Thoughts on the Need to Engage Islam

by Justin Lonas

At a recent missions conference, a speaker shared the following story: "an Islamic leader in the Middle East told his followers that Christians believe in the words of a "special book" (the Bible). He said that Christians also believe that those who do not believe as they do will spend eternity in hell. The leader then proceeded to make the point that Christians must truly hate the Muslim people if they would not make any effort to share the Word with them, ensuring that they would go to hell."

While that leader's statements are weighted with misconceptions, his point cuts deep. If we really do not hate Muslims, why are we not doing more to reach them with the Gospel? We spend so much time wringing our hands about the power of the Islamic world and the desperation we feel when considering its scope that we forget that Muslims are people who need the Lord-they are our neighbors. Many believers have allowed themselves to think of all Muslims as our enemies, but Christ reminds us that we ought to love them more rather than less (Matt. 5:43-47).

What if we saw the world's 1.3 billion Muslims for what they are-people who have not heard-instead of viewing them as somehow beyond the reach of Christ's message. What if we loved them enough to put our lives on the line to reach them? It is unrealistic to hold out hope of reaching the world for Christ without considering that He wants us to reach the Islamic world with His Truth and love just as much as any other part.

Loving Muslims in no way entails ignoring their unbiblical beliefs and practices or the failings of Islam. As Paul exhorts us in Romans 12:9, "Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good." To truly love them, we have to show them where they are wrong and, especially, the riches Christ has to offer in place of their "empty house" of belief. We need to show them that God is not impersonal, that it is our sin and not His whims that separate us from Him. We need to show them that God Himself was willing to give up His life out of love for them. In a very real sense, Muslims are captives of their worldview, but Jesus came to set the captives free (Isa. 61:1).

In regard to Islam, we have to practice the same "love the sinner; hate the sin" approach that we show to others. Why treat Muslims any differently than you treat someone who struggles with sin or any other flawed human being (by last count, there are about 6.6 billion of us, by the way)? We cannot wait for them to leave Islam before they turn to Christ-it is His task to effect the change in their lives; our job is to be a faithful witness to the Truth.

Taking the gospel to Muslims, like any other mission endeavor, begins in the hearts of those in our churches, and pastors play a huge role in encouraging Christians to fulfill their calling through faithful exposition of the Word. This is not solely an overseas endeavor-the church in America is positioned to have a tremendous impact on Muslims right in our own backyard-recent estimates put the number of Muslims in the U.S. at between 2 and 4 million).Yet but a handful of them have come to know the Lord here or in the rest of the world.

If we want to reach them, we have to begin by praying for them. All the effort in the world won't change a single heart, but God will. The benefit of prayer goes both ways. As you bring Muslims to the Lord in prayer, you will find it difficult not to be passionately concerned for their salvation.

Secondly, we should not be ignorant of their beliefs. It is impossible to build bridges to Muslims or draw distinctions between Christianity and Islam without some diligent study into what they believe. Many mission organizations, such as Christar, offer excellent materials that provide an overview of Islamic beliefs and history, and practical tips for sharing Christ with Muslims. Any such study should be paired with a thorough study of the Bible and the tenets of our faith. We must be well-grounded in the Truth in order to recognize a counterfeit.

Finally, we have to be willing to relate to them. Find Muslims in your neighborhood and reach out to them through hospitality. Many American Muslims are immigrants who miss their family and the culture of their original countries and would welcome the fellowship of a meal in the home of a Christian family. Over time, such relationships build rapport and open the doors of Muslim hearts to the Truth of Christ.

The same exhortation to reach those in Islam applies to our commission to go to all nations. This is simply a particular challenge because of the animosity most Christians feel toward Muslims and because our future could well depend on how we respond to the task of reaching them for Christ. (Islam is currently the world's fastest growing religion, far outpacing the spread of Christianity in recent years.) Ultimately, we want to bring them the gospel-not to bring them over "to our side," not because we want to improve their lives, and not to feel good about ourselves or to promote an agenda, but because we have the one thing they desperately need-the Truth.

Justin Lonas is publisher of Pulpit Helps magazine.