Why the ‘Indian Church’ Should Not Die

Several weeks ago, my friend Charles Samuel wrote a thought-provoking article with the provocative title, “The ‘Indian Church’ Must Die,” and the response was nothing short of incredible. People whole-heartedly agreed, vehemently disagreed, or sat somewhere in the middle. Some were just upset with the title. This post is not a rebuttal to Charles’ post because as a product of the “Indian Church,” I agree with most of the sentiments in what he conveyed. This is about recasting the vision of the local Indian church for the glory of Christ.

The main idea behind Charles’ article was this: there is something dangerous and unhealthy about an ethnocentric church that solely exists to promote an ethnic ideal. Here’s what we mean by “ethnocentrism”: it is when an ethnic identity, heritage, values, or even church, sees other ethnic identities, cultures, or churches as inferior to their own. It is when there is more talk about traditions and the way forefathers did something than about what Christ has done and the implications of the gospel.

For our purposes, ethnocentrism is when a church’s identity and purpose is primarily found in its ethnic culture, and Christ and what he has done in his death and resurrection is secondary.

The gospel, the good news of Jesus, was given in a cultural context, and it will always be so, but it was never confined to a cultural identity. Whenever we present the gospel to someone, it will always be within the medium of the context of culture, whether it be Indian or American or hipster or conservative or urban or affluent culture. Culture isn’t a bad thing: it’s what you naturally get when you have multiple people together who share some characteristics.

The gospel was also given in an ethnic context, but it was never confined to an ethnic identity. In fact, the Bible promises a day when every ethnos (Greek word for ethnic people groups) will worship Christ as King. The book of Revelation has a glorious vision of this:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number,from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands,  and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Revelation 7:9-10

 

Revelation tells us that a day is coming when every believer of Jesus, regardless of where or when they were born, will worship Christ together. Until then, we continue to meet in ethnic and multi-ethnic congregations, working to continue making disciples of all nations. Ethnic churches aren’t bad! But ethnocentric churches are dangerous and a distortion of what the gospel calls us to.

We can argue about how insular Indian churches can be, but instead I want to talk about how they can be used to accomplish the picture we see in Revelation 7.

The Indian church in America is uniquely equipped to reach immigrants from India in a way that other churches aren’t. Indian churches know the language, customs, and traditions that new immigrants from India are familiar with. They eat a lot of the same food, hold many of the same values, and can identify with Indian immigrants in a  way that most other organizations can’t. South Asian Christians in America know what it’s like to move to a new country full of promises, and to feel a little lost and overwhelmed. They know how reassuring it is to find comfort in befriending other Indian immigrants because they’ve done it too.

To my Malayalee churches: there are lost Malayalees in America that don’t know Jesus! Hindu, Muslim, agnostic, apathetic. Malayalees that understand the Malayalam spoken and sung in Keralite churches. Malayalees that enjoy eating South Indian food offered at weekly home meetings. Malayalees that are looking for community and recognizable culture in a culture that is far different than the one they know. Lost Malaylees that, apart from the grace of God in saving them, will be eternally separated from God. And this is true of all the Indian cultural groups. Of every culture and ethnos.

What if we reached out to our immigrant neighbor or coworker or friend? What if we invited them into our homes and lives? What if our Indian churches didn’t lose their ethnic identity or traditions or language, but used them to actively pursue the growing Indian immigrant community? What if we realized that God has sovereignly placed us in our city and around the people we know, not to be an inward-focused holy huddle, but to be an outward-focused catalyst of the gospel of Jesus Christ?

What if we realized that the Church exists primarily to glorify Christ and spread the gospel?

The Indian church in America should live because she is uniquely equipped to reach immigrants from India in a way that other churches aren’t.

—————————————————————————————————————–


In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul compares the church to the body of Christ, and individuals as members of the body. In a very real way, the whole Church universal is the body of Christ as well, and different congregations are members of this body. If one member suffers, the whole body suffers. If one part hurts, everyone hurts.

The Indian church, for all her flaws, is part of this body of Christ, and there are parts that aren’t functioning well. But what if, instead of cutting this dysfunctional part off, Christ redeemed it and made it new and whole and functioning?

What we need is not amputation. We need healing, and thankfully, Jesus is pretty good at that.

 

 

Photo courtesy of ©Sten Dueland under the Creative Commons License 2.0

the people of the cross: how we respond

On Sunday, a video purporting to show ISIS beheading 21 Egyptian Christian men, “people of the cross,” was released by groups claiming loyalty to the Islamic State. In it, the men are dressed in orange jumpsuits as they’re led along a beach, each with a masked militant in tow. After a message by one of the militants, the Coptic Christian men are beheaded simultaneously, face down.

