Friday, September 24, 2010

Beyond the sacred page

In an argument with some of the most respected religious folks of the day, Jesus said, "You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you possess eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life" (John 5:39-40, TNIV).

It is crucial that we read the Bible because it testifies to Jesus. The words of the scriptures are not just words on a page for us. The written word helps to connect us with the living Word. The Bible is our authoritative guide for our faith in Christ and our authoritative guide of our practice of following Christ. In the words of the old hymn, Break Thou the Bread of Life, "Beyond the sacred page I seek Thee, Lord; My spirit pants for Thee, O living Word!"

"... come to me to have life," Jesus said.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Burning the Quran is wrong

By now you've heard of the plan of a church in Gainsville, Florida to burn copies of the Quran on September 11. The National Association of Evangelicals said the planned Quran burning would "show disrespect for our Muslim neighbors and would exacerbate tensions between Christians and Muslims throughout the world." Richard Land, director of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said the plan of the Florida church is "appalling, disgusting and brainless." Tony Cartledge, associate editor of Baptists Today, said the Quran burning would be a violation of Jesus' call to "spread a gospel of love and peace, even for one's perceived enemies." These are just a few of the evangelical Christians, including many Baptists, who have come out against the planned Quran burning.

Now General David Petraeus, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, has said that the planned destruction of Qurans could endanger U.S. troops in the country and Americans worldwide. "Images of the burning of a Quran would undoubtedly be used by extremists in Afghanistan — and around the world — to inflame public opinion and incite violence," Petraeus said in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

The planned Quran burning is not just stupid. It's not just crazy. It's not just unwise. It's not just dangerous. From a Christian perspective the plan to burn the Quran is wrong, just wrong.

From so many angles one could point out the wrongness of this event. It violates Jesus' principle that his followers are to be "as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves" (Mat. 10:16, TNIV) in their relations with others. The Golden Rule that we must do to others as we would have them to to us (Mat. 7:12) applies. We wouldn't want for Muslims to burn Bibles so we shouldn't burn copies of the Quran. As Dr. Cartledge points out above, the planned Quran burning, an act certainly designed to be offensive, fails to exhibit love toward those who are considered enemies (Mat. 5:44). The proposed event of the Florida church is hateful and Jesus never called his followers to be hateful--quite the contrary.

One passage that came to my mind when I heard about the planned Quran burning is Luke 9:51-56. In this passage Jesus was heading toward Jerusalem through Samaritan territory. Jesus was, of course, a Jew and Samaritans and Jews did not get along very well. He sent word ahead to a Samaritan village that they should make preparations for his arrival according to the custom of that time but the village refused to welcome Jesus and his followers.

When James and John, two of the disciples, saw what happened they asked Jesus if he wanted for them to call fire down from heaven to destroy the people of that village. I have often wondered if James and John were cracking a joke with this question. There is nothing else in the gospels to indicate they had the power to call fire from heaven and nothing in Jesus' teaching indicates that they should do such a thing. The rejection of the Samaritans was, no doubt, a difficult moment and I wonder if the so-called "sons of thunder" sought to ease the tension with a joke.

If it was a joke, Jesus didn't think it was funny. If James and John were serious in their inquiry, Jesus is clear that he didn't like their suggestion at all: "Jesus turned and rebuked them" (v. 55, TNIV).

The passage says nothing about Jesus rebuking the people who rejected him. No, he rebuked his own followers who spoke of taking action against those who rejected him. Jesus was shunned by a group of people. In response, according to verse 56, he and his disciples simply moved on to another village. They didn't protest. They didn't argue. They certainly didn't burn any scrolls. And the only rebuking in the account was that of Jesus against his own followers at the suggestion that they take action against those who rejected him.

This gospel story speaks pretty directly to the plan of the Florida church to burn the Quran. At the web page of the church that plans this event, ten reasons for burning the Quran are listed. Reason number one indicates that the Quran rejects Jesus because "it teaches that Jesus Christ ... was NOT the Son of God, nor was he crucified ..." So the folks in this church in Florida justify their action against Muslims because Islamic teaching in the Quran effectively rejects Jesus. But Jesus rebuked his followers for even suggesting the idea of taking action against those who rejected him (Luke 9:55). The Lord peacefully moved on and sought not to inflame the tensions.

Based on the teaching of Jesus, burning the Quran is just wrong.