Archives For Isa

Insider Movements and a Denomination: The PCA

Greg Strand – February 4, 2013 2 Comments

The PCA is in the midst of a multi-year study and discussion about the Insider Movement among Muslims. Travis Hutchinson*, “Insider Movement Introduction”, briefly explains what the Insider Movement is, and he follows this with some of the problems associated with this ministry, theologically, socially, missionally and denominationally.

The email concerns something which is huge in the missions world, but largely unknown in the rest of Christendom, the subject of “Insider Movements.” Basically, it is the idea that people can become followers of Jesus without leaving Islam. Since the Koran mentions Jesus (as “Isa”) and since there are strains of Islam that emphasize Jesus’ return, this seems plausible to some. The thinking is that the “insiders”, who don’t leave Islam and are not baptized, are kind of like Jews in the first century that placed their faith in Jesus but kept practicing Judaism.

The theological problem is that it makes baptism and the visible church optional and tends to accept Mohammed as a prophet and the Koran as a true revelation of God. Socially, it begs the question whether these believers will be able to hold onto their odd Christiano-Islamic beliefs without being “corrected” by all of the orthodox Muslims they are spending their time with. Missionally, many conservative missiologists are claiming that the “insider movement” is actually plundering the visible church rather than converting Muslims. Denominationally, some people (more informed or misinformed than I) claim that there are people associated with the PCA who are either sympathetic to Insider Christianity or are working with people who are sympathetic to it. The idea seems to be that by passing a resolution condemning Insider Movements as unbiblical, we’d be guarding the truth in a very fragile mission field.

*”This is the blog of Travis Hutchinson, the pastor of Highlands Presbyterian Church of Lafayette, Georgia. I teach biblical and theological studies at Covenant College, serve as the chairman of the Tennessee Valley Presbytery Theological Examination Committee and preach in the largest log cabin in Walker County.”

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?

From what we read, God is doing an incredible work among Muslims in that many are being saved by the gospel of Jesus Christ. Thankfully, God’s Word is not bound by geographical or religious boundaries (2 Tim. 2:9)!

There have also been many questions raised about ministry among Muslims. One of the most significant as of late has been contextualization, and more specifically Bible translations for Muslims and the use of Son of God language. In order to have a broader understanding of this, it is important to go back a number of years to learn about the “C1 to C6 spectrum,” i.e. the spectrum of contextualization among Muslims. It was written by one engaged on the front-lines of ministry among Muslims.

John Travis (a pseudonym), “The C1 to C6 Spectrum: A Practical Tool for Defining Six Types of ‘Christ-centered Communities’ (‘C’) Found in the Muslim Context,” Evangelical Missions Quarterly 34/4 (October, 1998): 407-408, described his contextualization spectrum and its utility:

The C1 – C6 Spectrum compares and contrasts types of “Christ-centered communities” (groups of believers in Christ) found in the Muslim world. The six types in the spectrum are differentiated by language, culture, worship forms, degree of freedom to worship with others, and religious identity. All worship Jesus as Lord and core elements of the gospel are the same from group to group. The spectrum attempts to address the enormous diversity which exists throughout the Muslim world in terms of ethnicity, history, traditions, language, culture, and, in some cases, theology. This diversity means that myriad approaches are needed to successfully share the gospel and plant Christ-centered communities among the world’s one billion followers of Islam. The purpose of the spectrum is to assist church planters and Muslim background believers to ascertain which type of Christ-centered communities may draw the most people from the target group to Christ and best fit in a given context. All of these six types are presently found in some part of the Muslim world.

Travis outlined the distinctive characteristics of each of the six Christ-centered communities (these have been abbreviated somewhat): (“‘Insider’ pertains to the local Muslim population; ‘outsider’ pertains to the local non-Muslim population.”)

C1: Traditional Church Using Outsider Language

Many reflect Western culture. A huge cultural chasm often exists between the church and the surrounding Muslim community. Some Muslim background believers may be found in C1 churches. C1 believers call themselves “Christians.”

C2: Traditional Church Using Insider Language

Essentially the same as C1 except for language. Though insider language is used, religious vocabulary is probably non-Islamic (distinctively “Christian”). The cultural gap between Muslims and C2 is still large. Often more Muslim background believers are found in C2 than C1. C2 believers call themselves “Christians.”

C3: Contextualized Christ-centered Communities Using Insider Language and Religiously Neutral Insider Cultural Forms

Religiously neutral forms may include folk music, ethnic dress, artwork, etc. Islamic elements (where present) are “filtered out” so as to use purely “cultural” forms. The aim is to reduce foreignness of the gospel and the church by contextualizing to biblically permissible cultural forms. May meet in a church building or more religiously neutral location. C3 congregations are comprised of a majority of Muslim background believers. C3 believers call themselves “Christians.”

C4: Contextualized Christ-centered Communities Using Insider Language and Biblically Permissible Cultural and Islamic Forms

Similar to C3, however, biblically permissible Islamic forms and practices are also utilized (e.g., praying with raised hands, keeping the fast, avoiding pork, alcohol, and dogs as pets, using Islamic terms, dress, etc.). C1 and C2 forms avoided. Meetings not held in church buildings. C4 communities comprised almost entirely of Muslim background believers. C4 believers identify themselves as “followers of Isa the Messiah” (or something similar).

C5: Christ-centered Communities of “Messianic Muslims” Who Have Accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior

C5 believers remain legally and socially within the community of Islam. Somewhat similar to the Messianic Jewish movement. Aspects of Islamic theology which are incompatible with the Bible are rejected, or reinterpreted if possible. Participation in corporate Islamic worship varies from person to person and group to group. C5 believers meet regularly with other C5 believers and share their faith with unsaved Muslims. Where entire villages accept Christ, C5 may result in “Messianic mosques.” C5 believers are viewed as Muslims by the Muslim community and refer to themselves as Muslims who follow Isa the Messiah.

C6: Small Christ-centered Communities of Secret/Underground Believers

Similar to persecuted believers suffering under totalitarian regimes. Due to fear, isolation, or threat of extreme governmental/community legal action or retaliation (including capital punishment), C6 believers worship Christ secretly (individually or perhaps infrequently in small clusters). C6 (as opposed to C5) believers are usually silent about their faith. C6 believers are perceived as Muslims by the Muslim community and identify themselves as Muslims.

In order to begin thinking and processing this, here are a few questions:

  • What do you think of this spectrum of contextualization?
  • What do you perceive are its strengths and weaknesses?
  • Where would you draw the line and why?

We will continue to address this important topic in the next number of blog posts.