If You Want Ecumenism, Go to War

The various reactions to developments in Iraq from Protestant officers have me wondering when we Presbyterians ever established fraternal relations with the churches of Eastern Orthodoxy. David Miller, the moderator of Scotland’s Free Church has written a letter to the UK parliament in which he links the Free Church to the Assyrian, Armenian, and Greek Orthodox communions of Iraq:

The plight of persecuted Christians and other minorities in Iraq and Syria – chiefly in regions controlled by the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) – is a matter of grave concern to the Christian community and to all decent human beings.

Likewise, Rick Phillips has prayed:

Our Father in heaven, the sovereign and almighty God, the faithful covenant-keeper and Savior, we plead to you on behalf of our suffering fellow believers in Iraq. Cast your eye upon them and have mercy to uphold and defend your flock. Overthrow the evil of their persecutors and strengthen the faith of those suffering tribulation for the name of Jesus.

To his credit, Joe Carter is calling for caution about the conclusions Christians in the West draw from the situation in the Middle East. Whenever church officials — pastors or popes — speak about current events, the spirituality-of-the-church jaws in me tighten. What do these people know about the situation over there beyond what they see from journalists? Talk about being above your pay grade.

But the odd aspect of this outpouring of legitimate concern for a genuinely tragic set of circumstances in Iraq is the way that Presbyterians lose their ecclesial wits and identify as Christians those whom they used to evangelize. Let’s not forget, for instance, that the southern Presbyterian (Old School no less), John B. Adger went in the 1830s to modern day Turkey to evangelize among the Armenian Orthodox. Also keep in mind that the character of Clarence Ussher, the doctor who tried to protect the Armenians of Van from the Turks during the Armenian genocide was there as part of the Presbyterian missionary effort to Eastern Orthodox Christians.

In full disclosure mode — all the talk about sex has me going — I will admit that I have prayed for persecuted Christians. But the ones I have had in mind most of the time are those believers in Eritrea with whom the OPC has a long and special relationship. (Aren’t I special?) Does that mean that prayers for those suffering at the hands of the ISIS are inappropriate or even wrong? No. But do we need to refer to them as fellow Christians? Does this somehow give us victim status in the culture wars back here in the greatest nation on God’s green earth? (And by the way, would they recognize us as fellow Christians?)

Such solidarity among professed Christians is however a further confirmation of the Old Life axiom that war and church union go hand in hand. War healed every single split in American Presbyterianism except for the start-ups of the OPC and PCA. In 1758 in the middle of the French and Indian War Old Side and New Side Presbyterians put aside differences in part to pull together behind those recent Presbyterian settlers close to the front on the frontier. In 1869, enthusiastic over a war to preserve the union, Old School and New School Presbyterians reunited to show at least in part that they were committed to the same ideals that animated the United States. And just after World War I, mainline Protestants proposed a church union that would have created a single Protestant Church of America (comparable to the ecumenism that fueled the formation of the United Church of Canada 1925).

War is hell. Do we need to forget our theology to affirm that?

57 thoughts on “If You Want Ecumenism, Go to War

  1. Scripture consistently treats people according to their profession. In Acts we are told that Simon the Magician “believed” because he professed faith and was baptized, but it soon became clear that his “faith” was not a saving faith. Likewise, I think we can call adherents of Eastern Orthodoxy “Christians” because they outwardly profess faith in Christ, affirm the ecumenical creeds, and are baptized in the Name of the Holy Trinity. But to call them “Christians” in this sociological sense is not the same thing as affirming that they get the biblical gospel right, or that they necessarily possess saving faith and are thus to be regarded as “brothers and sisters in Christ.” Nor is it to deny that they should be evangelized with a biblically-reformed understanding of the gospel.

    One can be a “Christian” in the sociological sense (by self-identification, church affiliation and outward profession) without necessarily being a “Christian” in the spiritual, saving sense. It all depends on how we use the term “Christian.”

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  2. I’ve become more and more concerned with the way that the organisations that work with the persecuted church, seem to use the term Christian far more loosely than they would in their home constituencies, never mentioning the church background. Can I really be Old School without being a Presbyterian?

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  3. You have a point about whether these are actually Christians according to Presbyterian standards. But I don’t think this is a spirituality of the church issue. For a start we should be galvanised about Christians who are being persecuted around the world. Second, whether these are true Christians doesn’t change the fact that an evil religion is brutalising and inflicting horror upon horror upon the people of that region. This is Islam as it really is and if that’s not a spiritual issue I don’t know what is.

    Also, the fact one of the cities ravaged is Nineveh is surely a cause for mourning.

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  4. Alexander, interesting that your neighbors in the Free Church of Scotland are calling on the British government to intervene militarily in Iraq. Many presbyterians in Scotland also want to become independent of the United Kingdom…which begs the question of whether the Scots will have form an army so they can intervene internationally in like matters. I know of a soon to be unemployed guy who goes by William Wallace II who might be just the macho man to lead independent Scotia’s tartan-helmeted force for good.

