On this Resurrection Day, would you pause for a moment and consider a Persian Easter hymn written by Hassan Dehqani-Tafti, a convert from Islam, who then became bishop in Iran. He experienced the assassination of his son and survived a murderous attack on himself and his wife.
Spread the News, look abroad.
He has risen to reign.
Now at last heaven is open to earth once again.
Now that death’s power is spent
and is vanquished for aye,
who should fear any storm?
Who now cringe in dismay?
Lift your eyes to the hills.
Greet the bright rising sun.
Now our hearts and our souls are renewed all as one.
See the tomb is found bare with the work of God’s hand.
See our Jesus now risen. In this faith may we stand.
Let us pray,
O God, who for our redemption gave your only begotten Son to die upon the cross, and by his glorious resurrection delivered us from the power of death and the devil: Grant us the grace to die daily to sin, that we may live with him in the joy of his resurrection, through the same, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit now and forever. Amen
- An ideological challenge – a religion of peace.
- A biblical and pastoral responsibility [Christian refugees and the Church’s response].
- A theological concern [are they the same – Jesus, Isa, Yahweh, Allah?]
Early in November 2005, in the Poso region of the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, I was secretly escorted in the dark of night through very remote conditions to the family home of Alfina Yarni Sambue. Just days earlier, on October 30 2005, Alfina (15) and her friends Theresia (15), Alfita (17) were beheaded by Muslim militants while walking to a private Christian school by a group of six masked men armed with machetes. I met that night with the grieving parents of Alfina, her sister and two brothers in their primitive home surrounding which had no electricity. I listened to Alfina mother describe the horrific events, how when they retrieved their daughter’s body there was no head. The family told me the attackers dumped one head outside a church with a note which stated, ‘Wanted: 100 more heads, teenaged or adult, male or female; blood shall be answered with blood, soul with soul, head with head.’ The two other heads were found near the local police station.
I remember praying with Alfina’s family, consoling them and reassuring them of my love and support as a brother in Christ. What I could not do, was to rehearse the popular western mantra that Islam is peace.
Many America Christians cannot conceive that Muslim men who behead innocent Christian teenagers could be heroes of Islam. Many political and some Church leaders leaders in the West continue to argue that a connection between Islam and violence is invalid. However, many so called moderate Muslims advocate that all Muslims should strive to gain political and military power over non-Muslims, that warfare is obligatory for all Muslims, and that the Islamic state, Islam and Sharia (Islamic law) should be established throughout the world. In a 2011 report, the Shariah Adherence Mosque Survey found that 80% of U.S. mosques provide their worshippers with jihad-style literature promoting the use of violence against non-believers and that the imams in those mosques expressly promote that literature. Additionally, Omar Ahmad, the founder of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest Muslim ‘civil liberties’ group in the United States that works ‘to promote a positive image of Islam and Muslims in America,’ believes that Islam must become dominant in the US. ‘Islam isn’t in America to be equal to any other faith, but to become dominant. The Koran, the Muslim book of scripture, should be the highest authority in America, and Islam the only accepted religion on Earth.’
Islam’s rule of abrogation, which states that wherever contradictions are found in the Quran, the later-dated text abrogates the earlier text. In addition to the Quran, scholars refer to traditions (hadith) recording what Mohammed said and did. Both these methods led Islam away from peace and towards war. The peaceable verses of the Koran are almost all earlier, dating from Mohammed’s time in Mecca, while those which advocate war and violence are almost all later, dating from after his flight to Medina. So the mantra ‘Islam is peace’ is almost 1,400 years out of date. It was only for about 13 years that Islam was peace and nothing but peace. From 622 onwards it became increasingly aggressive, albeit with periods of peaceful co-existence, particularly in the colonial period, when the theology of war was not dominant.
Some commentators believe that all we need today is time. Give Islam time and the religion will reform. The ideal of an Islamic reformation has produced, among many other results, the global jihad movement, the push for sharia revival and reimplementation of the Caliphate.
ISIS has already declared their leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as its caliph. As a caliphate, ISIS claims religious, political and military authority over all Muslims worldwide. ISIS believes that Muslims should wage jihad until everyone on earth makes the Islamic declaration of faith, the shahada: “There is no god but Allah, Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.” The barbaric and evil actions of these Muslim reformers who follow the example of Islam’s prophet are available for all the world to see.
