Recently the Lord provided an opportunity to be present in a Thursday night evangelistic-worship meeting held by a very dynamic and evidently born-again Coptic Orthodox priest. The setting was a Middle Eastern country.
Recently the Lord provided an opportunity to be present in a Thursday night evangelistic-worship meeting held by a very dynamic and evidently born-again Coptic Orthodox priest. The setting was a Middle Eastern country. Two thousand five hundred people jammed the large hall adjacent to the large church, and the overflow crowd viewed the meeting on closed circuit TV in a lower floor room. Men and women were strictly segregated, and a balcony was reserved for women only. The service lasted three hours, and Rev. Brahim, the priest, preached for an hour and twenty minutes. Much life and worship filled the service, and people were visibly moved.
A significant and amazing aspect of this meeting for those burdened for the Muslim world is that many Muslims were present, and Rev. Brahim was regularly baptizing Muslim converts, including thirty in the two months prior to my visit. After the meeting I had about an hour with Rev. Brahim in a house evidently used for the accommodation and teaching of Christian workers from Coptic and Muslim background. The priest was a very humble man, and he asked me to share with him what I knew about Muslim evangelism. I felt very much like the student and not the teacher, before him.
As I met with him, one of the questions burning in my heart was whether Muslim converts were happy in his church. Having lived in the Middle East for years, I was aware of the deep relational problems between Christians of Orthodox background and Christians of Muslim background. From the time I had learned of this move of God three years previously, I had purposed to meet with Rev. Brahim and question him on this point. The situation was rather awkward that night, for in the room with us was a Muslim convert. After I stumbled over the question, a smile broke over their faces, and I said, "I guess I have my answer.
They both nodded in agreement.
Since that time, I have reflected much on the reasons for this little known move of God. Why has God chosen to use the Coptic priest when there is a large Protestant evangelical church there.? Since that warm, enchanting night when Rev. Brahim dropped me off at my friend’s house, and I returned to my own circle of evangelical friends, the following points have come into focus. It seems that there could well be some important reasons why a Muslim might be drawn to Christ through this saved priest’s ministry, rather than through the expression of the Westernized Christianity of the evangelical church of that country.
SOCIO-CULTURAL FORMS RELATING TO A MUSLIM
1. Time was unhurried and free. The same is true in Muslim religious meetings. A Muslim would feel culturally at home in Rev. Brahim’s meeting in this respect.
2. Loudspeakers were blaring with the windows wide open. Those of us living in Muslim cultural settings know that this is culturally in step. A battery of tape recorders surrounded the priest again culturally in the right setting. A sense of excitement filled the meeting, just as in meetings I’ve attended in the mosque.
3. The platform was filled with people, possibly those who had earned the right and respect to be there. There was an informality about the meeting, just like in mosque meetings, and a strong sense of belonging, being part of the affair, not just a spectator.
4. A very warm atmosphere pervaded the room, informal, but in its own way, reverent. The code for reverence is different than in the West. To a Muslim, our evangelical services tend to be a bit formal and starchy.
5. Rev. Brahim would deal with families as units. Focus was on the heads of homes, who in Muslim culture are the decisionmakers. Older young men tend to carry somewhat of this position also. Baptisms are performed with family units.
6. Thursday night was most appropriate for Muslims to attend Friday is their holy day, so Thursday night is like our Saturday night without the pressures of work the next day.
7. The sexes were strictly segregated on the main floor, and in addition the balcony was reserved for women. The balcony provided an excellent place for a Muslim woman to be at ease away from the prying eyes of men. The mosques I’ve been in provide a curtain to separate the men and women. Sometimes evangelical churches will segregate the sexes in a Muslim country, but not to this extent.
8. The dress was similar between the Coptic Orthodox Christians and the Muslims. Also the priest wore a turban and a long robe, making the Muslim feel right at home and commanding his respect as a man of God. Evangelicals tend toward western dress.
TEACHING AND COMMUNICATION FORMS RELATING TO A MUSLIM
1. Strong, dynamic and lengthy preaching appeals to a Muslim. I’ve heard long and fervent preaching even at Muslim weddings, with more than one doing the preaching. Dynamic use of language, especially Arabic is a very important communication form to a Muslim.
2. The liberal use of stories and illustrations rather than cold logic. A Middle Easterner, just like Jesus, draws logic from stories.
3. Repetition and repeating in unison was used as a learning form. How beautiful to have 2,500 persons repeat a verse over a dozen times together, till it sticks in their minds long afterwards for the Holy Spirit to use. This is good Muslim teaching form, and he feels right at home using it.
4. Strong and emotional heart appeal. The way to a Muslim is through his heart, not his head. The meeting was charged with life and emotion. There was very much singing.
5. Young men studied in a small informal Bible school set up very similar to the informal religious training of Muslim leaders in the mosque. So a Muslim convert desiring to serve the Lord would feel right at home.
6. Miracles were present as a persuasive mover of the Muslim will and as part of his religious logic. A Muslim is a firm believer in the supernatural and in miracles. Most of the Muslim converts I know from the Middle East have had some sort of unusual manifestation or revelation connected with their conversion. Thus, the Word of God is confirmed for the skeptical Muslim. Incidently, a miracle that God performed on a Muslim young man catapulted this priest into the winning of Muslims to Christ.
