Reading the Koran in Church
Newsflash: the God of the Bible is not the Allah of the Koran. This is not a point of semantics but substance.
Christians in Europe are torn regarding the most appropriate way to think about the recent refuge influx from the Middle East: some see it as a humanitarian obligation, some see it as an opportunity for the gospel, and other see it as a threat to western civilization.
What's confusing for both Muslims and Christians, however, is when we pretend that the God of the Bible is the Allah of the Koran. This not only distorts the gospel but it shuts Muslims away from the grace of God in Christ.
I was meditating recently on the Shema – the heart and soul of God’s law as articulated by Moses and affirmed by Jesus: Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. Deuteronomy 6:4.
Note these salient points:
First, hearing is primary. The revelation and obedience that follow all stem from hearing well. In our wifi-world of constant connection, this is becoming increasingly difficult. It is hard to find space to hear. But this must be a priority.
Second, the Lord our God is one. This is in no way compromises the doctrine of the Trinity, that God eternally exists in three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Rather, the shema celebrate the intense unity of God and the utterly unique singularity of God. There is only one God – and the Lord, He is God.
Third, you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and might. When asked about the most important law, Jesus said that this is the first and greatest commandment (Matthew 22:38). If we can get this right, everything else will fall into place.
Finally, notice the order: hearing precedes revelation which precedes obedience. If we find ourselves struggling to obey, it is rooted in a lack of revelation; a lack of revelation is rooted in not hearing.
What does this mean for us? First, people ask me all the time, ‘What is the Lord saying?’. My response is pretty simple: Jesus is saying the same thing he’s always been saying: Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations. The last marching orders Jesus gave his staff team still pertain to us.
Second, we live in an age when we must remember that the Lord our God is one. Controversy brewed in the UK recently when St Mary’s Cathedral, a Scottish Episcopal Church in Glasgow, invited a Muslim woman to recite part of the Koran during its January 6 Epiphany service. That’s bad enough; more provocative is the bit of the Koran she recited (Surah 19, including Ayah 34-36): it is about Mary, and it explicitly denies that Jesus is the Son of God.
The most fundamental truth criterion for evaluating any group is what they believe about Jesus. Islam is quite clear: they worship a different god – not the covenant-making Trinitarian God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who came to earth in the Incarnation. They know this, and we know this. But when we forget this in the name of ‘inter-religious dialogue’, we’re in trouble.
What's particularly galling about this episode is that in the ensuing controversy, the church expressed 'regret over offense'. They don't regret letting the praises of Allah be sung in church, but rather than they people were bothered. Has it occurred to them that God might be bothered?
This is not a call to demonize Muslims; the only way they will be reached with the gospel is when Christians actually obey the parable of the Good Samaritan and love them enough to be good neighbours and walk across the street and share the love and truth of Christ with them. Missilologists estime that in the last 15 years more than 10 million Muslims around the world have turned to Christ. I have church-planter friends reaching Muslims in the Gulf States, and many people have been baptised in the Persian gulf.
My point is this: the only way Muslims - or anyone else - can turn to Christ is if Christians are clear about who Christ is, what He has done, and what this means for humanity. Being confused about who God is does not help a Muslim repent and turn to the gospel.
Inherrent in the gospel is the identity of Christ. We will not reach people with the gospel by saying, ‘It doesn’t really matter if Jesus was who he claimed to be’; we will reach people with the gospel the same way the apostles did, by pointing to the resurrection as God’s demonstration that Jesus really did fulfil all the Old Testament prophecies about him, and He is who He claims to be.
Third, loving God with all of our heart, soul, and might is transformative. It re-orders our priorities – the way we spend time, the way we use money, the things that are most important to us. It locates us centrally in God’s plan to establish his kingdom through Christ.
As we hear - the Lord our God is one - we are transformed and empowered by God to be light in the midst of a world that - more than ever - needs light.