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Grappling with an Old Question

June 22, 2011

The Lausanne Movement among evangelicals, which began at the initiative of Billy Graham in 1974, met in plenary session for only the third time (the second was in Manila in 1989) in Cape Town, South Africa October 16-25, 2010. The 4000 delegates have issued a statement (21 pages long) on the theme “God was in Christ Reconciling the World to Himself.” I call your attention to one paragraph, which defines the term “Insider Movements.” Here is the text:

True faith requires self-examination as to how much culture influences a person's efforts to live out the teachings of Christ.

So called “insider movements” are to be found within several religions. These are groups of people who are now following Jesus as their God and Savior. They meet together in small groups for fellowship, teaching, worship and prayer centered around Jesus and the Bible while continuing to live socially and culturally within their birth communities, including some elements of its religious observance. This is a complex phenomenon and there is much disagreement over how to respond to it. Some commend such movements. Others warn of the danger of syncretism. Syncretism, however, is a danger found among Christians everywhere as we express our faith within our own cultures. We should avoid the tendency, when we see God at work in unexpected or unfamiliar ways, either (1) hastily to classify it and promote it as a new mission strategy, or (2) hastily to condemn it without sensitive contextual listening.

In the spirit of Barnabas, who, on arrival in Antioch, “saw evidence of the grace of God” and “was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord,” we would appeal to all those who are concerned with this issue to: (1) Take as their primary guiding principle the apostolic decision and practice: “We should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.” (2) Exercise humility, patience and graciousness in recognizing the diversity of viewpoints, and conduct conversations without stridency and mutual condemnation.

I agree with the Lausanne statement. However, in using the term “insider movement” we do not all mean the same thing; so we must define this term even more precisely than the Lausanne delegates had time to do. Mainly, we have to get our doctrines and practices from the Bible. In John 4:39-42, we read:

Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers. They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”

The Samaritans were saved by faith alone. Everything was about to change; but they remained Samaritans. This was an “insider movement.” In a future blog I plan to write more about this subject, one of the most important in our day, as we see in Bangladesh and other Muslim countries valid insider movements beginning.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Jay & Pat Fisher permalink
    June 23, 2011 3:05 am

    Thank you for addressing this issue. I have conflicting thoughts on the insider movement and already what you have written has really helped. D A Carson gave a great message touching on this point as well on the Gospel Coalition blog. Thanks for your insight and also for the past book reviews.

  2. Pat M. permalink
    June 23, 2011 4:25 am

    Great work, Bob. I am of the opinion that to do anything less than at least listen to each other, is an arrogance I cannot afford to display. That is to say, are my shortcomings less grievous to the Spirit than theirs? Looking forward to more insight from you. Blessings to you and yours. PM

  3. July 16, 2011 2:59 am

    Interesting analogy of an IM or a proto-IM evangelistic movement. The church did not come about till the Spirit came. I think however that as much as the Samaritans were believing, Jesus had first corrected their beliefs and re-oriented them so that their former religious beliefs were set straight. Secondly there is no evidence that they continued in their former religious practices. After Jesus left they remained in community a proto-believing community which would be completed when the Spirit came later in the book of Acts. Believing and following are two separate acts of faith as Jesus pointed out in Jn 12:42-3. Not all those in the Gospels who “believed” became “followers” because they did not follow him in facing rejection; preferring the praise of men more than the praise of God. We do not know what happened after the Holy Spirit came in Samaria. It seems doubtful they remained in their former religious practices as they were now “fulfilled Samaritans”, same as fulfilled Jews.Even the “fulfilled Jews” who believed in Jesus who remained in the Temple were worshiping and meeting in the place of the Gentiles (Solomon’s Collonade), where the Gentiles could join them in worship of the True God without risking offense of the religiously conservative Jews. The “solution” of the question of the Church among Muslims is that it must be on neutral ground, something beyond the former religious communities. As much as we want to see Jesus come into communities, the main pattern in Acts is that people are called out to join a new community. We need to embrace the shame of going against the society and walk with Him in embracing the shame outside the camp. The letters to the Churches are primarily written to gathered meetings of believers already identifying themselves with Christ. The Apostles never wrote to the believers with instructions of how to integrate their former religious practices with their new faith. This would be against the “born again” new identity that comes from the Spirit which sets apart people from their former ways and the Spirit strengthens them for the inevitable setting apart from their former ways. Blessing and rejection/suffering/persecution go together in Jesus’ teaching. There is no need to yank people away from former ways however the normative path is out of former religious ways. The instructions in 1Cor7-8 are instructing the believers that a possible confusion of former practices and/or identity (circumcision and meat offered to idols) should be avoided for the sake of the weaker brother. There is nothing that can be added to the salvation already found in Christ, circumcision, uncircumcision, marriage, singleness, freedom from earthly slavery… there is nothing else that can be added. That’s the Good News, we get a new chance, we do not need to be bound to our old ways. Contextualization was a needed correction to inadequate contextualization however it can become a new Law in missions if over-applied; keeping people from being free to follow God in a new way, making them bound to the ways in which they were raised. Where is the liberation and the blessing that comes from following God “outside the camp” with Jesus?
    May God give us wisdom to recognize the genuine beginning work of God and not squelch its growth by not feeding the new sheep proper teaching. There is no old wineskin which can contain the new wine of the Spirit, it requires a new wineskin.
    A fellow worker among Muslims with Frontiers.

