I am very glad to be working as a Catholic in interfaith relations. We at least have a reasonably clear theology that guides us in these matters. Lutherans don’t, I guess in part because interfaith dialogue was light years away from the thoughts of the authors of the Book of Concord. So they end up borrowing either from evangelical theologies (you have to have Jesus as your personal saviour or you’re going to hell) or liberal protestant theologies (Christianity is just one road to up the mountain that has “God” at the top).
This is an example of the latter. Herb Hoefer holds the “Missions Chair” at Concordia University Portland, an LCMS institution. He caused a stir in Lutheran circles in the States by posting an essay called “Muslim-Friendly Christian Worship” in September last year. (The URL given on all the blogs is http://faculty.cu-portland.edu/herbhoefer/MuslimFriendly.html, but that doesn’t work any more. From what I can see, CU has pulled the item from their website. I am accessing the text here at Fr Hollywood’s page).
This is a really terribly misguided effort. It says volumes about the attitude one regularly encounters among LCMS types (not Pastor Weedon and his friends, I hasten to add) which has an utilitarian attitude toward the liturgy of the Church, regarding it simply as an instrument for evangelisation. Still, not even the worst of the Church Growthers went this far!
In order to make Christian worship more palatable to Muslims, Herb wonders if we should rethink the appropriateness of “worshipping Jesus”. He suggests revision of the creeds to make it clear (assuming they don’t) that we worship one God only, that the term “Church” should be removed from the creeds, that St Paul’s letters should not be read, that the term “Son of God” should be retired, that grape juice rather than alcohol should be used in the Lord’s Supper, and that images and music should be scaled down.
In short, he is suggesting that to witness to Muslims we should stop being Christians.
Don’t get me wrong. On absolutely every point, Herb has heard his Muslim friend’s objections loud and clear. It is true that they think that we are polytheists and that we worship a human being instead of God. It is true that they reject the title “Son of God” since “God neither begets nor is begotton” as one Muslim said to me recently. It is true that they have real problems with the way we worship (using images, music and alcohol).
But we don’t change our way of worship to suit someone else’s misunderstanding of or rejection of our beliefs (remember “lex orandi, lex credendi”). For instance, we Catholics are not about to through out the rosary, the Hail Mary, and the statues of Mary just because you protestants either fail to understand Mariology or reject it outright!
Dialogue is the place to talk these issues through. Frank dialogue is the arena in which misunderstandings (and I would suggest that much–but not all–of the Muslim rejection of our Trinitarian and Christological Theology is based on misunderstanding what we are saying) can be corrected, and objections can be clarified.
And in the dialogue of spiritual experience–where I encounter your way of worship and you encounter mine–the onus is on the visitor to try to understand what the host believes he is doing, not the the host to modify his way of worshipping to suit the visitor.