|Islam is at the same time a religious, political, and social organization which attempts to dictate every function of life in all spheres.|
J. Christy Wilson: Evangelism among Muslims is probably the most difficult of all missionary tasks. Most of us who have spent years in this work could claim to be charter members in the brotherhood made up of those who have fished all night and taken nothing. We can join with Bishop Linton of Iran when he exclaims, "Thank God that the Scripture says it is required in stewards that they be found faithful (1 Cor. 4:2) - not successful."
Nevertheless, we know that the Master commissioned us to preach the Gospel and to teach all nations, not only those among those where it is easy or where there is a ready response. Whatever may have been the feeling in times past, most of us will admit today that we cannot leave one portion of the small world in which we live unevangelized and hope to have the kingdom of Christ succeed in other portions of the globe. So we are ready to work on in the absolute assurance that on some blessed morning Christ will command us again to launch out into the deep, and the Gospel nets will be filled.
We know also that the Muslim world of today comprises the Bible lands, the crown lands of Christ. We believe that the Almighty God has put far too much into them to leave them forever outside His kingdom, and so we would labor on in the faith that in His own good time the people of these countries may be won to Christ, not by the sword, but in a great spiritual endeavor motivated by the power of love.
What is Evangelism?
Before we consider the subject of how the Gospel should be communicated to Muslims, it would be well to define what we mean by evangelism. In order to do this it may be best to review what a number of great missionary leaders have given in the past as their idea of evangelism. (Several of these definitions are taken from Evangelism, Vol. III of the Madras Series, International Missionary Council, New York and London. 1939. pp. 45-52.)
Since China is the most populous of all lands, and since it has Muslims in every province, we might first quote the words of Dr. P. Lindel Tsen, Bishop of Honan. He says: "To me evangelism is the task of presenting the whole Christian Gospel, by word and deed, to man and his society, with a definite object of converting him to be a child of God, and his society into the Kingdom of Heaven."
In this connection we recall the word of another Chinese bishop, who has recently been in America. He said that when he studied the Gospel he saw that Christ talked a great deal about fishing for men and that He also spoke many times of the shepherd and the sheep. The bishop said, "I take it from this that He wants us to get men by hook or crook." We take it that only one from China could have seen these symbols of the fisherman and the shepherd and made the application to Christ's teaching.
Toyohiko Kagawa of Japan says, "Evangelism means the conversion of people - from worldliness to Christlike godliness. Conversion is absolutely fundamental, for without the awakening of a spiritual hunger there is no hope for an individual, a society, a race, or a nation."
Another great world-Christian, Bishop Azariah, of Dornakal in India, wrote before his late passing to a higher sphere of service:
"The proclamation of the evangel - of the good news of God's love and forgiveness in Christ - is evangelism." In another place he goes on to explain: "God alone can touch the hearts of people. The forces that make for change of religious allegiance on the part of men are many and often beyond human analysis. It is our duty to watch the movements of the Spirit lest we frustrate God's work by our unbelief, indifference or mismanagement of potential situations. We need divine illumination to have a right judgment of all things."
An Example of Successful Evangelism
And while we are speaking of Bishop Azariah, allow me to turn aside from the definition of evangelism for a moment to quote his experience as an example of the fact that evangelism for Muslims may not be so hopeless as we sometimes think. In his recent book, Pathfinders of the World Missionary Crusade, Sherwood Eddy tells that when Azariah gave up a prominent executive position in India to go as a worker among the outcastes of Dornakal, Dr. Eddy strongly advised him against such an action. He continues,
When I visited Dornakal the outcastes of Hyderabad seemed to me so debased, so sunken almost in savagery, the men such drunkards and thieves and the women so stupid, that no great fruitage, no adequate results could be expected in our lifetime. I did all I could to dissuade Azariah; but I might as well have argued with William Carey or Judson or Morrison against going to the Mission field .... Years later, when I went back to visit Azariah in Dornakal, my weak faith was utterly rebuked. Here, where I had expected to see but little fruit in our lifetime, I found in Bishop Azariah's diocese a growing Christian community which today numbers nearly two hundred and fifty thousand souls. Pathfinders of the World Missionary Crusade. By Sherwood Eddy. Abingdon-Cokesbury, New York, 1945. Pp. 147, 148.
It is a great thing for those who toil in Muslim lands with very little to show for their labor to look off and see such results in other portions of the world-wide Christian fellowship. We take heart as we continue to work and pray.
More Definitions of Evangelism
Then, to return to the definitions of evangelism by leading Christian workers, S. A. Morrison of Cairo, who has long worked among Muslims, says: "Evangelism is the proclamation of God's good news, the making known of God's revelation of Himself, more particularly in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord."
Another statement from the Church of England was made by the Archbishop of York before the Madras Conference. He said: "Evangelism is the winning of men to acknowledge Christ as their Saviour and King, so that they give themselves to His service in the fellowship of His church."
