HOW TO PREACH CHRIST TO MOSLEMS WHO KNOW JESUS
KNOWLEDGE of the Moslem Christ as portrayed in the previous chapters must awaken in every Christian heart a desire to lead our Moslem brethren from their partial, eccentric, and distorted view of our Saviour to Him in whom dwelleth all fulness and Who is the whole truth; to guide them from the twilight shadows of tradition to a full-orbed vision of the Sun of Righteousness. There is no stronger argument or plea for missions to Moslems than their conception of our Christ, and the fact that Mohammed has usurped the place of our Saviour in so many hearts. We may well voice our petitions for missions to Moslems in the words of Christ Himself, "Father, the hour has come; glorify Thy Son, that Thy Son also may glorify Thee." A passion for the glory of God, which is among the highest missionary motives, will inspire us to preach the Christ in all His fulness to those who are now following Mohammed. We think of the words of Isaiah, "Jehovah, that is My name; and My glory will I not give to another, nor My praise to graven images."
In considering the practical outcome of our study of the Moslem Christ, it is first of all evident that the one message for the Moslem world and for each individual Moslem, is Jesus Christ. Their knowledge of Him is so inadequate, so distorted, so insufficient, and so utterly obscured by the glory of their own prophet, that we can only use this knowledge as a stepping-stone to higher things. "The duty seems plain," says Dr. James S. Dennis: "'Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.' The gospel of Christ, not of Mohammed—to every creature, because all need the gospel. If there were a possibility of a human substitute for the gospel, we might consider it an open question whether salvation is of Mohammed; but Christ has taught us one way of salvation for all men, and that way is through Him—through the merits of His sacrifice, and not through works or worthiness in man. I would not be understood as implying here that every Moslem is necessarily lost. If he despises and rejects Christ, and puts his sole trust in Mohammed, or even trusts in divine mercy because that mercy is his due as a Moslem, I should not feel that there was a substantial basis of hope for him. He is looking to a human saviour, or he is simply claiming the divine mercy as a subsidy to the Moslem religion. ... The Christian is not saved because he is a Christian. The Moslem, of course, cannot be saved because he is a Moslem. All who may be saved outside of formal and visible connection with Christianity, will be saved because of a real and invisible connection with Christ. They will have obtained consciously, or unconsciously, by the aid of God's Spirit that attitude of humility and trust toward God which will make it consistent with His character and in harmony with His wisdom and goodness to impart to their souls the free gift of pardon through Christ's merits, and apply to them in the gladness of His love the benefits of Christ's death. It is in any case salvation by gift, received from God's mercy, and based upon Christ's atonement, and not by works or by reason of human merit. We claim, therefore, that the Mohammedan, as such, needs the knowledge of Christ, and can only be saved through Christ. He needs to be taught Christianity and brought into the light of Bible truth. He needs to recognise the dangerous errors of his religion and turn to Christianity as the true light from heaven. He needs to take a radically different and essentially new attitude towards Christ. He needs spiritual regeneration and moral reformation. In one word, he needs the Gospel. He needs all its lessons, and all its help, and all its inspiration. Here we rest the question of duty. If any class of men need the gospel, to them it should be given, and it is our mission in the world as Christians to do this."
We have quoted these words at length because even to-day there are those who doubt the expediency or even the possibility of missions to Moslems. While the difficulties in the way of missionary work in some Moslem lands may, for political and other reasons, seem most formidable, and while the access to the individual Moslem heart is also beset with baffling obstacles, this does not turn away our responsibility or our privilege. The Church of Christ should make use of all its opportunities to deliver the gospel message to Moslems in full expectation that the power of the Holy Spirit, whose special work it is to reveal the Christ, will in God's own time lead to the triumph of Christianity in Moslem lands and Moslem hearts. It has been remarked with truth that Islam comes into conflict with the doctrinal teachings of Christianity just at those points where reason has the best vantage-ground in opposition to faith. The great problems of the Incarnation, the deity of Christ, and the Trinity are stumbling-blocks not only to the Moslem, but they are the very problems over which Christianity herself has pondered with amazement and awe, and with reference to which there have been divisions in the Church itself; but these unfathomable mysteries are the very heart of our religion. Without them Christianity is not differentiated from other faiths and philosophies.
The very fact that Islam, beginning without a mediator and with a prophet who was thoroughly human, should in the course of centuries have ascribed to him the offices and the character of a mediator and a Messiah, can be used as an argument to prove that they need the Christ. In this also imitation is the sincerest flattery, and when we preach Christ to Moslems who know of Jesus, we are presenting to them the one thing lacking in their faith and the one unfulfilled desire in their lives. If the Cross of Christ is the missing link in their creed, then the preaching of the Cross, although it may seem to them foolishness, will yet prove among Moslems the wisdom of God and the power of God. "Just because Islam is the antithesis to the thesis of Christianity, a synthesis is possible, not by a compromise between Islam and Christianity, but by bringing to clear expression the many common features which still remain, and by showing how these common features are found in a truer form in Christianity than in Islam."
