Christian Ministries Internship I
Azusa Pacific University
Dr. Dick Pritchard & Dr. Steve Gerali

"CASE STUDY: Idolatrous Worship"

Case Study: "Idolatrous Worship"
(Group 2 – Borgmann)

Azusa Pacific University (APU) is the largest Christian university west of the Mississippi. It strives to put "God First" in all elements of the collegiate experience, hoping to translate to a graduate that can go into the world capable of putting God First in every aspect of their life. One of the primary methods APU does this is by requiring chapel three times a week for the entire semester. Students are required to attend 29 chapels a semester, which means they are able to skip ten for personal reasons. In addition to this, there are four different chapel options to choose from in the course of the week, including three on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, as well as Monday night for Seniors, and Wednesday evening for all students. The location of choice by the student on the morning chapels is usually determined by their class schedule as they are still expected to make it on time to their next class. The topic of mandatory chapel attendance comes up often with the Chapel Executive Committee, but every time is agreed that in order to keep God First, chapel attendance is pivotal. Students know of the chapel requirement entering into their time at APU, and those that do not meet the requirement are dealt on a personal basis, but usually it involves some form of sanctions.

On Friday, October 29, 2004, the Chapel Programs Office, Office of World Mission, Institute of Outreach Mexico, and other leaders on campus decided that it was fitting for the part of the Friday chapel to include Middle Eastern style worship. Students were given the option to go to the Event Center to have more of a traditional chapel experience of contemporary worship and a speaker, or they could attend UTCC for a Middle Eastern style worship that was still centered on the supremacy of Jesus Christ. This much was explained to the student before Friday. Come Friday, UTCC was torn down from its normal setup and all of the chairs were removed. Students were required to segregate themselves by gender with men in the front and women in the back – of course, customary to the Middle East. Students were expected to enter in silence, remove there shoes and take their place on the floor. Once the chapel began, the two men leading the worship experience explained that although this might feel different, that in no way was this to imply that we were not worshiping Jesus Christ. The service continued with readings and prayers recited in English and Arabic. Part of the Arabic recital included referring to God as Allah, as this is the English to Arabic translation. Just as God is a relatively "vague" term in English (meaning it could refer to a plethora of gods within different religions), so too is Allah in Arabic. This was explained at least two times within the service, and then again at the end of the service when the floor was opened to students questioned.
Upon returning to his office, Director of Chapel Programs Daren Bachman, received an angry phone call from a Pastor from Indiana claiming that chapel programs had facilitated idol worship because we were calling on the Muslim god Allah. Daren attempted, to no avail, to explain the legitimacy of the service, as well as the school's continue desire to put the worship of Jesus Christ at the center of what we do. The translation discrepancy was also explained in detail over the phone. Nevertheless, the Pastor maintained his position of our office's desire to facilitate idol worship, and concluded by informing Daren that his advice to his student would be to get a refund from the school and be on the next plane home. Daren was very much affected by this conversation and continued to dwell on his actions for sometime following the chapel.

What is clear out of this situation is that the responsibility of leadership in ministry is a huge responsibility. No decision, no matter how small, should be taken lightly, as even the smallest mishap could have idolatrous results. With that said, it is obvious that this situation is one that struck the chord both to the students involved, and to those involved in planning the service. It is clear that the students had foreknowledge, if not in detail, what the service was going to entail, and had the option to attend the alternate location, or, if attendance records permitted, could have skipped the chapel altogether. Nevertheless, when Christians are "required" to attend a service they may or may not agree with theologically, all the more importance should be placed on the planning of that service and communication to the students about what is going to happen in the service. Although slightly over reactionary, it is understandable that a student could misinterpret the focus of the service, especially in light of much of the societal and cultural stereotypes about religions in the Middle East. It is not irrational to think that Allah is the "name" Muslims call their God, just as Jesus Christ is the "name" Christians call their God. The misunderstanding is both linguistic and cultural in nature. However, this was explained in the service at a minimum of three times, and countless times over the phone to the irate pastor. It does not appear from the information presented in the service and following the service, that any of those involved with the chapel were purposely, or actively engaging in worship to any god besides that of Jesus Christ.

Evaluation of Effectiveness
What appeared to be Daren's primary failure in the conversation (keep in mind I did not sit through the conversation, but only am reflecting on what he told me), was that he did not go to the source of the office's desire to experience worship creatively. While Daren did do a phenomenal job at remaining patient in the fact of hostility, explaining what actually happened in the service, and defining what it means to worship "Allah," his weakness was that he did not recite biblical sources that indicate that God is elated with our desire to worship creatively – which this would fall under. As we shall see in the theological reflection section, Daren, nor the offices involved were facilitating any style of worship outside of God's heart for worship.

Theological Reflection
Worship is an interesting component of any religion and usually comprises a good amount of time within religious services. It is an "earthly" activity, yet it is believed by those participating to be one of incredible divine importance. The Bible indicates that worship is to be done through the Spirit and under the umbrella of truth (John 4:24). The Bible also speaks to the fact that God desires our worship to be from our hearts, not our actions (Ps 51:17, Ps 40:6, and The Life of David). Also with examples of using incense in worship, sacrificing animals, and breaking a bottle of perfume over the feet of Jesus (Luke 7) indicates that the Bible supports theologically the concept of creative worship. In addition to that, historically it indicates that the people of God have not had problems translating God's name into the name of the language of the nation in which He is being spoken about (El'ohim, Yhwh, Theos, Dieu, and God). It does not seem that the Chapel Office facilitated worship in any manner that would be theologically unsound.