Call To Die

Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

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Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and tutor/staff member at Sayers Classical Academy.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Dr. Russell Moore: The State's Interest in Marriage Briefly Explained

Why does the state have any interest in recognizing marriages at all? I believe that many people- even many Christians who greatly value marriage- would be hard pressed to offer an answer to this question; marriage is currently seen as a mere personal choice, with little thought given to the broader societal impact of marriage.

At a "Next Generation Event" during the recent annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, Dr. Russell Moore, President of the Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, helpfully gave one main reason for the state's interest in marriage:
The reason why the state [traditionally] recognizes male/female one-flesh unions: there's a reason for that. There are all kinds of things the state doesn't recognize that are important things: lots of us in this room are friends, [but] we didn't go to the courthouse and register our friendship, and, if we ever get mad at one another and decide we're not going to speak to one another, we don't go to the courthouse and deal with it that way; the state doesn't care who you're friends with, [so] why does the state care who you're married to? The state cares who you're married to because (the state has an interest in that because) a male/female union- at least potentially- has some implications that society has to deal with, and those "implications" are called children. And so the state has to recognize, in some way, marriage, unless you're going to have the kind of society where children are just abandoned on the side of the road and no one is taking care of them. I mean, really, when you think about the state's interest in marriage, it boils down to, at the most basic level, issues of child support: 'who's responsible for this baby?' The state is interested in that.
[The rest of the video from which the above quote was taken may be seen HERE.]

Even more recently, in an interview with National Review Online, Dr. Moore again gave a succinct answer concerning the state's interest in marriage, this time explicitly mentioning the state's interest in promoting situations in which children have the benefit of both a father and a mother:
The government has recognized marriage for one reason. The union of a man and a woman has implications for all of society in a way other relationships don’t. Male/female sexuality brings with it the possibility of children. Very few of us want the sort of “lord of the flies” laissez-faire kind of society which doesn’t care what happens to children. Encouraging the sort of fidelity that maintains, wherever possible, the right of a child to both a mother and a father is a state interest.
[The rest of the article from which the above quote was taken may be read HERE.]

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Monday, June 24, 2013

But didn't Paul call himself "father"?

8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you shall be your servant. (Matthew 23:8-11 ESV)

Many professing Christians are involved in systems of religion in which the command of Christ, seen above, is regularly contradicted. Invariably, those who wish to ignore the words of the Lord Jesus by calling their ministers "Father" [So-and-so] will turn to the following passages in an attempt to justify their disobedience:

For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. (1 Corinthians 4:15 ESV)

But you know Timothy's proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel. (Philippians 2:22 ESV)

And so the question comes: since Paul referred to himself with the term "father," why shouldn't Christian ministers today also be called by the title "Father"?

Notice, however, what Paul does in these passages and what he does not do.

What Paul does in these passages is use the word "father." But, as I've argued before, Jesus was never intending to ban all uses of the word "father." When Jesus forbade his disciples from using the terms, "rabbi, father, and instructor," He was NOT saying that these words must be discarded from their natural use. In another passage, Jesus approvingly quoted from Mosaic Law, saying, "Honor your father and mother" (cf. Mark 7:10; Exodus 20:12); so, in Matthew 23, Jesus is not teaching his disciples to dishonor their parents by discarding the terms of "father" and "mother." Again, in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), when the son repented before his father, he addressed him as "father" (Luke 15:17,21); in this illustration, Jesus certainly does not present the prodigal calling his earthly father "father" as a violation of His words. Finally, in Romans 4, Paul, the servant of Christ Jesus (Rom 1:1), writes of "our father Abraham" (Rom 4:12), having previously explained that Abraham is "our forefather according to the flesh" (Rom 4:1); in using the title "father Abraham" to refer to an ancestor in this way, Paul was certainly not violating the commands of Christ.