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  5. No doubt that we should pray for all fellow believers. But perhaps we should pray for all victims of injustice in the Middle East. And not only should we pray for all victims of injustice, we should speak out on their behalf.

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  6. Alexander: “…whether these are true Christians doesn’t change the fact that an evil religion is brutalising and inflicting horror upon horror upon the people of that region. This is Islam as it really is and if that’s not a spiritual issue I don’t know what is.”

    Amen. Islam, the so-called “religion of peace,” is manifestly an evil, hateful, barbaric religion which has enslaved countless souls (both physically and spiritually) throughout its dark history. Without the apostasy laws on the books in majority Muslim countries which threaten severe civil penalties for leaving Islam for another religion, one suspects that many Muslims would abandon their barbaric, state-sanctioned religion in a heartbeat. A religion that depends upon lethal force to retain the faithful and (in some cases) “convert” outsiders is a weak, pathetic, dishonorable faith (which is quite ironic, since Islam is an “honor” religion.)

    There, I said it; so have at my head.

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  7. Geoff Willour,
    First, not all Muslims are brutalizing the people there. Second, not all the brutalization has been done to advance Islam. Some of the brutalization in the Middle East has been done to advance Western interests.

    And your description of Islam is not borne out by my experiences with Muslims. So the generalized statement must be replaced by more precise statements.

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  8. If government and industry suffers from imprecision, ineptitude and callousness-as to local concerns- in it’s ‘global outreach’, I fail to see how the church effectively overcomes those same failures in it’s virtual connectedness/fellowship. There is only so much time and emotional energy available and inevitably if national/international/popular media sets my ‘priorities’ how does the local(my) church/responsibility not suffer the consequences of such orientation. There’s no way to understand, well, the intricacies of the context of these fights from a newspaper article or Fox News coverage.

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  9. CW- That is a circle the separatist Free Kirkers will have to try to square; my denomination is firmly in the Unionist camp.

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  10. The world is a tough place, tougher for some than others. I don’t know anything to do but pray “Thy Kingdom come ” and try to maintain some perspective. I (all about) have loved this little song since I first heard it in the early 60’s. Had it as a ringtone for a long time. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=L8-BI89mb9A

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  11. If people are suffering and dying for the Name we must pray for them and help them, I reckon. Of course if we got the chance we would try to instruct them better too.

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  12. One can be a “Christian” in the sociological sense (by self-identification, church affiliation and outward profession) without necessarily being a “Christian” in the spiritual, saving sense. It all depends on how we use the term “Christian.”

    mcmark—-Is this something like those who under “the covenant of grace” but not yet IN “the covenant of grace” because of them being born under “the covenant of works” at the same time? Or is more like being corporately elect but not individually elect?

    Doug Wilson—-“we are accustomed to give pride of place to imputed righteousness, all the while not recognizing that in the traditional Reformed ordo salutis, the pride of place actually goes to a type of infused righteousness (regeneration). I am saying nothing that cannot be derived (by good and
    necessary consequence) from the traditional ordo”.

    #14: Whether God’s discipline of individuals under the New Covenant is of the same kind or different kind as the punishment of individuals under the sanctions of the Law?
    David R—-the crucial question I think is how to explain the nature of the difference in kind. Is it a matter of a substantial difference arising from a works principle in the old administration but not in the new administration? No. Rather it’s a matter of an accidental difference arising from the typology of the old economy (which prefigured fully realized eschatology) giving way to substance (albeit semi-realized) in the new economy….

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  13. David Murray—baptist parents don’t have as much confidence, hope, and optimism that God will bless these appointed means for the conversion of their children. Their children don’t suffer loss. But the parents sometimes do – in that they do not enjoy so much peace from God’s covenant assurances.

    David Murray–If baptist parents sometimes suffer from a lack of confidence, paedo-Baptists can suffer from false confidence. They often presume their children are already Christians and raise them as such. This can take the form of baptismal presumption, recently articulated by Gene Veith, a Lutheran I highly respect:

    “The faith that begins with baptism then grows and matures, fed by the “milk” of God’s Word, as the child grows into adulthood, and continuing thereafter. (That faith can also die if it is not nourished, which is why someone can have been baptized as an infant but then reject the faith and BECOME AN UNBELIEVER in need of conversion.)”

    David Murray—While some Reformed believers will shudder at the thought of saving faith being imparted by water baptism, an increasing number seem to believe that water Baptism plus Christian parenting will automatically do the same thing. As long as children are baptized, raised by Christian parents, taught by Christian teachers, trained in Christian behavior and don’t reject Christianity, it is presumed that they are Christians.

