Question: Are Christians that burn Qurans wrong? When a mosque or temple of another religion is destroyed by violence should a Christian be upset about that? If other religions are being persecute like the Tibetan Buddhists by the Chinese should Christians stand up for those people? I got an email about a petition to make the Tibetan capital into a historical site so that China couldn't demolish it and destroy Buddhist/cultural/and historical sites and I’m conflicted about what to do.
Answer: Greeting friend. Thank you for asking such an important question! How should we behave—we who have the absolute truth—towards those people, places and things that propagate falsehood? Should we dash them all to pieces, as if they were idols in our hands, or should we just live our lives and let them live theirs? Friend, I cannot imagine a more important rubber-meets-the-road kind of question for today’s Christians, because we all must live in an increasingly global and increasingly evil culture—and we must engage the people therein. So, how severe should we make our responses to society’s evils?
We learn from Bible history that we cannot just leave things alone. Remember what happened in Noah’s time, when God left people largely alone to sort things out for themselves?
“Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:5, NKJV)
The part that strikes me particularly is that “…every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” This speaks to just how saturated that sin-sick world was—arguably, worse than today’s! When every intent of the heart was evil continually, then there is no fix. Sin had become intractable, so God sent the flood. In this we see God’s will, because Scripture shows us God’s actions. All evil must be destroyed.
As God’s revelation progresses, we see his will, not by his actions, but by his Law—and particularly the laws that taught purity through separation. God classified mixing as defilement.
“You shall not sow your vineyard with different kinds of seed, lest the yield of the seed which you have sown and the fruit of your vineyard be defiled. You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together. You shall not wear a garment of different sorts, such as wool and linen mixed together.” (Deuteronomy 22:9–11, NKJV)
Let us not dismiss these laws just because we live under Grace. The Apostle Paul reminded us that the Law was our schoolmaster. We should revere these scriptures, not discard them—and these laws shout, “Do not mix!” Are they saying, therefore, do not mix with other creeds? If so, doesn’t that mean that we should not tolerate the people, their books, buildings or artifacts? What should be the Christian’s action-level for this intolerance? Let’s move on in Scripture before we decide.
Centuries later when the Jews were entering the Promised Land, God gave them instructions to destroy the inhabitants of Canaan.
“When the Lord your God brings you into the land which you go to possess… and when the Lord your God delivers them over to you, you shall conquer them and utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them nor show mercy to them… But thus you shall deal with them: you shall destroy their altars, and break down their sacred pillars, and cut down their wooden images, and burn their carved images with fire.” (Deuteronomy 7:1–5, NKJV)
The above passage shows us God’s will—but not through his actions. God gave the people direct verbal instructions. God’s desire for purity requires the destruction of all non-God stuff—both people and their artifacts.
Finally for this sequence, the Lord shows how deadly serious he is that his people remain separate and holy. After the Jews had violated God’s commands concerning separation, he punished them. God brought in pagan armies to destroy his people’s land, loot their holy place, destroy the Holy City and carry the population away into foreign lands.
“... “Out of the north calamity shall break forth On all the inhabitants of the land. For behold, I am calling All the families of the kingdoms of the north,” says the Lord; “They shall come and each one set his throne At the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, Against all its walls all around, And against all the cities of Judah. I will utter My judgments Against them concerning all their wickedness, Because they have forsaken Me, Burned incense to other gods, And worshiped the works of their own hands.” (Jeremiah 1:14–16, NKJV)
Let’s review: First, God himself destroyed the sinners—separating out Noah’s family. Second, he created laws to teach separation and purity. Third, he gave his people direct verbal instructions to destroy sinners. Fourth, God punished his people for ignoring his rules for separation by the sending pagan armies to destroy them. In my opinion, we have made the case that it was God’s will for his people that they should keep themselves separated from other cultures—by violence and destruction if necessary. Does this mean, therefore, that we, too, should keep separated—overtly and by any means necessary? Should we be burning Qurans? Killing Muslims? Destroying other cultures? If God is after purity through separation, then shouldn’t we follow his direct instructions to utterly destroy—and to break down every idol?
At this point in God’s revelation, I would answer, yes…but God’s revelation is progressive—and a world changing event was just over the horizon. Jesus Christ would be born in Bethlehem.
“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.”
(Matthew 5:17, NKJV)
Jesus changed everything…well…not changed, really. Jesus fulfilled everything. But in his fulfilling, we—his disciples—were free to change the world. No longer shackled by the Law’s condemnation, we believers should shackle ourselves to Jesus Christ—and a disciple of Christ should take on the mind of Christ (Phil. 2:1-10). So, let us look at that mind.
The Bible reveals a Christ who walked gently among humans. He destroyed nothing while fulfilling everything. As a human being, he existed in the culture. Jesus showed deference by teaching in the temple and paying the Temple tax. He taught people to be good citizens by paying their civil taxes (Render unto Caesar…) He served the poor, spoke with outcasts—Samaritans! Gentiles even! He only responded in physical indignation twice—and these were symbolic more than life-changing. (Surely, the coin changers were soon back at their tables.) So, in Jesus we have a person who was as immersed in a culture as are we, yet his ministry was not destructive of it…except, of course, that his life changed the world! This notwithstanding, the language, the commerce, the bric-a-brac, the activities of everyday life still went on as they did before, and in the political or the physical realms, nothing changed—just a little more blood on some sad sad hill.
