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How Very Open-minded

The Los Angeles Times reports that an Irvine, California church has pushed its commitment to theological inclusivity to include opening its facility to a Jewish synagogue and an Muslim mosque.

From the paper’s report: There’s an Irvine house of worship that changes religions at least once a week. Irvine United Congregational Church sports golden crosses for Sunday morning services. Jewish High Holidays see it transformed into a sanctuary for Congregation Kol HaNeshamah, filled with Torahs, ram’s horns and yarmulkes. And Friday afternoons, worshipers carefully unroll prayer rugs onto the floor of what becomes the United Mosques of Irvine. “Our theology is inclusive,” says the Rev. Steven Swope, acting minister of the Christian congregation that owns the church. He believes it is one of the few of its kind in the nation with a tripartite arrangement. “Jesus is our way,” he said, “but other people have other ways. This is our way of living that out.”

“Jesus is our way,” explains the pastor. That’s all — just our way. Just think about how it would have looked if the Apostle Paul had taken that approach at Mars Hill in Athens [see Acts chapter 17]. Paul could simply have celebrated the fact that the Athenians were “very religious,” told them to celebrate their diversity, suggested that they share altars, and thrown in a few words about Jesus being his way.

The church’s Web site proudly boasts of the congregation’s commitment to inlusivity: Guided by God’s unconditional love, we are an open and affirming congregation. We are committed to being progressive and intentionally inclusive, welcoming all people as fellow children of God. Our doors and our hearts are open to all wishing to join us in worship and in our faith journey. We strive to create a vital community of God as we care for one another.

Interestingly, the congregation seems to make a clear distinction between the “Jesus of history” and the “Christ of faith,” a distinction common to theological liberalism. By stressing the historical Jesus as a merely human figure, this approach allows persons to reject all the supernatural claims about Christ while claiming to follow Jesus as an enlightened teacher. Consider this statement from the church’s Web site: We believe the Bible is a history of a people’s growing understanding of God. It helps us explore our relationship with God as we follow the teachings of the historical Jesus, whom we recognize as a living spirit of change, renewal and social activism in this world. We take responsibility to act with compassion toward others.

As the church states, We have put aside dogmatic doctrine to endorse and encourage a personal spiritual pilgrimage built on a foundation of an affirmative and supportive Christian family. Concerned and progressive, we are committed to improving the human condition both locally and throughout the world. No danger of dogma there.