The Opportunities Facing the Church Today


1. The Adoption by Muslims of the Western Culture.

In our view the existence of Muslim communities in the West has provided the Church with a hitherto unparalleled Opportunity to engage freely in evangelising Muslims, and in this brief section we shall consider five considerable advantages which it now enjoys.

Firstly, Muslims in the West are gradually adopting the Western culture. Ever since the Industrial Revolution Western civilization has progressed so rapidly that, whereas it once struggled behind Islamic civilization in the days when Muslim culture reached its zenith, it has since outstripped it and left it far behind. An unfortunate side-effect of this progress has been the growth of so-called "permissiveness" and secularism so that the Christian Church has suffered in its wake. Nevertheless the rise of Western civilization has been set against the traditional heritage of Christendom and it has been the chief cause of the decline of Islamic culture in recent centuries.

Despite its secularistic tendencies Western civilization and its attendant political and military power removed in a short time the threat that Islam had posed to central Europe for nearly a thousand years. It is surely apparent to all that our Western era has also passed its zenith and Muslim countries, which have only recently regained their independence from European colonial powers, are seeking once again to flex their muscles and re-assert themselves.

The enormous strides in the West in the last two hundred years, however, have probably ensured that the Islamic world will never again attain to the pre-eminence it once enjoyed, and no matter how far Western civilization recedes from its peak it has bequeathed to the world remarkable benefits, both in terms of material progress and the exercise of individual liberties. The Muslim world can only ultimately profit from an adaptation of these benefits into its own culture and as long as fundamentalism seeks to re-establish itself in the world of Islam, it can only struggle in the shade of Western progress.

Muslims in the West, keenly sensitive to the adverse effects of personal freedom in our society, in particular sexual licence, personal indulgence and irreligious materialism, publicly distance themselves from our culture. In private, however, they are, perhaps even subconsciously at times, adopting with open arms all the benefits that our culture has to offer. Millions have emigrated to the West in an unashamed quest for a "better life". A Muslim writer, seeking to warn Muslims in the West against the inherent dangers (in his view) of a non-Muslim environment, nevertheless concedes:

In South Africa the Muslims have become thoroughly Westernised. Despite the very limited opportunities afforded to them under this country's unpopular political system they have made great efforts to find their place in a land of great wealth and resources, and they have succeeded in an impressive way. Their standard of living is the equal of that of any other people in this country and it is not an exaggeration to say that they have reaped the benefits of Western civilization with an undisguised relish. The Muslims of North India and Pakistan would be astonished if they could see how the descendants of their former countrymen have prospered in this land, despite the limitations unfortunately forced on them even to this day.

In the process, however, they have become fully Westernised and have adopted the Western culture. Few Muslim homes are without a television set which uninterruptedly beams programs produced in the West. Most of the Muslim men wear Western suits and casual dress. Shopping is done in Western supermarkets, houses are built and furnished in the Western style, and education is completely Western in its character and intensity.

While this obviously benefits Muslims we must, as Christians, identify the advantages we have in this situation. The Western culture has grown out of a traditional realm fully Christian in origin and much of its heritage is Christian at heart. Amongst other things this includes individual rights, personal freedom and open democracy. Despite its advanced secularism much of Western culture can be identified with Christianity and the Church maintains its unopposed domination within its realm. To use a sporting term, the Muslims here are meeting us on our home ground and we have what is traditionally called "home-ground advantage". The culture of the West is still set against a Christian heritage and Muslims in our midst are exposed to a way of life which breaks down traditional barriers.

In Muslim lands, for example, it is often very difficult for Christian men to witness to Muslim women. Often they are secluded by the veil and other privations from public society and women alone can reach them. One missionary speaks thus of his experiences in Bangladesh:

In South Africa, however, such restrictions hardly exist. Christian men may freely witness to Muslim women, whether married or single, and it is our experience that most Muslim men have no objection to this once they realise the Christian has no other motive or objective than the propagation of his faith.

Christian missionaries to Muslim lands often have to prepare for the proverbial "culture-shock" and many have been limited in their effectiveness, either through failing to adopt the culture of those they seek to reach, or through unwittingly endeavouring to Westernise converts as though Christianity and the Western culture were synonymous. In the West, however, such problems dissipate almost entirely and as Muslims become Westernised, so the culture barrier breaks down and Christians discover immense advantages in being able to freely evangelise Muslims through methods and forms of witness developed and strengthened against the background of the Western culture.

