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The Main Question Is Identity

Author: John Azumah
Date: 24.02.2010
Category: World Faiths

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Originally Posted in English

A Response to Joseph Cumming’s ‘Muslim Followers of Jesus?’

To facilitate a truly global conversation, we ask Christian leaders from around the world to respond to the Global Conversation’s lead articles. These points of view do not necessarily represent Christianity Today magazine or the Lausanne Movement. They are designed to stimulate discussion from all points of the compass and from different segments of the Christian community. Please add your perspective by posting a comment so that we can learn and grow together in the unity of the Spirit.

C5 believers are defined as Muslims who follow Jesus as Lord and Savior. From Cumming’s paper and more recent writings of proponents of the Insider Movement, the point is made that C5 is a divine initiative of God reaching Muslims. The Muslim-background believers (MBBs) so reached then independently and of their own free choice decide to remain within the Muslim community and to be identified officially as Muslim. The testimony of Ibrahim in Cumming’s piece makes this point clear.

The main issue has been identified as identity. As an African MBB, I have always described myself as one with Muslim blood, a Catholic heart, and a Protestant head. The glue to all of these being the African DNA. I have read criticisms of C5 and felt that some of the critics come at the issue with deep-seated prejudice, disdain, and even hostility toward anything Islamic and toward Muhammad in particular.

That said, I believe C5 advocates bear some responsibility for the animated and sometimes acrimonious discourse. In his earlier writings, John Travis appealed to Christians that “much of our missiological energy should be devoted to seeking a path whereby Muslims can remain Muslims, yet live as true followers of the Lord Jesus.” (See “Must All Muslims Leave Islam to Follow Jesus?” by John Travis, Evangelical Missions Quarterly, 34 (4), 1998, pp. 411–415.).

Some C5ers speak of “encouraging” or “urging” MBBs to remain within the Muslim community as “Insiders.” Others have urged and even required their missionaries to officially become Muslim in order to be effective. In several articles C5ers have devoted their missiological energy to demonstrating from the Bible that leaving one’s religion of birth (“extraction”) is unbiblical, and that Jesus and the apostles were all  “Insiders,” thereby suggesting that the existence of the church in its present diverse traditions (C1 to C4) is an aberration.

Some critics of the movement, however, are certain that “C5 is a reflection of intentional Western missiology, Western training, and often a great deal of Western money. Mission agencies expend a great deal of effort to promote ‘Insider’ methods.” (See “Evaluating ‘Insider Movements’: C5 (Messianic Muslims)” by Bill Nikides, St Francis Magazine, No. 4, March 2006, at Nikides goes on to talk of how money is used as inducement and other forms of pressure are applied to quarantine MBBs, in some cases against their will, in order “to prevent contamination of the movement” from the rest of the Christian community. Others with many years of ministry and research experience in Asia question claims of an “Insider Movement.” All of this has left many confused as to the truth about C5.

Keywords: MBB, C5, identity, Travis, culture, Muslim, insider movement

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Reply Flag 0 Thumbs Up Thumbs Down als828 (1)
United States

It’s so easy for us to get into the mindset that we have figured out God, or that God has a direct line to us and is feeding directly into what we’re doing. I loved seeing this article end with the suggestion that, even with the best of intentions, we may be interfering with what God is trying to do. I’m not sure we’ll ever figure out exactly what the perfect answer is to questions as large as how Christianity and Islam can and should relate to one another (though certainly we do need to relate to one another in some way), but it is good to acknowledge that there is a good chance that we could be getting it wrong sometimes!

Reply Flag 1 Thumbs Up Thumbs Down Mojoe (7)
United States

Coming from the southern portion of the US, I see all of the vices associated with singular thought.  I have spoken with pastors who feel that the King James translation of the Bible is an inspired word to King James and the Greek and Hebrew hold no value.  I have spoken with pastors who feel that all churches who use any musical instruments other than the "authentic Biblical" instruments of the piano and organ are in such error of going to Hell. 

