Christian-Muslim Unity?

Guest Blogger: Joe Tyrpak, my good friend and the assistant pastor at TCBC, wrote this article for the April/May 2008 edition of the OBF Visitor. It provides a review of recent dialogue between Christians and Muslims and a well-reasoned, well-articulated look at the relationships which Christians should have with unbelievers, including Muslims. It’s a topic that is here to stay, and I’m confident that the article will be helpful. I commend it to you.

Blue Mosque in Istanbul

Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey

Unless we’re prejudiced like Jonah, every Christian should have a heart that beats with love for Muslims. Unless we’re consumed with Joab’s appetite for perpetual warfare, every Christian should long for and pray for more harmonious relations between Muslims and Christians. Unless we’re disobedient to the Lord Jesus and the Apostle Paul, every Christian should think through strategies for pursuing peace with all men, including Muslims. On the other hand, unless we’re as perpetually gullible as Samson, every true Christian should have serious concerns regarding the recent well-publicized dialogue between Muslims and Christians.

Four significant stages of Christian-Muslim dialogue have taken place between September 2006 and November 2007. Before one can rightly respond to the situation, it is essential to have a fair understanding of what is actually happening.

Understanding the Recent Christian-Muslim Dialogue
On September 12, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI gave a lecture at the University of Regensburg (Germany) on the relationship between faith and reason. In his introduction, Benedict argued that Islam has little concern for harmonizing faith and reason. He offered two primary proofs: (1) that Allah is allowed to act outside the boundaries of rationality, and (2) that Islam has been advanced by “forced conversions” which compel people to convert apart from their rational consent. In his conclusion, Benedict invited Islamic leaders to a reasonable “dialogue of cultures.” (For a helpful overview, see Wikipedia, “Pope Benedict XVI Islam Controversy.”)

Needless to say, Muslim leaders did not appreciate the Pope’s description of Islam and responded one month later, on October 13, 2006, with “An Open Letter to the Pope.” This letter was signed by 38 Islamic authorities who represented each of the eight sectors of Islamic thought, an action which Islamica Magazine called “an unprecedented move…in the history of interfaith relations.” This four-page letter sought to correct the Pope’s understanding of faith and reason within Islamic thought and ended with this:

“Christianity and Islam are the largest and second largest religions in the world and in history. Christians and Muslims reportedly make up over a third and over a fifth of humanity respectively. Together they make up more than 55% of the world’s population, making the relationship between these two religious communities the most important factor in contributing to meaningful peace around the world. As the leader of over a billion Catholics and moral example for many others around the globe, yours is arguably the single most influential voice in continuing to move this relationship forward in the direction of mutual understanding. We share your desire for frank and sincere dialogue, and recognize its importance in an increasingly interconnected world. Upon this sincere and frank dialogue we hope to continue to build peaceful and friendly relationships based upon mutual respect, justice, and what is common in essence in our shared Abrahamic tradition, particularly ‘the two greatest commandments’ in Mark 12:29–31 (and, in varying form, in Matthew 22:37–40).”

Exactly one year later, on October 13, 2007, 138 Islamic authorities continued this dialogue with another letter entitled, “A Common Word Between Us” (www.acommonword.com) which was intended not only for the Pope, but for the entire Christian world. This 29-page document proposed that peaceful relations between Muslims and Christians are vitally important for the future of the world and that this pursuit of harmony should begin with an understanding that both systems of faith have the same “foundational principles”—love for God and love for neighbor. “A Common Word” ends with this invitation:

“As Muslims, we say to Christians that we are not against them and that Islam is not against them—so long as they do not wage war against Muslims on account of their religion, oppress them and drive them out of their homes….

“Is Christianity necessarily against Muslims? In the Gospel Jesus Christ says: He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters abroad (Matthew 12:30). …Muslims recognize Jesus Christ as the Messiah, not in the same way Christians do (but Christians themselves anyway have never all agreed with each other on Jesus Christ’s nature), but in the following way: …. the Messiah Jesus son of Mary is a Messenger of God and His Word which he cast unto Mary and a Spirit from Him…. (Al-Nisa’, 4:171). We therefore invite Christians to consider Muslims not against and thus with them, in accordance with Jesus Christ’s words here.

