Islam and Christian Charity: How Far Should We Go?

John ArmstrongIslam, Love, Missional Church

I wrote yesterday a review of the film: Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet (January 6). Just after posting this review I read an article in the Christianity Today online site that caught my attention.  I highly recommend it as a fair piece of journalism and a helpful way to raise important questions. The crux of the story concerns “sacred space” and whether or not Christian churches should open space to Muslim neighbors for prayers and worship. One pastor offered a neighboring Islamic congregation the use of his church's space for five months for Friday prayers when they requested. Jason Micheli, pastor of Aldersgate Methodist in Arlington, Virginia, shares part of his theological reasoning in a sermon published at Scot McKnight's Jesus Creed blog. In McKnight's blog he recommends a marvelous book by my good friend Gerlad McDermott that I highly recommend as well. It is titled: God's Rivals: Why Has God Allowed Different Religion? Insights from the Bible and the Early Church. If you are perplexed by this issue, and desire an even-handed and scholarly response from a solidly evangelical theologian, I recommend this book highly.

Micheli similarly defends his decision by appealing to Jesus and Christian love: "[W]hen 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."

I agree with Micheli. Allowing non-Christians to use our space, even for some religious purposes, is not a clear denial of our faith. It is also not idolatry, at least as I understand it. It would be idolatrous to deny our faith in order to reach some kind of syncretistic compromise since Jesus is Lord. But I do not think sharing our homes and worship places with others denies anything about our faith. In fact, I think it commends our faith in a context where many believe that our faith is intolerant and unloving. There is a world of difference between preaching Jesus as Lord and sharing our space with non-Christians out of love and charity.

Question: Is allowing a local election to use a church building as a polling place a denial of the kingship of Jesus?

Before you answer remember early believers died rather than say, “Caesar is Lord” at an annual political event. And remember, empire and church are not one.

Question: Is sharing our homes with non-Christians, or our worship space, a violation of 2 John 7-10? Read the text and pay careful attention to the context before you assume too much.

It seems to me that the biggest challenge to the early church was from those inside the church who denied the faith by their life or their teaching, not those outside.