CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR:
From Islam into The Church
In Asmara, Eritrea there was a church in the 1970s which consisted of Amharas, Eritreans, and Europeans. They all went to three different services in the three languages spoken, but many went to a language service other than their own mother tongue. One of the famous "missionary statesmen" from the USA visited that church, and he had to revise one of his omniscient statements, that is, "There is no such thing as a mixed ethnic church. Someone loses his identity, and the thing is not genuine."
The "missionary statesman" later admitted to me that the church in Asmara was a very healthy assembly, though it was an extreme mix of cultures. The Amharas of Ethiopia and the Eritreans have, in recent years, been severe enemies, and the European mix included Englishmen, Americans, Canadians, Germans, and Italians. But, the love of Christ was shed abroad in their hearts, and their fellowship rose far above puerile ethnic and national imperatives.
All over the world the Lord has many such churches, and why not? The Apostle Paul said that when we come into the Lord's Church, these ethnic and national distinctions must dissolve into the person of Christ.
I Corinthians 12:13, For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.
Galatians 3:28, There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.
The Lord's church doesn't need these worldly feminists to tell the saints what to do with women. The true church has always treated its women with tenderness and grace, but I digress.
It is however; a sorry commentary, on the churches of America, that they are so race conscious. Black American Christians often get tired of shuckin' and jivin', as well as the Jessie Jackson-Martin Luther King Jr. type of politics in the pulpit. One Black family had to drive 150 miles, from New Orleans to Ocean Springs, Mississippi, to find a sound Bible teaching church. Part of the problem is that some white Baptists, who teach that "whosoever will may come," and who support missionaries to Africa, will make it subtly but openly clear that they don't want Blacks in their church. These small souled babies forget that Jesus was an olive-colored Jew.
The same is true in many Mennonite and Dutch Reformed churches, where a German or Dutch name warms up the door greeters much more than Sanchez or Pucinni.
James 3:10 Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.
If you are attending such a local church, please change churches before you go soul-winning with ethnic people. Dr. Ben David Lew was a born again Jew who was a missionary to Jewish people in the Detroit area. When he got a Jewish convert to Christ, he disciplee him closely for a short time, then he took him around to one of the Bible-believing churches in the area to become part of the Body-life and family. He had no services on Sunday in his headquarters, and he had not started one "Messianic Fellowship" in the thirty years he served our Lord in Detroit.
The result of his policy was twofold:
An "ethnic church" is a bold denial of the power of the Holy Spirit to make men one in Christ. Some of these Jewish, Arab, Korean, and Chinese churches in the USA are downright mean about their special ethnic distinctions. I note also this claim, "I am a fulfilled Jew," or "I am a Messianic Jew." Bunk! Then I am a fulfilled Dutchman, and Pucinni is a fulfilled Italian. It is also instructional that some of these "fulfilled Jews" have blond hair and blue eyes. Who is this Anglo kidding?
To be Jewish or Italian in heritage is great, but to divide the Body of Christ around ethnic distinctions is blasphemy against Christ, who died to make the Body one. It is a roaring indictment against the lack of true New Testament Love, which is supposed to be the first witness of the Body of Christ, as in John 13:35, By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.
Peter was told by God to kill and eat all manner of creeping things so that he would learn not to reject the Gentile, Cornelius, whom he would later visit and bring into the Lord's Church. I think it would be healthy to make some of these purveyors of prejudice in the Lord's Church eat bugs and worms until they humble themselves.
Well, now that's off my chest. Isn't the INTERNET wonderful! You can turn your zeal loose, and some publisher cannot edit it out. So what shall we do with your new convert from Islam to Christ? First, disciple him for a while in your home. In spite of what I just said, don't throw him into the mix of the assembly for a while until he has both feet planted in Christ's teaching of the Gospel and Paul's teaching of the Church. This should take only a couple of weeks if you know your Bible as you should. The reason I suggest this is that, if you have chosen a healthy church to attend, your new Christian will have tremendous experiences in Christian fellowship.
These may distract him from the beginnings of discipleship and biblical Truth. Do I have grounds for such a suggestion? Yes, as in the case of Paul,
But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me
by his grace,
Many times a convert from Islam is attacked violently by the Muslim community. In Arabia, Sudan, Malaysia, and North Africa, he could be killed, often by an order of the courts or the national police. In the USA, or the United Kingdom, he will be socially ostracized, and he may lose his employment if he is working with Muslims. You must be willing to take him into your home.
If there is a problem of moral propriety (a man deicipling a lady and visa versa), then you must find him another Christian home in which to stay as a stepping stone on to future things. Your pastor and church should be made aware of his possible need for employment, and the saints must be encouraged NOT to talk about him to other Muslims. He needs time and space to literally start over in virtually every aspect of life. In our lands affected by Christendom we have no way of feeling the sorrow of losing 100% of one's way of life for Christ. This saint could lose his work, his family, his place in the order of society, and his religion of course. He is going to feel rejected, and you may be his only security humanly. So, stay very close, and visit every day for some time, paying close attention to the emotional needs. Please, no "Christian counselors."
