Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Following the Lamb (2)

Following the Lamb 2

Isaac and Ishmael, the two eldest sons of Abraham, buried their father together (Genesis 25:9). Keeping this in mind, I am asking myself whether the adherents of the three religions who have Abraham as common arch father should not be challenged to look at ways and means which could enhance peace and harmony in our day and age?

Could the great Jew Yeshua ben Yosef, who is revered by Muslims as Nabi (Prophet) Isa and worshipped by Christians as Jesus Christ, possibly be considered as a rallying point? This suggestion may sound outragious by rank and file Jews and Muslims. On the other hand, if no attempt is made, we seem destined to march into a Global War ignited in the Middle East, during which all of us will be the losers. To quote a State President during the apartheid era of our country who foresaw similar consequences – 'too ghastly to contemplate'.

I believe that the key towards a peaceful scenario would be a willingness by a substantial and representative group of Christians who are serious about following the example of and act in the spirit of Jesus, our Lord and Saviour. The Master not only taught his followers down the centuries to forgive repeatedly, but also to lead by serving. One of the tested and tried divine ways to heal rifts, to level the playing field in such a case, has been identificational confession of wrongs.

South Africans have a good example in this regard. At a big church conference in Rustenburg in November 1990 the late Professor Willie Jonker of Stellenbosch confessed on behalf of his denomination for the heresy of apartheid. The spontaneous forgiveness expressed by Archbishop Tutu at that occasion – extended on behalf of the disadvantaged, discriminated and oppressed of the country - set a wave of mutual love and forgiveness in motion. Among other actions like prayers in opposition to the stronghold of the demonic ideology for which the Bible was abused, that confession can be singled out as the special ingredient that tipped the scales in the spiritual realm. In my modest view it would not be preposterous to intimate that the events of Rustenburg in 1990 were a catalyst to usher in our new Democratic South Africa.

In my view there are furthermore two doctrinal issues, one apiece for wrongs with regard to Judaism and Islam, which could perhaps tip the scale in a similar way as it occurred in November 1990. I suggest that a representative body express regret and offer an apology on behalf of Christians for a) the side-lining and persecution of Jews by Christians b) that Christian theologians misled Muhammad at the foundations of Islam.
Furthermore, collective confession for the irresponsible fathering of children would be very apt. Children born out of wedlock, absent fathers and one parent raising of children or children raised by the grandparents – are all phenomena that have made a travesty of a very central biblical doctrine, viz. the Fatherhood of God.
Could we as Capetonians, along with other South Africans at Connected 2010 perhaps give input towards such confession along these lines?

In the context of the above we cannot ignore major stumbling blocks, viz. the doctrinal tenet that Jesus is regarded by Christians as the promised Messiah and incarnate Son of God. Consciously refraining from indulging in apologetics, I would like to suggest some meditation on two prophetic utterances that could help us in our search for divinely-given peace. The first verse, Isaiah 9:6, speaks of the Prince of Peace. It comes from the Hebrew Scriptures in a Messianic context.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Jews through the ages considered Isaiah 9:1-7 to be Messianic, albeit that they do not regard Jesus as the fulfilment of this prophecy:
In the second Bible verse, John 1:29 (and John 1:36) John the Baptist – known as the prophet Yahyah by Muslims - pointed to Jesus, as recorded in, calling him The Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world.

The Biblical significance of the title The Lamb of God is rendered in the context of earlier lamb symbolism. This also testifies to the earlier practice of sin offerings as a possible means of atonement. On Mount Moriah Abraham told his son that God would provide a lamb (Genesis 22:8). The pious Jew automatically looks forward in history from the Moriah narrative to the unblemished Passover lamb at the Exodus out of Egypt. The blood of the Passover lamb of the Hebrew Scriptures protected and saved the Israelites (Exodus 12). Yet further fast forwarded, we see the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 who was to be led like a sheep to be slaughtered, even though this is a prophecy with which Jews still have great difficulty. In the Muslim ritual of sheep slaughtering a washing movement obviously intimates some cleansing. Paul the great epistle-writing apostle called Jesus 'our passover Lamb' (1 Corinthians 5:7). Via the image of the slaughtered lamb the three Abrahamic religions are thus very close to each other indeed.

I believe that we as Christians should follow the example of our Lord and Master to be the least in humble repentance and confession. Furthermore, it is my considered contention that the city of Cape Town – with its significant numbers of Jews and Muslims in our midst – has the very special and unique opportunity to make a reconciliatory contribution. We could be instruments to bring about a biblically based renewal and transformation of our society, under the banner of the suffering and slaughtered Lamb that has conquered the one who goes around like a roaring lion but whose teeth has been extracted on Calvary – let us follow Him!

