10/12/2014

DO THE CRUSADES MEAN THAT CHRISTIANITY IS NO DIFFERENT THAN ISLAM?

Why Understanding the Reformation is a Vital Key for Answering this Challenge 

I listened to a panel discussion on radical Islam involving two Muslims and three non-Muslims, two of whom were obviously Christian and one perhaps a secularist. The one I would consider a secularist, perhaps in deference to the Muslims on the panel, began talking about the crusades by which he sought to imply that Christianity is no different than Islam when it comes to the violent use of coercion and force.
What he failed to mention was that Christianity had a Reformation, which is why there are no beheadings and suicide bombings today by those who call themselves Christian. The 16th century Reformation represented a return of the church to its founder, Jesus Christ, and its founding document, the New Testament. As a result, the use of force and violence was dropped for such cannot be supported by Jesus who was very radical in his teachings on nonviolence.
Jesus was a man of peace who taught love for God and one's neighbor. He was no passive pacifist, but taught a bold and aggressive approach to peace and nonviolence. It was Jesus who told His followers;
But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, give him your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two (Matthew 5:39-41).
Unlike many Muslims who dance around statements in the Koran seeking to put a positive interpretation on overt statements about killing and subjugating infidels, Christians have had the opposite challenge with the sayings of Jesus. Christians have grappled with interpreting Jesus in a way that allows them to defend themselves and that does not require them to become doormats for evil. Nonetheless, the rare, brave souls in history, such as Mahatma Ghandi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who have dared to put into practice Jesus’ peaceful but confrontational approach to evil, have seen amazing results. The bottom line is that there is nothing in Jesus and the New Testament that even hints at the use of force and violence.
Yes, there were crusades in the Middle Ages with violence toward Muslims and even other Christians. However, this use of force in Christianity was not part of its origins. It began in the 4th century when Constantine, in direct violation of the teachings of Jesus, merged Christianity with the Empire and put the strong arm of the state behind Christianity to advance its causes. The Scriptures were neglected and the Synod of Toulouse in 1229 actually forbade laymen the use of vernacular translations of the Bible. The masses were thus left in darkness concerning Jesus and His teachings.
Beginning in 1517 Christian reformers, such as Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli, began directing the church’s attention back to Jesus and the New Testament. Although it resulted in a rift in Christianity and the formation of many new Protestant churches, it had the positive effect of slowly pulling all of Christendom out of the Middle Ages and away from the use of force, simply because such cannot be justified by Jesus and the New Testament.
Some have suggested that Islam needs a reformation. That is true but from whence will it come? The reformation of Christianity came when there was a return to its founder, Jesus, and its founding document, the New Testament. The problem Islam faces is that when there is a return to its founder, Mohammed, and its founding document, the Koran, that is when people seem to become radicalized.
Some Muslim reformers, like Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, seek to address this problem by advocating a separation of mosque and state, i.e., separating Islam as a religion from any association with politics and power. This happened in the Christian Reformation because, in its origins, Christianity was disassociated from any political state, with no worldly ambition other than to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ to all the world. This was made obvious when Jesus stood before the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, and was asked if He was the King of the Jews, He replied, My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight . . . but now My kingdom is not from here.
Islam, on the other hand, has always merged its religion with politics, war and worldly conquest. This is the challenge that Dr. Jasser and other Muslim reformers face; the fact that Islam from the beginning has always had a goal of political and military dominance in this world. 
Political dominance seems to be the goal of even "moderate" Muslims. I will never forget many years ago, before 911, going to a Kinkos in Tulsa, OK to do some self-serve photocopying. I noticed that the person who had used the copy machine before me had left behind a stack of papers he/she had copied. As I looked at the top sheet, I saw that it was a communication from the local Muslim community. But what really caught my eye was the bold statement that their goal was to make Tulsa a Muslim city and America a Muslim nation.
Yes, Christianity and Islam have two radically different beginnings with radically different goals. Jesus was a man of peace who taught love of God and one's neighbor, and was willing to sacrifice His own life to reconcile sinful humanity back to God. Mohammed, on the other hand, was a man of war who spread his teachings and influence with violence and the sword with the goal of subjugating the world to Allah through holy war, or Jihad. A reformation based on a return to origins will thus have very different outcomes in Christianity and Islam. 

This does not mean that all Christians today are peaceful or that all Muslims are violent. Not at all! Christianity is made up of imperfect individuals and many who are disobedient to the call of Christ. But here is the big difference: Christians are continually confronted with Jesus and His amazing example of sacrificial love, and His teachings on brotherly love and peace. Even though we may fall short of the standard, we are continually being pulled towards it by Jesus Himself and by our own commitment to follow Him in real discipleship. Islam has no such example to follow!
Yes, Christianity veered for a time from the peaceful teaching of its founder and resorted to violence and force to advance its cause. However, Christianity experienced a Reformation when it returned to Jesus and the New Testament. Instead of relying on coercion and force to advance its cause, it returned to relying on the power of the message itself, the message of God's grace and love revealed in Jesus Christ. As Paul said in Romans 1:16, For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes . . . (Romans 1:16).
As a Christian I wish and pray the best for every Muslim in the world, even the ones that are part of ISIS. In saying this I know that the best thing that can happen to them is that they come to know the love of God in Jesus Christ, who is God Incarnate and the Savior of the world.

Dr. Eddie L. Hyatt is an author, historian and biblical scholar.  This article is derived in part from his latest book, PURSUING POWER: How the Quest for Apostolic Authority & Control Has Divided and Damaged the Church, available from Amazon and his website at http://www.eddiehyatt.com/bookstore.html.