Tuesday, July 18, 2006

On The Road Again

I'm on the road again. I'm here in the internet cafe beside the Victory Monument in Bangkok. This is our second trip here within a month. We'll try to get our non-immigrant visa and working permit so that we can do more for God's glory in Mae Sai. Our attempts to get visa before had been turned down... I really don't know why. I think we were "victims" of random decisions by the Thai immigration officers. I hope it will not happen again this time.

I bought a one-day pass for Bangkok Train Station or BTS (I think it's not station but I can't think of anything at the moment that starts with letter S) so that I can go around Bangkok and get lost without spending too much money. I can ride and ride and enjoy the city from inside the train. I can drop by every station and enojy "people-watching" and read books on sale.

I brought John Macquarries' Principles of Christian Theology because it's the only theological book I have with me here in Thailand. My Burmese Pastor friend lend it to me. I will read the night away at Bangkok Bus Terminal (Mor Chit) and hopefully get some sleep sitting up straight while waiting for my family. They left for Mae Sai at this hour and will travel to Bangkok for 13 hours. I will see them in the morning to "appear" in the immigration office.

Anyway, blogging and reading others' blogs have made me think a lot lately... theological reflections, life after death, how to pick religious books, choosing between wearing brief or boxers, what movie to see, how to make money, how thinking a lot make your body dead tired, gardening and many many more... our blogging theologian friends have a lot of ideas and I'm learning from them. This is the blessing of being part of community and I guess this is what orthopraxis really means.

Please pray for us.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Logos In Other Religions

Are other religions wrong? Asked this question to a Christian with Calvinistic-Barthian orientation and they would answer with a resounding “yes.” In the same way, the conservative Protestant view sees other religions as only error and idolatry. Revelation of God is not possible through other religions.

I don’t know if I can still hold that position. I can no longer believe that revelation is the monopoly of the Christian religion. It is true that we have a definitive revelation of God in Jesus Christ, but it does not mean that God could not use other religions to make himself known to human.

Buddhism is more tolerant of other religions than Christianity and Islam. It is tolerant of other beliefs and religions and agrees with their moral teachings. They never fought wars in for their belief. They claim they do not preach and try to convert people to Buddhism. So from its perspective, it will not claim that their religion is right and the others are wrong just like many Christians have often been doing.

As Christians, we can commit ourselves with our church and in terms of the symbols established in that community, and yet believe that for a person in other circumstances, the same God reveals himself in another community and under different symbols. Observing other religion as an outsider we could not make an outright judgment that God reveals himself in that community but just the same we could not deny it.

I agree with John Macquarrie when he says that,
“if we see in that persons of that community growth in selfhood and the workings of grace, can we doubt that God is indeed with them and is making himself known to them? And… should we not rejoice that the grace of holy Being is not narrowly confined to one community or one particular occasion and history of revelation.”
If we reject the notion of an exclusive divine revelation in the Christian faith, then some of the motives that impelled us to mission are no longer operative. A news perspective on a missionary task must be seen here. In fact, the whole conception of mission has been changing rapidly in the last few decades. There is a general disgust in identifying Christianity as western formulations. The direction is to respect the indigenous culture.

Missionary task is no longer bringing an outsider religion by bringing in an outside Christ. If a Christian believes that these other indigenous religions have received a revelation of the same Logos in their own faiths, then we can acknowledge that is some sense the form of Christ is hidden in these faiths. Missionary is not bringing Christ to the non-Christian for the first time, as if he were not there before, but a missionary can think that he is awakening the non-Christian to more explicit awareness of the Christ who is already present in that faith.

