Interfaith Worship: How Should Christians Respond?
Terrorist attacks rocked America in 2001 and recently at the 2013 Boston Marathon. Many united at interfaith worship services across the country to express their grief and anguish. Interfaith events have grown as a result, and are said to help promote peace and unity between the diverse religions.1
There are troubling questions that Christians need to answer about interfaith activities. How should Christians respond if invited to an interfaith event? Let us briefly explore the elements of interfaith activity before offering a Christian response.
The Principle of Cobelligerence. Consider the old proverb, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” This proverb helps encapsulate the principle of cobelligerence. When a group finds itself at war with another group, this principle is used to form an alliance with the enemy of your enemy. Christians often use this principle to unite with others against immoral practices. For example, in opposing abortion, Christians often find themselves allied with those that are of different faith backgrounds. This should be expected, as there are pro-life Muslim and Jewish organizations.2 These alliances are based on the principle of cobelligerence. This same principle has been invoked in the war on terror.
Those that use cobelligerence as a reason to join with interfaith groups to stand against terrorism often do so in the midst of tragedy to pay respects to the dead. Their approach includes (1) interfaith worship services, (2) inviting dialogue as to what the different faith traditions have in common, and (3) promoting religious pluralism.3 These three are said to contribute to a fourth element: a climate of religious tolerance. All four of these elements combine to advance interfaith cooperation.
The typical elements of an interfaith prayer are seen in that of the Rev. Liz Walker at the recent interfaith service in Boston in the wake of the marathon bombings. She declared, “We are members of one another. A community of resilience, hard-pressed but not defeated, confounded but not consumed, we are gathered in community.” Then she prayed,
Creator God, in the beginning you said let there be light, and the light shone, piercing the darkness. Help us find our way through the darkness now. You taught us that we belong to each other. Help us hold each other now. We pray comfort for those who have lost loved ones, courage for those who are struggling through the trauma of physical and psychic pain, and tenderness to those for whom the world no longer makes sense. Lord, bless this broken-hearted city as she finds her balance, dusts herself off, and tilts her head back toward the sky. Open our eyes to your presence this morning, open our hearts to your grace, restore us so we can see and be the light once again. In all that we hold holy, for me that is Jesus Christ, let the people of God together say Amen.
Understanding Religious Pluralism. The element of religious pluralism is hard to define. The reason is that religious pluralism has many meanings. Some say this means there is a diversity of religions. More problematic meanings include the idea that no religion has adequate justification to evangelize others, as none can be true.4 Others say that not recognizing religious pluralism causes the oppression of those that want to “act in accordance with their religious beliefs.”5 Consider a parable about six blind Hindus used to illustrate religious pluralism (used as a basis to say no religion has the full truth about God, but each is partially true).6 Each Hindu argued that he had the correct view of what an elephant is. Each explored a different part of the elephant and concluded that he had the truth. The one felt the tusk, and thought the elephant a spear. Another touched the leg, which made him think it a tree. A third grabbed the tail, and of course this revealed it was like a rope. A fourth pressed the side, and said an elephant is like a wall. The fifth placed his hand on the trunk, and said it was as a snake. The sixth rubbed the ear, and said it is like a fan.7 The late philosopher of religion John Hick used this to illustrate “that Ultimate Reality is far beyond human conceptions.”8
The Limits of Cobelligerence as It Relates to Worship. The principle of cobelligerence is useful sometimes, but not in every situation. Everyone wants his or her cause to have support. However, if cooperation with another group leads to a greater evil, then it should be avoided. Consider some distinctions that will limit cobelligerence.
There is a difference between uniting with others outside our religious group to stop terror and uniting with them to worship. In the first, the action is consonant with Christian principles. Christians may work with others to stop crime and injustice.
Christians can be educated about other views to help them understand differences between groups. This can help them build relationships, too. All people have many things in common (Acts 17: 22–34). These commonalities can be used as a foundation on which to build respect and empathy between all people.
