Friendship Evangelism among Westernised Muslims


1. The Ministry of Healing and Renewal.

We have considered the opportunities that exist in the West for an effective ministry of friendship evangelism among Westernised Muslims. We have covered the need for the development of personal relationships with Muslims, the importance of a lifestyle witness, and the exercise of love and compassion towards Muslims in their problems and needs. In conclusion we shall briefly review the potential for the work of the Holy Spirit through his gifts in renewing Muslims and giving them a living experience of God's power in their lives.

Far too often the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit has been overlooked as an essential and valuable complement to the preaching of the Gospel, though it is encouraging to see a greater emphasis these days being placed on the gifts of the Spirit in evangelism. Jesus conducted an all-round ministry during his life on earth and we have already seen how he not only went about "teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom" but also "healing every disease and every infirmity among the people" (Matthew 4.23). This healing work was invariably supernatural and caused the masses constantly to glorify God and declare that he was present in the ministry of Jesus (Luke 7.16, John 3.2).

In the same way we read often of great wonders and signs being done among the people by the hands of the apostles in the earliest days of the Church (for example, Acts 2.43, 5.12, 6.8). Indeed we read elsewhere that the salvation of God was not only declared and attested by Jesus and his disciples, but that "God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his own will" (Hebrews 2.4). We must therefore regard the special work of the Holy Spirit in the gifts of healing,' miracles and the like, as one of the vital accompanying proofs of the truth of the Gospel. Our ministry can only be enhanced and become more effective when we seek the manifestation of the power of God through the gifts of the Holy Spirit in our contacts with Muslims. This theme is so common in the New Testament that we cannot help quoting yet another text where the ministry of the Gospel is shown to be by the preaching of the Word together with healings and other experiences of a similar nature.

The work of the apostles Paul and Barnabas at Iconium is described in the Scriptures in these words:

We must not only proclaim the Gospel, we must also have faith that God will honour his Word and give supernatural evidences of its truth and character. The Apostle Paul was well aware of the need of such a comprehensive ministry and he was able to describe the whole of his course in these words:

Jesus Christ worked through Paul, not only by word and deed, but also by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Holy Spirit. In so doing he "fully preached" the Gospel of Christ. It is surely obvious, therefore, that no ministry among Muslims is likely to be effective as long as it consists of preaching alone. We must look to God to manifest his grace by healing the sick, cleansing those possessed of evil spirits, and annulling diseases and infirmities.

There are many occasions in the Scriptures where people were converted precisely because they saw the power of God accompanying the preaching of the Gospel. Sergius Paulus, the Roman proconsul at Paphos on the island of Cyprus, was converted when Paul caused the hand of the Lord to come upon one of his magicians in temporary blindness. Paulus "believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord" (Acts 13.12).

Perhaps the most dramatic example of a man being persuaded through a work of healing was the blind man whom Jesus cured at Jerusalem. When he was healed the man simply testified: "He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and I see" (John 9.15). This man, as a result of his infirmity, had not been educated in the great doctrines and laws of Judaism. His defect was taken as a sign that he was born in "utter sin" (John 9.34) and, when he was healed, he could not engage the Pharisees in theological debate. When confronted with the charge that Jesus had broken the laws of the sabbath by healing him on the sabbath day, he could not argue in reply on the merits of Jesus' act according to their law, nor could he theologically refute the charge. He could only reply:

What a telling answer this was, so beautiful in its simplicity. He could not answer their charge that Jesus was a sinner according to the law, such knowledge was beyond him. He had never been able to refine his own doctrine or faith according to the orthodox truths of his religion. There was only one thing he knew - he had been blind, and now he could see! This was quite sufficient to convince him of the worthiness of Jesus' ministry and he lacked no courage in speaking boldly in defence of him as a man obviously sent from God (John 9.30-33). Nicodemus was yet another of those who became convinced that God was with Jesus when he saw the signs that he did (John 3.2).

In the same way we must expect that many Muslims will be come converted through experiencing the healing power of God in their lives, even though they may not fully comprehend the basic doctrines of the faith. It is always wise-to guard against attempting to catechise or doctrinise people into the Kingdom of God by believing that a testimony to the basic truths of the Gospel is sufficient evidence of a true conversion. The rebirth through the regeneration of the Holy Spirit is a real, vibrant experience and we must not be surprised to often find people being drawn to Christ through experiencing his active grace and love in their lives, even if they do not; immediately assent to or understand the basic tenets of the Gospel. Salvation comes by faith, not by knowledge, and it is very possible that true love for Jesus and real faith can come antecedent to an assent to the finer truths of the Christian Gospel, whereas it is equally possible for people to be grounded in the knowledge of these truths without ever truly experiencing a living work of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

Because the process of conversion is highly experimental, I do not hesitate to allow a wide latitude for the power of signs and wonders to bring about a true and complete persuasion in the hearts of those who experience them, alongside the preaching of the Gospel. As Jesus once said, "No one who does a mighty work in my name will soon after be able to speak evil of me" (Mark 9.39), and it is equally true to say that no one who similarly experiences a mighty work in his name will soon thereafter be anything less than favourably impressed. The power of the Spirit in signs and wonders that accompany the preaching of the Gospel is a great asset that God has granted to his Church - let us not fail to use it. There is no mission field where this is more applicable than the field of Muslim evangelism.

