Saturday, December 13, 2008

Bridging the Divide: how to talk to evangelicals

Bridging the Divide: how to talk to evangelicals
by Abu Daoud

A reader of Islam and Christianity recently asked the question of how he, an Orthodox Christian, could talk to his Baptist neighbor to convince him that he was in fact a genuine Christian. The Baptist was off to Russia, if I recall correctly, to evangelize the unsaved Orthodox. How can our Orthodox (or Catholic perhaps) friend convince his neighbor that he is in fact a fellow brother in God's family and not just an unsaved soul who needs to be born again? Here are a couple of pointers:

1) Read the Bible and let him know about it: evangelicals have a special devotion to the Bible, just like many Palestinians have a special devotion to Saint George or Mexicans have for the Virgin of Guadalupe. The Bible plays a very central role, as it should, in their lives in areas like Bible memorization and daily devotionals. Once he understands that you read the Bible and believe in it he will take your faith more seriously.

2) Use words he knows: when talking about the hierarchy, unless it is very important to specify, please feel free to use the word "pastor" instead of the various and sometimes convoluted titles that have developed through the ages. Pastor is a helpful word because it is what he calls the leader of his church. Other examples: sermon, not homily. Worship and Communion, not Holy Liturgy and Eucharist.

3) Acknowledge your faults: people generally have a fairly good reason for thinking that Catholics and Orthodox are nominal and that they are not fully converted. Acknowledge that and admit that your church really does need to do a better job teaching youth about the Christian faith and the Bible and the virtuous life. There are so many people who are technically Christians (they have been baptized) but who are unevangelized. Your evangelical friend understands that nominal Christians are unsaved, and one can make a strong case that in a sense of the word they are correct.

4) Pray with him: ask him to pray for you, ask him how you can pray for him. Evangelical Christianity rightly understands that prayer is a mark of God's grace in the life of the believer. That you would pray for him and ask him to pray for you shows that God's grace is active in your life.

Well, those are a few pointers. Sooner or later, if you are good friends and communicate often, then you will be able to get into deeper questions about differences in practices. theology, and so on.

But given the specific instance mentioned above, what would I have done? (And I'm not Orthodox btw.) I would have told him that he has an important job to do, to disciple the Russians and teach them the Bible and call them to a living and strong faith in their Lord. I would say that the Russian Orthodox Church has a great history of missions but after Communism it became weakened and many of our Orthodox brothers there have no knowledge of the Bible or the transforming power of the Holy Spirit to free them from addiction, alcoholism, and sickness. Then I would say a prayer with him and ask God's blessing in his mission to Russia.

[originally posted HERE.]

Monday, December 1, 2008

Sacramentality in Islam and mission to Muslims

[This is part of the text of an article I wrote for St. Francis Magazine which can be found HERE. Part I can be found HERE.--AD]

[...]Take a look at the pillars of Islam. While Muslims do not use the language of sacrament, they certainly have the concept, though in an incomplete manner. (For ultimately the fullness of the sacramentality of Creation cannot be grasped without the incarnation). Because the sacramental principle is distorted but present in Islam, one ends up with the rather crude and instrumentalist language regarding forgiveness of sins: that if one does this or that then certain sins will be forgiven. Forgiveness in Islam is not the reconciliation of mercy and justice as it is in Christianity: it tends more towards a sort of randomness and, some might say, capriciousness on the part of Allah. The two are related of course. Because there is no reconciliation of justice and mercy in a body—a human body which is “sacrificed for us” and “takes away the sins of the world”—there can be nothing higher than capriciousness which oscillates between mercy and justice without really dealing with either of them in a concrete way.

Nevertheless Islam is filled with rituals and there can be no doubt that through these concrete rituals—and much attention is given to form—mercy and forgives can be earned, though one is seldom assured that they have been imparted. To bring a person from Islam into Christianity is to bring them from one set of signs and symbols into another. This is true even if we are using the phraseology of the Kingdom of God and Islamic vocabulary. Islam already has a ritual washing which is performed by devout Muslims quite frequently. Baptism is an alternate ritual washing, performed once.

The community of the Kingdom of God has a ritual meal which is celebrated on a regular basis by those who have made the required confession of faith (in baptism). It is not a sacrifice of a living animal, as is the Islamic ritual sacrifice-meal (Eid al Adha); also, it is performed more often (in Acts daily, and until the 16th C. weekly). The Islamic sacrificial meal is a memorial of a grand sacrifice provided by Allah whereby Abraham’s son was spared: it and the meal celebrate and recall filial obedience. The ritual sacrifice-meal among the subjects of the Kingdom is similar, but not identical. For one, it is always a participation, a going-back-to and a reliving of one sacrifice that was made at a specific point in time (under Pontius Pilate) in a specific way (he was crucified, dead, and buried) on a given hill near Zion. There too is a theme of filial obedience. In the Quran the son of Abraham knows ahead of time that his father will kill him, unlike in the Genesis narrative. Yet he goes with him to meet this fate. In a more dramatic and lengthier narrative we have a similar story in the Gospels. But the ultimate end of the sacrifice is not only obedience for the sake of obedience, but obedience for the sake of reconciling all Creation to God. Another way to put it is this: to preserve the justice and mercy of God through the sacrament of Jesus’ body. [...]

Abu Daoud. 'Mission and Sacrament, Part II' in Saint Francis Magazine 4:3, Dec. 2008