You may not know it but I do have a few issues with Islam. One is that they have taken what was meant for Arab tribes engaged in blood feuds and virgin sacrifices and have applied it to everyone on the planet from then until now, making “membership” in the religion of Islam a requirement for all mankind. They do this because God said Mohammad would be a “mercy to all the nations”, and for other reasons, and take that to mean God wants every single nation to adopt some form of Islamic Law. Some even think that if a person has not submitted to their religion they are simply not on Allah’s good side and will be losers in the afterlife, even though their own scriptures say that Allah loves to excuse people. The Muslims who believe God requires Islamic law for everyone, and I don’t think it’s the majority of them, don’t stop to ask if all nations need that mercy. They should read that, “Mohammad is a mercy to all nations, the ones that need it.” Many Muslims recognize that the West has attained to the social justice, respect for human rights, and civil society ideals of the Quran better than any Muslim society of today, and countries like Saudi Arabia are as far from Islam as one could get, while others observe the pornography in the West and think Saudi Arabia is an oasis of purity. I think the vast majority of Muslims would agree that if there’s one nation on the earth today that needs Mohammad and the mercy of his Sharia it’s the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS).
Muslims aren’t the only ones who make membership in their religion a requirement of God in order to be acceptable to God. The Jews thought the blessing of the Word of God and their strict adherence to the Law meant they were better than anyone else, and the only ones good enough to be acceptable to God. They despised the Gentiles because they thought God despised the Gentiles. They were like their own prophet Jonah who couldn’t stand the thought of God being merciful to the Assyrians, calling them to repentance without requiring them to submit to the Law of Moses. Jonas was downright mad that these Gentiles would believe his message, repent, and be blessed by God, saying to God “I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.” He fled in the opposite direction of Nineveh because he knew God was good and that just killed him. Even Jesus’ own apostles had a hard time with the idea of God loving the Gentiles enough to include them in his blessings. Paul had to prove to them that he would by recounting the miracles done at his hand among the Gentiles, and how the Holy Spirit was given to them.
The Christian church has done much the same thing. We don’t exactly get mad that God would bless people apart from our Gospel, we just make niggling theological distinctions so we can put non-Christians, especially those influenced by other religious figures, as outside of God’s Kingdom and therefor outside of any chance at getting a good hearing on the Judgement Day. We rightly recognize that Jesus came to set up a spiritual Kingdom on earth with Jesus as King. Because we know these are spiritual things we recognize that this Kingdom is not a political kingdom and it’s just as hard to tell who’s a member as it is to tell who is in the Church and who has been spiritually baptized into Christ. Yet we still want to define this thing in a way that has us as being members of his Kingdom and his Church, while non-Christians get membership in that great company in Hell. If we are Evangelicals we tend to make these distinctions based on what doctrine a person has, and then those who don’t agree to certain doctrines, such as the Trinity, can not be members of the Church or the Kingdom of Heaven, and if you’re not a member then you can’t go to heaven when you die.
Where does Jesus equate his Kingdom with Eternal Life? Where does he say those who are not in the Kingdom of Heaven won’t be able to go to heaven? Where does it ever say Jesus came to set up a new Kingdom and those who don’t become members of it through faith in his blood will stand before God one day and end up condemned to Hell?
He never said that.
That is a total misread of what the Kingdom of Heaven (aka the Kingdom of God), and the Good News of that Kingdom, is all about. The Kingdom of Heaven, as well as the Jewish Torah and the Muslim Quran, were meant as a blessing, not as a way to demarcate who gets damned by God and who doesn’t. All three testaments are consistent. Revealed religion is not really as complicated as people make it. The ones who get damned are the ones who do evil things. The Ninevites of Jonah’s time, for example, were not going to be judged for not following the Law of Moses, they were going to be judged for their wicked ways.
Each of the three testaments are a mercy, warning people to stop doing evil things, and prescribing conduct that will keep them from doing evil things. Conduct like “Love your neighbor.” If you do just that, you will do no harm to your neighbor. If you have a whole society of people who love each other and have a criminal justice system that does not allow people to do harm to each other then you do not have a society to which God would send a prophet to warn them regarding their evil deeds.
Unfortunately those warnings and instructions never prevented some evil people from re-interpreting those instructions at a later date in a way to justify their evil deeds, or even encourage them to evil deeds if they choose to ignore some of what is written and the context of what they don’t ignore. So many times I have encountered Christians quoting the violent scriptures in the Quran as proof Islam is out to destroy the world. They employ a third-grade level of Islamic scholarship and end up with a view of Islam that is similar to that of ISIS – and just as perverted.
The Kingdom of Heaven is not a join-or-burn proposition. “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand” is not an ultimatum, it’s an invitation. The Kingdom is a means of grace, a mercy from God to help people overcome sin so they can stop being wicked if they are wicked, or if they are good people to begin with it’s grace to be conformed into the image of Christ. People who are not “members” of the Kingdom of Heaven (which is here on earth, today) can still go to heaven. They can still inherit eternal life. Yes, even an atheist. Paul never condemned atheists, he condemned those who saw that God made nature but chose to worship the creation instead of the creator, and the horrific pagan culture that went along with that, which by the way, was similar to the horrific pagan cultures Mohammad challenged, the ones involved in blood feuds, human sacrifice, and treating women like cattle.
Mohammad, for his part, confirmed the Torah and the Gospel, and those who followed them. Not all did. Some were more than willing to ignore the commandment about not to murder and join the pagans in trying to rid themselves of this pesky prophet from their own tribe.
You can’t confirm them and their scriptures if you are going to replace them with a different set of laws. He gave the lawless pagans and the lawless Jews and Christians a Sharia as a mercy for them. For the People of the Book (Christians and Jews) who actually followed their books it’s rather obvious he had no intention of replacing their scriptures with his own because he allowed them to continue following their religions, and actually gave them preferential treatment, commanding his followers to protect the lives and property of Christians and Jews. That included protecting their churches.
