Tag Archives: messiah

Why Is It Hard for Muslims to Believe in Christ as Savior?

Islam was founded during an epoch when the weakened remnant of the Roman Empire had been “Christianized.” However the official Christian church was largely under the control of a corrupt and decadent empire and became associated with its evil deeds.

Further, the church had become the sponsor of idolatry. Many “sacred” objects, such as bones of saints and relics of the cross, were considered to have magical powers. Although the objects themselves were usually of questionable authenticity, church leaders exploited them to manipulate the superstitious masses.

When Mohammed observed the church and the “Christian” rulers of his day, he saw that they violated the very principles they claimed to uphold. Considering the flagrant corruption and idolatry of the Christian world, it isn’t surprising that he and other early leaders of Islam assumed that every aspect of Christianity, including its Scriptures and key doctrines, was corrupt.

As Muslim armies swept through “Christian” lands they found that they were often welcomed as liberators. The astonishing speed of their conquests, along with their conviction that they were restoring the pure monotheism of the Bible, gave them even more confidence that their mission was God-ordained and blessed.

In more recent times the nominally Christian nations of the West have established political and military dominance over the Muslim world, from Morocco to Indonesia. Again, association with the often violent and exploitive policies of “Christian” colonial powers sullied the image of Christ. Further, in recent years the decadent values of Western secularism have disrupted the lives of Muslim people who had lived in relative harmony with their beliefs for hundreds of years.1

Today, just as few Christians are familiar with the Koran, many Muslims are unacquainted with the Bible. If they live in a Muslim society, all they are likely to hear about the Bible and Christian doctrine are misleading distortions based largely on cultural memories of conflict with the Western world.2

1. Conservative Christians are painfully aware of many of the negative effects of secularism in the modern world, including the breakdown of family life, the glorification of immorality, and the legalization of abortion. It is important to consider the negative effects of the massive influence of Western culture in the past century.

“Historically, over many decades, Christianity and Judaism made their own accommodations with modernity. The process produced further divisions and differences among them: liberal, fundamentalist, and evangelical Protestantism; orthodox, conservative, reform, and reconstructionist Judaism; orthodox or traditionalist and liberal Catholicism. Catholicism was for some time a distant third to Protestantism and Judaism in dealing with modernity. Until the second Vatican Council in the 1960s, pontiffs had condemned much of modernity — including modern biblical criticism, democracy, pluralism, and women’s rights. Despite change, all of the children of Abraham continue to struggle with modernity. The global resurgence of religion is driven by a desire of many well-educated believers of different faiths to rethink and reevaluate the relationship of religion to modernity. Many question the excesses of modernity, trying to reassert a faith and values that limit the unbridled use of science and technology, the sexual freedoms that weaken family life, the emphasis on individual rights rather than on responsibilities, or the accumulation and maldistribution of wealth.” pp. 123-124, Unholy War, Terror in the Name of Islam by John L. Esposito (Oxford University Press) Back To Article

2. Further, it is an unfortunate fact that in most nations with Muslim majorities, conversion to faith in Christ results in extreme social ostracism, or even in imprisonment or execution. “At birth, a person is marked either Moslem or non-Moslem depending on one’s descent. One’s religion is therefore marked on his or her birth certificate, identity card, and/or passport. Furthermore, a non-Moslem can easily become a Moslem, but not the reverse. This is why there are unknown visible churches of Moslem converts to Christianity. Converts do exist, but they are in small numbers, meeting secretly.” (Billy Kim, President of the Baptist World Alliance) Back To Article

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Why Did Many Jewish Leaders Hate Jesus Christ and the Apostolic Church?

Some people have the impression that Jewish hostility for Christianity began only after Jews experienced persecution by Christians. Actually, Jewish hostility toward Jesus Christ and His church began long before Jews experienced persecution by Christians. Biblical scholar N. T. Wright summarized the reason for Jewish rejection of Jesus and the church:

What evokes persecution is precisely that which challenges a worldview, that which up-ends a symbolic universe. (N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, Fortress Press, p. 451) 1

Jesus taught that Jewish nationalism and commitment to the “oral law” (“traditions of men”) distorted the purpose of the written law (Torah) (Mark 7:1-20). He declared that Israel’s dominant religious leaders were not in the tradition of Moses, David, and the prophets, but were servants of Satan (John 8:37-44). Their “Judaism” depended on legal righteousness based in “oral law” (the “traditions of men”; see Mark 7:1-23) and “works” that artificially distinguished them from the Gentiles whom they regarded as ritualistically unclean. Adherents of this perspective believed that their legal righteousness would assure them of the future Messiah’s approval when he appeared on the scene to cast off the Roman yoke and institute worldwide Jewish rule.

John the Baptist proclaimed the worthlessness of legalistic righteousness (Matthew 3:1-12), and Jesus declared that the legalistic righteousness of the Pharisees was pitted against the genuine law of God He had come to uphold.

