Ellis: Islam filling void left by the church
RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)--Islam is rising in America, not because of its strength, but because of the retreat of the church, and if the religion founded by Muhammad 1,400 years ago continues to grow at its current rate, there will be more Muslims than Christians in every major U.S. city by 2020.
The observations were voiced by Islam expert Carl Ellis during the Aug. 15-17 National Conference on Islam cosponsored by LifeWay Christian Resources and the North American Mission Board's interfaith evangelism team at LifeWay's Ridgecrest (N.C.) Conference Center.
Ellis is co-founder of Project Joseph, an effort to educate the church about contemporary issues. An expert on Islam who travels around the world and speaks extensively on the subject, he was among the conference's featured speakers.
Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the world, with 1.2 billion devotees, with Ellis reporting its growth at 2.75 percent per year. By some accounts, Muslims will overtake the current 1.8 billion Christians by 2020.
In America, where there are an estimated 7 million followers, Islam is growing at a 6 percent annual rate. White Americans are the fastest-growing segment of U.S. Islam, and 80-85 percent of all U.S. Muslims consider themselves former Christians. If present trends continue, every major U.S. city will be predominantly Muslim by 2020, Ellis warned.
"We must understand that there is a comprehensive plan in progress to Islamicize America and the West," said Ellis, noting that since 1973 the Organization of Islamic Conference has spent about $105 billion in this effort, much of it funded by Middle East oil revenues.
If this troubles Christians, as it should, they need not look at Islam's success, but at Christianity's failure, Ellis said. "The church in America has reduced the Gospel of the Kingdom to peddling personal fire insurance. As I talk to Muslims who have left the church, I find that they don't feel the church addresses their issues and needs -- yet the Bible speaks to every one of them."
Two axioms must guide Christian thinking about Islam, Ellis said. First, Islam is a system, while Muslims are people. Christians must challenge Islam and love Muslims. Second, there are three things a Muslim has no defense against -- the prayers of the saints, the love of the saints and the wise application of the Word of God to their core issues.
"I find among Muslims a sincere desire to be right with God -- especially among American converts," Ellis said, noting that he has personally seen more than 1,800 leave Islam and place their trust in Christ, often at great risk to their lives since Islam teaches that leaving the religion is a capital offense.
Ellis described Islam as a "works-righteousness treadmill. There is no assurance of salvation -- with the possible exception of dying in jihad." While many Muslims ultimately embrace the Gospel because of its message of God's grace, Ellis said the church has not adequately prepared believers to share that message. "We have neglected the teachings of the Bible. I suspect Islam is rising, not because of the strength they have, but because of the retreat of the church."
Ellis said what's happening in America -- the decline of the church -- is what already has happened in other parts of the world. "People used to say Islam would never take hold in the Holy Land because Christianity was too strong. But look at Jerusalem, where the Mosque of Omar, the third most holy place in Islam, sits atop the ruins of the temple where Jesus taught.
"People used to say Islam would never take hold in Antioch, where Jesus' disciples were first called Christians. But today it's in the grip of Islam.
"People used to say Islam would never take hold in Asia Minor, where the seven churches of Revelation were. But today this is Turkey, and Turkey is a Muslim nation. The same was said about North Africa, where Islam reigns today. Can anyone say America is safe as a Christian nation?"
Still, Ellis is hopeful. He said if Christians return to the Bible, embrace and engage Muslims in loving dialogue, the Gospel message will water the "dry well" of Islam. "At the end of the day, Isaiah 55:11 is still true -- God's Word will not return to Him void," Ellis said. "I count on the Word of God to do its work, if we will do ours."
LifeWay and NAMB will host a second National Conference on Islam Sept. 19-21 at LifeWay's Glorieta Conference Center in New Mexico. For more information, or to register online, log on to www.lifeway.com/islam. (BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: A PILGRIM'S WALK and RELIGIONS MEET.