The Challenge of Islam 4

The Challenge of Islam (Part 4)

NO APPROACH to soul winning will fit every prospect. Although the only object of the one searching for souls may be to share his faith, what he does may irritate some. Even oral and printed reports may be lifted from their context and cause bitterness. Good deeds may be construed as inspired by evil or ulterior motives. Some have seen conversion as the sole end of all humanitarian actions. . .

-Former Evangelist and Teacher, Pakistan; Islamic Historian

NO APPROACH to soul winning will fit every prospect. Although the only object of the one searching for souls may be to share his faith, what he does may irritate some. Even oral and printed reports may be lifted from their context and cause bitterness. Good deeds may be construed as inspired by evil or ulterior motives. Some have seen conversion as the sole end of all humanitarian actions.

That a few have used questionable evangelistic methods is conceded. This has often led non-Christians to suspect or dislike all missionary efforts. The missionary and evangelist by judicious activity will do what he can to dispel this fear. And as he does so he will follow the example of Jesus. Even Christ's actions were twisted; false witnesses testified against Him, and His enemies insisted on His death.

Diverse Methods

Missionary efforts have followed diverse methods. Chief among them in the last couple of centuries have been preaching to individuals or to masses working through institutions, such as general and specialized hospitals, orphan ages, presses and publishing houses, and schools at all levels, for all economic classes, and directed also to special needs. As standards of living have risen, the church has depended more and more on its institutional witness.

Seventh-day Adventists have also fol lowed this plan. Ella Robinson, in her book S. N. Haskell tells how Pastor Haskell was especially impressed in Africa, India, Japan, and China with the missionary contribution of schools. 1 Medical missionary work, specifically through clinics, sanitariums, and hospitals, has offered Adventists the opportunity to use the "right arm" as "the entering wedge" of the three angels' messages. It is still vital to operate these institutions. Their witness must not stop. But in an age when national professionals feel that foreigners unfairly compete with them it is necessary also to emphasize other methods of medical missionary evangelism.

If people object to the work of missions, why haven't non-Christians provided what Christian missions supply? Several reasons might be given. One is that the critics of missions are either in a marked degree a minority, though very vocal and influential, or they are unorganized. Another reason is that the institutions are usually of the social-service type, such as schools and hospitals, often government operated or regulated. More and more, government is moving to take over this responsibility. A third reason is cost. Only large corporations, wealthy philanthropists, and organized groups---religiously or other wise motivated---can compete with Christians who are united in providing the service.

A fourth factor and for some people, the most important is dedication. There are some very sincere and dedicated non-Christians. But the number of persons free to give unstinted, trained, disinterested help in social services is limited. Even governments are hard pressed to compete here. Jesus Christ's presence in a life does make a difference. Sustained, selfish humanitarianism is impossible.

The "Captive" Audience

One cause of hostility has been the "captive" audience. Non-Christians consider proselytism a form of bigotry. This attitude will always exist in the minds of some. But it is intensified when the "captive" audience approach is used. Non-Christians say that to talk to a sick or dying man about salvation is to take unfair advantage of a situation. This is true also of preaching to a group of patients who have come not to hear a sermon but to see a doctor, or lecturing to a crowd of hungry beggars, who will listen only to get food. To use a class room or an orphanage to teach Christianity to non-Christian children when non-Christian parents or responsible adults object is viewed as unchristian. To yield to this logic would be to abandon the mission or evangelism program.2 The wise representative of Jesus will continue His work, but will offend as little as possible.

