Contextualization Guidelines for Missions

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Chinese Version

Introduction

The following is from a document produced by Erik Hyatt, pastor for Global Outreach at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. This is the church John Piper pastors. Members seeking support to reach Muslims are required to answer all the questions. Then the Missions Committee (Global Outreach Team) reviews and discusses their answers with the candidates at their interview for support.

– Georges Houssney

Introduction from Bethlehem Baptist Church

As the Lord continues to move the nations over the face of the earth, tens of thousands of Muslims are arriving on our doorstep here in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Due to this providence of God and the great desire of many of our global partners to go to Muslim nations around the world we drafted this contextualization guide for working with Muslim peoples:

“We believe that the Bible governs and fuels missiological practice. Our strategies, therefore, must stem from a biblical-theological understanding rather than pragmatic considerations. We believe that the gospel works to transform cultures, rather than to simply redeem culture.  Our ultimate aim in contextualization is to spread a passion for the supremacy of God, through the exaltation of Jesus Christ, for the joy and deliverance of all peoples in bondage to Christ-denying religions – particularly the millions in bondage to Islam.”

We require all of our cross-cultural ministers to work through these contextualization questions and biblical considerations as they develop a philosophy of ministry for working with Muslims.  We hope that these will serve as a helpful guide as you seek to establish a biblically informed foundation for the ministry God has given you across the street or around the world.

Guideline Introduction

Dear Global Partner Candidate,

It brings us great joy to see God raising up laborers from our midst to enter into His harvest among the millions of unreached Muslims throughout the world. As we interact with other missionaries and agencies at work among Muslims, we are encouraged by the praise-worthy progress of the gospel through many creative and culturally-relevant means. At the same time, we also recognize the potential for dangerous misunderstandings to occur as a result of certain contextualization strategies. Therefore, we believe that it is of strategic importance in our partnership with you to discern the theological presuppositions that ground our practical strategies, particularly as it relates to gospel contextualization among Muslims.

We believe that the Bible governs and fuels missiological practice. Our strategies, therefore, must stem from a biblical-theological understanding rather than pragmatic considerations. Our ultimate aim in contextualization is to spread a passion for the supremacy of God, through the exaltation of Jesus Christ, for the joy and deliverance of all peoples in bondage to Christ-denying religions – particularly the millions in bondage to Islam. We long to see members of our body establish missiological strategies that fly the banner of this glorious aim.

We believe that God created all languages on earth (Gen. 11:1-10) and that through the proclamation of the gospel He is gathering worshippers from every tribe, people and language to exalt the risen Christ (Acts 1:8; 2:1-5; Rev. 5:9; 7:9). We believe that some level of contextualization is necessary for the gospel to be effectively proclaimed across ethno-linguistic and cultural barriers. The aim of faithful contextualization is the clear explanation of the gospel in a foreign cultural context. While language and culture are intimately linked, we believe that the gospel aims to transform culture, rather than to simply redeem culture. Thus, as regenerate men and women seek to bring their lives into conformance with Christ, social behaviors, local customs and religious practices radically change (Col. 2:18-23; Acts 19:18-20). Everything once done in ignorance is now to be made obedient to the will of God (1 Peter 1.13-18; Rom 12.1-2). Some cultural practices must be abandoned as they are examined in light of the Scriptures (Acts 15:28- 29; 19:17-20). Practices that do not conflict with apostolic teaching may be reoriented to clearly magnify the greatness of God so that all things are done to the glory of God in Christ. (1 Cor. 10.28-31).

The following questions and their corresponding biblical considerations are aimed at helping our missionaries and candidates think about how to most faithfully and clearly communicate the gospel in their respective contexts. The Biblical guidelines that follow are what we consider to be the key texts and issues that should help inform your answers. During your time of preparation at Bethlehem, the Foreign Missions Committee and I will look forward to working with you as you think through these significant theological issues and their practical implications.

