Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Modern Church's 'Jerusalem Council'

What went on with the early church in Acts 15 (following the remarkable events of Chapters 10 and 11) directly relates to the modern day debate among the Church about the validity of Hindu/Muslim/etc. 'followers of Jesus/Christ' who remain within their given religion but secretly worship Jesus alone. The question the modern Church (the majority of which have never faced any kind of persecution for their faith) is asking is: Can these 'followers of Jesus' who keep all their cultural norms and look no different on the outside than unbelievers within their culture be considered true believers?

What of when Jesus says to his disciples, "Anyone who would come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me"? I would say the cross not only represents Jesus doing what we couldn't do ourselves, but the very willingness to face persecution for His Names' sake. Would you not agree? What is to be said then of these believers who may continue to call themselves Muslims, go to the mosque, read from al-Qur'an (although adding the Psalms and Gospels now) and do not face any persecution for their faith in Jesus Christ (no longer Mohammed)?

One MBB (Muslim-background Believer) from Iraq who still goes by his Muslim named Muhammad al-Hallaaj, in his simple and powerful autobiography More Than a Dream: Life With Jesus Christ, puts a pleading invitation to those of similar backgrounds as his:
I am convinced that God has a special plan to glorify himself uniquely in each person. Do you want to see the God of glory at work in your life? Ask, my dear brother and sister! For the Lord of glory says, "Ask in faith!" Ask the Lord of glory to show you the right path! I am not asking you to change your religion. No, my dear brother and sister, let the Muslim stay a Muslim, and the Christian stay a Christian, and the Sikh a Sikh and the Jew a Jew. Don't concern yourself with changing your religion; instead, seek to grow in your relationship with God (p.44).

The following are some quotes and insightful thoughts from a "Muslim Follower of Jesus," the author Mazhar Mallouhi, originally from Syria [he does not attend an official church but meets regularly with Sufi(mystical) Muslims and discusses about Jesus and is seeing them come to Christ in spirit and in truth]:

“Instead of calling people to another religion, Jesus called them to himself. Following him and his way was what mattered to him. Jesus’ primary concern was the establishment of the new life of the Kingdom of God, not the founding of a new religion. It is not about changing one’s religion…Religion consists of affiliation with a group, culture, ethic, dogma and structure of authority—clergy, book, orthodoxy…It is possible to change all of them without knowing God. If we stress these we may give the impression that these are the Christian faith” (112).

Arab Evangelical and Western Christians need to avoid the dogmatic judgmentalism of the early [Jewish] church who could not see past God’s work in their own religion and culture, and insisted that Gentiles adopt Jewish religious customs and practices in their following of Christ

“Mazhar personally avoids all such terminology and all theories of categorization, believing that spirituality cannot be systemized [such as the ‘C1-C6 Spectrum’], as God works differently in each person’s life. However, he does point out that these ‘insider movements’ do not exist to hide the identities of followers of Christ, but instead to enable them to go spiritually deeper within their own Islamic community. Interestingly, as most of the ‘pillars’ of Islamic practice are all adaptations of previous Jewish and Christian forms, many Muslim followers of Christ are adapting the pillars of their Islamic faith to enhance their faith in Christ” (119).

“Christ changed my understanding of God. I love the story of the woman caught in adultery, as this totally changed my thinking about God. Dostoevsky planted the understanding for this in my mind. Christ did not look at her to accuse her, but looked at the ground so as not to shame her. He participated in her shame [huge for an ‘honor-shame culture’]. The experience of God through Christ gave me joy and peace—it covered me—the whole world changed for me. God is not an angry God, but a loving Father, suffering with his son on the cross and suffering with me in this world” (176).

“It is about following our beautiful Lord who loves all traditions and cultures. This is the problem with some large Arab evangelical churches. They bring young followers of Christ from a Muslim background into Christianity, more than to Christ. And this is tragic” (179).

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