(August/September 2010 – Volume 16, Issue 4)
In the 1970s, as I was being trained at Moody Bible Institute for future ministry, there was a consensus among evangelicals that Roman Catholicism taught a false gospel and therefore those within the Church of Rome (at least those believing Catholic doctrine) were in need of evangelism. Some mission organizations focused much, if not all, of their efforts on Roman Catholic countries throughout the world. The idea that Catholics were not truly Christians began to erode as various evangelical leaders stepped up to challenge this view and as others actually defected from their Protestant roots to Roman or Eastern Orthodoxy. This was followed by a major shift, at least in the minds of many, in 1994 when Charles Colson and Father John Neuhaus united leaders from both traditions around their now famous “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” document which, in essence, stated that while differences remained between the two branches of Christendom it was time that we recognized one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. With well respected evangelical leaders such as J. I. Packer signing ECT the floodgate was opened to recognize Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox adherents as fellow Christians.
Since then we have seen a steady drift from evangelism targeting Catholic and Orthodox individuals, especially in missions. Mission organizations are now pointing their big guns at the so-called 10-40 window which is populated primarily by Muslims. While the gospel in the last century has found fertile soil in predominately Catholic nations, Muslim countries have proven highly resistant. And while no one would argue against the need for a solid gospel presence in Muslim nations, that presence must not be at the expense of outreach to Roman Catholics, especially under the mistaken notion that they are already part of the family of God and need no evangelism.
In many ways, although we must fight to correct such false understanding, this is already water under the bridge. What we are seeing now are similar attitudes toward other religious groups that are reminiscent of the earlier dialogue between Roman Catholic leaders and evangelicals. We will identify three areas of present dialogue that are disturbing.
In my youth the idea that conservative Protestants would sit down with Roman Catholics to try and find enough common ground to declare one another brothers would have been incredulous. That is not true today, but for about ten years I have been mentioning to some that the next group to be rolled into the fold will be the Mormons. This comment still elicits widespread skepticism, but preliminary dialogue has been taking place since the beginning of the previous decade and some type of formal acceptance is looking increasingly likely. Christianity Today published an article in December 2009 stating that Robert Millet, professor at Brigham Young University, has led scholarly teams of Mormons in seventeen closed-door discussions with evangelical teams led by Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary. While such dialogues are not officially sanctioned by Mormon top leadership it is of interest that LDS president Thomas Monson permitted 90 evangelical churches in Utah to use the Salt Lake City Tabernacle for revival services last September 13. At the services Mormons and evangelicals “enjoyed gospel songs and prayed together.” Conservative Baptist minister and emcee at the revival (called Standing Together), Gregory Johnson has developed a friendship with Jeffrey R. Holland who is on the LDS Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. In addition he has met in 58 public dialogues with Millet and has helped “broker meetings between evangelical and Mormon college students and initiated scholarly dialogues involving such evangelical stalwarts as Christianity Today editor in chief David Neff, Biola University apologetics professor Craig Hazen, and Denver Seminary New Testament professor Craig Blomberg.” 
No evangelical leader is ready to proclaim Mormonism as Christian yet but the divide is being narrowed and, as far as I can tell, just as with Roman Catholics all the giving is on the side of the evangelicals. According to the article, “Hush-hush chats occurred between ranking LDS authorities and nationally prominent evangelicals in 2004, 2007 and earlier in 2009… [And] participants hope for a publicly known conference between leaders, perhaps as early as next year .”
Factors that are escalating this cozier relationship with the Church of Latter Day Saints include evangelicals promoting Mitt Romney’s run for the presidency (2007-2008) and the so-called ecumenism-in-the-trenches. As Mormons, evangelicals (and Catholics, for that matter) unite over moral issues such as abortion, they have gained new respect for one another in promoting moral causes in America . David French, who leads the Alliance Defense Fund’s Campus Religious Freedom Project, says “The LDS commitment to core values is one that betters our country, without question.” But conservative believers must never confuse morality for biblical Christianity. We rejoice that those who do not know Christ are interested in moral matters which are consistent with scriptural teachings. But it should be remembered that the Pharisees were highly moral people who led the charge to crucify the Savior. And there is little question that Satan would be thrilled to promote morality if in doing so the person and work of Christ were eliminated or perverted.
