginnings of Islam thirteen centuries ago was among the Arab tribal groups, who were at that time mostly polytheists.   The Arabs worshipped tribal gods and had no sacred history as the Jews and Christians. They also did not have a sacred text of Scripture. Neither did they have a supposedly common sacred language.   The Jews had Hebrew into which their sacred text came to them from God. The Christians had Koine Greek into which their sacred text was transcribed.   But the Arabs had none of those things that Muhammad considered to be necessary to start and maintain a new faith, and thus be the identifying characteristics of one’s religious faith.

The Jews and Christians believed in one God.   The Jews had holy prophets, and the Christians had holy apostles. But the Arabs had neither one God, a sacred text of Scripture that was written in a specific language, nor a holy city as Jerusalem, Rome and Constantinople.   What Muhammad did was bring to the Arabs all that the Jews and Christians had that he believed gave identity to their faith.

Until his death in 632, Muhammad sought to bring to the scattered Arabs a faith they could claim as their own. He was so successful in this quest that he and his followers united under his teaching, and subsequently, became a strong military force. In one hundred years after his death, so many people and civilizations united under his teaching that at the height of Islamic influence, Islam stretched from north Africa to southern Europe in the west, and to the countries of India and western China in the east. At its zenith, the great Islamic Ottoman Empire was formed in 1258, which extended throughout all the Middle East. The Ottoman Empire lasted until World War I when it was eventually broken up by the victorious Allied powers after the war. Segments of the Empire were subsequently signed over to be governed by prominent Arab leaders.

One of the significant nations that eventually came from the Ottoman Empire was Saudi Arabia. What is unique about this sparsely populated desert nation is its Islamic influence throughout the world today. In the eighteenth century, a Muslim scholar by the name of Wahhab sought to teach a pure form of Islam to the Arabian tribal groups of the Arabian peninsula, which is today modern Saudi Arabia. In the 1930s, the al-Saud family took control of the area, and thus it is called Saudi Arabia today. This nation became the birth place of Wahhabism.

Wahhabism is taught throughout Saudi Arabia, which nation also promotes the building of mosques throughout the world where the same teaching is propagated, especially in America. Those Muslims who promote Wahhabism, therefore, would be considered very strict in their implementation of Qur’anic teaching. They would be pure or orthodox Muslims, or those who are true to the legal dictates of the Qur’an. Subsequently, no other religious faith may be practiced in Saudi Arabia. This form of Islam is very aggressive in establishing mosques and Islamic schools throughout the West today.

 I.  Roots of an Islamic world view:

 We often hear of Muslims being called to jihad (holy war). Jihad is defined as “holy war.” By most Muslims today this is a principle of warfare by which the Islamic faith is to be extended throughout non-Islamic peoples. Some moderate Muslims will often define jihad as one’s personal inner struggle for spiritual growth. But in the historical context of the origin of the word, this definition is far from the thinking of Muslims, especially those in the Middle East. In the Middle East today, jihad is always defined as it was during the military struggles of Islam in the seventh century. It is warfare against the unbelieving nations of the world until the world is totally Islam. Western residents must not forget this point, and subsequently be deceived into thinking that jihad is something personal with the Muslim. It is personal only in the sense that individual Muslims seek to unite together in order to take the world for Islam.

We witness on the news media constant conflicts in the Middle East, conflicts that are usually generated by some brand of Islamic radicals who zealously promote their Islamic denomination. In the last few decades, “terrorism” has been a primary weapon of Islamists who seek to impose either judgment on the “infidels.”   They have also terrorized those they assume to be Muslim apostates. But to be fair and clear, not all Muslims are terrorists. But it seems that all terrorists in the world today are Muslims seeking to impose judgment on the “unbelieving” world of infidels. What all civilizations considered absurd years ago (the suicide bomber) has become a common “weapon” of Islamists in their jihad against the infidels of the world.

For the Islamist, the killing of innocent people justifies the end result of jihad against the infidel. In November 2014, a German reporter made his way into the ranks of the ISIS movement in Syria. He interviewed the ISIS fighters in order to determine the basis of their world view. In a BCC interview with the German reporter, he stated that one jihadist ISIS soldier responded to his questioning, “We will kill as many people as possible in order to accomplish our goal. Whether we kill thousands, tens of thousands, or hundreds of millions, five hundred million, we will do so to accomplish our goal.”

People wonder if the root of this radicalism is seated in the pages of the Qur’an. We often make judgments concerning the Islamic faith by the conflict that is constantly portrayed on the news. But we would urge viewers to be cautious about making such judgments concerning a particular faith that is based on the radical beliefs and practices of adherents who have hijacked a faith for their own political and economic agendas. Such happened in the history of Christianity during the ages of the Crusades, which political maneuvers by the Catholic Church were used to judge and condemn people who were not Christians according to their definition of Christianity. We would correct ourselves not to do the same in our judgments concerning another faith. Hijackers of faiths must never be consulted in order to determine the true beliefs of any faith.

There are certainly sprinkled throughout the Qur’an verses that incite violence against the unbelievers, as one surah states, “Fight them [unbelievers] so that Allah may punish them at your hands, and put them to shame.” However, peace is promised for societies that conform to the teachings of the Qur’an.   The preceding surah of the Qur’an certainly does not say that a Muslim has a right during times of peace to take the initiative to generate a fight with unbelievers. However, it is unfortunate that the radical Islamist feeds on the calls for violent aggression (jihad) regardless of the passive nature of the unbelievers among whom he lives.

But we must not forget that when the Qur’an uses the word “peace,” a different world view is defined for the Muslim than what the Christian would understand the word to mean. The Qur’an would define the word “peace” to mean that when the world becomes Muslim, then there will be peace. All will live under because in obedience to sharia law.

The Qur’an is a book that focuses on prayer and good deeds. There are rules for acceptable prayer and religious rituals to be followed whereby the adherents may focus on a spiritual life. The Qur’an establishes rules for married life, divorce, community relationships, and how to raise children. There is a great deal of wisdom in the Qur’an for daily living since the Qur’an is meant to be the absolute law for an Islamic state.

The common denominator between Christianity, Judaism and Islam is that all three faiths trace their roots back to Abraham.   Abraham was not a Jew, but a Gentile, and thus his identity was not determined by race, but by faith. As both Christians and Jews, Muslims also go beyond Abraham to Adam in their spiritual lineage. Both the Bible and the Qur’an call for faith in one God who is the creator and sustainer of the world. And in reference to salvation, both the Bible and the Qur’an call for repentance on the part of the sinner in view of an impending punishment of the disobedient in a fiery hell, but a reward for the righteous in Paradise or Heaven.

But when reading the text of both the Bible and the Qur’an, there is a vast difference between the world view that is explained in both documents. The Qur’an is like driving onto a California freeway. While driving down this freeway one will often come across an exit to a command of God, and then an exit to an outburst in prayer, then some theological pronouncement, or a story of some early prophet. Throughout the 114 surahs (chapters) of the Qur’an there are descriptions of judgment and punishment. There is no single focus on a theme in any surah.

When Muhammad supposedly recited the contents of the surahs, his words were transcribed on various writing materials at different times, and then eventually, over one hundred years later, brought together into one book from the longest surah to the shortest.   There is no chronological order of either the surahs or statements as they were transcribed over a period of time, and eventually collected together as the book of the Qur’an. Since this collection of the surahs took place over one hundred years after Muhammad died, it can be understood why the Qur’an gives the presentation of a collection of sayings, instead of a document that was specifically written to for people to understand clearly. (More later.)

 II.  Bible and Qur’an differences:

In reference to messages from God, the Christian and Muslim view their holy books from different perspectives. The Christian views the Bible from the perspective of what Peter wrote: “For the prophecy did not come in old time by the will of man, but holy men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Pt 1:21). God allowed the writers of Scripture to use their own vocabulary and writing styles, as the Hebrew and Greek texts clearly reveal. But He inspired through the Holy Spirit that which was to be communicated and written down. As a result, the Bible is a collection of the writings of about forty men over 1,500 years of history. As the Qur’an, Bible literature was collected together into one book as we have it today. But throughout this “collection” there remains one central world view of the Bible, that is, the salvation of men through the cross of the Son of God.

Muslims regard the Qur’an after the meaning of its name, “The Recitation.” Muslims believe that their scripture came as a direct dictation from Allah to Muhammad.   Muhammad then recited the “word” to a scribe who wrote down the exact words that came from Allah. Muhammad was only a medium through whom Allah communicated his words to man. Since Muhammad was a self-proclaimed messenger of God, it would only be natural for him to make such a claim in order to guard against others adding to his “scriptures.”

For the above reason, the Muslim considers the actual book of the Qur’an sacred in and of itself. It must not be desecrated in any manner. Christians, on the other hand, seek to know the message of Jesus and the God who is beyond the words of the inspired book. One can burn Bibles, but he can never destroy the message that is revealed through the Bible. The actual book of the Bible is not an idol to the Christian. But if the Qur’an would be burned, then it is a desecration to the religion, not just the book.

Muslims do not consider any translation of the Arabic to be regarded greater than the actual Arabic script, the language that Allah ordained to be the language to communicate his dictates to man.   Translations of the Qur’an, therefore, are only interpretations. They are not to be considered God’s original words. When Muhammad gave his supposed divine words to be inscribed in Arabic, he forgot that God had used Hebrew words two thousand years before to do the same for the Jews, and six hundred years before in His use of Greek for the Christians. And when Jesus quoted from the Old Testament during His ministry, as well as when the Holy Spirit quoted from the Old Testament in writing the New Testament, both quoted from the Greek Septuagint, which was a translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. Translation is accepted by God, and thus, there is no holiness in the “words,” but in the message the words convey. Christians are concerned about accuracy in translation of the biblical text. However, they accept the art of translation of the Hebrew and Greek texts into any local language as sufficient to convey the message of salvation that is the theme of the Bible. This cannot be said of the Muslim’s view of any translation of the Qur’an.

What Muhammad’s claim does reveal is the fact that the Qur’an was culturally seated in the era of his own Arabic time capsule.   By focusing on the Arabic language, the Muslim is trying to keep the Qur’an where it originated, in Arabia.   As stated in a previous chapter, this actually added to the acceptance of the Qur’an by the Arab people, and continues to do so today. However, it continues to be a stumbling block for the propagation of Islam to the rest of the world. If one would be an accepted scholar of Qur’anic teaching, he must be able to study the Qur’an in Arabic.

The claim that the words of the Qur’an are the exact words of God is often confusing to Christians. But compare this to what actually happened when God transcribed directly on stone the ten commandments for Moses to give to Israel.   The actual words were written in Hebrew by the “finger” of God. The writing, therefore, was the oral words that God dictated to Moses who gave them to Israel on tablets of stone. Israel considered the words so sacred that they preserved the two tablets in the ark of the covenant.

If we would compare this to New Testament teaching, it would be somewhat similar to Christ being the revealed “word” that came to man. Christ was the word that was revealed (Jn 1:1-14). After His death and ascension, He is revealed to us today through ink and paper (Jn 1:1-14). He is only revealed to us with words that describe who He was and is as the revealed word of God. But the book of the Qur’an was the revelation of Allah through the Arabic words.   In comparison to the two tablets of stone, the Qur’an is sacred. It is the book of recorded words that are the revelation of Allah himself.   Muhammad was only the medium through whom the words of the book (Allah) were communicated.

This somewhat explains the beautiful Arabic art of Islamic countries. Because Muslims abhor any form of idolatry, they used the written words of the Arabic language to portray the revelation of Allah through Arabic art. The art depicts episodes in the life of Muhammad.   Because Arabic words from the Qur’an depict the presence of Allah, through the use of such words Allah is portrayed through art in order to reveal his presence. Arabic art is the ever present revelation of Allah, for the artistic words are Allah in definition.

The rest of the religious world perceives an inconsistency by Muslims in reference to their vehement teaching against idolatry.   Every definition that is used in any dictionary to define idolatry could be used to explain the Muslim’s reverence toward the book of the Qur’an. They idolize the Qur’an, while at the same time condemn idolatry. The same can be said of the Muslim’s idol reverence for the Kabah of Mecca, to which each Muslim must make at least one Hajj (pilgrimage) in his lifetime in order to march around this stone monument (idol).   The black stone cube of the Kabah is supposedly where the pantheon of past tribal gods of the Arabs is confined.   If this is not idolatry, then we will have to come up with a different definition of idolatry for our dictionaries.   Many in Africa clearly understand this thinking, for many came out of animistic beliefs that spirits dwelt in stones and trees. But when they became Christians, they realized that such inanimate works of creation are not the dwelling place of the spirit world.

In comparison to simple Christianity, the true disciple of Jesus is far less of an idolater than the Muslim. We must not confuse this with the Catholics’ use of the cross as an idol, for the New Testament places absolutely no emphasis on using material things or clothing as symbols of faith.

 III.  The “people of the Book”:

The Qur’an distinguishes “the people of the book” from nonbelievers. Both Jews and Christians are acknowledged as “people of the book.” However, the phrase “the book” is not a direct reference to the Bible, but to a heavenly text of Scripture that was written by God, of which, the Qur’an is called the only final and perfect revelation of this word. Throughout history, God revealed Himself as “the book” to His prophets in order to reveal His will to man.   The Qur’an also claims that the revelation of “the book” of Allah were revealed to other religious people who are not mentioned in the Bible. In other words, Allah revealed himself to other people as he revealed himself to Adam, Abraham and Israel.

The Qur’an affirms that the revelations of “the book” were corrupted by the Jews and Christians, or at least the revelations were greatly misinterpreted. They could not, therefore, gain a clear understanding of Allah through the Bible.   The Qur’an, however, supposedly corrected all these misinterpretations, and thus, only the Qur’an can be trusted as the true revelation of Allah to man.

 IV.  Source of authority:

Muslims have always had an unresolved conflict for establishing authority between secular state and religion. The problem is not in the Qur’an, but in how it is interpreted and applied to civil society. Muhammad envisioned a society wherein everyone was Muslim, and thus, in submission to Qur’anic (sharia) law. In this way, the Qur’an would be the authority for the governance of the state and faith of the people. But throughout history, Muslims have never been able to resolve the conflict between religious authority through the Qur’an and the authority of an Islamic government with democratic principles of function.

