Archive for September, 2017

Church – A Community of Restored Relationships

September 10, 2017

Message by Kamalakar Duvvuru on 10th September 2017


Last Sunday Bharathi has shared several important things about relationships. Some of the points are:

  1. The origin or basis of relationships and communication is the Godhead. The three persons on the Godhead are relational beings;
  2. Since human beings are created in the image of God, we are created as relational beings.

Though Adam had relationship with God and other living creatures, he was said to be alone (Gen 2.20). The remedy for human loneliness is fellow feeling.

Fellow feeling (or affinity or kinship) is not possible by having relationship with God or with other living creatures. Fellow feeling is possible only in relationship with fellow human beings. This is expressed in Adam’s poetry: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Gen. 2.23).

To be fully human one needs to be in relationship with fellow human beings. If a person is living alone in a house, she/he is said to be living like a ghost. One of the severest of punishments is “solitary confinement”.

In the Guantanamo Bay prison, in some of the solitary confinement cells where so-called Al-Qaeda terrorists were kept, the prison guards observed blood splashed on the walls, because the prisoners after being kept in those cells, away from sunlight and fellow human beings, for long became depressed and insane. Due to that they banged their head against the walls. Some prisoners pulled their hair!

  1. Sin broke human relationships – with God, with one another and with the rest of creation. Greed, selfishness and jealousy have started controlling the lives of people. They have led to various forms of violence and spiral of violence (The basic definition of violence is violation of one’s human dignity, value and rights). This has resulted in widening the gap between man and man, which in turn resulted in human loneliness.

Let me add some more points to these:

  1. The broken relationships are restored by God through the salvific act of Jesus Christ. Salvation through faith in Jesus Christ restores relationships.
  2. Church is a community or gathering of restored relationships. This church is brought into being or existence by God through Jesus Christ and his gospel. So it belongs to God and to Jesus Christ. That’s why it is called the “church of God” (Gal. 1.13; I Cor. 1.2) or the “church of Christ” (Rom. 16.16).

Such a community or gathering is not simply a human association or a religious club, but a divinely created entity (I Cor 1.1; II Cor 1.1; cf. I Cor 10.32, 11.22; Rom 16.16).

However, what is the ground-reality within church?

  1. The Ground-Reality within Church
  1. In the Churches of Galatia

Paul founded the churches of Galatia (Acts 13-14; 16.1-6). These churches are composed predominantly of Gentile Christians.

As the Gentiles started to believe in Jesus Christ and join the church, two issues arose within the church: 1. what is the status of Gentile Christians? 2. What is the relationship between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians?

These issues are raised by the orthodox Jewish Christians, who are known as Judaizers. According to them, faith in Jesus Christ is not enough to become a part of the covenant community of God. Since circumcision is a sign of God’s covenant with Abraham (Gen. 17.9-14), Gentile Christians should undergo circumcision in order to become children of Abraham. Judaizers went to other churches and preached the same. That means, a Gentile Christian should become a Jew in order to become a member of the covenant community of God.

If Gentiles don’t get circumcised, they are considered to be outside the covenant community, and so Jewish Christians should not associate with them, and have table fellowship with them (Acts 10.28).

However, the status of Gentile Christians has already been settled in the Apostolic Council or Jerusalem Council.

  1. Apostolic Council or Jerusalem Council (AD 48/49) (Gal.2.1-10 = Acts 15.1-29)

After much debate and listening to how God gave the Holy Spirit to the Gentile Christians and how God did signs and wonders among them, the Apostolic Council decided that both Jews and Gentiles will be saved by faith in or through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.

So the issue, whether Gentile Christians should be circumcised or not, has been settled in the Apostolic Council.

But the Judaizers did not accept this decision. They continued to preach that the Gentile Christians should undergo circumcision, and insisted that the Jewish Christians should not have fellowship with the uncircumcised Gentile Christians. This had created walls of separation among the believers and thus disturbed the unity within the church.

Paul calls this “a different gospel” (Gal. 1.6-7). This is a different kind of gospel. This is a perverted version of the gospel (Gal. 1.7).

  1. Perverted Version of the Gospel

The manifestation of the perverted version of the gospel is seen in Gal. 2.11-14.

The Antioch incident has happened after the Apostolic Council (Gal. 2.1-10). In the Apostolic Council it was decided that both Jews and Gentiles are saved by faith in Jesus Christ or through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. So both Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians are members of the covenant community of God. They both are children of Abraham.

