I’ve just paid a visit to Mormon.org.uk ? the central website of the UK’s Mormon Church. The homepage asks me whether I’d like a free Book of Mormon sent to me, or a home visit from a local Mormon who could answer any questions I might have. With just a click I’m into a live web chat with Todd and Andrew. Our discussion pings back and forth for 30 minutes. I discover Todd and Andrew have done two weeks of residential outreach training in Preston as they have volunteered to do full-time missionary service for a period of 24 months.
It turns out that Mormons are not the only UK faith community posting off their most passionate young believers for residential training in effective evangelism. American missionary Jay Smith, who has worked among Muslims in the UK for over 30 years (head to Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park on a Sunday afternoon and you’ll probably find him) says many of the Muslim societies in UK universities send their keenest off to spend a week, usually in a local mosque, learning how to engage in polemic with Christians. Some are trained on campus.
Tony Brown, a Christian pastor and former Jehovah’s Witness, explains that among Jehovah’s Witnesses, evangelistic training is not confined to the young and passionate. ‘Everything is geared around this,’ he explains. ‘From the first home Bible study you attend, you begin to understand Watchtower theology. This is reinforced on a Sunday. Every meeting you go to re-emphasisesthe message. The men learn how to preach and teach, and the ladies practise door-to-door situations.’
On a Saturday morning shopping trip to Harrow (North West London), I encounter not only the faith-spreading efforts of Muslims, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses ? I can sometimes spot groups of Hare Krishnas, and Scientologists offering ‘stress tests’. At times, every lamp post and untended wall displays a small flyer about the local Moonies’ meetings. On the way home, I walk past the spiritualist ‘church’; a sign on their door welcomes me in for ‘free prophecies’
Among Jehovah's witnesses, evangelistic training is not confined to the young and passionate
I do live in the most religiously diverse local authority in the UK ? but the reality is that a whole range of religions are spreading their messages, day in, day out. So what are the techniques that others are employing? And how does our Christian approach to evangelism match up?
THE MUSLIMS’ APPROACH
The starting point for Muslim evangelism in the UK, Smith says, is in universities. Almost any religious society can now recruit at the start-of-year freshers’ fairs, alongside Christian unions. This is just one of the ways in which Smith says that Muslims are now ‘copying’ Christian outreach tactics.
‘The Islamic societies tend to be much bigger than our Christian unions and much more radical. That’s where we are seeing the growth of radicalism among the young,’ says Smith. Visiting scholars attend to lecture at their meetings ? regulars being Adnan Rashid, Hamza Tzortzis and Abdur Raheem Green. The latter two British Muslim converts head up The Islamic Education and Research Agency (IERA), based in North West London (iera.org.uk), which describes itself as ‘a global dawah organisation committed to presenting Islam to wider society’
‘Dawah’, literally translated from the Arabic as ‘invitation’, is the Muslim duty to proselytise or preach the Islamic message. The IERA calls for ‘a new era in dawah’, and according to Smith, is funded to the tune of £800,000 per year via Saudi Arabia. Another radical Muslim UK organisation formerly known as Islam4UK proves harder to research, as it has been closed down by the government. It regularly renames itself, however, says Smith, and has been known latterly as The Shariah Project and the Islamic Emergency Defence.
The Olympics was the focus of one of the IERA’s key campaigns in 2012, when the organisation trained up 600 young male volunteers to evangelise. Interestingly, the campaign website onereason.org bears a remarkable resemblance to the online home of the Christian evangelistic course Alpha.
Anthony McRoy, author of From Rushdie to 7/7: The Radicalisation of Islam in Britain (Social Affairs Unit), who lectures in Islamic Studies for Wales Evangelical School of Theology, spent considerable time at the Olympic venues in discussion with Muslim evangelists. ‘They would go up to Christians and say, “I will become a Christian if you can show me anywhere in the Bible where Jesus says, ‘I am God, worship me’”,’ he says. ‘Most Christians don’t know how to handle this.’
During the Olympics, McRoy spoke publicly about his disappointment and frustration at the lack of Christians witnessing, or entering into discussion with the many Muslim evangelists. ‘The Christians there were completely uncoordinated, untrained and unprepared ? they got hammered by the Muslims. I counted four different mission groups (or dawah groups) at the Olympics. All would have been properly trained in how to take on Christian evangelicals. Just a bit of research into the area in which the Olympics were held, Stratford, would have revealed that this is a very Muslim part of London. They could have guessed that they would be faced by Muslim propagandists and come prepared. But none of them did. We should have flooded that place with people, but we didn’t.’
