Monday, October 15, 2007

Muslims, Christians, and the Messiah

This past week, 138 Muslim leaders from around the world sent an open letter to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, Rev. Mark S. Hanson, 24 other specific Christian leaders, and "Leaders of Christian Churches, everywhere…." The letter is entitled A Common Word between Us and You and calls for peace, justice and understanding between Christians and Muslims. The letter points to the primacy of the commandments to love God and your neighbor in both religions as the basis for such a goal:
Whilst Islam and Christianity are obviously different religions—and whilst
there is no minimising some of their formal differences—it is clear that
the Two Greatest Commandments are an area of common ground and a link
between the Qur’an, the Torah and the New Testament (pp. 13).

After citations and commentary on the the Qur’an [AalImran 3:64; Al-Mumtahinah, 60:8; Aal-‘Imran, 3:113-115; Al-Nisa’, 4:171] and Gospels [Matthew 12:30;Mark 9:40; Luke 9:50], the letter states:

We therefore invite Christians to consider Muslims not against and thus with
them, in accordance with Jesus Christ’s words here (pp.15).

While I applaud these Muslim leaders and give thanks to God for their invitation of peace and fellowship, what I found most interesting about the letter was its discussion of Jesus as the Messiah:

Muslims recognize Jesus Christ as the Messiah, not in the same way Christians
do (but Christians themselves anyway have never all agreed with each other
on Jesus Christ’s nature), but in the following way: …. the Messiah Jesus son of
Mary is a Messenger of God and His Word which he cast unto Mary and a Spirit
from Him.... (Al-Nisa’, 4:171) (pp. 15).

It is certainly true that Christians have always disagreed on the nature of Jesus. If Muslims agree that Jesus is Christ ("Messiah" is "Christ" in Greek), and that he is the Word of God, are they (from a Lutheran perspective) any less Christian than Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Marcus Borg, or any other non-Trinitarian Christian? Should I even be asking how "Christian" someone or some religion is?

A Common Word between Us and You can be found at:

Bishop Hanson's reply can be found at:


Ben Colahan said...

I find it especially amusing to see where in the list of Christian leaders the head of the Lutheran Church is placed.

Lucas Johnson said...

I am reminded of Mark 9:38-41 and of Numbers 11:26-30 in that those who are not against us are for us. First John 4:7-8 reads, "Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love." First John 4:9a reads, "God's love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him." It does not say that God's love can be revealed to us in only this way.

First John 4:20-21 reads, "Those who say 'I love God,' and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also."

Regardless of the way we understand God, the focus of the commandments can be simplified by loving God through loving our neighbors.

Based on First John, the teachings of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark and the instruction of Moses in Numbers, I view belief in community and love of neighbors as the single most powerful hallmark of following the teachings of Jesus Christ.

As an example, one day I drove to school and there was a man at the side of the road who was apparently homeless. I didn't give him any food. Had almost anyone else in the world driven by and given him food and water, they would have been a better "Christian" in that situation than me.

Even Humanists (Atheists with ethical values) may be better Christians than some who call themselves Christians. It's further written in First John 4:18 that "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love." Humanists may perhaps be better Christians than some who call themselves Christian because they give for no reward other than to love their fellow neighbors. They don't believe in an afterlife or eternal punishment.

I do believe in the afterlife, but my point is that the message Jesus taught was that God is love and that we are to love our neighbors. Christians believe that Jesus was a physical manifestation of this love.

Regardless of what terms we use to describe ourselves and our believes, the fundamental marker of our faith is that we love God through loving our neighbor. I don't care what we call ourselves or how we come to understand this truth, I only long for peace and a community of love for our neighbors. I want to live in a world where we love out of love for God, where we do not love out of fear of punishment or punish those who we perceive do not love God as we do. I long for love and not judgement. I welcome all who believe and follow these values as brothers and sisters in the message of love that Jesus Christ taught us.

Clark said...

I am glad you are encouraging people to take notice of this Muslim affirmation of common beliefs and the need for mutual acceptance with Christians and Jews. I am with Jesus when he said that all the law and all the prophets hang on the two commandments to love God and one's
neighbor, as was stressed in the letter from Muslim leaders.
Entrenched hostilities among these three religions - hostilities with
historical roots in politics and economics, and what is too often their servant, theology - should be rethought to help God save us all. As Marcus Borg says, the central idea of all enduring religions is compassion.