Does Insider Movement Contextualization Produce Biblically Faithful Churches or a Mere Mosquerade?
Read part 1 here and part 2 here.
3. The Church: A Pillar and Buttress of the Truth
As stated above, for an evangelical who is unwilling to pit the teachings of Jesus against those of Paul, one must not merely attend to what Jesus said of the church. Indeed, Paul clearly recognizes his instruction about the church as being the extension of Christ’s ministry, Gospel, and teaching. 1
Thus, it is important for our purposes to consider what the whole of the New Testament says about the church in order to assess whether or not IM strategies are likely to produce biblically faithful churches. As such, we must consider what Paul writes to Timothy in his charge to his young disciple regarding the purpose of the church.
First, we find in 1 Timothy 3 a section of Scripture that is helpful for churches as they determine who among their members should be appointed to leadership roles. However, for our purposes, it is important to consider the final charge of this chapter wherein Paul gives his rationale for such specific leadership qualifications. In 1 Timothy 3:14–16, Paul writes,
I hope to come to your soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.
As Paul concludes this section of his letter, then, all of the instructions given regarding leadership, orderliness, and teaching of doctrine that precede this conclusion serve the purpose of ensuring that the church upholds, displays, and supports the truth entrusted to it in the gospel. Anything that might obscure the central message of the gospel along with its transmission and application is a threat to the church’s ability to fulfill this purpose.
3.1 IM Inclusion of the Qur’an in Worship
Despite the fact that Paul is explicit that the church is to be a gathering in which the faith, once delivered for all the saints, is taught, upheld, and passed on, IM proponents are keen to include the active and ongoing reading of the Qur’an as a part of Insider gatherings of all stripes, whether in the mosque or the para-mosque. As Prenger states from his research, “The use of the Qur’an in jamaat gatherings is normal and expected. The Qur’an leads to the truth as it points to Isa and the Tawrat, Zabur, and Injil.” 2
Even more startlingly, Prenger cites an apparent IM in which “the jamaat members have no access to any Scripture portion. ‘It is a qur’anic Jesus movement. They use the Qur’an in fellowships, but it is seen through biblical eyes.’” 3
Yet despite the apparent references to a Jesus character within the pages of the Qur’an, this Jesus is not the center of the Qur’an’s message. Thus, even if an Insider were to engage in a Christo-centric reading of the Qur’an, it could not lead to an understanding of the atoning work of the biblical Messiah.
By including the Qur’an within the worship gathering, one adds confusion to a community that has already been shaped by the Qur’an’s message as understood independently from the Bible. Thus, it is no surprise to find Insiders among Prenger’s research who are leading IMs yet making comments such as, “The Qur’an is saying that Jesus was not killed, but that he was taken away. So what is wrong with that? Arthur asked. Was Jesus really killed? He was symbolically killed, because his spirit cannot be killed.” 4
Rather than viewing the Qur’an through the lens of the Bible, then, the biblical teaching is made to accommodate the Qur’an.
Again, striking at the core of salvation, another of Prenger’s Insider interviewees accepts Jesus’s death and resurrection but denies its atoning power, saying,
Allah says that each individual is responsible for their own life. Each one gives an account for what they did, right or wrong. In my understanding now, Jesus died and rose again and went to heaven as evidence that he was superior to others. He was not like us, but it doesn’t qualify that he died for my sins. It qualifies him for me to follow him, but I am accountable for what I do. If he died for my sins, I would not need to keep away from sins. 5
Though these two quotes do not necessarily represent the sentiments of every IM leader or participant, it is incredibly troubling to see these gospel-central issues being reframed by the Qur’an’s teaching. Furthermore, such interpretations contradict the claim of IM advocates that the Qur’an is included in IM worship, yet it is viewed through a biblical lens. 6
Despite the repeated claims of IM advocates, the Qur’an has never been interpreted by Muslims as being compatible with the biblical gospel. As Ayman Ibrahim writes of such unprecedented reinterpretations, “It abuses the Qur’an and violates the interpretations offered by Muslim exegetes throughout history.” 7
Ibrahim goes on to show that even if the Qur’an is reinterpreted to cohere with the Bible while yet adding nothing to the biblical testimony, “There is no theological worth or biblical value in [reinterpreting qur’anic passages] except to support and sustain the IM paradigm. In reinterpreting these verses to fit into Christian dogma, one would redact the Qur’an, abuse Islamic thought and history, and violate Islamic exegesis.” 8
If the Qur’an, as understood by IM proponents, adds nothing to the biblical message, its inclusion in Insider worship only serves to reinforce the Muslim identity that IM advocates intend to retain. 9
However, if the ekklesia is to be a pillar and buttress of the truth of the gospel, one must consider the potential for confusion that the reading of the Qur’an introduces into the gathering of Insiders. As seen in the quotes above, the presence of the Qur’an can exert a pressure upon the biblical message that leads one to defer to the Qur’an on matters as central as the atoning death of Jesus. Thus, since the Qur’an adds no value to the biblical testimony, the risk of including the Qur’an in IM gatherings is unwarranted, unwise, and unlikely to contribute to the formation of biblically faithful churches.
