The message of segregation that goes on in both the mosque and the church
Earlier this week, Tarek Fatah in his commentary on November 9 in the National Post “Spreading intolerance, one fatwah at a time” noted the teaching of influential Islamist clerics that the Koran forbade Muslims from making friends with non-Muslims (kaafirs) or even living among them unless the objective was to convert the non-Muslim to Islam. The purpose of such teaching, Fatah suggested, is to convince young Muslims to view their non-Muslim fellow citizens with suspicion and derision. No countervailing effort is being made, he said, at any level in the West to counter the Islamists’ hateful message of isolation, segregation and hostility.
As I read this article, the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 6:14 came to mind:
Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?
I recalled how, in my youth, I was taught that this verse meant that I, as a Christian, should not have close friends who were non-Christians. I especially should not date a non-Christian girl! Such a relationship was doomed to drag me down spiritually, it was said. And for the years, that is how I have tended to view this verse, as I suspect many have. A letter to the editor on Thursday in response to Fatah’s article referred to this same passage, in fact, the author proposing that the Bible actually teaches the same type of isolation and segregation as the Koran did. The only difference, he said, is that Christian churches have learned to ignore such exhortations!
I’m not so sure that this writer is correct, but I do think that Christians have been torn as to how to practice these verses if they are understood to be teaching a strict separation between Christians and non-Christians. I wonder if perhaps we have misunderstood Paul’s words, especially in light of the persecution that Jesus experienced for hanging around with sinners. And so I dug into 2 Corinthians 6 this week and was surprised to see how this verse, when taken out of context and viewed separately from the rest of the book, could be used to instill fear, suspicion and isolation in Christian youth in a similar way to how Koranic verses are being used to create Islamists.
It is vital that we see Paul’s words in the context of the book itself. In chapter 5:11-6:13, Paul is speaking of his being entrusted with God’s message of reconciliation, the Gospel, and urges the Corinthians not to receive this message in vain. The Corinthians risk doing this due to their propensity to embrace teachers whose message and methods run counter to Paul’s. Their gospel is not the gospel of Christ suffering on the cross to bring reconciliation with God and their ministry methods are not those of sacrificial service and a readiness to suffer (and even die) in order to bring this message to others.
It is in this context that 2 Corinthian 6:14-7:1 appears and should be interpreted. What Paul is calling for is for the Corinthians to recognize that they cannot follow Paul’s message brought to them sacrificially and in much suffering and follow these other false teachers whose message and methods are so diametrically different. The Corinthians are trying to yoke together two incompatible animals to the same plow. “Stop trying!” Paul says. The call here is to disassociate themselves from complicity with those who would attempt to propagate a false gospel within the church.[i]
Hence, the call here is not to pull away from the world or unbelievers in general, but from those who would seek to contaminate the church with false teachings. Indeed, only a church committed to such segregation can hold forth the true message of reconciliation to a needy world and be willing to sacrifice themselves in order to bring such a gospel to those who need it. Find me a church that is unwilling to sacrifice and suffer and you will likely have found one that is yoking together the gospel of Christ and false teaching similar to that which Paul’s opponents were teaching in Corinth.
[i] c.f. R. Kent Hughes, 2 Corinthians: Power in Weakness. Crossway Books, 2006: 141; C.K. Barrett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians. Harper’s New Testament Commentaries. Hendrickson Publishers, 1973: 194-196