Murder is heartbreaking and wrong, but there is something gut-wrenching about being a Christian and hearing of the murder of 21 fellow Christians. Fellow brothers in Christ. Because of what Jesus accomplished on the cross and in his resurrection, we who have put our faith in him are, in a very real way, part of the family of God, adopted as children of God, and co-heirs of the kingdom. We are literally family.

The names of the 21 men (via @spulliam):

21

There are many emotions Christians are feeling right now: righteous anger, sadness, and confusion. These are all appropriate responses to such a heinous crime, and now is a time to mourn for our departed brothers and their families. But even more so, now is a time to pray. When we pray, we remember and acknowledge our helplessness and need for our great God to intervene.

Pray for their families, that they may experience the great grace of God.

Pray for the persecuted Church, for their safety and that they may persevere. There are many who face the threat of torture and death every day.

Pray that our faith would be emboldened to live as these men, sacrificing everything for the name of Jesus. Oh that we would see that Jesus is better!

 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.  Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.”

Jesus, John 15:18-21

Pray for those who murdered our brothers, that the Lord would save even among them! The apostle Paul, before he became a follower of Jesus, was one who stood by and approved the execution of Stephen, the very first Christian martyr. Saul (as he was known) went on to ravage the Church, dragging men and women into prison, intent on destroying the Christian movement. He was so feared, that even when he became a believer of Jesus, many Christians were wary and still afraid. And it was this terrorist that Jesus found and saved. It was this Saul who went on to become one of the greatest missionaries the world has ever seen. Oh that this would be a modern story! Would you pray with me that God would radically save a Saul from this evil group to radically transform the Arab world!

Our response as Christians is not violence against Muslims or mosques. Ours is not a struggle against flesh and blood and people. The members of ISIS are not our enemy. We war against cosmic powers over this present darkness and spiritual forces of evil. (Ephesians 6:12) This is spiritual warfare and the enemy is the devil.

Amid this tragedy, we have hope. The book of Revelation isn’t a sci-fi map of the future, but tells the reality of how the war is already won. This is not a cosmic tug-of-war where the victor is still unknown. The enemy is defeated. What Jesus began in his death and resurrection, he will finish when he comes back and puts the enemy under his feet and restores all things. There will judgement upon all wickedness and unrighteousness. The dragon, the serpent from the Garden of Eden, is still writhing, trying to take down people with him because he knows his time is coming up.

In Revelation 6:11 and 20:4, we see a picture of those who lost their lives for the sake of Jesus, including those who lost their heads in chapter 20. The end of Hebrews 11 mentions those who suffered great injustice, torture, and death for the sake of the gospel, “of whom the world was not worthy.” (v. 38)

And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.

Revelation 12:11

Conquerors. Overcomers by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony. They loved not their lives, even unto death.

Jesus puts heads back on and restores all things. We look forward to the day King Jesus returns to restore creation and make all things new. Until then, we pray and push back the powers of darkness.

One of the greatest ironies is that, historically, the killing of Christians has never slowed down the Church; it has fueled her growth. What’s meant as a deterrent and attempt to dissuade “people of the cross” has done the opposite.

We multiply whenever we are mown down by you; the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.

-Tertullian

Let us mourn, brothers and sisters, and let us pray. May the Church grow and the name of Jesus be advanced! May the justice of the Lord come quickly.

Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?  As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:35-39

————————————————–

Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image…

Revelation 20:4

————————————————

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.

Revelation 6:9-11

Fifty Shades of Abuse

It wasn’t too long ago when I first began hearing about the newest book to captivate women. I remembered the Twilight craze and how women pined after the sullen, sparkling Edward Cullen.

Fifty Shades of Grey  by E. L. James seemed to be another book in that genre, offering a love story for women to relish and long for. This book was different, in that the central male loved BDSM, a topic I admittedly know near to nothing about. But as more and more people began speaking out about it, and with  the movie premiering this weekend, I thought I would take a look and read through it. I’m a fan of literature, and I gave Twilight a shot, so I figured I would give Fifty Shades a chance too. I will admit, I have not finished reading it, partly because I think it reads like a 7th grader wrote it. But the real reason I didn’t finish it was because of some of the content disturbed me — a lot.

The story centers around Anastasia Steele, a girl about to graduate college, and Christian Grey, a young and enigmatic business magnate. They meet coincindentally, and the rest of the story involves the relationship between the two. What caught me off guard was when Grey begins stalking her — but I figured this could potentially be viewed as a sign of endearment or pursuit. But then came intimidation and humiliation. Nevermind the kinky stuff that this book attempts to explore; there are multiple cases of sexual aggression. When she doesn’t want to do something, he threatens to tie her up and gag her. He is frequently described as controlling, one of the reasons Ana doesn’t want to get involved with him, and yet he makes her submit. He forces her to do things she doesn’t want to do.