Again, what Paul does in these passages is to use the word "father" in an analogical, qualified manner. In 1 Corinthians 4:15, Paul uses "father" as a metaphor, and he qualifies his use of "father" by adding "in Jesus Christ through the gospel." Paul is referring to his gospel ministry among the Corinthians, through which many of the Corinthians were initially exposed to the message of the Cross (Paul being the one who "planted" the gospel in Corinth [1 Cor 3:6].) In Philippians 2:22, Paul is using a simile to describe his ministry with Timothy "in the gospel;" a mentoring relationship is in view.

What Paul does not do in these passages is begin using "father" as a formal religious title. Notice how Paul introduces himself in his letters. He normally refers to himself as a "servant" (as in Philippians 1:1) or- especially when writing responses to churches in which his authority was being questioned to some degree- he refers to Christ's calling upon his life, establishing his apostleship. What Paul does not do in his letters is ever refer to himself as "Father Paul."

I may refer to my former Sunday school teacher, Russell Jones, metaphorically as my "father in the gospel" because it was under his teaching that I was saved. I may refer to my former pastor, Dave Stephen, using a simile, saying that he was "like a father to me," because he was the first person ever to give me formal instruction concerning preaching and because he had a great influence on my spiritual life. I may NOT, however,  begin referring to these men with an honorific religious title as "Father Russell" or "Father Dave:" to do so would be a direct violation of the clear command of Christ.

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Saturday, June 22, 2013

Exceptions to the Westminster Confession of Faith

[Recently, I applied to a job with a school associated with the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). As part of the application process, I had to list and explain any disagreements that I have with the Westminster Confession of Faith. What follows is a copy of my response.]


I am, by conviction, Reformed Baptist. The last two churches of which I was a member (in Auburn, AL [Grace Heritage Church], then in Louisville, KY [Kosmosdale Baptist Church]) held to the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith. This confession was self-consciously patterned on the Westminster Confession of Faith in order to demonstrate continuity with the greater Reformed tradition. However, the 17th century Baptists, based on their understanding of Holy Scripture, saw fit to make a few notable changes to the Westminster Confession. The most significant changes represented in the 1689 London Baptist Confession [hereafter “LBC”] occur in three chapters: Chapter 7 (“Of God’s Covenant [With Man]”), Chapter 25/26 (“Of the Church”), and Chapter 28/29 (“Of Baptism”).

Reformed Baptists differ with our Presbyterian brothers and sisters concerning the Covenant of Grace and the New Covenant. The Westminster Confession [hereafter “WC”] declares that the Covenant of Grace was “differently administered in the time of the law and in the time of the gospel.” The LBC declares that the Covenant of Grace “is revealed in the gospel: first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman, and afterwards by farther steps until the full discovery thereof was completed in the New Testament.” Pascal Denault characterizes the difference in language between Chapter 7 in the WC and LBC by referring to the WC view as teaching that the Old and New Covenants were different administrations of the single Covenant of Grace; on the other hand, Denault quotes influential 17th century Baptist Nehemiah Coxe to explain the LBC, writing that the Covenant of Grace was “revealed progressively and concluded formally under the New Covenant” [Pascal Denault, The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology (Solid Ground Christian Books, 2013), 61.] Reformed Baptists emphasize the newness of the New Covenant and identify the Covenant of Grace with the New Covenant, teaching that the elect of all generations were/are/will be saved through the benefits purchased by Christ as He instituted the New Covenant in His perfect obedience, death, burial, and resurrection.

Reformed Baptists differ with our Presbyterian brothers and sisters concerning the nature of the Church and the way in which churches relate to one another. The WC declares that Church membership “consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion, together with their children.” The LBC does not view the children of professing Christians to be automatically a part of the Church, which is the body and bride of Christ, but declares that Church membership consists of all those “who are saints by calling, visibly manifesting and evidencing (in and by their profession and walking) their obedience unto that call of Christ.” The Reformed Baptist understanding of Church membership is, in part, informed by our understanding of the New Covenant, under which all covenant members experience certain guaranteed benefits, such as: the full forgiveness of sins, the promise of sanctification, and the imprinting of God’s Law upon the heart and mind (Heb 10:14-18).

