Sacred, Secular or Both in One

Sacred, Secular or Both  in One

We learned from older religions, particularly Hinduism that there is a pattern of devolution.  They started simple, uncomplicated and non-professionalized.  Years later, it was professionalized, classified, complicated, rigid and many times, intolerant.  The priests adopted more and more so called Spiritual duties to perform, leaving the rest with more and more so called non-spiritual functions.  Thus the oneness, or wholeness was divided into two, Sacred and Secular.  (In my next post I will touch on Buddhism)

hindu trinity

Hindus were not alone.  Read the Old Testament.  Abraham the father of the Jewish nation believed and it was accounted for him for righteousness, just like Rehab the harlot.  Abraham offered sacrifices himself without the need of a special Priest.  He did not wear a mitre or an ephod, or a robe with pomegranates and bells.  It worked pretty well without them.  The rest of the patriarchs did the same thing with the same results. It was later – much later – the idea of a Mediator came in.

Historically, it is clear from the Old Testament that God did not want any dualism (Exodus 3: 10-22). God told a lay man, first a prince and later a keeper of sheep, named Moses, to go to Pharaoh of Egypt and boldly demand freedom for the Israelites from slavery!  Moses was understandably afraid of Pharaoh and had misgivings about his own people.  In order to allay his fear, as well as to boost his confidence, God showed miracles and gave him a glimpse of the future and specific directions.  God promised His presence and strength for this mission.  Exodus chapter four gives us additional clues.  In spite of all these promises, Moses requested a mouth piece (Exodus 4:10) and a messenger (verse 4:13).

Though eloquence is useful, God has other gifts equally, sometimes even more powerful than words.   Verse 14 is enlightening.  God was angry, real angry with Moses and gave in to Moses’ importunity allowing Aaron to be the mouth piece, the messenger. Moses could not see the long term consequences but God did.  I think this was the beginning of the dualism.  We want persons who are eloquent, handsome and head and shoulders above others to be the go between.

This reminds me of a similar instance in Israel’s history; this time, not a priest but a king.  Their reason was clear; we need a king just like other nations around them! 1 Samuel 8:5.  Samuel was heartbroken.  You will read one of the sad verses in the Bible; “Lord said to Samuel, listen to the voice of the people in regard to all they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them” (1 Samuel 8:7).  Hinduism did the same; first the Brahmin (priests) and second the Kshatria (kings) the first two of their castes.

Are Christians safe from this type of dualism?  Let us look at the Apostles and the early church.  A word of explanation is in order lest I sound like an unkind critic. I highly respect the Apostles.  Raised by the Church of England, we never spoke or wrote without adding the title Saint before their names.  Imagine them living with Jesus and learning daily from him?  The Epistle of St. John 1:1 reads “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld,  and our hands handled, concerning the Word of Life (Jesus)”.  To me, they could do no wrong, despite their own assertion “that they were men as same nature as you” (Acts 14:15).  The first time I heard that they were prone to error was when I heard the veteran missionary to India, E. Stanley Jones, on or about 1959.  As a young Charismatic, I thought he was, kind of, modernistic.  I put the topic out of mind for another convenient season.

That season came around in 1971, while living at Bradford, Ontario, collecting books for my own library; from second hand book stores, mostly from Salvation Army.  Okay, I was cheap.  I got started with the complete set of works by E. Stanley Jones.  One of them called The Way, we used for family devotions.  Chapters on Stephen, Barnabas and one chapter in particular, titled “Making the Secular Sacred” caught my attention; almost eleven years after my first encounter with the author.

e stanley jones

Let me quote Jones:  “In Stephen, Christianity was simple, unaffected, unprofessionalized.  It is significant that the most Christianized person in the NT was a lay man.  The Leaders were too conscious of being leaders and in that consciousness lost some of the Christian spirit. (A very thought provoking statement)  Stephen belonged not to the twelve but to the seven.  And yet before long that word seven spelled in Acts 6:3 became the seven in Acts 21:8.  Stephen heightened everything he touched.  He dignified the common place, took a job the Apostles turned down as beneath them and made it more significant than anything the Apostles themselves were doing.  Stephen served tables but he did in such a way that the table serving became sacramental those tables became a veritable table of the Lord.  The Lord’s table and around them people of all races ate the bread which became the bread.  He did what St. Francis of Assisi, years later said –preach the gospel, if necessary use words.

