A Lutheran Theologian suggests "Muslim Friendly" Christian worship?

I am very glad to be working as a Catholic in interfaith relations. We at least have a reasonably clear theology that guides us in these matters. Lutherans don’t, I guess in part because interfaith dialogue was light years away from the thoughts of the authors of the Book of Concord. So they end up borrowing either from evangelical theologies (you have to have Jesus as your personal saviour or you’re going to hell) or liberal protestant theologies (Christianity is just one road to up the mountain that has “God” at the top).

This is an example of the latter. Herb Hoefer holds the “Missions Chair” at Concordia University Portland, an LCMS institution. He caused a stir in Lutheran circles in the States by posting an essay called “Muslim-Friendly Christian Worship” in September last year. (The URL given on all the blogs is http://faculty.cu-portland.edu/herbhoefer/MuslimFriendly.html, but that doesn’t work any more. From what I can see, CU has pulled the item from their website. I am accessing the text here at Fr Hollywood’s page).

This is a really terribly misguided effort. It says volumes about the attitude one regularly encounters among LCMS types (not Pastor Weedon and his friends, I hasten to add) which has an utilitarian attitude toward the liturgy of the Church, regarding it simply as an instrument for evangelisation. Still, not even the worst of the Church Growthers went this far!

In order to make Christian worship more palatable to Muslims, Herb wonders if we should rethink the appropriateness of “worshipping Jesus”. He suggests revision of the creeds to make it clear (assuming they don’t) that we worship one God only, that the term “Church” should be removed from the creeds, that St Paul’s letters should not be read, that the term “Son of God” should be retired, that grape juice rather than alcohol should be used in the Lord’s Supper, and that images and music should be scaled down.

In short, he is suggesting that to witness to Muslims we should stop being Christians.

Don’t get me wrong. On absolutely every point, Herb has heard his Muslim friend’s objections loud and clear. It is true that they think that we are polytheists and that we worship a human being instead of God. It is true that they reject the title “Son of God” since “God neither begets nor is begotton” as one Muslim said to me recently. It is true that they have real problems with the way we worship (using images, music and alcohol).

But we don’t change our way of worship to suit someone else’s misunderstanding of or rejection of our beliefs (remember “lex orandi, lex credendi”). For instance, we Catholics are not about to through out the rosary, the Hail Mary, and the statues of Mary just because you protestants either fail to understand Mariology or reject it outright!

Dialogue is the place to talk these issues through. Frank dialogue is the arena in which misunderstandings (and I would suggest that much–but not all–of the Muslim rejection of our Trinitarian and Christological Theology is based on misunderstanding what we are saying) can be corrected, and objections can be clarified.

And in the dialogue of spiritual experience–where I encounter your way of worship and you encounter mine–the onus is on the visitor to try to understand what the host believes he is doing, not the the host to modify his way of worshipping to suit the visitor.

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11 Responses to A Lutheran Theologian suggests "Muslim Friendly" Christian worship?

  1. William Weedon says:

    can you say “NESTORIAN”???? GRRRRRRRRR!!!!!!

    Okay, got that out of my system.

  2. Past Elder says:

    Unfortunately, modifying our way of worship to suit the visitor is exactly the method of the “seeker friendly” or “seeker sensitive” mentality. Usually this is in the context of the “unchurched”, and here simply applied to another religion. It is wrong for all the reasons you mention, and then some. The liturgy, our way of worship, our faith itself, is not a corporate product in need of periodic make-overs to boost sales in a market.

  3. Schütz says:

    Yes, I am inclined to see this unhappy effort as a result of a new application of the old “Church Growth” methodology to the new area of interfaith relations. A terrible mixture of categories any way you view it.

    Re Nestorianism, Pastor Weedon, I take it you don’t mean me–nor even Herb (although he might be if you scratch him!?)–but rather our Muslim friends.

