Saturday, 20 June 2015

Luther's Preface to the Quran

Pastor James McConnell delivered a sermon at the Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle in Belfast on 18th May 2014, in which he denounced Islam in language that seems, at least as first, reminiscent of the language of, e.g., the homily on the time and place of prayer in the second book of homilies. These old sermons and this new sermon have in common that they seek to commend the worship of the one true God by clearly refuting the error of Islam. But there are differences. Martin Luther was as clear as anyone on distinguishing between the Allah to which the Quran testifies and the true and living God we know from the Bible. (See also my earlier post on Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?) But he was not promoting ignorance. Indeed, he wrote a preface to a printed edition of the Quran:
"May there be none so infirm in the church of God that they do not have this conviction fixed in their mind, that, as certain as they know that they are alive as long as their senses and bodily motor functions are still vital, as certain as they know that it is day, as long as they see the sun passing above the earth in the middle of the sky, so certain should they be that it is patently impossible that any religion or doctrine about the worship or invocation of God be true that utterly rejects the prophetic and apostolic writings….
Muhammad acknowledges, however, that he is devising a new belief that dissents from the prophets and apostles. Therefore, as you firmly repudiate the beliefs of the Egyptians who worshipped cats and of the Arabians who worshipped dogs, so you shall denounce the new creation of Muhammad, because he himself openly admits that he does not embrace the teaching of the prophets and apostles. If there are any who are so without understanding that they do not have this conviction fixed in their mind that the only true religion is that which was from the beginning handed on by God, with clear testimonies, through the prophets and apostles, even if these persons do not now read the writings of Muhammad, but either only hear about the Turks or see them, how will they fortify themselves against their beliefs? Rather, it is a shameful and impious ignorance if they do not daily admonish themselves in intercession concerning this belief, if they do not separate themselves from the Jews, the Turks, and other nations in prayer; if they do not meditate on the fact that this one alone is the eternal and true God, the creator and sustainer of all things, who hears us and will grant life eternal, who revealed himself in the writings of the prophets and apostles, who willingly sent God’s Son to be a sacrifice for our sake. Those who meditate on these things in prayer will acknowledge that this stupidity is no light sin."
The churchmen of the sixteenth century had virtually no contact with Muslims. Their knowledge of Islam was second-hand and shaped by the serious threat to Christendom presented by "the Turks".

Today we know, or ought to know, that the Islamic world, while maybe not as diverse as the Christian world, is nevertheless far from monochrome. We have many more means of getting to know Islam and, maybe even more importantly, many more opportunities to meet Muslims. When we preach, we are addressing people who know Muslims and maybe even speak to Muslims, especially if the sermon is streamed online. When we reproduce these old homilies today, we are not doing the same thing as the readers of them did in centuries gone by. Today's preachers ought to be better informed. They ought to speak differently. And they can. As Archbishop Cranmer points out, there is a better way.

Friday, 5 June 2015

What is a Church?

Our church is open to visitors. I am planning a little display to explain to casual visitors what a church is. I would like something which makes some sense to the Chinese students who visit with virtually no knowledge of the Christian faith without being patronising. The idea at present is to have an A4 sheet (landscape) in the middle, flanked by two A4 sheets (landscape) on either side. This would fill one of two available panels. The other might give  information about what to do if you would like to find out more about this, that or the other. The first draft has a key word for each sheet of A4. The central panel's is "church" because it is the starting point for the explanation.

The central panel: Church, from Greek kyriake "the Lord's" means "belonging to the Lord" and can refer to either a people or a building.

Upper left: Jesus of Nazareth lived in Roman occupied Israel some 2000 years ago. Both Christian writers and ancient non-Christian historians agree that Jesus was a teacher who performed healings and that he was crucified by the Roman authorities under Pontius Pilate. What happened next is the stuff of controversy. The reports that Jesus was raised from the dead were widely known, accepted by some and rejected by others. Those who have come to accept that Jesus is alive in a new body believe that he was thereby vindicated by God and made Lord over all. The affirmation that Jesus is Lord is the basic confession of Christian faith. The resurrection of Jesus happened on what was then counted as the first day of the week, a Sunday. This is why Christians, whenever possible, meet together on Sundays.

Upper right: Christ, from the Greek meaning "Anointed" (Hebrew: Messiah) refers to the king whom God promised to rule in God's kingdom of justice and peace. Christians (those who have pledged loyalty to this king and put their trust in him) believe that Jesus ushered in this kingdom not through military conquest or clever political machinations but by living a perfect life showing forth God's love, declaring God's truth and accepting the consequences of human wrongdoing in suffering and death. His death on the cross made the cross an important sign of Christians, reflected not least in the architecture of church buildings.

Lower left: A building which specifically belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ is called a church. It is the place where his people assemble together to worship, celebrating the wonderful things God has done and making themselves available afresh to his service. Important elements are listening to God's Word (the Bible) and sharing bread and wine in a symbolic meal whose pattern was given to us by Jesus and through which he has promised to meet us. The meal is known as the Eucharist (Greek for thanksgiving), Holy Communion, the Lord's Supper and the Mass (from the final words of the rite by which we are sent out into the world).

Lower right: The people who belong to the Lord Jesus Christ are called the church. Their allegiance to Christ is first marked in baptism, a water rite by which people are identified with Christ in his death and resurrection, acknowledging that Jesus died the death we deserve and gives us eternal life as a free gift. Those who belong to Christ, the Lord, also belong to each other as brothers and sisters. Christians affirm that they now belong together as members of one body by regularly meeting up to praise God and to encourage one another to live as those who belong to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Any suggestions for modifications or a completely different way of doing things are welcome - email Rector on the address.