For the exaltation of Christ and the joy of all peoples,

Erik Hyatt, Pastor for Global Outreach

and

The Global Outreach Team

Bethlehem Baptist Church Downtown Campus
720 13th Ave S Minneapolis MN 55415
www.hopeinGod.org | 612.338.7653

Summary Worksheet

Questions to Guide Bethlehem’s Global Partners

Ministering Among Muslim Peoples

Your name:_________________________________            Date: _____________________

Serving where and with what people group: ___________________________________

As a cross-cultural minister of the gospel joyfully called to make disciples of Jesus Christ among Muslims;

1. How will you help a new believer express his identity in Christ within his community?

2. In your ministry context, what aspects of the local culture may be retained and which aspects must be rejected?

3. As a minister of the Gospel, how will you communicate your identity in Christ to those among whom you seek to minister?

4. How will you communicate the identity of Jesus in the language and culture of the context in which you minister?

5. What will cross-bearing look like for new believers in your context? Are new believers truly ready to suffer for Christ? How will you prepare them?

6. How will you present the gospel in such a way that Jesus is the stumbling block (not cultural practices, leadership style, dress, customs, habits)?

7. How will you proclaim the gospel with gentleness, respect, and with all boldness in your host context (especially in highly restricted areas)?

8. How will you demonstrate the supreme and exclusive authority of the Bible among peoples who revere other sacred texts as supreme authority?

9. How will you instruct the new believer in Christ regarding his relationship to his community and mosque?

10. How and when will you distinguish the intrinsic differences between God as he is revealed in the Bible and as he is written about in the Qur’an?

Biblical Considerations to Guide Bethlehem’s Global Partners Ministering Among Muslim Peoples

I have become all things to all people that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. (1 Cor. 9:22-23)

But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. (2 Cor. 4:2)

As a cross-cultural minister of the gospel joyfully called to make disciples of Jesus Christ among Muslims;

1. How will you help a new believer express his identity in Christ within his community?

Biblical considerations: The person who trusts in Christ is a new creation (2Cor 5.17- 18). He is one whom God has miraculously rescued out of the darkness of idolatry and rebellion and into His own family (1Peter 2.9) that he might be to the praise of His glory in Christ (Eph. 1.12). The new believer’s personal identification with Christ is a declaration of this change of allegiance (1Thess 1.9, cf. 1 Kings 18.21). Ethnic, social, economic, gender and class distinctions are no longer that which primarily defines a new believer’s identity (Gal. 3.28-29, 6.15). Rather, for the one who is in Christ, his identity is organically tied to Jesus himself and those elect for whom he died (2 Cor. 6.14). Thus, the new believer’s identity is not to be understood in purely individualistic terms, nor simply hidden within former religious community terms, for he is part of the body of Christ (1 Cor 12.13-27).

Additional questions to consider:

2. What aspects of the culture and former religion should be considered “darkness”, from which new believers in Christ should repent and walk in light (1Jn 1.5-7)?

3. When does the missiological goal of “staying within one’s community,” as new believers in Christ, violate Jesus’ warnings of loving family more than him (Matthew 10:32-39)?

4.  In your ministry context, what aspects of the local culture may be retained and which aspects must be rejected?

Biblical considerations: While ‘culture’ is a morally neutral term, there are positive potentials and intrinsic vulnerabilities in every culture. In a culture that is intimately tied to a religious system, discerning what is to be retained and what is to be rejected is crucial for the clear communication of the gospel – both in the lives of new believers and through their lives to the larger community. The New Birth, allegiance to Christ alone, identification with the local and global expression of Christ’s Church, and the implications of persecution and suffering, are realities that will have a deep impact on this question (Acts 19.17-20). Our emphasis must be the clear communication of the gospel and a clean conscience. We must encourage that which cultivates faith and removes confusion (2 Cor. 4:2; Heb 12.1-2). We must also be careful not to advocate liberties or adherence to former religious practices that would violate the consciences of new believers or cloud the gospel message within his community (Romans 14, 1Cor 8.1- 13).

Additional questions to consider:

5 What terminology (or terms of identity) of the surrounding culture is so closely tied to Islam that, if the new believer were to continue using them, would cause other Muslims to believe that the so-called “new believer” is still an adherent to Islam?

