(Below is a response to “A Common Word”, issued to Christians by 138 leading Muslim clerics. If you are Christian, you are welcome to click here (email to firstname.lastname@example.org) to add your name to this response and receive updates. Please indicate your town, state/province, country and allow 48-72 hours for your name to appear below. If you are with a seminary, church or another Christian organization please also indicate its name and your position. A copy of “A Common Word” with the quotes below highlighted for easy reference is here (the original is at acommonword.com), and some signatories of this response have shared their comments.)
Greetings in the name of the Lord God and Savior, Jesus Christ,
In your letter issued to Christians titled, A Common Word, you claimed “love of the One God and love of the neighbour” to be “the very foundational principles” of Islam and Christianity, and called for “freedom of religion” and “peace” between our two religions, warning: “with the terrible weaponry of the modern world; with Muslims and Christians intertwined everywhere as never before, no side can unilaterally win a conflict between more than half of the world’s inhabitants.”
Considering the profiles of the 138 signatories of A Common Word, some may raise questions about such an erudite group claiming that Christians and Muslims love “the One God”, and wonder if A Common Word isn’t a fake olive branch offered to draw a rejection, which can then be used to portray Christians unfavorably.
Those even more skeptical may cite your references to “the terrible weaponry of the modern world” and consider A Common Word a veiled threat from a religion whose militant elements expect to gain access to weapons of mass destruction in the foreseeable future.
We, however, accept A Common Word as a sincere expression of your peaceful intentions, thank you for it, and respond as follows:
I. We reject your claim that Christians and Muslims love “the One God”. II. We accept your call for peace and freedom of religion. III. We propose a joint declaration to express our mutual sincerity and to proceed forward.
I. We reject your claim that Christians and Muslims love “the One God”.
The Bible and the Qur’an instruct love for God, but the two books refer to fundamentally different deities. The God of the Bible is One who manifests Himself in three persons: God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ) and God the Holy Spirit.
While the notion of God manifesting Himself in three persons isn’t easy for mere mortals to fully comprehend, this is precisely what the Bible declares. Consider the following examples.
In the Old Testament, prophet Isaiah calls Jesus (God the Son), “Mighty God”:
“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)
In the New Testament, Gospel of John opens with the declaration that Jesus Christ “was God” who “became flesh and dwelt among us”:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth… And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.” (John 1:1-5,14,16-18)
And after His crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus is once again declared to be “God”:
“Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:24-29)
With respect to God the Holy Spirit, the Bible describes Him as someone who speaks:
“Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” (Acts 13:1-2)
And the Bible identifies the Holy Spirit as “God”:
“But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” (Acts 5:1-4)
Islam’s Allah is not only exclusive of God the Son (Jesus Christ) and God the Holy Spirit, but also differs from the Christian God in the role played to save us from our sins on the Day of Judgment, which you stated, “matters the most”:
“The Fatihah, recited at least seventeen times daily by Muslims in the canonical prayers, reminds us of the praise and gratitude due to God for His Attributes of Infinite Goodness and All-Mercifulness, not merely for His Goodness and Mercy to us in this life but ultimately, on the Day of Judgement when it matters the most and when we hope to be forgiven for our sins.”
To be forgiven for our sins, you asserted, “It thus ends with prayers for grace and guidance, so that we might attain—through what begins with praise and gratitude— salvation and love, for God says in the Holy Qur’an: Lo! those who believe and do good works, the Infinitely Good will appoint for them love. (Maryam, 19:96)” and added, “By engaging everything in our souls—the faculties of knowledge, will, and love—we may come to be purified and attain ultimate success.” Your assertion contradicts the Bible, which declares that no human being can live up to God’s laws, which exist to convict us of that fact. And the penalty for “sin” – the failure to live up to His Holy laws – “is death”:
“There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one… Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin… For the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 3:10-12,19-20, 6:23)
The Gospel – the “Good News” is that God so loved us that instead of executing all of us as we deserve, God the Son (Jesus Christ) took the death penalty in our place. To be saved from our sins and have everlasting life, we must simply but sincerely believe Jesus Christ chose to suffer death on the cross to save us, and rose from the dead to unequivocally prove His deity:
“God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
“For by Him [Jesus Christ] all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.” (Colossians 1:16-20)
“Now on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they, and certain other women with them, came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared. But they found the stone rolled away from the tomb. Then they went in and did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. And it happened, as they were greatly perplexed about this, that behold, two men stood by them in shining garments. Then, as they were afraid and bowed their faces to the earth, they said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen!… So they [two other disciples] rose up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, “The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” And they told about the things that had happened on the road, and how He was known to them in the breaking of bread. Now as they said these things, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, “Peace to you.” But they were terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit. And He said to them, “Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts? Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.” When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. But while they still did not believe for joy, and marveled, He said to them, “Have you any food here?” So they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and some honeycomb. And He took it and ate in their presence.” (Luke 24:1-6, 33-43)
This does not mean we should not do “good works”, seek “knowledge” and “love”. The Bible commands us to do them, not because they save us from our sins, but to honor, thank and please God who saved us. Lest there be any doubt, Jesus affirmed that believing in Him is the only way to heaven:
“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6)
II. We accept your call for peace and freedom of religion.
You proposed, “So let our differences not cause hatred and strife between us. Let us vie with each other only in righteousness and good works. Let us respect each other, be fair, just and kind to another and live in sincere peace, harmony and mutual goodwill.”
And you avowed, “Let there be no compulsion in religion”, that “justice and freedom of religion are a crucial part of love of the neighbour” and that we should “sincerely make every effort to make peace and come together in harmony”.
We agree wholeheartedly. Let us vie with each other only in righteousness and good works, respect each other, be fair, just and kind to another and come together in harmony to engage in truthful, sincere and respectful dialogue about the Bible and the Qur’an. And let us love the neighbor by respecting their freedom of religion, including the Christians’ freedom to choose Islam and the Muslims’ freedom to choose Christianity.
III. We propose a joint declaration to express our mutual sincerity and to proceed forward.
To express our mutual sincerity and to take a concrete step forward, we propose the following joint declaration:
1. We respect Muslims’ freedom to gather in peace and safety to worship Allah, including the freedom to build mosques, in both Muslim and Christian areas. Likewise, we respect Christians’ freedom to gather in peace and safety to worship the God of the Bible, including the freedom to build churches, in both Christian and Muslim areas.
2. We respect Muslims’ freedom to print, import and distribute the Qur’an to Christians, and Christians’ freedom to access and read the Qur’an. Likewise, we respect Christians’ freedom to print, import and distribute Bibles to Muslims, and Muslims’ freedom to access and read the Bible.
3. We respect Christians’ freedom to convert to Islam, and we respect Muslims’ freedom to convert to Christianity.
We look forward to your response.
Dr. John Frame, Professor of Systematic Theology and Philosophy, Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS) Orlando, Florida, USA
Pastor J. Harold Davis, Immanuel Baptist Church, Bowling Green, Florida, USA
Pastor Tony Felich, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, Overland Park, Kansas, USA
Pastor Mark Gillespie, Foothills Fellowship, Anchorage, Alaska, USA
Pastor Kenneth M. Kalinich, East Bay Baptist Church, Panama City, Florida, USA
Pastor David Zane Jones, Heritage Reformed Baptist Church, South Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
Jim & Pam Blande, Katy, Texas, USA