Of all the common features on which we can seize as a point of vital contact with Moslems there is none superior to the fact of the Christ. Islam, as we have seen, admits His coming, His supernatural birth, His high office as the Bringer of a special revelation from God, His sinlessness, His compassion, and His power to work miracles. His very names afford so many points of departure to lead from the Koran and tradition to the Gospels. The contradictory accounts of His death, by their very contradictions and subterfuges, point to the Cross of Christ and His death for sinners as the only solution. Jesus Christ is our peace; the day He was born, the day He died, and the day He was raised again (Surah 19:34), and these three great days to which the Koran calls attention in the life of Jesus Christ are the three great holy days in the calendar of the Church—Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter. By admitting the truths which we hold in common with Moslems, by bidding them look away from their broken lights and flickering shadows to the "true Light which enlighteneth every man that cometh into the world," we can best of all help Moslems.
Just as the "Moslem conception of God is base, unholy, and to the Christian utterly repugnant," yet Mohammedan theism is a foundation on which we can build a fuller knowledge of the Godhead, of His holiness, justice, and love; so Moslems who know Jesus as a mere prophet will for this very reason welcome a larger knowledge of His character, and be led from the Koran caricature to the Gospel portrait. Our preaching should be constructive, and in this way it will most surely be destructive. We can break down false ideas of God and of Christ in Moslem theology most surely and most speedily by full proclamation of those very truths which Islam lacks. Without denying the fact that Islam is in its spirit anti-Christian, that it contains much that is positively harmful in ethics, and that it is wholly deficient in those doctrines which are the very heart of Christianity, we nevertheless admit that the acceptance of the Old Testament prophets, the peculiar honours paid to our Lord, and the testimony to the sacred scriptures found in the Koran, are important preparatory elements in spite of many qualifications and denials. We must become Moslems to the Moslem if we would gain them for Christ. We must do this in the Pauline sense, without compromise, but with self-sacrificing sympathy and unselfish love. The Christian missionary should first of all thoroughly know the religion of the people among whom he labours; ignorance of the Koran, the traditions, the life of Mohammed, the Moslem conception of Christ, social beliefs and prejudices of Mohammedans, which are the result of their religion,—ignorance of these is the chief difficulty in work for Moslems.
The nearest way to the Moslem heart can often be found better by subjective than by objective study. The barrier may be in the heart of the missionary as well as in the heart of the Moslem. He should cultivate sympathy to the highest degree and an appreciation of all the great fundamental truths which we hold in common with Moslem. He should show the superiority of Christianity both in doctrine and life by admitting the excellences of doctrine and life in Mohammedanism, but showing immediately how Christianity far surpasses them. Many Moslems are at heart dissatisfied with Mohammed as an ideal of character. In spite of later tradition, the bold outline of his life and character as shown in the Koran stands out and perplexes them. The inconsistencies of his conduct are not taken away by the whitewash of tradition. His relations to women especially present a moral difficulty to many Mohammedans who are beginning to think in higher terms of ethics. Therefore, while the missionary should be careful not to offend needlessly, he should boldly challenge a comparison between the life of Mohammed and the life of Jesus Christ, even as known to Moslems from their own books. Compromise in this regard will not win the respect of Moslems. They glorify their prophet, why should we not glorify ours? A loving and yet bold presentation of the distinctive truths of our religion and of the surpassing grandeur and beauty of the character of Jesus Christ will never alienate a Moslem heart.
The heart of the Gospel and that which possesses the greatest power of appeal to Mohammedans, as to every sinner, is the union between God's mercy and God's justice manifested in the Cross of Christ. When properly presented, this doctrine is not only absolutely novel but compelling to any Mohammedan who feels a sense of sin. In order to awaken a sense of sin, which is essential in all missionary effort, the ethical standards of the Sermon on the Mount and the spotless purity of the life of Christ must be presented. It is not always wise at first to compare Mohammed and Christ. If we present the Christ as He is in the Gospel, the contrast is so evident that the comparison is made by the Mohammedan himself. We should ask every sincere Moslem inquirer to study the Gospel story and try for himself to reach a true estimate of Jesus Christ, of whom Mohammed spoke in such high terms of honour as a Prophet and an Apostle of God; to take the historical foundations of the Christian religion and examine them as critically as he pleases, and to see for himself what Jesus claimed to be, and how His claims were understood by His disciples and by the early Church. We should ask Moslems to study the Gospel in any way they like, but with only one object in view, "namely, that they may come face to face with Jesus Himself; that they may learn to know Him, and see how He claimed to hold a supreme position in the matter of the attitude of all men toward God, a position which none other has ever claimed." In other words, we should press home the question Jesus Himself put to His disciples and to the world, "What think ye of the Christ?"