“Finally, as Muslims, and in obedience to the Holy Qur’an, we ask Christians to come together with us on the common essentials of our two religions…. Let this common ground be the basis of all future interfaith dialogue between us, for our common ground is that on which hangs all the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 22:40).”

Under the leadership of Miroslav Volf, the highly respected founder and director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture, more than 300 Christian leaders responded to “A Common Word” with an open letter to Muslims entitled “Loving God and Neighbor Together” (www.yale.edu/faith) which was published as a full-page advertisement in The New York Times on November 18, 2007. Among the signers were several leaders who are well-known in the evangelical world (e.g., Leith Anderson, Timothy George, Bill Hybels, Brian McLaren, Richard Mouw, Robert Schuller, John Stott, and Rick Warren). At the heart of this letter was the following statement:

“Surprisingly for many Christians, your letter [“A Common Word”] considers the dual command of love to be the foundational principle not just of the Christian faith, but of Islam as well. That so much common ground exists—common ground in some of the fundamentals of faith—gives hope that undeniable differences and even the very real external pressures that bear down upon us can not overshadow the common ground upon which we stand together. That this common ground consists in love of God and of neighbor gives hope that deep cooperation between us can be a hallmark of the relations between our two communities.”

Since the publication of “Loving God and Neighbor Together,” the drafters from the Yale Center for Faith and Culture have rearticulated both what they want to accomplish and how they hope to accomplish it. Their primary goal is “peaceful relations between Muslims and Christians,” and they hope to accomplish this through religious dialogue. To succinctly and memorably state their end and means, they quote Hans Küng, a Catholic professor of Ecumenical Theology at the University of Tübingen:

“There can be no peace among the nations without peace among the religions. There can be no peace among the religions without dialogue.” (See the FAQs section at http://www.yale.edu/faith/abou-commonword.htm.)

Responding to the Recent Christian-Muslim Dialogue
To the extent that this dialogue involves “peace among the nations”—political strategy—it is beyond this author’s ability and calling to offer meaningful comment. (I am no politician, and I have no clue how to cultivate healthy international relations.) But to the extent that the recent dialogue involves “peace among the religions”—religious ecumenism—it is a pastor’s obligation to offer an appropriate biblical response for the health and protection of Christ’s sheep (Titus 1:9; Eph 4:11–16). That response should include at least these three truths:

Peaceful relations between Muslims and Christians should never be threatened by Christians.

  • “Jesus answered [Pilate], ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting…” (John 18:36).
  • “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Rom 12:18).
  • “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life…” (1 Thess 4:11).
  • “Pursue peace with all men…” (Heb 12:14).

Christians are not called to physically fight against those who have a different religious persuasion. While Christians are often called to endure verbal and physical persecution at the hands of unbelievers, Christians are never called to inflict persecution. Failure to recognize these truths has led to the blight of the Crusades in history and to the blight of religious persecution by Christians even today. As far as Christian-Muslim relations depend on Christians, there should never be anything but civil peace. According to the Bible, true Christians should be able to peaceably associate with, peaceably work with, peaceably live next to, and even peaceably be married to a Muslim (1 Cor 7:12–13—although this passage forbids a believer to marry an unbeliever, it insists that a “mixed marriage” never be abandoned by the believing spouse).

Permanent civil peace among the nations will not ultimately be realized until the return of Jesus Christ.
A certain measure of peace is possible now, and we should pray for it. However, lasting and universal peace awaits the coming reign of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.

  • “Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance, And the very ends of the earth as Your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron, You shall shatter them like earthenware” (Ps 2:8–9).
  • “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders…. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace” (Isa 9:6–7).
  • “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever” (Rev 19:15).

At His glorious return, the Lord Jesus Christ will establish His throne on this earth. He will forcefully subdue every enemy and rule over His redeemed people and His redeemed creation in an absolute theocracy. This is the only civil peace that will be rooted in genuine religious peace. (In this sense, Küng’s first statement is true.) In that day, there will be only one religion: the worship of the risen Lamb from those who have been graciously justified by faith in Him. For that day, every true believer yearns. And until that day, every true believer should faithfully advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ, seeking the eternal salvation of the lost (2 Pet 3:15).

