In October of 2007, 138 Muslim leaders wrote an open letter “to leaders of Christian churches, everywhere”. This letter was entitled A Common Word Between Us And You, the text of which can be found at www.acommonword.com. This letter calls for Christians and Muslims to “come together… on the basis of what is common between us, which is also what is most essential to our faith and practice: the Two Commandments of love.”
These Muslims see this letter as a fulfillment of the Qur’anic mandate in Aal ‘Imram 3:64 to issue the following call to all “peoples of the Scriptures”, meaning Christians and Jews, who all claim Abraham as a common ancestor: “Say: O People of the Scripture! Come to a common word between us and you: that we shall worship none but God, and that we shall ascribe no partner unto Him, and that none of us shall take others for lords beside God.”
It is easy for many Christians to read this and agree with what is said. We do believe that there is one God, and that we must worship Him alone. It is also true that the Torah, Bible, and Qur’an refer to many of the same characters, and many congruent passages. However, this does NOT mean — as many believe, both outside and within these communities of faith — that we all worship the same God. Christians worship Jesus Christ as God. Muslims claim Jesus was a prophet, but that he did not die on a cross, and that his teaching was replaced by the prophecies of Muhammad, just as Jesus’ teachings replaced those of the prophet Moses. Jews reject Jesus as a blasphemer. While all three faiths “believe” in the person of Jesus, their views of Him are mutually exclusive.
Unfortunately, many Christians are either unaware of or do not understand these distinctions, which can make quotes from the Qur’an such as the one above seem confusing. Do we really have “a common word” between us? Further reading of the Sura Aal-‘Imram reveals that Muslims understand there are distinctions between our faiths, even if Christians do not: Abraham was not a Jew nor yet a Christian, but he was true in faith and bowed his will to Allah’s (which is Islam) and he joined not gods with Allah. (3:66) “He joined not gods with Allah” implies that we ought not believe in a triune God — which they see as joining gods with Allah — because Abraham did not. (There is some debate as to whether this is true, though, as there are clear intimations of a Trinitarian God in the Hebrew Bible, and Galatians 3:8 tells us that God Himself “preached the Gospel beforehand to Abraham”.)
Further down in the same Sura, we find a rebuke for those who teach others to “take angels and prophets for Lords” (3:80). This is consistent with other passages that explicitly reject Christ as Messiah:
O people of the Scripture! Do not exceed the limits in your religion, nor say of Allah aught but the truth. The Messiah ‘Isa (Jesus), son of Maryam (Mary), was (no more than) a Messenger of Allah and His Word, (”Be!” – and he was) which He bestowed on Maryam (Mary) and a spirit (Ruh) created by Him; so believe in Allah and His Messengers. Say not: “Three (trinity)!” Cease! (it is) better for you. For Allah is (the only) One Ilah (God), Glory be to Him (Far Exalted is He) above having a son. To Him belongs all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth. And Allah is All-Sufficient as a Disposer of affairs. ~An-Nisa’ 4:171
In light of these passages, it would seem that agreeing with or affirming the Muslim open letter would be an implicit endorsement of the Islamic view of Jesus, as this is the context for the “common word” reference. At the very least, Muslims would see it that way.
Why, then, did 130 Christian leaders respond to this open letter a month later by taking out a full page ad in The New York Times to announce that they “share the sentiments” of the Muslim leaders? This Christian response called for Christians and Muslims everywhere to “love God and neighbor together”. You can read the full page ad here.
Besides simply seeking to work together for peace, these Christian leaders affirmed the belief that Christians and Muslims worship the same God, also asking the forgiveness of all Muslims for the past sins of Christians, such as the “war on terror”. (I have no problem admitting that many atrocities have been perpetrated in the name of Christ, but find it interesting that rather than claiming this to be the work of extremists who do not represent the true Christian faith, they sought the forgiveness of all Christians for these acts. This seems inconsistent with their being so quick to claim that terror acts committed in the name of Islam are the work of extremists and not representative of all Muslims… though Muslims themselves are often reluctant to condemn these acts. Hmmm…)
While the list of Christian signatories of this letter does include several representatives of more liberal denominations and emergent-type churches, it also has its fair share of very prominent evangelical leaders. These include Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; Bill Hybels, senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church and Chairman of the Willow Creek Assocation (of which Stevens Street is a member); and Rick Warren, senior pastor of Saddleback Church, named by Time magazine as the “most influential evangelical in America” (Hybels and Brian McLaren also made the Top 25).
As we saw with The Purpose Driven Life phenomenon, where Warren leads, many, many Christians will follow. Will we follow him into the sorts of “interfaith projects” he described when speaking at the Islamic Society of North America conference this past July 4? (Video; transcript) Don’t get me wrong: I agree with Warren (and McLaren) that we ought to love and respect our Muslim neighbors, and seek to live peacefully with them, but it is not loving to withhold the gospel from people who desperately need Jesus! When he speaks for more than twenty minutes about not compromising our beliefs and celebrating our differences — because “God made you to be you” — without preaching the gospel of Christ, he has missed a huge opportunity that most of us will never have (sound familiar?). This is just like fasting for Ramadan with no intention of sharing Christ… what’s the point?
I don’t question — as many others have done — the sincerity and personal faith of guys like Warren and Hybels (McLaren makes me wonder…), but this “seeker-sensitive” movement of theirs presents a watered-down gospel message with some serious flaws. It is my prayer that the American Church would wake up and grow a backbone. I pray that our preachers would “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” (1 Corinthians 16:13) I thank God that each Sunday I am led by a pastor who does that.
Another pastor who exemplifies these attributes is John Piper. His website offers some great resources for how to properly relate to those of other faiths. Here are just two of a multitude of these resources: One God and One Salvation for all the Nations; Tolerance, Truth-Telling, Violence, and Law. He has also given us a great, Godly response to the series of open letters mentioned above:
I pray that our interaction with those of other faiths would bring honor and glory to God. We should not be praying WITH Muslims, but FOR them. There is one God, and He is NOT the Allah revealed in the Qur’an! Jesus Christ is the one true God. He is mighty to save, and He is the power of salvation for ALL who believe, even those who have been Muslims. There is a massive Christian revival going on in the “Muslim world” (Why do we call it that? This is my Father’s world!) right now, and I can tell you it’s not happening because Christians are trying to be more understanding and “tolerant” of the Muslim faith. It’s happening because faithful brothers and sisters are proclaiming the Truth to the lost!
Thank you, Father, for sending your Son Jesus to die for the sins of the world. Thank you for sending your Holy Spirit to convict the world of its sin, and to guide your children into all Truth. Thank you for being a merciful God who does not give us what we deserve, but who instead graciously gives us another Way. Please bring revival to the people of this nation, just as you continue your work throughout the world. Raise up pastors and evangelists who are more concerned with bringing souls into eternity with you than with bringing bodies into buildings. Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever, amen!
Note: This post has been slightly revised on 10/1/09 (see comments)