Commenting on the popular verse in Acts 6:2, Jones wrote “the Apostles felt they should not drop preaching the word of God and attend to meals…we (Apostles) will continue to devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word.  It sounded spiritual.  That tradition has continued until today.  But it introduced into Christianity a dualism between the Secular and the Sacred- a disastrous dualism.  It did several things: it made Spirituality function in terms spiritual instead of the total life, material as well as Spiritual.  It made ministers the ministers of a vague Spirituality instead of a vital, whole life impact.  It also made for unreality.  If the minister was not spiritual he had to act like it, so he put on spiritual tones and spiritual dress.  And the lay man?  They dealt with secondary things-the material – and therefore lived a secondary life.  It took the sense of mission out of the laity, and life sagged.  They were not in a first rate calling, so they did not have to lead a first rate life.  This has driven a disastrous wedge into western civilization.  It must be withdrawn.  All life must take on the sense of the sacred, and all callings be divine callings.   Holiness must get back its original thought, wholeness.  Holiness is wholeness.

This dualism was not in Jesus.   He preached and taught, healed and fed, all as a part of one impact of the kingdom.  But Jesus was a layman and had the lay mind – life was all one piece.  The Apostles missed their step at this place and moved out of the line of the succession of Jesus.  The Apostolic succession therefore is not Christian Succession; it is the Apostolic succession.  St. Paul got back into the line of Jesus, so he could say these hands of mine provided everything for my own needs and for my companions, Acts 20:34” As Jones wrote, this must be withdrawn!   More in my next post.

God bless,  Danny Paul

The Call of God for Service – Part II

Last week’s post got me thinking.  This topic is a lot more than I bargained for.  The Call of God is for every Believer to enjoy, serving Him joyfully in various fields according to one’s gifts and capabilities.  So what happened?  Somewhere along the way, the axis gradually shifted from all to some, in favour of special groups or individuals, leaving the majority to settle down in their comfortable pews.  The Call shifted to a duality of a few Performers and many Spectators.

This winter in Lakeland, Florida, I was invited to a large evangelical church.   A fine old lady greeted me and told me that her husband was a minister for 50 years and that he heard the call when he was just seventeen.  Her emphasis on the call is not uncommon.  It is expected.  While I congratulated her and greatly admired her husband, I could not help but think of all Believers. Were they not all called just like her husband or did they lose it because they were not on the professional clergy list?  When and where did this duality thinking start?  Why was there not a cry for unity instead of duality?  Has it become that prevalent that we have literally accepted it as normal?  Just to question or even discuss it will be misconstrued as rude or inappropriate.  In this post, I will attempt to find the cause of this tragic parody.  In my next post I will examine if and how this duality has weakened the Christian Outreach.

To start with, as a case history, we can learn from some or at least one older religion.  Coming from India, I naturally turn to Hinduism.  As far as I know, it existed around 2600 BC (from excavations of Mohenjo Daro of Sindh Valley, in northwest India).  They gradually spread east to the fertile Indo-gangetic plains. Their religion was simple.  Evil will be punished and on the positive side, good will be rewarded, both materially and spiritually.  Generally speaking, it was Cause and Effect, not far from the Golden Rule.  This is the closest I can come up with, not to mention their move from monotheism (Brahma) to trinity (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva) and their incarnations.  Phew! It was not easy to epitomize centuries of religious process, along with the mix of the Aryan and Dravidian culture and their religious beliefs into a few lines.

As to the Golden Rule, Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount, “Therefore whatever you want others to do unto you, do for them, for this is the Law and the Prophets”  (St. Mathew 7:12).  Wow, this is a great statement!  You may wish to read the famous compilation, from various world religions, by Rabbi H. Tanenbaum, what is popularly known as the Golden Rule.  I am not suggesting a religious mix or soup!  The idea, I believe, is a call for decency and respect to each other instead of condescension, anger, animosity, suspicion, wars and bloodshed.  I read this Golden Rule recently in the form of a circle/chart, of all places, in the SunnyBrook Hospital, Toronto, on the wall of the surgical floor!

Back to Hinduism, why did this religion, with simple origin, become so elaborate, detailed and complicated?  Perhaps they have the same right to ask Christians the same question, how a comparatively new and simple religion of Jesus Christ, got so evolved with its doctrines, denominations, divisions and complications and wars?

More simply, who can mediate between man and God?  The Hindu Priests, perhaps for order, control, and power, organized themselves and convinced the people, that only they can effectively approach the unseen and unknown God better, by offering the right prayers at the right time, and proper hymns and professional protocol.  Ah, do not forget the rituals.  It is handy.  They convinced the people.  Just leave it to us, we know better and we will take care of it! Could this also be the very beginning of the caste system in India?  The priestly class (Brahmins) made sure they were always on top!

