Rating the controversial approach
Ibrahim's decision to follow Christ was not really understood by his family and they were curious, even suspicious of Ibrahim's actions. They had never heard of a Muslim who had this sort of belief in Christ. Nevertheless, despite experiencing some tension, Ibrahim, a middle-aged man, was never ostracized or driven out of his family setting. Ibrahim continued to carry out the sholat (the Muslim daily prayers) and because of this was not considered as one who had left their religion. Ibrahim's wife and children were a bit fearful about the decision he had made. Even more so, Ibrahim's father-in-law, Mohamad, who was a very old man, was confused as to whether Ibrahim was converting to Christianity or not. However, after a number of weeks Ibrahim's wife, Fatima, his son Ahmad, together with Ahmad's wife began to come along to hear about the gospel from the man who taught about Jesus. They came after they saw Ibrahim's increased diligence in doing the sholat. Not long afterwards, they all made a confession of faith together to follow Christ.
Ahmad's younger brother, Rusman who just begun working as a carpenter, had been very close to Ahmad since they were small children. After Ahmad's decision to become a follower of Christ, Rusman began to come around regularly to Ahmad's house together with his cousin, Yahya, to hear about the meetings they had been having in their home. For many months this took place, often talking late into the night, until Rusman and Yahya together with Yahya's wife began to come along to the fellowship meeting in Ibrahim's home. They quickly felt comfortable in what was happening and soon after made a decision at the fellowship that they would commit themselves to Christ. At this time, Mohamad, Ibrahim's father-in-law, started to feel increasingly awkward and tense. He had been someone who had always avoided talking about Christ and thought of the gospel as the property of Christians. However, there was an increasing number of Mahamad's family, people whom he respected, joining the house fellowship, and although he didn't believe at this stage, he began to accept the decision of the families who did.
This small movement through this family tree of Muslims grew to about 50 people. They continued a life of following the Islamic requirements, including mosque attendance, fasting and Qur'anic reading, besides getting together as a fellowship of Muslims who acknowledge Christ as the source of God's mercy for them.
Their fellowship continues to meet today. They have two types of meetings. The first is a recently-developed more formal gathering. This is based totally on the mosque, including the prayer forms and head covering. The meeting begins with the washing that is practiced by their people group before prayers, washing each part of the body as a symbol of Romans 6:13, presenting each part as an instrument of righteousness. They then enter the room, sit on the green carpet, and the leader begins with the adapted Arabic call to prayer.
At the beginning, they have a time of free praying and opportunities for God to speak through others. This is followed by the message, where the message is preached from the Bible placed in its appropriate stand. Following this, they have memorized a couple of confessions in Arabic from the scriptures, including the Lord's Prayer. Toward the end, they do the sholat Muslim prayer form where they kneel and bow down. The room is bare of furniture except for a small cupboard. The meeting is a closed one in as much as only believers come. This meeting is still in the developing stage. It may soon include communion on a regular basis. The other meeting is more for evangelism, and includes a Qur'an reading. The reading is discussed together, and as the Qur'an often refers to the Bible, the Bible is opened and discussed. One newer member on our team is particularly gifted in this, and we see that these "reading nights" would naturally form into a fellowship of followers of Christ.
In this meeting, those who are being ministered to are all over the place in their understanding of the gospel and Christ. Currently, there is a group coming together who have a very high view of Christ and the gospel. However, according to the church planter working with them, they are working through the radical concept for them of the deity of Christ.
With these gatherings, the aim is to have the commands of Christ (as summarized by George Patterson*) as foundational, non-negotiable commitments. We have two church planting teams involved in this work. They each meet twice a week. These meetings usually consist of eight church planters who are gifted in ministry to this people group. They have a good knowledge of the Qur'an and how to use it in evangelism. In total, they are ministering to about 30 households at the moment. My main role is to meet regularly with the church planters, mentoring, teaching them. I try to be a model in evangelism, but the nationals I am working with are ten times more effective than me. The closer these national workers are to the target culture, the less likely these new believers will be to extract themselves from their own culture.
These believers experience numerous challenges, and major moral and spiritual issues have to be dealt with along the way. There is often a sense of being "out of control." Maybe that is the secret of God moving in a mighty way.
In many ways this newly birthed "culturally relevant church" challenges many things we have presumed are "absolutes" in Christianity. If we were to see this fellowship with our own eyes most would be horrified. Things that are unacceptable for us are acceptable for them. Things that are unacceptable for them are acceptable for us. I've been asked many questions about what we are doing. Probably one question that quickly comes to mind is whether this type of movement is biblical. As we begin to study the New Testament, it seems that the church in Jerusalem was quite different from what we think of as Christianity today. It was probably the best form of a "non-extracted" indigenous church there ever has been or ever will be. In fact, as time went by, Jewish followers of Christ became more zealous to keep the law and Jewish customs. These practices and commitment to Jewish customs were not only practiced by followers of Christ, but also were endorsed by the leading elders of Jerusalem, these being James, Peter and John, and Paul himself (Acts 21:17-26).
