In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, Franklin Graham (son of the popular evangelist Billy Graham) opined on NBC Nightly News that Muslims pray to a “different God” than do the Christians. About the identical time the Reverend Jerry Vines, former pastor of the huge Initially Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida and previous president of the Southern Baptist Convention, mentioned that “Allah is not Jehovah”, and that it was incorrect to equate all religions as some types of pluralism attempted to do. What are we to make of such assertions (generally repeated because produced by Graham and Vines)? Do Christians and Muslims worship the identical God?
The query is not as very simple as it may well seem, and defies a swift and effortless response. Additionally, one particular need to initial deal with the underlying challenge of what that query could possibly possibly imply. Does the query ask no matter whether the two groups, Christians and Muslims, claim to worship the identical God? Or does it ask no matter whether or not they actually do worship the identical God regardless of the variations involving the two religions? And if the latter, how could one particular know this? On what basis could one particular identify that persons practising unique religions have been in reality worshipping the identical God, apart from a pluralistic and ecumenical wish that it be so? That each religions have been technically monotheistic? What about such basic variations as the lack of Trinitarian theology in Islam and its assertion that Jesus was in no way crucified? Are these variations basic sufficient to justify the assertion that Muslims and Christians do not worship the identical God? Let us attempt to strategy the query of no matter whether or not differing religions worship the identical God from the standpoint of the Scriptures. Definitely the New Testament does not speak about non-Christian Islam, but it does have anything to say about non-Christian paganism.
In one particular sense, it is correct that every person directing their prayers and devotions to the supreme deity is worshipping the identical God, for monotheism declares that in reality there only isone particular God and so there is no other deity up there to acquire such prayers. Presumably that is what St. Paul meant when he declared that God is not the God of the Jews only, but also the God of the Gentiles also “since God is one” (Romans three:29-30). Although the pagan Gentiles could possibly claim to worship not Yahweh but Zeus, nevertheless Yahweh was in some sense their God as well. A pagan Athenian could possibly have sent up his prayers addressed “To Zeus, with love”, but the heavenly mail nonetheless ended up in the in-box of the God of Israel. St. Paul tends to make precisely this point when he addressed such an Athenian on Mars Hill. Regardless of whether an altar was committed to Zeus or to an unknown God (the latter getting a pagan try to cover all their polytheistic bases) it was the Jewish God who truly received their prayers. “What you worship as unknown,” Paul declared in his sermon, “this I proclaim to you” (Acts 17:23). The God whom Paul proclaimed produced the globe and all the things in it, such as every single nation of guys living on all the face of the earth. God’s intention in creation was that all must “seek God, in the hope that they could possibly really feel just after Him and obtain Him”. Up till then most guys stupidly imagined that God was served and fed by human hands, and that He was like their gold and silver idols. Such “times of ignorance God overlooked”, but “now He commands all guys everywhere to repent” and come to Him via the risen Christ (v. 25-30). From this sermon, it is clear that according to St. Paul anyway, God has some sort of connection with all men and women, regardless of their religion.
It is also correct, as St. Paul elsewhere declared, that pagan religions contained an element of the demonic. Although a devout, ignorant, nicely-intentioned, and righteous Athenian’s prayers to Zeus may well have been received by the God of Israel, this did not imply that his Athenian paganism was a lot more or much less interchangeable with Judaism or Christianity. Whilst the Athenian’s heart and intention may well have been acceptable to God, his actual religion, cultus, and sacrifices have been not. Paul also affirmed that “what the pagans sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God” (1 Cor. 10:20). Idolatrous worship, even though intended for and aimed at the Most Higher God, was intercepted and utilised by the demons, and Christians in the early centuries usually regarded pagan religion as infected with the demonic. That is why at his baptism the converting pagan did not just renounce his former pagan religion, but did so with the words, “I renounce you, Satan, and all your service and all your works” (from the Apostolic Tradition, ascribed to Hippolytus in the early third century). By “all your service”, the new convert meant “all my former religious rites”. The nicely-intentioned pagan Athenian of course did not consciously intend to have communion with demons. He aimed his prayers at the heavenly God, but his sacrifices have been received by the demons anyway. That is why the Church in her liturgy referred to pagan religion not just as idolatrous, but as a delusion.
