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?


Barbara said...

For me as an American nurse the question of any kind of interfaith partnership of any kind (not just prayer)that implies any validation of the other belief systems - even for what appear to be good, Samaritan-by-the-road kind of reasons got answered for me in the Book of Ezra.

I can work alongside them, I can love them, I can by the grace of God be a witness to them. But I cannot join hands in partnership with them (2 Cor 6) and I most certainly cannot pray with them - unless that prayer involves their coming to saving faith in Christ.

Tha Deuce said...

Did you read my blog? It looks like you did. :)

Buz said...

"Aslan means neither less nor more than Tash" ... "You mean there is no such person as either." C.S. Lewis "The Last Battle"