Differing viewpoints should be challenged respectfully
Burning Korans is not the way to protest the treatment of Christians
Published 05 May 2012 | Rob James
Some people seem impervious to reason and Florida Pastor Terry Jones is surely one of them. Jones, the pastor of the Dove World Outreach Centre in Gainsville, Florida rejected every attempt to persuade him to change his plans to burn copies of the Koran last week and in so doing risked the very lives of those he claims to support.
But Jones did much more than that, for by engaging in such a disrespectful and controversial act he dismissed the witness of the New Testament as emphatically as he rejected the Islamic sacred texts. Pastor Jones would do well to spend a little time reflecting on the way the apostle Paul approached those who held radically different beliefs to his.
We can see a classic example of this in Luke’s account of his ministry in Ephesus. Paul saw lots of people converted, and it wasn’t long before of the gospel started to hit the pockets of those who depended on the city’s idol worship to make a living. In fact things turned very nasty at one point and the city clerk had to intervene to sort things out.
It’s worth reflecting on what he said at that point. “You’d better get hold of yourselves. This is conduct unworthy of Artemis. These men you’ve dragged in here have done nothing to harm either our temple or our goddess.”
Now we can be certain that the apostle was distressed by what he saw in Ephesus. He was a devout monotheist totally sold out on proclaiming the one true Lord. But interestingly, the city clerk was able to assure the crowd that was baying for his blood, that Paul had done nothing illegal and had not said anything offensive against their religion.
It helps when we remember that the New Testament shows us that we should approach Christians and non-Christians differently. We see that if you look at the way Paul talks in his letters and compare it with what Luke tells us he said when he was talking to people who did not claim to love the Lord. If you read Romans for example you will see that Paul doesn’t pull any punches when he is talking about idolatry and the kind of behaviour that flows from it. But Luke shows us that he adopted a very different approach when engaged in evangelism,
As Chris Wright has wisely said “Paul’s evangelism was 'unashamedly monotheistic' but it was 'not calculatingly offensive'. In other words, if we compare his teaching with his preaching we can see there is a difference in tone. It’s the same truth; he does not change his message; he simply adapts a style that is appropriate in each and every situation. And so he tells the church at Rome that they should view idolatry as rebellion and a suppression of the truth, but he tells his listeners in Athens that it is ignorance.
The Welsh Evangelical Alliance sought to imitate the apostle Paul a few years ago when “Jerry Springer: The Opera” came to Cardiff. Rather than engage in a public protest outside the Millennium Centre it took the deliberate decision to accept the management’s invitation to man a stand in the foyer of the Millennium Centre, and to take part in a public debate on the final Saturday between the matinee and evening performances.
It was felt that this was a much more positive approach, and one that would offer the people of Wales a chance to discover the real Jesus of history and not the disfigured, distorted, devalued Jesus of fiction.
It was done in the confidence that Jesus is alive, and that He will build His church whatever the opposition. As Leslie Newbigin once said: “The cross and the resurrection assure us that the final triumph of God’s reign is the final reality, a reality with which everyone will have to reckon.”
Terry Jones should pray for those who are being persecuted for Christ. He should do all he can to shed light on the needs of the persecuted church. But he should do so respectfully and lovingly, in the confidence that their destiny (and their victory) are in God’s hands. They do not need his disrespectful behaviour.
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