Jesus spoke the truth—but he spoke it in love. The only ones who felt his ire were Satan, some demons, and the embedded religionists—those who refused to hear the Holy Spirit—who ignored Jesus’ miracles, who worked continually against God’s Son and who thought that they had all the answers concerning faith and practice. Jesus was all about the people. He never destroyed artifacts nor did he encourage others to do so—and in this I take my lesson.
“A bruised reed He will not break, And smoking flax He will not quench; He will bring forth justice for truth.” (Isaiah 42:3, NKJV)
As important as these all were, Jesus’ life, death and resurrection was not the end of the story. In fact, these signaled the beginning of another—the one we find ourselves in today. Now that Christ had sacrificed his physical body, his spiritual body (aka the Church) was about to take over his work on the earth—but not without help. The Holy Spirit would soon energize God’s people in a whole new way.
“When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”
(Acts 2:1–4, NKJV)
Even though it may seem as if the same conditions prevail today as they did before Noah’s flood (that the world is totally evil and deserves a good drubbing), there is one critical difference. The Holy Spirit, who began indwelling every believer in Acts chapter two, keeps the world from imploding with its own evil.
“And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming.” (2 Thessalonians 2:6–8, NKJV)
My personal spin on how this works is that the power of the indwelling Spirit, as manifested in Christians throughout the globe, gives the world its (relatively) sensible shape in the same manner that leaven shapes a loaf of bread. Now, a word of caution. Leaven is almost always a biblical symbol for the effects of evil, but Jesus made a notable exception to this imagery, using it as an example of the inevitable growth of God’s kingdom.
“…“The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.”” (Matthew 13:33, NKJV)
If what I propose is true, then the “action” that grows the kingdom to its final shape is not disputing, petitions, destruction or warfare. It is the decidedly unexciting activity of the leavening agent dispersing throughout the loaf, creating the unseen structures that grow the loaf and hold its shape. In like manner, Jesus said that we are salt and light. These two elements are devoid of self-direction—and they are less than useless without objects to flavor (Luke 14:34) or to illuminate (Mat. 5:15). In this, I see that the Kingdom of God, as diffuse in the culture, will continue to grow without our purposeful schemes. Then, what about the Great Commission? Aren’t we to act to spread the kingdom? Not so much the Kingdom of God—but the person of God. Christians are not disciples of a kingdom, or of a culture, or of a methodology. We are disciples of Christ.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you…”
(Matthew 28:19–20, NKJV)
As per the Great Commission, we are indeed to be proactive in making people disciples of Jesus Christ. I feel that you believe this to be true, and therefore, your questions rest quite a bit on this need to give a good testimony, and thereby evangelize. However, the Great Commission does not tell us to make disciples of the Christian culture. It tells us to make disciples of the Christian person—Jesus. And there is your conflict. Your question is not about the person of Jesus Christ. It is about challenges to our Christian culture. Do not confuse the two. Christian culture reflects truth—but somewhere between poorly and not at all—whereas Jesus Christ reflects the truth perfectly, because he is the Truth exactly.
Now where are we? We Christians have Truth itself—Jesus Christ—so we have nothing to gain in the culture wars and nothing to lose but our comfort. So, engaging in the culture by way of argument and lawful petition is honorable—and it might be a part of your Christian testimony if done purely, or if God has raised you up to act in that arena. However, since social action is not disciple-making per se, it is likely a waste of your time.
“All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” (1 Corinthians 6:12, NKJV)
I do not want to end my response without addressing each item in your question, because there are a lot of things going on. Thus far, my answer is that God does indeed want us to be pure and separated no matter what the cost. But we are so far down the road of sin that a pure response to our mixedness is no longer possible. Besides, Jesus’s role as the Law’s fulfillment, the Head of the Church, and the sender of the Holy Spirit changed our behavioral paradigm from obey-or-die to obey-and-live. We are saved by—and should live by—Grace…and there is nothing gracious about burning the Quran or rejoicing in the destruction of a mosque. That these items exist in our society is a reasonable expectation for our times, and responding to their presence with physical or emotional hatred is no different than bombing a grocery store or a bowling alley.
Furthermore, singling out items for Christian derision only add to their credibility. Nothing serves a document or an ideology as well as its banishment or its burning. Such spurning gives the enemy a martyr’s cachet—an advantage that we hand over to him! Christians who purport to support Christ, but who do so by threatening other cultures, make the enemy look big and make Christ look small. Jesus did not operate that way, and neither should his people.
Yes, we should feel bad for, pray for, and perhaps even support oppressed people everywhere—even those who are, by definition, opposed to Christ. The following passage should not be a news flash to any Christian.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,” (Matthew 5:43–44, NKJV)
I appreciate your sensitivity, and that you feel conflicted, but this is the end of the matter: Are we Christ-like? Or are we not?
Finally, about the petition, I’d ignore it altogether. Now, logic states that you cannot really ignore it, because the result is the same as saying no to it—and this is true as far as logic goes—but that is not the issue for a Christian. You should make a decision right now to dismiss the many requests for “good” actions on your part, because they will waste your time…and time is the only coin of any value here on earth. Do you think the enemy would rather have you spend it on doing something good? Or on doing something for Christ? That is the real choice, and again, I see no conflict.
I pray that this answer has helped you more than it has confused you. select