Reclaiming Christian Witness and Authority – 1

Riding Two Horses…Are You?

Enoch Era

The call to follow Christ is a sin-rejecting, self-denying and world-forsaking call. Only when we follow him rejecting sin, denying self and forsaking the world, would we be able to reclaim our witness and authority in the world. I will not elaborate ‘sin-rejecting’ because I think most of us in general know what it is. But will explain what self-denying and world-forsaking is about because I think this is where practically all of us seem to have got it wrong.

Call for Self-denial

Two verses from scripture capture the idea better than any: 1 Cor 6:19, 20, especially the words, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.” and 2 Cor 5:15, “…he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

Nothing can be more plain than that. We cannot live for ourselves. Period. Not for our own desires, ambitions, pleasures, aspirations, comforts, security, identity, dignity, glory whatever. We cannot live a life of self-seeking. We live for Christ and His kingdom – his pleasures, his desires, his will, his glory and nothing else. The day you and I decided to follow Christ or the day His choice fell upon us, my friends, we have lost all rights to live for ourselves. If you do not like this then you do not understand the gospel or you are still holding on to your self. There is no choice here. Either we follow Christ and give him our total allegiance or we leave and go our own way.

Does this sound autocratic on the part of God? Let me explain. God is infinite and sovereign. He cannot be any other. We are finite and contingent. We cannot be any other either. Our creation is by Him and our sustenance is by Him too. If we try to derive our sustenance and satisfaction from any other even from our own self and not from our Creator, it not only falls far short of what we are made for but it amounts to idolatry. Our true lot and desired haven must be God and He alone. Hence the command to love Him with all our heart, mind and strength. Our rest is in yielding to Him as Lord. Although it is a command it is not enforced. He wants us to yield to Him voluntarily. We are free to choose to walk away from Him.

Call for world-forsaking

The best way this can be explained is, not to pursue the things that the people of the world pursue. Not to desire the same things that the people of the world desire. Not to pray, claim, enjoy or be discouraged by the same things that the people of the world pray for, claim, enjoy and are discouraged about.

The world offers or promises to offer basically 3 things: sustenance (food and clothes), security (houses, jobs, salaries etc), and identity (position, power, dignity etc). If we live and work to get these from the world and by its criteria, then I would say we are not living a world-forsaking life.

In the Kingdom of God and of His Son, food and clothes are promised to those who ‘seek his kingdom and his righteousness’. Those who are part of Christ’s kingdom are promised eternal salvation and food (for the day) and clothes in this life. Everything else is extra! A bonus! This means we live content with salvation, food and clothes. We cannot expect or demand or pray for anything more than that and we cannot be discouraged if we do not have anything more than salvation, food and clothes. To live otherwise is to be worldly or to love the world. Period.

Friends, we cannot be chasing the knowledge, the power, and the glories of the world and expect God’s grace and goodness to follow us. Most of our problems, trials, temptations, tensions in life spring not from following Christ but because we are chasing the world and its glories!! Seeking to know God and His Son Christ alone is our life pursuit. To love Him and Him only is what we are called for. We are not even called to do more ministry or evangelism or to be engaged in missions. Those are secondary to loving God and knowing Him. Ultimately and fundamentally all that matters in life is God and eternity. Everything else howsoever important has significance only in relation to God and his kingdom.

How then should we live?

Does this mean that we do not educate ourselves or that we do not work to earn a living? How to handle our jobs and careers?

Let me put it this way: We do study and educate ourselves. We might and can take up employment. But we do these not as our life goals and not in the sense that it is in these we have our sustenance, security and identity. Our sustenance is already promised as mentioned above. Our security is in Christ for, ‘our lives are hidden with Christ in God’ and no one or nothing can ‘separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus’. And as far as our identity needs are concerned we are called to be God’s own people – His sons and daughters. We are made to sit with Christ in the heavenly places at the right hand of God, far above all principalities, powers, mights and dominions. Is there any other position higher than this? How can we be still looking to go higher in our life, or to come up in life or to gain the glories of the world?

Since we are promised our daily needs and are secure in Christ with the identity of the sons of God – we now live from a position of contentment and confidence in Him. We do not live to earn these anymore nor to chase the glories of the world. As those who are content and confident in their Lord, we are now ready to go anywhere and live wherever our Lord takes us. The courses we join to study and the jobs we do, we do them not for the sake of earning our basic needs nor for the prospects, or security or glory they offer. But as people called of God to be his own, we live, study and work as those who are placed there to BE his witnesses or as his representatives. Being witnesses is to live this kind of life – a life content and confident in the God who we love and follow. Since many do not live this way they think they can compensate for their lack of witness by ‘doing witnessing’. Hence the talk of evangelistic programmes and other ministry activities. We are called to ‘be witnesses’ not for ‘doing witnessing’!

This means our decision-making regarding what field of knowledge we explore and what kind of jobs we do, is not based on any of the criteria that the people of the world employ. We do not choose on the basis of the glamour involved in the course of study. Nor do we decide on the future prospects nor on the perks on offer in a particular course or job. But we make all these choices on the basis of what and where God wants us to be at a given point in life. And we must be willing to leave and move as He leads, not afraid to go anywhere in the world as He chooses. In all this our only goal is to do His will and to please Him alone.

This is what it means to ‘seek his kingdom’. This is what constitutes a lifestyle of worship. And only thus we shall BE his witnesses and regain our distinctness and our authority as God’s people among the nations of the world. Our witness and authority does not come from gaining riches and the high positions of the world. It comes by denying ourselves of these and refusing to pursue them.

When we live thus we shall enjoy the Fatherhood of our God and we shall also be able to exercise sonship, as His own children. “God said,

“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.”

But the key is to ‘go out from their midst, and be separate from them’. Only then we shall have his presence with us.

Any other way of living other than explained above amounts to ‘riding two horses’ or trying to ‘serve God and Mammon’. And all those who live that way cannot withstand the day of judgement of God. And when he shakes up everything that can be shaken, as he is doing right now in the world, we will be shaken up too. Only those who live by the values of God’s kingdom will survive, for ‘His kingdom is an unshakeable kingdom’.

Let me make it more easy and simple to understand. If where you are and what you are doing is not because God has led you to be there and if you are pursuing knowledge through education for the dignity it gives and for the future prospects you will have and if you are working to provide for yourself the feelings of security and respect it purports to give, then my dear friend you are trying to follow the world howsoever much you might protest and claim that you are following Christ. And if you claim to be ‘doing ministry’ and yet pursuing your own and your family’s future through it and if you seek your confidence and your reputation through it, you are no better than the others. In Paul’s words, “All seek their own, and not the things which are of Christ Jesus.” “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him…And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.”

Judge for yourselves. Do not say, you have not been warned!

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How Then Should We Live? Part 4

Read Part 1,2 and 3 below…

4. Lifestyle of faith

Most of the God-talk, the talk of ministry and the talk of being Christian around us today, is just that. Just talk and no walk! And I include myself in it. For all practical purposes and practically everywhere, what we all have ultimately settled for, is to pursue our concerns of security and identity even while claiming to be following Christ and ‘doing ministry’. We use God to serve us on the pretext of serving Him! Practically all our problems that we face in our churches and ministries are related to these pursuits. We will serve Him and follow Him, as long as He allows us to build our securities and identities. We rationalise and protest, we fight and quarrel, we victimise and play the victim, and we politicise and divide when our agendas and pursuits are not served. The politics we play, the leadership problems we have, are all to do with the same pursuits, in the final analysis. I am reminded in this context a quote from Os Guinness’s book, ‘The Call’. Thomas Linacre (1460–1524), founder of the Royal College of Physicians and a distinguished Oxford humanist, was so troubled after the reading the four gospels, he said, “Either these are not the gospels or we are not Christians.” I believe what he said is as true today almost six centuries later as it was during the reigns of Henry VII and Henry VIII in 15th century England albeit, possibly for different reasons.

Let me address two or three objections my readers might bring to what I am saying. The first is that I am making huge generalisation and painting all Christians with the same brush. I must admit that it is true to a large extent. I am making huge generalisations because what I am saying in these articles is generally true of most of us globally, barring a few stray exceptions among us. We have become so much adapted to the modern lifestyles and are so used to the comforts and conveniences of modernity that we hardly understand nor practise our calling to follow Christ, truthfully. Os Guinness writes, “Hardly any Christians are world-denying these days…On every side we see Christians pursuing the rage for relevance, whether seeking the respect of the “cultured despisers’ of the gospel, reaching out to the contemporary “unchurched” with a “user friendly” gospel, or just enjoying the comforts of the age. For many believers the Christian life is now a good life: it simply “goes better with Jesus” even if there is no God and no Resurrection. The result is a series of adaptations of the Christian faith to modern man, that are a capitulation with few rivals in two thousand years.” (The Call, Os Guinness, 2003)

One of the most blatant and universally common adaptations of life to the world, among Christians is the career-driven model of life. This is so common that today even ministry is viewed as a career, as argued in my first article. What is so disquieting is that, it is taught and practised so brazenly even by most pastors and leaders. We spend hours in praying for God’s blessing on our pursuits not realising that we are asking Him what He has so distinctly proscribed(1 John 2: 15-17; James 4: 1-4). The call to follow Christ sounds the death knell to all our ambitions and aspirations for personal or organisational power and glory. It means an end to all kinds of self-aggrandisement and for all prospects for coming up and making it big in life. Don’t we know that anyone who takes up the cross to follow Him must be willing to die on that cross?

The second objection I hear is that I am proposing a perfectionist few of Christian faith. I wonder how anyone can make such an objection. I am not talking about perfectionism. I am talking about obeying Christ and following him whole-heartedly. We do not read anywhere in the gospels, Jesus lowering the terms of His call to follow Him. There are no discounts or rebates offered for discipleship. Instead Jesus challenged people to first count the cost and only then to follow Him (Luke 14: 25-33). Do I hear some say, “What about the thief on the cross?” I hope that it does not reveal the thieving mind to somehow sneak in into heaven at the end, without any cross and cost! The problem with our fallen nature is that when we are bent upon doing what is wrong and evil, “…the mind turns from reason to rationalisation” as Dallas Willard points out. Our heart is desperately wicked as the Bible tells, so when we are cornered, rather than accepting that we could be wrong. It finds ways of explanation, excuse and if possible escape from doing what is right. Or to justify that what we are doing is right.

Take heed, how you build

A third objection could be about my credentials or authority. What authority do I have to question so many and across the board especially when so many well-meaning, godly men and women have done so much for so many centuries? Am I not being arrogant or simply a charlatan? To answer the objection, let me point that we cannot be our own judges. How can the accused be the law-enforcement, the lawyer and the judge? It is no wonder that we justify ourselves! We must all stand before the bar of His Word now (Matt 7: 21-27) and later before His throne. “…But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” 1 Cor 3:10-15). We are called now, to take heed how we build. It will be too late at the final judgment.

I have no doubt that the Lord has used so many women and men of God and the organisations raised by them for the salvation of many and the building of His kingdom. Yet I must point out that the fact that God graciously uses our weak and faltering efforts is no excuse for us to continue to do what others have done all along, without any reflection and introspection. We must constantly reflect and learn from the mistakes of the past and move on towards the model He has Himself set for us in His own life on earth. My only concern and appeal is that we not only focus on the goals and objectives of serving the cause of God’s kingdom, but also to see that the ways and means we employ are also derived from the scripture and are in alignment with the values of His kingdom. Otherwise we would be employing, tools borrowed from the world and designed by the devil to do the work of God. This is precisely what the devil wanted Jesus to do in the temptations on the mountain top, as explained earlier in my articles. Quite early in my life I have learnt that the fact that God uses us is no guarantee that everything is alright with us. He uses and blesses our efforts to get his work done for reasons and purposes only He knows. But we must always be waiting on him to know and see if we are following in His steps and doing as He wants us to do. Finally about my authority and credentials, I have none except what prophet Amos claimed in Amos 7: 14-15: “…I was no prophet, nor was I a son of a prophet…Then the Lord took me as I followed the flock…” That is my only claim to any authority, apart from sincere but faltering efforts at following Him for nearly forty years of my life.

Removing the old, bringing in the new

The letter to Hebrews ends with the statement that God is shaking up everything that can be shaken in order to remove them so that, that which cannot be shaken may remain (12: 26-28). What is it that God is shaking up in order to remove? And what is it that God is brining in which cannot be shaken and which remains?

The drift of the whole letter indicates that God is shaking up the old order of things in order to bring in the new. He is removing the old form of worship, the old covenant, the man-made structures, the external, that which is physical and a shadow of the real. He is bringing in the real, the heavenly, and the spiritual. He is removing the temple worship, the never ending sacrifices which needed to be offered year after year and which never made anyone totally righteous. The priesthood was only a shadow of what Christ was to do upon the cross, a perfect priest of a perfect sacrifice offered in the very presence of God, the Holiest of all. How was all this going to be mediated to the believer? It was through a new covenant. The terms of the new covenant were that God would now work through His Holy Spirit by putting His word into our hearts. And therefore, how are we to live? There are no more animal sacrifices to offer. No more temples to attend. No more any need for priests to mediate for us. In fact there is no need for any ecclesiastical orders or for any kind of standard liturgies to follow, in order for man to approach God to worship Him or to live our lives pleasing to Him. Ecclesiastical orders and liturgies might have been of use to some in the past and they might still be helpful to many. To the extent these do not become enslaving forms they might still be good. No doubt these have been devised as helps with good intentions by godly men and women and are based on the teaching of the scripture. But we are now called upon to live by faith, “The just shall live by faith” (Heb 10:38). It is very unfortunate that the Christian world has reverted back to man-made systems and structures in order to worship God. It is a sad irony that while we talk about being the ‘temple of the Holy Ghost’ we still build sanctuaries and demand attendance at those physical structures as a mark of faithfulness and devotion unto God. This is the reason why I assert that the darkest day in the history of the church was the day when we began to build physical structures and began to call them sanctuaries or places of worship. Is it not true that it was this practise more than any other that has made us more like any other religion of the world? And that it was this more than any other that has brought in all kinds of ills that plague us today – our politics, our divisions, and everything else that we needed to run them. Whether the management systems or the organisational models that we borrowed from the world to run our systems and structures.

How do we live then? The just shall live by faith and not in fear is the answer of the letter to Hebrews.

Most of us live by fear – fear of people, fear of future, fear of disease, fear of death, fear of losing our dignity and name, fear of losing our securities and so on. But in the Bible we are called to live by faith – faith, not just for justification but we must learn to live our whole lives by faith. In chapter 11, the author sets forth for us what it looks like to live by faith. We shall explore three men and their lives of faith mentioned here in Hebrews 11, and draw lessons about them from other parts of the scripture as well. But we must address a few popular teachings on faith before we begin to explore the life of faith of Enoch, Abraham and Moses.

