By William Wagner
Both Muslims and Christians feel that their religion is superior to the other one. Both are intensely missionary and have an ultimate goal of winning the world to their faith. When two dynamic forces meet head-on, sparks are certain to fly.
One missionary method that Islam has used effectively in Africa and Europe has been what is known as "power encounters". A biblical example of such an encounter was Elijah's challenge to the prophet of Baal on mount Zion:. "Let us see which God is the most powerful." The encounter was both public and decisive. All left knowing that Jehovah had shown His power through Elijah.
In looking at power encounters in today's world there are three different forms in the battle between two great world religions - Christianity and Islam. They are:
1. Encounters between religious structures
2. Encounters over theology
3. Spiritual and conversion encounters
Dialogue and debates, which are common, will generally address the first two while the third enters into a form of spiritual warfare that is somewhat foreign to many Christians living in the twenty-first century.
Contact through dialogue is a well-tried method that seldom yields any real results except for possibly creating a better understanding of each other's religion. In the last two decades, Islam has begun to replace dialogue with another form, one that fits more with their expressed desire for immediate victory over the opposition. The new form of encounter that is being used successfully by Muslims is "debate". There are two forms of debate. One is a high-profile debate, well publicized, and held in a large hall. The other occurs when a mosque challenges a church to a debate that is often held in a local venue such as a park.
The leading proponent of this approach was a Muslim cleric from South Africa - Ahmed Deedat. This capable man spent much of his time learning all he could about Christianity. He would carefully charm opponents into a debate. On one occasion, Deedat challenged the American Evangelical Rev. Jimmy Swaggart to a public debate. Swaggart was well versed in the Bible, but knew little or nothing about Islam or previous encounters between the two religions. At the end of the debate most would agree that Swaggart was soundly defeated. Today you can go into most Islamic bookstores in America and the West and find the fast-selling videotape titled "The Great Debate between Ahmed Deedat and the well known American Evangelical Jimmy Swaggart". Muslims are encouraged to buy the tape and show it to their Christian friends as proof of Islam's superiority over Christianity.
In both public and local debates the Muslims will be sure to have a large number of their own people present. During the actual meeting they will be prepared to interrupt the Christian speaker while loudly applauding the Muslim. In some cases this can even get out of hand and violence can occur. Islam's attitude is that they are right and such encounters often help them since they are masters in intimidation.
In some cases the Christian leader is both mentally and spiritually prepared and is ready for the challenge. In such cases it is apparent that the Holy Spirit is leading the actions of the Christians and success often comes. In one large debate when Mr. Deedat was having a debate with Rev. Anis Shorrosh in South Africa it was apparent that Mr. Shorrosh was winning, so even before the debate was finished the Muslims attacked the stage. Mr. Shorrosh was led out a back door to a car for his escape. One of his people was stabbed. The Muslims take such encounters very seriously.
In the third form - spiritual and conversion encounters - there is a much more personal encounter that affects the common person. I have spoken to over 300 Muslims on four continents who have converted to Christianity and I have discovered that they are willing to talk about how they found their new Faith. Most were helped in their decision by either (1) a vision of Christ, (2) a dream where Jesus appeared to them, or (3) they heard the voice of God or an angel telling them what to do. It seems that spiritual encounters are taking place on a growing scale all over the world.
It is imperative that the church be spiritually prepared for such encounters. One day Dr. Donald McGavran, the great missiologist, was visited by a friend. Dr. McGavran was very ill and was not expected to live long but his mind was still strong and he asked the friend, "What part of the Great commission has the church of today neglected the most?" The friend thought over the question and reviewed , the words of Jesus from the 28th chapter of Matthew. He said to himself, "We are told to go, to make disciples, to baptize, and to teach." The friend concluded that the church seems to be doing all of these. McGavran answered, "That which the church has neglected the most is this - 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me". The church has failed to understand the authority it has in the present world. In spiritual encounters with Muslims we must once again regain the spiritual authority Jesus wants to give to His church.
Some theologians question if signs, miracles and wonders are valid today. I feel that when we come into power encounters with Islam we must believe that our God is ready to give us the power we need to meet a very difficult foe. Once again I have seen many such miracles take place when Christians are in contact with Muslims.
One missionary from the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention had a very exciting and powerful experience. He was sent to a large Muslim city in Africa to find ways to win the people to the Lord. His love and compassion for them was apparent to all, and in a short time he gained the friendship and respect of many Muslims in the city. One day he received a telephone call from the eighty-year-old Imam, the leader of the central mosque, who asked if he would come to their mosque and bless his people in the name of Jesus. At the meeting, the Imam asked the missionary to pray for his people, and after praying for some in the mosque, a distinguished looking man stood up and brought his eight-year-old daughter to the front, asking the missionary to pray that God would heal her withered legs. The father heard that there was power in the name of Jesus". Immediately after the prayer, the condition of the girl remained unchanged. The father thanked the missionary and returned to the back of the mosque. The girl struggled in her father's arms until he put her down and she stood on her legs for the first time in her life. She had been healed.
After this power encounter, many Muslims in that area of Africa believed and were converted to Christianity, not because of an intellectual change but because of a real spiritual power encounter.
The struggle continues between the world's two largest religions. Even if it is an unpleasant thought, it is a fact that power encounters exist between the two in the twenty-first century. The religion promoting such encounters is Islam, but the Church is strong and able to defend itself. The battle will continue and even intensify as a part of the present clash of civilizations.