Macquarrie further suggests that:
“Christian communication of Christ to the non-Christian would take the form of helping him to recognize Christ in his own tradition and encouraging that tradition to grow into Christ. But clearly such communication would be reciprocal or dialogical. For even if Jesus Christ is the fullness of the divine truth, at any given time are not fully possessed that truth.”
Christ is universal and he can be found in other religions. Missiologists call this phenomena as "redemptive analogies" that are found in all cultures and religions. Missions is not about replacing non-Christian religions by Christianity but it can be seen side by side in an indefinite helpful dialogue until a person grows to maturity in his faith in Christ that is reveal differently in his own culture and religious belief. Now here is a question that may solicit different answers: Can a Buddhist Thai be a disciple of Christ? Your answer is as good as mine.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Missionary Church

Here is a modern theologian concept of a missionary church. His idea about church and missions is far more broad than many missiologists I had read so far. I anticipate that further reading of his books will give me more concepts about church and missions. I will share more ideas in this blog.
Today one of the strongest impulses towards the renewal of the theological concept of the church comes from theology of mission.

To grasp the missionary church theologically in a world-wide context means understanding it in the context of the missio dei. Mission comprehends the whole of the church, not only parts of it, let alone the members it has sent out. To proclaim the gospel of the dawning kingdom is the first and most important element in the mission of Jesus, the mission of the Spirit, and the mission of the church; but it is not only one.

Mission embraces all activities that serve to liberate man from his slavery in the presence of the coming God, slavery which extends from economic necessity to God forsakenness. Evangelization is mission, but mission is not mere evangelization. In the missionary church the widow who does charitable works belongs to the same mission as the bishop who leads the church or the preacher of the gospel.

The real point is not to spread the church but to spread the kingdom. The goal is not the glorification of the church but the glorification of the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit.
Jurgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit (Harper & Row, Publishers, 1975), 10

Saturday, July 08, 2006

The Gospel is for the Poor

For lack of anything to do while on language study, my friend and fellow missionary went around the market and asked people: "What do they think of Christianity?" Most of the people replied that "Christianity are for the poor people only." And because he is a faithful Christian himself, he was offended by this answer.

Admittedly, I was also offended at first when I heard about it. But what can I expect. Here in the mission field along the Mekong region missionary activities are focused on the unreached people group and these are mostly tribal people. So even if there are churches in the city, their membership are composed of tribal people and are considered to belong among the poorest of the poor. There are no churches and missionary activities that I know at this moment that are focused to the people who belong to the middle and upper classes who reside in the city.

People here tend to identify Christianity with the poor. But of course this is not true in global perspective. Most of the rich countries are those we considered to be Christian. Even though the majority of the people are just nominal Christians. The statement is usually made by people who have very limited global awareness and perhaps they belong to the underprivileged themselves.

Why is it that many Christians are offended if their religion is being identified with the poor? With the popularity of the prosperity gospel, more and more Christians feel uncomfortable being poverty-stricken. Other believers would even accused other Christians as lacking in faith because they are poor.

I believe our Lord Jesus Christ wanted to identify his kingdom with the poor. The synoptic writers present Jesus as the "One who brings good news of the expected end times. He preaches the gospel of the kingdom to the poor and sets the captives free of the coming kingdom (Isaiah 61:1-2). As far as I know, Jesus never commanded the believers to preach the gospel to the rich, but there are many instances when Jesus specifically commanded his disciples to preach the gospel to the poor. Even he himself said that he was tasked to preach the gospel to the poor.

My favorite theologian Moltmann gives us a good idea what the poor are as the Scripture would mean it. "The poor are those who have to endure acts of violence and injustice without being able to defend themselves. The poor are all who have to exist physically and spiritually on the fringe of death, who have nothing to live for and to whom life has nothing to offer. The poor are all who are at the mercy of others, and who live with empty and open hands. Poverty therefore means both dependency and openness. are describe as the opposite of the poor. The rich is the man of violence who oppresses the poor, forces them into poverty and enriches himself at their expense.

Moltmann hit it on the head again when he says that…"Riches" are equally multi-dimensional and extends from economic exploitation, by way of social supremacy, to the complacency of the people who look after themselves in every sector of life, ignore the right of others and do not want to have to say thank-you to anyone for anything.The rich are those whose concern is only for themselves. They think that they don't need to depend on others much more on God. They are neither dependent on others nor open for others.

