PASTOR ALLWIN JOHNSON - CHURCHLESS CHRISTIANITY: CAN THERE BE A CHRISTIAN WITHOUT CHURCH?
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CHURCHLESS CHRISTIANITY: CAN THERE BE A CHRISTIAN WITHOUT CHURCH?

PASTOR ALLWIN JOHNSON

In a small town called Sivakasi, there are a type of people who are called secret Christians. As Hoefer, a researcher of Churchless Christians testifies, "Sivakasi is the location of the famous 'Secret Christians'. Meanwhile, they are not negligible in number. As leading missiologist Roger Hedlund says, while not identifiable with "Church," this category forms a significant component of South Indian religious life and represents one aspect of the indigeneity of Christianity.

There is a reason for this increase in number of Churchless Christians. The present Church in Sivakasi is in a different, partly adopted cultural setup where a Hindu cannot perfectly fit in. So, if a Hindu converts to Christianity, he has only two options before him. One is, to rebel against his community and cultural setup and join with the institution of Church. Another is, to remain as a secret follower of Christ with out an external identity or a Church membership. The Church requires the Individual Hindu-converts to come out of their community, and become a part of the institution of Church. It never considers the secret Christians as a real followers of Christ. But most Hindu-converts, who are bound-up in their social norms, find it very difficult to break-up from their community. So, mostly they decide to stay away as chruchless Christians. So, in this paper, I want to address the problem of the institution of Church and the secret followers of Christ. In India, can there be a Christian without the Church? Let us discuss about this issue with a case study from Sivakasi.

Case Study

Rani, wife of a famous Nadar fireworks businessman in Sivakasi, accepted Christ through a gospel program in television and decided to be a follower of Jesus in her whole life. She also received a miraculous healing through praying to Jesus, with the help of that television program. As she continued to watch those Christian programs in television, she became so firm in the faith on Jesus. When days passed by, she shared this with her husband, but there was no positive or negative response from him. Soon she met a Christian lady who goes to an independent charismatic Church and she was very happy to talk to her about the healing and conversion she had through a television program. That Christian lady told her, "if my pastor comes and prays for your family, God will surely bless you." Rani convinced her husband and brought the pastor to her house for a prayer. When the pastor came, he indirectly compelled her to come to his Church and take baptism. He also said, "unless you do this, you can never love Jesus and be his follower. God has given his very life for you and healed you from your sickness, why can't you do this very small thing for him?" Rani was totally confused. Her husband would never allow her to take baptism and join the Church. She fought with her husband many days regarding her baptism and her whole family life turned to a chaos. Her husband advised her to worship Jesus in their own puja room, watch Christian television programs and send offerings to some television preacher. But the Local pastor advised her to take baptism in his Church and join his Church. Rani, poor lady, due to her love on Jesus, accepted the words of Pastor as God's word and took baptism and become a member of that Church. This created a major problem in their family circle, which finally ended up in a family breakage. The relatives spurred anger on her because she adopted a Christian God who works against Hindu culture and society (as presented by the Church in India). In Hindu Nadar social setup, a community feeling has bound everyone together and no individual can go of their own. The family relations are inextricably interwoven into each other. So, Rani's adoption of western religion has exploded as a problem among the community.

Now, she is attending the Church regularly, but her family and other Christians have earned the burning hatred of the surrounding Hindu community. Her family is looked down by the rest of the community. Her husband is not in good terms with her, because he has suffered heavy insult and mockery at his business place. He has also lost his image in the Hindu Nadars Businessmen Association, and he could never attend those meetings. One person became Christian, but the whole family went into a chaos.

From then on, the Christians and Church has been accused of converting individuals and breaking the Hindu families. The picture of Jesus was distorted among the non-Christians by Church itself. There came a big gap between Christians and non-Christians, where we cannot share the gospel of Jesus Christ anymore. The Hindus became more firm in their religion, in order to defend themselves. Even the nominal Hindus became more religious and started to celebrate their religious festivals with much devotion. The Hindus became aware of Christians' attempt of conversion. So, they never allow any Christian to talk about Jesus at any circumstances.

Statement of Problem

Here, from this case study, we can notice the tragedy which is going on among the Hindu converts of Sivakasi. It is because of these problems, most of the converts avoid Churches and remain as Churchless Christians. They accept Jesus Christ, read the Bible at their home, send offerings to some television preachers and try their best to avoid worshipping Idols. Sivakasi Churchless Christians are different than other secret Christians. As Hoefer feels, we cannot call them as secret Christians, because, in fact, they are neither "secret" nor "Christian." They are not really secret, because, if you ask, they will confess openly that they are the followers of Christ. And according to present Church's stance, they are not Christians, because they are not baptized. So Hoefer says, most practice it quite openly but all practice it quite tactfully. And he calls them as "tactful believers in Christ." But unfortunately, the Church does not accept these people as part of the Christianity, rather demands the converts to have a compulsory membership and sacraments in the Church. Their reason for this demand is Matthew 16:18; where Jesus says, I will build my Church. So, the Church (Catholic, Protestant, Charismatic or other Independent Churches) assumes itself as an institution of Jesus, to continue his mission on the earth. Any follower of Christ should be the member of this institution at any cost. The family relations should not be a hurdle for any one to be a part of the Church. Because in Luke 14:26-27, Jesus requires his disciples to carry their cross and to hate their father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters. And also Luke 12:51-53; where Jesus says, "Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other..." So, a new Hindu-convert has a double trouble. One from the institution of Church and another from his own community. He could not fully join both the sides and been thumped on both sides.

