Processing the Religious Aspect of America’s New War

Steve Viars October 21, 2001 2 Corinthians 11:

 

- for the past five Sundays, we’ve been studying truths from the Word of God to help us respond to the terrorist attack of September 11 and the war in which our country is now engaged.

- the plan, Lord willing, is to wrap those ideas up today and to begin a series on Stewardship month beginning next week.

- this morning, I’d like to study with you about the religious aspect of America’s new war.

- it is undeniable that religious ideas have played, and will continue to play a major role in this conflict.

- people on all sides [and there are more than two] claim to be doing what God wants them to do.

- religious books are cited for reference and authority…

- religious teachers are involved on all sides..

- God’s name is used repeatedly in these discussions…

 

- that has lead, and will continue to lead to a predictable set of responses by some in our world that you and I need to be prepared for.

- if you haven’t heard these kinds of arguments, you probably will…

- but even if you don’t have these kinds of conversations with anyone directly…the implications provide some very important lessons, and very important direction for believers in Jesus Christ today.

 

- the argument often has three stages, and it goes something like this…

1) The problem here is all religion…

- God is a figment of people’s imagination…

- He is make believe, all religion is make-believe…

- and since religious ideas so often have played a part national and international conflict, our world would be a better place if all religious ideas were gone, or at least silenced, or marginalized, or weakened…

- in others words, not only is some of it wrong…al of it is wrong.

 

2) Others would say…no, it’s not that extreme…

- the problem isn’t religion in general, but those who take their religious documents literally…

- the people who believe that there really is a God, and He really communicated with human beings in a reliable, written document, and therefore His Word has to be literally believed, and literally followed.

- the fundamentalists…in other words…

- the revealed religions are generally thought to be Islam, Judaism, or Christianity…generally the cults wouldn’t be viewed in this same light, though they could be…

- but for sake of simplicity, some would say that religion is OK, except for those religious groups who believe it literally interpreting the Koran, the Old Testament, or the entire Bible.

 

- so already we have two competing dreams of the world, don’t we?

- some people dream of a world in which all religion disappears, or at least has very little public presence or influence…

- others dream of a world where religious ideas are present, but they have been reshaped/reinvented to fit our current and updated understanding of things…

 

- and you understand that all major religious groups are represented by both positions…

1) there are some conservative Jewish individuals, who hold to a literal interpretation of the Old Testament…and some liberal Jewish individuals [reform Jews], who hold to more of an updated Judaism…

2) There are some conservative Muslims, who hold to a literal and complete interpretation of the Koran…while others hold to a more liberal form of Islam…a new and improved version…

3) The same is obviously true of Christianity…

- some hold to literal interpretations of the Bible…and place major focus on the study and application of God’s Word…

- many other Christians are more theologically liberal…they wouldn’t have carried their Bibles to church this morning because they wouldn’t have needed them…

- so it is a form of Christianity, but without the miracles, without the supernatural…without the stuff that is hard for modern man to believe…

 

- so some say…all religion is bad…

- others would say…no, it’s only the literal forms of religion that are bad.

 

3) The third position goes something like this…its not religion that is bad…and its not literal religion that is so bad…

- its exclusivistic, literal religion that is bad.

- if someone wants to believe in God, and even believe that a literal interpretation of their religious document is true…that’s fine for them…as long as they don’t start saying that their truth is true for everyone…

- because that becomes intolerant…that becomes narrow minded…that becomes bigoted…and so on.

 

- now, if you haven’t heard these kinds of ideas, I think it is very likely that you will…

- and you could say that all of this can be summarized with two questions…

1) Why are there so many religions?

2) And what are we supposed to do about it?

 

- and the options are these…

1) All religions are man-man made…therefore forget them all.

- call this position, throw the baby out with the bathwater

 

2) There really is a God, but He has chosen to reveal Himself in many different ways [and unfortunately, in some contradictory ways—but ignore that fact]…

- so there is a God, he has chosen to reveal Himself to different people in different ways…

- so regarding different religions, accept them all…

- label this position, “any old god will do”

- or, “can’t we all just get along”

- or, “what’s true for you may not be true for someone else”

 

3) third option is, there is one true God, and many man made gods…

- and it is every human beings responsibility to study hard, and think carefully, so that you have chosen, and are following the right one.

 

- now, I think you would know which of these positions I would advocate.

- but going back to our original question can really help us…why are there so many religions?

