8 September 2010

How to Turn Muslims Off to Christ in One Easy Step—Burn the Koran

Peter Ditzel

14 September 2010: As you no doubt know, Terry Jones, pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida, called off his stated plan to burn Korans this past Saturday. I am thankful for this because it avoided an action that, I believe, would have turned Muslims (and, perhaps, others) away from the Gospel. It would also have been a biblically inexcusable, un-Christian action. (The article below gives further details about why I believe this.) This incident has brought to the forefront certain disturbing trends in American society and questions about the direction in which we are heading. Perhaps I will mention some of these in a future article.

9 September 2010: This is an update to the article below concerning pastor Terry Jones and his Dove World Outreach Center's plans to burn copies of the Koran. I want to clarify two points: 1) Even if Terry Jones and Dove World burn Korans, this action would not justify Muslims or anyone else committing any acts of violence in response. One foolish action does not justify another. It should be perfectly obvious to any Muslims following the news that Terry Jones and Dove World do not represent Christianity or the majority of the American people. Unfortunately, there are many people who are just itching for violence and looking for an excuse like this. 2) It may be true that burning Korans is a form of free speech that is protected by the Constitution of the United States. However, Paul said, "All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not" (1 Corinthians 10:23). That is why my article does not concentrate on Constitutional rights, but on what, for a Christian, is expedient and loving and gracious and what would further the Gospel rather than hinder it. Certainly, we should not be afraid to evangelize Muslims, but burning the Koran is not the way to go about it.

If you try clicking on the links in the article below to go to the doveworld.org website, you will notice that they are not working. When I wrote the article , the links were working. But at midnight last night, doveworld.org's web hosting company, Rackspace, pulled the plug on doveworld.org. According to Dan Goodgame, a spokesman for Rackspace, "We had a complaint that this site was promoting anti-Islamic hate speech, we investigated and agreed that it breached our acceptable use policy." Terry Jones told CNN that this was an attack on his freedom of speech. The bottom line is that because of this, the links to doveworld.org in the article won't work (the other links should still work), but I still hope you will read the article. Here is a link to an article on The Register that gives a little more information about Rackspace's action (http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/09/09/rackspace_dove/). By the way, this same article says that Dove World Outreach Center has lost half of its 50 members because of Jones's plans to burn the Koran. I have not yet been able to confirm this.

A small church in Florida has made international headlines by saying its members will burn several hundred copies of the Koran on September 11, 2010. (Koran is also spelled Qur’an, Quran, Qur’ān, Coran, and al-Qur’ān, but I will use Koran in this article.) The church's Facebook page says they will do this "in remembrance of the fallen victims of 9/11 and to stand against the evil of Islam. Islam is of the devil!" The Dove World Outreach Center is pastored by Terry Jones, author of a book called Islam Is of the Devil.

On their website, the church lists about fifteen reasons to burn the Koran (ten reasons are listed here, and five more reasons are here). Yet, while some of these may be legitimate reasons for not following the Koran, most do not logically lead one to think of publicly burning the book. Of all of the reasons the church gives, the only one that, in my opinion, reveals why anyone would want to publicly burn the Koran is, "Shock the world into focus." As the church says in its introduction to the list of reasons, "We are burning Korans to raise awareness and warn" (Ten Reasons to Burn a Koran). Now, what it warns people of and what it makes them aware of will probably vary from person to person. I seriously doubt that it will result in slowing the growth of Islam. But there is no doubt that it will make people aware of the Dove World Outreach Center. It will, unfortunately, also make many people erroneously associate the actions of the Dove World Outreach Center with true, biblical Christianity. This is indeed sad, for burning the Koran is not at all what Jesus Christ would have His followers do.

No doubt about it, the Koran is a lie that is keeping its people in darkness and leads them to hell. The question is, will this burning of the Koran help anyone out of that deception, or will it only make them dig in their heels even further and turn them from the light of the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ? I say the latter, and I'm going to back it up with the Bible.

The New Testament Gives Us No Example for This Kind of Action

Jesus spent much of His ministry criticizing the Jewish leaders and religionists of His day. But there is a great difference between these people and Muslims. Remember, Jesus was born under the law (Galatians 4:4), and His earthly ministry was still during the time of the law, under the Old Covenant. The Jews of Jesus' day were God's people of that time. They were the people of the Old Covenant that God had made with their ancestors at Mount Sinai, and their leaders sat on Moses' seat (Matthew 23:2), meaning that they exercised Moses' authority. Jesus, as the Son of God, had a legitimate right to criticize them for the apostasy they had fallen into, even if this resulted in offending them.

The Dove World Outreach Center, in an effort to legitimize its action, specifically mentions Jesus' cleansing of the temple and scourging of the money changers. But Jesus' actions were the Son of God's direct response to sins being committed in His Father's temple. Muslims are not in God's physical temple, which no longer exists, nor are they in God's spiritual temple—the church. They are outsiders who are to be evangelized with the Gospel of love and freedom in Jesus Christ.