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:17-20 NIV).

Instead of leading them toward fulfillment of the promises God had given Israel, their legalistically based self-righteousness motivated them to reject and kill the Messiah and His followers (Matthew 21:23-46; John 8:42-59; Acts 4-5; 7-9; 12:1f; 13:42-51; 14:2-5; 14:19; 17-18; 24:5; 26:9-11; Galatians 1:11-16; 4:29; Philippians 3:5-7; 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16).

Jesus called into question the meaning of the primary Jewish symbols—Sabbath, food taboos, ethnic identity, ancestral lands, and ultimately the Temple itself.2

The quotation below is by a modern Jewish man who, like the religious leaders of the first century, misunderstands what Jesus came to offer His people. It vividly illustrates the radical effect Jesus’ teaching must have had on His contemporaries.

John’s Gospel abolishes what is sacred for Judaism and replaces it with “Christ”. Everything that was held to be important by “the Jews” is dismissed in John as insignificant. Christ replaces or supersedes Judaism. The Church expresses this idea today by claiming to be the “New Israel.” According to John, Christ replaces the Temple (John 2:18-22); the Law (John 5:39-40) and Israel itself (John 15:1-17)—the “vine” being a symbol of Israel (Psalm 80:8; Ezekiel 15:1-6 and Hosea 10:1). There is no room left for Judaism as an expression of God’s will. This has led to what one author has called “a theological vendetta” against the Jews. Too often in history those who have concluded that Judaism is obsolete, have also concluded that the Jews are equally obsolete, with tragic results. Christology is the study of the nature of “Christ.” In Johannine Christology, Christ is portrayed as a divine man who fulfills prophecy and reveals God in his own flesh. This was and still remains, pure anathema to Jews. From a Jewish perspective the Johannine god-man vision of Christ is a repulsive paganism. By virtue of their innate inability to accept such a vision of the Messiah, Jews are automatically condemned by Johannine Christology. It is inherently antisemitic (“Anti-Semitism and John’s Gospel,” by Tom Macabi from Web site “Holocaust Understanding and Prevention”).

A Jewish scholar and Bar-Ilan University academic makes it clear that in some Jewish minds today, orthodox Christianity is “the root cause of 1500 years of the Christian idolatrous anti-Semitism which led to the holocaust.” He declared that Christians have a choice:

Either retain their present belief system and be anti-Semitic or form a partnership with the Jewish people. . . . As long as Christians keep Jesus as God, they will be anti-Semitic because that belief must lead them to believe that those who reject Jesus reject God. (Rabbi Dr. Pinchas Hayman, Australian Jewish News, Melbourne Edition, Vol. 62, no. 43, p. 9)

Obviously most Christians wouldn’t agree with this rabbi’s conclusion that faith in Christ is anti-Semitic. However, the fact that he sees the issue in these terms demonstrates that some Jews today still have the mindset of Jesus’ enemies in the first century, and to those with this mindset the challenge of Jesus Christ and the gospel remain a call to war (Matthew 10:32-42).

  1. Jesus was claiming to be speaking for Israel’s god, her scriptures, and her true vocation. Israel was trusting in her ancestral religious symbols; Jesus was claiming to speak for the reality to which those symbols pointed, and to show that, by her concentration on them, Israel had turned inwards upon herself and was being not only disobedient, but dangerously disobedient, to her god’s vision for her, his vocation that she should be the light of the world. Jesus’ contemporaries, however, could not but regard someone doing and saying these things as a deceiver. His agenda clashed at every point with theirs. In symbol, as in praxis and story, his way of being Israel, his way of loyalty to Israel’s god, was radically different from theirs. (N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, Fortress Press, p. 442) Back To Article
  2. The clash between Jesus and his Jewish contemporaries, especially the Pharisees, must be seen in terms of alternative political agendas generated by alternative eschatological beliefs and expectations. Jesus was announcing the kingdom in a way which did not reinforce but rather called into question, the agenda of revolutionary zeal which dominated the horizon of, especially, the dominant group within Pharisaism. It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that he called into question the great emphases on those symbols which had become the focal points of that zeal: Sabbath, food taboos, ethnic identity, ancestral lands, and ultimately the Temple itself. The symbols had become enacted codes for the aspirations of his contemporaries. Jesus, in challenging them, was not ‘speaking against the Torah’ per se. He was certainly not ‘speaking against’ the idea of Israel as the chosen people of the one true god. Rather, he was offering an alternative construal of Israel’s destiny and god-given vocation, an alternative way of telling Israel’s true story, and alternative to the piety which expressed itself in nationalistic symbols. He was affirming Israel’s election even as he redefined it. (N.T. Wright,  Jesus and the Victory of God, Fortress Press, p. 390) Back To Article
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Must A Person Have A Clear Understanding of Jesus’ Deity To Be Saved?

