“Insider Movements”— Outside Orthodoxy?
Can someone say "yes" to Jesus and "no" to the church?

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 believers" in Hebrews (10:25). The NT epistles and the Revelation assume local church involvement as a normative Christian behavior—regardless of possible persecution. It must be acknowledged that church involvement seems to be a universal expectation for believers.

But that's not the end of the story. While local church engagement seems to be normative in Scripture and church history, Christ's parables about the Kingdom suggest other interesting possibilities. The kingdom, we're told, is small (a mustard seed), almost imperceptible, and spreads in surprising ways. It's a vision that seems spiritually compatible with the "weakness" and incarnational nature of insider movements. In Luke 13, the kingdom is like a "little bit of yeast," that when tossed into the dough, leavens the whole loaf. It's like the "smallest of seeds," that when it is grown, will host the birds of the air. In Matthew 13, it's a treasure hidden in a field.

January 16, 2013

Displaying 1–10 of 15 comments

Duane Alexander Miller

May 04, 2013  1:17pm

Insider Movements are indeed a hot topic these days, especially after that CT issue. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the topic. Peace, Duane A. Miller, Nazareth

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February 06, 2013  9:31am

This definitely has an interesting impact on mission, worship and evangelism, although I don't think it will be a negative impact for the most part. While fellowship with other believers may not be the highest priority or even a possibility, there is always a personal call to fulfill the mission of Christ. That can, and should, happen wherever the person is. Paul talks about the life of the believer and living in whatever situation you are in because God has called you in that place (1 Cor 7:21). A believer should be seeking to meet with others, and set aside practices that are not glorifying to God, but this doesn't mean that their culture or lifestyle is required to make a total change.

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February 04, 2013  10:30am

"Isa al Masih came to my home with the kingdom of God. He didn't completely explain theological issues, he only said, "If you will follow."" I think Abu Jaz's quote here sums the whole tension up nicely. The Kingdom is always held in tension by contrasting points, like faith and works or obedience and grace. There isn't many things we can make a hard and fast rule for (outside of scripture) and expect it to apply to everything. That being said, its wonderful that there are believers in other cultures where Christianity is more threatening and they should be living in a way that will bring the most glory to God in every situation. That may come through martyrdom or quietly showing love and grace to the people around them. God is fully capable of working however He wants, as long as He has willing followers.

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January 22, 2013  8:28pm

Paul Pastor makes some good points in this article and I appreciate his courage to address this issue. However, the subtitle, "Can someone say "yes" to Jesus and "no" to the church?" is the wrong question. I'm involved in Insider movements, and no one I know is saying "no" to the church. The more relevant question is: "Can someone say "yes" to Jesus and "no" to institutional religion?" The answer to that question is a resounding "YES". It's happening all over the world... not just in closed countries where the church is still in an embryonic form. I wish all the armchair theologians and critics would just get on a plane and spend a few months getting to know these sincere followers of Jesus personally. They may not hold orthodox theological views on some points, but then Jesus Himself wasn't orthodox, nor evangelical... He wasn't even a christian. So, let's leave the whole Christianity thing aside and judge these disciples, not by their theological orthodoxy, but by their joyful, obedient allegiance to Jesus as Lord. After all, isn't that what the Master is really looking for?

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January 22, 2013  6:59pm

What do you think of insider movements? I am in favor of it. It's like Jesus sending his disciples into villages looking for the man of piece, and only then connecting with the good news. I'm sure these saints are connecting in this fashion. No use connecting with men of jihad to share the gospel. What's the relationship of the local church to the universal church? The local church is to display the universal church. Unfortunately, in it's pulpit and pew routines, it displays the opposite. It displays factions and division. It displays one way communication rather than "considering how you can spur one another on to love and good works" which is the dynamic we are to "not forsake" in Heb. 10:24 (two-way communication). "Preach the word...." does not mean "lecture the Word...no questions, no participation, no anything from the gathered royal priests. It displays perpetual dependency on hired experts, rather than deep mutual inter-dependency on any and every gifted, anointed saint. The system is massively counter-Biblical. What impact does this have on mission, worship, and evangelism? Anytime any believer is free of the trap and addiction of institutionalized forms, as the insiders are, their faith will grow and reproduce far greater into reaching all nations, than the most loyal pew sitter or pulpit talker. We have the clear revelation of God to dump this system, but most saints are spiritually inebriated with their tradition driven comfort zone. Even though we are "free" to speak our faith without fear of death, most saints will not "proclaim the glories of Him who called them from darkness to light" because weekly when they gather they presume themselves unqualified to speak truth to their fellow body members. They demonstrate zero expression from God's heart to theirs and passed on to His people. They expect God will funnel his truth through only the pulpit folks. What a disaster system to contradict witness. Did I say that too harshly, or is the tragedy worthy of a strong rebuke?

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Wayne Shockley

January 21, 2013  11:06am

It is quite possible to assemble with other Christians to carry out the purposes of the Body without attending an institutional church. Institutions may be useful when done right, but in the circumstances these believers face, they definitely are a hindrance.

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January 20, 2013  8:38am

How many people do you need to make a "church"? How about 2 or 3?

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January 18, 2013  11:48pm

I believe God is at work in these believers–sometimes a new and fragile plant needs to get its start in the dark for a while before it is ready to be exposed to the light. It seems to me Luke makes a very insightful point about American Christians not being just "Christians" either, but rather "Western-Enlightenment-Naturalistic-American Christians." I might even argue that a lot of that specifically "Western, post-Enlightenment, Naturalistic" stuff is actually counter to genuine apostolic biblical Christian faith and that American Christianity in all its dominant forms represents something of a hybrid or distortion of Christian faith and is not pure Christianity either. I also find a lot to agree with in Mark Gomez's comments.

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Gary LaMonica

January 18, 2013  12:21pm

I think the question is " Can a person be both Muslim and Christian?" Can one "convert" /accept Jesus as Lord and Savior and continue in Islam and its religious tenets, rituals, etc? Scripture seems to me to be a call to new life, abandoning the things of the past and following Jesus. Some Muslim Background Believers that they have suffered when they made the decision (persecuted by Ms and family. Some have even suffered death.) These believers say that one must separate, come out completely to follow Jesus and insist that others do the same to be truly Christian.

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Mark Gomez

January 18, 2013  1:24am

Ed's response is interesting. I think it is a good response. But I see troubling implications with it since it is not the common word; it is an exception to a rule. We are not so long after Elijah who pinned the whole nation to the wall for the fact that they were compromised in their following Yahweh with a singular heart and with no attachments to the gods of the nations around them. A religious syncretism in Israel truly plagued the whole nation. For this reason I struggle with this type of answer. I do not see it as an answer that has such wide application… it is an exception and not the rule I think. That being said, I also think is too easy for American Christians to judge and condemn believers in other parts of the world since we have it entirely too easy here. The worst that happens to us here is to be uninvited to a large event where we were to pray. I think it is also hypocritical for American Christians to judge the believer living in a Hindu or Muslim world for compromising on cultural issues while the American Church is entirely too compromised in its own dealing with the culture here. I have heard it countless times from non-believers that they did not know some of their friends were Christians since there was nothing in their life that made that obvious. There was nothing that set them apart as followers of Christ. Far too many people speak against such matters and have no real concept of what it is like being a missionary in such countries. I have spent time dealing with missionary issues like this so I am not in any hurry to judge them. While I totally get the words of Jesus about not denying Him before men, I am not prepared to sit in judgment on them from where I live right now… This is an extremely difficult subject, God help us do what is right.

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