Monday, October 11, 2010

The Lausanne Covenant and Islam: Evangelizing the Muslim World

While the movement towards inter-religious dialogue in general and Christian-Muslim dialogue in particular was picking up momentum, 2,700 Christian official participants from over one hundred and fifty nations attended an International Congress on World Evangelization at Lausanne, Switzerland, from July 16-25, 1974. This meeting took place after a two and a half year preparation. Billy Graham was the main mind behind the Lausanne Congress. The purpose of this Congress was:

To proclaim the Biblical basis of evangelism in a day of theological confusion.
To examine our message and methods by this standard; to relate Biblical
truth to crucial issues facing Christians everywhere.
To share and
strengthen our unity and love in Christ.
To identify those who are as yet
unreached or alienated from the Gospel.
To learn from each other the
patterns of evangelism the Holy Spirit is using today in our churches,
fellowships and missionary societies.
To awaken our Christian consciences to
the implications of expressing Christ’s love in attitude and action to men of
every class and color.
To encourage cooperative strategies toward reaching
all men for Christ.
To pray together for world evangelization in this
century asking that the Congress may contribute significantly to this end.
To be God’s people, available for all His purpose in the world.

The purpose of the Congress was reiterated in the theme: “Let the Earth Hear His Voice”.

The most significant stress of the 1974 Congress was “reaching” the “unreached peoples of the world”, by which the participants referred to the people of other faiths and ideologies. According to the Congress report there are 2.7 billion “unreached peoples”. The highlight of the conference was the issue by Congress participants a brief document entitled, “The Lausanne Covenant” (hereafter LC), which though does not speak directly of Muslims or Christian-Muslim relations, still has some implications for the same. Hence, we need to look at the LC in some detail from which further theologizing evolved, establishing the various Lausanne Covenant Programme (LCP).

The Lausanne Covenant

John Stott, one of the chief spokespersons for the Lausanne Congress, quoted an Asian theologian, without disclosing his identity, which had said that the LC is “the most significant ecumenical confession on evangelism that the church has produced”. This was a document produced before the Congress and circulated among some of the advisers, to make sure that it reflected the mind of the Congress. After much study and revision the final draft was submitted to the participants. John Stott maintained that the word “covenant” was used, (rather than “declaration”,) to put greater emphasis on doing something. “Doing” here was meant “to commit ourselves to the task of world evangelization”, which for the participants included very definitely, the Muslim world.

The LC had fifteen sections. Each section is “packed fairly tight with content” and at the end had reference to several biblical passages. The great commission of Christ, that is, proclaiming the Gospel to all people and making disciples of every nation was the central theme of the covenant. Much stress was put on the authority of the Bible (section 2) and the uniqueness and universality of Jesus Christ (section 3). More than six sections spoke exclusively of evangelism, which included also changing the religious allegiance of people.

The LC accepted that all people “have some knowledge of God through his general revelation in nature”. But, it denied, “that this can save”. In other words, Islam, according to the LC, may contain knowledge of God, but that knowledge will be inadequate to save the Muslims. Hence, by implication, a Muslim must hear and accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ in order to be saved.

LC advocated a “dialogue whose purpose is to listen sensitively in order to understand”. But, if by dialogue it is implied “that Christ speaks equally through all religions and ideologies”, then, the LC argued, it was “derogatory to Christ and the Gospel”. The ultimate goal of a Christian, according to the LC, was not “dialoguing” but “reaching”, and “persuading” people, including the Muslims, to come to Christ.

LC, to be exact, never denied the validity of dialogue with people of other faiths. It does not consider the urgency of dialogue in the same way the SVC and the WCC documents have affirmed it. The urgency for the LC was not to dialogue with the 2.7 billion people of other faiths, but to evangelize them, among whom most are Muslims.