RELIGIO-CULTURAL FORMS RELATING TO A MUSLIM
1. Preaching was prominent and fervent in the meeting. One of the Muslim’s complaints about the Billy Graham films shown to them was that "they didn’t let that preacher preach long enough. They cut him off just when he was getting warmed up! " Muslims don’t relate to our cool, short sermonizing with one eye on the clock. His religion means more to him than that. Rev. Brahim carried authority in his manner of preaching. A Muslim respects that and responds to it.
2. The hall was basically bare, except for a few pictures up front. Concrete blocks were showing, typical of the bare walls in the meeting rooms of the average mosque.
3. The attire of the priest was not a small thing. This was Rev. Brahim’s normal attire, but it fit in so well with a Muslim’s idea of a religious leader to be listened to.
4. Though they were not charismatic, many of the people lifted their hands in prayer. A Muslim will do the same when he prays.
5. Heads of homes were appealed to. Here is the authority in the Islamic religious home.
6. During the times of prayer by Rev. Brahim, one had the sense that the congregation was entering in with him by raising their hands and by audible expressions. This sense of togetherness in prayer means much to a Muslim convert, for it is part of his cultural upbringing and religious exercises.
7. Praying was never done sitting down. One of the most repulsive acts in the evangelical church to a Muslim is when we pray sitting down. To him prayer before Almighty God can only be made while standing or kneeling, preferably the latter. Rev. Brahim. had the whole congregation stand, then he faced the same direction as the congregation, and together they prayed for almost 15 minutes. The priest did the praying, but there was a sense of oneness in the audience.
Of course, Muslims present would not be able to enter in, but the powerful sense of the presence of God during that time would make a deep impression on them. Muslim converts have testified that the way they are freest to worship Jesus is prostrate before him. It was interesting to note that in a small gathering of Orthodox and Muslim believers, the only ones not kneeling when we prayed were an evangelical friend and myself.
8. The witness that night and throughout the week was very open and bold. Some were going out into the streets inviting people to Jesus Christ and giving out Gospels. A good Muslim is not backward or apologetic about his religion. So this approach flowed in well with Muslim thinking, even though there was opposition. However, boldness must never be divorced from a deep sensitivity to a Muslim’s culture.
It doesn’t seem plausible to conclude that this priest is successful in Muslim evangelism because he is any more spiritually alive or more dynamic than many evangelical men of God in that country. There must be other factors. Neither does it seem right to conclude that he is just touching the Muslims that are easy to reach, and that the evangelicals are just touching the hard ones, therefore accounting for the difference in their success.
Emotionally and psychologically, the convert from Islam in Rev. Brahim’s meeting felt part of an ongoing movement. It was so much in step with his culture and background that he felt very free in joining. The dynamic and fearlessness were so great that it was catching. There is very little of this spirit in the evangelical churches that the West has established in Muslim lands. Often when the missionary has been bold and dynamic, it has been with a Western insensitivity and brashness that has not endeared him to the Middle Eastern mind and heart, and therefore the potential Muslim convert has often been turned off to him and to his Christ. There are some unusual exceptions to this.
In many ways Rev. Brahim is in step with the religio-socio-cultural patterns the Muslim is used to, so the Muslim convert is not stripped of those patterns that he knows and holds dear and are so meaningful to him. He is not stripped of everything that pertains to his past life and "clothed" with Western Christianity as has so often been the case. While the Muslim convert must always bear the offense of the cross, holding Christ as his Savior and Lord (which I’ve often observed he does with joy and pride), in Rev. Brahim’s church he has not become an alien to his culture and a traitor to his basic society and country, as he would if he had adopted a Western style of Christianity.
At this- point a whole paper needs to be written, for the reader may be thinking of 2 Corinthians 5:17. However, in this article we are not referring to moral issues or a change in focus of worship. These changes must come in genuine conversion. However, we are dealing with those many things relating to the Western cultural expression of Christianity: dress forms, physical forms in worship, expressions and style of worship, times of worship, church building forms, music, teaching and communication forms, meeting procedures, family life style, personal life style, commemorative religious holidays, ritual forms, such as weddings and burials, art forms, etc. In the West a whole religious Christian culture has been built up in these areas and more.
Guidelines in the New Testament in these areas are very broad, or nonexistent, usually touching on the moral aspects of such areas rather than the cultural aspect of them. Unfortunately, Western missionaries have consciously or unconsciously almost always presented the Western Christian cultural package to the Muslim convert along with their presentation of Christ. In reality, a Muslim, as a Muslim, might in some instances be closer to the New Testament pattern in his life style and religious practices than a Western evangelical Christian.
For instance, usually Muslim meetings consist of a very free service with more than one speaker. This, in a little different form, is according to what Paul laid down for worship, services in 1 Corinthians 14:26-33. Yet, how often do we find such in our evangelical churches? In spite of this, we have usually taken our Western worship service patterns to the Muslim convert, rather than let them continue with a Spirit- sanctified, and possibly modified, pattern closer to their own and the New Testament’s. So, in this and in many other ways, we have made the Muslim convert out of joint with his culture, and out of joint with his people, thereby cutting him off needlessly from those around him, a sure way to stifle the flow of Muslims to Christ.
I know one Muslim convert with a handful of other Muslim converts who absolutely forbids any missionary to come to his meetings. Our insensitivity to Muslim culture and our prejudice in relation to our Western form of Christianity has precluded our really working with and touching Muslims for Christ at a deep level.
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