Last August, a father and his twelve-year-old son were among twelve Syrian converts from Islam to Christianity who were captured, then publicly slaughtered after they refused to renounce their faith in Jesus. The 41-year-old father, his son (just two months away from celebrating his 13th birthday), and two other men were forced to stand before a crowd as IS militants ordered the believers to renounce Christianity and return to Islam. When they said they would never deny Christ, the militants took the young boy and in front of his father and the others, they beat him and cut off his fingertips. The jihadists promised to stop if his father converted back to Islam. He refused, and all four were beaten, tortured and crucified until dead. The militants put signs beside them that read “infidels”. “They were left on their crosses for two days.” Another eight believers, including two women, were taken to a different site in the city on the same day. They too were ordered to renounce Christ and convert back to Islam, but refused to deny their Lord. In front of a crowd of spectators that the militants had summoned, the jihadists raped the two women and then beheaded all eight as they knelt, praying. Their bodies were then hung on crosses.
A biblical and pastoral responsibility [Christians refugees and the Church’s response]
As a result of the atrocities perpetrated against Christians I have made numerous attempts together with other Christians leaders to urge our government to act on behalf of Christian minorities. I have co-labored with courageous and skillful advocates such as Nina Shea from The Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom and Faith McDonnell the Director of Religious Liberty Program at The Institute on Religion and Democracy [Faith is a member of our provincial Islam Task Force]. I was appealing on behalf of a group of Assyrian Christians desperately in need of rescue from northern Iraq. Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, Northern Iraq: Christianity in Iraq is going through one of its worst and hardest stages of its long history, which dates back to the first century. Throughout all these long centuries, we have experienced many hardships and persecutions, offering caravans of martyrs. We now face the extinction of Christianity as a religion and as a culture from Mesopotamia
While some European and South American government have issued special visas for Christians from Iraq and Syria. The United States refuses to do so. Recently I interacted with the State Departments Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM). informed State Department officials of a plan by one well-known Christian international aid agency to provide safer housing for Iraqi Christians. Christians are trying to survive in unfinished concrete buildings – such as shopping malls – in the Christian enclave of Ankawa rather than in the UNHCR camp with the other refugees, because they are even threatened by some of the Muslim refugees.
Donors in the private sector have offered complete funding for the airfare and the resettlement in the United States of these Iraqi Christians that are sleeping in public buildings, on school floors, or worse. But the State Department would not support a special category to bring Assyrian Christians into the United States. The United States government has made it clear that there is no way that Christians will be supported because of their religious affiliation, even though it is exactly that – their religious affiliation – that makes them candidates for asylum based on a credible fear of persecution from ISIS.
Paul write in Galatians 6, “do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers (Galatians 6:10),” I am very willing to discuss with you ways you can be supportive of these ur suffering and displaced brothers and sisters in Christ.
A theological concern [are they the same – Jesus, Isa, Yahweh, Allah?]
I was given an article by a very popular North American Christian author. Many of you will have read his books. In this article published in Christianity Today, this author argues that Christians, Jews and Muslims have the same understanding of God and that they are involved in building the same kind of kingdom. He argues that we shouldn’t allow doctrine to come into govern our discussion. Rather he says, what unites us is Abraham and Moses and the prophets. There is not a single reference to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
When people ask me what about Abraham? I reply, “What about him?” Jesus himself said (John 8:56) Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day; he saw it and was glad. Even Abraham himself realized that faith in God wasn’t about him, he realized it was all about Jesus – he saw and he was glad. When people say to me, “Surely the similarities of of the Jesus of the gospels and the Jesus of the Quran provide a platform for a common faith in God.” I reply like this:
Running unmistakeably through the Bible is the unshakeable conviction and insistence that the God who is working in history and who has already established his rule in Jesus Christ will one day bring history to a goal or climax in the Son of Man’s coming in glory. You can’t read the New Testament and be in any doubt about that. Does not the Bible and do not the creeds of the Christian Church, categorically insist that basic truth, that underlying fact, that fundamental reality; that Jesus is coming again to judge both the quick and the dead?” That is our Christian hope.
On the other hand, Islam predicts that when Isa returns it will be as a Muslim. The Muslim Jesus (Isa) will return to do 4 things
- Convert the world to Islam
- Destroy all crosses
- Kill all pigs
- Kill all Jews
The Muslim Jesus will marry, die, and be buried in the Mosque of the Prophet, in Medina and during his life, he will have revealed that Islam is the true word of God. The Islamic State expects to play a major part in accomplishing this End Times vision.
How can Christians and Muslims have the same understanding of God when Islam denies that Jesus is the Son of God, a person of the Trinity, when they deny the fatherhood of God, when love is not an intrinsic part of divine nature? How can the author of the article referenced above believe that? How can he believe they’re building the same kingdom? When for Christians it’s a Kingdom of love, based upon Jesus Christ, and that love going out to men and women, boys and girls, so that they are saved through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. Islam by comparison is building a kingdom based on the sword.
