Insider Movements: Five Key Issues in the Debate

Greg Strand – January 29, 2013 1 Comment

Christianity Today has printed a number of articles about Insider Movements. I will include highlights from articles the rest of the week.

We begin with Timothy C. Tennant who addresses the history of Insider Movements: “The Hidden History of Insider Movements,” Christianity Today 57/1 (January/February 2013)

Tennant refers to the original article I included in yesterday’s blog post written by John Travis, and he includes the C-1 to C-6 spectrum with a brief explanation (consider this a review). Note that one of the important things he identifies is that C, contextualization, focuses on three areas: “the language of worship, the cultural and/or religious forms used in both public life and worship, and self-identity as a Muslim or as a Christian.”

The debate has persisted for some 20 years. Missiologist John Travis helped give shape to the debate with his foundational report, “The C1 to C6 Spectrum: A Practical Tool for Defining Six Types of ‘Christ-centered Communities’ (‘C’) Found in the Muslim Context,” published in Evangelical Missions Quarterly in 1998. In it, Travis correctly noted that Muslim-background believers, known as MBBS, are not all alike, but contextualize their new faith in Christ along a spectrum. The letter C reflects differences based on three main areas: the language of worship, the cultural and/or religious forms used in both public life and worship, and self-identity as a Muslim or as a Christian. The spectrum runs like this:

C-1 refers to a “traditional church using outsider language.” Outsider language is a language originating outside Islamic culture. These believers call themselves Christians.

C-2 refers to a “traditional church using insider language.” This church is the same as a C-1 community but worships in the language of the Muslim population (such as Arabic or Turkish).

C-3 refers to “contextualized Christ-centered communities using insider language and religiously neutral cultural forms.” These churches adopt the language of the surrounding Islamic community and embrace nonreligious cultural forms, such as folk music, dress, and artwork. A C-3 church would filter out any religious forms specifically associated with Islam. The majority of members are MBBS.

C-4 refers to “contextualized Christ-centered communities using insider language and biblically permissible cultural and Islamic forms.” These churches adapt Islamic forms as long as Scripture does not explicitly forbid them. C-4 communities accept Islamic terms for God (Allah), Islamic prayer (salat), and the Gospels (Injil). Most C-4 churches follow the Islamic practices of avoiding pork and abstaining from alcohol. C-4 believers normally call themselves “followers of Isa al Masih” (Jesus the Messiah) or members of the Isaya Umma (“Community of Jesus”). The Islamic community would not view C-4 followers as Muslims.

C-5 refers to “Christ-centered communities of ‘Messianic Muslims’ who have accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior.” These followers of Isa remain legally and socially within Islam. The Muslim community views them as Muslims. They reject or, if possible, reinterpret features of Islamic theology that are clearly incompatible with biblical faith.

C-6 refers to “small Christ-centered communities of secret/underground believers.” These are believers living under the threat of persecution and retaliation from the government or their family or community if others knew they followed Jesus. They worship Christ secretly. If discovered, C-6 believers would almost certainly face prison or death.

Most mission workers accept C-4 as an acceptable form of contextualization. But the pressure point is over C-5 believers, which, according to Tennant, “are not actually Muslim-background believers, but Muslim believers.”

Most mission workers today accept C-4 as the most appropriate form of contextualization. The current debate has largely centered on C-5 believers. They are not actually Muslim-background believers, but Muslim believers. They retain their Muslim identity. They regard Muhammad as a prophet—not in the “final” sense that Muslims claim, of course, but as a man who led the peoples of Arabia out of polytheism and into monotheism.

Tennant highlights five issues regarding the current debate about C-5 believers.

First is biblical precedence. Scholars seriously debate if the Acts 15 Jerusalem Council decision regarding Gentiles applies to insider movements and, if so, how does it apply to both the cultural and religious identity of Gentiles.

Second, scholars debate the relationship of personal salvation to identifying with the larger church and other Christians. And they wonder how much a true Christian movement needs to confess historical Christian doctrines in order to truly be Christian.

Third, there are many who ask if it is ethical to encourage followers of Jesus to retain their Muslim self-identity—the key difference between C-4 and C-5.

Fourth, scholars debate whether C-5 groups are a new phenomenon, or whether they are merely an extension of issues rooted in the Protestant Reformation.

Finally, scholars debate whether C-5 represents a valid, permanent movement in the Islamic or Hindu world, or whether they are an acceptable transitional bridge that will eventually lead Muslims and Hindus into explicit Christian identity.

Amid the debates, one thing is clear: Christ-loving movements are growing in countries where a traditional church has been absent or long gone. Both theologians and on-the-ground leaders will need to reflect with care on the C-1 to C-6 debate as the gospel takes root in new contexts.

I conclude with a few questions to consider.

  • Have you or the church where you are a member discussed Insider Movements?
  • Of these five key issues, what do you consider most important? Least important?
  • What, if anything, would you add?

Greg Strand

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Affectionately called “Walking Bible” by his youngest daughter, Greg Strand has a ministry history that goes back to 1982. Since that time, he has served in local church ministry in a variety of ministry capacities: youth pastor, associate pastor of adult ministries and senior pastor. He is currently the EFCA's Executive Director of Theology and Credentialing. Greg reads voraciously and never stops learning — a passion reflected in the overflowing bookshelves that spill from his library to multiple offices. And he could tell you about each of those books! His hunger for learning pales in contrast to his great love for God and for teaching the Word of God.

One response to Insider Movements: Five Key Issues in the Debate

  1. Greg, the question may be is the church awake or asleep?

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