It was an unusual Sunday morning worship at Northwood Church in Keller, Texas. Christians, Muslims and Jews sat together in the megachurch to hear an evangelical pastor preach about Jesus.
The three faith groups had already visited the Islamic Center of Irving the previous day and the Temple Shalom of North Dallas on Friday before congregating inside the Christian house of worship. And they don't plan to make this a one-time event.
As Northwood Senior Pastor Bob Roberts said Sunday, the three groups are making an attempt to get to know one another, understand the different teachings and worldviews, and become friends.
While such multifaith worship gatherings have raised eyebrows, Roberts said they are not trying to minimize differences or compromise their beliefs. In fact, the evangelical pastor discourages it. He wants all three faith groups to be honest about their differences and hold to their core convictions.
"I want to know you. Why? Because you're seeking after God," Roberts said from the Northwood pulpit Sunday as he addressed the multi-faith audience, which included Rabbi Jeremy Schneider and Imam Zia Sheikh.
"If we're going to get along ... I need to understand your core convictions, how it impacts your worldview ... and I want you to understand Christianity," he told them. "I want us to be honest about our differences so that we can build a relationship."
The multifaith event is the brainchild of Roberts who has observed a growing diversity of faiths in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The number of mosques in the area has grown from two some thirty years ago to 40, Roberts said, according to Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
The three services held over the weekend were not interfaith services. They were distinctly Jewish, Muslim and Christian services, respectively.
Shifting from interfaith to multifaith is critical in the 21st century, Roberts said.
"The old conversation of interfaith basically said if we all agree on everything then we can get along. So what we need to do is minimize our differences ... and only talk about what we do agree upon," the Baptist pastor said Sunday. "But there's a problem with that. That's great if you're liberal, if you're a liberal Muslim or liberal Christian or liberal Jew, that's fine."
"But Imam Zia made it very clear yesterday that Muhammad was the prophet for his age. So if you're going to be a Muslim or go to the next life you have to accept the teaching and the position of the Prophet Muhammad," he continued.
"As a Christian I also believe the verse where Jesus said 'I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father but by me.' So if I'm going to be a committed Christian I can't pick and choose which part of the Bible I would believe.
"If I'm going to be a committed Muslim I can't pick and choose which parts of the Quran I believe. Or a Jew, for the Torah."
"Because truth is truth. Truth is not relative," Roberts said. "Multifaith says 'we have differences.'"
"What multifaith says is 'I don't want to try to be politically correct; I want to be honest about what I believe; I want to hold true to my truth; ... I want to build relationship on honesty," he added.
The greatest conflict in the world today, he pointed out, is between fundamentalist Christians and fundamentalist Muslims.
"There has to be a new platform," Roberts stressed.
"If we have to all convert to one religion we are never going to get along in this world. But if we can learn to respect one another, hold on to our faith passionately, follow the commands of what Jesus as Christians teaches us ... then there's hope."
Throughout Sunday's worship service, Roberts did not hesitate to declare the Gospel and preached the cross and resurrection unapologetically. He also had fun with what might seem like a somber service as he joked with the rabbi and imam.
"There is this sense in which we want people to know our faith ... to hear our truth and believe our truth. I do," the senior pastor said. "Would you like everybody here to be a Muslim (addressing Imam Zia)? Be honest ... you're already thinking this will be a cool mosque. I'm not offended that you feel that way. You're an honest Muslim. You're being true to who you are."
He also mentioned the difficulty he had with finding refreshments that would be appropriate for both Jews and Muslims to eat.
"We're nervous about cooking so you're only getting a little cookie and some orange juice," he said to laughter. "We are so confused by all the websites. We don't know what you can eat and not; we don't want to get you upset. So forgive us."
Some pastors have criticized Roberts for the multifaith event and attending different places of worship with his congregation. But the Northwood pastor said he would respond to his critics by asking, "Why do you go to restaurants where people get drunk? Why do you go to movies where people undress and do things on the screen that break the heart of God ... Why do you want to get in a car built by an automobile industry driven by greed? But I don't want to have a relationship with someone who's trying to seek God? That makes sense, doesn't it?"
Each of the three multifaith services held over the weekend was followed by a question and answer session which all three faith leaders participated in. Members of Northwood were advised to wear modest attire out of respect.