Many Muslims are "oppressed by the devil" (Acts 10.38) and suffer from physical defects and demon-possession. Many are the missionaries who have witnessed the grace of God in action in delivering them from such handicaps. Let us then press on to see just how vital the supernatural works of the Holy Spirit are in the field of Christian witness to Muslims.

2. The Power of the Holy Spirit in Muslim Evangelism.

Some years ago a young Muslim woman in South Africa suffered a series of miscarriages. Despairing of ever having a child of her own, she turned to God and prayed that he would be gracious to her and give her a child. One night, as she slept, she had a strange dream. Someone dressed in glistening white came to her, holding a baby in his arms. He laid it in her lap and went away. Soon afterwards she conceived again and this time all went well and a healthy son was born. She turned to thank God for his grace and kindness, and this same vision came to her again, a man dressed in glistening white.

"I wanted to believe that it was the Prophet Muhammad", she later testified, "but somehow I knew it was Jesus Christ. I cannot say how I knew it was him, but there was no doubt. It was Jesus". It was some time before she became a Christian but the experience left a decided impression on her and contributed towards her eventual conversion. Today she is a bright and lively witness to the Lord and Saviour she loves very dearly.

Not only must we expect to see God work in supernatural ways through visions, healings and the like, but it seems that he purposefully grants such persuasive proofs especially to Muslims who might otherwise not perceive the word of truth. Paul was a rigid persecutor of the Church and it is hardly surprising that it took a momentous revelation of Jesus Christ to convert him. Christians should be especially sensitive towards Muslims who relate strange dreams they have had, particularly where the person of Jesus himself appears.

Many missionaries among Muslims have commented on the effect of deep religious experiences upon Muslims, whether from the Christian who relates experiences of his own, or in cases where the Muslim himself is involved. One such missionary said that it was often his experience that "truth about God is accepted by Muslims more readily through the relating of personal experiences than through the use of theological formulae" (Register, Dialogue and Interfaith Witness with Muslims, p. 77). Yet another makes the very same point: "Many Muslims have come to faith in Christ largely through experiencing his power in some dramatic way in their lives" (Chapman, You Go and Do the Same, p. 73).

Bilquis Sheikh, author of the well-known best-seller I Dared to Call Him Father, was likewise brought to Christ through a series of supernatural experiences. Many are the Muslims who have become followers of Jesus through a direct intervention of the power of the Spirit in their lives. The Holy Spirit is an ever-present witness with us to the glory of Christ and it is his express purpose to pursue this witness (John 16.14). We must expect and indeed pray that he will reveal Jesus Christ to Muslims in a dramatic way if the, will not heed the preaching of the Gospel. We must also pray constantly that he will pour forth the grace of God in works of healing and mercy.

The following passage expresses the general consensus of a number of participants at the 1978 North American Conference for Muslim Evangelisation on this subject:

After all that has been said in this chapter it may appear to some that we are not giving sufficient attention to or placing proper emphasis upon the actual preaching of the Gospel. Please do not be surprised if I say that I remain convinced that the actual preaching of the Word of God does indeed remain the paramount feature of Muslim evangelism. What we are advocating is friendship evangelism, and I have no doubt that there is no substitute for the actual work of witnessing to God's grace in Jesus Christ. It is my view, however, that the one cannot do without the other. We need to teach and preach as Jesus did, but also to do good and to heal infirmities. The beauty of friendship evangelism is that it absorbs all these needs and opens the door for a fully comprehensive and all-round ministry to Muslims.

I have, in this chapter, set forth what I believe are ancillary works to the preaching of the Gospel and, indeed, vital ones. Without them our preaching will lose its impact. Yet there is no substitute for the ministry of preaching and teaching. Jesus sent forth his disciples to "preach the Gospel to the whole creation" (Mark 16.15) and to "make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28.19). From here on, therefore, I shall concentrate on what will always be the supreme work of the missionary or Christian witness to Muslims - the preaching of "the glorious gospel of the blessed God" (1 Timothy 1.11) with which we have been entrusted.

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