Guest Blog by Central Asia RL: Biblical Foundations and Guidelines for Contextualization (Pt 6)

Guest Blog: Biblical Foundations and Guidelines for Contextualization (Pt 6)

Editor’s Note: This guest blog is written by the IMB’s Regional Leader for Central Asia. It is a six part series, giving the biblical foundations and guidelines for contextualization, and making application to Christian ministry in the Muslim world. This series will appear as a chapter in the forthcoming book “Look What God is Doing in the Muslim World.”

The Church:

Muslim background believers in Jesus (MBBs) should be encouraged to remain in their community as much as possible.

Muslim background believers should be encouraged to maintain their ethnic and cultural identity as much as they can without compromising their obedience to Scripture.

MBB churches should be encouraged to be indigenous in their expressions of their faith and worship, without compromising Scripture. This is particularly true in matters of style. The church should look, sound and feel local, not foreign.

New believers and churches should be pointed to the Bible, and not to the foreign expert, to answer their questions about Christian belief and Christian living.

New churches should be encouraged to apply Scripture to the issues they face in their cultural setting, and to express their faith in ways that engage their culture directly. Their teaching and their confessions of faith should respond to the specific issues they face in their culture.

New churches can utilize local cultural practices that are consistent with Scripture.

New churches should be led by local believers and not by foreigners, as much as possible.

New churches should be financed locally (in so far as they need financing at all), and not by foreign money.

New churches should take full responsibility for the Great Commission from the start.

A church can meet anywhere. Neither the presence nor the absence of a building belongs to the Biblical essence of church.

At the same time, insofar as it lies with us:

MBB churches must have a clear identity as belonging to Jesus.

MBB churches should not present themselves as being still essentially Muslim.

MBB churches should not teach or believe that Islam, its prophet or its book are of divine origin.

MBB church teaching, and church confessions of faith, should maintain as central that which is central in the teaching of the Bible. It is true that each culture and each generation raises different issues which the people of God must address from the word of God. However, there are also core doctrines in the Bible which are central to the faith in every age and every place.

MBB churches should pursue all of the elements of a Biblical church, as laid out in the Church Definition and Guidelines.

MBB churches need to be careful about the theological and spiritual baggage that local cultural and religious practices may carry. (For example, in our experience it was MBB’s who resisted namaz-like prayer practices the most, because they connoted to them a fearful, distant, works-based relationship with God.)

MBB churches need to recognize their connection with the global Body of Christ.

Guest Blog by Central Asia RL: Biblical Foundations and Guidelines for Contextualization (Pt 5)

Guest Blog: Biblical Foundations and Guidelines for Contextualization (Pt 5)

Editor’s Note: This guest blog is written by the IMB’s Regional Leader for Central Asia. It is a six part series, giving the biblical foundations and guidelines for contextualization, and making application to Christian ministry in the Muslim world. This series will appear as a chapter in the forthcoming book “Look What God is Doing in the Muslim World.”

The Message of the Good News

We can use their book as a bridge to the Gospel, as long as we do it in a way that does not imply divine inspiration or equality with the Bible.

We can choose our terminology carefully, and delay the use of red-flag terms like “Son of God” in favor of other equally-Biblical terms until we have reached the point where we can explain those red-flag terms Biblically.

We can and should utilize the full scope of Biblical narrative to establish a worldview in which the Gospel is intelligible. The Bible doesn’t jump straight from the Fall of Man in Genesis 3 to the birth of Jesus in Matthew 1. God took centuries to establish who He is, what He requires, what humanity is like, and what He intended to do about it, before He brought Jesus on the scene. The worldview of the Old Testament is essential to understanding the Biblical Gospel. Most Muslims who come to Christ do so after exposure to a broad scope of Biblical revelation over a period of time. Take the long view. In each conversation, ask yourself, “What Bible/Gospel content can I add to their understanding today?” In this context, and in the oral cultures that make up so much of the Muslim world, chronological Bible storying is a wonderful tool!

We can and should utilize a variety of communication genres and media to communicate the message of the Gospel. Some cultures revel in poetry, songs or proverbs – all of which are found in Scripture. Explore the internet, audio, TV, video, and print media. Find out what genres they use to communicate worldview truth. Find out what media they use and respond to the most. Use any and all genres and media that are appropriate.

We can utilize whatever name for God is most appropriate in any given language, including Allah. We must import Biblical content and correct past understandings with any word we use for God.

We can utilize the Arabic forms of other names and terms in the Bible, rather than forms from other foreign languages like English or French or Russian or Dutch.

We should stress that we are calling people to a new relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and not to ethnic treason and the abandonment of their cultural identity.

We do not need to attack Islam directly.

At the same time:

We can never downplay the central doctrines of the Gospel – particularly those that contradict Islam or that cause offence to Muslims. Many examples could be given here, but in a Muslim context we need to take special care that we never deemphasize the Deity of Christ, the reality of His death and resurrection, the necessity of His substitutionary sacrifice, salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, the integrity, inerrancy and finality of the Bible, and the radical nature of conversion, which is so extreme that it can only be described in terms of death and new life.

