Friday, October 30, 2015

Muhammad - A new apostle - Many before him

This is a continuation of my posts in the series "The Koran from a Christian perspective." You can find other posts in this series here.
The Koran teaches that God, from the beginning, has sent apostles and prophets to teach all peoples His ways and to warn them of the consequences of their disobedience and infidelity towards Him.
"We have revealed to thee as We revealed to Noah, and the Prophets after him, and We revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, Jesus and Job, Jonah and Aaron and Solomon, and We gave to David Psalms, and [of some] Messengers [apostles] We have already told thee of before, and [of other] Messengers [apostles] We have not told thee of; and unto Moses God spoke directly -- Messengers [Apostles] bearing good tidings, and warning, so that mankind might have no argument [plea] against God, after the Messengers; God is All-mighty, All-wise." (Koran 4:161-163)
Most of these names we would expect, although he add Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes. Very little is spoken of Ishmael in the Jewish scriptures and he is never portrayed as a prophet. As for Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, while they are not spoken of as being prophets, they do represent the familial line from which the seed promised to Abraham would come forth. "In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice." (Genesis 22:18) An apostle, in the general since, is simply a messenger and their lives were a testimony, a living message, of the promises God made with Abraham their father.

Furthermore, Muhammad believed that God sent His apostles (messengers) to specific nations, to speak in their own tongue, that the message might be clear and easily understood.
"Every nation has its Messenger [apostle]; then, when their Messenger [apostle] comes, justly the issue is decided between them, and they are not wronged." (Koran 9:48) 
"And We have sent no Messenger [Apostle] save with the tongue of his [own] people, that he might make all clear [speak plainly] to them." (Koran 14:4)
Although, God has continually been sending us messengers, the lesson of history, according to Muhammad, is that most of them have been disbelieved and many mistreated, Yet it is the apostles job simply to deliver his message. He is not responsible for how people respond to the message or for the judgment God brings upon them for their unbelief.
 "But if you cry me lies [treat me as a liar], nations cried lies before you [have treated God's messenger as a liar]; and it is only for the Messenger to deliver the Manifest Message." (Koran 29:17) 
"How then shall it be, when We bring forward from every nation [all peoples] a witness, and bring thee to witness against those? Upon that day the unbelievers [infidels], those who have disobeyed [rebelled against] the Messenger [prophet], will wish that the earth might be levelled with them; and they will not conceal [nothing shall they hide] from God one tiding." (Koran 4:46)
It is from this long line of apostles, prophets, and messengers that Muhammad sees himself and his mission in life. He is not something new, but just a continuation of the long line of men that God has sent to teach and warn us all.
"Muhammad is naught but a Messenger [apostle]; Messengers [apostles] have passed away before him." (Koran 1:338)
"Say: 'I am not an innovation among the Messengers [no apostle of new doctrine], and I know not what shall be done with me or with you. I only follow what is revealed to me; I am only a clear warner.'" (Koran 46:8)
More to come...
David Robison

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

610 SE - Religion in decline - A thousand more years

This is the the last part of a multi-post article. You can read the first part here and the previous part here. This is also part of a longer series called "The Koran from a Christian Perspective." You can find other posts in this series here.
As the years went on, the church became more calcified in her institutions and the battle lines of doctrine and dogma grew ever wider and divided brethren one from another. There was also a greater distinction between clergy and laity. As power and privilege was increasingly invested with the clergy, there was very little left to the laity to do in terms of ministry or religious participation other than supporting the institution and its professionals. Any evangelistic fervor that remained was focused mostly on the expansion of the church as an institution rather than the expansion of the Gospel and it was often commingled with political and national ambitions as well.

This is not to say that the world did not receive her benefits from the church or that the gospel had lost its power, for surly, even in her decline, the church benefited the world in many ways. Even after the eastern church was driven from Constantinople by the invasion of the Muslim armies, many of them departed to Russia bringing both their language and religion with them; bringing a Christian revival of culture and faith to that great land that would last even until today. Paul, writing to the Colossians, speaks of the Gospel, "the gospel which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth." (Colossians 1:5-6)

This was the state of the church at the time Muhammad lived and prophesied. Not only did Muhammad improperly learn Christianity but, in the church, he saw an imperfect view of what Christ came to establish on the earth, Some might say that the seventh century was ripe for God's judgment on the church and for a time of reformation. Unfortunately, it would be almost a thousand more years before reformation would rise up and take root in the Christian church. Philip Schaff, in the nineteenth century, wrote of the rise of Muhammedanism, "Viewed in its relation to the Eastern Church which it robbed of the fairest dominions, Mohammedanism was a well-deserved divine punishment for the unfruitful speculations, bitter contentions, empty ceremonialism and virtual idolatry which degraded and disgraced the Christianity of the East after the fifth century. The essence of true religion, love to God and to man, was eaten out by rancor and strife, and there was left no power of ultimate resistance to the foreign conqueror. The hatred between the orthodox Eastern church and the Eastern schismatics driven from her communion, and the jealousy between the Greek and Latin churches prevented them from aiding each other in efforts to arrest the progress of the common foe. The Greeks detested the Latin Filioque as a heresy more deadly than Islâm; while the Latins cared more for the supremacy of the Pope than the triumph of Christianity, and set up during the Crusades a rival hierarchy in the East. Even now Greek and Latin monks in Bethlehem and Jerusalem are apt to fight at Christmas and Easter over the cradle and the grave of their common Lord and Redeemer, unless Turkish soldiers keep them in order!" (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume IV, Section 40. Position of Mohammedanism in Church History)

When seen thought this backdrop of history, one could view Muhammad as a reformer; one who came to restore faith in one supreme God, one who came to restore an individuals right to relate to God without the intermediary of a church or a priest, and one who came to restore the common faith of our father Abraham to mankind. If Muhammad was merely a reformer, then we could listen to him and receive his words as intended; sifting out the truth and discarding the error. However, Muhammad claimed to be much more. He claimed to be an apostle and a prophet. He claimed to have received a message from God which was taught him word for word and which he delivered to us in like manor. One who claims such a thing can not be received piecemeal. One cannot believe in Muhammad in part nor receive only parts of his Koran. It is an all or nothing proposition. So who was Muhammad and how should we receive him? It is this question to which we turn our attention to next.

