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Getting the Approach to Proclaiming the Gospel Right
In proclaiming the Gospel, Christians need to remember that conversion is carried out by the Holy Spirit, as “No one can confess ‘Jesus is Lord,’ unless he is guided by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3 TEV).
In trying to convert any person, Christians ought to be guided by what Mother Teresa says:
“Not even Almighty God can convert a person unless that person wants it. What we are all trying to do by our work, by serving the people, is to come closer to God. If in coming face to face with God we accept Him in our lives, then we are converting. We become a better Hindu, a better Muslim, a better Catholic, a better whatever we are, and then by being better we come closer and closer to Him. If we accept Him fully in our lives, then that is conversion. What approach would I use? For me, naturally, it would be a Catholic one, for you it may be Hindu, for someone else, Buddhist, according to one’s conscience. What God is in your mind you must accept. But I cannot prevent myself from trying to give you what I have.” (Mother Teresa: Her People and Her Work, 136).
“God has His own ways and means to work in the hearts of men, and we do not know how close they are to Him, but by their actions we will always know whether they are at His disposal or not. . . . We must not condemn or judge or pass words that will hurt people. Maybe a person has never heard of Christianity. We do not know what way God is appearing to that soul and what way God is drawing that soul, and therefore, who are we to condemn anybody?” (Life in the Spirit, 81—82)
“If anyone thinks and believes that the way he or she is taking is the only way toward God, that is the way God will take. If one knows no other way, if one has no doubts and does not feel the need to keep searching for another way, that is the way to salvation. That is the way God will take to reach that person.” (Stories of Mother Teresa, 17)
“Don’t give in to discouragement. No more must you do so when you try to settle a marriage crisis or convert a sinner and don’t succeed. If you are discouraged, it is a sign of pride because it shows you trust in your own powers. Never bother about people’s opinions. Be humble and you will never be disturbed. It is very difficult in practice because we all want to see the result of our work. Leave it to Jesus.” (Contemplative at the Heart of the World, 107)
But getting the approach to proclaiming the Gospel right is of utmost importance for the Christians. For St Peter tells us to “Be ready at all times to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you, but do it with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15-16 TEV)
The passages below are useful as a general guide when trying to proclaim the Gospel to a non-Christian: whether the person is an atheist, Buddhist, Confucian, Deist, Free-thinker, Judaist, Hindu, Muslim, Pagan, Pantheist, Shinto, Taoist, etc.
The passages below are taken from Malcolm Steer’s book “A Christian’s Evangelistic Pocket Guide to Islam,” published by Christian Focus Publications, Ltd. UK, in 2003
When approaching a Muslim, what is thought of that person is much more important than what is actually said. Actions and reactions speak louder than words. Motives and attitudes are all- important and in this area Christians can sometimes have more problems than others because motives can be confused and complicated.
Therefore, first of all it is necessary to think about general contact with Muslims, and secondly some general principles of approach will be mentioned that will assist us in talking to Muslims about our faith.
1) They are human beings like us.
Having spent much of this booklet talking about Islam and how to communicate the Gospel to Muslims we now, surprisingly, want to say that the most important way to achieve the right approach is to forget that the person is a Muslim and remember that he or she is a person. Let us not see then as representatives of the Islamic brotherhood or fundamentalist Islam or whatever, but as people with their own identity and good and bad points just like everyone else.
Many feel that the distinction between the Jews and Samaritans of New Testament times is similar to the distinction between Christians and Muslims today. In Jesus’ day, no Jew had a good word to say about a Samaritan (see John 8:48), but Jesus himself was different. He told a story about someone who cared for a wounded traveler---the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), and he healed ten lepers and the one to say thank you was a Samaritan (Luke 17:11-19). We need to be open to Muslims in the same way and appreciate them as people. Sincere Muslims have much in common with sincere Christians. They are struggling to do good and are tempted by evil. They are sometimes lonely, disappointed, troubled, sick or facing death. At the same time, we must also appreciate the Muslim who seems to have no religious concerns and shows no interest in the message of the Gospel.
2) They respond to love and friendship.
This is important. Friendship is valued by people of all societies and cultures. It is never out of place. The Lord’s command to his people in the Old Testament to ‘love the stranger’ is relevant to the Muslim today. It is not a conditional love, to be given to some if they look like responding to our message, but a genuine concern for each person whatever their background. Christian love has been the chief influence in the conversion of Muslims. Be practical in your love. Help in any way that you can without being patronising, be respectful, listen and try to understand their point of view. Remember also to be prepared to receive help from them. Being in someone’s debt often helps to cement a friendship.
3) Don’t be impatient.
If you are building a friendship with a Muslim, don’t rush to explain the Gospel. Opportunities will come through questions. Accept the fact that if your friend comes to faith it will be a long haul and you will only be one part in the chain. We are not looking for quick results!
4) Live a godly life.
