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    House of Prayer

    Should churches make room for other religions? April 17, 2015 by Colonel Bob Ward and Major Amy Reardon
    Filed Under:
    Opinion & Critical Thought
    In this series, Colonel Bob Ward, who retired in 2013 as the territorial commander in Pakistan, and Major Amy Reardon, corps officer at Seattle Temple in Washington, U.S.A., discuss issues of the day.

    DEAR AMY,

    I was encouraged recently to learn that Muslim leaders had been invited to conduct their Friday prayers in the Washington Cathedral, the site of many national events and funeral services for former presidents. I understand this initiative was an outcome of a discussion related to a memorial service for Nelson Mandela. The South African ambassador, Dr. Ebrahim Rasool, is a Muslim. I know him from our days in Cape Town. As minister of health, he understood and supported the role of faith-based hospitals, including The Salvation Army's, in the health-care system. He called the invitation “a powerful symbolic gesture.”

    The occasion brought to mind a similar event organized by one of our divisional commanders in Pakistan during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. When the call to prayer sounded from a nearby mosque, the Shia and Sunni leaders rose to find a suitable place to pray. The divisional commander invited them into the nearby corps building, saying, “We have prepared a place inside for you.” They accepted this unique offer and went in to pray. I was taken aback, but on reflection realized this was right. Jesus reminded the buyers and sellers in the temple that “It is written, 'My house will be called a house of prayer' ” (Matthew 21:13). He was quoting Isaiah: “These I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations” (Isaiah 56:7; emphasis mine).

    I applaud the Washington Cathedral effort to encourage people from other faith communities, particularly from the monotheistic tradition. It spoke to me of the intended use of places of worship, as well as the Christian virtue of hospitality.

    Imagine my disappointment with the criticism and protest this occasion generated. Dr. Franklin Graham complained on Facebook: “It's sad to see a church open its doors to the worship of anything other than the one true God of the Bible.” A protester had to be removed from the service, shouting, “Jesus Christ died on that cross over there,” concluding that only Jesus should be prayed to. She was oversimplifying the complex theological issues. I wonder what the Muslims who had come to pray thought of her actions and words. I do understand people's sensitivity to anything Islamic since the 9/11 tragedy. However, the emphasis of Jesus' ministry was building bridges, not walls. To my way of thinking, the Washington Cathedral initiative is in the best spirit of building positive relationships and promoting healthy dialogue and good will among people of faith. I hope you agree.

    BOB




    DEAR BOB,

    I remember the days when we arrogantly believed that Christians possessed all truth and those of all other faiths were just pagans of varying stripes. Most of us now acknowledge that other religions do possess some truth and we can understand how people are drawn to those faiths. Still, Jesus claimed to be the truth and I don't see a lot of wiggle room in that enormous claim.

    I have been to the National Cathedral many times, having lived in the Washington, D.C., area for six years. Though it is an Episcopalian church, it represents the worship practices of the American people. A national commander of The Salvation Army was installed there. My husband's recent graduation from a Methodist seminary was conducted there. I visited the cathedral for a morning of private prayer and celebration on my 30th anniversary of becoming a soldier, and viewed a stained-glass picture of William Booth at an open-air meeting.

    The atmosphere of the National Cathedral isn't particularly Episcopalian. Even if it were, the Episcopalians are a liberal group, not a dogmatic one. I wasn't at all surprised, then, that a Muslim prayer service was conducted there—in fact, I was more surprised to learn that it had never happened before!

    I am, however, caught off guard at the idea of a Salvation Army building being used for Muslim prayer. Part of me appreciates the courtesy and respect the divisional commander showed in the story you told. But what is more significant, to me, than such a genteel spirit is the phrase “Holiness unto the Lord,” which is draped across most holiness tables in Army buildings. I hope we agree that the word “Lord,” in our context, refers to the triune God, whom you and I both worship and whom The Salvation Army upholds doctrinally as the “only proper object of religious worship.” I have always thought the physical space of our buildings is sacred, as much as a building can be sacred.
    Are we worshipping the same God as those who practise the Islamic faith?

    You mentioned Isaiah 56:7, noting in particular that God's house is to be a house of prayer for all nations. The idea of “all nations” begins in verse six, with the mention of “foreigners.” Let's look at verses six and seven: “And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant—these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.”

    As I read it, these verses speak of those who have come from foreign lands, but have decided to worship the God of the Israelites. In fact, they are submitting themselves to the religious practices of the Hebrews: keeping the Sabbath and observing the covenant. These are not people who come to the holy mountain and the house of God in order to worship foreign gods. They are worshipping the God of Israel in the way he has prescribed. I'm not sure, then, how this text supports the idea of the Christian faith—which we understand to be the completion of the Hebrew faith—making space in its “house of prayer” for the practice of another faith. I also can't think of any instance of Jesus building bridges by making room for other religions. He was in the business of lovingly guiding people to the truth.