My first thought when reading this post was the understanding that Jesus followed all of the rabinical laws.  He practiced the law more than anyone being that He is the only perfect human.  He didn’t break ANY!  This was the ONLY way that He was able to teach in the synagogues.  There are certain rituals or practices which allow a person audience which they otherwise would not have.  This is to be valued because once lost it could hardly be attained again.  These rituals are trivial to God’s plan and message of freedom.  Practice or not is irrelevant to God but in most cases critical to the laws of man.

The United States has a long history (as does the world) of using text (especially the Bible) to say what would best serve their purpose.  For example, verses in Exodus were used to justify the American slave trade.  Was this God’s will?  Hardly, but the scripture is there quite plainly (in the King James translation).  Could we be doing the same in other areas.

As far as the Western ideologies of control and best practices; we always feel that our way is the right way.  (I’m being flippant).

I am humbled by the participants of this forum’s knowledge and experience.  These are just thoughts and questions.

Reply Flag 1 Thumbs Up Thumbs Down Bradford_Greer (1)  
United States

I thank you John for your irenic approach to the subject. I wonder if the main question is identity. I wonder if what we are trying to address is more a series of questions that are interrelated.

I sometimes think these are the issues we are independently trying to look at and they really are part of the entire picture:

1. Our friends live in a world where the dominant narrative is that "Christians" are drunkards and immoral and the Christian faith permits such behaviors. Therefore, Christianity is something bad that erodes and ultimately destroys a society. This narrative hinders people from wanting to hear the Gospel. How does this narrative impact the way people see themselves as they come to faith? They surely shouldn’t identify themselves as "Christian" in this manner. The problem I have faced is that I have met "converts" who actually do identify themselves in this way. This is not the kind of convert we seek.

2. Western influenced Christianity has generally taken a bounded approach to faith. We think about people coming to faith (i.e., accepting certain beliefs and viewing the world in accordance with those beliefs). We don’t think of faith in centered set terms. Therefore, our primary concern is that people articulate their faith in the same way we articulate our beliefs. In this light, we think about what a person needs to know in order to come to faith rather than who does that person need to know. In this light, we tend to ask what things a person needs to know in order to accept Jesus. Would it be more helpful to ask what has to take place within each person in order for Jesus to accept a person and give the person His Holy Spirit? (Or is this question too Arminian in orientation?) 

3. Related to this bounded approach to faith, we spend a lot of time talking about orthodoxy when we think of the C5 movement. The bounded approach to faith requires that we focus on right belief from the outset. Is this a realistic expectation? Can we not take a more centered set approach, focusing more on people connecting with Jesus and encouraging them to be sensitive to the working of the Holy Spirit and having a commitment to His Word? In this way will not orthodoxy happen as people read, study, and obey the Word?

I don’t have the answers. But, I do have these questions.

Reply Flag 0 Thumbs Up Thumbs Down Effendy_Art (1)  

It is obvious that one cannot become 100% muslim and 100% Christians. If we acknowledge that there are fundamental teaching between the two that cannot be deleted.
C-5 in the eyes of Muslim can no longer identified as Muslim. Declaring Jesus is God is betraying the fundamental teaching of Islam.
C5 is not like making a difference between Sunni and Shi’a. As Christian we cannot accept that Quran is a true revelation of God. To recogniae there truths in Quran cannot make is accept it as revelation from God who has spoken to us through the Bible.
Surely we have to encourage and pray and do all we can in order to help MBBs remain living in their community.
They may decide to develop their unique theology. One that may not be similar with ours.
Culturally they may still me look like their fellow muslim peers. But theologically they are no longer ’orthodox muslims’
And we the ’old brothers and sisters’ are to welcome them with thanksgiving to God and love.
But before I end my comment, I have a disturbing issue.
Sometimes I am afraid if we, the missionary and missiologist, have just made these brothers and sisters as our ’commodity’.
We just like to preserve them in their ’muslim identity’ in order to make them our theological laboratory.
just expressing my feeling...


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