The Opportunities Facing the Church Today


1. The Muslim Communities in the West.

Nothing happens by chance in this world. The hand of providence guides the affairs of men and the plans of the nations are subject to the control and foreknowledge of God. He accomplishes all things according to the purpose of his will and, while the migrations of men on earth can usually be attributed to natural causes, yet there always remain superior purposes in such activities which have their origins in the counsels of heaven.

Jesus Christ was crucified by men who wrongly condemned him for blasphemy and treason, yet it was "according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God" (Acts 2.23), who purposed that this event should become the means of salvation for all who believe in him. Joseph's brothers sold him into Egypt with evil intent, but God overruled their designs for good (Genesis 45.5-8). They chose certain means to destroy his life, but God intervened and used those very means to preserve the lives of many. It has rightly been said that all history is purely "His story".

There are many natural ways of explaining the recent migration of hundreds of thousands of Muslims to the West over the past forty years. Most of them have either sought a better life in a world more developed and advanced than their own, or they have been lured to the West to fill the desperate need for manpower which arose from the last great war.

Today over five million Muslim emigrants live in central Europe while at least a further three million have now settled in the Americas. Until the last war no Muslim communities of any real significance existed in Britain, France, Holland or West Germany. For the first time, however, sizeable communities of emigrants and migrant workers now inhabit these lands.

Christians should immediately seek the superior designs of providence in such phenomena. We cannot ascribe such a comprehensive migration of so many followers of another major world religion purely to natural causes. The Lord's own hand in this is clearly visible to those who have eyes to see.

Until recently the Christian and Muslim worlds remained largely oblivious of one another. We speak of the iron curtain and bamboo curtain today, but history surely shows that another veil has separated the nations of east and west for centuries and that veil has been drawn roughly over the Mediterranean Sea, separating the Christian and Muslim worlds in a remarkable way. For ages these two worlds have lived in almost complete isolation from one another, divided purely by an expanse of water that is too small to be called an ocean.

It is a small world we live in, however, and, as people say, it is becoming smaller and smaller through technological and other developments so that today the veil has, to a large extent, been pulled aside. And through the gap thousands of Muslims have travelled to settle in foreign lands that until recently were largely closed to them.

2. A Mission Field on the Church's Doorstep.

Many minds are trying to fathom the implications and portents of this new situation. Anxious souls in the West are predicting that the rising power of Islam will present a greater threat in the future than the forces of communism, while equally anxious Muslims are expressing the fear that the fledgling Islamic communities in the West will lose their identities unless radical steps are taken to strengthen those who presently are beyond the pale of dar al-Islam and its unifying power.

We who have the mind of Christ, however, see the whole matter in a different light. To us the world of Islam has, in a very important way, been brought to the doorstep of the Christian world. For the first time Muslims in considerable numbers have become neighbours, friends, co-workers and fellow- citizens with their national Western Christian counterparts. Not only so but, what is of supreme significance (for reasons which will follow later in this chapter), they have to a large extent foregone their Oriental culture and way of life and have, in a very short time, become thoroughly Westernised. Today we have a new kind of Muslim we never knew before - the Westernised Muslim. By the hand of God a new door has been flung wide open at the feet of the Christian Church in the West. Never before has such an opportunity for extensive, Church-based evangelism among Muslims presented itself to the established Christian world.

Out of every nation they have come. Two million Muslims now live in France - two for every Protestant. Most of them are Algerians and Moroccans though many others have emigrated from other Francophone states in Africa to the land of their former colonial masters. In the United Kingdom the same pattern has appeared. As the British left India in 1947 a similar migration of Muslims took place as that from Algeria when France conceded independence to the country in 1961. Up to a million Muslims originally from India and what is now Pakistan have settled in Britain. Over a million migrant workers from Turkey inhabit West Germany. Thousands of Indonesians have moved to Holland. In addition to these major shifts, thousands of others have moved to Europe as well. Arabs from every state in the Middle East now live, work or study in Europe. Iranians likewise inhabit most European countries as well as the United States. Malays, East Africans, Nigerians - we could go on and on - are now to be found in significant numbers in Europe. How different this is to the situation in Europe fifty years ago when Islam's presence was negligible.

A world of Islam in miniature has sprung up in the West and a Muslim writer has observed that "the Muslims came to Europe by the hand of destiny" (Darsh, Muslims in Europe, p. 50). We cannot help but conclude, however, they were led unawares by a divine hand for a far greater purpose and reason. As one of the great prophets of old has said:

The Christian Church today has a far greater opportunity to evangelise this branch of Islam than it has to take on the whole tree. Many Muslim lands are deliberately closed to the Gospel while others are so far from predominant Christian influence that widespread effective evangelism is inconceivable. Yet here in the West God has provided a new door to the Muslim world. Here Christians by the thousands and whole churches can become involved in a ministry that, for nearly fourteen hundred years since Islam began, has largely been impossible. An opportunity has been laid right at the feet of the Church which hitherto could not be conceived.

The very uniqueness of this new situation compels us to see God's hand and will behind it. Surely, as so many believe who are involved in Muslim evangelism, this is God's day for the Muslims. Muslims from every Islamic land in the East have come to the West and the time is obviously ripe for a new form of ministry among them and a sustained witness from the whole Christian Church.

The scope for large numbers of conversions from Islam has clearly been created in the West and, not only does the Church now have a broadly-based opportunity to involve itself among Muslims, but it also has the chance to train converts from Muslim nations in its own environment and is able to send them back where Western missionaries often cannot go. In the next few sections we shall examine these opportunities in some detail, but before doing so, I wish to turn to my own country, South Africa, where a remarkable prototype of the present Western situation was created many years ago.

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