You couldn’t watch or listen to the news for more than a few minutes this week without hearing about the Florida pastor’s plan to burn Korans on the anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks.
After it was reported that General Petraus had expressed his concerns that this could very easily put American soldiers and expatriates at risk in Afghanistan and other countries, I wrote an email to Pastor Jones asking him to reconsider his plans – both as a brother in Christ and as a fellow leader in ministry.
I don’t know if he actually received or read my email. But given that both the State Department and the White House have found it necessary to weigh in on this, my words seem fairly insignificant anyway.
It is now being reported that others are also planning to burn copies of Islam’s holy book, even though Pastor Jones may be ready to change his mind. (Although even as late as 6:00 PM on Friday evening, Fox News is reporting that it still isn’t certain exactly what he is finally going to do.)
I’m quite sure that even though emotions might be running high on the eve of 9/11, there are probably few, if any, ABI readers who would remotely consider such a plan as being anything but ill-conceived and misguided for any number of practical reasons. But the bigger question is whether or not there are biblical principles that should guide and inform our thinking about this. Does the Bible have anything to say about what we can and should do concerning such religious materials – things that arguably contribute to the kind of evil worldview that spawned those horrific events nine years ago?
In the Old Testament we find multiple examples of God’s clear instructions to burn and destroy everything related to the worship of false gods. However, the historical context (Israel’s conquest, settlement and rule over Canaan) and God’s purpose for commanding such actions are equally clear – and we, as Christians, are not at all in a similar situation. On the other hand, there is an incident in the New Testament that does give insight into what is almost certainly the right strategy for us in this age.
In Acts chapter 19, we find an extended report concerning Paul’s two-year ministry in Ephesus (a city in the region that would later be at the heart of the Ottoman empire). As you may recall, at the end of those two years, Paul and his ministry team found themselves in an extremely dangerous situation. The entire city was in an uproar and they were out for blood. Crowding into the city’s amphitheater, the angry mob dragged Gaius and Aristarchus in with them as they shouted religious chants against them for two hours nonstop.
Do you remember what it was that ultimately sparked this riot? A religious book-burning!
But, who was it that was burning whose books? It was a group of men who had responded to the proclamation of the gospel – men whose hearts had been completely changed through faith in Christ – men who consequently burned their own religious books (worth a small fortune)!
I wonder if there might be a lesson there…