I’m in a South Asian neighborhood in the Bronx, New York, looking out the window of a great city church into the face of a very large mosque, which sits just across the street. At this time of day, it’s mostly elderly-looking men in loosely fitting ethnic attire who enter its gates. A few veiled Muslim women, one or two with kids in strollers, have walked past but not gone in.
The men who enter do so with guarded steps. They will most likely make their way to an ablution room or station, where they’ll carefully wash in preparation for prescribed prayer rituals. They’ll clean their feet, hands and face—even their nostrils and ears—before making their way to the musalla, or place of prayer. They’ll remove their shoes before entering. Once inside they will guardedly abide by strict prayer protocols in reverence and fear of Allah, whose demand for the righteous working of deeds dictates their life paths. Their hope is for reward on Judgment Day, when their deeds will be measured and hopefully mercy will be rendered. But they have no assurance of Islam’s paradise.
And that only covers the men. This mosque may have a separate room for women, but if they are to pray in the same hall as men, it will be behind a guarded screen. Otherwise, they’ll be in another room. They dare not even enter the mosque while on their monthly cycle, when they aren’t allowed to pray at all! Some Muslim women I’ve known guard their steps so carefully that they don’t ever enter a mosque, to make sure they aren’t defiling the prayers of others.
The church I’m in—I’ve entered it freely, just like the other men and women I’m with. I don’t have to follow any particularly prescribed protocols, but I sometimes need to remind myself that I, too, am advised to guard my steps when I enter the house of God.
"Guard your steps when you go to the house of God." (Ecclesiastes 5:1a)
Yes, I must carefully guard my thoughts, my speech, my regard for a place that represents the coming together of foundationally redemptive Old and New Testament promises. The oldest one takes place as many as 4,100 years ago, between God and Abraham, for the sake of progeny through which God would redeem a world of lost people like me in this church and the Muslims in that mosque. Two generations later, God keeps His promise to Abraham alive in a dream He gives Jacob, Abraham’s grandson: “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring” (Gen. 28:14b). Jacob awakens from the dream understanding God’s presence in that place, and he is afraid. But his fear is a holy reverence. “How awesome is this place!” he exclaims. “This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of Heaven” (Gen. 28:17).
Enter Jesus, Lord of a promise that arrives 2,100 years later. He’s the One through whom all of God’s promises become “yes and amen” (2 Cor. 1:20). He is born of Mary in the lineage of Abraham…and Jacob. He is God in the flesh who dwelt among us to fulfill the law and open wide the gate of Heaven, to all the earth’s peoples.
All who believe and accept Christ’s invitation to abide with Him know first-hand the privilege of being grafted into that early Abrahamic promise. Like Jacob we relish the reminder that we, the redeemed bride and body of Christ—His very Church—become the gateway for all lost people to know Jesus.
The lost includes the staggering numbers of Muslim men and women in western mosque communities whose guarded, tireless, mosque-centered attempts to earn their way to Islam’s paradise fall flat in the face of missed Truth, which might actually be found just across the street. Or across an aisle in a store, or in a shared seat on a bus.
Yes, that Truth resides in temples called Christians, in churches that burst with the awesome presence of God himself! He’s the true God, and He begs to be shared by hearts, mouths, hands and feet of Christians whose guard is not against the presence of Muslims in their communities, but against any and every compulsion to remain silent at the only gate that really matters: the one that opens the way to God’s Heaven for them.