A week of classes is over. The topic was Evangelism, Discipleship, and Church Planting. A team of eight people, headed for Eastern Europe to work among Muslims, joined our PhD cohort. Because of the combination of scholars and church planters, the class was an interesting blend of theology and application. The new thinking, with great success in the majority world, is that church plants should be clustered by starting several at once in urban centers, rather than being started one-by-one. The multiple groups meet in public spaces or homes. The network that emerges encourages each unit.
We attended the local mosque this afternoon after a study session on Islam. My missionary host home had loaned me a pretty peach and lime green Muslim outfit, but the scarf kept slipping off my hair. Our male classmates sat at the back of the gathering room, chairs leaned under the mirrored window to the women's room at the back. The female students went around to the side of the building, through a separate door, and into a little room that reminded us of a tiny nursery at the back of a church. We could see through the glass what the men and boys were doing, but they couldn't see and be distracted by us women. (There was little danger of us being distracted--or attracted--by them.)
Male or female, we took our shoes off at our doorways because Islam considers the meeting place "holy ground." Throughout the service, groups of guys wandered into the main hall quietly, all ages sitting and bowing in unison on the carpeted floor. It was very purposeful and focused, without all the distracting jokes and announcements of a typical Christian service. The talk was on avoiding oppression (injustice) of others, with Arabic readings from the Koran. When it was over, people wandered outside and visited together.
The women and girls were very friendly to us - they asked if we had questions, explaining that they (not Western women) had all the rights. They could say no if their fathers or brothers chose a man they didn't want to marry; they could stay home with their children because their men were responsible to provide for them; they were protected by their fathers, husbands, and brothers and wore scarves to show they were under manly protection and not interested in casual sex.
The discussion afterward was fascinating: the one Caucasian convert was our moderator, along with a Muslim gal who (like her husband) was a medical doctor. The man stereotyped Christians with all the bad qualities - they were immoral, had low standards, etc. Muslims, according to him, were peaceful and gracious. Allah, the only God, the merciful and compassionate one, had revealed himself in final form to Mohammad. All the Jewish and Christian writings had been corrupted over the years, but the Qur'an (Koran, which wasn't written down for decades after Mohammed received his revelations) was the eternally perfect revelation which corrected previous mistakes. Its rules, down to the clipping of the toenails, had to be perfectly followed.
Later in our class discussion, (after I had taken off the hot polyester freedom suit and gotten back to the bondage of my cotton t-shirt and capri pants,) we talked about how Christians sometimes do the same stereotyping. We compare our best features to the worst of others. We try to present our purest face and ignore our personal failures and the imperfections of the Church-in-process.
Our common ground with other religions is not dialogues or accommodation. It is this: we are sinners who stand before a just and holy God. The difference is that nothing we do can earn us God's favor. Every other religion relies on works and rule-keeping. Christians understand that only God himself could have bridged the gap between himself and humanity. He did this through his only begotten Son, Jesus.
Oh how grateful I was, walking away from the mosque with its hopes of balancing good and bad deeds, hopefully reaching the tipping point towards achieving Paradise. I was thankful to step into the perfect freedom and security of a life washed clean by God's grace alone! (Ephesians 2:8-9)