An accurate response to this question has to reconcile the importance of truth with the simplicity of faith. According to Jesus Christ, faith doesn’t require intellectual sophistication. He didn’t say that one must become a philosopher or a rabbi to enter the kingdom of God. He said that one must become like a child (Mark 10:15). He also compared His followers to sheep (John 10:3-4,16,27). Sheep aren’t known for their intelligence, but they survive by knowing their shepherd and following him. Similarly, saving faith can’t be based as much on theological abstractions as on the simple recognition that Jesus is the Shepherd-Savior and we must follow Him.

The implications of Jesus Christ’s deity weren’t defined until the counsels of Nicaea (ad 325), Constantinople (381), and Chalcedon (451), but millions of Christians had already declared their allegiance to Jesus Christ, and thousands had died as martyrs as testimony to their faith in Him.

What did Christians who lived before these great church councils know about the Trinity or Jesus Christ’s deity? The very earliest followers of Jesus Christ knew Him personally, saw His miracles, heard His teaching, and had either seen Him following His resurrection or heard about His resurrection from sources they considered utterly reliable. The next generation of Christians had the firsthand teaching of the witnesses to His life, death, and resurrection. Later generations had the canon of New Testament Scriptures, which had by then been assembled. All of these generations believed in His sinless life, His works of supernatural power, the supernatural authority of His teaching, and His supernatural resurrection from the dead. Nearly all of them would have had extensive access to either the verbal or written records of what Jesus had taught, including the way He described Himself as the “Son of Man” and the “Son of God,” and the things He spoke (and which were recorded by the Gospel writers) about His own authority and His relationship to the Father and the Holy Spirit.

The first verses of the gospel of John declared, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:1-3). When face-to-face with the risen Christ, the apostle Thomas said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). The apostle Paul clearly affirmed Jesus Christ’s divine power and authority when he wrote concerning Him:

“He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Colossians 1:17-20).

The early Christians knew these things, accepted these things, and staked their lives and futures on these things, but they hadn’t yet worked out all of their theoretical implications.

Christian missionaries traveled far into the barbarian lands with the gospel at great risk. While they believed all the things about Jesus that are described in the paragraph above, the majority of them couldn’t explain exactly the philosophical and theological implications of biblical references to Jesus as the Son of Man (Matthew 9:6; 12:8,40), the Son of God (Matthew 4:6; 8:29; 14:33; 26:63), one with the Father (John 10:30), the Creator (John 1:14), and Lord (Matthew 7:21-22; 8:8; 12:8; John 20:28; Acts 7:59). In fact, the Germanic peoples to the north of the Roman Empire were evangelized by Arian missionaries who held a view of Christ’s deity that differed from the one established by the Council of Nicaea. 1 Tragically, long before the church could reach a peaceful consensus about these things, Constantine granted it government protection and patronage. Because he wanted a unified church to support a politically unified empire, he put pressure on the church leaders to resolve their differences quickly. Great church buildings were built with state funds, church leaders were subsidized by the government, and wealth flowed into church coffers. Theological differences became complicated by rivalry over worldly power and real estate. Riots, small-scale battles, kidnappings, and murders were spawned by the conflict between Arians and Catholics.2

Ironically, after the orthodox Catholic (Nicaean) perspective on the deity of Christ was generally adopted within the Roman Empire—largely due to the support of secular leaders—the empire was overthrown by the same Germanic tribes (Visigoths and Ostrogoths) that had already been converted to Christianity by Arian missionaries! Historian David L. Edwards notes in Christianity: The First Two Thousand Years:

“Church life seems to have been much the same under the two creeds and probably few on either side were seriously interested in the theological arguments. . . . However, just as those who lost in civil wars lost their lives or at least their eyesight, so bishops and other teachers defeated in theological battles should expect no mercy. When they had the opportunity, Arians could be as merciless as the Catholics who in the end prevailed.”

In fact, one of the tragic effects of the violent, politically motivated division within the church over the Arian controversy and other theological issues may have been the loss of heart that led to a generally passive acceptance of the Muslim conquests of the seventh and eighth centuries.

This historical example illustrates the danger of seeing a direct correlation between salvation and the ability to give an accurate theological exposition of the deity of Christ and the Trinity.

Probably no more Christians today, on an average, are able to give a coherent explanation of the doctrines of the Trinity and Christ’s deity than could have done so at the beginning of the fourth century. If they can’t, is their faith less genuine than that of those who can theologically defend what they believe? Is mere verbal assent to something one doesn’t understand more important than childlike faith in the gospel and the authority of the Gospels? To say that there is a direct relationship between doctrinal accuracy and salvation would make salvation more dependent on intellect and IQ than the heart.