One other interesting feature found in the Christianity Today article is a survey of various Christian groups responding to the question, “Are Mormons Christians?” Of evangelical Protestants 45% say no, 15% are uncertain and a whopping 40% say yes. Recognizing that the term evangelical is imprecise, and that many evangelicals (whatever that might mean today) know almost nothing about LDS teachings, and little about their own, nevertheless that 4 out of 10 evangelicals see Mormons as Christians is alarming to say the least. Add to this that some evangelical leaders are working hard to bring Mormonism under the Christian flag and the day can’t be far behind in which evangelism to Mormons will be seen as it is to Roman Catholics today – unnecessary.
Islamic Visions and Evangelism
An interesting phenomenon of late is the reports of dreams and visions among unbelievers, predominately the Muslims. The Muslim culture has long placed great credence on dreams and supernatural appearances of angels and genies (just take a look at The Arabian Nights), but not Allah, who distances himself from the everyday affairs of this world. In a recent edition of the official magazine for Avant, a conservative evangelical mission, a short article substantiates the mission’s support of such visions. The author, Shanna DiPaolo, writes about mission work among Muslims in Central Asia,
The people of the Dust Valley are in tune with their dream life and they believe that God speaks to them through dreams. Less than one percent of the Central Asian population is Christian; of that slim percentage, team leader Miles believes a spiritual dream factors into nearly every believer’s testimony… The team has experienced God using dreams in the lives of Central Asians whom they know personally, and they are [therefore] praying expectantly for more. 
The following story is apparently representative:
[An Islamic woman] was standing at the back of a large crowd of people, all facing a figure who was emanating a brilliant light. She realized the bright figure was Jesus, and watched as He wrapped His arms around the entire crowd. Suddenly, she felt a hand on her back, and startled, she realized that He had included her in His arms. Finding the courage was easy after that. The dream was a clear indicator that Jesus was God’s son, and she accepted Him wholeheartedly. She woke up and believed.
As a result of accounts such as these “Team Central Asia continues to pray for more dreams.” The author states, “Only Jesus can call people and convict them of their need for Him. One of the primary ways he does that in the Muslim world is through a dream.”
What are we to make of such claims? First, let us not be too quick to accept the supposed experiences of anyone with a story. The Christian community has often been embarrassed by promotion of sensational stories that later proved phony. It is wise to document any such assertions carefully before accepting it as genuine. When relaying such stories one often finds that someone knows someone who knows someone who knows someone who allegedly had a vision. Such reports are impossible to verify and Christians who desire to stand for truth should not be guilty of spreading such yarns as it undermines our credibility as ambassadors for Christ. For more on what amounts to “urban-legends” read the Think on These Things article for October 2008, “Don’t You Believe It” written by Richard Fisher.
Of course debate on the validity of experiences is ultimately a dead-end. I cannot prove or disprove your experiences, nor can you mine. People often ask me, given my view of the cessation of revelation from God for this era, to explain their experiences. My typical response is to say that “I cannot explain your experiences but I can show you what the Word of God says on the subject.” Another problem is the issue of interpretation. We have all had dreams that were vivid and sometimes disturbing. It is not so much what we dreamed but how we interpret our dream that matters. Usually we dismiss dreams as too much pizza or just a random collection of incoherent thoughts. At other times dreams might be a strange reflection of what is on our minds during the day. But to determine that dreams are a revelation from God is a step of interpretation not of reality. And if someone decided that in fact God had spoken through a dream then comes the task of trying to figure out exactly what God is saying. Without the direct aid of the Lord this can be a difficult, if not impossible, assignment — just ask Daniel.