Faith as positive thinking

There are three very popular teachings on faith which need to be clarified in this context. These have become very popular over the last fifty years or so. These are generally known by catchy slogans – The ‘power of positive thinking’, the ‘power of positive confession’ and the ‘seed-faith movement’. The first one came into popularity through the book of the same title and a radio talk hosted by Norman Vincent Peale in 1960s. The teaching views faith as positive thinking. It is what most management students learn about the importance of perspective – the ‘glass is empty or full’ tool. That one should not look at the negative aspect of the situation but to look at the positive. His book became very popular even among those who are not Christians and was read by millions across the world. Later Robert Schuller of the Crystal Cathedral fame, Joyce Meyers and Joel Osteen are among the other most popular televangelists who have successfully used this teaching combining it with scriptures and have built multi-million dollar ministries. There is a lot of simple common sense in what they teach. The subtlety is in the using of biblical texts to buttress what they say. But it does not constitute the gospel of Christ. Their books and talks, in my opinion can be categorised as purely motivational. Schuller and Meyers books are very popular and are read by many people across the world.

Faith as positive confession

The power of positive confession or positive speaking or the Word-Faith movement school, has sprung up as an offshoot of the Charismatic and Pentecostal movements. It combines the positive thinking teaching of Peale with scripture which teach about speaking out what you believe. One such texts is the one Jesus taught, “I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matt 17: 20). Positive confession/speaking teach about claiming in prayer and speaking out boldly in faith what you claim. That what you speak out and say out loud will be done because you are speaking out what you believe to be true. The power of positive speaking is about speaking directly to the problem, sickness and need, and not necessarily to God in prayer. The most popular among those with varied shades of the teaching are Benny Hinn, Creflo Dollar, Paul (David) Yongi Cho, Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Charles Capps, Morris Cerullo, Andrew Wommack, Joyce Meyers, Joel Osteen, D. G. S. Dinakaran, his son Paul Dinakaran in India and a host of other small time and regional preachers across India. Most of those listed above have gone on to build huge personal empires in the name of ministry. Some of them live very lavish and opulent lifestyles, quite often with the gifts given by many unsuspecting, sincere and simple people. They justify such lifestyles as a blessing from God. The point is you do not see the cross or the lifestyle of Christ in their lives.

Faith as sowing seed

The ‘sow and reap’ or the ‘seed-faith’ teaching also falls into the same category. Seed-faith was first taught by Oral Roberts. Later several picked up on it, teaching people to give or sow in the church or the ministry of the preacher, in order to reap a harvest of blessings. The ‘sow and reap’ or’ seed-faith’ teaching is generally based on 2 Corinthians 9: 6, “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” If one reads carefully the context of what Apostle Paul is writing here, it becomes very plain that his emphasis was not on the reaping at all. It was in order to encourage liberal giving to send relief to the needy Christians in Jerusalem; the Apostle is giving the illustration of the farmer who sows liberally. Paul was appealing them to give liberally neither to support the work he was doing nor to maintain a rich lifestyle. If one reads 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 the tenor of Apostle Paul’s appeal makes it plain that, giving should not be encouraged to the point where the giver is put under the stress of poverty nor the recipient under the stress of riches or luxury. Good giving should lead to equality and not to inequality or to uphold the lavish lifestyles of the pastors and leaders.

All these teachings prey upon the fears and the need for security and identity of the people and promises well-being, wealth and prosperity in the name of Christ and His gospel. This encourages and enslaves people to the pursuit of the securities and identities of the world. Exactly what the Lord Jesus said the people of His Kingdom should not be seeking. There is practically very little emphasis on the need for repentance from sin. There is no teaching about the lifestyle of faith, or of the cross which includes self-denial and sacrifice. If self-denial and sacrifice are taught at all, it is taught so that people should deny themselves and give liberally to the ministry of the teacher or the evangelist. Such preaching is not biblical and misleads many from the truth of the gospel. It brings great reproach to the name of Christ.

But the lifestyle of faith looks totally different from any of the above teachings. Let us now turn our attention to Hebrews 11.

 

He walked and he was not!

In Genesis 5: 24 it is written that Enoch walked with God. And Hebrews 11: 5-6 says, “…he had this testimony, that he pleased God. But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”

It must be pointed out that when the Bible talks about faith it does not mean the general spiritual or mental ability to believe. When the Bible talks about faith, it means the response of trust and commitment that a person shows towards the revelation of God or to the Word of God. First, the object of faith is in focus. It is faith in what or whom? It is faith in the God who speaks or reveals Himself. Such faith is seen in trusting the person you believe and giving off of yourself to Him at any cost and against all odds. It means relying or leaning upon Him. These are the first steps in the life of faith. This is what marks each person mentioned in Hebrews 11. And this is what draws God’s attention and approval.

Third, the life of faith is demonstrated in diligent seeking or desiring. It is not enough to claim that we believe in God. But it must show in the way we live and the changes we make in order to seek Him and know Him. Diligence is about putting effort into, or bringing in the needed disciplines to know God. To discipline means the willingness to deny ourselves of anything that hinders. It means saying ‘no’ to certain things but saying ‘yes’ to Him, to His claims and to His demands over us. So the life of faith is a life of discipline. It is a life which puts in, regular and honest effort to seek Him and to know Him. It could mean spending in times of silence and solitude with Him. It means setting apart times of prayer and Bible reading. It means making sacrifices and denying ourselves in order to please Him.

“Can two walk together, unless…”

Enoch walked with God – to walk with another involves agreeing with that person as written in Amos 3:3 “Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?” Walking with another means intimacy, friendship, agreement and pleasing. It is no wonder then that the Bible says that Enoch pleased God. And their intimacy was such that God took him away to be with Him. He is one of the two people in the whole Bible, who did not see physical death as known to us. But, if walking means agreeing together, then in a walk between two unequals who must agree with whom? Obviously the lesser must agree to the greater. In this walk of Enoch and God, Enoch must agree with God. But what is it that we have to agree to, in order to walk with God? I can think of two major areas where we must agree with God, in order to walk in intimacy with Him. The first is His sovereignty and the second is His holiness.

Anyone who wishes to know and walk in intimate relationship with the God of the Bible must at some point come face to face with His sovereignty. Because He is God, His authority and His control over everything is final and supreme. And since He is the One and only, and no one else beside Him, His supreme command in the words of the Lord Jesus is, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment.” (Matt 22:37-38). This means that we are not our own, we belong to Him. That we have no rights only the responsibility to live for Him and to please Him. Does it sound autocratic? Does it seem enslaving? But that is what we are made for. Living for Him, in love and obedience is our safe haven. As the birds are made to fly and the fish to swim in water, we are made for Him, to live, to move and have our being in Him. As the strings of a guitar find their meaning and music in being tied at both ends, we find our freedom and fulfilment in being bound to Him alone. And everything else and anyone else that tries to take His place must be eschewed.

Os Guinness & John Seel write, “To say that there is one God and no god but God is not the conclusion of a syllogism nor simply an article in a creed. It is an overpowering, brain-hammering, heart-stopping truth that is a command to love the only one worthy of our entire and unswerving allegiance…Unconditional obedience to God therefore means unconditional refusal to give God’s place to anyone and anything else. Thus those who confess one God are those who are ready to criticise everything else – nation, class, race, party, power, wealth, ideology, science, government, and church – whenever it threatens to usurp the place of God. After all, there is no other.” His is a call to absolute submission and obedience. Either He is Lord of all or not lord at all! He brooks no rivals, nor any defiance.

Dismantling and redefining

Second knowing Him in His holiness brings us to a shattering and dismantling discovery of ourselves, that there is nothing in us that can make us acceptable or pleasing to Him. Anyone who has come face to face with the Holy God cannot be the same anymore. The holiness of God shatters all images we have of ourselves. The images that I have of myself, as a good son or daughter, a good spouse, a good preacher or teacher, a good leader or any other role that I play in life – all these, when compared with the Holiness of God, are shattered. I begin to see that I have not been and done what is expected of me and that I have failed to meet His mark. We cast ourselves at His mercy, broken. But He reaches forth in grace to redefine us, to be reconstituted into the image of His Son. Such a person begins to live in the shadow of God’s grace. All his credentials are laid upon the cross and all that he is now is defined by the grace of God. Hence he says, “God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Gal 6:14). We learn to live in meekness and gratefulness. When we deserved judgement, He showed mercy. What more can we demand of Him. How foolish we are to complain, to sulk or to demand that God do as we wish? Listen to the words of a man who understood grace, “For all my father’s house were but dead men before my lord the king. Yet you set your servant among those who eat at your own table. Therefore what right have I still to cry out anymore to the king?” (2 Samuel 19: 28). That is why, I wonder if they are talking about the Christ of the New Testament gospels, when people brag and take pride about who they are and boast about what they have and do and still claim to be followers of Christ! And how can anyone who understands the grace of God fight for positions of power in ‘church hierarchies’ as is often the case in our churches and ministries? Anyone who understands the grace of God and lives in the shadow of it, cannot but be meek and grateful for whatever lot he is given in life.

Having been reconstituted and redefined His command now is, “Be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Pet 1:16). And we are called to go outside the camp, bearing His reproach (Heb 13: 13). We cannot be comfortable anymore living the way the people of the world live, pursuing the things that the people of the world pursue. As Jesus said, it is the gentiles who run after them, not the citizens of His kingdom (Matt 6: 32). Like the people of Israel about whom prophet Balaam prophesied, “I see a people who live apart and do not consider themselves one of the nations.” (Num 23:9 NIV). Listen to Os Guinness & John Seel again, “Or at other times, again, the moral demand makes us uncategorisable. Marching to a divine drummer, we are often out of step with others. Condemned to be seen as outsiders, mad, possessed, odd fellows, dangerous, “we are the imposters who speak the truth…the penniless ones who own the world” (2 Cor 6:8, 10, NEB). But the same absolute demand is also what makes the impossible people unconquerable.” It is no wonder then that God took Enoch away. A man who agrees with God to be able to walk with Him in intimacy cannot be comfortable, living in a world that rejects Him. It is because of this reason I believe, apostle Paul writes that he desires to depart and to be with Christ (Phil 1: 23). How can the followers of Christ, live the way the people of the world live? Is it not disquieting, that God’s people are so comfortable living the way the people of the world are living? Does that not reveal how far removed we are from knowing and walking with Him, as Enoch walked with God?

He went not knowing where!

The record of Abraham’s walk of faith in the book of Genesis is a cornucopia of lessons for the life of faith. He is an epitome of a man of faith. We shall explore three aspects of the life of faith of Abraham.

A brief overview of the life of faith of Abraham reveals that, there is an element of uncertainty built-in, into the life of faith. This is implied in the statement that Abraham went not knowing, where he was going. The call of God to Abraham came with such clarity and authority that there was no room for second guessing or side-stepping it. He was certain about the One who spoke but uncertain about the details and the destination. When God speaks you must obey, you cannot not obey. This is true for every follower of Christ. The summons to follow Him was very clear for the early disciples. They forsook all and followed Him. Os Guinness writes, “As Dietrich Bonhoeffer insisted, ‘The response of the disciples is an act of obedience, not a confession of faith in Jesus.’ They did not consider his claims, make up their minds, and then decide whether to follow – they simply heard and obeyed. Their response is ‘a testimony to the absolute, direct, and unaccountable authority of Jesus.’ The call is all. Jesus is the reason. The only way to follow is to leave everything and follow him. Here is a call that makes short work of all our questions, objections, and evasions. Disciples are not so much those who follow as those who must follow.” And Eugene Peterson explains, “…”faith” – trusting obediently in what we cannot control, living in obedient relationship to the One we cannot see, venturing obediently into a land that we know nothing about.”(The Jesus Way, Eugene Peterson, 2007). When have we seen anyone following the Lord this way in our times? Our modern lifestyles do not allow for such obedience. We want everything to be reasoned, analysed, planned, budgeted, programmed, and booked in advance. Implicit and unquestioning obedience is hard for us.

But I have known one such man who lived and obeyed implicitly. Bakht Singh(1903-2000), was a man who came to know the Lord personally while studying in Canada in late 1920s. He was known to have lived in such intimacy with God. He would narrate many such experiences in his life when he went according to God’s word, unplanned and unprepared. He would tell of how God took care of every detail as he went in obedience. When he came back to India in obedience to God’s call to preach the gospel in India, he had no place to live in Bombay (now Mumbai) and no money to buy food as his father, a Sikh, refused to entertain the converted son in his home in Lahore. Bakht Singh was forced to live in uncertainty and yet enjoyed the peace and glory of God’s presence with him on the streets of Bombay. His motto in life was to know the will of God and to do it. He was a man who taught the importance of listening to the voice of God. I grew up under his ministry till my mid20s. But unfortunately today we hardly know such intimacy with God nor can live with such tentativeness in life.

God demands and deserves such obedience from us, because of who He is. We let Him control our lives. We let Him make the decisions and move or stay and accept people, circumstances and even possessions in life only as He allows and at His command. After many years of teaching, I have personally learnt to say to God, “Lord, I will take what you give. I don’t want what you do not give – people, possessions, circumstances and even ministry opportunities. I will be content with whatever lot you would allow me in life.” Like the servants of David always ready to obey, “And the king’s servants said to the king, “We are your servants, ready to do whatever my lord the king commands.” (2 Samuel 15:15). Isn’t our Lord, the King greater than David? Does He not deserve such allegiance? If we cannot trust the One who died for us, who else can we trust?

Living as strangers and pilgrims

Second, faith in God leads to a lifestyle of strangers and pilgrims. We are not called to or promised settled lifestyles. This is implied in the call of God to Abraham and the call to discipleship to Christ.

“By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise;  for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” (Heb 11:9-10).

We are called out of the world to be part of His kingdom. And as long as we live in this world we find it hard to settle down. There is tentativeness in the lifestyle of strangers and pilgrims. They do not live settled lives as far as their professions, residence and the things they acquire are concerned. They do not amass wealth and possessions and become rooted to a place to such an extent that they cannot uproot and move on at the Lord’s command. Friends we are called to be people who ‘Go into the world to preach the good news’. Even if we were to build or own a house for any reasons, we do not allow it to become a hindrance to move on at the Lord’s command. The modern world does not allow us such lives. Although the modern world made lives very mobile and made it easy for people to move across the globe yet the basic human instinct is for security and settled lives. The career-driven model, the security and identity seeking mind prevent us from living the way of strangers and pilgrims. In fact, for many in India settling down in life – finding a well paying, stable and permanent job, being married and owning an own house – is a major pursuit. For the follower of Christ the idea and the practise of settling down in life with a permanent job and a permanent residence ought to be odious. His hold over everything in life has to be tentative. Why such a lifestyle? First we have no ‘continuing city and we wait for one to come, and we are called to ‘Go’ into the world and yet not live the way the people of the world live. How did Abraham handle it? By building altars and making regular sacrifices. There is in him a constant giving up and moving on. Each place he went or each time he strayed, he built an altar, he sacrificed as a mark of giving up and as a mark of rededication and moved on at the Lord’s command. Eugene Peterson writes, “Abraham was a veteran in the sacrifice business…Each altar became a place of prayer: “Is this the way God commanded and promised, or is this a version of the command and promise that I have customised to my convenience?” At each altar he learned a little more, acquired a deeper discernment, a sharper insight into God’s command and promise in contrast to his innate wilfulness and indulgence but also in contrast to the anti-faith world of Ur with its ziggurats. Altars built at many a crossroads, a life of repeated sacrifices, each sacrifice an act of discernment, separating the chaff of illusion from the wheat of promise.”

