01 Oct Christian in a secular world
A quote from the March 1989 issue of the National Council of Churches Review will introduce us to the present day application to Christians in a very pressurisingly secular world. In an article reproduced from the Lutheran Literature Society for the Chinese Bulletin and written by Charlotte M Gronseth, who is well acquainted with China, we are faced with the “Golden Time for Christianity in Changing China”. Of course, this was written six months before the latest bloodbath of June 4, Sunday, at the Gate of Heavenly Peace in Beijing, she wrote reporting on China and Chinese Christians:
“Finally, simply in their Daily Lives, Christians have become the “Salt” and the “Light of Society, witnessing to Christ by being conscientious workers, constructive citizens, caring neighbours and people who are committed to living their faith. As a result certain villages which have become almost completely Christian are noted by the local officials to be nearly crime free and in return are given certain privileges.
There is more written in that good article about the Chinese Christians in their secular world, almost all hemmed in from the rest of the world.
How about us as Christians in the secularity of our world and India? That is what we are to consider. Indian society is equally and harshly secular because the true God in Christ is out of our society. As Christians, I feel we have two options in the words of the Lord Jesus in the option of John Baptist or the option of the Lord Himself, either to be an isolationist or and identifier and involver. In Luke 7:33 and 34 Jesus described Himself as one who came eating and drinking and others portrayed Him as a glutton, drunkard and friend of tax-gatherers and sinners. John, on the contrary, was of the opposite pole, a teacher who was austere, completely isolated from the run of society of his day and a sharp judge of sin and sinners.
The Christian way is that of the Lord Jesus Christ who identified fully with mankind at its lowest levels and despicable situations. Of course, many of us of the UESI kind will not be accused of being winebibbers or friends of publicans and sinners. We are awfully busy keeping our ermine whiteness. Yet this is the square one where we must begin if we are to be relevant like Jesus and like the Chinese Christians.
In India of today if EU students would open their eyes and consider society, they will be overwhelmed. The issues which face us all, and we behave as if they do not exist, can only be mentioned without detailed explanation. Let me mention just six of them. Others can be added of further dissected from the list.
First, poverty. I need not dwell on this. In every city and village, pilgrimage and picnic spot all over India, we are faced with poverty. Ignoring or looking down on the poor for their unfortunate lot also making the superior due to an obsessed preoccupation with heavenly affairs are out way to face the issue of poverty in the nation.
Second, untouchability. We Christians may think that it is a Hindu problem. Leaving the Hindu aside, the various ways in which Indian Christians practice untouchability are too laborious for this article to discuss. Why, even within denominations of the Indian Church this terrible practice exists.
Third, oppression. It has many phases and faces, in inequality of sexes, in bonded labour, in suppressing the dalit groups and economic exploitation of the weak and the illiterate just to mention a few. In all these areas cruel pressure and oppression, both overt and covert, are applied. It is all over India and Christians are not exempted here.
Fourth, parochialism. The jingoistic or pious language fanatism that grows furiously across this nation, the sons of the soil philosophy and state loyalties which are nourished, political life and living around these and other emotive issues, and even denominational isulation among Christians are all expressions of narrow minds and shriveled hearts.
Fifth, materialism. This demonstrates in an insatiable struggle even fight for more and more of things, the vain parade of possession, competitiveness and rat race or in adipting any method and way to get what people, say even Christians, want.
Sixth, litigation. They are characteristic of Indian Christians for one reason and another. Nothing to mention about those who are not named Christians. Vested interests, graft, power mongering and properties are all root causes behind this practice. So on and on we can enumerate the secular issues that deeply affect our Indian society.
In the face of all these, What will the true Christian student do? They are questions for us to answer.
Years ago, a former EU student, now a leading pastor, told me: The evangelicals have no answer to the crises in life and the desperate problems of man.’ He was speaking after years of pastoral work in different parts of India. The issues listed above are part of the crises of man. They are desperate problems, too.
Therefore, I submit, that students must confront such issues and consider them in depth with students. They need to think about them and their place. There has to be serious thought as to the Christian answer to such problems. There is no use living as if these can be merely wished away by singing good choruses. To consider and pray about them is Christian and Christ-like for students. Only then will they turn out to be good Christian graduates.
How then shall the graduates already ushered into life in this world of secularism, behave?
Surely it must be different from the student approach. It must be by accepting the way and example of the Lord Jesus. He, through the parables of the Good Samaritan and the Lost Sheep, has given very clear lines of action for us. The Christian in a secular world with its awful predicament and the masses of men and women engulfed in that predicament is given these lines to live out. The example of the Lord toward the Samaritan woman in John four and the woman who washed His feet in Simon’s home is historical and enjoining us to practice. All these instances from the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus clearly demand that Christian graduates must quit being fundamentalistic isolationists of the pharisaical type who are sealed off by the concern for personal salvation. The graduates can and
must involve, where they are, with life in its gaping rawness injustice and unrighteousness. Probing into the awful dark chambers of society to find what goes on and to rescue lost and helpless people is a further step for Christians. Atleast we must stand behind those who are involved in such missions of mercy and rescue.
There is the EU graduate of two decades ago that flashes across my mind to clarify the point. He with his family is in a western country. For years he remained an Indian citizen there. He came on and off to India. Thus for a span of time he thought of enjoying both the worlds without involvement in either. Now when I met him a year ago, he had become a citizen of that country of residence,. His family with him is involved in the local life and its challenges. They were making a good contribution to the local church, which has a good world missionary programme. We who are citizens of India are to be found involved here. We are not to be just talking and discussing social concern and evangelism. We are to be concerned with what is happening. Merely praying over these issues piously is far from satisfactory. Being involved and getting our hands soiled is important. That was Jesus’ way. Jesus Christ and His apostles were involved people not isolationists in this world’s ungodly system. They showed a marvellous way, which is Jesus way. The missionaries and Christian heroes were in this world but not of this world. They were in a secular, ungodly world and took it seriously and personally. When they left the world, it was better for their being here.
Some more quotation from the NCC Review and from the same article by C M Gronseth will drive the matter clearly home as to what you and I can do. “In many other ways as well Chinese Christians have committed, themselves to being as Luther said, “Little Christs, bringing the Gospel in many creative ways to their own people.
“A young Christian woman author in Shanghai, Chen Naishan, who was attracted to Christianity through reading authors such as Tolstoy, is now writing novels of her own which I hear have become popular. These novels, like C.S. Lewis’ fiction are written from the Christian perspective and embody Christian values and ideals, though Christianity is not explicitly mentioned. “In the political sphere, Christians are being, elected to the local people’s congresses and are thus bringing he presence of Christ into these areas. And the Amity Foundation, created at the initiative or Christians, has now taken initiative of approaching China’s main book distributor, the Xinhua Shudian (New China Book Shop), with the request that Bibles now be sold not only within church premises but also in the book stores. This request was granted in principle, though technical details remain to be worked out.”
About the Author
Rev. P.T. Chandapilla (1926 – 2010) The author was the first General Secreatry of UESI later become Vicar General of St Thomas Evangelical Church of India