What would you do?

A friend of mine, Jason Micheli, is a pastor in Arlington Virginia at Aldersgate Methodist. Jason is young and gifted; he’s a fine preacher (below) and he’s also wise beyond his years.

Recently a local group of Muslims in his community were in need of facility space for their Friday Jummah prayers, and the Muslims asked to use use their church facility for five months, the pastors at Aldersgate met and decided it was the right thing to do … and not all in the church agreed …

A big issue today as more religions gain numbers in the USA, and I would recommend — as a beginning point — Gerald McDermott: God’s Rivals: Why Has God Allowed Different Religions? Insights from the Bible and the Early Church. And the earlier post today by David Opderbeck touches this very issue too.

… and here is Jason’s sermon from that Sunday’s service. I would encourage you to read it.

What would you do? Would you permit local Muslims to use your facilities for religious purposes? Why or why not? If so, would you have any conditions?

The Form of God’s Shalom

A few years ago, before she graduated, I went with my wife, Ali, to a law school party.

I hate parties. I avoid them. I go only begrudgingly and when I’m in them I’m tempted, like George Castanza from Seinfeld, to pretend I’m anything other than a minister- a marine biologist, say, or an architect. Nothing stops party conversations in their tracks like saying you’re a minister, and nothing provokes unwanted conversations like saying you’re a minister.

So, there I was at this party full of wannabe lawyers, gnawing like a beaver on celery sticks, desperately trying to keep conversation to superficial things when this Urban-Outfitted guy asked me what I did for a living. And because my wife was nearby I told him the truth.

Sure enough, the first thing he did was discretely move his wine glass behind his back. Then he copped an elitist air and said: ‘Well, of course I’m not a Christian, but I do try to live a good life and help people when I can. Isn’t that what Christianity’s really all about?’

And I thought: ‘Wow, that’s really deep. Did you come up with that all on your own or is that the fruit of years of philosophical searching? I’ll want to remember that. I might be able to use that in a sermon some day. Not.’

Today’s scripture text from Matthew 25 seems like the perfect example of such do-good moralism.

One of the most obvious features of this judgment scene is what’s missing from it. When it comes to the sheep and the goats, there’s no mention of a confession of faith. There’s no mention of justification. Nothing is said here about forgiveness of sins or grace.

There’s nothing here about what we say or believe or feel about Jesus.

Many conclude from this text then that our beliefs, our doctrine, our faith are all incidental when compared to our deeds, that this parable shows us that what really matters is what we do, that one day we will be judged not on the strength or sincerity of our faith but on the presence of our good deeds to others.

The only problem with such an interpretation is that its an interpretation that doesn’t require Jesus; in fact, you can forget Jesus is the one telling the parable.

The suggestion that ‘doing good to others is really what it’s all about’ is hardly a novel concept. It’s not specifically Christian or even particularly religious.

There has to be more going on here.

Jesus and the disciples have just left the Temple in Jerusalem where Jesus preached a series of woes against the faithless city. It was while they were there that the disciples couldn’t help but marvel over the impressive architecture of Herod’s temple mount.

And hearing their amazement, Jesus responds by predicting the complete destruction of every building they see, stone for stone.

Then Jesus leads them up to the Mt of Olives.

When they get there, the disciples ask Jesus: When will temple be destroyed and what will be the sign of the coming age?

Rather then answer them directly, Jesus responds with a series of parables about what kind of people his People should be in order to anticipate the coming age.

And the setting for all of this is the Mt of Olives, the place where Jews believed God would begin to usher in the new age (Zechariah 14.1-5).

Jesus predicts destruction, he takes them up to this mountain that’s loaded with symbolism- so why wouldn’t the disciples ask: ‘What will be the sign?’

That this is the setting for today’s scripture is key to understanding Jesus’ parable. Because the setting is the place where Jews believed God wouldend this age, to read this parable rightly you have to go all the way back to the very beginning of scripture.

Every year I spend the first three weeks of our confirmation program drilling into the confirmands’ heads that harmony was God’s intention from the very beginning. Harmony with creation, with one another, with Father, Son and Spirit.

Sometimes we spend so much time praising God for dying for our sins we forget that Sin was not in the first draft of God’s story. We forget that harmony was God’s original design, and we forget that harmony is God’s promise for a New Creation.

The Hebrew word for that harmony is ‘shalom,’  a word the New Testament translates as ‘peace.’ But it’s not just a sentiment or a feeling of tranquility. It’s restoration. Throughout scripture God’s judgment is against those who work against shalom.

Shalom is not just an abstract theme of scripture; it takes tangible form in the Torah where God lays out Israel’s special charge to care for the stranger, the orphan, the widow, the sick, the poor- whether they’re on the inside of community or the outside of the community because, as Leviticus says, ‘they’re just like you’ (19).

Implied in the Jewish Law is the reality that the stranger and the widow and the orphan and the poor lack an advocate in this world. They are a sign of what’s broken in creation; therefore, God intervenes for them by calling Israel to labor with him in establishing God’s shalom.

This partnership between God and God’s People- this is how God puts creation back together again. This is what the Old Testament is about.

Then, in the New, God becomes incarnate in Jesus Christ to model shalom for us. Until God brings forth the New Heaven and the New Earth he calls the believing community to embody in every aspect of their lives the shalom that is made flesh in Jesus Christ.

The works of mercy listed in Jesus’ parable- they’re not just a simple list of good deeds.

It’s a summary of what God’s shalom looks like.

This parable isn’t a superficial reminder to do good to others. It’s a description of Israel’s vocation, a vocation taken on by and made flesh in Jesus Christ.

This parable is Jesus’ final teaching moment before his passion begins. By telling this parable here the Shepherd is passing his vocation on to his sheep. It’s the equivalent of the end of John’s Gospel where Jesus commissions his disciples and says: ‘My shalom I give you.’

