I was genuinely shocked to read of the Dove World Outreach Center, a 50 member church in Florida planning to burn copies of the Koran on September 11th. I suppose it was only a matter of time really… But it shocked me nonetheless. The litany of hateful, inflammatory, and plain irresponsible quotes from the leader, Terry Jones, is astonishing. That he shares his name with a Monty Python cast member is apt – this is a farce! ‘Terry Jones sincerely hopes it will not lead to violence!’ Yet surprise, surprise, after receiving 100 death threats Mr Jones is carrying a pistol for protection. Those who live by the sword…
Jesus called us to be Salt and Light, not Acid and Darkness. He wanted us to be preservative and flavour-enhancing, not corrosive and bitter. Illuminating the path ahead rather than causing blindness and stumbling! The Gospel is already a stumbling block and folly, without Christians unduly dimming the lights! (1 Cor 1:23)
Already in the streets of Kabul, protestors are burning effigies of Jones at the mere rumour of the event. As they do so they chant ‘death to America.’ What kind of a messed up world do we live in where an unknown lone-ranger can plaster a shoddy $20 poster on the side of a trailer and become a spokesman for an entire nation and a worldwide faith?! Seriously! There are plenty of other reasons why protestors in Afghanistan may want to vilify America, and I have no doubt there’s a little bit of ‘scape-goating’ going on here. But please, world, we never elected Terry Jones, and he speaks for very few of us.
Believe it or not, there is Biblical basis for the public burning of books. But does it line up with Jones’ proposed event? In Acts 19, many people come to faith in Jesus, and as a result destroy the documents that represent their past life of disobedience:
‘A number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.’ (Acts 19:19-20 ESV)
What do we learn from Acts 19?
- Book burning is an act of personal repentance. Paul didn’t even tell them to burn their books. He certainly didn’t rally them up and say ‘hey, let’s do this to send a message to the world! It was a spontaneous act of personal contrition.
- Book burning is not intended to incite violence. That violence came in the verses that follow is neither here nor there. It was unrelated, unintended, and in fact, when Paul is accused of inciting religious hatred, it is commented by a neutral party that he never even spoke against the rival religion in the city (v37).
- Book burning must cost the individual. The value of the books destroyed in that street in Ephesus was around £4 million. The converts were so convinced of the value of Jesus that their old lives held no attraction for them any longer. And their repentance was costly. It put nobody else at danger, nor do we see it being repeated or required of others. And certainly nobody burnt a book that belonged to someone else!
Would Paul have endorsed Terry Jones’ bonfire? No. It is not an act of personal repentance, it doesn’t cost the individual, and it is inciting hatred and violence. It is of an entirely different category to Acts 19. It is irresponsible and hate-fuelled.
Ravi Zacharias recounts this powerful story in his book, Can Man Live Without God?
‘There is a magnificent story in Marie Chapian’s book Of Whom the World Was Not Worthy. The book told of the sufferings of the true church in Yugoslavia where so much wrong has been perpetrated by the politicized ecclesiastical hierarchy. That which has gone on in the name of Christ for the enriching and empowering of corrupt church officials has been a terrible affront to decency.
One day an evangelist by the name of Jakov arrived in a certain village. He commiserated with an elderly man named Cimmerman on the tragedies he had experienced and talked to him of the love of Christ. Cimmerman abruptly interrupted Jakov and told him that he wished to have nothing to do with Christianity. He reminded Jakov of the dreadful history of the church in his town, a history replete with plundering, exploiting, and indeed with killing innocent people. “My own nephew was killed by them,” he said and angrily rebuffed any effort on Jakov’s part to talk about Christ. “They wear those elaborate coats and caps and crosses,” he said, “signifying a heavenly commission, but their evil designs and lives I cannot ignore.”
Jakov, looking for an occasion to get Cimmerman to change his line of thinking, said, “Cimmerman, can I ask you a question? Suppose I were to steal your coat, put it on, and break into a bank. Suppose further that the police sighted me running in the distance but could not catch up with me. One clue, however, put them onto your track; they recognized your coat. What would you say to them if they came to your house and accused you of breaking into the bank?”
“I would deny it,” said Cimmerman.
“‘Ah, but we saw your coat,’ they would say,” retorted Jakov. This analogy quite annoyed Cimmerman, who ordered Jakov to leave his home.
Jakov continued to return to the village periodically just to befriend Cimmerman, encourage him, and share the love of Christ, with him. Finally one day Cimmerman asked, “How does one become a Christian?” and Jakov taught him the simple steps of repentance for sin and of trust in the work of Jesus Christ and gently pointed him to the Shepherd of his soul. Cimmerman bent his knee on the soil with his head bowed and surrendered his life to Christ. As he rose to his feet, wiping his tears, he embraced Jakov and said, “Thank you for being in my life.” And then he pointed to the heavens and whispered, “You wear His coat very well.”
(Ravi Zacharias, Can Man Live Without God, pp. 101-102)
Reverend Jones, please, for the love of God, give Him back His coat!