The case against Pastor McConnell and the Gospel

This week in Belfast, capital city of Northern Ireland – a country that would still regard itself as a very Christian country – Pastor James McConnell faces trial over remarks he made in a 2014 sermon about Islam. He stated “People say there are good Muslims in Britain – that may be so – but I don’t trust them. Islam is heathen, Islam is satanic, Islam is a doctrine spawned in hell.” Following hearing a recording of that sermon on the internet (after being conytacted by a newspaper asking for a comment on it) Dr Raied Al-Wazzan of the Belfast Islamic Centre lodged a complaint with the police that has resulted in the trial of Pastor McConnell for ‘making offensive remarks against Islam’.

{As an interesting note Dr Raied Al-Wazzan has pulled out of the trial due to controversy over remarks he has made praising Islamic State (remarks for which he has not faced court action) however the trial is still continuing.}

So let’s look at what Pastor McConnell said, what the Bible says, and why this matters for us.

Firstly, the “I don’t trust them” remark – there is no denying it, that is irresponsible for anyone to make such a sweeping stereotype of every single Muslim person in Britain, and is not the sort of bigoted remark you would expect of any Christian, never mind the leader (at the time) of one of Northern Ireland’s largest churches. It definitely flies against Jesus’ command to love your neighbour as yourself and the parable of the good Samaritan that reminds us sometimes our neighbour doesn’t share our faith. But while that remark was wrong and foolish, it is not the remark that got Pastor McConnell in hot water. The real issue that has led to this trial is what he went on to say about Islam the religion – “Islam is heathen, Islam is satanic, Islam is a doctrine spawned in hell.”

The dictionary defines “heathen” as “a person who does not belong to a widely held religion”. In Northern Ireland the “widely held religion” is Christianity. In court cases in the UK witnesses are asked to take an oath on the Bible to tell the truth and nothing but the truth while in the stand. That Bible includes the Gospel of John, where Jesus says in John 14:6I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” This is a central teaching of the Christian faith – Jesus is the only way to salvation. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. There is no other way according to the teachings of Jesus. It therefore stands to reason that if you are preaching Jesus as the only way to have eternal life then all other options that claim to offer eternal life must be viewed by you as false. They must be lies. We are reminded by Jesus that the devil is the originator of all lies in John 8:44You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” So therefore combining that with Jesus’ teaching that He is the only way to the Father we must conclude that either Jesus was lying or if He was telling the truth then all other religions that claim to offer a way to eternal life without faith in Jesus must be lies concocted by the father of lies, the devil – Satan. SO we must conclude that if we accept Jesus’ teachings as truth then the only category available for us to define Islam is a satanic false doctrine. That does not mean Muslims are evil people. It does not mean they are untrustworthy. It does not mean they are terrorists. Simply that they have been deluded by the father of lies. Just like everyone else from all other non-Christian religions (including atheism) have been deluded by the father of lies. And when we realise this we realise the implication of this trial. For if it is found that Pastor McConnell was wrong to say what he said about Islam then the implication is that we as Christians will be unable to freely proclaim what the entire Bible makes as its central claim – that we can be saved only by Jesus, that there is no other name on heaven or on earth by which people can be saved.

We are warned that “the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and turn away from listening to truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4). We live in an age of political correctness and equality, where everyone is entitled to believe what they want and advocate for it. Unless that happens to be orthodox Christianity. Because teaching that Jesus is the only way, the only truth and the only life does not sit easily with the itching ears of today’s society which seeks a version of universalism that says all beliefs are equally valid and equally true. Perhaps the real offense in Pastor McConnell’s message was his uncompromising belief in the truth of the exclusively inclusive saviour of the Gospel – Jesus Christ. The saviour who tells us that all can come to the Father through Him, but who reminds us that we can only come to the Father through Him and that all other religious systems claiming to offer eternal life are heathen satanic lies.

These next few days will be a real landmark case that determines if Northern Ireland is going to attempt to silence the gospel. This trial is about much more than one East Belfast pastor and his remarks on Islam. This is about the freedom of all of us to declare our Christian faith. This is the case of the sound teaching of Jesus Christ verses the passions of itching ears that yearn for universalism. Join us in praying for justice to be done this week!

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Learn more the author of this post:

Pete McM
The original founder of All4God, Pete is 26, lives in Northern Ireland, is a junior doctor, Ulster fan and is passionate about Jesus