Grieving with the family of the cross


They have names - Milad Makeen Zaky, Abanub Ayad Atiya, Maged Solaiman Shehata, and on and on - 21 of them. Their names seem odd to most of us in America, but they are our brothers. Our human brothers. Our Christian brothers.

The Islamic State beheaded these Coptic Christians in Libya. There is no way to ignore the religious nature of this massacre. Muslim extremists killed Christians because of their faith.

The video of the killings is titled "A Message Signed with Blood to the Nation of the Cross." Of course, we are no nation; we are a family.

Coptic Christianity counts John Mark, the author of the Gospel of Mark, as its founder in 43 A.D. This ancient church, centered in Alexandria, in many ways rivaled Rome for leadership. Basically, it split from the rest of Christianity in 451 A.D. as a result of the Council of Chalcedon.

There now are Coptic (or Egyptian) Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant Christians, but 95 percent of Egyptian Christians are Orthodox.

Western Christianity traditionally has accused Coptic Orthodox Christians of being "Monophysites," or believers in Christ's one nature to the point of denying his humanity. More recently, Copts themselves have used the word "Miaphysites," which means they believe Christ's human and divine natures united to make up his one nature.

What separated Christians centuries ago is of "little concern to most modern Copts," Christianity Today reported in 2012. "Of more importance is the development of spirituality."

The Christians martyred in the sands of Libya this month are indeed brothers of the Christians more commonly known in the West. "Coptic" says something about their faith just as "Baptist" says something of a person's faith, but both words are best used as adjectives to modify the noun, "Christian."

The atrocity in northern Africa is very real. It calls out for a response. But the Christian family is not like other families. We follow the Prince of Peace, the One who told us to turn the other cheek when someone assaults us, the One who said to love our neighbors as ourselves. In this family, we love even our enemies. Jesus said, "Bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you" (Matthew 5:44 NKJV).

We bless, we do good, we pray and we even love those Muslims who did this terrible crime and others like it.

And as we do so we must remember most Muslims are not like these vicious few. Muslims are not the enemy. Many of them value the same things we Christians do. They honor Jesus even though they do not worship Jesus as the unique and saving Son of God.

The killers in Libya were wrong when they referred to us as the "Nation of the Cross" when we, in fact, are a family. They are a self-described nation, the Islamic State, and other nations will deal with them accordingly.

They made the mistake of thinking we are like them. The followers of Christ are different. We are a family created, held together and empowered by God. As we remain true to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we show the world what God is really like - worthy to be worshiped, worthy to be followed.

And the blood that flowed from Calvary continues to offer covering for our sins, even the sin that caused blood to flow on a Libyan beach.

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