Lewis Carroll’s White Queen once said, “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast!” Is it time for us to believe some impossible things?...There is a missions movement that seeks to make people “Christians” by eliminating many of the things that Christians must believe to call themselves by that name. In missiological circles, it is called the “insider movement.”
...Like many fads...this may simply fade away when it is no longer new....However, its advocates—and many of its detractors—call it the most important issue in the church today: “I believe the debate about Insider Movements...is a debate about the gospel—as potentially earth-shaking as the Lutheran, Reformed, Anglican, and Anabaptist reform movements of the 16th century” (Kevin Higgins, Devoteds). Advocates contend that what is at stake is “the integrity of the gospel itself” (Rebecca Lewis, Integrity).
What exactly is the “insider movement” (IM)? ...As defined by one of its advocates, “‘Insider movements’ consist of believers remaining in and transforming their own pre-existing family networks, minimally disrupting their own pre-existing families and communities” (Lewis, Promoting)....This means that they speak positively of Messianic Muslims, Hindu Christ-Followers, Buddhist believers in Christ. The insider movement among Muslims...encourages “converts” to remain in the mosque, call themselves Muslims, make the hajj and, in many cases, continue to hold Mohammed as a prophet and the Koran as a book of spiritual import. Often, Muslim converts to Christ...are encouraged to return to [the mosque] in order to win others. Some promoters...encourage missionaries to publicly convert to Islam, a false religion, in order to witness in that community!...IM promoters would bristle at the term “false religion,” insisting that...the “religion revealed by all the prophets (e.g., Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus, and Muhammad) was originally the same...‘True Islam’ is what real Christians believe” (Bernard Dutch, Should Muslims Become “Christians”? IJFM 17:1 : 17).
These “Jesus-Muslims” are often not baptized in order to avoid the reproach that it brings. Some do not meet in a local congregation of believers or even in a home study. IM groups have made new translations of the Bible, eliminating terms unacceptable to Muslims—Son of God, Son of man, God the Father....How has what may tacitly be called “syncretism” found its way into the heart of evangelical mission organizations? By the road of “contextualization.”
We should not expect converts from Islam to adopt western cultural practices. No convert to Christ should be required to dress in a western fashion or make his Christianity look like that in the US. Converts may...continue taking their shoes off when they enter a place where they study the Bible. They may pray kneeling with forehead to the ground. These things are purely superficial, not forbidden in Scripture, and principally cultural in character....If done...without compulsion or attribution of Scriptural authority, they are not improper, since the Scripture gives no inspired posture for prayer and the [only] New Testament admonition [is that] clothing be modest.
However, when...converts are encouraged to continue in religious practices of their past, identifying [with] it, and attributing final spiritual authority to a prophet, leader, or founder of some religious movement or to his writings, the line has been crossed from contextualization to syncretism, and the message is no longer that of biblical Christianity....
Conversion to Christianity requires repentance and faith (Acts:20:21). Repentance includes turning to God from idols and false religions and false prophets (1 Thes:1:9). Faith means believing certain things about Christ, His Work, and His Word. Apart from that sense of repentance and apart from that meaning of faith, there is reason to question whether there has been true conversion.
Among those certain things that must be believed is the Sonship of Christ. Philip preached Christ to the Ethiopian eunuch and clearly emphasized this essential truth. When the eunuch asked to be baptized, Philip replied, “If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God” (Acts:8:37). It was on his confession of Jesus as the Son of God that Philip baptized this new believer. If IM hides or covers the Sonship of Christ, they are presenting less than the gospel.
Another [concern regarding one’s] salvation is the denial of the Trinity. Although I cannot say that fully understanding the Trinity is a requirement of salvation, I can say that denial of the Trinity should cause us to question if conversion has taken place. To deny the Trinity...requires that we ignore...Scripture [and] also brings into question...the true Sonship of Christ, His humanity, and His Lordship. Many IM promotors call the Trinity the fruit of an unhealthy mix between Jewish Messianic and Greek philosophy....
Romans:10:9 tells us that another essential truth is the Lordship of Christ. If Jesus is the Lord, then another is not. God has declared that He will not share His glory with another (Is 42:8), and Jesus spoke of the impossibility of serving two masters (Mt 6:24). You cannot serve both Jesus and Mohammed, nor call both Buddha and Jesus “Lord.” To recognize Mohammed as a prophet is to lower Jesus....All true prophets point to Christ as supreme.
A non-negotiable truth that undergirds all of these and is undergirded by the very nature of God is the authority of the written Word, the Bible. No other “scripture” can be held as equal or comparable to the Bible....IM missionaries [attempt] to find ways to endorse the Koran as a book of God and in so doing make the Bible less than it is. IM also [makes] culture the interpreter and determiner of biblical instruction. Old and New Testament declarations are lightly dismissed as “cultural” and therefore non-binding. Biblical authority becomes relativized and examined by the final authority of “Will that work here?” As Christians we believe, as David Garner expressed it, “The divine canon transcends and trumps any cultural canon” (High Stakes: Insider Movement Hermeneutics and the Gospel).
...Though some scholarly attempts have been made to defend IM practice, the bottom line seems to be, “It works.” This reasoning is suspect for two reasons:
1) The fact that a method produces decisions or numbers is no measure that it is working. God saves men despite us, not because of us, and some may be saved in spite of the paucity of accurate information. The measure of truth, in the end, is not its popularity (Lk 16:15).
2) There is reason to question the results IMers tout. They are unverifiable, since the...claims (“hundreds of thousands of Muslims falling in love with Jesus,” “6,000 new churches planted among Muslims,”...) are without reference to location, for reasons of security. When a location may be given, the very nature of the movement precludes confirmation. Are we to go to mosques to ask how many believe in Jesus? Where examination has been possible, these claims have often been shown to be greatly exaggerated.
...The most vocal opponents of IM are Christian converts from Islam. Those who have suffered for the name of Christ are grieved with this new and muddled gospel....They point to the strange new translations of the Bible, noting that the Muslim accusation that the Bible has been altered now appears true! They observe that IM is paternalistic, with westerners pushing nationals aside, saying, “You don’t know how to reach your culture. We have a better idea!”
Oh, for the simplicity of the gospel, the simplicity of preaching, the simplicity of Christ!
I would urge all of you who support or stand with missionaries to inquire if that missionary endorses or embraces the “insider movement.” Make certain they are preaching —and you’re supporting—an unadulterated, uncompromising, biblical message.
Steve Montgomery is a missionary in the Jalisco Highlands of Mexico and a longtime friend of The Berean Call.