The offense that Muslims will take to burning a book that they, however mistakenly, revere is not in the same category as Jesus' offending the Jewish leaders while correcting them for their waywardness from the God they had covenanted with. It is, instead, a direct violation of New Testament instructions.

Take, for example, 1 Corinthians 10:32: "Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God." Notice the three categories. Since the church of God is one of the categories, that means that by Jews and Gentiles, Paul meant those outside the church. Muslims fit this category. The context of the verse shows that Paul meant we are not to do anything that will hinder anyone's walk with Christ or turn them from Christ because we have hurt them with an offense. This is true even if the beliefs of the person offended are wrong.

Instead, "the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will" (2 Timothy 2:24-26). Burning the Koran is an action guaranteed to cause strife, it is not gentle, it really teaches nothing except to give the false impression that Christians are uncaring brutes, it is impatient, it is not meek, and it gives no one the chance to sit down in peace and rationally consider the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Where does the Bible ever say that Paul, Peter, or any of the apostles or their followers went into the pagan temples that surrounded them and defaced them, or destroyed their idols, or burned their books? Nowhere. In fact, the town clerk of Ephesus, a man who was not a Christian, specifically said of the Christians who had been falsely accused by a pagan mob, that these men "are neither robbers of churches [this should read temples], nor yet blasphemers of your goddess" (Acts 19:37).

The Dove World Outreach Center cites the burning of books in Acts 19:18-20: " And many that believed came, and confessed, and shewed their deeds. Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver. So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed." They say on that page, "Like the Christians in Acts 19, we are publicly burning a book that is demonic." But, again, there is a great difference between what is happening in these verses and what the Dove World Outreach Center is doing. The people in Acts are specifically called believers who confessed and showed their deeds. They voluntarily brought their books—the pagan books they used to follow but have now turned from—and burned them. Obviously, there is no comparison between believers burning the books they used to follow and the Dove World Outreach Center burning hundreds of Korans.

Reckless Endangerment

The burning of the Koran by the Dove World Outreach Center is a thoughtless action that endangers innocent people. The following is an excerpt from a message a Christian family posted on the Dove World Outreach Center site:

My Christian family of two young children, my wife and I live in a radically Islamic region of the world and I believe this will lead to attacks on the Christians here. There have already been large protests here and these people will turn violent without a doubt upon the few churches here. I know how these people think and this will only incite hate and death. I'm certain of what I'm saying and if you don't want the innocent blood of the saints upon your hands I ask you to cancel this planned event which will accomplish nothing except hatred and violence.

Christians are supposed to love one another and love their neighbors as themselves (John 13:34; Luke 10:27-37). By endangering other people through burning these Korans, the Dove World Outreach Center is violating these commands to love. Paul instructed that no act, no matter how wonderful, miraculous, or faithful is of any value without love. By burning these Korans, the Dove World Outreach Center is violating the most basic of all Christian actions—love. I know that on their website they say it is an act of love, but the evidence we have seen in this article shows that it is not. The members of that church may, because they have been deceived, think they are acting in love, but they are instead acting by another spirit.

The Great Commission

In what is often called the Great Commission, Jesus said to go into the world and preach, baptize, and teach (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-18). He said nothing about burning anyone's books and getting them so angry that they will not listen. The burning of the Koran by the Dove World Outreach Center is an ill-advised and foolish venture, conducted by a misguided church that is led by a wrong-headed and reckless pastor. I pray that God will open their eyes to see their error and repent.

A little bit about the Dove World Outreach Center. According to information I have been able to gather from the church website's about us page, the Gainesville Sun, the BBC, and the German Evangelical Alliance (a German language site [the link is no longer valid]), the church was founded in Gainesville, Florida, in 1986 by Dr. Don Northrup. Just before this, Northrup sent Terry Jones to Germany to start a church there. Jones's daughter, Emma, tells of how her father received a message from God to found a church, which he did in Cologne, Germany.

Northrup died in 1996. That same year, Jones's first wife, Lisa, died. The pastor who was then left in charge of the church in Gainesville asked Jones to come to Gainesville. For several years, Jones then pastored both churches. According to the Gainesville Sun article, "Parents in Germany sent their children to Gainesville for mission work, and some enrolled in an academy that was founded in summer 2007 to teach discipline and obedience, according to former members."

From what Emma Jones says, her father left the Cologne church around 2008: "'He just left us with nothing. I had no apartment, no car, no income. He just left.'" Yet, according to the German Evangelical Alliance, the church in Germany removed Jones from his leadership role because of untenable religious statements and cravings for recognition. A couple of years after Jones took over the Gainesville church, Don Northrup's widow, Elsie, left the church "over concerns about where the congregation was headed." The Gainesville Sun article says that the church currently has about 80 members. The BBC places this lower at 50. But the church's website speaks of some ambitious goals: "Growth would be 300, 700 and 2200 in the beginning." The Gainesville Sun also says, "the motto '100, 200 ... 2,200' [is] posted throughout the church buildings as goals for membership numbers." Dear readers, I hope you will join me in praying for Muslims and for the members of the Dove World Outreach Center. Both groups need God to open their eyes.

Copyright © 2010 Peter Ditzel