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Thursday, September 9, 2010

To burn or not to burn?

Many of you are aware that a charismatic pastor in Florida has named this Saturday, September 11, “International Burn a Koran Day.”  Pastor Tony Jones intends to set hundreds of copies of the Koran on fire in an effort to call attention to the evils of Islam.  A wide range of public figures, both Christian and Muslim, both Republican and Democrat, have publicly condemned these plans. 
General David Petraeus is concerned that the images of the burning books will “be used by those who wish us ill, to incite violence and to enflame public opinion against us.”  President Obama has referred to the pastor’s plan as a "recruitment bonanza for Al Qaeda."  Numerous times over the last several days I have read and heard the phrase “unnecessary provocation.”  It seems that the vast majority of people at home and abroad are vehemently opposed to this.
I do think it is a valid concern that a public Koran-burning will endanger our troops overseas, and I do think it will give our country a black eye internationally.  But the main reasons I’m hearing from public figures for why this is a bad idea are not the main reasons I would cite.  There are biblical principles that apply to this situation that should persuade anyone who claims to be a minister of the gospel of Christ to forego the public burning of the Koran.
First of all, let me affirm that Pastor Jones is right on some accounts.  I’m not a fan of t-shirt evangelism or t-shirt sloganeering, but Pastor Jones has made up some t-shirts that proclaim “Islam is of the devil.”  This is excellent theology.  Islam is what the Bible would call “another gospel” (Gal 1:6-7).  That is, it teaches a way of salvation other than salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.  2 Cor 4:3-4 tells us that in the case of those who do not believe the true gospel of Jesus Christ, the god of this world – the devil – has blinded their minds “to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”  Therefore, because Islam leads people away from the true gospel, it should be considered a tool of Satan. 
Second, because the Koran teaches this false gospel of Islam, it is a book of lies.  It teaches a god that does not exist.  It teaches a way of salvation outside of the atoning death of Jesus Christ, the Son of the One True God.  Acts 4:12 tells us “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." 
So, Islam is of the devil and the Koran is a book of lies.  Pastor Jones is right.  Does that mean that the Church of Jesus Christ should burn copies of the Koran?  No.
First of all, burning books of any kind indicates a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of our warfare.  The Church of Christ is not fighting against material things or material beings.  2 Corinthians 10:3-5 says, For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.  Our ultimate enemy is the devil and his demons, as we saw last year in our study of Ephesians 6: For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Eph 6:12).  Our battle is spiritual in nature. 
So how did Paul command us to fight this spiritual battle?  Via the use of spiritual armor and weaponry:
  13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.
 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness,
 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.
 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one;
 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,
 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication (Eph 6:13-18a).
I won’t take the time here to explain these verses in the detail with which I explained them over the course of 7 sermons.  But what I would like to note is that we are not to fight spiritual battles by physical means.  We fight spiritual battles by spiritual means. 
Now there in v18, Paul exhorts us to fight via prayer.  For what did he tell us to pray in the following verses? 
  18 To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,
 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel,
 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.And what came next?  In the very same sentence, the same sentence in which he instructed us how to fight this battle, for what did he tell us to pray? (Eph 6:18b-20).
We are to pray for one another…and for the bold proclamation of the gospel.
Pastor Jones appears to misunderstand the nature of the battle and the appropriate way to wage war.  He is seeking to fight a spiritual battle and a spiritual enemy using physical means.  He is burning the Koran rather than preaching the gospel.

We need to ask ourselves – do we find in the NT the apostles engaging in the same kind of spectacle that Pastor Jones is planning?  Absolutely not.  (Some might cite Acts 19:19, where “a number of those who had practiced magical arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all.”  But a dear brother pointed out to me that Acts 19:19 was not a publicity stunt making a statement against an idolatrous cult.  It was the act of new converts renouncing their former way of life.)  What do we find the apostles doing in their effort to keep the Great Commission?  Proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ.
It’s important to remember that the culture into which the apostles were called to go was a pagan culture.  There were false religions everywhere you looked.  The apostles had manifold opportunities to desecrate the temples of these false gods, and yet, they didn’t.  The classic example of an apostle engaging the culture is found in Acts 17:16ff where Paul ministered in Athens, a city “full of idols” (v16).  How did Paul engage the culture?  By tearing down the temples or burning the idols?  No.  He engaged the culture by reasoning with them “in the synagogue” and “in the marketplece” (v17).  He preached “Jesus and the resurrection” (v18).  Vv22-31 show Paul boldly delivering the truth, calling the people to repentance.  He fought a spiritual battle against the evil one using the gospel rather than a torch. 
In fact, the last thing Paul wanted to do was to offend, lest he lose an opportunity to preach the gospel (1 Cor 9:20-23).  This is precisely what Pastor Jones does not understand.  By burning the Koran (or even threatening to), he is causing the world to turn a deaf ear to anything he says.  Certainly, Paul knew that the gospel was offensive (1 Cor 1:22-24).  And you and I shouldn’t kid ourselves about this.  If we share the true gospel faithfully, we’re going to see many people offended by it.  But like Paul, our desire should be that if people are offended it will be because of the truth of the gospel rather than because of our actions and manner in delivering it. 
What is the best way to counter Islam or Mormonism or Atheism or any other false gospel?  It isn’t by burning their false scriptures, but by proclaiming the true gospel with compassion, allowing the message rather than our manner to cause offense.

Posted by Greg Birdwell

1 comment:

Mrs. B said...

Wonderfully said! I very much agree!