I can't help suspecting that a big motivator on the part of the pastor, Terry Jones, is to gain attention for himself and his struggling church.
He has certainly gotten that. Newspapers, TV news shows, and Internet web sites are filled with stories about the planned event. There have been protest demonstrations in the Islamic world, where pictures of Jones have been set afire. A U.S. State Department spokesperson and the White House press secretary have condemned the planned Koran-burning. General David Petraeus has taken time from his combat duties in Afghanistan to warn that the Jones event would endanger U.S. combat forces and every American by inciting Jihadists and confirming the Muslim world's worst misapprehensions about Americans. (And about Christians too, I would add.)
It's difficult to see what good that Jones and his flock think all this attention will produce. It certainly won't advance the cause to which every follower of Jesus Christ should be committed.
That cause, which we Christians believe the risen Jesus gave to us just before He ascended to heaven, is called, the Great Commission. Forms of it appear in all four of the New Testament gospels and in Luke's history of the early Church, the Book of Acts. The most famous version is in the Gospel of Matthew. There, Jesus commissions Christians to:
"19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”As an evangelical Christian, I take this commission seriously. Jesus claims that He is God in the flesh and that repentance for sin and belief in Him is the only means by which human beings can grasp the grace of God and be reconciled with God. I pray every day that God will use me, inadequacies, faults, sins, and all, to share with everyone I contact, the good news of new and everlasting life from God that, as I believe the Bible teaches, only comes through Christ. I want all people to know the joy and the peace that comes from Christ, even in the midst of life's challenges.
But none of this should lead a Christian to burn Islam's book, even if we don't believe that the Koran came from God.
In fact, it should lead us away from such off-putting actions. If we want all people to come to faith in Christ, we should be looking for ways to build bridges, not burn them down.
Mr. Jones and his congregation might want to turn to the apostle Paul for an example of how to approach Muslims, a small fraction of whom act as the seedbed from which Jihadists grow terrorists.
Paul was the greatest of the early Church's preachers, a devout Jew who once persecuted believers in Christ, then became a great champion of Christian faith, and who spent most of his adult life traveling the Mediterranean basin, starting churches, winning converts, and encouraging believers. Ultimately, he was martyred for his faith in Christ.
Sometime around 50-52AD, Paul spent time in Athens awaiting the arrival of friends. The Book of Acts in the Bible's New Testament says that Paul was "distressed to see the city was full of idols." For a Jewish Christian like Paul, steeped in the Old Testament's teaching (and what would also be the New Testament's teaching) that there is just one God, the many statues depicting false gods was undoubtedly disgusting. The temptation to throw a fit and pour condemnations on the Athenians would have been huge for a man like Paul, passionate, sharp-tongued, and devout. He might have felt that he had good warrant to do just that.
But Paul had a higher call, a great commission! A rhetorical assault on the Athenians and their worship of many Gods would have been the first-century equivalent of burning a Koran, momentarily satisfying to the one with the torch, maybe, but ultimately useless to the cause of Christ.
Instead, we're told that Paul went to the synagogues there to tell his fellow Jews about Jesus and also to the Athenian marketplaces where learned people discussed life issues. He debated, but he didn't attack.
Then, one day, Stoic and Epicurean philosophers, curious about, if disdainful of, Paul's message about Christ took him to a place called the Areopagus, a low Athenian hill. With the city's multiple idols visible to everyone, Paul didn't attack.
“Athenians," he began, "I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you." Paul, starting with where the Athenians were, told them about the one God of the universe he believed was first revealed to God's people, Israel, and was ultimately revealed in the crucified and risen Jesus. He even quoted one of their poets as he talked with them.
After Paul finished speaking, some simply wrote him off. Others said that they wanted to hear more. Still others became followers of Christ. Paul wouldn't have seen these results if he had decided to scold and excoriate the Athenians for their evil beliefs. Instead, Christians believe that God's Holy Spirit used Paul's approach to make disciples of some.
Abraham Lincoln is widely reported to have been asked once by partisans why, instead of attempting reconciliation with his enemies, he didn't try destroying them instead. Lincoln replied, "Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?"
In an imperfect world in which violent people pose threats to others, there is a place for military, police, jails, prisons, and aggressive government action.
But the Bible I read and the Savior I follow gives Christians no encouragement and no warrant to burn Korans. Doing so will not only endanger the lives of many Americans who want no part of what Terry Jones and his Gainesville congregation are planning to do, it will also hurt the cause we Christians are commissioned to pursue: Making new friends and followers of Jesus.