What a Kuwaiti Muslim “knows” about “Christianity”
A friend told me how he grew up in a leading Muslim family in Kuwait. In his early teens, his religious leaders taught him that Christianity was one of the greatest forces for evil in the world. They argued that Christianity promoted immorality, pornography and television programs like Dallas. Otherwise a Christian country like America would outlaw these rather than exporting them. For most Muslims, “Christianity” is at least as offensive as, say, “punk rock” is for many of us.
My friend grew up believing that killing Christians to fight the spread of the evils they promote was the greatest service he could render to God. Muslims believe that God judges each man by his works, so that an immorality promoting “Christian” is simply storing up wrath for himself. Nothing makes more sense to them than to cut such a life short.
For a Muslim to say he has become a “Christian” is to communicate that he has launched into a secret life of immorality. To abandon Muslim forms of worship for “prayerless” Christianity is tantamount to sporting spiked and dyed hair. His family may even seek to kill him in keeping with the Muslim doctrine of Apostasy that shedding an “apostates” blood atones for his apostasy and guarantees a place in heaven for both him and the one who killed him, regardless of any wrongs either may have done.
This perception of Christianity is quite distinct from Muslim‘s view of Jesus Christ. Muslims worldwide know Jesus as a great prophet. They know from the Quran that he performed miracles, healed the sick, was without sin, and is greater than Mohammed.
What “Conversion” Conveys
Curiosity about Jesus led my friend to read the New Testament, where he learned that Christianity does not promote immorality. A supernatural experience convinced him that Jesus is indeed the Son of God. But his family‘s understanding of Christianity had not changed. They grieved over the direction his life was taking, and once they realized that he wouldn‘t be deterred from becoming a “punk rocker,” they disowned him.
A primary difficulty in Muslim evangelism lies in insisting on words and forms to which Muslims ascribe negative meanings. When a believing Muslim identifies himself as a “convert” to “Christianity,” he communicates to friends and relatives the abandonment of all the integrity and morality that they (and we) hold dear. And he strengthens the resolve of those he knew not to let themselves or others be exposed to the message which corrupted his life.
Conveying the Truth in Love
Is it possible somehow for Muslims to know Jesus Christ without “spiking their hair”? Peter‘s appeal in Acts 2 was to repent from sin rather than “convert” from Judaism. Thousands of Jews believed without calling themselves “Christians.” (This term was coined later by non-believers in Antioch.)
We used to hear of one or two converts. Now we hear of tens of thousands of Muslims who have experienced changed lives and hearts through Jesus Christ without communicating a conversion to “punk rock.” While maintaining Muslim forms of worship, they have learned to love instead of hate, to trust Christ for salvation rather than their works, and to find daily guidance in the Injil (New Testament) and the Holy Spirit. Thousands of “Messianic Muslims” now meet together in hundreds upon hundreds of former Mosques, now “Messianic Mosques” to worship Jesus as Lord and share their new life with others. They still pray five times a day, but now they pray to Jesus as they practice Baptism, Communion and Foot-washing.
The Biblical Pattern
From the earliest days of the Church, believers have struggled to understand what practices are essential to Christian worship, and what are not. Should the Gentile Christians be circumcised? This explosive question called into existence the first missionary conference!
Paul could have argued eloquently by spiritual principle for circumcision as a necessary Christian practice. Of all Biblical practices, none was more foundational to God‘s covenant with Abraham, than circumcision. But Paul argued that the world needs Christ, not Christ and circumcision.
God backed Paul up by pouring out His Holy Spirit on uncircumcised Gentiles through Peter. The Jerusalem council backed him up in Acts 15:28: “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.” They not only left circumcision out of the list of requirements, but Baptism and the Lord‘s supper as well! The rationale of the council is just as valid for missions today: “We should not make it difficult for the ethne who are turning to God” (Acts 15:19).
Much of what we know as Christian worship is as foreign to the Christianity originally born in the Middle East as Jewish worship is to us today. The music, teaching style, language, clothing, seating and much more are completely different.
Does God look at the outward forms or the heart?
Is it wrong for a Muslim who comes to love Jesus Christ to want to continue to pray five times a day (now to Jesus) rather than reinforce the perception of his friends and family that he has given up prayer?
Is it wrong to bow to the ground in a more Biblically grounded expression of worship than to communicate a more Western lack of reverence for God?
Pray that, as God brings our attention to the world‘s almost one billion Muslims, He will raise up sensitive laborers to communicate the love of Christ in ways that don‘t introduce unnecessary barriers of acceptance.