Today, theologically trained Christians know that the doctrine of Christ’s deity explains the basis for salvation. Athanasius’s insight is widely accepted: If Jesus were not God in the fullest sense, He could not be our Savior. Only God’s own sacrifice could atone our sins.3 But even though this is an essential doctrine, it took centuries for the best thinkers of the church to define it accurately.

Childlike faith in Jesus Christ as the Good Shepherd of our souls must be considered sufficient to save us. While theological understanding will grow with the maturation of faith, the depth of any particular person’s faith may not be expressed in the ability to articulate theological truths.

  1. Both Arians (who were the majority in the Greek-speaking church) and Catholics (who dominated only the Latin-speaking West) had powerful philosophical and biblical arguments in support of their positions. Both Arians and Catholics agreed that the Son was the eternal logos (Word) become flesh. Catholics taught that the Father and Son were of the “same essence” (homo-ousios). The Arians were uneasy, however, about considering the Son to be of the exact same essence as the Father, because they feared such a belief could lead to a denial of any real difference between the Father and Son (Sabellianism). They insisted that the fact that the Son was “begotten” and the Father “unbegotten” implied that the Son was either “begotten” or “created” by the Father before the creation of the universe, Subsequently, according to this view, the Son (as logos) created the universe. They preferred to refer to the Father and Son as being of “different essence” or “similar essence” (hetero-ousios,homoi-ousios).
    Eventually, the Catholic position, as defined at Nicaea and further defined and confirmed at Chalcedon, was accepted by the whole Catholic Church. Kenneth Scott Latourette summarizes why the Catholic position came to be accepted:

    “As in the Apostles’ Creed, so in the Nicene Creed, painfully, slowly, and through controversies in which there was often lacking the love which is the major Christian virtue, Christians were working their way through to a clarification of what was presented to the world by the tremendous historical fact of Christ. At Nicaea it was more and more becoming apparent to them that the high God must also be the Redeemer and yet, by a seeming paradox, the Redeemer must also be man. The astounding central and distinguishing affirmation of Christianity, so they increasingly saw, and what made Christianity unique and compelling, was that Jesus Christ was ‘true God from true God,’ or, to put it in language more familiar to English readers, ‘very God of very God,’ who ‘was made man.’ Thus men could be reborn and become sons of God, but without losing their individual identity” (A History of Christianity, p. 156). Back To Article

  2. Historian Will Durant wrote that more Christians were killed by fellow Christians in strife between Catholics and Arians than were killed in the pagan persecutions of Christianity during the three previous centuries. Back To Article
  3. In his book, A Layman’s Guide to Protestant Theology, William Hordern offered a brilliantly simple explanation for the importance of the Nicene definition of the Trinity:

    “The problem of the Trinity arises from the Christian belief that God was acting in and through Jesus Christ. In the fourth century Arius put forward the theory that Christ was a lesser god created by God. This lesser god came to earth in the man Jesus who was not really a man at all, but a divine being freed from the normal limitations of humanity. If the Arian party could have got their iota into the creed, their point of view would have become orthodox Christianity. It would have meant that Christianity had degenerated to the polytheistic stage of paganism. It would have had two gods and a Jesus who was neither God nor man. It would have meant that God himself was unapproachable and apart from man. The result would have been to make of Christianity another pagan mystery religion” (p. 6). Back To Article

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How Can Christianity Claim To Be the Only Way to God?

Although there are numerous groups in every major religious tradition, there are relatively few major religious traditions. Probably the oldest religious tradition is that of Animism, found mostly among the so-called “primitive” peoples of the world. Animism teaches that the world is populated by a myriad of spirit beings that can be appeased and manipulated through ritual and magic.

The Hindu religion has its center in India. In the form of Buddhism, it has spread all throughout East Asia. This ancient tradition teaches that all living beings are caught up in a cycle of reincarnation. It maintains that the only way to achieve salvation is to be freed of one’s burden of “karma.” Only then can one escape the cycle of reincarnation, lose one’s individuality, and merge with the Being of God like a drop of water in the sea.

Islam is the religion of Muhammad, a warrior/prophet who was born approximately 700 years after Jesus Christ. Islam is similar to Judaism and Christianity in some respects, upholding the authority of the Old and New Testaments and believing in one God. Its holiest book is the Koran. Like Judaism and Christianity, Islam despises idolatry and believes in the reality of eternal punishment or eternal reward in the next life.

The only other great religious traditions are those of Taoism in China and Shintoism in Japan. These religions are pantheistic like Hinduism, but they also have a number of animistic characteristics.

Although there are elements of truth in all of the religious traditions, the Bible teaches that there is only one way that we can be saved. In John 3:13 Jesus stated clearly, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” In Romans 10:9 we read, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Jesus Himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” ( John 14:6 ). We know that all salvation is accomplished through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ and His atonement for the sins of the world.

(See the ATQ article Are All Who Haven’t Heard of Christ Damned?)

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