David Robison

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

610 CE - Religion in decline - The exaltation of Mary

This is the continuation of a multi-post article. You can read the first part here and the previous part here. This is also part of a longer series called "The Koran from a Christian Perspective." You can find other posts in this series here.
In future posts we will look in great detail at how Muhammad and the Koran perceive Jesus. However, here we want to consider how Muhammad understood the church's view of His mother, Mary, His mother. In The Koran Muhammad wrote, "And when God said, 'O Jesus son of Mary, didst thou say unto men, "Take me and my mother as gods, apart from God"?' He said, 'To Thee be glory! It is not mine to say what I have no right to [that which I know not to be the truth]." (Koran 5:115) Muhammad did regarded Jesus as a prophet and apostle like himself. He did not, however, believe Him to be divine or God in human flesh. Similarly, Muhammad did not believe Mary, His mother, to also be divine or someone to be worshiped as God. However, that is how Muhammad understood that the church in his day did perceived Mary; as one who was divine, worthy of worship and adoration, one to offer your prayers to, and one who was wholly without sin and without need of salvation and forgiveness,

For nearly the first four hundred years of the church, Mary was predominantly refereed to as simply "the mother of our Lord" or "the mother of Jesus." However, as the worship of saints and the veneration of Mary became more entrenched within the church and her practices we find her more consistently being called "the mother of God." Philip Schaff speaks of this transition form "mother of our Lord" to "mother of God." "The worship of Mary was originally only a reflection of the worship of Christ, and the feasts of Mary were designed to contribute to the glorifying of Christ... The Catholic church, however, both Latin and Greek, did not stop with this. After the middle of the fourth century it overstepped the wholesome Biblical limit, and transformed the 'mother of the Lord' into a mother of God, the humble 'handmaid of the Lord' into a queen of heaven, the 'highly favored' into a dispenser of favors, the 'blessed among women' into an intercessor above all women, nay, we may almost say, the redeemed daughter of fallen Adam, who is nowhere in Holy Scripture excepted from the universal sinfulness, into a sinlessly holy co-redeemer." (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume III, Section 81. The Exaltation of the Virgin Mariology) It is easy to see why Muhammad would have believed that the church had exalted Mary along with Christ to be gods equal with the Father in heaven,

It is interesting to ponder here how Jesus spoke of His mothers place in the Kingdom of God. One day when Jesus was teaching, He was told that His mother and brothers had come to speak to Him. His response was, "'Who is My mother and who are My brothers?' And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, 'Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.'" (Matthew 12:48-50) Thus making all who believe on Him as precious to Him and as important in the Kingdom as His own earthly mother. We are brother and sister to her just as he is her lord and ours. Also, at His death, Jesus spoke to His mother and the one He loved and said, "'Woman, behold, your son!' Then He said to the disciple, 'Behold, your mother!' From that hour the disciple took her into his own household." (John 19:26-27) Thus not only making provision for her care after His death but, as some have argued, also severing His familial relationship with His mother; making her now the mother of John. Her place was no longer as the mother of the eternal Son of God but that of John, the one whom Jesus loved.

Mary will always be blessed among women and will always have a peculiar place in the church, but the church of the seventh century had let their exaltation of Mary obscure the truth of the Gospel that there is "one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus." (1 Timothy 2:5) No matter how great our veneration for Mary may be, we must never allow it to supplant our love, worship, and honor to the one true Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

More to come...
David Robison

Monday, October 26, 2015

610 CE - Religion in decline - Monks and Anchorites

This is the continuation of a multi-post article. You can read the first part here and the previous part here. This is also part of a longer series called "The Koran from a Christian Perspective." You can find other posts in this series here.
During the early centuries of the church, no one was born a Christian or was a Christian because of their national affiliation. Christianity was something that was chosen and, with that choice, there was an adoption of the Christian faith as well as the Christian society. Luke writes of the early church and the worlds view of them. "they were all with one accord in Solomon's portico. But none of the rest dared to associate with them; however, the people held them in high esteem. And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number." (Acts 5:12-14) Notice that they were added to their numbers. As people believed upon Jesus and the message He brought they were not only saved but were added to the church.

With the pronunciation by Constantine that Christianity was to be the state religion of the Roman Empire, millions of people rushed to baptism to comply with the emperors orders. The church experienced a massive growth in its members as people dashed to it; some out of true faith but others out of peer pressure or a desire not to be different. Many who came did not fully understand what they were coming to nor the new life they were being called to live. Nominal Christians gave way to nominal faith and nominal morality. Some, desiring something holier, something more consecrated, and something more spiritual fled from society and sought refuge in the solitude of the desert around them. They were the first of the anchorites. As time went on, some anchorites felt the need to join themselves into small groups or cloisters. Here they lived their lives in devotion and manual labor. In most cases there was one among them who was their leader and who ruled with absolute authority. These became the first of the monks.  Their lives were a mixture of devotion, labor, and discipline. In all, the anchorites and monks defined what is called the monastic way of life.