Reformed Baptists believe that the New Testament model for inter-church relations does not allow for any ecclesiastical authority outside the local church– each congregation being under the direct headship of Christ– and when members from various churches meet together to consider matters that may be of mutual concern to many congregations, delegates from the individual churches are simply named “messengers” (according the LBC) and “these messengers assembled are not entrusted with any church-power (properly so called), or with any jurisdiction over the churches themselves.”

Perhaps the most obvious area of difference between Reformed Baptists and Presbyterians concerns the doctrine and practice of baptism. Whereas the WC explicitly declares, “Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, but also the infants of one or both believing parents are to be baptized,” and, “Dipping of the person into the water is not necessary, but baptism is rightly administered by pouring or sprinkling water upon the person,” the LBC directly contradicts both of these statements, declaring, “Those who do actually profess repentance towards God, faith in, and obedience to, our Lord Jesus Christ, are the only proper subjects of this ordinance,” and, “Immersion, or dipping of the person in water, is necessary to the due administration of this ordinance.” The Reformed Baptist doctrine of baptism is based upon our understanding of the nature of the New Covenant and the nature of the Church, as well as the positive commands and examples regarding baptism that are found in the New Testament. The Reformed Baptist practice of baptism (immersion) is based upon our understanding of what the term “baptism” means and what baptism symbolizes: a sign of the believer’s fellowship with Christ in His death and resurrection (Rom 6:3-4).

Despite these differences– as important as they are– Reformed Baptists and Presbyterians have a long history of fellowship and cooperation for gospel causes based on a large body of agreed-upon doctrinal convictions. From early on, Reformed Baptists have invited Presbyterian brothers to deliver occasional sermons in our churches (and vice-versa), and in recent times Reformed Baptist and Presbyterian ministers have shared the podium in conference settings. One driving commitment that I have concerning education is that parents are the primary educators of their children; when considering the possibility of working at a school that is organized under the Westminster Confession, I would certainly not use the classroom to contradict the convictions that parents are seeking to form within their children. Nor would I feel it necessary to initiate debate with parents or other faculty concerning areas in which I differ from the WC.

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Friday, June 21, 2013

Sermon Notes from 1 Thessalonians 3:1-5, "We Are Destined for This, Part 1" by Tray Earnhart.

[The following notes were taken at the 10:45AM service on June 26, 2011 at Kosmosdale Baptist Church. Notes for Part 2 may be viewed HERE.]

1 Thessalonians 3:1-5.

I. Introduction
A. "Hard times bring confusion." Examples:
1. David in many of the Psalms
2. Job
B. "Sometimes change brings states of confusion."
C. Results of confusion in the life of a Christian:
1. Confusion prompts the Christian to ask, "Why is that so?" (i.e., why must we go through situations that cause us to feel confused).
2. Confusion prompts the Christian to realize, "What we need are answers."
3. Confusion prompts the Christian to turn to the Bible, which "reveals to us the truth."

II. "Suffering, hardship, affliction: count on it."
A. Because "times are tough," Paul sent Timothy (v. 2):
1. To establish the Thessalonian church;
2. To encourage the Thessalonian church.
B. The intended result of Timothy's ministry is that none "would be moved by these afflictions" (v. 3a).
C. Christians are destined for suffering, hardship, affliction in this world (v. 3b, x ref. 1 Pet 4:12-19; John 15:18-16:4, 33).
D. Heaven is our place of rest.
E. "Come to Christ."

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On Titles for Church Leadership

Texts

But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you shall be your servant. (Matthew 23:8-11 ESV)


But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness intohis marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9 ESV)



Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust. (Acts 14:23 ESV)

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— (Titus 1:5 ESV)

Commentary

As recorded in Matthew 23:8-11, Jesus prohibits His followers from distinguishing themselves by the use of honorific religious titles. Jesus' words in this passage come in the context of denouncing the behavior of the scribes and Pharisees- in view of their hypocritical and self-serving religious activities- so it is clear that religious titles are the subject of this passage (in other words, the Lord is not here prohibiting children from saying "Daddy" to their earthly fathers). Specific religious titles that the Lord prohibits for His followers are "rabbi," "father," and instructor."