6.  As a minister of the Gospel, how will you communicate your identity in Christ to those among whom you seek to minister?

Biblical considerations: While there is no biblical mandate to call oneself a “Christian,” our aim is to communicate in a way that honestly and clearly identifies us with the Christ of the Bible (2 Cor. 4.5-6). Language is important (Psalm 19.14; Matt. 16.15-18; 2Cor. 2.17). We must reject any community-dominant religious terminology that would bring reproach upon Christ or call our identity with the God/Christ of the Bible into question (Daniel 3; 2Cor 4.2)

7.  How will you communicate the identity of Jesus in the language and culture of the context in which you minister?

Biblical considerations: The identity of Jesus is at the center of the Gospel (Mt. 16.13- 18; Acts 4.12). The gospel-writers go to great lengths to show the theological and redemptive-historical significance of titles. Jesus, in fulfillment of prophecy, is the Messiah, the Royal Son of God (cf. Ps. 2; Rom 1.2), and the divine Son of Man (Dan 7.9- 14; Lk 21.27ff; Rev. 1.13-16 ). Jesus is the One by whom, and for whom, all things were created (Col. 1.13-20). The resurrected Christ taught his disciples that only through an understanding of the Old Testament will the deep significance of his death, resurrection, and global proclamation be seen as the apex of all of redemptive history (Lk. 24.44-49). From the beginning of the Church age, the apostles’ task was to communicate these deep realities in different cultures and contexts – even when the concepts themselves were highly offensive (or ridiculous) to their hearers (1 Cor. 1.18-31).

8.  What will cross-bearing look like for new believers in your context? Are new believers truly ready to suffer for Christ? How will you prepare them?

Biblical considerations: While there are many places in the world where visible persecution on account of Christ does not occur, the Bible anticipates suffering as part of every believer’s experience (Phil. 1.27-28, 1Pet. 4.12-19). The Apostle Paul experienced great persecution as a missionary and reminded fellow believers that anyone who desired to live for Christ would also be persecuted (2 Tim. 3:12). Jesus taught that his followers would experience suffering and persecution on account of him, sometimes coming from their own friends and family (Matt. 10.16-33). When persecution occurs, there must be prayerful discernment whether to stay and endure persecution or to flee from it (Matthew 10:23; Luke 21:21; Acts 9:24-25). The all-surpassing pleasure to be found in Christ is what enables and drives radical self-denial in the life of the believer (Lk. 9.23-26).

Additional questions to consider:

9. When does “salt lose its saltiness” in your host community (Matt 5.13- 17)?

10. How is the light of Christ shining, or hidden under a bushel in your host community (Mark 9:42-49)?

11. How are God’s “chosen ones” proclaiming the excellencies of Him who called them out of darkness and into His marvelous light (1 Pet. 2.9)?

12..  How will you present the gospel in such a way that Jesus is the stumbling block (not cultural practices, leadership style, dress, customs, habits)?

Biblical considerations: Paul strove to communicate the gospel clearly and compellingly both in his speech and his lifestyle. When his financial support was an obstacle, he made tents to support himself (1 Thess. 2.5-9). His aim was to orient his life in such a way that the only stumbling-block to faith was the message of Jesus crucified (1 Cor. 1.18-31). He rejected the notion of avoiding persecution by adhering to former religious practices (Gal. 6.12-14). Paul’s evangelism was grounded in the reality that, though Paul planted and Apollos watered, it was only God who could give the growth (1 Cor. 3.6-7). Because of this precious reality, there was no impetus for Paul to impress people with flawless oratory or esoteric knowledge (1 Cor. 1.17, 2.1-5).

13.  How will you proclaim the gospel with gentleness, respect, and with all boldness in your host context (especially in highly restricted areas)?