When Islamic religion spread throughout the ancient world, it enveloped many peoples of different civilizations. However, it had great difficulty in bringing all these civilizations under the governance of a common system of Islamic law. As a result, there arose scholars of the Qur’an who in many of the conquered states settled disputes through fatwas (opinions) that were handed down to the people from the religious leaders. But in the Islamic democratic states today, the fatwas of the religious leaders do not have much authority. The result of this lack of Qur’anic authority taught by the imams through fatwas has left the door of interpretation wide open for the speculative interpretations of every Islamic leader who would assert himself to restore obedience to true Qur’anic teaching. The most radical Islamists would lead radicalized groups to establish a supposedly true Islamic state, and by doing such, seek to behead all other Muslims who would not conform to the prominent spiritual leader’s interpretations of the Qur’an. Only in this way could true peace be established among the people.

Radical Muslims (Islamists) do not consider those Muslims who have modernized interpretations of the Qur’an to be true Muslims. And the modern Muslim would be the first to condemn radical interpreters of the Qur’an as Osama bin Laden and the present ISIS movement in the Middle East. The fact is that under the umbrella of Islam there are all sorts of groups of Muslims, from the most modernized to the most radical Islamist.   This assortment of sects that reside under the umbrella of the Qur’an is so vast that it is simply impossible today to define what is true Islam. The problem is that among all these groups, the spiritual leaders have their own unique way of interpreting the Qur’an.

We must not forget that moderate interpreters of the Qur’an have voiced their condemnation of those who would interpret the Qur’an to support their own selfish agendas to gain political dominance and commit genocide. Moderate Muslims condemn terrorist activities and suicide bombers. They condemn the murder of innocent victims by indiscriminate bombing. Muslim scholars of the West have experienced the benefits of democracy, free speech, and human rights since the first Muslims came to America as slaves, and then were freed. They, as South African Muslims, never wanting to go back to any form of bondage or apartheid. The majority of the Islamic scholars who have grown up in free societies believe that the Qur’an is open for interpretation in reference to a pluralistic society of different religious faiths. Even on the subject of women’s rights, the modern Muslim movement seeks to promote the legalization of women’s rights in the environment of democratic governments. The Malay Muslims of South Africa fought so long during the time of struggle against the oppressive apartheid government, that they never want to return to any oppressive form of government of the people.

In many areas of faith, both the Bible and the Qur’an have some common ground. Both teach that there is one God. Both teach the dignity of the human individual who must submit to the revelation that God has given to man. And both teach that the spirit of the humble life is the key to one’s cohabitation with other people that God created to be culturally different. The problem often comes from radicals in the Islamic camp to seek to establish their radical interpretations of the Qur’an. And it is the radicals with hidden political agendas who lead themselves to believe that violence is justified as a means to an end to promote one’s faith. Any means to accomplish the end is justified in the minds of the radical Islamist, and for this reason, the true Islamist is validated by the Qur’an to deceive the infidel in order to accomplish conquest over the infidel.

There have always been radical “Christians” throughout history. However, there is a vast difference between radical Christians who become cults and radical Muslims who become murderers. Radicals as Jim Jones and David Koresh sought to isolate their followers from society. Radical Muslims as Osama bin Laden seek to conquer and control society through violent means. The radicals of both Christianity and Islam manifest the nature of what either group considers divine authority. We would certainly conclude that the radical Islamist to commit murder leads us to believe that his source of authority is from man and not God.

Our plea to the moderate Muslim is that he reconsider the Christians’ source of authority. What we would urge is that Muslims must not judge someone to be “Christian” if he simply calls on Jesus as the Son of God, but behaves after his own agenda. Christians would call such a person a religionist, but not a Christian. Such were the people of the Crusades and the religion that was promoted by the Crusaders. It was a religion of man, not of God, and thus, not Christian.

And we would call on all Christians not to assume that one is following Qur’anic teachings when he straps on a bomb vest in order to murder innocent people. Any religious faith can be hijacked by radicals in order to gain a following for political or personal purposes, and subsequently, cause pain and suffering in the lives of the innocent.   This is exactly what Muhammad did with the invention of his religion. But supposed Christians are not innocent. The supposedly “Christian” liberation theologists of the 60s and 70s carried guns to overthrow Central American governments. Such a theology made its way into South Africa during the days of apartheid struggle. But these were not Christians, even though they carved the name Jesus Christ on their guns. They were religionists with a political agenda who sought to hijack Christianity for their own political means. There are Islamists who do the same today with Islam. But because they have promoted misinterpretations of their holy book does not mean that they are interpreting in their lives the spirit of the Qur’an. In times of peace, the preacher, as well as the Islamic imam, will find it hard to declare “holy war” on the basis of teachings of either the Bible or the Qur’an.

 V.  Influence of Hadith interpretations:

Other than the Qur’an, Muslims also have another source from which they derive information for teaching and interpretation of the Qur’an. After a century of the Islamic faith, the first dynasty of caliphs in Damascus (661–750) sought to draw allegiance to their ranks in the early conflicts between Muslims, as well as conflicts between Muslims and the opposition of Jewish/Christian forces. But primarily because the Islamic leaders sought to acquire as much information as possible of the deeds and sayings of Muhammad, a search was made to collect as much of the oral information as possible concerning Muhammad who lived over one hundred years before. This collection of oral sayings and traditions was collected together into what became know as the Hadith, or “prophetic traditions.”

In the collection of the material, it seemed that there were no scruples about falsifying information concerning the life and teachings of Muhammad. Those who gathered the material did what many “miracle working” preachers do today.   They go about digging up any rumor of a miracle or mysterious event, write a book, and then hope to draw the gullible to their ranks in order to fill church coffers. So from Damascus, “pseudo-researchers” went from village to village in order to find information about the deeds and teachings of Muhammad.   Now keep in mind that this search took place over one hundred years after Muhammad died. By this time in history, the only information that Muslims had of Muhammad came from word-of-mouth stories that were more often fantasy than truth. In fact, the Hadith, according to some Muslim scholars, contains contradictions, some absurd traditions, and according to some, outright blasphemous traditions.

Because the Hadith was used to write commentaries on the Qur’an, and determine interpretations, the Shi’ites and Sunnis accept two different bodies of Hadith. The largest sects of Islam (Sunni, Shi’ite and Ibadi), rely on their compilation of Hadith to determine sharia law, Qur’anic interpretations, and the early history of Muhammad and Islam.

The zeal of the early composers of the Hadith moved them to search beyond the facts concerning the early beginnings of Islam.   They were actually too far removed from the early beginnings of Islam to gather many facts, and thus had to rely on oral traditions. The writings that were brought together were often copies of copies of their original autographs. The facts had already been corrupted through word-of-mouth communication for over a century.

What these eighth and ninth century redactors did do was construct a picture of the past as they believed it should be.   They wanted to present the ideal of what they believed Islam would produce if one were obedient to the mandates of the Qur’an.

This search turned into a business as fanciful stories of Muhammad’s sayings and deeds were collected and sold. And as the gullible person in search of a miracle laps up hearsay concerning some wonder that was worked in some far off country, so gullible Muslims eagerly received any tale about Muhammad and his sayings. As the demands increased for these tales of teachings and deeds of Muhammad, the accumulation of the material of the Hadiths increased.

The early history of the Islamic faith is based in the material of the Hadiths, depending on what sect of Islam one is studying. But as the faith of the “miracle research” of some religionists is based on supposed wonders that were not personally witnessed, so the faith of some Muslims is based on the fanciful stories of the Hadith. Depending on how serious a particular Muslim scholar considers the authority of the Hadith, will determine the foundation for his interpretation of the Qur’an.   In recent years, however, there has been a general rejection of the authority of the Hadith in reference to Qur’anic interpretation. In fact, many recent Muslim scholars have rejected any authority of the Hadith, relying only on the authority of the Qur’an itself.

As with the Damascus caliphs who sought for fanciful stories to gain allegiance to their cause, so it is today with some Muslims who seek justification for unrighteous ways.   We would caution Christians at this point not to underestimate the true nature of even the moderate Muslim who finds justification for barbaric practices in the pages of the Qur’an through the medium of interpretation by the Hadith. We must not forget that the Hadith justifies that Muslim women are subject to polygamist marriages, the right of husbands to beat their wives, female circumcision through genital mutilation, and the justification for “honor killing” (murder) of a daughter who would date a Christian. These are the realities of even “moderate” Muslims within democratic societies. All these moral injustices find their validation in the Hadith.

January 7: History Welcomes a New Ideology

HISTORY WELCOMES A NEW IDEOLOGY

 One wonders why Islam made such a rapid advance across the Middle East and North Africa in only one hundred years after its beginning. Though Charles Martel stopped the advance of Islam into Europe at the Battle of the Tours, its advance continued to the east and northeast of Arabia into the territories of the Byzantine and Persian Empires. Even to the middle of the tenth century there were great numbers of “Christians” converting to Islam. In fact, it is estimated that over one million Christians had converted to Islam by the end of the tenth century. The answer to this conquest over Christianity reveals some interesting lessons for Christians today, some lessons that might be appropriate for to learn something from history.

 I.  Dysfunctional religious and political leadership:

By the middle of the fifth century, the Roman Empire had lost its influence over the Mediterranean Sea basin. Rome itself fell in 476. The western territories of the Empire had waned before the fall of Rome. At this time in history, the Persian and Byzantine Empires became the dominant powers of the eastern parts of the former Roman Empire. For two centuries, these two empires conquered one another back and forth, during which time one or the other was the major controlling empire of the Middle East.

In 614, the Persians, under the rulership of Chosroes II, besieged and took control of the city of Jerusalem. He did this with the help of the Jews, and subsequently, many church buildings in the city of Jerusalem were destroyed and the Jews were allowed to take control of the city. But in 629, the Byzantines retook the city, and the Jews were banished.   Nine years later, Jerusalem was again besieged and finally fell to the Islamic Caliph Omar. What Christians were left in the city were allowed to stay, and the remaining Jews were assigned to what became known as the “Jewish Quarter.”

From the seventh century until the middle of the twentieth century, Muslims controlled the city of Jerusalem, with the exception of those brief periods when the Crusaders conquered and occupied the city.

By the middle and end of the seventh century, the Byzantine and Persian Empires had consumed themselves in so much war with one another that they exhausted their efforts to maintain control over the territories they had formerly conquered. The “Christianity” of the time had removed itself from focussing primarily on the central and western part of the now dysfunctional Roman Empire.   The center of the Eastern Orthodox Church established its seat in the city of Constantinople. By this time in history, we must keep in mind that Christianity was no longer identified as the true Christianity of the New Testament.   It was a divided religion that had institutional power structures seated in both Rome and Constantinople. As a result of this turn in the focus of Christianity from the lives of the people to power struggles within the institution, both political and religious confusion prevailed among Christians throughout the Middle East.

The groundwork was thus laid for the birth and expansion of a new ideology that appealed to the people. The collapse of the Byzantine and Persian Empires opened up the opportunity for a religion that encapsulated both political and religious ambitions. Since the Christianity of the era was more political than practical, Muhammad was presented with the opportunity to give birth to a simple faith that met the needs of the Arab people, which faith would consolidate his military force in order to conquer the western areas of Arabia. The Roman and Orthodox churches had both failed the people in that organized churches became consumed with power struggles from within. Muhammad simply presented a faith to the Arab people that was for the people and by the people. In order to do this, of course, he had to proclaim himself as a prophet, and thus become the center of focus to unite the people. Self-proclaimed prophets are always narcissistic in that they think the world revolves around them.

 II.  Allegiance to one God:

Muhammad was very successful in his attack against the polytheism of the nomadic Arabian tribes. He saw in Judaism and Christianity the power of the concept of one God to bring people together into one family of believers. Since the roots of his religiosity were initially established through a shallow contact with Judaism and Christianity, he knew enough about both religions at the time to bring the simple concept of the one God into the Arabian tribal groups who were divided among themselves because of beliefs in many gods. The commitment of his followers to the concept of the one God was very appealing, and thus, it became a strong political force to subdue and unite a divided Arabian people. The theology of the one God, who in Arabic was called Allah, was a rallying deity around whom the Arab people were brought together as one religious/political movement.

 III.  Substituting complexity for simplicity:

The simple Christianity of the New Testament had by the seventh century become a conglomerate religion of man-made creeds that had evolved out of the marriage between Christianity and state powers.   Judaism was a confused assortment of the traditions of the fathers. Both faiths were thus complex and confusing to the simple Arabian tribes who were basically uneducated and rural in their culture. When faith becomes complex through an assortment of doctrines and traditions, it removes itself from the daily needs of the common people.

The manner by which Muhammad claimed his words to be the word of God compared closely with the revelation and ministry of Jesus. Jesus is mentioned twenty-five times in the Qur’an, with a similar description of His life and ministry as that revealed in the Bible. According to the Qur’an, Jesus was born into this world through Mary. He was a prophet of God. He was the revelation of the “word” to man. He was the sinless man of God who would again return to bring judgment upon all men. Muhammad simply cloned this story of Jesus However, he would claim to be the last of God’s prophets to man, and his writings, the last “word” from God to those who would submit. He and his teachings thus appealed to those who were confused with the complexity of what was called Christianity and Judaism.

Muhammad presented to his followers a simple legal means by which every man could assume that he was legally right with Allah.   If one repeated the creed of Islam, observed the Ramadan Fast every year, gave alms to the poor, prayed five times a day, and made a pilgrimage to Mecca at least one time in his life, then he was a good Muslim. Islam, as a simple faith, appealed to the uneducated.

 IV.  Integration of faith with all aspects of life:

It seems that Muhammad gleaned his theology from the theocratic system of the Old Testament law. He successfully brought together the everyday life of the individual with the civil laws of an Islamic state, thus making Islam a theocratic system of power. When one became Muslim, his or her entire life was centered around Islam. There was no dichotomy of faith and state, secular life and religious life, work for gain and worship. When one was Muslim, all life was given duty to live one’s faith.   This made Islam a very powerful military incentive that was able to spread rapidly to defeat empires that needed the allegiance of the subjects to be faithful to a state that did not necessarily represent the wishes of the people. With Islam, the people are the state. Any attack against an Islamic state, therefore, was an attack against Islam.

War to the Muslim is always religious.   Victory in war by the Muslim, therefore, is not simply the overthrow of a dictator or monarch or king of a secular state. It is an advancement of Islam to bring the totality of the function of one’s life under the umbrella of being Muslim. Muhammad was able to weld together the patriotism that citizens manifested toward a secular state with the devotion of a subject to his god. The combination of the two gave the individual Muslim a most valiant cause for which to fight.

Victory to the Muslim in war was not the simple conquest of an enemy. It was the conquest of the Islamic faith over an infidel state. When Muslims go to war, therefore, they do not simply fight and die for a state, but for their faith. Even war between Muslim sects is a jihad to maintain one’s allegiance to his particular sect of Islam.