As the direct commandment of Jesus prohibits any Christian minister taking on "father" as a religious title, clear New Testament teaching also speaks against any specific group of Christian ministers distinguishing themselves from other church members by taking on the title of "priest." As Skarsaune notes in relation to 1 Peter 2:9,

"The new people of God are not in a temple, attending a service led by priests, they are the temple and they are its priests, themselves conducting the service... since the whole people is priestly, all leadership ministries are called by entirely non-priestly, non-cultic terms." [Skarsaune, In the Shadow of the Temple, 162. Quoted in James M. Hamilton, God's Indwelling Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Old And New Testaments (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2006), 123-124.]


The prohibition against honorific religious titles, and the lack of "priestly" or "cultic" terms for church leadership does NOT mean, however, that the church has NO way of speaking about the men who help teach, counsel, and guide church members. All things must be done decently and in order (1 Corinthians 14:40), and if the church lacks recognition concerning WHICH men were qualified for leadership roles, then orderliness will quickly vanish. And so the Lord, through His apostles, has given qualifications for church leadership in passages such as Titus 1:5-9. Church leaders are referred to as pastors, overseers, bishops, or (perhaps most commonly in the New Testament) elders.


Application


Followers of the Lord Jesus Christ obey His commands. Followers of the Lord Jesus Christ who are in church leadership will not insist on being addressed with an honorific religious title such as "rabbi," "father," or "instructor" in DIRECT VIOLATION of Jesus' command. Followers of the Lord Jesus Christ will not follow someone who refers to himself as "Father [So-and-So]," etc., because they will recognize that man as someone who does not care about the clear command of Christ.


As the New Testament avoids priestly terms in referring to church leadership- calling the entire church "a royal priesthood," and naming Jesus as the ultimate high priest who fulfills all the sacrificial functions once and for all (Hebrews 4:14-16; 10:11-14)- followers of the Lord Jesus Christ should avoid systems of religion in which the ministers are referred to as "priests."


Followers of the Lord Jesus Christ should seek out churches in which the congregational leadership actually meets the qualifications for church leadership mentioned in the New Testament and churches in which leaders are called by simple, New Testament terms such as "pastor," "elder," etc.

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Saturday, June 15, 2013

Sermon Notes from "What Infuriates You?" Sermon by Dr. W. Keith Stell.

[Sermon from this past Lord's Day morning at New Georgia Baptist Church.]

I. Introductory Statements/Question

A. "Our purpose is to know God."

B. "The purpose of the salvation He has given us is to glorify Him."

C. "We must be in Christ, and He must be in us."

D. "Do we, in this place, truly believe that we possess the only message of hope...?"

II. Introduction to Acts 17

A. Acts encompasses about thirty years of church history.

B. Acts is a good instruction for how we are to live as a church today.

C. In Acts 17, Paul had just been release from being incarcerated in a Philippian jail for having cast out a demon.

Q: How are we to respond when our proclamation of the gospel is rejected?
A: Paul continues to boldly proclaim the truth.

III. What Infuriates You?

A. Paul's spirit was provoked by the idolatry of the Athenians.

B. How do we react to the idolatry in our own culture?

C. Idols:
1. "rob God of His glory;"
2. "cast God away;"
3. "people will become like the idols they worship."

D. Pride is the elevation of human reason to where it becomes the center of truth.

E. The right response to being provoked is to proclaim the gospel.

IV. How are we to respond to the robbing of God's glory?

A. We are to examine our own lives, confessing/repenting concerning what has replaced God in our own lives.

B. We are to plead with others concerning Christ, and we are to persevere in teaching the whole counsel of God.

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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Presenting the Gospel to Muslims: Key Biblical Concepts

In engaging Muslims with the good news of who Jesus is and what He has done on behalf of sinners, it is helpful to have some background information about the Islamic faith, but it is crucial to understand sound biblical doctrine. Specific Bible teachings that the Christian must understand and be able to present to his or her Muslim friends are: the Trinity, the Person of Christ, the Cross, the Trustworthiness of Scripture, and the Imputed Righteousness of Christ.