You see-

The point of this parable is not that we will be judged according to our good deeds per se. The point is that we will be judged by the extent to which we embody Christ’s life.

The point of this parable is not that our faith or beliefs in Jesus have nothing to do with how we will be judged. The point is we will be judged by the extent to which our faith in Christ has allowed us to conform our lives to his way of life- which is the life God desired for all of us before Sin entered the world.

Ask yourself: who is it that welcomes the stranger, loves their enemy, feeds the hungry, heals the sick, brings good news to the prisoner?

This is a description of Jesus’ life.

The sheep are saved not because of their good deeds.

The sheep are saved because they’ve dared to live the life that redeems the world.

The sign of the new age that the disciples were asking about?

The sign of that new age are a people bold enough to embody the life of Christ. That’s why Jesus tells this story.

Earlier this week a member of the congregation came to me, quite upset, and told me they couldn’t understand why we would allow for an Islamic congregation to hold their Friday Jummah prayer services here in our building.

‘How can we ask our youth to give their lives to Christ when we’re condoning the practice of another religion in our fellowship hall?’

It was an honest question. I don’t doubt the sincerity of it, and it was just one of many such questions I’ve received in the last few weeks.

Implicit in the question is the suggestion that by welcoming the Islamic congregation we are watering down our beliefs in Jesus when in fact I think it’s the opposite.

I believe Jesus Christ is God incarnate. I believe he’s the savior of the world. And because I believe that, I believe his way of life is the form of God’sshalom.

And there is no better description of Jesus’ life than as the One who welcomes the stranger, love his enemies, cares for the outcast, heals the sick, and brings good news to the captives.

Do I believe the worlds’ religions are all just different paths to the same destination? No.

Do I believe Islam rightly understands the God of Abraham? No.

Do I believe that Jesus is the only way to the Father? Yes.

But when we say that Jesus is the only way to the Father, we don’t just mean our belief in Jesus is the only way to the Father. We also mean Jesus’ way of life is the only way we manifest the Father’s love.

That we would welcome Muslim strangers into our sacred space with no strings attached is not a reduction of what we believe about Jesus (or a betrayal); it is, I think, the fullest possible expression of what we believe about Jesus.

This isn’t just a relevant question for our congregation. As globalism and secularism spread, the question for the Church in the future is: how do we as Christians engage the stranger?

We do so as Christ, who regarded the stranger as neither darkness nor danger.

Today’s scripture is Jesus‘ final teaching moment before the Great Commission at the end of Matthew’s Gospel- where Jesus sends out the apostles to make disciples of all nations.

What that means, I think, is that the necessary condition for evangelism, the necessary condition for sharing our faith, is the presence of a People who embody the life of the One whom we wish to share with others.

Fundamentally, you can’t share a message about the One who welcomed strangers and loved enemies and forgave sin and conquered the power of Death in a hostile, suspicious or fearful way.  The manner in which we share our faith has to match the content of our message. Otherwise we’re practicing an ideology and not the ministry of Jesus.

Look-

There are irreconcilable differences with how Christians, Muslims, and Jews worship the God of Abraham. Secular culture tries to tell us that those differences don’t really matter. Extremists try to tell us that those differences are worth killing over.

I believe what the Church has to offer the world right now is a gift we’ve already been given by Jesus. What we have to offer the world is a ministry that welcomes the stranger. What we have to offer the world is a community where there is no danger in the Other’s difference because welcome of the stranger is an attribute of God’s own life.

Let me make it plain:

Scripture doesn’t teach that after we welcome them the stranger will cease being strange to us or that our differences are insignificant.

Scripture doesn’t teach that by loving our enemies our enemies will cease to be our enemies.

Scripture doesn’t teach that by visiting the prisoner we’ll convince the prisoner to swear off crime.

Scripture doesn’t teach that in feeding the hungry the hungry will show appreciation to us or that in caring for the needy we won’t find the needy a burden to us.

Rather, in a world of violence and injustice and poverty and loneliness Jesus has called us to be a people who welcome strangers and love enemies and bring good news to prisoners, feed and cloth the poor and care for those who have no one

We do this because this is the form of God’s Shalom.

This is the labor Christ has given us.

I recognize such labor at times can be painful, uncomfortable and difficult.

But ask any mother- labor pains always come before new life.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • EricW

    FWIW, Ames (IA) Jewish Congregation held its Friday evening Sabbath meetings in a Baptist Church for several years since the congregation didn’t have its own building at the time. In fact, I (and I think my younger brother, too) was Bar Mitzvahed in that same Baptist Church. :)

    (It had no influence on me eventually becoming a Christian, though – I never read the church literature or anything, and never had any kind of Jesus consciousness at the time. He wasn’t a part of anything in my life, and no one at school was evangelistic towards me, either.)

    Let Muslims meet in a church building?

    Well, if one reads the Qur’an and decides it’s so openly hostile to Christianity that Islam is antithetical to the Christian faith and practice, maybe it would not be a good idea. After all, would a church let the KKK or a Neo-Nazi group meet in its facilities?

    Again, it depends, ISTM, on the church’s understanding of and perspective on Islam’s holy literature.

  • Tim

    Hmm…

    It looks like original sin is a cornerstone to this post. So how are people who accept theistic evolution and are skeptical (to say the least) of a perfect garden with Adam and Eve with a subsequent fall, from which all humanity descended?

    “Christ has allowed us to conform our lives to his way of life- which is the life God desired for all of us before Sin entered the world.”

    When did this happen exactly in the evolutionary timeline? When did we go from lustful, aggressive, and of course pro-social early hominids (and prior to that, australopithecines) to perfect modern hominids, then back to lustful, aggressive, and of course pro-social modern hominids? When did that happen?

