An Overview of Islam (Part 3)
Written by John Macleod
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Reformed Worldviews - Islam

 In the last article Rev John MacLeod asked, Do we understand why it matters that we should be concerned about Islam? He dealt with the threat of Islam.


We need to emphasise a Bible-based authority. That is where surely our addressing of the situation must start. Our problem with Mohammedans is not that they follow what they describe as Islam – our problem with them is that what they follow is contrary to the Bible.

This is not a question of our own personal likes or dislikes, it’s a question of what’s right in terms of the Bible which is God’s Word to us. Islam rejects the authority of the Old Testament and it rejects the authority of the New Testament, yet that’s where our authority comes from, not from later writings like the Koran, not from the diktats of ayatollahs or rulings of lesser imams, but from the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments themselves.

We must emphasise that the Bible is:

i.    A reliable authority. We need to stress to ourselves and to the Mohammedan community around us alike, that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments carry the authority of God Himself and that they’re given to us to be our rule in matters of faith and our guide for daily life; that they’re reliable and consistent, contrary to what those who follow Islam believe; that the text of the Bible is well-authenticated and that we’re dealing with a consistent message from beginning to end, not a series of disconnected jottings.

ii. Not the Koran. Now some people might point out that both the Bible and the Koran deal with principles and values. True. But we might say quite appropriately that surely the Bible message centres on the importance of a right personal relationship with God on a one-to-one basis. God is knowable! What we need on an individual basis is a right relationship with God – and the Bible makes it very clear how that is to be had: not on the basis of outward conformity to certain rules of behaviour or through the performance of specified outward acts, but rather on the basis of repentance and faith.  

iii. Not the teaching of Imams. In Islamic culture the Imams have a very significant place. The word Ayatollah has entered into the general vocabulary and when you hear the word used, it’s generally in the sense of a religious leader who is pressing his own extreme ideas home on the people over whom he’s got a measure of influence. What we have to remember ourselves and what we have to bring home to those who come from an Islamic background is that the message of every religious teacher or preacher must be measured against the absolute standard of the Bible.

We need an emphasis on believing as a condition of belonging. Those who have been brought up within Islam generally reckon that the condition of belonging within their religion is that they should go through the rituals prescribed by their religion. To them, it is not so much a question of their relationship with God on a one-to-one basis as it is of their belonging to the community of their fellow-religionists. What we need to stress again and again is the vital importance of each individual’s personal relationship with God and for that relationship to be right. We need to spell out clearly the Bible’s teaching on the provision that God has made to address the desperate needs of sinners who can never, no matter how much effort they put into it, earn a right relationship with God on the basis of their own merit. We need to stress that belonging to the true community of those who are faithful to God is something which follows on from a right relationship with God based on repentance and faith, rather than being the primary end in itself. 

We need a clear proclamation of the nature and awfulness of sin. What we need to bring out very particularly is that the seriousness of sin is the effect it has on our relationship with God, not simply on our relationship with those around us. Sin is rebellion against God, not simply against the rules of organised religion. Even what we might imagine to be the smallest and least significant of sins deserves eternal punishment. How can a sinner understand his or her need of a Saviour if he or she doesn’t understand anything of the awfulness of sin? 

We need an unashamed proclamation of the Christ of Scripture. It is not that those who follow the teaching of Mohammed don’t know anything of the existence of Jesus. They know the name. The teaching they follow acknowledges Jesus as a prophet, but the awful thing is that they reject His rôle as the Messiah. They think of Him as a mere prophet, a sort of imam of His day. Certainly to them He is a lesser individual than Mohammed, which is why what we have to make very clear is that He is the Messiah. He is the One God promised would come, the Seed of the woman who would bruise the head of the serpent, the Messiah – the Ultimate Prophet, the Ultimate Priest and the Ultimate King – the One through whom alone we can have a right relationship with God. He is the One who paid and paid in full the price due for the sins of His people, the One who is the great King and Head of His Church.

We need a clear presentation of the doctrine of the Trinity. Lucas de Graaff points out that Islamic understanding of a ‘Christian’ may be evangelical but is usually far from Reformed in its thinking. Mohammedans shout out Allahu Akbar? And what does it mean? They say it means God is great! – but it does not mean that exactly. It means God is greater! But the doctrine of the Trinity spells out the fact that God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is greater than we can fully comprehend. Islam lacks the answer to that very statement which they ignorantly utter several times a day. Yet the doctrine of the Trinity gives the answer!

We need a clear emphasis on covenant theology. De Graaff also makes the point that Christians who are weak in covenant theology and reject the links between circumcision and baptism, Passover and the Lord’s Supper, tend to support very strongly the idea that the current political state of Israel has a divine legitimacy. He argues that from a Reformed perspective, whatever promises there may be with regard to the future of the Jews, it’s their spiritual future which is of central importance and there can be no automatic assumption that the present political establishment in the State of Israel has guaranteed divine legitimacy for its every action.