The secular citizen who is devoted to a state alone will never understand this thinking. But when one fights for the survival of his theocratic state, he is fighting for the existence of his faith and God. This is the reason why the Israelites dominated their enemies when they conquered the land of promise. Israel went to war against the “infidel” nations within the land of promise in order to introduce God and His law into the land. If one of the “infidels” wanted to stay in the land, then he had to become a proselyte, that is, a convert to the God and law of Israel.   As stated before, Muhammad gleaned his theocratic theology right out of the Old Testament. If one would seek to understand the theology of Islam, a good study of God’s laws for Israel when they entered into the land of promise would help.

 V.  Economic benefits of common religiosity:

One of the prevalent economic practices of the Arab world at the time of Muhammad was the slave trade, which trade is still sanctioned by the Qur’an. This practice existed for centuries among Arabs who captured people out of Africa, and then sold them across the Middle East as slaves. One can only imagine how willing many Africans were converted to Islam simply because they were less likely to be sold as slaves.

Add to this the sociological fact that Islam permeated the totality of one’s life. If one lived within an Islamic society, he would convert to Islam in order to be a part of a community that was comprised primarily of Muslims. One had to be a Muslim in order to fit in with the community. If at all possible, all business dealings of Muslims were done with fellow Muslims.   For this reason, there was a great conversion of many to Islam simply for the purpose of economics. When Islam became the majority faith in any society, those who were not Muslim were simply boycotted out of business if they did not convert to Islam. Those who worked for a Muslim as an employee eventually had to convert to Islam if they wanted to keep their jobs. Muslims today still use this means to convert people of any society. For this reason, Islam grows easily among the poor, or those who feel that they have been disenfranchised from the economics of society.

 VI.  Offer of a simple faith:

By the seventh century, the religious leaders of Rome and Constantinople had turned Christianity into a corrupt religion that was identified as a regional state faith with many catechisms, rather than a daily way of life that met the spiritual needs of the people. The hierarchal leadership of religion in Rome and Constantinople had so distanced itself from the needs of the common people, that there was a deep spiritual void of spiritual leadership in faith among the people. This unconcern on the part of the “Christian” religious leaders among the people of the time was so great that no need was felt to translate the gospel records of the New Testament into Arabic until the middle of the tenth century. As a result, that for which God had intended the written Scriptures to be among His people was vacant in the lives of the Arabian people for over nine centuries.

Luke wrote the gospel record of Jesus to Theophilus to correct word-of-mouth misunderstandings concerning the life and ministry of Jesus (Read Lk 1:1-4). If these misunderstandings of Jesus started to be circulated less than forty years after the personal ministry of Jesus, then just imagine what misunderstandings concerning Jesus prevailed among the Arabs by the time of Muhammad. If within forty years word-of-mouth communication concerning Jesus corrupted who He was and what He taught, then how corrupted would word-of-mouth information concerning Jesus be after over nine hundred years? Christians of the West will never understand this because they have taken for granted printed Bibles at a bookstore or online at the touch of a keyboard. Because the West is quickly turning away from printing Bibles for the world, they are laying the foundation for a biblically ignorant world to arise that is fertile soil for the spread of Islam.

Add to this the fact that the Christianity of the era of Muhammad was burdened with controversies over traditions and catechisms because of ignorance of the word of God. The authority of the word of God had long left the “Christianity” of the day. Christianity was subsequently viewed by the Arab people to be a foreign faith with foreign doctrines and traditions that were void of spiritual strength in the lives of the individual Arab.   This inevitably led to the following reason why Muhammad’s teaching became so appealing to the Arabs, and many other cultures who suffered from the same spiritual void.

 VII.  Muhammad’s teaching was Arabian:

According to the thinking of the Arabian people, by the beginning of the seventh century Christianity was a “religion” that was centered in foreign countries. To the Berbers of North Africa, for example, Christianity was never a faith that was adopted within the culture of those who believed, because the leadership of “the church” was somewhere else. Doctrine, tradition and dictates were handed down from some foreign city in another country. And because there were no copies of the Bible in the hands of the common people, the people were subject to the dictates of “church authorities” of either Rome or Constantinople.   Religious authority was in the authorities of the church in a foreign land, not in the Scriptures in local hands.   In reference to Judaism, all traditions came from the Jews and were sent out from Jerusalem for the Jewish world to obey. At every annual Pentecost/Passover Feast these traditions were renewed in the minds of the faithfuls who made their trip to Jerusalem and returned to their homes throughout the Middle East. With both Judaism and Christianity, the institutionalized church leadership of each perspective faith stole the authority of the Scriptures from the faith of the people. The faith of the people was based on either pope or priest, depending on who was in power at that time over the church.

We see this same apostasy today when people place their faith in the local pastor who has graduated with a degree from the “University of Jerusalem.” The people have forsaken their personal knowledge of the Bible and handed their brains over to the pastors. The result of this has led to the rise of “miracle churches” that have grown throughout the world as favorite pastors proclaim their miracles to gullible audiences who have little knowledge of the Bible.

But for the humble Arab Bedouin, Muhammad was their prophet. His teaching was their faith since they accepted his claim that he was a prophet.   Islam supposedly originated from their land, though this is highly debated among historians (more later).   Arabic was their religious language.   And Islam would always have its capital in Arab territory. And by word of mouth, Muhammad gave to the people what he claimed to be their own message from Allah. The appeal of these aspects of Islam was so strong to Arabians that the Islamic faith swept across Middle East and across every society of people who felt disenfranchised by the institutionalized “Christianity” and Judaism of the day.

The tragedy of Christianity during these centuries of the spread of Islam was the fact that Christianity had turned from being a rewarding personal relationship of the disciple to Jesus to being a religion that was hijacked by church authorities in a foreign land. And because the structure of popes and bishops and priests had become the identity of the institutional religion, the common person felt detached from the God he was to serve on a daily basis.

As a result of this apostasy from true Christianity, the evangelistic spirit of the individual disciple simply vanished.   There was no mission spirit in the church simply because “church” was a hierarchy of religious authorities in another land, not an expression of personal faith in one’s daily life.   Such should be a tremendous lesson for every Christian today. When “church” is identified by “church authorities,” then we know that we are in trouble.

We must never forget that Christianity is about relationships, first with our Lord, and then with one another. We must never allow “church” to become an institutional organization of hierarchial authorities who separate themselves from the people. The church is the people. So what happened with the beginning of the preaching of Muhammad was that he came at the right time in history to the Arabs when meaningful Christian faith had vanished from the individual lives of the people, especially the Arabian people.

 VIII.  Right message for the right time:

We must not think that the rapid acceptance and growth of Islam is evidence of divine origin. Such rapid acceptance of Muhammad as a self-proclaimed prophet is assumed by Muslims to be proof of his supposedly divine calling. Likewise, the phenomenal spread of Islam in a century throughout a vast territory of Middle East could be assumed to be evidence of divine intervention, but it is not.

Muhammad’s message to his followers was simply the right message at the right time. The Qur’an is not a book of great literary genius or prolific pros. Its literary style is actually quite awkward and disorganized as a catechism for a legalistic faith. Nevertheless, Muhammad was accepted by millions to be the final prophet of Allah, and his “word” as the final word from Allah to man.   So why such a phenomenal acceptance and growth of Islam across the Middle East, across North Africa, up into Europe, and on to the borders of China?

The time was simply right for a paradigm shift in religion in a world where Christianity ceased to be Christianity.   The personal faith of Christianity had digressed to an organization of church authorities who handed down dictates from a foreign land. In the Arab world, Muhammad came at the time when what was known as Christianity no longer appealed to the people of Arabia. The result was a paradigm shift of faith that has changed the world from the day Muhammad died.

Before Muhammad there were great spiritual leaders, even some greater than he. These wrote with great literary excellence, certainly better than the awkward literary style of the Qur’an. There have been great literary works of religion published and distributed since.   But from the first century, none of these great men and their masterpieces of religious literature affected the religious world as much as Muhammad and his teachings. It was simply that the Middle East was religiously in a void of personal faith, and thus, ripe for the introduction of a new faith that would appeal to the common man, with “scripture” that was in the language of the common man. And since Muhammad became a great military leader to unite the Arabs, what he said gained great acceptance among his followers.

The same paradigm shift of Christian faith happened in Europe during the Reformation Movement of the sixteenth century. It happened because the same religious cultural conditions were in place. When the Bible was eventually translated into the language of the people, and great men of faith stood up to the institutional authorities of the Catholic Church, change was in the air. The people were subsequently led from the bondage of institutional religiosity to a faith that was based on Scripture, not institutional churchianity. Unfortunately, many of these initial Reformation churches have become that from which they fled. They too are now led by church authorities who seek to maintain the heritage (traditions) and identity of their particular denomination. Muhammad was most successful in his appeal to the people because he was of the people and for the people. What is necessary today is another restoration in order to get people back to the authority of the word of God.

January 6: Early Beginnings of Islam

EARLY BEGINNINGS OF ISLAM

 Any study of the world in which we now live must include a study of the Islamic faith. Our international news media almost daily reports on events in reference to Islamic countries, usually wars and bombings that are associated with some radical group of Islam. In all the conflicts, there is a great deal of misunderstanding between the Western world and the world of Islam. The misunderstandings are almost always based on the fact that neither side of the conflict understands the other. The West cannot sift through all the radical groups of Islam and clearly understand the core nature of the Muslim who is trying to bring his faith into modern times.   On the part of the West this misunderstanding is particularly difficult. Western thinking is almost totally biased toward the separation of “church” and state.   But the true Islamic world is theocratic. There is no such thing as a separation between one’s faith and the law of the state.

The Muslim often views all Christians to be in a theological box wherein he judges all Christians from the twisted perspective of medieval crusaders. This maligned judgment of the West is so critical that the Muslim cringes at even the mention of the word “crusade.” And thus, accusations are thrown back and forth between the two world views in order to increase the conviction of the adherents of either group to cling to their perspective faith.

What we would say to our Muslim friends is that they are not too objective in viewing everyone of the world of Christendom to be Christian simply because one believes in Christ. In this context of discussion, we would use the word “true” Christianity in order to identify in Christendom those who have obeyed the gospel and do the will of their Father in heaven (See Mt 7:15-23). Christians are not religionists who invent for themselves all sorts of man-made religious beliefs and practices, and then claim to be Christian simply because they shout “Jesus, Jesus” on Sunday morning.

The Crusades of the Middle Ages were certainly not the work of true Christians. The Crusades were political efforts on the part of apostate religionists who masqueraded themselves as Christians in order to prop up their religious/political power in Europe. And simply because the Crusaders, and those in this modern times, either carve a cross on their shields or wear one around their necks, does not mean that they are true Christians according to the definition of a Christian that is given in the New Testament.

The true Christianity of the New Testament focuses on the humble devotion of disciples who seek to be servants of others in a society in which order is maintained by a secular government.   Simple Christians do not seek to usher in a new system of government. They are simply willing to pray for those in power in order that all citizens might lead a quiet and peaceful life of serving others (See 1 Tm 2:1,2). Muslims must understand that true Christianity has been hijacked by religionists just as they claim that Islam has been hijacked by radical Islamic murderers. So we say to the moderate Muslim, let us all live in peace wherein we can be friends, and then, disagree concerning our faiths in the context of healthy discussions. However, all of us must be allowed to confront one another’s beliefs under a government that allows separation of faith and state. If a Muslim does not allow this—and true Islam cannot—then the true nature of Islam is revealed. In other words, this environment of freedom of speech cannot exist in a truly Islamic state.

Christians must also be fair and objective in their search to understand true Islam. They must not make their judgments based on what they see on the news media, which is often twisted. As Christians are embarrassed by the twisted portrayal of Christianity to the Muslim world, so moderate Muslims are embarrassed by the behavior of those Islamic sects of Islam who have emphasized the aggressive statements of the Qur’an in order to advance their efforts to gain power and oil wealth.

Though there is definitely a difference between the Bible and the Qur’an, Christians must keep in mind that neither simple Christians nor moderate Muslims seek carnal war with one another. It is only when the radicals of Islam start obsessing over the aggressive statements of the Qur’an that we have trouble. So in order to help those of the West, particularly Christians, to better understand Islam, it might be good to review the birth of the Islamic faith. Its birth and conquest of the Middle Eastern empires will provide some definition of Islamic beliefs, and the “holy book” that originated out of the struggles that prevailed in the century of its birth.

 I.  The birth of a religion:

Islam was born out of a conflict that one Arab person, Muhammad Idn Abdullah, had with his fellow pagan Arabs, unbelieving Jews, and those who were actually apostate Christians. At the time, the seat of authority of “Christianity” had moved from Jerusalem to Rome and Constantinople. A division had occurred in Christendom by the seventh century that had established the another seat of authority in Constantinople (the Greek, or Eastern Orthodox Church).

After its initial birth, Islam was accepted by millions and spread throughout the Middle East in the seventh century. It spread like wild fire because of the apostate “Christianity” of the day. We would learn much today by reflecting on the reasons that led up to the birth and early growth of Islam in the Middle East. Some of these lessons may be difficult to accept by Christians today.   Nevertheless, history is a good teacher in order that we not repeat the mistakes of the past.

 II.  Growth out of conflict:

The historian Tertullian (160-220) stated, “The blood of the Christians is the seed of the kingdom.” What he meant was that when the kingdom of God was persecuted in its early beginnings, it grew. It grew because Christians responded to persecution with love. And it was the Christians’ love of Christ and one another that drew people to Christ. It was love at the core of the gospel message that caused the growth. The early Christians lived the pronouncement of Peter:

But sanctify Christ as Lord God in your hearts and be ready always to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, yet with meekness and fear (1 Pt 3:15).

The persecutors of the early Christians were intrigued by the commitment of Christians to their Savior who gave them hope by so loving them (Jn 13:34,35). They had to wonder why the Christians would so willingly die for their Savior who loved them so much.

Christianity was first the object of persecution by the Jewish religious/political system, and then came the persecution of the Roman state. Since Rome had developed its own state religion, beginning with Nero, the Romans saw Christians as insurrectionists against the state because they would not proclaim Caesar as lord.   The state/religious persecution of Rome ended under Emperor Constantine only when Christianity was eventually made the state religion of the Roman Empire. Once this happened, Christianity began to apostatize into what we know today as the Roman Catholic Church. It is inevitable that once a faith becomes connected with the power of a state, it becomes the persecutor of all those who do not conform to its man-made mandates. The designated religionist of the state use the state to enforce their mandates upon those with whom they disagree, and thus, consider enemies of the state.   When this happens, we can know that the religion is from man and not God. Constantine, therefore, became the demise of true Christianity. By the time of Muhammad, it was not Christianity that Muhammad encountered, but an apostate state religion.