Every Church has its own doctrines and traditions, by which they function with in the four walls and there is no single Church which concerns for the tragedy of these individual Hindu converts, outside the Church. Are the Church's demands justifiable? Can't there be a Christian without Church? What is the fate of those who remain Churchless? What is the biblical answer for it?

quest for a solution

Some scholars attempted to address this issue either in comprehensive way or in a brief manner. Herbert E. Hoefer, a Lutheran missionary to Tamil Nadu, conducted a research on behalf of Gurukul Lutheran Theological college and Research Institute, Madras. He calls these Churchless Christians as "the other sheep," referring to John 10:14-16; "I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me... And I have other sheep that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd." So Hoefer considers that, while Church is functioning separately, there is also an other Christians aside who are also the saved people of God. He also has drawn a missiological strategy for the Churchless Christians. The most fascinating proposal of Hoefer is the "Christ-ized Hinduism." Further, he believes that this Churchless Christianity is a new indigenous Christian movement. And he also believes indigenization which cannot be done by Church, is now been carried by the community of Churchless Christians. Hoefer in his book, says,

Can Christianity really be absorbed into this totally different religio-cultural environment? Certainly, it cannot be done by the Church, but it has already begun among the non-baptised believers as we have seen in our survey . . . . I disagree therefore, with those who hold the Church to blame for lack of progress in developing indigenous Church forms . . . .The real move toward an indigenous Christian faith can never come from the Christian community. It must grow out of the ‘Churchless Christianity’, with the help and encouragement of the Church.

Thus, Hoefer gives an encouraging sign for the community of Churchless Christians in Tamil Nadu.

Timothy C. Tennet, in his article "The Challenge of Churchless Christianity," refers Ralph Winter, the founder and director of U.S. Center for World Missions, California. Tennet says that Winter has made numerous comments about the Churchless Christianity and his comments indicate that the presence of Churchless Christianity is not only missiologically sound, but also strategically superior to traditional Churches. Winter says there

Apparently, our real challenge is no longer to extend the boundaries of Christianity but to acknowledge that Biblical, Christian faith has already extensively flowed beyond Christianity as a cultural movement, just as it has historically flowed beyond Judaism and Roman Catholicism. Our task may well be to allow and encourage Muslims and Hindus and Chinese to follow Christ without identifying themselves with a foreign religion. The Third reformation is here.

Tennet explains the significance of the term "Third Reformation" here. Winter alludes the first reformation as a move beyond the mono-cultural framework of Judaism and the second reformation as a move beyond Roman Catholicism. Now the third reformation is "Churchless Christianity," the work of the gospel beyond the territory of Christian community, among the structural frame work of other religions.

In another side, Indian theologian M.M. Thomas gives a new concept, "Christ-centered secular fellowship" outside the Church. He says that the Church take form as a Christ-centered fellowship of faith and ethics in the Hindu religious community. He rejects sacramental baptism because baptism in India has become a sign of proselytism into a socio-political involving rejection of their own socio-political communities. He talks about a distinctive new humanity which belongs to Jesus, but exists outside the "empirical Church."

While the above Scholars talked about Churchless Christianity as a community outside Christianity, the Indian Christian theologians of the Madras rethinking group, in the early twentieth century talked about the total abolition of the institution of the western Church. As we saw earlier, the new Hindu-convert could not cope up with the present Church system and as a result he remains as a secret Christian or Churchless Christian. Chenchiah, a Hindu convert, felt an uneasy feeling with the western concept of Church and came up with a new indigenized Christ-ism from the gospels, using his Hindu perspective. So for this paper, I have taken Chenchiah's view of Church and his Kingdom of God theology.

THEOLOGY OF CHENCHIAH

Pandippedi Chenchiah, as a young man became a Christian along with his family from a Brahmin caste and Intellectual class background. He earned a degree in philosophy and then mastered in law. He served in various degrees of designations in Governmental offices and then he was also appointed as the Judge of small state—Pudukottah. As Thangasamy describes him, he loved scholarship and at the same time what he read was coming out of him all the time as he reflected on the ideas, movements, and needs of men of his time. Coming from a true Hindu Brahmin background with adequate scholarship, his thoughts were genuine, bold and unorthodox. He perceived Christianity with his innate Hindu cultural frame work and began to analyze it with the Scripture. He dared to critique the structure and functions of western Church and religion, Christianity. He was one of the first native Christian thinkers of the nation India. He was also one of the forerunners of the Madras rethinking group in the early twentieth century.

