Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
When asked the greatest commandment in the law, Jesus responded, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:37-40).
When we hear the exhortation to love our neighbor, it reminds us of the parable of the Good Samaritan. In Luke’s account of this lawyer’s question, he includes more of the conversation between Jesus and the lawyer. After Jesus’ responded, the lawyer, seeking to justify himself, asked another question: “And who is my neighbor?” (Lk. 10:29).
This is the right biblical context to learn about our neighbors known as Muslims. In the past, one would generally spend time studying world religions, Islam being of them. In fact, when looking at the various religions of the world, in order of numbers here are the top five: Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Folk Religion. However, today much of our study and discussion is around culture and cultural engagement, the Benedict Option, or some other alternative Option, how we engage in and seek to transform our culture, or whether or not it is even the church’s responsibility to engage in and seek to transform the culture. Specifically, this confronts us most sharply with the sexual revolution and everything associated with it.
These issues are important to ponder, to process, to pray about and to address. But a discussion about world religions is often a thing of the past. With our global life, with an intermixing of devotees of various religions, it is critical for us to understand various religions, and more specifically today, Islam.
Muhammad (570-632) is the founder of Islam, and he is considered the “seal of the prophets,” a title used in the Qur'an. The key confession, referred to as the shahada, “the testimony” or the Islamic creed, is “there is no god but God” and “Muhammad is the messenger of God.” After Muhammad’s death, there was debate over who would be the rightful heir. As a result, two groups arose, which exist to this day, the Sunnis, the majority, and the Shia, the minority.
Over time, advances were made into Christian lands. This led Pope Urban II to launch the first Crusade in 1095. In all, there were eight Crusades, the last one, occurring in 1270. This was an effort of western European Christians to go on military crusades to the Middle East to free the Holy Land from Muslims, specifically the focus was on Jerusalem and the Holy Sepulcher. Most do not recognize the Crusades as a historical highpoint of the Christian church. However, despite the flawed attempt of the Crusades, it was a response to what was happening in Islam, and they were not without fault either. One of the sad days for Christians was when Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Empire in 1453.
We are familiar with Islam in one of its more recent versions through al-Qaeda, which is a militant Sunni Islamist multi-national organization founded by Osama bin Laden in 1988. And in an unprecedented terrorist act committed against the US in 2001, forever etched as 9/11, and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, tensions have increased and understanding of and relationships between the two have suffered significantly. Added to this is the migration and immigration of Muslims into Western nations.
Another branch consisting of Sunni Islam, is ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, began in 1999. They were devotees of al-Qaeda, and became prominent in 2014 when they drove the Iraqi government out of key cities. We have heard and seen some of the atrocities committed by both al-Qaeda and its more aggressive sister, ISIS. This is what many know about Islam. But is this the only picture? Is it the complete picture?
Since many Muslims are now living here and are our neighbors, it is important for us to take the Lord Jesus’ command seriously and learn about our neighbors, Islam, and discern ways we can love them.
The Pew Research Center notes a number of interesting and telling results of their survey (cf. “Most White Evangelicals Don’t Believe Muslims Belong in America,” with a brief summary addressing our theme of neighbors, “Pew updates its comprehensive survey of what US Muslims believe and do, and how their neighbors feel about them.”) It is estimated that there are approximately 3.3 million Muslims living in the United States, which makes up about 1% of the total population. Population projections indicate that number will likely double by 2050. As far as world religions, even though Islam is the second largest religion of the world, after Christianity, there is not a large population here. There are fewer Muslims than there are Jews, but more Muslims than Hindus.
More specifically, many do not believe Islam is part of our mainstream culture and society, and that it is a religion of violence. Both Evangelicals and Muslims conclude there is a conflict between Islam and democracy, though the percentage is higher among white Evangelicals.
Rather than having studied Islam and having met a Muslim, we draw our conclusions through social media, those tracking the persecution of Christians, and the perpetual news updates reporting another terrorist attack. As stated by our speakers, “These are the multiple voices feeding evangelicals and with little or no contact with only 1% of the population, there is little or no contact with Muslims to give a real-life impression.”
It is important for us as we love God and love our neighbors, to understand Islam, and discern ways we can love a Muslim.
Roy Oksnevad and Mike Urton, our speakers, both serve in the EFCA in ministry to Muslims. Roy serves with Immigrant Mission of the EFCA, while Mike serves with ReachGlobal. They also serve as Director and Co-Director of COMMA (Coalition of Ministries to Muslims in North America). They have co-authored Journey to Jesus: Building Christ-centered Friendships with Muslims, some of which will be the basis of what we learn in these sessions.
In our three sessions, we will address the following topics, based on responding to a question:
Session 1: What do Muslims believe? In this session, the focus will be on the four basic sources of Islam, six articles of faith, five pillars of Islam along with #6 jihad.
Session 2: Who are the real Muslims? In this session, 9 types of Muslims will be identified.
Session 3: How a local church can reach out to Muslims? If the other two sessions emphasize “understanding Islam,” in this session the focus moves toward the practical matter of “loving our neighbor.” Part of the teaching will come through witnessing scenarios done through professional dramas in the format of a real-to-life relationship. This is a resource pastors can use in the church to help others learn about Muslim relational evangelism.
Please plan to join us for the 2018 Theology Conference held Jan. 30 - Feb. 2, 2018. Register here.