Islam, Muhammad, Muslims, Muslims and Christianity...

The Bible in Missions

J. Christy Wilson: In evangelism the Bible should be our inspiration, our textbook, our tool, and our guide. In asking Christians who had formerly been Muslims what first attracted their attention to Christ and what finally brought about their conversion, I discovered that in a large majority of cases the Bible had much to do with the process. That being the case, it lays upon those of us who would lead men to Christ the responsibility of making the Bible central in all our work and becoming expert in its use. As we do so we find, in ever increasing measure, that we have in the Old Testament a matchless reference library and in the New Testament a perfect handbook for evangelistic work.

Major Muslim Objections to Christian Doctrine
The Trinity Not a Biblical doctrine:
Emphasize the Family nature of God: the Supreme God, the Father, who created all by means of the Word, His Son, through the Holy Spirit, His presence and power.
The Incarnation God does not ask us to do anything He would not do Himself. The Supreme Father sent a member of His own family, His Son, to show us the way, by becoming a human being, just like us.
Redemption Sin isn't just breaking the rules, it is opposing God's fundamental nature of unselfish love. Sin separates us from God. It is the sacrifice of Jesus that pays the penalty, and enables us to be reconciled to God.
Original Sin Not a Biblical doctrine:
Adam was created perfect, but, like a young child, morally neutral. He chose to sin. Similarly we have all chosen to sin. "Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:" (Rom. 5:12). We are under the penalty of eternal death, not because Adam sinned, but because each of us has sinned.

Missionaries who work with Muslims know that there are three ancient and standard objections to the Bible: 1. It has been abrogated by the Koran [Qur'an]. 2. It has been changed and corrupted by Christians. 3. Christ took the genuine Injil or New Testament back with Him when He returned to heaven. Of course, it is naturally incumbent upon one who makes such charges against the Bible to substantiate his assertions. I think we also know good answers to each of the above claims.

In spite of this, it is our policy not to take up these arguments in general discussion in our evangelistic room. We do have on the walls of our room pictures of Bible manuscripts written long before the inception of Islam. The fact of the matter is we do not hear these old objections nearly so often as we once did. When a man raises one or more of these points and we find that he is genuinely troubled by the question, not merely desirous of starting a disputation, we give him the answer printed in one of our Christian books or tracts, which he may digest at his leisure.

We let it be known that we consider it our province to teach the Bible, not to argue about it. Furthermore, it must be admitted that the Bible as we have it is the sacred book of the Christian Church throughout the world, just as the Koran is accepted by Muslims of all countries and all sects. Very seldom do we find a man who will refuse to listen to the words of the Bible on this basis.

At one time a young mullah came to our evangelistic room to argue and convince us that Islam was true and Christianity false. We got him to reading. In his own room he threw the New Testament with all his might against the opposite wall, saying to himself, "I should be cursed for reading this blasphemous book." But later he picked it up again, and in the end it became to him the most precious book in the world.

In connection with the claim that the New Testament we have has been altered or corrupted, my colleague, Stephan Khoobyar, had an interesting experience.

He was passing through the bazaar one day when he was hailed by some men from the door of a library. They said, "We have found the genuine Injil as it was before the Christians corrupted it. Come in and see it." He walked,in and sat down. They brought out an ancient Syriac manuscript of the New Testament, on vellum, that had been looted during the war from one of the old Nestorian churches. Stephan asked, "So this is the original New Testament? How does it differ from the one we now have, translated into Persian and other languages?" The men replied, "This copy was made long ago, before the Christians changed their book." My colleague asked if they had a Persian New Testament and one was produced. He said, "Tell me any book, chapter, and verse you wish. You look at the Persian and I will translate the verse from this manuscript." He did this with several verses, and they were astonished to find that their ancient manuscript was a version of the same New Testament they could read any day in their own language. Fortunately, Khoobyar knows the ancient Syriac, and how beyond price it is that practically all literate people in the world of Islam can read the Bible in their mother tongue!

We have found it a good point to urge with Muslims that as God has created all men, so it is natural to suppose that He would make His revelation available to all men in their native language. As on the day of Pentecost, in a miraculous way all heard the Gospel in their own speech, so now the Word of God is available, by a modern miracle of translation and publication, to people all over the world in their own tongue. We have the Bible in a dozen languages always at hand in our evangelistic room, and in a cosmopolitan city it is surprising how many versions one may have occasion to use.