Critically Understanding the Documents of the LCP

To critically understand the LC we need to consider also the documents produced in consultations participated by the conservative evangelicals. This is because the Lusanne Congress, in some sense, was only a sequel to several previous consultations among them are Wheaton (1966), Berlin (1966), and Frankfurt (1970). Moreover, the establishment of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization with its various sub-committees and consultations that sprang from Lausanne (1974) made the latter another beginning of the revival of the former concern of some of the Euro-North American Christians, namely, the evangelization of the world in this generation, a concern that had been kept alive since 1886. Along with them it is important to reflect, also, documents evolved from Pasadena (1977), Willow bank (1978), Colorado (1978), Pattaya (1980), and Wheaton (1983).

For this essay I focus only on the reports, declarations, etc., that are the outcome of group interaction, occasionally referring to a document that was released by the Evangelical Alliance of Britain entitled, Christianity and Other Faiths: An Evangelical contribution to our Multi-Faith Society. This document is related to Lausanne (1974), not so much institutionally, but in its content, faith, hopes, and aspirations.

Before the actual analysis and discussion of the above mentioned documents two preliminary observations are in order. First, excepting Colorado (1978) and Pattaya (1980), none of the other documents mentioned in this section are particularly addressed to Muslims as a distinct and a unique people. But this does not mean that these documents do not consider the Muslims as a distinct community of people with a distinct religion and culture. In fact as we proceed it will become evident that these documents for purpose of strategy treat not only Muslims but also people of other religious groups as distinct groups.

This is partly connected to the often repeated concept of “the unreached people” to describe those who have not met with the Gospel. Muslims, according to these documents, are, therefore, a part of the unreached people. These documents assume that, the Gospel, the essence of Christianity, is absent in other religions, including Islam. In this sense, Islam and its adherents are in no way different from the other non-Christian religions and their followers. Islam is dumped together with the other religions and is referred to as “non-Christian”. This will be further discussed later when the status of Islam in these documents is clarified and evaluated.

The second observation is related to the first. Unlike the Christians connected to the World Council of Churches and the Catholics conservative evangelicals do not express any necessity for Muslim participation, or participation of any other non-Christians, in formulating such documents to provide guidelines for Christian-Muslim relations. In fact, no non-Christians ever participated in any of the consultations that produced the present set of documents. For the authors of the LCP texts, Christian theology is the exclusive business of Christians.

In addition to these two comments it is possible to make a further observation about the overall theological mood of the LCP documents. These documents unashamedly disclose a particular theological bias, namely, the new conservative evangelical theology that claims “a faithfulness to the scriptures”. Further, the Christian thinkers behind the LCP documents will also claim that this “faithfulness to the scriptures” is absent in other forms of Christian theologies. What needs to be noted here is the dogmatic nature of the method and content of the theology that undergirds the LCP documents. The explorative dimension of theology as a discipline is totally absent. In this sense it is very doubtful whether these documents could commend themselves in the context of spirituality, which is basically one of exploration.

However, the documents related to Lausanne (1974) are not ambiguous. They express precisely what their concern(s) is/are, the motive(s) and objective(s) for this/these concern(s), and the strategy/strategies they adopt to reach this/these objective(s). From the motive(s), objection(s) and strategy/strategies discussed in the documents, it is possible to unearth the status of Islam and Muslims in Christian theology, which is our main aim in analysing and studying these documents. Moreover, the LCP documents also discuss the contemporary concern for Christian dialogue with Muslims, which will have serious implications in doing Christian theology. It is to these issues we will now turn our attention.

Evangelizing the Muslims

Courageously and with no hesitation the LCP documents proclaim their concern for the evangelization of the Muslim world in particular and the whole world in general. “Let the Earth hear His Voice” was, as we saw earlier in this chapter, the slogan of Lausanne (1974). This international congress affirmed:

We are deeply stirred by what God is doing in our days, moved to penitence by
our failures and challenged by the unfinished task of evangelization. We believe
the Gospel is God’s good news for the whole world, and we are determined by his
grace to obey Christ’s commission on proclaim it to al mankind and to make
disciples of every nation.

Thus evangelizing the Muslims, with that eventual result of the Muslims changing their religious affiliation, and becoming Christians was the main thrust of these documents. This is revealed through four major concerns that are discussed below.