I’m not the first person to say this, but Fifty Shades glorifies abuse and harmed identity. Studies show that nearly every interaction between the two main protagonists (if you will) is emotionally abusive, and Grey displays classic signs of being emotionally distant and sexually abusive. Most of the sexual encounters between the two read frighteningly a bit like rape; she doesn’t give consent, and even when she says their “safe word,” Grey continues. In real life, this is called rape. A recent study, although limited, has possibly linked reading the book to unhealthy behaviors in its readers, including eating disorders or having a verbally abusive partner. This isn’t to say that if you read the book or watch the movie you’ll develop bulimia or suddenly find yourself a victim of abuse, but the statistics are worrisome and shouldn’t be ignored.

There has been so much outcry, especially recently on the treatment of women, and I’m glad we’re speaking out on when women are abused! It is never okay. However, this book perpetuates the abuse of women by calling it love — and the majority of readers have bought into the lie. If we saw this described anywhere outside of an erotic novel, we would reject it readily. My fear is that female readers of the book, or watchers of the movie, will come away longing for a Christian Grey to spice up their love life. The sad reality is that there are already an overabundance of arrogant, emotionally distant, and abusive men out there. The sad reality is that women who have been sexually and emotionally abused are in no shortage and are very clear that there is nothing exciting and romantic and satisfying in the experience. The sad reality is that the victims of domestic abuse are all too aware that “Christian Grey the hero” doesn’t exist. Most of the men who exhibit such a disregard for consent and abuse of power turn out to be those we warn women to stay away from. I worry that readers will think that this is the kind of man they have been waiting for. That a lack of consent in the marriage bed (not that Grey and Steele were married, mind you) is okay, and maybe even desired.

This image of domination has also been perpetuated by the pornography industry. Most of porn is men doing whatever they want to women — even if it’s against their will. The women are depicted as appreciating the degradation and wanting more of it, when this is never the case. Pornography is a massive problem for men (and women for that matter), and it is sending the message to men that whatever you want is okay, and she will always be okay with it — in fact she wants it. Not only is this clearly unhealthy and wrong, my fear is that guys, already bombarded with this skewed view of sex from porn, will look at this book, this movie, and be more convinced than ever that women want someone to assert themselves on them, especially power. That it is okay to do whatever you want to women. That the sexual experience you lust for is greater than any fear or trepidation she may have. That you take what you want if you’re a “real man.”

What’s interesting is that this book has been lauded as being progressively empowering to women, especially by those who demonize the Bible as being repressive. And yet where Grey prides himself on his physical and emotional domination of Steele, the Bible tells husbands to love their wives by laying down their lives for their wives, as Christ laid himself down for the Church. (Ephesians 5:25) The Bible calls the man to protect and love and serve — something you don’t see in Fifty Shades.

I implore you, readers, don’t go watch Fifty Shades of Grey this Valentines weekend, a weekend our country uses to celebrate love. Don’t watch it any weekend. Don’t encourage others to watch it. Spread the word. This is not just harmless fun — this is perpetuating unhealthy emotional, physical, and sexual behaviors in men AND women. This book and movie is giving us a false notion of love. It is a twisted, insidious lie.

And I hope you remember the example of love that Christ gave us: not abusing his unfaithful bride, but of loving, pursuing, and serving her. By laying down his life.  That is love. That is romance.

the grace of God that wounds

I was a good kid. I made high A’s all through school and the extent of my rebellion to my parents was how low I would grow my sideburns. I led worship at my church throughout high school, and then again with our student ministry in college, and I would often speak/preach when given an opportunity. I learned how to be socially adept and maintain friendships with many people, so that my friends would jokingly use terms like “social butterfly” and “friend whore” to describe me. And I had a relationship with Jesus that seemed earnest, and I knew that I needed Jesus.

But I didn’t really need Jesus.

I knew that God sent Jesus to save sinners like me, and I knew I was a sinner, but I really didn’t think I was that much of a sinner. I didn’t do that many sinful things. I knew about the grace of God, but grace seemed more to me like good things I deserved because I was good. I was a good kid! Why wouldn’t Jesus save me? Grace was just for those few times I slipped up and looked at pornography or lied to my parents about being in my dorm when I was really at my friends’ place.

I knew that the gospel was good news, but honestly, the bad news didn’t seem that bad, at least for me. School was going great, my parents bragged about me, my church family loved me, my friendships were great, and I did all the things a good Christian leader was supposed to do.