I must mention that Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime minister of India, the architect of the Indian Constitution,  who worked very closely with Mahathma Gandhi in the freedom struggle, himself a Brahmin, did not have much time for the Brahmin system.  The Caste System was broken and minority rights were incorporated in the constitution in 1947-48 (I lived through those changes).  Social changes take time and they still have a ways to go.

To be fair to Hindus, other world religions may not call it Caste System, but by and large, have they not the same formula, variations of the same theme?  The main players are always the priests, are they not? The Jews, at the time of Jesus, had their priests, Pharisees and Sadducees.  The High Priest Caiaphas and his powerful father-in-law Annas used this logic to put Jesus to death.  He said “that it was expedient for one man to die on behalf of the people” (St. John 18:14).

Claiming the Call of God exclusively is an unhealthy authority.  The emancipation from this yoke came, in the fullness of time, through Jesus, the Son of God.  He broke that chain and set free the captive, bound by habit, custom, culture and religion.  Jesus confronted the religious of his time saying “if therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed” (St. John 8:36).  That glorious freedom, though free for all Believers, was costly. Through his life, death and resurrection, Jesus Christ became the one Mediator once and for all.

My observation is whenever one group gathers too much importance, loses moderation and becomes unbalanced, danger is not afar off.  The very Early Church, not long after the Cross and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, sadly witnessed the party spirit creeping in.  Some turned their eyes from Jesus to the leaders.

May I make two references from 1 Corinthians Chapter 3; verses 4-9 and then verses 21-23.   It is worth reading the whole chapter.  I found it very edifying and encouraging.  It is crystal clear and does not require any explanation.  I take joy re-emphasizing that “we are God’s fellow workers,” that both the tiller of grounds or the path maker breaking stones, as well as the priests, are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in us.  St. Paul fortified this thought further with the analogy of the body as written in 1 Corinthian 12:2-18.

Let us not, by God’s grace, abdicate our position as members of the body of Christ.  Remember the Hindu priests!  There is an old chorus I learned almost sixty years ago:

“Turn your eyes upon Jesus and look in His wonderful face

And the things of this world will go strangely dim

In the light of his glory and grace”

God bless,  Danny Paul

Ps. God willing, I will continue on this theme.  My title will be “the Mistake of the apostles”.

The Call of God for Service

Writing a post with a title like this is like putting my foot in my mouth.  “The call of God.”  This is one of the greatest, yet most misunderstood phrases in almost all religions, Christianity included.  Many may not say it outright, but deep within feel or are accustomed to believe that the call of God is kind of special, limited to some uniquely gifted individuals, and is not for Tom, Dick or Harry.  They place it securely in the job description of the “minister” and not in that of “lay people”.  There are others who feel the gift and calling of God are for all Believers.  Both sides have solid endorsements and scriptural backing.  Perhaps, whenever the word “ministry” is mentioned, it usually falls on the side of the “ministers”.  After all, they are the ones who write the articles, magazines and books that fills the Christian book stores.

One of the rare advantages of being an old man is to see both the tragedy and the comedy of errors of all sides.  I believe the theme of moderation plays a very important role in this area.  The absence of “moderation” creates invariably the “defects of virtues”. Please read my previous posts where I have emphasized the axiom “if one leg is longer, not necessarily shorter, he/she is still a lame person”.

To get an unbiased feel of the title, let me present two quotes. First from a Nobel Laureate, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1913.  Rabindranath Thakur (Anglo-cized into Tagore) was from India of course.  If you are perplexed why I did not quote a Christian theologian, believe me, there is a method in my madness.  I purposely chose Tagore, not only for the literature but also for his philosophy and religious values.   He was a Hindu, but not a provincial.  I would call him, say, a Universalist.  Leave that aside.  I also wanted my readers to get another unique picture of Indian religious mind, not necessarily those projected by Christian activists, whose eyes are only fixed on what they want to see and report and write.  The second quote is from St. Peter, from the Bible.  Here it is translated from the Bengali language:

“Leave this chanting and singing and telling of beads

Whom dost thou worship in this lonely dark corner of a temple with doors all shut

Open thine eyes and see thy God is not before thee!

