Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Mosque on Main Street

Moncks Corner, South Carolina (population according to the 2000 census: 5,952) , the county seat of Berkeley County, is a fairly typical small Southern town, with a county courthouse, various governmental offices, shops and restaurants; its proximity to Lake Moultrie offers fishing, boating and similar recreation and it's only about 40 minutes from downtown Charleston and all that it offers. There is a nearby Trappist monastery (which wasn't established until 1949 and played no role in the naming of the town), various historical sites, and -- this being the South -- a variety of churches of various types (mostly Protestant, but there is an active Roman Catholic parish as well). There is also a Mosque on Main Street.

Although the South is frequently portrayed as monochromatically Protestant, that has never been completely the case. Large pockets of Roman Catholicism have existed and Roman Catholics have played significant roles in the history of Charleston and other areas; the Roman Catholic Church has experienced tremendous growth throughout the state recently. The American branch of Reform Judaism was founded in Charleston in 1824 and a significant community of Jews, with a large cemetery, existed in Williamsburg County, which borders Berkeley County. Religious diversity is nothing new on the landscape, but Moncks Corner is far less cosmopolitan that Charleston and the establishment of a Mosque on Main Street there is an interesting commentary on the changing religious scene.

Islam has arrived in the West -- a friend of mine visited England a couple of years ago and noted the striking absence of native English children and the seeming ubiquitousness of burka-clad women being trailed by strings of children -- and shows little signs of abatement. The Church ignores this at its own peril and, sadly much of the Church does just that, either through ignorance, political correctness, or fuzzy theology. The Church needs to be missional in its approach not only to Islam, but toward other religions and a culture that is increasingly secularized.

How can we do this? Several ideas:

Catechesis: Christians must be taught the basics of the faith and be able to articulate what they believe and why they believe it. This instruction needs to be intentional and systematic and also needs to be a lifelong process. Christians who are well instructed in the faith will not be easily swayed by other faiths and will be able to articulate their faith in the context of a culture that is increasingly hostile or at least indifferent to the Christian faith.

Evangelism: The Church needs to be bold and innovative in its outreach to those outside her walls and proclaim the Good News of Christ. We need to take seriously the Great Commission not only in far-off lands but also right down the street. The influx of non-Christian immigrants from around the world presents both challenges but also great opportunity as one can now do world missions without ever leaving home! An excellent example of this is the work of Urban Nations, a ministry of Messiah's Covenant Community Church in Brooklyn, New York; it was founded some years ago in response to the tremendous variety of nations located within the area. Through a variety of ministries including English as a Second Language classes (something in high demand among those wishing to acclimate themselves into American society) using the Bible as a text, they have been able to reach more than 60 nations with the Gospel without ever leaving Kings County!

Works of Mercy: This could easily be a subset of evangelism as it is a means of reaching out to those outside the Church; one must be careful, though, to avoid the frequent error of theological liberals in being so focused upon works of mercy that the Gospel is never preached. When those of other faiths are cared for by the Church, they will be more open to hearing what the Church proclaims.

Worldview Education: This is really a subset of Catechesis. When Christians are discipled in the faith then the ramifications of that faith need to be fleshed out in every facet of life. Christians need to be taught how the claims of Christ effect business, economics, ethics, politics, the arts, and every other area of life. As the late Rev'd Dr. Cornelius Van Til aptly observed:

The Bible is thought of as authoritative on everything of which it speaks. Moreover, it speaks of everything. We do not mean that it speaks of football games, of atoms, etc., directly, but we do mean that it speaks of everything either directly or by implication. It tells us not only of the Christ and his work, but it also tells us who God is and where the universe about us has come from. It tells us about theism as well as about Christianity. It gives us a philosophy of history as well as history. Moreover, the information on these subjects is woven into an inextricable whole. It is only if you reject the Bible as the word of God that you can separate the so-called religious and moral instructions of the Bible from what it says, e.g., about the physical universe.

Christians who know why they believe what they believe, are active in outreach to those outside their walls, and who are actively applying their faith to all of life will be well equipped to meet the challenges of Islam, secularism, and whatever else may come in the future. Hopefully the Church will actively seek to meet these challenges for God's glory!

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