Jul 9, 2010

A House Divided Againsts Itself?

The Arabic International Festival in Dearborn has become a controversial centrifuge regarding First Amendment freedoms. It has been fueled by the increase in Christian and Islamic interfaith dialog once a year in Dearborn, MI. Presently, the festival has ended, the outreach is over, and current litigation regarding Christian leaf-letting, journalistic dialogs, and freedom of speech remains pending. Following the suppression of distribution by groups in 2009, the enlarged obstacles and increasing opposition have resulted in total hindrance to gospel literature being passed out and the subsequent arrests of four Christians.

The aftermath of these events has not only stirred controversy in the courts, news outlets, and local churches, but has apparently polarized Christians. The appearance of unity is a marred visage of what one would imagine would be when it comes to proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ to Muslims. However, this is simply not the case with local Dearborn ministries who lay claim to year round evangelistic and ministry efforts. They feel very strongly that the groups who come in from out of town leave a miserable mess when they leave and increase the difficulty of reaching an already difficult to reach people group.

Groups from around the country drive, fly, and commute locally to the festival to seize an opportunity that will provide one to one access to Muslims, Non-Muslim Arabs, and Chaldean's who live in the Metro-Detroit and Dearborn area. These individuals have participated in the outreach efforts for the past few years, some going back as early as the first festival itself. It has also been a personal privilege of mine to work with these groups, side by side, hoping to accomplish the same task, bringing Muslims to the foot of a blood stained cross, and hoping they too will repent of their sins, and trust the Savior Jesus Christ.

For the record, some of the groups who participate in the ministry here (but not limited to) operate under public banners like Ministry to Muslims and Acts 17 Apologetics. Beginning as early as last year, the Dearborn Police Department has been cracking down on Christian evangelism occurring within the festival boundaries, most particularly the aforementioned groups. Last year, members of Acts 17 were physically "encouraged" to leave the festival grounds by festival security staff. The video of this event eventually went viral via YouTube and stirred up a hailstorm of controversy surrounding the semantics of what exactly transpired during that event. This year they were the ones arrested. They also had their camera equipment illegally seized without return.

There are also out of town groups that come on their own volition. They are not sent by missionary boards, funded by para-church organizations, or commissioned by local church's to do special 'mission' assignments. They come here to minister the Gospel to one of the largest Arab and Muslim populations in the country. Some of these visitors come from California, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Arizona, Indiana, and even right here in Michigan. These groups largely remain unaffiliated with any organizations and choose to simply state their allegiance with Christ. Essentially, the motive is tell the truth of God's Word through Jesus Christ and show the false claims of the Qur'an to be found wanting when followed as a means of being right with God.

Then, there are those who live locally year round. There are groups, ministries, churches, and individuals who reach out to the Arab and Muslim population in ongoing efforts to share Christ with them. These efforts treat many various needs in the community as well. With the array of social services, members of these communities receive monies, food, English as second language education, and vocational assistance from these groups and ministries. There are also church groups and individuals who go door to door administering the Gospel and follow up with discipleship when professions of faith are made.

In 2006 I was ministering the Gospel at the festival when it was on Warren. It was getting late and many patrons were dispersing. I had found myself speaking with a younger man who had plainly entrapped me with his questions and became instantly antagonistic the moment he confirmed that I was handing out Gospel's of John. Within moments of the exchanged I was surrounded by a large group of Muslims chanting "La ilaha illa Allah, Muhammadar Rasul Allah." Not only was there extreme intimidation playing a role here, but I was instantly swallowed up in the middle of the group, no police nearby, and only a few brothers within distance.

The claim of the local ministry's is found wanting. The ideal that there is catastrophic effects from the ongoing outreach of Christians who are indeed proclaiming the Biblical Gospel in the Biblical pattern is simply ludicrous. The objective of the groups that do organize on a larger scale is to train locals and plug in converts to the existing ministries for discipleship. However, for fear of exposure to the attacks of true Muslims, most local church's have refrained from involvement. Even the hosting church for one of the conferences showed little to no participation of the local congregants. It is sad to see that other conferences and local churches promote a mediocre and modern day gospel that falsely converts millions of Americans daily falls even more short when it comes to challenging the claims of Islam.

World Magazine reported on the recent events surrounding the arrests and quoted statements by some of the 'local' ministries, as well as notable author Josh McDowell,

"Other Christians were quick to say that they participated in the Arab festival without incident. For the second year in a row, Christian author and popular speaker Josh McDowell had a booth there, and has handed out over 22,000 autographed books, he told me. "I must've answered 300 questions from Muslims, and not one person raised their voice, not one person argued." McDowell said local pastors and the Chamber of Commerce invited him, and he asked a local committee to review the materials he handed out beforehand. He said he understood the local restrictions: "When you have a festival in a few blocks of a downtown area with 300,000 going through, you've got to have a few rules.""

