The upheavals associated with the “Arab Spring,” which started in late 2010 and led to destabilization and the resignation of political leaders, have given birth to a new, unprecedented era of questioning long-established traditions, political views, and religious beliefs among Arabs. Political uprisings brought about a fresh sense of freedom among Muslims to criticize their religious leaders. Furthermore, the rise of ISIS, which proclaims itself to be the true representation of Islam and forcefully compels conversion, upon penalty of death, of all those who come under its dominion, has led many Muslims to abandon Islam in pursuit of the truth and to look for answers to their spiritual questions. As a result, thousands of Muslims have been converting to Christianity in North Africa. In northern Algeria, a Christian revival has been underway for quite a few years among the Kabyle people group, many of whom are coming to faith in the Lord Jesus. Moreover, a mini revival has been happening in Yemen in the midst of a tragic civil war that has been destroying the country and its people. The media has called this war the “forgotten war,” but we know the Lord has not forgotten His people there. The horrific civil war in Yemen and the oppression in Saudi Arabia have made people aware of their need, making them more open to the gospel. Indeed, God is breaking through two of the most conservative Islamic countries in the world today.
The cost to follow Christ is extremely high in any Arab country. These new believers from a Muslim background face potential and real persecution daily. It is illegal in the Arab world to convert from Islam to Christianity, so new Christians are sometimes sent to jail or killed. Many of them are deprived of any Christian fellowship, and some of them live in places where there is not an indigenous church. In many Arab countries, it is legally prohibited to hold Christian meetings at home. Nevertheless, new believers meet secretly in small home groups to study the Bible and to pray for one another.
Still, the Arabic-speaking church is facing different kinds of challenges, which can be divided into two main groups. First, there are challenges that come from the East. These challenges include asceticism, Gnosticism, mysticism, and monasticism. These “spiritual” and philosophical trends are typically associated with Eastern churches found in Arab countries (historically, these church families include the Eastern Orthodox churches, the Oriental Orthodox churches, and the Eastern Catholic churches), which teach a works-based salvation and emphatically reject the teachings of the Reformation. Of course, challenges from the East include what Islam brings with its denial of the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and the crucifixion.
The second group of challenges comes from the West. The mainline Protestant churches in the MENA regions are largely stained by liberal theology exported from the West. The exclusivity of Christ and salvation in His name alone are seen as forms of fundamentalism that are incompatible with modernity. As a result, syncretism is spreading like wildfire in many Middle Eastern countries. Moreover, Western religious cults, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Mormons, and the Seventh-day Adventists, are actively promoting their teachings and trying to make converts. Health, wealth, and prosperity preachers are making their way to Arab countries through translation and video dubbing. Charismatic movements have produced pastors in many Arab countries who undermine the sufficiency of the Scriptures and seek extrabiblical revelation.