    David Murray—I don’t see too much difference between water baptismal presumption and parenting presumption. Both presume that the water baptized children of Christian parents are born again. They only differ in when. Those with the parenting presumption are usually more vague about the timing of the efficacy….

    mcmark: Since it would be a sin for the Reformed to water those who have already been watered by the Eastern Orthodox, would it not also be a sin to doubt that these Eastern Orthodox were born Christians (and watered on that basis)? A lack of ecumenism at this point looks sectarian, donatist, or worse–baptist….

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  14. But, Ben, here’s the question that remains for me. If these folks are suffering in the name of Christ, why do we still refuse the right hand of fellowship? It seems to me there are two choices. Either pray for those who suffer regardless of their religious fidelity, or pray for them as fellow believers and extend the right hand of fellowship. But you can’t at once refuse fellowship and pray for them as believers. As it has been suggested, that seems like gathering up some vicarious martyrdom without having to get your hands dirty (or lose your own head).

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  15. Geoff and Alexander, speaking of having at heads, here’s me sticking out my neck. I can’t help but wonder if what you say about Islam is a little opportunistic to defame a false religion when some of its adherents scandalize. That’s not at all to defend Islam, of course, but it is to wonder if it is sufficient to maintain it as false regardless of whether its adherents are good citizens or brutal kooks.

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  16. It’s starting to smell like the PCUSA around here.

    It was all pretty comfortable during the Pax Americana, but that’s over now, Darryl. Well done. Sarah Palin, Billy Graham, George W. Idiots.

    At least Hal Lindsey’s eschatology had a point. The Last of the Calvinists go out not with a bang but a whimper.

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  17. Geoff, and imagine what Muslims think of drones that “Christian” (in a sociological sense) America sends their way. I can’t defend political Islam, though I do think the Ottomans had their moments. But if we need to fight Islam, then say hello to the Crusades and Christendom.

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  18. Christian Hiroshima is something like Christian diaper-changing. Since Christians have the only motives God will accept as good, Christian swimmers also swim faster than non-Christians.

    http://www.opc.org/os.html?article_id=302

    “When in 1859 Japan was forced to open its doors to foreig­ners, 20,000 Christians came out of hiding in Urikami, a suburb of Nagasaki. They had practiced their Faith secretly for two hundred years; with tears of joy they came forth being able now to be Christians, openly. In 1895 they built the Urakami Roman Catholic cathedral -was the largest in all Asia — the symbol of Christianity. The Christian Faith was regaining much of the ground it had lost because of centur­ies of persecution. But then the war and the Bomb!

    “Failure At Nuremberg–on the back cover was a statement by Taylor Caldwell, the American novelist. After expressing his outrage at the trials, he wrote …but the bombing of the only two Christian cities in Japan in August 1945 via the atom bomb calls to high heaven for retribution. Hiroshima and Nagasaki! Christian cities? ?

    “Christianity came to Japan in 1549 when St. Francis Xavier came from Portugal, and landed near Nagasaki. It was a place of beauty — a deep sea port surrounded by hills. He stayed here for a year, learned the language and began to spread the word, conversion was not difficult. By the early sixteen hundreds, ten percent of Japanese were Christians. Nagasaki was becoming the gateway and centre for western culture.”

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  19. Curt Day: “First, not all Muslims are brutalizing the people there. Second, not all the brutalization has been done to advance Islam. Some of the brutalization in the Middle East has been done to advance Western interests.

    “And your description of Islam is not borne out by my experiences with Muslims. So the generalized statement must be replaced by more precise statements.”

    GW: Curt, I was speaking of Islam as a religion, not of individual Muslims. I agree with you that there are many peace loving Muslims, and I too have met and had interactions with Muslims who were anything but radical jihadists. (In college I developed a friendship with a Muslim man from Pakistan who was a hallmate in my dormitory; he was a great guy.) And if you read my comments closely, you will see that I expressed my conviction that if there weren’t such strong social and legal pressures in majority-Muslim nations to remain Muslim, I believe we would see many Muslims abandoning Islam for more peaceful faiths (or at least abandoning Islam in its more violent expressions for more moderate, tolerant versions of Islam.)

    But none of the above changes my conviction that Islam, as a religion, is evil, violent, hateful and barbaric. Not only is it a satanic religion from the pit of hell that is leading countless souls to eternal damnation. It is also a repressive, theocratic politico-religion that routinely violates basic human rights, subjugates women (basically making wives slaves to their husbands, giving husbands the right to brutalize their wives), and (in some cases) spreads its message through fear and violence. Can you deny that Mohammed was a murderer, a pedophile (at least by contemporary standards – think of his wife Aisha, with whom he consummated their marriage when she was nine years old), and a control freak who spread his religion through fear and violence? I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of any Muslim-majority nation in the world where a Muslim citizen has the liberty to leave Islam for another religion (or no religion at all) without incurring severe social and civil penalties (apostasy laws, etc.), and where non-Muslim citizens are basically treated like second-class citizens (dhimmitude). (Maybe Turkey, but even there I am given to understand that one would face great social ostracism and perhaps even death threats from radical Jihadist pockets of the population if one abandoned Islam for something else. Remember a number of years ago the story about the Christian missionaries in Turkey who were brutally, slowly tortured and murdered by jihadist thugs?) What do you think happens to Saudis who convert to Christianity? What is happening to Christians today in Iraq? Or Christians in Sudan? Nigeria? Where has Islam shown itself to be anything but a cult of death?

