Contextualization of Ministry among Muslims: A Statement on the Appropriate Limits
This statement is intended primarily to inform Ministry Partners of our understanding and ministry approach with regard to the current Insider Movement debate on the appropriate degree of contextualization in ministry among Muslims. It is not to suggest that we believe our view ought to be imposed on any ministry or church, either historic or developing.
The last several decades have witnessed intentional and extensive efforts by Kingdom workers to more thoroughly contextualize the work of the Gospel in the cultures of Muslim peoples. The effectiveness of these efforts has varied in different places, but in general they have been helpful in seeing disciples made and churches established among resistant Muslim peoples.
While differences of view often exist over the appropriateness of particular methods and practices, we applaud this endeavor overall and we participate in it. Where a problem has arisen in more recent years is in taking a good intention too far. We believe that in the practice and communications of an influential minority of international workers in the Muslim world, cultural contextualization has crossed the line into religious syncretism.
In particular, we believe it is not biblically justified to teach that followers of Christ should:
- Recite the Muslim creed (Shahada): “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his messenger”;
- Continue to participate in the ritual prayers (Salat) in the Mosque;
- Identify themselves as Muslims in terms of faith commitment;
Nor is it justified to suggest that:
- The Quran and other Islamic books be viewed as the best bridge to reaching Muslims;
- Certain phrases in the Bible such as Christ, Son of God, Trinity, Sacraments, etc. should be deleted or revisited to make it more “user-friendly” to Muslims
- The historical church and its traditions be diminished in anyway.
- The Quran is a holy book inspired by God as is the Bible, and Allah of the Quran is the same as God in the Bible.
This is not to say that Muslim-Background Believers (MBB), early in their personal conversion or sanctification process, might not continue to participate in these things for a season. Many will. It is to say, however, that we will not partner with ministries that encourage such participation.
Furthermore, to understand why theses practices are so detrimental, one need only recognize that Islam is at its core a religion of outward conformity and social control. Whatever one may be thinking in one’s mind or whispering with one’s lips, the message that is conveyed by such participation is that one is indeed a Muslim and is committed to all that means. This, in turn, opens up the believer to the equally unpalatable choice of being either a denier of Christ or a deceiver of Muslims — the latter in essence confirming the centuries old Muslim accusation that Christians are deceivers. We believe these are choices that are neither helpful nor necessary, and therefore preclude these approaches from our partnering strategies.
We believe that acknowledging the Lordship of Jesus Christ and one’s self as His disciple is the appropriate identity of the believer. In accord with 1 Corinthians 9:22, however, we do not believe that this precludes honoring the biblically-permissible cultural customs of one’s parents and country, even when these have Islamic roots (e.g. abstinence from pork and alcohol, not having dogs in the house, fasting).
God has been working in a fresh and remarkable way in recent decades to draw men and women of the Muslim world to Himself. We believe He would have us continue to co-labor faithfully with Him through ministry of the Word and prayer, and deeds of love and mercy. We do not believe He would have us embrace or encourage non-biblical means or practices such as those mentioned above.
Before Jesus ascended into heaven He commanded His followers to go and preach the good news of the Kingdom of God “making disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded” (Matthew 28:19-20). From the earliest days, Christians were forbidden by authorities to preach the good news: “They charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them: Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:18-20).
The good news of God’s message to men and women is encapsulated in the words of St. John “For God so loved the world that He gave His only son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16) and in the words of St Paul “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3).
Where criticism is deemed to be appropriate. Christians undertake not to: (1) adopt disrespectful, condescending, and ridiculing language; (2) compare disparagingly the practices of different religions with the ideals of the Christian faith; (3) criticize different religions, if we have not attempted to understand them; (4) criticize different religions without providing constructive alternatives; (5) be critical of different religions without also being self-critical and being open to receive the criticism of others. We need to be attentive to the sensitivities and needs of new converts particularly when their lives are in danger, but in doing so do not promote deception or behavior that dishonors God.