Valson Thampu from Alain, Abudabi
Note: Reverend Valson Thampu belongs to the Church of South India. He was an English professor and principal at New Delhi's St. Stephen's College and a regular columnist in the Indian Currents, Delhi while I was its associate editor. Now he writes regularly in the New Indian Express. We have been publishing several of his articles. We thank him for sending this one for publication in the CCV.
Jesus community – where?
If Jesus founded a community or church. His followers should have been a continuation of the model set up by him: “You are not to be called Rabbi, Teacher, Master, Father, leader etc you are all brothers only, the greatest among you must be the servant of the rest, one who humbles himself alone will be exalted.” (Mt.23:8-12) Those were to be the characteristics of the community Jesus founded.
From the time of Emperor Constantine the scattered Chrisrians deviated from the Jesus model. Had they not done that there would not have been the present chaos and multitude of churches. Christians today have to retrace the roots of Christianity of which Jesus was the fountain Head. Even the name Christian was an after thought, one that surfaced in Antioch years after Jesus’ death.
What was Jesus?
What actually was Jesus? He embodied all the traits of an upright Man. He was described both as sweet Jesus meek and mild and bitter Jesus rough and wild, merciful to the needy and oppressed and harsh and uncompromising to the arrogant evildoing pharisaic lot. It is precisely for that he called himself the SON OF MAN (85 times in the Gospels), meaning, the ideal human for all times, places and peoples!
That is why CCV calls itself as the Cattle Class, that is, company of Jesus born in cattle shed, lived a homeless life till Calvary’s top, doing good to the poor, sick and exploited in stark contrast to vested interest organized Jewish religious leaders and Roman colonisers. In the Cattle Class the competition is to take the last place to serve, not the first.
For our columnist Valson Thambu also both the starting and the crowning point spirituality is JESUS, without whose simple life, high thinking and total life of service, there is no Christiantiy! james kottoor, editor CCV.
Please read below the article by Valson Thambu
When we think of the model that Jesus has given to us, one thing stands out – he resisted, or stood in opposition to, established trends and patterns. He deemed it basic to his undiluted faithfulness to God.
In contrast, we are urged to have the piety of mere conformity. Of course, spirited sermons are preached on Sundays and at conventions on the need to be transformed. In sermons we are urged not to conform, not realizing that ‘not conforming’ involves, necessarily, resistance. (Rom. 12:2) The spirituality of transformation involves — in practice — the spirituality of resistance. How can it be otherwise? It is because this is overlooked that centuries of preaching on transformation has not transformed anyone! But we have got used to this and we sail along.
Why is the piety of conformity recommended to us as the essence of the Way of Jesus?
-Because it lends itself to an authoritarian and exploitative (and therefore, un-Christian) version of Christianity. If mere conformity is all that is required of us, then the managers and overlords of religion have every right to behave like tyrants and despots over all of us. They have the right to shape and distort the Way of Jesus as suits their interests best.
– The spirituality of resistance legitimizes rationality; for resistance of any spiritual validity -as against the psychological aberration of habitual and instinctive rebelliousness- can only be based on a rational and reasoned understanding of Jesus’ teachings. Rationality is feared and suppressed by all manipulators and exploiters of the people, both in religion and in politics. Here’s the litmus test. If you come across anyone who suppresses your right to think and to express yourself, he is possessed by the demon of irrationality. Have no doubt on this count!
-Those who are power-brokers and wheeler dealers become incapable of reason. They are out of their depth in the very process of applying rationality. It suffocates them. It is understandable, therefore, that those who are inherently irrational suppresses rationality.
Why is the spirituality of resistance basic to our discipleship to Jesus Christ?
– It is the essence of the spirituality Jesus practised. Jesus did not conform to the religiosity in vogue in his days. He resisted its aberrations. He exposed the immorality and hypocrisy of its custodians, as is well known.
– Jesus did this because he was convinced that priest-craft driven religiosity which was then in force and which is still in force- is seriously harmful to humanity. It suppresses the development of individuals to their full stature. It enslaves them. It compromises their freedom. It prevents them from turning to God, who alone is the ground of our existence. Priest-craft based religiosity – which is inherently irrational – is an aberration in which bishops play demonic gods, with priests as their attendant ghosts. A system in which a man plays god, all else will be oppressed and exploited.
– Human beings grow only through resistance. Any system, or way of life in which everything is smooth-sailing, just because there is no application of mind, every becomes a Zacchaeus, at best. Today the church is distorting everyone into Zacchaeuses — spiritual and intellectual bonsais. Bishops and his cabals of wheeler-dealers and colluders thrive at the expense of these shrunken specimen of diminutive believers. The function of faith is to empower us. Instead, we are disempowered and disabled.
– It is a law of nature that those who do not struggle become parasites and paralytics. It is insightful to study the instance of Jesus healing the paralytic in St. Mark 2. Why is the paralytic asked to ‘take up your bed and walk!”? Biblical spirituality is primarily about the growth, development and empowerment of individuals. The only emphasis in church life today is to promote the dependence and disempowerment of the people so that they remain blinded, misled, manipulated and exploited.
