Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Is Islam Our Greatest Challenge?

That assertion is the basis for Albert Mohler's recent post, Islam—The Great Challenge to Christian Evangelism of Our Time. In his essay Dr. Mohler makes some very helpful statements, especially his refutation of those who criticizes President Obama for stating that...

One of the great strengths of the United States is . . . we have a very large Christian population—we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation.

That is one of the  few public utterances by President Obama that I agree with wholeheartedly even though many Christians undoubtedly took great umbrage to his statement. What caught my interest was the title and premise of his essay, the notion that Islam is the greatest challenge to our evangelistic mission in this era.

Is that true? Is Islam the greatest challenge to our evangelistic mission and efforts? That certainly is the popular narrative. Islam, a religion that to a great many people is synonymous with the dread "other" and the threat of Islamist terrorism and instability in the Middle East, is the convenient enemy of the day and gives us a tangible opponent. Certainly from a civilization standpoint, Islam is a grave threat although the reason it is a threat has more to do with our self-driven cultural disintegration. But from a Great Commission standpoint is Islam our greatest challenge?

In a word, no.

Not when the vast majority of Christians are neither equipped nor encouraged in a tangible way to make disciples, preferring instead to make going to church as convenient and comfortable as possible.

Not when professing, sincere Christians ally themselves with groups that deny the Gospel with the excuse that they share certain cultural moral positions in common.

Not when churches invest untold millions on buildings and staff to cater to the needs and whims of church attenders.

Not when Christians see our enemies as people to be feared, controlled and even killed to protect a certain economic and socio-political lifestyle.

No, the greatest challenge to Christian evangelism today is not Islam. It is not even a new challenge. The greatest challenge is us. The church. God's people. In the immortal words of that sage and prophet Pogo: We have met the enemy and he is us.

But while it is easy and perhaps perversely satisfying to despair, a trap I fall into over and over, it is also true that God's chosen tool is His church, His people. Flawed, prone to wander, often distracted, a foolish people preaching a foolish message about a foolish cross. God has indeed chosen the weak and foolish things of the world to confound the wise (1 Corinthians 1:27). While we are not only not up to the task but often are our own worst enemy, our message is inextricably linked to the sovereign power of our Creator God. If by a mere word He can speak the universe into existence He certainly can use a flawed sinner such as I to accomplish His eternal purpose in calling, regenerating, saving and redeeming a people for His own possession.

We need to worry a lot less about Islam and a lot more about ourselves but we should also not spend all of our time wringing our hands and instead putting those hands to work, each and every one of us, in our foolish and weak service on behalf of our glorious and holy Lord.


Anonymous said...

Hi Arthur,

I have a couple of points that I would like to make for your post. We keep calling the fallen and our enemies (I don't know how else to word it) among us believers as 'christians'. Some of these 'christians' are hirelings and some are apostate. Some have never received Christ, they've just regularly attended 'church'.

Paul didn't evangelize these people. If they were compromising believers he instructed the elders and believers to throw them out of the church until they repented. Disfellowship with them.

I don't think it's an accross the board sweep, but if a 'christian' cannot receive the word of God in the scriptures because they have relied on 'another gospel' so to speak, then they are not Christ's. I don't think it matters if they have been 'born again' so to speak. These people have changed gods. They are relying on another god, who cannot save them, the Bible says. We are saved by faith in Christ. Some people have accepted another 'christ'.

We see this in the scripture all the time with Israel in the OT. They left God for the gods of their neighbors. The popular gods of their day. They were abandoned by God eventually. He sent them into captivity. He destroyed the temple. He sent famine, sword, pestilence against them. They fell dead in the wilderness while trying to get to the promised land. The scriptures make it clear that this happened to them because they did not have faith in God.

The issue we seem to have in our churches today is that 'the fallen and our enemies' are ruling us. We're not ruling them. They're calling the shots, their making decisions for us, they have control of believers in the churches in a large way today. It's a little bit like the pharisees in the temple. The disciples of Jesus could not have walked into the temple and evangelized the rulers.

So, what to do? Keep busy? No, not necessarily. We have to wait. Jesus told the disciples at his ascension to 'wait' in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came from heaven upon them. They prayed and waited. We don't want to get so busy that we have no time to 'hear' God.

Right now 'church' is all we know as believers. We have nowhere to go it seems, other than that 'building on the corner' in our communities. I think we are sort of in the upper room right now, we're waiting for God. We don't want to run ahead of him and try to 'fix' things. I think believers could gather together outside the church if they found enough support, but they need a good foundation. If they don't have this, anything can happen. They could go from the 'frying pan to the fire'.

Just some thoughts.

Anonymous said...

While reading today in 2 Peter I tried to think of what Peter was recommending to believers in churches regarding false teachers.

It is surely a leadership problem that we have currently in the churches of North America. The sheep follow, the leaders lead. That's the principle. Overseers are given or commissioned to guide the sheep in churches of the NT.

In the days of the old temple in Jerusalem after Jesus went back to heaven, evangelism was the method used to bring God's people to a saving knowledge of Christ. The gentiles also were evangelized by the apostles and other leaders of the church. The gospel was preached.

I'm thinking that we are not going to go back to evangelism again in our day to bring God's people back to the truth. Evangelism today for the unsaved? Yes.
But, the church goes from glory to glory. The NT is evangelism. 'Christ in you the hope of glory'. The OT is Law, regulations and statutes.

The church is going to move on. I can think of a scripture (in Joel?)that says something like 'I will pour out my Spirit in the last days upon your sons and your daughters', 'and all will know me from the least to the greatest'. We will not need to be taught about knowing God, or to know God.

I think that this excludes 'evangelism' of God's people all over again, so to speak. That's already been done.

So I'm thinking that we are looking at the Holy Spirit being poured out in more grace. More power, more authority?

What will this look like? I don't know. I think it's going to be evident and noticable and it will be able to be seen upon the believer. This is going to silence the false teachers, the ungodly, and the wicked.

some thoughts from me again.

dle said...

When Islam is considered the world's fastest-growing religion largely because of forced conversions, it's not as big a threat as some might think.

I have a theory about why Christians are so poor at evangelism: We have equated spiritual success with personal success. A person who is not considered some kind of success by worldly standards cannot be held in enough honor to be taken seriously.

I think this issue is so pervasive, it affects even committed Christians.

Imagine you are not a Christian and a man comes up to you and tries to share Christ and talk about repentance. He hands you a card with his contact info on it, and you recognize it as a downscale neighborhood. The man has a couple bad teeth. He talks with a bit of a drawl, and his clothes look old and out of fashion. He is obviously not a "success" by your standards. Would anything he says sway you? Or would he be immediately discredited.

Let me also add this: Where does the power of the Holy Spirit come into this evangelistic equation? Do our churches teach anything related to tapping into the power of the Spirit when evangelizing others? Would such "power evangelism" in the hands of the man above overcome any objections to his status or success by worldly standards?

I think the "success" issue is so huge, the only counter is genuine power evangelism such as we see in Acts and John Wimber talks about in his book of the same name. But is anyone doing such power evangelism? Or has it been relegated to "weird" fringe Christian groups?