Some well-reasoned and Biblical thoughts below from Andy Sochor on the recent controversy over burning copies of the Quran on the anniversary of the September 11th attacks.
A small church in Gainesville, Florida has caused no small disturbance with their plan to host a Quran burning this Saturday to mark the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Terry Jones, the leader of this church, has been urged by Muslims, religious leaders, and government officials to cancel the event for fear of violence that could erupt. The latest news, at the time of this writing, is that the event has been cancelled, but that Jones could still change his mind. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, happens.
But what about this? Is this something a church ought to be doing? Jones and his church are well within their legal and Constitutional rights to burn copies of the Quran (assuming they are their own personal copies and not stolen). But that’s not what we’re going to discuss here. Instead, we want to consider whether or not a Christian should burn copies of the Quran as this church had planned to do.
As Christians, our prime objective in regards to those we encounter in the world is to convert them to Christ. How do we accomplish this? Do we burn the Quran, book of Mormon, denominational creed books, and every other writing that contradicts Scripture? Of course not. Instead we show the clear distinction between the words of God and the words of man. Notice what Paul says of the spiritual battle in which we are currently engaged:
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)
We must not ignore or give in to sin and error. But at the same time, we are not to use carnal tactics to advance the cause of Christ. We must certainly work to destroy speculations, but this is not done by burning the books which contain these errors. Rather, it is by refuting these teachings in our proclamation of the gospel.
With the spread of the gospel as our concern, we should have the same attitude as Paul who desired to “cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:12). Would burning a stack of Qurans at a public event hinder our influence in teaching the gospel? I believe it certainly would. Look at the reaction Terry Jones has received — overwhelming condemnation and very little (if any) support.
Of course, we must understand that at times, teaching the gospel will be offensive to those who hear it. This should come as no surprise since Jesus offended people (Matthew 15:12). Passing judgment upon others has become a cardinal sin in our society. Yet God’s word itself judges “the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). If we teach the word in its completeness, we cannot avoid offending or being accused of judging others.
Therefore, the simple act of offending someone is not necessarily wrong. What matters is how they become offended. If one is offended because we teach the truth in its simplicity and purity, there is nothing we can do about that. But we should not go out of our way to offend others through our actions, such as hosting a public burning of the Quran. “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity” (Colossians 4:5). An event like this does nothing to help our cause of being a light to the world around us (cf. Matthew 5:14-16).
What about the newly converted Christians in Ephesus burning their magic books? The text contains no indication of divine condemnation for their action. Is this parallel to the planned burning of the Quran? Let us notice the passage:
This became known to all, both Jews and Greeks, who lived in Ephesus; and fear fell upon them all and the name of the Lord Jesus was being magnified. Many also of those who had believed kept coming, confessing and disclosing their practices. And many of those who practiced magic brought their books together and began burning them in the sight of everyone; and they counted up the price of them and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing. (Acts 19:17-20)
The difference between this event in Ephesus and the planned event in Gainesville has to do with the purpose behind the book burning. The Quran burning is an act of defiance and condemnation of the teachings and practice of Islam. When the Ephesians burned their magic books, it was an act of repentance. Some of them had previously practiced magic and this made it clear that they were no longer going to be engaged in this type of activity. Now, if we convert a group of Muslims to Christ, and they decide to burn their copies of the Quran, that’s another matter. But to do what Jones had planned is totally unnecessary and indicates a lack of wisdom in how to deal with those in the world.
We know that the Bible is the truth (Psalm 119:160; John 17:17). Because it is the truth, it will withstand any scrutiny and any comparison to the Quran or other books. Instead of burning the Quran, we ought to be sharpening our swords (Ephesians 6:17) and preparing to teach others about Islam in order to try to lead them to the truth of Christ.
In the end, this is one matter that we ought to leave in the hands of God. We do not need to burn the Quran. He will handle that Himself when Christ returns and “the earth and its works will be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10).