    As Christians we should speak the truth. We should call things as they are. We should call that which is noble “good” and that which is ignoble “evil.” While there are certainly many peace-loving, friendly Muslim people, let us be honest about Islam as a religion: Islam is evil. “By their fruits shall ye know them” said our Savior. The “fruits” of Islam are clear to anyone with open eyes.

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  20. I said: “I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of any Muslim-majority nation in the world where a Muslim citizen has the liberty to leave Islam for another religion (or no religion at all) without incurring severe social and civil penalties (apostasy laws, etc.), and where non-Muslim citizens are basically treated like second-class citizens (dhimmitude).”

    In the last part of that sentence I meant to say, “…and where non-Muslim citizens are not treated as basically second-class citizens (dhimmitude).”

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  21. D.G. Hart: “Geoff, and imagine what Muslims think of drones that “Christian” (in a sociological sense) America sends their way. I can’t defend political Islam, though I do think the Ottomans had their moments. But if we need to fight Islam, then say hello to the Crusades and Christendom.”

    GW: I’m all for “fighting” Islam, but in proper new covenant, 2K manner, with the “sword of the Spirit,” not with the carnal arsenal of theocratic Christendom. Let the church “fight” Islam with the gospel, with prayer, with love, with self-giving sacrifice which is willing to suffer for the benefit of others.

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  22. Geoff,
    But Muslims adhere to Islam and thus are a reflection of the religion. So when I speak of my experiences with Muslims, I am also at least partially speaking of my experience with Islam. In addition, I have read most of the Koran and I find that people who want to paint such a negative portrait of Islam as you do, have either not read as much of the Koran as I have or are unaware of the context in which it was written and thus all too easily misinterpret what is said.

    At the same time, there are both Muslim groups as well as nation that show intolerance. Here, we need to look at where this occurs as well as the history of outside interventions to see if this helps us understand the intolerance. We might also want to compare what we see today with the history of intolerance in Western Christian nations to see what real differences exist. And remember that Europe was consistently engaged in wars of conquest until after WW II. That was a bitter learning experience which neither the Middle East nor America have recently experienced.

    If we want to call things evil, we need to do so without partiality. And we need to do so while looking in the mirror first. Then we can call out to fellow sinners and preach the Gospel. Otherwise, we will end up being the pharisee from the parable of the two men praying.

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  23. Curt Day: “But Muslims adhere to Islam and thus are a reflection of the religion. So when I speak of my experiences with Muslims, I am also at least partially speaking of my experience with Islam. In addition, I have read most of the Koran and I find that people who want to paint such a negative portrait of Islam as you do, have either not read as much of the Koran as I have or are unaware of the context in which it was written and thus all too easily misinterpret what is said.”

    GW: Brother Curt, while I cannot claim to be an expert on Islam, I have read a good chunk of the Quran. I was a religious studies major in college and did my senior thesis on Christian-Muslim dialogue. And I have read some other resources on Islam as well. So while I’m not an expert on Islam, I am also not an ignoramus on the subject.

    Regarding your point that Muslim adherents are a reflection of the Muslim religion, I would point out the reality of the (fallen) human condition in that there is often a disconnect between what one professes and how one lives. People of all faiths (and of no faith) often live in a way that is inconsistent with the beliefs and values they or their religion professes. Professing Christians of the past and present who do terrible things in the name of Christianity are not accurately reflecting either the teachings of Christ or the truths of historic Christianity; and thus it does not logically follow that bad Christians (as individuals) make Christianity (as a religion) bad or untrue (though bad Christians can indeed present the world with a terrible witness and thus make Christianity look odious).

    Likewise, I would argue that peace-loving Muslims (and I don’t deny there are many of them!) live in happy inconsistency with the example of the historic Mohammed and the violent, jihadist teachings of major segments of historic Islam. Again, I don’t deny that professing Christians and the historic Christian church have at times behaved in terrible and violent ways (the inquisition, religious wars, persecution of “heretics,” etc.). But those are examples of professing believers and the church behaving in a manner inconsistent with the teachings of Christ in particular and of Holy Scripture in general, properly interpreted. On the other hand, when Muslims behave in a peace-loving manner, I would assert that they are behaving in a way that is happily inconsistent with the example of the historic Mohammed and the teachings of major strands of the Muslim religion. To suggest that I am being a “pharisee” for painting such a “negative portrait” of Islam (as if I am thereby trying to excuse the sins of Christendom, which I am not), is quite unfair and judgmental of you.