Roman Catholicism corrupted for centuries those states that it controlled, even as late as the 1950s and 1960s. In Italy, as in many other countries where Catholicism was dominant, it was very difficult for one to get a job if he was not a Catholic. This socio/economic intimidation also prevailed throughout Latin American countries.   Catholicism was not the state religion, but everyone who was in power in the state and business were Catholics.   In Latin America, it was not until the phenomenal growth of Pentecostalism in the 1960s that the religious stranglehold of Catholicism on society was broken. The growth of Pentecostalism was actually a social revolution against a religion that was too connected with the state. In South Africa today we too still live with the legacy of churches that aligned themselves in the past too close to politics in the struggle against apartheid.   Many of the religious leaders of these churches now consider their churches as small political parties that might somehow fuel their personal ambitions to be somehow voted into a seat in parliament.

The past history of Catholic control of states illustrates the problem of Islam, and should caution all would-be political pastors. Muslims have a difficult time separating the beliefs and behavior of Islam from the laws and function of the state, since the Qur’an teaches that there is no division between faith and state.   The Crusades of the Middle Ages were a result of an apostate Christianity being aligned with the sword of the state, and thus, the Roman Catholic Church of the times used that sword to maintain and propagate its authority throughout the territory the state controlled. And in order to increase allegiance to the state (the church), bands of “believers” were organized (crusaders) to go fight against the unbelievers (Muslims). In order to recruit and build an army of Crusaders, a holy cause had to be given to the recruits. The recruits were thus told that they must free “the land of our Lord,” which they would call, “the holy land.”

(Actually, there was nothing holy about it. It was only a segment of dirt on earth where our Lord determined to set His foot in fulfillment of His promises that were made to the fathers. Once He had accomplished His mission, and His foot left earth at the ascension, the Bible nowhere teaches that He would ever set foot on earth again.)

After Christianity was adopted by the Roman state as the state religion, those who assumed that they were Christian began to ride on the shoulders of the Roman state. It was then that Christianity began to go into apostasy. While unity prevailed among Christians during the early centuries of struggle and persecution, disunity began to prevail across those lands where the name of Christ had gone through the efforts of the early evangelists. The moral and doctrinal norms that produced unity in the first century began to be influenced by the false philosophies of men by the fifth and sixth centuries.   Because the greater number of those who professed to be Christian aligned themselves with the power of the state, these began to persecute non-Christian faiths, even those who were of a minority of Christianity who refused to compromise their faith by aligning themselves with the state.

The Christianity that prevailed over the unbelieving world during the first three centuries of the existence of the church, began to be changed into a religious-state monster that unleased persecution on all other faiths after A.D. 325.

The transformation of “Christianity” to a state religion continued for the next three centuries after A.D. 325. But in A.D. 610, a new world order in religion was born, which order we deal with today as 1.4 billion Muslims populate the world. During the seventh and eighth centuries, the “Christianity” that was represented from Rome, and then also from Constantinople, was morally destitute and doctrinally corrupt. It was not the Christianity we read about in the New Testament. As a result of its divided nature and institutional appearance that was upheld by the state, those of the Arab world began to look for something else. The Arab world perceived that Christianity must work through the power of the state in order to be successful, for this was all that they knew of the Christianity of the day. This is what they witnessed in both the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. They also perceived that Judaism worked through the efforts of the Jews to reestablish their state in Palestine.

Both Judaism and “Christianity” claimed to be from one God. But the Arabs concluded that God would certainly not be so divided. The Arab world concluded that if God works, then certainly He must work outside and apart from secular and pagan states that existed at the time. Religion, therefore, must become the state in order to banish wars between states, and subsequently bring peace to the world.

Islam had its small beginnings with a militant Arabian name Muhammad. Muhammad was born around 570. He grew up into being a religiously zealous young man, and subsequently, began preaching in Mecca, Saudi Arabia in 610. Though he initially believed in the inspiration of both the Old and New Testaments, his preaching generated great opposition from the “unbelieving” (idolaters) Arabs, as well as the Jews and Christians of his time. He initially instructed his disciples to pray facing Jerusalem, but later in his life after he moved away from the influence of the faith of the Jews and Christians, he called on his followers to pray facing Mecca.   The Jews were dedicated to Jerusalem.   The Christians were focused on what he perceived was the center of their faiths, Rome or Constantinople. So in order to refocus the Arabs, he needed a city.   That city was his hometown, Mecca.

Because of the great persecution that he first faced in Mecca, he eventually fled to Medina north of Mecca. It was in Medina that his following grew. Their number grew to the point that there was relentless persecution of himself and his followers by pagan Arabs, Jews and Christians, even in Medina. But it was in 630 that Muhammad and his followers militarily overcame their opposition in Medina, and then they marched to and conquered Mecca, which he subsequently made the sacred city of Islam.

Muhammad died in 632, and over the next one hundred years, his followers militarily and economically spread Islam throughout the Middle East to as far east as India. Islam essentially wiped Christianity off North Africa, and then spread up through Spain, Portugal, and was about to advance into France. Now consider this. By the end of the seventh century, almost eighty percent of the Mediterranean world had been “Christianized.” However, within one hundred years after the beginning of Muhammad’s work, Christianity was almost eradicated throughout all the territories that were conquered by Muslims.

This rapid growth of the Islamic faith would have continued on into Europe if it were not for one battle in history. In 732 a historical battle was fought in the Pyrenees Mountains between France and Spain.   It was in this year that Charles Martel stopped the advance of Islam into western Europe at the Battle of the Tours. If Martel had not won this battle, Islam would have inevitably advanced into all of Europe, possibly into England, and then made its way eventually to the New World through those who migrated to America, if indeed they as Muslims would have desired to go to the “new world.” But we will never know the significance of the 732 victory in the Pyrenees Mountains.   The future of the world was changed by this battle.

January 5: A Freedom-Based Society

A FREEDOM-BASED SOCIETY

 It is the nature of Christianity to bring freedom to all men. In the historical context of Jesus’ statement, “And you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (Jn 8:32), Jesus was not referring only to spiritual matters, but freedom to walk the way of God that would deliver people from the bondage of the Jew’s religious/political way of life (Judaism). It was a way of walking in sin, for the system separated people from the commandments of God (See Mk 7:1-9). Paul elaborated more on this walk of freedom in Christ in his letter to the Galatians: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty [freedom] by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage (Gl 5:1). The word “entangled” assumes a behavior of life that brings bondage. Reference was to more than “committed sin,” but to a religious/political way of life and ideology that separated the adherents of such from the freedom that Jesus offers.   Jesus brought (1) freedom from the confines of sin, (2) freedom from the bondage of man-made religious/political systems as Judaism, and thus, (3) freedom to think free in Christ. It is in this realm of freedom that Christians have the opportunity to be the best they can be without being intimidated into bondage by the religious/political powers that may prevail. When Christians are guaranteed their freedom through submission to God, they can be the best they can be in a society that guarantees both religious and political freedom. And when we are personally the best we can be, society as a whole prospers.   Herein is the secret to establishing a prosperous nation. As someone once said, “Just as freedom from sin for the individual can be found only in Christ, even so, can the freedom of a nation be found only in Him.”

What the religious leaders of Judaism did not realize at the time when Jesus made the statements of John 8 was that He was bringing the people freedom from the bondage of their religious/political system. In Galatians 1:14, Paul also had this freedom in the background of his thinking when he reflected on the bondage he promoted as part of the Jew’s religion.   “And I advanced in Judaism above many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions(Gl 1:14).

When the religious traditions of the fathers is connected with the politic of the people, then there is a theocratic political party that is advanced by zealots as Saul (Paul). The people at the time of Jesus were in bondage to this man-made theocratic political system that was upheld by military men as Saul, and religious leaders as the scribes and Pharisees (See Mk 7:1-9). It was this political system that Jesus confronted.   It was a theocratic system that was far removed from what God originally instituted through the giving of the law to Israel on Mount Sinai.

The Judaism of Jesus’ time, as Islam today, was a political/religious ideology that included faith and state. The weapons of the Christian against such ideologies are spiritual (Ep 6:10-20), but the weapons of those who seek to maintain such political/religious ideologies are carnal. It is for this reason that many African countries will not allow an Islamic Party, as the Muslim Brotherhood, to exist in the politcal system of the country. They realize that such political parties will seek to use the “sword” of the state to advance the religion of the party. And such tried the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt when they were briefly in power in Egypt in 2014.

As in our relationship with God, so in our relationship with one another under the rule of law. If one seeks true freedom, he must always bring himself under the rule of law. But for a country to be united, everyone must come to an agreement that there will be a separation between religious law and state law. This is necessary lest we establish a theocratic government, and then one particular religion seeks to bring all the citizens of the state into their religion by using the laws of the state. And if any citizen does not “convert,” then he must be exterminated.

There is a reason why the American civilization flourished from its early beginnings. The freedom of America was based on the fact that oppressed people from all over the world could find freedom of religious thought that was guaranteed by the new and unique constitution that separated religion and state, and thus gave the individual citizen the right to be truly free without the intimidation of some other person’s religious faith. By the thousands, oppressed people from around the world fled to this constitutional society of freedom. They continue to do so today.

Illegal immigrants are found in truly free nations, not in nations that are governed by despots or religious authorities who keep the people in bondage. It is interesting that people still flee to the religiously free West in order to escape the religious oppression of the countries from which they have fled. We thought it interesting that the March 1, 2013 Time Magazine reported that many Roman Catholics become evangelicals when they arrive in America. It is true that we can often find free nations by the direction in which immigrants are fleeing.

With the right to be free in a free society, there is the opportunity to think freely. And when men and women think freely, they come up with all sorts of ideas and inventions. Societies that do not allow free thought will always be those societies with companies that violate copyrights and patents in order to copy the inventions of a free market society. America can thank God for the culture of freedom that was first revealed through Jesus Christ, and written within the pages of the New Testament for posterity.   The New Testament principles of freedom, not laws, actually made their way into the American constitution, and then established a freethinking culture, and thus an industry based on invention.

God knew that people would prosper if they were only given the right to think freely. What made America great was this spirit of freedom that was renewed through Jesus Christ. It was the central goal of the writers of the American constitution to guard freedom of thought and movement. The result of this document is what we now witness today as the “American way of life.”

The constitution guaranteed the freedom, and free men prospered on the moral foundation of the word of God. This does not make the New Testament the constitution of the state. It only reveals the moral foundation of freedom upon which a free-thinking constitution was written. Upon the foundation of such constitutions, every person of society has the opportunity to prosper upon the basis of the principles of being free to prosper.   Therefore, we must always keep in mind that when the statement “rule by constitutional law” is used, what is meant is that “rule of law” guarantees the freedom of the people to be fruitful.

Several nations of the world have failed to prosper because they have been submitted to the bondage of traditionalism, or struggle under the dominance of oppressive and corrupt dictators, regimes and religions. When there is no freedom, it is usually not the fault of the people, but some social figure or institution who seeks to keep the people in bondage.

When societies enforce the traditional thinking of the fathers on the people, then there is little room for free thinking and new ideas. Change for the better in these societies is often accomplished through social chaos which no one likes, and thus, everyone shuns. In Africa, tradition (“this is our culture,” as it is commonly stated) has crippled the development of the continent for centuries. But this is rapidly changing. Europeans first revealed to people some idea of what freedom can produce.   But when the colonials left with either funds for roads, schools and hospitals, what came next was oppressive and corrupt dictators who would not allow the people to think and act freely for themselves. A humble civil worker was not allowed to make a decision on his own unless he checked with some higher authority. And for this reason, the business dealings of such cultures ground to a crawl as one authority on top of another was consulted until a final decision was eventually made for a business to function. “Red tape” is simply another way of saying, “We are in control.”

In South Africa we have always had fun with real estate agents who struggle with an archaic system of transferring house ownership. In South Africa it takes about 7-8 weeks of red tape to transfer the ownership of a house to a new owner. In America it takes from 3-4 days. Now spread this snail-pace business culture that is stuck in a quagmire of red tape throughout most of the business dealings of the economy of Africa and you can understand why African countries will never compete with truly free-market economies. Then consider the fact that South Africa is one of the most efficient economies of Africa. But on the optimistic side, throughout Africa this “red tape” control culture is slowly vanishing away as a new and educated generation immerges. The best is yet to be in Africa.

Strong traditionalism, both in cultural interaction and business dealings, is a manifestation of apprehension, if not fear.   It is apprehension about change.   It is apprehension about making mistakes. It is a fear of losing the identity of our heritage in order to accept and adopt something new and better that brings greater prosperity for the future. And now we know why a world view with deeply embedded Bible principles releases nations from fear in order to prosper in an environment of freedom.

When faith replaces fear, then God can do great things in taking entire populations out of the archives of the past and poverty in order to set them on their way for a better future. This is the world as God would have it. God said to Adam, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Gn 1:28). God meant that Adam lead humanity into prosperity through that which was created. Religions that bind people to poverty in caves are not from the God who created us with the ability to be fruitful.

There has always been too much concern about China taking the economic lead of the world away from America. It is certain that this will eventually happen, but please keep in mind that presently there are 1.4 billion people in China competing in this race against only 230 million people in America. Because China is new on the world economic scene in reference to being a free-market economy, it still takes over a billion people to complete with a few million in order to win the economic race. But just watch China. A new nation is slowly being born. Christian faith is growing at light speed within the country. We cannot but conclude that the same spirit of freedom that grew America will grow China. Freedom will eventually change the culture as the Christian youth assume the direction of the country in the decades to come. Just watch what God does with this nation as millions are moved by faith in His Son in order to discover freedom to work and think.   China will become a great and noble nation far beyond what we see today. The transformation has already started. President Xi of China is tackling corruption, and the youth of the nation are tackling Satan with Christ. China is on its way.

Oppressive government is never sustainable. It is not sustainable because God created within man the desire to be free. Islamic government that is reflected in theocratic systems as ISIS and the Taliban, seek to take people back to the Dark Ages. Such political ideologies exist only because of the leaders’ power over the people who are held in bondage by fear, just as it was during the ministry of Jesus and the early Christians. It is simply not natural for men to be in the bondage of fear, and thus, the citizens who are captivated by the bondage of such ideologies always seek to think freely. If they cannot within their own societies, then they become a refugee in one wherein they can think freely.