It's interesting to observe these statements when you actually take time to see the stark contrast between what 'Other Christians' were doing as 'gospel witness.' As far as I am concerned, and no disrespect to Mr. McDowell, but your statements in this whole scenario mean diddly. McDowell is passing out free copies of a fictional book that personifies the cheap propagation of christian junk that you can get at any local Family Heresy Bookstore. Sorry Mr. McDowell, your book, is not the Gospel, therefore of course you are not going to upset Muslims with it.The few rules in place for crowd control would be understandable, but preventing Christians from passing out materials, creating an aura of fear, and even arresting Christians who were having peaceful dialog (of which I personally witnessed) is not a rule instituted for crowd control, but appeasing the dominating population of Muslim sentiment so that there is not a full scale riot. In turn, that means silencing the Christians who are directly confronting the false claims of the Muslims and the Qur'an.
So, the essential facet of truth here really is simple. What is the dividing line between the local and visiting ministers? Well, I believe that the local ministries may not truly understand that itinerant ministry is a Biblical norm and when someone converts they should be plugged in. I also believe that the visiting ministries may not fully comprehend the delicate balance that is upset when they come in to town en masse and leave en masse with a whirlwind of controversy that could possibly be avoided or minimized by using a little more tact, or shrewdness. But, in consideration of all perspectives, no side will get it entirely right.

But, opposition to the message of Jesus Christ is a good indicator that men are being convicted or confronted, and the enemy writhes with discontent when the truth of the Bible is set forth in his deepest and darkest strongholds, Islam. I suppose I would leave you to be the judge of the entire ordeal. As for me, I say amen for the brethren withstanding persecution for our Lord's namesake. If men praise you, be weary...but if they persecute you, it is because they first persecuted Him.

Which message do you want to preach?


Anonymous said...

I think you summed it up here brother:

Well, I believe that the local ministries may not truly understand that itinerant ministry is a Biblical norm and when someone converts they should be plugged in. I also believe that the visiting ministries may not fully comprehend the delicate balance that is upset when they come in to town en masse and leave en masse with a whirlwind of controversy that could possibly be avoided or minimized by using a little more tact, or shrewdness. But, in consideration of all perspectives, no side will get it entirely right.

I was thinking of the great awakening when whitfield came over for a short while and fanned the flames for Edwards and the brothers living in New England. Both worked hand in hand. Maybe we all need to get a shot from heaven (including me) and that is at the root of the issue.

In Christ - Jim

James said...

I hope that is the message that gets conveyed here. Many many people labor in vain, and on top of that, labor a false gospel. It always amazes me that the ones who preach a biblical gospel are the ones who often get ridiculed from the church.

Last weekend I had a man turn down a gospel tract/invitation to the Saturday night outreach because he was going to be "at home" preparing "his" Sunday school lesson...


Nick S said...

Thanks for your thoughts James! I've been waiting for you to write on this issue. I figured you were at the festival and would know something about the local/out-of-towners divide.

I spent the week prior to the festival at a ministry in the heart of Dearborn. The whole week we kept hearing about all the (paraphrase) "loud, obnoxious Christians who will be coming to the festival handing out tracts & street preaching....we have to spend the rest of the year cleaning up their mess...."

I knew this wasn't quite right; in fact, I knew at the heart of this was an affront on those willing to actually preach the gospel with words. But, the sad part to this was high school kids (we were on a "mission trip") took everything they said as absolute, and the rest of the week students were talking about "Christian missionaries" and the harm they cause.

It's a complicated issue but in the end, I think the Christian community needs to celebrate and champion the preached (using words) Gospel of Christ.

James said...

Thanks for responding Nick. I hope that you will do well to be diligent in your study of the Scripture and help those students see the truth in the situation. It is plain to the casual reader of the Bible what the Biblical pattern of evangelism is. Prophets were stoned and killed for the words they spoke, Stephen the first Martyr did not compromise his message to appease the Jewish sentiment of his day, and the Apostles were told to be silent regarding Jesus name by Jewish authorities, and they too continued to preach in the open air.

The local church 'leaders' and ministries unfortunately collect their salaries from their congregations. They too have Muslim neighbors and Muslim business affiliates. They are more concerned with their earthly treasures and edifices than they are about preaching the "foolishness of the cross to those that are perishing."

They would rather be esteemed by men then fools for Christ.

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