Nevertheless, the ensuing discussion sometimes elicits the response that God can do anything He wants to do, to which I reply with the words I have borrowed from a respected pastor from my past, “Yes, God can do anything He wants to do but we expect Him to do the things He says He will do.”
We find what God says He will do in the Bible and it is vital that in this discussion we take a look at what God reveals to us there. The biblical picture, both by practice and precept, is that evangelism takes place through the natural means of communication by human beings. The apostles, and others, traveled throughout the known first century world spreading the gospel through normal conversation and proclamation. At no place mentioned in the New Testament (concerning the church age) did the Lord choose to use angels, visions, dreams or other supernatural means to preach the gospel. Nor did Paul, or the other evangelists, come across individuals whose hearts had been prepared in advance for the good news. Whole people groups and nations were introduced to Jesus Christ by the direct and normative means of communication without any hint of visions and dreams playing a role.
There are two possible exceptions to this pattern. First is Paul’s Damascus Road experience in which Jesus Christ actually appeared to Paul. At any rate, Jesus never proclaims the gospel to Paul but sends him to Ananias who apparently does. The second is in reference to Cornelius in Acts chapter 10. In verses three through six we find that Cornelius, an unsaved Gentile, is given a vision of an angel telling him to send for Peter who would ultimately lay out the gospel for him. Keep in mind that I am not saying that visions and dreams were not occasionally given to prophetic individuals and the apostles who served as the foundation of the church (Eph 2:20) and the inspired authors of the New Testament. Yet even these visitations were extremely rare, with only thirteen found in all of the book of Acts, 8 of which were to Paul or Peter. This leaves only five other individuals in the entire book of Acts who are recorded as having some form of vision from the Lord. Four of those are believers who receive some form of direct communication from God or angels: Philip, Annanias, Agabus, and the church at Antioch. The only unregenerate person receiving a vision is Cornelius. There simply does not exist a New Testament model in which the unsaved are hearing from God in a supernatural form. And the one example we do have is that of an angel who does not present the gospel; salvation is effected later through the witness of a mortal man, not through a vision or dream. Therefore the present day testimonies concerning dreams and visions in which the gospel is being shared are without biblical warrant or precept. Even the one example of Cornelius hardly opens the flood gates for the multitude of reports that is being generated.
More importantly, however, is the direct teaching of the New Testament on the proclamation of the gospel. Not only do we have no instance in the NT of the gospel being given through dreams and visions, or through the mediation of angels or the Lord Himself, but the Scriptures are clear that the gospel witness was to be through the mediation of humans. Romans 10:14-17 lays out the case – no one can call upon the name of the Lord (and thus be saved) if they do not believe in Him. They cannot believe in Him if they have never heard of Him, and they cannot hear without a preacher. That this is a mortal preacher, not an angelic one, is confirmed by the fact that the Lord blesses the feet (“how beautiful”) of those who bring the good news. It is not inconsequential that Christ commanded men to travel the globe, making disciples and teaching them to observe His teachings (Matt 28:19-20; Acts 1:8). Nor do we find preparatory work (pre-evangelism) be effected through visions and dreams. The task of evangelizing and developing disciples is given to the followers of Christ, not to angels. It is accomplished through the proclamation of the good news and instruction through the Word – and this through the ministry of human beings.
When we couple the direct teaching of the New Testament with the indisputable examples found throughout, one is hard-pressed to make a valid case for the dreams being reported in the Muslim world today. You don’t have to be a cessationist (one who believes that revelation for today has ceased) such as I am to see the problems with these supposed dreams. If we take our cue from Scripture, rather than subjective experiences, we find virtually no warrant for such dreams and visions.