When every Christian, thought from within the institution of Church and its traditions and customs, Chenchiah stood outside the Church and its traditions and assessed it with the Scripture using his Hindu cultural frame work. First, he expresses, how a real Hindu mindset would be. Then he explains the influence of western mindset in the Christian ecclesiology. Finally he contrasts the Hindu mind with the western mind and proposes a new Christian ecclesiology, with the help of Jesus and his teachings, which perfectly suits a Hindu mind.

Chenchiah's perspective of church

Before looking at Chenchiah's ideologies, it would be helpful for us to see the radical perspective of Chenchiah towards the western concept of Church. Chenchiah looks at four different people with four different view of Church. The first is Roman Catholic Church. The Church self-propagates that it represents Christ on earth and acts like the sole instrument of salvation. It alone assumes to form authority to form doctrines and acts like a guardian of Jesus Christ. Salvation is through believing in Christ as interpreted by the Church. As Chenchiah says, in Catholicism, sacraments are absolutely necessary for Christian life and growth. The grace and authority flows from God to sinner through the Pope and other Church officials. The Pope and bishops are crowned, enthroned, live in their places, rule over their subjects—believers. We can see a monarchial rule in the Church of Catholicism, which theologically captivating the people.

The Protestant setup is one step lower than the Catholicism. "The Protestant theory of Church follows the democratic theory of state." The grace flows directly to the sinner without any mediation. The Church is considered as the fellowship of the saved. Sacraments are outward expressions of inward grace. Church is established by Jesus as baptism and Eucharist, therefore it is for fuller life and growth. The Church government is in a hierarchical type from Bishop to Priests and other officials. Regarding Ecumenicals, Chenchiah says, "This Church resembles a dumb-bell." There are in two sections, the high Church and the low Church. The high Church believes same like Catholicism except Pope. The low Church accepts the Protestant view of the Church. They cling to their Episcopal form of government, the creeds, the sacraments and the prayer book. The final is the laymen view, which regard Church as a useful institution for worship, fellowship and propagation. These people do not worry about any other doctrines, politics, traditions and so on. Thus Chenchiah looks and explains the complexity of the present western concept of Church. While the Christian spirituality through Church is based on the western mindset, Chenchiah moves ahead to explain what is really there in a Hindu mindset.

A Hindu's mindset

Chenchiah strongly believes that in every Christian of south India, the Hindu lives as part of his inheritance and molds his opinions often unconsciously. So there is a Hindu mindset in almost every south Indian Christian. And in describing the Hindu mind, Chenchiah presents four basic characteristics. Among them the first and most important is the "Individual Spirituality." Chenchiah says, "The Hindu mind may be said to be institutional in social life and highly individual in spiritual life." The Hindu believes in a social communalism, where a society exists apart form its members and dominates his life. But when it comes to religion, every one has his own stance and spiritual growth. There is no doctrinal compulsion on individuals that they must do certain things.

The second characteristic is that there is "no central authority", and the society should not be organized throughout. For this, he gives an example of Sadhu in a Hindu religion, who stands apart from the obligations of caste which controls the society. Sadhu is just a religious guide to the bhakthas, who doesn't have any social and religious control on them. The third characteristic is that there is "no single central institution" by which man shall be ruled. The controlling power should be diversified and not unified to exercise absolute authority over the citizens. Here, he gives the example of the village society, where there is no central power. So the "Hinduism insists that small units are far more enduring and powerful in religion than central organizations." And the final characteristic is the intangible custom or hidden principles which govern the Hindu mind. Chenchiah calls it as "rules of the unseen," which prevails pre-eminently in religion. The society is unorganized and there is no single central authority to rule over, but still it is not in chaos because of the government of transcendental law among the people. This is a fascinating form of governing the society and this reveals the co-operating communalism of the Hindu mind.

Biblical Argument for Kingdom of God

Having explained the Hindu mindset, Chenchiah turns his cannon towards the western concept of Church. He strongly criticizes the very structural setup of the Church institution and attempts to prove that it is not biblical. He expresses, "it would be difficult to hold that Jesus anticipated the growth of any institution like Church as an integral part of this religion." In fact a unbiased study of the sayings of the Lord, reveals that the idea of the Church as we understand it, does not occur. In fact, Chenchiah says,

Jesus was condemned and crucified before he established anything enduring. He made no plans for the future. He did not leave a single saying of his in writing. He gave no commands. It may be doubted whether he instituted any sacraments or left any testament to his disciples.

The texts usually referred to base the argument for the Church in the gospels, do not necessarily mean an institution. According to Chenchiah the institutional Church has replaced the two vital aspects of gospels. One is the raw fact of Christ and another is the Kingdom of God. The person Jesus and his teachings in the gospels, got enveloped by a huge globe of tradition and testimony. When days passed by, the supremacy of Christ has been shifted to supremacy of Christianity or the Church. So, religion assumes more value than its founder. Thus Christ is replaced by Christianity by the Church.