I. Only by the Holy Spirit

It will make us better evangelists if we realize at the outset, that no matter how well we know our Bible or how much we strive to make it the foundation of all our work, we are at best very poor instruments of clay. We can no more apply the truth of the Bible to a Muslim heart than we can raise the dead. Only the Holy Spirit can bring a certain verse or passage into the particular crisis of the individual and make it for him the very Word of God.

I have in mind four converts from Islam. The Spirit used to bring about their conversion such various passages as:

Isaiah 42:3; "A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth."

Zechariah, chapter 13; "In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness...."

Luke 4:18, 19; "And they all with one consent began to make excuse. The first said unto him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it: I pray thee have me excused. {19} And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them: I pray thee have me excused."

and the Epistle to the Romans; "Romans 1:1 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God,..."

No man can tell what Word will answer the deepest problem of the Muslim heart. It is the Word of God, not the word of man, that saves. How necessary, then, that we present the Bible to Muslims under the direction of its real Author - The Holy Spirit. Only the power of the Spirit can make it in very fact to them the Word of God for their particular need.

You might build the pyramids or the great walls and temples of Baalbek or the mighty platform of Persepolis by man-power - even though such feats stagger the imagination. But you can not, even using the Bible as your tool, establish the church that Christ will call out of Islam in Egypt, or Syria, or Iran, by man-power - that is a work of God, so much we must realize before we can be very largely used in its building.

It is a healthy and humbling experience for one of us who has been preaching for years in the world of Islam to ask fifty or a hundred converts what led them to Christ, and note how few were brought by preaching, even though we have endeavored to preach the Gospel. When the Holy Spirit brings the Word of God into contact with the deepest longing of their hearts they are won.

II. Simple Explanations

One may begin the study of the Bible with Muslims from any verse or passage. To one who is not familiar with Scripture, however, we should first explain in clear and simple terms what the Bible is, and what it means to the Christian.

In the first place, the Bible is God's complete Revelation. The first verse in the Bible begins with creation. The last verses mention the return of Christ, which will mark the end of the world as it now exists. Between these two we consider that God's Revelation is contained, full and complete. A newcomer may wish to raise many objections at this point. We explain that we trust all such questions will be answered in due time; it is necessary, first, that he should understand what Christians consider the Bible to be.

Although the Bible contains a number of books it is still a single volume. Bound as we see it in one cover, it is a single Book because it is written with one purpose - to show God's dealings with the world from the beginning to the end. Moreover, it has a single central theme running throughout the whole volume - redemption.

But the Bible is not only a single volume, it is a library. It contains two great divisions, which sometimes are called the Old and New Covenants. Each of these, in turn, contains a number of books, so that in all we have sixty-six - the greatest spiritual library in the world! (For several of the ideas presented here I am indebted to Charles R. Erdman, my instructor in the use of "the sword of the Spirit.")

The revelation of God contained in these pages could not come in a single age or to one person. These books were written during a period of more than a thousand years. Their authors represented people of all classes of society, from kings and prophets to shepherds and fisher folk. Each one of these wrote in his own style, and his book is a product of his time and environment, yet each one was guided by the Holy Spirit, so that what he wrote was in truth the Word of God.

The great central fact in all this revelation is Jesus Christ. He was the final and complete message of God to the world, and Himself accomplished all that was necessary to reconcile fallen man to God. But had He come without previous preparation men could not have understood Him. It would have been like asking a man to see who suddenly had come out of darkness into brilliant sunlight.

The revelation of God to the world was gradual - small at first like a seed - perfect, but little - gradually unfolding to the full tree and flower and perfect fruit in Christ. Or we may liken the first revelation to the light of a little candle, growing brighter like an oil lamp, then still more brilliant, like an electric light. Finally, the Sun of Righteousness (Mal. 4:2) arose and God's light became perfect in Jesus Christ.

Then may follow a more detailed explanation of the divisions of the Old and New Testaments. All of which is merely suggestive, as each evangelist will develop his own methods and illustrations to lead the Muslim to understand the Christian conception of the Bible.

III. The Value of the Old Testament

I have been surprised to find how many converts from Islam attribute their conversion to passages from the Old Testament. I take this to be a sign, however, that it should occupy an important place in our teaching. In general, we should recommend the method of first explaining Old Testament truth, and then in every case relating it to Christ.