    I respect people of other faiths and support freedom of belief (though I wish all of humankind could enjoy the loving fellowship of Christ). I also am convinced that there is some truth to be found in other religions. However, allowing worship of something other than the triune God sends the message that we think all faiths bring equal knowledge of the one true God. Since we believe that this God was ultimately revealed to us through Jesus Christ, we do not believe that other faiths equally present the God of the universe. Scripture teaches that one day every knee will bow at the name of Jesus Christ. I think that should be the practice within our sacred spaces now.

    AMY




    DEAR AMY,

    OK, so I have to think more deeply about the Isaiah reference! One issue is whether Islam is a completely different faith, with a different god. It could be argued that Muslims are spiritual cousins to Christians, along with the Jews. The Qur'an acknowledges Jewish and Christian traditions as “people of the book”—each traces its origins back to the God of Abraham. For the last four centuries, Christians in Malaysia and Indonesia have translated “God” as “Allah.” The strained relationship between Islam and Christianity today could be considered similar to the one between the Jews and Samaritans of Jesus' day. Despite being a Jew, Jesus went out of his way to minister to Samaritans (the woman at the well) and make another the hero of his most famous parable (the Good Samaritan). So when Muslims enter our building and see the motto “Holiness unto the Lord,” do we need to add the caveat “triune God” or can we not leave it as a plain, clear and practical invitation? Paul reminds us that Jesus is the mediator between us and God (see 1 Timothy 2:5). Are we in a position to tell Jesus where he must draw the line?

    We are known for providing practical service without discrimination and have a history of reaching out to the lost and marginalized. I would suggest in this time of fear and suspicion, a Salvation Army that serves both in the West and in Islamic countries could be a remarkable bridge. We shouldn't be eclipsed by the provocative initiative of the Washington Cathedral.

    BOB




    DEAR BOB,

    It is interesting to think of the Muslim-Christian difference as being similar to the Samaritan-Jew difference. I haven't considered that before.

    In the tension between Samaritans and Jews, the discussion was not whom to worship, but where. As far as I know, there was never any question as to whether or not they were worshipping the same God—at least not by the time Jesus was on earth. (The earlier history of the Samaritans was far more convoluted.) I think you hit on the key question: Are we worshipping the same God as those who practise the Islamic faith? Christians define God by his triune nature. I am tempted to say that anyone who doesn't worship the Trinity could not be worshipping the true God. But I stop short of that assertion because I do not believe that faithful Jews are worshipping a false God; they simply do not recognize him in the fullness we acknowledge. Still, I think it is obvious that the relationship between the Jewish faith and the Christian faith is far more intimate than any possible relationship between Christianity and Islam. The Gospels, Acts, Galatians and other parts of the New Testament testify to that.

    Love must win the day. It is a joy to befriend people of any faith, to live beside them, work together, serve them and meet their needs. But I think that sometimes compromise can be mistaken for love. We show the greatest love when we stand by what we understand to be true—such as the trinitarian definition of God—even if it is difficult to do so and makes us seem unyielding. In my opinion, reserving our buildings for worship of the God we know is one humble way of demonstrating our deference to his glory. I don't think it is tantamount to telling Jesus where to draw the line.

    AMY

    Comment

    On Monday, July 27, 2015, Victoria said:

    I agree with Dr. Franklin Graham when he complained on Facebook: "It's sad to see a church open its doors to the worship of anything other than the one true God of the Bible."

    I was disturbed to know that an officer in Pakistan apparently took it upon himself to step over the
    line and go beyond the boundary to invite a foreign religion to use their sacred church to pray to WHOM? other than the one true God of the Bible.

    God, the Holy Spirit must have grieved when they used the church that was dedicated to the honor of Glory of God Almighty to pray to WHOM? other than the one true God of the Bible

    On Tuesday, April 28, 2015, Christina said:

    This is just wrong.

    You cant build seek dialogue with a faith so opposed to the truth that they reject Jesus Christ as the way, the truth and the life.

    YES you should love your neighbor which includes even Muslims; but God has made it perfectly clear that His house belongs only to Christian believers and those who are honest seekers of the truth.

    ANYONE who openly rejects the truth and isn't even willing to at least listen has no place in a Christian church

    When Jesus said that His house will be a house of prayer for all nations He was speaking only of those who believe on His through His word and believe in the Father who sent the Son. It does not belong to those who hate truth.

    To Amy who wrote

    I remember the days when we arrogantly believed that Christians possessed all truth and those of all other faiths were just pagans of varying stripes. Most of us now acknowledge that other religions do possess some truth and we can understand how people are drawn to those faiths. Still, Jesus claimed to be the truth and I don’t see a lot of wiggle room in that enormous claim.

    That is because there ISNT any wiggle room.