    “Sometimes we spend so much time praising God for dying for our sins we forget that Sin was not in the first draft of God’s story. We forget that harmony was God’s original design.”

    I thought God used evolution to “design” humanity. So when was this better “first draft” given the lustful, aggressive, “red in tooth and claw” history of life on this earth leading up to modern humans?

  • scotmcknight

    Tim is this on the wrong post?

  • http://www.studyyourbibleonline.com Wesley Walker

    Not for sure if having a religion which denies the essential facts of the Christian faith in your building is the same as taking care of the needs of your fellow Christians as Jesus would.

    I think he has the correct exegesis of the parable (although I still go back in forth with wondering of “my brethren” is limited to just those who are Christians), but it I think the application is lacking.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    That was very good :)

    I think this also relates to the tolerance post the other day. I think they are showing respect for the other, not tolerance for the other. Jesus did not tolerate others, he showed respect for them.

  • Tim

    Scot,

    I have to admit to brain fog this morning. I read through this post far too quickly in between putting laundry and breakfast, and somehow walked away with the impression that original sin was material to the pastor’s point. On a second read, it wasn’t. The quotations I reference do come from the above sermon, but to say that addressing them is tangental would be an understatement.

    I sincerely apologize.

    I think the pastor’s point could perhaps be summed up in this excerpt from his sermon:

    “But when we say that Jesus is the only way to the Father, we don’t just mean our belief in Jesus is the only way to the Father. We also mean Jesus’ way of life is the only way we manifest the Father’s love.”

    I advocate an inclusivistic soteriology, so while I differ on the “only” part of belief in Jesus being the way to heaven, I very much agree with the other sentiments expressed.

  • Jim L.

    Our church rents our fellowship hall to some Pakistani families to hold their common meal during Ramadan. I believe this is the Christian way of extending hospitably. If we only extend hospitably to those we agree with, what make us any different from sinners I believe Jesus said.

  • Clay Knick

    Way to go Jason! Makes me proud to be a UM pastor (who serves here in VA with Jason). Excellent.

  • http://www.facebook.com/wyatt.roberts Wyatt Roberts

    A wonderful post, Scot. Thank you.

  • Robin

    I agree with the pastors post as far as it concerns welcoming the alien, taking them in, providing for them, etc. But I have to take a different perspective when it comes to worship and prayer.

    If the muslim congregation needed a place to have youth basketball, or a pre-school, or knitting classes, or virtually anything else they wanted, then I would be supportive. However, when you provide the space for worship and prayer then you are actively aiding them in idoloatry. It would be no different than going out and buying a bunch of statues of Zeus and Poseiden so the hellenists can go right on bowing down to the greek gods, or getting yourself some images of Baal (or a golden calf) to aid people in worshipping someone besides the one true God.

    Like I sais, I really like the rest of his sermon, and the heart behind it, but I would have to draw the line at prayer and worship.

    Also, I wonder if people would be so welcoming if it wasn’t the local muslim congregation that wanted to meet, but a different, more conservative, group. My (baptist) congregation was welcomed by a liberal baptist church because we ministered to the same group (young, hip, emergent looking) until they found out that our doctrine was closer to Mark Driscoll’s than Brian MacLaren’s…we were immediately shown the door and sent packing. Oddly enough the local mennonite congregation let us use their facilities and was much more welcoming than the liberal baptists.

  • Albion

    Your friend sounds like a Duke Div grad–at least he’s read Hauerwas.

    Tough call. Tend to agree with Robin that having the stranger truck in their idols into our space feels problematic and that’s a good way to formulate the problem. You want to worship a false God? No prob. We’ve got the space right here. Why would Jesus need to cleanse the temple if it’s just a building? Not to equate church meeting spaces with temples but there seems to be a difference between welcoming strangers and assisting them in their worship. How to articulate that difference in such a way as to arrive at a clear answer is the problem.

  • Literacygirrl

    Not that it is right or wrong…. but Jews/Christians have been sharing facilities for decades.

    It’s definitely something to ponder. I have no definitive answer yes or no.

  • http://www.theproblemwithkevin.com kevin s.

    I’m not sure what God could do to make it more clear that he despises the worship of false gods. There is no example of him looking the other way from the practice in the spirit of welcoming the stranger.

    His message doesn’t even seem to address this challenge. Perhaps nobody in the congregation raised it, which seems unlikely, but it is incumbent upon him to address it.

  • nitika

    @Robbin #10

    “However, when you provide the space for worship and prayer then you are actively aiding them in idolatry.”

    Um, Islam is an iconoclastic religion that worships “the one true God”.

  • http://waytoemmaus.org Mick

    This is a tough one. I appreciate so much his message but wince a bit at this being the rationale for opening the church up to be used by other religions. I think my “wince” would be true of Hindu, Buddhist or Atheists.

    But is this any different than offering hospitality to AA groups, or, a wedding party that wants to use the church facility with the intention of everyone getting hammered at the reception? Is this a fair extended application? I honestly don’t know.

    If they had a church building, would Paul have invited those who worshiped Aphrodite to use the facility for their religious practices?

    Are their ways our intention to be Christ for others gets lost in translation because we have weakened the message of the Gospel of Christ crucified… (in a way that embodies grace AND truth) for the sake of the world?

    I don’t know. I cannot judge against their decision, it sounds like his heart is in the right place, and if this is misinterpreting or over interpreting Shalom and Gospel, maybe that’s better than having a more accurate hermaneutic or theology but doing little with it.

  • Robin

    Nitika,

    Just my perspective. Until I could figure out how this did not help the group in question commit idolatry, I couldn’t support it. I don’t subscribe to the notion that we all just worship the same God in different ways, even if Islamic believers understand that to be the case. I can understand how you would support this if you believed that to be the case.

  • Robin

    Nitika, (and anyone else who affirms this decision)

    Just out of curiosity, out of the following religions, are there any that you would not permit to use your facility.

