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The power to share

A visit to a local mosque brings new insight into outreach

by Lynn Thrush

Witnessing to the world: We value an
active and loving witness for Christ to all people.

The week was shrouded by drama: National conversations and passions had been aroused about the propriety of building an Islamic Center two blocks from Ground Zero and by a pastor in Florida who had threatened to burn copies of the Koran. Just the day before, Ramadan had concluded and the U.S. had observed the ninth anniversary of the 9–11 attacks. Nevertheless, on Sunday, September 12, 20 of us from Gateway Community Church made our way over to the local mosque in Chino, Calif.

This was a return visit, as several years before, a group from the mosque had come to our Sunday School class to talk about their faith with us. This time, after enjoying a meal together, I would be sharing about Jesus with them. As I prepared for the time, I found myself grappling with complex questions. What did our groups have in common? How would listeners respond to my message? How could I speak with love, while also speaking clearly about who Jesus is?

One of the Core Values of the Brethren in Christ Church is witnessing to the world. This value is anchored in the twin statements of Acts 1:8: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Rather than commands, both of these phrases are statements of fact. We have received the power of the Holy Spirit, and we are witnesses to that power as we practice integrity, pursue holiness, cultivate the maturity to be selfless and thus able to serve others, and live with the intellectual confidence that love is the highest ethic in our communities. Strength from the Spirit fosters faith to interact with our neighbors winsomely. With that kind of power, of course we are witnesses!

Yet our outreach to the world is inhibited when we lose the moorings of the biblical message. Especially do we need to be alert for the fear-based theology that gets passed around calling us to be wary of Muslims, to fear them because they are going to take over the world if we do not keep them from doing so. Again, we must remember that Jesus is Lord!

And so, as our group prepared to visit the mosque that Sunday, I chose to take confidence in the Spirit’s power in us, looking to build bridges with my message. First, I determined to use the word Allah for God as a way to identify with others, including the millions of Christians who have used and do use this name for God. I also decided to read from the Koran, choosing a beautiful prayer from the first Surah and then referencing Surah 3:46, which talks about Jesus. Next, I emphasized our common history by mentioning the names shared by Muslims and Christians: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Jonah, and Christ. In my closing, I blessed the group, using a blessing akin to the one Jacob gave Pharaoh in Genesis 47.

After the message, one Muslim man told me, “My esteem for you grows by the minute,” and many Gateway folks received warm words of friendship from our hosts. On that September evening, we experienced drama, but not the drama of hate or fear; rather, it was the drama of participating in the great enterprise of God calling all the families of the earth to Himself.

This article originally appeared in the winter 2010 issue of In Part magazine.
Lynn Thrush

Lynn Thrush serves as senior pastor at Gateway Community Church in Chino, Calif. He is also an adjunct professor at Azusa Pacific University and a facilitator for Equipping for Ministry. He is in the midst of writing a book on the theme of hope.

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Paul Kiss Posted on January 25, 2011

I am grateful for Mr Hoovers passion also. I might add that although Arabic Christians use the name Allah for God, the concept of Allah in the Qur'an is vastly different from what we find in the Bible. Using the name of Allah as a synonym for Yahweh may be confusing both to other Christians who do not know much about Islam but also to Muslims. Allah and the Triune God of the Scriptures are not the same. I would encourage people engaging with Muslims to be very careful in their efforts to build bridges. Likewise, the Fatiha in Surah 1, when understood from the Islamic perspective is not really a very gracious prayer to those who are non-Muslims. I think it is great that Lynn and his church are connecting with a local mosque and I hope our other churches will do the same. We want to see those connections happening. One thing I've learned from my work here in London is that we must take the time to understand Islamic doctrine beyond just the surface 5 pillars and beliefs, etc. It may help us from making innocent mistakes that might cause confusion or which we later regret with all the back tracking that will be needed in order to explain our actions and words. I might add that we also need to be careful that our actions in free countries don't compromise the plight of our Christian brothers and sisters in Muslim majority countries. We live in a global village and what we do in the West does indeed have ramifications on those in other countries, even if it is indirect. Good for Lynn for making the attempt, though I would again encourage people to use caution in our attempts to connect with our Muslim neighbours. In most cases, I find I can make those connections even though I still use terms like "Christian, church, Jesus, and God." In fact, in using those terms, it invites great discussion because they know who I am and what I stand for. Particularly in the free West, we have this privilege so why not use it in a respectful, loving manner. For what it's worth,
Paul Kiss

Paul Lehman-Schletewitz Posted on January 21, 2011

I appreciated Mr. Hoover's knee-jerk reaction to Lynn Thrush's article-- the response shows a lot of passion. I also appreciated Ms. Frey's response; her measured analysis showed a lot of wisdom.

Kristine Frey Posted on January 14, 2011

Judah, Hey, it's Kristine Frey here. (We go to Millersville BIC together!) I read your comment and have to say that I disagree with you on a few points. First of all, "Allah" is the Arabic word used for God. I've spoken to a couple experts in this area, and it seems that both the Bible and the Quran use the term "Allah" to refer to God, but only the "Allah" of the Bible is the true, living God. To me, this doesn't make it wrong for us to call upon God as "Allah," just as we would "Adonai" or "Abba." There are lots of different names for the Lord, and God embodies them all. So, I wouldn't say that calling God "Allah" is heretical or ill-informed, as that is one way God has revealed Godself to us. Finally, I think this group's witness was their willingness to extend peace and friendship toward Muslims, who have become marginalized (and even targets of hate!) in our country. Perhaps they weren't handing out tracts or pointing out how the Islamic faith is false...but they were loving their neighbors by crossing the divides of ethnicity, race, and conflict, which I think is a central call of the Gospel. Now,I agree that there is a balance between speaking the truth and watering down the good news until it loses its distinction, but I don't think that's what happened here.

Judah Hoover Posted on January 13, 2011

I found the Visit article most un-insightful. All of the meat of the article is during the authors prep time. Doesn’t seem the “visit” was insightful at all. The insight came from reading the book of Koran and reflecting on what the author already knew and wanted to present to the reader. “Many Christians calling God Allah” doesn’t make it right, any more than many Christians taking up arms in conflict in the name of God makes that right. We must restrain ourselves of the temptation of appealing to consensus rather than Holy Writ. Using the name of Allah for God is heretical at its worse, grossly ill-informed and confusing at its best. I am not sure who the targeted audience of the article is. Only a 3rd grader would not already know of the heritage and names Christians/Jews/Muslims share. Yet the author doesn’t warn the reader that the Koran’s teachings about Jesus are that he was just a man, a great man, but just a man none the less. Praise from the unsaved for preaching a message full of compromise theology is not something I would brag about. Being a “whiteness” (as Acts 1:8 says we will be) for Christ is telling them he is Lord. You can be friendly and a whiteness, but you were just friendly... even the Godless do that. Romans 10:15 tells us beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news that Jesus is Lord. Capital L... not just a swell guy, he is Lord. That September day in the mosque you and 19 others had ugly feet.

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