As many of you know, there's been a two month long debate about Interfaith Dialogue (IFD). This began when James White, world renowned Christian apologist, had an interfaith dialogue with an Islamic Imam named Yasir Qadhi. During the opening statement, Mr. White made it clear that this was not a debate, but a dialogue where they were going to discuss not only the differences between Islam and Christianity, but the similarities, as well.
This was brought up as a concern by Brannon Howse of Worldview Weekend, who has been following closely the works of Yasir Qadhi since 2010, and warning the church about his statements and beliefs. After taking his concerns with this type of IFD public, the fireworks erupted and a civil war within Christianity began. I want to take a moment to go over why I believe this has become so controversial and divisive.
1. Church leaders live in their own little bubble. Now, I'm not trying to knock pastors and church leaders. These men are commissioned to study God's Word and preach it faithfully each and every week. But as someone who has been in ministry for several years, as well as one who has studied mainstream Christianity more recently, I've seen this up close and personal. Many pastors are academics, where they have to split hairs trying to understand the theological richness found in God's Word. I can appreciate that. But when all you do is read the Bible, read books by your favorite authors, and prepare sermons, often times you aren't keeping up on what is going on in the rest of the world. I believe that what happened here is that pastors do not understand the huge movement in our world promoting IFDs.
CAIR, which is an association that Mr Qadhi works closely with and promotes, has, as one of their stated goals, the promotion of dialogues between faith communities. When you read the words of many of their leaders, it becomes more sinister. Their goal is not simply to bring peace, but to normalize Islam. Their ultimate goal is not to learn about other religions, but for other religions, specifically Christianity, to accept Islam as a legitimate religion that is not much different than our own. I could go on and on about their goals and motives, and I may in a future post. But for right now, it is important to know that this is their goal, and Mr. White (seemingly unknowingly) is playing right into their strategy.
2. The Tone Police have infiltrated conservative Christianity. The John MacArthur crowd used to care more about truth than tone. In fact, Phil Johnson has criticized others for calling out his tone instead of dealing with the content of his critiques of other ministries. But now, all of a sudden, Mr. Johnson (and his followers) care more about the tone of Brannon Howse's critique of James White instead of the content of his message.
3. The "Celebrity mentality" has made its way into the church. Just as secular society follows their favorite reality stars every move and imitate them, Christians are doing that with their favorite pastors. Whether you are a "MacArthurite" or a "Whitehead" (or a hardcore follower of any other pastor), that is sin, clearly called out in God's Word. Paul spoke about this in 1 Corinthians 1:10-17. "What I mean is that each one of you says, 'I follow Paul,' or 'I follow Apollos,' or 'I follow Cephas,' or 'I follow Christ.' Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?"
What I've noticed is that people have fallen in line w/ their favorite pastor or Christian leader, especially in regards to this issue. What has made this even more obvious is the apparent double standards based on previous statements by these men. For example, Pastor John MacArthur has spoken out against interfaith dialogues many times, and warned that this should not be a path that the church follows. In his book, The Jesus You Can't Ignore, Pastor MacArthur stated, "In reality, there is nothing in Scripture that justifies embracing people from other religions as 'brothers and sisters' or holding this kind of interfaith dialogue. In fact, Scripture emphatically forbids us to seek spiritual common ground or cooperation with false religions.” He then cites 2 Corinthians 6:14-17 as support for this position. That passage says, in part, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols?”
Side note: James White stated that this passage does not apply to interfaith dialogues, but specifically to marriage. Interesting that Pastor MacArthur used this passage against IFD, but Mr White states it has nothing to do with this. Hope for clarity from either of these men.
MacArthur made it clear that he believes that this is sinful behavior on the part of participating church leaders. However, Pastor Phil Johnson (MacArthur's right hand man and director of Grace To You) has stated that while he disagrees with the approach of IFD, he does not believe that it is unbiblical. This seems to contradict his teaching pastor’s position, and as he represents MacArthur’s ministry, I believe that we should have a clarification from Pastor MacArthur, himself. Now we have many conservative Christians supporting interfaith dialogues that, up until this point, had always been against it.
While there are many issues with this interfaith dialogue that I will explore in future posts, I just wanted to share these three observations with you. These three observations, in my opinion, are what have contributed to this issue erupting into full-on mass hysteria within the conservative, reformed church. I hope that we can all return to Scriptures and become Bereans and compare what is being said with God's Word. I ultimately want to obey what is laid out in the Bible, no matter what it says. If I disagree with God's Word, it is I who needs to change, not my interpretation of the Scripture. I hope that you will join me in this journey of comparing everything that is being said to God's Word.