Contextualising worship for Indian Christians

The following exerts are from Indiginized Christian Worship in India: Some Considerations.

Westernized Posture

“Another significant aspect that the Indian church lost in worship was the posture of worship. In most Indian religions worshipers sit on a thick mattress spread on the floor. People sit on the floor, with their legs crossed, as an expression of their respect to their deity. During the time of prayer they kneel, with their heads bowed to the ground. But the Christian churches accepted the Western form of sitting on pews for worship. According to the Hindu tradition no one may enter the place of worship unclean or wearing sandals. But Christian churches do not emphasize these aspects in their worship. In the mind of an Indian these show a lack of respect and devotion to God.”

Westernized Preaching

“Preaching in Indian churches is also influenced by the western heritage. Indian churches typically use an elevated pulpit or a preaching stand. In recent years, influenced by the charismatic preaching seen on international Christian television channels, the preacher tends to move around on the pulpit and preach very loud in his attempt to imitate the Christianity viewed on the television. But in Indian tradition, teachers of the scriptures sit on the floor on a slightly elevated place with the scripture open in a small book holder. The name of the Hindu scriptures, upanishads, is a word picture of this aspect of teaching in Indian context. Upanishad means the inner, or mystic, teaching. The term upanishad is derived from upa (‘near’), ni (‘down’) and s(h)ad (‘to sit’): that is, sitting down near. Groups of pupils sit near the teacher to learn from him. This does not match with today’s Christian preaching.”

New Possibilities

Now, say you had Hindu neighbours who expressed interest in learning more about Jesus. You are invited to their house. Could you adapt your worship posture and teaching style to a form they found more natural, even if it felt less natural to you?

Is something essential being overlooked?

A man who has never had that experience, be it only very briefly, who has never felt that he is exiled from God and from real life, will never understand what Christianity is about. And the one who is perfectly “at home” in this world and its life, who has never been wounded by the nostalgic desire for another Reality, will not understand what is repentance.

Repentance is often simply identified as a cool and “objective” enumeration of sins and transgressions, as the act of “pleading guilty” to a legal indictment. Confession and absolution are seen as being of a juridical nature. But something very essential is overlooked—without which neither confession nor absolution have any real meaning or power. This “something” is precisely the feeling of alienation from God, from the joy of communion with Him, from the real life as created and given by God. It is easy indeed to confess that I have not fasted on prescribed days, or missed my prayers, or become angry. It is quite a different thing, however, to realize suddenly that I have defiled and lost my spiritual beauty, that I am far away from my real home, my real life, and that something precious and pure and beautiful has been hopelessly broken in the very texture of my existence. Yet this, and only this, is repentance, and therefore it is also a deep desire to return, to go back, to recover that lost home. I received from God wonderful riches: first of all life and the possibility to enjoy it, to fill it with meaning, love, and knowledge; then—in Baptism—the new life of Christ Himself, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the peace and the joy of the eternal Kingdom. I received the knowledge of God, and in Him the knowledge of everything else and the power to be a son of God. And all this I have lost, all this I am losing all the time, not only in particular “sins” and “transgressions,” but in the: sin of all sins: the deviation of my love from God, preferring the “far country” to the beautiful home of the Father…   But the Church is here to remind me of what I have abandoned and lost…

From the book Great Lent by Fr Alexander Schmemann

Perfect Vision

The following is an exerpt from Sangharakshita “Vision and Transformation” where he expounds on The Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path. This is his explanation of the first of the eight steps on the path. I found it interesting because here he communicates it through a series of images rather than concepts.


So what is this Perfect Vision? One may say it is a vision of the nature ofexistence, but what does this vision reveal? What is the nature of existence? This question is difficult to answer because it is easy – only too easy – to answer. This is not to be paradoxical. What it means is that only too many concepts lie ready to hand. There is so much Buddhist philosophy available. One can so easily use a few technical terms, refer to this system or that, and say this is the nature of existence according to Buddhism. But this is too slick, too easy. We must beware of the temptation to produce our concepts too readily. What one is trying to communicate is not simply a set of ideas, not a system of philosophy in the academic sense, but what the Buddha himself, in his own language, quite unambiguously called drsti – a vision.

