Why The Church Needs To Evangelize Turkey
Islam and Geography
No one can ignore the threat Islam poses to our world today especially the Christian missionary. It is interesting to note as well that the many unreached people for Christ are under the Islamic curtain. According to Olson Islam is:
…the most widespread of the world’s religions and is found significantly on two continents and expanding into others. It is the largest of the world’s religions (other than Christianity) with over a billion adherents. It is unique among non-Christian religions in that it not only claims to be the only true religion, but it has followed up that claim by a sense of world mission that the other religions lack.
This means that if we as the church Universal are able to focus on any area with zeal and organization it ought to be a Muslim area. Olson follows the above statement with the argument that Islam cannot be addressed as a geographical phenomenon but a global one. This means that there is no geographical area to focus on but instead a sense of world mission to Muslims. While this is important to be committed to it does not preclude the fact that ideas have their source. Mormons are influenced and encouraged everywhere but predominately in Salt Lake City Utah. If I were intent on really making a difference in the Mormon world I would want to win Salt Lake City to Christ and let newly converted Mormons lead Mormons to Christ. In the same vein, win Muslims to Christ and set them free to reach their own people and we will see a third of the world evangelized. This is simplistic logic at best but in attempting to pinpoint any area of need in missions it seems important to address the places where people are in numbers. In this case Islam is the center of the unevangelized. It is the job of any sending agency to ascertain where that center is. It is the contention of this paper that Turkey is the best spot to focus on in terms of Muslim outreach that can literally impact the globe.
There are essentially three schools of thought when it comes to reaching Muslims for Christ. One idea is to race against the sword of Islam to reach areas that have not been reached or affected by this group. The second school of thought is to ignore and avoid Muslims in giving the Gospel thinking that they are just too hard. These two ideas seem to be the modus operandi of the church for the last bunch of years. The third idea is to engage Islam at the source and see converts from the heart of the system that could then affect change from the inside out. Paul took this approach in that he went to the cities and not simply villages to ply his evangelistic mission. The idea was that the people from the cities would spread and consequently spread the Gospel with them. This is precisely what happened and what can still happen today. Paul also challenged the major religious systems of the day at the highest forums possible going directly to the source. Though he was in chains he went to the very seat of power in the Roman Empire and gave the gospel. Today in thinking about evangelizing Muslims Paul’s approach seems best. Where then should we focus?
There is an interesting book recently released by a secular geopolitical historian named George Friedman. In his fascinating book called The Next Hundred Years, he lays out from a purely geopolitical, secular perspective where he believes the seat of Islamic power will reside. The point of his book is not focused on this subject but instead is focused on the subject of examining history according to geographical realities and broad global trends and patterns to examine and lay out a possible scenario of the next hundred years. Friedman has from a purely secular perspective laid out the geopolitical realities, a sort of forest rather than trees outlook, of the movement that is Islam. He makes the case that Iran and Iraq are merely spasms that are the result of the fall of the communist Soviet Union. His basic argument is that the Soviet Empire held the warring Middle East in check and inadvertently created a sort of stalemate in this area. What we are seeing today, according to Friedman is the result of unintended consequences. His point is not that it is unimportant but in terms of geographical history it is inconsequential. The real threat from Islam he believes will come from an Islamic superpower. He examines three possible areas for this super power to rise up. According to Friedman:
Indonesia, the largest Muslim state in the world, is in no position to assert itself. Pakistan is the second largest Muslim state. It is also a nuclear power. But it is so internally divided that it is difficult to see how it could evolve into a major power or, geographically, how it could spread its power, bracketed by Afghanistan to the west, China and Russia to the north, and India to the east. After Indonesia and Pakistan there are three other major Muslims nation-states. The largest is Egypt with 80 million people, Turkey is second with 71 million people, and Iran is third with 65 million.
He rejected Egypt as a potential superpower based on it recent failure to become leader of the Islamic world under Gamal Abdel Nasser who consequently antagonized key players like the Saudis. Given its insularity, isolation and poor economy it is hard to see Egypt as a major player on the world stage. Iran is summarily rejected based on bad geography, being surrounded by opposing forces and by a general bad reputation by the United States. In short if one were playing the game of Risk, Iran is in a bad spot to be a power in the long term.
Turkey is a different story altogether. Having the seventeenth largest economy in the world with a GDP of about 660 billion it is a force to be reckoned with. Turkey is not only a major world economy but also the largest in the region giving it the ability to grow without threat on the borders. Again using the Risk analogy it can move in many different directions and can remain off the radar of the United States because it poses no threat to us. It does not, like Iran, have to devote resources to protect and defend against the United States and so it can grow and reemerge in its old role, as the dominant force in the region.