The second aspect the Church missed is the Kingdom of God. Chenchiah, comes up with a new argument that in the gospels, "as clear as the absence of reference to the Church is the place and prominence given to the Kingdom of God." Chenchiah strongly believes that the whole concept of Jesus Christ was based on the Kingdom of God concept, but the Church neglected this and magnified the Church concept. Chenchiah also contrasts the Kingdom of God with the Church. In short he says, "the Church represents an army, the Kingdom of God a new race." The Church has always been associated with army, state and organizations, but the Kingdom of God was intended to inaugurate a new order of existence.

Further, he argues that Christianity is not a religion as it was made by the Church. "The gospel is that God in Jesus has made a new creation." And he continues that the Church does not teach us the mystery of new birth, rather it detracts our attention from the central fact. The central fact is, Jesus is the advent of new creation—the manifestation of a new cosmic energy, the Holy Spirit. And Christianity is the Kingdom of God, a new creative order, where a Christian is one who born not of blood and will of man, but by the Holy Spirit over shadowing him. Soon after the ascension of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit came and filled the disciples with new power. Even in the midst of persecution, the early Church powerfully spreaded everywhere, with the help of the Spirit. But when Rome conquered the Church, the Holy Spirit left the Church. So in order to regain the Holy Spirit, the Christians should come out of the Church and form the real Kingdom of God.

Indian Rejection of Church

In India, Chenchiah says, primarily the rejection of Church happens mostly due to the Spiritual reason rather than political grounds. If a western model Church enters India, then Christians will have trans-Indian loyalties for their foreign religion. So Chenchiah says, "In India, on purely national grounds, we do not want to encourage religions having trans-Indian loyalties...we cannot tolerate opposing forces planted in our religion—in the form of Church..." So for Chenchiah, the Church cannot be a national influence.

The second reason for rejecting Church is its corrupted nature. As Chenchiah says that exalting the Church and its doctrines, more than its founder and raising the priest to the pedestal of God, are welknown to Hinduism. He continues to that saying, "the sanity of Hinduism—in its more exalted forms has ruled out all these as pathological." So, we do not need to accept this erroneous doctrines of western Church and be a slave to a western Christianity, rather Hinduism and Jesus bid Indians to stand by his freedom.

The third reason is, the Church in its worship, fellowship and propagation, is in the Western socio-cultural pattern, which contradicts with the Indian mindset. Church was made as the sole place of worship in the west. But Indian traditions have always nurtured family devotions. As Chenchiah says, "the household was a temple, the father the priest. In India we see puja rooms in every house, where worship would take place daily not just on Sundays. So Chenchiah views Indian traditional way of worship is more efficient than the western way of corporate worship. Regarding fellowship, Chenchiah critiques that the Church does not really function as a strong fellowship. Because, even a Christian finds more fellowship only in the society and not in the Church. For, in a week, once Christians meet in Church and six days in the society. So Hindu traditional social life is the best way to have fellowship with each other.

And finally regarding the propagation, Chenchiah scraps it down cheaply, saying, "the belief that without the Church the missionary cause will suffer, has its justification only on the financial side." Even in Hinduism, there was always a good deal of inter-sect propaganda and conversion, but the temple was never the recognized organ of those. He added to that saying, "the western way of thinking that organizations strengthens the forces of propagation was never true in India." For a biblical example, Chenchiah refers the book of Acts, where the place of the visible Church was taken by the invisible Holy Spirit. The disciples who were under the guidance of Holy Spirit, is the conspicuous instance of the movement of life; highly dynamic without any institutional support.

So Chenchiah strongly says, "there is no Church, Catholic or Protestant..." Jesus never intend to form an institution where his followers get baptized and be a member. But he started a new creative order, Kingdom of God, where every human have a new birth and become new man with the help of the Holy Spirit. Hindu cultural setting can be a better pattern to contextualize the person Jesus and his teachings of Kingdom of God. With Hinduistic method of Individual Spirituality, Indian Christians can be a better followers of Jesus under the direct guidance of Holy Spirit. The Indian traditional method of family devotion, the Hindu socio-community life and individual propagation under the immediate command of Spirit are the best Indian ways of worship, fellowship and propagation. Finally as an advice, Chenchiah recommends Ashrams for Indian Christian spiritual development. He says, "the ashram was born in the days of spiritual experiment in India." So it is then to the Christian Ashram that we should turn for instruction in the techniques (sadhana) of spiritual life. Thus Chenchiah wants Jesus and his Kingdom of God principle in a true Hindu socio-cultural setup.

BIBLICAL ANSWER FOR INDIAN ECCLESIOLOGY

The concept of Church is not so much talked about by Jesus Christ. But St. Paul has talked much about Church and its functions in his letters. The word Church (ekklesia) is used only two times in the gospels, where it is used 113 times in the other books. In gospels, Jesus himself used the word two times (Matthew 16:18; 18:17). In Matthew 16:18, Jesus promises Peter, "on this rock I will build my Church."

