It is always disturbing to find Christians who carry the name, label, or implication that they are Bible-believing, conservative, and doctrinally orthodox but who mess up in significant ways when given a visible platform. Obviously not all such mistakes approach the gravity of heresy, but truth-loving people should speak up to correct errors either way, if nothing else for the sake of those who might be led astray into perhaps even greater error once they have been badly influenced.
The Village Church’s blog features a recent attempt at an even-handed discussion of outreach to Muslim people in one’s local area, by one Sarah Long, a Ministry Assistant in Spiritual Formation at TVC’s Plano Campus. It would seem to be her first foray into blogging, but unfortunately while some of her insights are helpful, others are typical lackadaisical, sub-biblical, squishy evangelical advice toward how Christians are to attempt to reach the lost for Christ, thus matching the sub-biblical quality of TVC’s multi-campus ecclesiological organisation.
Particularly disturbing is the looming, though to be fair, unstated, spectre of the Insider Movement that is growing in popularity among the foreign missions community toward Muslims. The IM is a product of excessive grasping onto perceived common ground and accommodation of Islam, which leads to, among other things, the so-called Camel Method of evangelism, where the Christian leads a Muslim through the Qur’an to find truths about Jesus as the main preliminary form of discussing Jesus’ identity, telling converts to Christ from Islam that they should continue to perform the five times daily salat prayers in the mosque though praying to Jesus, or removing the phrase “Son of God” from New Testament translations. This is not to say TVC endorses the Insider Movement, but the thoughts by Mrs. Long definitely indicate these tendencies.
Particularly worrisome to me is the fact that Mrs. Long was invited to speak in a mosque. Why would a mosque invite someone to address them? Did they have no fear that she would testify boldly of the Gospel of Jesus, which makes exclusive claims that are incompatible with the claims of Islam? Were they justified in that confidence? Hopefully Mrs. Long defied those expectations, but the idea that she was invited to speak on “how He motivates me to stand against discrimination, hate crimes and oppression” remains problematic.
Why is it that a follower of Jesus stands against those things? Because Jesus is Lord! Further, Mrs. Long unfortunately seems to have ceded ground to modern political correctness in differentiating certain crimes as worse than others because they are from “hate”. It is certainly strange and unbiblical to imply that some crimes are motivated by hate whereas others are not.
Let me discuss two other serious problems in her offering. She recommends that upon visiting one’s local mosque, one should “(t)alk about Jesus, but carry no agenda. Human souls are not projects, and it takes time to build trust in any relationship.” While it is certainly true that souls are not projects, sharing the Gospel and calling people to eternal life and repentance of sin is not a business venture. It is the very mandate from the Lord Jesus Himself – Matthew 28:19-20 and Luke 24:45-49. The obvious implication is that having an “agenda” is a bad thing, but giving people the message that they need more desperately and urgently than any other message is not a bad agenda. It is the agenda of the Lord Jesus, of His apostles and prophets, which He Himself commanded as our main mission. Where did Jesus or His apostles or prophets take time to “build trust” before sharing the truth with anyone? Can anyone show me even one example thereof in the Scripture? Where did they command such a thing? Reading through the Scripture, one finds in fact the precise opposite – the command is urgent and the example is very one-sidedly in favor of urgent, direct, and precipitous proclamations of repentance and the kingdom of God.
Take for example Mark 1:14-15 –
“Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.'”
If you are fully convinced that people who die without Christ are headed for an eternity in Hell and that repentance and faith in Christ is the only rescue, how is it loving to withhold this soul-saving message for even an instant with someone you’re trying to befriend? Imagine that Mrs. Long withheld her Gospel proclamation for three years while she “built a relationship” with a Muslim woman, and that at the end of the three years, she finally told this woman about Jesus. Imagine this is what the woman has been waiting for, the Gospel resonates deeply within her soul, and she is converted on the spot. Imagine the woman then begins to read the Gospels and sees the way Jesus interacted with people He’d never met before. Imagine what her rebuke could very easily be toward Mrs. Long – “You knew about Jesus this whole time, you knew I needed Him more than anything else in the whole world and that I was blinded and lost in sin, and you never tried to free me from my chains? What kind of friend are you? How can you consistently claim to hold Jesus in first place in your life? Were you just faking it for three years, pretending to be my friend, not actually sharing with me who you are and what you love?”
And that’s the happiest ending. Imagine the perhaps dozens of lost people with whom Mrs. Long could have shared the Gospel but chose not to because she was “building a relationship” with them, and maybe those relationships didn’t work out or the lost people died before Mrs. Long thought it would be appropriate to fulfill the Great Commission toward them. Does she not share in the guilt of their eternal condemnation, for deliberately withholding the truth when she didn’t have to?
The second major problem here:
Follow the Spirit’s lead, not your agenda.The Spirit has led, in His Word. What more leading does anyone need?
Far too easily in our limp-wristed churchianity, the “leading of the Spirit” is a baptised translation of “what you feel like doing”. Sharing the Gospel can be hard. It can lead to discomfort. It can lead to people rejecting you. It can cost you potential friendships that could have been founded on something other than Jesus and open and honest communication (which, otherwise stated, is a shallow and worthless relationship). In this sense, Mrs. Long’s article is misleading and actually negative, for her meaning is “talk about the lost person’s need for repentance if you feel like it”, but she couches it in such pious-sounding language that the reader can feel like they have a good excuse for ignoring the commands and urgency of the Scripture. Mrs. Long continues:
New relationships are not the place to debate in-depth theology.So claims Mrs. Long. Perhaps someone should have told Jesus before He messed up His conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4.
Mrs. Long gives some good advice in the article that I don’t mean to minimise. By all means, mature Christians ought to take time to visit the local mosque and to read the Qur’an so as to lend credibility to their outreach to Muslim neighbors and friends. It’s definitely not as engrossing a read as the latest Koontz novel or something, but it’s much more useful. By all means, we must regularly reflect both inwardly and outwardly on the myriad failures of Western culture to demonstrate Jesus’ lordship, and we must be living out that repentance so that we may bear testimony of it to a watching and lost world. We must reach out in love to lost people. We must learn about cultural differences. Yes, all of that is true.
People need the Gospel. Do not deprive them of the light that is within you, even if someone on staff at one satellite campus of a big evangelical organisation tells you to hide your light under a bushel.
Matthew 5:13-16 –
You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.Take your light to the lost people. Tell them about Jesus. Don’t hide behind fear of being perceived of having an “agenda”. The Gospel is too pressing.