Tribulation Saint

Historic Christianity in the Twenty First Century

Month: February, 2015


Recently President Obama caused quite a stir with some remarks that he made at the National Prayer Breakfast in which he commented on crimes committed in the name of religion. The backdrop to his remarks was, of course, a series of spectacular terrorist attacks carried out by radical Islamists, and the President asked how heinous crimes can be carried out in the name of religion.
What made his remarks so controversial was that he seemed to minimize the difference between Christianity and Islam on this score. On the one hand he asserted that radical Islamists “professed to stand up for Islam, but in fact, are betraying it.” But then he went on to say, “And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”
The President is right – up to a point. The vast majority of Muslims in the world today are undoubtedly peaceful, law-abiding people, simply interested in getting on with their lives. Many of the atrocities of the “Islamic State” have been roundly condemned by Islamic scholars. And it is true that during the Crusades and Inquisition people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. But the President’s remarks missed a key point. While there is nothing in the teachings of Christ that could be used to sanction violence, the idea of jihad does, in fact, occupy an important place in the Koran.
The President himself, perhaps unwittingly, put his finger on the problem. He went on in his speech to speak up in favor of freedom of religion and of speech, and then said that we need to “uphold the distinction between our faith and our governments. Between church and between state.” He pointed to the freedom of religion that we enjoy here in the U.S., and then said, “That’s not the case in theocracies that restrict people’s choice of faith.”
Alas! Therein lies the whole problem. There is no separation of mosque and state in Islam. Islam, by its very nature, is theocratic. And this is why Muslims can condone violence in the name of the faith.
It didn’t start out that way. A caravan trader until he married a rich widow, at age 40 Mohammed claimed to have been visited by the angel Gabriel. “Proclaim! In the name of the Lord and Cherisher, Who created – “ (Koran, 96:1) the angel supposedly told Mohammed, thereby launching his career as a prophet. Mohammed went forth and began preaching a new religion based on monotheism. But his message encountered opposition in his hometown of Mecca, and he eventually found it necessary to relocate to Medina.
His relocation was a turning point in his career. He now found himself as the leader of a community, and had to concern himself with civil administration. In Sura 2 of the Koran, Mohammed laid out his program for the new religion. It would feature prayer, fasting, pilgrimage and charity. But Islam was now more than just a religion; it was also an organized political state, and as such it had to have the means of self-defense. In this case, however, war became a religious duty. “Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you” (2:190). Mohammed’s rationale was simple: “Slay them wherever ye catch them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out; for tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter . . .” (v. 191). Violence was sometimes necessary to establish peace and order. “And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah” (v. 193).
This does not necessarily mean, however, wanton, indiscriminate bloodshed. Jihad was conceived originally as a defensive war, and Mohammed urged restraint. Muslims are to fight the enemies of Islam, “But if they cease, let there be no hostility except to those who practice oppression” (v. 193). And Mohammed specifically declared, at least at this early stage, “Let there be no compulsion in religion” (v. 256).
At first Mohammed showed a certain amount of deference to Jews and Christians, the “People of the Book.” But as time went on and they too opposed his message, he came to see them as enemies of Islam as well. In Sura 9, written near the end of his life, Mohammed accused both Jews and Christians of being essentially polytheistic, and urged his followers to “Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day . . .” (9:29). Nevertheless, if Jews and Christians were willing to submit to the authority of an Islamic government and pay a Jizyah, a kind of poll-tax, they would be permitted to live.
Thus the idea of a holy war is part and parcel of Islam. Within one century of Mohammed’s death Muslim armies had marched across North Africa and into Spain and France. They were in control of a vase empire that extended from Persia to the Atlantic Ocean. Nevertheless it is hard to find a warrant in the Koran for some of the barbaric atrocities committed by the so-called “Islamic State” of by Boko Haram in West Africa. Muslims are urged in the Koran to fight those who actively oppose Islam. There is no justification for massacring unarmed civilians, kidnapping schoolgirls, or beheading journalists and aid workers.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that Islam does sanction the use of violence to defend the faith, and that sets it apart from Christianity. Islamic scholars have said that what Mohammed did essentially was to lay out a just war theory. But as Sir John Glubb, a British military officer with extensive experience in the Near East, noted, “The Prophet, it is true, only used war and murder against the enemies of Islam, who were obstructing the propagation of the faith. Nevertheless, once violence is admitted, it is all too easily abused” (A Short History of the Arab Peoples, p. 36).
The state has a responsibility to protect the life and property of its citizens, maintain public order and establish justice. But the individual conscience must remain free, because in the end we are all accountable directly to Almighty God, and no fallible human authority should be permitted to intrude. The sword should never be used to advance or impede religion.