Regardless of oppressive governments, people still seek to be free. We recently listened to the CNN interview of a 30-year old man who was born in a North Korean prison camp. From the day of his birth, he lived 24 years in the prison until he escaped. Before his escape, all he knew was prison camp life.   But if prison life was all he knew, then why did he have the urge to escape, which he did at the age of twenty-four? From where did this inner urge to be free originate? It came from God, for God created us to be free and to think freely, and through free thinking we would develop a better life for ourselves. For this reason, God wants to free people in order that they enjoy the abundant life. Maybe this will help us better understand what Jesus meant in the following statement:   “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (Jn 10:10).

Jesus not only took care of our sin problem that was introduced into the world through Adam, He also restored a way of life that Adam sacrificed because of his sin. Adam was driven from the Garden of Eden so that by the sweat of his brow he would have to toil the ground in order to survive. But in Christ, we continue to toil the ground, but we do so in appreciation for all that God did for us at the cross. The only motivation Adam had to toil the ground was the hope of eating the fruits of his labors. The Christian farms the ground in appreciation for the fruit that will eventually come from the cross.

Freedom of thinking and movement is a precious thing.   We must never forget that it is always Satan’s goal to destroy the freedom of men in order to bring them into the bondage of religious/political systems the lead us away from God. With freedom, therefore, comes the responsibility to always seek truth. Paul explained in Ephesians 4:11,12 the ministries of teaching the truth. The reason these ministries were instituted among God’s people was explained by Paul in Ephesians 4:13,14:

… until we all come to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a complete man, to the measure of the statue of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of teaching, by the trickery of men in the cleverness to the deceitfulness of error.

 Crafty men who seek power will always seek to steal away the freedom of those over whom they seek to be dominant. Does this help us understand why truly Islamic states do not want the young girls to be educated? When ISIS or the Taliban take over a city or region, the first thing that must go is education, especially education of the women.   Freedom must be contained in order that men might be dominant over women.

 An ignorant people can never be a free people. And thus, an ignorant woman can never be free. Dominant husbands have forgotten, or never learned, that in cherishing their wives, it is their job as the head of the wife to lead the wife to be the best she can be. And in order to lead one’s wife to be the best she can be, a husband must lead his wife by love, not dominating his wife through fear. But this social scenario can never happen in a truly Islamic state.

A society that is built upon the nature of God, is a society that is humanitarian. It is a society in which the inhabitants care for the poor and unfortunate. It is a society wherein one loves his neighbor as himself. And since God is defined as love, then we understand that the roots of a truly humanitarian society can be traced back to the peoples’ concept of a Higher Power who was lovingly benevolent to them. If the citizens of any nation find the one true and living God, then they will develop a humanitarian society.

Societies that are built on false gods that are created after the imagination of greedy, power hungry megalomaniacs are controlled by fear, not love. These created gods are oppressive since their inventors have sought to create and maintain power over the people. The adherents of such false gods become intolerant of any “apostates” (dissidents).   Thus the creator of these gods kill those who oppose them, or those who disagree with their religious faith.   They behead the apostates in order to purify their religious state.

The theocracy of Israel under Old Testament constitutional law was to prevent what transpired and led to the necessity of the flood of Noah’s day (See Gn 6:5). By the time of Noah, all humanity had become useless for that which it was created, that is, to populate heaven. With Israel, God ushered in a theocracy wherein the state, with Him as the only King, was to preserve faith. The Old Testament guarded Israel against the idolatrous nations that surrounded Israel and were predominant in the world.

We must keep in mind, however, that Israel was only one nation, one state, a segment of the world populations through whom God would bring the Redeemer into the world. It was not the purpose of Israel to make all nations theocratic states as Israel. Israel was to be unique among the nations. The Old Testament law that was given specifically to Israel, was meant to keep Israel separated from the nations. Jonah did not go to Nineveh in order to make an Israelite state out of the Assyrians.

But now, radical Muslims seek to make the world of nations, one nation/state that is governed by sharia law. By doing this, they seek to use the “sword” of the state to threaten citizens into the one-world theocratic state of Islam.   God never did this with Israel.   All the theocratic laws of the Old Testament were meant to preserve, not propagate the state of Israel. Muhammad forgot this point because of his little understanding of the purpose of the Old Testament, and his military ambitions.

We need not wonder what the goal is of people as Omar Ahmad, the founder of the Council on American-Islamic Relations:

Islam isn’t in America to be equal to any other faith, but to become dominant. The Qur’an should be the highest authority in America (San Ramon Valley Herald, July 1998).

And his fellow operative, Ibrahim Hopper, the director of the above organization, stated,

I wouldn’t want to create the impression that I wouldn’t like the government of the United States to be Islamic sometime in the future (Minneapolis Star Tribute, April 1993).

The same God who created the theocratic nation of Israel was the same God who so loved His creation that He gave His only Son (Jn 3:16). This is the God who commissioned that the gospel be preached to all the world (Mt 28:19,20). He did not commission the apostles to preach a catechism of law by which all secular nations would become one theocratic nation. The one nation that is created by the preaching of the gospel is spiritual.   It is not of this world (Jn 18:36).   Through the preaching of the gospel, the Christian seeks to bring all men into Christ wherein all are one man in a spiritual kingdom (Gl 3:26-29). For this reason, those who come into Christ do not have to burn their national passports. Every Christian can have dual citizenship, one in the earthly state in which he lives, and one in heaven to where he is going.

The God of love is not promoted by terrorists who seek to “denationalize” the world in favor of a universal citizenship of one Islamic state. God only will eventually be the terrorist of those who reject Him by the creation of their own gods. And since God is defined by love, then His love sets us free to love. We thus love because He loved us first (1 Jn 4:19).   If we are citizens of God’s heavenly kingdom, therefore, there is no terror in love (1 Jn 4:18). And we know that we are not truly free until we love, even our own enemies. Oh, how wonderful is the one true God of heaven. No imagination of the most intellectual and moral person of earth could have ever created Him with human reasoning. It is for this reason that we know that He is the true and living God.

 

[Tomorrow’s lecture:  Early Beginnings of Islam]

January 4: World Views In Conflict

WORLD VIEWS IN CONFLICT

 As we venture through the comparison of the opposing world views of Christianity and Islam, we must caution ourselves concerning definitions. We can only be generic in our identity of Islam because of the vast interpretation and application of Qur’anic law. Our dentity of true Islam, therefore, will be illusive. The same is true of our definition of “Christianity.” Islam is denominated into so many different expressions of belief and behavior that it is quite difficult to use any one sect of Muslims as the definition of the religion. Those non-Christian faiths who are looking from outside of Christianity would say the same about trying to identify who is truly a Christian. Even those within the realm of what is call Christendom have a difficult time identifying what determines one to be a true Christian.   The Muslim has the same difficulty in determining from within those who are truly Muslim. Within the present conflicts within Islam throughout the world, it is not uncommon to hear one Muslim saying concerning another Muslim that he is not a Muslim. We confess that we are also guilty as Christians.

In defense of generic definitions, we admit that we are responding from within a social quagmire of religion.   Nevertheless, in our efforts to make some sense out of this world in which we live, we are forced to use generic definitions, guarding ourselves as much as possible from creating stereotypes. So we will use the term “West” to refer primarily to the non-Islamic Americas and Europe. We will be careful and fair to our Islamic friends not to lump our definition of their faith with the atrocities committed by those whom we would generically refer to as radicals, or to use the present-day politically correct term, Islamists. We would appreciate the same consideration from our Muslim friends in their definition of Christianity.

Regardless of our inabilities to stereotype religious faiths, there is certainly a general conflict going on in the world today within the ranks of the Muslim world, as well as the Muslim world against Christianity.   It is a conflict between religious faiths that move people against one another. It is a conflict of ideologies that are expressed through religion, or non-religion. We seek, therefore, in our own inadequate way to give some meaning of the struggles between faiths and ideologies that prevail throughout the world today. We would do this because the atheists of our day are having field day concerning why anyone would ever want to believe in a God that would cause so much violence in the human race.

We would begin our discourse concerning with a present generation of young people in the West under the age of thirty who are somewhat challenged concerning history and world events. They are less knowledgeable of historical world events than previous generations. It is not that they are less informed about the world in which we live, but their view of the world is different from previous generations. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (an educational research organization in America), reported that 12th graders in America scored lower in testing in the subject of history than in any other subject of their schools.

The Millennial Generation has grown up in a society of taking for granted the privileges they have received in a materialistic society of entitlement. They take their freedom for granted. Their culture seems to move the participants away from the real world of oppressive world governments to an unrealistic dream world where everyone will somehow get along at a distance from one another in texting (SMS). This lack of understanding of oppressive ideologies and governments was clearly revealed in the percentages of young people of America who thought that Israel was recently wrong in defending itself from a neighboring state—Hamas in the Gaza Strip—that seeks to annihilate the nation of Israel from the face of the earth. The fathers of this historically naive generation of the West, however, represent a different point of view concerning the conflict between Israel and Hamas that took place in 2014. Because their fathers better understood the real world in which we live, the greater percentage of the fathers who were fifty and older supported Israel’s right to defend itself against those who are seeking its annihilation. They understood why Israel bombed the invasion tunnels into their land by a religious group (Hamas) who considered it an honor, according to their faith, to cause the death of women and children by provoking retaliatory strikes from Israel to defend itself.

One of the critics of the younger generation of America wondered why Israel did not engage in dialog with Hamas. A CNN news reporter interviewed Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, and asked, “You have been criticized for not engaging in peace talks with Hamas. Why do you not do this?”

Netanyahu simply responded, “How can you negotiate with someone who wants you dead? Must we negotiate our suicide?” (We would caution the West that the day is coming when the stance of present-day Israel against Hamas will be a prophetic message of their own survival against the onslaught of Islam.)

Answers to international questions may have simple answers in a young Western cocooned generation who think that people are entitled to their freedom without any cost. But we feel that such a generation must have a reality check.   Those who take their freedom for granted need to remember the cost that their forefathers paid to gain and retain the unique freedom they have been handed on a silver platter. And second, they need to be thankful to God that the name of a free nation is written in the “place of birth” on their birth certificates.

We must never forget that freedom is not something that inherently happens within society or religion, but is something for which society and religious leaders fight, and then vigilantly work to preserve.   We see a young entitlement generation in the West that has not learned this vital principle of history.

It was the young entitlement generation in America that put Barak Obama into power a few years ago as President of the United States. However, it was the same generation that deprived Obama of a majority in the Senate in 2014 because they did not show up again at the voting booth. As we predicted with Obama, and consequently the entitlement generation that put him in office, he, as well as they, had to learn that there is a real world out here of some who truly hate America. And like the citizens of Israel, they would like to see the “great satan” (America) dead.

It is difficult to negotiate with a terrorist at Starbucks when he has a loaded gun under the table directed straight at you.   Terrorists did not grow up in a Starbucks culture of entitlement where differences are worked out over a cappuccino.   They are representatives of a fanatical religious world view that seeks to take populations back in history to oppressive regime management. Theirs is not a future world view of prosperity, but a backward advance into the Dark Ages of survival existence.

When it comes to the righteous saints of God, the matter becomes even more complicated and dangerous. Where particular societies of our present world have digressed to the moral degradation explained in Genesis 6:5, the righteous are subdued at all costs. Such places of moral degradation exist in our world today. And it is from some of these places that dates as 9-11 will live on in infamy. This is the world as it is.

What most people of the West, young and old, do not fully appreciate is that true Islam is a religious/political system that is very different from the Western world view. It is a theocratic governance of the people with the Qur’an being the “constitution” of the state. The West must not be deceived by the moderate Muslim who has ignored this Islamic mandate of theocratic government, and thus watered down some teachings of the Qur’an in order to reside within democratic structures of states that are governed by secular constitutions, which constitutions guarantee a separation between church (religion/faith) and state. In the constitution of Islam (the Qur’an), there is no separation between faith (church) and state. State is the religion, and thus, in order for the state to properly function, the constitution of the religion must become the law of the state.

All this is right out of the theocratic system of government of the Old Testament. The Israelites were fortunate in the fact that God wrote the constitution (the Law), though the Muslim would claim the same for the Qur’an.   The Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) was the law of the Israelite state. Since some in Israel today seek to be an Israelite state according to the Old Testament law, they too have the same problem as the true Muslim who would seek to establish a true Islamic state according to the Qur’an.   Fortunately, the majority of present-day Israelites have modernized. They have ignored the mandates of a true Israelite state by separating secular state and the ballot box. However, there are those conservative Jews who would again re-institute the Torah as the constitution of a theocratic state.

In reference to the theocratic law of Islam, we can thank Turkey and other democratic/Islamic states for doing the same in reference to Islam. The vast majority of the population of Turkey are Muslims, but they are Muslims who have modernized by ignoring the theocratic mandates of the Qur’an. Iran would be similar, though Iran struggles between giving absolute power to an elected president or to the Ayatollah (high priest) of Islam.

But the true conservative Muslim has a theological problem that the Christian does not have in reference to theocratic statehood.   Christian Jews understand that in order to prevent what happened to the world’s population before the flood (Gn 6:5), God had to build a nation that was founded upon faith in one God. God thus started with Abraham to build this nation. He then promised that from Abraham’s seed a great nation would spring forth as the stars of heaven (Gn 12:1-4). This great nation would preserve faith for humanity until the promised Blessing would come who would redeem all those who lived by faith.

When the Redeemer came, it was the fullness of times, which meant the consummation (end) of the state of Israel and the beginning of the spiritual kingdom of King Jesus (Jn 18:36). A national/religious paradigm shift was made at the cross.   The Bible teaches that the old world order (Israel) and her law (the Torah) were consummated at the cross (Cl 2:14). And by consummation, God meant termination. In the eyes of God, Israel as a state no longer existed after the cross.   National Israel was dissolved in Christ, and thus national Israel became the spiritual Israel, the church of our Lord Jesus Christ.

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek. There is neither bondservant nor free. There is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise (Gl 3:27-29).

Unfortunately, Islam does not have this conclusion to its theocratic system of law. Muslims are bound by the Qur’an to establish sharia law (the law of the Qur’an) as the constitution of an Islamic state. Those Muslims who live in democratic states, therefore, must compromise the teachings of the Qur’an every time they go to a ballot box and cast a vote.   Everyone else must always remember, therefore, that once the majority of the democratic state becomes Muslim, then the ballot box, according to strict Islam must disappear if true sharia law is to be established as the constitution of the state.

Every person within a democratic state in which there are also Muslims, must never forget that the teleology of the conservative Muslim is that Islam must eventually become the religion of the world.   Once in the majority in every nation, then they must, according to the Qur’an, bring in sharia law in order to produce a true Islamic order of governance.