1. The “Unfinished Task” and the “Unreached People”

The “unfinished task” and the “unreached people” are two recurring themes of this set of documents. These themes confirm the major concern of these documents. The unfinished task is the evangelization of the world of which the Muslim World is only a part. Muslims have to be made the “disciples of Christ”. Hence, Colorado (1978) was a North American Conference on Muslim Evangelization while at Pattaya (1980) the consultation was on the theme “reaching Muslims with the Gospel”.

Being aware that seventy five percent of the world’s total population were unreached people, and among them about 720 million, that is about a fourth of the total unreached people, were Muslims, the documents express a greater to evangelize the Muslims.

The desire for and urgency “of the evangelization of the human race in this generation”, initiated as early as 1886, as mentioned earlier, has remained quite steady among the evangelicals. At the World Congress on Evangelism in Berlin (1966), the urgency to evangelize was expressed by pointing “to mankind in spiritual revolt the moral chaos”. The same concern with a similar urgency was expressed at Wheaton (1983) when they spoke of “the lostness of more than three thousand million people who have not yet had the opportunity to respond to the gospel or have rejected it”.

While expressing the desire to evangelize the Muslims, these documents do not deny the need for good neighbourly relationship between Christians and Muslims. However, building better relationship between communities is not treated as number one priority. It is treated as somewhat subordinate to the concern to evangelize. Thus the documents related to and evolved from Lausanne (1974) emphasise clearly the evangelization of Muslims.

The less emphasis on cordial relationship between the two communities, namely, Christian and Muslim in the documents related to Lausanne (1974) may be due to the awareness of the conflicts that may arise in the Christian evangelization of Muslims. The documents recognise that resistance to the Christian efforts to evangelize the Muslims is unavoidable. This can often lead to conflicts. Such conflicts are testified to by some of the Muslims converts to the Christian faith. A good example of this is the conversion of K.K. Alavi, a Muslim convert from Kerala, India. Alavi’s account of his conversion is marked by persecution that he suffered in the hands of his Muslim family and community. In this context it is understandable that these documents do not lay much stress on Christian relationship with Muslims. In fact, at such moments the documents encourage the Christian evangelist or the new Muslim converts to withdraw from such areas of conflict. But it does not deny, “heroic and dogged endurance may be called for in certain situations”.

Relation and dialogue with Muslims, according to these documents, are important only as far as they help to evangelize Muslims. Friendships with Muslims are treated as effective means to evangelize. This trend of thought is to be found in all the documents related to Lausanne (1974) and in the writings of most of those individual scholars connected with these documents. A good example is the writings of Colin Chapman who stresses the importance of friendship with Muslims for effective evangelization of the latter. Hence, a Christian friendship with Muslims is encouraged not for the sake of the virtue of friendship or the value of individual Muslim as a person but for the sake of a potential convert.

Perhaps it is this kind of Christian trend that came under sharp attack by the Muslim participants at the Chambesy consultation of 1976 organized by the World Council of Churches. Even if the Christians claim that it is out of love for their Muslim neighbour that they share the Gospel with the latter, Muslims will perceive the whole enterprise as a Christian betrayal.

Before we move into the next area, two critical comments about the primary concern of these documents are in order. These comments are related to the theological presuppositions that underline the desire to “evangelize” the “unreached” Muslim. First, there is the concept of “unreached” people that occurs frequently in the documents. In these documents it is an important concept, which is used to describe the Muslims, because it reveals to some degree the status accorded to Islam in the LCP documents.

How tenable is this concept theologically? Morally, how useful is it? How relevant is it, particularly in the post 9/11 world of open conflicts? These are only a few among the many other questions that can be raised around this concept. Before clarifying these questions, however, it should be noted that the documents under discussion use this term fairly broadly, and without defining it. And, elsewhere we learn that it is not a word that expresses a theological concept but it is used to define a strategy for Christian mission to Muslims. The evangelical Christians, who have been using this term, do so to indicate a group of people that includes less than twenty percent practising Christians. However, we cannot fail to detect the exclusivistic Christian theology underlying the usage of this term. This becomes more complicated when the term “unreached people” is used in contrast to another concept “practising Christian” which is also not defined in the LCP documents.