There is one more factor making Turkey a viable candidate for the global super Islamic power and that is its history. According to Wikepedia.com:
The Ottoman Empire or Ottoman State (Ottoman Turkish: دولتْ علیّه عثمانیّه Devlet-i ʿAliyye-i ʿOs̠māniyye, Modern Turkish: Osmanlı İmparatorluğu or Osmanlı Devleti), also known by its contemporaries as the Turkish Empire or Turkey (see the other names of the Ottoman State), was an empire that lasted from 1302 to November 1, 1922 (as an imperial monarchy) or July 24, 1923 (de jure, as a state.) It was succeeded by the Republic of Turkey, which was officially proclaimed on October 29, 1923
At the height of its power (16th–17th century), it spanned three continents, controlling much of Southeastern Europe, Western Asia and North Africa. The Ottoman Empire contained 29 provinces and numerous vassal states; some of which were later absorbed into the empire, while others gained various types of autonomy during the course of centuries. The empire also temporarily gained authority over distant overseas lands through declarations of allegiance to the Ottoman Sultan and Caliph, such as the declaration by the Sultan of Aceh in 1565; or through the temporary acquisitions of islands in the Atlantic Ocean, such as Lanzarote (1585).
The empire was at the centre of interactions between the Eastern and Western worlds for six centuries. With Constantinople (Istanbul) as its capital city, and vast control of lands around the eastern Mediterranean during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent (ruled 1520 to 1566), the Ottoman Empire was, in many respects, an Islamic successor to the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire.
Friedman says that today Turkey is an internally complex society, containing a secular regime protected by a military charged with keeping peace as the culture moves towards Islam. It is precisely this fact that causes the United States to taut Turkey as the model of Islamic democracy a dubious term that ignores the real threat that is Islam. Ultimately however the subject is not the government of Turkey but its future center of Islamic power.
The Future Radical Ottoman Empire
As we see today, even though Turkey is run by a secular government granting “religious freedom,” the reality is quickly changing. Turkey is becoming daily more radical and is less and less the model of tolerance our government promotes. Turkey is beginning to radicalize and is perfectly poised to spread radical Islam to the whole world. One blogger commented on the radicalization of the government of Turkey with these words:
The Turkish military has announced joint military maneuvers with Syria. That means a NATO ally is working more closely–and to some extent revealing military equipment and tactics–to a country that sponsors Hamas, Hizballah and the Iraqi insurgents killing U.S. soldiers in Iraq; orders terrorist attacks in Lebanon to assassinate political and military figures there; wages war on Israel, and just got caught building a covert nuclear weapons’ building installation in conjunction with North Korea and Iran… Turkey’s regime has moved toward Iran, ignoring international sanctions, in no small part due to energy needs. Yet the improvements of relations go well beyond that. The latest step in rapprochement with the Iran-led alliance is the announcement that Turkey and Syria, Iran’s ally, will stage joint military exercises for the first time, April 27-29…. While Turkey is a NATO member, Syria is an Iranian bloc member and a sponsor of terrorism in its own right. This is one more step in the erosion of any serious effort to build an alignment against the growing power of the Iran-Syria alliance and should be treated seriously. Unfortunately, Western enthusiasm about Turkey as the perfect example of a Muslim-majority state being a democracy and illusions about Syrian moderation will prevent this from happening.
This is significant on a geopolitical scale but it is the regular person on the street commentary that paints a clearer picture. Daniel Blake, from Christian Today had this to write:
The three Christians who were martyred in Turkey last week were horribly tortured for three hours prior to being killed, Christian Today has learned, as details continue to emerge.
According to the Washington-DC based human rights group International Christian Concern, the three were put through a horrific ordeal which included multiple stabbings before finally being killed.
An ICC statement tells: “As difficult and sorrowful as it is to learn more, we believe that we must expose the truly hellish nature of this attack for what it is.”
On Easter Sunday, five of the killers had been to a service that one of the victims, Pastor Necati, had arranged in the city of Malatya. The men were known to the believers as “seekers”.
These young men, one of whom is the son of a mayor in the Province of Malatya, are part of a tarikat, or a group of “faithful believers” in Islam, ICC has learned.
“Tarikat membership is highly respected; it’s like a fraternity membership,” ICC has stated. “In fact, it is said that no one can get into public office without membership in a tarikat.”
On the day of the killing, the young Muslim men had arranged to meet the Christians at 10 am to learn more about the Bible.