Robert E. Speer gives us the following definition: "Evangelism is the presentation of the truth and life of Christianity, both by word and deed, with a view to persuading men to accept it and to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, and in God through Him, and to give their lives to His service."
Finally, we may quote E. Stanley Jones:
Evangelism is the good news of the Kingdom of God on earth, that Kingdom personalized and embodied in Christ through whom this gracious offer comes in nail-pierced hands, signs of what it cost Him to make this offer to us in spite of our sins, and who ever lives to make the Kingdom effective in the individual and social will, and who offers to us an individual and social new birth as first steps toward the realization of that Kingdom.
The Focus of Evangelism
Let us say, then, that whatever difference there may be in emphasis, all of these definitions unite in the great basic insight that evangelism is presenting to men the Gospel of Christ in order that they may accept Him as Lord and Saviour and become His disciples.
We are here to consider evangelism in a special field, the world of Islam. There may be certain aspects and approaches which should differ from evangelism in other fields, and yet we have been surprised again and again that the methods which seem most fruitful in the Muslim world are those which are most effective in other fields. It seems indeed that there has been a basic change in the work for Muslims of recent years. The approach to them as men who are in need of a Saviour, with little reference to the sanctions of Islam or their present religious affiliations, has produced far better results than the age-old method of controversy.
As we stand at the threshold of a new era in world history and missions let us approach the question of evangelism for Muslims with a far different spirit from that which unfortunately has marked most of the contacts of Christianity and Islam in the past. With deep humility and penitence, let us acknowledge that we have failed to understand the Muslim people and their religion and that we have met them too often as protagonists rather than as servants who bear the rich gifts of love and forgiveness for sin and assurance of eternal life. It may be that in the years ahead there will be a greater opportunity to present the Gospel to Muslims than in all the past centuries, and we must be ready for that new day with a new spirit. To quote from the report of the Study Committee on Muslim-Christian relations of the Foreign Missions Conference: "The attitude of Christians and of Christian missionaries toward the Muslims should be that of humble, tolerant, self-forgetful love; not of hate or fear or pride or self-seeking or revenge, or any sort of ill will."
Evangelism is the vital nerve of missionary effort and the life blood of the Church. Christianity is not something that we may receive and keep for ourselves. Individuals and churches must be channels for the Water of Life, and it must flow through them and on to others if they are to remain vital themselves. To meet the opportunities and responsibilities of a new age, individuals, churches, and missions must dedicate themselves to a new emphasis on this vital phase of Christian effort.
I. Existing Churches
During the era which has now come to a close there have been established in nearly every Bible land new bodies of the Protestant fellowship. To live and grow, these new churches must be filled with evangelistic zeal. In addition, we must seek in sincere Christian love and fellowship to win the ancient churches in Muslim lands to a new spirit of evangelism commensurate with the opportunities of the new age which confronts all of us alike.
These ancient churches in Muslim countries present before our eyes an example of what happens to a Christian body when it ceases to be evangelistic in outreach and fails to preach the Gospel to Muslim neighbors, but retires to a cell within its own communion.
In the early ages of Islam, Christian communities which had failed to discharge their missionary duty were engulfed by the Muslim tidal wave, and hundreds of Christian places of worship became mosques. The great Church of the East spread the Gospel to the farthest bounds of Asia when it was on fire with a zeal for evangelism, but when the vital spark was lost its very existence was threatened.
We honor the churches of Bible lands for the fact that they have maintained their fellowship against all odds, and we realize in full measure the conditions which through the centuries have forced them to curtail Christian evangelism for Muslims. In a spirit of deepest love and fellowship we must seek the association of these communions in evangelism where new conditions make this possible, and we are certain that association in this service will bring new spiritual power to all of us who bear the name of Christ in the world of Islam. We realize that only a new Pentecost with the special power of the Holy Spirit can infuse these churches with the vital spark of evangelistic zeal, but we know that God in His providence has placed them there in the Muslim world for some great purpose.
If ways and means may be found for the missions and the younger churches to unite with these ancient communions of the East in the task of evangelism it will, indeed, mark the dawn of a new age in the Christian approach to Muslims. We do not foresee how this may be accomplished, but we know that there have been many signs of spiritual awakening in these historic churches of the Near East within the past twenty-five years, and that earnest souls have been working within these communions toward a rebirth which would bring with it the determination to bear the Christian witness in the environment where these churches exist.
A New Urgency for Evangelism
Evangelism comes to us with a new and imperative note as we stand on the threshold of the atomic age. Now that man has put his hand on the primary power of the universe in atomic fission, we Christians must feel a note of great urgency in our task of evangelism, especially in view of the fact that this new and greatest force of nature so far to be discovered has been used, up to the present , only for purposes of destruction. Very few in this day would take the words of the Apostle Peter as mere hyperbole when he says: "The heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up" (2 Peter 3:10).