Worship is categorically different from learning about other faiths. Worship is attributing worth to the one to whom it is due.9 A Christian is forbidden from worshipping with other religions, as it is both an injustice and is a violation of Scripture. Justice is rendering to a person what is due him. Therefore, only worship of the true God is just (as He is the only one worthy), and worshiping another is unjust and wrong. It is evident that the one true God forbids worship of idols alongside His command to worship only Him (Exod. 20:3–6). We are to follow the example set by the apostles and the prophets when they were confronted with religious diversity.
In a passage that clearly condemns worshiping with unbelievers, Paul addresses idolatry in the Corinthian church. He writes:
Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” Therefore, “Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.” (2 Cor. 6:14–17)
Throughout Scripture the mark of a true believer is an absolute refusal to worship any god besides Yahweh (see, e.g., Dan. chaps. 3 and 6). No matter how great the evil that interfaith cooperation may be seeking to prevent, if Christians are to join in that cause it must never come at the cost of joining in idolatry. The advocates of interfaith worship substitute the peace that only comes from an encounter with the true God of Christianity with a superficial peace that comes from emphasizing our common humanity. Each religion differs about the nature of humanity’s problem and what should be done about it. Christianity says the problem is sin and uniquely identifies the solution to this as Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Responding to Religious Pluralism. Religious pluralism requires certain distinctions to be made. If religious pluralism simply says that there are many and varied religions, there is nothing to dispute. However, what does not follow from this is that no religion is correct and that all religious practices are equal. Some religious practices, such as female genital mutilation, are illegal despite the fact they are called religious, for they are clearly immoral. Due to contradictory truth claims that are central to each religious tradition, it is impossible for them all to be correct. As some religious practices are immoral, such as female genital mutilation, these religious practices should not be tolerated.
There is also an assumption about truth in religion. For example, Christianity says Jesus died and rose again according to Scripture (1 Cor. 15:3–8). Others, like Judaism and Islam, say Jesus did not. If He did, Christianity is right and the others are wrong on this point, and vice versa. One may explore the evidence to see which is correct (John 8:32).
What of the parable of the blind Hindus? There is a problematic assumption in this story. Insofar as all religions are like the blind men, they only grasp a part of the Ultimate at best. What is immediately evident is the one telling the story is not blind. This shows the problem that the person telling the parable must be able to see reality as it is in order to say everyone else is wrong! Suppose I told you my mom was a long-haired pirate from Vienna. To criticize my claim you’d have to know the truth. The same goes for those taking a skeptical position regarding religious claims.
What about tolerance? Something assumed in the concept of tolerance is that someone is wrong. People only tolerate things they disagree with. This concept only makes sense if there is truth in religion. Also, the interfaith adherents’ absolute value of tolerance (however they define it) is often not practiced when it comes to dealing with those who they label as intolerant (i.e., those that refuse to join with them in worship).
In Rev. Walker’s prayer, it is evident that she embraces pluralism and is subject to the aforementioned criticisms. She ignores the tenets that make a person Christian (as well as distinctives of other religions) when emphasizing we belong to one another, we are all of light, we are all people of God, and we hold holy the same things. This is clearly incompatible with Christianity.
Purity in the Faith. All Christians, including those in political office, should avoid worship with those outside Christianity. We are to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s (Mark 12:17). Not all interfaith activity is wrong (e.g., it promotes peace between different faiths), but it advances ideas that oppose the distinctive claims and nature of Christianity and virtually all the other faiths as well. Religious pluralism as understood and embraced by many in the interfaith movement denies that Jesus is the only way. We are not to be unequally yoked, and we are to worship in spirit and truth. Interfaith efforts fail to address the real reason for lack of peace on earth, namely, the failure of humankind to seek peace with our Father who is in heaven through His son Jesus Christ. —Bernard James Mauser
Bernard James Mauser, Ph.D., has a bachelor’s degree in science, an M.A. in Christian apologetics from Southern Evangelical Seminary, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in philosophy from Marquette University. Currently he serves as a professor at San Diego Christian College’s Rivendell Sanctuary.
In the beginning, ancient aliens visited planet Earth, significantly influenced human history, and possibly even engineered human life to evolve. Furthermore, as a result of ancient alien visitations, history is replete with clues regarding these alien astronauts.