Late Sebastian Kappan, an Indian Jesuit priest and the controversial author of Jesus and Freedom, once perhaps overstated rejection of this concept. In a private conversation with the present writer Kappan said, “if God is God of this part of the world-referring to Asia in general and India in particular – then God would speak to me through the writings of the people in this region of the world, no matter whether they are Christian or not. Therefore, I do not crave to read theological works from the west”. In saying this, Kappan affirmed his conviction that India with only two percent of Christians is a country that is within God’s reach, and God is God of India as well, those saving and creative activity continues even in Hindu India. It is precisely for this reason, Samartha first and later Ariarajah raised the question “unreached by whom”?

Raimundo Panikkar expressed similar concerns when he rejected the often-misused phrase “non-Christian”. Their basic argument is that God through Christ pervades the entire world, and therefore, the concept “unreached” is theologically inconsistent. Such an emphasis of Panikkar and others, mentioned above, is relevant not only theologically but also pastorally and missiologically. Unless this truth is taken seriously it is possible to consider the Christian diakonia, which involves secular services, as related to the Christian kerygma, which together with diakonia is part of the heritage of Christian koinonia, and as something that is directly connected to Christian worship of God.

Apart from this, will not this concept be offensive and unacceptable to people of other faiths in general and to Muslims in particular? Does not this term “unreached people” express an attitude of a theological colonialism? This phrase, however, helps to distinguish the Christians from Muslims. But, the term “unreached people”, like the term “non-Christian”, does not make any attempt to identify or describe, positively, whom the Muslim is. This makes it irrelevant.

Connected to the first is the second, namely, the concept of evangelism. Berlin (1966) describes evangelism in the following way:

Evangelism is the proclamation of the Gospel of the crucified and risen Christ,
the only Redeemer of men, according to the Scriptures, with the purpose of
persuading condemned and lost sinners to put their trust in God by receiving and
accepting Christ as Savior through the power of the Holy Spirit, and to serve
Christ as Lord in every calling of life…

Frankfurt (1970), which is more of a reaction to some of the activities of the World Council of Churches, particularly to the Dialogue Unit, in its description of evangelism states:

The offer of salvation in Christ is directed without exception to all men who
are not yet bound to him in conscious faith. The adherents to the non-Christian
religions and world views can receive this salvation only through participation
in faith. They must let themselves be freed from their ties and false hopes in
order to be admitted by belief and baptism into the Body of Christ.

The latter description actually spells out clearly the earlier one in terms of other religions. Late, Lausanne (1974), confirmed what Berlin (1966) and the others have stated. In the LC evangelism is described as spreading “the good news that Jesus Christ died for our sins and was raised from the dead according to the Scriptures and that as the reigning Lord he now offers the forgiveness of sins and the liberating gift of the Spirit to all who repent and believe”.

From the descriptions above, it is possible to conclude that the documents related to Lausanne (1974) consider evangelism as spreading abroad a certain verbal message, or proposition, namely, that “Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead”. This proposition is considered to be true because it is written in the Bible. The Bible cannot record any thing other than truth. Further, it is part of evangelism to persuade those who have not positively accepted this proposition. Of course, the documents in varying degrees emphasise that the Holy Spirit will enable a person to accept this prepositional truth. Accepting this, the LCP documents assume, is crucial to the ultimate destiny of humans, and this implies changing one’s own religious allegiance, and being baptised and becoming a member of the visible church.

But, is this the evangelism that is spoken about the Bible? Is not evangelism much more comprehensive than is described in the documents being discussed at present? Is not this an attempt to reduce evangelism to a mere cerebral activity? What is evangelism in the context of mass poverty in the world, especially in the developing countries, including South Asia? What is evangelism in the context of religious pluralism? What is evangelism in the context of Hindu, Buddhist and Islamic missionary activities?

Many of these questions are ignored in the LCP documents. The reason for this is obviously the narrow exclusivistic theological principles, from which the motives and objectives of evangelism are derived. Therefore, an examination of the motives and objectives of evangelism, as it is described in these documents, are in order.