To be sure, there was benefit to the church from those who sought seclusion in the desert and in monasteries. However, the monastic movement proved to be a mixed bag of blessings. Augustine said that, in those who sought the monastic life, were both the best and the worst of mankind. Philip Schaff comments on the romantic view of anchorite and monks who saw the desert as a place to fight with daemons and spiritual advisories. "The monastic imagination peopled the deserts and solitudes with the very worst society, with swarms of winged demons and all kinds of hellish monsters. It substituted thus a new kind of polytheism for the heathen gods, which were generally supposed to be evil spirits. The monastic demonology and demonomachy is a strange mixture of gross superstitions and deep spiritual experiences. It forms the romantic shady side of the otherwise so tedious monotony of the secluded life," (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume III, 32. Lights and Shades of Monastic Life)

Muhammad denounced the monastic movement as something fashioned by man rather than prescribed by God. "And monasticism they invented -- We did not prescribe it for them [they invented it themselves] -- only seeking the good pleasure of God [did we prescribed to them]; but they observed it [this] not as it should be observed." (Koran 57:27) We must ask ourselves if such a movement was really initiated by God or was pursued by those guided by other motivations and reasons. Jesus and the Apostles never taught such a lifestyle nor encouraged a life completely withdrawn from the world. The writing of the Apostles always present Christianity as a communal religion; a religion meant to be lived in the fellowship of others. Jesus told us to "Love your neighbor as yourself." (Mark 12:31) But this command can only be carried out if we live close enough to our neighbors to actually love them as ourselves. Christianity was never meant to be lived alone and, as well meaning as these monks and anchorites may have been, and in spite of the benefit that accrued to the church from such endeavors, it is my opinion that Jesus never meant Christianity to be lived in this way.

More to come...
David Robison

Sunday, October 25, 2015

610 CE - Religion in Decline - Praying to saints

This is the continuation of a multi-post article. You can read the first part here and the previous part here. This is also part of a longer series called "The Koran from a Christian Perspective." You can find other posts in this series here.
During the classical age, when Greek and Roman civilization ruled the world, there remained one group of people who were not corrupted by their culture, that being the Jews. One of the striking differences between the Jews and the Greeks and Romans was the total lack of hero worship among the Jews. While the Greeks and Romans celebrated and worshiped their heroes, none of this can be found among the Jewish people.

With the birth of the church, this lack of hero worship transitioned from the Jewish culture into the Christian culture. It wasn't until Christianity's expansion to the east, to the Greek speaking people, that veneration for Christian heroes began to take hold. The persecutions of the second and third centuries produced ample subjects worthy of hero status. Many people held those who suffered well under the pains of martyrdom in great honor. This veneration included remembering the anniversary of their death, sleeping outside their tombs, and leaving food at their tombs. Augustine, in the fourth century, wrote of his mother's participation in such practices. "When, therefore, my mother had at one time—as was her custom in Africa—brought to the oratories built in the memory of the saints certain cakes, and bread, and wine, and was forbidden by the door-keeper, so soon as she learnt that it was the bishop who had forbidden it, she so piously and obediently acceded to it, that I myself marvelled how readily she could bring herself to accuse her own custom, rather than question his prohibition." (Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, Book VI, Chapter 2)

The debate over what was the acceptable limits of veneration of martyrs and saints continued for many centuries. While official doctrine may have differentiated between the honor due to God and the honor due to martyrs and saints, this difference did not always translate into practice. "But the people did not always mind this distinction, and the priests rather encouraged the excesses of saint-worship. Prayers were freely addressed to the saints, though not as the givers of the blessings desired, but as intercessors and advocates. Hence the form 'Pray for us' (Ora pro nobis)." (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume IV, Section 99. The Worship of Saints)

Muhammad condemned this practice of praying to saints, "And they say, 'These are our intercessors [advocates] with God.' Say: 'Will you tell God what He knows not either in the heavens or in the earth?'" (Koran 10:19) Jesus, in teaching us to pray, taught us, "Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name." (Matthew 6:9) Jesus never taught us to pray to any person or to pray through the agency of any human. He, and his disciples, always taught us to pray directly to God. This notion of praying to another that they might assist our prayers in heaven, is completely foreign to the apostolic doctrines we have received and to the very message of Jesus as He Himself taught it. Any such doctrine did not come from God but from man. Any assertion that such teaching is apostolic is devoid of any historical evidence from the documents that have survived down to us today.

Regardless of what Muhammad may have thought, not all Muslims today hold to the same prohibition of enlisting the intersession of the departed in the efforts of our prayers. Imam Reza was a decendent if Muhammad, was the eighth Shi'a Imam, and died in 819. Today, many Shi'a devotees regularly pray to Imam Reza that their prayers may have more success with God. They see Imam Reza as being in a higher place and able to raise their prayers to God when they themselves, in their lowly state, are unable to so. However reasonable this may sound, it is in opposition to both the teachings of Jesus and Muhammad.