Flying saucers and little green men may seem the stuff of 1950s B-movies, yet ideas like the ones just described are gaining momentum not only in popular culture but also in some scientific circles. In the 2012 motion picture Prometheus, director Ridley Scott touted the concept that aliens visited Earth and seeded human life on it.1 The more lighthearted adventure, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008), also gave direct nods to alien involvement on Earth, while the older film, Stargate (1994), made a direct connection between Egypt and ancient aliens, and the seminal film 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) involved aliens in the development of human intelligence.
Besides film, the 2011 book The Ancient Alien Question by Philip Coppens added further speculations about ancient aliens. Such ideas have also made their way into millions of homes via the History Channel television program Ancient Aliens, currently in its seventh season.
Moving beyond pop culture, codiscoverer of DNA Francis Crick held to the possibility of directed panspermia—the belief that life on Earth did not come about on its own, as naturalism holds, but was instead seeded extraterrestrially. Atheist Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, also lends credence to this perspective.2 But aren’t ideas about ancient extraterrestrials nothing more than supermarket tabloid fodder? Isn’t it just harmless fun? This article will offer a brief look at the historical roots of the alien astronauts fascination, explore some of the purported evidence, evaluate claims that the Bible supports UFOs, and review some implications for theology.Taking the Offense without Being Offensive By Eric Johnson
Suppose your favorite NFL team is headed to overtime in a tie game and ends up winning the coin toss. Would you want your team to kick off or receive? It’s a no-brainer. Even the most defensive-minded fan wants his team to have the ball. After all, the team receiving the kickoff can win the game by scoring a touchdown in its initial possession. While the defense could cause a turnover, pick up the ball, and run eighty yards for the tie-breaking score, there is a better opportunity to get into the end zone when your team is in control.
When I taught Bible classes at a Christian high school for seventeen years, I believed that getting students to assimilate the information was facilitated when they were actively in the game. For example, instead of merely lecturing on a topic like evil and suffering, I found that it was better to direct the conversation by first asking questions of the students. This allowed me to measure “pre-understanding” and determine their natural position. Questions such as “What is your view on how evil came into existence?” or “Do you believe that evil discounts the possibility that there can be a good God?” were able to give me valuable insights while requiring the students to develop their critical thinking skills by defending a position—if they even had one! Sometimes a “devil’s advocate” position was required, so I occasionally used class time to role-play an atheist. Asking, “If God is so good, why did He create evil?” could take an entire class period, especially since the question could be considered “fighting words” to an audience raised since birth in a Christian church! It is true that lectures and laying out the factual information ought to play an important role in teaching, but this sit-and-listen approach should not be the only (or even primary) tool for issues where there is much disagreement.
When it comes to evangelism, desiring to be on offense is a wise choice. If we want to be effective in sharing our faith with other people, why wouldn’t we take the ball and be in charge instead of guessing what the opponent will do next? Asking intelligent questions can be an excellent tool in sharing the Christian faith.The Gap Theory of Genesis 1:2 By Lee Irons
The gap theory attempts to resolve the apparent conflict between Scripture and modern geology by inserting a gap of unknown time between the first two verses of Genesis 1. The gap theory doesn’t just insert a gap of time in order to give room for geological eras; it also theorizes that because of Satan’s fall, the original creation became ruined and devastated, which supposedly explains the evidence of mass animal death before the fall as seen in the fossil record. Genesis 1:2 is describing not merely that the earth was formless and void but also that it was in a state of ruin and destruction, an accursed state under God’s judgment. The gap theory suggests that verse 1 describes God’s original work of creation, verse 2 describes the result of the original creation’s destruction, and verse 3 and following describe its restoration or re-creation. For this reason, the theory has also been called the ruin-restoration theory.
Although advocates of the theory claim to have precedent in earlier writers, the view makes its modern appearance in the work of Scottish theologian Thomas Chalmers, who proposed it in 1814. His view was popularized by the Plymouth Brethren writer G. H. Pember in his bookEarth’s Earliest Ages in 1876. Pember wrote, “It is thus clear that the second verse of Genesis describes the earth as a ruin; but there is no hint of the time which elapsed between creation and this ruin. Age after age may have rolled away, and it was probably during their course that the strata of the earth’s crust were gradually developed” (Kregel edition; p. 32).