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A WHOLE JESUS FOR A WHOLE PERSONS, or

HOW TO TELL A FRAUD

1 John 4.1-12

May 31, 2015 

Is the Islamic State a legitimate form of Islam or not?  Certain statements by our government would give the impression that the Islamic State is un-Islamic.  This is suggested, so it is argued, in order to avoid the impression that the West is engaged in a holy war directly with Islam.

While the suggestion that the Islamic State is un-Islamic may be understandable from a tactical standpoint, it has been criticized from a strategic perspective as being wrongheaded.  In fact, this suggestion is dangerously unhelpful to containing and ultimately stopping the violence in the Middle East.[1]  The Islamic State does represent a form of Islam that has a history and can be supported from texts found in the Qur’an.

Therefore to call the Islamic State un-Islamic insults large swaths of Muslims who believe to their deaths that the Qur’an is verbally inerrant Scripture.  More believers are primed to become terrorists to martyr themselves for the defense of their faith.  It creates the perfect incentive for acts of barbarism against Western targets and Arab Christians which are videotaped and used with tremendous propaganda effects.

It is crucial to call the Islamic State “Islamic” for the simple reason that it does quote the Qur’an for its legitimacy. So let’s talk about the Qur’an for a minute.   The content of the Qur’an grew over a long time, in multiple historical settings, facing changing circumstances, challenges, threats, and opportunities. In that sense it is like our Bible.   And like our Bible, the Qur’an does not speak with one voice.  Generally speaking, the parts of the Qur’an which are attributed to Mohammad during his later stay in Medina are more aggressive than his earlier, more peaceful ones from Mecca.[2]

What we in the West are waking up to is that a large part of the Muslim world has made a decision to base their faith and practice on the Mecca texts.  This has come about almost unnoticed over the past centuries through what can be called a quiet reformation, if you will.  This reformation has moved Islam out of its 7th century way of doing things to something more recognizable as a modern day religion.  Away from Medina and toward Mecca, again to speak very broadly.

This reformation, no surprise, has sparked a counter-reformation, being carried out by the Islamic State and other groups.  As you might expect, Mohammad’s sayings from Medina are more prominent in Islamic State theology and practice than the parts that are attributed to Mohammad during his earlier stay in Mecca.  The aim of this counter-reformation is to capture modern Islam and take it back to its roots in Medina.  Away from Mecca and back to Medina.

This counter-reformation thinks modern Islam has gone off the rails.  It is apostate, following the trends of the Western world.  The counter-reformation wins soldiers and cash for its battle against apostate Muslims every time it can show how evil an enemy is the Western world.  What is happening in the Muslim world is a fight over which texts in the Qur’an will be pushed to the foreground and which to the back. Again, to speak broadly, Medina versus Mecca.

The words “reformation” and “counter-reformation” ought to sound familiar to you.  I have deliberately taken them from how we describe what happened in the European Church in the 16th century, and we, sitting here today, are a consequence of that.  The Protestant Reformation brought about a strong Catholic Counter-Reformation which then created a hundred years of warfare of Christians against Christians.  And in our case, as with Muslims, the battle was waged over how to interpret our Scriptures, the Bible.  Each side could call themselves Christian.  Each side had to go through a long and tortuous path to arrive at a point where everybody realized that God was calling us to love each other despite our differences and beyond our differences.  You can say that this fight was really not over until after the Second World War when mainline Catholics and mainline Protestants began reading the Bible in the same way

My point today is simple and direct.  What is happening violently in the world of Islam today still is happening, largely non-violently, within the Christian family.  There are forms of Christian faith that, while they may be drawn from Scripture, come to be recognized as fatally flawed by those same Scriptures.  It is better to confront someone by saying, “I recognize you have a faith, and I recognize how you support your faith from the Bible, but when I test your faith from those same Scriptures I believe you are in error.”  It is better to do that than to excuse what that faith practices just because of the overwhelming spiritual convictions that motivate their actors.[3] It is better to confront than to excuse because in a situation of confrontation, everybody is accountable for their actions.  While it is always possible that confrontation may lead to conflict, confrontation may also lead to dialogue, and the opportunity for everyone to examine themselves and explain themselves.  There can be no chance for improvement and respect without confrontation and dialogue.

We know from our own history that Christianity is contentious faith.  You can go to the Bible and almost always find something written there to support your cause.  For example, the Ku Klux Klan practices a kind of Bible-based religion, as did the German Christians under Nazism, the Branch Davidians in Waco, the Jones colony in Guyana, and General Stonewall Jackson and the southern Presbyterian church.   They may call themselves Bible-based, but we have come to see that the Bible shows them to be in error.