We need a clear understanding of the claim of God over every area of life. The third point which de Graaff makes with regard to our Reformed position is that we rightly emphasise the claim God makes over every area of life. Indeed the Scottish Church has given special attention to the fact that both the Church and the Civil Magistrate are answerable to God. God has given them distinct rôles. Now that distinction between the rôles of the Church and the Civil Magistrate is an important distinction that is foreign to Islamic thinking. The rôles of spiritual leadership and political leadership were kept separate in Israel, though in the heathen nations round about them the rôles were as often as not combined. When the two are combined unbiblically the result is cruel dictatorship, whether it be the Stuart monarchs in Scotland or the Taliban in Afghanistan.

We need a Bible-based approach to culture. If we believe that God has a claim over every area of life, it’s vital that we work for a culture that’s honouring to God and if it’s to be honouring to God, then it’s got to be Bible-based. People from a Mohammedan background are very ready to point to what they see as the evil things in Western culture – and it is a fact that many of these things, measured against Biblical standards, are indeed evil. We have work to do in the wider community to bring God’s standards to bear on it, and we must ensure that our own personal and family life is organised in terms of God’s standards. We must use God-honouring cultural standards in our dealings with those from an Islamic background and insofar as the broader cultural standards in the community are honouring to God it is right that we should impress on those coming into our society the importance of observing those standards.

We need a God-honouring political structure. Look around you and what do you see in the political world? Hordes of confused politicians anxious not to antagonise any religious grouping – except Christians – and meanwhile making laws and implementing policies which are utterly contrary to the teaching of the Bible! Indeed, in some instances apparently attempting to limit our freedom to proclaim the teaching of the Bible. We need to have God’s standards brought to bear on the governments of our day and we should demand and expect that all those under the legitimate authority of a God-honouring government, Mohammedan or not, should be required equally to observe God-honouring legislation and regulations.

We need a discerning approach to the young. That is the very area in which Mohammedans are at their weakest. Many of them are more worried about the younger generation than about anything else. Many of their young people have been born in this country, gone to ordinary schools and had contact with their peers from other backgrounds in a way that their parents haven’t and have absorbed a lot of the thinking of those around them in the wider community. Some of them are Westernised enough to resist and reject what they don’t like of the culture of their parents -– to rebel. Some of them are almost completely Westernised at least in terms of culture. Many of our contacts are going to be with those younger people and we need wisdom and grace to present to them not simply decadent Western culture and values, but the Christian message within a God-honouring world view.

We need a firm approach to the adults. Mohammedanism is not a religion of compromise. So much of what passes in the wider world for Christianity, sadly, is. However, our approach must be on the solid basis of the uncompromising truth of Scripture and focussed where the Bible focusses our attention – on the central matter of our need for a right personal relationship with God and the basic need we have for our sin to be dealt with in the only way it can be effectively dealt with – through Christ.

We need a recognition that Mohammedanism or Islam isn’t as monolithic as it claims or as it appears to be. To the outsider it can appear monolithic. There are many divisions and fault lines within it. There is the division between Sunni and Shi’a. There are the differences between the different racial groups who describe themselves as Islamic. There is the distinction between those who think that they must follow the traditional approach and regard everywhere outside daar al-islaam as daar al-harb and those who take the line that they can regard some western countries and cultures as daar al-da’wa – the witness zone in which they can try to take over by peaceful means and persuasion. And again there are those who follow the line that they can have a religious co-existence without persecution. There was an interesting agreement signed in Norway to that effect, during 2007. There were vast differences in the past between the forms of Mohammedanism in, for example, the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) and, for example, in the Indian sub-continent. There are still significant differences. We must know just what variant of the religion we are dealing with and bring the truth of Scripture to bear on the needs of the individual in the light of the background he or she is coming from.

We need confidence in the sovereign God. He is the One who is Lord of time and Lord of eternity. He is the One who orders the events of time for the ultimate good of His cause and His people. Mohammedans were sweeping up through Spain and into France in the 8th Century. But in the end of the day Charles Martel with his 20,000 or 30,000 troops was the victor and Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi and 10,000 of his 80,000 troops were dead and the Islamic threat to Europe was repulsed. They were repulsed from the gates of Vienna in 1529 and again in 1683. The God who was sovereign then is sovereign now, and He requires of us that we should be faithful in our witness for Him in the time and situation in which He has placed us.

Rev. John Macleod is the pastor of the Tarbat Free Church of Scotland Continuing, in Portmahomack, Scotland, UK.   This article was previously printed in the Free Church Witness and is republished here with permission.JO