The history of European colonialism in the Third World presents a serious stumbling block for missions to gospel-resistant people groups like Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists. The colonialists—-whether British, Spanish, Portuguese, French, or Dutch—took over Third World peoples using either military or economic might. They became very wealthy to the present day as they appropriated the natural resources of the lands they conquered.
The problem for missionaries and disciples today is that the religion of all these European imperialist nations was Christianity. They professed to believe on the name of Jesus Christ.
Do disciples of Jesus Christ today actually have anything in common with the “Christians” who plundered much of the Third World in past centuries for economic gain?
Thus when Third World peoples hear the name of Jesus Christ, European colonialism immediately comes to mind. They think of Christianity, the religion of the white Europeans who subjugated them in their not-too-distant past and became their colonial masters. Why should they embrace Christianity when they have their own sacred beliefs and gods—gods which they have worshipped for thousands of years predating Christianity as in the case of Hinduism and Buddhism?
This is especially relevant in the contemporary world of the 21st Century when imperialism and colonialism in retrospect are seen as unjustifiable and inhumane. The peaceful takeover of Great Britain by Islam is essentially payback for British rule over Islamic countries during colonial times.
How can missionaries and disciples today overcome such an obstacle or at least minimize it?
In the case of missions to Muslims, instead of Jesus Christ we can use his name in Arabic: “Isa Almasih.” Muslims already believe in Isa as a prophet. It is not difficult to persuade them that Isa is more than a prophet, but in fact the Messiah. Therefore with Muslims we do not mention Jesus Christ since he is known to them as the God of their erstwhile European colonial masters. That will be unnecessary baggage to the sharing of the gospel.
The situation is similar when sharing the gospel with Hindus and Buddhists. Instead of using the name Jesus Christ, we can instead preach “Yeshua HaMashiach”—his name in Hebrew.
When the preaching of Yeshua HaMashiach (or Isa Almasih) is confirmed by the compelling evidence of powerful miraculous healings, those who never heard will believe on his name. They do not need to identify Yeshua HaMashiach with the God of the European colonialists.
It is true that in India when the name of Jesus Christ is preached and confirmed by miracles, many Hindus will in fact believe on him. Later however they will be known to authorities as “Christians.” In India that will bring suffering and persecution—persecution which might actually be unnecessary.
If instead they are found to be followers of a hitherto unknown deity named Yeshua HaMashiach—not to be identified with the Jesus Christ as understood by Hindu authorities—the persecution, if any, will be less.
What saves us is not identifying with the religion of Christianity, but rather confessing the Son of God as proclaimed in the Scriptures. And He has as many names as there are languages in the world today. It matters not whether we call on His name in the English language, the Chinese language, the Arabic language, or even in the Hebrew language. What matters is we confess Him as Lord and Savior in our hearts and with our mouths.
The “underground church” of Jesus Christ can have various forms.