Earlier this year, the brutal murder of a young Christian named Kevin Joseph shocked the nation. He was from a Dalit background and was marrying “up” into an affluent Syrian Christian family, who considered him incompatible. In order to end their affiliation with a Dalit, the bride’s family killed Joseph just a few days after his wedding. Moreover, this murder took place in Kerala which is known for its high Christian population.
Although this story is an extreme circumstance, it clearly brings out a familiar yet shameful issue we encounter quite often. We, specifically Indian Christians, have managed to create a passionate association between culture and faith. We have accepted and elevated societal constructs, in this case, caste-based discrimination, and attempted to manipulate the Christian intention. Why is our identity as discriminators evoked before our identity as equal heirs of God? Also, what kind of “Christianity” compels one to murder? These questions must be answered by reevaluating our call to be ambassadors of Christ in society.
EMPHASIS ON CULTURE INSTEAD OF OUR FOUNDATION
The famous verse John 3:16 talks about God’s love for us and is considered one of the foundations of Christianity. However, many of us have completely forgotten about how this love should compel us to live for God in this world (2 Cor 5:14). Instead of loving and accepting others we condemn those who do not conform to our particular cultural standards. Besides social discrimination, prejudice against women and dowry are other culturally motivated ideals still prevalent among some Christians. We have ignored these glaring weaknesses and focused on matters like relationships, public behaviour or clothing choices, and tried to create rules which we equate to “holiness”. Based on these rules we judge and criticise both the unbelievers and believers and question their salvation and disregard our own bigger flaws. This link between cultural customs and salvation is an adaptation of the law that was already deemed incomplete and powerless in Romans 8:3 and was never a requirement in the new covenant established through the Cross. Jesus never championed such kind of importance we have given to culture; instead, he rejected the divisions and called us all children of God.
Jesus rejected divisions and called us all children of God. There is a clear call for us to be loving disciples rather than angry, judgmental ones. Our behaviour and reputation as disciples and children of God are related to us functioning in love.
HYPOCRISY AMONG CHRISTIANS
For ages, this “cultural Christianity” has been hammered into the minds of the younger generation with constant restrictions and disapprovals. Interestingly, the same generation that has taught the youth to act a certain way has endorsed worse behaviour by some highly influential people just to prove the other side wrong. Is this the reputation we want to exhibit to draw unbelievers to our God? If our rage and zeal to prove the other wrong is stronger than our desire to embrace them into God’s family, then we are effectively a hindrance to the unbeliever.
In creating a culturally validated approach to Christianity we have mutated the concept of a true relationship with God into a pretentious religion, hypocritically focusing on needless matters. We have overlooked the social evils common in our own communities and arrogantly condemned other people. Therefore, the reputation of a Christian today is becoming more and more negative and is distancing the unbelievers from the message of Christ. Granted that our goal should not be to please the world, why is the Christ-like behaviour not our prominent identity?
LOVE BEFORE YOU ACT
The belief that these social traditions are a form of spirituality and the attempt to enforce a derogatory mentality has distorted the true purpose of the Cross (Mark 7:13). We can resolve this by looking at 1 Corinthians 14:1 where Paul urges us to follow the way of love and then desire the spiritual gifts eagerly. The spiritual gifts Paul talks about are mentioned in chapter 12 verse 7 onwards: the manifestations of prophecy, speaking in tongues and interpretation, healing the sick and so on, and yet if we do these without love, their true magnitude is lost. Additionally, in the previous chapter, Paul emphasizes the importance of love in solidifying our acts of prophecy, generosity or even our faith. In other words, if we want to prophesy or share a word of wisdom with someone, which many of us are eager to do, it should come out of love, otherwise, it is futile. Another emphasis is in John 13:34 and 35, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Here there is a clear call for us to be loving disciples rather than angry, judgmental ones. Our behaviour and reputation as disciples and children of God are obviously related to us functioning in love.
In creating a culturally validated approach to Christianity we have mutated the concept of a true relationship with God into a pretentious religion, hypocritically focusing on needless matters. We have overlooked the social evils common in our own communities and arrogantly condemned other people.
1 John 4:7–21 highlights what our attitude towards society should be. It talks about how we love because God first loved us and that God lives in us when we love one another. If we cannot share the gospel with the same kind of love God showed us, we have failed. Our goal must be to have a heart like Christ, someone who constantly accepted the unlovable and victimised people of the society. As Christians, it is our responsibility to share the gospel of God’s love and grace but how do we talk about love, if we do not first have love to share? How do we invite someone closer to Jesus when we have already discriminated against them?
Furthermore, for those who still choose to live and think according to the Old Testament law, Romans 13:10 says, “Love does no harm to a neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” So no matter how you decide to argue salvation if you do not act in love, you have acted in contrast to the message of the gospel.
THE NEED TO MIRROR CHRIST
There is an urgent need for us to reassess the reputation we have developed in our present society.
Are we just the Christians known for opening up charitable institutions, or perhaps those who hide behind the veil of religion and ultimately spread hate? Or are we the type of Christians who are confident in our salvation and willing to share the abundance of God’s love? Choose to be the reflection of Christ, redefining what it means to be a Christian in today’s world.