    Curt, can you deny the objective truthfulness of the “negative portrait” I painted of Islam? (Just because it is “negative” does not thereby make it untrue.) Can you show that I am objectively incorrect in the portrait I have painted? Can you provide us with clear evidence for a more positive portrait, other than your own personal experience with Muslims? I would be glad to be corrected if I have in any way misrepresented the facts about Islam.

    Can you give me one example of a Muslim majority nation where genuine religious freedom exists (i.e., where citizens are free to be Muslim or not without crushing social marginalization and civil sanctions)?

    Can you deny that Islam originally spread throughout North Africa and the Middle East by means of violence?

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  24. Geoff,
    Turkey is an example of a Muslim nation that has religious tolerance. But what you are missing is that religious intolerance in many of today’s Islamic nations is a more recent occurrence starting with the success of the Modern Zionist venture. It was because of this that many Jews were kicked out of countries like Iraq. Iran, which use to have the 2nd highest Jewish population in the Middle East has seen a significant loss in the number of Jewish citizens.

    In addition, the closer one is to the most holy sites, the more intolerance. And there is also an ever growing intolerance due to past and present western interventions.

    And no, peace loving Muslims are living consistently with the Koran.

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  25. Look, I’m conservative enough to hate the fact that the administration and media are afraid to use the “M” word or the “t” word, but I don’t see how a pluralistic country can declare war on a religion. The logical conclusion of Xian rhetoric of late is crusade. Maybe the Amervangelicals should send any 18-25 year old first-born males from their congregations to train in the swamps of North Carolina with a fighting force augmented by mercenaries and retirees from the Ft Bragg area, book a cruise ship east and have at it. I believe that used to be called putting one’s money in the vicinity of one’s mouth.

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  26. Curt Day: “Turkey is an example of a Muslim nation that has religious tolerance. But what you are missing is that religious intolerance in many of today’s Islamic nations is a more recent occurrence starting with the success of the Modern Zionist venture. It was because of this that many Jews were kicked out of countries like Iraq. Iran, which use to have the 2nd highest Jewish population in the Middle East has seen a significant loss in the number of Jewish citizens.”

    GW: So, are you saying that a Muslim citizen in Turkey may openly convert to Christianity (or any other religion) without any legal or civil sanctions or fear of threats to his person or property? (I would rejoice if this is the case.) Also, are you saying that before the rise of modern Zionism Muslim citizens of Muslim nations such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, etc., could openly convert to Christianity and practice it without fear of civil sanctions or threats to their persons or property? Could you give me evidence of this?

    Regarding the history of Islam: Are you saying that Mohammed and his followers spread their religion throughout north Africa and the Middle East simply by the peaceful means of preaching and persuasion, and not at all by violent means or threats of violence?

    Curt Day: “In addition, the closer one is to the most holy sites, the more intolerance. And there is also an ever growing intolerance due to past and present western interventions.”

    GW: I don’t defend all “western interventions,” but are you saying that there was no Muslim violence before the rise of western interventions? Could you cite the sources of your information?

    Curt Day: “And no, peace loving Muslims are living consistently with the Koran.”

    GW: Evidence, please? Are there not scholars of the Quran (both Muslim and non-Muslim) who would disagree with your “peace loving” interpretation of the Quran? How are you so certain that your understanding of the Quran is correct and in line with historic Muslim thought?

    Finally, do you believe that there is a moral equivalence between the violence of Christendom (where Christians and the Church have acted inconsistently with the example and teachings of Christ and Scripture) and the violence of Muslim Jihad (where, I would argue, jihadists are acting more consistently with the example of the historic Mohammed and with a major strand of historic Muslim practice)?

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  27. “From the first it was evident that Muhammed believed that his message was for all Arabs – and perhaps for all mankind – and it had now become clear that they could be made to listen only by force. There could be no compromise with idolatry. Therefore it followed that all those who refused to believe in Islam must be quelled. Idolaters whose very existence was an insult to the one true God would have to accept Islam or the sword; other monotheists would have to acknowledge their inferiority by paying a special tax. This became the established principle of Islam during the few years of the prophet’s life at Medina which remained after the opposition of the Quraysh was quelled. It was put into effect in the whole of the Arab empire in the century that followed.”