Not that we should adopt the attitude of Christian Stoicism and say to ourselves that we must convert just as many as possible in the Muslim world because the end of all things is near. President John A. Mackay of Princeton Theological Seminary said recently that he feels that Almighty God has invested far too much in mankind and in this earth to let it be sacrificed, either to the wisdom of the scientists or to the foolishness of the politicians. However, in the new age there will be mighty new forces, and so there is on us the divine urgency to release without delay in Islamic lands those great spiritual forces which will save mankind from destruction, and such forces can come only from God Himself.
Wars may come and go, kingdoms rise and fall, but the words carved in Greek on the side of the great mosque in Damascus still stand as mute evidence from the time it was a Christian church, to declare: "Thy kingdom, O Christ, is an everlasting kingdom and Thy dominion endureth throughout all generations" (Psa. 145:13).
The maintenance of the proper evangelistic emphasis is a difficult problem in most missions. Especially, as time passes and mission institutions come into being, there is so much good and necessary work which requires attention that the proportion of time spent in direct evangelistic effort often suffers. Few missionaries who have been for some years on the field have spent all of their time in evangelism. When there is a shortage of force, and this is a chronic condition on most mission fields, it is usually felt that the continuity of the institutions must be maintained, and personnel is often withdrawn from the evangelistic field to keep them running.
Then, again, the educational or medical missionary finds a program of school or hospital into which he may fit, while, in general, the evangelist must build his own road and plan his own schedule. Real power in evangelism takes much time in preparation and in prayer and in the life of private devotion. This can be maintained only by a resolute determination not to be swallowed up in the general routine of missionary service. Both missions and individuals may need to reconsecrate themselves to evangelism and to preserve this determination, against all odds, if the church is to make a real spiritual impress on the solid wall of Islam in the new age which confronts us.
It has often been stated that Christians talk a great deal about evangelism but often do very little. A reorganization in mission and church work in Muslim lands should certainly be made to meet the demands of the new era which is with us now after the Second World War, and this should be our great opportunity to revamp all churches and missions, to attempt in a new way this most difficult of arts, the winning of disciples to our Lord and Master Jesus Christ.
We realize that there are still forces which may prevent outspoken evangelistic effort in some of the Muslim fields, but we must not take for granted that things will be in the new age as they have been in the past; we should anticipate new opportunities and be prepared to take instant advantage of them.
Evangelism through Good Works
|Muslim reaction is in the spirit of Sanballat's messages to Nehemiah|
`The Muslim world is becoming alarmed at the growth of Christian mission or at least by the publicity that is being given to it. Khurshid Ahmad, Director General of the Islamic Foundation, Leicester, [England,] exploded during a Christian/Muslim dialogue (Cambesy, June 1976), "If there is a single instance of Muslim intolerance towards Christians, it puts me to shame - I would always be prepared to confess it and I am ready to do whatever I can to rectify that situation. But, for God's sake, don't compare such isolated incidents of human weakness with the enormous exploitation of the Muslims by the Christian world, through education, medicine, aid, etc. - all of which have been used as conscious and deliberate instruments of a missionary policy".'
`It is not surprising that the agreed statement of the conference [of Islamic and Christian(!) leaders] declared, "The Conference, being painfully aware that Muslim attitudes to Christian missions have been so adversely affected by the abuse of diakonia [Christian works of service], strongly urge Christian churches and religious organizations to suspend their misused diakonia activities in the world of Islam."'
Excerpts from "The Gospel and Islam", Don M. McCurry, Ed., Monrovia, CA: MARC, 1979.
To maintain the evangelistic emphasis in schools, hospitals, and churches is also a task which requires constant effort and attention. As institutions become larger, there is a tendency to give the maximum of attention to the particular function in which the institution is engaged, such as education or medical service, and evangelism often takes a secondary, and sometimes a very subordinate, place in the program. As an instance we may note the great number of universities and colleges at home and abroad which have been started under very definite Christian auspices and have later become avowedly secular.
In Muslim lands there has also been the tendency to welcome Western education and medicine, but there has often been fierce opposition to the Gospel.
Let us say at this point that a proper emphasis on evangelism and the direct proclamation of the Word is not to minimize the relevancy of the other forms of missionary effort which instruct and heal. There is a repeated emphasis in the Great Commission on the teaching which the risen Lord gave to His disciples, and He was the Great Physician, so that we make a great mistake if we neglect these forms of Christian service, especially in the world of Islam. With complete endorsement of all such work done in His name, we should insist only that to be truly missionary and truly Christian all such worthy effort should maintain evangelism as its soul and spirit.
II. The Muslim Mind
If evangelism is a difficult task in any mission field it is many times more arduous in Muslim lands. Authorities on the subject have endeavored to explain why it is so hard to penetrate the Muslim world with the Gospel; however, the devotion of its adherents to Islam, while at the same time they may not maintain its religious duties or sanctions, still remains an enigma which is beyond our full understanding.