Religious conversation between Muslims and Christians should always include loving controversy from the Christians involved.
Despite the attempts to identify core similarities, Islam and Biblical Christianity are vastly different, especially at their cores. Because the person and work of Jesus Christ stand at the center of Biblical Christianity, even the apparent similarity in the Christian-Muslim commands to love God and neighbor is highly superficial:

  • Jesus issued the commands to love God and neighbor as a demonstration of His unique wisdom and authority as the Lord, Savior and Messiah (Mark 12:34; Matt 22:46; cf. 7:28–29).
  • Jesus was the only person who actually fulfilled these commands to love God and neighbor (Rom 3:19–20; cf. 13:10). And Jesus imputes this perfect “alien righteousness” to those who believe in Him (Phil 3:8–9; 2 Cor 5:21).
  • Jesus paid the penalty for every person’s natural and continual self-centered disobedience to these central commands (Isa 53:4–6).
  • Jesus’ death on Calvary was the ultimate display of love for God and love for others (John 10:11; 15:13; 8:29; cf. Isa 53:10).
  • Jesus is the only one who can inspire and empower obedience to these foundational commands to love (Gal 5:13–26; Rom 8:3–4; 1 John 4:9–11).
  • Love for God and neighbor are impossible apart from faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (1 John 3:23; 5:1).

In other words, a truly Christian understanding of love for God and love for others is radically different from that of Islam. The Christian obligation to love God and neighbors must be understood in the context of Jesus’ person and work which is even more fundamental to Christianity than the two greatest commandments. “The foundational principle” of Christianity is the display of divine love through the crucifixion of Jesus the Messiah. He is so central to biblical Christianity that the only way our “common ground” could “overshadow” our “undeniable differences” would be if Christians ignored the Lord Jesus and His glorious cross. That we cannot do.

Christians must courageously articulate the centrality of Jesus and His cross in any “interfaith discussions.” This was something that Jesus and His apostles always did. Whether he was relating to Jews or pagans, Paul’s “interfaith dialogue” consistently included the boldly controversial and evangelistically persuasive assertions of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Paul never tried to conciliate and identify an “overshadowing common ground.” For Paul, to speak anything less than the uniqueness of Jesus’ person and work would have been irresponsible and unloving. So with Paul, every Christian should respond to people of different religious persuasions—whether Muslims or otherwise—by winsomely and fearlessly articulating the necessity of repentant faith in the slaughtered and resurrected Lamb of God.

“Peace among the nations” is an objective which Christians pursue, pray for, and long. “Peace among the religions” is a strategy with which true Christians cannot align themselves without depreciating their Savior’s gloriously unique person and work.

_____

This article is cross-posted from the OBF Visitor blog.

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10 Responses

  1. Very well put. God is certainly charictarized by love, but He is also the one to judge. We must be loving to anyone that is not a Christian while sharing with them the judgment that is to come without Christ.
    I especially thought the point about the folly of the Crusades and the root of that problem. Very well stated and spot on.
    As far as world peace and other political issues go, nowhere in the New Testament do Christ or Paul or any other writers go into any type of political solution. Unless there is Christ in the life of every citizen, there will never be a perfect political solution to any problem. As stated in the article, there cannot be total peace apart from Christ’s return. Thus, our goal should never be political change in and of itself – but to share the gospel with as many people as possible. Changed hearts will lead to a change in the world.

  2. I was so happy to stumble across this. I have always seen religious conflict as ridiculous and to see that there has been conversations of such a peaceful intention between Christianity and Islam is fantastic.
    I only wish that everyone could understand that religions can co exist peacefully, respecting each other and openly celebrating their faith and finding common ground.

  3. Hi, Heather.

    Sorry for the delay in responding. I’m glad you found the article too, but I’m afraid that you misread or misunderstood it.

    While I (and the article’s author) agree that physical conflict between religions is ridiculous, the article actually calls very clearly for (a) a clear distinction between the truth of biblical Christianity and the error of other religions, and (b) a gracious, non-violent “conflict of ideas” which attempts to demonstrate to the hearer that Jesus Christ is the only way for sinners to have peace with God. The Bible puts it this way in Acts 4:12:

    “And there is salvation in no one else [no one but Jesus, v. 11], for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

    So we would absolutely affirm that all people—regardless of heritage, gender, or religious upbringing—need to repent of their sins and trust Jesus Christ as the only hope of salvation.

