Wednesday, September 08, 2010
Book Burning and Boneheads
After thinking about it for a while, I decided to weigh in on the Quran-burning controversy, for what it's worth.
The controversy was ginned up by Terry Jones, the pastor of a fringe-Pentecostal church in Florida known as the Dove World Outreach Center. He says he's protesting radical Islam by burning the Quran, and in so doing has drawn world-wide condemnation. He's even drawn the attention of U.S. General David Petraeus, who is concerned that the church's intended action will place our armed forces and people in even greater danger. The radicals will, of course, use this to help recruit for the jihadist cause. They really don't need much encouragement.
Let me be clear. As a Bible-believing, conservative evangelical Christian, I am no fan of Islam -- no matter what stripe it is. I consider it a false religion that will ultimately lead to people being separated from God for eternity. However, I am also not a fan of boneheaded gadfly "pastors" who apparently don't know their own Bibles, yet style themselves as spiritual leaders.
This is a horrible witness. No doubt, he and his supporters will point to the actions of Muslims around the world in burning Bibles and desecrating Christian churches through the years. Are Christians supposed to act like that too? Are Christians supposed to purposely cause offense to others, especially given the Great Commission charge of Christ to win others to Him? I think not.
In Acts 17, the Apostle Paul serves as a tremendous example of how to deal with other religions and cultures. Let's look at the passage together . . .
Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols. So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present. And also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him. Some were saying, “What would this idle babbler wish to say?” Others, “He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities,”--because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.
And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is which you are proclaiming? “For you are bringing some strange things to our ears; so we want to know what these things mean.” (Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new.)
So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. “For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’
“Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, “We shall hear you again concerning this.” So Paul went out of their midst (Acts 17:16-33).
You'll notice in that passage that Paul didn't try to burn any of the idols down. Instead, he respectfully and prayerfully preached and witnessed to the Athenians, trusting in the Holy Spirit to do what only the Holy Spirit could do . . . draw people to Himself in saving faith.
There is only one area in the New Testament where the burning of books is referenced. That is in Acts 19, where . . . many of those who practiced magic brought their books together and began burning them in the sight of everyone; and they counted up the price of them and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver. The people who owned the magic books brought them out and burned them in repentance. They didn't burn them in protest, or to purposely offend anyone. No comparison at all to what is going on in Florida. The only way it could be similar would be if former Muslims decided to throw their own Qurans into the fire. That isn't happening, to my knowledge.
I think what we have here is the leader of a fringe group that seems to be out for publicity. He certainly isn't being a faithful and effective witness for Christ. Being a witness for Christ doesn't even seem to the paramount thing on his mind. And that ought to tell us something.
This issue is maddening to me for another reason. There are indeed abundant good reasons to protest Islam. It's not just a typical world religion out there being practiced quietly in temples. That is not its history. There is a political component of Islam — a conquering and dominating component. That needs to be resisted, and vocally. But there's a right way and a wrong way to do it, especially when Christians and their churches are involved. The most important thing for Christians and their churches is the Gospel. That MUST be paramount. Anything that hinders the Gospel is something to be eschewed.
So let's witness our faith. Let's call attention to human rights abuses within Islam. Let's sound proper warnings. Let's be factually and historically accurate. But most of all, let's lovingly share the hope, forgiveness and freedom that exists only in Christ. Let's not be boneheads and do things that only result in our witness being ignored.