    – p. 40 in “Islam” by Alfred Guillaume (Penguin Books, 1954, 1956)

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  28. Geoff, all fair enough as far as it goes. What I wonder though is when you (or whoever) says of Islam that it is “manifestly an evil, hateful, barbaric religion,” whether this is some overdoing. Alexander above seems to want all the barbarism playing out by some of its adherents to be completely subsumed under the rubric of spiritual warfare. I can’t help but think if this is a form of worldviewry that dismisses cultural, political, and social realities that fuel so much it–sure, religion is in there but it’s not everything. I get it, Islam is a false religion, but I fail to see what’s to be gained by drawing a straight line from it to barbarism. Seems like a bit of special pleading.

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  29. Dr. Hart: The Crusades? Honestly? They were 1000 years ago, time for muslims to dry their eyes, build a bridge and get over it.

    We’re living in a modern day crusade: Islam’s attempts to take control. Let’s be worried about that. And actually, whilst praying for Christ’s kingdom to come, we can also pray about what’s happening in the Middle East.

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  30. Zrim-

    I don’t deny political/social factors play a part. In the Middle East, where Islam is given full sway, it manifests itself in its truest form: barbarism and totalitarianism. In the UK and Europe, where it is less free to express itself, it manifests itself in ghettoisation, operating sharia law unofiically within closed communities, ostensibly creating a society within a society. But even here we’ve had buses blown up and a soldier hacked to death on a suburban street: all in the name of Islam. We’ve had muslim leaders orchestrating the takeover of public schools resulting in segregated classes and hate being taught in the classroom.

    When these muslims in Iraq force women and girls to undergo FGM, bury women and children alive, behead their enemies and post pictures of it on social media, force people to convert or kill them, I say that is barbaric. And it is becoming par for the course in those regions where Islam is unrestrained.

    I’m not saying that we should go and fight in Iraq as part of some spiritual war. I agree that the Christian’s weapons are spiritual. But what is happening in the world- and in Iraq at the moment- is a spiritual battle. And it’s one we are losing.

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  31. Ellul despised the “determinism” which he identified with Islam and with the influence of Islam on Christianity. Ellul taught in contradiction to what he called “rationalism” a sincere desire by God for the salvation of all sinners, including Muslims. Is it rational to say that a Muslim prevents God from having what God desires? is it rational to say that God has not ordained all that God desires?

    Click to access 6.pdf

    three periods of this not-yet completed age
    first we kill the Jews
    then the Muslims
    then also Servetus and the other unitarians

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  32. Alexander, there are spiritual battles wherever there are believers and unbelievers sharing space, whether the former are beheading the latter or are living peacefully next door. I suppose I don’t understand highlighting the spiritual aspect of the violent scenario, unless the point is to specially defame Islam. It seems enough to maintain its falsehood without having to say “Islam always leads to the absolute worst thing you can think of.”

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  33. Zrim: “I get it, Islam is a false religion, but I fail to see what’s to be gained by drawing a straight line from it to barbarism. Seems like a bit of special pleading.”

    GW: Hmm…I’ll ponder that tomorrow night as I lead our church’s midweek “decapitate the infidel” ritual, which we also call “Bible Study.”

    Seriously, though, we agree that not all false religions are barbaric or necessarily tend to produce barbaric behavior. We don’t read about too many barbaric acts committed by Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses or Unitarians or Raelians. But we do seem to read a lot in the news (and in the history books) about barbaric behavior perpetrated by followers of Islam. No theocratic or Americanist or western imperialist or anti-2K agenda here. I’m just sayin…

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  34. Geoff,
    First, consider that the opposite of moral equivalence is moral relativity.

    Second, you have a combination of the OT people of God taking up the sword, which American Christian colonists took as an example and inspiration for themselves. And you have Jesus coming back as a lion and King and leader of an army of angels. Constantine sure though he was following Christ and so did so many who came after him.

    Third, consider that the opposite of moral equivalence is moral relativity.

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  35. Geoff, but when stories of Fundamentalist Mormon sects brutalizing women and children hit the headlines it’s not uncommon to hear theories about how Mormonism inheres forms of misogyny, etc. So what seems to get missed in all of it is an old-fashioned Calvinist theology that says sinners sin because they’re sinners, not because they’re Muslims or Mormons. Which is also helpful when unbelievers want to fault Christianity for the things Christians do.

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  36. “First, consider that the opposite of moral equivalence is moral relativity.”

    GW: Recognizing degrees of sin and evil, and understanding how otherwise godly people can be grossly misguided by bad teaching and faulty interpretations of Scripture commonly held in their culture, is not the same thing as moral relativism. The world isn’t that simplistic.

    “Second, you have a combination of the OT people of God taking up the sword, which American Christian colonists took as an example and inspiration for themselves. And you have Jesus coming back as a lion and King and leader of an army of angels. Constantine sure though he was following Christ and so did so many who came after him.”