But then I felt God calling me to vocational ministry, and I switched my life about. And in fear of the consequences, I wasn’t so forthright about it. My parents and extended family eventually found out and didn’t take this so well, because it had seemed clear that God was actually calling me to be a doctor or some other prestigious vocation.

There were many tears shed and hurtful words shared. We went from talking almost daily to me talking to my mom maybe once a week. I hardly talked to my dad at all. My grandparents didn’t know what to say to me except to look at me in sadness and my church family just didn’t talk about it. School seemed to take a turn for the worse. I ended up hurting close friends, and I was hurt by close friends. I was in a relationship that ended suddenly, and for the first time, it wasn’t amicable. I was hurting and cowering in the darkest shadows of my life, and I didn’t know who to reach out to. I tried to portray cool confidence and trust in God, but I was floundering. I was confused and depressed and heartbroken and angry and anxious. There were even several times where I thought that the best way to deal with it all was by ending everything. And several times where I almost did.

And all this brought me to a place of deep introspection and crying out to the God I claimed to love and serve.

Slowly, layer by layer, relationship by relationship, God began showing me things I had never seen before. I realized that I was selfish and hurtful and greedy and arrogant and sexually immoral and wicked — all without having to do any specific actions. That was just how my mind and heart was bent! God showed me how silly it was that I prided myself in my “humility” and self-deference. He humbled me by unveiling the fact that I was capable of causing so much destructive damage in my relationships with people. He exposed a heart that sought comfort in temporal things rather than on eternal things. He revealed that self-approval was the idol I worshiped at, and my identity wasn’t really found in Christ, but ultimately in how people perceived me.

It felt like life was beating me up, but when I thought upon the sovereignty of God, it dawned on me that my world wasn’t rocked upside-down by chance, but by the grace of God. He had brought me to this place! And it was one of the greatest displays of love I had encountered personally. It was a gift of the grace of God. 

In love, he had brought me to that point to show me my brokenness. I had always been broken, I just refused to see it. In love, he had wounded me so that he could reveal his goodness. So that he could reveal his love in binding me up. He had knocked my legs out from under me, so that I could be on my knees before him. He bruised me to show me why the Son of God was bruised. To show me why the gospel was such good news.

The depravity of man (the fallen nature we’ve all inherited ever since our ancestor Adam felt like rejecting God was a good idea) began to be a real thing I knew not only in theory, but in experience. Sin wasn’t just things I did, but the posture of my heart. As I began to see myself for who I am, I began to see why I so desperately needed Jesus! I was a mess, and no amount of self-help would ultimately fix my heart. I turned to the only One I knew to turn to.

I was spiritually dead, and Christ came into my dead-ness and caused me to be un-dead, to have life, and new life in him! He had saved me from sin, from death, from myself. And by the grace of God, he has healed my brokenness — and my relationships.

I am thankful for the grace of God displayed in the perfect life, sin-absorbing death, and victorious resurrection of Jesus Christ, and that this same Jesus is coming again! It is the gospel that changes everything!

But I’m also thankful for the gift of the grace of God that sometimes, He wounds us in love.

“Let me hear gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice.” – Psalm 51:8
“Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down , and he will bind us up.” – Hosea 6:1
Image Credit: Courtney Celley 

anomaly

We all know the Christmas Nativity story, the events happening around the birth of the historical figure Jesus of Nazareth. A virgin gives birth under the auspices of a star in the sky, and the world has never been the same. Many of us have just finished celebrating this story, and the significance of that event: God put on human flesh and stepped into history to provide life. To provide salvation. To provide hope where there is no hope.

There is a short film that was released on Christmas Day that drew from the Nativity story to tell a story. From its own description:

“Set against the space-race canvas of the 1960’s, Anomaly is inspired by the traditional Christmas Nativity and explores, through a modern-day lens, the events of two-thousand years ago. It is a story about relationships that intertwine around an unprecedented astronomical event, as a couple navigate life’s realities at a time of unfathomable significance.”

I’m partially biased because the film was produced by my younger cousin, Jens Jacob, and his company, Sypher Films. It is a marked change from the days he used to run around, terrorizing his mom’s Sunday School class, of which I was a part.

I could rave on and on about this movie, but I’ll let the short film speak for itself. In under 40 minutes, it explores love and heartbreak, darkness and light, wonder and hope. It pulls at your emotions. And it does all of this behind a backdrop of brilliant camera work and a haunting soundtrack.

This is not the Christmas birth narrative recorded as we have it in the two accounts in the Gospels. This is art. This is art that explores the emotions involved in the Nativity story. This is art that moves you.

This is a story about how light broke into darkness.

Website: theanomalyfilm.com
Listen to the soundtrack on Spotify: http://bit.ly/1zJth5S