A recent Christianity Today article by Timothy Tennant profiles the growing number of "insider Christians" in Hindu and Muslim nations. These disciples worship Jesus while remaining engaged with their religious communities.
The piece joins an ongoing debate regarding these believers… and, tangentially, others who for one reason or another practice a form of "churchless Christianity." At one point in the article, Tennant touches the heart of the argument by asking, "Can someone say ‘yes' to Jesus and ‘no' to the existing local expressions of the church?"
In tandem with Tennant's piece, CT published a 2011 interview with "Abu Jaz," a leader among a significant insider movement in eastern Africa that calls itself People of the Gospel. His testimony includes a powerful personal encounter with Christ, and is a compelling story of finding and following Jesus among the mosques and minarets of his culture.
These believers are understandably hesitant to call themselves "Christians"—a term often associated with cultural imperialism and historical conflict. Many would risk persecution if outed as "Christian," and are reluctant to give up cultural and relational identities that are deeply enmeshed with their dominant culture's faith.
Much of this seems to be only a matter of words. To butcher Shakespeare, a rose by any other name is still a rose, right? But there's more than semantics involved here. Our theological and relational posture toward such insider movements will profoundly impact our thoughts and practice related to mission and the church, both globally and at home.
It is clear from scripture that local assembly of (apparently) confessing Christians is a high value for believers. We're enjoined not to "neglect the gathering of ...