2. Other Great Advantages Before the Church in the West.

Potential missionaries in Muslim lands not only have to prepare for a radical cross-cultural ministry but often have to spend many years learning a foreign language before they can seriously begin to witness to the Muslims to whom they have been sent. Even then it takes to time to really learn the vernacular through constant conversation in the language.

In the West, however, this barrier is likewise breaking down. In South Africa most Muslims speak either English or Afrikaans, the home languages of those who first brought the Gospel to this country. Throughout the West the minority Muslim communities will likewise have to adopt the languages of their predominantly Christian societies and this also becomes an immense advantage to us, for we can converse freely with them in consequence without having to struggle in a foreign language. Furthermore we once again have "home-ground advantage" as it is our languages that they are learning - French, Dutch, English, German and the like - languages which have been the medium for the expression of great Christian works and writings and the definition of the basic doctrines of the faith since the Reformation.

Christians can thus witness freely to Muslims, not only in languages they are most familiar with, but also in tongue through which the finest development and growth of Christian faith and doctrine has come to be expressed.

As said already, the emigration of Muslims to the West must be regarded as providential and as we behold the growing number of advantages this phenomenon presents to the Church and the breaking down of traditional cultural, linguistic an other barriers, we need to heed the words of our Saviour:

Since the process of decolonisation which followed the Second World War many Muslim lands, hitherto open to the Gospel, have become wholly or partly closed to it. In some countries the open preaching of the Gospel is a public offence punishable by law. To this day the clouds continue to darken and the ministry of the Gospel in Muslim lands is becoming more and more difficult.

In the West, however, the situation has been reversed. The sun shines uninterruptedly as the Church finds itself pre sensed with hitherto unknown opportunities to reach Muslims, and that right at its doorstep.

The third great advantage it has is the one Zwemer thus noticed particularly in South Africa, namely the accessibility of the Muslim communities in our midst. In past generation anyone wishing to evangelise Muslims had to prepare to travel to foreign lands where he would be far away from his home culture and environment. This still holds for all missionaries who prepare for service in Muslim lands. In the West, however, the Christian evangelist can pursue his normal employment during the day, come home to his family for dinner, then venture out for a few hours ministry among Muslims in the evening, before retiring to his home and family that night. There need be no disruption of his normal daily routine. The Muslims are within range of a home-based ministry and, because they form part of the Western environment, they are freely accessible. In comparison with many countries in the traditionally Islamic world, Muslims in the West can even be said to be vulnerable to an open Christian ministry.

This leads to the fourth great advantage we have, namely that Muslim opposition to the ministry of the Gospel is severely restricted in its potential in the West. Some countries, like Pakistan and Indonesia, have no official restrictions on Christian witness and yet even here social pressures and other forms of Muslim opposition limit considerably the ministry of the Gospel. In other lands opponents can rely on official support for their efforts to withstand Muslim evangelism, or at least be reasonably sure that the authorities will not interfere in such activity. In the West, however, Christians are not only freed from any danger of official restrictions but in most countries can be sure of official protection. The preaching of the Gospel is generally regarded as one of the inalienable personal rights of Christians in the West and a feature of the principle of freedom of religion which holds in all predominantly Protestant countries. This is one of our cherished Christian heritages in our Western culture and one which the Muslims in our midst cannot interfere with (especially as they enjoy much the same privileges). The doors are wide open, the call is to boldness, and the defences of those who would oppose us are accordingly considerably limited.

The fifth great advantage we enjoy is the potential for the Muslim convert to become fully settled in his Christian environment. In predominantly Muslim countries a convert to Christianity can find himself completely ostracised from his community. His opportunities for marriage and employment can be often blotted out once it is known he has become a Christian. This is the price converts from Islam have to pay in Muslim lands for their faith in Jesus Christ.

To some extent the rejection of the convert can also be severe in the West. He may well be excluded from his family and his community and, no matter how much he may be able to adapt to his Christian environment, he will always feel the effects of being ostracised from his own community. Naturally therefore, one should seek to minimise this traumatic experience as much as possible to help the convert to remain acceptable to his own people.

Nevertheless, on becoming a Christian, he at the same time becomes more integrated with his overall environment. ! Christian marriage is open to him and employment facilities are undiminished. He can - as many have done - settle down thoroughly as a Christian in a predominantly Christian environment and society.

The doors are wide open, the barriers are being broken down, and the Church in the West has been presented with a golden opportunity to evangelise the Muslims in its midst. In our view, however, there remains one last advantage and, as it is the supreme one, we shall devote a whole section to it, in particular as it tends by its very character to suggest the most effective form of ministry which can be conducted among the Muslims in the West.

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