Book and MatchesI have to admit that many of the responses to my post have surprised me. Some of them sound eerily like the beliefs and attitudes of Muslim extremists. This may be in part because so many Christians in the United States still assume some of the errors of “Christendom.” On a cold November day in 1095, Pope Urban II roused a Christendom plagued by internal wars to take up the cause of holy war against Islam. “If you must have blood,” he exhorted, “bathe in the blood of infidels.”[1] Substituting itself for its ascended Lord, the church assimilated a civilization to that ecclesial body. “Our divinely favored emperor,” said the church father Eusebius concerning Constantine, “receiving, as it were, a transcript of the divine sovereignty, directs, in imitation of God himself, the administration of this world’s affairs.” With divine mandate, therefore, the emperor “subdues and chastens the open adversaries of the truth in accordance with the usages of war.”[2]

Although there were often lively debates as to whether the temporal and visible head of Christendom was the pope or the emperor, the medieval imagination was fed by this erroneous substitution of Europe for Israel of old. Monarchs fancied themselves King David redivivus, driving out the Canaanites with their holy knights. Islam actually learned a lot of its “jihadist” ways from Christendom. The glaring difference is that while the Qur’an and Hadith justify the use of violence in the struggle for worldwide submission, the Bible does not.

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.

By the looks of many of these responses, though, America is “Israel.” America’s “war on terror” is not only a just war, defending national interests, but is in fact a holy war: “Onward, Christian Soldiers.” In this way, we become a mirror of Islam, reverting to bad “Christendom” habits that ignore the revolution that occurred in history when Jesus announced his “regime change” from the old to the new covenant, gave his life for his people, was raised for their justification, and sent his Spirit to make them witnesses to his Good News to the ends of the earth.

In this present era of history, Christ’s kingdom expands by the proclamation of the Word and the administration of the sacraments. Its heirs are also in the world as active citizens in the cultures and nations of this passing age, but their ultimate loyalty is to the Lord of lords. They can expect the world’s opposition. In fact, more Christians have been martyred in the last few decades than in all of the centuries combined. Yet the martyrs triumph through the word of their testimony—their witness to Christ, not through violence. This is the message of the Book of Revelation.

In my travels, I have met some of these brothers and sisters under constant threat of violence from Muslims in African, Asian, and Middle Eastern countries. I have had the privilege of getting to know others as seminary students and wonder at the daily struggles they face—and their joy in fulfilling their ministry regardless of the cost. They are willing to suffer for their testimony to Christ, but why should an American Christian put them in harm’s way for an act of violence that testifies to anger rather than redemption?

Just today I was sent an urgent appeal for prayer from Christian Solidarity Worldwide. In response to the Florida church’s plan to burn the Qur’an on Saturday, many Christian leaders in Nigeria and the Middle East have asked for our prayers. Here are a few requests passed on by CSW:

“Things are very, very difficult here…Several Village Heads who reported on Boko Haram have …been killed and then yesterday Boko Haram attacked Bauchi prison. The situation in Maiduguri is very tense. Please be praying for us. We need prayers for God’s grace and survival…We are the ones who are going to bear the brunt of [the burning of the Qur’an]. Since we saw news of what he plans we have been weeping and mourning. Ramadan will end here either end today or tomorrow. People are already moving their families away for safety.”
—From a pastor in Maiduguri, Nigeria, scene of the 2006 cartoon riots and the worst of the 2009 Boko Haram violence

“In northern Nigeria the tension is high. We are in great panic because if this occurs it will be worse than 2006, and most of our churches will be burnt down. If you can plead with those people to stop the burnings it will help us.”
—Anglican Bishop Musa Tula of Bauchi, Nigeria

“As I write the Iraqi Army Colonel has just left. He had a clear message: “There are plans to blow you up because of what the Pastor in Florida has said about burning the Holy Koran”. There is nothing we can do to protect ourselves. The army is being sent to us in force to try and protect us, what they can do is also limited…”
—The Reverend Canon Andrew White, Anglican Chaplain to Iraq
Provided by The Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East

Given especially the theological confusion underlying the anger expressed in some of the responses to my post, it is my hope and prayer that we can raise our thoughts higher than the daily news, to “the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Heb 11:10). Whereas the blood of Abel cried out from the ground for vengeance, the blood of Christ pleads for forgiveness—and that is why we come not to Sinai, but to Zion “and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Heb 12:22-24).

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.

[1] Robert Payne, The Dream and the Tomb: A History of the Crusades (New York: Stein & Day, 1985), 34
[2] Douglas Farrow, Ascension and Ecclesia, 115, from Orat. 1.6-2.5