More to come
David Robison

Friday, October 23, 2015

610 CE - Religion in decline - The restoration of priests

This is the continuation of a multi-post article. You can read the first part here and the previous part here. This is also part of a longer series called "The Koran from a Christian Perspective." You can find other posts in this series here.
The early church saw each of its members as equals. We were taught by the apostles that we were all, "A chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession." (1 Peter 2:9) At the end of his life, John reminded us that we each had our own relationship with God and did not need to depend on others to know and relate to God. "You have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him." (1 John 2:27) And Jesus Himself taught us that, in our prayers, we did not need to pray to, or through, anyone else to get our petitions heard. In fact we did not even need to pray through Jesus because we could pray directly to God directly. "In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will request of the Father on your behalf; for the Father Himself loves you."(John 16:26-27)

However, it was not long before the church sought to re-institute the inter-mediation of the Old Testament priests in their relationship with God. Where once they were all priests before God, they now depended on an earthly priesthood to do the work of ministry and to relate to God on their behalf. They became like those who gave up their right to know God, sending Moses on their behalf. "Then they said to Moses, 'Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, or we will die.'" (Exodus 20:19) It took only three hundred years for believers to surrender their universal priesthood before God. "During the third century it became customary to apply the term 'priest' directly and exclusively to the Christian ministers especially the bishops. In the same manner the whole ministry, and it alone, was called 'clergy,' with a double reference to its presidency and its peculiar relation to God. It was distinguished by this name from the Christian people or 'laity.' Thus the term 'clergy,' which first signified the lot by which office was assigned (Acts 1:17, 25), then the office itself, then the persons holding that office, was transferred from the Christians generally to the ministers exclusively." (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume II, Section 42. Clergy and Laity)

Muhammad makes mention of this priestly class that stood between the people and God. "They have taken their rabbis [teachers] and their monks as lords apart from God, and the Messiah, Mary's son -- and they were commanded [bidden] to serve [worship] but One God; there is no god but He; glory be to Him, above that they associate." (Koran 9:31) As the centuries marched on, the separation between clergy and laity grew greater and greater until there was little left to the laity in terms of ministry and direct relationship with God. So dependent was the laity on the clergy that when, in punishment for a city or state, the Pope would declare an Interdict (the suspension of much of the church activities) people could not get married, they could not participate in the Eucharist, they could not be saved, and could not receive forgiveness. This priestly class had become royalty and stood in the way of the believer and their relationship to God.

Worse yet, as the laity lost their right to select their own bishops, many of those who were appointed bishops secured their position through money, nepotism, and political maneuvering. Gregory the Great, in the seventh century, opposed some of these excesses in the priesthood. "He appointed, he also reproved and deposed bishops for neglect of duty, or crime. He resolutely opposed the prevalent practice of simony, and forbade the clergy to exact or accept fees for their services." (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume IV, Section 50. Gregory the Great. a.d. 590–604) Simony was the practice of buying an ecclesiastical position with money. Muhammad writes, "O believers, many of the rabbis and monks indeed consume the goods of the people in vanity and bar [turn them away] from God's way. Those who treasure up gold and silver, and do not expend them in the way of God -- give them the good tidings of a painful chastisement." (Koran 9:34)

More to come...
David Robison

Thursday, October 22, 2015

610 CE - Religion in decline - Images and Innovations

This is the continuation of a multi-post article. You can read the first part here and the previous part here. This is also part of a longer series called "The Koran from a Christian Perspective." You can find other posts in this series here.
One of the contentions in the church during the time that Islam was growing had to do with the use of images in worship. One group held that images in worship were beneficial to the common folk, especially the illiterate, by being able to convey a message without words. Schaff describes the stance of those who favored images in the church. "Images are a pictorial Bible, and speak to the eye even more eloquently than the word speaks to the ear. They are of special value to the common people who cannot read the Holy Scriptures. The honors of the living originals in heaven were gradually transferred to their wooden pictures on earth; the pictures were reverently kissed and surrounded by
the pagan rites of genuflexion, luminaries, and incense; and prayers were thought to be more effective if said before them." (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume IV, Section 100. The Worship of Images. Literature. Different Theories)

The opponents to images were called iconoclasts and "image-breakers." The iconoclasts "appealed first and last to the second commandment in the decalogue in its strict sense as understood by the Jews and the primitive Christians. It was considerably strengthened by the successes of the Mohammedans who, like the Jews, charged the Christians with the great sin of idolatry, and conquered the cities of Syria, Palestine, and Egypt in spite of the sacred images which were relied on for protection and miraculous interposition." (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume IV, Section 100. The Worship of Images. Literature. Different Theories)

The battle over images lead to several church councils, some which affirmed their use and others which rejected them. Schaff records the decision of one such council. "Bishop after bishop, even those who had been members of the Synod of 754, renounced his iconoclastic opinions, and large numbers exclaimed together: 'We all have sinned, we all have erred, we all beg forgiveness'...  At the request of one of the Roman delegates, an image was brought into the assembly, and reverently kissed by all. At the conclusion, the assembled bishops exclaimed unanimously: 'Thus we believe. This is the doctrine of the apostles. Anathema upon all who do not adhere to it, who do not salute the images, who call them idols, and who charge the Christians with idolatry. Long life to the emperors! Eternal memory to the new Constantine and the new Helena! God protect their reign! Anathema upon all heretics! Anathema especially upon Theodosius, the false bishop of Ephesus, as also upon Sisinnius and Basilius! The Holy Trinity has rejected their doctrines.'" (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume IV, Section 102. The Restoration of Image-Worship by the Seventh Oecumenical Council, 787)

Muhammad wrote of those who altered the scriptures and call their additions and subtractions "the Word of God." "And there is a sect of them twist [torture the scriptures with] their tongues with the Book, that you may suppose it part of the Book the Scriptures], yet it is not part of the Book [Scriptures]; and they say, 'It is from God,' yet it is not from God, and they speak falsehood against God, and that wittingly [and they know they do so]." (Koran 3:72) When the council of 787 declared, "This is the doctrine of the apostles" they declared that their view of images were consistent with, and even thought by, the apostles. However, there is no historical evidence, no recorded record or teaching, that can support the belief that the apostles, or their disciples, ever taught the reverence of images as those who claimed they did at the council. They had, in effect, added to the scriptures a new doctrine; a doctrine that was in no way apostolic. Doctrine is not the Word of God simply because we say it is. It is the Word of God because it was spoken by God. Muhammad understood this and condemned the church for her non-apostolic innovations.