Biblical considerations: The Apostle Peter writes that, in a hostile environment we should communicate the gospel with gentleness and respect (I Peter 3.15-16). Yet when Peter is dragged before local leadership, beaten, and told not to preach the name of Jesus, he declared “we cannot but tell all that we have seen and heard.” This was followed by fervent prayer with the body of Christ for greater boldness as the word of God was fulfilled (Acts 4.29-30). As ministers of the gospel, we are being sent out as sheep in the midst of wolves (Lk. 10.3). Jesus exhorts us to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt. 10.16) in our gospel-ministry. When we are dragged before religious authorities and secular governors we will have opportunity, in the midst of persecution and physical suffering, to communicate His supremacy. Our confidence is to be in the Father’s promises to give us words to speak by his Spirit (Matt. 10.19-20), and that not even a hair of our head will perish even, if we are put to death (Luke 21:16,18).

14.  How will you demonstrate the supreme and exclusive authority of the Bible among peoples who revere other sacred texts as supreme authority?

Biblical considerations: While the New Testament indicates that there is a place for using brief quotations from local religious or cultural literature as a pointer to Christ (Acts 17.23, 28; Titus 1.12), the Apostles were exceedingly careful to show that God’s word alone is the ultimate and authoritative truth (2 Tim 3.16-17). The on-going reverence of any other religious book besides the Bible is unheard of in the NT and runs the risk of subtly affirming the other religious book as equally authoritative to the Bible. We must be careful in our discipleship to distinguish the supreme authority of the Bible above every other writing, striving to communicate the uniqueness of the Word of Christ and its purpose in redemptive history (Jn. 17.17; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Romans 10:17).

Additional questions to consider:

15. How will the use of the Qur’an in evangelism or discipleship reinforce the sole authority of God’s self-revelation in the Bible? Will using the Qur’an clarify or muddle this issue in the minds of your hearers?[1]

16.  How will you instruct the new believer in Christ regarding his relationship to his community and mosque?

Biblical considerations: The new believer’s understanding of his identity in Christ and the implications of being a new creation and a member of Christ’s body will impact his view of the mosque. Since there are deep redemptive-historical differences between the interaction of the early church with the Jewish synagogue, on the one hand, and the modern church and the Muslim mosque, on the other hand, we should be cautious in treating these two relationships as parallel. It is important to note that the apostles were very deliberate in their evangelism of ethnic Israel, but as the large-scale Jewish rejection of Jesus grew violent, the believers were scattered and continued to preach the word of Christ and form churches wherever they went (Acts 8:3-4; 9:31; 13:1-3).

Those who are born-again will joyfully accept the call to radical discipleship (Matt 10.37- 39; 13.44-45) and, by the Spirit’s power, will turn away from former ways of ignorance (1 Peter 1.14-19). This often comes at significant relational cost (Matt 10.34-36), though with great relational reward – and eternal life (Mk 10.29-30). While corporate worship, celebration of the Lord’s Supper and Baptism, teaching, discipleship and fellowship will happen in the context of his new community -the church- (Acts 2.41-47), there may be occasions when he seeks opportunities to reach his neighbors during certain community functions (which often occur in connection with the mosque). While the distinctions between religion and culture are more evident in Western culture, they nearly vanish in Islam. Thus, while new believers under both paradigms must wrestle with the presuppositions that undergird customary practices, Muslim background believers must be encouraged to consider the way that former practices could disguise or deny gospel- reality. Desires to highlight the sufficiency and uniqueness of Christ should drive wise decision-making (Matt 10.16) as believers seek strategic opportunities to win members of their community. At the same time, cross-cultural workers must also be careful not to violate the consciences of new believers who may want to sever all connections with their former community.

Additional questions to consider:

17.  What other phrases (e.g. the shahada) or practices (e.g. Friday prayers) could give the false impression to the community that you are Muslim?

18. Is participation in the life of the mosque more akin to participation in the temple at Jerusalem (Acts 2.46; 21.24-26) or in the pagan temple (1 Cor 10.14-22)?

19.  How and when will you distinguish the intrinsic differences between God as he is revealed in the Bible and as he is written about in the Qur’an?