Did this involvement with demons imply that the pagan would be damned on the Final Day? St. Paul does not say so. In reality he mentioned that to the pagan who “by patience in nicely-carrying out sought for glory and honour and immortality” God would “give eternal life”, for there would be “glory and honour and peace for every person who does excellent, the Jew initial and also the Greek, for God shows no partiality” (Romans two:7-10). Although the pagan Greek may well have had no know-how of divine revelation or of the Law, when he did by nature what the Law expected, he was a law to himself, and showed that what the Law expected was written on his heart (Romans two:14-15). But God’s mercy on the Final Day does not entail His delight in unenlightened paganism in this age. A pagan searching for the correct God in ignorance may well be spared at the finish, but idolatry was nevertheless idolatry and was nevertheless to be shunned. All religions have been not equally valid, correct, or saving. In the second chapter of his epistle to the Romans St. Paul was not speaking so a lot about ecumenism as about mercy.
Regardless of whether or not a non-Christian religion like ancient paganism could connect one particular with God appears as a result to have depended upon the quantity of light that the ancient pagan had received. If he or she didn’t know any greater and sought to please God by “patience in nicely-doing”, they could possibly be spared on the Final Day. In that case, they would not be saved via their pagan religion but in spite of it. If on the other hand they knew and understood the Gospel and however nevertheless rejected Christ, they could not be saved. For the words of Jesus are plain: “He who rejects Me and does not acquire My sayings has a judge the Word that I have spoken is what will judge him on the Final Day” (John 12:48). It all as a result depends upon the quantity of ignorance in the non-Christian (what western theology utilised to contact “invincible ignorance”). We are not in a position to know such inner mysteries hidden in the heart of yet another, but we do know that all will be judged according to the light which they have received. “From every person who has been provided a lot shall a lot be required” (Luke 12:48).
So what about our Muslim neighbours? An analogy with paganism would recommend that the religion of Islam does not connect its practitioner with God, and so in this sense Allah can’t be identified with Yahweh or with the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if a Muslim has no actual exposure to or understanding of the Christian message, he could possibly nevertheless be spared on the Final Day just after all if his heart was in ignorance searching for the correct God. C.S. Lewis wrote about such a possibility in the final volume of his Narnian series: a worshipper of the god “Tash” (a thinly-veiled version of Allah) finds himself in the presence of the correct God, the lion Aslan, an image of Christ. He realizes that his life-lengthy worship of Tash was the worship of a false god, and that Aslan was the correct God just after all. In his personal words, “Then I fell at his feet and believed, Certainly this is the hour of death, for the Lion will know that I have served Tash all my days and not him. Nonetheless, it is greater to see the Lion and die than to be Tisroc [or, King] of the globe and reside and not to have observed Him. But the Glorious One particular bent down his golden head and mentioned, Son, thou art welcome. But I mentioned, Alas, Lord, I am no son of thine, but the servant of Tash. He answered, Youngster, all the service thou hast carried out to Tash, I account as service to me… But I mentioned also, However I have been searching for Tash all my days. Beloved, mentioned the Glorious One particular, unless thy wish had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so lengthy and so actually. For all obtain what they actually seek.”
“All obtain what they actually seek”: that appears to be the crux of the matter. Let all seek for the truth as ideal they can. As for us Christians, our mandate remains the identical in all ages—to preach the Gospel and to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Trinity. We contact all guys to a saving confession of Christ our God, to sonship and forgiveness in this age, and to glory in the age to come. If a Muslim in his ignorance had actually been searching for the eternal truth of God, and recognizes that truth when we share the Gospel with him, we have water for baptism. We can bring him dwelling.
By Fr. Lawrence Farley