Sharing Churches with Muslims; Ignoring God's Holiness

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.


Anonymous said…
Christians allowing Muslims in their churches? *That* surely won't spark another holy war...

Idiots. Stop trying to wipe all the life off of the planet, and allow the rest of us to try to live in peace.
Jason Pratt said…
On a more pertinent and accurate criticism... {rolling eyes}

I would be willing to bet that most of the people (might we even expect the vast majority?) who worshiped Allah (as quite orthodox Palestinian Christians still call Him, in Arabic) in the Temple (and in the synagogue, for that matter), did not consider YHWH to have the trinitarian characteristics we accept to be true of Him. For that matter, I suspect that most of them did not expect the Messiah to be God Incarnate, nor expect the Messiah to be shamefully executed in a fashion routinely understood to be cursed by God, despite being (at the very least) a faithful prophet of God.

(Granted, there's some debate, I suppose, as to how far back the eventually-popular Jewish "two-Messiah conquering son of David following and avenging the executed son of Joseph" theory goes; personally I have a strong suspicion it goes back to early debates with Christians over Jesus, late 1st c early 2nd c, if not earlier. But we can at least agree that Jesus' own Jewish disciples weren't expecting God to allow a faithful prophet to really die like that. {g})

Yet, we don't claim (so far as I've ever heard) that the pre-Christian Jews were worshiping another God, despite these problems. And (as far as I've ever heard) we don't claim that the post-Christian non-Christian Jews are worshiping another God, despite being far more sheerly monotheistic in specific contravention to Christianity. (Note: Mormons do claim that the pre-Christian Jews were worshiping another God, in a way, kind of, and still are today. But they're avowedly not orthodox trinitarians, either. {lopsided g})

Neither do we let Jews today hold worship services in our churches, as a general rule. And I can certainly see why doing so would be problematic. Ditto for Muslims holding Islamic services in our churches. Or, for that matter, Christians holding services in (specifically non-Christian) synagogues or in Islamic mosques. (Some nods to friendship and learning about each other's beliefs aside, as special exceptions.)

So I'm not disagreeing with the thrust of the post. But I do wonder if the basic ground might be better put.

In passing, I could see why a church might think it a great opportunity for apologetic evangelization opportunities--assuming the Islamic community allowed it! Which they might, under Islamic principles, so long as they get equal opportunity to evangelize back. {g} But I'd be willing to bet that if one or the other side started making real headway, the permission to worship in that church would be shut down by the other side, as a practical matter; and not unreasonably.

Or, since these are Presbs, maybe they're the ultra-liberal types who don't care much about doctrinal distinctions and even believe less than the Muslims when it comes to it. {ironic g!} In which case Lewis' injunction might very well apply: they'd better go learn from Islam until they're ready for Christianity! {lol!} But they might take their doctrinal professions about God more seriously than that.

My point is that they might take their doctrinal professions as seriously as anyone in the Cadre does, while still keeping in mind that we don't treat Jews as "worshiping another God" despite the fact their theological doctrines concerning God, per se, are indistinguishable for the most part from Islamic doctrines.

(At least, if anyone here in the Cadre is doing that, it would be news to me--and rather unusual, in my experience. It would in fact be the very first time in my thirty-something years of living and studying Christianity that I've heard of that position being taken by Christians... {shrug}{s})

BK said…

Funny, I don't see war breaking out over this. Also, the last I checked no one in Christianity is trying to wipe all life off the planet.
BK said…

No one in Christianity (of which I am aware) disagrees that YHWH is the same God as Christians worship. There is a difference, however, with respect to the god worshipped by Islam. That god, while loosely based on the OT, is a remarkable revision of the Jewish faith to the point where those following Islam do not see the Jews as following the same god. So, I personally believe that the people of Islam, while being monotheists, do not worship the God of the Bible.