JOIN THE DEBATE
Smith says that this reticence isn’t limited to the Olympics, and says there is a lack of equipping for polemical engagement with Muslims. ‘There is a reticence to confront. The view is that Christ never confronted; it’s not Christ-like. We have Europeanised Christ so much and we don’t want to besmirch his name. Muslims love it ? it means they are off the hook,’ says Smith.
A lack of willingness for respectful, well thought-out debate leads to assumptions about Christians that we might feel less than happy about. ‘I ask Muslims how they would describe a British Christian, and they say that we are timid, weak, don’t know what we really believe and cannot defend what little we know,’ says Smith. ‘What an indictment against us.’
If we just took the time to listen to the questions that Muslims commonly ask of Christians, we’d uncover some apologetic gems. ‘Look at the questions they regularly ask us ? they are great questions! How could God have a son? How could God corrupt himself to become a human being? You could take that question, unpack it and share the gospel…it’s tragic that we are not prepared,’ Smith says.
What motivates the committed Muslim approach to dawah? ‘Success,’ says Smith. ‘Look at the number of converts they are getting. Every one of those converts is excited ? finally they have a faith that they can believe in, that gives them a role, a faith that is world-encompassing and that they believe will take over the world.’
Koranic teaching also commands dawah, Smith explains. ‘Make war on them until idolatry is no more and Allah’s religion reigns supreme’ reads Sura 8:39. ‘There are 147 of these sorts of verses in the Koran. Although not every Muslim knows that ? a lot of them are shocked when I tell them.’
McRoy says that many Muslims interpret the Koran to teach an obligation to share the Muslim faith. ‘You are not allowed to migrate from a Muslim country without engaging in either jihad or dawah,’ he says. ‘Jihad (translated from the Arabic as ‘just war’) is obviously illegal, so dawah is not only an option, it is a requirement.’
Many of the young Muslims passionately engaging in dawah are of course very different from their elders, who moved here from other countries. ‘The older community when they first came to the UK didn’t speak English. But we are onto the third generation of Muslims in the UK now. They have been through the British education system and they want to bring their faith to the wider British community. They are zealous for their faith,’ McRoy says.
Another Christian expert in apologetic discourse with UK Muslims says that if there’s one thing we can learn from the Muslim approach to faith-sharing, it’s their conviction that the afterlife is at stake.
ISLAM IN THE UK
Statistics indicate that Islam is on the ascendancy in the UK. These outreach strategies are working. And the conversions are far from all being the dramatic, forced kind that the press somewhat hysterically report to be happening in prisons. British conversions to Islam are an increasingly normative daily affair.
Do we need to regain our identity as a community of witnesses; a concept that the Jehovah's wtitnesses appear to have so effectively grasped?
Atheist Douglas Murray wrote in Standpoint magazine in November 2013, ‘Today Britain’s Muslim community is growing ten times faster than the rest of the population. Half of British Muslims are under the age of 25. And among young people under 25, one in ten are now Muslim. Conversions of Britons to Islam are also at an unprecedented high. In the decade since 9/11 more than 100,000 British people converted to Islam. Three-quarters of these were women. These facts ? along with the fact that for the first time a minority of young Britons now identify themselves as Christian ? means that if current trends continue, in the next 20 years or so there will be more Muslims in Britain than Christians. Some demographic studies suggest that on current trends Britain could have a Muslim majority by the middle of this century.’
THE JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES’ APPROACH
‘Compared to the Muslims and Jehovah’s Witnesses that I see out on the streets sharing their faith in Bradford, we are nowhere as Christians,’ says pastor Tony Brown, who sees part of his ministry as seeking to reach Jehovah’s Witnesses with the gospel message. ‘The Church needs to wake up. We have a lot to learn.’
Jehovah’s Witnesses, who have their origins in Christianity but believe that the Church has deviated from the true teachings of the Bible, remain firmly associated with knocking on doors in order to share their message with anyone who will listen. This is a good indicator of the fundamental part that evangelism plays in their beliefs. In fact, the possibility of their salvation hangs on it. ‘They can only please Jehovah by obeying the Watchtower,’ Brown explains. ‘Their strategy is for every Jehovah’s Witnesses to be what they call a “publisher” of the good news. It’s not optional for them. They have to get Watchtower publications into people’s hands and homes.’