This is no longer just deception. It is no longer just heresy. This approaches apostasy, and many Christians accept it. What is apostasy? It is backsliding, desertion, disloyalty, faithlessness.
On the Temple Mount in Jerusalem today stands the mosque of Omar, built in the 8th century – this mosque stands on the site of the Jewish Temple, the House of God. On the southern end of the Temple Mount there is another mosque, a smaller mosque called the mosque of Al Aska and that mosque stands on the site of Solomon’s Portico where the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Day of Pentecost. Here in the very heart of Jerusalem where all Jewish religious life was focused and where the Christian Church of Jesus Christ was born, stand two mosques at the very center of this entire conflict. Inscribed three times around the tiled walls of the Mosque of Omar is the phrase: “God has no son”, right there in the very place that Jesus the Son of God, worshipped his Father.
Christians who seek for common ground with Islam tend to ignore or suppress the real differences between the two faiths. A new “Jesus” is emerging, stripped of uniqueness based on deity, incarnation, passion, crucifixion, resurrection, redemptive mission and universal Lordship, and remarkably similar to Muslim perceptions of ‘Isa. This new thinking affirms the ‘Isa of the Qur’an as also the Jesus of the New Testament, and its proponents are reducing Christianity to something less than traditional, orthodox Christianity to make it compatible with Islam.
In John 17 Jesus said, “Father the hour has come, glorify your Son, so that the Son may glorify you since you have given him authority over all people to give eternal life to all whom you have given, and this is eternal life that they may know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Jesus uses that lovely phrase, the only true God. When Jesus says that his Father is the only true God, then we must recognize that Jesus infers that there are gods who are false.
No matter how sincere the worshippers of other gods are, there is only one true God. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Christianity is founded on the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
I implore Christians today to understand that reformation in Islam would mean making it more Muhammadan. Death for apostates, stoning adulterers, cutting off the hands of thieves, enslaving one’s enemies, and killing non-believers, following Mohammad’s example. I implore Christains to be a voice for displaced, suffering and voiceless fellow Christians, to remember them, to pray for them and to be one with them. I implore Christians to resist at every and any level, all attempts to find common faith with Islam through Abraham. “Christ is our Cornerstone, on Him alone we build; on His great love our hopes we place of present grace and joys above.”
 The Fremont Argus newspaper, California
2. Look for a big surprise. We sooften limit God through our own thought processes. We allow our culture and personal circumstances to be the filters through which we study the Bible. In verse 5, God says Habakkuk will be astounded!
3. God will do something ‘in our lifetime’. In verse 5 God reassured Habakkuk that He will act and He will act during Habakkuk’s lifetime. Anyone can believe in God, what we must each decide is, do we believe that God will do what He says He will do in His Word? If we believe that God will act according to His word, then we have faith in Him.
4. God can and will act in a manner beyond our imagination. Habakkuk is told by God in verse 5 that He would not believe what God was about to do, even if God told him beforehand! The apostle Paul writes in Ephesians chapter 3, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
5. God is already at work. In verse 5, Habakkuk is told that God is already at work. In verse 6, God describes how He has chosen to work and Habakkuk is surprised. From this we learn that God is at work to will and to act according to his purpose and not ours!
May God’s eternal faithfulness encourage us to stand firm in the faith and be strong whatever circumstances we encounter throughout 2016 and beyond.
whose years never fail and whose mercies are new each returning day:
let the radiance of your Spirit renew our lives,
warming our hearts and giving light to our minds;
that we may pass the coming year
through him who is the beginning and the end, your Son, Christ our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
by Gerald Bray (Dr. Gerald Bray is research professor for Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama).
The English Reformation produced the Book of Common Prayer and the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion as its foundational documents. Both represent the more Reformed (as opposed to Lutheran) phase of the English reformation, though they are closer to patristic and medieval traditions than most Reformed documents are.
Archbishop Cranmer believed that he had to reform the worship, doctrine, and discipline of the church. The Prayer Book represents reformed worship, and the Articles contain reformed doctrine. Yet Cranmer’s reformed discipline failed to gain parliamentary approval, and that failure was a factor that led to the rise of puritanism.
The first Book of Common Prayer appeared in 1549. It contained services for daily worship, both morning and evening, and forms for the administration of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, along with other ceremonies that were used less often. The services were full of biblical phrases and imagery, and English people absorbed a considerable knowledge of Scripture from the Prayer Book, which was often repeated and easily memorized. The most important service was the one for the Lord’s Supper. Cranmer used traditional medieval English liturgies like the Sarum rite (“Sarum” is Latin for the town of Salisbury, in southern England), a liturgy drawn from Norman, Anglo-Saxon, and Roman traditions in the eleventh century. Cranmer restructured the old liturgies, however, in order to bring out the centrality of justification by faith alone. The communicant’s attention was directed away from the consecration of the bread and wine, which recalled the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, and refocused on his spiritual state, in line with Reformed teaching.
