Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Reluctant Messengers

Roland Clarke

“Correct the wise and they will love you.” Proverbs 9:8

Introduction

It is gradually becoming more evident that many Muslim leaders – even moderates – are not open to genuine dialog. But are we, Christian leaders, above blame in this regard? Is it not true that many of us are reluctant to reach out to the Muslims we encounter in our daily lives? If we are honest with ourselves, perhaps we are more like Jonah than we'd like to admit? Are we actively seeking to mobilize and equip grass root Christians to be able to befriend and witness to their Muslim neighbors? Is this a marginal issue or a priority?

Jonah

Most of us are familiar with the story of the 'reluctant' messenger named Jonah. It was understandable – from a human perspective – that he didn't want to go to Nineveh. Their culture was notoriously violent and Assyria had often attacked Israel. It was only natural that he would run away from this assignment out of fear.

When Jonah eventually did go to Nineveh he boldly declared God's impending judgment. But it seems he had another problem – he harbored bitterness which was evident from his underlying motivation to see them destroyed. Having experienced God's mercy himself, he did not realize that God has a merciful disposition to others. He wants them to repent and be saved. Its easy for us to criticise Jonah for being so slow to accept God's discipline and correction but aren't we also sometimes slow to obey and slow to learn?

The Twelve Apostles

Six hundred years after Jonah's time the Lord commissioned his twelve disciples to proclaim his message of salvation to the world. We call it the Great Commission. Like Jonah, the apostles were more than a little reluctant to obey. They started well, preaching the gospel throughout Jerusalem. But they were hesitant to go beyond Jerusalem in obedience to the Lord Jesus. Was it perhaps, outside their comfort zone, to go and be witnesses in Judea and Samaria?

A close look at the book of Acts shows that if there had not been a “great persecution” in Jerusalem the Christians probably would have stayed in the capital indefinitely (Acts 8:1). This is the first time in Acts that we see any indication of believers preaching the gospel outside Jerusalem. Apparently God had to providentially allow a great persecution to thrust them into “Judea and Samaria” – the next two areas their Master had specifically instructed them to go to (Acts 1:8). The result of this persecution was that “they preached the Good News wherever they went.”

Acts 8:2 tells us that “all the believers except the apostles were scattered.” (bold font added for emphasis) Having the benefit of hindsight, it is easy for us to find fault with the disciples for not joining this venture. It may seem overly critical and unwarranted to imply that the apostles procrastinated about going to Judea or that they were reluctant to go to Samaria. However, there is strong evidence to support this.

The Samaritans were a people that the disciples had previously been disinclined to engage with. It was not uncommon for Jewish leaders to brand Samaritans as being demon-possessed (John 8:48). Moreover, two of Christ's closer companions – James and John – wanted to call fire down from heaven against a Samaritan village because the inn-keeper turned them away (Luke 9:51). Furthermore, when one considers the longstanding history of debates between Jewish and Samaritan leaders,1 this fiery outburst suggests that the disciples were affected by the same bitterness and prejudice that had prevailed among their fellow Jews for centuries.

Mentioning anger calls to mind how Jonah's story ends with him being very angry! (Jonah 4:9) Should we not humbly examine ourselves and ask whether we may be harboring bitterness towards Muslims?

In the same way that Jonah and the apostles faced a daunting challenge of taking God's message to a disdained and disliked people, so also we face a daunting challenge in terms of bringing God's message to Muslims.

There are, of course, many factors that contribute to Christians avoiding reaching out to Muslims. For one thing, their religion is reputed to have violent roots; indeed many of the most devout Muslims today are violent. Islam adamantly denies essential biblical truths like the deity and death of Christ, etc. Since Muslims have been taught all their lives to believe these lies, it is only natural that they will be prone to disagree and to debate. Here again we see another parallel.

This situation calls to mind the longstanding debates between Jews and Samaritans. If the first century disciples balked at going to Samaritans, modern disciples are reluctant to reach out to Muslims. Many Christians admit feeling intimidated at the prospect of engaging Muslims in spiritual conversation, in spite of these encouraging words from 2 Timothy 1:6-8, “I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you ... for God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity but of power, love and self-discipline. So never be ashamed to tell others about our Lord.”

Two cities in the part of Canada where I am presently living – London and Mississauga – have a sizable population of Muslims (about 13%) and they are growing much faster than any other religious group. Should we as church leaders not see reaching them as an important part of our responsibility? Not only so, the world Muslim population (1.45 billion) should be a matter of great concern, especially in light of the church's reluctance over the last few centuries to send missionaries to Muslim nations. Historically the church has invested barely 2% of its missionary task force to reaching this largest unreached people group of the world!