As a statesman who was gaining in popularity and influence putting together a coalition of Arabic tribes he also offered neighboring tribes membership in his growing alliance so they could stop the cycle of violence between the tribes. One of his crowning achievements, as told by himself at his Farewell Message, was that he had brought peace to his corner of Arabia by uniting tribes that had been locked in blood feuds that would never end. Also, “converting” to Islam, which simply meant pledging loyalty to Mohammad’s political reign but who left them with a freedom of religion unheard of in that day, was a mercy to tribes of the Arabian peninsula. Without membership in Mohammad’s coalition of tribes you were not only fair game for the abuse of other tribes with which you had a blood feud but fair game for the other two nearby and expanding mega coalitions, or world powers, which were the Persians, who were Zoroastrians, and the Eastern Roman Empire, who in the 7th Century were Christian rulers. Some of the Jewish tribes, and even Christian tribes, were happy to come under the auspices of the Muslims because they got better treatment than they got from the Christian Byzantine Empire. The coercive quest for orthodoxy left its toll on any groups whose theological opinions happened to very from the opinions of the emperors and the councils they convened. The Christian emperors and their councils had an it’s-our-way-or-the-highway mentality and that highway led them into the arms of Islam which offered them better treatment.
If the angel who came to Muhammad had wanted to supplant the Torah and the Gospel with the Quran he would not have said “To each of you [Christians, Jews, Muslims] we prescribed a law and a method. Had Allah willed, He would have made you one nation [united in religion], but [He intended] to test you in what He has given you; so race to [all that is] good.” (5:48) So that which was a mercy for all nations (Quran) was never meant to replace that which was a mercy for the Jews (Torah) or that other mercy for all nations – the Gospel. It was a mercy for those who needed it, and the Jews and Christians who followed their scriptures didn’t need it, except for the compacts they needed for military protection.
Does everyone on earth NEED to “receive Jesus as their personal Savior” in order to be acceptable to God? No, not any more than the Gentiles needed to accept Moses in order to be acceptable to God. Can all humans benefit from being a member of the Kingdom of Heaven, which is accomplished through faith in Christ? Absolutely! The Good News of the Kingdom of God is the POWER of God unto wholeness (salvation, in their parlance).
Who needs wholeness? Everyone, to some degree. The more sin in your life the more broken you are and the more you need restoration to wholeness. That’s what salvation is, in biblical terms: restoration to wholeness. Salvation is NOT a ticket to heaven, however, if you have been restored to wholeness you are not doing wicked things that might get you damned on the Judgement Day. If you don’t do those things that will get you in hot water with God then you will inherit eternal life, and you don’t need to “get saved” as we tend to use that term today, which is different than what the word means in the bible. Salvation, in the eternal sense of the word, through Jesus Christ, is not for everyone, it’s for those who need it. Not all do.
I have shared this with a few of my Christians friends and they get mad at me because I posit that God is more just and has more grace and mercy than the God of Evangelicalism. They don’t get mad at God like Jonah did because they don’t think God is that gracious to forgive people apart from faith in Christ so they get mad at me for even suggesting it.
God gave the Torah to the Jews and whomever wanted to join in with the Jews. He gave the Quran to 7th century pagan Arabians and anyone else who acted like them and needed a higher standard to live by. He gave the Gospel of the Kingdom to everyone so they could benefit from the power of the Kingdom of God, described elsewhere in the Bible as the New Covenant, Walking in the Spirit, being preordained to be conformed to the image of God and then being raised from glory to glory into that image, and “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Rom. 14:17) He didn’t give the Gospel to create a we-are-in-too-bad-for-you mentality that makes God stingy in his blessings like the pagan gods.
This of course will raise a lot of questions and I’m likely to get inundated on my Facebook page with biblical refutations so before you do that please do 4 things first: 1) Look up “salvation” in a concordance and just start reading the verses that use that word, starting in Genesis. Stop reading when you finally find a use for that word where it means what you think it means – such as a ticket to heaven. Let me know if you ever get that far. 2) Look up the context of verses like “If you don’t believe that I am you will die in your sins” and tell me what he just said he was and who he said it to. I’ll give you a hint. He wasn’t saying “I am God.” He was saying “I am the Light,” and he was saying before Abraham God had ordained him to be a light to the nations. That’s why he said, “Before Abraham was, I am.” Recognizing him as a light was another way of saying he was a good teacher, and a prophet from God. Some of those who followed him around and saw what kind of man he was and the light he was spreading said he was a demon and for those Jesus said they would die in their sins. He wasn’t talking about people later who would be reading about him in a book and would not be convinced of some church’s highly developed views of the nature of Christ. 3) When he said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life – no man can come to the Father except by me,” please explain all the ways the risen Jesus can do that, the one who said that if he be lifted up (crucified) he would draw all men unto himself, the one who can go to any man at any time in the last 2000 years, and probably has since he said he would. Keep in mind one of the points Jesus made about being born again (literally – born from above) in John 3 is that we really can’t say just how that works. 4) Do some research on Romans and find out what issue Paul was addressing before you quote anything in Romans. Another hint: he wasn’t trying to disprove the prophets who basically said each person is responsible for his own “salvation” and must repent if they are doing wicked things and if they did they would be good with God. Paul was dealing with a particular religious attitude of the Pharisees, one that wanted to draw the circle of who’s in with God so close that only they stood on the inside. Sound familiar?
Do that first and then get back to me with your questions or refutations. Fair enough? We really can’t have an intelligent conversation about salvation if we don’t even know what it is and what it’s for.