The Christian Message to Moslems

James Levi Barton

There is an imperative need that every missionary to the Moslems should have definitely in mind the Christian message which he bears. It is easy to prejudice the minds of one's hearers and thus not only render the message inoperative but make it the agency for closing the door of approach for all time. Not every Christian truth should be preached at all times and to all hearers, and there are many of the truths of our religion that a Moslem is unable to bear until he has learned other truths that prepare the way for fuller knowledge. Christ addressed the parable of the lily and the sower to peasants, the taking of fish to the fishermen, and of the solidity of the great stones of the temple to his followers when in Jerusalem.

Well-known workers among Mohammedans who know well their doctrines and prejudices have suggested that the following aspects of Christianity should be presented to Moslems with caution, and then only after special and unusual preparation:

1. Foremost among then are the doctrines regarding the person of Jesus Christ, like the immaculate conception, his sonship, divinity, his death and resurrection.

Concerning these, progress must be made slowly and with a degree of caution that recognizes the deep prejudices that must be unseated before Christ can be enthroned. Here the Koran can be quoted in regard to the divine nature at Jesus and his prophetic rank. After that a positive preaching of the manhood and nobility of the person will necessarily lead to an acknowledgment of his divine character. It is well here to follow the suggestions of Christ himself and so lift up Jesus before them that they will be led to acknowledge him as Lord.

2. Another doctrine is the fatherhood of God.

The gross and literal method among Moslems of interpreting the doctrine of the fatherhood of God has made it impossible for them, at the outset, to regard the declaration in any other than a sensual manner. As the Koran always speaks of Jesus as the son of Mary, the declaration that he is the son of God makes Mary the consort of Deity, and against this interpretation they rebel. In the same way and for the same reason they deny that God is the father of men. Their conception of Allah is so exalted and his position is so vastly above all human relations, that they find it difficult to put him into paternal relations with men. They recoil from the first words of address in the Lord's prayer and ought not to be asked to repeat it until they begin to grasp the meaning of the Christian interpretation of God as the father of all mankind. This alone when understood and accepted will undermine much of the fundamental theology and philosophy of Islam.

3. Prejudice is also aroused by the doctrine that redemption comes only through Jesus Christ.

Redemption through Christ is a long way from a belief that redemption is possible only through the repetition of the creed of Islam and the performance of its five fundamental acts of worship. To ask a Mohammedan at the outset to abandon every essential doctrine of his ancestral religion and put into its place another doctrine, which from childhood he has been taught to regard as the very essence of falsehood, is to violate the law of human thinking and every rule of religious pedagogy. We may claim that the Holy Spirit can and will prepare the way for the reception of the most radical doctrines of Christianity, and yet it is difficult to believe and presumptuous to assume that Holy Spirit can be relied upon always to intervene as a corrective of our failure to make use of the divinely given facialties with which we are endowed.

4. Another cause of stumbling is the denial that Mohammed was a prophet of God.

This does not even suggest that Mohammed's divine character should be proclaimed or conceded. At the same time one is forced to acknowledge that he did have a message for the pagan tribes of Arabia that was superior to the religion they formerly held and practiced. His proclamation of the one great overruling God was a step far in advance of the many deities worshipped by the Arabians. There are passages in the Koran worthy to be read in the pulpits of our Christian churches, and exalted conceptions of duty and sacrifice that the centuries have not dimmed. There is a wide field in which the Christian preacher may present the claims of Christianity upon the Moslem without condemnation of their revered leader who has been almost deified among some sects. It is better not to make attacks upon the prophet of the Mohammedans, but leave it to them, after they have caught the transcendent beauty and felt the infinite power of the living Christ in their own lives, to draw the inevitable conclusion that Mohammed could not have been and is not now the prophet of the living God.

5. It is also unwise to claim that Christianity is the only true religion.

Such a proclamation, if it did not at once repel all listeners, would precipitate a bitter controversy. One would not begin here in preaching Christ to the followers of any other religion, much less to Moslems. The appeal must be to the desire in the soul of every man to find rest and peace in God, and the Mohammedans know that this desire has not been gratified through observing the exactions of their faith. The proclamation that Christianity is a great and satisfying religion that has met the demands of multitudes and is meeting those demands today, is the positive message that must end in the recognition that it indeed is from God and leads to God.

