The Reformers on Islam

At the time of the Reformation the Ottoman Empire was the leading Islamic power in the world. The Caliph or leader of Islam was the Turkish Emperor and to refer to the “Turks” was to refer to Muslims in general. It is interesting to read the opinions of Luther and Calvin on the Turks and what should be done about their threat. Luther observed that the Turks had no cause to invade the lands of others and saw them as God’s chastisement on a degenerate Christendom:

In the first place, the Turk certainly has no right or command to begin war and to attack lands that are not his. Therefore his war is nothing but an outrage and robbery with which God is punishing the world, as he often does through wicked scoundrels, and sometimes through godly people. The Turk does not fight from necessity or to protect his land in peace, as the right kind of ruler does; but, like a pirate or highwayman, he seeks to rob and ravage other lands which do and have done nothing to him. He is God’s rod and the devil’s servant [Isa. 10:5]; there is no doubt about that. (Martin Luther: On War Against the Turk.)

Calvin agrees that the Turks are being used to punish a wicked and superstitious people:

Accordingly, when the Turk now rises up haughtily against us, because he has already vanquished so great a multitude of Christians, we need not be alarmed on that account, as if the power of God were diminished, and as if he had not strength to deliver us. But we ought to consider in how many ways the inhabitants of Greece and of Asia provoked his anger, by the prevalence of every kind of base and shocking licentiousness in those countries, and by the dreadful superstitions and wickedness which abounded. On this account very severe chastisement was needed for restraining the crimes of those who made a false profession of the name of God. Hence came the prosperity of the Turk, and hence was it followed by a shockingly ruinous condition throughout the whole of the east. Yet we see him insolently raising his crest, laughing at our religion, and applauding his own in a strange manner; but still more does he applaud himself, and “sacrifice to his net,” (Habakkuk 1:16,) as we have already said of other infidels.

We ought, therefore, to direct our minds towards the judgments of God, that we may not think that the Turk acquired such extensive dominion by his own strength. But the Lord allowed him greater freedom, for the purpose of punishing the ungodliness and wickedness of men, and will at length restrain his insolence at the proper time. Now, although prosperity is a token of the blessing of God, yet we must not begin with it if we wish to form right views of God himself, as Mahometans and Papists infer from the victories which they have gained, that God is in some respects subject to their control. But when we have known the true God, blessings are added in the proper order to testify his grace and power. (Commentaries: Isaiah 36.20)

Calvin also decried the attitude of those who thought that the threat from the Turks would never reach them:

…the Jews thought that there was no danger nigh them from nations so remote, as though we were to speak of the Turks at this day, “Oh! they have to fight with other nations: let those who are near them contend with the Turks, for we may live three or four ages in quietness.” We see such indifference prevailing in the present day. Hence the Prophet, in order to deprive the Jews of this vain confidence, says that this nation was near at hand, though coming from remote quarters. (Commentaries: Jeremiah 5:15)

Luther believed that the best weapon against Islamic expansionism was for Christians to repent and get right with God. He believed the gospel should be embraced more fervently. He taught that the Emperor should take up the war against the Turks and that if called upon by the Emperor, the Christian should join in the fight. Reading his On War Against the Turk can be instructive for how Christians should respond to the jihadi threat in our time.

Antichrist as a man

Dispensationalists have brought a lot of novelty to the theology of the church in America; talk of “pre-trib rapture” and the like arose in the last 150 years. But one thing that did not come from the dispensational camp is the belief in a literal, physical man termed “the Antichrist”. You don’t have to read much of the Church Fathers to see the man referred to. Take Augustine for example, he writes of 2 Thessalonians 2.1-11 and says:

No one can doubt that he wrote this of Antichrist and of the day of judgment, which he here calls the day of the Lord, nor that he declared that this day should not come unless he first came who is called the apostate—apostate, to wit, from the Lord God. And if this may justly be said of all the ungodly, how much more of him?

Augustine discusses some various conjectures as to who the Antichrist might be and then says:

Thus various then, are the conjectural explanations of the obscure words of the apostle. That which there is no doubt he said is this, that Christ will not come to judge the quick and the dead unless Antichrist, His adversary, first come to seduce those who are dead in soul; although their seduction is a result of God’s secret judgment already passed. (City of God XX.19)

In remarks attributed to Pope Urban at Clermont which called for the First Crusade, he mentions the coming of the Antichrist as a motivation to take Jerusalem:

And you ought, furthermore, to consider with the utmost deliberation, if by your labors, God working through you, it should occur that the Mother of churches should flourish anew to the worship of Christianity, whether, perchance, He may not wish other regions of the East to be restored to the faith against the approaching time of the Antichrist. For it is clear that Antichrist is to do battle not with the Jews, not with the Gentiles; but, according to the etymology of his name, He will attack Christians. And if Antichrist finds there no Christians (just as at present when scarcely any dwell there), no one will be there to oppose him, or whom he may rightly overcome. According to Daniel and Jerome, the interpreter of Daniel, he is to fix his tents on the Mount of Olives; and it is certain, for the apostle teaches it, that he will sit at Jerusalem in the Temple of the Lord, as though he were God. And according to the same prophet, he will first kill three kings of Egypt, Africa, and Ethiopia, without doubt for their Christian faith: This, indeed, could not at all be done unless Christianity was established where now is paganism. If, therefore, you are zealous in the practice of holy battles, in order that, just as you have received the seed of knowledge of God from Jerusalem, you may in the same way restore the borrowed grace, so that through you the Catholic name may be advanced to oppose the perfidy of the Antichrist and the Antichristians then, who can not conjecture that God, who has exceeded the hope of all, will consume, in the abundance of your courage and through you as the spark, such a thicket of paganism as to include within His law Egypt, Africa, and Ethiopia, which have withdrawn from the communion of our belief? And the man of sin, the son of perdition, will find some to oppose him. Behold, the Gospel cries out, ‘Jerusalem shall be trodden down by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.’ ‘Times of the Gentiles’ can be understood in two ways: Either that they have ruled over the Christians at their pleasure, and have gladly frequented the sloughs of all baseness for the satisfaction of their lusts, and in all this have had no obstacle (for they who have everything according to their wish are said to have their time; there is that saying: ‘My time is not yet come, but your time is always ready,’ whence the lustful are wont to say ‘you are having your time’). Or, again, ‘the times of the Gentiles’ are the fulness of time for those Gentiles who shall have entered secretly before Israel shall be saved. These times, most beloved brothers, will now, forsooth, be fulfilled, provided the might of the pagans be repulsed through You, with the cooperation of God. With the end of the world already near, even though the Gentiles fail to be converted t the Lord (since according to the apostle there must be a withdrawal from the faith), it is first necessary, according to their prophecy, that the Christian sway be renewed in those regions either through you, or others, whom it shall please God to send before the coming of Antichrist, so that the head of all evil, who is to occupy there the throne of the kingdom, shall find some support of the faith to fight against him.

And more recently within the Reformed tradition Herman Ridderbos discussed the Antichrist in his Paul, An Outline of His Theology:

The most striking thing of course is that this power inimical to God is concentrated here in the figure of what Paul calls the man of lawlessness…In this striking qualification Paul’s corporate way of thinking unquestionably plays a part. Just as elsewhere he places Adam and Christ over against one another as the first and second “man,” as the great representatives of two different orders of men, so the figure of “the man of lawlessness” is clearly intended as the final, eschatological counterpart of the man Jesus Christ, who was sent by God to overthrow the works of Satan. The traits with which the man of lawlessness is described in 2 Thessalonians 2 provide the clearest evidence that not only the prophecy of Daniel, but the appearance and the glory of the man Jesus Christ himself as well determined the representation of the man of sin. His coming, just as that of Christ, is called a parousia; it is marked by all manner of powers, signs, and wonders, like those of Christ in the past;

This belief is not new, it is attested by the universal church.

Jesus vs. Islam

     In his “Dialogues with a Muslim”, Manuel II Palaiologos writes:

     Now I would like to refute your pretension of attributing the highest dignity to the law of Mohammed. I will speak concisely and simply.
     First there came the law of Moses, which you judge imperfect. This law set down in writing circumcision and everything that your law later took from it. Then came baptism and chrismation and our other mysteries and a better and more perfect law than the first. That our law is better than that of Moses you yourself have admitted. But then with your law there comes again circumcision and practically all the precepts of the first law.
     If this is the case, how can you call it progress? Is there any right order in this? None at all, I am sure you will admit. It is like turning in circles, or going from what is higher back to what is lower.

People of the Book

     James Jordan has written that the writers of the Old Testament were “highly educated priests and Levites…The Bible is not written in parole Hebrew, but in written and also hieratic Hebrew. It is written in a line by men in a line, men who were a small majority at odds with their surrounding idol and high-place Israelite culture.” 
     I love this idea that the writers of the sacred books were not ignorant men, they were educated in what matters – both in terms of God and man. Michael Fishbane suggests that there were scribal guilds or schools based on I Chronicles 2.55, “The clans also of the scribes who lived at Jabez…” Fishbane points to Ecclesiastes 12.9-12 as an example of the compilation activity of a scribe. He points to the royal transmission of literature in Proverbs 25.1, “These also are the proverbs of Solomon which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied.”
     This devotion to the book, to writing, to reading and living the word of God is continued in our day. The Anglican tradition tells priests when they are ordained to “consider how studious ye ought to be in reading and learning the Scriptures, and in framing the manners both of yourselves, and of them that specially pertain unto you, according to the rule of the same Scriptures; and for this self-same cause, how ye ought to forsake and set aside, as much as ye may, all worldly cares and studies.”

AMiA Ordaining Women

Bad news! It is not surprising, but is very sad, that the AMiA is continuing to reject the entire history of the Church – Old Covenant and New Covenant – and is ordaining women to the priesthood; see this newsletter. The priestess in question pastors a church in Canada. Increasingly, the AMiA looks a lot like CANA on the national level, and that’s not a good thing. I hope to say more soon about the recent issue of WAVE that came out and which was uninspiring on many levels.

If the Anglican Church in North America does not repent and get right on this issue, it will have no coherent ground to stand on when facing relativism all around. Rejecting the Bible, the canon law, the history of the Church until radicals in the last century innovated – this will continue to undermine the very Gospel that ACNA seeks to spread. It will also lead people the faithful to Rome, to the East, to groups like TPEC or the CRE.

In the short term, the number of faithful and vital Anglican congregations is the size of a man’s hand. Lord be merciful to us and increase our faithfulness.