3.2 The Church as the One People of God in Christ
Finally, as Paul discusses the unifying effects of the gospel in Galatians, he argues strongly that in Christ there is to be no ethnic, sociological, racial, or sex-based discrimination separating believers. To this point, Galatians 3:28 is especially clear, declaring, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Paul’s teaching is especially pertinent to the local community of Galatian believers in that they were prone to dividing themselves according to their former Jewish–Gentile distinctives. In Galatians 2:11–21 Paul confronts Peter’s withdrawal into the Jew–Gentile segregation observed under pre-Christ culture and law. Paul minces no words as he deems such socio-religious segregation as conduct that is “not in step with the truth of the gospel.” The local church, then, is the visible expression of the unified people of God in Christ.
Biblical concern with the unity found in the Gospel is not relegated to Paul’s writings. In Acts 15, one reads the account of the early church’s process of reconciling Jewish-background and Gentile-background believers. In this chapter, the Jerusalem counsel is called to determine what to do with the fact that Gentiles were believing the Gospel and receiving the same Spirit as believers from among the covenant people of Israel. The decision the council reached was that there was one Gospel and one Spirit, thus uncircumcised Gentile believers were to be included in the church, provided that they would abstain from some of the specific religious rituals that their Gentile communities practiced (Acts 15:28-29). In other words, both the former Jews and former Gentiles saw some of their socio-religious practices excluded for the sake of demonstrable unity.
3.3 IM Jamaats Raise Religious Barriers to Diverse Members
In many ways, IM advocates call for the Western church to recognize Insiders in the same way as the early Jewish-background church recognized the Gentiles. 10
Some even make this comparison more contemporary by suggesting that in the same way as there are Messianic Jews who retain some of their culture while following Christ, so too there can also be Messianic Muslims. 11
The problem with this comparison is that Messianic Jews have inherited divinely prescribed feasts, fasts, and forms that derive from the pages of the Hebrew Bible and anticipate the Messiah. The Hebrew Bible, then, is inspired, canonical literature that points to Jesus as the culmination of God’s progressively revealed purposes. 12
For a Muslim to claim to follow the same trajectory is to adopt the Qur’an as an equally inspired record of God’s activity that leads to Jesus as the anticipated Messiah. Not only does the Qur’an not allow for such a reading, but it would violate the evangelical understanding of Scripture to grant it such an inspired status.
Furthermore, when such Muslim Insiders gather, they intentionally do so in exclusively Muslim cultural forms. These forms intend to separate the Insiders from the local, national churches culturally, linguistically, and socio-religiously. In his interviews with IM leaders, Prenger does cite several believers who affirm the idea that, despite their intentional separation from the church, “[Insiders] consider ourselves to have one Lord with them, and one Spirit with them.”[refPrenger, Muslim Insider Christ Followers, 269.[/ref] At the same time, however, many IM strategists urge the Insiders with whom they are working to avoid the existing churches.
By their own testimony and strategy, these IM advocates separate themselves from the churches and silo themselves into communities of Jesus followers who remain intentionally self-identified as Muslims. 13
This intentional division between IM jamaats and traditional churches is repeatedly affirmed by many of the Insiders interviewed by Prenger. Prenger states, “Many IM leaders mention that the traditional church [is] the main challenge to IM and insiders.” 14
This perceived danger expresses itself in the comments made by several other IM leaders who promote avoiding fellowship with Christians in their context.
One Insider says, “I feel like they will not be able to understand what we are doing. They have the traditional viewpoint that once a person receives Jesus, this person has to pull out and join the church. . . . We hope that [the traditional church] doesn’t know about us, but we consider ourselves having one Lord with them, and one Spirit with them.” 15
One might initially compare this movement to the division observed between different denominations in more traditional sense. Since Baptists and Presbyterians practice baptism and view church polity differently, perhaps the refusal of Insiders to fellowship with existing churches is merely comparable to these doctrinal distinctives. And yet in the case of Insider Muslims, one wonders if it is possible for someone from a non-Islamic background to join such a gathering without first becoming a Muslim? Would a non-Muslim seeking fellowship with Insiders be required to say the shahada? Would a non-Muslim be required to pray in the mosque in the Islamic style alongside of non-Insider Muslims?