The Trinity

Muslims may misunderstand the Christian affirmation of the Trinity, thinking that Christians affirm three gods. Christians must be very clear that there is only one God (Deut 6:4). But we also must proclaim the truth that within the one being that is God, there exists eternally three co-equal and co-eternal Persons: namely, the Father (Matt 6:9), the Word or Son (John 1:1-2; 17:5; Col 2:9), and the Holy Spirit (John 14:26; 15:26; Acts 8:29; 13:2), each with distinct personal attributes (Isa 48:16; Matt 3:16-17; Rom 8:26-27; Heb 9:13-14), but without division of nature, essence or being (John 10:30; 14:9; Acts 5:39). We must readily admit: exactly how the trinity works may be beyond our comprehension, and we must admit that a denial of the trinity may be simpler. But we must challenge our Muslim friends with the question: why should God be so simple that we can completely understand Him?

The Person of Christ

Muslims agree with Christians that Jesus is sinless and that He was sent from God. But Christians must boldly proclaim the truth that Muslims deny: that Jesus Himself claimed to be God (John 10:30). Furthermore, Jesus’ earliest followers claimed that He is God (John 1:1) who took on flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14) for the purpose of our salvation.

The Cross

The earliest Christians were eyewitnesses to Jesus' death (and resurrection), as seen in John 19:32-35, Luke 1:1-4, and 1 Corinthians 15:1-7. Even enemies of Christianity testify to the death of Christ. The earliest Jewish opponents of Christianity did not claim that Jesus had not been crucified (and they admitted that His tomb was empty): Matthew 28:11-15; Josephus, Antiquities, AD 63-64. The earliest Roman opponents of Christianity did not claim that Jesus had not been crucified: Tacitus, AD 115. Modern non-Christian historians do not claim that Jesus was not crucified; Bart Ehrman, who is openly hostile to Christianity, yet stated: “One of the most certain facts of history is that Jesus was crucified on the orders of the Roman prefect of Judea, Pontius Pilate.” Furthermore, the Qur'an itself speaks of the death of Christ in Surah 19:33, though it seems to specifically deny the crucifixion in Surah 4:156-158. Though Muslims deny the crucifixion based on Surah 4:156-158, they do so in contradiction to the eyewitness testimony of the earliest Christians, the testimony of the earliest opponents of Christianity, all sound non-Muslim historical scholarship, and even claims of the Qur'an itself, such as that seen in Surah 19:33.

The Trustworthiness of Scripture

Though Muslim apologists today commonly question the trustworthiness of Christian Scripture, the Qur'an itself, in Surah 10:94, commands Muhammad to "ask those who have been reading Scripture before you" in order that he might relieve his doubts. In context, this Surah is referring to the "Scripture"- the Christian and Jewish Scripture- that came before the giving of the Qur'an. The words of the Qur'an assume, rather than deny, the trustworthiness of Christian Scripture. Christian Scripture is built on eyewitness testimony (see the above in the section on "The Cross"). Christian Scripture is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16).