In the second century AD Justin Martyr, a committed Christian apologetic, seems to have interpreted Paul, the apostle and the New Testament – in his laudable interaction with Trypho, a Jew - in a flawed way. That would ultimately lead to a situation where Christians believed that the ‘New Testament’ Church replaced Israel. Paul referred to the new creation, i.e. born again believers, as the ‘Israel of God’(Galatians 6:15f). The idea of the Church as a replacement, a spiritual Israel, is nowhere clearly taught in the Bible, but the inference is nevertheless correct that Israel is the example to the Church. The body of Christ should also be a blessing to the nations. As a result of the replacement distortion, verses from the Hebrew Scriptures were high-jacked. This formed the unbiblical basis from which third century Christian theologians and Emperor Constantine completely side-lined Jews. There are also other doctrinal tenets that contributed to the rift between Jews and Christians. I believe that the so-called Replacement Theology - like apartheid in the old days - that is still being defended by certain Christians, should be repented of and confessed.

The Samaritan Justin Martyr possibly may not have had complete replacement in mind when he suggested that the Church superceded Israel. However, the seed sown in this way was to germinate in the third century Mani, when he postulated himself as the seal of the prophets. Montanus was one of the first to introduce a strong personality cult in a movement that started already in 156 CE or 172 CE. Mani and Muhammad followed in his footsteps, regarding themselves as the paraclete and the Seal of the Prophets (In Surah Ahsa (The Confederates) 33:40 Muhammad was also called thus). Closely related is the tenet of progression in Islam. Mani claimed that he was the last in the succession of messengers of God and his followers called him the Seal of the Prophets. Manichaeism knows the ascending importance of prophets, Over the centuries Islamic theologians developed the concept whereby the Qur'an became the pinnacle of Holy books after the Tawrah (Law) of Moses, the Zabur (Psalms) of David and the Injil (Gospel). Similarly Muhammad is now regarded as the ultimate and greatest prophet of all (after Nabi Musa (Moses) of Judaism and Nabi Isa (Jesus) of the Christians who are great prophets in their own right nevertheless.

In Acts 19 it is reported how Ephesian metalsmiths – led by the silversmith Demetrius - felt threatened by Paul’s preaching of biblical monotheism and against the prevalent idolatry. Demetrius incited the mob to riot in defence of their goddess, shouting “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” (Acts 19:28). Paul was saved by the town clerk who succeeded in calming the rioting crowd.
The idol worship of Artemis in the city of Ephesus, smoothly evolved into veneration of Mary during the reign of Constantine as a sort of goddess in the first decades of the 4th century within the context of also worshipping the sun. In 431 CE the Council in Ephesus made it official – Mary was officially declared theotokos, (the bearer of God, the Mother of God). Muhammad perceived that the Christians were worshiping three gods. He apparently thought that they believed in Mary as a third god next to Jesus and the Father. Keeping this in mind, it is fairly easy to comprehend why Muhammad had great difficulty understanding the concept of the Trinity.
A fallacious notion of the Holy Trinity did the rounds among rank-and file Christians who thought that this was God the Father, the Mother of God and Jesus the Son. This was rightly regarded by Muhammad as extremely blasphemous. Unfortunately this misconception formed the foundation on which many Islamic doctrines developed which differ with the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. One could even speak of heretical Christianity as THE SPIRITUAL PARENTS OF ISLAM.

In the past Christians have been very hesitant to confess sins in a collective way. The argument in defence of this position - that Muslims have many more and much worse atrociites to account for - is too cheap and unworthy to warrant consideration. Another argument abused is that certain wrongs like the medieval crusades were perpetrated long before our time by others.

Without suggesting that gross sinful actions should be pushed under the carpet, Christians are generally aware of Jesus' teaching to remove the beam from our own eyes before attempting to tackle the splinter in that of the brother or sister. The biblically most appropriate response to the above is in my view the confessions of Daniel and Nehemiah, the righteous and prayerful giants of the Hebrew Scriptures, who fasted and prayed intensely. Isn't it significant that their identificational confessions are recorded at length in Scripture, viz. in Nehemiah 9 and Daniel 9?
In the light of the above I pray that the Holy Spirit might convict Christians on a massive scale with remorse and to get ready to express at least regret over what happened at Ephesus in 431 CE. Islam generally still sees the Almighty as an aloof and punishing deity who forgives wantonly, sometimes even capriciously - in stead of the forgiving Father in Heaven who gave His unique Son because He loved and still loves mankind so much.

P.S. (The following would possibly be too hard too swallow for Muslims at an early stage, but I think that it is good for us as Christians to keep this in mind, to help keep us humble and loving.)
Waraqah, a Christian priest and the cousin of Khadiyah, the first wife of Muhammad, misled Muhammad to believe that he was divinely called as a prophet like Moses. Muhammad was initially not convinced about that fact at all, thinking in fact that he was demonically impacted and demon-possessed.
As in the case of Judaism, there are a few central doctrinal tenets where Islam and Christianity differ. I do believe however that we as Christians should at least be willing to express regret of this misleading of Muhammad by a Christian priest.


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