Having said all of this, it would be appropriate to ask how we should handle those who lay claim to such dreams. The Muslim world is filled with a belief in supernatural dreams. Obviously, the Christian would recognize that most of these dreams have no basis in reality, especially since most would be interpreted in relation to an Islamic worldview which is anti-Christ. But if a Muslim individual claimed to have dreamed of Jesus and is now interested in what Jesus has to say, what should we do? In addressing this question to one Jordanian missionary, I thought he gave wise counsel. While he does not believe that Muslims are actually being given supernatural dreams that emanate from God, he treats this as a non-issue. Rather than being sidetracked by a debate over dreams, he uses what they think has taken place as a springboard to give the gospel. The matter of revelation in general, and dreams and visions in particular, can wait until a later date. The important subject at that moment is Jesus Christ, not dreams and visions.
But if some of these visions are leading to conversions, how can we even suspect them as not being from God? Satan certainly would not give a dream that would ultimately result in conversion would he? Possibly. Deuteronomy 13:1-5 describes just such a scenario in which a false prophet or dreamer’s sign comes true. What were the Israelites to think of this? The Lord tells them to ignore his words for he is testing them to see if they will follow Him or the dreamer. While the current situation may be somewhat different, I believe that Satan is more than willing to give a little ground if in doing so he will win a bigger battle. In this case he might be willing to concede the salvation of a few Muslims if he can convince the evangelical world that God is communicating today apart from the Revelation of Scripture. Once this door is opened he will be able to bring about greater deceptions than if evangelicals embrace sola scriptura.
The Insider Movement
On a somewhat related topic, there is much discussion lately among missiologists concerning the “Insider Movement.” Once again most of the attention is focused on the Muslim community and the debate centers on whether Muslims can continue in their customs, and even religion, and yet be true followers of Jesus Christ. The argument goes something like this: if Jewish believers can stay connected with their Jewish roots, even calling themselves Messianic Jews rather than Christians, why can’t Muslims who have trusted in Christ do the same thing? This question of whether a Jewish believer should consider himself a Messianic Jew rather than a Christian, and stay connected with his Jewish form of worship, is a matter to discuss on another occasion. Nevertheless, for decades such has been seen as acceptable, even preferred, in many evangelical circles and ministries. Can we not give the same liberties to the Muslims who proclaim Christ? Let’s take a look.
The so-called “Insider Movement(s)” is an important discussion taking place among those attempting to take the gospel globally. On the table is what level of separation from former pagan religions is required of those who would be disciples of Christ? Can a Buddhist who has professed belief in Jesus Christ retain certain features of Buddhism? If so, which features and how much? Can he still chant at the Buddhist temples? Can he still reference Buddhist teachings? Can he continue to believe in pantheism or the Noble Eightfold Plan? Most Christians would recognize that there is a cut-off point at which a former Buddhist, now professing Christ, must separate himself from his former religion, but just where is that point? In other words, how far “inside” Buddhism can an individual be and yet still claim to be a Christian?
Complicating all of this is the issue of contextualization, a term first introduced in the early 1970s by the World Council of Churches. Missiologists have long discussed how to proclaim the gospel of Christ and the Word of God within the context of particular cultures. Primitive tribal people, for example, who have no concept of monotheism, a loving deity, grace or faith, need to have the good news and biblical truth explained to them in such a way that they can comprehend it. How the message is explained to such people most likely will be different from that explained to people from a Western Judeo-Christian background. (In more recent years the principles of contextualization have been applied to Western culture as well, as a generation has arisen which is almost completely biblically illiterate and possesses a postmodern worldview).
There have been two distinct approaches to contextualization in the ensuing years, one controlled by Scripture and the other by culture. A biblically acceptable form of contextualization retains the authority of Scripture, seeking to understand what the Word teaches and then applying it to a cultural context. An extreme backlash to this approach sees the culture as final authority, even to the extent of rewriting theology to accommodate religious understandings in a given culture. In the first approach the Bible is interpreted in its original context and then communicated through appropriate means so as to be understandable in whatever culture it is being taught. In the second approach the Bible is being reinterpreted according to the culture in which it is being presented.
