Author: Thomas Cosmades
Basic differences, even contradictions among religions, are an actuality. An expression which we may call conciliatory is often voiced: three monotheistic religions of the world – Judaism, Christianity and Islam are described in this way. It is worth considering if this usage has a unifying element, or not. The three religions to which ordinary folks refer as monotheistic are basically discordant and in many cases antithetical. Monotheism, as is being used today, starts with Abraham. The historic significance of monotheistic belief is seen in the course of history by Abraham’s faith in the One God and God’s reckoning it to him for righteousness (cf. Genesis 15:6).
Jesus Christ is from Abraham’s family as far as human line is concerned. Jesus explained Abraham’s monotheism with striking language: “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day; he saw it and was glad.” When the Jewish religious leaders heard this emphatic statement of Jesus at the temple, they became aggravated: “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” Then they grabbed stones. They were pursuing a hazardous objective, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple (cf. John 8:56-59). His hour of death had not yet arrived. Jewish rejection of Jesus has been a long tradition. These people whose history stretches four thousand years back to Abraham, at the end of the ages, will believe in Jesus Christ. This is one of the distinct prophetic revelations in God’s Word (cf. Zechariah 12:10; Isaiah 44:3; 59:20; Ezekiel 39:29; Psalm 14:7; Romans 11:26; Revelation 1:7).
The New Testament addresses everybody in precise emphasis: “For Christ is the end of the law, that every one who has faith may be justified” (Romans 10:4). The monotheism of the religion which does not acknowledge Christ as the termination of the Law is captive to legal formalism. The adherent of that religion is the picture of a person groping to find his/her way to fulfillment of life. This endeavor is nothing short of the effort to be a slave of a despotic God under the heavy burden of the law; whereas God, who is love, does not seek slaves, but children. He is not in search of Umma (world-wide community of the faithful), but of individual men and women devoted to the faith of Abraham.
THE BELIEF PROJECTED IN THE NEW TESTAMENT IS MONOTHEISM
After having referred cursorily to Judaism − being outside of the subject − we ought to direct our attention to Islam which is on center stage around the world. He/she, who acknowledges Jesus Christ as the pre-existent Person from the eons, the Creator, but uncreated Word, is an unwavering believer of Tathlis (description of trinitarianism in Islam. Arabic: enlarging to three.) Christ is the eternal God who appeared in flesh. Against this belief, the Muslim is an unswerving devotee of Tawhid (Unitarianism in the strictest sense: one Allah alone, with no concession whatsoever.) These two words divide sharply the monotheism of Christianity and that of Islam. This irreconcilable division may disappoint the advocates of idealistic monotheism along with syncretism in our day.
The teaching of God’s Word and the firm belief of Christ’s follower who espouses the fact of the One in Three and Three in One godhead center on this truth. Whoever deviates from this divine fact is a heretic according to the historic Christian faith. Among these are the Arians, Jehovah’s Witnesses (Russelites), Unitarians and the most committed of all, Muslims. All councils throughout the history of the Christian church have interpreted the New Testament in adherence to the Tathlis (Trinitarian) stance. They explain the Christian faith in the light of this God-inspired truth (cf. Matthew 28:19; John 14:26; 15:26; 2 Corinthians 13:14; 2 Thessalonians 3:5; Hebrews 9:14; 1 Peter 1:2, etc.) Every person acquainted with a major language should study the Christian classic, ‘Trinity’, written by Augustine of Hippo (354-430). In this book written by a redeemed and illuminated intellectual theologian the reader can find the answer to his unending queries. Augustine’s handling of this truth based on the Holy Scriptures has addressed whole centuries and instructed millions.
MYSTERIOUS UNITY OF GOD’S PERSONALITY
It is not wrong at all to say that Islam’s fierce objection to the belief of Tathlis is centered on the doctrine of Tawhid. Reference to the Quran takes the person to the very root of the militant contention always expressed by the informed Muslim. “But the unbelievers among the people of the Book, and among the Polytheists, shall go into the fire of Gehenna to abide there for aye. Of all creatures, are they the worst!” (El-Beyinne : 6). The title in English of the mentioned Sura is ‘Clear Evidence.’
It is a known fact that according to Islam those who believe in the triune godhead throughout history are mentioned as ‘kâfir’ (blasphemous, or infidel). Tathlis is the most terrifying sin. All sins can be forgiven, but from the Islamic viewpoint, attributing any partner (Shirk, Ishrak) to Allah or making someone equal to him can never be forgiven, whereas in Christianity belief in Tathlis (trinitarianism) is the most meaningful and profound ground of truth. God, Three in One, One in Three, is the very Being of the supernatural RAB (LORD): Father, Son (Word) and Holy Spirit. This is the irrefutable manifestation of the One God revealing himself in Three Persons. In this basic teaching, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, each One separately and yet jointly is the One God. It is a spiritual perception, explained in the New Testament in the following mysterious wording: “God was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory” (1 Timothy 3:16).