    I’m just trying to figure out if the impulse in the sermon really is to, without conditions, welcome the alien to worship, in which case it seems the doors should be opened for all the religions below. The other option is that some faiths are seen as more valid (possible because of Abrahamic roots or modern political correctness) and therefore worthy of open doors.

    Judaism
    Islam
    Buddhism
    Hinduism
    Confucianism (not sure if it is really a religion, but it is on Civ 4, so I’ll include it)
    Unitarianism
    Extreme fundamentalist Christianity (ala Fred Phelps)
    Wicca
    Paganism (like the druids)
    Satanism
    Baal-ism (Made up word for what happened in the OT)

  • Robin

    Just to clarify, I mean use your facility FOR THE PURPOSE OF PRAYER AND?OR WORSHIP. Even I would probably let theistic satanists use our facility for bake sales and cub scout meetings.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    On further reflection I think this falls into the category of eating meat sacrificed to idols. Presumably the congregation is getting paid so they are getting meat.

    If eating the meat will cause those in your congregation to sin then they probably should not. But there is nothing inherently wrong and it is good to be hospitable.

  • norm

    Scot,

    Thanks so much for posting this article. This is the bread and butter of the message of God from the beginning. The Jews were told to be good shepherds and to follow the Golden Rule and Great commandment from their inception. They were not good shepherds toward the widow and the orphan and the stranger in the Land even though they had been strangers in Egypt themselves and were reminded of that. Ezekiel 34:17 says there will be a judgment amongst the sheep because of their failure to follow their instruction and that is reflected in Matt 25. Ezekiel again reminds that the stranger at the time of the New Temple (the one in our hearts) would see the stranger welcomed (Ezk 47:22). The Great Commandment was therefore the plan of God all along and still is.

    Mar 12:28-34 ESV And one of the scribes … asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” (29) Jesus answered, … (30) And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ (31) The second is this: ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (32) And the scribe said to him,… (33) And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and TO LOVE ONE’S NEIGHBOR AS ONESELF, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” (34) And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “YOU ARE NOT FAR FROM THE KINGDOM OF GOD.” …

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Robin, would you let them have a Yoga class in your church?

  • Robin

    DRT,

    I don’t see Yoga as inherently worshipful, so I would. Really, there is nothing outside of prayer and worship that I would oppose. I just don’t see anywhere in scripture where God permits people to worship false gods or aid others in worshipping false gods. Almost every claim he has against Israel’s rulers is that they (1) worshipped false gods themselves (2) helped others worship false gods (3) didn’t do enough to stop people from worshipping false gods. I just cannot square that with the current issue.

  • nitika

    @ Robin

    I’m not saying I affirm the decision. I may not be able to affirm the church building in the first place… but that’s another story.

    My point is that to accuse a religious group that spent a good thousand years traipsing about the world smashing idols of idolatry seems a bit odd. Many Muslims take the “no graven image” thing A LOT more seriously than most Christians… and some consider Christians to be idolatrous polytheists when they see our iconography.

    Is Allah YHWH? I think that is something that one can come to, if they care to look at the history of Islam. Is the One True God misunderstood? Yes, and by us all.

  • Robin

    Nitika,

    Idolatry is the worship of false gods in my book, whether it is aided by icons, statues, or nothing at all is irrelevant. If I thought Allah and YHWH were the same, or that YHWH as currently understood within Judaism (very broadly defined) was equivalent to the trinitarian God worshipped by Christians then I would be OK as well.

  • nitika

    @ Robin

    I see. I don’t think that is how the word idolatry is commonly defined. See http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/idolatry. But I understand your use is a common homiletic in cultures where actual idolatry isn’t practiced.

    And I didn’t say that Allah and YHWH are the same. I’m saying that the Allah that Mohammad pointed to was the God of the Jews and Christians. This is a historical fact.

  • Derek

    @ Robin

    If Jews worship the same God as Christians, then Muslims worship the same God as Christians.

    Also, Arab Christians refer to God as Allah, since “Allah” means God.

  • Derek

    @ Robin

    Sure, Muslims may be mistaken theologically, but, nevertheless, if Jews worship the same God as Christians, then Muslims worship the same God as Christians. This is akin to some Christian church communities where they are quite ignorant or confused about some of the specifics of the Trinity, but this ignorance/confusion doesn’t stop them from worshiping the same God.

  • Robin

    Derek,

    Are messianic Jews trinitarian?

  • Darren King

    Scot, some of the responses in this post show just how important I believe it is that we understand the Bible as demonstrating progressive revelation. Calling hospitality an encouragement of idol worship is such a narrow (and, in my mind, non-Christlike) way to see this issue. People calling for such an approach seem to refer to and depend upon Old Testament passages more so than the trajectory of Jesus’ teaching.

  • Robin

    Can anyone show me instances in scripture where God says that one way to show hospitality is to provide places (or other items) for people to worship other Gods? I get it if you think Jews, Christians, and Muslims are all worshipping the same God (since if that was true it wouldn’t be idolatry) but that doesn’t apply at all to Hinduism, Buddhism, Paganism, etc.

    I know that most of my examples lean on the OT, but I can’t think of any counter-examples in the NT either. I can’t remember Jesus or Paul saying that now that we are all one in Christ we should show hospitality to Athenians by inviting them to worship Minerva at the synagogues or house churches.

    Really, if you have any examples of Paul or Jesus promoting such interfaith worship clue me in. If you don’t have such examples, it just looks like you are trying to redefine hospitality.

  • Robin

    Darren,

    I strive to have biblical beliefs, and the OT is chock full of references forbidding the worship of other Gods. I can’t think of anything in the NT that would repeal these prohibitions, so I let them stand. If you have any information where Jesus, Paul, or any other NT writer permits the worship of other Gods, or encourages Christians to support their neighbors as they worship other Gods, let me know.