    When Jesus said I am the way, the truth and the liFe, NO ONE cometh unto the Father BUT BY ME, I think that message is pretty clear.

    Also 1 John 4
    4:2 Hereby * know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:
    4:3 And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.

    That is pretty clear too.

    WAKE UP people. We are call called to account for ourselves before Christ when our time comes.

    Do you want to be called to account when Christ asks you WHY did you let those who are AGAINST me into My house?

    And I am seriously considering becoming at least a soldier of the Salvation Army...maybe I need to do it to shake things up....

    Jim Ellis writes:

    ‘”There will be no peace among the nations without peace among the religions. There will be no peace among the religions without dialogue among the religions, and there will be no serious dialogue among the religions without common ethical standards.”

    There cant be any peace amongst world religions as I have said when all others are so opposed to the truth. Though all religions have some common ground any so called bridge between Christianity and other world religions is but a rotten one with many missing boards and no one can cross it without falling through.

    The only way to save others is yes, to love them, but also preach the truth without fear and do noting to compromise your faith in any way. Jesus is Lord and God come in the flesh for sinful men and He is the ONLY way, the ONLY truth and the ONLY path to eternal life.

    To something Kathy C wrote, I should have added…

    One question to consider in this discussion – does giving space in a corps building consititute a compromise of our faith?

    simple….YES for reasons I have just given

    She also said

    In Acts at Pentecost the Glory of God descended upon all people like tongues of fire.

    That’s all believers in Jesus not just anyone and everyone.

    On Sunday, April 26, 2015, Kathie Chiu said:

    One question to consider in this discussion - does giving space in a corps building consititute a compromise of our faith? In Acts at Pentecost the Glory of God descended upon all people like tongues of fire. Paul tells us that we ourselves, our bodies are the temple of God. His shekina glory lives within us and we are all "walking around as the sun" as Thomas Merton says. We do not worship our buildings. They are not sacred in and of themselves. I'm also pretty sure that DC mentioned by Bob was not making a compromise of faith, but a gesture to build bridges. And it is in multi faith gatherings that we shine as Christians, humble in spirit and reaching out to others. If you want to be evangelical in your faith you can't do it without building bridges.

    On Friday, April 24, 2015, Alonzo Twyne said:

    Amen Lorne. Christ broke into this religious lost world and drew a straight line that was to be and is the only way; He was the lamb to be slaughtered. There is no other way. I love and have worked close with others involved in different religions but there is no making peace, working together and everything is OK, otherwise we are saying that we are smarter than God and that Jesus didn't need to come because we can just sit down together and figure it out - naught.

    On Friday, April 24, 2015, Florence Gruer said:

    During my days as a Settlement Worker for newcomers (immigrants & refugees) and then Director of Immigrant & Refugee Services, I learned so much from people of diverse cultures and religions. - I admired the faithfulness of people from different faith groups, respecting their times of fasting and prayer. At work, we made accommodation within our own offices for quiet prayer time for individuals who requested it and felt blessed by those sacred times. - It is when we meet people as individuals and find the points of connection (being a mother, a daughter, a husband, etc.) that we can begin to share about our faiths and build those bridges that wipe out racism, discrimination, intolerance. - May we all humble ourselves to see in others our brother and sister.

    On Friday, April 24, 2015, Lorne Pritchett said:

    I am happy to be in relationship with anybody regardless of religion or creed. The question is, are they content to be in relationship with me. The real me. I am a deeply committed Christian and as such actually believe the self revelation of Jesus when He said 'No one comes unto the Father except by me.' Jesus asked the Father, '"Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done."' Just a few hours later the answer was clear as the sins of the whole world was laid upon Him. There is no other Saviour. If I am asked to gather together in a spirit of compromise - exactly what is the compromise? There are things in this world that cannot be reconciled - certain beliefs held by other world religions that totally objects to a biblical Christology. As a Christian I would be the first to defend the right of everybody to choose their God and to practice their religion in a legal and peaceful manner. Yet I do not consider any other world religion as an equivalent to Christianity. We simply do not agree on the person and ministry of Jesus Christ - and that is a deal breaker for me.

