With the continued rise of violent Islamic extremism around the world, many today are calling for a Reformation of Islam such as happened with Christianity in the 16th century. Commenting on the call of Egypt’s president for a theological “revolution” within Islam, Mayor Rudi Giuliani, in an interview on Fox News, concurred saying that Islam needs a Reformation such as Christianity experienced. Others within Islam, such as Dr. Zudhi Jasser, are also calling for a Reformation within Islam that will deal with the radical extremism. Can it happen?
The Critical Importance of Origins
The Christian Reformation was needed because, with the 4th century (supposed) conversion of Constantine and the merging of Christianity with the political state, the peaceful church of Jesus and the New Testament had been transformed into the imperial church of the Middle Ages that relied on political and military force to advance and maintain its cause. The Reformation occurred when there was a movement within the church to return to its founder, Jesus Christ, and its founding document, the New Testament. This is why there are no beheadings today by Baptists, Methodists or even Catholics. Not a smidgeon of justification for such acts can be found with Jesus and the New Testament.
Jesus was a man of peace who taught love for God and one's neighbor. But never mistake this for weakness, for it was in the midst of much civil and religious war and strife that Jesus boldly confronted the powers-that-be with His radical message of faith in God and peace and nonviolence toward people. 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).
With the Reformation and its return to Jesus and the New Testament, there was a disentangling of the Christian faith from the political ambition and the use of force that had begun with Constantine. The power of the Reformation and its return to Christian origins produced new churches that renounced the use of political and physical force. The power of the Reformation and its emphasis on Christian origins also led to the Catholic Church giving up the use of force in matters of conscience and faith.
America Founded on Reformation Values
America was founded on Reformation principles of religious liberty and freedom of conscience. This is what the First Amendment to the Constitution is all about. “Congress shall make no law concerning the establishment of religion, nor hindering the free exercise thereof.” This is merely stating that the new nation will not have an official state church, as in medieval Europe, that seeks to control the minds and speech of its populace.
This is the context of Thomas Jefferson’s “wall of separation” comment to a group of Baptists concerning the First Amendment. The “wall,” in Jefferson’s thinking, was unidirectional designed to keep the state out of the church, while at the same time protecting everyone’s right of religious freedom. He used this terminology to assure the Baptists that they could freely practice their faith in the new nation without government interference.
These are the values on which this nation was founded. These are not Islamic values. These are not even Roman Catholic values. These are Reformation values! These are Christian values based on the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament. Woe to America if she ever forgets the values on which her freedoms are based.
The Challenge for Islam
The problem Islam faces in seeking a Reformation is that its founder, Mohammed, unlike Jesus, was a man of war who spread his teachings and influence with violence and the sword. A return within Islam to its founder and origins will thus have a very different outcome than what occurred with the Christian Reformation. In fact, returning to Islam’s founder and origins seems to lead people to becoming even more radicalized, and we get Al Qaeda, ISIS and Boko Haram.
This does not mean that all Christians today are nice people or that all Muslims are bad people. Not at all! But here is the big difference: Christians are continually confronted with Jesus and His amazing example of sacrificial love, and His command to love one another as I have loved you (John 14:34). Even though they fall short of the standard, Christians are continually being pulled towards it by the example and words of Jesus Himself. In contrast, Muslims have no such example to follow, unless they too turn to Jesus!
A Jesus Reformation in Islam?
In the Bible school where I once served on faculty, a student from Ethiopia brought a video of a mosque in Cairo showing that the crescent on top had been replaced with a cross. The imam had experienced a supernatural encounter with Jesus, but instead of becoming a Baptist, Methodist or Catholic, he remained where he was and began preaching Jesus and the meaning of the cross to his Muslim congregation.
He could do this because there is an opening, be it a slight one, in that the Quran recognizes Jesus as a prophet. Yes, Christians know Jesus is much more than a prophet, but this could be the opening needed to preach Jesus within Islam.
Christians recognize Jesus as God incarnate. The New Testament, however, also presents Jesus as the human archetype—the universal human being. This is what Paul was referring to when he referred to Jesus as the second man and the last Adam (I Corinthians 15:45-47). God has set Jesus as the universal example of what a human being ought to be. This is clearly stated in Romans 8:29 where Paul says that God has predestined us to be conformed to the image of His Son.
Jesus is the Answer
Presenting Jesus as the ultimate role model seems to offer the best hope for President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, Dr. Jasser and others seeing the “revolution” or “reformation” they are calling for. If Muslim leaders will encourage their followers to learn all they can about Jesus, even by going to the New Testament, and then call on them to follow His words and example, I see every reason to believe that a powerful Jesus reformation would emerge in Islam that would root out the extremists and bring Muslim nations into the modern world.
As I write, I am reminded of the words of the song written by Andre Crouch who went home to be with Jesus a few days ago. He wrote;
Jesus is the answer, for the world today.
Above Him there’s no other, Jesus is the way.
Yes, Jesus is the answer, for the world today,
Above Him there’s no other Jesus is the way.
Will you pray for a Jesus Reformation in Islam?
Dr. Eddie Hyatt is an author, historian and Bible teacher. He is also the founder of the "Revive America" Project whose goal is to see Spiritual awakening and reformation in America by revisiting the nation's Christian past. His latest book, Pursing Power: How the Quest for Apostolic Authority & Control Has Damaged and Divided the Church, is available from Amazon and his website at http://www.eddiehyatt.com/bookstore.html.