Pastor and Christian Leadership Resources

When Being the Church Seems Counter-Intuitive

  • Alex McFarland World News Service
  • 2011 23 Mar
When Being the Church Seems Counter-Intuitive

(WNS)--The recent controversy regarding two Methodist churches allowing Muslim groups to use their buildings brings to mind several pivotal issues of these pluralistic times. The issues relate to the church’s unchanging mission within a very-much changed American culture. For those outside the Christian faith, the basic question is one of whether or not truth exists. For if Christianity and Islam are merely two optional means to reach the same ultimate end, then Christian churches helping Muslims remain Muslim is a moot point. If all religions are equally valid, there is no unique truth to proclaim nor error to expose. But for Christian believers, the core issues are these: What are the church’s primary responsibilities to its neighbors? More importantly, what are the church’s duties to the Lord Jesus Christ, whom it claims to represent?

Throughout the dozen or so interviews I have done on this subject, I have marveled at how easily missed are several key - and I would say “large-as-an-elephant-in-the-room” - points. Appearing on Fox News and Friends, I attempted to clarify for listeners (and for the Tennessee pastor who opened his church for use by an Islamic group) what obligations are entailed by Christ’s Great Commission. I explained that the church’s mission is to proclaim the facts of the Gospel (Mark 16:15), and to make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20).

It is commonly assumed that the sum total of the church’s role is to worship God, love others, be an example to the community, and do what we can for those less fortunate. Are these things part of the Christian’s responsibility? Of course. But Christians have an obligation before God to do even more: Proclaim truth. Uncomfortable, not-always-popular-at-the-time truths. Refute error.

After one Fox network interview, I received more than 500 emails in 24 hours, many from Christians asking, “Alex, don’t you think that Muslims should be allowed to attend a Christian worship service if they wanted to?” Absolutely! But that was never the question. There is a big difference between inviting an unsaved person to come under the sound of the Gospel and enabling a lost person to remain in their state of unbelief. The former would be an example of obedience to the Gospel; I would say that the latter - such as allowing a Christian church to be used for Islamic worship - represents betrayal of the Gospel. 

In an on-air debate with the leader of the Tennesee church that invited a Muslim group to use its building, I was struck by the pastor’s appeals to “Christian love” and “the example of Jesus” as justification for his decision. Do we really believe that Jesus would have offered Romans space in the Jewish Temple to practice Mythraism? Or would he have explained to the pagans of his day that the true Savior occupies a Pantheon of One? In the Gospels, we don’t see Jesus accommodating false beliefs. The New Testament record shows Jesus calling people to turn from sin, forsake empty religion, believe in him, and be saved. 

The one who first said that in order to go to heaven a person must repent and believe in Jesus was, well . . . Jesus (c.f. Luke 13:3, John 8:24). Would he today warn people today that practice of religion is not the same thing as possessing God’s forgiveness and salvation? We may be sure of it (see Matthew 7:21-24). What the Bible has to say on numerous topics is unpopular today. We know that. But the church’s message to the world should not become one that implies, “We may see things a little differently, but our shared humanity makes us all OK.” No - the truly loving act is to make people aware of truths they desperately need to hear, even if they may not necessarily want to hear.

No doubt about it: It is hard to stand up for Christ in a culture that pretty much views the things of God with derision. But Christians are to follow Jesus even at the risk of being misunderstood. Rejection and being out of step with the larger cultural context is just an occupational hazard. Conventional wisdom might tell us to “play nice,” and show the world some “Jesus-lite.” But instead of lending church buildings to Islamic groups, American Christians should show Muslims true love by presenting them the facts of the Gospel.  The church must pray for the salvation of US Muslims. Praying for God to sharpen the discernment level of believers would not be a bad prayer, either. God has the ability to penetrate and direct every human heart - those of well-intentioned but misguided believers (which at one time or another includes all of us). And even hearts brought up to resist the errors of we “infidels.”

Alex McFarland is the host of Sound Reason, a television program aired on the NRB Network. He is also the author of many books, including The Ten Most Common Objections to Christianity.

Publication date: March 23, 2011