Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?

John 14:6
Acts 4:12
A week ago, I attended the Centerville mayor’s annual Faith Leaders Breakfast. A representative from each of the faith organizations was asked to say a few words. A man from a local Islamic mosque told us, “We all worship one God.”

Muslims are told this and taught to say this to non-Muslims. In Quran 29:46, Muslims are instructed to tell Jews and Christians: “And our God and your God is one; and we are Muslims [in submission] to Him."

That’s great PR. But is it the truth?

Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?

Nabeel Qureshi, the noted author and Christian apologist, a convert from Islam, writes in his book, Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward, that even after he had become a Christian, he thought that the God of Christianity and the Allah of Islam were essentially the same. After all, Christianity is the fulfillment of the promises God made to the world through ancient Israel, and Islam, like Mormonism, is a legalistic derivative of Christianity. The Bible and the Quran both mention people like Adam and Eve, Abraham, and so on.

But, after he'd spent time in God's Word, Qureshi came to realize that the God of Christianity and the Allah of Islam are very different in nature, being, and attitude toward the human race.

Above all, we see this through the prism of the Trinity, the Christian belief that God has revealed Himself to be one God in three Persons. Jesus and the apostles taught this reality without ever using the term “trinity.”

Before He ascended to heaven, for example, the risen Jesus told His Church, “...go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” (Matthew 28:19), putting Himself and the Holy Spirit on the same level as God the Father.

During His earthly ministry, Jesus claimed: “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).

And one of the most famous benedictions in the New Testament invokes our three-in-one God: “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:14).

For Jesus and the early Church to claim that He and the Holy Spirit were co-equal to God the Father would have been blasphemous if it weren’t true. Yet Jesus and the first Christians could never be rightly accused of being blasphemous or disrespectful of God.

Even the Old Testament implies the existence of this mysterious three-in-one God in several places. One example: When God creates the universe in the Old Testament, we read that God said: “Let us make mankind in our image…” (Genesis 1:26). Who was God speaking to when He said “let us make” the human race? He certainly wasn’t suggesting that the animals, plants, moon, stars, or planets join Him in doing what only He could do, give life. And there's absolutely nothing to support the idea that God was using the royal "we." No, God was talking to Himself: “Let us make…”

But the Trinity is more than an arcane teaching, the Trinity just makes sense. First John 4:8 tells us that “God is love.” Only a God Who knows what love is and how to give love away would have even thought of creating the universe. If God weren’t practiced in and committed to love, He would have preferred to, as the Brits say, “keep himself to himself.” But when God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Who has experienced from all eternity, the joy of giving love away, that superabundance of love feels compelled to express itself in every molecule and every supernova and every human being God has ever made, every part of the universe for which He became human, died, and rose.

This understanding of God is central to what we believe as Christians.

It’s simple:
  • No Trinity; no creation. 
  • No Trinity; no salvation. 
  • No Trinity; no Gospel.
  • No Trinity; no Church.
The God worshiped by Christians is Trinitarian. Everything He has done, from making us, to saving us, from making us part of His Church, to making us holy by the power of His own Spirit springs from His Trinitarian nature. God would not be God if weren't one God in three Persons. That's not the version of deity that Muslims worship.

We can also see how different the Christian and Muslim views of God are when we consider one of the most common names we Christians use in talking to God.

When Jesus was asked by the disciples how to pray, He began the prayer with: ‘Our Father in heaven…’” (Matthew 6:9).

Jesus was telling all who approach God in His name to regard God as our loving Father.

Islam, on the other hand, is revolted by the idea of God being our Father. Quran 5:18 says: “the Jews and the Christians say, "We are the children of Allah and His beloved." [Tell them] ‘Then why does He punish you for your sins?’ Rather, you are human beings from among those He has created. He forgives whom He wills, and He punishes whom He wills.”

Notice that repentance, faith, or a heart open to God mean nothing to Allah. To Islam, Allah is a mercurial dictator who may give you a break...or not. Allah rules entirely by fiat. And Muslims don’t see how Christians can believe that God would dirty His hands by claiming to be related to human beings as our Father.

Islam also rejects the idea that Jesus, Who said, “...before Abraham was, I AM” (in other words, “before Abraham was, Yahweh”) (John 8:58) and Who accepted the worship of people like Thomas, Peter, and the blind man from this past Sunday’s Gospel lesson, is God.

Quran 5:72 insists that anyone who believes that Jesus is God, the One we Christians proclaim as “the Word made flesh” (John 1:14) will be forbidden a place in Paradise, their only refuge fire, from which they can receive no help. In other words, the Quran teaches that if we believe that Jesus is God, we are going to hell.

Islam also rejects the idea that Jesus is God’s Son.

Jesus teaches, famously of course, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

But the Quran says: “No son did Allah beget, nor is there any god along with Him.”

Jesus says, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). The Quran says, effectively, that Jesus is lying.

Islam tries to have it both ways: to claim a share in the God of Israel ultimately revealed to the world in Jesus, Who they rename Allah, as their own, while repudiating much of what God has revealed to the world in Jesus.

The God of the Bible is a heartsick lover Who beckons us to turn from sin and turn to Him to live, a God Who despised His own dignity so that by sacrificing Himself on the cross, He could win us back from from sin and death. 

The Allah of Islam is like the Greek and Roman gods, who neither give nor promise grace, who sport with the human race while floating above it all, moving only from indifference to anger with humanity.

Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God.

But this shouldn’t make Christians smug. Ephesians 2:8 reminds us: “ is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”

Rather than being smug, we should be thankful for Christ’s gift of salvation and new life to us.

We are blessed to be baptized and to have heard the Gospel from faithful people so that we have the chance to know God! We’ve been saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus. That’s a lot to be thankful for, but we can claim no credit for it; it's God's work alone!

And from sheer ratitude, we have every reason to be faithful to the great commission Jesus has given to us, to make disciples of all peoples.

That includes those who are trapped in Islam.

May we be grateful and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, may we be faithful in lifting up Christ to our neighbors, all of our neighbors.

For we believe exactly what the first century Church believed of Jesus: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

Let’s show and tell the world this truth in every way God opens to us!

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. This message  is the fourth installment of the midweek Lenten series at Living Water, Tough Questions.]

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