Are we not sometimes in danger of over-estimating the inward strength of Islam? The fact is that it is seamed through and through with lines of cleavage and of disintegration, which have grown wider and deeper with the centuries. Even the masses are beginning to compare and to think. An outward show of fanatic devotion to the dogma of Islam is not always a proof of real faith in Mohammed and his teaching. When Saul redoubled his energies in persecution, his heart was already under conviction from the preaching of Stephen. Unsatisfied doubt is to-day more common than blind devotion among educated Moslems, and one has only to read recent Moslem literature to see what frantic attempts are made to save the ship of Islam by throwing overboard that which was once considered good cargo. In this connection the following words by a missionary in Burma who answers the question, "How should we preach to the Heathen?" have their lesson also as regards Islam: "We may well believe that heathen religions, so far from having arisen as some have vainly imagined out of the soil of lofty aspiration after a God unknown, are devices more or less elaborate for shutting the thought of God as He is out of the minds and hearts of men. If these various systems were the result of sincere attempts to find out God, then the farther the system is developed, the more complete in all its parts, the more open to the truth ought its devout adherents to be. But precisely the contrary is true. The more elaborate and complete the system, the less ready are its followers to yield themselves to Christ. The Gospel meets its greatest triumphs not among those who have the most finished, but among those who have the crudest systems of religion. Elaborateness, completeness, finish, here seem to be elaborateness, completeness, finish of escape from the consciousness of God."
We must compel Moslems to go back to Mohammed with us; to dig beneath the rubbish of tradition and in the original foundations of Islam to see what Mohammed taught in regard to Jesus Christ, and what he himself was, on the testimony of his own book. The Moslem world is plastic and restless as it never was before. There are critical tendencies and influences at work which before were dormant. Islam, as well as the other Oriental faiths is recognising its own inadequacy and attempting to adapt itself to new conditions. In the words of Dr. Mott, "Islam is linking itself with the atheism and theism of Western lands, and is securing much protection and also added prestige by the support which it receives at the hands of officials from the West who have broken with Christianity. These men carry over to the Moslem camp all the armoury of the theistic and atheistic schools."
This revival of Islam is accompanied also by a rising spiritual tide, shown in a spirit of inquiry and an unprecedented demand for the Scriptures, and the weakening, hold of Moslem faith and ethics on the educated classes, although not yet evident in numerous conversions. The investigations of the Cairo Conference and the reports of the Lucknow Conference have proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that the hour is ripe for evangelising the Moslem world.
Finally, we may well ask what Christianity itself will gain by preaching Christ to Moslems. What will be the reflex influence of a campaign for the evangelisation of the Moslem world? What are the moral issues involved in the coming conflict between Christian and Islamic theism? That such a conflict is inevitable the preceding chapters have abundantly proved, for, in the words of Dr. Robert E. Speer, "Missions do not rest upon a maudlin erasure of all lines of distinct opinion of truth, and the purchase of good feeling by the surrender of principle to sentimental slovenliness. They involve the fierce clash of truth and error."
First of all, the Church will gain a stronger grip on the great fundamentals of the Christian faith. The doctrines of the Incarnation, the Atonement, and the Trinity will become more and more the subject of special study as we meet Moslems face to face in the battle for the truth. In reading the Gospel with and to Moslems, it will become evident more and more to every Christian that the death of Christ, which is denied in Islam, occupies the supreme place in the Gospels and in the Epistles as the very heart of God's revelation to man. The same is true in regard to the nature and evidences of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and our faith in the character of the Godhead as compared with the barren monotheism of Islam.
In the second place, the Christian Church will be forced to work out her theology experientially when in contact and conflict with unitarian, deistic Islam. In this respect the Mohammedan problem may possibly be as life from the dead to the Oriental Churches when they face its real and spiritual issues, and become conscious of the duty of evangelism. The doctrine of the Incarnation and of the Holy Spirit are not pieces of polished armoury to be kept on exhibition in proof of our orthodoxy, but are vital to the very life of the Christian. The orthodox Eastern Church will be impotent over against Islam as long as it is merely orthodox in its creed. The doctrine of the Trinity must be vitalised to become effective over against Moslem unitarianism. Rev. W. H. T. Gairdner has pointed out some of these "important moral issues involved in this conflict between trinitarian and Islamic monotheism." He says, "Islam forces us to find the Trinity in our hearts, and it forces us to find the Trinity in the heart of God." After considering the solitary, inscrutable, and characterless Sultan of heaven whom the Moslems call Allah, he asks this question: "Are not Moslem deism and Christian trinitarian theism between them forcing the Church to consider this problem yet once again, and in relation to the mystery of the Atonement to read a richer meaning into the great verse, 'God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.'"