2. Mandate to Evangelize the Muslims

The LCP documents claim that the mandate or motives to evangelize Muslims are derived, firstly, from “the commission of the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ”. Secondly, they are derived from the saving acts of Christ “as they are reported by the witness of the apostles and early Christianity in the New Testament”. In addition to these it is recognised that Christian willingness “to share with Muslims the boundless grace of God” is another motive for evangelizing the Muslim world.

However, the third one is given less importance in the present set of documents. Moreover, the Frankfurt (1970) declaration is vehemently opposed to the idea of finding the motive to evangelize outside the great commission that read: “Full authority in heaven and on earth has been committed to me. Go forth therefore and make all nations my disciples; baptize men everywhere in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit”. There is an undue importance given to the great commission. This is often quoted especially to defend evangelism against the concern for Christian dialogue or conversations with the people of other faiths. It is frequently used as if it is the central concern and theme of the Bible. While discussing the mission of the church, the great commission is cited to emphasise the priority of evangelism.

However, there are several problems connected to it. First, many biblical scholars will have difficulty in accepting this passage as some thing that belongs to the earliest witness. This is because of the Trinitarian formula, which belongs to the later period of the Christian Church. We may note here that Faruqi at the Chambesy (1976) consultation, to which we referred earlier, criticised Rudvin for “taking Matthew 28:14 (Sic.) as the historical evidence for the origin of missionary command”. The latter rightly argued that biblical studies have “shown that this verse belongs to a later stage of Christian development and could not have been said by Jesus”. In that sense, putting too much of weight on Matthew 28:18-19 to establish evangelism, as the evangelicals do, is not very convincing.

The second problem is connected with spirituality. To accept the great commission means to introduce a certain element of compulsion into our religious life. This takes away the freedom that is the basis of our religious life. Therefore, Ariarajah, a critique of evangelical theology and practice, raised the question, “Do Christians bear witness to Jesus Christ because they are under a command or a commission to do so? Do Christians go about converting and baptizing others because Christ has asked them to do so”? He, while accepting evangelism as a legitimate dimension of Christian life, argued that it should arise out to “a profound spirituality that fills our life as we encounter Christ”.

There are others who are especially influenced by India spirituality. For these, Christians practice evangelism not because they have been commanded, but because they have been influenced by the Indian norm, which in Tamil says, “Thaan petra inbam peruka ivv viyakam”, meaning, the whole earth should receive the joy I have received. Within the Western theological framework, where undue emphasis is put on authority, the Indian norm will be considered inadequate for justifying evangelism. However, it is no the basis of the Indian norm that D.T. Niles, a renowned Sri Lankan Christian thinker defined evangelism as “a beggar telling another beggar where to find food”.

Finally, but crucially, at least as far as this study is concerned, by making the great commission as something that is crucial to Christian faith, the LCP documents express and sustain a certain exclusivistic tendency in Christian theology. Implicit in the emphasis on the great commission is a belief that the other religions in general, and Islam in particular, are not of any salvific value. For the evangelicals to accept the salvific value of Islam will amount to abandoning the importance of the great commission.

The more fundamental question, however, is: can the great commission be emphasised without considering the salvific value of other religions, including Islam? Is it logical to say on the basis of Matthew 28:18-19, that there is no salvation available in Islam without examining Islam itself? Patrick Kalilombe, a Roman Catholic Bishop, while discussing “The Salvific value of African Religion”, raised a similar question. He wrote:
What becomes of Christianity’s uniqueness as God’s final salvific-revelation if it is conceded that other religions are also divinely ordained normal channels of God’s salvific activity? Where is the urgency of the “Great Commission”… if non-Christian communities can just as well find salvation in their own traditional religious systems?
Therefore, what is important is to examine the salvific value of Islam by using historical and phenomenological methods.

3. Objectives in Evangelizing the Muslims

Closely connected to the motives, are the objectives in evangelizing the Muslims. The great commission which is the motivating factor and the rational for evangelism, the Christians behind the LCP will argue, reads, “make all nations my disciples; baptize men everywhere”. Therefore, evangelization of the whole world is the missionary objective of the documents related to Lausanne (1974).

