Showing the World What It Means to Follow Jesus

by Rebecca Bynum (July 2015)


The Crucifixion of St. Peter by Caravaggio

In the Kingdom of Heaven there is neither Jew nor Gentile, black nor white, male nor female, slave nor master, rich nor poor, but all are equal before the loving spirit of God. There is no question that despite Christianity’s history of warring factions, the pure religion of Jesus remains the greatest unifying force the world has ever known. Striking evidence of this was given after a misguided and hate-filled young man shot and killed nine worshippers in a venerable and historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina.

The families of the victims expressed words of forgiveness for the confessed killer, Dylann Roof, during his bond hearing less than two days after the murders. They asked the killer to repent and turn to Christ and they did so through the power of the spirit, the power of living faith.

When on the cross, Jesus prayed, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do” he demonstrated the power of divine love to swallow up hatred and vengeance for all time. He demonstrated the reaction of God to the cruelty and folly of men. These humble parishioners at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church demonstrated to the entire world that they are true followers of Christ. They displayed not the purely human reaction of natural man that calls for blood and vengeance, an eye for an eye, but rather the supernatural reaction of true spirit leading. They showed the world what it means to follow Jesus.

Maybe more importantly, they reminded the country of what we are so thoughtlessly losing, by tossing away belief in the love of God, belief that we are all equally sons and daughters before his living spirit; the belief that we are brethren because we all share the same Father. Black or white, rich or poor, we are all brothers and sisters in the Kingdom of Heaven. We are not strangers to one another; we are not orphans in the universe, we are not alone. We are joined in Christ and commune with him through his spirit. He is the true vine and we are his branches. He lives in us and we in him. This is the nature of true religion.

Let our Muslim brothers look on this in awe – let them see what real religion does or should do. Let them be drawn to the Kingdom of Heaven and let them enter through faith. Surely they will turn from error when they see the majesty and power of true living faith. Let them forsake the false prophet and follow the true one who requires only that we bear the fruits of the spirit, that of loving service, unselfish devotion, courageous loyalty, sincere fairness, enlightened honesty, undying hope, confiding trust, merciful ministry, unfailing goodness, forgiving tolerance, and enduring peace. God has never required his followers of spread his message by force. The love of God overcomes all hatred and destroys all sin.


St. Peter Preaching the Gospel in the Catcombs by Jan Styka

In David Garrison’s remarkable new book, A Wind in the House of Islam, there is documented a stunning development – the recent mass movement of Muslims to Christ. To understand the significance of this it should be noted that during Islam’s first 12 centuries there were no voluntary movements away from Islam and toward Christianity (a movement being defined as at least 1,000 baptisms); rather, it was all in the other direction as Christians conquered by Islamic forces converted to Islam in droves in order to escape their onerous status as dhimmis. At the end of the 19th century, there were two movements of Muslims to Christ, one in Indonesia and one in Ethiopia. In the last two decades of the 20th century there was a surge of 11 such movements in Iran (2), Algeria, Bulgaria, Albania, West Africa, Bangladesh (2) and Central Asia (3). So at the close of the 20th century there were a total of 13 movements of Muslims to Christianity worldwide. In the first 12 years of the 21st century, however, 69 more movements have been identified and these are spread throughout the Muslim world. Remarkably, many who are becoming followers of Christ were often led to do so by the Qur’an.

Remember that Christoph Luxenberg and many others argue that the Qur’an is the result of centuries of mistranslation of a Christian liturgical text. As Luxenberg states, “the word Qur’?n itself is nothing other than a phonetic Arabic distortion of the Syriac term Qery?n, designating a Syriac liturgical book corresponding to the Lectionary (Lectionarium) of the Roman liturgy, from which the Readings, constituting extracts of the Old and New Testament, are read in the Christian liturgical service. It is thus not surprising that Jesus (‘Is?) is cited twenty-five times in the Qur’?n and that he is there referred to as the Messiah [or Savior] (al-Mas?h) eleven times. Thus it is only logical to see other Syro-Christian passages being a part of this foundation which constitutes the origin of the Qur’?n.”

Thus, it is not surprising to read the following from a Bangladeshi former Muslim in Garrison’s book:

In the Qur’an, I found no titles of honor for Muhammad, but 23 honorable titles that Allah gave to Isa [Jesus’ name in the Qur’an]. I saw that Muhammad is not with Allah now, but Isa is in heaven with Allah now. Muhammad is not coming again, but Isa is coming again. Muhammad will not be at the Last Judgment, but Isa will be at the Last Judgment Day. Muhammad is dead, but Isa is alive. Only four times does the Qur’an speak of Muhammad, and yet 97 times is talks about Isa. Muhammad is not a savior according to the Qur’an, but Isa’s very name means “Savior.” Muhammad is only a messenger, but Isa is called Ruhallah, the Spirit of Allah.

Garrison describes how these “Isai Muslims,” as they call themselves, gradually fall away from the teachings and practices of traditional Islam as they investigate “Isa” through his own words in the New Testament. They do not necessarily become Christians in the sense of joining an established Christian church; often they remain within the Muslim community spreading the good news to their fellow Muslims. This phenomenon is happening throughout the Muslim world. And much of it is due to the fact that Muslims can now read the Qur’an in their own languages and understand it for the first time. (Islamic education traditionally consisted of memorizing the Qur’an in Arabic without necessarily understanding its meaning.)

Of course, it should not be forgotten that these former Muslims are all under a death threat as laid out in Islamic law and all Christians in Muslims lands, converts of not, face persecution and violence just as did Jesus, his Apostles and all the early believers during Christianity’s first few centuries. And yet, when believers contemplate the courageous and even gracious manner with which Christ met his fate, they are constrained to follow him even unto death. They are supremely motivated to share the good news that human beings are the sons and daughters of a loving God and that all men are brethren by virtue of this truth.


Roman mosaic from modern Tunisia

When Peter was told he was to share the Master’s fate and be crucified, he protested that he was unworthy of such a death. Thus he was crucified upside down, while many others who heard his preaching and believed the gospel were thrown to the wild beasts in the arena.

Jesus used several parables to illustrate the truth that the Father does not sit passively waiting for his children to find him, but actively searches for his lost ones. In Garrison's book, many former Muslims report profound personal encounters with Jesus in dreams and visions. Others report simply being drawn to him or having their curiosity peaked by some incident. In almost all cases, completely forsaking Islam for Christ means leaving everything behind – job, family, home – everything. A man’s enemies are often those of his own household.

Garrison presents representative interviews from nine geographic areas, or “rooms in the house of Islam,” following a brief historical sketch of each area for context. Readers may take exception to some of these politically correct historical sketches and Garrison’s style is often grammatically quite wobbly, but these are minor points. The documentation of this momentous development in the Muslim world is what matters.

Said a former mujahid from East Africa: “When you look at me on the street, you see my Muslim hat and my beard, and you are afraid of me. And, to tell you the truth, that is why we dress this way, to make you afraid of us. But you need to know – you need to know that inside we are empty. Don’t be afraid of us. We need the gospel.”

 

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Rebecca Bynum's latest book is The Real Nature of Religion, published by New English Review Press.



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