The greatest drawback to the Muslim's accepting the Christian Gospel and becoming an acknowledged follower of Christ is probably the group consciousness and the terrific cohesion of Islam. The law of apostasy, which prescribes capital punishment as the penalty for leaving Islam to accept another faith, is only one evidence of the terrible rigidity which has maintained the Islamic community. Yet we have known of converts from Islam to Christianity who would have been willing to sacrifice their very life if necessary for their faith in Christ, but who did not feel that they could bring on their families the scorn and social ostracism which an open avowal of their new faith would bring from the closely knit and rigid structure of Islam.
It is necessary to bear in mind that Islam is at the same time a religious, political, and social organization which attempts to dictate every function of life in all spheres. The Muslim religion has been called a theocracy, and it has been well observed by Lord Curzon that Islam is not a state church but a church state. All in all, it has maintained a grip on its adherents which perhaps surpasses that of any other religion, even Judaism.
Second to this intense feeling of group loyalty we may mention that Muslims of whatever station have a feeling of pride and superiority concerning their religion. Professor Hendrik Kraemer reminds us in his great book, The Christian Message in a Non-Christian World (p. 220), that it is most difficult to understand why "this religion, so lacking in depth, is also, when one considers its origin and material, an unoriginal religion, and yet notwithstanding that, it excels all other religions in creating in its adherents a feeling of absolute religious superiority. From this superiority-feeling and from this fantastic self-consciousness of Islam is born that stubborn refusal to open the mind toward another spiritual world, as a result of which Islam is such an enigmatic missionary object."
Since the First World War we have seen the sanctions of Islam broken down in several of the Muslim lands far more than we had expected might happen during our lifetime. With the passing of religious fanaticism, however, nationalism and secularism have formed a shell almost impossible to penetrate, and even when direct faith in Islam is gone there remains fierce devotion to the group, and any attempt to break the barriers of the organism is resented with fervent and white-hot patriotic ardor in order to maintain the body politic and the social structure in the name of the religion of which they are a part.
In addition to the adhesive force which keeps men within the system and the obstacles which Islam has set up against any penetration of its organism, there is the universal difficulty of sin in the human heart. In the Muslim world it is doubly difficult to judge the motives of a person who seems interested in the Gospel message, for in many an environment, veracity and honesty seem unknown, or deliberately discarded when dealing with a person of another faith. The same reason for the refusal of Christ holds now as it did in the time of the great evangelist who wrote: "But if, our Gospel is hid, it is hid to them that are lost; in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them" (2 Corinthians 4:3,4).
Among the members of churches in America we may find those who question the relevancy and the necessity of evangelism for Muslims. Time and again we run across the person who says in substance, "I think they have a religion well suited to their needs and their environment; they believe in God, why bother them?" It has also been said that we have no right to shove our religion down the throats of people who do not want it. Again, some friends in the churches suggest that since work among Muslims has shown so little in the way of results we should let it go and concentrate on areas where the people are more ready to accept the Gospel.
Though these questions often reveal a misunderstanding of Christ and Christianity, as well as a lack of knowledge concerning Islam, and though there are good and sufficient answers to such objections, yet it may be of benefit to review the basic motives of evangelism in general and of Muslims in particular.
Over the course of the years we have come to feel that the glory of God is the basic motive of missionary work and evangelism. We did not feel the force of this when we first went out to the Muslim world as an evangelist, but through the years we came to apply to the Islamic situation the fact that the chief end of man is to glorify God [and to become part of His eternal family], and we came to the conclusion that Muslims and others who do not have faith in Jesus Christ cannot live to the glory of God. But that is what man is for, and that is why he was created. Any man anywhere has failed to find the good end of life until he has begun to live to the glory of God.
When we turn to the Bible we find this idea of God's glory fundamental in the Old Testament as well as in the Pauline Epistles, and in the life and thought of our Lord. As Robert E. Speer has said, we should be forced to convert the world even if Christ had never given us the Great Commission to do so.
However, Jesus did so command, and we may consider this the second great motive of our evangelistic service. As Dr. Zwemer points out so clearly in his book, Into All the World, the Great Commission from the Master Himself is found in different form in each of the four gospels and in the Book of Acts. After the Cross and the resurrection, when the Gospel was complete, this commission to preach the Gospel to the whole world seemed to be a burden on that great heart which was broken for the sin of the world. We have become His disciples, and as such we bear the ordination of the nail-pierced hands to go to all the world. It is in direct dependence on obedience to that commission that we have the greatest of all promises, which is, indeed, itself a powerful motive to such service, "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the age" (Matt. 28:20).