The character of the Christian is as important as the message told, particularly at the beginning of a Muslim’s interest in Christianity. The fruit of the Spirit needs to characterise our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. The last of these involves a seriousness and reverence which can sometimes be lacking in some Christian meetings. In spite of misunderstanding the way of salvation, many Muslims have a keener sense of the transcendence of God, his majesty and holiness than many Christians. A godly life demands showing respect, giving honour where it is due, being scrupulously honest in all transactions and being polite.
Christians need to live godly lives in their relationships. Many Muslims will regard Western accepted patterns of behaviour as definitely evil. A proper respect between the sexes and moderation in the demonstration of physical attraction will be a great witness by Christians.
Many Muslims see alcoholic drink as part of decadent Western society and we have to be very careful that we do not cause offence in this area.
If you enter the residence of a Muslim you will almost invariably be offered food and drink. Hospitality is a way of life in the Middle East and in Asia. The New Testament writers take up the accepted cultural norm of hospitality and emphasise it as a requirement in the Church towards both Christians and non-Christians.
Christians should also offer hospitality, and particularly in the case of Muslim students from overseas, arrange for them to visit local Christian homes where they can also be offered hospitality.
Approach in Conversation
In Acts chapter 17 from verse 16 onwards we read how the apostle Paul acted in a culture that was totally different from what he had been used to. He had met many Greeks before, of course, but here in Athens the Greek philosophy had taken over and there were probably not many places in the New Testament world where the residents’ lifestyle could be described as ‘spending their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas’. Several of the points we have to make about approach are well illustrated from these verses.
1) Be a good listener.
Someone said once that we have two ears and only one mouth. This is well worth repeating if it encourages Christians to be good listeners. When Paul started speaking on the Areopagus in Athens it was obvious from what he said that he had already done much listening, looking and reading.
However much you know about Islam, you will learn more by listening to Muslims. Ask questions about what they think and how they react to different situations. Don’t listen to criticise, but listen to understand. When they explain something to you, try to explain what they believe back to them. Say to the person, ‘I think I understand, you mean you believe that...’ This approach will not only teach you much about Islam, but will show your friend that you are interested in them as a person and make them more willing to listen to you on a later occasion. Remember that not every Muslim understands their faith and many are not fully orthodox in what they believe. Listen to what they say and you may save yourself from arguing against things your friend does not in fact believe. Do not tell Muslims what they believe! Just take their word for it.
2) Never criticise Muhammad or the Qur’an.
Paul could easily have attacked the ideas and writings of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers in Athens, but instead he seemed to highlight some of their writings in order to make a point. It is unnecessary to know many details about the life and character of Muhammad as little seems to be known with absolute certainty anyway. The Qur’an is even more important to the Muslim than the person of Muhammad. Have respect for their book, although, of course, don’t give the impression that you agree with all that it says.
Muhammad was a sincere man who was concerned about the idolatry around him and wanted to bring people back to the worship of the one God. We cannot criticise him, even in our thoughts, without remembering the sad fact that the Christianity he rejected was a heretical Christianity that did little to commend the Gospel. Heretical Christianity can have devastating results.
3) Start with what the person knows.
Paul in Athens starts talking about an altar that the Athenians had built and goes on to talk about the possibility of knowing the ‘unknown God’. When we talk to Muslims we should start where they are. Prayer is an important part of a Muslim’s religious life. If the person prays regularly, ask when and why. How important is it to prostrate oneself in prayer? Why is a mat used? Do they believe God always hears them? Does God just listen to prayer or answer it?
You can talk about the character of God. The Muslim has a very high view of God. Ask about the 99 names of God and what they imply. Discuss the nature of sin and how we can be forgiven. Do we just have to ask for forgiveness?
The Muslim knows that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. They also know that a person must be pure in order to approach God in prayer. We must build on what they already know.
4) Concentrate on Jesus.
Paul concentrated on Jesus and the resurrection to such an extent that the Athenians thought that the ‘resurrection’ was another god to compete with Jesus. We need to be positive in our explanation of the biblical truth about Jesus.
Talk about the birth of Jesus, the character of Jesus, the stories of Jesus and the death of Jesus. Describe him as the Word of God, not the Son of God because that just introduces unhelpful misunderstandings (see Chapter 2).
Many Muslims today are very interested in the person of Jesus. He draws crowds of admirers, as he did during his Life on earth, so we need to talk about him and the daily relationship we enjoy with him that affects our whole lives.
5) Avoid arguments.
A discussion about a difference of belief between friends can be very helpful, but an argument where each party is simply trying to win has no value. We know of no Muslim who has ever been argued into the kingdom of God, but there are many examples of Muslims whose attitude to Christ has been hardened by argument.
6) Talk personally to Muslims alone.
One of the main aims of the increased Islamic profile today is to provide a rallying point for the Muslim cause and to confirm halfhearted Muslims in the faith. If an argument does develop between Muslims and Christians, Muslims will often argue vehemently, as much to convince neighbors and friends that they are true to the cause, as to counter the Christian position. Any Muslim known to be thinking seriously about Christianity is likely to be ‘rescued’ by fellow Muslims.
Personal conversations with Muslims about the faith must, therefore, be on a one-to-one basis and in private. Take care not to speak to other Muslims about such a conversation. Privacy is essential.