More to come...
David Robison

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

610 CE - Religion in decline - East vs. West

This is the continuation of a multi-post article. You can read the first part here and the previous part here. This is also part of a longer series called "The Koran from a Christian Perspective." You can find other posts in this series here.
In the fourth century, the Roman Empire was divided with competing Emperors in the east and the west. In 312 CE, Constantine prepared for battle against Maxentius to reunite the Roman Empire under his rule. He was preparing for battle when he received a vision. "He said that about noon, when the day was already beginning to decline, he saw with his own eyes the trophy of a cross of light in the heavens, above the sun, and bearing the inscription, Conquer by this. At this sight he himself was struck with amazement, and his whole army also, which followed him on this expedition, and witnessed the miracle." (Eusebius Pamphilus, The Life of The Blessed Emperor Constantine, Book 1, Chapter 28) After placing the sign of the cross on his army's shields, he was victorious and Christianity was propelled to the official religion of the Roman Empire. As such, its seat of power was Rome which coincided with the seat of Roman political and military power.

However, with the fall of Roam and the mas migration of the population east, the capital of the Roman Empire was moved to Constantinople thus giving new impetus for the eastern church to exert their claim to ascendancy as the new head of the church universal. As time went on, conflict grew between the eastern and western churches until they were permanently divided one from the other.

Muhammad wrote in the Koran, "To God belong the East and the West; whithersoever you turn, there is the Face of God; God is All-embracing [immense], All-knowing." (Koran 2:109) While the exact meaning of this verse is uncertain, this verse follows immediately after other verses that speak directly of the Christian church of his day. It is conceivable that he was denouncing the sharp division between these two churches. Each side denouncing the other and proclaiming anathema against the other. Muhammad rightly understand that it is the same God who presided over the church in the west as presided over the church in the east. While they were divided over doctrinal dogmas, God Himself was not divided.

Furthermore, Muhammad wrote of the violence that broken out in their hatred for one another. "And had God willed, those who came after him [Jesus] would not have fought one against the other after the clear signs had come to them; but they fell into variance [disputes], and some of them believed, and some disbelieved [were infidels]; and had God willed they would not have fought one against the other; but God does whatsoever He desires." (Koran 2:254) Muhammad saw their fighting and contention as God's judgment for their infidelity. "And with those who say 'We are Christians' We took compact [accepted the covenant]; and they have forgotten a portion of that they were reminded of [taught]. So We have stirred up among them enmity and hatred, till the Day of Resurrection; and God will assuredly tell them of the things they wrought." (Koran 5:17) Philip Schaff, in his history of the Christian church, confirms the state of affairs between the two churches. "The Pope and the Czar are the two most powerful rival-despots in Christendom. Where the two churches meet in closest proximity, over the traditional spots of the birth and tomb of our Saviour, at Bethlehem and Jerusalem, they hate each other most bitterly, and their ignorant and bigoted monks have to be kept from violent collision by Mohammedan soldiers. (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume IV, Section 68. The Consensus and Dissensus between the Greek and Latin Churches) Mohammedan was the term used for the followers of Islam in his day .

Unfortunately, the Muslims of today have followed the Christians of the the seventh century and have turned on each other leaving an ever increasing body count. The Economist on June 29th 2013 reported that the sectarian civil war in Syria had already killed in excess of one hundred thousand Muslims on both sides. In fact, Jihad Watch (August 24, 2011)  and Front Page Magazine (September 24, 2013) have both reported that since 1948 over ten million Muslims have been killed by other Muslims. Recent reports have also reported that the primary target of Muslim terrorists are actually other Muslims. Muslim terror groups today kill far more Muslims that they do westerners or Europeans. Surly Muhammad's judgment some fourteen hundred years ago is just as appropriate for today's Muslims as it was for yesterday's Christians.

More to come...
David Robison

Monday, October 19, 2015

610 CE - Religion in decline - Sectarian

This post is part of a multi-post article. You can find the first part here. This post is also a continuation of my posts in the series "The Koran from a Christian perspective." You can find other posts in this series here.
The the first three hundred years or so of the Christian church was an extremely fruitful time for new ideas, investigations, and speculations into things of theological significance. Much of the doctrine we take for granted today was discussed and developed in this period of rapid growth within the church. Looking at the writing of this period we see a dramatic evolution of their form, representing the development of thought in this period. Initially most writings were pastoral in nature. Then they became apologetic in explaining the reasons for Christianity. Next the became polemic in challenging the heresies that threaten the church. Finally they became didactic which laid the foundation of teaching in the church for thousands of years to come. Throughout this period, the church existed in relative unity. This does not mean that issues didn't arise. In 190 CE Victor, the Bishop of Rome, sought to excommunicate the churches of Asia Minor for celebrating Easter on a day difference from that celebrated in the west. Fortunately, Irenaeus' stern words persuaded him to relent and to reconfirm the unity of all believers.

For the next couple of hundred years, unity was secured through ecumenical counsels. These counsels brought together bishops from all over the know world to discuss and agree upon issues of faith and discipline. For a while, these counsels served their purpose as weight was given to the wise and those in attendance listened to reason and decided with prudence. However, overtime these counsels were called not to discuss issues but to condemn descenters and persuasion was replaced by demagoguery and consensus by the tyranny of the majority. Philip Schaff writes of the council held in 449 CE (known as the Robber Council) saying, "It occupies a notorious place in the chronique scandaleuse of church history. Dioscurus presided, with brutal violence, protected by monks and an armed soldiery; while Flavian and his friends hardly dared open their lips, and Theodoret was entirely excluded." (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume III, Section 140. The Eutychian Controversy. The Council of Robbers, a.d. 449. Where persuasion once ruled the day, now violence, intrigue, and political positioning determined religious faith.

