Threatened Book Burnings and Christian Enemy - Love
Sep 13, 2010 by Craig Blomberg | 3 Comments
“But to you who are listening, I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:28-29 TNIV).
“A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly” (Acts 19:19 TNIV).
Thank God no reported Qur’an burning took place on September 11. How could any Christian ever think such behavior was appropriate?
The obvious answer is because the Bible itself describes Christians burning the sacred books (technically, scrolls) of another religion! But in what context?
Paul has been ministering for some time in Ephesus in the mid-50s of the first century. Ephesus was one of the centers in the Greco-Roman world of that time for the use of what scholars call magical papyri. Large numbers of these papyri from the second century and beyond have been discovered that include incantations, rituals, chants, prayers, invocations of pagan gods and goddesses, along with a lot of words that appear to be gibberish, even in Greek, for casting spells, cursing enemies, and in general tapping into the power of a wide array of deities—some indigenous, others imported. Today we would probably describe much of this as the practice of the occult.
Seven Jews living in Ephesus who have apparently been caught up in some of this—completely against their religion—have just been traumatized when they tried to invoke the name of Jesus as if it were a magical power to be manipulated apart from any actual faith in Christ or loyalty to his cause. The demons these Jews were trying to exorcise turned on them, beat them and stripped them, so that they ran out of the house they were in “bleeding and naked” (Acts 19:16). Luke continues by writing, “When this became known to the Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus, they were all seized with fear, and the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor. Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed what they had done” (vv. 17-18).
With that kind of display of power, it’s little wonder we read of the first “book-burning” ceremony in the history of the church. But the only books that were burned were those already owned by the people doing the burning—containing the instructions for their rituals they had once believed in and followed but now wanted to abandon. The proper, contemporary analogy would be akin to some new age practitioners becoming Christians and destroying the literature that had once kept them trapped as the devotees of, say, Wiccan practice. By doing it publicly, it would be a way of letting others know the change they were once-and-for all making and implicitly asking others to hold them accountable for their change. That’s a far cry from a group of Christians seeking out the holy literature of another religion that they have never been a part of and burning it just to rub in the dirt the noses of the people still trapped in that other way of life. Seldom if ever in world history has that been an effective evangelistic tool; all it usually does is make the other people outraged. At best they subsequently want nothing to do with our faith; at worst they want to destroy it or us!
In fact, Jesus gives us the model for how the church is to treat its enemies—it is to love them. Christians have often disagreed on whether this applies to governments or not and whether it means that individual Christians should become full-fledged pacifists or not. But there is no significant interpretive debate over what it means for the Church functioning as God’s colony of his kingdom, the outpost of heaven, as a group of redeemed people living on earth, modeling ahead of time what will one day characterize an entire millennium and, eventually, new heavens and new earth. We are not to retaliate, to trade one form of evil for another, but we are positively to do good to those who would abuse us.
Imagine how powerful a witness it might be if churches with Muslims in their communities organized an outreach ministry that became so widespread and well known that next year the news media would have to report, as September 11 approached, that Christians all around the country were volunteering on that date to fix up houses, beautify yards, bring gifts of food and clothing, and so on, to Islamic neighbors in need. That, rather than Qur’an burning, would be true Christianity in action!