In order to reach the widest audience with the least resistance, Cranmer was careful not to break too obviously with tradition, and although the doctrines of the Reformers were clearly stated in the Prayer Book, traditionalist Catholics could still use the new rites. Cranmer had to move on, and in 1552, with some help from Martin Bucer and John Knox, he brought out a much more radically Protestant Prayer Book. What this meant can be seen in the revision of the words used in the administration of Holy Communion. In 1549, the minister said: “The body of our Lord Jesus Christ which was given for thee preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life.” This did not make it clear whether the bread being given to the recipient was transubstantiated or not. But in 1552 the words were changed to: “Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith, with thanksgiving.” Here what the communicant received was bread, and he was told to reflect on the presence of Christ in his heart.
In 1559, the 1552 Prayer Book was brought back after Queen Mary banned it, with some modifications. In the example given above, both sentences were included, making the words of administration very long. This was a concession to traditionalist sentiment, but it was Protestantism that predominated, and when the Prayer Book was revised again in 1662 this was reinforced. American readers need to realize that, although the 1662 Prayer Book is the classic Anglican form that is still used in England, it was replaced in the United States (in 1786) by a form that was closer to the 1549 book. As a result, the American Episcopalian liturgical tradition is more “catholic” and “high church” than its English counterpart.
Until the liturgical reforms of the mid-twentieth century, most Anglicans used the 1662 Prayer Book as a matter of course. Its language and its doctrines penetrated deep into the psyches of the English-speaking peoples, and its power to win souls for Christ is widely attested. Charles Simeon, the great evangelical leader of the early nineteenth century, was converted by reading it in preparing himself to receive communion. The warnings against unworthy reception that the Prayer Book contains went straight to his heart. Simeon repented as the Prayer Book urged him to do, and he gave his life to Christ. In Africa and Asia today, the strength of the Anglican churches there is partly due to the translations of the 1662 Prayer Book, which do not sound archaic in the way that the original English version now does. Tragically, it seems that the current spiritual lethargy of Anglicanism in the English-speaking world is connected to the demise of the Prayer Book since the 1960s. However, there is still a faithful remnant that keeps its witness alive, both in the traditional 1662 form and in modern-language adaptations, and there are signs that a spiritual renewal may be developing that will influence the Anglican Communion in the next generation.
The Thirty-nine Articles are usually printed with the 1662 Prayer Book, but they have a different history. There were forty-two of them in 1552, when Archbishop Cranmer gave them to the church. A revision was made in 1559–63 by some of Cranmer’s disciples, and the number was reduced to thirty-nine, though this was not achieved simply by leaving three of the older articles out. They were rearranged, expanded in some places, and abridged in others, though it must be said that Cranmer’s articles on the millennium, originally designed to counter the Anabaptists, were omitted in the 1563 version. The Articles were given official status by King Charles I in 1628; since then they have been the accepted doctrinal standards of the Church of England. Other Anglican churches have received them to a greater or lesser degree, sometimes with revisions, as happened in the United States (1801). But not all Anglican churches recognize them, and it has to be said that most Anglicans today are scarcely aware of their existence. Even the clergy have seldom studied them, and only evangelicals now take them seriously as doctrine.
The Articles are not a comprehensive systematic theology in the way that the Westminster Confession is, but they do address questions of theological controversy in a systematic way. In that sense, they are more advanced than earlier Protestant doctrinal statements. They start with the doctrine of God, go on to list the canon of Scripture, and then get into more controversial subjects. Justification by faith alone is clearly stated, and there is also a clear defense of predestination. The sacraments are numbered as two only, and they are defined as witnesses to the Gospel. Towards the end there are articles defining the powers of the civil magistrate, along with one that sanctions the two books of Homilies, collections of sermons in which the doctrines of the Articles and Prayer Book are more fully expounded. The Homilies are almost unknown today, but they have recently been reprinted, and this may lead to a renewal of interest in them.
The Westminster divines realized that the Articles were products of their time and needed supplementing even in the mid-seventeenth century, and few voices would dissent from that judgment today. What the Articles say is fair enough, but they need to be developed further if their doctrine is going to be appreciated and used in the modern church. Whether this can be done in the current state of the Anglican Communion is doubtful, but the Articles remain a touchstone of Reformed Anglicans, and perhaps their brief and judicious statements will one day gain them greater acceptance within the wider Reformed community.