Maximizing the Bible!
Glimpses From Our Context
Editor’s note: our September-October cover theme, “Can We Trust Insider Movements?”, prompted a lot of response, and in these pages we give you a sampler of the subsequent conversation. The September-October issue included an article by John and Anna Travis, who said, “As we have seen the resistance toward changing religions and the huge gap between the Muslim and Christian communities, we feel that fighting the religion-changing battle is the wrong battle. We have little hope in our lifetime to believe for a major enough cultural, political and religious change to occur in our context such that Muslims would become open to entering Christianity on a wide scale.” That comment, and others like it, prompted John Piper, Gary Corwin, and others to write responses. Listen in on the conversation.
John and Anna Travis, along with their two children, have lived in a tight-knit Asian Muslim neighborhood for nearly 20 years. They are involved in contextualized sharing of the good news, Bible translation and the ministry of prayer for inner healing. They are also the creators of the C1-C6 spectrum, a tool for defining six types of Christ-centered communities found in Muslim contexts; within that spectrum, C5 believers are those who have accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior and who remain legally and socially within the community of Islam. John and Anna Travis utilize C5 and insider movements as synonyms. Two respected Christian leaders (John Piper and Gary Corwin) took exception to the following statement we made in a recent Mission Frontiers article:
We have little hope in our lifetime to believe for a major enough cultural, political and religious change to occur in our contexts such that Muslims would become open to entering Christianity on a wide scale.
We hope the full meaning of our statement here will be clear in light of the rest of our article. To make sure this comment is not removed from its context, we quote the very next sentence in the Mission Frontiers article:
But we do have great hope, as great as the promises of God, to believe that an “insider movement” could get off the ground – that vast numbers could discover that salvation in Isa the Messiah is waiting for every Muslim who will believe.
To further clarify what we meant by “little hope”, we see little indication in our contexts (we are not speaking for the whole Muslim world) that Muslims will enter Christianity (that is, join the religion which Muslims associate with Western materialism, moral decadence, the brutality of the Crusades and current armies in Muslim lands) on a wide scale (that is, numbers in keeping with the will of God for “everyone to come to repentance” – 2 Peter 3:9, and Paul’s desire that “as many as possible” be won – 1 Cor. 9:19).
But deeper questions are being asked by Piper and Corwin. Piper wonders if C5 movements minimize both the glory of Christ and the Bible. Corwin contends that C5 should only be transitional; in time, people who accept Christ from non-Christian backgrounds must in time leave the religion of their birth. In response to these important concerns, let us share briefly what is happening right now in the area where we live, where the great majority are Muslim.
Over the years, by God’s grace, we have seen numbers of Muslims come to Christ. Some of these decided to “leave Islam” and “enter Christianity”; others have remained within the Islamic community living out their faith as Muslims who follow Jesus (Isa). Though we rejoice, we have not sensed the momentum of a “movement.”
However, in recent months in the part of town where we live, we are just beginning to see what might be the momentum we have longed for. Extended families are becoming committed followers of Christ without becoming “Christians.” They meet in at least four separate meetings on various days of the week to read the New Testament and pray together. The groups include both men and women from a lower-middle-class background who have found (to quote Billy Graham), “peace with God” through Christ. Some of the people in these groups have been witnessed to and prayed for by us and others for many years, but it is just now they all seem to be coming to faith. The human agent most responsible for this has been a jovial Muslim woman we call Fatima, who has been five years in Christ and is a natural communicator, organizer and avid reader of the Word (a Wesley on a tiny scale).
Of those we know in these groups, true evidence of the good news is seen: they are admitting their sins to each other, they are forgiving each other, they are at peace, they pray for the sick in Jesus’ name, they actively share Christ with their neighbors and relatives, there is no financial incentive to believe, they meet together in their small groups and they are giving to the poor (though they themselves are quite poor!). New leaders are being naturally raised up. We hear of similar situations in nearby areas as well. We are having virtually nothing to do with this, except that we keep praying for it.
In our context, this is feeling like something that could move faster through the masses than the usual process where there is the added step of leaving Islam and entering Christianity after salvation. These extended families are simply getting saved and not adding the extra step. To be sure they are spiritually different from the many unsaved Muslims around them. They approach other Muslims saying, “Come, brother, sister, look at this beautiful thing God has revealed to us in his Word about Jesus.” It has not entered the minds of those in these groups to go through the cultural and political change required to switch religious institutions. We wish all could see and hear what we are seeing and hearing. The handprints of Christ and His kingdom are all over this little outbreak of the gospel.
In response, then, to Piper’s comment that the glory of Christ is minimized or slighted in C5 movements of God, we in fact believe just the opposite is true: our Lord receives incredible glory and honor (not to mention joy!), when he hears one Muslim share with another Muslim how Christ has changed his life. Concerning “minimizing the Bible”, we think nothing could be further from the truth, at least among the C5 groups we know of. In fact you might say that these C5 groups are maximizing the Bible! In contrast to traditional churches which normally enjoy regular preaching, worship services with theologically rich hymns, the recitation of creeds and any number of other beneficial activities, these C5 believers have no materials to study other than the Bible. Their growth depends almost solely on inductive Bible study, prayer and small group interaction with other C5 believers.
In response to Corwin’s main point, that all non-Christians who accept Christ as Lord and Savior must eventually leave the religion of their birth, we would simply say that this is not so in our context. We and many others on the field are seeing examples like the one just described above. How these Gospel networks will label themselves in twenty years, God only knows. What is clear, though, is that at the moment a vibrant faith is being lived out by many in the environment of another religion, similar to Messianic Jews, who are religiously Jewish yet have received Jesus (Yeshua) as the Messiah. Interestingly, it would appear that the largest movement to Christ among Muslims in the world today is C5 in nature, occurring in Asia.