Perhaps a distinction should be made between proselytism and true evangelism. A recent author put it simply:

The proselytizer is the one who grabs his neighbor by the throat saying: "I have the whole truth; accept it or be damned!" The evangelist is one who says: "I have found something wonderful; I have found the Christ; come and see!" These two attitudes are as different as heaven and hell. 3

This same author says:

Proselytism is an arrogant and often unscrupulous attempt to win converts to one's own particular brand of religion. . . . The true evangelist forswears all pressure, all physical or mental bullying. 4

Another has said: "Evangelism is not keeping secret the life that Jesus Christ has given me." 5 Still another: "I think evangelism is introducing people to the Evangel (who is Jesus)." 6

Preaching to the Masses

Another cause of offense has been the mass evangelistic technique as developed in the Christian West. Although Christ and the apostles addressed the masses too, the public meeting has been viewed as an imposition of Western culture. What has often bred ill will is that where people lacked recreational opportunities and facilities, the evangelistic meeting gave them something to do, and at the same time made them objects of evangelization. Thus, the ignorant were gospelized, and those who felt they knew better than to be deceived by the missionary were often deprived of a way to strike back. At issue, apart from truth and error struggles, was the new method versus the old.

Muslim preachers are themselves nothing new. Islam, as a religion, has largely been spread by its missionaries. But the Muslim peripatetic preacher with his cluster of disciples operated quite differently. He would be here today and possibly tomorrow and then go on to the next stop. He would speak to the crowds, perhaps, but not on any special schedule. On the other hand, the organized itinerant evangelist, alone or with a staff, comes into an area to stay day after day, teaching on a systematic basis those who come to hear him.

Working for the Women of Islam

Another method of missions and evangelism among the Muslim populations is one that has been generally neglected by Seventh-day Adventists. A few here and there have tried it with some success, but it is perilous, and results are very slow. I refer to work for the women of Islam.

The Muslim world looks like a man's world. Many, many of the Muslim women live in relative seclusion. There are in stances where this isolation is imposed upon them. But in many homes girls are taught from childhood that it is the proper thing, and the seclusion is voluntary. What is being done for these women?

Much has been written by both Muslims and Christians about the position of women in Islam. The Muslim apologetic is often romantic rather than pragmatic. The Christian, on the other hand, viewing the situation as he finds it, is often critical. The Adventist evangelist must be swayed by neither of these views. And though he finds Muslim women, as some have observed, regarded more as mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters than as persons in need of salvation, he must not forget that his commission is to preach the gospel to them also. The Muslim woman may be living in isolation and thus not allowed to worship in the public prayers with men, or they may be allowed in a limited degree to worship in public, or in some countries they may have relative freedom. In any case, Muslim women, the Adventist evangelist will find, exert a strong influence to keep the family faithful to Islam.

Seventh-day Adventists have won friends among Muslim women through their medical and educational work. Adventist women have gone at times to visit Muslim women in the privacy of their homes. Some public meetings have been conducted only for women or provision made for a section for women only (usu ally necessary in a Muslim country when ever a mixed audience is arranged), but many Muslim women do not consider that they have a soul to save. They think that they are excluded from salvation. This attitude is a result of a social ethic, and no Muslim lady would think of violating it. She is taught the tenets of Islam in the privacy of her home, lives by them throughout her life and expects her family to do likewise.

Until the gospel penetrates the home barrier other exploits will be only temporary. Rome fell to gospel might, including Caesar's household, when this citadel surrendered. The gospel's witness to the world of Muslim women is a necessary requisite of evangelism.

Evangelistic Problems

Evangelism in a Muslim country faces many problems. What about public meetings? Is it wise to schedule them? Much depends upon the local situation. Is real freedom of assembly allowed? Religious liberty in Islam often is actually only religious toleration. Christians may worship unmolested by the state if such worship does not proselytize Muslims. 7 Here the vocal apologists for Islam have some real explaining to do. Freedom to change one's religion from Islam to Christianity---may even be illegal. Before an Adventist evangelist baptizes a Muslim convert, he should have wide committee counsel.

But the work of conversion is the work of the Spirit of God. Public evangelism among Muslims is a work of witness, not a work of conversion and proselytism. Decisions for truth are personal; they are made in the atmosphere of disinterested love and prayer often together on the knees. There the Holy Spirit can do the convicting that leads to action for God.

