We invite your questions about Christian faith as it relates to all aspects of our lives. The Banner has asked Pastor George Vander Weit to continue writing for this column, and we’ll also seek the expertise of Christians in other fields when appropriate. Please send your questions to Pastor Vander Weit, c/o The Banner, 2850 Kalamazoo Ave. SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49560; or e-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org with “Q&A” in the subject line. Please include your state or province. We promise confidentiality!
Q. Where did the Quran come from? My Islamic coworkers and friends tell me it honors Jesus and Mary as prophets. Islam wasn’t discussed in my religious education classes, and I don’t know what to say about this religion. —Wisconsin
A. The Quran is considered by Muslims to be the very words of God given to Mohammed. Since God is too exalted to speak directly with the prophet, these words were communicated by the angel Gabriel. The first revelation came when Mohammed was about 40 years old, and other revelations continued throughout his life. After his death, these revelations, which were in the memories of his followers or written on scattered animal skins, stones, and ribs of palm leaves, were gathered by an editor into an official text. The Quran is about as long as the New Testament and is divided into 114 chapters called surahs.
The Quran is said to be taken directly from an eternal, uncreated book in God’s possession called the Mother of the Book. Muslims say the Jewish Scriptures and the Christian gospels were also taken from this book. Mohammed contended that inaccurate accounts of Old Testament stories in the Koran (the confusion of Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron, with the virgin Mary; and the depicting of Haman as a minister of Pharaoh) existed because the Jews had corrupted their own Scriptures.
The Quran teaches that Jesus was a great prophet, born miraculously without a human father to Mary. It says Jesus was not divine and did not die on the cross but instead was taken to heaven by God. One of Jesus’ followers was crucified to make the religious authorities think they had successfully silenced him.
The basic beliefs and practices of Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism are described in four student newspapers available at low cost from Faith Alive Christian Resources (1-800-333-8300; product #130500). They are very helpful in understanding these four world religions.
Q. Article 18 of the Belgic Confession rejects “the heresy of the Anabaptists who deny that Christ assumed human flesh from his mother.” From whom else could Christ have received his human flesh? —California
A. Article 10 confesses the true divinity of the Son, and Article 18 confesses his true humanity. Just prior to the words you cite, the article confesses that the Son “not only assumed human nature as far as the body is concerned but also a real human soul, in order that he might be a real human being.” Just after the words you cite are nine Scripture references indicating that Jesus was a real human being.
These words are a response to Docetism, a very early heresy. Docetists asserted that Christ only “seemed” (Greek=dokeo) to take human flesh. Thus the suffering, death, and resurrection were supposedly aspects of the human Jesus’ life in which the divine Christ did not participate. The Anabaptist version of this heresy asserted that Christ had taken his flesh and blood down from heaven.
Q. Is hospital visiting the job of the deacons or the elders? —Canada
A. Traditionally hospital visitation has been considered the work of the elders. Our ordination forms instruct ministers to “call on the sick and suffering” and elders, “by word and example, [to] bear up God’s people in their pain and weakness.” Articles 12a and 25b of our Church Order call the minister and the elders to “exercise pastoral care over the congregation.” Though Article 25c calls deacons to show “the mercy of Christ to all people, especially to those who belong to the community of believers,” typically we have not identified hospital visiting as a diaconal function.
In the congregation I serve, hospital visiting is done by the pastor and the elders. Elders and deacons visit the shut-in members of their shepherd groups, and volunteers from the congregation visit our shut-ins monthly. This may differ from congregation to congregation and community to community. Each congregation should prayerfully consider what works best for it. The answer may change over time, depending on ministry demands. Elders, deacons, and members of the congregation must participate in the work of ministry together so the congregation receives care, the community is served, and the officebearers perform their work with joy, not with reluctance.