Jesus' Meaning of Ekklesia

Most of the scholars parse the Greek word ekklesia and define the meaning of it. As Willmington says, the word ekklesia derived form the word ekkaleo. The compound ek means "out" and the kaleo means "to call or summon." Thus the literal meaning is call out. Based on this Church means, community of the believers of Christ who are called out from the world and its sins. Hagner explains it differently, saying, underlying the Greek word ekklesia, Church is an Aramaic word spoken by Jesus meaning "community" (qahal). The word ekklesia appears often in LXX, usually in the translation of qahal. Israel could have been called as the community of the lord. If Jesus is the Christ, then it is natural to expect that the community Jesus refers to is the messianic community or the eschatological people of God. The point of assertion is that Jesus, i.e., the risen Jesus, will build his new community in the first instance through the labor of the apostles. The metaphorical use of build (oikodomeso) is appropriate to a community conceived of as a Spiritual house or temple. So, as Jesus says, "I will build my Church," he probably means that I will build my community. This clearly do not denote an institution of Jesus, but an community of Jesus. But for our surprise the word Church is used in Matthew 18:17 has a slightly different meaning. While the 16:18 refers to the universal community of Jesus, the word Church in 18:17, refers the local assembly of the community. So from Jesus' different usage of the word Church, we can know that there is an universal community of Christ and at the same time there is also a local community. This local community can probably be a part of the universal community.

Building the Community

Now, we come to know that Jesus promised to build his community on his disciple. How he is going to build his community on this earth? The answer for this question comes from the great commission of Jesus in Matthew 28:19-20. "Go and Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." Jesus who made disciples in his earthly ministry, now commanding his disciples to go and make disciples. The word "disciple" does not mean a mere convert. The Greek word mathetes, literally means "a learner." Even then Hendrikson feels, mere mental understanding does not make one a disciple. The truth learned must be practiced. It must be appropriated by heart, mind and will. Jesus himself explains discipleship in his great commission. Baptize them in the name of the Trinity and teach them to obey (Matthew 28:19b,20). Three things happen at discipleship process, Baptism—conversion, teaching—learning and obeying—practicing. So discipleship process starts at conversion and continues with learning and practicing in the whole life.

Even in his final commission to his disciples, Jesus did not talk about forming an organizational setup of his ministry. His did not carry over his mission to a particular person or to a particular religion. So Jesus never talked about a central authority of religion who controls all his missionary affairs and guide people. Without any discrimination, he commands all his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations. Jesus did not limit himself to any religion or sect. He wanted him to be preached to all religions and to all people. When, he entered his ministry, he discipled his twelve disciples and other. But at the culmination of his earthly ministry, he passed the baton to all his followers and asked them imitate him in everything. Jesus' intention is to transform every single human like him and establish his Kingdom on earth. So, not a single institution or person, alone carries out the mission of Jesus, but each and every individual disciples.

Body of Christ

As Jesus promised, "I will build my community," he has been building from Peter's first evangelistic message onwards. And all those who become disciples of Jesus, together form the universal community of Christ. In that community life, there is an interdependence and an inter-serving are found. A single man cannot survive or grow without helping or been helped by others. St. Paul goes little deeper into this community or body and tries to explain Ephesians about the functions within the community. He perceives different gifts of service operating in different members of the community, to help each others. In Ephesians 4:11, he says, "And he himself appointed some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists and some to be pastors and teachers." These gifts are given according to the grace given to each one of the members (4:7).

First, an apostle is merely a messenger. Vine says, the Greek word apostolos means that one sent forth (apo = from and stellō = to send). Secondly, a prophet is the "one who speaks forth openly" or "a proclaimer of divine message." The prophesying of New Testament prophets was both preaching of the gospel of grace and the foretelling of the purposes of God in the future. Thirdly, Evangelists (euangelistēs) literally means "a messenger of good" (eu = well and angelos = a messenger). This denotes evangelist as a preacher of the gospel. (Acts 21:8; Ephesians 4:11). It seems that apostles and evangelists have more or less same ministry. Fourthly, Pastors (poimēnas) literally means, a Shepherd or one who feeds and cares herds or flocks. This word also referred for the pastoral care (John 21:16; Acts 20:28; I Peter 5:2). Jesus is called as our Shepherd (John 10:11, 14; Hebrews 13:20; I Peter 2:5). The idea behind this term is the care and affection that a shepherd takes for his sheep. Fifthly and finally, Teachers (didaskalos), which simply mean the one who teaches. In Jewish tradition the rabbi, who were called as teachers. Because they used to teach the Law (torah) to the Jews. In Matthew 23:8 and 10, Jesus Himself called as a rabbi and teacher.

