One of my greatest frustrations in recent years has been church. Now I realise i’m judgmental and biased and actually not prayerful enough to get a bigger picture but my experience of church in India really winds me up. There is are many problems of course with churches around the world. But for the church in India I think it comes down to one problem.
Honour versus Honesty.
This is a deeply ingrained aspect of culture which the church should’ve wrestled with instead of which the church merely promotes. While I was working in a church I expressed at a bible study my inability to have a quiet time daily or read the bible daily which I DO think is important. I was told afterwards that I shouldn’t say such things because it would reflect badly on me and it would be discouraging to the people I was ‘ministering’ to. Similarly I and my wife were told to be very careful about what we say for fear of being misunderstood.
Essentially it is far more important to maintain your status and honour than be honest and express a problem. This has never helped and in effect allows problems to fester to manifest themselves in ways which are horrifying. This preoccupation with honour and status ensures that our churches remain as communities of competition and fear instead of love and trust.
And so the real issues of the people and the community never get addressed. And so people land up at church for one thing. Blessing. And if church doesn’t bless me then I shall go else where to get blessed. This is another topic which I hope deal with later. Due to the lack of honesty that would truly allow a community to grow we need a substitute. And what is that?
So our sermons are massively dramatic or slickly powerpointed. We have plays, loads of music, dramas etc. Now the Spirit does his work through them because he always does. thank God. But due to the lack of true community we need entertainment to get all the drifting fish back in. We need good music to get the youth back in. We need this that and a fancy accent for our preacher.
And this honour fixation means that the church remains horribly fragmented. Churches in kerala are divided into dalit and syrian congregations.
If for some reason there is a disagreement with the church there is ostracisation. When I left my job in the church where I wasn’t allowed to be honest and others with me, I made an effort to try and still contribute. I was immediately censured. After that there was a wall of silence from the church. No one really talked to us and no one wanted to even find out why I had left the job. Pastor knows best and his honour is upheld. But it’s not that pastor is an emperor of all he surveys. If steps out of his line everyone knows how to sit on him.
As far as we were concerned I think we were considered not honourable. After all the church invested money in me and one should live with the ‘burdens’ of ministry blah blah blah. I wasn’t honourable. I would like to think that I was at least a bit honest. Well I had a sensible wife and sensible former lecturers who interestingly were ‘outsiders’. their view was crucial to achieving a sense of honesty towards the issues surrounding us.
the honour fixation can be seen in the way guest speakers are introduced. The longer the titles and the more of them the better. The ideal would be to be a director of Christian International something, with a US or UK PHD in handshaking ministry, with one wife, two lovely children studying in again US or UK, an international speaking tour, an international ministry, and associate director in 3 other international ministries. A few television appearances would make the cake richer and more blessed.
Now I cannot claim to be honest. I have intense prejudices. I do have pride about my status. The worse thing is that I can see them and I can’t force myself out of them. But I feel lonely about what I see. Not many others see. If others could see with me maybe we could collectively get out with the Spirit’s transformative power.
Jesus was honest. Brutally. His honour was connected with his honesty. His status was based on what kind of a person he was. Because other than that he didn’t have much going for him. He was from some small halli (village or slum or somewhere equivalent) doing some low level job, didn’t always wash his hands before eating. How do we follow this guy?
How? another ho there. Because of the demand for respect I have very little respect to the church life in India that I’ve experienced. Forgive me. I’m an angry Christian. But the need for honesty drives me to this. Honour can crawl.