    I am not against hospitality. I think it is one of the most overlooked aspects of Christianity and we need more people teaching on it. I heartily endorse that message. I just don’t see in the bible where hospitality is used as a synonym for supporting the worship of other gods, whether they be Allah, Thor, Ra, or Baal.

    I’m not trying to be Un-Christ-Like, just biblical.

  • scotmcknight

    Robin, I know what you are getting at but you have to see that your argument is from silence. One can simply turn it around: Can you show where Jesus prohibited this type of hospitality? I’m not sure this kind of argument gets us to where we want to go.

  • http://www.theproblemwithkevin.com kevin s.

    @Mick

    “But is this any different than offering hospitality to AA groups, or, a wedding party that wants to use the church facility with the intention of everyone getting hammered at the reception?”

    Insofar as AA groups are nominally deistic, I think the church would do well to set ground rules. But there is a difference between requiring everyone to believe in a deity, and specifying a false deity.

    If a church believes that a couple intends for everyone to get hammered during a reception, they should not rent the facility to that couple. That would be wildly irresponsible on a number of levels.

    @Darren

    “People calling for such an approach seem to refer to and depend upon Old Testament passages more so than the trajectory of Jesus’ teaching.”

    Insofar as there is no documented trajectory toward facilitating the worship of false gods, I see no reason to invoke progressive revelation here. Christ was inflamed with love for God’s temple, leading him to his only episode of physical violence. If anything, the trajectory is moving in the opposite direction.

    If you want to accuse people of being non-Christlike, you need to bring a more to the table than bald assertion.

  • Robin

    Scot,

    I see that, but I guess it is just different to me because of the unequivocal evidence in the OT. Hospitality was practiced in the OT too. I would dare say that if you were doing a sermon series on hospitality most of your exegesis would come from the OT. However, even in the hospitality-rich environment of the OT I don’t get a sense that this would be permitted.

    Given that, I need something in the NT to at least indicate that this is now a part of hospitality, and that by failing to provide it, you are failing to show hospitality and sinning against God and man.

    I guess this goes to my larger overall view of scripture…if something is clearly prohibited in the OT, I need something in the NT to cancel it out, otherwise I think it is still prohibited. The only things I see cancelled in the NT are stuff surrounding ceremonial law (eating unclean food, circumcision, etc.) I would just need more before my conscience was clear on this issue.

  • http://fumblingtowardseternity.theobloggers.com nick gill

    “One can simply turn it around: Can you show where Jesus prohibited this type of hospitality?”

    I might start with his quotation of Deut 6:13. I might follow with the “God and Mammon” teaching, supported by his thorough cleansing of the temple of those who did, in fact, try to worship God and mammon. I’d follow that with Gal 1 and 1 John 4, where the authors specifically address gospels from ‘angels’ and the testing of prophetic messages. Finally, I would ask this: is fostering pagan worship truly loving to those worshipers?

    For it to be an argument from silence, there must be silence on BOTH sides. Jesus taught us what hospitality means, and we never see him commanding that Christians open their homes to evil spirits.

  • http://www.theproblemwithkevin.com kevin s.

    @Scot

    That the gospel texts are silent on an issue does not mean that the scriptures are silent. Jesus didn’t come to remake the law, he came to fulfill it. There are a host of issues he likely did not feel compelled to specifically address.

  • scotmcknight

    Robin,
    I’m not so sure OT hospitality customs are as clear as you might think, but I’d rather shift this to a slight variant. Here goes:
    There is one thing clear about Jesus’ hospitality customs: he welcomed to the table many thought — and the many who were doing this thinking were Pharisees and other holiness-minded groups who thought they were living out God’s Torah-shaped will — were unacceptable. That is clear as a bell. He welcomed sinners and tax collectors and harlots etc to his table. Most importantly, many thought he shouldn’t have been doing so because they thought he was violating holiness codes.

    Which might mean that Jesus did in fact alter the hospitality customs of his day, and I would suppose those customs were thought to be grounded in Torah (our Old Testament).

    Doesn’t this say something?

  • Robin

    Again, I want to make clear that I am not in any way questioning a commitment to radical hospitality. This passage in the sermon is pitch-perfect “And there is no better description of Jesus’ life than as the One who welcomes the stranger, love his enemies, cares for the outcast, heals the sick, and brings good news to the captives.” I am just not convinced that includes that actions this pastor is taking.

    I am racking my brain trying to think of how this is dealt with in the NT. Jesus’ interaction with the woman at the well is interesting since they were worshipping the “same God” through false practices. But all I know there is that he tells her she worship what she does not know, implying that maybe the worship is genuine even though it is done in ignorance. This might apply to Derek contention above about people with fault understandings of the trinity.

    I still don’t know what that would say about Hindu or Buddhist groups that wanted in on this hospitality, even if we accepted Muslims and non-trinitarian Jews.

  • Jeremy

    Nitika: “idolatry” is common parlance for any number of things that take the place of God. They’ve never had to be actual, physical idols. Idols can be little statues, ideologies, money, hobbies, skills, etc, etc. I’m a little confused as to why this would be surprising terminology to you.

    I’m actually with Robin on this one. Interaction and respect do not necessarily entail giving our “sacred spaces” over to a different religion for their use in worship. It’s too layered of an issue to just label “care for the alien” and green light.

    Also, Allah is technically the same god. They are an Abrahamic religion. HOWEVER, where do we draw the line? If the god they describe acts nothing like YHWH, does not share the same characteristics aside from a few stories and being alone in divinity, then is it really the same god anymore? This isn’t a case of “incorrect theology” as much as a very, very different theology. If you claim to be talking about me and then describe someone else entirely, is it really still me? I don’t think so.