Using the second approach to contextualization, the Buddhist who wants to become a Christian might then be encouraged to retain his Buddhist practices with certain adjustments such as adding a personal God to his system, but not abandoning his pantheism altogether. He might continue his chants but do so in the name of Jesus. He might worship in a Buddhist temple but attempt to worship God there. He might try to blend the teachings of Jesus with those of Buddha. In between these two polar-opposite understandings of contextualization is where the debate takes place. And nowhere is that debate hotter than among those reaching out to Islamic people.
Just as with the Messianic Jews some so-called Messianic Muslims desire to honor Christ but in the context of the Islamic community. Critics have been quick to point out however, that unlike the Jews, who have a common background with Christians, revere the Old Testament as revelation from Jehovah and worship the same God, these things are not true of the Muslims. How can a believer in Christ stay in a religious system that worships a different god, believes in different Scriptures (they do recognize the Old Testament but not to the same degree that Christians or Jews do) and practice religious traditions that would be contrary to the teachings of the Bible? It is not surprising then that, even among those who believe there is a place for Messianic Muslims in the body of Christ, there is wide difference of opinion as to what this actually would look like. Those sympathetic with Muslim Christians staying within some aspect of the Muslim faith have aligned themselves with one of six categories which describe “various Christ-centered communities (Cs) with which the Muslim-background believers in Jesus (MBBS) indentify, and the ways they understand their identity.” It should be recognizable to the reader that the degree the culture controls the contextual process increases as the C levels increase. Christianity Today describes these categories as such:
C1: MBBS in churches radically different from their own culture, where worship is in a language other than their mother tongue. These would include not only Protestant and evangelical churches, but Roman Catholic and Orthodox as well.
C2: Same as C1, but worship is in the MBBS’ mother tongue.
C3: MBBS in culturally indigenous Christian churches that avoid cultural forms seen as “Islamic.”
C4: MBBS in culturally indigenous congregations that retain biblically permissible Islamic forms (e.g., prostrating in prayer, keeping the fast, avoiding pork and alcohol), investing these with biblical meaning. They may call themselves something other than Christians (e.g. “followers of Jesus”), but do not see themselves as Muslims. They call themselves followers of Isa, the Qur’an’s name for Jesus.
C5: Muslims who follow Jesus as Lord and Savior in fellowships of like-minded believers within the Muslim community, continuing to identify culturally and officially as Muslims. They differ from C4s in that they call themselves “Muslim followers of Isa.” Any Islamic theology which is thought to be incompatible with the Christian faith is supposedly rejected, or reinterpreted.” However some C5s embrace all the teachings of Muhammad and will even repeat the Shahadah, “There is no God but God (Allah) and Muhammad is his prophet.”
C6: Secret/underground believers. “Supposedly many come to Christ through dreams, visions, and miracles, as well as through radio broadcasts, tracts, Christian witness while abroad, or by reading the Bible. C6 believers are seen as Muslims by the Muslim community and see themselves as Muslims as well.”
Most of the attention swirls around C4 and C5. C4s are basically imitating the pattern of Messianic Jews as they follow Christ but try to do so as cultural Muslims. This is problematic due to the wide disconnect between the teachings of Christ and the Islamic faith, but at least they no longer view themselves as Muslims. Not so the C5s who want to retain all (or most) aspects of Islamic culture and religion and at the same time proclaim Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. The name of the game here is syncretism – combining the truth of Christ and His Word with the false teachings of other religions. Syncretism is vastly popular in a pluralistic world and gaining favor among not only smorgasbord Americans (who pick and choose from a variety of religions and philosophies to create their own personalized belief systems), but also among Africans who are happy to add Jesus to their tribal traditions and Asians (such as South Koreans) who infuse Jesus into their Buddhist worldview. In each situation Jesus is embraced as a means to an end, but false gods and religious traditions contrary to Scriptures are not being abandoned.