For the radical Islamist, it is only a matter of time before the whole world becomes an Islamic state. It is then that the radical Islamist believes there will be true peace. But as manifested by the present bloodletting between the Muslim Shi’ites and Sunnis, we know that such peace will never exist, even if all of us become some brand of Islam.

Westerners must not forget that radical Islamists do not see the world as they do. Their world view is different. In their world view, Islamists want to see the world as they want to see the world.   For example, they view the world as the goal for world domination. What has fueled their convictions to accomplish this goal are some very significant conflicts that have transpired on the world stage in the last half century.   For one example, the Islamists sees this generation of Israelites to be quite soft. They also see the present generation of Americans in the same way.   And they are probably right.   When they hear the phrase “no boots on the ground,” they are encouraged to believe that the West is afraid to engage in conflict concerning their own beliefs. The radical Islamists thus establish their world view on the basis that the West is timid, and thus impotent in reference to mortal conflict.

In 1967, the whole Middle East Arab world launched a combined attack against the state of Israel. But in only six days the army of the state of Israel that represented Israel’s culture at that time, obliterated the attacking armies of the united Arab states. In another Middle East conflict in 1973, Israel almost took Cairo, Egypt and Damascus, Syria, capitals of two surrounding nations. But at the same time they could not defeat the small underground army of Hezbollah radicals who held out in Lebanon next door to Palestine.   So the Islamist’s conclusion to Israel’s failure to eliminate radical groups as Hezbollah and Hamas is evidence that the state of Israel is weakening. The present radical Islamic world believes that the present generation of Israel has become weak, and thus, will eventually fall to Islam rule.

Now add to this the last decade of war when the West bungled the social structure in Iraq. And we must also not forget the continued existence of the Taliban of Afghanistan and northern Pakistan, and the growing Boko Haram in Nigeria and Al Shabaab in Somalia. If the West could not with all its military power annihilate the Taliban and Al qaeda, then all Islamists throughout the world conclude that they will never be defeated.   In their world view, they believe that they will eventually defeat the West. As Western nations continue to forsake spiritual ideology in order to trust in bombs and tanks, the radical Islamist has convinced himself that his ideology (Islam) will eventually prevail over the carnally armed defences of a nonreligious West that is afraid to engage his enemy with boots on the ground.

Recent failures of the West against theocratic Islam have convinced the radical Islamist that he will eventually prevail worldwide. Islamists now view the West to be on the defensive, and thus, they are on the offensive. As the softened West cringes from “boots on the ground,” groups as ISIS simply draw radical Muslims from all the world to participate in their worldwide mission to establish their definition of a true Islamic state in the Middle East that will eventually grow into all the world.

You cannot win with timid, or halfhearted measures when in conflict with one who is willing to die for his faith. And it will truly be difficult for secular states to win a war against a theocracy that teaches its children in Madrass schools throughout the world to be martyred for Allah in their conflict with the infidels.

It is truly the purpose of the Christian to evangelize the world (Mt 28:19,20; Mk 16:15,16). However, it is not the purpose of the Christian, as the misguided Roman Catholic Church of the Dark Ages, to “Christianize” the world through political and military Crusades in order to make the Pope the supreme world leader. On the contrary, Christians preach a message that calls for an individual and voluntary surrender to Christ.   No swords or guns are ever involved.   In order to continue the preaching of their message, Christians seek that secular governments exist in order that they might lead a peaceful and quiet life (Rm 13:1-7; 1 Tm 2:1,2).   Christians never forget that secular government functions as a ministry of God for the sake of His people, for government is ordained by God to retain the authority of the sword among the people.   No Christian ever wants the church to have this authority. The New Testament is not a constitution for state law, as the Muslim so regards the Qur’an. The New Testament is a moral guide by which individuals behave themselves within the structure of any state that guarantees their freedom. The New Testament does not teach that the church has the authority of the “sword” by which the members can behead and deliver stripes to disobedient members.   But such is the teaching of the Qur’an.

We must remind ourselves of the concepts that were brought out by Winston Churchill in a brief speech he made in 1899.

Individual Muslims may show splendid qualities, but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world (The River War, 1st ed., vol. II, pp. 248-250).

 

[Tomorrows lecture:  A FREEDOM-BASED SOCIETY]

 

December 13: Let God In

LET GOD IN!

 There is one statement made in Scripture that separates the one true and living God from all other gods that are created after the imagination of man.

He who does not love does not know God, for God is love (1 Jn 4:8).

This one statement should make the rebellious person lay down his life in humble reverence for God. It should make the religious terrorist lay down his gun.   The suicide bomber will wake up after the blast and discover that his god sent him to the wrong place, and that place was not a land of virgins, but a realm of vengeance by a just God who must work according to the law of an “eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.”

The fact that God is love necessitates justice, for there is no love where there is no justice. Love without law is a frivolous mockery of God. Love without law would be creating a god after our own desires to do that which we want without any chastisement. The one true and living God would say to those He loves, “For whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and scourges every son whom He receives” (Hb 12:6).

We desire to be received by a loving God, and thus, we understand that we must be disciplined when we fail to allow His instructions to permeate the entirety of our beliefs and behavior. We do not desire discipline, but we understand that when we are rebellious children it is because of God’s love that He disciplines us to keep us close to Him. His discipline is proof of His love for us. It is for this reason that we accept the Bible as the only road map into the presence of our Father. We consider the Bible to be this road map simply because our loving Father would never leave His creation without instructions on how to find and stay close to Him.

I.  Direction from God:

We would logically conclude that if God is love, then as our Creator He would certainly reveal instructions as to how we would avoid His discipline. So Paul said, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God … so that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tm 3:16,17). Essentially, Paul was saying that Scripture must be God’s authority in all aspects of our lives because all Scripture came from God.

Jesus referred to Scripture as the word of God (Jn 10:35). Daniel referred to it as the “Scripture of truth” (Dn 10:21). Since the Bible claims to be Scripture from God, truth revealed to man, then it must be concluded that the word of God must have authority in our lives in order that we avoid the discipline of our Creator. Therefore, any word we would have from our Creator must be considered the final authority in all matters of belief and behavior.

 II.  Understandable direction from God:

One of the most preposterous accusations of those who seek to avoid the authority of the word of God over their lives is that God revealed Scripture (the Bible) in a manner by which it cannot be clearly understood. Some go as far as to say that the Bible cannot be our guide to heaven simply because there are so many different interpretations, some even contradicting one another. They conclude that certainly God would not demand that His word be the final authority for those who seek eternal life, since it is supposedly so difficult to understand.

The problem is not the Bible, but the lack of sincere students. Because there is so little study of the Bible by those who make the preceding statements, we would expect nothing less on the part of those who find the Bible difficult to understand. It would be correct to state that the less one knows the Bible, the more he will accuse the Bible of being a book that is not possible to understand in a way that will bring unity among believers, and subsequently, be our road map to heaven. We have found it interesting that men will read the daily newspaper and clearly understand it, but when it comes to the Bible, they accuse it of being difficult to understand. The Bible is always difficult to understand by those who seek to create a religion (their own road map) after their own intellect or emotions. The Bible is always difficult to understand by those who are simply Bible readers, but not Bible students.

So why do so many quote from the same Bible, but come to different conclusions? If two people come to different conclusions of the same passage, then we would first say that someone is not interpreting the Bible correctly.   There cannot be two differing correct conclusions from the same passage. Someone, or both parties, have to be wrong. Or one party is right and the other is wrong. Both parties may be wrong, but both parties cannot be right.   For example, the Sadducees interpreted Deuteronomy 25:5 to mean that there would be no resurrection (See Mt 22:23-33). The Pharisees believed in the resurrection (See At 23:6-8). In Jesus’ personal conversation with the Sadducees on this subject, He said, You are in error, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Mt 22:29).

It was important to Jesus, therefore, that we interpret the Scriptures properly. But some do not, for Peter said that some twist the Scriptures to their own destruction (2 Pt 3:15,16). Peter also identified why some err in their twisted interpretations of the Scriptures.   They do so because they are untaught and unstable (2 Pt 3:16). Both Jesus and Peter were giving us a word of caution. If we sign off the Bible as impossible to understand, then we have judged ourselves to be “untaught and unstable,” and subsequently, in error in reference to our interpretations.

We must keep in mind that our attitude toward the Scriptures is critical. If we have twisted motives in our study of the Bible, we will end up with twisted interpretations. If we are unstable in our moral life, we will end up with twisted interpretations of God’s instructions for moral behavior. On the other hand, a desire to search the Scriptures daily from a sincere and obedient heart will lead us into understanding and using the Bible as God meant it to be for His children (See At 17:11).

 III.  The message of the Bible.

The message of the Bible is Jesus Christ. No matter what translation one may have, this message comes through loud and clear, without any contradictions or misunderstandings. If one cannot understand the message of God’s redemption of man through the cross, then certainly he is not a willing believer.   Though this gospel message was hidden from man for centuries, it was revealed in the fullness of time, and subsequently recorded for those who did not personally experience the cross and resurrection. The good news was recorded for us through the inspired hands of the New Testament apostles and prophets.   It was of this message that Paul wrote,

… how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in few words. Therefore, when you read you can understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets (Ep 3:3-5).

The Holy Spirit used Paul and the other New Testament prophets to reveal the mystery, which is the message of the good news of Jesus’ death for our sins and His resurrection for our hope (See 1 Co 15:1-4). This message was not revealed to the Old Testament prophets who wrote of what was to come after them.

 “Of this salvation the [Old Testament] prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ who was in them did signify, when He testified beforehand of the sufferings of Christ and the glory that would follow. To them it was revealed, that not to themselves, but to you … (1 Pt 1:10-12).

Though the message of the gospel was a mystery to the Old Testament prophets, it is not to us who live this side of the revelation of Jesus and the event of His atoning sacrifice. Anyone can pick up a New Testament and understand this message.   This was Paul’s affirmation of Ephesians 3:3-5. His readers did not have to have a commentary of what he said he clearly revealed through writing. If one wants to understand what was a mystery to the Old Testament prophets, then all that is needed is to pick up a New Testament and clearly read the fundamental facts of the event of the gospel. No commentaries are needed.

Since the gospel has been clearly revealed through the Bible, it is no longer a mystery. It was a mystery to those Old Testament prophets who first wrote of it in prophetic writings. But it has now been revealed to all mankind through the New Testament. It is for this reason that Peter and John could stand up and say to the unbelieving world the following words:

And there is salvation in no other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (At 4:12).

The salvation that comes only through Jesus is for all men, and thus if one would be with God for eternity, then this gospel message must have authority in one’s life. One must submit in obedience to the gospel. If one does not allow the message of the death of Jesus for our sins and His resurrection for our hope, to have authority in his life through obedience thereof, then the Holy Spirit’s message of his end was clearly revealed through Paul.

… and to give you who are afflicted rest with us when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, taking vengeance on those who do not know God and who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These will be punished with everlasting destruction away from the presence of the Lord and away from the glory of His power (2 Th 1:7-9).

If one would allow the authority of God’s salvation (the gospel) to come into his life through obedience thereof, then we must conclude that obedience to the gospel is absolutely necessary to bring one into the eternal presence of God. Now one should be asking, How can I obey the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus that took place over two thousand years ago? This was what thousands on the day of Pentecost asked when the message of the gospel was revealed and preached for the first time in human history. In response to Peter’s preaching of the good news of Jesus in Acts 2, the people “were cut to the heart. And they said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what will we do?’” (At 2:37). There was only one answer that Peter could give to this repentant response of the people.

Then Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.” (At 2:38).

And how would they obey the death of Jesus for their sins and His resurrection for their hope? Paul explained:

Or do you now know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore, we are buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised up from the dead through the glory of the Father, even so we also might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, we will also be in the likeness of His resurrection” (Rm 6:3-6).

And now we know why Jesus said to all humanity in His parting words before He ascended into heaven,

Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved.   But he who does not believe will be condemned (Mk 16:15,16).

[Thank you for reading through this series of lectures. If you want the entire series published in an e-book, please make your request known at the following email: rdickson@mweb.co.za Please ask for the following: Book 58. You can also download the book from our website at www.africainternational.org ]

December 12: We Yearn For The Word

WE YEARN FOR THE WORD

 Have you ever studied through Psalm 19:7-11? If we would use one context of statements in Scripture to describe the awesome nature of the word of God, it would be this context. It seems that David came to climax in these statements concerning his appreciation for the word of God. In these inspired words, he also wanted us to appreciate the impact that God’s word should have on the hearts of the faithful. Therefore, we must take this journey through his metaphors as he seeks to reveal his heart of appreciation for all that would come from the mouth of our Creator.

As David progresses through Psalm 19:7-11, he uses several words to refer to the word of God: law, testimony, statutes, commandment, fear, judgments. Every word presents a different angle of definition of the word of God and its effect on the beliefs and behavior of the faithful. Through the use of so many words in reference to the word of God, David seeks to apply the word of God to every conceivable aspect of our lives.

 I.  Identity of the word of God:

The law of the Lord is perfect …(Ps 19:7). When one feels that the word of God was dropped from heaven into his hands, then there is response from the heart of the believing receiver. The response is in the fact that one seeks to mold his beliefs and behavior around to what he reads in the Bible. He is transformed. His life is as that which the Holy Spirit has exhorted, “And be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Rm 12:2). God’s law is perfect for transforming the character of the obedient. Paul wrote, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God … so that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tm 3:16,17).

 The testimony of the Lord is sure … (Ps 19:7). The word of God is steadfast and unchanging. It is such because it originated from One who is of an unchanging nature. God is of the nature and behavior as that which was expressed by the Hebrew writer. “… so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong encouragement, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us” (Hb 6:18). Because God assures us of His promises, our trust in His word is not only wise, but it makes us wise because we so trust in Him.   Therefore, we ask wisdom of God. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God who gives to all liberally and without reproach. And it will be given to him.” (Js 1:5). The most common (simple) person can trust in God’s testimony simply because God comes through on His promises.

 “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation nor shadow of turning(Js 1:17). God’s word makes common people wiser than the most educated man on earth who has no knowledge of God. This is true because the common believer has invested his soul in the testimonies of God.   It is as James wrote,

But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruit, without partiality and without hypocrisy (Js 3:17).

