An article recently published in the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Sentinel Journal caught my eye about a week ago. The article, entitled Christians and Muslims, both under one roof : Faith Presbyterian in Franklin doubles as Islamic prayer center, details how one Presbyterian church has allowed its Islamic neighbors to come pray to Allah in the church twice a day (for a nominal fee).
According to the article,
Each Sunday, children gather in the fellowship hall at Faith Presbyterian Church to ponder the lessons of Christianity, among them, "Love your neighbor as yourself."
Now the church is setting a real-life example for the kids, by opening its Sunday school space to its Muslim neighbors for two of their five daily prayers.
Faith Presbyterian becomes the third satellite prayer center for area Muslims who wish to pray communally but may not be able to get across town to one of the four area mosques. The other prayer sites are at Waukesha Memorial Hospital and the Muslim Student Center on Milwaukee's east side.
"We're very grateful to the church," said Ajaz Qhavi, a Franklin physician and Muslim who worked with church officials on behalf of the Islamic Center of Milwaukee.
Faith Presbyterian's pastor, the Rev. Deb Bergeson-Graham, welcomed the visitors as an opportunity for her congregation to live their Christian faith.
"I think we're doing this, not because of what they believe, but because of what we believe," said Bergeson-Graham. "It's what Christ would have us do."
I give Rev. Bergeson-Graham and her church's church council credit for having their hearts in the right places. I just wonder where their heads are at.
Certainly, it is in the highest tradition of churches to open the doors of the church to the needy. Jesus told us to care for people who are different than us. He told us to love our neighbors including our enemies. The followers of Islam, while not enemies, are certainly not of one mind with Christianity. Outside of sharing a belief in one god, Islam shares very few of the same beliefs or doctrines as Christianity. Still, this church is opening its doors to the Muslims in a show of love and care when these Muslims find it difficult to travel to their own Mosque or worship center. That is commendable.
It also strikes me that inviting people into the church to pray to a different god is probably not something that Jesus "would have us do." In the Old Testament Israel, there was a definite separation of faiths when it came to the Temple. Praying to a different God would definitely not have been permitted -- in fact, it would have been seen as defiling the temple. The reason that it was wrong to pray to other gods in the temple was due to the holiness of God.
The Bible teaches that God is holy. (Lev. 11:44, 19:2; 1 Peter 1:15) A good explanation of this concept of "holiness" can be found in a web page entitled What does the Bible say about holiness? What does it mean to be holy?, where it says:
What does it mean that God is holy? Passages like 1 Samuel 2:2 and Isaiah 6:3 are just two of many examples of passages about God’s holiness. Another way to say it is absolute perfection. God is unlike any other (see Hosea 11:9), and His holiness is the essence of that "otherness." His very being is completely absent of even a trace of sin (James 1:13; Hebrews 6:18). He is high above any other, and no one can compare to Him (Psalm 40:5). God’s holiness pervades His entire being and shapes all His attributes. His love is a holy love, His mercy is holy mercy, and even His anger and wrath are holy anger and holy wrath. These concepts are difficult for humans to grasp, just as God is difficult for us to understand in His entirety.
Next, what does it mean for us to be holy? When God told Israel to be holy in Leviticus 11 and 19, He was instructing them to be distinct from the other nations by giving them specific regulations to govern their lives. Israel is God's chosen nation and God has set them apart from all other people groups. They are His special people, and consequently they were given standards that God wanted them to live by so the world would know they belonged to Him. When Peter repeats the Lord's words in 1 Peter 1:16, he is talking specifically to believers. As believers, we need to be "set apart" from the world unto the Lord. We need to be living by God's standards, not the world's. God isn't calling us to be perfect, but to be distinct from the world. First Peter 2:9 describes believers as "a holy nation." It is a fact! We are separated from the world; we need to live out that reality in our day-to-day lives, which Peter tells us how to do in 1 Peter 1:13-16.
God's holiness means that He is perfect and is set apart. Those places that are set apart for Him, churches, should likewise be kept holy. While today's churches are no longer the equivalent of the Temple of Jerusalem since God has chosen to indwell His believers, a building that has been set aside for worship of Him should be kept separate for that purpose. The church should not be kept separate for all purposes. If the Muslims want to use the church building, that's fine. But if the Muslim people use the church as a place that worships another God then that crosses the line. The church, which has been dedicated to serving the one true God -- the Triune God described in the New Testament -- should not have that separation violated by allowing a worship service to another god take place in its premises.
If the church is allowing the Muslim people to use its premises as part of an outreach, that's fine -- as long as they aren't using the church for worship of Allah. If, however, the Muslim people use the church for worship of Allah (as is the case) then that's a problem. It sends a message that there is nothing holy or special about God and that Christianity and Islam are simply competing religious sects worshipping the same God. That's wrong.