Last week at seminary, several missionaries from the International Mission Board were on campus. Some of them are currently working in the fields of North Africa and the Middle East. As most of you who read here probably know, North Africa used to be a bastion of Christianity, and so did much of the Middle East. Especially grievous to me is the fact that perhaps the most eloquent preacher of all time, John Chrysostom, used to preach in Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul) in one of the most magnificent structures ever made by man, The Hagia Sophia. (The Church of Holy Wisdom.) Today, that magnificent structure is a mosque, and that once proud Christian city in a one time Christian country is mostly a Muslim city in a mostly Muslim country. What happened? Did the word of Muhammed triumph over the word of Jesus? Numbers of followers in that area would certainly indicate that it did.
So how did it triumph? It triumphed because Islam is easier than Christianity. Indeed, being properly converted to Islam is fairly simple. Conversion to Christianity, on the other hand, is impossible without a miracle.
Here are some things to chew on as to why Islam is easier than Christianity:
1. It is theologically simple. There is no Trinity and no incarnation to worry about. Jesus is only a man, and so was Muhammed. Much mystery is eliminated, and that makes it appealing.
2. It is morally appealing. Justice and eternity are judged in light of human works in following the pillars of Islam such as prayer, fasting, and the giving of alms. Do good, and Allah will reward you. If you don't, Allah will destroy you.
3. Conformity is to be enforced. It's easy to make prayer times when your neighbors will talk about you and perhaps take action if you don't. Heresy and blasphemy are punishable by death. Conversion at gunpoint is legitimate, as is endurance through fear of penalty. I once had an Egyptian friend who converted to Christianity through the influence of a penpal. He was arrested and interrogated in prison. At gunpoint, they reasoned with him and said, "If Christianity is true, then why is all of Egypt now Muslim?" My friend said, "Sir, the answer is in your hand." Of course, the interrogater had an AK-47 leveled at him when he made the inquiry. Outward conformity is far easier than internal reformation. One is humanly possible, the other is not.
So the Muslims have an advantage in the flesh that Christians do not have. They can force true conversion and their salvation is maintained through works. It is morally appealing and humanly possible. It's theology is comparatively simple and easily grasped.
Christianity is hard by comparison. The Christian missionary must rely on God's Spirit to raise a dead heart to life. He cannot coerce conversion through the force of gun or logic. He can no more conjure faith for a listener than he can make gold from lead. The missionary and the listener are at the mercy of God for salvation. Without divine intervention, the Christian life is impossible.
Salvation for the Christian is not gained by fleshly works. All our hope and life hangs on the merits of Jesus Christ. Eternal life comes by faith alone in Christ alone, and our works will add nothing to our justification. No matter how many little old ladies we help across the street, no matter how many alms we give to the poor, we will not add one thing towards our righteousness before God by them. The flip-side of this is that we cannot "make-up" for evil deeds by offsetting them with good ones. We must utterly cast ourselves upon the tendermercies of God in Christ.
The theology of Christianity is difficult and mysterious. We worship One God who is Three Persons. This is beyond human understanding and sounds contradictory. Instead of enjoying God's uniqueness, the fleshly mind rebels against the seeming irrationality of God's revelation. We worship a man who is God in the flesh. The eternal God is found most expressly in the man from Nazareth, Jesus the son of Mary, the son of the carpenter Joseph. He dies ignobly on a cross for insurrection and is abandoned by His followers. How does God in man experience death? How does the God-Man experience temptation? How are the natures joined? Such perplexing and wonderful questions are neatly avoided by fleshly denial of the incarnation.
So, dear Christian, do not be surprised at the gains of Islam. It is an easy religion in comparison. It appeals to the flesh. Rather, be amazed at the conversions of people to Christ. When men and women are converted to Jesus, it is because God is merciful and compassionate to bring forth life where there was only death, and He does this by opening the eyes of the heart to behold the risen Christ. Pray for miracles, brothers and sisters. Pray earnestly that our missionaries and friends will combat the forces of Islam, not with weapons crafted by men, whether they be word or sword, but by the power of God's Spirit. We will not win North Africa and the Middle East with the weapons of this world, but by the might and will of the Almighty.
We Must Do the Impossible
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