It seems that uncertainty about what the future holds might play a part in the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ evangelistic fervour. ‘They would say that you can never be assured of your salvation,’ Brown says. ‘If they had been knocking on lots of doors and handing out lots of magazines, they might say: “If Jehovah returned today, I think I will be ok. But tomorrow I might not be, because I might decide to stay in and watch The X Factor.” It is very moment by moment. It is essentially salvation by works.’
Jehovah’s Witnesses haven’t turned to new or creative strategies for evangelism; it is their simple, united dedication that brings success. ‘They continue to use door knocking as they always have done,’ says Brown. ‘When I was a Jehovah’s Witnesses I did door-to-door work. I don’t think it is the best method ? but the sheer number of doors that they knock on means that they have success with it. For every 200 doors they knock on, they might have a little bite; then they’ll be back.’
Jehovah’s Witnesses are also fearless about making themselves visible in town centres and stations. ‘They often have a trolley with their publications on it. Some Jehovah’s Witnesses will stand away and simply let people take literature, others will come and have a discussion with someone who is looking at it,’ Brown says.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are also learning other languages in order to communicate their message with UK immigrants. Brown, who is based in Bradford, knows one couple who are learning Mandarin in order to reach international students coming to Bradford University.
IS EVANGELISM OPTIONAL?
Has the Church taken Ephesians 4:11-16 ? which reads, ‘So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up’ ? too far? Have we overemphasised the Pauline teaching on each person being a part of the Body of Christ, and the diversity of the spiritual gifts, so that UK Christians now simply pick their gift from the list, get on with it and leave it at that?
Amy Orr-Ewing, UK director of the Zacharias Trust, thinks this may be the case. But ‘the great commission is given to all believers ? every disciple is called to make other disciples. ‘Some people will be exceptionally fruitful numerically, which is a good indication that that person has a spiritual gift of evangelism. They will also be able to equip and encourage other Christians in that area. But all of us are supposed to be involved,’ she says.
‘For Christians, evangelism has become optional,’ says Brown. ‘We talk about grace and we say that salvation isn’t by works. And people think: “I don’t really need to do that, then.” There’s no urgency.’
Do we need to regain our identity as a community of witnesses; a concept that the Jehovah’s Witnesses appear to have so effectively grasped? ‘All Jehovah’s Witnesses evangelise. Even if they don’t like it, they do it,’ Brown says.
THE MORMONS’ APPROACH
Brown’s partner in mission is Bobby Gilpin ? an evangelist to Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons, and founder of mormonisminvestigated.co.uk and watchtowerinvestigated.co.uk. Mormon evangelistic success, Gilpin says, stems largely from a profound commitment to the training and rigorous operation of missionaries. Mormon boys are brought up with the notion that at some point they will go on mission. ‘They are excited for that. They sing songs with lines like,“I hope I’m called on a mission”,’ he says.
There are currently 180-190,000 Mormons in the UK in total, around 1,750 of whom are missionaries. They have six mission bases ? in Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, London, South London, Scotland and Ireland. Most Mormon churches will have two full-time missionaries at all times.
Every young Mormon male is expected to complete a mission ? although the official line is that they are not obligated to do so ? for a standard duration of 24 months. Young women can also go on mission, taking 18 months to do so. Older couples may also be missionaries, acting as guides and mentors for their younger compatriots. And every Mormon on mission pays for the privilege ? a standard fee (worldwide) of £240 per month.
The Mormon evangelistic strategy has been well constructed. The missionaries (of whom there are currently around 700,000 worldwide) act as frontline evangelists; so if another Mormon meets someone who they think may be interested, they refer them to a local missionary. Mormons are also seeking to use the internet for outreach. ‘They used to do a lot of door knocking, but they are now using the internet far more ? there are a lot of Mormon missionaries on Facebook,’ Gilpin says.
How successful are their strategies? Gilpin says that they do see people baptised. ‘A Mormon’s missionary’s goal is that you pray about whether the Book of Mormon is true,’ he explains. ‘Their way of coming to the truth is more feelings-based, rather than the intellectual approach taken by the Jehovah’s Witnesses.’
