Controversy over Islam is increasing both within American religion and among American political candidates. On the one hand, a Wheaton College professor was recently disciplined for suggesting that Christians and Muslims really worship the same God. This action has sparked a robust dispute among evangelicals. On the other hand, some office seekers have demanded a moratorium on Muslim immigration, and many voters have cheered the proposal. So how are Christians, and especially Baptists, supposed to think about Muslims?
Perhaps the place to begin is by reminding ourselves that the God whom Christians worship is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. Properly, Christianity should not be classified as a monotheistic religion. Christianity is explicitly Trinitarian. Christians believe in one true and living God (which superficially seems similar to Islam), but they also affirm that this God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They further claim that the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is not the Father.
Jesus Himself insisted that people were responsible to honor the Son with the same degree of honor that they extended to the Father. Furthermore, those who do not honor the Son do not honor the Father who sent Him (John 5:23). To reject Jesus Christ is to reject the True and Living God.
Not every idol is made of wood or stone. Most idols are fashioned in the mind. For its idol, Islam has fashioned an idol for which Jesus was a secondary prophet, but not God the Son. The idol that Muslims worship sent Mohammed to be its chief prophet, and salvation depends upon acknowledging and obeying them both. This idol is decidedly not the God of Christianity.
In short, Christians and Muslims share no common Deity. What they do share is a common image of God resulting in a shared human nature. Islam may not lead Muslims to recognize this commonality in Christians, but Christians should always recognize it in Muslims. Because of their possession of this image, Muslims should always be treated with the same decency and dignity that are rightly accorded to all of God’s image-bearers—all the more so because Christians recognize in Muslims fellow-sinners for whom Christ died.
Islam belongs to an entirely different class of religions than biblical Christianity. Christians must never surrender that point. At the same time, their attitude toward Muslims must be characterized by tolerance, charity, and compassion. At one level, this attitude requires the heartfelt attempt to bring Muslims to Christ for the forgiveness of sins. At another level, it means that Christians should be the first in line to protect the rights—including the religious rights—of Muslims.
Most religions have extremists and adherents who are willing to use violence in the name of their faith. From a Muslim point of view, the armed Mormons who have occupied the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon probably count as Christians. Certainly the Magisterial Reformers relied upon the fear of the sword to enforce conformity to their religious views. It took an odd group like the Quakers to practice religious tolerance, and an odder group—the Baptists—to insist upon complete religious freedom.
As it happens, I am one of those Baptists, and freedom of religion is a key element of my theological identity. Freedom of religion means just that: not the freedom to practice some religions, but the freedom to practice any of them, including Islam. Of course, freedom of religion does not mean that no religious practice should ever be outlawed. Religion must not be permitted to become a mask for anarchy. Just laws will forbid indecencies whether they are committed in the name of religion or not. But those indecencies will be illegal because they are indecencies, not because they are religion.
Some Muslims commit indecencies in the name of their religion. So do some Christians. It is right that malefactors, whether Christian, Muslim, or Pastafarian, be prosecuted. What is not right is that adherents who do not commit indecencies should be oppressed simply for adhering to their faith. In fact, no religious test can rightly be applied at any level of civil society: not for immigration, not for citizenship, not for civil service, not for public office.
Those candidates who have suggested some sort of ban applying only to Muslim immigration are wrong. More than that, they are dangerous. To single out one religion for suppression is a dangerous precedent, whatever that religion might be. Any measures that can be used against Muslims today will almost certainly be used against Christians in the not-too-distant future.
Granted, Muslim extremists pose a special problem. Not many wars are being started by radical organizations of Norwegian Lutherans. Even if they were, however, the solution would not involve the suppression of Lutherans. It would involve action against the organizations and individuals who were actually starting the wars.
Christians should be the first in line to object when someone suggests that Muslims worship the same God they do. Christians should also be the first in line to protect Muslims from both formal oppression and informal harassment—even when they must risk unpopularity or even harm to do so. For us, freedom of religion should never be negotiable.
This essay is by Kevin T. Bauder, Research Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.
Arm of the Lord, Awake, Awake!
William Shrubsole (1759–1829)
Arm of the Lord, awake, awake!
Put on Thy strength, the nations shake,
And let the world, adoring, see
Triumphs of mercy wrought by Thee.
Say to the heathen from Thy throne,
I am Jehovah, God alone;
Thy voice their idols shall confound,
And cast their altars to the ground.
No more let creature blood be spilt,
Vain sacrifice for human guilt!
But to each conscience be applied
The blood that flowed from Jesus’ side.
Arm of the Lord, Thy power extend;
Let Mahomet’s imposture end;
Break papal superstition’s chain,
And the proud scoffer’s rage restrain.
Let Zion’s time of favor come;
O bring the tribes of Israel home;
And let our wondering eyes behold
Gentiles and Jews in Jesus’ fold.
Almighty God, Thy grace proclaim
In every clime of every name;
Let adverse powers before Thee fall,
And crown the Savior Lord of all.