Monday, September 12, 2005

The Elder Brother

At a recent ministers' luncheon, a fellow clergyman read us a passage from an old booklet, it was falling apart but of great value. It was about Samuel Zwemer, pioneer RCA missionary to Arabia, entitled The Flaming Prophet, by J. Christy Wilson. In 1911, a conference on missions to Islam was held in Lucknow, India. Here is the quote:

A Lutheran missionary who attended the conference said of the opening session, "Sunday evening we were privileged to hear Dr. S.M. Zwemer of Arabia preach on the duties of the church as elder brother to the Prodigal Son of Islam. The thought was new and startling to many of us, but we were soon convinced and condemned after hearing the preacher's heart and soul-piercing message...This Sunday evening service was the key to the conference, as during the solemn hours of the following week the thought came home to our hearts that Islam is our brother that can only be won by the love of the church, that needs to be like that of the Father in the touching parable of the Prodigal Son."

It was new and startling in 1911, and seems so today. Instead of assuming a posture of theological/cultural superiority or triumphalism, Zwemer humbly believed Islam needed to be loved as a brother, and not condemned, if it were to be introduced to Christ. How much of the Islamic world today is lashing out in anger over the cultural and religious paternalism practiced by the West and the church? In an editorial in The Guardian, Karen Armstrong advocates paying close attention to the message of Islamic fundamentalism, especially its anxiety over modernism. In other words, we can take a position of enmity against Islam and endure the cost and losses, or we can engage it as a brother/sister and hear how it has come to feel ill-treated and threatened in a world dominated by secularism, depravity, and violence against women and children. Do we have the ears to hear? Do we have the commitment to αγαπη to make Zwemer's dream a reality? O God, I hope so.


Blogger Steve said...

I believe we should both love Muslims through concrete acts of mercy, and define the differing truth claims clearly.

I do not think Islam is lashing out against the West's paternalism. If we give it up and start loving, but don't convert and stay secular, they will remain just as angry. They lash out at our immorality and unwillingness to submit (meaning of "Islam") to Allah and Muhammed, his prophet.

1:15 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

It was not the elder brother's lack of love that kept the prodigal away.
It was not the elder's turning in love to the prodigal that brought him back.
God's Spirit did that.
The elder brother example applies better after the Muslim converts - we should accept him as a full brother and not second-guess or suspect.
But I re-affirm that it does apply in a less direct way now, in that we should be loving and merciful to Muslims.

1:19 PM  
Blogger Scribe said...


I think the paternalism came from the British occupancy of that region, its artificial creation of "countries" (e.g., Iraq), and the dismissive way Western people view Easterners.

I agree they are lashing out against immorality, and well they should, except not in a violent way. And I also share the concern that we do not allow Islam to remain "out of bounds" for conversion. There have been voices within the mainstream churches (including the RCA) which have denounced evangelism to our elder brother Judaism - I don't think Zwemer wanted that at all.

The elder brother analogy seems to me to say that we must not be angry with the prodigal, but rather wait patiently and prayerfully (& missionally) for the conversion of Islam - for moslems to come home. That's what I thought Zwemer was driving at.

3:14 PM  
Blogger RogueMonk said...

Very insightful. Thanks for sharing. It certainly is a sobering reminder and corrective.

4:05 PM  
Blogger Miss Eagle said...

Dear Ars,
I have not just linked this post to my site, I have copied the whole darn thing and posted it on my site acknowledging you. I think it is so important and such a way of looking at things is so ignored. Our historic and continuing ignorance of things Arabic and things Muslim sets us at odds - we are not trying to love as we would be loved, we are not trying to walk a mile in another's moccasins. Please God that we soon learn to do so.

11:18 PM  
Blogger Scribe said...

Thanks Eagle's Child. I am very grateful for your comments.

7:46 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home