Missionaries in regions of the world where Christianity is unwelcome areexperimenting with a controversial approach--making converts who hold onto many of their traditional religious beliefs and practices.
"Messianic Muslims" who continue to read the Koran, visit the mosque and saytheir daily prayers but accept Christ as their Savior are the products ofthe strategy, which is being tried in several countries, according to YouthWith a Mission (YWAM), one of the organizations involved.
Reactions to the practice from other missionary leaders have ranged from"sympathetic criticism" to "enthusiastic support," according to a report in"The International YWAMer," the mission's staff newsletter, which detailshow the tactic is being applied by a church planter in Asia.
He told of around 50 members of a Muslim family who had decided to becomefollowers of Christ, forming a small fellowship. "They continued a life offollowing the Islamic requirements, including mosque attendance, fasting andKoranic reading, besides getting together as a fellowship of Muslims whoacknowledge Christ as the source of God's mercy for them."
They also meet according to mosque traditions in a style that the leadersaid would "horrify" many Western Christians. But he said that the strategywas biblical, referencing the early church in Jerusalem where "Jewishfollowers of Christ became more zealous to keep the law and Jewish customs."
The leader--writing under a pseudonym for security reasons--said that therewere issues that needed to be addressed to avoid syncretism, such asMohammed's place in the new believers' faith. But these were "a matter ofprocess." He wrote: "As the believer's heart changes, he or she places lessand less importance on these issues that seem to contradict the gospel. Infact we have found at times the opposite, that we need to encourage theperson not to reject his culture and thereby burn bridges with his past."
The missionary approach identifies people as fitting into one of sixdifferent groups, from those comfortable in traditional church settings whowould be able to openly identify themselves as Christian to those followingChrist secretly. "Messianic Muslims" form part of the fifth group, wherethey remain within their Islamic community, socially and legally.
YWAM is also adopting the approach in India, where a team is working with a"sadhu," or Hindu holy man, said the mission's sub-field director SteveCochrane. They organized pilgrimages for Hindus to holy sites and "then allalong the way they are explaining the gospel to the pilgrims, in a totallycontextualized way," he said.
"The whole idea is, How can we see the gospel shed of its cultural formsthat are not appropriate?" he said. "Think of the Acts 15 example, where inthat context it was very clear that the gospel did not need to come inJewish cultural forms. It was breaking out among Gentile peoples.
"Sometimes what has to happen is we have to go through crisis in ourunderstanding of what is Christianity and what is culture...The offense ofthe cross is always there. We can't minimize that. But what we can eliminateis the offense of the cultural issues, and they are huge."