Evangelization is not mentioned in these documents in terms of “take it or leave it”. Since the content of evangelization is of the highest value, the whole enterprise is spoken of with the utmost seriousness. All the documents either implicitly or explicitly argue that the recipients in the process of evangelism should be persuaded until they are baptised and accommodated into the church. The Colorado (1978) report reads: “We anticipate that…those involved in evangelizing Muslims will be able to engage in more than seed-sowing. We believe that discipline and church planting will also take place”. Church planting and church growth are the ultimate objective of evangelism. The establishment of the church is the goal. The church as “the community of God’s people rather than an institution” is the vision, towards which the documents persuade every Christian to move. “The Church is at the very center of God’s cosmic purpose and is his appointed means of spreading the Gospel”. So the Church is both the instrument and the goal of evangelism. Therefore, through evangelism the “Churches should be always be growing”.

The documents are therefore very confident that the Muslim world, though it appears to be “resistant to the gospel” for historical, theological, sociological, and political reasons, can still be brought into the church provided the stumbling blocks are removed and proper strategies are adapted. In this hope the documents also rely on divine support in fulfilling the task of evangelism.

In short, the objective in evangelizing the Muslim world is to bring it into the visible church. Since the visible church is the goal, there is no room either for anonymous Christians or for the latent church. This, the documents claim, can be achieved with right scientific methods.

It is precisely this conviction that led to the Pasadena (1977), Willow bank (1978), Colorado (1978), and Pattaya (1980) consultations. At these meetings, the concern for evangelism of the Muslim world or the mandate and the objectives of this same concern were not disputed. They were accepted without any doubt. On the basis of this faith the participants of these different consultations took counsel on effective modes and methods of evangelizing the Muslim world.

Before we probe into these methods that were considered to be effective, critical clarification of the objective that is set forth in the LCP documents is essential. But this will be done very briefly, for want of space and to remain in the primary focus of the present study.

The question concerns the relation between the Kingdom of God that Jesus, according to the New Testament, came to inaugurate, and the Church, which, according to the documents, is the goal of evangelization. In that sense the LCP documents tend to overemphasise the visible church, even at the expense of the Kingdom of God, which is so central to the New Testament. By doing so the documents, wrongly, either try to equate the Kingdom of God to the Church, or make the former subordinate to the latter. In this context it is possible to argue that the LCP documents, in spite of the claim, are not truly scriptural.

It is possible, especially in the context of the Indian experience, to ask whether a person or a group should become part of the visible church after being evangelized? Isn’t it possible to receive the fruits of evangelism without actually being baptised into the visible church? For many this is not a mere theoretical question but one that calls for serious decision making and spirituality. Many Indian Christians have tried to seriously think of Mahatma Ghandi and his relation to Christian evangelism. Ghandi, though he accepted the teachings of Jesus was not willing to be baptised. Now in the context of the LCP documents Ghandi will clearly stand outside the will of God. In fact this is a question that is often asked by ordinary lay Christians in India.

The documents related to Lausanne (1974), will not hesitate to say that Ghandi is ultimately damned though they would not hesitate to acknowledge his good works. For them salvation has nothing to do with good works. It depends only on a person’s positive acceptance of the Gospel after hearing it. But, on the other hand, they may accept that it is possible to receive salvation without hearing the Gospel. In fact one of the documents confirms this when it says:

Salvation is indeed through Christ alone, won for humanity through the ‘one
full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world which he
offered upon the Cross; but this does not necessarily mean that it is limited to
those who hear, understand and consciously respond in a positive way to his
message. There are those to who, like Cornelius, have a sense of loving
dependence upon God and a hope in his mercy without ever having heard that
message-can we doubt that God’s mercy extends to them?

However, these documents will argue that if a person hears and positively responds this should lead to baptism and therefore, to a change of religious allegiance. Hence, the documents contain carefully worked out strategies designed to lead to the conversion of the Muslim world. This is a hope, which needs conceptual clarification and perhaps actual testing in an actual situation.

