We have seen that we do sharply disagree whether Jesus was crucified or not. And this issue will have to be discussed further if there should be any meaningful Christian - Muslim dialog at all. And this is not just about opinion "how Jesus died", it is ultimately about our understanding of the character of God, the seriousness of sin, and other extremely fundamental issues, which I didn't explicitly bring out here.
But there is one more aspect of the Cross which is worth pointing out as we think about the question: How now do we handle our differences?
Nobody who really cares for truth, can go on his way and say, well, it doesn't really matter, let us not take this too seriously. We are probably all "right in some way". If we really seek truth, this relativistic "feel good" approach is unworthy to even be considered.
There is one horrible historical event that has poisoned so much of the relationship between Muslims and Christians. I am talking about the Crusades. Some evil politicians (even Church polititians) back then and in some instances still today, have used the name of God to justify their greed and plans to enlarge the domain of their power.
The teaching of Jesus on this matter is very clear (Matthew 5):
1 Now when he [Jesus] saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him,
2 and he began to teach them, saying:
3 "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
13 You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.
14 You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.
15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.
16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
And though we have to disagree sharply in regard to the content of the truth, let me quote again part of a passage that I already drew your attention to in part 2. In 1 Corinthians 5 the Apostle Paul writes:
18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:
19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
20 We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God.
The Cross means:
The Crusades were:
I hope you see that the Crusades are the complete perversion of the command by Jesus to spread the GOOD news. Sometimes "Christians" have been very bad news indeed. The Crusades are the complete anti-thesis of the Gospel message.
The Gospel = evangel (Injil) = good news or reconciliation which seeks the free and loving response of men and women to the acts of love done by God for us.
True Christians are followers of the crucified Lord, not followers of those who crucified him.
There is not only the Cross of our Lord in which we believe, but also a cross for each one who follows him (Matthew 16):
21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. "Never, Lord!" he said. "This shall never happen to you!"
[It seems, Peter also had quite a problem with this concept.]
23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men."
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples,
"If anyone would come after me,
he must deny himself
and take up his cross and follow me.
25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.
26 What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?
The cross in the life of any believer is to be applied to ourselves, not to others. We have no justification for bringing others suffering in order to further our wishes and goals, but we are to die to our selfish ambitions and give up [=crucify] everything that hinders us in following Christ.
The true Gospel message can only be and always has to be the offer of God's love to us through Jesus, the offer of forgiveness and reconciliation and new life. And this offer is free and there is never any force of violence to be mixed up with it, lest the message of love be perverted to a message of evil.
Jerome, a Christian scholar of the fourth century, writes about the first threehundred years of Christianity:
The church of Christ has been founded by shedding its own blood, not that of others; by enduring outrage, not by inflicting it. Persecutions have made it grow; martyrdoms have crowned it.
And that is true without reservations. One of the worst things that has happened to the church is the strong affiliation with the political power that developed from the middle of the fourth century onwards. Power corrupts, not only outside but also inside the church. And "the church" has at times abused the power it had, and also was abused by those who had the political power and wanted to have some religious blessing for their evil politics. But any violence in the name of Christ is against the message of Christ himself.
During Ramadan 1996 the following message has been circulated among Millions of Christians. They are a very good formulation of a true Christian attitude towards the horrors and evil of the Crusades. Maybe these statements can help in a small way that understanding and forgiveness can grow. They definitely do reflect the true Christian and Biblical attitude, though it is very sad, that still today, the name of "Christian" religion is abused for violence and power politics.
These lines were not intended for a Muslim audience, they were in a booklet of prayer topics for Christians. But I decided to just let you know of them without editing them.
The 900th anniversary (1095-1099) of the dreadful events of the First Crusade presents Christ's followers with an opportunity to express deep remorse for the past. We need to humbly ask for forgiveness for the blood that was shed in the name of Christianity. As each Crusader wore the symbol of the Cross, we need to recognize the great mistake which made the symbol of love for all men into a sign of division, hate and extermination.
Jews, Eastern Christians and Muslims were all affected by the Crusades. Jews were slaughtered in several places. Eastern Christians (Greek Orthodox and others) were mistreated and humiliated by the Crusader armies, increasing the divisions which already existed. Muslims were killed in great numbers, encouraging centuries of deep hostility. Wars have been a major part of human history, but religious wars in the name of Christ do not reflect the spirit of the Gospel. Jesus said, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Do good to those who hate you, and bless those who curse you." (Luke 6:27-36)
Many Muslims have a much better memory of the Crusades than Christians. "It's another Crusade!" is a phrase that recurs regularly in the rhetoric of some Muslim leaders. Muslim fundamentalists frequently refer to western cultural and economic influence as the last crusade.
On this first day of prayer during Ramadan 1996, let us reflect on the past and ask the Lord to search our hearts concerning our present attitudes. Many of us have ancestors who were involved in the Crusades. Many more of us are the spiritual descendants of those who participated in and supported the Crusades.
While the past cannot be rewritten, each one of us can take a step toward laying a new foundation for future generations. As Christians we can say that we are sorry for the past. Let us pray for a healing of wounds between Jews, Christians and Muslims. Through His death on the cross, Jesus made the way for us to have forgiveness of sins, to be reconciled to the Father and to one another (2 Cor. 5:17-20). "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God." (Mt: 5:9).
I fully endorse these lines. I myself am very sorry for the suffering and evil that "the Church" has brought on many Muslims. "We" will have to give account to God for distorting His Gospel in your eyes beyond recognition. I understand that these memories live on and are even reinforced by current situations like Bosnia. I want to assure you that this has all nothing to do with the message Jesus has commanded us to preach and with the character we are supposed to display.
And though I personally had nothing to do with the Crusades of old, I also have to bow ashamed before God's holy commands, and I am sorry for those times where I myself in the heat of the argument have offended anyone. It never was my intention. We are admonished in God's Word and it is my desire to speak the truth in love.
And this obviously means "as much as I think I understand of the truth". Nobody has absolute understanding of all truth. And I am learning and growing, often accompanied by errors and sometimes painful ones. I am a fellow pilgrim in the quest for truth and deeper understanding, but I want to share with those who are on the same way that which I have already found and which has enriched my life. And the wonderful gift of forgiveness through the death of Jesus, my Savior, is part of what I cannot keep just to myself.
When I ask hard questions, then it is not in order to try to make Muslims look ridiculous, but it is in the hope that you will start to think about those issues which in my conviction are of utmost importance. We cannot afford any blind faith, but have to know what we believe and why we believe it, and as best we can, make sure what we believe is really the truth. Our eternal destiny depends on it.
If I only win an argument
and in the course of it have offended you and lost your willingness to listen any further then I have failed and it would have been better if I had kept my mouth shut. I do not only share this on the Internet. Both, in Germany and in the USA, I have Muslim friends whom I love dearly and because they are dear to me, I can not keep quiet and have to let them and you know as best I am able to, that you are on a way that leads to your destruction [according to my conviction and according to the Bible].
In the same vein, I have received "concerned" emails of some from you who warned me that I must take seriously the truth of Islam because my eternal destiny depends on it. I do appreciate these comments, because it shows these people have the right priorities, even if they speak based on a conviction which I consider wrong.
With love and the desire for truth,
The Cross of Christ
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