    You might read it over again. More importantly, I’d encourage you to give this short mp3 of the Gospel of Jesus Christ a listen. It presents the biblical message of sin, redemption, and forgiveness very clearly.

    God bless you. Thanks for chiming in!

  4. Aha, I understand now.
    However, I still recognize how much of a great step forwards. I am, myself, a great believer in God, like Christians, like Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and Jews, but I am not part of a religion. This is for the reason that there can only be one God, so we are all worshiping the same God and so I see truth in every religion. Although, I have respect for every religion and think it is important to have distinction between religions, everyone worships God in their own way and has the right to.
    Basically, I wanted to say that I completely respect your faith and just wondered about your views about God and whether you think that all religions worship the same God just in different ways?

  5. Heather, I believe that the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments are the authoritative and inerrant Word of God. The Scriptures present only one true God and one true way of salvation—through a relationship with Jesus Christ (John 3:36; John 14:6; 1 John 5:11-12; et al).

    The Bible does address other religions, which have existed essentially since the beginning of time, but it presents them as false and deceptive. When Scripture addresses other religions, it doesn’t build bridges or suggest that they’re really worshiping the same God. Instead, it commands them to turn from false gods (idols) to Jesus Christ, “the living and true God” (1 Thes 1:9).

    People certainly have the right to worship as they please, but (a) that doesn’t mean they are right, and (b) they will be accountable to the true God of the Scriptures. That’s the point the Apostle Paul made when speaking to religious people in Athens: God will judge the world through Jesus Christ, and He commands all people in all places to repent. (See Acts 17:30-31.)

    Not exactly politically correct, I know, but that’s the clear and repeated and essential message of the Bible.

    Lots to think about, friend. In addition to listening to the message I linked to above (and reading the Bible itself, perhaps starting with the Gospel of John!), this book may be helpful.

    God bless you!

  6. […] article was first printed in April/May 2008 as a complimentary article to Joe Tyrpak’s “Christian-Muslim Unity?” It is cross-posted from the OBF Visitor blog, where many other articles are posted and may […]

  7. Hi Chris:

    Like you, I believe in the Bible as written. However, I undertook a comparative analysis of the Bible and the Qur’an and found there to be harmony between the principal teachings without compromising any of the teachings of eather book.

    I know that this seems like nonsense. I was taught that Muslims worship Mohammed, and other information which I now know to be false. Therefore, I would have reached a similar conclusion before the study. However, you may review some of the material on my website and I would be happy to discuss it with you here.

  8. Every one is waiting for Jesus Christ according to his faith. The holy arrival of Jesus Christ is the one hot – issue that can bring nearer to all religions, faiths and beliefs. The common way may be sought. Al – Quds and Kaaba, both holy places belong to Abraham as Isaac and Ismael both are the sons of Abraham. So, Christians and Muslims both belong to Abraham. Inter – religions peace and Muslim – Christian unity process should be encouraged practically in welfare. (SYED AIZAZ HAIDER) SST. Govt. Jinnah Memorial Muslim High School, Gujranwala, Punjab, PAKISTAN.

  9. Syed,

    Our understanding of Jesus Christ is vastly different, friend. Whereas Muslims see him as only a prophet—and one inferior to Muhammad, at that—the Bible presents Him as God in human form, the Creator and only Savior of the world (John 1:1-18; 3:36; 14:6.

    I’m all for peace between religious groups, but the differences between Christianity and Islam are substantial and their consequences eternal.

  10. I was very interested in this article but as a Christian, I found some of the undertones to be worrying. The Bible commands us to be at peace with one another and yet it is Muslims, not Christians, who are taking the lead on this. In the article, it sometimes feels that you are prioritising the Bible passages that suit your final message.

    Peace does not mean that we have to make our beliefs identical – indeed even my small Bible study group cannot do that! It means that we love and respect another religion with the same roots as our own. In an increasingly secular world, should we not stand united as the children of God? This does not mean that we have to be the same religion or that we must comprimise our beliefs.

    If Christians are brothers and sisters then Muslims are our first cousins. God will judge us all in the end, so let’s not waste time (and indeed sin) by judging each other. There is only one God and God is Love – I would far prefer my fellow human to love and worship God in a slightly different way to we do than to turn their back on God.

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