DO MUSLIMS & CHRISTIANS WORSHIP THE SAME GOD?
JACK COTTRELL (composed NOVEMBER 14, 2015)
Islam is the world’s second largest religion, with around two billion adherents. This is nearly one-fourth of the world’s population. Fifty countries are mostly Muslim. Europe has around 50 million Muslims, and the USA around 7 million. These numbers are increasing rapidly.
But isn’t that a good thing? Aren’t Muslims a religious people, and isn’t Islam similar to Christianity? Don’t we both trace our faith back to the Old Testament, to Abraham? Don’t Christians and Muslims worship the same God? In 2007 George W. Bush said, “I believe that all the world, whether they be Muslim, Christian, or any other religion, prays to the same God.” Catholicism’s Second Vatican Council (early 1960s) said, “The Muslims profess the faith of Abraham and worship with us the sole merciful God.” A 1994 Catholic catechism repeated, “Together with us Muslims adore the one merciful God.” In a 2011 poll, 40% of evangelical Christians said Christians and Muslims worship the same God. Even the Muslims’ own holy book, the Q’uran (29:46) says, speaking of Christians, “Our God [ALLAH] and your God is one.”
The implication is that Christianity and true Islam are practically brothers; faithful Muslims are religious and God-fearing; thus they must be peace-loving. The implication is that we have nothing to fear from this religion in its true form. Of course there are radical Muslims—the jihadists, the terrorists like ISIS. But aren’t these just deviant fanatics who have twisted what real Islam believes? Surely, if we are all worshiping the same God, we can “rest in peace” about our future.
If this is what you think, I have two words for you: WAKE UP!! The fact is that the Islamic religion practiced by the ISIS terrorists is more true to real Islam than what passes for Islam in our general culture. In reality, there is no religion more opposed to Christianity than Islam, and there is no alliance more determined to suppress Christianity and dominate the world than Islam.
In my youth the single greatest threat to world peace was Communism; the single greatest enemy of Christianity was Communism; the most likely candidate to be the anti-Christ was Communism. Today these roles are all filled by Islam—and not just the jihadists, but the religion as such.
In this essay I cannot go into all the problems of the Muslim religion, nor into all the reasons why it is so dangerous to Christianity and the world. My purpose is simply to explain the most basic error that many folks have about Islam, namely, the FALSE idea that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. Only under-informed people from both the Christian and the Muslim sides believe that Allah and Yahweh (the God of the Bible) are the same.
Before going into detail I will summarize my main point. The question is this: WHO IS GOD, and HOW DO WE KNOW? We know who God is only because of revelation. He has revealed himself to human beings from Eden onward. But here is a very important point: he did not reveal everything about himself all at once, from the beginning. In Old Testament times God got serious about revealing himself from the time of Abraham onward (c. 2000 B.C.), and then really serious from the time of Moses (c. 1500 B.C.). For the next 1000 or 1100 years (up to Malachi, c. 430 B.C.) God was revealing himself as YAHWEH, the one true God. This revelation is recorded in the Old Testament. Then came centuries of silence.
Then after about 400 years, God began revealing himself again, but this time with a HUGE, GIGANTIC SURPRISE! In the first century A.D. SOMETHING HAPPENED that forever shows that Allah is a false God and that Islam is a false religion. What happened? JESUS CAME! I will now explain in detail what this means.
ONE: GOD REVEALED HIMSELF IN OLD TESTAMENT TIMES IN HIS ONENESS. This oneness included two things: Yahweh is the ONE AND ONLY God. Also, in his nature Yahweh is just ONE GOD; he is not a collection of deities, like the individual gods of Olympus.
This ONENESS of God is affirmed often in the Old Testament. In Exodus 20:2-3 the first of the Ten Commandments says, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me.” The Jews’ “golden text” (Deut. 6:4) says, “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!” Isaiah 44:6 declares, “Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last, and there is no God besides Me.’” See also Isaiah 45:5, 18, 22 – “I am the LORD, and there is no other; besides Me there is no God…. I am the LORD, and there is none else…. Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.”
This ONENESS of God continued to be emphasized in the New Testament. Mark 12:28-29 records a scribe asking Jesus, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD….’” In 1 Timothy 1:17 Paul says, “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” James 2:19 says, “You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.” See also Romans 3:29-30; Galatians 3:20.
Now, if Islam had been invented in the context of OT revelation only (e.g., in the 7th century B.C. instead of the 7th century A.D.), its deity, Allah, would have sounded much the same as Yahweh. This is because in Muslim thought the main thing about Allah is his oneness: “There is no God but Allah.”
BUT here’s the deal: the OT revelation of God is not the whole picture, since the OLD Testament is not God’s final word! There is more about God than meets the eye in OT times, simply because God did not choose to reveal EVERYTHING about himself in those days!
(Here’s an illustration—and it is JUST an illustration: I am going to tell you something about myself NOW, that I have never told anyone before—something about WHO I AM. Here’s the deal: I am actually just ONE of three identical triplets. Sometimes you have seen one of me, sometimes another, and at other times the third. One of me is the social JACKIE, seen around the community and in local stores and restaurants. But then there is JACK, the recluse who hides in his home office and just studies and writes. The third “me” is JACQUES; he’s the one whom you see at church and who travels around and preaches occasionally. So now you know: there is more to me than you thought, up to now! Remember: this is just an illustration! It leads me to my other point, though it is not exactly parallel to my illustration.)
