At http://vimeo.com/90086516 Brian Houston, of Hillsong Church in Australia is seen comparing Christianity and Islam to two different birds, a vulture and a hummingbird: “…they both find what they’re looking for. Do you know – take it all the way back into the Old Testament and the Muslim and you, we actually serve the same God. Allah to a Muslim, to us Abba Father God. And of course through history, those views have changed greatly.” This man is dead wrong, and I mean that literally.
His seemingly minor comment, taken from what might otherwise be considered an orthodox sermon is more than just a bad analogy. It is full of misstatements and distortions which should send up red flags. Can we trust any message from this mega-church preacher? His main error is in equating faith to “the way you see God”. This error leads to the false conclusion that because Christians and Muslims see God in different ways, they may find him differently and serve him differently. Houston says “they both find what they’re looking for”, which apparently is more important to him than God’s revelation of himself through Scripture. By allowing for differences in the ways we see God, his tacit presumption is that there is no incorrect way to look at God. It follows therefore that the Bible cannot be held to be authoritative in how we either see God or serve him.
He further distorts this presumption by lumping together, in a total non-sequitur, “back into the Old Testament and the Muslim and you”. The Old Testament was written roughly between 2 1/2 and 3 1/2 millennia ago. Islam was founded by Mohammed, who lived from 570 to 632. “And you” I take to mean everyone currently living in 2014. How, exactly, is Brian Houston putting these three elements together to make a cogent statement? I think he wants to say that these are three disparate ways of “seeing God”. If so, he has gotten himself into deep waters.
“back into the Old Testament”
Let me take one issue at a time. Does the Old Testament in fact see God differently than the New Testament? In order to believe so, we must conclude that the two testaments contradict one another, not only in the religious sense (comparing Judaism to Christianity) but in their respective textual descriptions of God. The old argument that the God of the OT was vengeful and demanding, while the God of the NT is loving and forgiving is without merit, glossing over the entire weight of Scripture. If the OT supposedly describes an angry God, then how can it contain passages such as, “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end” (Lamentations 3:22)? Equally, if the NT supposedly describes God as loving, then how can Jesus say such things as, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34)?
The truth is that the Bible — both the Old Testament and New Testament, taken together — sees God one way. Yes, he is loving and forgiving, but he also judges and destroys unrepentant evil. Though his judgments may seem harsh, God is good all the time. There is no evil in him. Malachi 3:6 says, “For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” Hebrews 13:8-9a says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings”.
While Hebrews 8:13 says the new covenant makes the “old covenant” obsolete, the “Old Testament” is not the same as the “old covenant”. Remember that Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). His audience was Jewish. To a Jew, “the Law” and “the prophets” was clearly understood to mean their Bible, which we now call the Old Testament. The “Law” is the Jewish Torah. Torah in general means the teachings of God, so in that sense it represents all Jewish Scripture. Also called the Tanakh, this is what the Bereans examined every day, when they checked to see if what Paul and Silas were preaching was true (Acts 17:10-11). In other words, the Bereans used the Old Testament to check to see if the New Testament gospel was correct…which proved to be the case.
“and the Muslim”
You won’t find Muslims in the Old Testament. They didn’t show up until another 6 centuries after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. So, not only had Judaism been around for a long time before Islam began to “see God” differently, but so had Christianity, including the New Testament. When it comes to how we view God, the Bible clearly states not to go beyond what is (already) written (1 Corinthians 4:6) and not to add to or take away from Scripture (Proverbs 30:5-6; Revelation 22:18-19). Do not miss this point: Both Jews and Christians worship the same God of the Bible. The fundamental difference between them is that Jews do not recognize that Jesus is their Messiah. However, the same cannot be said of Muslims. It’s not that they see God in a different way. They actually are looking at a different god.