    GW: Curt, I think we both would agree that the OT people of God taking up the sword was a unique set of circumstances that was historically and geographically circumscribed by Divine command. The conquest of the promised land was a unique, unrepeatable judgment of God that foreshadowed the final judgment, not an ethical example for future believers to follow. American colonists and others of a Constantinian bent were wrong, being under the influence of a faulty interpretation of relevant texts. By contrast, a good case can be made that violent Muslim Jihadism is being faithful to a proper Quranic interpretation, to the example of Mohammed, and to major segments of the historic Muslim tradition. So to suggest that past Christian violence based on faulty Scripture interpretation is morally equivalent to Muslim violence based upon a sound interpretation of Islamic Jihad, is faulty logic.

    “Third, consider that the opposite of moral equivalence is moral relativity.”

    GW: Non sequitur. The world isn’t that simplistic. One need not be a moral relativist to recognize this.

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  37. Zrim, I get ya. I don’t disagree. But I think where we, um, differ is that I see Islam as posing a specific threat, spiritually, distinct from the general battle between light and dark. Maybe a particular manifestation, but one that is posing specific problems. My atheist neighbour is opposed to me spiritually, but he’s not trying to behead me (that I know of). Islam poses particular threats: politically, socially and spiritually.

    Which is why I think we need to pay particular attention to what is happening in Iraq. Plus we should always be praying for the deliverance of people from suffering and brutalisation. We should be praying for peace. But that includes praying for the eradication of Islam.

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  38. Zrim: “Geoff, but when stories of Fundamentalist Mormon sects brutalizing women and children hit the headlines it’s not uncommon to hear theories about how Mormonism inheres forms of misogyny, etc. So what seems to get missed in all of it is an old-fashioned Calvinist theology that says sinners sin because they’re sinners, not because they’re Muslims or Mormons. Which is also helpful when unbelievers want to fault Christianity for the things Christians do.”

    GW: Agreed that we sin because we are sinners (I totally affirm total depravity). Also agreed that Christianity cannot be faulted simply because of the bad things that Christians do. We’re on the same page here, bro.

    Yeah, I remember the story about the fundamentalist Mormon sect which was abusive toward women and children. What I remember about it is that it struck me how odd and exceptional, how untypically Mormon, it was. It was, after all, a Mormon “sect” (not “mainstream” contemporary Mormonism) which practiced this abuse. But when I read about Muslim Jihadists brutalizing people, that’s just another typical day of news from the world of Islam. Of course, both religions are false religions, and both are followed by people who sin because they are sinners. But would you not agree that there are elements in the teachings and traditions of historic and contemporary Islam which make it much more likely to produce violent behavior among its followers than would be the teachings and traditions of more mainstream Mormonism?

    Again, total depravity is a universal reality, but so too is the fact that even among totally depraved sinners and among false religious systems there are varying degrees of evil. Mormonism is evil; but Islam (I would argue) is even more evil. While “Every sin deserveth God’s wrath and curse, both in this life, and that which is to come” (Shorter Catechism # 84), at the same time “Some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others” (Shorter Catechism # 83). Your nice Mormon neighbor who tries to proselytize you into his false religion, but who nonetheless behaves toward you and your family as a good and decent neighbor, is indeed an evil person in God’s sight. But a Muslim zealout who not only tries to proselytize you, but who also threatens to brutalize you and your family if you don’t convert, is even more evil.

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  39. Alexander, eradication? If the poor we’ll always have with us then Islam won’t be going anywhere. But Islam isn’t posing nearly as much threat as terrorism. But I know, Islam and terrorism are synonymous…

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  40. Geoff, but I also have some Islamic neighbors who are just as neighborly as my Mormon ones. If you want to rank false religions in terms of which gives more rise to brutality, then have at it. All I am saying is that any Muslims I’ve had contact with don’t do any of that. Maybe you’ll say it’s just a matter of time and opportunity. Maybe, but until then I’ll stick with my own experience and try to be a bit more careful with their reputation.

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  41. Just as a clarification, I would add to the above comment that the sins of believers are even more heinous than those same sins when they are committed by unbelievers. Why? Because we believers ought to know better, and we have the spiritual resources (the Word, Spirit, church and means of grace) to battle sin, whereas unbelievers do not have those benefits. Thus the believer is even more guilty when he sins than is the unbeliever (though, unlike the unbeliever, the believer’s sin is pardoned and mortified in Christ). That is why in a sense Christians need even more grace than unbelievers. Praise God that in Christ we have received “grace upon grace” (Jn. 1:16).

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  42. Zrim: “Geoff, but I also have some Islamic neighbors who are just as neighborly as my Mormon ones.”

    GW: That may be true in your experience (and I’m glad it is!), but it is purely anecdotal evidence. I would suggest that, comparatively speaking, there is far more objective evidence for Islamic teaching resulting in brutality than for Mormon teaching resulting in brutality (although I’m sure that Mormon history has likewise had its share of brutality resulting from certain of its teaching).