Elsewhere St. Paul mentions about some other gifts like serving, teaching, encouraging, giving, governing and showing mercy (Romans 12:7-8). In I Corinthians 12:8-10, again St. Paul mentions about nine spiritual gifts. All these gifts are entrusted to different members of the community of Christ or body of Christ. Why God entrusts these gifts to the members of body of Christ? St. Paul answers this question in Ephesians 4:12, to equip the members for the work of service and to build up of the body of Christ. Equipping each other and building the community. The Greek word used here for equipping is katartismon, which really means to make perfect or to repair. In Matthew 5:48, Jesus says, "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Jesus wanted us to be perfect as the heavenly Father. The members of the community of Christ help each other to make everyone perfect like Jesus. Community building is also one of the purpose of gifts. In Greek the term oikodomē is used for the verb "building," The same verb oikodomē is used when Jesus said, "I will build my Church" (Matthew16:18). So Jesus builds his community on earth through his disciples, by giving them gifts and talents. This building not only refers to a physical growth but also to a spiritual growth.

Network of the Community

After explaining the internal functions within the body of Christ, St. Paul now illustrates the network with in the community. The functions, he explained above are not to rule others but to serve others. So there are no separate offices which facilitate separate services. Within the community, the members who are gifted to serve, serve others without a assuming a special office for it. And all the servers and the served, together forms the body of Christ. St. Paul describes this in Ephesians 4:16; "From Christ the whole body, joined and knit together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself in love, as each part does its work. Here St. Paul uses the imagery of human body and head to explain the relationship between Christ and his community. He also explains the function of the body to continue in surviving and growing.

Jesus Christ is the head of the body and whole body refers the universal community of Christ. Body is perfectly attached to the head, who is Christ and from the head, the whole body is being controlled. So Jesus Christ is the source for the body from which all the other members are joined and knit together. According to this imagery, Christ alone is the Head or Controller and he himself controls each and every part of the body without any mediation. So every individual member of the community has an direct relationship with Christ and functions as per Christ's direction.

Here Paul used two terms to express how close the members of the united together to form one body under the head. The first one is joined together, sunarmologeō which means to fit or frame together (sun = with, harmos = a joint and lego = to choose). Paul used this term twice in Ephesians to denote the unity of the parts of the body of Christ (2:21; 4:16). Knit together or compacted together is sunbibazō which means to cause to coalesce or combine together or held together. Paul is using both terms simultaneously to emphasize the togetherness of the whole body of Christ.

Finally, St. Paul says, every member of the community is joined and held together as the parts of human body. Now every member should do its function carefully, as it is directed by the head. And when everyone functions well, together the body grows and builds itself up in love.

As we have from the above three passages, Jesus promises to build his community on earth. To build his community, he commissioned his disciples to go and disciple all the nations. Discipleship is threefold, baptism—conversion, teaching—learning and obeying—practicing. All the disciples together form the body of Christ, in which Christ in the head and community of Christ is the body. Each part of the body or the community is gifted differently to serve one another. When everybody does their work diligently, the whole community under the headship of Jesus will grow in love. This is the simple biblical ecclesiology.

 

A NEW INDIAN CHRISTIAN ECCLESIOLOGY

After realizing the problem of Church for the new Hindu-converts and secret Christians or Churchless Christians, we have seen Chenchiah's "Kingdom of God" theology and Biblical "Community of Jesus" theology. Because the Church is based on western thinking, Hindus find it very difficult to accept it? Now, it is time to answer the question, Can there be a Christian without Church?

Yes, there can be a Christian without Church. From the above interaction with Chenchiah and Bible, we can boldly say that Jesus did not intend to form a institution or religion. Jesus formed a new creative order, where new creative men and women join and form a community of Jesus. So those who become follower of Jesus Christ becomes a Christian. And if they have healthy individual devotion with Jesus, they continue to be a good Christian. But, as per Chenchiah's proposal, do we need to abolish the whole Church system? I believe, we should not. God has been working with the Church for about 2000 years, and he still working through it, to change the lives of millions of unbelievers. Chenchiah was wrong when he said that the Holy Spirit left the Christians, when Roman empire adopted Christianity. Without the work of Holy Spirit, the gospel wouldn't have entered India through various missionaries. God is at work, yesterday and today in all Roman Catholicism, Protestantism and Ecumenism.

In India, the problem lies in the clash of worldviews. The western worldview and Hindu worldview contrasts and conflicts each other. So, the solution for the problem is not abolition of Indian Church but a reformation of Indian Church. If necessary the Church should also be renamed in an ideal Indian expression. But, practically it is very difficult to change the structural Indian Church into an unstructural community of Christ. It cannot be done in an overnight. So, the present Church should allow the gospel to saturate other religions outside the Church. As Winter says, it is the third reformation, where the gospel works in the religions outside Christian culture and religion. When the Hindu communities are affected by the power of the gospel, a new community will develop outside the present Church, as it has already happened in the form of Churchless Christianity. This community will increase greatly in the near future and will influence the present Church. So our duty is to motivate any kind of Churchless Christianity.