This is the Biblical belief of monotheism. God is seen in man’s creation, redemption and sanctification. He does all these as One God in three distinct Persons. This understanding can only be attained with supernatural perception. The end result of approaching the concept of God in the simplified formula of one+one+one = three, with any further argument excluded, is religion put into a straight jacket. Such simplistic determinism is witnessed everywhere. However, the truth of the matter is stated in the profoundest manner: “The Word became flesh” (John 1:14). This is the fundamental teaching of the New Testament, the eternal God taking on flesh without any violation of his Supreme Being. This carries our attention to the record in Genesis that man was created in the image of God.
Tawhid is a view which takes away the element of mystery from the godhead, formulating a hasty and austere axiom. The attainment of truth can only be realized through investigation. Theology and natural science succinctly teach this. It ought to be remembered that all assertions which run contrary to truth are human inventions. Conversely, truth is eternal and embraces all eons. The comprehension of this can be appreciated by investigating every subject in its entirety and full objectivity, obtaining answers with divine-historic perspective. Again, it is befitting to go to a verse in the Quran which is known to almost everybody: In the last day Allah is interrogating Jesus by addressing him as ‘son of Mary’. Allah asks him if he taught man, “Take me and my mother for two gods, beside God.” Jesus replies that he has not done such a thing, and if he did, Allah would have known (Al-Ma’ide :116). The English title of the Sura is ‘The Table’. It is clearly seen here that the three gods to whom reference is made are Allah, Jesus and Mary. It will also be helpful to look at the seventy-third and seventy-fifth verses of Al-Ma’ide.
THE ORIGIN OF THE FIERCE CONTENTION
The doctrine of Tathlis has to do with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. How could it be that Mary finds her way into the three-in-one one-in-three godhead? At no period in history has it ever been heard that the Christian faith espoused such an earthly and ridiculous belief. Deviation to such a disparaging assumption has been rebuffed more profoundly by Trinitarian Christians than by the Islamic rejection of it. People who have believed in the triune godhead never allowed such a preposterous invasion of the truth of the Trinity. It is self-evident that in the Quran a viewpoint is proposed which runs contrary to the historical-theological course. At this juncture we are reminded of the obligation to be conscientious in the objective search for truth. Truth does not allow anyone an escape route. From where could the prophet of Islam have obtained this information which is without concrete confirmation? The person who takes up an objective historic study will encounter no difficulty in obtaining the right answer to the belief of Islam.
Prior to the appearance of Islam in the fifth century there existed a peculiar cluster of people which worshipped and honored Aphrodite (Venus), whom they considered the queen of heaven. With the spread of Christianity these pagans switched to the new faith without exactly knowing what it was. Worst of all, they didn’t search the Christian scriptures. However, these heathen did not wish to abandon the adoration of Aphrodite. They found an easy solution by naming her ‘Mary’. This way Aphrodite became Mary. Such a bewildering belief was condemned outright by the Christians of the time and was rejected as being part of their faith. It was categorized as a heretical cult. Nevertheless, its adherents continued serving and venerating Mary as Queen of Heaven. Thus Mary was enthroned on Venus’ seat. The cult was so thoroughly devoted to Mary that her importance surpassed that of God and Christ. Its followers came to be known as ‘Miriamists’. Both in their teaching and practice a triune formula was venerated with Mary at the head. The prophet of Islam who in his commercial enterprises traveled from the Arab Peninsula to Damascus and Aleppo became acquainted with the Miriamists. He listened to the tenets of their religion and formed an idea. The most regrettable formulation in his mind was to equate the Miriamists with the Christians. Being illiterate according to Islamic legend he considered Jesus Christ an element in their teaching. This opinion passed into the Quran. The Muslim prophet, not having understood the true Persons of the Holy Trinity strayed to erroneous beliefs and practices. Following the spread of Islam the Miriamists this time embraced the prophet’s religion and their cult withered. But the essence of this deviate teaching could not be wiped out. It even influenced Islam considerably in its reverence of Mother Mary.
If the Muslim chooses to study the evidences of objective history he can delve into the depth of the encumbrances and misgivings which trouble him. Quite likely they will evaporate and the spring of heretical teachings will be exposed in front of his eyes. When a religion is deprived from objective search and evidence it finds itself in perplexing quandaries, causing its followers to row in rough waters.