- I’d like to propose this to you this morning…there is a certain theological truth that if properly understood, will help us thoroughly answer this first question, and then will make answering the other ones much easier..

- and in the process, will even provide practical direction for the way you and I are living today and in the days ahead.

 

- with that in mind, I’d like to invite you to open your Bible first to II Corinthians chapter 11, verse 13…that’s on page 145 of the back section of the Bible in the pew in front of you.

- we’re going to turn to three passages of Scripture for this portion of our study…I’ll let you know the page numbers for each one so everyone can follow along.

 

- we’re calling this…

Processing the Religious Aspect of America’s New War

- and hopefully these passages of Scripture will help us do just that.

 

- we’re jumping into the middle of a context, but we need to do that for sake of time…

- Paul is talking to the Corinthian church about false teachers, in this case people who calling themselves Christians…if you peek at verse 4 of chapter 11, you get a hint of what’s happening…[read II Cor. 11:4]

- so these are people who look a lot like Christians…

- they talk about Christ, they use the word gospel…but in this case they were people who were trying to add works to the salvation message by bringing God’s people under certain aspects of the OT Jewish law…

- now, please hold on to your hats, because listen to what Paul says…Read 11:13-15

 

- now, what’s the point of all of that?

I.  Satan is a Counterfeiter

- in this case, he is promoting…

A.  A counterfeit gospel.

 

- Paul makes some points in these verses that are amazingly applicable to the days in which we live, and the questions we’ve been posing.

1.  There are some people who disguise themselves as apostles of Christ.

2.  These people use deceit as one of their tools.

- [develop --- and remember, one of the greatest forms of deception in the Bible is self-deception --- so they may be persons who are very sincere]

3.  This approach finds its root in our adversary the devil, who disguises himself as an angel of light.

 

- this is why it is so important for God’s people to think antithetically…

- to be able and willing to think it terms of black/white…right/error…truth/error

- see, too often folks want to think about Satan as the horned man with the pitchfork, who evidences his obvious evil…and sometimes he does.

- but far more often he presents himself as an angel of light…something that is a counterfeit of the real thing.

- that is why we ought to expect there to be many religions, and why the most dangerous ones are the ones that are closest to the truth…

- which is exactly why the last thing we ought to do is conclude…

- all religions are wrong…

- or equally bad, all religions are right…we’ll say more about the implications of this later.

 

- Now please turn back to the gospel of John chapter 8…page 79 in the back section of your pew Bible.

- this is a discussion between our Lord, but this time not with a group of people who were representing Christianity, but instead just another religion.

- the chapter begins with the story of the woman taken in adultery…

- and the Jewish religious leaders of the day wanted Jesus to condemn this woman for what she had done…

- Jesus ticked them off when He told them, he who is without sin, cast the first stone…

- so they go into a long discussion about how their birthright—that is, their relationship to Abraham…coupled with the holy living…that is, their adherence to the OT law and everything they had added to it…certainly would earn them a place in heaven…by their own righteousness…

 

- so these are people who are presenting a different religion…

- what does Jesus say?…well, that’s good too…God has obviously revealed Himself in different ways to different people…?

- or let’s forget the whole thing…there are competing ideas so they are all wrong?

- please listen to what He said…

- read John 8:42-44

 

- the point is, our adversary the devil often promotes a false a gospel…

- and many other times, he promotes…

B.  Counterfeit religions.

- so, given the nature of our adversary the devil, we ought to expect there to be many religions…

 

- one other passage, its Isaiah chapter 14…page 497 of the front section of the Bible in the pew in front of you…

- what we’re seeing in these passages is that Satan is a counterfeiter..

- he doesn’t create things that are new, good, or right…

- he perverts and copies things that God has already made…

- if he is involved, it will always be a cheap substitute for real thing.

 

- the ultimate issue is found in this passage, which tells why Satan fell in the first place…

- read Isaiah 14:12-14

 

- see, please don’t think of Satan as wanting to be as unlike God as possible…the exact opposite is true…

- He is as unlike God as possible, but he longs to be like God…his counterfeiting ways flows out of a jealous heart.

- now, let’s think about…

II.  How this Truth Addresses the Dilemma We’ve Posed.

 

A. Regarding the “all religion is bad” position.

- what about those who believe that the existence of many religions proves that they are all man made?

- not if you understand the nature and work of our adversary the devil.

