Friday, September 10, 2010

Burn the Qur'an or Love Your Neighbor as Yourself?

Over at the White Horse Inn, Michael Horton has provided a well thought out response to the recent fuss about burning the Qur'an.  In it, he seeks to help frame the debate from a Reformed perspective that is based on the doctrine of the spirituality of the church, or Two-Kingdoms doctrine.  Although the issue has been set forth as political and Christians are to engage in the political arena, there is much more at stake than politics and military success.  Horton writes,
As citizens of democratic nations, Christians may be concerned about the implications of Qur’an-burning for international peace and justice. However, as citizens of the kingdom of Christ, they have even more reason to denounce such actions. Recall James and John—the “sons of thunder”—asking Jesus if they could call fire down from heaven on a Samaritan village that rejected their message. We read that Jesus rebuked them. 
And, 
As responsible citizens, we cannot help but be concerned about the political ramifications of Islam—especially since Islam is a geo-political as well as religious movement. Yet as citizens of Christ’s kingdom, we must resist the temptation to confuse U. S. interests with the goals of the City of God.
Horton ends with a great real life illustration that puts the entire nonsense of burning the Qur'an in perspective,
Muslims are our neighbors and regardless of what their religion encourages, our scriptures call us to imitate our Father who sends sunshine and rain on the just and the unjust alike. It is an era of common grace, a space in history for calling all people everywhere to repentance and faith in Christ. Our children play regularly with Muslim neighbors and sometimes the topic of religion comes up in conversation. It is interesting to overhear the interaction. On occasion, the oldest boy will ask me questions about Jesus and why we believe that he rose from the dead. I cannot imagine that the burning of the Qur’an this coming Saturday will help move that discussion along.
In the post, Horton draws the distinction between the City of God and the City of man in order to help remind Christians not to confuse the interests of the U.S. with the interests of the Church.

Apparently, there were many who disagreed with Horton's position.  There was so much negative response that it required him to write a second post, which can be read here. In the second post, he further explains his position on the negative consequences of confusing Church and state, using some of the past inconsistencies of Christendom to bolster his point. Horton warns that Christians do not want to resort to similar perspectives to Muslim extremists by assuming and perpetuating the past mistakes of Christendom.

In addition to looking at past mistakes in Christendom, Horton provides an excellent redemptive-historical summary for his position:
Unlike Islam, the biblical faith is an unfolding drama of redemption in which different covenants determine distinct policies and relationships between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this age. Under the old covenant pledged at Mount Sinai, Israel was a geo-political theocracy, commanded by God to drive out the idolatrous nations. It was a type of the Last Judgment at the end of the age. Yet Israel broke this covenant and was sent into exile; even when a remnant was allowed to return, the nation was under the oppressive reigns of successive empires. Then the Messiah arrived and in his Sermon on the Mount sharply re-defined the nature of his kingdom. Christ did not come to revive the old covenant (Sinai), but to fulfill it and to inaugurate the new covenant (Zion) with his own blood. No longer identified with a nation, his kingdom is the worldwide family that God promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is a “new covenant,” which is “not like the covenant” that Israel swore at Sinai (Jer 31:31-34). It is a kingdom of grace and forgiveness, an era in which the outcasts are gathered for the feast instead of driven out of the land. Even in the face of persecution, it is the hour for loving and praying for enemies, not for hating them or retaliating (Mat 5:43-48). Whereas God promised Israel temporal blessing for obedience and disaster for disobedience, today is the era of common grace. “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (v 45). One day, Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead and the holy wars that God commanded in the Old Testament will pale in comparison with the worldwide arraignment before the Son of God. 
Given the present era of the Church, the Kingdom of God grows through the means of grace of preaching the word, administering the sacraments and in prayer.  And there are many Christians seeking to do just this around the world, who live in Muslim countries under constant threat. Many of the Christians are former Muslims who still live in their homelands, while others are foreign Christians serving as missionaries.  If General Petraeus is concerned about potential violence to soldiers, what about the threat against fellow Christians?

For this reason, Horton ends with three reasons why burning the Qur'an tomorrow is wrong:
Burning the Qur’an is wrong for the following reasons: (1) It confuses the proclamation of Christ with violent conflict, justifying the suspicions of our secular and Muslim neighbors that Christianity is also a quasi-political movement; (2) It puts our neighbors around the world at risk, Christian and non-Christian, military and civilian; (3) It puts our brothers and sisters at greater risk, not for the gospel, but for an easy act of desperation that avoids the difficult sacrifice that fellow Christians around the world are making daily in their witness to God’s saving love in Christ.
As helpful as Horton's words are, there is one who makes Horton's case more authoritatively--the prophet Micah.  We should hear the words of the prophet Micah in chapter four, in which he says that in the latter days, the presence of the Lord will be resurrected, that the people of God, consisting of Jews and Gentiles, will stream to God to learn from him and then go out from him with his word.  These latter days have dawned in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and first found their fulfillment when his disciples met him atop a mountain and received a commission to take his word to the ends of the earth (Matthew 28.16-20).  It should be no surprise, then, that in these latter days, the days inaugurated with the resurrection of Christ, the days in which we now live, that Micah tells us that the Church's past instruments of warfare are turned into instruments of harvest:

 . . . they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; (Micah 4.3b).
As the Church who lives in these latter days, continuing to strive to faithfully fulfill the commission given by Christ, let us strive to utilize the right instruments--instruments of harvest and peace, not violence and conflict. We want to bring in the harvest, not burn the harvest fields. Make no mistake, burning the Qur'an does not serve Christ or further the cause of the gospel. In our desire to love God, let us also love our Muslim neighbor as ourselves.

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