– The spirituality of resistance is focused on truth. Truth alone will set us free. Our freedom is God’s gift. No man, no bishop, no moderator, no pope, has the right to make the slightest dent on it. Jesus said, “seek and you will find”. The spirituality of resistance arises out of this seeing and finding out the truth.
– Jesus, through his example – especially in the instance of cleansing the temple – has demonstrated the crucial importance of resisting evil. But we have to do so in a spiritually valid manner. “Do not resist evil,” Jesus said, “overcome evil with good”. But what is good? Good is what is in conformity to truth. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life”. As Christians we do not know any ‘good’ which is at variance with these three points of reference – the way, the truth, the life.
– The spirituality of resistance is a byproduct of a humble but sturdy commitment to be faithful to Jesus. If Jesus were like us in religiosity, we all would have been gentiles, not even Jews! He would have lived and died (may be of old age) as a commonplace Jew, trembling at the sight of the High Priest!
-Above all, the spirituality of evil keeps us vigilant and alive. “Watch and pray,” said Jesus. If you watch, you will see the realities all round. To see realities is to respond. To respond is to affirm the norm, as revealed to us by Jesus. Resistance to aberrations arises out of it. That is why it is spiritual.
The spirituality of resistance, if practised in obedience and fidelity to Jesus, will (a) cleanse our church life of its accumulated inequities and moral dirt and restore to our congregational life its lost dynamism. We will become fully alive in our spiritual life, which is God’s will for us.
A perspective on resistance, spiritually understood –
Words are coloured by contexts. The word ‘resistance’ remains coloured, in popular imagination, by a haze of historical associations, mostly Marxian in overtones. This points to an issue fundamental to our life of faith; namely, Christendom failed to evolve a discipline of Thinking According to Jesus Christ, which is, in point of fact, basic to the Gospel According to Jesus Christ.
The core issue that Jesus posited, in enunciating the idea of the Kingdom of God, was the locus of authority. Till then religious authority was located in the ‘status’ of the High Priest and the Sanhedrin, which he presided. The High Priest was the ‘ultimate authority’ in deciding what was right or wrong, admissible or repugnant, in matters religious. Jesus effected a radical shift. He instituted the authority of God in its place, within the matrix of the Kingdom of God. It was this that the High Priest minded most. (That pattern applies with added force today.)
The church, in preaching the Kingdom, cunningly went back to the authority of the High Priest – re-inventing it as historical episcopacy, fortified with the idea of Apostolic succession – which is the root of our problems today. This was an idea, or institution, bound to degenerate over time; as indeed it has. Episcopal authority sits upon us like the religious hierarchy of Judaism, which Jesus condemned as basic to the liberation of the people and ridding them of religious oppression (Read St. Matthew chapter 23). As a result, the church — mandated to be an incarnation of the Kingdom of God with the Will of God as the shaping authority — has become, albeit unwittingly, a hindrance to the Kingdom of God; ironically, even in preaching the Kingdom.
Spirituality of resistance, understood in faithfulness to Jesus Christ, arises out of the duty to stay faithful to the spiritual paradigm-shift he effected. This arises out of the realization that we have to resist what Jesus resisted. But this also implies the realization that to resist as Jesus did is to ‘cleanse’ and to ‘transform’. It underlines the duty to stay faithful to the Way of Jesus; and to let nothing distract us from our discipleship and our accountability to God.
We say -and sing too- “The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ, her Lord”. We believe we preach the Kingdom of God. But, in practice, church life is organized with the authority of church hierarchy as decisive. Most bishops today think of denominational churches as personal fiefdoms. As a result, they resent accountability as anathema to their authority. We have got so used to this state of affairs that we are rarely aware of the authority of Jesus Christ in the life of the church.
Rituals and rites are carried on in a matrix of appeasement, not of radical obedience, to God. It is comparable to paying taxes to Caesar. Such taxes are paid so that Caesar leaves us alone for us to pursue our agenda, otherwise. Over the centuries we have reached a situation in which authority of the Saviour and the authority of the bishop cannot co-exist. If and when a bishop is present, the focus is solely on him. Today bishops as a class assume this to be a legitimate entitlement. We are duty-bound to resist this deflection from the core spiritual discipline of being a Christian. As Paul writes:
“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against a spiritual wickedness in high places” -Ephesians 6:12
Indeed, the eleven verses of the 6th chapter of Ephesians preceding this text are crucial for understanding aright our plight today. This text highlights spiritual warfare — the spirituality of resistance — as basic to our faith-life. We need to pay heed to the insight that spiritual battles must be waged with the “full armour of God”. In that sense, educating ourselves on the discipline of this spiritual discipline could mean, in practice, the Christ-centred spiritual renewal and transformation of the church. The aberrations looming large in various spheres of church life are symptoms that point to the need for such a renewal.
The urgent need of the hour is for the church to return, like the prodigal son from the far-country, to ‘our Father in heaven’ (cf. The Lord’s Prayer. We repeat this prayer mechanically, without ever bothering to reckon its practical mandates, which is the essence of ‘hypocrisy’. We are all becoming de facto hypocrites for the worldly gains of a few in our midst.)
The reality of celebrating the Eucharist -Holy Qurbana, The predicament of the Church at Laodicea (Rev. 3:1-20) is poignantly relevant to our predicament today.