But many reason, was not Abraham a rich man? Did not God bless him with a rich herd of livestock and a host of slaves? What is wrong about acquiring wealth? Yes, but Abraham also was always ready to sacrifice, give-up, to pull up His roots and move on. How many of us would be ready to disturb our settled lives and move on if God commands us to go to a troublesome spot in the world? How many of our pastors and leaders would? First, as pointed out in my earlier articles, God does not bless us in order for us to flaunt, nor to hoard. He does not bless us in order for us to roll in luxuries while many around languish in destitution and poverty. He blesses us so that we share with those who do not have. We must learn to give sacrificially and bless others with what God has blessed us with. The practise of giving up and sacrificing begins right from the time Abraham left Ur. First he had to give up his homeland, then the family – his father and brothers. He had to let go off his nephew and unselfishly deny himself the choice of a fertile land. And later he firmly rejected the spoils of war in Genesis 14, “But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have raised my hand to the Lord, God Most High, the Possessor of heaven and earth, that I will take nothing, from a thread to a sandal strap, and that I will not take anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich’”. (v 22, 23). Elisha demonstrated this when Naaman, the Syrian commander offered him gifts in gratitude, “But he said, “As the Lord lives, before whom I stand, I will receive nothing.” And he urged him to take it, but he refused. (2 Kings 5:16).

The wisdom of knowing what and when to accept or when to refuse gifts from people, is rare among us. The blight of ill-gotten wealth has ruined many followers of Christ. It is not becoming of the followers of Christ to flash, flaunt or gloat over their wealth or achievements. While being grateful to God for letting us have more than other unfortunate neighbours, let us not use our riches, or our status or anything else as symbols of our greatness. We may use the treasures of ‘Egypt’ but we may not make a ‘golden calf’ of it. Remember Nebuchadnezzar. Despite being warned through a dream he bragged, “Is not this great Babylon that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honour of my majesty?” (Dan 4:30). While the word was still in his mouth, his kingdom was taken away from him and was driven into the forest to live like a beast for seven years until he lifted up his eyes to the heavens, acknowledge and praise God’s authority over him. May it not be that some among are stricken with the insanity of Nebuchadnezzar.

Tyranny of the love of God!

What is the tyranny of the love of God? How can love be terrifying? Does it not say that there is no fear in love? To understand it one must stand with Abraham on Mount Moriah. The son of his love bound to the altar. His trembling hand raised and poised to slay him to be offered as a burnt offering unto God. But before that you must endure the ‘agonising’ journey, trudging along with the son born in his old age. Can you see his heart in painful turmoil that he would soon, part company with his son? With his own hands he must put an end to his life for whom, he waited into his old age? No, you must start even before that. You must start on that fateful night before he began his journey, when the word of the Lord came to Abraham and agonise with him about the kind of God he has followed many decades ago. How many sacrifices he has made? How many things he has left behind? How many years he has waited trusting the God who spoke? We do not know what went through Abraham’s mind that night or through the journey or as he raised his hand to slay his son. He has endured many a test. He would yet endure any other trial sent by God, but this one? How can he kill his own son and offer him as a burnt offering? What kind of a God is He? But the record in Genesis is silent about all that. Abraham knew what the test was about. He did not waver and we do not find any hesitation. He was robust in his faith. He knew the God who he believed, trusted and followed all these years.

The Holy Spirit of God gives us three brief glimpses into the heart of Abraham about the fateful event. One in Genesis 22: 5 – Abraham tells his servants to wait while he and the boy would go and worship God and that they will come back. They will come back? How can they come back if he was going to slay his son? The second glimpse is given to us in his answer to his son. When asked where was the lamb for the burnt offering? Abraham answered, “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” The third glimpse into his heart is given to us in Hebrews 11: 17-19 – By faith Abraham concluded that God was able to raise Isaac up even from the dead. What faith and confidence in the God he knew!

The tyranny of the love of God is this, that he brooks no rivals. This was the test for Abraham, a test that was like none other which he had endured thus far. If God alone exists and there is none other beside Him, then no one else or nothing else can be loved, worshipped, sought or pursued except Him. No one else and nothing else can control, guide, lead or drive us except Him. Not careers, not the promise of wealth, not the prospect of settlement nothing can be loved or pursued. No green pasture is green enough to attract us. No glitter is strong enough to draw us. Everything else and anything else must be subservient to our love for God. Even the son of promises must be sacrificed if he comes between us and our love for God. For the follower of Christ, His call is clearer, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.  And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14: 26-27).

God tested Abraham. But Abraham responded with worship. Hence his answer to the servants – we will worship. True worship is an expression of love and obedience to the One who alone is worthy of such love and obedience. And such worship is too sacred for the public eye, hence the servants needed to stay back. They cannot go to the top of the mountain. They cannot assist him in this worship. They cannot see what was going to happen, understand and remain silent. They must remain at the foot of the mountain. It was a matter to be settled between him and his God. It was extravagant worship in response to the extravagant love of God. The world does not understand such love and such a sacrifice. His God had loved him, provided for him, and taken care of him all along his life’s journey. He had kept His promises. And Abraham knew that He will still keep His promise to make a nation for him through Isaac. He concluded that God will raise up Isaac from the dead! So Abraham honoured God by believing and obeying Him. But who can worship God acceptably? What can mortal man offer equal to the honour and the glory of God? Abraham knew, even the offering of his son as a burnt offering was not enough for the honour and the glory of God. Such an offering must come from God, himself! So his answer to his son, “God will provide for himself the lamb.” What a father! And what a son! And much more – what a God! His God did not let him down. He did provide the lamb. Oh, but subsequently in history, He did not spare His own Son for us all! So that, we can worship Him in truth and in spirit. And Paul asks, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Rom 8: 32).

This brings us full circle back again to the words of our Lord and Master, “… and all these things shall be added to you.” Do not run after ‘all these things’. It is the gentiles who run after them – what shall we eat, what shall we wear, where shall we live? The citizens of God’s kingdom live above all these, for he will ‘freely give us all things’ pertaining to life and godliness (2 Pet 1: 3, 4). Our sustenance, our security, our identity and everything else we need are promised and given to us as inheritance in Christ. When we trust in Him for all these and live in such assurance and joy then we shall have honoured Him truly. This is worship that is worthy of the name, the nature and the glory of God. Such worship delights God and brings down the promise of His covenant blessing, “In blessing I will bless you and in multiplying I will multiply you… In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.”

Friends, where is such trust and obedience unto God these days? If we claim to be worshipping God and yet are driven by the things that drive the people of the world, I wonder if we understand true worship. Where there is no such trust and obedience as that of Abraham, anything that passes for worship today among us is mere noise! And anything that goes on in the name of missions and evangelism is but lip-service if we do not honour God with an extravagant love as that of Abraham. Becoming a blessing to the world is an outflow of such worship. Any worship that is offered and any ministry that is done, if it lacks the trust, obedience and sacrifice as that of Abraham lacks the presence, the provision, and the pleasure of God.

It was the lack of trust and obedience on the part of the people of Israel during their journey in the wilderness that prompted God’s displeasure and censure. A reading of Hebrews chapters 3 and 4 makes this very plain. Hebrews 3:12 – 4:10 reads,

“Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end, while it is said: “Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” For who, having heard, rebelled? Indeed, was it not all who came out of Egypt, led by Moses? Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief… For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it… There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.”

If you notice carefully the unbelief was about their lack of trust that God could provide food and water and about their safety through out their journey. The same issues of sustenance, security and identity of the people of Israel, they always wanted to be like the rest of the nations! Why can’t they be like other nations of the world, was their frequent complaint. This is what led them to murmur against Moses and rebel against God. This is what made them to want idols to worship like all others. And they wanted a king like other nations of the world. They were not satisfied with God as their King.

I wonder if the same displeasure and censure of God is upon us today as well! There are many among us who claim to have salvation but do not have the experience of entering into His rest. My contention is that the lifestyles we have adopted as followers of Christ fall far short of the trust and obedience that it demands. Our career-driven lives, and chasing the securities and identities of the world undermines our trust and obedience to Him. We are woefully like the people of the world. Unless we learn to repent and restore our trust in Him, we will not experience the Sabbath rest promised in Christ. True worship leads to such blessing.

He saw Him who is invisible!

We learn from Moses that the life of faith leads to making choices. In Heb 11:24-28, it is written about Moses, “By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward. By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible.”

It must be noted that this is not blind faith or dumb faith. This faith was based on God’s word or His revelation to them. Words such as, concluding as in case of Abraham, choosing, esteeming, refusing, and enduring in case of Moses suggest that it was not unreasoning or unthinking faith. They had the option of rejecting but their faith lead them to choose correctly and properly according to the revelation and the understanding they had of God. Their faith involved the engagement of the mind to weigh and to make the right judgement.

One question that bothers many is how come people heard the voice of God with such clarity in those days and why don’t we today? I believe they lived in such pristine times and there were so few influences over them that they recognised when God spoke to them. In our day we are bombarded by voices from all around, the voice of family, friends, public opinion, and our own fears and so on. We give ear often, to voices of convenience, expedience, fear, comfort, greed, procrastination, sheer laziness and a host of others. Today we are exposed to so many external influences. We find it hard to hear the voice of God. This is why the diligence of seeking Him and bringing in the needed disciplines of silence and solitude are so very important for us to rediscover and to hear the voice of God.

We learn from Moses, that faith in God and the desire to please Him leads to a refusal of anything, everything and anyone who do not give allegiance to the One and Only God. Faith in the one and Only Holy God chooses affliction, poverty, loneliness, solitude, rejection, and even loss rather than stand on the same side of that which is antithetical to God and His word. It is for this reason Moses refused the identity of being called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter and chose to be counted with the people of God. He rejected the treasures of Egypt and chose affliction, rejection and the prospect of becoming the future Pharaoh of Egypt. When you choose to bow down to the One and Only Holy God and His Son, you choose to stand against and in conflict with all other authorities.

This was what made Martin Luther to take a stand against the Papacy. When dissuaded by friends from appearing at Diet at Worms, the simple monk responded, “I am determined to enter the city in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, though as many devils should oppose me as there are tiles upon the houses at Worms”. And later when standing trial and challenged to recant from all that he taught and wrote, he answered, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.”

These men feared God more than they feared the political or religious authorities of the day. They knew their God and therefore they took a stand and carried out great exploits for Him. When you see today among many followers of Christ, a casualness of faith, the lack of discipline, and the abject surrender of many to the allurements and the seductions of the modern world, you wonder if they understand the call of Christ, or the gospel and the meaning of the cross. Os Guinness writes, “Faith in Christ will regain its decisive authority in the modern world only when we who follow Christ fear God more than we fear the powers and favours of modernity – when we hear God’s call and are so captivated by his summons that we say with Luther, as the earliest printed reports add, “Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.” And again he writes, “Clearly God’s impossible people are never troublesome to other authorities unless they are mastered by God’s authority…Thus for followers of Christ who have the consuming passion to be His, entirely His, at all costs and forever His, the present cultural captivity of evangelicalism is a scandal and a sorrow that is also a test of love.”

And finally about the lifestyle of faith in the God of the Bible, the I am who I am God and His Son the Lord Jesus Christ: in the letter to Hebrews we read, “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country…And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise” (Heb 11:13-16, 39-40).

The lifestyle of faith leads to the conviction that nothing is final or complete until he comes in all his authority and glory and therefore lives with hope. They wait for the full and final revelation of the kingdom which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. This is their blessed and glorious hope. The certainty of their hope is in the resurrection of Christ, their Lord. And so in that assurance they continue to live and serve Him until He comes. “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Cor 15:58).

O happy bond, that seals my vows

To Him Who merits all my love!

Let cheerful anthems fill His house,

While to that sacred shrine I move.

It’s done: the great transaction’s done!

I am my Lord’s and He is mine;

He drew me and I followed on;

Charmed to confess the voice divine.

Now rest, my long-divided heart,

Fixed on this blissful center, rest;

Nor ever from they Lord depart;

With Him of every good possessed.

High heav’n, that heard that solemn vow,

That vow renewed shall daily hear,

Till in life’s latest hour I bow

And bless in death a bond so dear. Amen.

Does it sound hard? “You shall not say ‘too hard’ of everything that this people call hard; you shall neither dread nor fear that which they fear. It is the Lord of Hosts whom you must count ‘hard.’ He it is you must fear and dread” (Isaiah 8:12-13, NEB).

 

 

 

For further reading:

(Notes and quotations are mostly taken from the following resources)

Guinness, Os, The Last Christian on Earth (Ventura: Regal, 2010) (Formerly published as The Gravedigger File:Papers on the Subversion of the Modern Church, IVP, 1983).

Guinness, Os, The Call (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2003)

Guinness, Os and Seel, John, No God but God: Breaking with the idols of our Age (Chicago: Moody, 1992).

Peterson, Eugene, The Jesus Way (London: Hodder, 2007).

Clouse Robert G, Pierard, Richard V and Yamauchi, Edwin M, Two Kingdoms: The Church and Culture through the ages (Chicago: Moody, 1993).

Barton Ruth Haley, Invitation to Solitude and Silence (Downers Grove: IVP, 2010)

Sproul, R. C. The Holiness of God, (New York: Guideposts, 1985).

Ramachandra, Vinoth, Gods That Fail: Modern Idolatry and Christian Mission (Cumbria: Paternoster, 1996).

Willard, Dallas, The Great Omission (Oxford: Monarch Book, 2006).

Philip Doddridge, 1702-1751.

 

 

Whatever Happened To Worship?

Whatever Happened To Worship?

OR

The Subversion of Christianity

The subversion of Christianity began with the subversion of worship. The subversion of worship began with pushing it to the periphery of the life of a Christian and thus reducing the calling to follow Christ, first to a mere religion. Later the vacuum which it created at the center of one’s life was overtaken by the pursuit of a middle-class lifestyle.

When worship becomes peripheral to the life of a Christian his witness is compromised and his life and message lose their authority. In the New Testament, worship was meant to be individual and a moment by moment offering of life unto God in trust and obedience unto Him. But within 100 – 150 years after the Church was born, worship began to be pushed to the periphery of the life of the individual follower of Christ. When worship is removed from being moment by moment offering of one’s life unto God in trust and obedience, to a service or programme conducted and attended once a week; and when worship is removed from being offered in one’s life to being offered at a place of worship, a chapel, or a cathedral; and when it is removed from the individual personally offering his life unto God to someone else conducting or performing the service, the subversion of worship is complete. Thus Christianity was reduced to a religion like any other religion in the world.

The more peripheral the worship from daily living, the more verbal, vocal, loud and ostentatious both worship and witness become. This kind of subverted worship needs external and superficial embellishing – so we have huge and ornate structures, garish vestments, the trappings of and claims to clerical authority and the state-of-the-art technology to compensate for the missing witness. The demise of true worship was complete!

The corollary to it, is the birth of strange gods…church buildings, sacred places, relics of saints, religious and spiritual personalities and many more are held in high esteem as divine. And in modern times we started worshipping our educational degrees, jobs, salaries and worldly achievements and attainments (This applies even to people in so called full-time ministry). Of course we even conduct thanksgiving services for these. In another article I had written, if man is made in the image of God, then man enjoys a supreme position in the whole created order. He is practically next to God and above everything else. How can he think of finding his worth or value in anything other than God and in anything less than him? Worshipping anything or anyone else other than the true and living God actually lowers our status as humans created in God’s own image.