ELEMENTS OF BELIEF THAT BACKFIRE
The teaching of Tawhid so predominant in Islam, robs God of personhood and from a healthy relationship with his creatures. It reduces him to an unloving, unloved entity, unable to make his dwelling in his believers’ inner life. Allah cannot use attributes employed by man, i.e., Father, Son, etc. He cannot provide atonement for the sinner, neither new birth nor certainty of eternal life. He is a harsh master of slaves, who dictates to and regulates rules on his followers. Men and women attached to such a religion cannot enter into life-relationship with the living God. They cannot call on God as their father. They are orphans on this God-created earth.
The adherent of Tawhid is deprived of the unlimited blessings of the three-in-one, one-in-three godhead. This God astounds his/her believer with the blessings he bestows: unqualified salvation, ethical guidance that runs absolutely in concurrence with belief in God, unwavering love to God, also to friend or foe, appreciation of meaningful prayer, worship with content. Belief in Tawhid points to an Allah of unity. This austere doctrine reduces God to an imposing, incommunicative, harsh task-master who dictates burdensome demands. The religious person depriving his/her soul of God’s generous bestowments slides into fanaticism, fatalism and futilitarianism. He/she strives on one hand to make matters of life function, and on the other seeks support from Ummaism (community identification) or corresponding stereotype attachments. The person who cannot subdue the flames of vindictiveness within himself will never be able to make room for that pleasant breeze which would relieve him from vehemence. The devoted adherent of this doctrine cannot avoid resorting to harshness and oppression. He readily carries religious matters into the realm of politics. He is unable to forgive; neither knows the joy of absolute forgiveness which radically transforms the world of the redeemed sinner. The mien of true humility is excluded in this belief. The offender does not ask or seek forgiveness from the offended. He is a person without the certainty of life everlasting. He is a religious devotee whose chains of sin have not been broken. He is a person who cannot be extricated from misgiving and disquiet. He moves in a world of rejecters who cannot be relieved from negativism. In too many cases, he resorts to superstition, fear and unknowable fatalistic beliefs, demons, etc. At the same time, he cries “Help me, Allah!” He/she is a person with a burning desire to be liberated; a person whom God and the Christian believer love very specially.
The formalistic-ritualistic outlook of the person who follows Islam is of one who has been stripped of meaningful relationship with his Maker. God’s supernatural attributes are overshadowed. This person is not fully aware that God’s character is metaphysical, above the natural, beyond mathematical calculations. It is inconceivable to grasp such a God with human measures. The father of Jesus Christ disclosed himself through his revealed Word and his Word manifested in the flesh, in the Person of Jesus Christ (cf. John 1:18). In Tathlis God the Father is eternal (cf. Deuteronomy 33:27; Malachi 3:6). God the Son is eternal (cf. Hebrews 1:10; 13:8). God the Holy Spirit is eternal (cf. Genesis 1:2; Hebrews 9:14). The Second Person in Tathlis is co-existent with the Father, not created – conversely the One manifest in his character as the creator who took human flesh through Mary. He is the eternal Son. Any attempt to strip him of this honor carries the individual into the state of a lost traveler who is seeking to find direction in an open desert.
At this juncture an observation regarding Christ’s position as the incarnate eternal Son of God may illuminate our subject. In ancient Greece where the light of civilization glowed, men in their search of God deified human beings who in turn as gods came to man with a series of demands. Against this, God who wants the human race to know him accurately, assumed the body of man in the person of Jesus Christ, who humbled himself and met our fundamental need.
FAITH ENRICHED BY BELIEF IN THE FATHER, SON AND HOLY SPIRIT
Relationship with the God one-in-three three-in-one endows the person with unthinkable riches now and throughout eternity:
1. One who believes in the Son as the gracious expression of the Father’s love obtains eternal life (cf. John 3:16-18; Hebrews 12:9).
2. He/she can address God as ‘my Father’, even as ‘abba, Father’. This heartfelt approach to God is even more reassuring than a child’s attachment to his/her physical father (cf. Psalm 68:5; Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6).
3. He/she who believes in Jesus Christ as God’s Son worships God by addressing him as “our Father who is in heaven”, boldly bringing his requests to him. The worshipper of Christ’s believer is a privileged person, worshipping in his/her own language, way of expression and conversational manner (cf. Matthew 6:9). The personal feelings of Christ’s follower are expressed in this way.
4. To the believer there is one God and one Father (cf. Ephesians 4:6) who bestows the privilege to approach him through his Son.
5. God dwells in the person who believes in Jesus Christ as his only begotten Son and he/she dwells in God (cf. 1 John 4:15).