There are two principal ways a vision can be communicated – through images and through concepts. In Buddhism there are three main images of the nature of existence. These are the Wheel of Life, the Buddha, and the Path. Since these images communicate a vision, it is helpful, in absorbing that communication, if we can ‘get the picture’, instead of just ‘thinking’ them in an abstract manner and assuming they have been understood.

The Wheel of Life
The Wheel of Life comprises four concentric circles. Within the central circle,
which forms the hub of the wheel, are three animals, a cock, a snake, and a pig, each biting the tail of the animal in front. These animals represent the three poisons of greed, hatred, and delusion which control our minds and make the whole wheel of mundane existence revolve. Outside the hub is a second circle, divided into two equal segments, one black and one white. The white half represents the good or ethical path leading upwards, to states of happiness. The black half represents the bad or unethical path leading downwards, to states of misery. The third circle is divided into six segments representing the different ‘worlds’ or spheres of existence within which, according to Buddhism, sentient beings are continuously reborn. These six worlds are those of the gods, titans, hungry ghosts, hell beings, animals, and humans. The outermost circle of the wheel, which forms the rim, is divided into twelve segments. These are the twelve nidanas, or links in the process which is called Dependent Origination, or Conditioned Co-production. These show in detail the whole process of birth, life, death, and rebirth.

This is the first great image, the first great symbol. This is what we begin to see when we have a vision of the nature of existence. We see the whole of mundane conditioned existence going round like a great wheel – a Wheel of Life, a Wheel of Death – with ourselves as well as all other sentient beings caught up in it. We see that the Wheel of Life in fact is us, is sentient,
conditioned existence.

The Buddha
The Buddha is usually depicted seated on a lotus flower or beneath the Bodhi tree, the ‘Tree of Enlightenment’, with its great spreading branches and its canopy of beautiful heart-shaped leaves, his body radiating light of various colours. There are also more elaborate versions of this image. One of the best known is the mandala of the Five Buddhas, which comes from the more esoteric teaching. In the centre of this mandala is the White Buddha, with theDark Blue Buddha to the east, the Yellow Buddha to the south, the Red Buddhato the west, and the Green Buddha to the north. There are even more elaborate versions of the image in the form of a ‘Pure Land’, or ‘Happy Land’ – Sukhavati – with its presiding Buddha flanked by his attendant Bodhisattvas, its rows of wonderful jewel-trees, its magical singing birds, and many other marvels.

The Path
The path of spiritual progress – or spiral path – connects the two images we have already described, that is to say it leads up from the Wheel of Life to the Buddha, or to the mandala of the Five Buddhas. These then are the three great images through which Buddhism communicates its vision of existence. Perfect Vision is a vision, first of all, of our actual present state of bondage to conditioned existence as represented by the Wheel of Life. It is also a vision of our potential future state of Enlightenment as represented by the Buddha, or the mandala of Buddhas, or a Pure Land. Finally it is a vision of the path or way leading from the one to the other – a vision, if you like, of the whole future course of evolution.

The Holy Spirit and the Trinity

In theological texts the doctrine of the Trinity is often dealt with as part of Theology Proper. Personally however I find it more logical to deal with it as part of Pneumatology. For it’s not until the Holy Spirit is explored more fully that the relationship between the three persons of the Trinity can be explored more fully. And indeed one of the more debated aspects of the doctrine of the Trinity – the filioque clause – is focussed on the Holy Spirit. So, I tend to deal with monotheism as part of Theology Proper, the doctrine of the Incarnation as part of Christology, and the doctrine of the Trinity as part of Pneumatology.

After 9/11 we need an angry God

After 9/11 we need an angry God
By Chris Summerfield, 2011

The usual wisdom is that belief in an angry god is what caused a handful of people to get into planes and crash into skyscrapers and then caused a much larger group of people to get into many more planes and drop bombs on to people who lived in countries which were kind of close to the country where most of the first handful of people came from.

Furthermore, an often remarked criticism of the Bible is that the God of the Old Testament is full of anger but the God of the New Testament is full of love. This criticism is supposed to be a debate clinching argument because we, as a society, believe that you can’t be both full of anger and full of love and that anger is an altogether bad emotion. If you were to hear someone say “my child has anger issues” you wouldn‘t reply, “That’s great—you must be so proud”. Instead, there might be some consoling about similar issues in their own children and how that anger might have been subdued through a combination of therapy and medication.