- he’s a counterfeiter…so what has occurred in this world is exactly what you would have expected…

- Satan is in the proliferation business…

- and he would like to deceive people into either believing one of his false religions…or driving someone to the cynical extreme of throwing up their hands and declaring---they all must be wrong…

- either position takes you to the same end---separation from God forever…and Satan doesn’t really care how a person gets there, as long as he gets there.

 

- another fly in this ointment is the character of the god of the Bible.

- it is true that in many other religions, the god functions the way you would expect a god to function…

- human beings are required to earn their way to heaven...

- the god often is distant or impersonal…

- and heaven is a place where people go to gratify themselves…

 

- however, when you open the pages of the Bible, you read of a god Who is anything but what you would have expected Him to be…

- for one thing..He is a person…

- He has a mind, will, and emotions, and has made human beings in His own image…

- He’s also holy…unlike many of the pagan gods who are consumed by lusts or sinful pleasure…

- the God of the Bible is holy, and pure, and just, and righteous…

 

- then there’s what the Bible says about man…

- none of this man has the ability to work his way to God business..

- in the Bible, human beings are complete unable to work their way back to God…

- there is no quick fix, or cosmic overlooking of the sins of man…

- but then the most amazing part…and this is the part that human beings would have never come up with…

- that God is a God of grace…who loved us in our sinful condition and sent His Son to die on the cross for our sins…

- does anyone here really believe that those ideas are the product of human reasoning?

- Biblical Christianity stands out because of the uniqueness of the gospel message.

 

B.  Regarding the “all literal religions” are bad.

- this position too is illogical.

- if God was unable to communicate with His creatures perfectly the first time, then He’s no God at all.

- essentially what the theological liberals [of any religion] are saying is…

- there is a god, but his first pass at communicating with us was flawed…but modern man can prop it up in a way that makes the system work.

- that is ludicrous.

- but that is the problem facing modern day Islam.

- I know it sounds politically correct to say that Osama Bin Laden hijacked the religion of Islam…the difficulty is, that’s not true.

- Osama Bin Laden takes Islam literally…he takes the Koran literally.

- the passages he and his clerics are quoting are not ones they are making up.

- they are ones that are clearly written in the Koran.

- the Koran is anything but friendly toward Jews and Christians…and I know that doesn’t sound politically correct, but it is a fact.

 

- now you might say, but PV, you and other pastors have said several times recently that the majority of Muslims don’t believe those things…

- that’s true…but why?…because they choose not to follow those portions of the Koran.

- which leads to a rather embarrassing question that all theological liberals [again, of all religions] have to answer…what does it say about the integrity of your god if he couldn’t get his revelation right the first time around?

- the solution isn’t…get rid of all revealed religion…the solution is---carefully study the different revelations, and place your faith in the right one.

 

C.  Regarding the “all exclusivistic literal religions” are bad.

- this position too is illogical.

- it is a fact that the religions of the world contradict one another.

- you can’t take the position that all competing religious truth claims are equally valid.

- you can take the position that they’re all wrong…but you can’t the position that they are all right.

- if they contradict one another [and that is exactly what you would expect when you consider the techniques of the master counterfeiter], then you have to make a choice.

- now, it is interesting, that that point may be easier to make today that it was before September 11.

- many [if not most] in our culture were very unwilling to talk about absolute right and wrong.

- truth claims were relative…

- something could be right for one person but wrong for someone else…

- it was intolerant to say that you were right and someone else was wrong…

- truth had more to do with cultural power…the country or culture that had the most money or power imposed its views on everyone else…but that didn’t make their views any better…

- so what was right for one country or culture wasn’t necessarily right for another country or culture…

- that whole line of thinking came to a screeching halt on September 11…

- and it was illustrated in Rudy Gulliani’s speech to the United Nations when he said, We are right and they are wrong…

- this has nothing to do with the supposed actions of the United States in the past, regardless of what the liberal college professors want to say…

- Gulliani rightly said, there is no moral equivalent to what those terrorists did…and there is no explaining in away in anything but black and white terms.

- Gene Edward Veith recently wrote…Reality in the Rubble

Postmodernists rejected the very possibility of objective truth, insisting that reality is only a construction of the culture or of the mind.  But the planes that crashed into the buildings and into every American’s consciousness were no mental constructions.  Objective reality in all of its hard edges asserted itself.

Postmodernists rejected the very possibility of objective morality.  What is right or wrong varies, they said, according to the culture or the individual.  If a person chooses certain values, that makes them right for that person.  The terrorists certainly made a choice, and what they did was right for them.  But somehow their cold-blooded murder of thousands of ordinary men, women, and children was seen as pure, objective evil, something postmodernists had professed not to believe in.

