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.