Living in the Shadow of the Mosque

What causes a church to die?

One of the more celebrated churches in the book of Revelation is that of Philadelphia, a community of believers commended by Jesus as those who “kept my word and have not denied my name” and who will therefore be kept “from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world” (Rev. 3:8, 10).   Yet little today remains of the ancient church of Philadelphia. 

Church of St. John the Theologian, Philadelphia, Turkey by author

Church of St. John the Theologian, Philadelphia, Turkey by author

In fact the only historical remnants are three pillars from an 11th-century Church of St. John the Theologian and these pillars rest in the shadow of a mosque.  Standing in the ruins of this church it is possible to hear the Muslim call to prayer and observe faithful adherents quickly walking without a glance past the dead ruins of this ancient church in order to participate in a living faith beckoning them to active worship.

What caused a vibrant faith to now lie as little more than a curious tourist attraction in the shadow of a living mosque?

After all at one time the churches in Turkey were part of the leading luminaries of the Christian faith.  Much of Paul’s missionary ministry occurred in Turkey.  All seven of the first great ecumenical councils took place in Turkey.  In the Hagia Sophia and Chora Church, Istanbul is arguably home to one of the world’s greatest church buildings and some of the most spectacular mosaic art.

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul by author

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul by author

 

Though rich in an historical Christian culture and ethos, according to Operation World, Turkey, a country of 75 million, is today only 0.21% Christian.

Mosaic in Hagia Sophia, Istanbul by author

Mosaic in Hagia Sophia, Istanbul by author

 

This was nowhere more evident than when I met with a local ministry leader who has only been a Christian for four years and yet is already serving as one of the pastors for his community.  For safety we met in a large and open park where we would be freer to directly discuss the realities of ministry in the shadow of the mosque.

Another believer in a different city hundreds of miles away told how families of believers were harassed by local police officers and the ongoing anxiety, fear and worry that griped some Christians.

How did this happen?

Though primarily referencing churches in North Africa and the Middle East, in his book The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia – and How it Died Philip Jenkins offers several intriguing insights.

He notes that churches in this region slowly died over a number of years in part because of:

  • Preoccupation with internal church maintenance rather than external outreach and welcome
  • Distraction caused by church conflict and division
  • Disconnection between the language utilized and priorities emphasized by the church and the broader culture and actual lived reality of the people in churches’ neighborhoods
  • Slow abandonment as more robust churches in the west became internally-focused and over time simply stopped responding to the needs of brothers and sisters who were increasingly living in the shadow of the mosque.

None of these reasons directly relate to Islam itself.  Certainly some would have chosen Islam out of specific faith rationales.  However, Jenkins rightly argues that churches themselves often bear much of the responsibility for their own decline.

There are many Christians and Muslims around the world who live in healthy contexts of mutuality.  Islam is not an inherently antagonistic religion.  However, at least in Turkey, many Christians face challenges and difficulties as they seek to minister in a land of mosques.

If churches can grow they can also die. (Click to Tweet)

This is a cautionary message worth repeating for these causative factors are all too often also present in other churches where what seems like today’s inevitable cultural strength can fade away altogether.

For the Christians of Turkey, there is far more immediacy.  All too often they continue to remain isolated from and ignored by brother and sister Christians residing elsewhere.  It would be a travesty to celebrate the ancient Christian heritage of Turkey without also considering contemporary realties.  Would you therefore:

  • Support churches in Turkey today
  • Pray for Christian believers in Turkey living in the shadow of the mosque
  • Consider the extent to which the causative factors of church death may be present in your particular community of faith?

Prayercast | Turkey from Prayercast on Vimeo.

- EMB

Choices

Well, I didn’t plan my Monday very well and had too much on my plate thus my blog is a day late.  I found out last week that this growth on my arm is a malignant melanoma and Monday I met with the surgeon to set a date for the removal of the rest of the melanoma and perhaps a lymph node.  This Thursday I will have surgery.  I pray that the lymph node is clear and no further metastasis has taken place.  Sheesh, what a way to spend Fall Break!  I had some great plans to get fall flowers planted and prune some trees…nope.  I’ve hit some potholes on life’s road the last couple of months.  Every time I wonder “What next Lord?”  My father has almost been swallowed by some potholes.  Parkinson’s disease killed my mother.  That was a really long deep hole.  Yet Mom kept smiling because she gave everything into God’s hands for Him to control.  Easier said than done, don’t you know?  Mom trusted me enough to share her deepest emotions, regrets, loves, losses and questions.  I was looking forward to a time with Mom where we could travel the world together.  Instead we shopped Albuquerque together on Mom and Cat day.  Sometimes we just drove around the neighborhood so she could get out of the house.  We talked about everything and nothing.  Mom and I could sit in the same room, reading different books, never saying a word to each other and be perfectly content in each other’s presence.  I used to watch Mom cook and be her helper as a child.  Years later she watched while I cooked.  She couldn’t help.  Several times Mom would break into tears out of frustration and depression saying “I’m just so useless!”  Most of the time, I simply held her and let her cry.  Being helpless/useless is the most horrid place to be.  It is one of my fears of the future, being useless and/or helpless.