  • scotmcknight

    While I may be against the grain of some comments here, I think it is off the mark to think Jews, Christians and Muslims worship the same God. Christians believe in the Trinity; no Jew does; Muslims don’t. As many Jews would be offended as Muslims to be told they are worshiping the same God. That all three are rooted in a common history doesn’t mean they worship the same God.

  • Robin

    Scot,

    Your comment in (37) is excellent, but it still doesn’t pertain directly to worship. You might be right on this issue, but I would need more evidence for my conscience to be OK with it.

  • scotmcknight

    Robin, My next issue would be that hospitality in Jesus’ worldview is missional. One isn’t simply offering hospitality but being missional in offering hospitality. I would want to sit down with such persons, or their leaders, to tell them about Jesus. And by “missional” I mean both embodied and verbal grace.

  • Darren King

    Kevin wrote:

    “Insofar as there is no documented trajectory toward facilitating the worship of false gods, I see no reason to invoke progressive revelation here. Christ was inflamed with love for God’s temple, leading him to his only episode of physical violence. If anything, the trajectory is moving in the opposite direction.”

    Are you kidding me?

    How does Jesus defending a place of worship from being turned into a place of deceitful business have anything to do with this discussion? None, from what I can see. If anyone should take pause from that example it is the Christian publishing industry and those with names boldly attached to their “anointed”, for profit ministries.

    Secondly, as Scot was getting at, Jesus was radically welcoming. And furthermore, I make the point that we shouldn’t just look for specific examples in the life of Jesus, but we’re also called to imagine the trajectory of those teachings. Different content, different applications.

    There, now you have a specific reason why I think it would be un-Christlike to not be welcoming in the situation described.

  • http://fumblingtowardseternity.theobloggers.com nick gill

    Which might mean that Jesus did in fact alter the hospitality customs of his day, and I would suppose those customs were thought to be grounded in Torah (our Old Testament).

    Doesn’t this say something?

    Were it only a hospitality issue, this argument would be irrefutable. If there are homeless followers of Islam that need shelter or food or clothing, we must serve them. That is absolutely clear.

    But it isn’t only a hospitality issue. It is a worship of the One True God issue. Jesus did not encourage Mammon worship in the places where believers gathered. When he took the disciples to Caesarea Philippi, he teaches them to actively resist, not welcome, the pagan worship there.

    I struggle to see how providing a place for Muslim worship is any different than donating money to a mosque’s treasury.

  • Robin

    Scot,

    If you look at my list in comment (17) would you extend such hospitality to all the groups I listed, in the interest of being missional?

  • Darren King

    Re: #43, that should read “Different context, different applications”.

  • Darren King

    One of the reasons I think it would be a good idea to offer a church building to a Muslim gathering is that it effectively says “we don’t play the standard religion game: mine vs. yours.” Even if that’s all we accomplished from such a move: gaining a sense from others that we’re not only out to defend our own, we’d have accomplished a lot. Because we will have opened up the possibility for conversation that might not be possible through other means.

  • http://www.theproblemwithkevin.com kevin s.

    “How does Jesus defending a place of worship from being turned into a place of deceitful business have anything to do with this discussion?”

    It helps to define hospitality. Jesus invited tax collectors and prostitutes to dine with him. They were not permitted to continue their sin in the temple. That is simply beyond the definition of hospitality.

    “If anyone should take pause from that example it is the Christian publishing industry and those with names boldly attached to their “anointed”, for profit ministries.”

    A publishing company isn’t a ministry, but this is irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    “And furthermore, I make the point that we shouldn’t just look for specific examples in the life of Jesus, but we’re also called to imagine the trajectory of those teachings. Different content, different applications.”

    Nonetheless, those applications should line up with scripture. This church is providing a forum for Muslims to blaspheme God. That may be welcoming, in the American “live and let live” sense, but not from a kingdom perspective.

    “There, now you have a specific reason why I think it would be un-Christlike to not be welcoming in the situation described.”

    “Different context, different applications” is not a specific reason.

  • Darren King

    Kevin, you and I could go back and forth on this. My reason was attached to it being unwelcoming behavior, not specifically that it was a different context.

    Secondly, many publishers would disagree with you when you says their enterprise is not a ministry. And, by the way, I don’t call the entire publishing industry into question, just certain players.

    Kevin, lastly let me say, you and I clearly approach scripture differently. When I brought up the issue of progressive revelation, I did so because I don’t think you can do an apples for apples comparison throughout the Bible. I try and plan a trajectory that takes its main emphasis from the words and works of Jesus.

  • http://fumblingtowardseternity.theobloggers.com nick gill

    Kevin, you and I could go back and forth on this. My reason was attached to it being unwelcoming behavior, not specifically that it was a different context.

    Not all unwelcoming behaviors are prohibited, Darren. “With such a one, do not even eat,” Paul says.

    Whether the worship of the god of Islam can be welcomed is a different question, but your reason – “it being unwelcoming behavior” – proves too much.

  • Darren King

    Nick, again, we differ in our opinion here. Don’t you see that? In your opinion it “proves too much”, not in mine and others. But thanks for stating your opinion one more time. And again, I know this will be difficult for you to stomach, but I take Jesus as my interpreter of Paul, not the other way around.

  • Dan Arnold

    This is pretty tricky but I notice the discussion is looking at the issue largely from a Christian perspective, which makes complete sense, given the nature of this blog. But shouldn’t Christians also look at things from the point of view of the other? Isn’t that sort of what “Do unto others…” is about?

    Here’s a couple things to think about along those lines. Depending on how a Muslim emphasizes certain passages they themselves could be compromising their own beliefs. A Muslim community which focuses on what we have in common (“O People of the Book, let us rally around a discourse common to us and you: That we worship none but God,” 3:63) would likely not find sharing a church a problem. But ones which emphasize the differences such as where a Trinitarian understanding of God is explicitly denied (“Do not say, ‘Three!” Desist, for this would be best for you,” 4:171), might find it theologically problematic.

