Monday, November 26, 2007

Unity with Other Religions Too?

Paul Grabill has posted a link on his blog to a story in the Austin American-Statesman about Hyde Park Baptist Church in Austin choosing to not allow Austin Area Interreligious Ministries to use its property for an inter-faith Thanksgiving service, which encouraged the joint worship of Jews, Muslims, Christians, Hindus and Bahais, and was to include Muslim Maghrib prayer.

I hope it is clear, when I write about the practice of Christian unity, that I am NOT talking about events like this. I think that Hyde Park Church made the right decision. In the world in which we live, this type of decision can be very unpopular, and expose us to accusations of intolerance. See, for example, the editorials in the Austin American-Statesman here, here, here and here.

Among those accustomed to narrow denominationalism, efforts toward promoting biblical unity can also be unpopular. Sometimes, seeking to be faithful to our Lord's commands leads one to walk a pretty tight rope.

14 comments:

Steve Sensenig said...

I understand where you're coming from. However, this once again raises the question about use of "church property". Several months ago, this came up in the context of a church that had offered the use of its facility for a funeral and then backed out when they found out that the deceased was a homosexual. In both cases, it was with short notice and left the other party scrambling to find a location.

The question this begs in my mind is: Is there something sacred about the property a 501(c3) corporation owns? In other words, is there something about the property owned by an institutional church that prohibits that property from being used for non-Christian events?

I'm not trying to die on a hill here, but I think there is a HUGE difference between sponsoring (or even participating in) an event, and allowing facilities you own to be rented by other faiths.

I can't figure out what exactly the relationship to this "rental property" and the church is, other than the fact that the church owns it, but it was a gymnasium, for crying out loud. It wasn't even a "church sanctuary", even if one wants to believe that such a thing can/should exist.

David Rogers said...

Steve,

I sort of see your point here.

The main point I was trying to make would hold true more in the case of actually co-sponsoring or participating in such an activity.

Though I may not be so quick to criticize a church who rented out their property on the basis of the argument you make here, I do think the impression given to the public would be that you do "endorse" the activity. From that standpoint, I can sympathize with, and even support, Hyde Park's decision.

Steve Sensenig said...

The main point I was trying to make would hold true more in the case of actually co-sponsoring or participating in such an activity.

Your point was actually made quite well, and I understood that. And I would definitely find a point of agreement with you on this if we were talking about that type of situation. I just felt like this was a bad example for your point! :)

I do think the impression given to the public would be that you do "endorse" the activity.

Yes, and no. Let's not ignore the fact that this was the type of criticism often leveled against Jesus. He was hanging out with "sinners", and therefore, there seems to have been an impression that he "endorsed" their lifestyle.

I'm just not real crazy about making decisions based on public impressions.

Nevertheless, I respect where you're coming from, and definitely want to reiterate that we are in agreement on some level on this. Just not with the particulars of this incident. :)

Looking forward to seeing you soon, my brother!

David Rogers said...

Steve,

Not to argue, but rather, for the sake of exploring this out a little further, I wonder how you react to the answer I gave to a very similar question about this over on Paul's blog...

"The "conviction" I would have about it would be avoiding the impression that we all really are "one," and that one path to God is just as good as another.

As a Christian church, I believe our fundamental reason of being is to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What we do with the property we own as a church should conform to and/or support this same purpose.

Austin Area Interreligious Ministries should seek a venue more in line with, or at least with a neutral stance, toward the values it espouses. I would not expect the local mosque to endorse or support my specifically Christian prayer, either."

pastorleap said...

You're absolutely right David, when I talk about cooperation and unity among Christians, it is always within the (understood) parameters of ortodox Christianity. Sometimes this goes unnoticed and many uber-conservatives accuse guys like me of standing on the "slippery slope" leading to inclusivism. This is simply not so, and I appreciate you making this statement today and commending this church. It helps the critics to understand that language of "unity" and "cooperation" used by evangelicals and SBs has its limits.

Blessings.

David Rogers said...

Pastor Leap,

Yes, that is my point exactly.

Steve Sensenig said...

Let me first of all say that I, too, believe there are boundaries around "unity".

Unfortunately, in this particular context, David, I think my philosophical position regarding "church property" would probably not allow me to even comment on your response on Paul's blog because I see it as an unnecessary issue to begin with.

Let me see if I can explain that a little more clearly...

I have a lot of trouble seeing the "church" as a corporation. Therefore, I have a lot of trouble saying that the "church" can even own property at all. Following that out, then, means that asking whether or not the "church" has to be careful how it uses its property is the wrong question to ask and becomes almost nonsensical.

Probably like my comments... ;) hehe

See, if we're concerned about what message it sends to let an interfaith organization rent our gymnasium, why are we not concerned about the message we're sending about our physical possessions? God doesn't live in a temple made with human hands. We are the temple (I know you know all this, but I'm just trying to show how, in my mind, it creates a philosophy that runs counter to the very question at hand). Buildings are buildings, and have no spiritual significance. If we think they do, we run the risk of putting ourselves back under the old covenant in our thinking.