The Imputed Righteousness of Christ

Surah 53:38 asserts: "That no bearer of burdens will bear the burden of another." This assertion is contradicted by Isaiah 53:4-6, in which the Messiah is proclaimed to be One who bears our griefs, sorrows, afflictions, iniquities, and punishment, being "pierced for our transgressions," bringing healing to us all. Islam presents an irresolvable problem concerning the justice of God, for how can a holy and righteous God justify the ungodly? This problem is the reason that many Muslims believe that all people spend at least a little time in Hell having their sins burned away before they can enter Heaven. According to the good news of Jesus, this problem is addressed in Romans 3:21-26. God never neglects perfect justice: every sin is paid for, either by the sinner in Hell or by Jesus, in the place of the sinner, upon the Cross. Salvation from sin, death, and Hell is by grace alone through the imputed righteousness of Christ: the one who trusts in Christ is counted righteousness in Christ. Just as Jesus took our sins on Himself while dying on the Cross, the believing sinner takes on the righteousness of the resurrected Christ. This good news of salvation- accomplished by God in Christ on the Cross- glorifies God alone as the only Savior (something that should resonate with our Muslim friends, who say that they are jealous to glorify God alone). The good news of Jesus Christ is summarized in 2 Corinthians 5:21: God made the one who did not know sin [that is, Jesus] to be sin for us, so that in Him we would become the righteousness of God. (NET)

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Monday, June 10, 2013

Inspiring and Challenging Quotes from the Letters and Journals of Jim Elliot

[From a handout distributed at the Sunday Bible Study of Grace Heritage Church, August 14, 2005.]

"He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose." 
"God, I pray, light these idle sticks of my life, and may I burn up for Thee. Consume my life, my God, for it is Thine. I seek not a long life but a full one like Yours, Lord Jesus." 
"The holy life of a fearless Samuel brought trembling to the elders of Bethlehem. Lord, wilt Thou impart a holiness of this sort to me? I can make men laugh; I cannot make them tremble." [re: 1 Sam 16:4
"Glad to get the opportunity to preach the gospel of the matchless grace of our God to stoical, pagan Indians. I only hope that He will let me preach to those who have never heard the name of Jesus. What else is worth-while in this life? I have heard nothing better. Lord, send me." 
"'He makes His ministers a flame of fire.' [re: Psa 104:4.] Am I ignitable? God deliver me from the dread asbestos of 'other things.' Saturate me with the oil of the Spirit that I may be a flame. But flame is transient: short-lived. Canst thou bear this, my soul: short life? In me there dwells the Spirit of the Great Short-Lived, whose zeal for God's house consumed Him. 'Make me Thy fuel, Flame of God.'" 
"My preaching [all] last month was service for service's sake. Oh, how I thank Thee, Father, for my earthly father [Jim's Dad, Fred Elliot] who has seen the truth as to [my] motives for service. It is not the winning of souls nor the spreading of missions that should inflame me. Paul said, 'I count all loss that I may win (not souls) but Christ.'" [re: Phil 3:8
"I dare not stay at home while Quechuas perish. What if the well-filled church in my homeland needs stirring? They have the Scriptures, Moses, and the prophets, and a whole lot more. Their condemnation is written on their bank books and in the dust on their Bible covers."

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Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Islam: The Five Pillars

Islamic piety is commonly understood in terms of five practices, which are referred to as "pillars" of the Muslim religion. The "pillars" are: 1. Confession; 2. Prayers; 3. Fasting; 4. Alms; 5. Pilgrimage.

Confession (shahada):

The basic Islamic confession of faith may be translated: “There is no God but God, and Muhammad is the Apostle of God.” By saying this confession in Arabic, with faith, a person becomes a Muslim. Many Muslims believe that saying the shahada with faith- along with an atom’s worth of good works- is a sufficient basis for a person to (eventually) gain entrance to Heaven, if Allah so chooses.

Prayers (salat):

Faithful Muslims say prayers at five set times per day while facing Mecca. These prayers are accompanied by wudu: ceremonial washing. Though many Christians- somewhat understandably- envy Muslims for being so faithful in prayer, we must note that for many Muslims these "prayers" consist of simply reciting memorized passages of the Qur'an; in other words, salat tends to be more about external ritual than attempted communion with God.

