I Worshipped "Allah" Last Sunday
June 13, 2014
Never have I so carefully typed quotation marks. Those tiny dashes keep intact both my ordination vows and my soul. They also refer to my enjoyable experience last Sunday attending an international service organized by the Gereformeerde Kerken in IJsselmuiden, Netherlands. Gathered there was a small group of immigrants and refugees from around the world, including not a few from the Middle East. The sermon was in Dutch, but it was immediately translated, phrase by phrase, into French, Russian, English, and Arabic . . . all at the same time. By accident I sat in the Arabic section, but I could still hear the English translator parked on the other side of the room.
The kaleidoscope of languages spoken all at once pushed the limits of my sensibilities for "decency and order," but it also made the service unforgettable. I was particularly struck by how the content of a single sermon--fittingly, on Pentecost--appeared to resonate with all of the congregants, each in his own tongue. Through both ears, I heard that all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of "Allah." Of course, in this case, "Allah" unequivocally meant the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
How different was the carefully choreographed prayer service hosted last week by Pope Francis with Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Mahmoud Abbas. The well-intentioned event enjoyed pre-approval by the modern Catholic Church's declaration that, with the Church, "Moselms . . . adore the one God." Similar confusion between the "Allah" of Islam and the, well, quite different "Allah" of Christian (triune) theism now swirls at the doorstep of our theological homes. What will we do?
At the close of my own international assembly, the congregation sang "Great is Thy Faithfulness," dividing the stanzas into the languages represented there. Such unity in diversity offered a faint analogy of the glory of the triune God. Discerning when that glory gets diminished in the name of well-intended desires to reach and respect foreign cultures requires the wisdom of God. Thankfully, as I heard last Sunday, that is just what our faithful God has promised to give his sons in the Spirit.