The third basic motive in evangelism comes to us when the Holy Spirit reveals the need of the Muslim world and shows to us the things of Christ, which alone can meet that need. The physical destitution of these ancient Bible lands where Islam has held sway for many centuries makes a great appeal to Christian hearts. The needs of men's minds in these lands are even greater, for the Muslims are still the block in the world's population with the highest percentage of illiteracy. But it is when we come to the realm of the spiritual that we find the greatest depth of human need. Paul Harrison once said that he knew of no people in the world with so strong a sense of the transcendence of God, and yet he knew of no people where that sense had so little effect on their moral lives. Though Islam has much that is true, the people of the Muslim world are without a Saviour. When the Holy Spirit reveals this abysmal need, the love of Christ constrains us to teach and preach the Gospel of the Cross and the resurrection to the world of Islam.
In addition to these primary motives, which we believe are founded on the very nature of God Himself, we as Protestants have a special duty in the evangelization of the Muslim world. It is generally understood that the Roman Catholic Church has adopted the policy of working for the Christian communities of Bible lands but is making no attempt on any large scale to win the Muslims. We feel, moreover, that the great basic insights of the Protestant Reformation are the truths that meet the Muslim needs. These we might think of as follows:
1. The absolute foundation of Christianity in Christ alone. The Word of God incarnate is the absolute norm for all mankind.
2. The Bible as the center of faith and life.
3. God's radical treatment of sin in the Cross of Christ.
4. Salvation by faith rather than by the merit of good works.
Just as Muslims on entering a Roman Catholic church and seeing the image of the virgin and the pictures of saints, at once brand this type of service as idol worship, so also in the realm of theology and doctrine the Protestant churches have the truth which Islam needs, and so a special call and motive comes to us to plant the seed in this difficult field, and to reap the harvest, too, in God's own time.
Again, it is our own conviction that only missionaries with the strongest theology and doctrine of Christ can win the Muslim world. Not that we advocate the theological approach as a method of evangelism for Muslims; quite a different method will be indicated in the next section of this chapter. We do feel, however, that the evangelist who would work among Muslims needs absolutely solid ground for his system of Christian doctrine. No weak theology or lack of theology will do for the Muslim world. If a person does not know what he believes about God and Christ and the Bible a little contact with Muslims will make it abundantly clear that he had better find out.
Furthermore, intellectualism, moralism, and humanism rob evangelism of the sense of militancy and urgency born of the divine initiative, which is the motive that impels us to take Christ to Muslims and lead Muslims to Christ. In this regard we may see a parable in the Persian rug. The people of Iran love bright colors and made their rugs in a harmony of rich hues like a great cathedral window. Then the dealers came from the Western world and got them to tone down the colors to faded-looking, washed-out hues, and the striking beauty of color harmony and contrast that was native to Iran was gone. So the Bible paints sin in dark colors and salvation in bright hues and high lights. If we start to tone down our message or our doctrine its effect will be lost. Let us remember the saying of that great preacher, Chrysostom, who lived in those lands which now are Muslim:
A whole Christ for my salvation,
a whole Bible for my staff [walking-stick],
a whole Church for my fellowship,
a whole world for my parish.
We believe that the world-wide establishment of the Protestant Church in the past century and a half since William Carey went out to India is in many ways the greatest religious movement the world has ever known. We ourselves live in the very generation when the Church has become truly a global organization. This being a fact, the strengthening of the world Christian fellowship should also be a motive in evangelism for Muslims. The faithful labors of those who have preceded us have laid the foundations of that Church in Muslim lands. If, through the power of God, the Church be established and strengthened in these lands, then we feel sure that Christ will conquer everywhere and that the Cross will be indeed the victory that overcomes the world. So we undertake this task with the world-wide Christian fellowship in view.
Closely related to our motives are the objectives we seek to attain in evangelism for Muslims, which we should always keep definitely before us. In briefest outline we should say that we strive for these things:
1. The conversion of the individual.
2. The establishment and nurture of the church.
3. The bringing to bear on all human relationships the spirit and mind of Christ.
Though it is the province of this discussion to deal with direct evangelism, we should note that the concomitant effects of the Christian Gospel have been tremendous in Muslim lands. We may even say that in several of the countries certain of the principles of Christ, rather than the laws of Islam, have become the standard and norm by which conduct is judged. While we rejoice in these things and hope that in ever larger measure Muslims may come to understand and even to follow Christian ethical principles, we should keep at the center and soul of our missionary effort the command of Christ to make disciples and to establish the Christian Church. Single grains of salt cannot bring much savor to these Muslim lands, and single lights are but feeble gleams in the night; we need the combined radiance of all those who shine with the Light of the World.
To build anew the Christian Church in Bible lands we must have a deep and strong foundation; in fact, our motives must rest on the very character of God Himself as He is revealed in Jesus Christ.
