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Missions and Muslims: “C-5,” “Insider movements,” and Hyper-Contextualization

June 26, 2011

In light of the popular missiological themes of hyper-contextualization in Islamic settings, I must categorically reject the ideas of some (e.g., Travis, Massey) to promote or encourage even the appearance of syncretism. With Parshall, I believe that the “C-5” designation represents a dangerous concession to Islam.[1] I am not even wholly convinced with Parshall that the “C-4” approach is biblical sound and theologically consistent. I can find no biblical warrant for “lessening the blow” of conversion; it is a cross that Christ warns may well divide even families (cf. Luke 12:53). There is a cost to discipleship and to mitigate that cost – at the higher cost of denying it (even outwardly) – is simply not the answer. To separate “identity” between how we perceive ourselves and how others perceive us is to set up a false (or, at the least, deceptive) dichotomy. My faith should spur me on to be transparent and to show to the world precisely who I am and Whose I am.
An interesting story concerns a converted Muslim in Malaysia named Lina Joy. Her story gained international attention as she attempted to legally change her religious status to “Christian.” The courts ruled that Sharia law controlled the case. She was disowned by her family, lost her job, threatened with death, and forced into hiding.[2] This, to me, is more descriptive of one who is wholly committed to Christ than one who practices the Christian faith “secretly” while “pretending” to be a Muslim externally.
John Travis has put forth the notion of “Messianic Muslims,” defining the term in this way: What makes a particular Muslim “C-5” [that is, a Messianic Muslim] is that he has received Isa (Jesus) as Lord and Savior, meets regularly with other such believers, and yet is still seen as “Muslim” through his or her own eyes, as well as the eyes of fellow Muslims.”[3]
Similarly, Rebecca Lewis argues that “insider movements” in Muslim cultures can allow individuals to become “followers of Christ” without “going through” Christianity.[4] She seems to justify this to some degree by claiming that Muslims worship the God of Abraham.[5] I object to this conclusion and believe, rather, that the task of the missionary is not to get the Muslim to understand his god in a different way; rather, it is to be used by the Holy Spirit to show that the Muslim’s god is not God. By conviction, I would have to reject any system that seems to blur the lines of distinction between the false god of Islam and the God of the Bible.
Rebecca Lewis makes the point that, “In many countries today, it is almost impossible for a new follower of Christ to remain in vital relationship with their community without also retaining their socio-religious identity.”[6] She correctly acknowledges that there are many places where one’s religion is printed on birth documents and that changing such designations “is usually seen as a great betrayal of one’s family and friends.” Jesus addressed this in Matthew 10:35, saying that His coming would cause family division. Of course, we ought not seek to have families divided! Yet we must also acknowledge the reality that such may, at times, be the response when someone places their faith in Christ. Like Travis, Lewis seems to be seeking ways to protect the converted from the potential dangers of bearing the cross of Christ. I think that Tennent is right when he says, “A more open witness in a straightfor­ward, but contextually sensitive way seems to hold the greatest promise for effective and ethical Christian pen­etration into the Muslim world.”[7]
While some are blessed to be living in a culture that renders the only danger of conversion to be mild ridicule and a lack of socio-cultural respect, there are others who, by the providence of God, are born into a time or a place where the dangers are significantly greater. The martyrs cataloged in Foxe’s classic work would have had but retain their Roman Catholic designation (or, in earlier cases, acknowledge the Roman emperor) to save their lives. Yet one reads such accounts with awe and appreciation precisely because they did not do so. It is the willingness to sacrifice that validates the reality of the conversion.
Finally, with regard to church planting in the Muslim world, a proper ecclesiology must precede missions. I believe that this is vital and I concur with the Reformational description of the marks of a true church being the pure preaching of the Word, proper administration of the sacraments and the exercise of biblical discipline. Absent these distinctives, what one has is not a true church, but rather some variation of what Christ called a “synagogue of Satan” (Rev. 2:9, 3:9). A mosque, then, certainly fails to show these marks and is therefore wholly incompatible with the true church of Christ. If a “Jesus mosque” is lead by “Christians,” do they still revere (or even “pretend” to revere) the Qur’an as a sacred text? Do they still follow (or even “pretend” to follow”) the Islamic rituals? If so, they are committing blasphemy against God, Who has made it clear that He is a jealous God and will not suffer any to be worshipped or served beside Him. All believers in Christ – whether Muslim or not – are called to heed Paul’s admonition to the church at Corinth: “Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate” (2 Corinthians 6:17). At any rate, this world is not our home and any “strategy” that seeks as its chief goal to protect our physical presence in it has pretty much missed the whole point.

[1] Phil Parshall, “Going too Far?” in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, ed. Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2009): 655-659. For information regarding the “C-scale”, see:
[3] Joshua Massey, “Muslim Contextualization I,” International Journal of Frontier Missions 17:1 (Spring 2000): n.p.
[4] Rebecca Lewis, “Insider Movements,” in Perspectives, 675.
[5] Tim and Rebecca Lewis, “Planting Churches: Learning the Hard Way,” in Perspectives, 692.
[6] Rebecca Lewis, 674.
[7] Timothy C. Tennent, “Followers of Jesus (Isa) in Islamic Mosques,” International Journal of Frontier Ministries 23, no. 3 (Fall 2006):101-115.

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