He is there where the tiller is tilling the hard ground

And where the path maker is breaking stones

He is with them in sun and in shower and his garment covered with dust

Put of thy holy mantle and even like him come down on the dusty soil

Deliverance?  Where is this deliverance to be found?  Our master himself

Has joyfully taken upon him the bonds of creation; he is bound with us all for ever.

Come out of thy meditations and leave aside thy flowers and incense

What harm is there if thy clothes become tattered and stained?

Meet him and stand by him in toil and the sweat of thy brow.”

I know it is not fair to pick up few verses from a collection to bring out an important point.  At least you get the picture of an old temple and a priest chanting away with beads, bells, flowers and incense.  Extended, it can portray a typical Church or a Cathedral singing Gregorian chants, perhaps even a charismatic worship service, with a band bellowing, complete with drums.  Their words or chorus could be similar to the words from the Beatles, “Lord I want to see you.”   If possible, try to read the collection for which Tagore was awarded the Nobel Prize.  It is called Gitanjali, meaning Song Offerings.  You can Google it.  I recommend the one with the introduction by the famous English poet W.B. Yeats, addressed to one William Rothenstein.

The second quote is from 1 Peter 2:9; “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”  Can you believe this?   St. Peter was writing, not to an opulent parish or a typical mega-church, but to a poor, down-trodden Christian community, which was about to experience a vicious persecution, horribly executed by a Roman Emperor.

Do you see what I am getting at?  Tagore is telling the Priests to get out from the temple, from its flower petals, bells, beads and incense and go to the streets.  He says that is where the Master (notice the word Master) is and meeting their need is the true worship.  On the contrary, St. Peter is writing to the common people, the people of the street, the so-called lay people, and reaffirms to them that they are a Chosen Race, and Royal Priests.  There is no juxtaposition here. The first point is the importance of knowing our standing in the eyes of an almighty and gracious God!  The fact is, and I emphasize it, whether I am a tiller of a field or a path maker breaking stones, I am a Chosen Royal Priest, who has the Call of God!  The beautiful challenge is for the equal balancing of all virtues of all Believers.  This should be a given in all religions of the world, the tiller and teacher both hearing the Call of god for service. You see there is no caste system with God, particularly the religion of Jesus Christ, who worked most of his time on earth working as a labourer or a layman himself!  This is the Divine Mix, or as the poet put it, the priests and the workers both labouring together “by the sweat of his brow.”  I wonder where Tagore got this knowledge and truth from.

So, why is this concept so idiosyncratic?  Is this not common sense?  Why is there a disconnect between sacred and a secular?  Who made it?  Definitely not God!  Both Tagore and Peter are suggesting that all people are to give and receive the honour and self respect they deserve as equals, and as one who hears the call of God daily in service to others.  Call them all ministers (servants)  if you like! Each one has a function to perform “as unto the Lord”; a preacher, a custodian, or a street vendor.

I see that I have taken more space and words than intended.  I will write more posts on this theme, quoting St. Paul’s analogy of the body in 1 Corinthians 12:12, as well as the danger of divisions of the body, 1 Corinthians 3:4 and 3:22.  In the meanwhile, I would like to hear from you.

God bless, Danny Paul

Ps. Thanks to my reader who responded to my request of 21 April 2013.  The name of the book is “Stand like a mountain and flow as water”.  The author is Luke Seward.

Lost and Alone – But Carry On

My kids and grandkids told me to check out YouTube for a song called “Carry On”, by a band named Fun.  Since airing recently, I was told, the response has been phenomenal.  No, the players are not Christian gospel singers, as far as I know.  It doesn’t matter; they have a message and they have delivered it.  I listened and liked it. Here are a couple of verses:

“If you’re lost and alone, or you’re sinking like a stone, Carry on; May your be the sound of your feet upon the ground, Carry On

Cause we are here, we are shining stars, We’re invincible, We are who we are on our darkest day, when we are miles away

Sun will come, we will find our home, If you’re lost and alone..

So, I met up with some friends at the edge of the night, at a bar off 75, And we talked and talked about how our parents will die,

All our neighbours and wives If you’re lost and alone…”     (and on it goes)

Click on the link below:

They captured the likes, interest and imagination of thousands of viewers, in a matter of a few months.  No doubt the band is great and the tune is catchy.  But in my humble opinion, it is more than that.  The draw is in great part, the words; “Lost and Alone (lonely); but Carry on”.  These three simple words touch the ears, hearts, and minds of ordinary listeners.  Let us look deeper.