TWO. IN NEW TESTAMENT TIMES (BEGINNING WITH JESUS CHRIST) GOD HAS REVEALED HIMSELF IN HIS THREENESS. I.e., though he is just ONE GOD, he is three distinct persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. We call this THE TRINITY. (In this essay I do not intend to discuss the concept of the Trinity as such; see my book, God Most High: What the Bible Says About God, chapter 20).
Our question here is this: Why did God wait so long to make his threeness known? Simply because there was no need for anyone to know this in OT times. So what changed in the NT era? With Jesus, the time came to work the works of salvation! In the OT era there were prophecies of the cross and of the resurrection, and of the coming work of the Spirit; but now it is time for this saving work to actually be done! The work of salvation is something only God can do, and it actually involves SEVERAL different works, and these various works are divided among the distinct persons of the Trinity.
One person (God the SON, the LOGOS) enters our universe and becomes a human being (Jesus), and he alone goes to the cross and experiences death for our sins. Then three days later he is raised from the dead—with the help of God the FATHER and God the SPIRIT. Forty days later he ascends to the right hand of the Father in the angelic heaven. Then after ten more days, on the Day of Pentecost, the risen, ascended, and enthroned God the Son turns to the third person of the Trinity—God the Spirit—and says, “OK, now it’s YOUR TURN! They are waiting for you. I told my followers you would come to them now that I have gone. So it’s time for you to place your power upon them. They are already gathered in worship, in the presence of thousands of other Jews. Now, Holy Spirit – do your thing!” What happens next is described in Acts 2.
Thus God reveals his threeness to us in connection with the working out of our salvation. This is how we now know, in NT times, that God is still ONE, but he is MORE than one: he is also THREE. How to explain this is a mystery we may never penetrate. It has no real parallel in human experience. (One possible illustration: a computer system can have ONE SERVER, with THREE PCs attached. But that’s another story.)
Here is the main point: we can no longer say we believe in the ONE TRUE GOD if we do not also accept him as the three persons of the Trinity! And Muslims adamantly refuse to accept the idea that God is a Trinity of divine persons. Thus they refuse to believe in the same God that Christians worship. As Christians we are committed to a belief in God as three persons from the very beginning of our Christian lives. Let me ask you: when you became a Christian, into whose name were you baptized? Into the name of “God”? No. Into the name of “Yahweh”? No. Into the name of “Allah”? A thousand times NO! Well, how about—into “the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit?” ABSOLUTELY! You see, in the Great Commission Jesus forever finalized the revelation of the threeness (Trinity) of God when he commanded us to baptize into the one name of THE FATHER, THE SON, and THE HOLY SPIRIT (Matt. 28:18-20). This is the Christian’s God!
A crucial aspect of this new knowledge of God is the divine nature of Jesus. Jesus is God! This is the point of the very title, “Son of God” (see John 5:18; 10:33, 36). Also, Jesus is specifically identified with God in John 1:1, 14 – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the word WAS GOD. . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” In John 20:28, the apostle Thomas confesses Jesus as “My Lord and my God,” and is not rebuked or corrected by Jesus. Colossians 2:9 says, “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form.” In Revelation 5:8-12 (as in John 20:28), Jesus is worshiped. See especially John 5:23, where Jesus says that it is the Father’s will “that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.” To refuse to worship Jesus the Son is to also refuse to worship the Father.
Once the church began, the main reason why so many Jews (who believed in Yahweh as they knew him from OT revelation) were rejected by God was this: they refused to accept the new revelation of the threeness of God and of the divine nature of Jesus! (See Romans 11:20.) As long as Muslims likewise refuse to accept this revelation, they cannot claim to be worshiping the true God.
Here is the #1 reason why Islam is not a TRUE religion, and why it is nothing like Christianity. The “god” Muslims worship is not the true God! “Allah” is not the God of the Bible—Yahweh, the one true God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Indeed, the “Allah” whom Muslims worship does not exist. Those committed to Islam, like so many Jews in the church age, have closed their minds and hearts to the true God. They have specifically and vehemently rejected God as Trinity: as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They adamantly reject the sonship and the divine nature of Jesus—and thus the salvation he brings. Jesus either IS or IS NOT the Son of God who is God in the flesh. Jesus either IS or IS NOT the eternal God in the human person of Jesus. Jesus either IS or IS NOT one of the three persons of the divine Trinity. The Muslim religion says he IS NOT, and thus unambiguously separates itself from the true God.
THREE. WHAT LESSONS CAN WE LEARN FROM THIS?
First, we must not hesitate to speak the truth, which includes exposing all false doctrines and false religions, including Islam. In Acts 20:28-31 the Apostle Paul gives this admonition to the elders at the church in Ephesus: “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert . . . .” In Ephesians 4:14 Paul warns us to be on guard against being “tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming.” In Titus 1:9 he says that a church leader must be “holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.”
Second, we must realize that just because Islam is a religion, this does not mean it is a TRUE religion. Just because it affirms belief in “one god,” this does not mean that their god is the one TRUE God. Just because many Muslims say (perhaps sincerely) that they want to live in peace with Christianity, this does not mean that true Islam, rightly understood, is a friend of Christianity. I can guarantee all of you who are non-Muslims that you do not want to live in a world, or a country, run by Muslims and governed by Islamic law. Christianity in our time has no greater enemy on earth than Islam.
Third, the fact remains that Jesus said: LOVE YOUR ENEMIES! (Matt. 5:44). So we must love Muslims, and recognize that without their acceptance of the true God, they are lost for eternity. And if we love them, we will want them to know this. And finally, if we love them, we will try to lead them to the knowledge of the true God and to the knowledge of salvation in Jesus Christ.