Many questions from different standpoints will be asked as to why, since we accept the Old Testament, we do not keep the law of Moses. The most satisfactory method we have found of answering such a question is to explain that the several hundred rules of the Mosaic law may be grouped under the following categories:

1. Ceremonial. 2. Social. 3. Political. 4. Moral.

The laws under the first three divisions were especially for Israel, and hence temporary. The moral law, on the other hand, was founded on the nature of God Himself, and, therefore, changeless and eternal. [But all 4 divisions powerfully reflect God's nature and purpose.]

Then we should lead on to show how the fundamental principles of the moral law are perfectly explained and set forth by Christ in Matthew 5:17: "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil." He has given us the true spirit of God's law, but delivered us from the letter [of philosophy, vain deceit and traditions of men (Col. 2:8).] (Colossians 2:14) "Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross."

Old Testament Typology

As an example of the Old Testament types, let us consider the Tabernacle, which was the center of the Mosaic ritual. A general study may be made from the twenty-fifth to twenty-seventh chapters of Exodus and the ninth chapter of Hebrews. A diagram also may be helpful.

1. The Altar of Brass (Exod. 39:39). The first great lesson here is that without atonement for sin it is impossible for man to approach in worship the Holy God. This altar and its sacrifices are a sign and symbol of the perfect offering and sacrifice for sin, which is Christ Himself. He was the last sacrifice to die - but He conquered death. Our duty is to bring to Him the sacrifice of a contrite heart, and to present our bodies a living sacrifice.

2. The Laver (Exodus 30:18) [The huge basin for ritual washings]. This should teach that Christ not only cleanses us by His sacrifice, but also washes us day by day to make our lives pure [(Heb. 10:19, 22) "Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, ... Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water."]

Having washed us from the stains of sin, Christ is ready to give us the water of life which will cleanse and revivify our hearts and spirits, and flow from us on to others. (Each one of these points will open a whole vista of Scripture study, which one who is interested may pursue by himself; as, for instance, the meaning of baptism, Christ and the woman of Samaria, etc.)

3. The Table of Shewbread. Bread represents the blessings of God. The greatest blessing God has given to the world is Christ. He is the spiritual bread, the true food for all mankind (John 6:35).

4. The Golden Candlestick [Lampstand]. Christ is the Light of the world (John 8:12). Our own natural light is but a smoking flax (Isaiah 42:3). Christ does not put out our light, but purifies it and makes it shine to show others the pathway to Him (Matthew 5:14).

5. The Altar of Incense. Incense is the symbol of prayer (Psa. 141:2). This should teach the Christian privilege of prayer, its importance in our lives, our opportunity to intercede for others and for the world-wide advance of Christ's kingdom, as well as direct communion with God. Christ is the powerful Intercessor, always before the Throne of Grace, and the great Mediator of the New Covenant with God.

6. The Holy of Holies. Here the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat between the cherubim signify the very presence of God. Christ has opened for us the new and living way to the Divine Presence (Hebrews 10:19, 20). If we submit our souls in faith to Christ we do not have to search for God by a long and tedious way. He comes to us, He finds us. Here we have come to the most important and sacred thing in the Christian life - contact with the transcendent God, through Christ. We have entered the Holy of Holies.

Old Testament Prophecies

Another method that has proven most fruitful in introducing Muslims to the Bible is to follow a thread of Old Testament prophecies concerning Christ. Each evangelist will work out for himself the order that he finds most useful. The following list which has been compiled in actual practice may prove suggestive.

1. The Seed of the Woman. Genesis 3:15.
2. The Covenant with Abraham. Genesis 17:7 and 22:18.
3. "Shiloh." Genesis 49:10. (Note that great empires rose and fell. The House of Israel disappeared, but Judah remained until this prophecy was fulfilled.)
4. The Anointed Son of God. Psalm 2.
5. The Son of the Virgin. Isaiah 7:14.
6. The Titles of Christ. Isaiah 9:6, 7.
7. The Merciful Messiah. Isaiah 42:3.
8. The Atonement for Sin. Isaiah, chapter 53.
9. The Everlasting King. Daniel 7:14.
10. The Birth in Bethlehem. Micah 5:2.
11. The Last of the Prophets. Zechariah, chapter 13.
12. The Sun of Righteousness. Malachi 4:2.