Chenchiah's Kingdom of God theology should be applied in our own Hindu socio-cultural setup, together with St. Paul's Body of Christ theology. A Community of Jesus should be developed among the Hindu community. Chenchiah was correct in his contextual theology related to worship, fellowship and propagation. When a Hindu accepts Jesus Christ, he does not come out of his Hindu community, rather he takes Jesus in. Then Jesus becomes the God of that Hindu, and He is worshipped in a Hindu way of worship. Indian family devotion is more effective in spiritual growth than the corporate worship. The converted Hindu family continues to worship in their puja room, not with their old Idols but with Jesus. And propagation goes on from one Hindu to another, and thus a community of Jesus will be formed among the Hindu community. This new community will not pull itself apart from the larger scale Hindu community but will stay within and influence. There won't be much friction between the new community and the larger scale Hindu community, because they all culturally Hindus, but only their God differs. In Hinduism you can worship any of your Ista Devata, but you should stay with in its cultural fold. So as a community, they have all worship, fellowship and propagation.

Here, the Church has come up with a question, can they accept every cultural aspect of Hinduism as good? A non-Hindu cannot and should not judge the Hindu cultural elements, but a Hindu can sit and critically analyze his culture with new Scripture, Bible. When Jesus enters into a culture, he transforms it thoroughly by the work of the Spirit. This new community of Jesus forms under the Chenchiah's Kingdom of God theology. The new Hindu-converts are new creations, under the headship of Jesus Christ and together they form a new order. But Chenchiah's proposal of Hinduism's individual spirituality seems to contradict with the Biblical pattern of spirituality. Chenchiah did not consider the early Church in Acts 2:42-47, where believers had fellowship together praising God and enjoying the favor of all people. There was teaching, fellowship, worship and helping each other. Chenchiah focused only on the Kingdom of God theology from the gospels and he ignored the St. Paul's instructions about the body of Christ and its functions. So, here Chenchiah is wrong because his basic hermeneutic of Scripture itself unvalid. He did not regard the Bible as a verbally or divinely inspired book, but rather as collection of records and treatises on God's revelations of himself to man and man's expression of him. The Scriptural basis for his argument was limited to the four gospels of the New Testament and he lacks an impartial perspective on the Scripture. His hermeneutic was also highly conditioned by the Hinduism, which lead him to a misunderstanding of some of the biblical concepts.

Biblical spirituality is never an individual spirituality. It always emphasizes on interdependent collective spirituality, as we saw in the body imagery, every part depends on another. There are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to help each other to grow spiritually. Individual cannot stand of his own when he faces the critical situations in his life. So every individual follower of Christ is dependent on others like him. Hinduism's individual spirituality lead most of its adherents to an extreme nominalism. In contemporary Hinduism, most Hindus do not have a healthy spiritual life. They seek God only for their physical illness, financial needs and other worldly things. Newbigin bluntly disagrees with this saying, "the New Testament knows nothing of a relationship with Christ which is purely mental and spiritual, unembodied in any of the structures of human relationship. It will be helpful for their spiritual growth, if they join together and have teaching, fellowship and encouragement from one other. This need not be a formal meeting like Churches have, but as an informal community meeting.

What happens to our all traditions which has been accumulated over 2000 years? Are all those are meaningless? No, they have their own meaning, but only to the traditional Christians and not for the Hindu-converts. Hoefer says, "these non-eseential – though perhaps salutary – traditions need not be insisted upon. In fact, if they are insisted upon, we seriously mix law and gospel and make people 'submit again to a yoke of slavery'." When Christianity came to Greeks, they removed all Jewish customs and took the gospel alone. When the reformation happened in 15th century, the reformers left most of the traditions of Roman Catholicism and formed of their own. Now as gospel works in other religions, we should not force our traditions on them.

Then, what about the biblical traditions like Baptism and communion, which are considered as instituted by Jesus himself? Chenchiah doubts, whether Jesus actually instituted any sacraments. But Jesus has clearly stated in his final commission to go and make disciples, baptizing and teaching them. So Baptism seem to be a command from Jesus for all his followers. In biblical meaning, Baptism is considered as an act of new birth, to join a new community. So, Tennet considers that these Churchless Christians should be baptized to join the global Christian movement. But, Hofer comes up with the Adiaphora principle, which is a theological tool developed during the controversies of reformation period. The principle intends to discern between matters which must be considered essential to salvation and matters which are peripheral. "The adiaphora principle also insists that whatever does not lead us directly into this gospel-gift is not to be required. If this principle is applied in present Christianity, more than ninety percent of its traditions will be deducted.