4. Strategies to Evangelize the Muslim World

The LCP documents clearly reject proselytization, which is to “win people through material inducement or any form of ‘brain washing’”. It is recognised that proselytization is contrary to the “spirit of Christ” and it is violating “the freedom and integrity” of the person or group being evangelized. Wheaton (1966), therefore, declared: “The proselytism that includes forced conversions or the use of Material means (material and/or social) is contrary to the gospel of Christ and should be distinguished from that which is biblical and genuine”. This is mentioned here to note that the desire of the LCP documents to work out clear strategies should not be confused with proselytising.

If we look at the overall picture revealed in these documents, it is possible to identify two distinct strategies in evangelizing the Muslim world. They are, first, “the people approach”, which is more popular in the documents. And, second is the “individual approach”. People approach is based on cross-cultural communications, which have led to new insights into how individuals and communities behave. In this people are carefully grouped into “homogenous units”. It is these homogenous units that become the target of Christian evangelism rather than individuals. That, which is hoped here is that people as a group will make decisions, as they often do in other important matters. By encouraging this method it is also expected to minimise conflict between the ones who are being converted to the Christian faith and others.

The LCP documents, however, recognise that others prefer the individual approach to the peoples approach. In this, man/woman to man/woman evangelism is practised. This pattern is similar to the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch by Phillip in Acts of the Apostles. It appears that new Muslim converts seem to prefer this second approach while the North American evangelicals encourage the first approach.

Connected to the two different approaches is the use of the Qur’an in evangelizing the Muslims. This is viewed as a controversial issue, and documents record at least five different views. The first view is that the Qur’an should not be used in evangelizing the Muslims. It is argued that the Qur’an cannot be put along side the Bible. All the other views accept the use of the Qur’an but with different motives and reasons. In the second view, the Qur’an is used to understand the Muslim mind and Islamic terminologies. Third, it is used only to expose the inner contradictions of the Qur’an. Fourth, the Qur’an is used as the starting point for evangelism. Once the process of evangelizing is begun the Qur’an is left aside. Finally, the Qur’an is used as a source of truth and it is believed that by using it in this way the Christian evangelist makes the Muslim less defensive.

Two other aspects of strategy that are discussed in the documents are “restraint” and “withdrawal”. Certain theological terms such as “Son of God”, “Trinity”, etc., are used with greater restraint. The documents encourage the avoidance of such terms at least initially. In this, it is claimed that the method of Jesus himself is followed. It is argued that Jesus himself avoided using terms such as “Messiah” and “Son of God”, for he realised that “they would be so badly misunderstood by his hearers”. Likewise, as mentioned earlier, withdrawal is encouraged in case of conflicts or rejection of the message. On the whole the strategies suggest that the documents are success oriented, and it is claimed that the suggested strategies are ones that has been tested in actual situations and found effective.

But what do these strategies suggest about Islam and Muslim? What is the status that is accorded to Islam and its adherents in the LCP documents? Do the documents suggest any understanding of Islam or the Muslim mind? What is Islam’s relation to Christianity? These are some among many other questions that are relevant to the present study.

Status of Islam

In some sense this is a false inquiry, at least as far as the LCP documents are concerned. These documents are not interested in discussing the status of Islam, and therefore, no attempt is made to consider seriously the content of Islam. Islam is discussed only insofar as it is a problem to Christian evangelism. Therefore, Wheaton (1966) declared that the so-called non-Christian religious systems “such as Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism in their new missionary vigor, pose an oppressive threat to the growth of the Church”.

On the other hand, a careful reading of the documents reveals at least two different views about Islam. They are: first, Islam is a false religion; second, there is some truth in Islam. In addition to these two different views, there are some indications, in the LCP documents, that Islam should be considered as a preparation for the Gospel. All such conclusions are derived in the documents, by citing and interpreting the biblical passages in such a way as to establish an exclusivistic Christian theology. Most passages from the Bible are taken literally. On the basis of such biblical passages the supremacy and the decisiveness of Christ is maintained in the LCP documents. The underlying theological theme of these documents is that the people without Christ are lost. Some of the passages that are often quoted in defence of the supremacy of the Christian faith include, among other, John 14:6, Acts 4:12, and 1 Timothy 2:5.