Postmodernists believed that all cultures are equally valid, that we have no basis for saying that one society or way of thinking is better than any other.  Actually, one culture is worse than all the rest, according to the postmodernist curriculum, namely, Western civilization.  When that civilization was attacked, though, it began to be seen as something worth defending.  It became hard to consider the havens of Islamic terrorism, which teach hatred, oppression, and suicide bombing, as really being equal to the land of the free.

New York City is the capital of America’s culture–the home of the publishing industry, the playground of the intellectual elite, the great media center, the epicenter of the art world, the home of the trendsetters and the fashion industry.  Suddenly, their sensibility changed.

A characteristic trait of the postmodernist attitude is irony.  Since nothing is real and everything is fake, nothing is taken seriously.  Yet after the attack Jerry Seinfeld, the personification of New York cynical comedy, put together a benefit for the victims.  David Letterman, the king of mockery, comforted Dan Rather on Late Night, both of them close to tears.

Hip publications like the online magazine Salon printed testimonials from self-confessed flag-burners turned flag-wavers.  Intellectuals, novelists, and artists were changing their tunes like musicians in Carnegie Hall.

What had once been fashionable in the avant garde world of the arts now was seen to be in embarrassingly bad taste.  Art that attacked America was no longer so attractive, now that America was under attack.  The purposeful creation of ugliness no longer seemed as clever, in light of the real ugliness that hung in the air of New York.  Some artists had been doing things like carving up human corpses and displaying photographs of the results–in light of the body parts in the rubble of the World Trade Center, this no longer seemed amusing.

It had become fashionable to ridicule ordinary people who could never understand the esoteric experimentation of the art world.  But now everyone was hailing the heroism of the blue collar cops and firefighters who died trying to rescue the office workers, and who continued to pour themselves out combing through the rubble.

Voices in the art world are calling for a new movement, one that is more “human” than the slick cynicism that had ruled before.  The New York Times asked artists what the attack will now mean for the arts.  Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Corigliano is calling for the recovery of “our titanic richness of musical resource with unmistakable structural order.”

Paul Simon, of Simon and Garfunkel fame, noted the sounds of silence after the attack, the “almost total absence of the popular culture from the nation’s airwaves.”  He went on to condemn the nihilism that has dominated the arts and predicted a big change: “We should recognize that seismic events impact on the creative process and that artistic and spiritual rebirth can follow a shattering experience.”

 

 

- now, in light of this counterfeit nature of the person and work of satan, let’s conclude our time by looking for…

III.  Direction for God’s People in Light of this Truth.

 

A.  Be sure you have believed the right gospel.

- the first passage we studied this morning ought to make us ask a hard question…Am I sure I believed the right thing?

- Matthew 7:21-23 - Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.

 

 

B.  Look for ways to demonstrate how your relationship with Christ benefits you and others.

 

- not talking about religion, but a relationship.

- but some of the “all religions are bad” crowd may have drawn that conclusion in part because they haven’t seen the positive impact knowing Christ can have.

 

1)  on you

- cf. peace, joy, contentment, and direction…

- cf. young man who was about to lose job…unbelievers coming to him asking him to pray for them

 

2) in the church

- cf. calls recently from pastors who wanted to resign

- if the relationships in the church are no better than the relationships in the world, why should anyone think religion is good

 

3) in the community

- cf. those working on the habitat houses

- cf. Christmas for everyone

 

C.  Be committed to living by the revealed Word of God

 

- Matthew 5:18 - For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished.

- cf. church situations just mentioned – living by feelings

 

 

D.  Be willing to stand for the exclusivism of revealed truth.

Steve Viars

B.S. - Bible, Baptist Bible College
M.Div. - Grace Theological Seminary
D.Min. - Westminster Theological Seminary

Pastor Steve Viars has served at Faith Church since 1987. He and his wife Kris were married in 1982 and have two married daughters, a son, and two grandchildren. Pastor Viars’ gifted teaching ministry, enthusiasm for the Word of God, and organizational skills are instrumental in equipping Faith Church. He oversees the staff, deacons, and all Faith ministries and serves on the boards of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, Biblical Counseling Coalition, Vision of Hope, and the Faith Community Development Corporation.

Read Steve Viars’ Journey to Faith for the full account of how the Lord led Pastor Viars to Faith Church.

View Pastor Viars' Salvation Testimony Video