We can never downplay the necessity of repentance.

We can never deny or excise any part of Scripture or any Biblical terminology, including the term “Son of God.”

We can never construct a chronological Bible story set and call it an oral Bible. Chronological Bible story sets are wonder tools for evangelism and discipleship, but only the full text of the Bible is the Bible, and an oral Bible must be the actual words of the Bible presented in audio rather than print format.

We can never remove, substitute or downplay the ordinances of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

We can never give the impression that we believe that Islam, Muhammad or the Quran are of divine origin.

Guest Blog by Central Asia RL: Biblical Foundations and Guidelines for Contextualization (Pt 4)

Guest Blog: Biblical Foundations and Guidelines for Contextualization (Pt 4)

Editor’s Note: This guest blog is written by the IMB’s Regional Leader for Central Asia. It is a six part series, giving the biblical foundations and guidelines for contextualization, and making application to Christian ministry in the Muslim world. This series will appear as a chapter in the forthcoming book “Look What God is Doing in the Muslim World.”

Contextualization Guidelines

How do we apply these principles to the work of the Gospel in the Muslim world? Based on years of wrestling with the task under the authority of the word of God, here are guidelines for our work in the Muslim world, founded on these Biblical principles. The guidelines are grouped under three headings: The Messenger of the Good News, the Message of the Good News, and the Church.

The Messenger of the Good News (with primary focus on us, the foreign workers)

We must openly identify ourselves as followers of Jesus. Hiding our identity is out of bounds. Jesus made it clear that we must not deny Him before men. Security concerns are real, and we need to take them seriously. However, we must never let security concerns drive us into hiding our identity as disciples of Christ. To be known as His is worth getting kicked out a country, and even dying.

We should work hard to become part of the community we are trying to reach. We need to build relationships and put down roots among the unbelievers of our focus people group. We must beware of our team becoming our primary focus and primary community. Team is a means to an end, but it must never become an end in itself. In an age of email, SMS and Skype, we also need to beware of excessive communication with the US. It is simply too easy to move overseas and yet never bond with the people we are trying to reach, due to the possibility and comfort of maintaining our primary community with English-speaking loved ones. We must consciously invest in relationships in the community we are trying to reach, and that community needs to become our primary community, as much as possible.

We should be lifelong learners of language and culture. Those who know the language best are those who want to keep on learning. Beware of getting stuck at a survival language level, and beware also of getting stuck in initial, superficial impressions about the culture. We communicate most effectively when we communicate in their heart language, and when we understand what they think and how they hear what we say.

We should voluntarily give up freedoms that erect barriers to the Gospel.

We should choose our housing and decorate our homes in ways that are comfortable to those we are trying to reach, even if it is less comfortable for us.

We should dress in ways that show respect for our host culture. We need to be appropriately modest, even if the weather makes us uncomfortable in the process. At the same time, we should be attentive to changes in the culture. Our aim is to be unremarkable in our attire.

We should act in ways that show respect for our host culture. Find out what is and is not appropriate for anyone in that setting. Find out what is and is not appropriate for someone your age, gender, occupation and station in life. Dig deep, and do not be content with superficial answers or with exceptions made for you as a foreigner. Things that might never occur to you as significant can have great significance in another culture. Watch closely, listen carefully, ask lots of questions, and ask lots of different people.

We can, and should, distance ourselves from forms of cultural Christianity that dishonor God or that cause unnecessary stumbling blocks to our host culture. Christianity is often seen as a cultural or ethnic thing, and it is associated with colonial conquest and exploitation, or with the worship of images and drinking alcohol, or with the immoral behavior seen in movies and TV programs from the “Christian” west. It is perfectly appropriate that we NOT identify ourselves with that image! We should, instead, explain our identity in ways that point to Jesus and not to the unfortunate legacy of cultural Christianity.

In this context, the word “Christian” can be particularly problematic. To much of the Muslim world, America, Europe and Russia are “Christian” nations, and whatever is true for those countries is true of Christianity. Thus, when a Central Asian Muslim asks me if I am a Christian, what they mean by “Christian” is an alcohol-drinking, pornography-watching, sexually promiscuous, picture-worshipping Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholic person who is part of the culture that has attempted to conquer and oppress them for centuries. Therefore, I never simply say yes. However, since Christian is a Biblical word, neither do I say no. I define who I am in Biblical terms apart from their historical experience.

We should serve our host community. We should look for ways to be a blessing, on their terms and according to their understanding of their needs.

At the same time:

We must never give the impression that we have converted to Islam.

We should not deny the label Christian – we may simply need to redefine it in a Biblical way.

We should not contextualize ourselves more than the host culture itself. We need to understand where a culture is going as well as where it is, and make sure that we don’t adapt ourselves to the past instead of the present.

We must not adopt any local cultural practice or attitude that violates Scripture. In this context, we need to especially be careful about attitudes. We can unconsciously pick up ungodly attitudes from our host culture (toward women, for example, or toward other ethnic groups).