Even as a study of the Moslem doctrine of God again and again forces from our hearts an overflow of thanksgiving and praise for the knowledge of the only true God as He is revealed in the Scriptures, so a study of the Moslem Christ and of Mohammedan substitutes for the only Mediator between God and men will lead us more than ever to a deeper knowledge and a stronger, more passionate devotion to Him "in Whom dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily," and Who, because of His sacrifice and death for sinners, is worthy to receive "power and riches and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing."
In the third place, it will be clearly seen that Unitarianism is not Christianity, when we study the Moslem doctrine of God and the Moslem doctrine of Christ. Modern Unitarianism, like Islam, begins by trying to do full justice to the humanity of Jesus, but the logical outcome of this position has been well pointed out by Dr. Duncan B. MacDonald in a remarkable address on "One phase of the doctrine of the Unity of God." He refers especially to the Unity of God according to Moslem Theology.
"The new Unitarianism seeks to carry over the emotional content of Christianity, after abandoning the metaphysical realities which make that emotion abidingly possible. The incarnate Word is a metaphor, mythologised and misinterpreted, but it is still to declare to us the Father and to be the Light of the world. The Holy Ghost is a figurative expression, but it is still to be the abiding Comforter and the Lord and Giver of life. We are to be strict monists and yet we are to be branches of the Vine, nourished by the mystical Vision. ..."
"But if we are to be Unitarians as to the person of God, is all this possible? That is, if God is to be conceived as an internal as well as an external unity, how will that conception, in the ultimate working out, affect our feeling towards Him, affect our doctrine of Him? Our historical Unitarianism, as I have said, never faced that problem; or, rather, it thought that it could take the Christian conception of God, cut away from that conception the elements to which it objected and retain the rest. But you cannot take a man, if I may be allowed the parallel, cut away from him the organs of which you disapprove, and think that he will still remain a good-going and working man. The excision of a very small organ may upset the whole organism. And it is an organism with which we are dealing, and not a mechanical combination." Later in his paper, when speaking of the Moslem doctrine of God as current in early Moslem literature, he exclaims:—
"And when the thunder of the hoofs of these warriors for the greater glory of God has echoed past, what is left? What was left for the Muslims? What is left for us? As I see it, only two possibilities. Either such a conception as the Christian Trinity, which breaks the awful inpassibility of the logically unified absolute, which renders possible sympathy, affection, love, trust; which makes God knowable—that is how the Son reveals the Father to us; which makes us the Sons of God, partakers of the divine nature, and not simply the creatures of His hand; which finds within the Christian Church the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, the Lord and Giver of Life; and which yet preserves God—Father, Son, and Holy Ghost—as a conscious, knowing, feeling, willing individual. Either that or Pantheism, in which the many vanish in the one, and the one vanishes in the many. ...
"All attempts to simplify the metaphysical basis of our faith have, under the test of time and life, failed. Deists and theists have come and gone. Ethics and natural theology have claimed their own and more, have had, for a time, their claims allowed and then have vanished. In many ways the Christian Church has moved; the guidance of the Spirit has not failed it. Its faith has seen many hypotheses, has been enfolded in many garments. But to the seeker in the great space that lies between materialism and Pantheism the presentation that still expresses most adequately the mystery behind our lives is that in the Christian Trinity, and the words that come the nearest are those of the Nicene Creed."
Let a Moslem once feel the burden of his sins, and turn away from Mohammed and the Moslem Christ to the Living Saviour, the Son of God revealed in the Gospel, the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world, and all his intellectual difficulties vanish like the morning mist before the rising sun. Moslem converts are no longer Unitarians. They confess with heart and mouth, with the whole Church Catholic:
"I believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
"And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God, of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by Whom all things were made; Who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead; Whose kingdom shall have no end.
"And in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceedeth from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spake by the prophets..."
1 Dennis, "Islam and Christian Missions" in The Missionary Review of the World, August 1889.
2 Endinburgh Conference Report, vol. iv. p. 141.
3 Endinburgh Cofference Report, vol. iv. p. 141.
4 Gardner, Christianity and Mohammedanism Compared, p. 62
5 Rev. E. N. Harris in The Missionary Review of the World, April 1902, pp. 266-268.
6 Decisive Hour of Christian Missions, p. 57.
7 Cf. Speer, Missionary Principles and Practice, pp. 109-129.
8 See his paper on this subject at the Pan-Anglican Conference; reprinted in Blessed be Egypt. Cairo, 1909.
9 Annual Address, Hartford Seminary, September 1909. See Hartford Seminary Record.
The Moslem Christ
Answering Islam Home Page