While these may seem to be unfair, pejorative questions to raise, Prenger records an Insider’s testimony that describes exactly this: A Christian woman determined that it was necessary for the kingdom of God that she become a Muslim convert to Islam in order to advance the ministry in which her Muslim background husband was involved. 16
If, then, IM strategy requires Insiders to retain their Muslim identity in order to fellowship, it intentionally builds an extra-biblical socio-religious barrier to fellowship. Such barriers can only be transcended if an outsider becomes an Insider by professing Islam. One wonders how this type of contextualization can be construed as anything other than the issue that Paul took with the Judaizers who required Gentiles to undergo circumcision? 17
4. Conclusion: Sowing Seeds for an Unpromising Harvest
While there is much to be lauded about the desire of IM proponents to see the gospel bear fruit in diverse contexts, there are major problems with the strategies they suggest to manufacture such a harvest. The impulse to see appropriate cultural expression of the gospel is right. However, in fighting for a natural expression of church among Muslims, they encourage a minimalist approach to ecclesiology which is often misshapen by giving deference to Islamic forms. Such forms, as seen above, often threaten to introduce confusion around the central teachings of the Gospel and division among those who are being saved by a common Lord.
Furthermore, one must consider the fact that Jesus never called his followers to a bare-minimum commitment to following him. He never encouraged people to seek the least that one might have to do in order to find salvation. Instead, he said, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.” If, in an effort to contextualize the biblical requirements for the church, IM strategists promote a reductionistic obedience that obscures the four components discussed in this paper, it is unlikely that these methods will produce biblically faithful and flourishing churches.
Originally published on Training Leaders International. View the original article here.
- Consider how the sections of Paul’s letters that include his introductions and greetings tie his ministry to the “churches of God” (1 Cor 1:2; 2 Cor 1:1), the “church of Christ” (Rom 16:16), and the church in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thess 1:1; 2 Thess 1:1). Furthermore, Ephesians 1:20–23 demonstrates that Paul views Christ as the head of the church which is his body (cf. 1 Cor 12), demonstrating the organic relationship between Christ, the Gospel, and the people gathered by believing the gospel known as the church. ↩
- Prenger, Muslim Insider Christ Followers, 257. ↩
- Prenger, Muslim Insider Christ Followers, 263. ↩
- Prenger, Muslim Insider Christ Followers, 177. ↩
- Prenger, Muslim Insider Christ Followers, 207. ↩
- Prenger, Muslim Insider Christ Followers, 263. Prenger quotes Melvin as saying, “They use the Qur’an in fellowships, but it is seen through biblical eyes.” This comment follows the recognition that this movements does not yet have a translation of the Bible available to them, so it is difficult to see how this can be achieved. In fact, Melvin himself expresses concern that this IM “does not have the power of the Bible in their movements yet.” ↩
- Ayman Ibrahim, “Who Makes the Qur’an Valid and Valuable for Insiders?” in Muslim Conversions to Christ (New York: Peter Lang, 2018),142. ↩
- Ibrahim, “Who Makes the Qur’an Valid,” 144. ↩
- Prenger, Muslim Insider Christ Followers, 1.Prenger defines Insiders as, “Believers in Christ who have decided to remain in their socioreligious community, and who retain their identity as members of that community, which makes them by definition, Muslim [I]nsiders.” ↩
- See Harley Talman, “The Old Testament and Insider Movements,” in Understanding Insider Movements, 193. ↩
- See John Travis, “The C–Spectrum: A Practical Tool for Defining Six Types of ‘Christ-Centered Communities’ Found in Muslim Contexts,” in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, 665. ↩
- See Jesus’s testimony to this fact in Luke 24:25–49. ↩
- Prenger, Muslim Insider Christ Followers, 260–61. ↩
- Prenger, Muslim Insider Christ Followers, 273. ↩
- Prenger, Muslim Insider Christ Followers, 269. ↩
- Prenger, Muslim Insider Christ Followers, 246. The direct quote to which I refer in the main text is: “As a Muslim it is easy for me to share the gospel, because when I talk about Isa as a Muslim with other Muslims they know that I am not trying to convert them. That is not a problem. It is a very different story when a Christian talks to a Muslim about Jesus. He would say, ‘Be careful, you cannot convert me.’ When I initially discussed this idea with my wife she told me that I could do it, but that she could not, since she is from a Christian background. Over time she saw and understood what was happening in the ministry, and she decided to become a Muslim convert to Islam. I did not force her, but she personally understood that this was needed for the kingdom of God.” ↩
- See Paul’s reaction to those who would put stumbling blocks in front of believers in Galatians 5:1-15. ↩