That means, Jewish Christians can have relationship with Gentile Christians, and so can have food together.

Because of this Peter and other Jews were having table fellowship with the Gentile Christians in Antioch. The imperfect tense “used to eat” (sunēsthien) indicates Peter’s customary behavior of eating with the Gentile believers before the arrival of “certain ones from James”. Peter and the other Jews, by having table fellowship with the Gentile believers, expressed their conviction that because of their common faith in Christ Gentile believers are not to be regarded as “Gentile sinners” (Gal. 2.15) and that they are no longer separated, but rather united in Christ.

However, when people from James (i.e. Judaizers from the Jerusalem church) came to the church at Antioch, Peter withdrew from having table fellowship with the Gentile Christians.

Peter’s action of withdrawing from having table fellowship with the Gentile believers is considered by Paul as “hypocrisy”. Because it clearly contrasts with Peter’s conviction expressed by his customary conduct of eating with the Gentile believers.

Paul puts this inconsistent behavior succinctly: “If you, being a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Gal.1.14). The expressions Ioudaikōs zēs (“live like a Jew”) and Ioudaizein (“being a Jew”) are found only in Galatians. They denote the Jewish way of life that maintains separation from Gentiles.

Peter by eating with the Gentile believers before the arrival of the “circumcision group” followed a pattern of life contrary to the Ioudaizein lifestyle. By withdrawing from his usual practice of associating with the Gentile believers, Peter was, implicitly, “compelling” the Gentile believers to embrace the Jewish way of life. Paul, by using the same verb anagkazō (“to compel”) to describe Peter’s action, understands Peter’s withdrawal from table fellowship with the Gentile believers at Antioch same as the action of “false brothers” at Jerusalem (Gal. 2.3-5; the action of the teachers of the “other gospel” in Galatian churches is also same Gal. 6.12). The implicit pressure on the Gentile believers was to accept the Jewish way of life demanded by Judaism.

Paul, thus, questions Peter’s self-contradiction between his withdrawal and his conviction. For him, Peter’s behavior constitutes not walking straightforwardly according to the truth of the Gospel (notice the present tense orthopodousin).

Gal.2.13 says “And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.”

By deviating from the truth of the gospel, Peter took other Jewish Christians, and even Barnabas, who was chosen by the Antioch church for the ministry among Gentiles (along with Paul), away from the truth of the gospel (Gal. 2.13; Gal. 2.7-9; Acts 13.1-3).

A caution for a leader: If a leader deviates or strays from the right path, he/she will take many along with him/her.

  1. Indian Church

There are many walls of separation in the Indian church. Casteism or caste-based discrimination plays a major role in the Indian church.

  1. What is Casteism?

Casteism means prejudice or discrimination based on caste. It is a loyalty to one’s caste. In general, it may be defined as a phenomenon by virtue of which persons belonging to a certain caste group are either discriminated against or shown favour regardless of their merits and demerits, just on the basis of their caste.

Casteism exhibits a number of characteristics such as:

  1. Casteism signifies blind caste or sub-caste loyalty. It either ignores or does not care for the interests of other castes.
  2. For a casteist person “My caste man/woman and my caste only” is the principle.
  3. Casteism goes against the spirit of democracy. (Against spirit of Christianity).
  4. Casteism submits or subordinates one’s sense of justice, fair play and humanity to the interests of his/her own caste.
  5. Casteism creates caste solidarity to the extent that: a. one caste seeks to dominate over others; b. higher castes exploit the lower castes.
  1. Factors that contribute to the growth and spread of casteism
  1. Sense of caste prestige

Sense of caste prestige constitutes an important cause of casteism. People belonging to a particular caste try to enhance the prestige of their caste. In so doing they do not hesitate to employ undesirable and harmful methods.

  1. Endogamy

Endogamy signifies marriage within one’s own caste. Since people practice endogamy, it is quite natural that they develop a deep sense of belonging to one another within the same caste. This obviously promotes casteism.

  1. Social distance

Social relations of individuals are conditioned by one’s caste norms and values. Social distance between castes is maintained through restrictions of inter-caste marriage, inter-dining etc.

Along with casteism, we also witness in the church discrimination based on class (socio-economic status), education, language, region, and gender. Within the church they form as walls that divide the members. These discriminations come to limelight at the time of choosing leaders and choosing life-partners.