    The issue is: Do you or do you not recognize the Reformed teaching “several aggravations” of sin and that certain sins are more heinous in the sight of God than others (Westminster Shorter Catechism # 83)? If you affirm this historic Reformed teaching, then can you likewise understand why I assert that religions which regularly produce such “more heinous” sins among their followers may thereby be viewed as “more heinous” religious systems than other false religious systems which produce “less heinous” in their adherents?

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  43. Geoff, it is easily affirmed that there are some sins more heinous than others–murder beats stealing a candy bar. But it’s another thing and pretty speculative to go from that to Islam is worse than Mormonism. False as opposed to true seems sufficient, so I’ll leave the connecting of dots to my betters.

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  44. Zrim- I didn’t realise we were only supposed to pray for things which we know will definitely happen. We will never be without sin in this world, so should we not pray for sanctification? To sin less?

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  45. Alexander, to be sanctified isn’t to be without sin. That’s glorified, and yes we pray for both to take place. But don’t you think praying for these things (along with Christ’s hasty return) is a tad different from praying for the “eradication of Islam”? What’s the NT pattern for the latter as opposed to the former?

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  46. “Alexander, to be sanctified isn’t to be without sin. That’s glorified, and yes we pray for both to take place. But don’t you think praying for these things (along with Christ’s hasty return) is a tad different from praying for the “eradication of Islam”? What’s the NT pattern for the latter as opposed to the former?”

    Westminster Shorter Catechism # 102:

    “Q. What do we pray for in the second petition?
    “A. In the second petition, which is, Thy kingdom come, we pray that Satan’s kingdom may be destroyed; and that the kingdom of grace may be advanced, ourselves and others brought into it, and kept in it; and that the kingdom of glory may be hastened.”

    Prayer that “Satan’s kingdom may be destroyed”: Is not Islam (and other false religions) one manifestation of Satan’s kingdom? Since it is, is it not therefore legitimate to pray for its eradication/destruction?

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  47. Geoff,
    Have you talked to Muslims regarding how they interpret things? In addition, with regards to being violent, are you including the context of western interventionism?

    You want to label them that way, nobody can stop you. However, a matter of what input you used to come to that conclusion shows you objectivity.

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  48. Curt Day: “Have you talked to Muslims regarding how they interpret things? In addition, with regards to being violent, are you including the context of western interventionism?”

    GW: I don’t defend all forms of western interventionism, nor would I hesitate to identify some of them as evil. Regarding talking to Muslims about how they interpret things: I’m sure many different Muslims offer many different interpretations. But individual Muslim opinion is irrelevant to the discussion at hand. The issue is official Muslim policy as practiced by many (most?) Muslim-majority nations, policies such as: (1) Dhimmitude (non-Muslims taxed and/or treated as second class citizens); (2) Apostasy laws which bring civil sanctions against those who leave Islam; and thus (3) No genuine religious freedom to choose one’s own religion (or not religion at all), at least if one is born into a Muslim household. In addition, can you deny that in many Muslim nations violent persecution of Christians and other non-Muslim groups is either legally-sanctioned or at least legally-tolerated and/or ignored by the civil authorities?

    Curt Day: “You want to label them that way, nobody can stop you. However, a matter of what input you used to come to that conclusion shows you objectivity.”

    GW: So, are you suggesting that beheading, crucifying and burying alive “infidels” who won’t convert to Islam is not objectively sinful, evil and barbaric? That discrimination against non-Muslims in majority-Muslim nations and denying them basic civil rights (like freedom of religion) is not objectively unjust and evil? That I am showing a lack of objectivity and being too judgmental (perhaps even “pharisaical”) by calling a religion which has produced such things on such a wide scale “evil”? Well, brother, I guess we live in two very different moral universes.

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  49. Geoff,
    This is the problem, you are ready to analyze without listening and gathering sufficient input. Suppose I told you that I know everything one needs to know about Christianity by watching the movie Religulous by Bill Maher? Would you agree or would you want me to listen to or read what Christians say about Christianity?

    Also, you are taking a snapshot of Islam based on its reaction to the latest intervention that has lasted for around a century. Look throughout history and see. Also consider the differences between Muslim controlled gov’ts that are at or near their most holy sites with those that are far from such sites. Then compare all of that with Christian history.

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  50. I am still trying to calculate how many Japanese lives we saved by bombing Hiroshima.

    But no doubt recent political events in Egypt are evidence of the rapid coming of the kingdom. See how they protect each other.

    http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/februaryweb-only/egyptevangelicals.html

    About a quarter of a million people became Protestants…Very gradually, the Orthodox Church began to incorporate into their life various aspects of Protestant life. For example, there was no preaching in the Mass. Finally, under pressure, the [Orthodox] started preaching. Sunday schools start across the street, they have to start Sunday schools.” The Coptic Church also began to place greater emphasis on Scripture.

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