Under the banner of religious pluralism, many seem to downplay all real differences among religions. They claim disputes among the different “ways” of salvation are pointless. Christ may be called the one way to the Father, but He is not the only one. Many believe Christians and Muslims worship the same deity. A traditional Japanese saying states: “Although the paths to the summit may differ, from the top one sees the same moon.” When applied to religion, this axiom suggests that although there are different religious paths, ultimately each way will reach the same destination.
Unfortunately, a growing number of Christians have embraced the notion that while the Christian faith is “true” and legitimate for them, other religions can be equally “true” and legitimate options for others in different circumstances. This view makes it difficult to appeal to the Bible as one’s sole authority. It also hinders missions. The Gospel story has become only one among the many stories.
Religious pluralism is not a new experience for the Christian church. As far back as recorded history takes us, there have been different religions and practices. The apostolic Church was launched into a religiously pluralistic world, a world where, as the apostle Paul wrote, there were many gods and many lords (1 Corinthians 8: 5). The relationship between the Christian faith and other religions was already discussed when the Christian church was no more than a small group, scattered over the whole Roman Empire. The Church knew that the Gospel would not be welcomed with “open arms.” The early Church was despised, persecuted, and living in very difficult circumstances. The New Testament clearly states that the normal attitude toward the Christian Church will be one of hostility.
The Way of Islam
Among the religions of the world, there is not one that has a shorter creed than Islam; and not one whose creed is so well known and so often repeated. The whole system of Muslim theology, philosophy, and religious life is summed up in seven words: La ilaha illa Allah, Muhammad rasul Allah, “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is Allah’s Apostle.”
By this creed Muslims are called to prayer five times daily. It is the platform on which all the warring sects of Islam unite. It is the very foundation of the Islamic religion. In Islam in Focus, which was written for “the young and lay readers,” and distributed by the Vanguard Islamic Association and the Canadian Islam Congress, Dr. Hammudah Abdalati states that Islam is the universal religion of God, the Maker of human nature, Who knows what is best for human nature. He says that whoever refuses the confession that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah, refutes the first part of the confession that Allah is God.
Islam is the only religion that can be based on the Koran revealed to Muhammad. Abdalati says that the original founder of Islam is no other than God Himself, and the date of the founding of Islam goes back to the age of Adam. Islam has existed in one form or another all along, since the beginning, and will continue to exist until the end of time. Every person is born “Muslim.” All the characters of the Bible, from Adam to Abraham, Moses to David, the Hebrew prophets, Mary, Jesus, and the apostles were Muslim prophets who preached Islam. It is only in their quality as Muslims that they are recognized. Muhammad is the “Seal of the Prophets.” Whoever obeys him, obeys Allah (Sura 4:80).
Islam means submission to the Will of Allah and obedience to His Law. Only through submission to the Will of Allah and by obedience to His Law can one achieve true peace and enjoy lasting purity. Therefore, whoever departs from Islam, stands outside the true religion and falls victim to “excommunication.” Muslims oppose idolatry and do not want to be identified with Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, or whatever. They believe Islam is unique. It is the only way!
For Muslims, the norm is first and foremost the Koran itself. For centuries, Muslims have read and memorized the Koran in Arabic as “the language of heaven.” And those who can read Arabic call the language of the Koran “divinely beautiful, terrifying, tear-inducing, spine-tingling, mesmerizing,” and impossible to imitate. Abdalati notes that the Koran came to Muhammad “through the Heavenly Messenger Gabriel” who was sent down with concrete divine words to convey Allah’s message. For Muslims, the Koran is the word of Allah. It is the Word of God incarnate, eternal, and uncreated. Muslims believe every letter in the Koran is the word of Allah, and every sound in it is the true echo of Allah’s voice. Every Muslim must abide by it and reflect on it. Abdalati clearly states the Muslim’s conviction that the Koran has the “sole truth.” He says that it “is given to the Muslims as the standard or criterion by which all other books are judged.”
Whatever agrees with the Koran is accepted as Divine truth, and whatever differs from the Koran is either rejected or suspended. The Koran is the only way to Allah. It frequently censures Christians for believing in false doctrines--including beliefs that are central to their faith as it has been understood and practiced for as long as six centuries before Muhammad began preaching. Referring to both Jews and Christian, the Koran says, “Allah’s curse be on them: how they are deluded away from the Truth” (Surah 9:30).
