Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Is there a Christian answer to Fervent Islam?

There is a secular answer: let all Islam become like it is in Turkey, i.e. “Secular Islam.” Islamic intellectuals here and there seem to have taken that position, but it isn’t widely accepted. Whatever pressure was placed upon Iraq, for example, to become more like Turkey religiously, has failed. This is the only hand Western secularism has played and it has failed.

So if there is to be ongoing religious fervor in Islam, does the West have anything to contend with it? I am making the assumption here that in religious terms fervor will win out over apathy. I am not ruling out the possibility that Islam may eventually become as apathetic as Christianity has (largely), but am assuming for the sake of discussion that it will not.

Backing up a little, there are modern cases of Christian fervor. Jim Jones exhibited quite a bit of it when he took his congregation to Guiana a few years ago. We have seen another example in Harold Camping’s prediction that the world would end on May 21st. Both Jones and Camping were without doubt fervent, but that isn’t the sort of fervency we need if the West is to offer a viable alternative to Islam.

I’ve been reading Heresies, The Image of Christ in the Mirror of Heresy and Orthodoxy from the Apostles to the Present by Harold O. J. Brown. Christian theology developed to quell the various heresies that developed throughout Western history, but the tendency of Christians to become lax in their religious practice invites heretics to rise up with their fervent alternative. One of the earliest Church “Fathers” was Tertullian of Carthage, “a Roman jurist turned Christian (ca. 160 – ca. 230): ‘What has Athens to do with Jerusalem, or the Stoa with the Porch of Solomon?’” Tertullian asked. He saw no need to integrate Christianity into society or society into Christianity. One needed only to hunker down into Christian society and be what Christ asked of his disciples. But Tertullian was bitterly disappointed in what he experienced there. The Christians he knew lacked, or perhaps lost, the sort of fervor Tertullian wished for.

Even though Tertullian became one of the pioneers of Christian theology in Latin, “in the latter part of his life, he found the church too lax, and went over to a heretical ‘reform’ movement, Montanism.” [Brown, p. 43]

Interestingly, Montanism has much in common withPentacostalism and the Charismatic Movement. Wace & Piercy in their A Dictionary of Christian Biography, page 738 write, “ He [Montanus] taught that God’s supernatural revelations did not end with the apostles, but that even more wonderful manifestations of the divine energy might be expected under the dispensation of the Paraclete [the Greek term for the Holy Spirit as “comforter” and “teacher”]. . . Montanus claimed to be a prophet and spoke in a kind of possession or ecstasy.”

While the actual “prophecies” delivered by Montanus and his disciples weren’t in themselves heretical, “what condemned the prophesyings in the minds of the church authorities was the frenzied ecstasy in which they were delivered.”

But that wasn’t the Montanists’ only problem. Like Harold Camping, they predicted the “end of the world” with no better accuracy than his. Orthodox Christianity put a cap on the Charismatic gifts, but Montanus took it off. One of his prophets, Priscilla, “had seen in a vision Christ come in the form of a woman in a bright garment, who inspired her with wisdom and informed her that Pepuza was the holy place and that there the New Jerusalem was to descend from heaven. Thenceforth Pepuza and the neighbouring village Tymium became the Montanist holy place, habitually spoken of as Jerusalem. . . .” [Wace & Piercy, p 739]

I am not a fan of the Charismatics and Pentecostals for the same reason that Montanism was declared a heresy. If anyone can prophesy then who is to decide which prophesies are valid? And if any are valid, must they be set alongside the Scriptures? But Charismatic and Pentecostal churches grow and Orthodox churches decline because the former are fervent and the later are not. As humans we want to follow someone exciting who “fervently” tells us what is true and what is not. Unfortunately these fervent individuals have been as human as the rest of us and their teachings have in various ways failed. We know of Montanism today only because of the Christian Apologists who “fervently” attacked it.

“The personal commitment and pattern of life of contemporary religious groups Orthodoxy calls deeply heretical, such as Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses . . . is precisely what one ought to be able to expect from orthodox Christians if they really believe in the truth of the doctrines to which their creedal and confessional positions formally commit them.” [Brown, p. 451]

An “orthodox fervency” is possible in this modern world, but it needs to be “in the world” in order to be effective, and in order to be there it needs to maintain a high level of religious consciousness in order to avoid succumbing to “that very-tempting-world.” Paul once told the Christians to follow him as he followed Christ. Who could say that today? Paul could go into Athens and preach the “unknown God.” Who would be willing to go into Athens today with that sort of fervency? Christians feel safer hunkering down in their little religious ghettos. That’s surely better than nothing, but a cloud is forming over them:

The following is from “Hudson New York” http://www.hudson-ny.org/1536/islam-religion-of-europe

“According to the Pew Research Center, Islam is already the fastest-growing religion in Europe, where the number of Muslims has tripled over the past 30 years. Most demographers forecast a similar or even higher rate of growth in the coming decades. . . Europe is spiritually beset by a morally relativistic post-modern worldview that encourages indifference to religion, especially of the Judeo-Christian variety. Religious apathy, induced by secular humanism, has emerged as the defining characteristic of contemporary European society; has created a huge spiritual vacuum that Islam is eager, willing and determined to fill.”

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