I saw this story in the Guardian on Christmas Eve. The basic thrust of the story is that St Alban’s church in North Harrow have invited their Muslim friends into midnight mass. The church have announced it is ‘a really positive sign of friendship.’
I’m not quite sure why this has hit the mainstream news. I think it is a great act of friendship to invite Muslim folks into your church. We, for example, had Muslim folks from our English Class and regular Christian-Muslim dialogue evenings in attendance at our carol service and nativity this year. There is much to commend inviting people unbelievers into your church at Christmas. But I’m not sure what makes this news? Christians do this all the time.
What is more, we frequently invite our Muslim neighbours to church. We don’t wait for Christmas to do it but meet with them monthly. We discuss matters of faith each month. Off the back of our English Classes and Dialogue Evenings, we have invited people into our regular services of worship. They have, at various points, come.
So I don’t want to knock what St Alban’s are doing at all. I want to encourage all believers to invite their Muslim friends into their Christmas services (such as they live in an area where there are any Muslims). But I’m struggling to wrap my head around why this is news? Are the mainstream media so dense or unwilling to view Christians in a positive light that they can’t believe they would be happy to invite unbelievers, or Muslims in particular, into their services? I just don’t get it.
There is nothing good about pretending we all worship the same god or think the same things. If we genuinely want to reach our Muslim friends we need to be willing to acknowledge that – despite their reverence of Jesus as a prophet – we view him quite differently and believe that salvation comes by entirely different means. But the idea that Christians don’t want Muslims – or any other unbelievers who don’t share their beliefs – to come into their churches to encounter the gospel is to not understand the first thing about Christianity or the gospel it proclaims.
If the story encourages others to welcome unbelievers into their churches to encounter Christ, then it has got to be a good thing. But I’m just unclear why it has made headline news. Wanting people who do not believe the gospel to hear the gospel and respond to the gospel is what Christians who have come to believe that gospel specifically want to happen.
Perhaps they should have run with the headline, ‘Christians invite people to hear the gospel as they have done for 2000 years.’ It’s an odd story to see hitting the headlines but if it helps people see that Christians do, indeed, want to welcome all to hear the gospel, it can’t be a bad thing.