Salvation by Works
The Philippian jailer asked Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I to do be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved you and your household” (Acts 16:30,31). Muslims would answer the jailer’s question by saying, “Every Muslim is his own redeemer; he bears all possibilities of spiritual success and failure in his heart.”
Islam has an optimistic view of human nature. Conspicuously lacking in Islam are concepts of the radical depravity of human nature, the pervasive impact of sin and the complete inability of humankind to redeem itself from the bondage of sin. Sin is considered more a weakness, a defect or imperfection rather than a radical corruption of the nature and the will. Abdalati declares that every person is born free from sin and all claims to inherited virtue. “He is like a blank book.”
Each person must bear his own burden and be responsible for his own actions. “Consequently, the Muslim cannot entertain the story of Jesus’ death on the cross just to do away with all human sins once and for all.” In other words, Muslims believe there is no need for a Savior and Redeemer.
Islam is a legalistic religion, insofar as it stresses the law of Allah, which every believer must observe wholeheartedly. Obedience to the law is something that is held to be within the grasp of disciplined and religiously sensitive persons. In other words, Islam seeks self-salvation. Muslims believe that man must work out his salvation through the guidance of God. The Koran says, “Whoso makes effort to follow in Our ways, We will guide them: for God is assuredly with those who do righteous deeds” (Surah 29:69). The Koran teaches there definitely will be compensation and reward for the good deeds, and punishment for the evil ones. On the Day of Judgment there will be a final settlement of all accounts.
The Jesus of Islam
Today we increasingly hear and read that Christianity and Islam “share” Jesus, that He belongs to both religions. Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:15,16). Christians think of God in terms of Christ.
The opposite is true for Muslims. If you asked them, “Who do you say Jesus is?” They would answer, “Isa (His true name according to the Koran) was a prophet of Islam. His message was pure Islam, surrender toAllah. He was a lawgiver.” Isa was simply a created human being and a slave of Allah. Muslims claim that Isa’s mother was Miriam. While still a virgin, Miriam gave birth to “Isa alone in a desolate place under a date palm tree” (Not in Bethlehem). He did not die on the cross but ascended to Allah. On the day of the Resurrection “Isa himself will be a witness against Jews and Christians for believing in his death.”
The Koran expressly denies the divinity of Christ. Islam has always looked upon Jesus as one of their greatest prophets. Abdalati states that all prophets of God, including Jesus, and their faithful followers were Muslims, and their religion was Islam, the only true universal religion of God. Islam commands Christians not to believe that “Isa is the Son of God.” At the last judgment He will condemn Christians to hell for believing in the crucifixion and the incarnation.
By Islamicising Jesus, and making Him a Muslim prophet who preaches the Koran, Islam destroys Christianity and takes over all its history. But the Isa of the Koran is based on no recognized form of historical evidence, but on fables current in seventh-century Arabia. The Koran is oblivious to the real contents of the Bible. The identity of Jesus Christ reveals the unbridgeable gap between Islam and Christianity. Both cannot be correct.
Islam and the Trinity
The Trinity is not an appendix to the Christian faith. It is at the heart of the Christian faith, but Islam denies it. Allah has neither an associate nor equal. The cornerstone of Muhammad’s message was the absolute unity and sovereignty of God. The famous Islamic scholar al-Ghazzali (1058-1111) said about Allah, “as touching His essence, He maketh known that He is one, and hath no partner.” Abdalati teaches that Allah has no partner or son, and neither gives birth, nor is He born. He is eternally besought by all and has not beginning or end, and none is equal to Him (Surah 112:1-5). There is only one God for Muslims, and he is the same God for all peoples. It is due to this uncompromising emphasis on God’s absolute unity that in Islam the greatest of all sins is the sin of shirk, or assigning partners to God (Surah 4:116).
The Koran clearly shows that Allah is not the same as the Triune God of the Bible. The Triune God is different from all other gods. Only He has the answer to the question, “Who can save men and women from their lost condition?” The Triune is the God of love. The love of God the Father is evident by giving His Son. The love of the Son is evident by His acceptance of the death on the cross.
The Jesus of the Scriptures
Who is Jesus? The Christian believes Jesus Christ is the Seal of the Prophets, as priest, king, and the only begotten Son of the Father, and therefore is God. Scripture presents Jesus as the Creator and preserver of the universe, as the incarnate, crucified and risen Redeemer and living Renewer of His people. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End; the entire eternal order is grounded in Christ.