5. The use of wine at the Sacraments is repellant to Moslems.

It is fully realized that we are here treading upon ground that, among Christians, is controversial, and yet there is no sound reason for insisting that fermented wine shall be employed among Mohammedans to celebrate the sacraments when such use runs directly counter to their highly commendable ideas of temperance. There are some who contend that Christ himself did not use fermented wine: and even if he did, does it follow that he would have us do so if it were to make our Moslem brothers to offend, or even to stumble and fall? It does not need to be stated here that all Christian workers among Moslems should abstain from all use of wine; which use the Moslems believe is contrary to the teachings of Christianity as it is to their own religion.

There are several difficulties standing in the way of the Mohammedan's quick acceptance of Christianity besides his inherent prejudice. Many of these are perfectly honest and need to be cleared up before Moslems can take their stand for Christ. We can here name but a few of these.

1. Foremost among these is the high state of morality demanded of men by the life and teachings of Christ.

To many this seems to be an unrealizable ideal and so far beyond the possibility of human attainment that they feel it to be useless to make the attempt at all. That Jesus achieved it is encouraging, and that many others have approached unto the perfect life gives hope. The doctrine, however, to the Mohammedan who is conscious of gross failure in attaining unto the lower standards of his own religion, is a severe one.

2. The failure of Christianity actually to win all the western world presents another difficulty.

It is but natural that the Mohammedan should seek to know why it is that all America and all Europe are not yet truly followers of Christ. He is also asking how it is possible that the entire non-Christian world has not even yet heard of Christ and had an opportunity to accept or reject him.

3. The supposition that Christianity has passed the zenith of its power and is now a waning religion presents often a real difficulty.

Many Moslems believe this, both because of its failure in all of the centuries since Christ to win the world and also because of the many divisions that have entered into the Church, breaking it up into different and not infrequently mutually antagonistic sects.

4. The composite authorship of the Scriptures also offends many.

In comparison with their Koran written by their prophet's hand alone, our Scriptures seem to them fragmentary, uncorrelated and unauthentic.

5. Perhaps the greatest difficulty is the relation of Christian nations to Mohammedan countries.

Since Moslem conquests ceased it has been the Christian nations that have encroached upon Mohammedan countries, gradually usurping their authority. This seems to them like the spirit of the crusades inaugurated in the name of Christ for usurping the national control of the world. They see that today most of the Mohammedans are under the rule of Christian nations and are beginning to feel that in time there will be left no Mohammedan country that is ruled by the law of the Koran. It is natural that they should regard this as the fixed policy of the Christians, as it was their own in the early days of Moslem supremacy. It is difficult for them to see that this has not taken place under the dictates of Christianity.

The following fundamental truths and principles of Christianity have been suggested by a large number of experienced workers among Moslems as containing that which appeals to the Mohammedan's religious sense and that have in a large number of instances received his hearty approval, and yet even these should not be preached indiscriminately and without regard to local environments and prejudices. The list is not exhaustive but is suggestive of many applications and divisions of these great themes that lie at the foundation of our faith.

1. The unity of God is the most important of these. The Moslems are so convinced that Christians are polytheists that it is well at the outset to let it be known that we believe in one eternal, all-powerful ruler of heaven and earth whose we are and whom we serve. There is little if anything in the Mohammedan conception of the Godhead that we cannot affirm with equal emphasis, and to this we have much to add. A bold presentation of the great truth of the one great overruling God of heaven and earth cannot fail to disarm the hearers of the objection that Christians have three Gods.

2. We may also insist with advantage upon the divine omnipotence coupled with divine goodness. Here we move away from and beyond the Moslem position which has little to say about the goodness of Allah. They affirm his power and his justice, but doubt his love. It is not difficult to establish from the Old Testament and from nature the fact of divine goodness which is a step in the path of the revelation of paternal compassion. The Moslems believe in a great God, but not a loving God. When they catch a vision of the inherent goodness of the Godhead they will have begun to break with the cold severity of Islam.