The history of missions shows that the Christian witness has now become a matter of numbers, reports, programmes and projects. This can be verified from history, especially of the last 100 years. While ostentatious religion, elaborate rituals have been part of the larger Christian denominations for quite a long time, since the beginning of the missionary movement in the 18th Century and later the evangelicals have demonstrated a predilection for statistics, budgets, projects and reports. Their preaching became more strident and shrill. There is practically no true worship – the kind of trust and obedient living that I am talking about – today, except for a few stragglers here and there. We have plenty of the loud and shrill kind, not the lifestyle kind. Both Christianity as a religion and lifestyles of middle-class pursuits have edged out lifestyle discipleship, of faith and obedience unto Christ.

As a religion Christianity continues to this day practically in different forms all over the world even among evangelicals. But to this was added another dimension. Since worship could now be offered once a week at a special place and by a specially appointed person, the individual Christian was now free at least for six days in a week. With the rise of industrialisation and later modernisation and the possibilities this has brought, the world with all its glitter was now within everybody’s reach to be pursued and gained. The Christian could now worship God on Sundays and pursue the world the rest of the week. He could even pray and seek God’s blessings with helpful quotations from the Old Testament to support. He could also bring his tithes and offerings as a token of his gratefulness to God. He could contribute liberally for ministry. What a cosy arrangement to assuage a nagging conscience! God and the world could now live peacefully together! There is no need for self-denial, repudiation or rejection of anything.

Now even our interpretation of scripture is subverted. Religion and the middle-class lifestyle have become the grid for interpreting scripture. Practically everyone seeks to understand the word of God through these two grids now. Following Christ is understood as church attendance, faithfulness in tithing and offerings and doing some ministry. Worship is understood as sincere participation in soul full singing and/or verbalised extempore prayer of adoration, to be done once a week. Faith and prayer have become utilitarian – both are used as tools to gain the world and all that it has to offer. Christian fruitfulness is seen as material and temporal success. Fruit of the Spirit as social and communication skills.

The questions is, how can one claim that middle-class living is antithetical to Christian walk? It is true that industrialisation and later modernisation of life has brought in several improvements to the way humans began to live their lives. It has made education available to the masses. It brought secure employment and stable salaries into the realm of the possible for millions across the globe. People could now buy what they wanted, when they wanted and can give themselves comforts which were mere fantasies in the past. But precisely it is these benefits of modernity that undermine Christian calling and living. Certainty, confidence, and comforts gained from the world, subvert faith in God and make lifestyles of faith practically impossible. Modernity and middle-class living are the backdoor used by the enemy of our souls to enter into our lives and undermine our discipleship unto Christ. No doubt many Christians across the centuries endeavoured gallantly and many continue to forge their lives in faithful service unto Christ. I would still say that we make too many compromises unbecoming of our faith and calling. In fact we have made following Christ and gaining the world, a desirable and manageable enterprise with deft sermonising from our pulpits and soulful praying to undergird our efforts. But if we understand our calling correctly and treat our discipleship unto Chrsit seriously then we have to admit that the lives we are living today are a far cry from what is required of us. John the beloved, probably saw us when he wrote many centuries ago, “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot!… For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”

People whose lives are similar to the rest of the world – in their dreams, desires, disappointments, prayers, and efforts cannot be witnesses and have no authority to challenge anyone or anything. Therefore our witnessing is seen as a power game to boost our numbers and as mere religious conversion with no real difference nor any inherent authority.

Friends, there has been a progressive deterioration of true and biblical Christianity over the centuries that it is almost proper to say that there is hardly any room for the Holy Spirit of God today in our ‘churches’. I believe he has been grieved and has been silent or has withdrawn totally from us just as the Shekinah of Glory left the temple in the OLd Testament. But even when the ark of God was taken away from the temple and the Shekinah of Glory left, the priests were as busy as ever keeping the motions of religion alive. Is this not true of much of what is going on in the church today?

What should we do? Teach people lifestyles of worship. Period.

There is no need to start another ministry to do this. This must happen by personal discipleship and mentoring not by conducting more seminars.

But the question still remains, what is worship?

What is worship?

Worship at its core is about ‘trust and obedience’. This is evident from the life of Abraham and in the words of prophet Samuel to King Saul, “Obedience is better than sacrifice and to heed better than the fat of rams.” All through the history of Israel, God’s frequent lament against his people was that they would not trust him nor obey him. It was not so much the ritual of the temple worship even where there was insistence on temple worship, it was about obeying God’s commands given through Moses.

The strident call of Christ in the gospels to follow him is a call to a life of obedience and trust in him. This the early apostles elaborated in their letters. Nowhere in the New Testament does one read about a ritual or a ceremony or a programme or a service of worship to be done or kept as worship unto God. All the New Testament letters are replete with practical aspects of following Christ and not about where or when or how a church service needs to be conducted. Worship was not and is not a matter of a ceremony nor a religious tradition. Neither is it an attendance at a service on a particular day at a particular place.

We are taught in the scripture that our bodies are the temple of God. How come we build physical structures and call them sacred? There are no places sacred enough for God to dwell but the life and being of a redeemed child of God. Even the ‘holy land’ is not holy as far as the Bible is concerned. The recent trend of people going on conducted tours to the ‘holy land’ is nothing but another form of commercialism and worldliness. There is nothing holy there any longer. In fact those who go there are demeaning themselves by committing idolatry! What can one say about the leaders who lead them…nothing but blind leaders of the blind!

Worship was and is still a matter of obedience unto God in faith and total confidence in Him. This is what it means to ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” We love Him with all our hearts, minds and strength by trusting in Him for everything pertaining to life and obeying Him to the point of dying for Him.

Lets take a look again at Abraham, the father of nations and a friend of God. He set out from his native country in obedience to God’s call, trusting in Him to provide and to take care of him all through his journey. The culmination of this journey of faith is seen on mount Moriah when he took steps to sacrifice his son Isaac as a burnt offering unto God. He had trusted and had obeyed God the last 40-50 years of his life. Would he trust Him and obey Him now in this final test of giving up all the promises and the future bound up in his son Isaac and offer him unto God?

Genesis 22, begins with the words that God tested Abraham, but Abraham himself treated this test as worship unto God (verse 5). And how did he worship God? By his obedience to God’s word to offer his son as a burnt offering. But even as he offered his son, according to Hebrews 11:19, he trusted that God would raise him up from the dead. So faith in God led him to believe that even if he offered his son, he would be raised again to life for the fulfilment of God’s promises – to be made into a great nation and to be a blessing to the nations of the world. He offered up his son as a sacrifice. What faith! What obedience! What worship!

It was because of this faith that when Isaac asked his father about the lamb for the sacrifice, he answered, “God will see to it” or that God will provide. Abraham knew that in the final analysis man has no suitable sacrifice worthy enough to worship God. Such a sacrifice must come from God. And God did not let him down then nor in the subsequent redemption history of man. He sent his own Son to be the sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, so that we could worship God in truth and spirit.

But Abraham’s worship merited God’s immediate response. Implicit obedience on the part of man brings an immediate response from God. God said to Abraham, “Because you have done this thing…in blessing I will bless you and in multiplying I will multiply you and in you all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.”

Apostle Paul picks up on the thought in Romans and asks, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? ” The God who provided the sacrifice for true worship, would he not provide for us to live a life of worship unto God? He would, certainly!

It is with this confidence we live our lives, knowing that the God who provided for our salvation will certainly provide for all our needs. Hence Christ’s words in the Sermon on the Mount, “Do not worry what you shall eat or what you shall wear…for it is the gentiles who run after these things…But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

For Abraham, his faith was in the future provision of God. For us our faith is in the past provision of God. Abraham believed that since God will provide, he could now sacrifice his son the one in whom all his future was bound. We believe that since God has already provided for all things that we need for life and godliness, we can now give up our all, knowing that our present and future will be provided for in Him. As Paul writes, we can now offer our bodies as living sacrifice unto God. This, he writes, is the right kind of worship.

Let us explicate this further. According to ‘The Complete Word Study New Testament’, in Greek the word ‘present’ or ‘offer’ is in the aorist infinitive active, suggesting that it is a punctiliar or specific action by the subject at a specific point in the past . The word ‘bodies’ means the whole of our being and not just the physical or material part of our being. The words ‘living sacrifice’ as against the dead animals sacrificed in the Old Testament. And the words ‘reasonable service’ is worship which is offered with intelligent reflection unlike the thoughtless cultic or ceremonial worship of the Old Testament.

Apostle Paul urges each believer to present or offer his or her body as a living sacrifice unto God as intelligent reflective action in gratitude for God’s mercies. Thus every believer is a priest who offers himself to God not in ceremonial worship but as an intelligent response.

It must be noted that Paul has already used the word ‘present’ or ‘offer’ earlier in Romans 6: 13, “Do not present your members to sin as instruments of unrighteousness but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.”

Putting it together, the right kind of worship is not ceremonial and it is not offered by another on one’s behalf and not just once a week or at a special place of worship. But the right kind of worship is an intelligent response of every believer to God’s mercies. She or he deliberately and decisively offers or submits to God every part of one’s being in obedient service unto Him.

In response to what God has done for us in giving us His Son, we give up our all, knowing that our present and future will be provided for in Him for our life is hidden with Christ in God. We offer ourselves as living sacrifice unto God. We give ourselves to Him for His will and His rule to come into our life. We begin to live by His will and by the values of His kingdom. We begin to live a life of trust and dependence upon Him. No more would we look to anyone or anything in the world to find our sustenance, security or identity. We adopt a lifestyle of faith in Him. Trusting in Him, we would be ready to go anywhere He leads and do whatever He commands us to do. We will not allow the world of secure jobs, stable incomes and permanent residences to bind us down, because our security and identity does not come from these any longer. We would learn to live lives of uncertainty, expendability and tentatively in order to do His will and pleasure – being certain of the one we have trusted in. Such a person finds it easy to ‘go into all the world’. Such a person sees transformation happening daily. This is true discipleship. This is the meaning of ‘living sacrifice’. This is the right kind of worship.

Everything else is mere religion, a sham, a psychological crutch, the opiate of the masses, a mechanical repetition of ceremony or ritual. Such ‘worship’ might give a false sense of peace, but it generates more fear and enslaves the person to a life-time of routine. In many cases, the weekly attendance and participation in a ‘worship service’ among evangelicals has become a religious repetition. A ‘feel-good time’ once a week and a release from the day to day tensions of life. But we do not want to see that, the day-to-day tensions of life in the first place are because of pursuing the world not because of pursuing God! We know (as Bill Hybels, founder pastor of Willowcreek church, admitted that even after 30 years of programmes and meetings they could not produce disciples. Unfortunately and sadly the Willowcreek people have graduated to global leadership summits in true capitalist model, rather than personally mentoring people to be true worshippers. Is this not Babelite thinking?) that such services do not produce disciples nor the needed transformation. For it is mere religion being dished out in the form of Christian worship.

I wonder if such forms, services and ministry that passes for worship today is nothing but presumptuous and strange fire not commanded by God if it is not undergirded by a life of trust and obedience. It is like Nadab and Abihu offering strange fire! (All the material used by them to offer the fire was regular, including the censers in which they offered. And there certainly was fire. Heat and light were there too. But alas it was not commanded by God and they were struck down dead at the altar!)

True worship brings in God’s kingdom into our lives. This is the meaning of ‘seeking his kingdom first’ and this is what it means for ‘Thy kingdom come’. First it must come into the life of each believer. Then it spreads to others around. Such is the kingdom of God. It spreads as yeast spreads in the dough – conquering everything in its wake and thus bringing in the transformation first in us. Then in others around us.

Do you now see, how the agenda of middle-class lifestyles has ruined our commitment to the Lord’s Kingdom in our lives? First as worship became a religious ceremony our focus on God was lost. Religion actually springs from fear and not from faith. Faith in God leads to worship. Rather than trust and obedience, we were overtaken by fear and introduced ceremonial worship to mitigate our fears. Thus pushing God and the worship of Him out of our lives. We set ourselves up as ripe targets for the agenda of middle class dreams and pursuits.

I would venture to say that much of the witness, evangelism and missions that’s going on today….has no divine power nor divine sanction and so lacks in divine authority. These have become mere projects and programmes which do not bring about God’s kingdom nor bring in the needed transformation! There is only a semblance of fire, heat and light but no power and no authority of God.

It is because we have lost the witness and authority, we have the sad spectacle of the church trying to make up for it by courting the power structures and systems of the world. Thinking that authority comes through numbers – we claim large membership in our churches, we court and try to gain economic clout and position ourselves in order to gain political leverage. (You have the saddest spectacle of the American evangelicals falling head over heels to court the presidential candidates in order to gain that leverage even in the White House. And in this year of the Lord – 2016, they are lining up to endorse a sworn Babelite!!)

Worship And Transformation

You see where worship is a moment by moment offering of ourselves unto God, such a life would be a careful and disciplined life. A disciplined life cannot but be transformed in the course of time. This is how God’s kingdom comes. It comes through transformation, by teaching people true worship and not by conducting seminars and conferences…nor by starting ministries to provide education and poverty alleviation and so on… and not in the least by controlling global economics through military power and political leveraging.

Biblical transformation starts with the individual and spreads to the community. It is a spiritual transformation of seeing and understanding things from Gods perspective and letting God’s will and heaven’s perspective take over one’s thinking and living. It is about lifestyle change of giving up of oneself unto God and letting God’s authority and will take over one’s life.

When Abraham worshipped God by demonstrating that he trusted Him and offered up his son – God knew he could now channel His blessing through him to the nations of the world. True worship brings down God’s blessings in the form of transformation. And the blessings of transformation overflow to others around us. Missions flows from worship.

Much of what is going on in the name of missions today is about bringing health, education and economic development – development often in the mould of the western capitalism. Our evangelism produces converts to either the Christian religion or converts to our institutions. Our missions no doubt produces educated and economically empowered individuals. But where is spiritual transformation? There may be converts to Christian religion and to the capitalist model of life but there is no real transformation. (Much of the persecution that we see today globally and the rise of religious militancy worldwide is actually a reaction to this kind of conversions and not to true spiritual transformation).

The church today has lost its vision of God and therefore has lost true worship. She is enamoured by the power and glory of the world and therefore its missions produces more people who are enamoured by the power and the glory of the world.

Until true worship is restored to the center of the life of the individual Christian and the local body of believers…there will be no divine provision, presence or power. There will be no real witness and no real transformation. Lacking the divine provision, presence and power, we shall stumble from one broken pot to another and from one mirage of glory to another…while the world continues to languish without God.

One last word about my authority in writing or saying what I write and say. All I can appeal to is the truthfulness of what is said. The rightness and the truthfulness of what I have written is enough to stand by itself. It needs no external authority although I can certainly claim God’s calling over me as my authority. If we ask ourselves and examine ourselves and history – objectively, carefully and honestly in the light of His Word, what other reasonable conclusions can one draw except to go down on our knees and cry for His mercy.

May the Lord help us!

Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

To my friends, family and to all my brothers and sisters in Christ.
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am writing this with a  heavy heart and to warn us of the dangers we are living in. You might think that it is preposterous. censorious, unreasonable or even mad of me to write this way. Frankly I do not care. But I hope and pray that we will start looking at what is going on around us and make the needed changes. I am open to any clarifications or discussions on issues I raise here…Thanks for allowing me to share and be myself with you.
Sometime back I was asked, what is the greatest danger to the church today, I responded by saying, “The greatest danger to the church today is the church herself”.
We, the church, God’s own people have, for far too long indulged in an illegitimate relationship with the world. I would say that this unholy alliance has been going on probably for several centuries now and hence we do not see anything wrong with it. Since all of us were born into this condition, we think what we see around us is normal, natural and nothing wrong.
Practically all that is going on in the church today – the so called church services, and the several ministries that take place both in the church and the para church organisations and most of the preaching/teaching of the word of God that is going on in the church including the way we interpret scriptures – is as a result of the illegitimate relationship between the church and the world – to meet the needs, issues, difficulties and problems arising as a result of the illegitimate relationship with the world.
Many take shelter in the fact that they have achieved so much in their life and ministries or that they have been able to bring many to salvation or that their prayers have been answered in so many ways and the proof of it is in their success…both in the world and in the church and the ministries they do. After you have given me all your statistics and shown me the fruit of your labours and shared your testimonies of the so called goodness of God and his answers to your prayers both in your personal, family and church lives – I would still cry out and say, “It is all because of God’s common grace. Such things do happen even for those who do not profess Christ.” Where is the cross in our lives and where is the ‘special grace’ seen in the way we reject and repudiate the world in all its forms among us.
And by worldliness, I mean the identity, the securities, the power and the glory the world offers. The people of God have not only dallied with these but have desired to be defined and described by the categories of the world, for far too long now (often in the delusion of reaching the world).
The worldliness among God’s people is on several fronts. We have today made Christianity a religion. The insistence on church attendance on Sundays at a particular place, giving of offering and tithes as a mandatory way of pleasing God and to find blessing in life are just two forms of religion in the church. Today most Christians worship their church structures, church patterns, services and in some cases even the founders of their church. Some even worship their own success both in the world, church and the ministry. And many worship, worship itself and not the LORD God of the Bible and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In the final analysis, worship is about trust in and obedience to the one we call as Lord and God of our lives. It has nothing to do with a place, a system, order or pattern. It is about a lifestyle of faith and obedience to God. By reducing worship to a ritual, a tradition, an order or a pattern we have reduced Christian faith to a religion, which neither the gospels nor the epistles teach. Neither the gospels nor any of the epistles teach any ritual or form. But they are replete with teaching on how we should live.
A second area of worldliness among God’s people is the adopting of the middle-class pursuits and lifestyles. This is primarily an offshoot of the capitalist model of economy and not the result of meditation and worship of the God of the Bible nor His Son. The middle class dream has become the dream of many ‘followers of Christ’ including many great preachers and leaders in the church. Most of our prayers are centred around this pursuit or on problems arising out of it. And practically all the ministries that were born in the last century or so, are born to service the problems and issues arising from the pursuit of middle class dreams. If this is not an accommodation and adjustment with the world then what is?
A third aspect of the illegitimate cohabitation with the world is the systems and structures we have raised to ‘run our churches’ (I say it in quotes because there is no such concept of running a church in the NT) or to do our ministries – the penchant for building large buildings, organisational and administrative structures – the strategies, the projects, the programmes, the language and the terminologies, including the theologies we have come up with to justify them. These structures and systems are all born as a result of human fallenness and therefore reek of human insecurity and identity crisis which itself is a result of our fallenness. These are all borrowed from the world and are not a product of our meditation and worship of the Triune God nor of his incarnation in Christ.
Revelation 3:

14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation. 15 “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. 21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”

 

Rather than hiding behind false pretences, justifications and excuses….let us get earnest and repent!

Amen,

Enoch.

 

Incarnation – The Divine Celebration of the Human

Incarnation – The Divine Celebration of the Human
Enoch Era

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1: 14.

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.” Ephesians 5:1.

I believe this is one the most breath-taking, mind-boggling, marvellously beautiful, and the most comforting of all statements anywhere in any sacred literature and any thing ever written by mortal man or inspired by God.

Let us think of the incarnation of God as the divine celebration of the human. By coming as man into the world, he was embracing humanity in a bear-hug. It is an affirmation of what we are as humans. I see the bear-hug embrace in the fact that he came to make his dwelling with man, permanently and eternally. On the face of it, this may sound scandalous but it is true that God came as man into the world. We do not read in the Bible of any hesitation on his part. It was in total willingness and pleasure. He was willing to die in order to deliver man from his fallenness and estrangement from God. ‘Nothing in fiction is as fantastic’ as J I Packer the well known theologian wrote. God became a man and made his dwelling with them, as them!

Unfortunately Christians have generally interpreted incarnation mostly in terms of cross-cultural missions and evangelism. Or to have the mind of Christ as humility, service and sacrifice. How sad, if we stopped just with that! It probably reveals the poverty of our thinking and the shallowness of our hearts!  There is more to incarnation than just missions and evangelism. Knowing God in his incarnation is crucial to understanding humans, their life as finite beings – how to handle time, space, knowledge, issues of identity, security and more. Man had lost the knowledge of how he should live because of his fall into sin. Christ shows us how. He lived it. He demonstrated it right here on earth for a little over 33 years, before giving his life for us upon the cross.

In the incarnation God was saying to man that being human was not bad at all. That he created us the way we are, finite, limited and frail. After creating he looked at what he created and said that it was good. And that he himself if he were to become anything other than the infinite he is, he would be like man. What does God look like, if he were to take on the physical and the finite? He would be like man minus the sinfulness, of course. The only thing that was wrong with man was his fallenness and this happened as a result of wanting to be more than or other than what he was made to be.

Man has always wanted to be other than or more than what God has made him to be. This is the story of humanity. It was the crux of the first temptation in the Garden of Eden. The serpent suggested that he could be more than what he was and by eating of the fruit he could attain to the divine. According to the Bible this was the undoing of humanity. It led to an inherent dissatisfaction and to a perennial search for his true identity and security.  It is this that made the people of Babel say, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves”. It was a search for identity, security and perpetuity. And it is the same spirit that imbues practically everything that man has done in history and continues to do even today.

The same spirit is behind the model of life that man has chosen. The model of the upwardly mobile! We all want to grow bigger, greater, richer and more powerful. We want to be more or other than what we are created to be, in everything we do from birth to death.  Both the man in the world and the man in the church follow the same model of life. The one who rejects Christ and the one who follows him have adopted the same trajectory of living. It is the trajectory of wanting to attain to the infinite!

But the irony is, this is exactly God’s purpose for us. His purpose is that we experience the divine and taste the infinite in fellowship with him. But in the first temptation, man was offered an alternative to God. The serpent offered the creature (fruit) as an alternative to the Creator.  That by our own efforts and independent of the Creator we can attain to the divine. Thus the creature became the source of humanity’s sustenance and living rather than the Creator. This not only constitutes idolatry but it led to prostituting of ourselves to something that is less than us. Man was thus making himself less than what he was meant to be and also became enslaved to that which is not God. This is the story of the human race.

How did Jesus do differently? First, the incarnation of God in Christ is an affirmation of His image in which we were created. If we did not bear the image of God, he would not have come as man and be born in this world. In all the universe, we were the only closest to God in likeness. As the psalmist sings, “You have made him (man) to be a little lower than God (Elohim).” The most seraphic of angles was not close to God in their image. Man was and is.

So friends during this advent let us celebrate the fact that we are human – in all our limitations and frailties we are the most God-like beings in all of creation. And that God has embraced and affirms our humanity. Hence the breath-taking statement that ‘God so loved the world’ that he came as man into the world to dwell among men.

Second Jesus’ way of thinking and living was not the upward trajectory. It was in the other direction, the downward, the emptying and humbling of himself. It was not even of holding on to his current position. It was of taking and affirming that which was less than him and making it his own. His incarnation is about the Great One who came as the simple one. The Almighty who made himself helpless and powerless. The Rich who made himself poor. The one who is infinite now living with limitations and being comfortable about it. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”

Friends, what is the gospel about? If it is just about forgiveness of sins and finding a way to heaven and does not affect the life we live, then we do not have a gospel to preach to the world. We cannot pursue the same things that the rest of the world runs after and expect people to come to Christ. The gospel has ceased to be the gospel for many primarily because we have chosen to live the same way the rest the world lives. By following the same trajectory of life as the rest of the world the church has lost her authority and her message and the Christian his witness. I believe this is the story of the Western church and unfortunately the church in the East is heading in the same direction. How tragic!

A strange thing has happened over the last two thousand years. Something that was neither demonstrated by Christ nor was taught by his apostles. Something that is not envisaged in the New Testament, if we understand it correctly. The unthinkable and the impossible has happened! Following Christ has become a religion! Christ is placed alongside the great men of the earth and his followers compared with other religions of the world! This has come about because, we have made following Christ a matter of conforming to certain forms, traditions and structures, rather than it being about a lifestyle that is totally antithetical and counter-cultural to the way the rest of the world lives. Worshipping God is about obeying him and living the way Christ lived. It is not about a form, a place or a system! Is it any wonder that the world sees our evangelism as a struggle for superiority?

The church and her leaders must learn and learn it soon that we cannot win the world for Christ by acquiring political clout nor by gaining economic power and not all through military might. Nor can we flaunt our big structures, projects and budgets and expect the world to be charmed to follow Christ. We can only regain our message and authority by taking the same trajectory of life as our Lord and Master in his incarnation. I hope we would take Apostle Paul’s advise and “Be imitators of God, as beloved children.” or risk being spewed out of his mouth!

Third, we find Jesus denying the creature the primacy of place in his life. In his own temptation in the wilderness he refused to make the created the source of his life. He depended on God for everything. He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.”

In fact, it was God’s plan that as finite beings, we were meant to live our lives in trust and dependence upon God. That in fellowship with God, by trusting and depending upon him for everything in life we can, not only experience the divine and but also the infinite. Christ points the way for us. Hence, he says, “Í am come that they may have life and have it more abundantly”. And again, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do”.

What is the best way to celebrate the coming of Lord Jesus into the world? The best way is to celebrate our humanity. We can do it by trusting God for everything. And by denying and rejecting anything and everything that usurps his place and supplants him from our lives. There are so many things of the created that promise to satisfy us and give us identity and security. For some it is their education, family background, the salaries they earn or the social status they have attained. For some others it could be the ministries they do or the church affiliations they have! I have written earlier in my book, “When you are in the business of seeking security and identity from anything or anyone other than God, then anything and everything becomes a source for pride and none of them sufficient enough to satisfy. Even humility becomes a matter of pride! Simplicity becomes a matter of greatness! A little can become a lot to boast about!”

Anything that gives us pride other than what we are called to be, both in creation and redemption has to be renounced, repudiated and rejected. When we are able to say as Paul, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ”, then we would have worthily celebrated his coming and also celebrate our own humanity. Only thus the strongholds of evil among humans would be demolished and vanquished.

May the Lord raise many such in each continent on this earth. Amen.

“We have seen his glory”
(A poem by Enoch Era)

We have seen his glory
The glory of God as Man

Great One as simple
Invisible as visible
Immortal as mortal
Almighty as helpless
Rich One as poor
Invincible as vulnerable
Infinite as finite
Sovereign as servant!

We have seen his glory
The glory of the Real Man
Real God as Real Man
Authentic God as authentic man
No more distant, no more far
Neither illusive nor obscure
No more invisible but now
Real, visible and vulnerable.

Visible and seeable
Physical and touchable
Vulnerable yet invincible
Humble yet strong
Beatable yet unbeaten
Killable yet never dying
Abusable yet not abused!
Small yet encompassing the universe!

He is God but now he is also man
They saw His glory. Have you?

He Who Has Ears To Hear…4

Small is beautiful

 

As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.”  Psalm 42            

“O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”  Psalm 63                                                                    

“It has been said by someone that “the proper study of mankind is man.” I will not dispute the idea, but I believe it is equally true that the proper study of God’s elect is God; the proper study of every Christian is the Godhead, The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the greatest God whom he calls his Father.”  C. H. Spurgeon

“A right understanding of God is a panacea for millions of evils in the world” A. W. Tozer

One of the greatest and chief maladies plaguing the people of God today is the lack of right understanding of God. In my knowledge the last book written, substantially on God and meant for the average Christian was, ‘Knowing God’ by James I. Packer, published in 1973. There is a great dearth of good preaching and books on God and his attributes. The effect of such a lack is all around us to see.

A right understanding of God, especially his tri-personality, is crucial to understanding about the nature of being, world, human life, individual, marriage, family, society, church, missions, tolerance, economics, global peace, reconciliation and a host of other issues pertinent to life and existence.

The contemplation of God, said Charles Spurgeon preaching to his congregation at the age of 20 in 1855, humbles the mind, it expands the mind and is consolatory to the mind. I think nothing is more healing, redemptory, expanding and consolatory to the soul than a consistent and persistent contemplation of the Trinity. If this has not happened or is not happening around us it is because of the increased preoccupation with our needs, our problems and ourselves. We seem to putter around this globe lost within ourselves in pursuit of our self-interests. It is no wonder that we remain impoverished. There is a great need for robust preaching from our pulpits. A preaching that is imbued with God – his name and nature, alone can bring back the much-needed health and empowering.

One of the major ways the enemy of our souls has distracted us from our pursuit of God and discipleship unto Christ is by creating ways and means of living which seem very legitimate. First, our Christian faith has been relegated to mere forgiveness from sin, escape from hell and a ticket to go to heaven. Once those are guaranteed, our middle-class pursuits of worldly success and material affluence got ‘baptised’ as God’s will through a faulty interpretation of scripture. We, then accepted uncritically the compartmentalisation of life as sacred and secular, public and private and work and worship. We had already created convenient systems and structures to organise our worship and ministry so that we can follow Christ and pursue the world! Hasn’t capitalism made the pursuit of material prosperity easier? And isn’t capitalism the result of Christian thinking?  We have thus begun to get cosy with the world. We even seek God’s help through sincere prayer to help us to ride two horses! Isn’t our God, the God of impossibilities? Isn’t he all-powerful? Did he not say, “Whatsoever you will ask in my name…”? Has he not promised to give us the hidden treasures of the earth! Why can’t our desire for God and discipleship of Christ go on side by side with our middle class pursuits! We even began to interpret scripture to justify our pursuit of the world and God!

So our middle class pursuits and the way we do our worship and ministry together have actually become our idols and have supplanted God from our lives.  Our pursuit of God has been replaced by the pursuit of the world.  We seek what the world has to offer, thinking these are blessings from God rather than seeking the God who created us and for whom we have been made. We seek the gifts rather than the Giver or we seek the Giver in the gifts. This is how our worship, ministry and even churches have become idols, since our pursuit is for the gifts not the Giver himself. Whenever the creature replaces the Creator or the gifts the Giver it becomes idolatry. In many cases it appears that churches and pastors have become facilitators of this illegitimate pursuit!

In my previous article we have discussed about how capitalism made the middle class dream possible and explained why it cannot be the model for the people of God to follow. In this article we shall look at why the structures and systems we created for our worship and ministry and the governing patterns we have followed in them are not of the Lord and how they lead us into idolatry and enslavement.