The Gospel is not about Jesus discovering the way and the truth, and that if we follow His teaching we too can find the way ourselves. The apostle Paul says that not even apostolic status, not even angelic existence, stand above the unchanging gospel. Paul argues for the centrality of the cross. It is the only way of salvation for guilty sinners -- justification comes to guilty men and women exclusively on the ground of the grace of God in the cross (Galatians 1: 8-9).
Salvation means, therefore, that the guilt that rested on human beings and made them God’s enemy has been taken away by the wholly mysterious event of the suffering and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ: “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). Salvation also includes the restoration of creation, the new heaven and earth. Christ does not stand at the beginning but in the midst of history, the event of His death, resurrection, and ascension.
Islam denies Jesus’ death; Christianity glories in it. No one is reconciled to God except through the cross of Jesus Christ. Our Lord gave us the responsibility to proclaim this unique Gospel of reconciliation. It is precisely this uncompromising exclusivism of the early Christians that provoked the antagonism of the surrounding culture.
The Radical Difference between Islam and Christianity
Christians, who hold that salvation is available only through Jesus Christ, and that sincere Muslims are mistaken in their basic beliefs, are routinely dismissed as intolerant. Although the Christian faith is one of several world religions, this does not mean to imply that they are more or less identical and rooted in the same soil. These religions are radically different from each other.
Islam seeks salvation through obedience to the law; Christians believe that “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Islam claims to be the only true revelation and pathway to God. Not all revelations can be equally true, equally right, equally good. Insofar as well. Another hopeful development in recent decades is important and should also be mentioned: conservative Reformed parents from non-CRC churches such as the Protestant Reformed, the Netherlands Reformed, the Canadian Reformed, and lately, the United Reformed, have begun to establish small Christian schools of their own, often parochial or quasi-parochial in nature.
But though such schools typically accept students whose families attend non-sponsoring Reformed churches, the fragmentation of the Reformed school community must overall be seen as something of a weakness. In the first half of the 20th century the schools begun by conservative Reformed parents typically served students and parents hailing from a variety of Reformed denominations (CRC, PRC, Netherlands Reformed, OPC, RCA). Today there are sometimes two or three small quasi-parochial Reformed schools struggling for survival in a region whose conservative Reformed population, if united, could more firmly establish a single Reformed school offering a greater variety of programs.
For parents for whom a full-blown athletic or music program is very important, or for those who seek a wide variety of study options (foreign languages, vocational training, etc.), the distinctive Reformed nature of the smaller Reformed schools is, sadly, not always a sufficient attraction.
One factor in this is that there is not so much of the “immigrant glue” remaining, as there was in earlier times, to provide added motivation to the Reformed folk to use their own schools, or even to live in the vicinity. Our immigrant forbears are perhaps three, four, or more generations distant from us. We have become thoroughly comfortable in our identities as Americans. Proximity to Reformed church and school seems generally to be regrettably low on the list of priorities when new job opportunities or relocations are considered. We have dispersed ourselves willy-nilly across the country, not mindful of our covenantal duties.
As a result of these various trends, new small Reformed Christian schools struggle to maintain their enrollment numbers, much less to grow significantly. Overall, in North America it is clear that the number of students in authentically Reformed schools in 2006 is proportionally much diminished compared to what the numbers were in the 1950s. This is a great loss! One, at times, wants to cry out with the prophet of old “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18).
Though there are some hopeful developments, an honest evaluation of recent trends leads to the conclusion that – humanly and generally speaking – authentically Reformed Christian schooling has a doubtful future in North America.
It is well to remember, however, that the same depressing assessment might well have been voiced in the 1840s. Nevertheless, at that time, and also again in the 1890s, our sovereign God stirred up His people to an increased commitment to the Reformed faith and to the living and teaching of that faith. We are the beneficiaries today of that outpouring of blessing and to that exercise in faithfulness. Let us seek, as did our pioneer forefathers more than a hundred years ago, to build one another up and to stir up amongst ourselves the vision of providing covenantally-faithful Reformed Christian education.
God remains our hope for the future! May we pray to Him for revival in our commitment to Reformed Christian education and for His blessing of our small works begun in His name! “Establish Thou the work of our hands” (Psalm 90:17). Let us not despise “the day of small things” (Zech. 4:10). May God give us not to become weary in well-doing in this duty which is both to our covenant God and to His covenant children and youth. He may yet richly bless both church and school.
Mr. David Kloosterman is an Elder at the Covenant United Reformed Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He was instrumental in beginning the Reformed Heritage Christian School in Kalamazoo, Michigan.