Our culture wars today are just the latest chapters in this ongoing battle of what the Bible says we can do and believe. How do we treat human beings who are not men?  How do we treat human beings who are not straight?   How do we treat human beings who are not free?   How do we treat human beings who are not Christians?  How do we treat human beings who are not white?   How do we treat human beings who are not rich?  These are hot-button issues because the Bible is a kind of grab-bag of guidance.  So we have to test the answers we give to these questions by the Bible itself.  That means that some Bible texts get pushed to the foreground, others to the back.  Some texts are dominant.  Some are subordinate.

The battle over the Bible goes back to the very genesis of our faith.  Our Epistle Lesson is a frank discussion of two well-thought out positions that faced off against each other before the church was even a hundred years old.  One position held that when Jesus walked the earth God was only in his mind or his soul or his spirit.  Wherever God was, it was not in the flesh of Jesus.  No, the flesh was too dirty, too messy, too fragile, too lusting, too irrational, too prone to go off on the deep end.  When Jesus died, so this position goes, God did not suffer pain—not even emotional pain.  You see, this position explained, before the crucifixion God forsook Jesus; God escaped Jesus’ mind, soul, or spirit.  “Remember what Jesus cried from the cross?” proponents said.  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

These people thought that a mind is a terrible thing to waste, but they did not have such a high evaluation of the body.  So, they preached, God came in Jesus to rescue our minds, to give us enlightenment, to increase our insight.  Now, watch what happened next.  This had a practical effect on how you treated people.  What happens if God is only out to save the mind?  It doesn’t really matter how you treated your body or how you treated anybody else’s body, don’t you see.  You could trash your body and you could trash anybody else’s body.  Just as long as you felt intellectually elevated, spiritually uplifted, culturally refined, heroically motivated because that’s where God was.

People could tell you with a straight face where they got their support for their theology from certain texts in the Old Testament or the Greek philosophers.  They would have been offended if you told them that they were not Christian.  Yet, this is what our text from 1 John does.  The writer of 1 John says, in so many words, “I recognize you have a faith, and I recognize how you support your faith.  But I am testing you by other texts of the Bible.  I am using the Bible against what you are quoting from the Bible, and I find that you are dead wrong in your faith, because you are trashing other people’s bodies.”  You have a prophecy, but your actions prove it is false.  You have a Christ, but your actions prove your Christ is the exact opposite of the Son of God.

The author of First John insists that the Bible commands us to love the whole person, body and soul, without respect to class, color, or creed because this author has seen God in the flesh of Jesus, has heard his voice, has touched his body, both before his crucifixion, at his death and after his resurrection.  Because God lived a full life in the flesh of Jesus, the texts that jump out in the Bible are the ones that insist that we are body and soul, mind and flesh, passions and spirit.  The texts that jump out say that God loves the body, the flesh and our passions just as much as God loves our soul, our mind and our spirit.  These texts become the rule of faith by which everything else is tested.

These texts came to the forefront, and the church said in the first century: It will not work to preach that God came just to fix our soul, mind and spirit and then somehow seal that off from our body, flesh and passions. It will not work to think that we are permitted to trash our body and anybody else’s, thinking it wouldn’t matter.  It is the whole person that must be fixed because God loves the whole person.  So God fixed the whole person by coming to earth as a whole person to love us as particular, unique individuals, body and soul.  Therefore we are commanded to love the whole person, without respect to class, color, or creed.

Test the spirits, directs the writer of 1 John.  Which one preaches love for everybody that includes love and care for bodily needs as a universal rule? Which one preaches love that does not allow the fear of what is strange to us to motivate us to hate what is strange to us?  Which one preaches love that takes the first step in concrete acts of reconciliation and risks everything in taking that step?

The whole Jesus for the whole person became the substance of Christian faith which became summarized in the confessions of the church that we use each Sunday, the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds.  To whole people under the dominion of sin God the Father came as the Son of God, very God and very human.  Out of an abundance of love for us, the Son of God died for our sakes in order to give us the Spirit of the Son’s life that we as whole people might live through him.  Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  That, my friends, is how God works, and that is what we celebrate on this Trinity Sunday.  One God working in three persons for one purpose to make us whole people.

How we treat human beings who are not men, how we treat human beings who are not straight, how we treat human beings who are not free, how we treat human beings who are not Christians, how we treat human beings who are not white, how we treat human beings who are not rich—all our actions are tested by this whole God in three forms who is for a whole people.  In the final analysis, that is what separates a Christianity that is legitimate from a Christianity that is a fraud.

 

 

 

 

 



[1] For a provocative discussion of these issues, see Graeme Wood, “What Isis Really Wants and How To Stop It,” The Atlantic, March, 2015, 78-94, and further discussion in “The Conversation,” The Atlantic, May, 2015, 14-18.

 

[2] See “Thoughts on its Future,” a book review of Ayanna Hirsi Ali, Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now.  In The Economist, April 18, 2015, 74-75.

[3] “Thoughts on its Future.”

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