Biblical considerations: Working from clear common ground, cross-cultural ministers of the gospel should build a thoroughly Biblical understanding of God – his person, character and purpose in history. We must be diligent to discern where theological misunderstanding might occur and presumed areas of connection between Islam and Biblical revelation must be examined in light of Scripture.[2] At the Areopagus, Paul exemplified such discernment in his evangelism to the Athenians. While being very careful not to identify the God of the Scriptures with the unknown god they venerated,[3] Paul uses the opportunity to tell them about the true God. He engages them on their terms and creates new categories to challenge their ignorance- categories demanded by God’s self-revelation in his Word and consummately in Christ (Acts 17.22-34). He also soundly warned them against continuing in their ignorance – lest they face God’s impending judgment (v29-31). In similar fashion, we must begin by acknowledging what can be acknowledged by all people – namely, that God exists, that creation declares his glory, that his power is real, and that all thanksgiving and honor are due him (Rom 1.19- 20). We should also affirm our friend’s earnest desire to know God and move him to comparing his understanding of the god of Islam with what the true God is like – most fully in the person of his Son (Heb 1.1-12).

Additional Questions:

20. From what common ground will you start in order to show Muslims the true God?

21. How does Islam understand sin? How does it account for human sin if original sin is denied?

22. How does Islam regard the holiness of God? If sin is arbitrarily forgiven, can God be holy?

23. Which is the more apt biblical parallel, Islam and second-temple Judaism (i.e. the synagogue, Acts 13.14-42) or Islam and paganism (i.e. Acts 17.22-34)?

Finally, the Arabic Bible, which pre-dates the Qur’an, does use the term Allah for God. But is it therefore Biblically-justified for us to conclude that (in essence, nature, and character) Christians worship the same God as Muslims?


[1] Phil Parshall notes that a 1995 survey of national C5 MBB’s, representing 68 congregations from 66 villages, revealed that 96% still believed that the Koran was divinely inspired; 66% said that the Koran was the greater than the Bible; and 45% felt peace or close to Allah when listening to the reading of the Koran. Parshall, Phil. Muslim Evangelism:A contemporary approach to contextualization, Gabriel Pub, 2003, pg. 70.

[2] One prevailing presumption is that since Jews, Christians and Muslims share a common ancestry in Abraham, even though we believe different things about Jesus, we nonetheless worship the same God. Can a non-Trinitarian supreme being be equated with the God of the Bible? A second presumption is that, since Paul and the early church continued to meet in synagogues, therefore, a Muslim who trusts Christ should also continue to attend the mosque. Is the mosque truly equitable to a Jewish synagogue? Is the Yaweh of Hebrew scripture truly exalted in the mosque? Missionaries must studiously avoid similar category confusion.

[3] Though the ascription was masculine (Ἀγνώστῳ θεῳ) Paul used neuter, not masculine, forms in addressing it (ὅ οὖν ἀγνοοῦντες εὐσεβεῖτε, τοῦτο ἐγω καταγγέλλω ὑμιν. (Acts 17.23)).

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53 Comments

  1. Erik, If you happen back to this series of comments I would like to offer a suggestion to further enhance your questions and biblical responses. The question of whether a Muslim convert should be called a Christian or some other word I believe has a lot to do with the issue of identifying not only with Christ, as you have sufficiently addressed, but also with the issue of identifying with the global and historic body of Christ – the Church. I do not see that you have adequately addressed this question and I believe it to be sufficiently important to warrant your attention.

    Thanks for this great work and service to the church.

  2. Erik,

    Please elaborate on what you mean by “but the doctrine of who Allah is in Islam is not the God of the Bible.” It is not clear to me whether you believe the doctrine of Allah is not biblical but Allah is the God of the Bible even so. If that is what you believe can you explain how the doctrine of Allah that is Qur’anic is not one in the same with who Allah truly is and what is said of him in the Qur’an? Again, if that is what you believe, how does that bear on the fact that Muslims believe the Qur’anic doctrine of Allah? Thanks.

  3. Does anyone know where the word “Theos” came from? The Greek NT uses that to refer to God, but I’ve heard different commentaries on how that came about. This seems relevant to the Allah/God discussion

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