Sunday, February 07, 2016

Islam - A religion of works - Holy rites

This is a continuation of a multi-post article. You can read the first post here. This is also part of a larger series called "The Koran from a Christian perspective." You can find other posts in this series here.
Central to the religion of Islam is the religious obligations, disciplines, and ceremonies that are required by all the faithful. The Koran refers to these as "holy rites." It is through these works of religion that Muslims remain faithful to God, honor God, acknowledge God, and remember God.
"And when you have performed your holy rites remember God, as you remember your fathers or yet more devoutly." (Koran 2:195)
Certainly, traditions and religious observances, can be aids in remembering God and all He has commanded and done for us. During the Last Supper, when Jesus inaugurated what we call communion, He said to His disciples, "This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me... This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me." (1 Corinthians 11:24-25) However, there is a difference between that which is observed because of law than that which is invited because of grace. The law defines that which one must do to be acceptable before God. Paul, speaking of the Law, says, "For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness." (Romans 10:5) However, Jesus came to establish for us a righteousness that is not dependent upon the law. "Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, 'The righteous man shall live by faith.' However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, 'He who practices them shall live by them.' Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us." (Galatians 3:11-13) Jesus came, not to confirm or establish new holy rites, but to offer us a way to righteousness that does not depend on law, observances, or works. The new covenant is not  a covenant of holy rites but a covenant of faith and grace.

Part of the holy rites prescribed in the Koran include animal sacrifices.
"There are things [cattle] therein profitable to you unto a stated term; thereafter their lawful place of sacrifice is by the Ancient House. We have appointed for every nation [people] a holy rite, that they may mention [commemorate] God's Name over such [brute] beasts of the flocks as He has provided them." (Koran 22:34-35)
Animal sacrifices were practiced under the old Jewish law, but such sacrifices ended with the advent of the Gospel of Jesus and the New Covenant.
"But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; 12 and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" (Hebrews 9:11-14)
Jesus was the end of the sacrificial system, offering Himself as the one true sacrifice able to take away every sin and to cleans the sinner from all unrighteousness. Having offered Himself once and for all there remains no need for further sacrifices and offerings for sin. Such sacrifices as the Koran prescribes are meaningless and powerless to effect any true holiness and righteousness. "For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins." (Hebrews 10:4) Such sacrifices and holy rites may appear to be religious, but are actually a mere reflection of natural religion and unable to affect any real change in the doer.
"If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, 'Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!' (which all refer to things destined to perish with use) — in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence." (Colossians 2:20-23)
The Koran also identifies the holy rites with a nation's identity. The Koran teaches that God has given to each nation their own set of holy rites to follow and observe.
"We have appointed for every nation a holy rite [observances] that they shall perform [observe]. Let them not therefore wrangle [dispute] with thee upon the matter, and do thou summon unto thy Lord; surely thou art upon a straight guidance [on the right way]." (Koran 22:66)
Muhammad was instructed not to worry about what the other nations were doing or to let them judge him and his followers for their religion and religious practices. As each nation has been given their holy rites, so Muhammad and his followers had been given theirs and they were their's to follow even if other nations did not or had differing ordinances and holy rites given to them by God. This is certainly consistent with the law given to Israel through Moses. The law set Israel apart from other nations. They had different laws, different ceremonies, and different obligations than the nation around them. The law was truly their holy rites and not that of other nations. The nation of Israel was called to keep their laws and observe them as their own. However, they were not called to try and convert the world to their way of living. It was a law for them which they were to observe, but they were not to concern themselves with what God has required of other nations around them. If we are to believe the Koran, then it would be just as wrong for us to try and convert Islam to our way of life and our religious ways as it would be for them to convert us. Interestingly, the history of Islam has not shown any regard to this belief. 

This idea of a nations holy rites and the importance of national identity as it relates to religion, ignores the prophetic declaration of God and the reality of universal brotherhood that Jesus came to establish.
"I will sow her for Myself in the land. I will also have compassion on her who had not obtained compassion, and I will say to those who were not My people, 'You are My people!' And they will say, 'You are my God!'" (Hosea 2:23)
"I will make you jealous by that which is not a nation, by a nation without understanding will I anger you." (Romans 10:19)
God no longer sees nations, He sees people. The Gospel did not come to a nation, it came to a people, to all who would believe upon Jesus. God does not prescribe this holy rite to this nation and that holy rite to that nation, but He calls all men to faith, faith in His Son Jesus Christ. Muhammad saw religion in the context of nations and tribal communities, but God came to save the whole world and to establish a universal brotherhood not based upon works and observances but based on faith, grace, and love.

More to come...
David Robison

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