Our ideal citizen does not have “anger issues”, our ideal citizen swims with the tide of the way the world is and learns to accept things as they are. Less than ideal citizens would include Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Oscar Romero and Jesus. All angry. Angry about the way their people had been treated by the ruling authorities. All full of anger and full of love. Key of course is that that they were angry and non-violent. And it is nonviolence that is key to understanding the gospel.

As I look around at the litany of injustices in the world I am angry and I am sure God must feel the same. I contend that God did not just pour out God‘s anger on Jesus making God satisfied and unmoved by the events of our world. Maybe instead God channelled God’s anger into an act of nonviolence. The act of becoming a human and laying down his life for others in the crucifixion. An act that would be a window into a new paradigm, a paradigm where violence loses and love wins because the grave could not hold Jesus.

God is still angry and God is calling us to follow the Jesus path of nonviolence. Our anger is to fuel loving acts of nonviolent action.

Like the terrorists on 9/11, I sense that something is unfair in the world and I want that to change. We both believe that God is angry about these injustices. The difference between us is that the anger of my God causes God to humble godself to the form of a man who would act out love and not violence even if that meant death on a cross.

Ten years on if you are angry about 9/11 or about the West’s response or that the 9/11 anniversary will receive more attention than starving millions in the horn of Africa, then join God and follow Jesus on the path of nonviolent action in a new paradigm where violence loses and love wins.

Is sin contaminating your gospel?

I have heard some Evangelicals say that an essential aspect of evangelism is raising unbelievers awareness of their sin. I consider this potentially erroneous for a few reasons.

Firstly, it is a mistake to presume that the sins you are most concerned about are the sins they need to be most concerned about. Newsflash, sometimes what you don’t see is more important to their life situation than what you do.

Second, it is a mistake to presume that they unaware of their sins. This may not be the case at all. They may not call it sin per se, but most people are aware there are ways in which they fall short, even if only by their own standards.

Third, it is a mistake to presume their sins are the only sins that need acknowledging. This is a big mistake. If you focus exclusively on their sin you are likely coming across as judgmental and self righteous. Far better to quickly acknowledge your own sin and the fact that only God is righteousness. Make sure you’re holding God up rather than yourself.

Fourth, it is a mistake to presume that the unbeliever is unaware of any of your sins. If you focus on their sins and downplay your own, don’t be surprised if you get called a hypocrite, just as the Pharisees were by Jesus. And know this: the accusation will probably be justified.

So, I am not saying we should sweep sin under the rug and downplay the problem. On the contrary, I am saying sin is more pervasive than we realise and we should be wary of the sins of judgmentalism and hypocrisy weaving their way into what should be good news.

On criticising our political opponents

I think we need to return to the gospel. Jesus is our advocate in the court of opinion that matters most. And he’s the same for our political enemies as well for the most part. I have found that the left and the right can both be legalistic when it comes to what others are doing and licentious when it comes to what they themselves are doing. We need to break the cycle and move beyond legalism and licence and towards grace. That does not mean ignoring their injustices but it does suggest we should confess our own even as we point out theirs and put Jesus on the pedestal rather than ourselves. I find if my critiques are tempered with self confession the conversations tend to be more charitable.

Why did Paul say women should be silent in gatherings?

1 Corinthians 14 is often used as a prooftext against women in Christian leadership, but consider this: Paul does not accuse the women of TEACHING PRESUMPTIVELY, rather, he accuses the women of ENQUIRING DISRUPTIVELY. His desire seems to be for speakers to be able to speak without unnecessary interruption. This is the same concern he voices immediately prior with respect to those prophesying or speaking in tongues. One at a time! And at this point it should be noted that he has no problem with women prophesying just a little way back in 1 Corinthians 11. No, back there his only concern is head coverings. As long as it’s orderly he doesn’t seem to have a problem with it. Common thread: talking over the top of one another is not consistent with loving one another. And you know that loving one another is the key theme of this entire letter.