3. The use of miracles by Christ and his apostles has, in many countries, proven to be of much value in establishing the divine character of Christianity among both Moslems and other non-Christian peoples. Whatever we may claim as to the evidential value of Christian miracles, we know they had a large place in the life of Christ and his apostles and that they are no less effective today upon the mission field. The Moslems believe that Christ wrought miracles but they know little of the benevolent character of these mighty works.

4. The Christian doctrine of the future life is, some missionaries report, generally accepted by Mohammedans as superior to their own paradise. In it they find an uplift and joy that is far above their own sensual and sensuous conceptions of the future. Some of the passages in the Gospel of John and in the Revelation come to them with a mighty appeal.

5. The purity and nobility of the moral ideas set forth in the teachings of Jesus may be urged to advantage. This does not presuppose the divinity of Jesus. His teachings can be presented as the utterances of a man who, in the midst of the moral degradation of his times, set before the world ideals of living of the highest and most exalted character. Here is an inexhaustible field for instruction in which no place for controversy can be discovered and through which the Christ can be revealed in his beauty, grace and power. In the minds of the hearers this win he set over against the teaching and practices of their own prophet which many Moslems fail to endorse as an ideal for the world.

6. The fact that Jesus practiced what he taught never fails to make a profound impression upon a people who for generations have divorced principles from practice. The Moslem will state principles of living that are not second to those taught by Christ himself, but at the sane time he acknowledges that no one has lived in accordance therewith - not even their prophet. This fact in the life of Christ, which they do not deny, kept to the front, coupled with the teachings themselves, awakens a consciousness of his nobility of character and sinlessness and tends to lead to adoration.

7. Moslems are also attracted by love expressed an beneficent deeds and in unselfish character. While Mohammedans admire unselfishness, their legends being full of records of those who have unselfishly served their fellow men, they have come almost to deny that it today exists. Their theology aids to this conclusion. It is difficult for them to conceive of an unselfish act calling for personal sacrifice. It is at this point that the devoted life of of the missionaries, given to acts of beneficence, appeals to them with tremendous power when they are convinced that their deeds are unselfish and prompted only by love. No one who has not lived among Moslem peoples can realize how devoid is their life and character of this Christian virtue. We have often misinterpreted Moslem acts of what appeared to be supreme unselfishness, like the giving of alms and general hospitality, as a demonstration of Christian virtue, forgetting that through these acts he believes he is accumulating credits in heaven by which his sins may be cancelled.

8. Christian secret prayer and worship is designed to fill a need in Mohammedan life. The many modern movements towards various forms of mysticism demonstrate the sincere desire of multitudes of Moslems for a spiritual life not provided for in the tenets of Islam. His set forms of worship, mechanical and at stated periods, do not seem to satisfy the conscious needs of his soul. Christianity assures him that he who would worship God in spirit and in truth can do so at any time and in any place; that the soul can be in constant communion with its God, requiring no set form and demanding no ritual. Christianity offers all that the many mystical movements have sought to supply and much more. The Mohammedan has from the beginning believed that he can draw near and speak to his God without the aid of priest or mediator, but at the same time he has been taught that times, seasons and forms are imperative. Consciousness of an ever-present God with ear ever open to the cry of his soul comes as a revelation from heaven full of beauty, comfort and power.

9. Christian institutions for the relief of ignorance and suffering are of great importance. Here we come to a practical demonstration of what Christianity has done in accordance with the principles taught by Jesus. The benevolence of Christendom in founding and supporting educational institutions, asylums, places of refuge, hospitals and many other similar lines of work, is capable of endless demonstration. What has been done in this direction in Christian countries carries much weight, and yet here it is more difficult to separate the act from a selfish purpose, since Christians and their families enjoy the privileges afforded by such institutions. When however the gifts of Christendom are given for similar institutions in foreign countries for the help and relief of peoples whom the donors have never known and probably will never see, it is impossible to assign a selfish purpose to the act. It is not difficult to connect these deeds of Christians with the teachings and example of Christ and to show that such institutions of benevolence, pity, and charity spring from the very essence of the teachings of Jesus and that a Christianity professing to be true to Jesus that did not thus express itself would be false, and not Christianity at all.