“They had gathered guns, breadknives, ropes and towels – they knew there would be a lot of blood – ready for their act,” ICC said.
The violence that is seen today in Turkey mirrors perfectly the Koran which begins by calling for tolerance of the Christians and Jews but ends with the cutting off of their heads. Literally by the end of Mohammed’s life it was said of him that he met no person that he did not either kill or convert. Further even in the United States what most people are not aware of is the threat moderate Islam poses. There is really no such thing as moderate Islam because the doctrine of abrogation, a doctrine stating that later suras are to override and supercede earlier ones, means that the peaceful loving sections are abrogated with the calls to “kill the infidel.” This is an obvious fact for any religious Muslim and leaves the Muslim either believing in a violent religion of war or a bipolar religion making no sense. This fact was brought out during a Fox News interview with the Son of Hamas, a man recently converted to Christianity who is speaking out against Islam and Hamas. Further, in the ecumenical stage that is being set here in the United States and Europe many have no idea that the Muslim spokespersons can lie with a clear conscience to the infidels giving them incentive to promote the peacefulness of Islam which is simply not real. When Islam is followed the people that have religious freedom will see themselves under attack. Take the following shocking example:
In a bizarre show of Turkish nationalism, a young Muslim here took a Christian Turk at knife point, draped his head with the national flag and threatened to slit the throat of the “missionary dog” in broad daylight earlier this week. Yasin Karasu, 24, held Ýsmail Aydýn, 35, hostage for less than half an hour on Monday (Aug. 3) in a busy district on the Asian side of Istanbul in front of passersby and police who promptly came to the scene. “This is Turkey, and you can’t hand out gospels,” he yelled, according to the daily newspaper Haberturk. “These godless ones without the true book are doing missionary work.” About 99 percent of Turkey’s population is at least nominally Muslim, and in the popular mindset the religion is strongly connected with being Turkish. Karasu threatened to slit Aydin’s throat if anyone came near him and commanded those watching to give him a Turkish flag. Within minutes, Aydin told Compass, bystanders produced two flags. Karasu, who has known Aydin for a year, wrapped the larger of the two flags around Aydin’s head, making it difficult for him to breathe in heat that reached the low 30s Celsius (90s F) this week. “Do you see this missionary dog?” he yelled at the crowd. “He is handing out gospels and he is breaking up the country!” Karasu placed the smaller flag in Aydin’s hand and commanded him to wave it. “Both flags came at the same time,” Aydin told Compass. “The big one he put very tightly over my head, and in the heat I couldn’t breathe.” The whole time Karasu held a large knife to Aydin’s throat. “You missionary dogs, do you see this flag?” he said, commanding Aydin to wave the flag. “This is a holy flag washed in the blood of our fathers.” Aydin said he told Karasu, “Yasin, in any case this flag is mine as well! I’m a Turk too, but I’m a Christian.” Karasu insisted that Aydin was not a Turk because he had betrayed the Turkish flag and country by his evangelism, according to Aydin. Aydin said he told Karasu, “No, Yasin, I’m a Turk and I’m waving this flag with love. This is my flag. I’m a Turk.” He said Karasu replied, “No, you can’t be – you are breaking up the country, and I won’t allow it.” Police managed to convince Karasu to put down the knife and release Aydin, telling him that if he killed the convert Turkey would be ridiculed around the world, and that as a last resort they were authorized to shoot to kill him.
It is clear that Turkey is central in its power and radical in its movement. With 98 percent of the country being Muslim it seems clear that this is an area of great evangelical need.
Missions in Turkey Today
In light of these stories is difficult to ascertain the realistic mission work going on in Turkey today. For example, when the story of the young Muslim from Hamas previously mentioned came public with his story there were assurances passed around in the Southern Baptist circles that “we have stuff going on in turkey right now shhh.” This is all well and good but it leaves one with the real problem of not knowing what impact if any that is being felt there from the missions work. One evangelical spokesman in turkey had this to say:
“Actually, the state might be secular, but it’s not making that distinction in its activities,” said Isa Karatas, spokesman for Turkey’s perhaps 80 evangelical Protestant churches. Until religious minorities succeeded in changing the law, Turkey required Christians and Jews to study Islam in the religion classes that are compulsory in Turkish schools from the fourth grade. The state has confiscated hundreds of church properties, only recently returning portions under pressure from the European Union, which Turkey is trying to join. With perhaps 100,000 Christians in a population of 70 million, Turkey officially tolerates and protects faiths other than Islam. Unlike Afghanistan, which last month threatened to execute a Christian convert, the country has no laws barring Muslims from leaving the faith or against attempts to lure them away. Yet Turkish police charged 293 people with “missionary activity” from 1998 to 2001, a state minister told parliament recently. People who place calls to Christian groups operating inside Turkey are warned against uttering the word “missionary” on an open phone line.