Jewish way of life in the early church and caste, class, gender based way of life in the Indian church, by dividing the community or breaking the relationships, promote sin in the church. Because sin breaks relationships.

So the Jewish way of life and the caste, class, gender based way of life is contrary to the truth of the gospel.

What is the truth of the gospel?

  1. Truth of the Gospel

In Gal. 2.15-21 Paul explicates the truth of the gospel, beginning with generally accepted position: “We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ” (Gal. 2.15-16). This is Jewish separatist vocabulary (“We are Jews”, “Gentile sinners”). Paul, by using this separatist Jewish language, echoes not only the conduct of the group “from James”, but also the behavior of Peter and the other Jews who withdrew from table fellowship with the Gentile believers.

It is in this social context Paul uses the term “justify”. Paul’s concern here is not forensic and ethical dimensions, but rather the relation between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. The term “justify” refers to the relationship between the Jews and the Gentiles, who are separated by the “works of the law” lifestyle.

Leander Keck has proposed the translation “rectify” for the Greek verb dikaioō. The action involved in the Greek verb dikaioō is the idea of “rectifying” a relationship or righting the wrong. Justify depicts God’s activity of rectifying a relationship or righting the wrong. What has gone wrong in the world is relationship among human beings through construction of walls of separation. In the context of Antioch incident it is the separation of the Jews from the Gentiles through the practice of the Jewish distinctive ritual, dietary laws.

“Works of the law” signifies “living like a Jew”, and thus Jewish exclusionism. They refer to primarily the Jewish customs – circumcision, dietary laws, Sabbath and the Jewish festivals. These customs were given so much prominence that they became the identity markers of Jews, and doing these “works” was considered equivalent to obeying the Torah!

Paul reminded Peter and those who followed Peter at Antioch that although they were Jews they believed in Jesus Christ, because they knew that “a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ” (Gal. 2.16). God justifying a person or making one right is through faith in Jesus Christ. This implies that he/she has died to the law, “a death to its ritually excluding aspects that undergird Jewish separatism.”

Peter being convinced that a person is justified by faith in Christ abandoned the “works of the law” lifestyle and had table fellowship with the Gentile believers before the group “from James” arrived at Antioch.

By withdrawing from fellowship with the Gentile believers after the arrival of the group and following the abandoned Jewish way of life, Peter demonstrated that violation of the dietary laws was a sinful action.

That means, his faith in Jesus Christ has made him to abandon the “works of the law” lifestyle, and thus transgress the law by eating with the Gentile believers. This is tantamount to making Jesus a promoter of sin or a “servant of sin” or an agent of sin (Gal 2.17).

For Paul, this is an absurd conclusion.

For Paul to be justified by faith in Jesus Christ means to be crucified with him (Gal. 2.19), and that means dying to the law as interpreted in terms of “the works of law”. Dying to the law is necessary in order to live for God (Gal. 2.19).

That’s why Paul refused to return to the Jewish way of life that demanded separation from Gentiles. Because God’s justifying act has broken down the walls of separation between Jews and Gentiles. If Paul returns to the Jewish way of life, it would amount to building the very walls that have been torn down or destroyed.

It would also make him a transgressor (Gal. 2.18). By withdrawing from eating with the Gentile believers at Antioch Peter demonstrated himself a “transgressor”. It means not only “to transgress, to violate”, but also “to deviate, to step by the side of”. Peter deviated from the truth of the gospel.

The truth of the gospel is that God’s justifying act through Christ has united both Jews and Gentiles, by demolishing the walls of separation.

God’s justifying act in Jesus Christ is a unifying act, unifying Jew and Greek, slave and free, and male and female into one single community (Gal. 3.28). This righting of relationships between the Jews and the Gentiles fulfils God’s promise to Abraham: “All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you” (Gal. 3.8; 3.26-29). Therefore, for Paul no one is joined to Christ except together with a neighbor, and for Jew the primary neighbor is Gentile and vice-versa. The gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed by Paul is the good news that the promise of God to Abraham (that is, the unity of the nations) is fulfilled through the Christ event.

The death of Jesus Christ brings in the new creation where people irrespective of their ethnic, caste, class and gender backgrounds are united in Christ as the children of God, and possess God’s eschatological gift of the Spirit (Gal. 3.2).