I was saddened that Philippine churches are becoming more and more detached in ministering or being identified with the poor. They are more concern about themselves. They boast of their thousand of attendance they are having every Sunday. The million of incomes they gather in their tithes and offering. They boast of the popularity of their pastors and leaders. The church wants to be rich and they think that identifying with the rich they are being victorious and successful.

The church exist for missions. It is from mission and in the light of mission that the church has to be understood. Mission does not come from the church but it was the mission of Christ that creates the church. And whether we accept it or not, Christ's mission is always concern with the poor. I don't need to quote scripture verses to prove my point. Christ wants the church to be identified with the poor… or be poor itself for the sake of the gospel (2 Cor. 8:9. Don't be sorry that your church is poor or is identified with the poor instead feel very sorry if your church is being identified with the rich or being so amazingly rich itself.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Buddhism and Christianity

I have been looking for an article that would, in a way, compare Buddhism and Christianity. This is very relevant since my family and I are working as missionaries here in Thailand. and while exploring the interesting blogs about theology written by provocative theologians I stumbled upon this great essay, I want to share this to you guys. This is from James, and you can read it in his blogspot http://theologyandfreedom.blogspot.com/.

A Short Christian Appreciation of Buddhism

While I am thoroughly a Christian (perhaps not always orthodox, but I'm always a dox of some sort), I do enjoy studying other religions, including Buddhism. It is perhaps my favorite of other religious movements because it reminds me of my own beloved Protestantism. Like Luther and Calvin, the Buddha sought a middle way in Hinduism. He rejected certain aspects of Hinduism and affirmed others. Granted, there are many differences in these reformers, but there are some striking similarities. I'll save that for another post. Today I want to focus on a short appreciation of Buddhism.

Buddhism and Christianity share many similarities. Granted, I cannot speak authoritatively for both, but I can appreciate Buddhism as a Christian. The Buddha, like Jesus, taught self control. The body is something to be mastered, not something that the world would have master control over. Both religions, that is assuming Buddhism as religious thinking, not simply philosophical thinking, taught (after their founders) that there is more to this world than the simple, empirical, and often painful existence. In other words, there is a metaphysic of sorts. For the Christian, that metaphysic is the narrative of the Creator God who redeems the creation through Jesus. For the Buddhist, that metaphysic is the knowledge of one's place in the universe - and how to set oneself free from this ever-changing world. While it may be argued that both teachings support escapism (i.e. don't worry about this life because there's something better waiting for you after death), I think the real understanding is appreciating the metaphysic as grounded in earthly life. What do I mean? While the hereafter is important, and deserving of consideration, the here-and-now demands our attention.

The devout Buddhist learns how to train his / her mind in ways that Westerners often completely miss. I'm one of them. I wish I could train my brain to enter a zen-like state after only a few minutes. I wish I could learn the "empty" brain exercises. I wish I could harness my thoughts and feelings in the same way that the Buddhist monk is often able to. Jesus' own teaching isn't that far from this. Jesus often spent much time alone, in the desert, contemplating, praying, and fasting. As an aesthetic, Jesus trained his mind to be alone with God. There is much to learn from this, and much to be appreciated in the Buddhist.

What I find the most intreguing of Buddhist teaching is the release from samsara, or the eternal cycle of life. This cycle encapsulates the dharma and karma that a being accumulates in multiple lives. This is no simple doctrine of reincarnation; rather it is a cycle of pain - a cycle of death, if you will. This cycle is broken only with buddha (or, literally, "enlightenment"). The knowledge of past lives and future lives, coupled with supreme knowledge, allows the individual to die into nirvana, or eternal nothingness. This nothingness is peace, it is eternal bliss in the void. It is the supreme version of unconsciousness. While I don't pretend to understand samsara, I am interested in studying it. I think it can lead to a better, even deeper, understanding of what I affirm as a Christian - that the life hereafter doesn't repeat - that this is it, this is our time to shine as the children of God - that we need to make the best of this life - and that we can hope for eternal presence with God. How can understanding the Buddhist help me in my Christian walk? There is always a place for understanding, for contemplation, for entertaining new ideas, for teasing out radical new thoughts. And, maybe, in that moment of enlightenment, I'll figure out what this life really means.