This fact is confirmed by the fundamentally opposing descriptions of God given by these decidedly different belief systems. Christians believe that God desires a personal relationship with believers. John 1:12 says that those who receive Christ “he gave the right to become children of God”. Galatians 4:6 says, “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Romans 8:17 says, “…and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ”. But the Allah of Islam is not knowable, not relational and has characteristics of both good and evil. For further comparison, see:
So here we are in 2014, according to Brian Houston, each of us is “seeing God” in our own way. And because our way supposedly is different from the Old Testament, we should also accept the “differentness” of the Muslim way of seeing God. In other words, we are to align the attitude of our faith with the politically correct notion that diversity trumps truth and authority. But wait, there’s more: There is no reason to think the alternative ways of “seeing God” can be reduced to these three choices. Using his analogy, each and every different religious “view” should be considered equally valid. I’m no ornithologist, but I know that there are more than just two different kinds of birds in the desert.
But many “truths” is the same as no Truth. With one stroke of his broad brush, Brian Houston has completely painted over the infallibility of Scripture and the authority it holds for our Christian faith. By saying “views have changed greatly”, Houston denies the immutability of Truth; he denies the “one faith” (Ephesians 4:5) that we of 2014 share with the first century believers. He denies the Christ of Scripture.
“those views have changed greatly”
This statement implies that faith in God is not based on the absolute truth of the knowledge God has revealed to us. By “those views” does he mean our views are different because people’s views simply change? If Jesus fulfilled the OT teachings, what specific views about God changed? Wasn’t that change, brought about in Jesus, referred to as good news? So what are we talking about? Do we give the views of Mohammed and his Koran the same deference, awe and respect that we give the Bible and the Lord, who continues to reveal himself to us? Or do we reduce faith to nothing more than our “view” of God, subject to the whims of changing environment and cultural influences?
Jesus didn’t say, “I am one way you can see God”. He said he is The Truth, that no one comes to God the Father except through him. This was “good news” when God in flesh walked among us; it’s the good news now. That has never changed. No matter how anyone chooses to look at God, the only way they will ever come to truly see God is through Christ. Islam leads people away from God, toward eternal death. But if a Muslim repents of sin and turns to Abba Father through Jesus, he will have eternal life. We are either looking at the true God or looking at some counterfeit. How we see God doesn’t matter if it is just a delusion. Religion is not the issue. What really matters is whether or not the “God” we see is really God.
“we actually serve the same God”
How we choose to see God is a life-or-death proposition. Muslims who look to Allah will die in their sins. Muslims who turn to Abba Father will find Christ, the one and only “life” and “light” of men. The danger in Brian Houston’s message is that if we truly believe that Christians and Muslims serve the same God, then by extension, we must assume that all religions serve the same God. The moment we fall into that trap, we are refusing to believe the word of God. And if we do not believe his word, how can we obey it? And if we do not obey his word, how can we say we love the Lord?
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” — John 14:15
The 16th chapter of Revelation speaks of the seven bowls of God’s wrath, poured out on those who “had the mark of the beast and worshipped his image” (Revelation 16:2). Using Brian Houston’s thought process (or lack of one), you could say they were just “seeing God differently”. As we move closer to the end of time, more and more people will be sucked into a black hole of deception — diversity — not discerning between truth and error. As this happens, many will be deceived into thinking Satan is God. “And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). But by the time God chooses to rain down his judgment against these people, they will have become so hardened, that even in their agony they will curse God and refuse to repent (See Revelation 16:11, 21).
No. We don’t all serve the same God. Serving Allah is not serving the LORD. Allah is a false god. We can’t just choose any old way to think about what God should be like. We are answerable to him just the way he is, whether we know him or not. The wonderful thing is that we don’t have to be stuck with a “view” of who God is. We can actually know him. God is who he is, regardless of how we choose to see him, or not see him, if that’s the case. The one and only God, the Creator of the universe, not only can be known, but wants to be known by us. For that purpose, he has revealed himself to us in the Holy Scriptures which have been preserved, not changed. He is who he is. He is life and he offers life. He is available. You can meet him, know him and serve him. Or you can choose death by accepting a counterfeit view.
So what’s so all-important to you? Finding what you’re looking for? “Seeing” God your way? Or knowing the absolute Truth and being set free?
“…choose this day whom you will serve…But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” — Joshua 24:15