W e lead a Christian congregation of Iranians and Afghans in Salzburg, Austria. Most of our church attenders are either asylum seekers or have been granted asylum. Often the main reason that they fear returning to their home country is their Christian faith. In both Iran and Afghanistan it is a capital crime for a Muslim to convert to Christianity. However, it is well known that some unscrupulous individuals may pose as Christians in order to obtain asylum and the right to remain in Europe. These people are not Christians. They are impostors.
Christian impostors may go through the motions. They come to church. They sing the songs. But their motives are wrong. They come to Jesus for what he can give to them. They are not thinking about God, instead they are thinking about themselves what they can get. They’re selfish. They are not unlike the crowds how came to Jesus for bread. Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” (John 6:26)
Sometimes government officials assume that most (if not all) asylum seekers, claiming to be in danger because of their Christian faith, fall in this category. Christians have to prove in their asylum hearing that their faith is genuine. Some officials rarely grant asylum to any applicant claiming religious persecution. Others interrogate new believers with questions that Christians who have grown up in the faith would struggle to answer.
On more than one occasion I have been questioned by immigration officials and judges about how we as a church deal with this situation. Sometimes they suggest that the best approach would be to not provide spiritual support to refugees. On at least one occasion, it was suggested that our work ministering to migrants is producing refugees. Their logic was that if we did not share the Gospel with migrants from Muslim majority nations, then they would not be in danger in their home countries and could be returned. But it is not the churches or the asylum system that has created this situation. Countries that deny people the right to choose their own faith (including atheism) are creating religious refugees.
What did Jesus do? Although their motives were selfish, Jesus still taught the people that came to him for bread. He invited them to come to him and promised them the “bread of life”, himself. It’s our honor to be able to teach all people that come to us regardless of their motives. Imagine if a restrictive Muslim country would give us the freedom to teach the Bible to Muslims for two years with no guarantees that any of the people would become Christian. As evangelical Christians, wouldn’t we jump at the opportunity? In the same way, when refugees from Muslim majority countries come to church, we are thankful for the opportunity to teach them regardless of their motives.
I n truth many Christians first came to Christ with false motives. I remember choosing a particular church as a young man because there were many beautiful young women there. This is certainly not the right reason to choose a church! So many people have started reading the Bible or attending church to please a girlfriend or boyfriend that there is a term for it, "missionary dating". Hopefully, those people move on from trying to please their girlfriend to trying to please Jesus.
The problem of Christian impostors is real. However, it is not our job to investigate each other and expose the fakers. Rather we are to serve and love everyone. We are to show them Jesus. We are to help them grow. If we do that some of those who began with wrong motives may come to a true relationship with Jesus. Over the years several refugees have come to me privately and admitted that they first began attending church so that they could build an asylum case. Some have even admitted to being baptized at another church without faith in Christ. But they share with me that after hearing the gospel in their own language and studying the Scriptures over several months or years they have come to understand who Jesus is and what he has done for them and have decided to submit their life to his leadership. This is why we have a formal discipleship process for everyone who wants to be baptized and before every baptism we meet individually with each person to ensure that they understand what it means to follow Jesus.
Jesus told a parable, recorded in Matthew 13, about a field of wheat which had been infested with weeds. He warned the workers not to pull out the weeds lest they accidentally pull out the wheat too in the process. Instead he tells them, “Let both grow together until the harvest.” We cannot always tell the difference between weeds and wheat. That is not our job. At the harvest time the weeds will be separated from the wheat. Our task now is to care for them all. May Jesus increase our harvest!