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Michael Horton's Follow-Up To 'Burning Books or Proclaiming Christ'

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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
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  • Guest - Gavriela

    Goodness ... our Islamic enemies are laughing themselves silly ... all these Christians and Jews with their panties in a wad ! These two cases fit the old folk lore ... Some cause happiness wherever they go. Others whenever they go.

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  • [...] Horton from the White Horse Inn has made some posts concerning this important issue.  It can be difficult to work through and a lot [...]

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  • Guest - Evan

    Many of these posts sound like the Scribes and Pharisees of Jesus day. They want to uphold the letter of the law (the right to burn the Quran) even though the spirit of the law in the case of burning the Quran would result in mass murder across the globe.

    Jesus condemned the Scribes and Pharisees with such contempt that my post my get removed if I quoted them. In short, Jesus recognized those who uphold the letter over spirit of law as contemptible and having no place in his Kingdom.

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  • Guest - Frederick Santal

    >Goodness … our Islamic enemies are laughing themselves silly … all these Christians and Jews with their panties in a wad !

    Yeah, wee, the noble savages get the victory again. Good thing we don't worship that idol or anything, huh?

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  • Guest - Loyd N Dunaway

    We live in a small global "village".

    I am in FULL agreement with the pastor's right to do what he wants with his personal property--i.e. the Quran, read it or burn it; and if there were some sort of government injunction against his doing so, I strongly feel that the ACLU should take up his cause (A First Amendment Issue) and defend it with all the resources the ACLU has at its disposition.

    That said there are world-wide consequences of his burning the Holy Book of millions of Muslims around the globe.
    I know many missionaries in Muslim countries whose lives and ministries are endangered by the burning or even the threat of burning the Quran.

    The Framers of the Constitution meant for Americans to have the freedom to believe as they wished, worship as they wished and to do so freely and in public. (All expressions are to be accepted and not interfered with -- unless there was a danger to the rest of the community.) This is one of these expressions.
    However, I have my doubts as to the wisdom of doing so. He and others who will follow suit need to know that actions cause reactions. I served as a Missionary several years ago. I remember that months or even years of hard evangelism among an indifferent or hostile group of people could be undone in an "innocent" faux paux. How much more a deliberate action.
    The gospel compels me to Love God and to love my neighbor, and who might that be? In these days of instant communication across the width and breath of the world, everyone, Jesus indicated that my neighbor is the person or persons who are needy, the whole world in needy of Jesus and His message: Love of God, Love of Neighbor and repentance from sin and the acceptance of His Salvation (the Cross).
    Anything any of us "Christians" do that harms the work to the Savior in the world is to work against the work of God, the Holy Spirit.

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  • Guest - Stan

    Dr. Horton:
    From your comments I take it that your opposition to the Quran burning is based on the fact that it was done by individuals purporting to represent Christ and His church. Would you have had any problems with a non-Christian group doing exactly the same thing? Like a Lions Club, a VFW, or Chamber of Commerce? Is this an American response, or a Christian response that we support or oppose?

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  • Guest - Phil H.

    Thanks Michael, for a well-written article! I spend most of my time working with Muslims in North Africa, and each time I return to the States I am more and more boggled and grieved by the typical American Christian response to Islam. I pray that many will be challenged and allow themselves to be affected by your words!

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  • Guest - Matt S Holst

    Well said, Dr. Horton. I am saddened by the too often response "now is not the time to back down" (my paraphrase), as if protecting America is the equivalent of protecting the church. The Apostles rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer for the name of Christ, yet too many of us Americans (specifically, those who profess to be Christians) whine and demand retribution whenever the ungodly behave like the ungodly. We are not Israel driving out the Canaanites; rather, we are the body of Christ armed for spiritual battle awaiting our Savior's return.
    Grace and peace and may God be with his missionaries whose lives are on the line even more so thanks to this irresponsible act.

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  • "Islam actually learned a lot of its “jihadist” ways from Christendom."

    Hi Mike,
    I'm a several years' listener to your podcasts and agree with most of what you say in this post, but the statement I've quoted above troubles me a bit. It doesn't remind me of the church or islamic history I've read: at least pre-crusades. Could you provide a bit of historical referencing on that issue?
    In modern talk about the development of Jihadi ideas you hear much about the influence of the crusades. In my opinion Jihad was well-developed ideologically before anyone thought of crusades in the Christian West. North Africa and the South of Spain, the bulk of the Turkish peninsula and the coastal regions of the whole of the Med. were not "pacified" by the religion of peace, but attacked with the sword, fire and every other weapon at that time conceivable. They didn't learn these devices from the unborn Crusaders, but from their founder, who died in the desert and was by no means taken up into heaven from Jerusalem. The process of rooting out the structure of lies of Islam is at least as tedious as Jesus argument with Satan in the gospels, but it is a necessary process and has to be carried out individually, because in my experience as soon as two moslems are on one side of an argument, there is a negative symbiotic effect, making the admission of any point of fact not supporting the standard islamic view completely out of the question-- no matter what level of evidential foundation the other side musters. I don't even want to speak to the issue of public debate. What I have seen happen in TV "talk-shows" here in Germany is absolutely shameless, but would certainly have been countenanced by the 7th C. founders.

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  • Guest - Tami Lehto

    I had prayed about this to God. I believe that this Pastor wasn't burning the Koran because God directed him to. But did it because he personally thought it was the right thing to do.
    Jesus doesn't care if he burned it or not. Christians, when they turn to faith in Jesus Christ usually do burn or toss their old occult books... or burn or toss idols of their past life. So it isn't a sin.
    Those who do jihadi against Christian in Nigeria or Pakistan will do so even if there wasn't a Pastor in Florida who claimed to burn a Koran on 9/11. The Islamic jihadi look for any reason to murder who they value as no better than insects. They will make up reasons [false accusations] to do so if they can't find a reason.
    Recently, one Christian man burned an old text book that had Koran verses in it, from his garage. He was killed for it [VOM].
    Also to know that if there were not any Crusades... Islam would have taken all that land already.
    So should Americans just let Islam wage war on us. Defeat us by intimidation & fly their flag over our white house? Is this what Jesus meant when He said for us to turn the other cheek?
    I don't think so.

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