    In which case, you would be correct, at least according to one theory of the emergence of Islam. However Islam began (and the stories we have of its origins–including its founder–come about 120 years after the emergence of the new religion), it emerged in an area where the dominant form of Christianity was Nestorianism. It is quite possible that Islam began as a form of Nestorian Christianity, isolated from any contact or knowledge of Catholic Christianity.

  4. Joshua says:

    How scandalous! From what I’d read of the LCMS, never in a million years would I have expected such wiffle-waffle! This is the denomination whose members never cease, on-blog, to extol the irreformable, well-nigh inspired BoC, not to mention their doctrinal purity so far removed from meretricious Rome’s complacent acceptance of deviation under cover of her outspread mantle? I should have thought Dr Luther might well arise from his grave, bearing in his hands some VERY stern pamphlets relevant to such a betrayal of Christianity!

  5. L P Cruz says:

    I should have thought Dr Luther might well arise from his grave, bearing in his hands some VERY stern pamphlets relevant to such a betrayal of Christianity

    You should see how the crypto-Papists are contributing to his turning over in his grave.

    I would suggest to Herb, to tailor the liturgy to be Roman Catholic friendlier, since he is on a roll (I presume).

    Justbeing my infamous self,(LOL)

  6. L P Cruz says:


    I wanted to add…

    For instance, we Catholics are not about to through out the rosary, the Hail Mary, and the statues of Mary just because you protestants either fail to understand Mariology or reject it outright!

    There is a very good similarity between Christian denominations and the computer industry.

    Look, Mother Church is like Microsoft, it is big and humongous, it has huge install base, who cares what the user thinks it needs.


  7. Lucian says:

    …Mother Church is like Microsoft…

    …until the Orthodox invented Linux. >:) Nya-ha-ha! >:)

  8. L P Cruz says:


    OK you got me there.

    But until the Protestant (in fact a Lutheran) Steven Jobs, invented Mac OS X.


  9. Joshua says:

    How silly! Don’t you folks know of Umberto Eco’s famous joke that Mac is Catholic, DOS is Protestant/Calvinistic, and Windows, Anglican?

    “The fact is that the world is divided between users of the Macintosh computer and users of MS-DOS compatible computers. I am firmly of the opinion that the Macintosh is Catholic and that DOS is Protestant. Indeed, the Macintosh is counterreformist and has been influenced by the “ratio studiorum” of the Jesuits. It is cheerful, friendly, conciliatory, it tells the faithful how they must proceed step by step to reach – if not the Kingdom of Heaven – the moment in which their document is printed. It is catechistic: the essence of revelation is dealt with via simple formulae and sumptuous icons. Everyone has a right to salvation.

    “DOS is Protestant, or even Calvinistic. It allows free interpretation of scripture, demands difficult personal decisions, imposes a subtle hermeneutics upon the user, and takes for granted the idea that not all can reach salvation. To make the system work you need to interpret the program yourself: a long way from the baroque community of revelers, the user is closed within the loneliness of his own inner torment.

    “You may object that, with the passage to Windows, the DOS universe has come to resemble more closely the counterreformist tolerance of the Macintosh. It’s true: Windows represents an Anglican-style schism, big ceremonies in the cathedral, but there is always the possibility of a return to DOS to change things in accordance with bizarre decisions…..

    “And machine code, which lies beneath both systems (or environments, if you prefer)? Ah, that is to do with the Old Testament, and is Talmudic and cabalistic.”

    [The excerpt is from an English translation of Umberto Eco’s back-page column, “La bustina di Minerva,” in the Italian newsweekly Espresso (September 30, 1994).]


  10. L P Cruz says:


    Mac is Protestant, it bucks the Evil Empire which is the mammoth Micro$oft.

    Micro$oft is Papistic, just watch Word drop your graphics in the midst of texts, see where it lands. See how it dictates.


  11. Joshua says:

    I’ll have you know that this Mac I’m using is most definitely Catholic, and I’ll brook no nonsense about this further, thank you.

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