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FIRST-PERSON: No small furor; one great truth

SNELLVILLE, Ga. (BP)–Christianity and Islam have been engaged in an open battle for the souls of men and women for more than a thousand years. A recent remark by my dear friend, the Rev. Jerry Vines, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Fla., reminded many of us again that the battle is real and ongoing.

Preaching to the Southern Baptist Convention’s Pastors’ Conference, Vines made comments about the biography of Muhammad that caused no small furor. Muhammad, known to Muslims as the Prophet, was criticized by Vines as a “demon-possessed pedophile.” One could have immediately predicted that this would have shocked the politically correct crowd, whose creed is tolerance and whose cry is “live and let live.”

Only those familiar with the history of the relationship between Christianity and Islam would recognize that Vines stated certain points that have been an ongoing matter of debate. In fact, Vines has even invited Muslim scholars to explain the statements of their own historical sources from which he had drawn his comments and from which he had documented his statement.

One must not miss, however, the fact that the real substance of the controversy is not whether Vines was accurate in what he said, or whether he identified his sources. The real problem is that he would make such a statement in the day and age in which we live.

One cannot understand his comments about Muhammad unless they understand the all-important “context” of the statement. Vines was reminding preachers of their responsibility to preach that salvation comes through Jesus Christ and only through Jesus Christ. It was also in the context of emphasizing that, unlike Muhammad or any other human being who has ever lived, Jesus Christ was totally sinless, the divine Son of God, who — contrary to the teachings of Islam — did indeed literally die on a cross, was indeed literally raised from the dead, and is indeed the only way that a person can have a true relationship with God.

Concomitant to that is the obvious inference that Christianity is indeed superior to all other systems of belief. In fact, not only is Christianity superior — it is vastly different. It is vastly different for this reason: Islam is a religion; Buddhism is a religion; Hinduism is a religion; Christianity is not a religion. It is a personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ, and it is affected only by the grace of a loving God who sent his Son to die for our sins.

The fact of the matter is, the one the Muslims call Allah is vastly different from the God that Christians worship. The God that Christians worship is a God of love, mercy and grace who has already provided for eternal life through the death and resurrection of his Son. Islam, like all other religions, is a religion of works and fear.

I know Jerry Vines as a dear friend, a godly pastor and a genuine Christian who desires to see all people come to a knowledge of the truth of Jesus Christ and place their faith in him. It is important to note that he certainly did not question the rights of Muslims to believe what they believe, nor would he ever by force coerce anyone else to become a Christian. He simply spoke what he felt was the truth in love.

One thing that Bible-believing Christians and Muslims faithful to their own beliefs both agree on is this — truth matters supremely. The Muslim believes he has the truth; we Christians believe we have the truth. But the one truth that every Muslim must confront — indeed every human being must confront — is this truth — that Jesus Christ himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through Me.” This statement was made by a man in whom anyone has yet to find any sin. That cannot be said of Muhammad or anyone else.
Merritt is the immediate past president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of the Atlanta-area First Baptist Church of Snellville.

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  • James Merritt