Furthermore, it night be helpful to mention at this point, that in order to avoid any misunderstanding in your witnessing, men should be in contact with men and women with women.
A good summary of what we have been saying is found in the following statement prepared by an African Christian leader, himself a convert from Islam.
10 COMMANDMENTS for sharing the Gospel with Muslims
1. Use the Word of God
Muslims respect the sacred books: the Law of Moses, the Psalms, the Gospels and the Qur’an. Let the Word of God speak for itself. The Gospels are the best portions to start with, particularly Matthew and Luke.
2. Be constantly in prayer
It is the Holy Spirit who wins people to Christ. Seek His guidance and power as you present the Word.
3. Be a genuine friend
Saying ‘hello’ isn’t enough. If you really care, show it by inviting them to your home, sharing your time and helping with their problems.
4. Ask thought-provoking questions
“Do you expect to go to heaven? Do you have the assurance that God will accept you? What does the Qur’an teach about forgiveness? May I show you what the Bible teaches?” Questions like these show that you have an interest in the important things of life.
5. Listen attentively
When you ask a question, courtesy requires that you listen to the answer no matter how long it takes. You’ll be surprised at how much you’ll learn.
6. Present your beliefs openly
State what you believe, clearly and without apology, showing Scripture passages to support those teachings. Thus, you place the responsibility for doctrine where it belongs---on the Word of God.
7. Reason, don’t argue
Argument may win a point but lose a hearing. There are some points on which you can argue forever without achieving a thing, except closing a mind against you.
8. Never denigrate Muhammad or the Qur’an
This is as offensive to them as speaking disrespectfully about Christ or the Bible is to us.
9. Respect their customs and sensitivities
Don’t offend by putting your Bible (a holy book) on the floor, or appearing too free with the opposite sex, or refusing hospitality, or making jokes about sacred topics such as fasting, prayer or God.
Muslims have a lot of rethinking to do when they are confronted with the gospel. But rest assured that the Word of God will do its work in His good time.
Use of resources
In addition to talking to Muslims about your faith, it is also helpful to pass on something for them to read. This could be in English but preferably in the person’s own language. An address is given in the appendix from where literature in different languages can be obtained. As pointed out in chapter two, don’t hesitate to make use of the Gospel accounts (‘Injil’) as many enjoy reading the Scriptures in their own language for they can easily understand them, and find that it focuses on a person for whom they have great admiration and respect.
Make use of other resources such as videos, e.g. the ‘Jesus’ film which is now available in many different languages.
Helping New Believers
If a Muslim does choose to follow Christ we shall be called upon to give much tender loving care. Be prepared to give much personal time to encourage them in the basics of their new life in Christ. This applies particularly to their understanding of the Bible and prayer.
The Muslim idea of Scripture is different from the Christian view so the new believer from a Muslim background needs special help to know how to read the Bible. In Islam there is an emphasis on reciting the Qur’an, so we need to make it clear that Christians do not regard the Bible as a book merely to be recited. Rather, it exists in our own languages to be studied and understood. As the inspired Word of God, it is God’s voice bringing God’s message and therefore contains God’s instructions on how we are to live as Christians. As they read they should find out what God says about how to live their everyday Life. Above all, the whole Bible bears witness to Jesus Christ and so deepens our trust in God through him. So spend time reading the Bible with them and try to enroll them in a daily Bible reading scheme.
Similarly we need to explain the meaning of prayer. For as with Qur’an recitation, Muslim prayer is a ritual which must be performed exactly, and always in Arabic. Knowing the meaning of the words seems less important than the matter of performing it correctly. Therefore, we need to make it clear that the Christian does not think of prayer primarily as ‘performing a ritual’. Christians think of it more as a conversation with God who is their heavenly Father, and to whom they can speak in any language they know.
We also need to explain that the essential meaning of being a Christian is not only to have a personal trust in God through Christ but also to be in fellowship with others who have a similar trust. This aspect of Christian living is of great relevance to the new believer from Islam. Most Muslims do not feel that ‘being a Muslim’ means primarily holding particular beliefs or doctrines but rather belonging to a certain community in which the religious, political and social links are very strong.
It is for this reason that the community is horrified if any member leaves Islam to join another religion for it is felt that the person has not made a private decision of faith but rather has become a sort of ‘traitor’ who has joined a rival community. Obviously, if the person is living away from their own community the immediate possibility of ostracism is lessened, but it is important for the new believer to be part of a new community with a caring, sharing fellowship of Christians whom they feel they can trust. We must be prepared to become a real family to those who do meet rejection.
Concerning witness, do not expose them to publicity or pressure that might put them on the spot with family or countrymen. Do not ask them to give their testimony in public too quickly, especially in the presence of Muslims, but prayerfully wait for them to come to the place of wanting to share their faith in this way.
So in helping the new believer we can see that the more we surround them with the truth of God’s Word and the love of Christ, the more we can prepare them for all that lies ahead, whatever that might be. Let us therefore through love, prayer and the power of God’s Spirit seek to build up new believers so that they will continue to follow Christ whatever the cost may be. (59-76)
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