One would have to wonder if the outcome should have been different when Elijah called out the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 17. Elijah, if you recall, did not have compromise in his makeup. If the Lord is God, serve Him, Elijah challenged, but if Baal is God then serve him. It was time to choose. When all the dust had settled there was little question who the real God was, but Elijah was in no mood to call a conference and see if the prophets of Baal would be at least willing to add Jehovah to their pantheon. He saw them as dangerous enemies of Jehovah and ordered their execution.
Of course no one is calling for the execution of the leaders of false religions today, but we could at least draw a line in the sand. Maybe John the Baptist would be a better model for us to emulate. He practiced the same basic faith as the Pharisees of his day, but when he saw their perversion of truth he demanded repentance. Jesus did the same. If the Jews were to follow Jesus Christ it meant leaving behind what they had trusted in before and believe in Christ (Luke 9:23-26). Then there was Paul who preached everywhere the necessity of turning from idols and turning to the true Lord and Savior (Acts 26:18-20). There is never a hint in the Word that it is acceptable to add God or Christ to a false religious system. Following Christ did not always mean that one had to abandon all former customs and traditions, for some of those matter very little (see Romans 14). But there was never any question that to follow Christ meant separation from former belief systems. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 6:15-17. “What harmony has Christ with Belial, …or what agreement has the temple of God with idols?…Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate.”
Some of the areas of perceived compromise on the part of the C5s include:
Scripture: C5s may add a new reverence to the Bible but they continue to read and venerate the Qur’an as well. Some are claiming that the Qur’an can be interpreted in ways that do not contradict the teaching of the Bible, but a great deal of imagination would have to be used to come to that conclusion.
Evangelism: No doubt much of the motivation behind C5 methodology stems from the resistance of Muslim people to the gospel. Because historically so few have come to Christ from an Islamic background sincere believers are searching for new means of reaching this community. One method gaining popularity is to invite Muslims to read the Qur’an together about Jesus. Known as the Camel Method (because of Arab tradition that states the camel knows a secret name for God and the Christian witness is revealing Jesus as that name), it relies totally on the Qur’an rather than Scripture. This is problematic at best, for it turns from God’s revealed Scriptures to a sourcebook of a false religion. Yet the Bible claims faith comes through hearing the Word of Christ (Rom 10:17). This method also, directly or indirectly places the Qur’an on equal footing with the Bible.
God: While Christians and Jews can agree on the inspiration of the Old Testament and that Jehovah is the one and only God, C5s would have to equate Allah with Jehovah. Neither the historical origin of Allah nor the teachings of Islam would allow for such identity.
Christ: The essential divide between Christianity and Old Testament Judaism is the Messianic claim of Christ. Similarly Islam recognizes Jesus as a great prophet but not the Messiah and certainly not God. How the C5s can hope to continue in the Muslim faith with its false view of Christ is a mystery.
Muhammad: For the Islamic people Muhammad as their great prophet is non-negotiable. For C5 believers to accept the false teachings of and by Muhammad is heresy and for them to attempt to reinterpret his role in the Islamic faith is deceitful.
There are wide differences of definition and application within the Insider Movements; the above has merely been an introduction to the discussion. At stake however is whether, and to what degree, an individual can remain within his former false religion and still legitimately be considered a disciple of Christ. While certain cultural and traditional practices can be viewed as neutral, certainly the core issues such as the gospel, Scripture, the identity of God and the person and work of Christ cannot be compromised.
 Shanna DiPaolo, Avant issue #3, 2009, p. 15.
 Christianity Today, “Muslim Followers of Jesus?” December, 2009, p. 34.
 Taken from a very helpful unpublished paper “Synopsis – Insider Movements” p. 6. written by Chet Plimpton for New Tribes Missions.
 Ibid, p. 7.
 Christianity Today, “Muslim Followers of Jesus?”
 Chet Plimpton, p. 6.