    On Wednesday, April 22, 2015, Jim Ellis said:

    '"There will be no peace among the nations without peace among the religions. There will be no peace among the religions without dialogue among the religions, and there will be no serious dialogue among the religions without common ethical standards." I am even convinced there will be no survival of this globe in freedom, in justice, and in peace without global ethical standards, without a global ethic.' (Hans Küng).
    Slowly but surely, humanity's religions are moving away from triumphalism and exclusiveness towards a healthy mutual respect for each other's traditions. Expressions of this such as sharing sacred spaces and thus building bridges is encouraging and hopeful. Paul Knitter has been a strong voice on this issue for many years. His book, No Other Name?, was an inspiration to me many years ago. In a more recent book (The Myth of Christian Uniqueness: Toward a Pluralistic Theology of Religions) he is joined by many eminent Christian theologians - Protestant and Catholic, male and female, from East and West, First and Third Worlds, (including Gordon D. Kaufman, John Hick, Langdon Gilkey, Wilfred Cantwell Smith, Stanley J. Samartha, Raimundo Panikkar, Seiichi Yagi, Rosemary Radford Ruether, Marjorie Jewitt Suchocki, Aloysius Pieris, and Tom F. Drive) expanding and refining the discussion and debate over pluralistic theology.
    There is a growing Multifaith dynamic around the world, including a very strong expression in the GTA, with a center of excellence at Scarborough Missions from which the Golden Rule Poster was born, thanks to Paul McKenna. (https://www.scarboromissions.ca/Interfaith_dialogue/).
    The parable of the Good Samaritan speaks volumes about Jesus's attitude towards people of faith traditions other than his own.
    There was a time when most people of other religious beliefs and practices lived 'overseas' where we sent Christian missionaries to convert them. Now they are our neighbors here in Canada. Getting to know them personally and allowing them to know us is grace-filled and transformative. We need to do more of that, and sharing our churches with them is one of those hope-filled opportunities.

    On Sunday, April 19, 2015, steve henderson said:

    While I freely admit i have no degree in theology, greek, or hebrew studies, I rely on the time tested Bible scholars John Gill & Matthew Henry and neither one mentions anything about what Major Reardon writes or contends. In the case of the CO offering a space in the corps building there in Pakistan I am not sure what year that may have occurred but with the well know & documented problems and physical attacks on non muslims & none islamic facilities in recent history my first reaction is that is was done as a form of appeasement disguised as a Christ like form of ecumenicism. To support my contention that what was written concerning Isaiah 56:7 was and is related to Major Readon's Contention I post John Gill's understanding of what Isaiah 56:7 means and who it refers to Isaiah 56:7
    Even them will I bring to my holy mountain,.... The church, called a "mountain" for its height, visibility, and immovableness; see Isa_2:2, especially for the latter; the true members of it being such who are interested in the unchangeable love of God, in the immovable grace of election, in the unalterable covenant of grace, are on the Rock Christ Jesus, and are secured by the favour and power of God; and it is called a "Holy One", because in it holy men are, holy doctrines are preached, holy services performed, and the holy God, Father, Son, and Spirit, grant their presence: and hither the Lord "brings" his people; he shows them the way thither; he inclines their minds, and moves their wills, to come hither; he removes the objections that are in their way; he constrains them by his love; and he does it in a very distinguishing way, takes one of a city, and two of a family, and brings them hither; and he who says this is able to do it; and, when he has brought them there, will do for them as follows:

    and make them joyful in my house of prayer; or "in the house of my prayer" (p); not made by him, as say the Jews (q); but where prayer is made unto him, and is acceptable with him; every man's closet should be a place of private prayer; and every good man's house a place of family prayer; but a church of God is a house where saints meet together, and jointly pray to the Lord: and here he makes them joyful; by hearing and answering their prayers; by granting his gracious presence; by discovering his love, and shedding it abroad in their hearts; by feeding them with his word and ordinances; by giving them views of Christ, his love and loveliness, fulness, grace, and righteousness: by favouring them with the consolations of his Spirit, and his gracious influences; and by showing them their interest in the blessings of grace and glory:

    their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar: which is Christ, who is not only the priest that offers up all the sacrifices of his people, but is also the altar on which they are offered up, Heb_13:10, and is the only One, and the most Holy One, which is greater than the gift, and sanctifies every gift that is upon it, and makes both the persons and the offerings of the Lord's people acceptable unto God; for by these offerings and sacrifices are not meant legal but spiritual ones; good deeds, acts of beneficence, rightly performed, with which sacrifices God is well pleased; sacrifices of prayer and praise; and even the persons of saints themselves, their bodies and their souls, when presented, a holy, living, and acceptable sacrifice unto God, Heb_13:15, the prophet here speaks in figures, agreeably to his own time, as Calvin observes, when speaking of Gospel times; so he makes mention of the sabbath before, instead of the Lord's day, or any time of worship under the Gospel dispensation:

    for mine house shall be called a house of prayer for all people; Gentiles as well as Jews; the sons of the strangers, as others, are all welcome to the church of God, to come and worship, and pray to the Lord there, and that is in any place where the saints meet together; for holy hands may be lifted up everywhere, without wrath or doubting, 1Ti_2:8. The Jews apply this verse to the time when the son of David, the Messiah, shall come (r).

    (p) בבית תפלתי "in domo orationis meae", V. L. Vatablus, Pagninus, Montanus, Vitringa. (q) T. Bab. Beracot, fol. 7. 1. (r) T. Bab. Megillah, fol. 18. 1.

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