Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Theology and Worship

We woke up one morning with the noise playing and talking children accompanied by their parents. These families were visiting our neighbors who are worshippers of Allah. We are fully aware that we are living in a Muslim community but I didn’t realize until then that there are so many of them in the city. Our Muslim neighbors opened up their houses and set tables in their living rooms so that their fellow Muslims and their families could visit their house had some time to talk and eat (not much, I think they were finger foods). We watched them as they passed by our house walking playfully in both directions, some were leaving and many were still coming. It was a sight to see; they were dressed with colorful robe, small head gear for men and a beautiful veil for women. It was a joyous day for them… it was the end of Ramadan.

We are enjoying religious freedom here in Thailand. In our few months of staying here, we have won friends both from Muslim and Buddhist religion. However, I find it strange that in a place where Christianity and Islam are both marginalized, our belief in one God and to some extent in Christ have given us special affinity than the dominant religion. Of course we have many Christian friends, but our best friends here are Muslims.

On an even ground, side by side with Christianity, my opinion is that Islam would grow faster in this region because Muslims are showing a strong sense of unity than Christians. It seems they have a more intimate and loving relationship with each other. They worship in one mosque; rich and poor, young and old, from different ethnic origins—Thai, Indians, Burmese, Chinese, Malays among others. Of course women are discriminated but they come and worship anyway. I could not say the same with Christians here. Christians here are so divided in many ways maybe not by denomination but by organizations that fund and support a particular ministry. Burmese and Chinese worship separately; tribal groups have their own church building. Christians don’t know each other. Yes, there is a strong of presence of Christian here but the people don’t notice.

Besides the appearance of strong unity, another reason that Muslims have strong “witness” here is their commitment to their fixed form of worship. For them, it does not matter if they don’t understand what the language of their worship is because they understand that worship is not for their personal benefits. Worship is their act of submission and surrender to the will of Allah. Christians here are the same as Christians all over the world, the worship for their own sake; they worship for their own benefit. I would like to direct you to Dr. Jim’s observation regarding Christian’s motives for in worship. I can relate with his observations. And I find his observations are also true here. Although understanding the language is very important in worship, I think if you don’t have much choice, you have to commit yourself to a church and worship there in spite of language barrier than not to worship at all (as some other field workers are doing). We have been attending a Burmese church since we came here and although we don’t understand most part of it, I believe we genuinely worship God in spirit and truth. Isn’t it the vision of our Lord Jesus Christ that Christians worship together in unity in spite of diversity? Why do Christians are not as committed to their worship compare to other major religions of the world?

I believe it has something to do with our theology of worship. Our worship is human-centered rather than God centered. Yes God is there in our worship but we seek to satisfy our own needs than to seek to praise and worship God. It seems we can only worship the Lord if we feel like it. And if our church is unable to bring us to that stage of emotion, we conclude that we are not worshipping and look for a place that could satisfy our emotional needs.

I would want to quote Alister E. McGrath here with regards to theology and worship and although I’m a Baptist and don’t usually worship liturgically I believe he has something to say about the relationship between worship and theology. Our theology determines our worship and vice versa.
One of the most important elements of the Christian tradition is fixed forms of worship; usually know as “liturgy.” In recent years there has been a rediscovery of the fact that Christian theologians pray and worship, and that his devotional context shapes their theological reflections. This point has been appreciated since the first centuries of the Christian church. The tag lex orandi, lex credendi, which could be translated as roughly as “the way you prays determine what you believe,” express the fact that theology and worship interact with each other. What Christians believe affects the manner in which they pray and worship; the manner in which Christians pray and worship affects what they believe.


TwennyTwo said...


Hello Joey, I read this post after pushing the 'next blog' button and thought I'd comment.

I'm happy you've found the connection between Muslims and Christians that many in the western world never have the fortune to discover. What many never get is that the biggest connection is God himself. I'm sure you know that Allah is just the translation of the word "God" into Arabic, no matter what the religion. My coptic Christian friends call Him Allah, too. So it's funny to me that you'd find affinity and friendliness from Muslims- of COURSE you would! The association actually mandated by God in the Qur'an, along with association with people who submit to God (and Christians are listed amongst those peoples).
Yes, really. Check it out.

I'm glad you're taking the opportunity to be open-minded even as you explore ministry and missionry. The biggest thing to keep in mind is your main point here: that God is the point and focus of our worship. As a Muslim I get that and it's a major reason why I liked Islam enough to choose its acts as my way of worship. How, as a Christian, can you influence those around you to help them see that their focus should also be the One?

Very nice to meet you.


Joey said...

Hi twennytwo,

Thanks for the comment. It was very enlightening. Yes i believe that we worship the same God but from different perspective. I also believe that God is present in every religion. That he revealed something of Himself.

I'm open minded enough to believe that God's work and grace is not limited to Christians. He can work in different religions and cultures.

Yes, I can understand your attraction to Islam because of their worship. That's why I believe that Christians should put God in the center of their worship instead of their needs. My thinking is that liturgical worship that is sensitive to the local culture would be more appropriate than bringing in the "pop" worship that is happening around the globe today.

Nice meeting you here also.


George said...

I was reading a sociological study about religions and one thing that stands out with muslims is their orthopraxy, they are more into practice rather than in the irght beliefs or orthodoxy.
The atmposphere of worship has a lot to do with worship. That's why I respect churches that practice "high worship" because of the formality, the rituals, etc. the same thing with the muslims, symbolism meant a lot to poeple but that's the first thing that the reformation did, destroyed symbols.

Joey said...

I would say most of the reformers don't want symbols and seek to remove religious images from the church. But actually Luther argued that Christians are free to use relgious images or symbols as long as they are not worshipped. Nevertheless, I agree with you that the reformers stripped the church of unnecessary symbols and in the process deprived the church of one of the most beautiful means of expressing our religious experience.

However, when you look at the excess use of images in our brand of catholicism, I couldn't help but agree with the reformers.


keropok lekor said...

Hi there,

Very thoughtful post. I share your concern on the lack of unity due to denominational and linguistic/racial divide in church. Is quite evident in Malaysia too.

Certainly both Christians and Muslims share a lot of common ground in our monotheistic faith. Even in the Quran, it is written that those who are the closest to the Muslims are those from the Nazarenes and Jews.

God bless you in your ministry and spiritual life.

Greetings from the southern tip,


Joey said...

hi keropok,

Thanks for the comment. I'm surprised to have visited by somebody from the southern tip. My prayers are like yours that Christians would be united and cooperate with one another. I know this is not impossible.

I hope to hear from you again.