The statutes of the Lord are right … (Ps 19:8). When in any dilemma to make a decision, one can always have confidence that making a decision based on the directions of God’s word is right. When one lives in such a manner after the instructions of God’s will, then he can rejoice in the satisfaction that he is being led by His Father. The obedient Christian seeks to bring glory to God by living in harmony with divine instructions. Paul wrote of such in the following words: “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Cl 3:17).

 The commandment of the Lord is pure …” (Ps 19:8). As opposed to the darkness that comes with a life of sin, the word of God brings pure light. It is the light that shines in the darkness. It is the light in which we walk (1 Jn 1:7). And because we walk in the light of His word, the blood of Jesus keeps us pure of sin. Though some may claim to be enlightened by the wisdom of the world, the wisdom of the world is only darkness if not possessed by one who has allowed the light of the word of God to brighten his way. Psalm 119:105 is still true. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

 The fear of the Lord is clean …” (Ps 19:9). In this context, the word “fear” refers to the word of God. This is an appropriate word since those who believe in God should respond with fear in reference at what He says. Because the “fear” (word of God) comes from God, then it is eternal as God. God’s word exists without end.   “The word of the Lord endures forever” (1 Pt 1:25).

 The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether (Ps 19:9). The word of God is inerrant, and thus, when the Lord speaks, what is said is true and right (See 2 Tm 3:16,17). Our God cannot speak against Himself, neither can He speak that which is false (Ti 1:2). It would be superfluous to say that “God is good for His word.” God is God and what He says is always truth.   What He promises will always come to pass. He does not act in any way that would bring His being or character into question.

 II.  Desire for the word of God:

Newborn babes cry for the milk that sustains their lives. It is only natural for them to yearn for nourishment when they are hungry. It is the same with Christians. Peter wrote, “… as newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word so that you may grow up to salvation (1 Pt 2:2).   Though gold is precious, and can buy many possessions and activities, the word of God gives eternal life. And because it gives life, its taste to the soul of man is sweet.

Obedience to the word of God brings both warning and reward. Through His word, God is warning of impending destruction that will come upon all those who do not obey the gospel (See 2 Th 1:6-9). But in being obedient to the instructions of our Father, there is the coming fulfillment of the promise of which Jesus spoke. “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world (Mt 25:34).

Anyone who would claim to be a believer in the existence of God must conclude that this God in whom he believes would communicate to His creation. There would be no sense in believing in a god that would not communicate with man.   Only false gods are mute. But the true and living God seeks to reveal His presence, not only through that which He created (Rm 1:20), but also through words of instruction. This He did through the prophets of old. “For the prophecy did not come in the old time by the will of man, but holy men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pt 1:21).

God revealed His instructions for His creation in order that we not wander aimlessly in a world which we could not understand. Once we conclude that the Creator has communicated, then it should be the yearning of every person to seek out this communication as the newborn babe thirsts for the sustenance of life. It is only natural for all of us to so yearn. Once we set our course to know God, then the Bible becomes our source of life. The true believer cannot help himself but to search the Scriptures daily. As there is no need to exhort an infant to drink the sustenance of milk, there need be no exhortations to the true believer to study his Bible.

December 11: Legally Led Astray

LEGALLY LED ASTRAY

 Those who approach the Bible as a legal code of laws to be followed as precept upon precept cannot understand the authority of the word of God that is brought into one’s life through love.   They simply cannot understand why the law was not made for the righteous, but for the ungodly. The righteous need no law to take action if their brother is in need. Love is their action. But the legal oriented religionist needs a law before he acts. He prides himself in the fact that he has kept all the law.   He has done his duty. But he has forgotten what Jesus said to those who would act upon the basis of legal obedience to law, “So likewise you, when you have done all those things that are commanded you, say, ‘We are unprofitable bondservants. We have done that which is our duty to do’” (Lk 17:10). This statement is explained by Jesus’ response to the rich young ruler who had legally acted according to law by keeping all the commandments (See Lk 18:18-21). He had done all things that he was commanded to do. But Jesus responded to his supposed legal perfection, You still lack one thing. Sell all that you possess …” (Lk 18:22).

When a legalist realizes that he still lacks something after doing all the commandments, he will do as the rich young ruler whom Jesus said still lacked. “Then when he heard this, he was very sorrowful …” (Lk 18:23).   The young man was sorrowful because his performance of law did not qualify him to be a disciple of Jesus.   The legalist deceives himself into thinking that he has submitted to the authority of God by submitting to a code of laws. But the problem with this theology is that in some point of obedience we always lack. There is some commandment we may not have obeyed.   Keep in mind that the rich young ruler was not sorrowful when he initially came to Jesus. He was sorrowful only after he heard the pronouncement that he was not perfect in all his legal obedience.

The first and great commandment is still to “love the Lord your God will all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Mt 22:37).   When one loves God in obedience to this commitment, then all the commandments of behavior are covered.   Our love of God brings the authority of God’s instructions into our lives for we seek to do His will. “We love because He first loved us” (1 Jn 4:19). The authority of God’s word in our lives, therefore, is not based upon defining laws by which we can determine if we are legally performing perfectly according to His will. The Christian is not as the rich young ruler.   Because the Christian loves his Lord above all, it is inherent in his love that he keeps the commandments of God.

Remember what John said? For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments (1 Jn 5:3). John added something that no legalist will ever understand. “And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 Jn 5:3). For those who are moved by their love of the authority of God’s word in their lives, obedience is a pleasure, not a burden. And when the loving obedient lack perfect obedience, they do not question their own salvation because they failed to keep all the commandments perfectly. They are driven to the grace of their Father in thanksgiving for His forgiveness.

It is imperative to understand this paradigm of the authority of God in our lives. When most theologians speak of the authority of the word of God, they are speaking of a legal catechism by which the religiosity of man is judged.   This catechism is often written and published, and thus, it becomes the catechism by which churches and individuals are determined to be “of the truth.” If some individual or group does not perform exactly according to the catechism of prooftexts, then often the judge becomes almost unloving in his relationship with anyone who would fail to be obedient to every point of the catechism. The problem with this system of religiosity is that the disciples of Jesus are not being identified by their love. They are being identified by legal points that they have drawn up as an outline by which to judge others either faithful or unfaithful to God.

If we move ourselves into the preceding system of religious authority, then we will have to determine who has the authority to produce the correct outline by which everyone is to be judged. And now we have moved ourselves into a most contradictory and condemning predicament. If we must have authorities on earth to produce the correct catechism by which we would judge others legally correct, then we have moved from the authority of God to the authority of some man or group of men. In all this wrangle of theology we have moved from a foundational principle of being identified by love to being identified as those who are exclusively adherent to their self-imposed outline of laws. We have forgotten that the love by which we are to be identified is not presenting our self-imposed legal code of laws to others.   It is our love that should draw others to us (See Jn 13:34,35). It is our love that encourages others to ask why we are what we are. Is this not what Peter meant in the following words?

But sanctify Christ as Lord God in your hearts and be ready always to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, yet with meekness and fear” (1 Pt 3:15).

There must be something in the life of the true disciple of Jesus that draws others to ask concerning his hope. It is love that draws others to ask. Peter would conclude, “Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion one for another. Love as brethren, be kindhearted, humble” (1 Pt 3:8).   When people see Jesus’ disciples behaving according to the principle of love, not law, then they are drawn to ask concerning their hope. They are drawn to ask because they seek freedom from the bondage of law that they have often imposed on themselves.

We would advise the noble-minded Bible student to be as the Bereans who searched the Scriptures daily (At 17:11). Keep in mind the one who was bringing them the teaching that sparked their study. It was the apostle Paul (At 17:10). The Scriptures that they searched was the Old Testament. Paul had sparked their thinking concerning Jesus being the fulfillment of all the prophecies concerning the Messiah (See Lk 24:44). When Paul pointed out the prophecies, they searched the prophecies concerning the Messiah in the Old Testament. They sought the authority of the Old Testament in order to come to the conclusion that what Paul was saying was true. Paul was not their authority. The Scriptures were.

We live in a world today that is flooded with theologians who would come our way to proclaim what they believe to be the truth of God. Too many people have accepted as truth from God those who do not preach the word of God. They have consequently submitted to the authority of the speaker and not the word of God. But we must remember that all great minds are subject to some error somewhere, though not all minds are subject to the same error. When truth is sifted through the minds of men, it sometimes picks up some baggage of past theologies, or is often reflected to us through the theological prejudices of the presenter. The nobility of the Bereans was in the fact that they did not accept what Paul said because Paul said it. Their authority was in the written word of God, the Old Testament Scriptures. What Paul said, therefore, was sifted through the written word of God, not through the next tele-evangelist who might come through town.

Silas was also with Paul, speaking the same thing as Paul. But the Bereans would neither accept a company of preachers as authority, as they would not accept a powerful preacher. They still went to their Bibles. Simply because a company of authorities might be spouting the same thing does not determine that what is said is true, and thus to be accepted as authoritative.   God gave no council of men on earth the authority to be authorities on behalf of Him.

The serious Bible student will make use of all the pronouncements of a host of preachers, or commentaries, or books, but he will never give his brain over to “what the pastor says.” Those who have determined what they believe to be truth because of the proclamation of some religious authority, or some quote from a respected book, have placed themselves on a road to apostasy from the word of God. Those who believe something on the foundation of an accepted authority on earth, or group of supposed authorities, have condemned themselves to be tossed to and fro by the passing of one preacher after another. We are now in such a world of theological chaos. Our time is as Paul wrote to Timothy:

For the time will come when they will not endure sound teaching. But to suit their itching ears, they will surround themselves with teachers who will agree with their own desires. And they will turn away their ears from the truth and will be turned to fables (2 Tm 4:3,4).

Someone once wrote an acrostic on how a good Bible student will search for the authority of God in his life.

S – eriously (At 17:11; 2 Tm 2:15)

E – arnestly (Ja 1:8; Ps 119:11)

A – nxiously (Jn 20:31; Ps 119:9)

R – egularly (At 17:11; Ps 1:2)

C – arefully (Lk 24:27; 2 Tm 3:16,17)

H – umbly (Lk 24:45; Js 1:22)

December 10: Finding God’s Authority

FINDING GOD’S AUTHORITY

 If one would seek to be a disciple of Jesus, then he must be willing to submit to the authority of Jesus. Jesus said, If you continue in My word, then you are truly My disciples” (Jn 8:31). In order to know that one is submitting to the authority of Jesus, then he must know that to which he is submitting. He must know the word (commandments) of Jesus. It is imperative, therefore, that any true disciple of Jesus will know the will of his Teacher if he claims to be a disciple of Jesus.

 I.  Discipleship means relinquishing oneself totally to Jesus’ authority.

The application of this point was illustrated by Jesus on one occasion during His ministry. There were great multitudes following Him because He fed them with fish and bread, and healed their sick. So at the time this event happened, Jesus wanted to separate the true followers from the takers. Notice carefully what happened. “Now great multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them …” (Lk 14:25). It was was at this point in His ministry that He called on the great multitudes who would follow Him to reveal their commitment to being His disciples. In order to do this, He turned around and said to the great multitude, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother … does not bear his own cross … does not forsake all that he has, cannot be My disciple (Lk 14:26-33).

Jesus’ condition for discipleship was extreme commitment to Him. If one could not put Jesus before family relationships, survive under the persecution of the world, and be willing, if necessary, to relinquish the material possessions of this world, then he simply could not be a disciple. All these things would distract the individual from allowing Jesus to have authority over the totality of his life.   Jesus could not be the head of anyone who was not willing to allow Him to control their destiny.

Upon His departure from this world, Jesus wanted to make it clear that He had to be the final authority in the lives of all those who would seek to be His disciples. So He gave to His immediate disciples a message that was communicated to us through them, All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth (Mt 28:18). If Jesus now has all authority, and He does, then He must have all authority in the lives of those who would be His disciples. When we submit to His word, therefore, we reaffirm the fact that He has authority over all things.

 II.  Discipleship means submitting to the authority of the truth.

If one would be committed to Jesus, then he must be committed to the truth that comes forth from Jesus. Jesus promised the apostles that “when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all the truth (Jn 16:13; see 14:26). The truth first came orally to man through the inspirational guidance of the apostles of Jesus. One’s response or reaction to this truth would determine his discipleship to Jesus. So Paul wrote, “The presence of the lawless one is according to … all deception of wickedness among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so that they might be saved” (2 Th 2:9,10). If one does not love the truth, then it is conclusive that he is not a disciple of Jesus, for Jesus is the origin of the truth.

If a person does not love the truth of God that came through the apostles, then he is simply a religionist who will be judged by the works of his own religiosity. Such a person would not be a “Christian”, a follower of Christ.   He is not a Christian because he is not following the truth that the Holy Spirit revealed through the apostles.   It is imperative, therefore, that one study the truth in order to determine if he is a disciple of Jesus by submission to it. Those who do not love and know their Bibles can never determine if they are true disciples of Jesus. They cannot because they can never be sure that what they believe or do is according to the truth of God. If one is simply walking in what he believes to be truth, then he is a religionist who may have blended his desires with some truth from the word of God and error that he does not recognize as error. It is for this reason that true discipleship is validated only by the word of God.

III.  Discipleship means doing the commandments of Jesus.

Jesus reminded those who would be His disciples, “You are My friends, if you do whatever I command you (Jn 15:14).   He said to His immediate disciples, “If you love Me you will keep My commandments (Jn 14:15).   Discipleship means loving the commandments of Jesus and doing them. Commitment to Jesus, means commitment to what He says. Being a disciple of Jesus means learning His commandments in order that we not be deceived, and thus tossed to and fro with every wind of teaching (Ep 4:14). When people say that they love Jesus, then it is assumed that they are diligent students of His commandments. Those who say they love Jesus, but do not seek the authority of His word in their lives, have deceived themselves into thinking that they are “Christian.” They are actually disciples of their own religion that they have invented after their own desires. We must never forget that if we claim to be a Christian, but refuse to study and know the commandments of Jesus, then we reveal our unwillingness to be Jesus’ disciple. Discipleship is determined by one’s love of the word of Jesus.

IV.  Discipleship infers Bible study.

Christendom is cluttered with the calamity of misinterpretations of the word of God. Religionists often stumble over their ignorance of the Bible in order to maintain a following. We would conclude that the most severe onslaught against the word of God in these days is an ignorance that is based on the twisted theologies of those who know little or nothing about the Bible. It is not that the Bible is difficult to understand. This is far from the problem. The problem is that few people in these times have any love for the truth of the Bible. In a narcissistic world wherein most people want to do that which is pleasing in their own minds, there is little desire to “seek out the scroll of the Lord and read” (Is 34:16). The little love for the truth that many have is revealed by a world population that has little desire to study the Bible. We know this simply because of what the Holy Spirit recorded of those who were true Bible students.