6. The person who believes in Jesus as God’s Son is a recipient of unthinkable gifts (cf. Romans 8:32; 1 Corinthians 1:5-7; James 1:5, 4:6).
7. The person who acknowledges God as the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ is enriched with blessings through this mysterious relationship unknown in human circles elsewhere (cf. John 17:21). He/she who does not appreciate God as Incarnate in the Son, the living Word, who listens to us and answers our requests, is in constant search of a concrete personal relationship with God. In the failure to obtain this elsewhere, he/she naturally resorts to a human being, consequently deifying the creature.
THE ADHERENT OF TATHLIS WHO ACKNOWLEDGES THE SECOND PERSON OF THE TRINITY ENJOYS GOD’S APPROVAL
(cf. Matthew 3:16, 17; 12:18; 17:5; Mark 1:11; 9:7; 2 Peter 1:17)
1. In the mentioned verses we hear from the witness of God the Father regarding his only Son. God is introducing his dear Son to mankind encouraging the person who believes in him.
2. The Lord Jesus Christ is designated Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead. Belief in this divine act secures everlasting life (cf. Romans 1:4).
3. God the Father made his only Son heir and sovereign over mankind. The Father has granted him absolute authority to forgive sin and justify sinners, to offer eternal life and judge sinners (cf. Matthew 28:18; John 5:22, 27; 8:16; 17:2).
4. The concrete manifest evidence of God’s love is his giving his only Son as atonement for lost mankind’s sin (cf. 1 John 4:19; Romans 5:8). Acceptance of Christ gains God’s approval.
5. Eternal life can be appropriated by knowing the only true God and his Son Jesus Christ, whom he sent to humankind (cf. Acts 8:37; John 17:3; 1 John 4:15).
6. No human source can apprise anyone of Jesus Christ being God’s Son. Only the Father can reveal the Son to mankind and enlighten the believer in this joyous knowledge (cf. Matthew 16:7; John 1:49).
7. Only the person who acknowledges Jesus Christ as God’s Son can enjoy him in his full splendor for all eternity (cf. Revelation 1:12-16; 2:18).
JUST AS THE FATHER AND THE SON ARE, THE HOLY SPIRIT IS AN ETERNAL PERSON
THE BELIEVER WHO HAS THE HOLY SPIRIT IN HIS/HER LIFE
BREATHES IN THE AIR OF THE EVERLASTING
1. Just as the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit is the Creator (cf. Genesis 1:1, 2; Job 26:13; 27:3; 33:4; Romans 1:20; Hebrews 1:10). “…no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:11b).
2. The Holy Spirit descended upon the small community of believers following the ascension of Jesus Christ to the highest. He supplied them with entirely new power and sufficiency (cf. Acts 2:2). He is the Guide and Counselor of the believers until now.
3. Prior to his crucifixion the Lord Jesus Christ promised the apostles that he would send the Holy Spirit (cf. John 14:16-18). The person who acknowledges the Holy Spirit as Lord is capable of knowing that he/she is a Spirit-guided child of God (cf. Romans 8:16). This person is not an orphan on God’s earth.
4. The Holy Spirit is the Paraclete sent by Christ to his believers. He is Comforter and Counselor. The believer wrestling with the harsh realities of life is not afraid even of death (cf. John 14:26; 15:26; 16:7).
5. The Holy Spirit dwelling within the believer bears witness for Christ (cf. John 15:26; Luke 24:48; Acts 1:8). The believer can present Christ to sinners through the effect of the Holy Spirit alone (cf. John 15:5).
6. The Holy Spirit is the ‘Spirit of Truth’ (cf. John 14:17). He “…convicts the world concerning sin, and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). The Holy Spirit’s deeds and glorious executions are evident in the life of the believer.
7. The Holy Spirit is Lord. Along with the Bride (the Church assembly), He is awaiting the triumphant return of Christ (cf. Revelation 22:17).
As an individual studies God’s inspired Word, he/she is bound to realize that the two positions, i.e., the Christian who finds the certainty and consistency in Tathlis, and the Muslim who takes determined opposition to this through Tawhid, are in perpetual variance and doctrinal clash. It is inconceivable to reconcile the monotheism of the two religions or establish a common theological and attainable ground between the two. The Muslim who is eager to earn God’s approval in his/her life is under the compulsion to examine the belief of Tathlis with open-mindedness from Scriptural-historical stance, pray to the One God, asking him to reveal his truth. God will enlighten every soul that seeks the light. Christ will redeem every soul that seeks salvation. The Holy Spirit will convince every soul that seeks to understand the revulsion of sinfulness.
© Copyright Thomas Cosmades