Muhammad writes of the sectarianism in the Christian church saying, "Surely this community [religion] of yours is one community [religion], and I am your Lord; so fear Me.' But they split [rent] in their affair [great concern] between them into sects, each party rejoicing in what is with them. So leave thou them in their perplexity [error] for a time." (Koran 23:54-56) and "and be not of the idolaters, even of those who have divided [split] up their religion, and become sects, each several party rejoicing in what is theirs [their own]." (Koran 30:31) Muhammad believed that the Koran had come to clear up the doctrinal differences and to reconcile the various sects of Christianity and even to reunite the Christians and the Jews. "And We have not sent down upon thee the Book except that thou mayest make clear to them that whereon they were at variance [the subject of their wranglings], and as a guidance and as a mercy to a people who believe." (Koran 16:66) Muhammad believed that, if the Christians and Jews would just receive the Koran, then it would restore peace and the unity of faith between them, but it did not.

It is interesting to note that the same judgement that Muhammad laid against the divisions in the Christian church could today also be levied against the Islam faith. While Islam was once united in religion and faith, it is today fractured into many sects and competing beliefs. Beyond the sects of Sunni and Shi'a there are a number of smaller sects and several divisions within each sect. Many of these sects denounce the others as infidels and not true believers. Great hatred and animosity exists between many of them and much blood has been shed in religious battles between these Islamic sects. Sometimes it seems that the only thing they hate worst than each other, is us!

More to come...
David Robison

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

610 CE - Religion in decline - Unlearned

This is a continuation of my posts in the series "The Koran from a Christian perspective." You can find other posts in this series here.
610 CE is believed to be the year Muhammad received his first revelation from the angel Gabriel. However, before we look deeper into the person of Muhammad and the nature of the Koran, we must first understand the times in which Muhammad lived and prophesied. For the Christian church, it was a time of transition.

The church had left behind its innocence when it entered into public acceptance and prominence under Constantine. For the next several hundred of years the church was at its zenith, at least politically and in its "universal" acceptance. However, with the fall of Rome and the continued decline of the Roman Empire, the church too was in decline. The church was transitioning between an imperial system to a papal system and it would be almost one thousand years before reform would catch up with her. Muhammad, while he imperfectly understood Christianity, he clearly saw some of the more unseemly aspects of the church during his life. To be sure, there remained, and still remains, much good within the church, but she was a religion, or at least a church, in decline.

Ignorance and Superstition

The middle ages were a time of increased ignorance, not only among the faithful, but also among the clergy and that included its priests, deacons, and bishops. Philip Schaff describes this period as follows. "As the chief part of divine service was unintelligible to the people, it was all the more important to supplement it by preaching and catechetical instruction in the vernacular tongues. But this is the weak spot in the church of the middle ages... The great majority of priests were too ignorant to prepare a sermon, and barely understood the Latin liturgical forms. A Synod of Aix, 802, prescribed that they should learn the Athanasian and Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer with exposition, the Sacramentarium or canon of the mass, the formula of exorcism, the commendatio animae, the Penitential, the Calendar and the Roman cantus; they should learn to understand the homilies for Sundays and holy days as models of preaching, and read the pastoral theology of Pope Gregory. This was the sum and substance of clerical learning." (History of the Christian Church, Volume IV, Section 93. The Sermon) To compensate for the ignorance among the priests, collections of sermons from the fathers were compiled and distributed so priests could read them to their congregations. These collections of sermons became know as the homilies.

Muhammad comments on the lack of knowledge among the Jews and Christians. "It is He who sent down upon thee the Book, wherein are verses clear [perspicuous] that are the Essence [basis] of the Book, and others ambiguous [figurative]. As for those in whose hearts is swerving [given to err], they follow the ambiguous part [its figures], desiring dissension [craving discord], and desiring its interpretation; and none knows its interpretation, save only God. And those firmly rooted in knowledge say, 'We believe in it; all is from our Lord.'" (Koran 3:5) Not only was there widespread ignorance, but people gravitated to the figurative, or less unambiguous, parts of the scripture from which to draw doctrines. This lead to some widely diverse doctrines but also lead to fancies, speculations, and superstitions. Muhammad further notes. "And some there are of them that are common folk [illiterates] not knowing [unacquainted with] the Book, but only fancies and mere conjectures. So woe to those who write [transcribe] the Book [corruptly] with their hands, then say, 'This is from God,' that they may sell it for a little price; so woe to them for what their hands have written, and woe to them for their earnings." (Koran 2:73)

Lack of knowledge lead to both doctrinal error among the leaders and superstitions among the people. To some, superstition appeared as super-faith, but in really it was a counterfeit to true faith and placed faith in mysteries rather than in the word of God. Again Philip Schaff records. "On the other hand, the middle ages are often called, especially by Roman Catholic writers, “the ages of faith.” They abound in legends of saints, which had the charm of religious novels. All men believed in the supernatural and miraculous as readily as children do now. Heaven and hell were as real to the mind as the kingdom of France and the, republic of Venice. Skepticism and infidelity were almost unknown, or at least suppressed and concealed. But with faith was connected a vast deal of superstition and an entire absence of critical investigation and judgment. Faith was blind and unreasoning, like the faith of children. The most incredible and absurd legends were accepted without a question. And yet the morality was not a whit better, but in many respects ruder, coarser and more passionate, than in modern times." (History of the Christian Church, Volume IV, Section 4. Genius of Mediaeval Christianity)

More to come...
David Robison

Monday, October 12, 2015

Am I Muslim? - Part 3

This is a continuation of previous posts. You may want to start with Part 1 and Part 2.
In all these things (see Part 1 and Part 2) I find common ground between my Christian faith and the faith of those who follow Islam. However, given all this, there are still significant differences that separate these two great religions (and I use the term "great" in terms of size not necessarily the measure of their benefit to mankind).