Sermons and sermon titles of Adventist evangelists need adaptation, even in the homelands. Usually oriented to Bible-believing Christians of a bygone generation living in a Western culture, these do not fit Muslim audiences. Traditional evangelistic materials must be altered to meet the East's needs. Merely using what has succeeded elsewhere is not enough.

The condition would be eased if national evangelists broke the mold. But they don't. Few know how. If foreign workers would give them something they would copy, it would help. Filmstrips, pictures, and other audio-visual aids made for one culture, and which cannot be readily adapted, do not serve as well as material especially prepared.

Subject lists, titles, sermons, or aids used in the Western homelands carry the implication that the message is Occidental, and are also difficult for most people to understand. Muslim experience and thought patterns are so different from those of Western-oriented Adventists that the listener is lost almost from the first word. An Occidental as a speaker or author, employing translation without realizing what he is doing, usually appeals to things in his own experience that many translators do not understand. His finest contribution can be to help the national men to speak and write with simple language in the local idiom.

Often there is an alarming paucity of Adventist literature or helps available for the evangelist working in a Muslim country. This situation is a real challenge. Administrations are trying to correct things. Some brethren with vision and consecration are doing their best with what they have. Cod will bless them. When God asked Moses what he had in his hand he looked at his shepherd's staff. Moses didn't know then that God would use that rod to cut a path through the sea. God is not restricted to the devices of men or their methods. He will finish the proclamation of the gospel with consecrated men and women.8

The size of the budget may hinder men from using the aids or literature they would like. But God is not limited with what He can do with the simple telling of His Word. "My word . . . shall not re turn unto me void." 9 Often the Bible Societies have inexpensive Gospels, subsidized and available for ready distribution, which can be purchased from evangelistic budgets. Where we lack adequate topical literature of our own let us use Bible Society materials. God has promised to bless His Word.

The situation is not hopeless. Despite the appeal that Islam makes to many mil lions, Adventists have a special message from God for them. There are many very sincere and devout Muslims. The name means "one who surrenders to God." God will certainly have His way.

 


 

1. Ella M. Robinson, 5. N. Haskell, Man of Action, pp. 105, 109, 118, 119.

2. For example, in July, 1961, I was invited to attend a conference of educational administrators of private and Christian schools, conducted by the educational secretariat of the government of Pakistan. Introducing this conference, a conciliatory yet a definite statement of intent was presented to the group. The author of this statement is not named, but excerpts from the document that are relevant to this discussion are given here:

"But the problem we are discussing is broader than this. Christian mission schools and colleges have become a vital part of the educational structure of the State."

While recognizing the several beneficial contributions of these institutions, and the sympathy they create toward Christianity, the author of the foregoing statement expresses the conviction of Muslim civil and religious leaders that Muslim students are being reared in virtual ignorance of Islamic values. To correct this his government sought "to institute universal religious instruction for all Muslim students" on a released-time basis. The concluding paragraph of this important document begins with this sentence: "This, from the Muslim viewpoint, undoubtedly does not go far enough."

3. David H. C. Read, "The Right to Convert," Christianity Today, Aug. 27, 1971, p. 11.

4. Ibid., pp. 10,.11.

5. Walter Shepherd', quoted in "Evangelism: How to Get Involved," ibid., p. 12.

6. Bruce Larson, ibid.

7.  Adolph L. Wismar, A Study in Tolerance, p. 105; T. W. Arnold, The Preaching of Islam (fourth edition, Lahore: 1956), pp. 254, 255; 447-459; H. A. R. Gibb, Whither Islam? p. 24.

8. "The Lord will work in this last work in a manner very much out of the common order of things. . . . The workers will be surprised by the simple means that He will use to bring about and perfect His work of righteousness." Ellen G. White, Testimonies to Ministers, p. 300.

9. Isa. 55:11.


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-Former Evangelist and Teacher, Pakistan; Islamic Historian

September 1972

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