Why do we die? What happens to us after we die? We moderns don’t like to think much about such questions – we try to push them out of our minds. But our ancestors knew that such questions are unavoidable. At some point we will all have to face the inescapable fact of death. It does us little good to pretend that it doesn’t exist.
When Christianity first began to spread out into the world, one of the things about it that struck many people as remarkable, if not downright odd, was its belief in a future resurrection. How, one might ask, can a dead, lifeless body which has crumbled into dust come back to life again? Not only had most people never heard of such a thing, most of them could not see how it would even be possible.
Evidently there were even some within the church at Corinth that entertained such doubts, and the apostle Paul found it necessary to address the question in I Corinthians chapter 15. It is a chapter that we moderns would do well to take a look at.
Paul addresses the issue by pointing out that if the resurrection of the dead were an impossibility then Christ Himself could not have risen from the dead. But Christ did rise from the dead. How do we know? By abundant eye-witness testimony. He was seen alive after the crucifixion by the twelve apostles on several different occasions. “After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present . . .” (v. 6; NKJV). He was then seen by James, then again by the apostles. “Then, last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of wedlock” (v. 8).
Paul then stresses how absolutely important Christ’s resurrection is to the church. The fact of the resurrections lies at the very heart of the Christian message. If the resurrection of Christ were not true, if it did not actually happen, then “our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty” (v. 14). The credibility of the apostles (and by implication their writings) is destroyed, and Christian believers have a misplaced faith. Even worse, we are still in our sins, and those who have already died have utterly perished. What a tragic waste of life! “If in this life we are hoping only in Christ, we are of all men the most to be pitied,” as we might translate verse 19.
Having established then that Christ rose from the dead Paul then goes on to draw out the implication for our own future resurrection. First of all he draws a parallel between Adam and Christ. “For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (vv. 21,22). Why do we die? The ultimate reason is our sin – ours individually the sin of our common ancestor Adam. “For as in Adam all die . . .” We are “in Adam” in the sense that he was our forefather, and as such he was acting on our behalf as our representative. His sin was an act of rebellion against God, and as a result God pronounced a curse upon him and his entire posterity. Because of Adam we are all born sinners, and because of Adam we all die.
“. . . even so in Christ all shall be made alive.” When we personally repent of our sins and put our faith in Christ as our Savior, and publicly seal that faith in baptism, we are united to Christ both legally and spiritually. We are “in Christ.” Thus He acted as the representative of all of us who are united to Him by faith, and as a result we enjoy the benefits of His death and resurrection. Our sin has been atoned, the curse has been removed, and we can now be restored back to life. Thus, in the case of believers, Christ reversed the effects of the fall and made our own physical resurrection possible. His resurrection was the “firstfruits” of what is to follow.
Paul goes on to explain how this will all unfold in the future. Christ reigns, Paul says, “till He has put all enemies under His feet” (v. 25). “The last enemy that will be destroyed is death” (v. 26). That happens with the resurrection of the saints, which will take place “at His coming” (v. 23). This would be the Second Coming that takes place after the Great Tribulation, when Christ defeats the Antichrist at the Battle of Armageddon. Since the rapture of the church takes place after the resurrection of the saints (I Thess. 4:15-17), the implication is that the rapture will also take place after the Tribulation, not before.
There a number of important practical lessons to be drawn from all of this. One is the vital importance of maintaining the biblically orthodox position with regards to the resurrection. The resurrection of Christ, and our own future resurrection, are central to the gospel, and without them the Christian faith is essentially gutted. Sad to say, this is largely the situation today in many of the liberal mainline Protestant churches. Their members attend faithfully, and support them financially, but they never hear the Christian gospel. They are trying to serve a dead and lifeless Christ. In the final analysis they have no hope to offer a perishing world.
But the doctrine of the resurrection has important implications for biblically conservative believers as well. The hope of a future resurrection should give us a whole different perspective on life. If there is no resurrection, if there is no life after death, what is there to live for? “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!” (v. 32). But instead Paul was willing to “die daily” and he even “fought with beasts at Ephesus” (vv. 31,32). Why? Because he know that something better was in store for him at the return of Christ, something that was infinitely better and would last for all eternity. For him the sufferings he endured here in this life was “money in the bank,” as it were. It was an investment well worth making.
Paul concludes this section by saying, “Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God . . .” (v. 34). The first phrase in the Greek is a little hard to translate into English. The verb literally means to become sober after being drunk. Today we might say “wake up and smell the coffee!” Most people are totally earthbound in their perspective. They stumble through life, trying to get what fleeting pleasure and happiness they can, and then they face a Christless eternity. And they do this because they “do not have the knowledge of God” They lack a consciousness of God, and they don’t think about what He wants. As a result, in the end they accomplish nothing but their own eternal destruction. How much better it would be to consider eternity, to make our lives here on earth count for something, and to live for Christ every moment.
It all depends on the resurrection!