Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Some thoughts on the temple then and now

It is significant to note that the early Christians who were Jews worshiped in the temple of Jerusalem till it’s destruction in 70 AD. There has been a much greater appreciation of the 'Jewishness' of Christian origins lately, but I wouldn't go into that here. Looking back at how the temple system came about, we go back to the Israelites in the wilderness. Following YHWH’s instruction, Moses built the tabernacle and God dwelt in it. (Actually we can go back till abraham as the Temple was built on Mt. Moriah where Isaac was almost sacrificed)

“Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle... So the cloud of the Lord was over the tabernacle by day and fire was in the cloud by night in the sight of all the house of Israel during all their travels” Exo. 40:34, 38.
Fast forward, at the dedication of the temple, “when Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burned offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. The priests could not enter the temple of the Lord because the glory of the Lord filled it” 2 Chron. 7:1,2

The temple was destroyed in 587 BC by the Babylonians and the Jews were taken captives.
“By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remember Zion. How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem may my right hand forget its skill may my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth…if I do not remember you if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy” Ps.137: 1-6

The temple was where God dwells and to these Jews, the temple was their very identity. When the temple was destroyed, their identity was lost. Temple, Zion or Jerusalem (where the temple was located) was often used synonymously. Jeremiah 7:4 mentions that the temple has become a Talisman, they believed the building guaranteed their security "This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord".

When the temple was rebuilt by Zerubbabel in 515 BC, the splendor of the glory of God was missing; it was 'nothing' compared to the one Solomon built (Haggai 2:3). The longing of the Jews was that one day YHWH will come again and dwell among them. "The Lord you are seeking will come to his temple", Mal. 3:1.

The Samaritan woman in John 4 was expressing a common expectation: when the messiah comes, he will drive out the enemies (even after return from exile, they have always been under foreign rule) and restore the temple and YHWH will return to Zion. “Jesus declared, ‘believe me woman, a time is coming when you will worship neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem” Jn. 4: 21

Many theologians agree that the gospel of John is simple and also very deep: like a pond where children can play and elephants can swim. Isn’t Jesus supposed to be sharing this profound teaching with his disciples? When we say something very important, we want a credible audience. Jesus is saying here that from now on, God’s dwelling place is not going to be a building or a mountain; it’s going to be something different. He came to fulfil the expectations of the people fulfilling the law and the prophets, and so much more- beyond expectations and in ways unimagined. "One greater than the temple is here", Mat. 12:6
This message gets full blown in 1 Cor. 3:16 where Paul was giving a nice scolding to the Corinthians for divisions in the church. “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” Of all the churches, Paul was saying to the most unlikely church where worship is chaotic, morality is low and the gospel gotten wrong in many ways, ‘you are the temple of the living God’.

Through Jesus talking to the Samaritan woman with loose morals and Paul to a bunch of confused believers, God declares that we are the body of Christ, in us believers, He has chosen to ‘tabernacle’, to dwell in us.

"Temple of the living God, me?" "Yes".

JNU, 2008

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Gospel delivey system

In sharing the Good News, why do we always start with bad news?

The logic seems to run that ‘for this cures that I am going to prescribe, there has to be a disease. Let me convince her that she is ill, so that she’ll long for treatment. Let me break her down and make her totally helpless so that she will seek for a savior’.

Many times this technique works and we have the so called ‘four steps to salvation’, ‘pray the salvation prayer and you are saved’, etc. My reason of discontent with this is that we know no other way of communicating the gospel. Gospel delivery has been narrowed to a technique to be mastered and the gospel contents a therapeutic pill to be swallowed.

It is rightly said that there are as many ways to come to Christ as there are people. ‘Christians are faithful but irrelevant’. I believe that we can join any conversation and carry it along to share the Good News, if Christ is the Lord of all.

C.S Lewis came to Christ when he was ‘surprised by joy’. G.K Chesterton was overcome with feelings of gratitude for being alive when there was skepticism all around. Ken Blanchard was told it is the best deal.

Our gospel sharing starts with The Fall but the Bible starts with creation. To go back to the doctrine of Creation will open up wonderful avenues for sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ. I will give some examples: insufficient but as pointers.

1. To friends in the Arts
Music or painting does not become gospel music or Christian painting just because the song lyric or the portrait contains explicit Christian messages. God is the author of all things good and beautiful. He could have created a totally utilitarian world. More than that, he made it beautiful as well: even beauty without utility for the sake of creativity. A wild flower blooms and dies without having any one to enjoy its beauty or sell it in the market. How has it served its purpose?

2. To friends in Science
There is a rationality, intelligibility, meaning and order in the universe which makes scientific studies possible. Modern Science emerged through the ‘demythologizing of nature’ which came about not through the secularization of the scientific enterprise, but through a wide dissemination of the Christian doctrine of Creation. God is not threatened but he delights when his image bearers study his ‘book of Nature’ and exercise his given power of creativity in acts of novelty. At the entrance to the famous Cavendish laboratory in Cambridge are inscribed, “Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who takes pleasure in them”. It is unfortunate to pit science against Christianity like Creation vs. Evolution when both have the same Author. To touch this hot topic slightly, Creation speaks of ontological (nature of existence) origins, while Neo-Darwinism or the Big Bang tries to unravel the chronological (order in which events happened) origins.

3. To friends of other faith
The sun, moon and stars are created objects and not divine beings which dictate our lives. There is no rival gods or helpers in the work of creation. The world is not intrinsically evil and salvation an escape from reality. Though marred by sin later on, the resounding phrase, ‘it is good’, ‘it is good’ reminds us that the world possesses and intrinsic worth and meaningfulness. Existence itself is declared blessed. Humankind is not an after-thought, created to serve the gods, but the climax of all creation.

4. To friends in the state and society at large
Why do human beings have rights? What is the basis of human dignity? Are the sexes equal? What is the relation of man with the rest of creation? These are questions which are common to Christians and non-Christians. There are issues of equality, justice, morality, environment, where we work together with people outside the Church. We will find moments when we share why we do what we do, and why we believe what we believe.
If we have entered into a conversation in any way mentioned above (there are so much more), it should not be difficult to go on and share about the love of Jesus Christ; his life, death and resurrection.

• , Os Guinness’ lecture at Berkeley: A thinking man’s quest for meaning and faith.
• Rebuilding the matrix, by Denis Alexander.
• Gods that fail, by Vinoth Ramachandra.
• Stefan Eicher’s lecture at North Delhi Evangelical Graduates Fellowship: Faith and Art.

Indra Vihar, 2008