  4. July 21, 2011 5:54 am

    RA’s addition is very helpful also. I have pondered the wisdom of continuing to attend the community worship, while in their hearts they are worshipping the Truth, yet also understand the enormous price it may cost as well. I just signed a petition being circulated by voice of the martyrs re such a situation in p***stan. Since I am guilty of less than forthright witness in my own social setting in the past, I am able only to work on my own performance. Thanks to both of you for these words of wisdom. Blessings, PM

  5. Ken Shultz permalink
    August 11, 2011 9:54 pm

    I have been interested in this problem for some time.

    It is my undertanding that among Muslim objections to Christianity are these two: 1. That the Christian Scriptures have been corrupted, and 2. That Jesus could not be God’s Son unless God had sexual relations with Mary.

    Now, I have been made aware of a new Bible translation for a Muslim people group which, as I understand it, as Jesus is coming up out of the baptismal waters, has the voice from heaven saying, “This is my Messiah, with whom I am well pleased.”, rather than “This is My Son with whom I am well pleased.”

    I think I understand the good intention behind substituting a truth to which one’s hearer will not object for another truth that we are sure he will reject out of hand. If nothing else, that appears to be good “salesmanship”. But the problem in this instance goes far beyond “making a sale”.

    We cannot deny that Jesus is God’s Messiah, nor that God is pleased with Him. And we know that a well informed practicing Muslim will agree. So why not insert the one truth in the place of the other? We can then deal with the other problem later, can’t we? The answer is “No!”

    Would it not be worth it to see a Muslim make a sincere commitment to Jesus because this new expression is accepted as overcoming his objection to the idea of Jesus being God’s Son? Again, the answer is “No!”

    Why not? Because one of the absolute foundation of our faith is Scripture. If this were to convince the inquirer that Scripture now supports his belief, we will have created a much more difficult problem for him to overcome. We will have knowingly corrupted the Scriptures in order to overcome his objection and win his favor.

    If the new believer is sincere, and if he pursues the study of Scriptures; he will eventually realize that Jesus was able to die for our sins only because He really is the Son of God–and the well-intended deception is likely to lead to an even greater of crisis of faith.

    Let’s be very prayerful that our well-intentioned translators will be led by the Holy Spirit of God in dealing with these issues.

    • August 19, 2011 8:50 pm

      Dear Ken,
      The glorious relationship of God the Father to God the Son has to be faithfully represented in Bible translation. The Arabic translation in my library, The True Meaning of Jesus the Messiah, faithfully translates Mark 1:1 as “The gospel of Jesus Christ, the son of God” (ibn Allah). And Mark 1:11, to which you refer, is “This is my beloved Son (ibn), in whom I am well pleased.” And Wycliffe has a policy of truly representing the filial relationship between God the Father and God the Son. So I am mystified as to who is supposedly changing “Son of God” to “Messiah.”

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