IV. The Four Gospels

When we put the New Testament in the hands of Muslims who are not familiar with the volume they may be puzzled by the four Gospels with different names. "Is there one Injil or many?" "Why are there four Gospels?"

We should explain that there is only one Injil or New Testament but the name of the respective authors of the several parts is often attached to the portion each wrote. Since the facts recorded here concerning Jesus Christ are the most important events in the history of the world, God has not asked us to accept them on the authority of one witness, however trustworthy he might be. He has provided four independent accounts, one witness, as it were, viewing these tremendous events from the north, one from the east, one from the south, and one from the west. This is in order to give us the facts from every angle, and to establish absolute certainty concerning them.

Just as Jesus Christ is the center and soul of our message, so He should be always the central fact in presenting the Bible to Muslims. Many workers will no doubt wish first of all to lead the interested persons in a study of one of the gospels. Others will wish to take up a study of the life of Christ, for which there are many excellent handbooks if one does not care to work out the outline for himself. It is our own preference, however, to suggest that the inquirer read the gospels and a life of Christ in private, bringing to us any questions that may arise.

In our public teaching we choose the admittedly more difficult path of a topical study of the great facts of Christ. For example, this may be pursued under the following headings:

1. The Incarnation of Christ.
2. The Works of Christ.
3. The Stature of Christ.
4. The Cross of Christ.
5. The Resurrection of Christ.
6. The Intercession of Christ.
7. The Return of Christ.

Others might wish to include another topic, "The Teachings of Christ." We prefer to cover this under the other subjects, lest the Muslim lay undue emphasis on the teachings. One may come to the point where he will say, like Nicodemus, "Thou art a teacher come from God," and let it go at that.

No matter how difficult it may be, let us present the deepest aspects of the great facts concerning Christ, that haply the Spirit may bring these into contact with the problems of the individual heart and life.

Sin

One of our most difficult tasks will be presenting to Muslims the Biblical idea of sin. Most Muslims think of sin as breaking the law or failure to comply with religious sanctions. We may safely assume that the ordinary Muslim will not have the slightest idea of sin as an awful offense against a just and holy God. Only the Spirit can apply the truths of the Bible concerning sin to lead up to the three steps of:

1. Realization
2. Confession
3. Repentance

Our Biblical material on sin is so vast that only a few passages may be suggested:

  1. A spiritual man confesses his sin. Psalm 51:1-17.
  2. Not only actions, but wicked thought also is sin. Matthew 5:21, 22 and 27, 28.
  3. The fearful results of sin. Matthew 5:29, 30.
  4. Failure to do good when aware of the opportunity is sin. James 4:17.
  5. Failure to believe in Christ is sin. John 3:18.
  6. Anything not done in faith is sin. Romans 14:23.
  7. Sin estranges us from God and makes prayer impossible. Isaiah 59:2.

When the application of the Word has brought the consciousness of sin, what a joy to be able to point to the remedy (Romans 6:23, Matthew 11:28, Hebrews 7:25).

Jesus Christ

There will come a stage in the development of the Muslim student when we should use the Bible to show that Christ is the final and complete revelation of God. We may begin this with the thirteenth chapter of Zechariah, and lead on along the golden thread of New Testament proof, using such verses as: Matthew 24:23-27; Mark 13:31; John 14:6; I Corinthians 3:11; Galatians 1:8; Colossians 2:9; Hebrews 1:1-3; 7:25; 9:26; 13:8; I Peter 1:20; Revelation 22:13.

When, as is very often the case, Muslims desire to discuss the subject of the Trinity [an unfortunate non-Biblical addition to Christianity,] we ask them first to study with us what the Bible says about the nature of God. The lesson may be conducted along the following lines:

1. Both Old and New Testaments teach the inherent unity of God. The very first verse of the Bible, Genesis 1:1, was a tremendous flash of revelation in the time when it came. At one stroke it cleared the heavens and the earth of all the idols and malign spirits with which primitive man had supposed them to be populated, and in their place proclaimed the one Creator God. Note also Deuteronomy 4:35, 39 and 6:4, Mark 12:29.

2. But to confess the unity of God is not enough. That will not save a man. The very devils confess the unity of God and tremble, but they remain in bondage (James 2:19).

3. What we sinful men need is a way of approach that we may know the one true God (I Timothy 2:5).

4. Let us study the Christian "Word of Witness," for we find here not only the unity and truth of God, but "Eternal Life" (John 17:3).

