John Updike's riveting new novel entitled "Terrorist', which I will be reviewing once I finish it, reveals a Christian writer trying to think into the mindset of Moslems angry with the West and its culture which is perceived to be decadent, decaying, and in various ways indecent and unclean.
The central figure of the novel is a bright teenager named Ahmad who is a practicing Moslem, son of a lapsed Irish Catholic mother and an Egyptian father, who was not a practicing Moslem. At one juncture in the novel, Ahmad is invited by a girl in his high school to come to an African American worship service where she will be singing a solo. Here are a few of his observations which are interesting and telling, since it is good to know how we look to outsiders.
"The mosque was a domain of men; here women in their spring shimmer...dominate....The black man hands Ahmad a folded sheet of tinted paper and leads him forward, up the center aisle to the front pews. The church is nearly full, and none but the front pews, apparently the less desirable, are empty. Accustomed to worshippers squatting and kneeling on a floor [for prayer], emphasizing God's height above them, Ahmad feels, even seated, dizzily, blasphemously tall. The Christian attitude of lazily sitting erect as at an entertainment suggests that God is an entertainer who, when He ceases to entertain, can be removed from the stage, and another act brought on." (p. 50).
What is striking about this passage is how accurately it depicts the casual demeanor of much of Christian worship, as if one were cozing up to an old pal, and also the consumer, or entertainment character of that worship which has come to dominate a great deal of what passes for large church worship.
I am reminded of Paul's call for orderliness in worship and a sense of reverence before God when he scolds his Corinthians who are all too eager to put their spiritual gifts on display in egotistic fashion. He reminds them, showing his sensitivity to how worship appears to the outsider "If therefore the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues and outsiders or unbelievers (the former word is actually 'idiotai'-- meaning an uninitiated person) enter, will they not say you are out of your mind?" (1 Cor. 14.23). Worship as it turns out is not just for insiders, it is also meant to have a prophetic or positive evangelistic impact on outsiders as well.
This in turn raises the question--- what sorts or forms of worship are both faithful to God and inspire people, both believing and non-believing, to worship God, to be convicted of their sins etc.? What sort of worship is truly soul-stirring, seeker friendly, and also inculcates the sort of reverence for God that is of the essence of true worship (see. e.g. Isaiah 6). It is always a good thing to see ourselves through the eyes of those who are watching us, both with contempt but also with open minds. Therein we learn ways we can better glorify God and edify all those who come into his presence.