THE NORTH AMERICAN CHALLENGE FOR THOMASES


The role and the purpose of the Syrian Christians of Malabar of the St. Thomas tradition in Diaspora in America.
Why are we here?

The Election of Israel

The election and calling of the Mar Thoma Church must be traced starting from the calling of Abraham to understand its historical purpose and the purpose of its North American presence. The call of Abraham is described in Gen. 12:1-3 which ends in these words "by you all families of earth shall bless themselves", which is the ultimate purpose of the election. The method of achieving this was also specified in Gen.18.19 thus: 'by charging his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice. This election was then passed on to Israel at Sinai, where they were elected as 'a kingdom of priests' (Ex. 19.5) The election included privileges as well as responsibilities. They were promised "all the land of their sojourning for an everlasting possession" so that the blessing may be passed on to the rest of the mankind. God required of Israel three things.

1. To keep this purity of the Word of God. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God." (Rom.3.2) This they did so meticulously with devotion that we have today the scriptures as it was written originally to a high degree of accuracy not found elsewhere.

2. To bring the livingWord of God into history. Jesus came into the World and through Him the redemption of man. They were able to generate a virgin called Mary to bring Jesus, the living Word of God, in incarnate form into the world. This was the result of Israel's insistence on moral values in the personal lives of her people for generations. (We are told that Pharisees pushed the law to the letter and interpreted it to the limits of absurdity. Yet there is safety in taking refuge within the law.)

3. They were to be a kingdom of priests. (Ex. 19.5) They were to declare the message of salvation and to be intercessors for the rest of the mankind. This they consistently refused to do. Even when the messiah came they refused to accept him. Jews refused to go into other nations to proclaim God's judgment and plans of redemption, and even refused to eat with the gentiles and Samaritans. In doing so they were thwarting the divine plan. As a result God scattered them all over the world. Wherever they went they remained an isolated community for maintaining racial purity and forgot the purpose of their being in that land. They saved their children and lost their calling. "They am Israelites, and to them belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarch, and their race, according to flesh is the Christ." Rom.9.5

The Election of theChurch

Hence we are told that the election was given over to the Church with the Great Mission. "Go into all the world and preach the gospel" (Mark 16.15). The tendency of the early church was to keep the good news within the Jewish community. God scattered them and impressed on them that the Good news must be preached in Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Even then the question was "Was it to be only within the Jewish community?" The revolutionary message came that "Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel." (Eph.3.6) Thus the Christians came into inheritance with all the privileges and responsibilities.

The election of the MarThoma Church

We have the great tradition of being elected by Jesus for ministering the Gospel through his most rational, down to earth disciple Thomas. A strata of Brahminic scholars were converted by him for this specific purpose. But the church turned apostate; and alien teachings and practices crept in. We consistently refused to proclaim the gospel of liberation and salvation in Christ in order to preserve our selfish social status and prestige. We wanted to keep the Good news to the upper class alone. Here is the relevance of reformation of the Mar Thoma Church. When we came out of the mother church we promised to keep all the three duties. Very little has been done even after a century of reformation. India remained unevangelized. God took dalits, uneducated social outcasts and untouchables to do that job. God is no respecter of persons. But 'the gifts and the call God are irrevocable:' (Rom.11.29) God had other plans for us. He has scattered us into all the world, in Malaysia, Australia, Middle East, Africa and to North America. God is ever active in history. He is the Lord of history and will work out his plan and purposes in history even if we are unfaithful. "What if some are unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness God? By no means" (Rom.3.3) Our call and election here in North America is clear and unequivocal, "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light." (I Pe.2.9)

North American Diaspora

As for Christian churches, there are an innumerable number in North America. Every shade of faith and theology is represented here. You turn on the television you see them. Turn on the radio we hear them. Books and tapes and videos are plenty. Then why are we here? Why do we need a Mar Thoma Church in North America? The church is here to serve the newly immigrant Malayalee Community (Mallus, as the children call) to provide them with a Malayalam speaking social occasion and to give them a feeling of home away from home in liturgy and sermon. This is a real need. But if it is the only reason, it is sure to die out in the coming generation. A slow but painful death. Our children who do no tread or write the language will certainly hunt for alternate churches. They will get bored sitting through the Mallu liturgy and sermon; Sop-to-the Mob occasional English service won't do much good. English or Malayalam our election and purpose will have to go beyond our narrow community. This has to be found in terms of the North American society as a whole.

