Lessons From an Antique Land
Drawing lessons from the past can be a risky business, fraught with over-simplification and naivety. But the task is nevertheless inevitable, necessary and right. If you believe, as all Christians do, that God’s glory and wisdom is displayed in His handiwork and that His handiwork includes both creation and providence then history not only reveals God’s glory, it must be seen as intrinsically instructive–for those who have eyes to see.
Historians have often noted the rapid spread of Islam in the 6th century. Some even imply that it was miraculous. Others, demonic. Muslim apologists point to it as a sign of Allah’s pleasure.
Some things are clear.
Firstly, the newly-Islamic Arab raiders were welcomed by the local populations, particularly in Syria. Byzantine rule–maintained by a few garrisons–had become odious in the eyes of local people. The local population joined with the Islamic invaders, welcoming them, and joining together to drive the Byzantine Greeks from their lands. Likewise in Egypt, the local populations joined forces with the Islamic Arabs to destroy the power of Byzantium.
Why did Providence allow such a wholesale apostatising in such a short time? The reason is that the Christian faith was pushed into the Middle East by the power of the Empire. And the Byzantine Empire was untrustworthy, nefarious, devious, and ruthless. In the eyes of the local populations, Christianity became associated with the perfidy of Constantinople. Those who foolishly attempt to promote and defend the Gospel and the Christian faith by the oppression of the sword will end up judged by the Prince of Peace. It was the Byzantines who destroyed Christendom in Arabia, Syria, and Egypt; the Islamic forces were merely the mopping up instrument.
Thus, according to Alfred Guillaume (Islam [Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1956], p.18)
the Greeks paved the way for their own downfall. [The declension of Constantinople] was the logical outcome of the shameful treatment of Arab Christians by their orthodox rulers. Their policy was as foolish as it was wicked. (T)hey stood for tyranny and injustice in the eyes of the Arabs, and through them Christianity was associated with perfidy. (Ibid., p. 18f)
The Gospel and the sword are inimical. The sword can never be the instrument of the evangel. When men foolishly attempt to deploy the sword to advance Christendom, as a substitute for the preaching of the Gospel and the patient, persistent teaching of the Scriptures, being laid upon the hearts of disciples, the light of the Gospel is withdrawn.
Christianity in the sixth century in the Middle East was riddled with monophysitism; theologically its doctrines and teachings were much closer to the Islamic Allah than to the triune God. The only way God has given to deliver people from such errors is the faithful teaching and preaching of holy Scripture. The Greeks tried a “smarter way”: it destroyed both them and the Christian faith in the Middle East.
As one eastern despot once said: “look on my works, ye mighty and be afraid.”