Serving Movements for Christ within Other Religions
Copyright © 2005 by Galen Currah and George Patterson
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Suppose that you
have been contacted by secret, ‘messianic’ believers who are active members
of their communities that follow a major, non-Christian religion. How they became
believers is not important. Perhaps they learned a little about Jesus from their
own scriptures; they may have seen a vision; or they were shown kindness by
some Christians who dared to answer their questions when asked. Anyway, you
have accepted to meet with some men to talk about Jesus and steps they should
take to follow him more completely. What would you say and do?
Such little ‘movements’
have happened through the centuries and they still happen. The largest movements
for Christ in the history of Christianity are taking place now. Thousands of
churches are being born and reproducing rapidly in China and India, in places
where authorities are hostile toward attempts to bring people to faith in our
Lord Jesus Christ. Most of these churches are illegal, ‘unregistered’ house
Christians sometimes kill such movements! Of course, you want others to rejoice
at what God is doing amongst that ‘unreached’ people group, you want intercessors
to pray for their safety, growth and reproduction, and you want others to know
that God has chosen you, amongst 1000s of gospel workers, and entrusted your
church or denomination with guiding this ‘unprecedented breakthrough’.
Indeed, He has
chosen you and wants you to serve that movement with wisdom in ways that will
protect them and you from enemies of the Good News. Let us review some of the
dangers to such movements that come from unwise publicity about them. (Leave
it to God to choose right moments for them to be put to a test of faith.)
Ways to serve a Movement in a Major Religious Community and Actions to Avoid
What should you
do in order to serve them faithfully and to help their movement to grow without
unneeded hindrances? Here are eight recommended guidelines:
train leaders in the background like
Jesus and his apostles did.
Do not go
into their religious buildings or try to meet their families, as you would
in a friendlier situation. Many new believers do not yet understand how
severe can become social pressure and persecution, so they may invite you
where you should not go. Provide teaching that they can pass on to others
who will do the same, and never have to meet you.
DO NOT publicize
what you are doing or whom you meet with, lest religious extremists find the
secret believers and dissuade them or destroy them. Also, do not force them
to make their faith public, lest their family members threaten them or do
worse. When movements for Christ have been given too much attention, nationals
who are members of unethical sects have often forced their way into the movement
with legalistic teaching.
sure that their men remain in leadership from the start.
Let them use
their social position and spiritual power to influence others towards the
DO NOT try
to get them to join your denominational power structure. Above all, do not
put national Christians from another ethnic group in charge of them.
advice from those with experience before proposing strategies
many wise kingdom workers who come from a similar background and others
who have worked with folks like them, making a lot of regrettable mistakes
and finding effective methods.
DO NOT be so
foolishly proud to think that you know enough, until you have had several
years of experience with such movements that has proven fruitful. Even those
who understand principles of "contextualization" usually cannot
predict what forms the Holy Spirit will give to new Christian movements within
other faith communities.
your methods to those that they can afford and easily imitate.
Let them meet
with others at times and places of their choice. Provide inexpensive materials
in their language and forms. Get good advice from the new believers about
which forms communicate well without offending needlessly.
DO NOT introduce
foreign equipment, nor fund complicated schemes. DO NOT send anyone away for
education that might not be suitable or practical in their culture. Western
music, methods, money and ministries are seldom relevant to the culture of
such societies, and invariably stigmatize the new movement as being foreign.
Non-believers who see the foreign influence may avoid the believers, sometimes
so much so that it has stopped the movement. Also, other believers who have
not received funds or equipment from the West have often become resentful;
in some cases this has stopped the movement. Funds from the West often attract
opportunists who temporarily feign faith in Christ for economic advantage.
principles of contextualization.
Both you and
the new believers will have to learn to discern culturally-sensitive ways
to obey the commands of Jesus. Although you cannot make such choices for
them, you can ask them a lot of questions about how they will obey Jesus
in ways that will win others while trying to avoid unnecessary opposition.
Answer questions from the Bible and share stories about how ‘followers of
Jesus’ do things in other places.
DO NOT presume
that cultural and religious forms successfully retained, modified or rejected
by a similar movement in another culture zone will be appropriate for the
your teaching focused on the commands of Jesus.
stories and theology that help folks to do so. Do not teach abstract Christian
theology unless asked for it, since most systematic theology, while true,
has been formulated to address questions and controversies of other cultures
DO NOT import
the common Western emphasis on material ‘blessings.’ Our Western ‘triumphalist’
and ‘prosperity’ theologies have often proven woefully disappointing where
people are very poor.
their movement a secret as long as you can.
If you do
send mail and publish articles about the movement, then use pseudonyms for
persons and places. Never release a believer’s name or address to any outsiders.
If there is a big need for relief and development efforts, then try to keep
as far in the background as you can, lest your effort be misunderstood as
an inducement to convert folks.
DO NOT let
outsiders know the identity of secret pastors or evangelists who are very
effective. Doing so has often resulted in well-meaning Western leaders offering
salaries or personal-advancement opportunities, removing the leaders from
the congregations that God has given them to tend, to work in the West or
other places where they are not as effective. DO NOT tell all your friends
about the ‘wonderful breakthrough’, for careless, exuberant testimonials may
become known to our enemies. Do not publish articles that our enemies may
read. DO NOT give secret believers too much attention. Some of them have proudly
imagined that they were special and deserved such attention, which lead to
failure. Others have become so afraid of exposure by Westerners that they
have drawn back and ceased doing effective ministry. Unfriendly civil authorities
are quick to notice any attention paid by foreigners and often punish the
believers for doing illegal proselytising.
believers suffer for Jesus according to the will of God.
never seek to be persecuted nor take risks that endanger others. The time
will come when the Lord himself will purify and strengthen their movement
with some persecution. Teach about persecution and tell stories of martyrs,
but do not hasten it.
a deep, spiritual dependence on God.
practice other religions are often more seriously religious than are evangelical
Christians, especially evangelicals from wealthy countries. Many of them
think that Christians are drunkards and adulterers (they have seen Western
movies). You are perhaps the best model they have of how Christians love
God, neighbour, each other and enemies.
DO NOT emphasize
Western evangelical theologies and practices that seem irreligious, rationalistic,
or even disrespectful towards the peoples’ religion. They know the weaknesses
and injustices of their religion and will find ways to deal with them, correct
them or break with them. For example, avoid stressing justification without
works, while underscoring loving obedience to Jesus.
the believers themselves make any public break with their religion.
Give time for
the movement to spread far within the religious community. Eventually there
will be an internal reaction against the followers of Jesus, perhaps with
violence and persecution. Meanwhile, even some of their leaders and scholars
will become Christians and can provide needed leadership after you have long
been expelled from their country or worse.
DO NOT offer
to build distinctively Western-looking religious buildings, introduce Western
clothing styles, Western evangelical entertainment or Western theological
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