With respect to the Presbyterians, I have said I respect their hearts. I just simply don't agree that there is any way to allow prayer to another God in church that can be seen as Biblical. I am not questioning their faith -- I am questioning their common sense.
BK said…
I should add that I am a Presbyterian -- just a lot more conservative than I expect that those who attend this particular church are.
Jason Pratt said…
BK: {{There is a difference, however, with respect to the god worshipped by Islam. That god, while loosely based on the OT, is a remarkable revision of the Jewish faith to the point where those following Islam do not see the Jews as following the same god.}}

That's peculiar, because what (relatively little, compared to Judeo-Christianity, of course) I've read from Muslims, both in apologetics to us and in interMuslim tradition, I have never once seen them deny that Christians worship Allah and often that they affirm we do (just very wrongly, in their eyes, by adding Jesus and maybe Mary (!) to make tri-theism). Similarly, while nothing comes particularly to mind concerning them affirming that Jews worship Allah, too, I don't recall them denying it either.

Which is precisely why Jews and Christians were (and to some degree still are) permitted to live and worship in even super-conservative Muslim communities, under dhimmitude. Pagans in conquered Muslim territories (classically speaking) get one chance at conversion, and then are executed. Jews and Christians are allowed to live, worship, and even witness (under major restrictions, of course).

This all follows from Muslims having to take seriously both the corporate historical traditions they revere concerning OT/NT characters and events, and Mohammad's own exhortation for us Jews and Christians to be sought out (for validation of Islam, of course) as People of the Book.

Modern criticism of modern Jews by modern Muslims aside--which might have rather more socio-political groundings than strictly theological ones--it seems obvious enough to me that Muslims not only affirm Allah to be the God worshiped by Christians and Jews, but are positively required to affirm this by their theology, prophetic tradition, and eschatology (with Islam being supposedly the final capping revelation of the legitimate revelation process given by Allah to Jews and Christians.)

They have to think Christians badly botched it up later, naturally; and similarly they have to think Jews creatively rewrote the OT so that the promises of God went to Isaac instead of to Ishmael (though interestingly Muslims still revere great heroes of the Jewish line subsequently, especially David and Solomon). But that still involves them believing that we're making wrong doctrinal professions about the right God (so to speak).

In any case, it might be worth working up an article on how the Islamic Allah is such a remarkable revision of the Jewish Lord God, theologically, that the people of Islam (despite being supernaturalistic theists) are not worshiping the same God recognized by Judaism. To the point where, unlike with sheerly monotheistic Jews, we orthodox Christians would be obliged to say that Muslims worship a very distinctly different god (little 'g'? as though they aren't supernaturalistic theists after all?) than we do.

{{I just simply don't agree that there is any way to allow prayer to another God in church}}

Certainly!--no moreso than could be properly allowed in the Temple.

Jews did, however, allow Gentile God-fearers limited-but-substantial access to worshiping in the Temple (if not in the synagogue), even when the Gentiles didn't yet accept the historical narrative of God's actions in the OT. That was what the whole Court of the Gentiles was for. Which Someone got extremely ticced off about (twice), when Jewish religious authorities started preventing Gentiles from worshiping there by moving the sacrificial merchandising operations into that area.

Which in turn is why, although I would agree that there are very good reasons why even worshiping the-same-God-wrongly should be discouraged in a given church (rare special ecumenical cases aside perhaps), much moreso worshiping a different God-or-god... nevertheless: God made provision for those who barely only knew Him yet to worship Him in Jerusalem, too.

So there might be something allowable along that line, in a Christian church as well. It would have to be carefully set up and regulated, of course. (But it still might not be theologically appropriate with Muslims, since even if they're worshiping the same God, though incompletely, their own religious tradition is very well established already in competitive claims vs. Judaism and Christianity. Even when Muslims allow us dhimmitude, I doubt they're much in favor of us worshiping in their mosques as Jews and Christians. Nor do I blame them for that.)

BK said…
Fair enough. My experience in dealing with the Islamic faith is apparently a bit different than yours. I plan on taking some time to look into the matter further.
Anonymous said…

Apparently you've never heard of the Culture War. And you people are supposed to look forward to heaven, where you can watch scum like me burn in hell for eternity, remember?

Sheesh, it's almost as though you people forget the things that I learned in Sunday school when I was about 7 years old...
BK said…

Apparently, you need to go back to Sunday School. You apparently didn't quite understand the lessons. :)
Anonymous said…
I understand more about your vile religion than I will ever need to understand. Do I make myself clear, Christian?

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