Evangel: “Good news, and in the context of the Bible, the good news of Jesus Christ.”

Evangelism: “Proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ with the hope that the listener will respond and embrace Jesus as Lord and Saviour.”

Evangelicalism: “A transdenominational movement within Protestant Christianity that among other things, sees the bible properly interpreted as the final authority for belief and practice, and is committed to evangelism.”

Hence, “evangel” is a message, “evangelism” is an activity, and “evangelicals” refers to a group of people. (Inn’s informal dictionary.)

I continue to be amazed at how often Christians confuse the above three terms. Often, someone will say that their church is organising an evangelical meeting when they mean an evangelistic meeting. It is more troublesome however when someone calls for evangelicalism to be banned.

Recently, a coalition of Islamic NGOs in Malaysia put forward a proposal to ban Christian evangelicalism in Malaysia.

“In Malaysia, the dangerous movement that is evangelicalism must be kept in check as it threatens religious harmony in Malaysia,” said Centre for Human Rights Research and Advocacy (Centhra) CEO Azril Mohd Amin said in an essay published on Utusan Online today. [The Malaysian

It is ironic that the statement comes from someone involved in an organisation that is into human rights research. The reason for this proposal? Muslims are choosing to leave their faith. And evangelicals are committed to sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The man who sparked a controversy by calling for a ban on evangelicalism, said the proposal was prompted by the high number of Muslims leaving the faith for Christianity.

Azril Mohd Amin, the CEO of the Centre for Human Rights Research and Advocacy (Centhra), said there were some 400 conversion cases before the shariah courts and if the trend continued, it could have an impact on the country’s security. [The Malaysian Insight]

There are a number of things wrong with this call. First is Azril’s rationale. As has been pointed out by Dr Ng Kam Weng in his column, Azril has nowhere provided any evidence that those who wanted to convert out of Islam did so as a result of the activities of evangelicals. It was very mischievous in a multi-racial and multi-religious country like Malaysia, to assert things that may cause friction and suspicion between various communities, without any proof.

Next, the proposal directly contradicts the constitution.

Freedom of religion is enshrined in the Malaysian Constitution. First, Article 11 provides that every person has the right to profess and to practice his or her religion and (subject to applicable laws restricting the propagation of other religions to Muslims) to propagate it. Second, the Constitution also provides that Islam is the religion of the country but other religions may be
practised in peace and harmony (Article 3). [Wikipedia]

There is also an article that provides for individual states to penalise those found to be guilty of causing Muslims to leave their faith. However, it seems redundant to pass laws preventing the propagation of any belief in a day when anyone can be exposed to anything on the Internet.

We are glad therefore that Azril has stopped pushing for the ban in response to criticisms from many quarters, including the Deputy Home Minister.

Besides, Christians know that they are not able to convert anyone. The Scriptures teach clearly that conversion is the work of the Holy Spirit, i.e. God’s own Spirit (John 16:4b–11). Christians may share the truths of the gospel, we may appeal to people to embrace the truth of the gospel, but we cannot convert anyone. We are called to be faithful witnesses, but only God can change the heart. I guess if they want to they could slap a fine and/or jail time on the Holy Spirit.

But followers of Jesus must also be clear that we are called to share the good news of Christ to all who will listen. God has empowered us with His Spirit to do just that.

He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:46–49 NIV).

In fact, if the government of the day forbids us to preach the gospel, we must choose to obey God rather than man, even if that leads to persecution (Acts 5: 27–32). But we must share the gospel in humility and love; sensitive to the contexts we are in.

I am a bit suspicious though. This call to ban evangelicalism comes at a time when the U.S. Department of Justice is continuing her investigations into wrongdoing in the management of the state investment fund, 1MDB.

The US Department of Justice on Thursday moved to seize an additional $540m in assets purchased with funds stolen from Malaysian sovereign wealth fund 1MDB, including a luxury yacht, a Picasso painting, jewellery and rights to the movie Dumb and Dumber. [The Financial Times]

Issues of race and religion are guaranteed to arouse strong emotions in Malaysia, useful for distracting from other issues. Forgive me. My years watching the X-Files have made me susceptible to conspiracy theories.