III. Effective Methods
In his recent book, Evangelism Today, Dr. Zwemer has stated, "The message is of far more importance than the method." While granting this in full measure, we should, at the same time, be careful to adapt our methods in order to take full advantage of every new opportunity. The message of evangelism remains the same. God does not change, and Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. The Cross of Christ and His resurrection remain the focal points of our message for all time, since they are great, changeless facts by which the Creator entered the stream of human history to pay the penalty of sin and redeem man unto Himself.
Methods of presenting Christian truth not only change with time and circumstance, but we feel that there is a call in the new day ahead for the abandonment of the whole attitude which gave to Christian-Muslim relations the title, "The Great Muslim Controversy."
Two points developed by a study committee in their recent historical review of Muslim and Christian relations were: first, that from the very beginning the relations of Christians [and Muslims] had been largely on other planes than the religious. They had met in political and military conflict and in commercial and other forms of rivalry, but seldom had their relations in the sphere of religion been on any large scale. Second, from the first, there had been misunderstanding on both sides, and each religion had been misrepresented by the intellectual and ecclesiastical leaders of the other Faith. If this is the case, then we must seek a deeper and truer understanding of Islam by Christians who would bring to its adherents the one thing it does not have - the Christ of the Bible, the crucified, risen and living Lord of life.
In a previous chapter we have proposed that evangelists seek to become experts in avoiding controversy, and, in fact, frankly refusing to engage in polemic discussion but rather presenting Christ positively as Saviour and Lord, go on to teach the Bible to those who are willing to hear the Word. Though this point of view has been set forth in that Chapter, we venture to mention it here again for the sake of emphasis. When it is necessary to give an answer, we should always do so, in so far as is possible, in the words of Scripture, not by any statement of our own.
We recall that a veteran missionary to Muslims said, "Our explanation of the inexplicable is often wasted, but His Word does not return unto Him void." In addition, we may repeat that we should endeavor to follow the method of Christ, who rather than enter into needless controversy seemed to strike directly to the heart and conscience and life situation of the individual, as for instance, in the cases of Nicodemus (John 3) and the woman of Samaria (John 4) .
There were responses to this proposal of method from many parts of the world, and word came from Java that they were training their evangelists along these lines, namely:
1. Avoid argument.
2. Where possible always answer from the Bible.
3. Study and follow the method of Christ.
In the recent continental theology of Europe there has been something of a division between Karl Barth and Emil Brunner concerning the point of contact in the communication of Christian truth. Barth has held that we should start with the Word of God and apply its truth to the needs of men. On the other hand, Brunner has felt that we should rather start with the needs of men and lead from the human situation to the answer of God in His Word. It would seem that each point of view might suggest something useful in work with Muslims.
Jesus Christ and the prophets of the Bible certainly met the needs of men by taking the human situation and bringing the light of God to play on it. With the passing of former religious sanctions there is great danger of a spiritual vacuum in the Muslim world, and we shall have to meet men in their condition and turn on the light of divine truth to dissipate the darkness of their spiritual void. On the other hand, the Word is fundamental. As we have pointed out, the majority of converts from Islam testify that they were first attracted to Christianity by hearing or reading the Scripture, and in a great number of cases the Bible has been directly responsible for their conversion. This should add another point to our basic method. Increase in every possible way the circulation of the Scriptures.
In this regard, let us resolve to make use of the radio, phonograph, and visual aids to spread the message of the Bible. Even very small things may be blessed by the Spirit to great results. One missionary suggests that much may be accomplished by memorizing a short story of Christ in the very finest prose and telling it to people whenever the occasion offers. Another suggests that if a verse of Scripture is committed to memory in morning devotions there will usually arise a great many times during the day when it may be used in evangelistic contacts.
In our church in Tabriz there are several blind boys who have become Christians. They have copied many entire books of the Bible in Persian Braille. What an object lesson it is when they read the portion of Scripture we are to study! As their fingers move over the characters and their lips speak the words of the text, other young Muslims present know that though their eyes are blind, Christ has illuminated their hearts and lives.
Speaking of the Bible Society colporteurs [tract sellers], Bishop Thompson of Iran writes, "These men are the most important evangelistic agency at work in the villages of Iran at present. As they tour the country selling the Scriptures, their splendid Christian characters and the conversations they have with people result in contacts which have led to the conversion of many individuals and the inquiry of many more." We must not take it for granted that the agents of the Bible Society alone are responsible for the distribution of Scripture. This is so important a duty in Muslim lands that all missionaries, national Christian workers, and other members of the church should dedicate themselves to this great task of distribution.
Again, as we have mentioned in an earlier Chapter, next in importance to the Bible as an agent of evangelism comes other Christian literature. When a Muslim friend insists on argument concerning a certain subject it is far better to give him a book which treats the matter than to engage in controversy. In fact, the importance of the evangelistic function in Christian literature can hardly be overemphasized. The great value of the printed page has been realized for many years by workers in Muslim lands. The Christian Literature Committee for Muslims under Miss Constance Padwick has long kept this subject before leaders in all the countries. A truly great Christian literature has been developed in the main languages of the Muslim world, which ranges all the way from single-page tracts to books like a Bible dictionary of a thousand pages. We shall need renewed zeal in both publication and distribution for the new era which lies before us. The plowing of the Muslim lands by the machines of war have brought forth many startling changes in outlook, and Christian literature should assume a more prominent role than ever before in evangelism and the strengthening of the Church.