A few questions to raise by way of clarifying the issues – why do we build sanctuaries, prayer houses, chapels, cathedrals and call them church? How far is it right to call them churches? And how far is it right to build such large structures focusing our passion and finances upon them? Do these really represent the body of Christ? How far do they facilitate the expression of the body of Christ in our neighbourhoods? Then there is the question of the national and international efforts for evangelism and missions, forming large global structures and ministries – is this the right way to take the gospel to the whole world? Or are we aping the world, in its penchant to define success by the criteria of largeness? What is the way of the Kingdom of God in all these matters?  Then there is the question of conserving our efforts and of bringing in unity while maintaining diversity. How can this be achieved without sacrificing unity for the sake of diversity or vice versa? What about the governing systems of the world – democracy, autocracy, theocracy? Many scholars read into the New Testament records three forms of church government – Presbyterian, Episcopal or Congregational? We shall not go into a detailed debate on all the questions above in this article, but we shall indicate a general direction towards finding an answer.

As mentioned above, the answer to all these questions lies in our understanding of the triune God and his incarnation in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ – his life and teaching as recorded in the gospels and expounded by the early Apostles. Is it wrong to say that this must remain the sole model for the way we live and the things we do in the world? Is it heretical to call us back to the ways of the Kingdom of God as represented in Christ’s incarnation and his life and teaching? Why no one seems to understand or pay attention? Is it because of our condition similar to the Laodicean church – “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing…”?

Two deviations that have gone unnoticed to a large extent on this point – first, as mentioned earlier, rather than seeking and knowing God our pursuit of him has been hijacked by the pursuit of the world. The second is, we have not paid enough attention to the life of the Son of God as man on earth. I do not find much teaching on his life as man – a meditation on Jesus, the Man and drawing lessons for life and work. This dearth is possibly a major cause why we have adopted the ways of the world practically in every area of life and work.

Do you still wonder why I believe that God is saying to us, “…my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water”?

Small as a mustard seed

The ways of the kingdom of God are different from the ways of the world. Jesus taught in his kingdom parables,

He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”(Matthew 13: 31-32)

The incarnation of God in Christ teaches us much more than what we seem to learn from it. It teaches us a way of life. God’s way of working is simple, small, personal and unobtrusive. While it does spread and become larger – the way it spreads is not by any human or world’s ways. It is not by the way of money power. It does not happen through political means.  Nor is it at all by military might. It is not by human ingenuity either? The way of Jesus is not the way of the world. It is totally different.

Incarnation, and by implication condescension, vulnerability, submission, service, self-sacrifice are at the heart of the nature of the triune God. The act of creation, revelation, redemption are all aspects of God’s nature of making himself vulnerable. It is man, the fallen man, who is self-conscious and suffers from insecurity and identity crisis finds it hard to condescend. But not God, the complete, and self-sufficient One. Those who do not understand the triune God find it hard to understand how God can become a man, suffer and die for sinners. How can God die is a major question for many. Man cannot have it that way. If he had his way he would have a God who is God and not a man. The way of God to deal with man is through incarnation. Hence Paul writing to the Philippian Church says, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” God’s way in dealing with man through incarnation is to teach us that his way is not the political way, nor the financial way nor is it the way of military might or by the wisdom of the world. This is the offense of the gospel. Unfortunately we don’t seem to learn this and seem to be trying to remove the offense from the gospel! We don’t need to occupy political spaces in order to reach the politicians nor to be rich in order to reach the rich, or be wise in order to reach the wise. This is what the way of incarnation teaches. Today we seem to have acquired all the above – the political power, financial backing, wisdom of the world and in some cases even military power but we seem to have lost the presence of God. Alas, this kind of mind set among us betrays how far removed we are from the ways of the God of the Bible and how little we know him. Unless we are willing to say as Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you”, I do not think we can challenge the power structures of the world. The mind-set that brought us salvation is the only mind-set that can bring salvation to others even today! Any other way is a short-cut introduced by the devil to subvert the gospel. I wonder if many of us in the fore front of evangelism and church planting have been complicit, if unwittingly, in this act of subversion! I shudder to think what the Lord would say to us at the final judgment!

One area where we have moved away from the incarnational model and the way of the kingdom of God is in the area of missions and evangelism. The trend to start national and international organisations for missions and evangelism began with what is generally known as the Missionary movement in the history of the church. The movement began in the 18th Century and became a global phenomenon in the 20th. The desire to preach the gospel and to reach more people for Christ is a valid and a laudable one and cannot be faulted. But the commission to take the gospel to the whole world is just that. It is about taking the gospel not our organisations or structures. We cannot make organisations on the lines of the corporate (commercial) world and take them global much like the multi-national companies of the globalisation era. The great commission is about taking the message of the gospel global and not our organisations. I guess in this the leaders in the forefront of worldwide evangelism have missed the way the Kingdom of God works. 

We have actually gone the way of the world by forming global or international organisations for evangelism and missions. As the second millennium came to a close, the motivation for missions began to be the year 2000, rather than our worship of the Lord. A strange and uncalled for haste crept into our global missions. Our focus shifted from knowing God and worshipping him to ministry and mission as urgent and therefore primary. In fact worship must lead to missions. But since we allowed our clocks and calendars to determine our missions, we began to go the way of the world – of international ministries, busy schedules, busy calendars, and busy lifestyles. We began to think that the busier we are, the bigger we are considered, much like the politicians of the world! None of the Apostles in the New Testament formed such structures with national, regional or global administrative and financial powers. What authority they wielded, it was moral and spiritual and not administrative. They did not form monolithic, autocratic or hegemonic structures. We shall see below how worship of the triune God pre-empts such tendencies.

The vision of the kingdom of God is global. But the way of the kingdom of God is local. The penchant even among Christians to start big organisations, big structures is not of the Lord but is of the world. I believe there are two main reasons why we all fall into the trap of bigness, and wider influence. One is our inherent insecurity and identity crisis as a result of the fall which constantly snaps at our heels to seek these in the work we do or in the structures we build. The itch for greatness or the desire to go higher and higher is too strong to resist for almost all of us. We must remember that the ones who make history never know that they are making one. But the ones who want to make history often end up on the side lines of God’s story!

The second reason why we fall into this trap of greatness is because of world’s influence over us. The world defines success in measurements of numbers, size, budgets, and popularity. And we have borrowed it from the world. Then the ‘great commission’ to go into all the world came in handy to justify and spiritualise our pursuit for greatness. Isn’t the world right there before us to be harvested for the Lord? The modern world has given us, as Os Guinness reminds us, the equivalent of the ancient Roman roads and the Greek language to make it easier to reach the world. It has made travelling across the globe easier and faster. The telecommunication revolution and financial contributions from Christians who have done so well in pursuing the world, make it so much easier to reach the world for Christ!

Listen to Eugene Peterson’s lament in his book The Jesus Way, “More often than not I find my Christian brothers and sisters uncritically embracing the ways and means practised by the high-profile men and women who lead large corporations, congregations, nations and causes, people who show us how to make money, win wars, manage people, sell products, manipulate emotions, and who then write books or give lectures telling us how we can do what they are doing. But these ways and means more often than not violate the ways of Jesus. Christians today are conspicuous for going along with whatever the culture decides as charismatic, successful, influential…hardly noticing that these ways and means are at odds with the clearly marked way that Jesus walked and called us to follow. Doesn’t anybody notice that the ways and means taken up, often enthusiastically, are blasphemously at odds with the way Jesus leads his followers? Why doesn’t anyone notice?”

When we begin to think according to the ways of the Kingdom of God, knowledge garnered form the world will be employed in a manner commensurate with the ways of the Kingdom of God. Science, technology, management and organisational systems and methods, research in the fields of human psychology, sociology and other fields of human knowledge and endeavour can certainly be learnt, understood and employed in the cause of the Kingdom of God. As Os Guinness writes, “Origen, in the third century A.D. taught that Christians are free to “plunder the Egyptians” but forbidden to “set up a golden calf” from the spoils.” Thus suggesting that we may use the wisdom from all these fields of knowledge in the service of the Kingdom of God but not to make idols of them. But we must also remember that while God may have told Israelites to plunder the Egyptians, he expressly forbade them from touching anything that belonged to Jericho. It therefore requires a lot of wisdom that comes from knowing God to discern what is acceptable and what is not and where to draw the line of difference. Keeping distance and detachment from the world and nearness to God by a constant soaking in his Word, is the key to discernment.

The one who learns and strives to walk in the ways of the Kingdom of God will of necessity keep everything small and simple. When we think about the church as local, the structures and organising will be local, small and simple. Since it is the message of the gospel which is global and not our names or influence we would be careful not to form global, monolithic, impersonal and mega corporations to spread the gospel. Since our economies are Trinitarian, they would be small and simple as well to meet needs of those around us. Thus even the technologies we employ would be simple. The people of the Kingdom of God do not establish or promote any enslaving systems or structures. They are discerning about the use of technology. They shun any technique or technology which enslaves or undermines the human and is detrimental to human health and nature.

Babel Syndrome

But unfortunately we do not seem to learn the ways of the Kingdom of God. We go back again and again to the ways of Babel. The Babel syndrome dogs the path of man through history. And I guess even the people of the Bible never learnt their lesson. Both the man in the world and the man who claims to follow Christ goes the way of Babelites. We want everything big. We want to make a name for ourselves. We like to find comfort in numbers. So we go big – big projects, big budgets, big industries, big dams, big aeroplanes, big cars, big computers, bigger televisions, bigger churches – everything has got to be big in order to mollify our big egos. Our insecurity and identity crisis as a result of the fall cannot have anything less, even among those who claim to be redeemed and healed! Who wants to remain small, unknown, unsung, unheralded! I guess only prophets like John the Baptiser do not mind being small. “He must increase and I must decrease” He says. I guess it takes a big mind to make things big but it takes a big heart to remain small!

I have said in my earlier book, ‘How Then Should We Live[1], “The only structure that Paul taught for the churches to have was the simplest – of elders and deacons with oversight confined to the immediately local and not regional, national or global. The church government was to remain essentially and functionally local and personal. I believe, wherever and whenever the structure exceeds the local, it lapses into an enslaving system of idolatry. And wherever and whenever they lapse into idolatry, the Holy Spirit of God withdraws and their effectiveness for God is lost. The history of the Church is littered with such structures. But sadly, we do neither see nor learn from history and so even the best among us continue to trip and fall into the same lure of bigness, greatness and power offered by the evil one in the name of larger influence and greater effectiveness. And lose all influence and effectiveness in the bargain! I believe this is true with so many great and godly men and women in history. Those who began so well, both in the ministry, the business and governments of the world, men and women who were simple and modest in their beginnings but as they grew they fell into the same lure of getting bigger for the sake of greater effectiveness, influence or power. This is the ‘Babel syndrome’, to make a name and reach the skies. Quite often as Paul writes, “For all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus.”(Phil 2: 21)

The one who spends too much time with men lives by comparing himself with other men. Such men cannot but try to be big and build big. The one who spends time with God and in pursuing him cannot but be small. Not even medium sized! He knows that he is, but of yesterday and that he is of dust, only a creature and cannot be the Creator. Ever! Not even a demi-god! Neither the devil nor the world can ever delude him to believe otherwise. Unfortunately we have many demi-gods even among Christians! The ancient temptation ‘you shall be like gods’ is as modern as today! Never ancient!

Eugene Peterson writes, “The ways employed in much of the Western culture are conspicuously impersonal: programs, organisations, techniques, general guidelines, information detached from place. In matters of ways and means, the vocabulary of numbers is preferred over names, ideologies, crowd our ideas, the gray fog of abstraction absorbs the sharp particularities of recognisable face and the familiar street.

My concern is provoked by the observation that so many who understand themselves to be followers of Jesus, without hesitation and apparently without thinking, embrace the ways and means of the cultures as they go about their living “in Jesus name.” But the ways that dominate our culture have been developed either in ignorance or in defiance of the ways that Jesus uses to lead us as we walk the streets and alleys, hike the trails, and drive the roads in this God-created, and God-saved, God-blessed, God-ruled world in which we find ourselves. They seem to suppose that “getting on in the world” means getting on in the world on the world’s terms, and that the ways of Jesus are useful only in a compartmentalised area of life labelled “religious.”

This is wrong thinking, and wrong living. Jesus is an alternative to the dominant ways of the world, not a supplement to them. We cannot use impersonal means to do or say a personal thing – and the gospel is personal or it is nothing.”

Disjointed or dynamic!

The church in the New Testament mostly gathered in homes. This not only made them accessible to the neighbourhood but also vulnerable. When you throw open your homes for other believers to come and fellowship together, you become vulnerable. Incarnation of Christ teaches us that vulnerability is at the heart of service, sacrifice and bringing salvation to others. When the church as a worshipping community meets in homes, they bring the presence of God into the neighbourhood. By building separate structures and going there to ‘worship’ we move God and his presence away from the community. We have thus adopted practises alien to the teaching of the New Testament and to the model given to us in the incarnation. This is true especially in urban societies today. Eastern cultures have the practise of having a separate room for gods in their homes and a temple outside the home for the community.

As mentioned earlier, human nature would rather have God outside safely ensconced in a show-case or a sanctuary. Let God be God, far away and above. Not near and immediate. Not as a man, a servant and vulnerable to the point of dying for man. This was Peter’s objection to Christ. How can the Son of God, the Messiah become a servant and wash man’s feet?  How can the Son of God, die? He said, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” And he would see to it that he will not die! And he did try to object to his arrest. Jesus’ answer was, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Or, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” By removing our gathering and worship into structures outside and far from our homes we have removed worship from our lifestyles. Thus losing our role as salt and light to our neighbourhoods. I wonder if we have thus lost our part with the Lord as well!

While many Christians do understand that ‘church’ does not mean a building and that it is the people of God who are constituted to be the body of Christ. Yet every Sunday morning practically all Christians, everywhere talk about going to church or attending church. Clearly such language betrays the fact that we have reduced the church to a physical edifice and to a service or a programme. Church as a place or a meeting is alien to the New Testament both in language and concept. It is completely odious to the teaching of the apostles. Such an idea of church as a place or a meeting, dislocates the people of God from the contexts of their living. It divests them of their responsibility from living the life of Christ as his body. Besides going to a place and attending a service gives us a false sense of satisfaction that we have done our duty. And that we are now free to live our lives according to the agenda set by the world, of course as good ‘Christians’. Moreover these physical structures and the patterns of worship and ministry invariably enslave us over time. Since we associate them with God and his worship we begin to seek security and identity in them and not in the God we worship. A church that is removed from the neighbourhoods where God’s people live and takes them to gather and worship away from their contexts of living is a dislocated and disjointed church! Today almost everywhere we see only such churches – disjointed and dislocated and no one seems to even notice it!