[Our author here takes several paragraphs to admit that the Trinity is a "mystery" he avoids discussing. A simpler approach is to explain that the Bible reveals that God is united in one divine Family: the Father and the Word, who was incarnated as Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit is the presence and power of God. The amazing mystery is that the whole purpose of creation is to enable humans to enter the Father's family and become immortal children of God!]

On the other hand, no earnest inquirer should be discouraged because the Bible contains mysteries beyond the comprehension of the greatest intellect. For humble Christians in every age and every land, as they followed Christ step by step, have been led by the Holy Spirit to ever-increasing knowledge of the deep things of God. As one of our great evangelists in Iran has said, though the stream of Christian truth is deep enough in places to drown an elephant, there are also still waters where little children may wade.

Those of us who are engaged in the most difficult task of leading Muslims to Christ must give never-ceasing praise and glory to God that He has provided us with such a perfect handbook for our calling. In the New Testament we have:

1. The Four Gospels. Christ-the content of our message.
2. The Acts of the Apostles. The Gospel at work in the world.
3. The Epistles. Guidance for converts and newly-founded churches.
4. The Book of Revelation. The great final outcome of the work of evangelism. The eternal kingdom of Christ.

V. Bible Work

In conclusion, let us state a few general suggestions for our Bible work. We strive to follow the method below in meeting difficulties and answering questions.

  1. Answer the difficulty to the best of our ability.
  2. Lead on to the general teaching of the passage, which is usually clear.
  3. Enforce a positive lesson from the inquiry which may reach the mind and heart of the inquirer.
  4. Relate the question and answer to Christ and His love and power.

In the next place, we should become expert in turning all objections into useful leads. Take, for example, the first verse of the Gospel according to Mark. All know that the title "Son of God" has been a stumbling block to Muslims. One of my colleagues says there is a divinely ordered purpose in this - our Muslim brothers must stumble and sometimes take a good fall before they can stand again in the strength of Christ. We ask the questioner to look with us at the entire first verse of Mark. The latter is not attempting to write a life of Christ; he says this is the beginning of a "Gospel" or Good News. The names given here at the beginning for the one about whom he writes have deep significance:

1. Jesus, the perfect man, but tempted as we are.
2. Christ, the Messiah or Saviour.
3. Son of God, the divine Lord.

Muslims cry, "God forbid," when Christ is termed the Son of God, because they entirely misunderstand the term and think of it in a carnal way. The meaning of this title is spiritual. We should also unite in the expression, "God forbid," if Christ should be considered the son of God according to carnal nature.

In the deep spiritual content of the term as used in the New Testament we do find these meanings:

This term does denote the divinity of Christ, He was God's complete revelation, not through a book or by word, but through a Person - in life. Man was created in the image of God so that God could finally reveal Himself in the image of man.

We freely admit that the full meaning of the term "Son of God" cannot be understood by the natural man. Only through the guidance of the Holy Spirit can we call Christ "Lord" (I Corinthians 12:3).

But when a person can in faith accept Christ as the Son of God, he has entered a new and blessed relationship to the Almighty (I John 4:15).

Another general point is that we should always endeavor to interpret Scripture by Scripture. Answer questions about the Bible, not in our own words, but from the Word of God.

Centrality of Prayer

It remains only to state the obvious truth, that every Bible lesson should be begun and closed with sincere prayer. That will do more good than much speaking, as the testimony of many converts from Islam will go to prove. They witness to the power of Christian prayer in opening their hearts to receive "the engrafted Word."

Finally, let me say that if I have erred on the side of simplicity and too much detail in these suggestions on teaching the Bible to Muslims, that may be put down to the account of Dr. S. M. Zwemer, who has repeatedly impressed upon me the fact that workers desire definite and practical suggestions as to methods in evangelism.

May God consecrate us to the great and holy task of presenting His word to Muslims, and may the Holy Spirit guide us to ever-increasing power in becoming "a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." (2 tim. 2:15).

  1. The Christian Approach to Muslims.
  2. The Bible in Missions.
  3. Evangelism among Muslims.
Excerpted from "The Christian Message to Islam" by J. Christy Wilson, Princeton, New Jersey, 1950.

Islam and Christianity: a comparison.


For more comparative information: www.answering-islam.org: Answering Islam, A Christian-Muslim Dialog and Apologetic


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