First we will look at what it means to be lost, or to lose something.  What comes to your mind when you hear the word lost?  Lost baggage, lost way, lost appetite, lost mind?  Being an old man, I lose things frequently, making it a joke in our family.  I remember losing my bunch of keys. It was awful to lose keys of your home, automobile, security deposit box, etc.   Fortunately, it had the War Amps tag on it.  Thankfully, a good Samaritan found it and mailed it to War Amps and they in turn forwarded it to me.   When you get back any lost article, of great or low value, there is great joy!

Jesus, the marvellous Guru (teacher) explained this human experience beautifully in his parabolic teaching, as recorded in St. Luke 15:4-24.  First, the lost sheep verses 3-7; how the shepherd left the ninety-nine behind and diligently sought after the missing one.  He could not rest till the lost one was brought back to the fold.  Then the shepherd rejoiced along with the others.

Second, we have the lost coin in verses 8-10.   The explanation for this old culture is, when a Jewish girl is married, she is given a head band of ten silver coins to wear, signifying she is a married woman; something similar to our wedding ring.  Losing even one out of ten is terrible. She turned her little dark shack upside down, lit a candle and swept the floor till she found the missing coin. Imagine her joy!

The third parable is found in verses 11-24, where Jesus saved the best until last, the story commonly known as the prodigal son.  This father had two sons.  The elder son stayed at home working in the field.  The younger demanded his share of inheritance early, cashed it and travelled far from home, squandering the money on a lavish lifestyle.  Soon the funds dried and the friends vanished; no great surprise.  A famine occurred, desperation set in, and he took a demeaning job (for a Jew or Muslim), caring for a herd of swine; at times reduced to eating the husks the swine eat.  Finally he came to his senses and made the wise choice, returning home.  The loving father recognized his son from far off and ran to meet him.  He rejoiced and exclaimed that this son was dead (lost) but now alive (found).

prodigal son

Now we will look at loneliness.  Who can understand the depth of being alone except those going through it?  As a young family, new to Canada in 1970, and living in Bradford, Ontario, an old couple befriended us.  He was a barber and she packed vegetables.  They lived in Holland Marsh and we visited them often.  As they grew old and feeble, the list of visitors dwindled for this lovely couple.  They literally looked forward to anybody who would visit and spend some time with them.  We were sometimes like a captive audience listening to their often repeated stories.  Now in my old age, I understand!  They were a lovely, caring couple. We learned a lot from them.  They are dead and gone, just as the song states above.

Loneliness is not for the elderly alone.  It hits everyone. The media makes it clearer these days how it effects the younger generation, teens especially.   Lately, many articles have highlighted “bullying” and how school kids are driven to loneliness – even depression.  A few attempted suicide as they were ostracised and could not take their “forced loneliness” any more.

What if one is still lost and never found?  What about those who are still lonely and remain neglected?  This is where the lyric touches the heart of the listeners.  It encourages and exhorts ordinary people to shake off the dust, pick up the pieces.  Rise up and Carry On.

My post started with a song and I would like to end with a song as well.  This is an old hymn called “What a friend we have in Jesus.”  The hymn is so popular that you can find it in practically every hymn book of all denominations. Find a hymn book and sing along; you will like it.  I selected this particular song because of its Canadian connection.  The author Joseph Scriven emigrated from Dublin, Ireland, to Canada in 1819.  He was only twenty-five years old.  He settled, of all places, in Port Hope, Ontario (less than an hour’s drive from our home in Newmarket).  Then tragedy struck with the accidental drowning of his fiancée the night before their wedding.  One can only imagine Joseph’s pain and sorrow.  His life took a different turn.  By God’s grace, he rose up and did “carry on,” with a new vision for his life.  He took seriously the Sermon on the Mount by Jesus, helping the poor and needy, literally giving the shirt off his back.  The gracious Lord had a greater design for his life.  He penned the words of this song, not for publication, but mailed it as a letter to comfort his ailing mother back in Ireland.  No YouTube back then, but it went “viral” to the whole world!

Scriven plaque

On a personal note, as I write this post, I reminiscence, singing this blessed hymn in my mother tongue, Malayalam, during our family prayer back in South India.  God, our loving Heavenly Father, promised that He “will never leave nor forsake.”   Jesus encouraged us saying “I am with you always.”   He can turn around even a tragedy like that of Joseph Scriven and make it into a blessing to millions.  If any of my readers are going through life weary, worn or sad, or in the words of the lyric, lost or lonely, rise up in the name of Jesus and Carry On.

God bless, Danny Paul