Jesus very clearly said to the Samaritan woman at the well that worship is not related to a place. We do not find worship being reduced to a service in the New Testament. Jesus taught that worship was a matter of truth and spirit. Worship is a lifestyle. It happens when those living in relationship with God through the Holy Spirit live lives of faith and obedience unto him. Such people gather together giving expression to the body of Christ in the context of a neighbourhood or a community. These are the people of God called out of the world to belong to God and constitute the church, the body of Christ. They adopt lifestyles of worship, totally different from the rest of the world. Lifestyles of ‘Trinitarian economics’ of sharing, serving and sacrificing for the welfare of others. Could this be the reason why the genius of Jesus and his apostles did not teach nor try to program or budget such a dynamic nor endeavour to confine it to buildings? Could this be the reason why we do not read about such structures in the New Testament? Nor do we read in history about any such structures surviving from New Testament times? While we do read about the Church, the body of Christ surviving and spreading until this day! This does not mean that we cannot have a functional place to gather but we certainly cannot build edifices and call them as churches. But history reveals that the only thing that is perpetual in time is the Church. Scripture teaches us that the only one eternal is the Lord and His kingdom and those who do his will. Everyone else and everything else is only short lived.

For such dynamic local churches to exist, living and reaching out to the community around them, I believe they do not need large structures – whether physical or administrative. They must of necessity, remain small. The dynamic of small groups is that their focus remains personal, immediate and spontaneous. Eugene Peterson writes, “The local congregation is the primary place for dealing with particulars and people we live with. As created and sustained by the Holy Spirit, it is insistently local and personal.” In such groups being transparent and accountable would be easier and simpler. Any scope for hypocrisy, duplicity and compromise would be reduced and could be easily detected. And since they do not have large power structures – whether administrative or financial, there is hardly any room for autocracy or bossing over. Since the emphasis is on their identity as God’s people and their security is in him – they no more seek these in anything or anyone other than their Lord. Their worship of him prevents them from seeking these even in their possessions, in fact they do not even claim anything as their own – ‘…no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own’ (Acts 4:32). This is the ideal and we are expected to move towards this ideal.

On the other hand, cathedrals, church building, prayer houses, chapels and even organisations made in order to serve God invariably become sources of security and identity over time. This is true practically in every case in history. In the beginning they all seem to be so useful and functional but later in almost all cases these replace God and become the focus of our devotion. We fight to preserve them. We go to courts over them. We treat them as sacred to the point of venerating them as divine. Why, we still make such structures when in the first place we do not even need them in order to worship God? Second, when we know that these invariably lead people away from God rather than bring them near to him, why we still do it? Is it our vanity? Is it for our identity? Whose name we want perpetuated, ours or God’s? What is our motive? And after knowing both scripture and history, if our leaders insist on doing it, what can we say about them? And worse still, are they not inadvertently leading people away from the Lord?! And what can we say about the people who contribute for such purposes? Sometimes you wonder if the leaders are really blind or something else!

At this point, I must record my dissent to what Eugene Peterson says in his book The Jesus Way. His point about the need for institutional structures as support for conserving spirituality is a dark spot on an otherwise excellent work on the way of Jesus for life and work. He writes, “We sometimes say, thoughtlessly I think, that the church is not a building. It’s people. I’m not so sure. Synagogues and temples, cathedrals, chapels, and meeting halls provide continuity in place and community for Jesus to work his will among his people. A place, a building, collects stories and develops associations that give local depth and breadth and continuity to our experience of following Jesus. We must not try to more spiritual than Jesus in this business. Following Jesus means following him into sacred buildings that have a lot of sinners in them, some of them very conspicuous sinners. Jesus doesn’t seem to mind. A spirituality that has no institutional structure or support very soon becomes self-indulgent and subjective and one-generational.”  Well, I am not so sure! Does institutional structure and support mean large monolithic and hierarchical structures? Or is it the local structure of elders and deacons as allowed by Apostle Paul?  And any structures we make to provide the support any local congregation needs, I believe of necessity must be one-generational and not perpetual. For whether we like it or not all man-made systems and structures have real effectiveness for only a single generation! Anything longer generally degenerates into an idol. History bears out on this. It would be wrong to think that following Jesus means to follow him into synagogues and sacred buildings. Jesus met people in these places because people generally congregated in those places not because he led them there. In fact he led them to sea-shores, to river banks, to hillsides, into homes and not into synagogues.  And we would be causing great damage to the idea of ‘church’ if we used the word to refer to buildings and not to the people of God.

Both for its life and mission a local church must remain local. This is how it remains incarnational. It can give true expression to the body of Christ within the context of a neighbourhood community. It cannot be regional or national. And I believe this is the reason why we do not read about regional or national churches in the New Testament.

Biblical Theocracy

It must be pointed here that practically all man-made structures, systems and institutions, whether Christian or otherwise eventually end up being oppressive and enslaving. They tend to be of service only for a short period of time. We shall presently, examine why this is so. The genius of the Bible is that it does not offer any such institutions except those given by God – namely the institution of the family and the Church with Christ as their Head. I think this is the reason why the genius of Jesus and the Apostles did not talk about any human structures in order to take the gospel to the whole world, except in obedience to and under the Lordship of Christ.

Certainly for any form of activity we need some form of organising and structuring. I am not in the least arguing against such organising. But any organisation we create in order to conduct our worship or missions, of necessity, must be tentative, temporary, local and immediate. We cannot create structures which become monuments of human ingenuity, achievement and glory like the Babelites. Because any structures we create not only, do they not last long and become oppressive and enslaving but tend to displace God from our lives by becoming false sources of security and identity. And invariably they tend to become monopolistic and totalitarian.

One of the major dilemmas of human existence is the dilemma of control, dominance and monopoly. Because of our inherent insecurity we are suspicious and untrusting of others. We exhibit it in trying to be control freaks and authoritarian. The most extreme among us tend to be dictatorial and megalomaniac. But short of being dictatorial we display our insecurity in many forms of control. Often control is also exhibited to check dissent and disunity. Basically it is the problem of knowing how to handle diversity in order to bring in unity. We tend to swing between being autocratic or anarchic.

What is it that binds us as one and yet gives us the freedom to be distinct as individuals? How to maintain unity while allowing variety or diversity?[2]

Colin Gunton writes in The One The Three and The Many that basically there have been two major views about reality which come to us from pre-Socratic times. The view that everything is one or a unity or that the one pre-exists the many and ultimately all collapse into one, comes from Parmenides (born c. 515 BCE). Such a view is generally known as monistic. Much of western thinking including Christian, has been Parmenidean. This view gives rise to totalitarian, autocratic, monarchic, imperialistic, hierarchical and monopolistic forms. These forms tend to be intolerant, distant, highly structured and impersonal in their ways of working. This explains why to a large extent the western societies have been totalitarian, imperialistic and hegemonic.

The view that everything is many or a plurality or that the many are prior to the one, and that they can never be reconciled or united, comes from Heraclitus (c. 535 – c. 475 BCE). The view that everything is many that there are only particulars and that they can never be united or reconciled leads to absolute tolerance[3], lack of coherence, and tentativeness. Such thinking leads to ambiguity, instability, chaos, flux and anarchy. Colin Gunton writes that democracy is Heraclitean and was a result of the rebellion against the western totalitarian forms. While eastern societies have been monistic in their beliefs yet Heraclitean thinking prevailed in practise.

But the basic human insecurity resulting from the fall leads us to be control freaks and so we never allow the many their due expression. Lacking in coherence and feeding upon the inherent insecurity those who propound plurality of choice and living, end up being control freaks, regimenting life and behaviour, hegemonic, autocratic, dictatorial and monopolistic. Heraclites is often swallowed up by Parmenides.  The many are absorbed into one. Thus homogenising and regimenting lifestyles and cultures.

The reason I bring this up is, the church which should have brought the needed healing into these areas of organising and governance has generally succumbed to the Parmenidean thinking. As I mentioned in my previous article, while we talked about a Trinitarian Deity, yet in practice we have been monistic. Hence, even the organisations and structures we created to do our worship and mission have tended to be of one-man leadership, totalitarian, autocratic and hierarchical.

If our worship had been truly focused on the Trinity, the God who is One yet Three, we would have saved ourselves and the world the confusion, the hatred, and the bloodshed of the last two thousand years. Therefore my plea to the people of God is to restore a right understanding of the God whom we call our heavenly Father, His Son our Saviour and Lord Jesus Christ and the blessed Holy Spirit co-existing in eternal communion. Only he gives us the needed understanding of knowing that we are distinct yet relational beings. Our individuality and our relationality flow from the fact that we are made in His image. Therefore our diversity and unity comes not only from our understanding but also from our worship and relationship with Him. In the context of the local church, each individual has the room and place to express his or her gifts in serving others. Yet we acknowledge our unity because of the communion – the life we share in Christ. It is only then we bring the one and the many together. The universal and the particulars, the general and the specific have their room and are held in tension. There is no enforced regimentation or homogenisation here. Any unity and communion that is expressed comes through voluntary submission to one another in Christ. We have already seen how this works in my previous article on Trinitarian economy. Unity through voluntary submission and sharing. Diversity through allowing room, space to each to be and to become.

This is the reason why I say that the Hebrew monarchy was not Trinitarian theocracy. It was only a concession made for the time. The original plan for the people of Israel as we read in the book of Judges, was to live with God as their King. His kingship mediated through His law. There was no enslavement of any kind. There were no taxes to pay except the offerings they brought to the temple. There was no human ruler to control or subjugate them. The role of the judges was not pan-national but localised and primarily a dual role – of providing the people security from external aggression and they were to adjudicate over any matters of dispute regarding the law. They were one people and one nation under God, yet they enjoyed true freedom from any man-made structures and controls. This is true theocracy.  Even the foreigner, the widow, and the orphan was cared for by the law of the Lord. The foreigner was not forced into accepting the Hebrew God and if he chose to become a part of Israel he could after being circumcised.

This is the type of government the people of the Kingdom of God are supposed to demonstrate to the world. Any institutions we form must represent this form of government, where people live in true freedom to be and to become yet living in voluntary submission and communion.

To the fallen and finite man this might sound utopian. But for the redeemed people of God who have found healing in Christ and have tasted the Infinite, it is in the realm of the practical through the guidance and empowering of the Holy Spirit of God. At least they must work towards it. The point is we do not see this happening instead we seem to be comfortable with the ways and means of the world. Hence my charge that we have been cohabiting with the world. This is the reason why we cannot experience the power and the presence of God as we should. I guess we are like the Laodicean church, “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”

Listen to the wise words of Peterson again, “Jesus’ metaphor, kingdom of God, defines the world in which we live. We live in a world where Christ is King. If Christ is King, everything, quite literally everything and every one has to be re-imagined, re-configured, re-oriented to a way of life that consists in an obedient following of Jesus. This is not easy. It is not accomplished by participating in a prayer meeting or two, or signing up for a course in discipleship at school or church, or attending annual prayer breakfast. A total renovation of our imagination, our way of looking at things – what Jesus commanded in his no-nonsense imperative, “Repent” – is required.”

Otherwise the words of our Lord would come true, “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

The Lord said to the church at Laodicea, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent…The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Amen.

[1] This is available on my blog as well: https://rupanthar.wordpress.com/2011/12/06/how-then-should-we-live-part-1/

[2] For more on this read Colin Gunton’s The One, The Three And The Many – God, Creation and the Culture of Modernity

[3] Read my article on the ‘The Myth Absolute Tolerance’ at my blog: https://rupanthar.wordpress.com/2009/12/10/the-myth-of-absolute-tolerance/

He Who Has Ears To Hear…3

Trinitarian Economics

Enoch Era

Several questions come up when we talk about an economic model for the people of God. Should they have separate or different economics? Can they not just live in the world and try to be as Christian as they can within the system rather than talk about different economics? All that it needs is that we demonstrate better integrity, honesty and accountability. Learn to be more generous. Live simple lives. Do not be greedy like the world and so on. But if it is just about integrity, simplicity, generosity and being good humans then there are many in the world who would put us to shame on these criteria. It is not just enough to have some social graces and being good humans by the standards of the world. On the other hand, who defines what being human is about?

The point is, it is not just enough to have a few social skills and live socially acceptable lives. This is not what constitutes our calling. I believe that the word of God and the life and teachings of Christ and his immediate followers, show us a totally different way of living. Totally counter to the cultures and systems of the world. We do not have to follow the world and pursue the middle class dream. We do not have to be career-driven or be upwardly mobile. I assert that if we do not learn to live differently and teach it to others, then we do not understand the call of Christ to follow him and we do not have a gospel.

Called to be different

The meaning of holiness in the Bible demands that we live differently from the rest of the world. Apostle Peter exhorts us in his first letter, ‘…as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (v 15, 16). I believe that in our teaching in the church, we have emphasised more on moral purity as holiness. Although we are told that it is not the only meaning of the word. For all practical purposes the average Christian understands holiness as in terms of morality. But we need to remember that moral purity is only one dimension of the meaning of the original word. The original meaning both in Hebrew and Greek is about being different or separate. We are called to be separate or different from the world. We cannot be doing and living the way the world does and expect to be known as followers of Christ and we cannot expect the world to be attracted to Christ. The call is to be like Christ. To attain unto him – surely, steadfastly and progressively.

The word of God teaches us that we are given all that we need in order to attain unto Christ. “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness…he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world…”[1] He has given us His word to learn from, His Holy Spirit to teach us, the Church and its teachers and the power of His resurrection to empower us.  I believe that anyone who would ‘diligently seek Him’ will find Him. May the Lord help you and me to be such seekers!

It must be said that although our theological heritage is Trinitarian yet we have tended to lean more towards a rigid monotheism[2] sometimes bordering on the monistic[3]. Although Christians had accepted and affirmed the Trinitarian understanding of God from early centuries of the Christian era, to this day they tend to lean more heavily towards a rigid monotheism. From this single anomaly arise a host of unhealthy practices and deviations that have plagued the church and as a result our witness to the world. The tendency towards individualism to the neglect of the relational or family as we see in western societies is one such unhealthy trend. If as it is claimed, Capitalism was a result of Puritan thinking then I believe that it too falls under the category of unhealthy deviations. My suspicion is that the tendency towards individualism has its roots in Capitalism if its definition as ‘economic individualism’ is accepted. Capitalism and its basic premises, the pursuit of personal interest and right to ownership of private property have fostered radical individualism in those who followed it.

Some of the other unhealthy practices and deviations are in our understanding and treatment of nature; our approach to evangelism and missions; on issues of tolerance[4], our understanding and practise of governance both in the way we constitute and run our churches and organisations as well as government at large and in the way we do our economics. For the purpose of the present series of article I shall confine myself to the issues of economics and governance. I shall write how our Trinitarian understanding of God impinges on economics in the present article and on governance in the next article.

How does our understanding of God’s Trinity[5] affect our understanding of economics? According to The Concise Encyclopaedia of Economics[6] the term Capitalism is actually a misnomer, a derogatory term used by the socialists. But the original term was ‘economic individualism’. Its basic premises are the pursuit of self-interest, the right to own private property and investment commensurate with returns. We shall presently see how an understanding of God as Triune obviates any scope for economic individualism.

It is generally accepted that different forms of Capitalism existed in earlier periods of time. It became a dominating form of economics in the west following the demise of feudalism in the middle ages. It is also believed that Capitalism was born as a result of Puritan thinking. Men like John Lilburne (1614 – 1657) had used the parable of talents taught by Jesus to teach free market economy a hundred years before Adam Smith (1723 – 1790). Adam Smith, considered to be the godfather of Capitalism, wrote his path breaking article on Capitalism, ‘An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations’.