It is becoming more and more evident that God is shaking the nations in our time. (Haggai 2:6-9) These events are causing many Muslims to immigrate to western nations and bringing them closer to the sound of the gospel. Will we continue being prejudiced and intimidated by Muslims or will we overcome our fears, as did Jonah and the first century church? Will we rise to the challenge of befriending them and witnessing to the many Muslims living in our cities? Will it take an outbreak of persecution or another traumatic event to wake us up to the priority of fulfilling the great commission?

One way of helping Christians overcome their fear and bitterness toward Muslims is to inform them of the two most profound beliefs Christians share in common with Muslims. A simple explanation is provided in an article, entitled, “Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?” I suggest that pastors preach a sermon developing this theme.

In addition church leaders could encourage Christians to read a short introduction to the above mentioned article which includes the URL where one can read it online. I hope that many churches will print this introduction and include it as an insert in their bulletin.

Of course, one could say much to motivate Christians to build bridges of friendship with Muslims who they meet in their daily lives. I have always emphasized this and would love to give more details here, but doing this would go beyond the scope of the article.

The book “Sharing the Gospel with Muslims” contains a wealth of ideas that will enable you to explain the Gospel to a Muslim in a meaningful way.


Note: All Biblical quotations (unless specified otherwise) are taken from the New Living Translation.

If you have other questions please contact me.

Appendix

Discerning Our Times and Knowing What to Do (1 Chronicles 12:32)

Radical Muslim Terror Attacks Increase in America

It is no secret that political leaders in the west have been reluctant to admit the threat of home-grown Islamic terrorism and have preferred the pathway of appeasement. For more details check this article by Robert Spencer. However, mainstream media is beginning to acknowledge the inroads that fundamental-radical Islam is making in North America and Europe. On May 28th 2010 CNN reported that "the number and pace of attempted attacks against the United States over the past nine months have surpassed the number of attempts during any other previous one-year period." A two part CNN story showed this encroachment in a lead article available online here and here.

Several magazines, including the Canadian magazine Macleans (May 24th 2010) have reported on Faizal Shahzad's failed attempt at bombing New York's Times Square. This attack, like many others, shows how formerly moderate Muslims who were born in the West have radically changed and are now determined to destroy the democracies in which they grew up.

During the same week that Macleans reported on Shahzad, another eye-opening article was published by Frontpage Magazine entitled, The Islamization of Canada.

Moderate Muslims are Stealthily Islamizing the West through Introducing Sharia Law

Speaking of an encroaching Islamic agenda in the west, one should be aware of the eventual outcomes of this Islamic resurgence. Joel Richardson has done an in-depth study of Islam and end-times as detailed in his book, “The Islamic Anti-Christ”. I would recommend that you read it. Richardson concludes that in the not too distant future Islam will be the dominant religion in the world. The consequences in terms of persecution of Christians should be self-evident. I recommend you obtain this book by going to his blog: www.joelstrumpet.com

I realize that by promoting this book, I put myself at risk of being accused of being an alarmist. Those who know me are well aware that this is not true. Let me also assure you: Richardson is a very careful and level headed scholar. Like me, he has shown genuine friendship to many Muslims while freely sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ.


Why not share this with your church as a bulletin insert?

Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?

When Christians ask this question their main concern may be to clarify that there are important beliefs that show our faith to be the one and only way to God, e.g. he became human & died to reconcile us to God. But emphasizing these differences (at an early stage in the discussion) will likely provoke an argument or close the conversation. Would it not be wiser to simply use Allah as a generic term for God, as in the Arabic Bible? (2 Timothy 2:22-26)

The most crucial commonality underlying all monotheistic faiths is a belief in one creator God. Muslims agree wholeheartedly with the first of the ten commandments. Not only so, they agree with the first half of the command which tells how God rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. A few days after Moses and his people miraculously crossed the Red Sea we read that Moses met his father-in-law Jethro and reported how “the LORD had rescued them from the hand of the Egyptians.” Jethro responded by praising the Lord and exclaiming, “I know now that God is greater than all other gods.” (Exodus 18:8-11)

The theme of God's saving power is repeatedly illustrated in the lives of other prophets – with special emphasis on how it distinguishes the one true God from other so-called gods.

Pray

Lord help me not to be timid but to confidently “speak out and tell others how he has redeemed me” (Psalm 107:2). Help me to also boast about the epic redemption story – the Exodus – by which you made yourself “famous forever” (Isaiah 63:12).

Applying God's Word to my life

Invite your Muslim friend over for supper (with his family) and then show them The Prince of Egypt or The Ten Commandments. After watching it you might comment on how Moses married the daughter of a Midianite priest, then follow up by explaining how Moses met Jethro again, after many years. Exodus 18:8 (quoted earlier) is a fitting transition to talking about the first commandment and exploring insights available online here.

 


Footnotes

1 Samaritans and Jews were constantly debating each other as is evident in The Antiquities of Josephus. See the section entitled 'Judean-Samaritan Feud' in which he reports one incident where the debaters agreed that whoever lost the debate would be executed!


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