    What we have here is a small group of outsiders seeking the beneficence of a dominant group. I would just like to point out that early on, prior to the development of an explicitly Trinitarian theology, Christians shared worship space with the Jews of their day. Might that be a parallel from the NT? It’s not a really strong parallel, but it might be something to think about.

  • Dan Arnold

    Scot (#40),

    Question for you, how can Jews and Christians not worship the same God? That would mean that Jesus, himself a Jew, did not worship the same God as we do. Wouldn’t it make more sense to say that Christians understand the nature of God very differently largely root in their understanding of the incarnation?

  • Nitika

    Scot,

    Do you know if the prayers are offered completely in Arabic? And if so, whether any of the worshipers know Arabic?

  • Dan Arnold

    Nitika (#54),

    Prayers would almost certainly be in Arabic because of how Muslim’s understand inspiration and worship. It’s likely many worshipers wouldn’t understand them, except for the Shahada, which stands as the central confession of faith in Islam. Think of the Latin Mass in which worshipers seldom understood Latin. (The theologies of the two, of course, are vastly different.) What we might call a homily, though, would probably be in English, but it would depend on the Imam and community.

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    The separation of the sheep and goat nations (and does note that these are “all the nations” Jesus is talking about in Matthew 25:32) is based on how they treat “the least of these My brethren” (v. 40). Who are the brethren of Jesus? Whoever is hungry or thirsty or a stranger of naked of in prison? I think if Jesus had meant “whoever,” He would have said “whoever.” But He specifically identifies them as “these My brethren.”

    So who are the “brethren” of Jesus. He identifies them for us earlier, in Matthew 12:46-50.

    While He was still talking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and brothers stood outside, seeking to speak with Him. Then one said to Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak with You.” But He answered and said to the one who told Him, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.”

    His “brethren” are His disciples and anybody who, like them, does the will of the Father. Before Jesus ascended to heaven, He commissioned His disciples, in Matthew 28:18-20, to go and make disciples of “all nations.” How the nations respond to the disciples and their message is how they will be judged, whether as sheep or as goats.

    I do not think Jesus will answer in that day, “For I was an Imam and you did (or did not) give me a place in your church where we could worship Allah and follow the teachings of Mohammed,” for these are not His disciples.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that we should not feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, show hospitality to the stranger, clothe the naked or visit those in prison. Those are all good things, and part of living out the gospel. I am only saying that the parable of the sheep and goat nations is not about that in general but about how the nations respond to those who bring the good news about Jesus and His kingdom.

  • http://www.theproblemwithkevin.com kevin s.

    “And again, I know this will be difficult for you to stomach, but I take Jesus as my interpreter of Paul, not the other way around.”

    How would Jesus interpret a passage that says one should not eat with a certain person? Short of outright refuting Paul, he would have to at least concede that there are circumstances in which it is not right to be welcoming.

    And please, either strengthen your case or tone down your rhetoric.

  • Clay Knick

    One thing I love about Jason’s sermon is that it is theological. Often I hear other reasons for hospitality that sound, well…political. This sermon was theological and Christological

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Scot@40, I am surprised that you define your language such that you would say the three worship different gods.

    I (who is a noble uneducated in formal Christian or other religious person) believe that if anyone believes in one god then it is the same god. We just have different perceptions of that god.

    hmmm, now I am sliding down the slope of saying that if one believes in multiple gods then it too can just be a misconception of the one true god.

    So, OK, where is the cut. Perhaps at some level we have to make the cut…. time to sleep on that.

  • http://www.godhungry.org Jim Martin

    Scot,

    I really like this sermon and in particular his point of the shalom that is present in Genesis 1 and 2.

    My immediate response to your questions– I think in the example that is mentioned that the group wishes to use the building for five weeks. I can envision a situation where their building might be undergoing construction, or might have burned etc. Anyway, it seems gracious and loving to offer a facility. (I say that affirming all that Jason says in this sermon about what this doesn’t mean.)

    I think that such a short term arrangement could done without confusing either group as so who they are and what they are about.

  • scotmcknight

    Jim, thanks for this. I was hoping you could read Jason’s sermon. He’s one of the best sermon writers I’ve read (and I’ve only read his manuscripts). I’ve never heard him, but I really like his structure and flow … good images and crisp ideas seasoned with grace.

  • nitika

    @Jeremy #39

    I’m not unfamiliar with the way the concept of idolatry is used within the church. My point is that to do so is to divide the world into two categories: insiders and outsiders, with the admonition that outward appearance is not a guarantee of inclusion [i.e. if you make an "idol" out of money, you will be excluded along with the "heathen"]. This metaphorical usage of the word idolatry may be a simple way to urge devotion within the church, but to carry it over to our interaction with those on the “outside” quickly becomes gross caricature. To refer to a Muslim as an idolater is an example of using this insider terminology either ignorantly or in cruelty.

  • Linda

    Read 2 John (it is very short), and you will know that Christians are not to welcome and assist false teachers, and Islam is a false religion, so letting the Muslims use a Christian church facility in the promotion of their false religion is a big no-no.

  • Darren King

    Kevin,

    Brother, I could ask you to tone down the rhetoric yourself. Clearly neither one us believes the other’s case is very strong. So why don’t we just humbly agree to disagree as two brothers with different understandings on the issue. I don’t think either one of us is going to “win” this one in the other’s mind. So peace to you.

