Pastor Terry Jones went from obscure pastor to a worldwide phenomenon last week because of his foolish plan to burn copies of the Quran.  During this fiasco he kept hiding behind God, saying God was speaking to him and giving him guidance throughout the entire drama. Pastor Jones came off ignorant when admitting he has never read the Quran and revealed gross naiveté by announcing that Imam Rauf agreed to move the proposed Ground Zero mosque in return for Dove International agreeing not to burn Qurans. This is in spite of never even speaking once to Imam Rauf!

Whether we in the body of Christ like it or not, this obscure, independent pastor with a seemingly limited education represents the church to the world through the media, who would love to portray all evangelicals as ignorant, Bible-thumping hatemongers who are always against something but never contribute anything good to their communities. Even worse, when pitted against the educated, savvy and slick Imam Rauf, I am sure corollary comparisons were being made between evangelicals and Muslims.

The following are some lessons learned from this fiasco:

1. An Unaccountable, Independent, Disconnected Pastor Can Misrepresent Christianity To The World, Given The Right Circumstances

This issue taught the world and the global Christian body that not only megachurch pastors have a say. All pastors--legitimate or not, with small, medium, or large congregations--are all categorized in the same generic way by the media and the non-Christian world. For example, recently I sat down with a Muslim family who thought all Christian churches were the same and assumed my church sanctioned same-sex marriages (which it does not). Of course, this gave me the opportunity to enlighten them as to the reality of true Christianity, which is based on faith in the word of God, and false Christianity which is based on human opinion and cultural trends.

2. It Is Acceptable For Muslims To Burn The American Flag, Bibles, Crosses And Churches But It Is Not Acceptable For Christians Or Anyone Else To Burn Qurans

Where are the Muslims denouncing Bible burnings in the same way the church has risen up against this Quran burning? (Read
3. The Media Has The Power And The Influence To Create Their Own Religious Celebrities

Pastor Terry Jones, if ignored by the media, would have had no influence or name recognition except among the 20-30 people that attend his church.  It wasn’t his faith, prayers, great strategy or influence in his community that gave him notoriety. It was the decision of one newspaper editor who decided to cover his story which created a firestorm that eventually caused the most influential political and religious leaders the world to chime in and become involved. This shows once again that just because you are famous it doesn’t mean you have substance! (For example, where would Al Sharpton be today if it wasn’t for all the media attention he garnered in the 1980’s?)

4. The Church And Its Key Leaders Need To Mobilize And Have One Voice In Society To Adequately Represent Christ To The World

When a situation like this occurs, the body of Christ needs to mobilize in each community of the country to counter the media driven, lone eccentric voices of future disconnected maverick preachers who may not even be emotionally stable let alone biblically grounded!

5. People And Churches Can Have The Right Doctrine While Having The Wrong Spirit

First Corinthians 13 teaches that we can have the right knowledge, powerful mountain moving faith, and great sacrifice for our causes, but if we do not have love we are nothing. We are entreated to speak the truth in love in Ephesians 4:15, which means that if we are not humble, broken, and filled with compassion for others then truth can be used as a weapon by our enemies instead of against our enemies!

6. Religion Has The Power To Command More Passion And Influence Than Politics Or The Military

With the threat of one simple act of Quran burning, millions have been mobilized for and against this act, creating a fervor fueled by religion that politicians can only dream would happen when they speak and act!
This has once again shown the world that it is ultimately impossible to separate church and state, or religion from the public square. Culture is merely the outgrowth of the morals and belief systems of its people.
7. Pastors And Religious Leaders Should Study To Show Themselves Approved Before They Speak (2 Timothy 2:15)

Whenever I hear a Christian leader speak on radio or television regarding a controversial subject I literally cringe when they merely give simple answers based on the Bible without having a thorough knowledge of the non-biblical subject. To influence society we must learn how to think biblically but speak secularly so we can adequately apply the biblical worldview to policy and culture.

8. Symbols Have More Power Than Mere Words And Actions

The Quran is empirically just paper and ink; it does not have the capacity to house Allah. In spite of this, Allah is mystically represented by the Quran because it contains (according to Muslims) the words of Allah. This carries with it so much weight as to equate the desecration of a Quran with the insulting of the creator of the universe, which is presently causing worldwide riots!

Symbols are powerful tools that can be used to alter history and change a culture! It was said that Constantine was converted to Christianity when he saw the sign of the cross in the sky with these words written in the clouds: “In this sign conquer”. This led him to fight at Milvian Bridge which led to him becoming the Roman Emperor that changed the course of Christianity and history!

Effective Christians are not only called to grasp the power of their own religious symbols (the Bible, the cross, the sign of the cross, etc.) but also to understand the symbols representing the religions and cultures of the people we are ministering to in our communities. By doing this, we are able to be sensitive when communicating and also able to use these symbols to communicate in the language of our audience, to connect our words with the emotions and hearts of our hearers!

Joseph Mattera