Wednesday, May 6, 2009

On Interfaith Prayer Services

In America, one of the more common methods of promoting unity is to hold something known as an "interfaith prayer service". These were particularly common following 9/11 (for anyone from the Obama administration reading this, that was the day when... oh nevermind, you wouldn't be interested), when people of all faiths were called to set aside their differences and call out to God together - Christians, Jews, muslims, whatever Apu is, etc. Sometimes an interfaith prayer service will be called for a community, a college (by the 'interfaith council'), or in extreme circumstances, the whole nation. Annually, there is the National Day of Prayer (apparently it's this week - as usual, Dan Phillips offers an outstanding take on it), in which all Americans all axed to take time to call out to God on behalf of the nation.

My question is, should Christians participate?

Consider for a moment what these events are saying. The fundamental assumption central to an interfaith prayer service is that we all worship the same god and what we believe makes no difference at all. The whole concept necessarily assumes that all prayers are equal, that they are simply generic petitions to generic deity/energy field/life force/gaia. Without this assumption, the entire idea is patently absurd. What business would a Jew and a muslim have praying together, or a Christian and a mormon, or a hindu and a j-dub? If any of those faiths are true, all others are necessarily false (well, hindu and mormonism might be compatible), so why would we think their prayers are of any value?

Frankly, the idea of a Christian claiming that his faith is no different from any other should be nauseating. How dare we set aside the exclusivity of Christ in order to pretend that Islam is just as valid and their prayers are just as effectual? How dare we give false witness to those of other faiths and undermine the gospel by pretending that [generic belief or moralism] is no different than salvation through the death and resurrection of the Son of God for his church? How can we profane the blood of Christ by declaring it to be of no more worth than... whatever it is hindus do?

Can you imagine Paul participating in an interfaith prayer service in Corinth or Athens? Sure, his spirit was provoked within him by all the idols, and he risked his life to confront their pagan idolatry, but maybe for one day he could lead a generic prayer to generic deity, because it's all really the same anyway. Right.

Or maybe Jesus would be willing to participate in one. Perhaps after saying this:

"If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God."

...he could have extended the invitation. Now let's pray together, because our prayers all go to the same place, right? Right. Yeah, I can totally see that happening.

So here's the challenge: provide one scriptural justification for Christians participating in an interfaith prayer service. Surely if one exists, my Biblically-knowledgable readership (at least a dozen strong!) should be able to find it, no problem. Perhaps an example of such a service in scripture would suffice?

I could only think of one scriptural example of an interfaith prayer service. You can find it in 1 Kings 18. How'd that work out?

Friday, May 1, 2009

Veritable Bouillabaisse

The first in an occasional series in which I throw a few short items together when I don't feel like writing anything long or deep.

*** Recently, on a tip from Frank Turk, I read through the book What He Must Be ...If He Wants To Marry My Daughter. Sometime around page 12 or so, it was clear we'd be loaning it out to other people who need to read it. After further reflection, that turned into buying additional copies to get it into necessary hands more quickly. So you might be able to gather that I liked it and thought it was insanely useful. Very, very challenging stuff.

As you might be able to tell from the title, the book is a guide to help fathers screen potential suitors for their daughters - the non-negotiable traits he absolutely must have if he's going to be allowed to pursue her. But with just a little reflection, it's clear that the book would be useful for plenty of other types of people. For example, single men who need to develop these qualities. Single women who should know what to look for. Married men who can see where they're falling short. Women who are mentoring younger women. Folks in youth ministry, students and leaders alike. Basically anyone who could potentially date or is in a position to influence such a person. So go buy it - in fact, buy two and give one away to someone who needs it.

*** You may have heard about this thing going around called "swine flu". Excuse me, H1N1 A or whatever it's called now. A few days ago, The Obama apparently called it that in a press conference I didn't watch, and the next day I heard a bunch of news people calling it that, so I figured they were just being butt-kissing lapdogs as usual. Well, they probably still are, but eventually I heard one of them explain the change from the simple, common name to its unwieldy laboratory designation: apparently a lot of people - in spite of repeated announcements to the contrary - thought you could get it from eating pork, so they were boycotting pork products.