In Acts 6:7, we read that a large number of priests became obedient in the faith. Did these priests quit, or did they continue in their duties? I think they would have continued, mostly because there was no pressure for them to stop. In Acts 15:5 we read that there were a number of believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees. They remained active as Pharisees while genuine followers of Christ.
I think the same can be said of every church that was planted. Paul commanded for non-Jews and Jews alike to remain as they were, if following the ways of circumcision to stay there, if some other custom remain there. This way the lines of communication for the gospel always had a bridge to cross to people of similar culture. Of course, some things did have to change in order to avoid syncretism and compromise of faith. What about Muslims today? How can followers of Christ be uncompromising in their faith, yet remain formal Muslims? I believe there are certainly a number of cultural practices that need to be dealt with. One of the most difficult is the issue of Mohammed as a prophet. I see this, like the other issues, as a matter of process. Hopefully over the years their view of Mohammed will change, I find that as the believer's heart changes, he or she places less and less importance on these issues that seem to contradict the gospel.
In fact, we have found at times the opposite, that we need to encourage the person not to reject his culture and thereby to burn bridges with his past. I feel that the underlying problem isn't contradictions between Islamic teaching and the Bible but resentment and bitterness in Muslims as a whole toward Christians. I like this quote from Roland Allen's book, The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church and the Causes that Hinder it ** , written many years ago: "We must begin with positive teaching, not with negative prohibitions, but be content to wait and to watch whilst the native believers slowly recreate their own customs, as the Spirit of Christ gradually teaches them to transform what today is heathen, and tomorrow will appear as a godly custom. This means that converts must be left as they are in their heathen surroundings and must live as their people, and be still of their people, until they grow so strong in numbers and in knowledge that they will be able to correct what is false, and to amend what is evil, with that full understanding which is born of slow and quiet interior advance." Would we be willing for indigenous believers to follow their own convictions without imposing prior rules relating to a changing of their customs? Are we willing to wait and see a change through convictions of the Holy Spirit from within the heart first? Allen says "A man in England today would be justly excommunicated for acts which our fathers regarded as no sin at all." God came to us and gave us His Spirit who guides and enlightens us until we become like Him. Westerners like me do not realize how deeply we are embedded in the sins of our culture at this time. What if we were required to leave these first before we were allowed to become followers of Christ? where would that leave us? Where does this leave the Muslim peoples? I am sure God has a much greater plan for the Muslim peoples than we do. We have a short-term plan of removing individuals from what we consider inappropriate or sinful. He has a longer-term plan for each Muslim people to be discipled, for every culture to be restored to the way He originally intended.
I read again recently articles by Dr. Donald McGavran about people movements. One of the things that struck me was that a people movement is the goal for every people. A people movement can only freely move within a segment of population where there are no cultural barriers of hindrances. Let us say there is a group of Muslim believers who, despite retaining some of their cultural heritage, become "Christians."
For a Muslim to become a Christian in his community, this in itself creates one of the greatest cultural barriers known, let alone all the new worship forms, etc. Doesn't this make the gospel spreading in the form of a people movement from the converts to their own ethne impossible?
I'm not saying that our approach is quick and easy. In fact, at least initially it may be slower. There needs to be a commitment on the part of the church planter to be a learner. The foundations of the new community of faith need to be sound and strong. Also, this is not a means of bypassing suffering. In fact, for a non-extracted movement they need a willingness to suffer for the sake of Christ's name. Some have suggested that movements like this are transitional and will eventually be replaced by more traditional Christianity. I believe these principles are not transitional, otherwise we are cutting off the natural bridges to a people.
I sometimes wonder, why has the response by the Muslim community been so small toward the gospel? Maybe God sees the cultural practices of Muslims bowing down five times per day, fasting for a complete month during daylight hours, community prayer at a local place of worship and much more as a more relevant cultural shell for the gospel of Christ amongst the Muslim peoples than our traditional, western-influence expressions of faith. Maybe the greatest of all revivals to happen will cause Muslim and Christians to stand side by side in masses around the throne, one common thread uniting all, Christ dying for the sins of all!
God is waiting for us to leave behind the baggage of the past and over time to see suspicion being replaced by trust as Muslims and Christians are reconciled together through a common faith in Christ.
(not his real name; all names in the story have been changed) is a YWAM church planter in Asia. As this issue went to press, Joseph e-mailed to say that two more Muslims have chosen to follow Jesus.
Web site: www.missionfrontiers.org