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17. Understanding Islam

9.1. Do we have to?

One very important issue when talking about any difficult task is the question of its necessity. Do we have to evangelise Muslims? One way to answer the question is to look at the history of redemption and the reason God chooses anyone.

When God chose Abraham, he gave him a command, saying “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless.” (Genesis 17:1) When He chose Israel, He said: “You shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” (Exodus 19:6) So the reason He chose Abraham is for Abraham to walk before God. Walking before God requires telling the nations about Him. Israel was chosen to be a kingdom of priests. A priest is the one who tells people about God and teaches them what He says.

When God chose anyone in the Old Testament, it was not to call them to privilege but rather it was a functional choice. In other words, God didn’t choose anyone because they were better or more pious than anyone else, but because He appointed them for a job. They were chosen to proclaim to all the nations “The Lord reigns.” (Psalm 96:10)

Similarly, in the New Testament, this was the last command from Christ:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

This command simply can’t be avoided or explained away. “All nations” means just that, all with no exception, and of course Muslims are included in the “All”.

Before Christ’s ascension, He said to the disciples

you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

There is one important point to note about this verse. Christ’s command to be witnesses starts with Jerusalem. This is often understood to mean that we have to start from our closest circle and move outwards. However, such an interpretation ignores the fact that none of the apostles was from Jerusalem but rather they were from Galilee. For them, Jerusalem was the most difficult place to go and proclaim the gospel. It was the centre of religious and political authority. Proclaiming the gospel in Jerusalem at such a time was an extremely dangerous task, as it would be construed as going against the Roman authority and the Jewish authority at the same time. Once one has proclaimed the gospel in Jerusalem, doing the same in the rest of the world is a much easier task.

The early church understood the task clearly. Peter preached to “[m]en of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem.” (Acts 2:14b) The Church was compelled to speak of what they had seen and heard, even though they knew they would be punished for it (Acts 4:20-29). At the time, proclaiming the gospel was a punishable crime, which could be – and indeed sometimes was – punished by death, as proclaiming the Gospel was considered either blasphemy (from Jewish perspectives) or treason (from the Roman point of view). There is more proof from the Bible demonstrating the necessity of the task than we have time for, but I believe the point is quite clear throughout the Bible. We do have to tell everyone about Christ, regardless of the danger or the difficulty.

So having established that this is something we have to do, why do so few Christians engage in evangelising Muslims? What gets in the way and – more importantly – how can we not let it stop us? In the rest of this chapter we will look at some of the many reasons we may have for shying away from this command.

What gets in the way, and how can we not let it stop us?

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