This is, quite frankly, an idiotic reason to change the name. A bunch of people can't be bothered to read all the way to the second paragraph of a news story, or listen for more than eight seconds, to get the information that's clearly being told, and they foolishly overreact? So why, exactly, are we supposed to accommodate them? Listen - if someone is stupid enough to give up bacon without even doing the three seconds worth of research it would take to show that such a move is unnecessary, they deserve to go without bacon. It's a harsh penalty, I know, but stupidity must have consequences. Besides, the decrease in demand would drive the price of pork down. Which means those of us who actually pay attention would be able to buy cheap bacon! I say we keep calling it "swine flu" until the price is low enough to justify buying a separate freezer just to hold all the bacon I'd buy.

But under my plan, those who take the initiative to be well-informed, make wise decisions, and act responsibly would benefit, while those who are ignorant, moronic, utterly short-sighted, and rush unthinkingly into bad decisions would miss out. And that simply can't happen in today's America!

*** Occasionally I'll read something in the Bible that brings up a mental image that I can't help but laugh at. Sometimes it's just a case of unfamiliarity with ancient ritual, where something that'd be perfectly obvious to the original readers is not explained, so that when it's read today it sounds sort of funny. Such was the case when I read through Numbers recently, and came to a section with a wave offering. Best I can tell, a wave offering was generally part of a larger offering. The priest would take a prescribed part of the animal (for example, a ram shoulder for the Nazirite vow closing), pick it up, and wave it. So imagine my surprise when I read this in Numbers 8:

5And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 6"Take the Levites from among the people of Israel and cleanse them... And you shall bring the Levites before the tent of meeting and assemble the whole congregation of the people of Israel. 10When you bring the Levites before the LORD, the people of Israel shall lay their hands on the Levites, 11and Aaron shall offer the Levites before the LORD as a wave offering from the people of Israel, that they may do the service of the LORD... 13And you shall set the Levites before Aaron and his sons, and shall offer them as a wave offering to the LORD.

Alrighty then. So was the elderly Aaron supposed to pick up each of these 8500-odd men and wave them in the air? I suppose it's possible, but... I'm guessing there's something about this ancient ritual that I just don't see, but it made perfect sense back then. Still, the image of Aaron picking up each of these thousands of grown men, and waving them around, well, it amuses me.

*** Today I finally started reading the latest John Piper book, Finally Alive. I'm only in the introduction, and already it's been totally worth it. Makes me wonder why I went so long since the last time I read a Piper book. It's about what it means to be born again - the real, Biblical use of the term, not the shallow, pathetic perversion of the term common today. The little vignette wherein he takes the Barna research group to task for their horrible handling of the term "born again" is simply must-read. I have a feeling this is going to be well worth reading.

Oh, and I should also mention that last week we went to see Piper and Don Carson give a little seminar on the intersecting interests of the pastor and scholar. My theory is, whenever you get a chance to go see one of these guys teach, it's probably going to be worth it. If they're both speaking, it's a safe bet that it'll be extraordinarily edifying, challenging, intellectually stimulating, and worshipful. Perhaps I shall write about that event soon. Perhaps.

*** Just checked my RSS not too long ago, and saw this post (follow the links there to his earlier posts - they're all good, and I've probably linked them before). It's commentary on an interview Christianity Today did with Rob Bell to pimp his newest book, during part of which Bell is asked to explain the gospel. The article's title: "Not the Gospel of Jesus. Not Anywhere Near It." That really sums it up quite well - much of the interview was downright nauseating, but the supposed gospel presentation was beyond terrible, being something any New Age spiritualist or TM guru could easily affirm, albeit with one oblique reference to Jesus. Yet another opportunity to ask: how exactly is this guy considered a Christian leader? What am I missing exactly? How can anyone read his stuff without klaxons blaring and red warning lights flashing?