Another way of thinking about it is to ask it this way: If I were a landlord, would I refuse to rent my building to Muslims so that I don't appear to "endorse" their praying in that rental building?

Again, it's not a hill I'm trying to die on, but just talking it out.

David Rogers said...

Steve,

Yes, indeed, your understanding of "church property" does seem to play into your response.

I would agree with you that buildings, in and of themselves, have no spiritual significance. Or, at least, that, under the New Covenant, that is not God's intention for us.

Also, I am sympathetic to your views on the church not being a "corporation." However, I have my questions about how consistent you can be about this if you take it out to its logical extremes. Are you saying, for instance, that a local group of believers, out of an interest to be obedient to the Great Commission, and good stewardship of the resources God allows us to have, should never join together to finance tools for the extension of the Gospel? Even if you meet in a house, someone has to pay the bills.

I do have a problem, however, thinking of a church as a "corporation" in the sense that it may be parallel to a "landlord" that rents out property from a commercial, profit-making perspective. If, as a local congregation of believers, we own property, it is for the sole motive of trying to work towards the advance of God's kingdom. Thus, the use of that property should also conform to that same motive.

Steve Sensenig said...

Are you saying, for instance, that a local group of believers, out of an interest to be obedient to the Great Commission, and good stewardship of the resources God allows us to have, should never join together to finance tools for the extension of the Gospel? Even if you meet in a house, someone has to pay the bills.

I'm not sure I'm following you here. (By the way, I hope this discussion isn't frustrating you. I'm enjoying the challenging questions you're responding with.)

"Join[ing] together to finance tools for the extension of the Gospel" need not include purchasing buildings, does it?

And with regard to meeting in a house church, this is (in my humble opinion) one of the greatest benefits to house churches.

Whether or not the church meets in my home, I still have an electric bill. I see no increase whatsoever in my costs when the church does meet in my home.

Whether or not the church meets in my home, I still will likely eat dinner that evening. I see no increase in my food budget when the church meets in my home, because everyone contributes food to the meal.

So I'm not sure what "bills" you are referring to with regard to house churches, or how that adds to your position regarding this particular post.

I think, however, that we're probably very close on this topic. It just doesn't always appear so from the comment stream!! ;)

David Rogers said...

Steve,

No, this discussion is not frustrating me. I enjoy being stretched to think through new ideas as well.

No, joining together to finance tools for the extension of the Gospel does not have to include purchasing buildings. But, I don't see why it would need to preclude it either. And, I don't really see the essential difference in, say, joining together to buy evangelistic tracts, and joining together to buy or rent a building in which to preach the Gospel, and carry out other disciple-making activities.

Yes, house churches have many advantages over meeting hall churches, among them, saving on building-related expenses. But I don't see how this totally precludes the validity of a local congregation owning or renting property.

I agree with you, if I understand you correctly, that the identity of the church should not be bound to buildings and property. But, if a building or property is merely a tool to help the church further its purposes, I don't see what the problem is.

Steve Sensenig said...

I have no disagreement with your last comment.

I don't mean to imply that owning buildings is always wrong. I probably overstated my case to a certain extent.

In the context of allowing other functions to take place in those buildings, though, is where I think we aren't completely in agreement. That's ok, but I just wanted to make sure that my disagreement with Hyde Park's decision was not extrapolated too far.

As for the difference between pooling resources for a building vs. pooling resources to print evangelistic tracts, I think there is a huge difference; namely, people don't ever mistake a tract for where God dwells, or consider it to be sacred in and of itself.

Bottom line is that I think a whole boatload of money is spent in US churches in the name of "spreading the Gospel" that is merely money spent on "things". It does not appear that our buildings or equipment or fancy sanctuaries have helped the spread of the Gospel in any significant way. The Gospel seems to be spreading much better when those things aren't mistaken for "spreading the Gospel".

David Rogers said...

Steve,

If we could start all over from scratch, I think there would be a certain degree of merit in considering the possibility of avoiding church buildings. However, someone else would almost certainly come up with it sooner or later. And, it would be difficult to curb the process of evolving into what we have today.

In the meantime, given the milieu in which we now live, I think it is best to recognize that all born-again Christians, house church or building church, traditional or non-traditional, are part of the same Body of Christ, and not "throw stones" at each other. (not meaning to imply that is what you are doing):-)

Steve Sensenig said...

Oh, wait. This blog isn't titled "Throw Each Stone"?? ;)

Great discussion. Thanks for once again showing the spirit of Christ in your interactions, even when I sometimes float seemingly unrealistic ideas.

Look forward to seeing you soon.

David Rogers said...

Steve,

Me too. See you soon!