TEN REASONS FOR SUPPORTING THE BUILDING OF A CHURCH IN DOHA
Many Christians in the West have problems with their church buildings. Some of these are old and costly to maintain, while others are modern and not particularly beautiful. They can easily become an enormous financial burden, diverting money which could have been used to meet real human need and to spread the gospel. Christians are therefore likely to be reluctant to give their limited resources to erect a new church building – especially when it is in a foreign country and in an Islamic context. For those who feel like this, here are some compelling reasons for supporting the project to build a church in Doha.
1. A church building provides a way for Christians to have a visible presence in an Islamic society. When the government in an Islamic country gives permission for the building of a church, they are recognising the fact that there are Christians who live in their midst – either from within the country or from other countries. They know that these Christians will want to meet together for worship, and sometimes prefer them to meet in public places rather than in private in people’s homes. It is not uncommon that worshiping in homes becomes insecure when pressure is brought to bear on the landlord from conservative members of his family or friends. Attending worship in church enables Christians to stand up and be counted; they have no need to conceal the fact that they are Christians or to worship in secret.
2. A church can be a focus of identity for the whole Christian community. Just as the mosque provides a focus of identity for the whole Muslims community, in the same way a church building can help to establish a sense of identity for the whole Christian community. This not only helps Christians to understand who they are, but also enables the Muslims community around them to recognise the identity of Christians and respect their faith.
3. Muslims understand from the Qur’an that churches are places where God’s name is honoured. There is a well-known verse in the Qur’an in which the Prophet is instructed to say to Jews and Christians: ‘We [Muslims] believe in what has been sent down to us and sent down to you. Our God and your God is One, and we are muslims, surrendered to Him’ (Surah 29, Al-‘Ankabout, 46; translation by Kenneth Cragg). There is another important verse which recognises the places of worship in the three monotheistic faiths: ‘But for God’s defence of people – some by means of others – certainly monasteries, churches, synagogues and mosques, where God’s Name is oft remembered, would have been demolished’ (Surah 2, Al-Hajj:40). Muslims are therefore encouraged to show respect to Christians and to Christian places of worship.
4. A church building helps to demonstrate that worship is as important to Christians as it is to Muslims. It is a wonderful testimony when Muslims see Christians of all nationalities and backgrounds gathering in large numbers for worship in a public place designated for prayer. Muslims are required to say their ritual prayers five times a day, and often do not hesitate to pray in public places. They are also encouraged to attend Friday prayers in a mosque. So they are often surprised when Christians don’t seem to have the same kind of requirements about prayer and public worship. Jesus discouraged his followers from engaging in religious activities in order to be seen by others (Matthew 6:1-18). But if Muslims see Christians regularly attending a place of worship, they may be glad to see that Christians are as serious about the worship of God as they are.
5. Giving permission for a church to be built in a Muslim country shows that Muslims are recognising the principle of reciprocity. Jesus taught his disciples in the Golden Rule to ‘do to others what you would have them do to you’ (Matthew 7:12). And Muslims frequently quote a well-known saying of the Prophet: ‘No one of you really believes in Allah and in His religion till he wants for his brother what he wants for himself.’ By giving permission for a church to be built, the authorities are recognising that they should extend to same rights and privileges to people of another faith that they expect for themselves. They are also recognising that if Muslim minorities in Western societies are able to build mosques, Christian minorities in Islamic countries should be able to build churches.
6. A church building communicates something about the Christian faith. A church building acts as a beacon for those seeking deeper understanding of the Christian faith, while its internal furnishings explain many of its truths. The font and communion table or altar are constant reminders of the grace of God that is extended to all who want to be disciples of the crucified and risen Jesus and who want to worship God in his name. The lectern and the pulpit show the importance attached to the public reading of God’s Word and to preaching as a way of explaining and applying it to everyday life. Muslims tend to be sensitive about Christians displaying the cross too openly in Islamic contexts, partly because they do not believe that God allowed Jesus to be crucified, but partly also because they associate the cross with the Crusades. But they have no objection to the cross being displayed in a Christian church. The building itself, therefore, can bear witness to significant aspects of the Christian faith.
7. A church building brings Christians of many different traditions together. In many places in the Gulf where there is a limited number of churches, it is used regularly by Christians of many different denominations, nationalities and languages. Sometimes as many as 35 different groups will use the same church building on Friday, which is the public holiday in the week. Even if these Christians are not worshiping together, there are many opportunities for them to meet together in the church and to demonstrate that the Christian church includes people of all races, languages and cultures.
8. A church can be a community centre as well as a place for worship. A church building in this part of the world needs to be flexible enough to be used for many purposes in addition to being a place of worship. It can be used for recreation, parties and social occasions as well as for lectures and study groups. This church could therefore become a real community centre, and needs have all the necessary facilities to meet these various needs.
9. A church might one day be a place for Muslims and Christians to meet. Although Muslims don’t often enter churches, they do occasionally attend on special occasions like weddings and memorial services. Since in some Middle Eastern countries Muslim leaders and representatives from the government attend services in churches to greet Christians at the major festivals of the Christian year, it’s not impossible that this might happen in the future in the Gulf. In time, therefore, a church might be a meeting place for Christians and Muslims.
10. Surrounded by buildings that are purely functional, a church can be a genuinely beautiful building. Most public buildings in the Gulf are designed to create a comfortable and cool environment, and hardly need to be particularly beautiful to look at. In such a situation building a church provides an opportunity to build a structure that is not only functional but pleasing to look at from the outside and pleasing to use inside. If a building is set aside for the worship of God and the wellbeing of those who seek to worship him, it ought to express something of ‘the beauty of holiness’ (Psalm 29:2).