                Can I be like Jesus?  Will I be able to give everything into God’s control and keep smiling?  What will I do if I become useless and helpless by human definition?  Dad and I would tell Mom to pray.  Keep praying.  There is great power in prayer.  Will I have the faith that if the only thing I can do is pray then will I pray?  That is a sad sentence isn’t it…to say if the only thing I can do is pray?  Prayer is talking to God, the most powerful Being.  We should be visiting with God more but we are a people of action, movement always going.  We are the ones who judge usefulness by what we do, not the way we live.  We need to change our perspective to how well we live rather than what we do.  Our standard for living well should be Jesus. 

Today I choose to be like Jesus and I will talk to God, no, I will visit with God about everything.  I will be in His presence and be content.  I choose.  I choose Yahweh.

Who do you choose?

What’s Your Hurry?

I watched him in my side view mirror. He walked toward me, his motorcycle’s lights still flashing blue and red. I rolled down my car window and waited.

“What’s your hurry?” he asked.

The strange thing was—I wasn’t even in a hurry.

And the stranger thing?  I’m 57 years old and I’ve never been pulled over and given a ticket.

But, on this morning, I didn’t just get caught speeding, I got caught speeding in a school zone.

I can give you all kinds of excuses. I was driving on a street I never travel. This particular street runs along the back of the school which sits down low with a chain link fence that separates the school yard from the street. There was no cross walk. There were no flashing yellow lights. And the school zone sign was small and partially covered by the branches of a big oak tree. (I have pictures to prove this).

Nevertheless . . . Despite all of my excuses, there was still a speed limit and a school zone sign, and I was going way too fast for both.

My wife couldn’t believe it when I told her I got a ticket. And she really couldn’t believe it when I told her my speed.

I’ve thought about this a lot. In fact, that first night, I didn’t sleep. The second night I worried about going to jail. (I can be a bit dramatic sometimes).

It wasn’t so much my speed that concerned me. It was the fact that I had missed the warning signs along the side of the road. I was so distracted—so preoccupied.

As I mentioned last week, I live my life with a sense of urgency. I want to make the moments of my life count. But, there have to be times I slow down, despite all the distractions life throws my way.  And this creates tension.

But slowing down isn’t just an ideal to strive for—it’s something God wants for us. When the psalmist tells us in Psalm 46:8 to “come, behold the works of the Lord,” the question arises, how do we do that? The answer is in verse 10—“Cease striving and know that I am God.” How do we come to see the works of the Lord? How do we know that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (46:1)? We cease striving. We become still.  We have to slow down.

I think the curse of our age is busyness. We’re too busy to notice the people around us. Too busy to stop and talk. Too busy to invest in their lives. We’ve got things to do and places to go.

And the clock never stops ticking—its hands never stop moving.  And each day marches relentlessly into the next.

Urgency.

Without a doubt, God wants me to bear fruit—to work hard. But He also desires that I take time to be still—to consider His truth and His will and His majesty. I teach to reveal God’s truth. But how will I convey God’s truth unless I reach deep into scripture and allow God to speak to me?

Here’s what I’m learning.  I can live with a sense of urgency, without blowing by the warning signs.  I can live with a sense of urgency that drives me deep into relationships and not right past them.

Here’s a sobering thought—

Only two things will last forever—people and the Word of God.

So, it would make sense that I invest my time wisely getting to know both.

I walk this fine line—living with a sense of urgency and living with a clear sense of purpose.

Jesus is a good model.  His calendar was full—He was a man on the move.  But no matter what He was doing or where He was going, He always had time for people.  And He always made time for prayer.

I am amazed by this—the Son of God carved out time to pray—to be still.

So when a student drops by my office unannounced or stops me on campus while I’m trying to outrun the hands on my watch, I pray that I drop what I’m doing, stop where I’m going, and make an investment in their life.

After all, what’s my hurry?