Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Christianity and Islam — A Mixing of Oil and Water

By Pastor Mark Christopher

One of the great dangers that ancient Israel was repeatedly warned against was to avoid the pagan pluralism of the day. The ancient Hebrew was often faced with the temptation to commingle aspects of pagan worship and ritual with their very distinctive regulations concerning the worship of their covenant-keeping God, Jehovah. Syncretism, then as now, has always presented a grave danger to God’s people, because it seeks to merge two heterogeneous belief systems into one whole new hybrid, seeking to capture the “best” of both creeds. But this always results in the loss of vital truths.

One modern-day example of this, which is getting a great deal of fanfare today, addresses whether or not Christianity and Islam worship the same God. Here is the issue phrased as a question: Is Allah the God of both Christianity and Islam? In recent days, the Pope has given much credence to affirming such an interrelationship between these two religious systems. In a separate current event, a political science professor at Wheaton College, an evangelical college near Chicago, was fired for claiming on her Face-Book page that Islam and Christianity worship the same God — Allah. These are only two examples, of many, surrounding this question, but they illustrate the urgency for forming a biblical response to this popular query. 

In formulating an answer to the question, here are five thought provoking questions to consider as we work our way through the theological implications of an interrelated Islam and Christianity:

1. Is it really possible for anyone to truly worship the Father (God) while rejecting the Son, Jesus Christ? 

In John 8:19 it records the interplay between Jesus and the Pharisees regarding His true identity, “So they were saying to Him, ‘Where is your Father?’ Jesus answered, ‘You know neither Me nor My Father; if you knew Me, you would know My Father also.’” On numerous occasions in the Gospel of John, Jesus claimed that true knowledge of God, the Father, led to recognition of who Jesus was. It is by believing on the Son that one can truly know the Father. Yet, Islam claims that Allah does not have a son. And while Islam declares that Jesus was a prophet of God, they categorically deny that He is the Son of God in human flesh. This is in direct contradiction to Scripture.

2. What kind of God does Christianity worship? 

Biblically and historically, Christianity has worshiped the tri-une (3 in 1) God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and no other god period. And while the theological concept of the trinity is complex and difficult to grasp, it is still one of the cardinal tenants of the Christian faith, apart from which Christianity ceases to be Christian. The Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 was in fact notarized and approved in the name of the triune Godhead. But Islam claims that Trinitarian language is “blasphemy” and “idolatrous”. On the contrary, it is absolutely essential to biblical Christianity. 

In close communion with the triune nature of the Christian God, is the personal way in which Christians can worship the God of the Bible. The Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9 illustrates this when it begins with “Our Father who art in heaven …” It is only by God’s grace that Christians can call Him by such an intimate title of endearment. But Islam does not speak of Allah as their heavenly father. The deity that Islam knows primarily as Allah is far more remote and impersonal than the God of the Bible. 

The biblical God has revealed Himself to His people through numerous names in both the Old and New Testaments. Each name given for God, or Christ, reveals some aspect of His nature, character, and work in the time-space-matter continuum. God owns the title deed to each of these unique names that describe Him in some way, and we have no right to arbitrarily change or modify His name(s) for the sake of a worldly ecumenical agenda. For this reason, God gave the 3rd Commandment to warn against taking His name in vain — which is to essentially claim that He is something He is not. God takes His name seriously, and so should we. 

3. Do Christianity, Islam, and Judaism all look to Abraham as a model of faith?

It is true that all three belief systems historically look to Abraham as a progenitor of their faith. But it was Jesus, in John 8:39-59, who denied, before the Pharisees, that salvation is gained by merely being Abraham’s offspring. Instead, salvation is given to those who confess with their mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord and who believe on Him for the forgiveness of sin, based on His finished work on the cross. 

4. What about the link between Christianity and Judaism — do Christianity and Islam share a similar relationship? 

From a theological standpoint, there is genetic link between Christianity and Judaism. It is true that Christianity stands on the shoulders, as it were, of Judaism, as Paul indicated in Romans 1:2-5, and 16; and 9:2-5. But Christianity and Islam do not enjoy the same relationship. In terms of both history and theology, Christianity has absolutely no connection with Islam, which was conceived 700 years after Christianity. Anyone who studies the early life of Mohammed knows that he traveled extensively throughout the Christian and Jewish dominated regions of the Middle East. He would have had heavy exposure to both Christianity and Judaism. No doubt he borrowed aspects from each, and then particularized these to fit his contrived belief system. This accounts for any general similarities between Christianity and Islam. 

5. So, should Christians use the name Allah to build a bridge to Muslims? 

In non-Arabic speaking countries, the use of Allah by Christians minimizes the vast chasm of difference between the one true God of the Bible and the generic use of Allah by Islam. When Christians use the term Allah, it creates ambiguity and confusion on the part of those who think there is an association between the two. Therefore, it is unwise to refer to the Christian God of the Bible as Allah, unless you live in an Arabic-speaking country. But even then, biblical content would have to be supplied to distinguish the biblical God from the Islamic god. 

In the end, genuine biblical love demands that Christians tell their neighbor, Muslim or otherwise, the exclusive truth about Jesus Christ as the only way and only truth by which one can know the Father. For one cannot deny the Son and rightly claim to worship the Father!

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