10. Freedom of worship from casuistic demands is a counterpart of the place of secret prayer. It is difficult for the Mohammedan to bring himself to realize that acceptable worship must not be offered in a formal way and that religious acts must not be in accord with prescribed rules. He has been held all his life in the trammels of form and ceremony and the greatest aims of which he has been conscious are the sins of omitting to keep all the demands of his religious laws. Form and ceremony have been to him priest and mediator. Christianity sets him free and brings him face to fact with his God.

11. The possession of and reliance upon a book is in accord with the predilections of an Moslems. They are ready to accept the Book as containing the content and claim of the Christian religion. They require no proof of its divine character since their own Koran refers to the Bible as the word of God and to the Hebrew prophets and Jesus as prophets of God. They are already predisposed to look upon the Book favorably although they may deny some of its teachings. The preacher should be clear in his own mind that his book contains the revelation of God to men and that in it is revealed the plan of salvation for the race. He should utter no uncertain message as he offers to the Moslems the Bible in the place of the Koran and assures him that it is the word of God.

There will he no call for the missionary to go out of his way to introduce to the Mohammedans the principles and methods of higher criticism, for they are not ignorant of those principles and will undoubtedly begin to apply them in investigation, in their own way, as soon as they have sufficiently advanced in Christian studies Already they find difficulty in the composite authorship of the Christian Scriptures and the widely separated periods in which the different books were written. Still they are ready to accept the Book and it is the task of the missionary to guide them into an earnest study of its teachings.

12. The realization of a strong, free, pure Christian womanhood may with advantage be held before Moslems as an ideal. Here again we are face to face with historical records which have grown out of Christian teaching. The attitude of Christ towards women is clear and there follows the necessity of showing how that teaching has resulted in the elevation of womanhood in all Christian countries. One of the chief difficulties will arise from the presupposition, upon the part of the Moslems, that their women are incapable of attaining to the same high state that the women of Christian lands have reached. Among Moslems they have never known such women as Christendom possesses and it is easy and natural for them to conclude that their women are intellectually and morally inferior. It is not, however, impossible to prove, through examples taken from among races formerly pagan, that whenever and wherever Christianity is accepted by a people and they begin to live in accordance with its precepts, womanhood begins to emerge from its former state of suppression and depression into new forms of beauty, strength and grace. There is a boundless field here for proving the practical value of Christianity in elevating the mothers of future generations and thus recreating the race.

13. That Christianity awakens social aspirations, leading to reforms is a fact that should be insisted upon. There is nothing in Islam that leads to effort or sacrifice for the help of the community. Not a little has been done by them in aid of other Moslems at times when this seemed necessary to protect their religious establishments. A Moslem community is essentially selfish. In times of severe famine among them distributors of relief have frequently remarked upon the impossibility of securing the services of any Moslem to aid in saving life except by paying large prices. Moslem nature seems to lack that to which appeal can be made for a service of pure philanthropy. Human suffering as such seems to make little or no impression. A community appeal falls upon dead ears. It will be a long and difficult task to impress upon them the brotherhood of humanity and to engender in them a genuine desire to improve the social order and eradicate its evils. What has already been done in this direction in Christian lands can be cited with great force and cannot fail to make an impression.

14. That Jesus came not to destroy but to fulfill the best and highest aspirations of every man and of every religion should also be set forth. It will not be an easy task to move the Moslem from the position that it is the chief function of Allah miserably to destroy all those who are not Moslems, to the position that God cherishes and desires to preserve all that is good in all lands and among all peoples, and condemns everything that is evil wherever found. That Christianity does not universally and indiscriminately condemn an Mohammedans to eternal destruction and assign all professing Christians to an eternal paradise is a startling revelation. That Christianity aims to reveal to every soul seeking after God, be he Moslem, Buddhist, Hindu or pagan, the very God he hopes to find comes with mighty force. It is a gospel of joy to know that Jesus came not to condemn the world, but to seek out the needy and the lost and to bring them into the abundant life. This message will meet an immediate response in many a Moslem heart that has been staggering under the condemnation of his own religion while longing for something that win show him the way to higher and better living. It is here that the Gospel has a special message for Moslems today wholly discouraged as to the national supremacy and coming to doubt the spiritual adequacy of Islam.