On the basis of these biblical passages it is argued that Islam is a false religion and there is no truth in it, and therefore, the Muslims are looked upon as “Godless” people. It is perhaps the Frankfurt (1970) declaration that expresses this position more clearly. According to this declaration Islam contains “false hopes”. Those who refused to use the Qur’an in evangelizing the Muslims confirmed such a belief.

Contrasting with the view expressed in the previous paragraph, in some parts of the documents, it is possible to discover a certain willingness to accept some amount of truth in Islam. But, immediately it is always argued that this truth in Islam is inadequate for salvation. In that sense the partial and imperfect “truths which the Qur’an” contain are recognised and acknowledged. Hence one LCP document reads: “There is much in other faiths which is in harmony with the Christian faith, e.g. the sense of tremendous majesty of God, so clearly proclaimed by Islam and also by the Bible”. It is claimed, however, that these truths that are found in Islam are subordinate to that of Christian faith, and therefore, the same document argued:

But our glad acknowledgement of this fact must be qualified by our conviction of
the supremacy of Christ. At night the moon and the planets glimmer with sun’s
reflected light and dispel a little of the darkness, but when the sun rises in
all his glory the planets vanish from sight and the moon’s light becomes a
pallid glow.

According to these documents the little truth that is to be found in the Qur’an or in any other religion are not only subordinate to the biblical truths but are also attributed to Christ. In this, these documents follow the lead provided by Justin Martyr and others. The moon and the planets do not have their own light but reflect the light of the sun. Therefore, these documents, in that sense, see “the Divine Word enlightening” Islam and its followers.

Syncretism and Dialogue

Before we conclude the discussion of the LCP documents, a brief discussion on syncretism and dialogue, as it is perceived by these documents, are relevant. There are at least two reasons to do so. First, these are two themes that occur often in the LCP documents, though they are not their primary concern. Second, dialogue is a contemporary concern of the Church while syncretism is a much-feared concept.

To some extent it is fear of syncretism that makes the LCP documents reject the concern for dialogue. Syncretism is a much hated and feared word in these documents. Statements about syncretism, therefore, are often reactionary. A good example is what Wheaton (1966) says about this concern:

Syncretism, for our purpose, is the attempt to unite or reconcile biblically
revealed Christian truth with diverse or opposing tenets and practices of
non-Christian religions or other systems of thought that deny it. Alarming are
the deviant and heretical views within Christendom advocating a depersonalised
theism acceptable to religions of East and West. Such syncretism denies the
uniqueness and finality of Christian truth.

Theological relativism is also frowned upon as syncretism, along with the acceptance of religious truths of other religions, which could be inculcated into one’s own religious faith. In this context, there is no doubt that most Asian attempts to translate Christian theology in Buddhist, Hindu or Islamic terms will be considered as syncretism. However, with a new interest in cross-cultural evangelization it can be hoped that a new thinking ad understanding on syncretism is at hand.

It is fear of syncretism that makes these documents more cautious of dialogue with people of other faiths. This leads the documents to careful define the word dialogue whenever they accept it or use it. The following are some of the ways in which dialogue is accepted: (a) Dialogue as a means to “establish good points of contact for missionary communication”. (Frankfurt 1970) (b) Dialogue as a means of listening “sensitively in order to understand”. (Lausanne 1974) Similarly, Pattaya (1980) affirmed: “We may agree that dialogue is valid and even necessary activity for Christians. It is only through patient and friendly dialogue that a Christian learns how another person gives meaning and significance to life. Again, it is in dialogue that a Christian is able to appreciate in depth what is the nature of his religious experience”. (c) Dialogue is accepted as “a mood or a spirit of friendship and co-operation”. (Pattaya 1980) This is done especially in the context of “widespread poverty, social disruption, and war”. It is recognised that the followers of different faiths should “co-operate in pursuing peace and social justice for all”.

In spite of some encouraging thoughts on Christian dialogue with Muslims and their faith in these documents, the fear of venturing into other religions and an undue emphasis on Christian supremacy, leads these documents and the Christian theologies that under gird these documents to move towards the more exclusivist path.

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