Trinity and economics

As we begin to formulate an economic model for the people of God a few scriptures come to mind,

Genesis 1: 26, 27

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”…So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

2 Corinthians 8:9:

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

Philippians 2: 4-8:

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

1 Corinthians 6:19, 20:

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

Trinitarian economics is about agape economics. I call it Agapeconomics. We know that Agape[7] is the Greek word used in the New Testament to denote God’s love. Therefore agapeconomics is the economics of divine love expressed in the Godhead and expressed by Him towards humankind. It is the same divine love that we ought to demonstrate towards one another in Christ and towards the world.

What is this ‘divine love’ and how is it expressed? The essence of the divine being is described as LOVE – “God is love” says Apostle John. God’s love is selfless, self-giving and does not seek its own. Divine love loves, gives, shares, serves freely without expecting or demanding returns. The only expectation is the expectation of good for the recipients of love. He does not expect returns in terms of profits or gain to Him. He needs no profits or gains. He is complete in Himself and does not need anyone or anything to make Him complete.  Therefore He gives of himself unreservedly, without holding back. He gave away His One and Only begotten Son.

Love, in its very essence is ‘outgoing’. In this sense we can say that God is ‘other-centric’. This means He is not self-centred or inward looking. Within the Godhead there is a constant flow of life among the persons of the Trinity. God gives to the Son and the Son gives back to the Father through the Holy Spirit. (Refer John 5: 26, 27; 1 Cor 15:27, 28; John 17: 21, 22; and Col 2:9) It is the communion of love by which whatever God is, is shared equally, infinitely and eternally unhindered between the persons of the trinity. There is a constant sharing or flow of life such that none of them is more full or complete than the other. Just as each one gives so that the other maybe complete, He gives of Himself to make us complete too.

God suffers no insecurity or identity crisis. If He did then He would not be God. Since He suffers no such personality defects as we do. He is totally outgoing to the point of making Himself vulnerable without any fear of being taken advantage of or of losing anything. Therefore He incarnates not just as man but to the point of becoming a servant and dying on the cross. He has nothing to lose and He will never lose anything. He is totally unassailable, untouchable and unchanging in His deity. Therefore He loves freely, fully and eternally.

One of the most beautiful and breath-taking statements from scriptures which explains to us the economy of divine love (Agapeconomics) is, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” 2 Corinthians 8:9. (When I read these words in the context of writing this article and began to look at them from the perspective of economics, I needed to pause and bask in the richness of these words. I searched out different songs that I know both in the English and Telugu hymnals and enjoyed how these words have been captured in poetry and song. It took me several days to come out of that reverie.)

We are made rich in the sense of being given fullness in Christ. “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.” (Col 2:9, 10). Rich in order that we do for others what Christ has done for us. If we are created in the image of God, then we are to be as ‘other-centric’ as God is. ‘Other-centric’ not in the sense of fear of others or controlled by others opinions but in the sense of outgoing love for the good of others. Since we are secure in Him and are given a new identity in Him, we can serve with freedom and true love without any fear of being taken advantage of or of any insecurity. This is part of God’s image in us and is restored to us in redemption. As stated in an earlier article, it is from this vantage point of fullness, of security and identity in Him we will be willing to make ourselves vulnerable and expendable in the service of others.

Since the final outcome of victory is guaranteed through the resurrection of Christ, we serve others with no fear of losing anything. When every member in the context of the local church, the local expression of the body of Christ, lives and serves in this manner then all of us will be served. In such a group the rich will not get richer and the poor will not be poorer. This is what constitutes true fellowship, koinonia (Gk). Fellowship is not about conducting or attending meetings. It is about serving one another with true out flow of love such that the ‘fullness of God’ in us flows into one another. Thus meeting each other’s needs. Working for the good of others also means that we do not work with any self-interest or to build our securities and identities in the process of serving others. There is no middle class dream here. There is only the dream of making others rich in Christ.

Christians can and do educate themselves and work to earn a living as others do but they do not do it for the sake of pursuing the middle-class lifestyles. They refuse to engage their lives to build personal securities and identities. They do not make material affluence and worldly success their goal in life. They do not make this their agenda. Their only objective is to grow in Christ and to ‘have the mind of Christ’ so that they can serve others for their good. This is the meaning of ‘seeking the kingdom of God’. This kingdom spreads not by building structures, chapels and cathedrals but unobtrusively, silently as the ‘leaven, leavens the whole dough’[8]. This is Agapeconomics, the economy of the Kingdom of God.

This is what we have been redeemed for and this is how the church is expected to live and demonstrate. Only then we would have lived the gospel and only then we would have a gospel to preach. Otherwise the world sees no difference in us except the difference of language, traditions and rituals – nothing but just another religion. Is this what our Master gave His life for – to create another religion?  Just as there is no comparison between Christ and any other gods and goddesses or even with any other founders of religions there has got to be no comparison between the followers of Christ and the rest of the world. We are called to be holy as He is holy. Holiness is about being separate and different with no comparison and peers in the world.

“Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?” sang Miriam of old. The church today sings, “There is none like you” about Lord Jesus Christ but hardly anyone looks at us and says there is none like the people of God! Balaam prophesied about the people of Israel, “Behold, a people dwelling alone, and not counting itself among the nations!” (Numbers 23: 9). Are we living as ‘people dwelling alone’? Are we ‘counted among the nations’?

The dynamic of sharing

Let me explain why economic individualism is not for the people of God. The offshoots of economic individualism are pursuit of personal interest and right to own private property. The other extreme people tend fall into is collectivism or economic socialism. In socialism, any rights the individual might have, are subsumed by the collective. For the people of God it is neither individualism nor collectivism. Colin Gunton writes, “Individualism is a non-relational creed, because it teaches that I do not need my neighbour in order to be myself.” While collectivism denies the individual the distinctness of identity and particularity but that only the collective exists.

To be created in the image of God means, we are created with individual distinctness but also to be relational. God is one yet three. The three persons of the Godhead are distinct as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Yet they are one God. They are one because of the communion. We talk about them as three because they are addressed as distinct in scripture yet as one. They give room or space to each other to be distinct.

Each one of us is created as individuals and possess a unique identity. This does not mean we become individualistic. Individualism is a result of the fall of man into sin. Though unique and distinct as individuals yet being relational is essential to be human. We are individuals meant to live in relationships with one another. We find our meaning, identity and joy in being related to God first then with one another and with nature around. The very nature of our being is to be relational. This is our true ontology.  No man can live by himself without any relationships either with other humans or even with nature and find meaning[9]. Even when we are incorporated into the body of Christ we do not lose our distinctness as individuals nor do we lose it in eternity[10]. So when we share, give and receive from each other the individual is never subsumed into the collective. Being created in the image of God means we retain our distinctness as individual persons just as the three person of the Trinity are distinct. But since his image in us is being relational, by willingness to accept, share, receive from and give to each other we acknowledge our need and dependence of others. In order to give and receive one has to be distinct and separate from the other we do not coalesce and merge into each other to the point of losing our distinctness. Neither do we affirm our distinctness to the point of independence from everyone else.

In the body of Christ we live in submission to the head of the Body, Christ and in submission to one another. This is voluntary. There is no force or coercion to submit to anyone not even to Christ. Giving to and receiving from one another is voluntary as well. There is no compulsion or enforcement. So the body of Christ is a body of individuals who voluntarily live in submission to Christ and to one another. They live with the dynamic of constant sharing and receiving from each other such that no one is more full or complete than any other. We do care for our own interests but realise that our interest are served in serving others. When every member in the body of Christ lives with this understanding everybody’s needs are served. So any form of individualism nor pursuit of personal interest are out place among the people of God. It is with the fall we have developed feelings of insecurity and vulnerability. The redeemed people of God must be those who are in the process of being healed from such feelings. Those who are experiencing such healing must begin to live this way.

Furthermore 1 Corinthians 6: 19, 20 tells us that we are not our own, we are bought with a price and therefore belong to God. How can those who do not belong to themselves pursue self-interest or have any right to property? It is said about the early followers of Christ in Acts 4:32, “…no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.” Whatever they are and whatever they have belongs to their Master and they can only hold it in trust (stewardship) for Him and dispense with it as He pleases.

Investing into other’s lives

Another major tenet of capitalism is investing and profit-making. It has been claimed that a meditation on the parable of talents has taught us about how to invest our resources as good stewards. Vishal Mangalwadi in his book ‘The Book That Made Your World – how the Bible created the soul of western civilization’ writes that the birth of modern industrial capitalism was celebrated in 1851 at the first World’s Fair at Hyde Park in London. He writes about Cyrus McCormick’s horse-drawn reaper as one of the chief American contributions at the Fair. He tells us that the inventor of the crop reaper, a precursor to mechanisation in agriculture, was influenced by the parable of talents taught by Jesus.  He writes how the parable was one of chief sources of McCormick’s understanding of stewardship as spirituality. He concludes, “For McCormick, turning five thousand dollars into ten thousand dollars was being a good steward, which, on Jesus’ own authority, was synonymous with being spiritual.” Does stewardship mean doubling our investment? Can the parable of the talents be used to justify profit making? Is this what Jesus is teaching in this parable?

I wonder if Jesus’ parable can be interpreted to draw lessons about spirituality and stewardship in terms of investment and returns. In fact not all parables are allegorical to draw several lessons from different points in the story. Jesus taught in parables to teach about the kingdom of God. Generally a parable communicates one and only one important aspect of the kingdom of God. Unless Jesus himself used the parable to teach more lessons we do not have the warrant to do so. The parable is given to us in Matthew 25: 14- 30. I believe that the emphasis of the parable is upon the man going away on a journey and returning to take account of what he has given to his servants. The parables in Matthew 25 must be read in the context of the previous chapter. Matthew 24 is about the signs of the end times. The disciples asked him questions regarding his coming back again and the signs of the times. So the parable of the talents is about Jesus going away on a journey like the man in the parable and coming back again to take account of what he has given to his servants. Drawing any other lesson from the parable causes injustice to the way parables are to be interpreted.

How must the servants use their talents then, so that the master is pleased with them? This, I believe, is taught in the verses following the parable from verses 31-46 and is implied in the words of the Lord at the final judgement, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (v. 40). Whether Capitalism is the result of Puritan thinking or not and whether it is based on the parable of the talents or not, the parable certainly is not about investment in order to double the returns. If we read the parable and the succeeding story about the final judgement together, we learn that it is about investing into the lives of others so that their needs are met.  This is how we can ‘lay-up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal’[11].

John Chrysostom (347-407 CE) talking about the true meaning of stewardship argues, “This is also theft not to share one’s possessions…Just as an official in the imperial treasury, if he neglects to distribute where he is ordered, but spends instead for his own indolence, pays the penalty and is put to death, so also the rich man is a kind of steward of the money which is owed for distribution to the poor. He is directed to distribute it to his fellow servants who are in want. So if he spends more on himself than his needs require, he will pay the harshest penalty hereafter. For his own goods are not his own, but belongs to his own fellow servants…I beg you remember this without fail, that not to share our own wealth with the poor is theft from the poor and deprivation of their means of life; we do not possess our own wealth but theirs.”

People of God cannot be hoarders. I believe no one who claims to be a follower of Christ can be richer than his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. If we are blessed with resources more than others, it is not for our profligacy nor for our indolence but in order that we share with those who do not have. Read about Job in chapter 31, how one of the richest men of the east lived. It is not just the early church but early man too lived by sharing what they had with those who did not.

A degenerate vine!

I learnt about agapeconomics about five years ago. Looking back I think Lord has been trying to teach this to me since a long time. But I guess I was dull headed and lost in the world, thinking about everything in the categories of the world. Since the time I learnt it I have changed the way I live and work. People ask me if I am doing ‘faith ministry’. My answer is, “It is not faith ministry but it is love ministry”. I serve others because of love. And true love serves freely without expecting anything nor demanding anything. True love does accept and receive service from others. I now make my services and my resources available to anyone who needs it – including my sermons both in audio and written form, free of cost. I have decided not to use my resources to generate capital from it. Lord has and is taking care of all my needs ‘according to His riches in glory’[12]. Although this has been my understanding and attitude since the beginning, I have begun to put it into practise much more consciously since last 5 years. I have begun to consciously avoid doing anything with security or identity concerns. A few of my friends have been influenced by this teaching and have started living and serving in the same way.

Agapeconomics can and must be practised at least among the people of God. Those who claim to follow Christ must live as he lived and do as he did. It is not possible for the people of the world. But it is possible within the context of the body of Christ.

For all practical purposes we know that Capitalism is on the decline. This is increasingly becoming true more than ever since the financial meltdown of 2008. In the name of development we are actually eating up into our future. The pace of development is so fast that we do not allow for the natural process of replenishment of earth’s resources. This has led to serious environmental imbalances globally brining in unprecedented climate changes everywhere. Today we are practically hurtling down the hill of development at break-neck speed as if the brakes have failed! We do not know how to stop. If anyone attempts to stop he or she is considered anti-development and anti-national. We are actually eating up into our future. Very few countries in the world today are without a debt and several in Europe, South America and Asia are on the brink of financial bankruptcy.

The Occupy Wall Street movement born in 2011, at the Wall Street in New York was about growing income and wealth inequality in the US between the wealthiest 1% and the rest of the population. Their slogan was “We are the 99%”. Does the church have an answer to these question of inequality in the world? Could the church rise to the occasion and show a different way of living to the world? A different economic model? If there is anyone it has to be the people of God. But if the people of God themselves are lost in the pursuit of the world and its riches how can they be a model and what hope is there for the world?

Hence the divine dirge,

“I planted you a choice vine, wholly of pure seed. How then have you turned degenerate and become a wild vine?” (Jeremiah 2:21).

Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Note: If any of you is interested in exploring and learning more, I will be glad to be of any assistance. Please also look for my next and final article in the series, ‘Small is beautiful’ on incarnational model of institutions, structures and governance.

[1] 2 Peter 1: 3. 4.

[2] Christian Theology is monotheistic for sure but it is Trinitarian monotheism that is, One God yet Three Persons. So it is not a rigid monotheism where there is no plurality in the divine being as in the case of Judaism and Islam. Trinitarian Monotheism affirms unity and plurality in the divine being – this is unique to Christian theology and is a result of God’s revelation. Please look for my meditations on Trinity, to be released soon.

[3] Monism is the philosophical view that only one impersonal element constitutes all reality. In other words all reality is one. Everything in the universe comes from and goes back into one ultimate reality. All differences and distinctions are illusory. Most Eastern religions are monistic.

[4] Read my article ‘The Myth of Absolute Tolerance’ and related articles on my blog: https://rupanthar.wordpress.com/2009/12/10/the-myth-of-absolute-tolerance/

[5] Colin Gunton’s writings have been of great influence in my understanding of Trinity. Notable among them are ‘The Promise of Trinitarian Theology’ and ‘The One, The Three and the Many’.

[6] http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/Capitalism.html

[7] It is not the English word ‘agape’ meaning wide open.

[8] Matthew 13:33.

[9] Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862) tried but he lived with nature and made frequent forays into human habitations as well. You just cannot live alone!

[10] Unlike in Hinduism, where after a series of cycle of births the individual merges with the impersonal principle of life or soul called Brahman and loses his/her identity. To escape the cycle of births and merge with Brahman is moksha or salvation.

[11] Matthew 6:20.

[12] Philippians 4:19.