In an article dated 25th April 2016 entitled ‘Don’t just evangelise Muslims’ Steve Bell, Director of Interserve in England and Wales explains how a holistic mission approach should replace conventional Muslim evangelism. We have re-produced the full text of this article here and entered our response below.
The article begins Jesus said: ‘All power is given to me…go into the whole world making disciples of all nations and baptising them…and teaching them to observe everything I taught you.’ (Mat.28:18-20)
Church history has altered the meaning of the “go” of Jesus. He doesn’t send us out merely to do random acts of “evangelism”; nor even to merely become one of the gallant few who pack up and go overseas as a “missionary”. The “go” of Jesus is to a lifestyle of replicating ourselves as attentive followers of Jesus, wherever we are. It starts at our own front door – not at Heathrow Airport.
The thinking above is a symptom of a shift in the “operating principle” of the local church. The Early Church broke bread in their homes and public places such as the Temple court. They were a missional community where 90% of what they did was interactive, relational and focussed on being “scattered” and “sent”.
Today the “operating principle” has shifted to become about “church gathered”. This is what has restricted us to the conduit of the church service – where 90% of what goes on is from platform to pew – a spectator sport. The building has become a place to fish in rather than a boat to fish from.
The result of this shift is that the “go” of Jesus has become marginalised to random acts of “evangelism” in our locality or else the sending overseas, of enthusiasts to do the same elsewhere.
I say this because the “go” of Jesus in the original Greek is: ‘as you are going’. So as we are going about our lives, Jesus commands us – not to random acts of opportunistic evangelism per se but – to the lifestyle of “making disciples” i.e. replicating ourselves as followers of Jesus. This is a process that starts before people are consciously converted.
The word “evangelism” isn’t even found in the Bible. It’s a derivation of the Greek euangelion (or “gospel”) – i.e. we are “gospel” people. This has turned into the act of “propagating” rather than “disciple-making”.
So rather than “evangelising” Muslims (or anyone else), the “go” of Jesus is to a lifestyle of making disciples of all nations (note the cross-cultural component to the Great Commission). Jesus is commanding us to “go” and as we are going, not to merely “evangelise”, “promote” or “propagate” but engage in the transmission of spiritual life. ‘We need less promotion of the gospel and more free samples.’ – Oz Guinness
Evangelism, as we have come to understand it in the West, has struggled to make any headway with Muslims. The mission agencies which manage to survive the next 30 years will need to model this approach to the Great Commission, as the core “operating principle” of the church.
I used to live in Egypt where I often stayed in Coptic Orthodox monasteries. Their idea is to be church as “spiritual community” where wholistic gospel ministry took place. My own mission agency, Interserve is poised to purchase a property in Birmingham as a more authentic setting to achieve this by creating ‘safe space’, where Christians and Muslims (and others) can be in proximity so the transmission of spiritual life can take place, as people respond to the invitation to follow Christ, rather than “join organised Christianity”.
‘Bring it on Lord; please deliver us from “evangelism” and release us into discipling among people of all nations.’ – AMEN.
The above article has come out in two forms one entitled ‘Don’t evangelise Muslims’ www.interserve.org.uk/dont-evangelise-muslims and the second, ‘Don’t just evangelise Muslims’ http://graceformuslims.org/blog/grace-and-truth/dont-evangelise-muslims/. Perhaps the author failed to include the word ‘just’ in his first edition but whether ‘just’ is left out intentionally or unintentionally the article does seem to lean to an overall critical attitude toward evangelism per se. Clearly, it is important to ‘live out what God has wrought in us’ in our lifestyle, but that should not mean that we should hold a negative attitude to evangelism. Church history gets the blame for ‘altering the meaning’ of the basic concept, although no example is given. Has the church misread the whole of the New Testament by over-estimating the need of preaching the evangelical message to unbelievers while under-estimating replicating a lifestyle?
Surely, the church has tried to be faithful to the injunctions of Jesus who sent his disciples out saying, “preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15) and – “This gospel will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations?” (Matthew 24:14). Are the Muslim nations to be prevented from hearing the gospel message in favour of a new aproach in which they are to ‘engage in a transmission of spiritual life?’
To suggest we return to a non-evangelistic approach to Muslims would take us back to the appalling situation found in the times of Dr Zwemer (1867-1952) when he was forced to exclaim, “One might suppose that the Church thought her great commission to evangelise the world did not apply to Muslims.”
While it is true that the word ‘evangelism’ is not found in the Bible this does not mean that evangelism was not at the core of the Christian message. One could equally argue that as the word ‘Trinity’ is not found in the New Testament we should abolish our Trinitarian faith. A study of the New Testament will lead to the conclusion that the doctrine of the Trinity is found clearly within its pages, likewise the theme and practice of evangelism.
The verdict of the New Testament translators is that the verb euangelizomai means ‘to anounce the good news’ or, as usually translated in our English Bibles ‘preach the gospel.’ The biblical text records how the followers of Jesus were faithful to this command as seen in the Book of Acts. Even followers of Jesus, who had became victims of the persecution of the Jerusalem Church under Saul, ‘preached the word’ wherever they went’ (Acts 8:4). While ‘lifestyle’ was an important aspect, it did not remove the mandate to preach.
Disciples were added to the church through teaching and evangelism and the establishment of the early church (both Jewish/Christian and Gentile) were indebted to the preaching of the apostles and evangelists. The apostle Paul, writing to believers in Rome, wrote that “the gospel is the power of God unto salvation” and he was not ashamed of this fact. He passed on this same passion to Timothy, who had accompanied him on his missionary journeys. While working in his settled local ministry at Ephesus, involved in pastoral matters, Paul exhorted him to do the work of an evangelist (2 Timothy 4:5). The apostle reminded the young man that as important as shepherding and teaching were, he should not neglect the ministry of evangelism.
To infer that a shift has taken place whereby ‘random acts of evangelism’ are now performed only by ‘enthusiasts’ is a mis-reading of the situation. From its earliest days, the church always had its ‘enthusiasts’ who made ‘random acts of opportunistic evangelism.’ Amongst them were the gifted leaders of the New Testament Church, who had their apostles and evangelists. The evangelists, along with the apostles, were gifts to the church (Ephesians 4:1) and they were endowned by the Holy Spirit to perform their calling. This, of course, does not mean that the ‘pew-sitting’ Christians of the early church failed to make a contribution to the spreading of the faith. It is generally accepted that the Church of Rome was established by ordinary Christians who moved to the capital for various reasons but witnessed and confessed to their faith in Jesus Christ.
Rather than involve ourselves in evangelism we are told in this article to ‘engage in the transmission of spiritual life.’ Quite how spiritual life comes to pass without ‘being born from above’ by the Holy Spirit is not explained or developed by the writer. It would be interesting to hear how this transmission ocurrs without preaching. Yes, the West ‘has struggled to make headway with Muslims’ but that is not the fault of the evangelists, who have faithfully followed the Great Commission, but rather it is the result of the anti-Christian nature of Islam itself.
We would not dream of making any aspersions against the Coptic Church, but to make the Coptic Orthodox monasteries, with their ‘spiritual community where holistic gospel ministry took place,’ the model for success amongst working with Muslims seems a step too far. As far as we are aware the Egyptian church, apart from some individuals, has not been overly succesful at discipling their Muslim neighbours over many centuries. At present despite the presence of this ancient Christian communuity the Egyptian population remains 88% Muslim. No great advertisement as a model for a new approach to Muslims.
Rather than saying ‘deliver us from evangelism’ we need to encourage and support those evangelists who faithfully preach the gospel and make no compromises in doing so.