Valson Thampu

I believe that the Christian community in India, as also Christendom globally, is inching towards an unprecedented crisis. It has already reached a stage in which it is utter folly to pretend that we can go on with business as usual.

Here I am not referring primarily to the scandals that have burst into public attention in the recent years. I believe they are mere symptoms, not the disease. The disease lies elsewhere. Spiritual diseases are like cancers. They grow quietly within and, by the time the symptoms manifest, the malady is already life-threatening.

The illness endangering the Christian community does not appear to be serious; and that is precisely the problem. I’d call it by a neologism, “hide-ism.” This aberration had its origin in the Garden of Eden. Since then it has reached pandemic proportions. Let me explain.

At its most simplistic level, this has three aspects. (a) To live is to be responsive. Jesus asked his disciples to “Watch and pray.” Do not be sleepy. Sleep is a metaphor of hiding. To be watchful is to be fully alert to the realities that surround us. To pray is to be prepared and willing to respond to them on behalf of God; for we are to make, as the Lord’s Prayer reveals, the will of God prevail on earth.

(b) It involves the exercise of all God-given faculties –including reason- to their fullest. A believer cannot live in denial of himself or of realities. He shall not be even in partial awareness or in a state of lukewarm responses, like the church in Laodicea. He has to be fully alive, like Jesus was. Its hallmark is –going by Jesus’ example- the ability to discern even the thoughts of those we deal with. This is not an exaggeration; and if it seems otherwise, it only proves that we are, as T.S. Eliot says in Murder in the Cathedral, “living and partly living”.

(c) To grow continually. Surely, fullness cannot be attained through stagnation! Growth is always towards fullness.

This explains the need for, and usefulness of, congregations. We are stimulated in our growth by others. The more diverse, multifaceted and demanding the frontiers of our exposure, the more holistic and rounded our growth will be. God distributes his gifts in a community. What an amazing blessing it is to be part of a congregation in which all members are oriented to life in all its fullness! On the other hand, what a weary and soul-stifling thing it is for all members, if a congregation comprises individuals who are ‘living, and partly living.’ Prophet Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones denotes this.

We were told in our junior science classes that a basic sign of life is the capacity to respond to stimuli. To respond we need to understand. To understand, we have to seek. To seek, we have to be open in our minds. To be open in our minds is to be in charge of oneself and not be, like the paralytic in St. Mark chapter 2, carried on a stretcher by religious functionaries.

The evils plaguing the Christian community, spread over denominations- is this spiritually inauthentic state of living and partly living. From the perspective of those who languish in this state, congregations are incubators, not schools of life. Priests are mediators of unmerited divine favours. The church is a goose that lays golden eggs. A believer has entitlements and privileges, no responsibilities; especially towards the world. The last thing one wants to hear is, “Go, and do likewise!” Or, “Take up your bed and walk!”

Jesus meant faith to be the dynamic power of growth, not a magic wand of superstition. Faith is, quite clearly, a growth principle. Even a casual reading of the parable of the talents makes this amply clear. The proof that you are ‘good and faithful’ is that you grow. The empirical proof that you are growing is that your talents are growing continually. Any state short of this belongs to the church at Sardis: “You have the name of being alive, but you are dead.”

I find my community in a state of existential coma. Christians are not growing in stature. They are marginalizing themselves from the mainstream. This further erodes their confidence; for confidence issues from relevance, which is determined by competence. What worries me all the more is that the church hierarchy remains blissfully blind to these realities, which I have sketched only lightly here. And that, at a time when the writings on the wall are clear that the country as a whole is hurtling towards unchartered territories where unforeseen challenges await.

As a tiny minority community we don’t have, and shall never have, any political clout. We are not a rich community. Our assets are only our public image and the stature of individual Christians, enhancing our collective human resources as a faith community. I am glad that the spurious umbrella under which we lived in illusory security has collapsed with the near-decimation of the Congress party. I see this as a positive and beneficial thing, provided we read its message aright and welcome the duties it presents.

We need to adapt to the emerging situation. We have never seen the like of it before. Life-forms that refuse to, or fail to, adapt perish. To adapt is to bring the fullness of our potential – faith and reason alike – to the process of evolving life-strategies and to emerge from a state of denial vis-à-vis realities. Periods of crisis are indeed invitations to change and to grow, not according to the shifting patterns of the world – but, according to the enduring and revealed wisdom of God incarnated in the given context.

I don’t see anything of this happening in my community. This makes me worry. We continue to live as though quarreling among ourselves, or inflating institutional egos, or currying favours with the powers that be, are all that we need to do. It will not be long before we are tried in the balance. The thing to do is not to run away from the approaching hard days or to deny that reality, but to prepare ourselves as best we can to face it triumphantly. The Cross of Jesus is not about escaping the harshness of the world but about facing it, with one eye fixed on ambient realities and the other, on the tomb the seal of which is already breaking under the authority of God even as the authority of man stamps it with the signet of hopelessness.

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