For the past week, the world has watched with extreme interest as a pastor of a very small church in Gainesville, Florida has garnered international attention for his plans to burn a couple of hundred copies of the Quran on September 11th. In the office where I work, on the radio stations I listen to, and the TV stations I watch, it has been a topic of discussion, with everyone asking the question—What purpose is achieved by burning Islam’s religious book and inciting millions of Muslims to protest, riot, and possibly kill American missionaries and members of the military? As of the time of this writing, this event has been called off, and the pastor—a previously unknown leader of a cult-like group—has managed to achieve celebrity status, albeit negative in nature.
The pastor, Terry Jones, and his followers have been repeatedly referred to as Christians, because they claim to ascribe to the basic tenets of the Christian faith—that Jesus Christ is God and is the Savior and Lord of the world. Thus, many have asked, “What would Jesus do in such a situation? Would He condone the burning of the Quran?” Even though I have serious doubts about the legitimacy of Pastor Jones’ claim to being a Christian in the biblical sense of that term, the question is a legitimate one—Would Jesus condone the burning of the Quran, or for that matter, any other religious symbol in order to show one’s contempt for that religion?
The answer is no, He would not. I base my answer on Jesus’ behavior during His earthly ministry. While opposing the hypocrisy of the Jewish religious leaders, He did not spend His time attacking the many pagan gods and idol worship that took place throughout the Roman Empire. He simply focused on calling sinners to repent and proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom. I believe we who are believers need to follow the example of our King and spend our time doing the same things He did—calling sinners to repentance and proclaiming the gospel of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.
I am not in any way diminishing the awfulness of the Islamic religion. It is a false, works-based religion which ends in eternal judgment for its adherents. But our role as Christians is not to go around destroying the external symbols of other religions, whether it be Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, or any other group. Rather, our role is to be missionaries for our Lord in a very dark world. We are to to follow His example of showing love, mercy, and compassion to the hurting and poor, but we are be unwavering and unapologetic for the message of the gospel—that Jesus is the only way, the only truth, and the only life that leads to eternal life (cf. John 14:6). We must inform people that they are sinners in rebellion against God, that they are doomed to eternal hell apart from faith in Christ, and then call them to repent and trust Christ alone for their eternal salvation. When those who are God’s elect are drawn to saving faith by the Holy Spirit, we are to baptize them in Christ’s name and teach them to follow and obey Him (cf. Matt. 28:19-20).
Those are to be the activities of followers of Christ. When we spend our time burning books or other religious symbols, we play into the hands of the enemy, who uses such opportunities to make us look like the fools we are.