    -Darren

  • Bo

    I appreciate the post. I threw out the scenario to my classes today and it made for good discussion. For me this is a no-brainer. In the SF 1989 earthquake our church building (which among other things formerly served as Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple but that’s another story) came crumbling down. It was a Jewish synagogue that showed hospitality to our congregation of 300+ for 9 months while we searched for another building. And this is a Korean congregation that spends all day at church, not just 90 min. So I’m sure they had to put up with a whole set of inconveniences with our requests for classrooms for children and youth, facilties for meals, etc. I’m debted. So if I were in the position to offer hospitality to a group from another faith I feel that I owe it to them. More than Islam or religious pluralism I worry about our inability as Christians to be a good neighbor.

    If you’re ever in Seattle again, let me know.

  • KenH@Anwari

    It would be interesting to know how the Muslims would answer this question, “If in the future after you have a suitable facility, a “homeless” Christian congregation nearby would request the use of your building for their Sunday worship, how would you respond?” Their answer should not necessarily determine how the church should respond to the Muslims’ request, but it would make for interesting & revealing discussion.

    As to the issue of whether we (Christians, Jews, Muslims) worship the same Deity, let me propose this comparison. Ask a Tea Party Republican and a Liberal Democrat separately to describe the president and compare their ideas. One would seriously doubt they are describing the same individual. Yes, Abrahamic monotheists worship to same One God, but our understandings about Him are irreconcilably different.

    But the bridge between them all is the person, life & work of Jesus of Nazareth. There is no other person in human history who commands the honor and admiration of ALL major religions, although their understandings of him vary. This astonishing fact was brought home to me by the little novelette FIVE SACRED CROSSINGS. It’s well worth a read: http://www.amazon.com/Five-Sacred-Crossings-Reasonable-ConversantLife-com®/dp/0736921966

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Bo@65 helped advance my thinking on this.

    I believe the context is important. We are not talking about a church more or less indefinitely providing a leasing service for the Muslims in order to make money off of them. We are talking about a faith community who will practice their faith regardless of the actions of the church.

    In the case of them denying hospitality the Muslims will practice their faith somewhere else and, presumably, have a more difficult time to do it.

    In the case of the accepting the Muslims, they make life better for the Other with the possibility of them experiencing and appreciating the generosity and kindness shown by good Christians.

    I don’t believe either action promotes the other religion, they will do what they will regardless. The inhospitable position will go against the missional aspect of Christianity while the hospitable position will support the missional aspect. It seems clear to me.

  • http://www.theproblemwithkevin.com kevin s.

    “Brother, I could ask you to tone down the rhetoric yourself.”

    Not based on this thread. You told Nick that interpreting Paul through Jesus would be tough for him to stomach. Why take the time to write that when you could take the time to explain how he has failed to do so?

    Either way, all I asked for was an argument to match the attitude, which seems reasonable.

  • Darren King

    Kevin,

    Simply put, you and I read the Bible differently. As I mentioned before, my hermeneutical center is Jesus and the gospels. I also mentioned that I think it is a fallacy to be believe that we should (or really do) read all of the Biblical texts equally – in an apples for apples manner. That’s what I was getting at in comparing the teachings of Paul and those of Jesus.

    Remember, just because something doesn’t seem like a strong argument to you, doesn’t mean it isn’t to others. Clearly MANY people on this thread think showing hospitality in this instance was the right thing to do. And I don’t think all of these people are just choosing to ignore their Bibles in order to be politically correct. No, they come to a different conclusion reading the same Bible. So, sorry, but I feel no need to offer any more detail than I have. I just don’t agree with you that the burden is on me to do so. Have you been reading this thread? Many people have been offering valid reasons why this approach (showing hospitality) was the right one.

    Lastly, I think you mistook an honest belief of mine for rhetoric. When I called the choice not to offer hospitality in an instance such as this “un-Christlike”, I really meant that; in that I believe to do so would be less than what Jesus would have done in the same circumstance.

    Okay, moving on now…

  • http://www.risinghopeumc.org Keary Kincannon

    Jason Micheli’s article here and the subsequent response of Jason Hood in Christianity today has caused a minor spark of discussion in our community with coverage on the front page of the local Mount Vernon Gazette. Here is my response.

    January 24, 2011

    I commend the Rev. Dr. Dennis Perry and the Rev. Jason Micheli of Aldersgate United Methodist Church for extending a hand of friendship and opening the doors of their church to our Islamic brothers and sisters in their time of need. The heart of the Christian Gospel is that God extends ‘unconditional’ love to all creation, no exceptions! None of us are worthy of God’s love. Yet God’s grace is extended to us all. It is not earned. It is freely offered.

    In response to the criticism from Christianity Today author, Jason Hood, who charges Aldersgate United Methodist Church with violating the love command by facilitating false worship, I say this: Dr. Perry and Rev. Micheli are standing firmly in the tradition of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. To paraphrase Wesley, “the duty of a Christian is to love our neighbors as we love ourselves; to love every person as we love our own soul; to love all humanity because God is the creator of all flesh. Just because someone is not personally known to us is not a barrier to our love; nor do we retaliate if our love is met with hatred, for the Christian loves their enemies and “even the enemies of God”, including the evil and unthankful. And if we are not in a position to do good to them that hate us, we will continue to pray unceasingly for them even if they spurn our love and persecute us” (Wesley’s sermon, The Character of a Methodist).

    Christians and Muslims do have differences of faith but that doesn’t make us enemies. Nor do you have to believe as a Muslim to extend a hand of friendship to a Muslim. In fact we have more in common than not. I agree with Dr. Perry that it is important to start building bridges with our Islamic brothers and sisters. If fear of Muslims is behind the criticism of Aldersgate UMC’s hospitality let me remind you that the isolated Islamic terrorist is no more representative of the Islamic faith than the isolated Christian terrorist (who kills abortion doctors) is representative of the Christian faith.

    The Apostle John writes: “We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” (1 John 4:19-21)

    Thank you Dr. Perry and & Rev. Micheli for extending the loving hand of God.

    Rev. Keary Kincannon
    Pastor, Rising Hope United Methodist Mission Church