Thursday, February 2, 2017

A Plea for Unity Among Brethren

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not let your freedom become an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. (Galatians 5:13-15, LEB)   
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control. Against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh together with its feelings and its desires. If we live by the Spirit, we must also follow the Spirit. We must not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5:22-26, LEB)
Dear friends, I urge you as foreigners and temporary residents to abstain from fleshly desires which wage war against your soul, maintaining your good conduct among the Gentiles, so that in the things in which they slander you as evildoers, by seeing your good deeds they may glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:11-12, LEB)
I do not know what stirrings of Satan have come about among Christian brethren recently that we have become ever more contentious and uncharitable towards one another. It is as though the increasing polarization of our society along extreme ends of the political spectrum has taken hold of the Church of Christ, and we now feel the need to regard any brother or sister who holds even a minor difference of opinion on matters of pastoral and missional practice as having made shipwreck of the faith.

In particular, I am concerned about the disputes that are currently raging between Christian apologists over Dr. James White's decision to have a two-part dialogue with Sh. Yasir Qadhi, the first part of which was in a church, and the second part in a mosque. The complaint of the critics, as far as I have been able to understand it, is that Yasir Qadhi has been allowed a platform in a church where he could make false statements without being challenged on them, thereby exposing the people in the church to falsehoods. Because of this, Dr. White should be held responsible for leading people astray from the faith. Furthermore, there is a concern that Sh. Qadhi may be willfully deceiving the people listening because of the Islamic concept of Taqiyyah (dissimulation).

Now, I can sympathize with the complaint somewhat. Having listened to both parts of the dialogue, there were definitely things that Sh. Qadhi said that I definitely did not agree with, and part of me wishes that there was a voice there that would rebut the statements he made. Perhaps in a future article or podcast, somebody could provide an examination of the statements that made by Sh. Qadhi. I also understand that there are scriptural principles that go against the idea of giving an infidel or a heretic a platform in the house of God (2 John 7-11), and that according to critics of the dialogue, that scriptural principle has been violated. Of course, we can get to specifics about whether a church building can ever be used for inter-religious dialogue purposes, but as a general rule, I agree with the principle that the house of God should not be a platform for propagating false religion.

At the same time, however, I think that it was made clear by both sides from the outset that this would be a dialogue, not a debate. The goal of the discussions was not to determine who could make a better case for their faith (there are other venues for that), but to have an understanding of what both sides think so that they wouldn't be talking past each other. That being the case, I don't know why anyone would object to the idea that we should understand each other better before we dialogue. After all, we don't want to have a false understanding of what the other person thinks, but want to approach them where they are. That is the Apostolic way of approaching people--speak to them according to their culture and their worldview, and be all things to all people.

Now, did Sh. Qadhi say things that are contrary to a Christian worldview? Well... yeah, obviously. He is presenting an Islamic perspective, which is the point. I don't think anyone in the audience listening to the dialogues thought that Dr. White (or any other Christian there) was agreeing with him on what he said. I also want to remind everyone that the Dr. White did the same thing at the mosque--he presented the Christian worldview in front of an audience that rejects that worldview, and doubtless would like to hear an Islamic rebuttal to his claims (Whether Sh. Qadhi has gotten any flack from Muslims over this or not, I don't know). The point is, both sides did the exact same thing: They presented their worldview in front of an audience that does not accept that worldview. For my Christian brethren, I would like to remind you that what that means is Dr. White presented the Gospel to the Muslims in their own mosque. Should we not rejoice that he was given that platform? Or do you think that he misrepresented the Gospel during those two dialogues? If the latter, then the burden of proof is on you. But if not, then let us rejoice at what God has done.

And I would like to bring up the topic of Taqiyyah briefly, because I know that that is always on everyone's minds whenever a Muslim preacher or apologist is speaking. I am not unaware that the doctrine of Taqiyyah exists. Was Sh. Qadhi practicing it, or was he not? I'm not going to rule it out, but at the same time, I'd like to remind everyone that we who believe in the principles of justice and fairness adhere to the idea of the presumption of innocence. In other words, you cannot accuse someone of being a liar or deceiver if you don't have any evidence to prove it. If you think that Sh. Qadhi was deliberately misrepresenting what he really thinks, then present your evidence. Having listened to Sh. Qadhi many times, not just in these dialogues but also in his lectures and khutbahs, I have no reason to believe that he is the kind of person who would go around intentionally deceiving people. Maybe he is, but we cannot prove it. God alone knows what is really going on in his heart, and he alone will hold him to account for them.

Having said all of that, the main thing that I really want to make a plea for, as I watch the accusations and the condemnations flying forth, is that we cease the hostilities, come to the negotiating table as fellow brethren, and come to some acceptable terms by which we may restore our brotherhood of love and friendship. I would like to remind you all that you represent One Lord, One Faith, and one Baptism (Ephesians 4:5), and that we are exhorted to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). Perhaps in your mind, you think you are acting in love. If so, let us look at the definition of love given in scripture and make certain that our love fits that definition:
Love is patient, love is kind, love is not jealous, it does not boast, it does not become conceited, it does not behave dishonorably, it is not selfish, it does not become angry, it does not keep a record of wrongs, it does not rejoice at unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, LEB).
Also, for those involved in this conflict who are ministers or teachers of the Gospel, bear in mind that scripture also says that those who teach will receive a greater judgment (James 3:1). Why will teachers receive a greater judgment? It is because eternal souls along the line. God only knows how many of the little children in the faith are being caused to stumble because of this scandalous rivalry. Remember what Jesus said: "whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him that a large millstone be hung on his neck and he be drowned in the depths of the sea" (Matthew 18:6).

Finally, remember that the world is watching what is happening among us. Already, there are enemies of the Gospel who are  delighting in the discord that is currently taking place, and using that to discredit the message that we are tasked to proclaim. If you care at all about spreading the Gospel to the Muslim world, then you would cease hostilities against one another. The cause of Christ and his Kingdom are not aided by this internal rivalry. Instead, we should be helping one another and encouraging one another, and presenting a united front against Islam.

I know that we apologists have a tendency to want to refute whatever we see and hear that we find disagreeable, and no doubt some of you reading this will want to refute some of the things I just said. You are free to go ahead and do that if you'd like, but I just want to say that if you do that, you are missing the point. I'm not trying to prove myself right over against anyone else. Instead, I am arranging the chairs around the negotiating table, opening the door to the negotiating room, and inviting you all to come in and take a seat. Rather than try to prove yourselves right, I hope that we could all come and sit around the table and work things out. That is the mature and responsible way, and more importantly, that is the Christian way.