What motivates us, as Christians, to share our faith with others of a different faith? What hinders us from doing so? I explored these questions in my previous column.
Now, let’s consider, how might we witness to Muslims in what might be described as an ethical way? Here are a few thoughts, which I hope might start or further a conversation.
- It’s about relationship, not conversion.
As a youth worker, I have always held the view that my role was to visit young people within a context that was safe for them – on their patch, so to speak.
Entering their culture as a guest and seeking to learn from them as well as earning the right to share with them.
This approach has stood me in good stead as I have gotten to know Muslims from all sorts of social and ethnic backgrounds, both in the United Kingdom and the Middle East.
My role, as a follower of Christ, is to be faithful to him. To demonstrate, through words and actions, the significance of him in my life and allow the Holy Spirit to do what it will do.
- It’s communal not individual – and it takes time.
The all-too-common approach of seeking individual converts and extracting them from their context can have disastrous consequences not only for the individuals themselves, their family and community, but also for the Christian witness.
How might the gospel become genuinely good news for Muslim families and communities in a way that honors their deeply held existing faith?
Expecting new followers of Christ to start attending a Christian church, or even calling themselves Christian, is something that may be seen by some as the ultimate act of betrayal and sedition.
However, having a more Christo-centric [rather than ecclesio-centric] approach may allow for a more genuine and contextually relevant expression of faith in Christ, in which community is formed from within rather than from without.
- The golden rule.
I think we often forget one of Jesus’ main teachings – the “golden rule” – that we should behave toward others in the way that we would like them to behave toward us.
I don’t know about you, but if someone attacks my faith in an attempt to share their faith with me or seek my conversion, I am far less likely to listen, engage or respond positively or with respect.
Regardless of the approaches of others, we have a duty not to negate the gospel by the way we witness.
If you are prepared to invite a Muslim friend to a Christian activity, would you be prepared to attend an event at their mosque? If not, why not?
Are you prepared to ask your Muslim friend to pray for you? Are you willing to learn about their faith while also talking about yours, and give their faith the respect that you would hope they would give yours?
The Feast has some fantastic guidelines for dialogue, of which one of my favorites is “speak positively about my own faith rather than negatively about the faith of someone else.”
For me, this does not negate the potential for a discussion as to the differences between our faiths, as it is important not to sweep these under the carpet.
It does, however, remind me of the tone I should take when addressing differences as well as similarities.
- Conversion (in the traditional sense) is overrated!
As a Christ-follower who has worked with Muslim young people for many years, I have come to the conclusion that I am not interested in Muslim young people becoming Christians. This may sound like a shocking statement, but I am convinced of it.
This does not mean that I am any less committed to seeing young (and old) Muslims coming into a living faith in Jesus and following him in every aspect of their lives. I am desperate to see this and grateful that I have had the opportunity to do so.
But, consider when Saul met Christ on his way to Damascus. Did he become a Christian? Did he stop attending the temple and participating in worship there?
Did he stop referring to the Jewish leaders as “brothers,” to whom he had done “nothing against our people or the customs of our ancestors” (Acts 28:17-20)?
The answer to each of these questions must be a categoric no. However, were his faith, his belief system, socio-religious practices and sense of identity (at least in part) transformed toward more of a Christ-aligned discourse? Absolutely!
An ethical approach to witness, I would argue, takes very seriously the social, religious, cultural and spiritual history of the person to whom we are witnessing and does not seek to dismantle that, if there is no requirement from what has been referred to as the “naked gospel” – the core elements of our faith in Christ.
- Every situation is different.
A person’s faith journey and process of change are different for each individual and take place at different paces. So too does their own self-perception, and the perception of others toward them.
At times, our own approaches may not be entirely compatible with what God may want to be doing with certain individuals and communities.
We need to let go of the control we so often feel the need to hold on to in order to ensure “orthodoxy” – and allow God to do as he wishes in the lives of those he loves and sent his son to die for.
Regardless of your view of Islam and of its followers, can we really refer to them as enemies? Who are your enemies? Can you name them?
My sense is that if we are faithful followers of Jesus, it becomes very hard to label individuals, communities or even nations and religions in terms of enmity.
I do not understand Jesus when he says, “love your enemies,” as, surely, if you love them, they cease to be your enemies.
If he had said, “love those who appear very different to you” or “those you would never invite to church or dinner or spend time with,” it would make more sense.
Maybe this is what the challenge for us is today? Deciding who it is that we might perceive of as being at odds with our way of living and believing and working out how we are to love them.
Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series. Part one is available here. A version of this article first appeared in the Issue 2 2018 edition of Mission Catalyst, a publication of BMS World Mission. It is used with permission.
Arthur Brown is the BMS World Mission Regional Leader for Europe, the Middle East and North Africa and former BMS youth and theological worker based in Lebanon, working with a Christian theological seminary regularly dialoguing with Islamic scholars.