Another important and closely related function is the evangelistic relation to literacy programs. Now that we have had Dr. Frank Laubach in the Islamic world for a considerable time preparing charts in the languages that Muslims use and instituting campaigns for literacy, we hope that Christian forces may be in the forefront of this great enterprise, as, indeed, they are. There is no more wonderful opportunity to present Christ than in the relation of a teacher with a pupil who has been taught to read and has thereby entered a new mental world. It is quite natural that the same instructor should also open a new world of the spirit for the newly literate.
Missionary aviation is coming into prominence, and a number of young men who were pilots during the war [WWII] are now engaged in training others to fly for the Gospel. No part of the world is more adaptable to flying than the Bible lands. Great aviation centers have already been developed in the Islamic countries, and the Gospel should not leave the rapid transportation to commercial, political, and military representatives alone. With so much of desert and waste land separating the centers of population, air travel is the ideal form of transport in the missionary work of the future. If we do not heed the signs of the times, in a few years we shall be as outmoded as one who would today cross from Damascus to Baghdad by camel caravan instead of by car. The new fast means of transportation should be God's gift to a new interpretation of evangelism.
The Missionary Adventure
One evangelist who had labored for many years with Muslims said that in this work it is always necessary to use great tact, but it is often necessary to go beyond what is safe. For a Muslim to accept Christ is certainly a great adventure of faith, and we must be willing to adventure, too, as Christian evangelists. When Dr. William McE. Miller held his first series of open evangelistic meetings in Teheran most people thought there would be trouble. He did not utter a single word against Islam or refer to it, but preached a positive Christian Gospel. The meetings were very well attended and aroused no untoward incident. Similar meetings have since been held in many cities of Iran. In some instances admission by tickets to such a "conference" has increased attendance and interest.
It still remains true, however, that far more fish are caught with a single hook and line in the Muslim world than by throwing the Gospel net and enclosing a multitude. Personal evangelism rather than public preaching is the method which produces results. The prayerful reaching of men in personal interviews is the best of all methods to win souls. The purpose of the interview is to produce a sacramental moment in which the human soul meets God as revealed in Christ. This may happen anywhere, but a private office beside a general evangelistic or reading room is one of the most fruitful modes of meeting men where the altar fire of Christian love may be lighted from heart to heart.
Although evangelism is the duty of each missionary and full-time Christian worker there can be no great forward movement until laymen are brought to participate in this sacred service. Truly, Islam has a great lesson to teach us in this regard, for that religion was spread in regions like the East Indies and central Africa largely by followers of the Arabian prophet, who went there in pursuit of commerce. When Christians in Muslim lands show a similar zeal for the propagation of their faith and the declaration of the Gospel we shall see a new day in the winning of Muslims to faith in Christ. Be it said that there are at present some who are very active in this regard.
One Christian who constructed a new house in Teheran built a special room for personal evangelism. Friends came to listen to the radio and remained to hear the voice of Christ! This is an example not only of lay evangelism but also of the spreading of the Gospel through the Christian home, which should bear much fruit when widely practiced. The new social position of women in many Muslim lands has focused attention on the home. In public address and in the Press the home that is described is not at all the typical Muslim household, but a Christian home where there is one wife and mother of the family.
There have been great changes during the past quarter century in general standards of conduct; there have also been great gains in the understanding among Muslims of the Christian point of view. In most urban centers and small towns today there is no hesitation whatever about shaking hands or eating with a Christian. In many countries the educated minority have very largely abandoned the outward practices of Islam as well as inward faith of the religion.
These people are a class very difficult to reach, but special study and effort should be made to reach them, since fanaticism is largely gone in their case and they are restless without real faith of any sort. There are special avenues of service to them which are open because of their education. They are much more interested in lectures on scientific and cultural subjects, in reading, in sports and other diversions, and in social life. This group of educated people most of whom are young, present a quite different problem from the ordinary Muslim, and they will require a quite distinct technique and approach if they are to be interested in Christian truth.
IV. Need for Missionary Training
Finally, in regard to method, we should admit that we have failed to train evangelists for Muslims in any number at all commensurate with the needs and opportunities of the new day before us. Our plans for this work should include Bible-training conferences and schools for lay- and full-time workers. In this period following the Second World War it would be well to carry out plans for general Bible and training conferences along the lines of those which have for years been held in Korea. Decisive actions should be taken to insure that the general membership of the church in Muslim lands should know the Bible and Christian truth and be indoctrinated with a zeal for witness and proclamation of the Gospel message.