SALVATION THROUGH WORKS
The twelfth president of the Mormon Church, Spencer W Kimball, says: ‘Eternal life is hanging in the balance, awaiting the works of men.’ For a Mormon, salvation is dependent on works, and going on mission is one of a very long list of salvation criteria.
‘Finishing a mission honourably is a key part of their future exaltation,’ Gilpin explains. ‘There are consequences if they don’t go on mission ? disgrace. A lot of Mormon females want to marry someone who has been on a mission; they want to be exalted together as a couple.’
Could we learn anything here? ‘The big way that I am challenged by the Mormon approach is that they go way above and beyond friendship evangelism,’ Gilpin says. ‘Quite often Christians think they will try to reach their friends and family ? but any Mormons, on a day to day basis, will try to reach out to everyone.’
TIME TO STEP UP?
Does the Church need to readdress its evangelistic strategies? We certainly need to know our Bibles better, agree the missionaries that I’ve spoken to. ‘We need to make sure that we go back to the Bible and know that everything we say is biblical. That is not being taught in Christian unions or churches,’ Smith says.
More than this, we need to equip our young people, in particular, with the theological knowledge to engage in healthy discussion and debate with those of other faiths and none. ‘We need to get people studying systematic theology,’ says McRoy. ‘Most people are theologically illiterate. We need to teach people how to defend biblical historicity. That is going to require a great deal of patience and sacrifice.
'I’ve often felt that most Christians aren’t willing to take the time. With the exception of Africans, most Christians simply do not go out in order to evangelise. If you look at the Christians who do, most are middle-aged, but most Muslim apologists on the streets are of a younger generation. All of the questions that Muslims ask are easily answerable, if we only take the time to learn them.’
COULD YOU ANSWER THESE QUESTIONS?
Our resident apologetics expert Justin Brierley answers questions about Christianity commonly posed by Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons.
MUSLIMS OFTEN ASK…How can God have a son?
Begin by clearing up some common misconceptions. Jesus being the Son of God is not the same as a human father having a son. God did not need a partner to conceive a child, nor is the title ‘Son of God’ a result of being born by the virgin Mary. The Bible recognises that Jesus is the eternal word (John 1:1) pre-existent as part of the Godhead. At a time and place in history, Jesus became a man to reveal the fullness of God.
So in what sense is Jesus ‘the son’ of God? A bridging point with Muslims could be to explain that ‘sonship’ is also found in the Koran, in Sura 2:177 where a ‘traveller’ is called ‘vibn ul sabeeli’ which means ‘son of the road’. It’s a relational rather than biological term. In the same way Jesus, the Son of God, relates to God his Father as one, which includes his divine nature.
JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES OFTEN ASK…
Why don’t you go out knocking on doors? We see in Acts 5:42 that this is what the early Christians did. This is a sign that we are the true Christians.
Acts 5:42 says: ‘Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.’ The phrase ‘house to house’ may indicate that they were meeting as communities in each other’s houses, rather than referring to a doorstep evangelism campaign. This form of evangelism is not mentioned anywhere else in scripture.
There is nothing to stop Christians knocking on doors, but it is no more a sign that you are a ‘true Christian’ than any other form of evangelism. Our eternal security comes from Christ’s finished work on the cross, not from our own works.
MORMONS OFTEN ASK…
Do you believe God sends prophets today like Moses? If not, why not? Does God not love us as much as he did in Old Testament times?
This question hinges around whether we believe God would add to the doctrines of Christianity by sending a new messenger, such as the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith. In that sense, Christians do not believe that God sends prophets like Moses any longer, as God’s revelation in scripture is closed.
The revelation of Joseph Smith in the Book of Mormon is at odds with the Bible in many places. God loves us just as much as he ever did, but we do not need to look for new revelations about Jesus Christ. Hebrews 1:1-2 states that whereas in the past God spoke through prophets, today he has spoken authoritatively through his Son. Jesus Christ is our final prophet, priest and king, so we do not need to look to further prophets as the LDS Church does.
Articles by Jay Smith equipping Christians to understand and respond to Islam can be found at debate.org.uk
The Zacharias Trust offer a series of three training weekends throughout the year designed to equip Christians to share their faith intelligently and effectively with people of other faiths and none. For more details, log on to rzim.eu
The Philo Trust’s Breaking News course equips individuals for confident evangelism and can be run as a six-session course in a local church. For details, log on to philotrust.com/breakingnews