Thursday, July 16, 2009

like a sore thumb: what independent baptists and muslims have in common

The idea of extraction has only recently hit my radar screen although I have lived under the system for many years.  Here are two obvious examples of extraction.

Part of the problem with missions to north Africa and the Middle East is that the movement, historically at least, has never become indigenous.  It is always driven by and presented as an outsider, westerner, counter cultural, crusader-esque political movement.  Extraction in this context takes place in a number of ways, many of them are well intentioned.
  • Sometimes this looks like a rescue operation.  Salim becomes a christian and undergoes persecution {more often because of our missteps than his own}.  Our responses: fully believing that the American dream is synonymous with the gospel, we reject the notion that this persecution is legitimate or can be used for the kingdom.  We just want it to stop.  We look for ways to bring him out of the country.  How does this look to the locals?  Christianity is a western religion.  Missionaries are the religious wing of the CIA.  The CIA topples your government and then the missionaries brainwash women, children, and other outcasts.  To become Christian is to become American/western.  To become Christian is to forsake family, tribe, nation, and heritage.  Just look at Salim.  He became a Christian with those white missionaries, and now he has left for America-traitor.  
  • Sometimes extraction looks like prejudice.  Are Arab believers reaching the Muslim majority at home?  not typically.  Christians have been severely persecuted and discriminated against.  Proselytizing Muslims is a big no no, one that will get you imprisoned or worse.  So one day Ahmed becomes a believer.  What are his options?  There is the expat oilfield workers church.  This would be a certain death sentence.  Need plan B: the Arab believers church.  These are people who have "grown up" as Christians and come from a Christian background.  It is almost as much an political and ethnic grouping as it is a religious one.  Look at their state ID and it says "Christian."  This looks like a better plan to Ahmed.  He goes there, amid their cautious and skeptical glances.  What must he do?  He must take a christian name and get rid of his "Muslim" name.  He must shave his beard and maybe get the traditional cross tattoo on the inside of his wrist.  He can no longer wear any traditional Islamic clothes.  What do you think the reaction of Ahmed's father will be when he says "abuni, I am no longer a Muslim.  I am a Christian.  I have changed my name to Matthias."  His father will probably beat him, kick him out of the house, that is if he does not turn him over to the authorities for reeducation or to be placed in a mental hospital till his "illness" is over.  He is ostracized from family and friends {the family clan is the basis of every aspect of life in the Arab world: job, marriage, protection, everything.}  Because he is blacklisted, he looses his job.  His wife, who is not yet a believer, is careful not to tell her parents about Ahmed, ops, I mean Matthias' conversion lest they force a divorce and he loose his family.  The landlord has kicked him out of his flat.  Completely wasted and ruined, he goes back to the church.  What is their response?  They just might be willing to take him in and help for a while.  But as soon as the authorities catch wind of what has happened they will turn him out on his own.  They don't want any more persecution and certainly not on behalf of one who used to be a Muslim.  If he is jailed, they cannot/will not help.  What are his options?  One, Christian or Muslim will give him a real job or a place to live.  If he is single, none of the Christians will allow him to marry his daughter since his State ID will always say "Muslim" and their children will technically be Muslim too, even though they are really believers.  Should he leave the country?  What other option does he have?  He has successfully been extracted from culture, and family, and economics, and every other area of life since he was forced out of his family and natural network.  The saddest part of all is that the gospel will not flow back through his former circle of family and friends.  How would this situation have been different if he had continued to be a part of his culture?  What if He had kept his birth name and traditional dress?  What if he hadn't presented his new beliefs in such a caustic, disrespectful way to his father?  Persecution in these contexts is inevitable.  Had he not been extracted from his context the persecution may not have been as severe and might not have come till later.  But the main point is that if he had not been extracted, he would have been able to advance the gospel through his circle.  Extracted, he was merely a victim to himself, and a liability to everyone else.  {the truth of the matter, is that the Arab church is just as culturally and politically extracted as he was.  That is, they were not actually living in the normal context for their part of the world.}
So how on earth are independent baptists at all like that?

There is a church I grew up in that fits the following description:  They were KJV only.  The women wore long dresses, had long hair, and typically, no make up.  Female dress was, according to the pastor, to be "Lots, Loose, Long, and Ladylike." The men were expected to have short hair, no earrings or tattoos.  Beards were permissible; shorts were frowned upon.  There was no mixed swimming and even no youth group.  Tv was heavily discouraged and heavily preached against.  Dating was not allowed.  Secular music was condemned as was praise and worship and any other contemporary music.  Contemporary music for them was the Gaithers and Steve Green--yes they were just that far out of touch.  College was discouraged.  BJU was too liberal for most {yes I said liberal!} and PCC was even to liberal for some.  When I went to SEBTS, many in the church broke fellowship with me {cause we all know how liberal Paige Patterson is...}.  All of this was done in the name of "holiness."  Their view was that everything in the world was evil intrinsically.  There were not any elements of culture which were neutral.  Church was viewed as the safe place, safe from all the evils and contaminants of the world.  There essentially wasn't any outreach into the community.  Some people, of their own initiative, actually did share the gospel.  But for too many of them, sharing the gospel was translated into some kind of denouncement of the evil of culture through the explanation of our "high standards" to some poor lost person who was at the wrong place at the wrong time.  There was a testimony hour where people could share what God was doing in their lives or share a witnessing story, etc.  Here are some of the examples {there are many stories which were genuine, these are just some which illustrate their extracted point of view}:    
  • One lady talked about an encounter with a young woman in wall-mart.  Allegedly, this young lady wasn't properly dressed {remember proper for these folks meant no holes in the elbows or knees...}.  The woman took great joy in telling us how she explained modesty to this young lady.  This was her taking a stand for "truth."  
  • More stories than I can count about political discussions, elections, candidates, etc, being proclaimed as "truth."
  • There were many a successful "stand for Christ" when objectionable music was played at a restaurant.  The suffering saint would walk up to the manager to lodge a complaint about the music.  The manager would turn the music off.  Evil has now been averted...
  • On one occasion, one of my neighbors, a teenage girl who was lost, actually came with us.  Her skirt was a little to short {we all know how defrauding knees can be}.  You would have thought she carried a plague.  Everyone avoided her; no one spoke to her.  She was LOST!  But that was just too bad for her.  
Ministry in this church centered around providing a safe place for like minded families to fellowship.  They were more than happy for outsiders to come, so long as they would clean up enough first.  The preaching centered around 5 or so topics {KJV only, No TV, Music, Modesty, Faith from Heb 11}.  These were on a continual loop with only a rare deviation to discuss discipline or divorce or creation or something like that.  All of these sermons were topical in nature, and, if you haven't guessed, proof-texted with scripture taken grossly out of context   Needless to say, whenever we went to evangelize those poor sinners out there, we were viewed with much suspicion and the Kingdom was rarely served. 

These two examples are very obvious.  No one reading this is thinking "yes, that is the way it ought to be!"  But in the next post, I will bring this closer to home and try to add some definition to extraction.

In the mean time, koolaid anyone?

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