10 Priorities for Christian Engagement with Muslims (an excerpt)

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from the Accra Statement and Working Document on Islam which was published in connection with the Lausanne Global Consultation on Islam held in Accra, Ghana. 

We are grateful to God for the global church’s uninterrupted witness in life and word throughout the fourteen centuries since the rise of Islam. In continuation with this living witness, we encourage the whole church wherever it exists in the world to continue to engage in Christian mission to Muslims. We believe that these are the major priorities on which we need to focus at the present time. All of our activities in these areas need to be undergirded by persistent prayer:

1. Motivating and mobilizing the churches

Every individual church fellowship and denomination throughout the world needs to find ways of enabling Christians to be awake to the challenges of Islam and to opportunities for witness to Muslims. Where Christians are held back by fear, they need to be encouraged to build genuine, natural relationships with their Muslim neighbours, practising hospitality, and taking bold initiatives. Where they are held back by ignorance, they need to learn more about Muslims and Islam and prayerfully explore some of the new opportunities that have opened up in recent years for communicating the gospel. Where they are held back by prejudice, they need to be reminded of the ways in which Jesus enabled his disciples to overcome their racial and religious prejudices.

2. Demonstrating membership of the body of Christ

There are two specific challenges presented by the growing number of Muslims in many parts of the world who have become followers of Jesus in recent years. Firstly, Christians in existing churches need to understand the difficulties that these new believers face, and do all they can to help them to discover their identity within the body of Christ. Secondly, it is important to appreciate the variety and complexity of the contexts in which Muslims are coming to faith. It is therefore vital that they are given the freedom and responsibility to find the most appropriate ways of expressing their commitment to Jesus within their context.

3. Acknowledging the importance of social and political issues

The Lausanne Covenant has, since 1974, encouraged Christians to take social and political issues seriously. We believe that there are special reasons why we need to take these seriously in our engagement with Muslims. In most situations where Christians and Muslims are living side by side, there are social and political issues which affect both communities. Certain Christian responses to some of these have created a major stumbling block in the minds of Muslims and often made them resistant to the gospel. Christians need to be willing to listen to Muslim perceptions of these issues and know how to engage with Muslims in addressing them. One such issue is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We call upon the global church to devote more time and energy to seeking ways of addressing this issue in a manner that advances justice and reconciliation and addresses the deep biblical and theological issues.

4. Working for justice and reconciliation

Christians frequently raise their voices on the issue of religious liberty, drawing attention to the discrimination and persecution experienced by Christians in many Muslim-majority countries. They are also deeply concerned about the harsh treatment in many situations of Muslims who want to change their religion. This kind of advocacy needs to be pursued vigorously in light of Article 18 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights which affirms the basic human rights of people to ‘practise, propagate, and change their religion’. At the same time Christians need to be as insistent on defending the rights of Muslims and of any minorities who experience discrimination and persecution, even when this occurs at the hands of Muslim governments. There are also a number of situations in different parts of the world where Christians and Muslims can work together for a just society. Issues like the environment and world trade raise questions about justice which are of concern to all people of faith, including Christians and Muslims.

5. Discerning ethical issues in mission and discipleship

How can Christians develop holistic mission practices without having hidden agendas? How do we help enquirers to think through sensitive ethical questions (eg about family and culture) without imposing foreign cultural values on them? Criticism from Muslims and from the secular world of the way some humanitarian work has been used by Christians as an inducement to conversion should be seriously examined and make us much more aware of moral issues involved in the way we carry out our mission. In this ministry, we need to listen to and understand the Islamic perspectives so that our relationships with the Muslim community are not only based on biblical principles, but also culturally appropriate and contextually relevant. We hope Muslims too will be willing to take the same self-critical approach with regard to their practice of relief and development and of da‘wa.

6. Encouraging deeper biblical and theological reflection

While many of the dilemmas Christians face in mission are no different from those which they have faced in the past, the contexts in which we face them today are constantly changing. Many, for example, are asking questions like these: How are Christians to cope with the feeling of being a powerless minority? How do we distinguish between persecution for the sake of the gospel and suffering caused by a variety of factors which have nothing to do with the gospel? How will Christian reflection on the theology of the cross influence their political theology? What if Christians, having turned the other cheek, feel compelled to resort to violence to defend themselves? How can Christians overcome the ghetto mentality and believe that they can play a positive role in nation-building? Is there a place for polemics, and what is the difference between polemics and apologetics? How are we to understand the place of Islam in the purposes of God in history? There is a need for sustained and creative theological reflection on questions like these.

7. Engaging in dialogue with Muslims

Some Christians may need to overcome their fears and reservations associated with the word ‘dialogue’, and see that there need be no contradiction between mission and dialogue. If dialogue simply means a conversation between two people or parties and can lead to a real meeting of hearts and minds, there’s no reason why Christians should not grasp every opportunity for exchanges of this kind, at every level of society. Serious dialogue needs not only to address questions of belief and personal experience but also social and political issues. There need be no fear of compromise or simply seeking the lowest common denominator, since both sides will be able to ask all the hard questions they want and agree to disagree. There is a special need for leaders and scholars of the two communities to engage in honest, open, and sustained dialogue where there is a potential for conflict between the two communities. The Lausanne Issue Network on Islam will initiate and facilitate such conversations at the global and regional levels.

8. Teaching and training the teachers

If Christians in our churches are to receive the kind of guidance and encouragement they need for relating to Muslims, it is vital that pastors and teachers of every kind are equipped to know what and how to teach at every level from children to adults in order to dispel fear and stereotypes and instill confidence. All seminaries and Bible and mission colleges need to make adequate provision in their curricula for teaching on Islam and Muslim people groups, so that all Christian workers know enough to teach and train the whole church for its mission.

9. Pursuing appropriate scholarship on Islam

Christians can never be content with the scholarship of the past but must seek to build on it, using a variety of disciplines in order to understand Islam in all its forms and manifestations. In addition to the study of Christian-Muslim relations (including the history of Christian-Muslim relations and the history of ministry among particular Muslim peoples), the Qur’an and Hadith, Islamic Law and theology, we need the insights we can gain from anthropology, sociology, and political science. In recent years scholars and practitioners have engaged particularly in rigorous analysis of different approaches to mission and witness, reflecting for example on questions concerning contextualization and Bible translation. Our scholarship needs to be scrupulously fair and engage with the full diversity of Islam and its changing faces today, and where appropriate, it needs to be pursued in open and frank dialogue with Muslims.

10. Establishing networks

We can be thankful that there are a number of Christian study centres, networks, and think tanks which have been established in different parts of the world focusing on the issues of Christian engagement with Muslims and Islam. Where they exist, these centres need to be supported to provide Christians with the highest standards of academic studies possible in Islamics and mission in Muslim contexts. Where these centres are not already communicating with each other, there may be a need for networks to be developed to facilitate greater cross-fertilization and cooperation. New centres need to be set up to serve the needs of the churches especially in different regions of the Majority World and to become part of this wider network.

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