Are the sacraments like baptism and communion are essential for salvation? No, not at all. Because Scripture clearly says that we are justified solely by grace through faith, and not through anything we do and present God as making us worthy before him (Cf. Romans 1:17; 3:19-22; Gal. 2:16). So Baptismal rite is not an inevitable to be saved. Then why Jesus commanded us to practice that? The answer is that Jesus wanted his people to practice it inwardly. St. Paul talks about a real circumcision to the Greeks. He says, "A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is the circumcision merely outwards and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code" (Romans 2:28-29). So, not a outward baptism but a inward new creation is essential in salvation.

While Baptism is related to the conversion, the rite of Communion is related with the sanctification or discipleship process. So, baptismal rite can be given up, but communion is necessary for a spiritual growth of a follower of Christ. Communion is not only a rite but also an act of fellowship with other followers of Christ and an act of remembering Jesus' death and parousia. Communion is not a peculiar aspect for the Hindu community. In temples, the Hindus used to get prasad and in festivals they used to have common meals. So communion can easily be incorporated into the Hindu culture. But still on the basis of adiaphora principle, no rite is like "the essential"in the community of Jesus in Hinduism.

Now, is there a structure with in this community of Jesus? Because with out structure any movement will collapse by itself. Even, Hinduism doesn't have an external structure for itself but still its society is organized and controlled by some hidden principles. It was structured in a way that everyone would do his job or service to each other. But somehow, evils entered this social structure called Casteism. So in Hinduism, Casteism in itself is not unbiblical, but the evils in it. With the help of Scripture and Holy Spirit, a Hindu-convert should critically analyze his culture and religion and scrap all evils from it (Issues like sati, caste oppression, temple prostitution, idolatry, gender oppression and dowry should be carefully assessed). As social structure in Hinduism, there is an invisible structure in the body of Christ. In the body of Christ, there is a Head and other parts of the body. The Head is Christ and the parts of his body are the community of Christ. There is no central authority among the parts, but still the Head is the central authority. Every part has its own work. The body or community of Christ is organized and controlled by the Spirit and teachings of the Head. Like there are some hidden principles in Hinduism, there is an invisible organization and direction done by the Holy Spirit. With this invisible direction and organization, each member of the community of Jesus will serve one another, according to their entrusted gifts.

If this invisible structure of body of Christ is incorporated into the Kingdom of God theology of Chenchiah, it gives a perfect biblical community of Christ. This is what exactly Christ intended his disciples to do after his ascension. St. Paul's usage of Church as an institution with disciplined worship (I Corin. 14:26-40) and, overseers and deacons (I Timothy 3) are just a contextualization of biblical community of Christ in a Roman cultural Setup. And the Roman Church pattern cannot be taken as normative for the whole world. The community of Christ is a malleable concept which can best fit in any culture. So it is the duty of every cultural people to contextualize this Community concept in their culture. As Jesus said, I will build my community, he will build in every cultures.

There is a danger in this process. As Tennet points out, "the discussion about Churchless Christianity often creates the notion that the choice between a 'westernized' Christianity and a 'Churchless' Christianity." As H.L. Richard feels that the situation is like hostility between gentiles Christianity and Jerusalem Church. If an Indian Christian badly criticizes the western Church, then he ends up with communalism, legalistic sectarianism and separatist cultural attitudes. So, the Churchless Christianity should not create a hostile in the one universal body of Christ. Whatever, the Indian Christian theologians come up with the interaction between scripture and culture, is contextually true but not universally absolute. Chenchiah was wrong in saying the west Church is wrong. It should be restated as the west Church is wrong in the east.

So, a community of Christ is proposed for new Hindu-converts. Hoefer feels that our situation before the fact of the increase of "Churchless Christianity" all around us is like that of a man who awoke to find in amazement that the seed he had scattered had grown in the night to full fruit, and he doesn't know what happened (Mark 4:26-29). Whether any one object or accept, Indian Christianity has taken a new dimension and started to grow wildly. Richard thinks that "Churchless Christianity" is not a good innovation of terminology. "Hindu disciples of Jesus who stay out of the Church are also staying out of the Christian religion, and to suggest that they are somehow still within "Christianity" seems false and in some cases is offensive." So, instead of using the term chruchless Christianity, I would prefer to use the term, "Community of Christ." But still there are two group of Christianity in India, one is the Church based Christianity and another is the Churchless Christianity. So Hoefer exhorts, "We will continue to encourage individuals and groups to come to Christ and to His Church through baptism. However we will also encourage individuals and groups to come without baptism."

CONCLUSION

The problem of Hindu-converts becoming Churchless Christians, provoked me to find an answer. Chenchiah clearly rejected the Church and he came up with Kingdom of God theology in a Hindu cultural setup. But Bible also talks about the body of Christ, which has an invisible structure and functions within. As a combination of Kingdom of God and Body of Christ, I have proposed a community of Christ concept. This community of Christ roots itself in Scripture and grows out in the Hindu culture. So, Jesus and Scripture have entered the religion of Hinduism to form a community if Christ. So, in India, there can be a Christian without Church.

Theme of Churchless Christianity: When a Hindu accepts Jesus Christ, he does not come out of his Hindu community, rather he takes Jesus in.

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