The Koran defines true faith as follows. "It is not piety, that you turn your faces to the East and to the West. True piety is this: to believe in God, and the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the Prophets, to give of one's substance, however cherished, to kinsmen, and orphans, the needy, the traveller, beggars, and to ransom the slave, to perform the prayer, to pay the alms. And they who fulfil their covenant when they have engaged in a covenant, and endure with fortitude misfortune, hardship and peril, these are they who are true in their faith, these are the truly godfearing." (Koran 2:173) While I agree with the importance of prayer and in charity and benevolence to all, I do not believe in it as a stipulation for righteousness. Paul warns us not to "subject yourselves to regulations —  'Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,' which all concern things which perish with the using — according to the commandments and doctrines of men?" (Colossians 2:20-22 NKJV) Yet the Koran restores such regulations, including strict dietary laws. "Say: 'I do not find, in what is revealed to me, aught forbidden to him who eats thereof except it be carrion [died of itself], or blood outpoured, or the flesh of swine -- that is an abomination [unclean or profane] -- or an ungodly thing that has been hallowed to other than God." (Koran 6:146) The Koran is more of a restoration of Old Testament laws than a refinement of New Testament mercy and grace.

Beyond this, and many other differences in faith and practices, remains the central difference between Christianity and Islam, and that difference centers around the question of Muhammad and the Koran. One could hold Muhammad to be a reformer of ancient religions, allowing one to accept what was good in what he said and reject the rest. However, Muhammad claimed to be a prophet and an apostle from God; bringing a message dictated directly to him by God. As such, not only is Muhammad to be received as a prophet but also his book as divine.Apart from faith in the prophet and duty to his book, one can in no way be a Muslim or a follower of Islam.

The Koran equates faith and obedience to Muhammad as faith and obedience to God. "Whosoever obeys the Messenger [Apostle], thereby obeys God; and whosoever turns his back -- We have not sent thee to be a watcher over them [to be their keeper]." (Koran 4:82). Similarly, judgment is pronounced on those who disbelieves the word that was send down unto Muhammad, the words of the Koran. "Then what ails them [hath come to them], that they believe not, and when the Koran is recited to them they do not bow [adore]? Nay, but the unbelievers are crying lies, and God knows very well what they are secreting [their secret hatreds]. So give them good tidings [Let their only tidings be those]of a painful chastisement [punishment]." (Koran 84:20) Muhammad and the Koran stand as impenetrable bearers to any reconciliation between Christianity and Islam. It is in this revelation that I can in no way call myself Muslim for, while I am surrendered to God, I am not a follower of Muhammad or his Koran.

In the posts to follow, we will dig deeper, and in greater detail, into this central issue, the issue of who is Muhammad and is the Koran really the word of God.

David Robison

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Am I Muslim? - Part 2

This is the second part of a multi-part post. If you haven't yet, you may want to first read Part 1.
I believe in the resurrection of the dead, both of the righteous and the unrighteous. Paul tells us that "there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked." (Acts 24:15) Of this, the Koran agrees. "Every one of them shall come to Him upon the Day of Resurrection, all alone. Surely those who believe and do deeds of righteousness -- unto them the All-merciful shall assign
love." (Koran 19:95-96) However, in Muhammad's day there were many who doubted the resurrection. To them, death was the end. They could not conceive of life after death. Muhammad rebukes them saying, "They say, 'There is nothing but our present life; we die, and we live, and nothing but Time destroys us.' Of that they have no knowledge; they merely conjecture [it is merely their own conceit]... Say: 'God gives you life, then makes you die, then He shall gather [assemble] you to [on] the Day of Resurrection, wherein is no doubt, but most men do not know.'" (Koran 45:23, 26) The unbelief in Muhammad's time should not surprise us for, even in Jesus' day, there were those who doubted. "Now there came to Him some of the Sadducees (who say that there is no resurrection." (Luke 20:27) However, Jesus showed us the truth of the resurrection when He Himself raised from the dead. His resurrection give us hope for our own resurrection. "Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him." (Romans 6:8-9)

I believe in eternal reward and eternal judgment. In the resurrection, some will be resurrected to eternal life with God and others to eternal damnation away from His presence. Jesus describes the judgment at the end of the age and concludes with a remark regarding the wicked."These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." (Matthew 25:46) The Koran similarly describes the paradise that awaits the righteous at the end of the age. "This is the similitude [picture] of Paradise which the godfearing have been promised: therein are rivers of water unstaling [which corrupt not], rivers of milk unchanging in flavour, and rivers of wine -- a delight to the drinkers, rivers, too, of honey purified [clarified]; and therein for them is every fruit, and forgiveness from their Lord." (Koran 47:16-17) It is interesting that the Koran depicts paradise as having waters running underneath it. This is a picture of a desert oasis which those of his day could easily relate to. Similarly, the Koran describes hell, the reward of the wicked. "Surely We have prepared for the evildoers [offenders] a fire, whose pavilion [smoke] encompasses [enwrap] them; if they call for succor [implore help], they will be succoured [helped] with water like molten copper [brass], that shall scald their faces -- how evil [wretched] a potion [drink], and how evil [unhappy] a resting-place [couch]!" (Koran 18:28)