We also need centers of theological training which will educate pastors and teachers and train them at the same time to be evangelists burning with an incandescent passion for Christ and His kingdom. In addition, we believe there should be special schools to train evangelists for a general traveling ministry in the rural areas as well as in the cities. These men and women might not have the same degree of education as ordained pastors, but they should be trained by precept and experience in personal evangelism and public presentation of Christ and the Gospel. Such training centers could prepare agents of the Bible societies as well as general evangelistic workers.
Missionaries to Muslim lands should be constant evangelists themselves, but the great development in the decades ahead may be along the line of training other workers, as Christ gathered His disciples about Him and spent such a large portion of His time in the training of the Twelve. We are well aware that nationals of the various countries, and especially those who have formerly been Muslims, are the ones who will be able to win their own people far better than representatives of the Christian Church from foreign countries, other things being equal. They have great advantages in language and in understanding the psychology and hearts of their own people which outsiders can never attain.
Let us work and pray to build up a great company of trained and consecrated workers. We have seen some marvelous examples, as Mansur Sang, the Christian dervish of Iran, previously referred to, who distributed annually more copies of Scripture than any colporteur, in addition to thousands of Christian tracts, and who traveled over desert and mountain to many places where missionaries had never been. He could not write his own name, but on the seal he used to sign all papers there was carved at the top, "Mansur Sang"; in the center was a cross, and below were the words, "Slave of Christ."
Hopeless except for Divine Power
When the Christian Church began, it was hard to see how the few disciples, without any great program or education, and with no financial backing, could succeed against the powers of paganism and the Roman Empire. From the human standpoint, the first Christians did not have a ghost of a chance. Yet the disciples conquered. It was by divine power, not by their own. The situation in the Muslim world looks quite as hopeless from the human point of view, so we recognize that only divine power can win this section of the world field for Christ, establish His Church there, and bring those crown lands to Him whose they are by right. Jesus wants, not the physical possession of the lands where He lived when on earth, but the allegiance of the people who live there, who can be won only by love and the power of the Holy Spirit working through human agencies.
Prayer Ignites the Fire
Great expressions of evangelistic energy have always been preceded by powerful sessions of prayer. In fact, the birthday of the Christian Church did not come until the end of a ten-day prayer service [ to Pentecost]. In this foundation of evangelism we here in America may share. Let us resolve, in the power of God's Spirit, here to light the spark which may bring about a great conflagration of prayer to set missions and churches on fire. Should we not bind ourselves together as Intercessors for Islam? Whether this should be a formal organization or not, we may determine according to the leading of the Master, but great spiritual power would be released if each one of us decided to spend a certain time each day in the high calling of intercession for the Muslim world.
Words adopted by the ecumenical conference of the Church at Madras are even more applicable to the present moment than when they were spoken:
In a world of struggling and competing ideologies we emphasize again the urgency of this hour. World peace will never be achieved without world evangelization. The Early Church was martyred for its faith that "Jesus Christ is Lord." Most countries of the world are marked by graves of missionaries; these men and women, various in race and color and in the lands of their birth, gave their lives in a glad confession of Christ as Saviour and Lord. The enterprise we have undertaken has been costly in suffering and martyrdom, but it has been characterized at every stage by a manifestation of the Spirit demonstrating the power of God in human lives and human relationships. In this new day men are no less heroic than in previous generations. Millions gave themselves gladly for nationalism. Can the Church summon Christians everywhere to a new adventure for the Kingdom of God? Can it give to youth a new vision of the purpose of God for the world? Can it challenge men to live dangerously for the sake of the Gospel? Perils increase, and "safety first" cannot be the watchword in this hour. Every fact of the world situation is an appeal to the Church to advance. We summon the churches to unite in the supreme work of world evangelization until the kingdoms of this world become the Kingdom of our Lord. (Volume III of the Madras Series Evangelism, p. 387. International Missionary Council, London and New York, 1939.)
So let us resolve to become the instruments of the Spirit. We know that, as Dr. Zwemer said, "the harvest is not the end of the annual report, but the end of the world." Yet we have faith to believe that God may surprise us in His own time with a great advance of Christ's Kingdom within the Muslim world. In the meantime we must continue to pray and hope and work, while, as Dr. James Thayer Addison says: "We are to examine what the past reveals and what the present has to offer that they may help us to approach with more realism, more intelligence, and more enthusiasm one of the great tasks which God has set before His Church for the generations to come - the conversion of the Muslim world."
It may be that in some instances we have depended too much on human power and resources. We may have tried at times to open a rose with a hammer, which cannot be done; but when the dew and the rain and God's sunlight fall on a rosebud it will open and become a blossom of marvelous beauty. We are called to be the ministers of the divine dew and the rain and the sunshine of God, that in time the deserts of Islam may blossom like a rose.
"Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost." (Rom. 15:13)
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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