 Fasting (during the month of Ramadan):

Faithful Muslims fast during the lunar month of Ramadan: abstaining from food, water, and other luxuries from sunup to sundown during this month. Those who have medical conditions that prevent fasting are supposed to be exempt from this practice. Because Muslims are able to eat during the nighttime hours during Ramadan, I have heard a few Christians criticize this practice, saying that it is not true fasting, but how many of us fail to regularly abstain from even one meal for the purpose of spiritual focus?

Alms (zakat):

Faithful Muslims give 2.5% of their net income per lunar year to charitable causes. Those collecting and distributing the zakat also receive some of this money. From the Christian perspective this amount seems rather low, as we are used to the tithe: 10% of income- usually understood as gross income- given to the church, with additional charity given to the needy, when possible.

Pilgrimage (hajj to Mecca):

Every Muslim who is physically and financially able to do so is expected to perform a pilgrimage to Mecca in Arabia at least once in his or her lifetime. Many Muslims who undertake the hajj receive respect in their own communities, and Muslims who take the pilgrimage regularly report being impressed with the grandeur and seeming universality of Islam. However, I have heard from some Christian missionaries that there are other Muslims who take the trip to Mecca and who return to their homes with a sense of disappointment: because the hajj had been built up in their minds to be a kind of ultimate spiritual experience, they may feel a bit let down after it is completed. This may be an opportunity for gospel proclamation.

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Tuesday, June 04, 2013

A Selection from Dr. James R. White, "What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Qur'an"

[The entire following post is an excerpt from a crucial portion of Dr. James R. White's book What Every Christian Need to Know About the Qur'an (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2013), 185-186.]

Every Christian should read and understand [Surah 5:47]

Let the People of the Gospel judge by that which Allah had revealed therein. Whoever judges not by that which Allah has revealed; such are the corrupt.

Here the Ahl al-Injil ["People of the Gospel"] are addressed directly, given a command right in the text: "judge by that which Allah had revealed therein." Therein, in the Arabic, refers to the gospel. There is no other antecedent. We are to judge by what Allah has revealed in the gospel. Now, let us think very carefully here.

First, what are we to judge? Again, either judge among ourselves in light of the Scripture God has given us, or judge Muhammad's claims as God's final messenger. Both are possible, contextually.

 Second, in the gospel is divine revelation that is a light and guidance. [Based on the previous ayah, Surah 5:46, "And in their footsteps"- that is, the footsteps of the prophets- "We sent Jesus son of Mary, confirming that which was before him, and We bestowed on him the Gospel wherein is guidance and a light, confirming that which was before it in the Torah: a guidance and an admonition to the God-fearing."]

Third, these words had to have some kind of meaning to the original addressees. That is, Christians in Muhammad's time- who would hear these words recited to them by Muhammad himself or by the other Muslim faithful- had to have a way of obeying this text's command.

That means "the gospel" had to exist in the days of Muhammad. If it was corrupted and lost before the seventh century, how could the People of the (already lost) Gospel judge by what Allah had revealed (but then had let disappear)? It makes no sense to command Christians to judge by a lost or corrupted document. So the Qur'an's author believed the gospel was still in Christian possession. And that has tremendous meaning for one simple reason.

We know beyond question what the gospel looked like in AD 632. We know because we have entire copies of the New Testament that long predate Muhammad. Whole codices are extant that were written in the early fourth century, and we have fragments of much of the New Testament going back as far as the early second century. We know what the "People" would have had as "the Gospel." And the Qur'an commands the people of Muhammad's day (and we would expect, by extension, to this day) to judge by that standard.

That standard is exactly what we possess today as the New Testament. That was the gospel then; that is the gospel now. Each canonical gospel we read today we can document to have existed in that very form three centuries before Muhammad's ministry. A Christian judging Muhammad's claims by the New Testament and finding that he was ignorant of the teachings of the apostles, ignorant of the cross, the resurrection, and the divine nature of the incarnate Son of God, and ignorant of the intention and meaning of the gospel itself, is simply doing what the Qur'an commands us to do.


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