15. The presentation of Jesus Christ as a mediator and intercessor between God and man should be constantly made. One of the supreme difficulties of Mohammedanism is that Allah is so exalted and powerful that in his presence man is but a slave too degraded to look even into the face of his master. There is an awful gulf that separates between the worshipper and his God. Realizing this fact, a multitude of sects or divisions have arisen, all of them more or less mystical but providing some way by which man in his low estate may come nearer to God. Some of these make Mohammed an intercessor between man and God. Others provide a Mahdi or some other leader who claims to have special power of intercession or who claims for himself an unusual portion divine favor. In a peculiar sense the Moslem world is seeking for some mediator between themselves and God and are marvelously ready for the message that tells them of the existence of that for which they seek. This presentation will answer the cry of the soul of many who are seeking in other ways to find access to their God who is afar off. There is hardly another phase of Christianity more suited to the present hour for which the Moslem world has been in unusual preparation for a generation and more.

Growing out of the experience of missionaries in their attempt to reach the Moslems most effectively with the message of the Gospel of Christ, sufficient data has not been gathered to make clear all those phases of the Gospel which most appeal to the Moslem mind. We must bear in mind that there are so many different grades of culture among Mohammedans, that they belong to so many different races and have come up in the midst of such varied environments that we should hardly expect one method of approach or one phase of the Gospel to appeal equally to all classes and during all periods of their life. At the same time, there are undoubtedly certain phases of the teachings of the New Testament that are calculated to make a stronger impression upon the Mohammedan hearers than other phases and that too because the hearers are Mohammedan. It is this point to which attention should be called, with the possibility that missionaries having this subject in mind will experiment with Mohammedan hearers until some conclusion can be reached which will be of constructive help to those who would reach the Moslem heart

Dr. Harrison in Arabia has made some experiments in his hospital along the line of the suggestion with the endeavor to discover what are the chief living forces of the Gospel as applied to the mind of the Arab. In the plan some aspects of the Gospel were presented to each individual patient in the hospital in a personal and friendly way daily and the results were carefully noted and recorded. These different presentations were along the line of the distinct doctrines of the New Testament teachings, the idea of sin and need of salvation, the holiness of God and the demand for forgiveness, the historical presentation especially with reference to the historic Christ, the parables and the lessons which they teach. These experiments were so limited in range and brief in period that it is impossible to draw any general conclusions from them, and yet it was evident to those who were closest to the plan that some phases of the Gospel held attention more closely and made impression more deeply than others.

The same experiments could he tried perhaps to better advantage on groups of Moslems where the dogmatic, the historical, the pictorial, the emotional and the mystical phases of Christianity were presented at different periods, observing and noting down the conclusion of the speaker or of one who faced the audience with the speaker as to which presentation seemed most deeply to hold attention. This would he only one of the results of the presentation and would need to be followed up in order to discover which presentation tended the most to inquiry for farther light or guidance. There seems to be a field here for a legitimate and necessary experimentation.

These are but suggestions for the consideration of those who have opportunity for presenting the claims and promises of the Gospel of Christ to Mohammedans. They are the result of wide observation and experience upon the part of different experienced workers among them. While there is much in Christianity, even in the fundamental doctrines, that is not here mentioned, there is yet enough to call to the attention of all to whom these great truths are preached that Christianity offers to the individual and to society that which transcends everything Islam possesses and that meets the cry of the heart after a closer walk with God. We need not hasten to the more controversial questions until minds and hearts have been prepared for the more difficult and more personal truths.

The Christian Approach to Islam, by James L. Barton, Pilgrim Press 1918, Chapter IXX (pages 267-280).

Essays by James Levi Barton
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