Olson brings light to the fact that the problem faced in these areas is whether to try to reach Muslims through the dead Armenian, Coptic, or Syrian churches or whether to start over. Today with many missionaries going into the region as “tentmakers” there is word of indigenous churches starting but again this is hard to quantify. Regardless of the specific numbers it is clear that this is an area not being impacted for Christ.
What Can Be Done?
The irony of the whole contention of this paper is that one of the very places Paul began, Ephesus, is where this paper believes we ought to begin again. Ephesus which is located near the Aegean Sea in modern day Turkey, was one of the great cities of the Greeks in Asia Minor and home to the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Today, the ruins of Ephesus are a major tourist attraction, especially for travelers on Mediterranean cruises. According to the Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary:
Paul first visited Ephesus on his second missionary journey (Acts 18:19). He also spent between two and three years of his third journey in Ephesus (Acts 19:8–10; 20:31). He left the city during a riot caused by silver craftsmen who felt their religion and trade were being threatened (Acts 19:24–28; 20:1). Paul later visited with the Ephesian elders at Miletus on his journey to Jerusalem (Acts 20:17–38).
The city ranked with Alexandria and Antioch of Syria as one of the most important cities of the eastern Mediterranean Roman world. It was a port city located on the Cayster River, three miles from the Aegean. It was an important city commercially as the starting place of a great overland trade route to the east.
Ephesus was the worship center of the Greek goddess Artemis (Diana in Latin). The temple of Artemis was 340 feet long, 160 feet wide, and richly decorated with 100 columns more than 55 feet high. The city was the guardian of the sacred image of Artemis, which was believed to have fallen from heaven (Acts 19:35).
When Paul began making converts in numbers he saw them burning their books of magic in the streets an act literally turning Ephesus upside down (Acts 19). This paper is not arguing specifically for Ephesus as the exact spot but the idea that Paul went to the center of power in Turkey and spread the Gospel from there to the rest of the world. This is the same technique he used in reaching the world from Rome and today it remains the best way of reaching the many unevangelized Muslims. Begin the center of influence and spread the furthest the fastest. Interesting Paul describes the conflict in this area for the Gospel and in Revelation we see Paul praise this church for standing doctrinally strong in the midst of serious cultural pressure to depart. Where is the Ephesian church today? This paper believes it remains to be planted!
What is the solution? Planting churches through Muslim converts who are equipped prayed for and encouraged. One of the best ways to spread the Gospel in Turkey is through mass media like television and radio. Currently Muslims in areas like Turkey are accepting Christ in large numbers secretly. The problem is that Islam is a way of life and these secret believers are afraid to come out about their faith. According to Mosab Hassan Yousef the son of one of the founders of Hamas Islam is crumbling from the inside out. He claims that Islam has no ability to argue for its own merit but by the sword. The regular Joe Muslim cannot even read the Koran. For starters it is written in Old Arabic a language not spoken today and so many in the Islamic faith get their belief much the same way that those in the middle ages received theirs, priests told them what to believe. For the past fourteen hundred years Islam was able to hold its believers captive by keeping out any influence from the outside but today almost any modern Muslim can turn on their computer and get just about any information they want. At this point the lack of coherence in Islam is being exposed for what it is and the perception of strength is just that. In fact, according to Yousef, a personal friend, Islam is being torn apart from the inside out by its own inconsistencies. The polarizing of the Islamic community is a reaction to this and must be seen in some ways as the death throes of a false religion, he claims. If a Muslim comes out about their faith they could face persecution of many types and this is truly a scary prospect. It is imperative however that Muslims stand up about their new faith and face what comes. At this point those having the ability to support Muslims through their lives and witness ought to be willing to stand with them. To begin Muslims here in the United States ought to be encouraged to tell their families of their new faith in Jesus and they must be accepted publicly and without fear by local churches wherever they are found. The church cannot hide it must be public in its stand and light. This paper is radically calling for the possible persecution of many but it is the very way Martin Luther King sought to change things here in the United States.
In many respects this whole issue needs to be on the minds and hearts of Christians from America because it is from here that so many of the world’s missionaries are sent. If the common American Christian is not really aware of the real need for prayer and financial assistance needed they cannot be expected to mobilize. It is then the job of Pastors and sending agencies to be bold in their cry for Muslim outreach. Turkey is ripe for the harvest are we willing to go?