Find Bible texts, for him to study, which show how God comforted His children. I hope you have a very personal friendship with The Lord Jesus Christ, for this new saint needs to see you and hear you as you show how Jesus and the Word of God comfort you.
Your new convert friend may even behave like a puppy, following your around much of the time. Do not push him away at first thinking he needs to, "Go it alone more." One missionary to Arabs in Detroit has a room in his basement remodeled just for this purpose. He spends a great deal of time and effort helping new converts through the transition. He also may invite a Muslim to move in for a few days while he looks into the claims of Christ, so that he will not be discovered reading the Bible or Christian writings.
It is also important to talk to your pastor and friends in the church you attend because some folk are very silly with a convert from another culture. They gather around him and make a great hero of him, and the poor fellow is at once tempted to exalt himself. You must clear the way ahead for your friend, and make sure that he is received as, "just one of the folks."
Dr. Ray Sacks, a pastor and convert from Judaism, has said, "Whenever a Jew gets saved a group of Gentile Christians gather around him, exalt him, and convince him to start another Messianic ministry." Dr. Sacks has pastored churches for many years without exalting his Jewish heritage beyond measure. Beware of guruizing any believer, especially a new believer.
Now, don't confuse my next suggestion with earlier statements. To keep and enjoy one's heritage, for its social and hospitality value, is a great delight. You must guard your friend against those who will expect him to denounce all of his Arabness or cultural heritage. The color of customs, hospitality, food, and even language distinctions, are very real benefits of God's act of setting the bounds of our habitation (Acts 17:26). Only in the Church do these cultural barriers need to be erased as separating distinctions. You must resist lovingly those in the Body who press your new convert friend to become absorbed into your culture as part of his new life in Christ. He may not at once agree with you regarding the Palestinian and Israeli issues. Leave it alone, OK? And, please do not serve this new Arab Christian pork and expect him to change his tastes. He has lived his whole life with the rules of Islam. Let him figure our where and when he will establish his new liberty in Christ.
Let me illustrate how to use some Christian diplomacy. Suppose you have a Christian in your assembly who has a bitter hate for Arabs, Palestinians, or Muslims. He has wrapped his Bible in the American flag, and he may mouth off regularly about, "them Ayrabs." Some Arab national leader is his favorite candidate for the Antichrist. Now, he may rejoice in your Muslim friend coming to Christ, but he may also have mixed feelings. He may be guilty of assuming that this new Middle Eastern Christian will dutifully turn pro Israeli and alter all of his former Middle Eastern perspectives. How do you help your immature brother?
Here is your strategy.
Your immature brother needs to see the new convert from Islam as real good end-times company.
Show him the Bible passages that show how Christ will receive the worship and sacrifices of the Arabs in the Messianic Kingdom. (See Chapter Two of this book.) Ask him if it is fair for him to expect a new believer to sort out all of the emotions of an American. Encourage him to help lift this Muslim-turned-saint to rise up above the mud and mire of politics. Having softened him with your hospitality, you will very likely, "gain your brother," and a great offense will have been prevented.
If this doesn't help, please follow the pattern set forth by our Lord in:
Matthew 18:15, Moreover if thy brother
shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone:
if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.
Do not hesitate to carry this to a complete conclusion, even to see the offending brother put out of the church. If the leaders defend him, take the new saint, and flee to an assembly which will love him. Don't waste your loyalties on ungodly bigots.
We encourage ethnic cooking and interaction in our assembly, and it has been great fun. In a church I served in the High Desert in California, our church dinners included French, Creole, Mexican, and Ethiopian cuisine, as well as those famous Bar-B-Qued ribs cooked by Mrs. Posey, a Black American Christian, and Navajo fry bread on the side, cooked by Mrs Jo. Ed Arnold added his skills from days as a chef at a dude-ranch. We all learned to breath fire with Chris Jaramio's chili pepper contributions, and I added my home cured Greek olives (which is strange for a Dutchman).
What fun it is to get out our cultural color in Christian unity, and I have to laugh when I hear some rebel against the Gospel say, "If I become a Christian I won't have any fun." Christians are the ones who have fun without guilt. As the Jews say, "Enjoy!" There is no greater adventure than winning souls to Jesus Christ. You meet such nice people after the sin is washed away. So, please, I beg of you, don't start one of these ethnic churches and deny the Body of Christ the joy of this Apostolic mixing and oneness which Paul valued so highly. Read Acts 2, and note the cultural mix of the first Church.
Think of Paul on the Isle of Malta wintering over with Publius and his wild and strange culture. Paul became "all things to all men" in order to win souls. How would Daniel have had a testimony in Babylon if he said "Yuk" every time they passed the fried grasshoppers. If some pastor or PhD of missiology tells you this is silly, send him to me. I'll feed him a habanero chili pepper sandwich, and teach him John 3:16 in Swahili.
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