Christianity in secular world

Mapu Jamir (IAS Retd)

Israel is one country where you breathe religion. Jerusalem is sacred to three Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Synagogues, churches and mosques rub shoulders at every street corner. They all have Abrahamic background. But they never had perfect relationships with each other. The seed of inter-religious conflict was sown here with disastrous consequences around the world.

Today Christianity needs a sensitive awareness and to listen carefully to the voices of secular society and feel their anger and bewilderment otherwise Christianity will run the risk of losing its authenticity as the believers of Jesus of Nazareth. 

There is disillusionment from a large section of the people in the world with the current secular concept. Secularism is against promotion of any religion in the society but favour material progress. This disillusion is against materialism that cannot satisfy the human spirit. This has led to the epidemic of drug abuse - an attempt to escape from the harsh realities of life. There is also a New Age movement - a bizarre assortment of diverse beliefs, cults, science, yoga, music, arts, and drug induced higher consciousness, dangerous experiments with the occult, etc. This is a challenge to the quality of Christian faith and worship. Often worship services are not attracting them. No wonder those seeking Reality often pass them by.

The prophets of the Old Testament were outspoken in their denunciation of the formalism and hypocrisy of Israelite worship. Jesus too was critical of the Pharisees of His days: “these people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” (Mark 7: 6). These are uncomfortably applicable to us and our churches that lead to this undesirable growth. Can Christianity again show through sacrifice and prayer to the people – “surely, the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it,” (Genesis 28: 16) or allow the world to set the agenda for Christ?

Secularism favoured religious plurality. Plurality expresses the simple fact that there are many religions. It renounces every claim that Christianity is absolute, unique and universal. Rather, stated that Christianity must be viewed as only one religion among many and Jesus is one of the Saviours. 

There is growing hostility towards Christian evangelism and its attempt of conversion. People ask, “How can one religion claim monopoly of truth. Are there not many different ways to God? Why attempt to impose their views on others? They are against the spirit of tolerance and infringement on their liberties.”

In India, right to freedom of religion is guaranteed to all her citizens. But Indian secularism is both intrusive and indifferent. India is a secular state with a society divided along religious lines. Nationalist under Hindutva policy even assert that India is a Hindu nation despite being a secular state. This leads to another level of religious tolerance. That is to cultivate a mind so broad that it can accommodate every opinion however false or evil. But this will end up in unprincipled confusion of truth with error and goodness with evil. Christians who believe that truth and goodness have been revealed in Christ cannot possibly come to terms with it.

Christianity affirms the uniqueness of Christ as He has no peers or rivals. His uniqueness gives Him universal significance and hence must be made known throughout the world. The followers of Christ are to “Go and make disciples of all nations.” This was issued by the risen Christ who was able to claim that, “All authority in heaven and on earth had been conferred on Him.” Universal mission of Christianity springs from here (Mathew 28:18-20).

However, Christian faith is treated by others as intolerant and arrogant. When people talk of proselytism they mean conversion through pressure technique. There is no need to resort to unworthy practices. Those who use improper methods are thereby admitting their own spiritual weakness. Jesus never warrants encroachment on other people’s private space. Christian mission should be compatible with true tolerance, a genuine humility and a Christ like gentleness.

It is not wise to proclaim the Christ’s message of sinner’s salvation before certain social issues are addressed. Is our God in heaven interested only in bringing people to heaven and not in ameliorating their condition on earth? Threats to the natural environment, fears of conflict, continuing economic injustice, untouchability, exploitation of tribal people, degrading poverty of the masses, plight of unemployed youth and other social ills are areas of concern in India for Christian missions. To ignore the dehumanizing evils of society while preaching the humanizing influence of salvation is to be guilty of inner contradiction which misrepresent God and distort the gospel. Compassionate involvement in other people’s need is the part and parcel of the gospel of Christ. In response, Christianity should indeed be in the forefront of global harmony, Christianity be committed to peace making, participatory democracy, human rights and economic order.

Gospel of Jesus show the way how to love ones neighbours. How can we claim that we love our neighbours if we leave them in ignorance of Jesus? This is the demand of Christ Mission. Here lies the conflict with non Christian faiths.

Christian faith speaks of divine love. Divine love makes the first move to seek and save sinners. The Good Shepherd who searches for the lost sheep and reclaims it and rejoices over it is found only in the Holy Book of Jesus. There can be no doubt that the chief difference between Christianity and the other world’s religion is the Cross. It humbles all pride and dashes all hopes of self-salvation. It also speaks of the un-measureable love of God. The direct search and appeal to sinners are new to other non Christian faiths.

In today’s scenario, progress of Christianity depends on how we keep evangelism and social concerns together. There can be no question that words and work go together in Jesus’ ministry. There was in His ministry an un-breakable bond between evangelism and compassionate service. Jesus was a teacher. He travelled the Palestinian country side teaching and healing people. He exhibited in action the love of God. In the parable of the prodigal son we see the love of God as the father welcomes the boy home, and in the parable of the Good Samaritan we see the love of neighbour for neighbour as the Samaritan binds up the victim’s wound. In both cases, love triumphs over prejudice. Christian faith must emulate the words and work of Jesus. Each of us resembles the prodigal son and each of us should resemble the Samaritan. Let us not deviate from what Christ has taught us. This only can win many hearts and rescue many perishing souls.