First, we need to give more emphasis on studying the Word of God. It should be interpreted in the context of the North American situation. Give them unadulterated honey from the honeycomb. Fight heresies as and when they are encountered. Teach our children how to discern right from wrong on the norms of Bible on a day to day basis. "You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, when you lie down and when you rise." Deut. 11.19

Second, it is not enough to be good and be nice to others. They have to enter into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and into salvation through the blood of Christ. Jesus clearly stated, "You must be born again." If the Word of God is not incarnate within our hearts and our children's heart none of us are going to be free. You can be sure you are a victor because, "For he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world."

Third, we need to go out and redeem this society. Is there anything specific that the Mar Thoma church could contribute that others cannot? In finding out this lies the purpose of our separate existence.

What is special about America? It is a cauldron of cultures. Though it was founded on sound Christian principles, the advent of many cultures and the freedom of expression had created a climate for the development of secularism, humanism, syncretism, myths and fantasies. With God removed from the scene, with the lack of any form of religious teaching or moral teaching in the school it has become the fertile field for Satan. The emphasis on individual freedom (it is the basis of free enterprise and freethinking) has destroyed the fabric of the community as an organism. The situation has degenerated to the extent of proposing the self rule (the cause of the fall of Satan and man) Every man is doing what is right in his own eyes as in the last era of the Judges. Freedom without Jesus is death. The situation is very similar to the period of the judgment of Sodom and Gomorah. Unspeakable abominations are the norm of the day. "They became futile in their thinking and their senseless mind were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immoral God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptile. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves ...... For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men like wise gave up natural relation with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error." Rom.1.21-27.

Do we consider ourselves placed in this society by God? We can turn a blind eye, go on with our Mallu services and be satisfied. Like Lot's daughters our children will end up as fathers and mothers of Moabites and Ammonites serving Chamois (sexual perverts) and Molech (Baby killers). Remember the words of Mordecai "for if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father's household will perish. Who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" (Est.4.14)

Choose this day

Our Syrian Christian strong family ties, our moral codes of behavior as individuals, families and community, our ethical standards in marriage and interpersonal relations, emphasis on monogamy and chastity, sexual purity and avoidance of sexual perversions and our emphasis on living on the word of God are unique and is the solution to the decaying North American society. No other culture in the world can give these to this country except us. It is because of this uniqueness; we are placed in this country at this historical moment. In order to avoid the mistake of the past we have to distinguish two facets of the solution. First, if we are to transmit these values to the society, we need to see how we can maintain it for the coming generations. Second, we have to find a way to transmit these values that are encoded in our culture into the new culture. The first generation immigrants maintained the values because we were immersed in it before we came into the new environment. Can the Young Adults carry the values. Most of the Young Adults entering the country for job or education are being lost because of isolation and peer pressure. Many of them even do not have a born again experience. What about the coming generation, children who are born here? The Mar Thoma Church will stand to live or die based on how well we inculcate these priorities into the lives of the Young Adults and to our children. "1 have chosen him, that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by keeping righteousness and justice: 'Gen 18.19 May the power of the Holy Spirit help us to fulfill this mission. "And if you forget the Lord your God and go after other Gods (Chamois and Molech) and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you this day that you shall surely perish." Deut. 8.19

In an attempt to maintain this, we may turn ourselves into insolated community and miss the calling for proclamation. How can we transmit these values to t society we live in? We are concerned about values and not of the forms. We may have to change the form suit the society. We have to work out a plan action. This plan should be a holistic evangelization with emphasis on personal salvation through Jesus Christ and the process of Christian growth and holiness through adherence to the Word of God in power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ is preached many churches. But most churches find that their pastors are unable to stand the test of holiness. They were not built on the rock of generations of people of faith and courage. It is like the house that was built on the sand. Can we step in and meet the need of the time? "But for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it how from the childhood you have been acquainted the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. (2Tim. 3.14) A fluid pastorate will not be able to meet this need. We need alternate system and plan of action different from what is prevalent in Kerala. "1 am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness. I have taken you by the hand and you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a to the nations.'

 
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