More to come...
David Robison

Friday, October 09, 2015

Am I Muslim? - Part 1

To truly be Muslim speaks less of your religious affiliation and more of your dispensation towards God. The Arabic word "Muslim" means to be surrendered or even resigned. So when Mohamed writes, "No; Abraham in truth was not a Jew, neither a Christian; but he was a Muslim and one pure of faith; certainly he was never of the idolaters [those who add gods to God]." (Koran 3:60) He is not speaking of Abraham's religion, as defined by laws, behavior, and ceremonies, but of his total surrender to God and to God's will, purpose, and commands for his life. Thus we read later, "When his Lord said to him, 'Surrender [Resign yourself],' he said, 'I have surrendered me [resigned myself] to the Lord of all Being.' And Abraham charged his sons with this and Jacob likewise: 'My sons, God has chosen for you the religion; see that you die not save in surrender [as Muslims].'" (Koran 2:125-126) Again, acknowledging here that Abraham was a Muslim because he surrendered his life, purpose, and will to God. This is what it means to be truly Muslim.

It is in this sense that, yes, I am Muslim. I not only believe in God but I am also totally surrendered to Him. He is the source of my life, every good thing I possess is from Him, and He is my only hope of righteousness and of obtaining the resurrection and eternal life to come. I am committed in my life to seeing His will and purpose fulfilled in my life. It is my daily desire that "Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven." (Matthew 6:10) And by that I mean "in this Earth" that is my body.

Beyond this simple definition of being Muslim, there are a number of points of faith that I, as a Christian, agree with concerning those who are Muslims.

I believe in one God who is the creator and sustained of the universe; one supreme God who is all powerful and all knowing. Moses taught us saying, "Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!" (Deuteronomy 6:4) There being but one God is a central tenet of the Koran. Repeatedly Muhammad tells us that there is only one God. "Your God is One God; there is no god but He, the All-merciful, the All-compassionate." (Koran 2:158) Furthermore, the Koran pronounces judgment on those who believe in multiple gods or who assign to God others beside Him. "God forgives not that aught should be with Him associated [joining other gods with Himself]; less than that [other sins] He forgives to whomsoever He will. Whoso associates with God anything [joineth gods with God], has indeed forged a mighty sin [erred with far-gone error]." (Koran 4:116)

I believe that, while God is one, He is also plural. John tells us that, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being." (John 1:1-3) The Christian scriptures speak in several places of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit all being God and yet God still being one. We also see that, when God first spoke, He spoke in the plural. "Then God said, 'Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.'" (Genesis 1:26) While many Muslims may disagree with this, it is interesting that God almost always speaks in the Koran in the plural. "And We have sent down on thee the Book making clear everything, and as a guidance and a mercy, and as good tidings to those who surrender [resigned themselves to God]." (Koran 16:91) This is a great mystery; God being one yet, in the one, being plural. However, both the Jewish and Christian scriptures as well as the Koran testify to the plural nature of the one true God.

More to come...
David Robison

Thursday, October 08, 2015

The Koran from a Christian perspective

Today I begin a new series on the Koran from a Christian perspective. I have wanted to do this series for a number of reasons. First because there are approximately one and a half billion Muslims in the world today; people I know little about. Being a Christian and a westerner, I do not understand their religion, their way of life, and their perspective on the world. Meanwhile, the Muslim world continues to expand beyond its historical Muslim lands into Europe and America, thus continuing the fourteen hundred year expansion of Muslims and the Islam religion. Increasingly it is becoming more and more important for Europeans and westerners to understand the hoards of people moving here and their differing ideas, religions, and world views.

The second reason I wanted to pursue this project was to better understand the violence directed at Israel and the west by those who claim guidance from the Muslim faith. On one hand we are told by our leaders that Islam is a religion of peace, yet daily we see the atrocities carried out by those whom I can only describe as Muslim fundamentalist. I do not understand why they hate us so much as they chant "Death to America!" and refer to us as the "Great Satan." What kind of religion could provoke such hate and anger as some of the Muslim faith display? Yes, there will always be isolated extremists in any religion, and even misguided Christians in centuries past have committed such atrocities, but violence and conquest has seemed to be part-and-parcel with the fourteen hundred year history of Islam. It seems that in many parts of the world dominated by Islam that its people have reverted back to the time before the flood when, "the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence." (Genesis 6:11)

In preparing for this study I have spend the last several months studying the Koran in different translations in an attempt to be honest and fair in what it says. My goal is not to slander the Koran but to let it tell its story and then to analyze what it says from a Christian perspective. I freely admit that I am not a scholar nor do I understand Arabic (the original language of the Koran). I welcome all comments, corrections, and substantive debates from anyone who might wish to comment on these posts. We will look at what the Koran contains, its claims about itself and its author, and compare its history and doctrine against that of the Jewish and Christian faith.

Finally, my goal here is understanding and not politics. I will not venture into the realm of suggesting what, if anything, our government ought to do in the face of the Muslim expansion and the violence of Islam. My goal is to help other Christians to better understand the Muslin faith and Muslims to gain greater insights in to the Christian faith.

I hope you enjoy this new series.

David Robison

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

New Audio: The Full Grown Man - Part 2

I had the opportunity to teach the second part of my series on The Full Grown Man last Sunday. You can download the full teaching from the Resources tab on my blog and hear the message below. I hope it encourages you.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

New commentary on Colossians

I've added my 15th full book commentary (OK, yes some are rather short) to my lists of commentaries under the Commentary tab on my blog. It is a compilation of my recent posts on Paul's letter to the Colossians. This commentary is free to download and to share. I hope you find it interesting and encouraging.

David Robison