On Thursday nights, Arthur and I help to lead a cross-cultural Bible study. The participants are mainly skilled immigrants from the Middle East of varying Muslim backgrounds. We work hard at building bridges and commonalities but this week I was struck by the uniqueness of Christianity.
Over the last few weeks, we’ve been looking at prophets. Many Muslims believe that prophets are perfect i.e. they don’t sin. This is very important because a sinful person might corrupt God’s word or relay it incorrectly. Obviously this throws up all kinds of problems when reading Bible stories about Moses, David, Solomon or Elijah (all classified as ‘prophets’ in Islamic thinking). The Bible is quite unashamed about these prophets’ weaknesses. They’re almost flaunted in the text! In Christian understanding, using failed people means only God gets the glory (and all the more so because they are so failed) but my Muslim friends thought that an inglorious messenger would dishonor God. I was struck by how radical it is that God uses the weak!
Flowing on from that, I chatted with one friend about how God speaks today – why aren’t there prophets today? Of course, I said that I think there are prophets today and we got on to speaking about the Holy Spirit. My friend was confused about who gets the Holy Spirit. Is it available to all who believe in Jesus? And if it is, does that mean everyone gets it or is it limited to a few? I explained it as a ‘package deal’ that comes with following Jesus since it’s Jesus’ Spirit to give and he promises to do so. She thought that was a novel way to explain it but she was also intrigued that it was open to anyone to have such special power from and access to God.
Finally, as a group we had had some discussion of women including treatment of women by their husbands; whether women can be prophets; and whether the Qur’an’s commands about women applied just to Mohammed’s time or also to today. As part of that, one of the other leaders showed them Ephesians 5:21-33. I was a little worried about how that would go (it’s such a controversial passage!) but the response from one of the women was, ‘This is so beautiful!’ There was no question for her that it was radically affirming for women and completely different to her Qur’anic understanding of women. Seeing her reaction helped me to see how endorsing it must have seemed in the first century as well.
I learn heaps from my interactions on Thursday nights and God uses it to build my own love of him. This week I saw just how egalitarian Christianity is: God uses the weak; everyone gets the Spirit; women are affirmed.
We are all sinners in need of God’s grace. That grace is available to all of us. God can use any of us. These are great distinctives of the Christian faith.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.