These were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind and searched the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so (At 17:11).

This is the Holy Spirit speaking about good Bible students. These Bereans loved the truth, and thus, they searched their Bibles in order to make sure that what Paul and Silas preached was true. We do not love the Bible as the Muslims reverence the Qu’ran as an icon. Christians love their Bibles because of the truth of God therein revealed, and the message of the gospel.   Give a telescope to a monkey and he beats it around as a toy. Give it to a man, and he sees the wonders of the universe beyond the telescope. Give a Bible to an intellectual who does not consider it to be the word of God, and he reads it as simply a good piece of literature. Give it to one who seeks to bring his life under the authority of God, and he searches for the message of the God that is beyond the book. And it is herein that one establishes the word of God as the authority of all matters of faith in his life.

 V.  Discipleship means active love in obedience to the word of God.

Using the Bible as the authority of our faith does not mean using it as a catechism to establish legal laws. Paul helps us understand this in 1 Timothy 1:5,6.

Now the purpose of the commandment is love out of a pure heart, and a good conscience and a sincere faith, which some, having swerved, have turned aside to meaningless discussion ….”

The “commandment is love.” But what is the commandment to those who are identified by their love of one another (See Jn 13:34,35)? Keep reading 1 Timothy 1:

Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murders of fathers and murders of mothers, for murderers …” (See 1 Tm 1:9,10).

The person who sees his brother in need, needs no law to tell him to help his brother. Love is the “law.” Love as law needs no subpoints as to how it goes into action. When one loves his brother, all that is necessary to fulfill a brother’s need goes into action. Love is the action that brings the behavior of Jesus into the lives of those who seek to serve one another. John explained this clearly in 1 John 3:10. “In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not from God, nor the one who does not love his brother.”   So John questioned, “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in Him?” (1 Jn 3:17).   Therefore, “let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth (1 Jn 3:18). Love in action is bringing the authority of the word of God into one’s life. Our love in action is evidence that we are the disciples of Jesus.

Among loving disciples there need be no commandment to care for one another. It is simply the nature of true disciples to make sure that needs are fulfilled when a fellow disciple is in need. The legalist can sleep well at night because he has concluded that he has fulfilled all his self-imposed laws. The loving disciple sleeps well at night because he trusts in the grace of God to cover his lack of ability to love people more.

December 9: In Search Of Authority

IN SEARCH OF AUTHORITY

 When we speak of Bible authority in matters of faith, we must be careful. If we are not, we will be binding laws—our laws—where God has not made any law. If we are honest, we will wake up one day and see our own inconsistencies, and then discover that we have been behaving hypocritically. At the same time, however, if we do not use the Bible as our sole authority in matters of faith, then we manifest our disrespect for the word of God, if not our rejection of its teaching, which thing the religious leaders of Jesus’ day did. He said to them, “All too well you reject the commandment of God so that you may keep your own tradition” (Mk 7:9). Therefore, though there are many areas of freedom in which we have the right to determine how we can carry out the mandates of God, our source for obedience in matters of faith must always be the word of God.

Everyone has a reason for their religious beliefs and behavior. We believe and do according to that for which we have authority. We seek authority from God for our beliefs and behavior simply because we want to do what we feel God wants us to believe and behave. There are several sources of authority that religious people use as the foundation upon which they establish their beliefs and behavior. Each of the following sources of authority are not rooted in the word of God, and thus, they are sources of authority that lead one away from God. They do so because they are authorities that seek to have priority over anything that is revealed in the word of God. One may have the Bible in his religiosity, but if the Bible is not consulted as a reference for determining final authority, then one is led away from God by that which he considers to have priority in his life.

 I.  Subjective authority:

Subjectivism in the realm of religion is when one considers his emotions or feelings as validation for his religious beliefs.   In other words, “if it feels right, then it must be right.” One may firmly believe that the Holy Spirit is directing his feelings, and thus, he assumes that the Spirit is validating his religiosity by a direct manipulation of his emotions. Take the Holy Spirit out of the religious experience, or one’s claim to believe in Jesus, and thus in the “non-Christian” world, subjectivism would be the authority for witches and sorcerers. Through emotional incantations, such people have subdued themselves and others to what can be conjured up in the mind. And by doing such, they have sought to impose their beliefs and behavior upon their followers. When Paul and Barnabas passed through the island of Cyprus, they encountered such a person. “They found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew whose name was Bar-Jesus” (At 13:6). Philip also encountered a subjectivist in the city of Samaria by the name of Simon. Simon “practiced magic and astonished the people of Samaria, claiming that he was someone great” (At 8:9). As a result, Simon became the authority of their religiosity. “They all, from the least to the greatest, gave heed to him, saying, ‘This man is the great power of God’” (At 8:10).

Religious authority that is based on the subjective feelings and emotions of man is one of the most difficult systems of authority to change in reference to our subjection to the mandates of the word of God.   Subjectivism is narcissistic in that man is the center of reference for one’s religious faith as opposed to the influence of God through His word.

Inevitably, subjectivism leads to religious anarchy and division among fellow subjectivists. It produces religious chaos in that everyone seeks to do that which is right in his own eyes. It is the same religious chaos that is pictured in Judges 17:6: “In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did what was right in his own eyes.” When Israel initially went into the land of promise, God warned them concerning this religious behavior. “You will not do after all the things that we do here this day, every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes (Dt 12:8). In order to guard them against moving into subjective religiosity, God condemned the practices of divination, spiritism, witches and similar practices among the Israelites (See Ex 20:4,5; Lv 19:26,31; Dt 4:15-19; 18:9-14).

The reason subjectivism is not a valid authority in matters of faith is that it is simply “not in man who walks to direct his steps” (Jr 10:23). Those who would subject themselves to their own emotions in reference to religious authority, will certainly lead themselves astray from God (See 2 Tm 4:3).   If one would serve God, then he must seek that which is from God. For this reason, the will of God was written in order that we have a validation for our faith that is above and beyond our own selves.

 II.  Autistic authority:

 The dictionary defines “autistic” as “a state of mind characterized by daydreaming, hallucinations, and disregard of external reality.” In reference to the reality of what the Bible says, the autistic individual continues to believe exactly what he wants to believe, regardless of what the Bible says.   This tendency to see, hear and believe what we want is to some degree characteristic with everyone. If one has little regard for the Bible, then the autistic thinking of the individual is out of control in reference to any authority that comes from God through His word. Autistic authority places man at the center of his source of authority.

What people perceive to be reality, or that which they accept as the authority for their faith, depends a great deal on their spiritual and emotional needs. It is for this reason that reality is often masked by what one wants to see and hear.   This is a particular problem in reference to the preceding point concerning emotional subjectivism. If one concludes that his emotional experiences are directly caused by the Holy Spirit, then it is almost impossible for that person to have an objective understanding of any statements of Scripture that might contradict either his beliefs or behavior. The subjectivist is often autistic in that he rejects scriptural reality for the sake of emotion, or allows emotion to override reality.

What usually occurs is that the autistic interpreter submits his understanding of Scripture to that which he seeks in order to fulfill personal needs. If the Scriptures state something that is contrary to his desires at the time, then he concludes that he is not properly understanding a particular passage.   Since the authority of his faith is based on what he personally desires, then he sees only that which conforms to his desires. He will often randomly open the Bible at any location, and from reading a random passage, conclude that the Scriptures were speaking directly to him concerning his need at the time.   What often happens in this case, is that he will twist the passage to conform to his desires or needs at the time of reading.

The autistic interpreter inherently twists the Scriptures. This would be the interpreter about whom Peter wrote concerning things that Paul wrote “in his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which those who are untaught and unstable distort to their own destruction, as they do also the other Scriptures (2 Pt 3:16). Autistic interpreters always find the Bible hard to understand, and thus, they continually twist the Scriptures. The Bible is difficult for them to understand simply because that which they desire is often not plainly taught in the Scriptures. When one approaches the word of God with the desire to find a solution for his own problems, then certainly he will often read into a passage that which a particular passage may never have stated. The autistic interpreter simply reads into the Bible what he wants to know. He is not objectively reading the Bible in order to discover solutions for his situation.   He comes to the Bible with preconceived conclusions without allowing the Bible to reveal God’s conclusions. He speaks for the Bible instead of allowing the Bible to speak for itself.

When a particular statement of Scripture is pointed out that contradicts the beliefs of the autistic interpreter, he will often respond to the one who points out the correct understanding, by saying, “Are you saying ….” The autistic interpreter seeks to dodge what he wants a scripture to state by assuming that the correct teaching of the scripture has originated from the one who pointed out the inconsistent interpretation. It is very difficult for the autistic interpreter to allow the Bible to mean what it says and say what it means. His first source of authority for what the Bible says is his own self-seeking beliefs and desires.

 III.  Traditional authority:

We seek to show our respect for our fathers by keeping the traditions of their faith. This is only natural. In fact, the authority of the traditions of our fathers is almost always stronger in our faith than any mandates of the word of God. This is certainly true when those of any religious persuasion stop studying their Bibles. Or, it is true when the adherents of a particular religion turn their knowledge of the Bible over to the clergy of the group whom they have programmed through seminary training to maintain the traditions of the fathers.

This was the problem that the disciples of Jesus encountered with the religious leaders of the Jews. On one occasion, the Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus, complaining, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders …” (Mk 7:5). What the disciples had failed to do was wash their hands before they ate. Jesus used the occasion to judge the authority of the religious leaders’ beliefs and behavior. He first identified the authority of their religion by saying, “In vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men (Mk 7:7).   The problem with teaching “as doctrines the commandments of men” is that the doctrines of men almost always override the doctrines of God. Listen to what Jesus said: “For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men …” (Mk 7:8). This system of religious authority does not stop with the binding of the authority of the fathers. Jesus continued, “All too well you reject the commandment of God so that you may keep your own tradition (Mk 7:9).

The Jewish religious leaders manifested their disrespect for the word of God by elevating the religious traditions of their fathers over the word of God. The traditions became doctrine, and then the doctrine of men led them to reject the commandment of God. It was at this time in their digression from the authority of the word of God that Paul referred to their faith as the “Jew’s religion,” (Judaism) a religion in which he excelled before he came to Jesus (See Gl 1:13,14). When men allow the traditions of the fathers to become the doctrines of men, then they can no longer claim that they are of Christianity, for the validation of their faith is not the word of Christ, but the word of the fathers.

 IV.  Apostolic succession authority:

 This source of authority supposes that Jesus gave personal authority to the apostles, particularly Peter. This personal authority was then passed on from the apostles to those the apostles personally chose. These chosen men personally passed on the authority from generation to generation through the ordained officials of the church. The church, and the officials thereof, became the authority for belief and behavior of the members.

The supposed authority that was given to the apostles by Jesus was passed on to their successors, and eventually, it has arrived in our day as the authority of the church. This is a similar principle of religious authority as the preceding point, wherein the religious leaders of the Jews established authority according to the traditions of the fathers. But the added emphasis of apostolic succession authority is that the living officials of the church have the right to establish mandates for the church today.   What the officials of the church teach according to their majority vote, therefore, becomes the official mandate for obedience by the church. This means that the teachings of the church can change throughout history as circumstances and culture change.

The fallacy of the teaching that authority is established by the church lies in the fact that the Bible can never be a final authority. The faith that was once and for all delivered to the saints must change (See Jd 3). Those who promote this teaching suppose that church officials today have a right to change the word of God. In fact, this system of religious authority places the Bible in a time warp wherein its principles are not applicable outside their relevance in the first century. A good example of this is revealed in the change from immersion to sprinkling in reference to the mode of baptism. Cardinal Gibbons, in his book, Faith of Our Fathers, wrote,

For several centuries after the establishment of Christianity, Baptism was usually conferred by immersion; but since the twelfth century the practice of Baptizing by infusion [sprinkling] has prevailed in the Catholic Church, as this manner is attended with less inconvenience than Baptism by immersion.

What happened was that the Catholic Church assumed the authority to change the mode of baptism to sprinkling. And since the officials of the church are supposedly functioning from “authority by succession” from the apostles, then they have the right to change the mandates of the Bible.

Before anyone becomes somewhat irritated with this system of establishing authority, he should look around and make a note of all the traditional practices and particular names of various churches that are commonly accepted among the networks of churches that adhere to common doctrines and names of men. If one sought to change something that is commonly practiced among a particular denomination, the statement could be made, “That is just not the way it has been done.” This too, is a system of allowing the majority of “the church” to have the right to establish authority in matters of belief and behavior.

 V.  Autocratic authority:

This system of establishing authority is centered around either an individual or group of individuals. It is usually oriented around one specific group.   Peter explained in 1 Peter 5 the origin of this system of authority that would arise among the people of God. He exhorted the shepherds not to be “lords over those entrusted to you …” (1 Pt 5:3). This is a system of authority of which Paul spoke to the shepherds of Ephesus during his final visit with them. “Also from your own selves will men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves” (At 20:30).

Individuals who assume authority over a particular group of disciples are behaving autocratically. Such was the autocratic behavior of Diotrephes who loved to be first among the disciples (3 Jn 9). In order to maintain his position of authority, he slandered those whom he thought would be in competition with him (3 Jn 10). In fact, he threatened to excommunicate from the fellowship of the disciples those who would not submit to his authority. Those over whom he had assumed authority, therefore, submitted to his authority in fear of being disfellowshipped from the body. When one rules with autocratic authority, he steals away from the people their total submission to God.

When any system of authority is brought into the church from the world, and bound on the disciples, then the disciples are headed into apostasy, if not already there. Since religious authority that originates from man is determined by man, then those who submit to such authority are headed in the direction to which the group of men are going, or in the case of a single person, the people are moving in the direction of that one person. Notice that this was behind the words of Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 11:1 when he was speaking to a group of disciples who had allowed themselves to be brought under the influence of some arrogant leaders: “Be imitators of me even as I also am of Christ.”

The fact that we do not call ourselves Paulites today proves that Paul was successful in directing the minds of the disciples in the direction of Jesus Christ. We know numerous churches today who are called after the man who originated the group. Some even identify a particular group to be, for example, “Pastor John’s church.”   But when preachers allow others to call themselves after them, then they have failed to be leaders for Jesus.

We must keep in mind that when men start following the authority of men, then the followers are on their way away from God.   It was for this reason that Jesus mandated one very important principle when it came to establishing the leadership of His disciples. We respect the word of Jesus because we do not overlook this point.

You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them. And their great ones exercise authority over them. But it will not be so among you (Mk 10:42,43).