Friday, January 30, 2009

Dichotomy – a Church’s Obsolete Word

There are two vessels in a beautiful sea in Indonesia. One is a cruise ship filled in by tourists. They come to enjoy the ride. The program is totally provided by the cruise director. The guide on board talks via the speaker on what to see and benefit during the trip. The tourists participate in what are available. They have the freedom of expressing both compliments and complaints but there will be no deviation in the agenda. On the other hand, since they have paid the trip, it will never be their intention to take any cruise responsibility – it is all fully the crew’s.

Another vessel is a dragon boat. All people along for the ride have their total responsibility of taking the boat to the destination together. The commander will give the direction. The drummer will make sure that everybody will be in full spirit to row – and row together, same pace, same time. The rest will pay full attention to the instruction. None of them will either feel complacent or work harder. Everybody has equal responsibility in each special function. All must sweat to reach the one destination they believe in one accord.

The first vessel – the cruise ship, is the common picture of an Indonesian church. The pastors are the cruise directors. They create and provide the itinerary for the congregations. And the elders, being the crew ship – will follow the order of the cruise director and put forward the ready-made package. Believing that it is not their responsibility to correct or even give input to the program, the congregation will take part passively. If they are not satisfied, well, too bad, they can just move to another vessel if they are onshore. Otherwise, they have to succumb to the one in command.

The second vessel – the dragon boat, is the ideal church that we believe the Apostles set up in the first place. Being the Body of Christ, there is no different in either level of importance or sense of responsibility. No part can claim it is more vital than the other. The pastor (s), as the chief in command will help the rest to direct the boat to reach the destination. The elders, being the drummers, will make sure that all the congregations will understand the boat can move effectively and everybody has to be in charge. The congregations themselves realize that they can’t leave the boat to the pastors and the drummer. They are the engine as well as the fuel to reach the goal.

The fundamental difference between the two vessels lies in the “Belief”. When we believe that a church is not a static and bureaucratic institution but a dynamic body where everybody is as important as the others, then, dichotomy is an obsolete word.

In Indonesia, our Christian church belief is strongly influenced by “patron-client” culture. “Patron-client” {A mutually obligatory arrangement between an individual who has authority, social status, wealth, or some other persons as resource (the patron) and another person, who benefits from his/her support or influence (the client)}, is a perfect picture to portray the condition. That includes our perspective when we read the Bible. When the pastors believe that they are the cruise directors, they will not ask the laities to participate actively. The church decision can also be made by a group of people who have the “power” (being the elders, founders of the church, or rich people, etc). On the other hand, being the tourists, the congregation will leave everything up to the leaders. We can say most Indonesian Christian churches do not recognize equal responsibility in carrying Jesus’ calling to be in and for the world.

Why do I mention Indonesian Christian church specifically? It is the fact that the patrons we have do not empower or equip the congregations that we are the One Body of Christ. They themselves are not the role models in eliminating the dichotomy issue. In Western Evangelical churches we have John Stott that writes e.g. on “Decisive Issues” or “One People”, Paul Stevens and Richard Banks on empowering the laities, Paul Marshalls on Social Politics, and so on. When we read leading Indonesian media, we will find many who hold “spiritual” positions give impact to the society in their different and unique ways. Herry Priyono as a distinct economist, Sindhunata as a football commentator or art critique, and William Chang as a prolific writer on Social ethics. Few of us will recognize them as Catholic priests. We also have Darmaningtyas and Ki Supriyoko as two persons who always speak on the need of Indonesian education transformation, or Syaiful Mudjani on politics. We rarely label them as Moslems. Or, we also have Parwati Soepangat who is a leading person on gender equality, but we do not see her as a Buddhist leader. Those people see and realize that their calling and belief go beyond the religion peripheral. They have the ability to talk on social subjects than merely theology. When they say something, their voice goes further than their pulpit. Their impact is nationwide.

Unfortunately we don’t have the same story in our Christianity. Or, when we do, almost all the time we instantly label the people who dare to go the extra miles as liberals and not evangelicals. We are so afraid of being called “humanists” or “secular”. Touch wood if we are classified together with our liberal fellows.

Issue on dichotomy is a never-ending one in the church history. We have to eliminate it not because it has become an outdated phenomenon, but simply because of the message in the Word itself. Having a single paradigm of the Body of Christ who is in the world is a must. Jesus never calls us to be hermits but salt of the world. Of course, having a paradigm shift is never easy. Even the Jews found Jesus’ words blasphemy. Having said that, we can’t rely solely on the cruise directors to change. We find two ways to implement the transformation.

First, a “top-down” method. In many mainstream churches where the pastors are the leading figures, it is their responsibility to empower the congregation and change them to row the boat together. To make them realize that they are not taking a cruise ride but a dragon boat. Church program, Sunday school’s curriculum, pulpit’s message, and even the church budget should gear towards the belief. The pastors should become the equipping pastors – those who prepare the congregations to sweat together.

Of course, the pastors themselves need to realize their call to restructure the society. They should become the role models who talk and write on a wider issue than exclusive “Christianity” message. They should be aware that when they talk about corruption or fighting poverty, they are passing Christ’s message as well. We should be able to find their writings not only on Systematic Theology, and only in Christian bookstores but also on wider issues and varied “secular” media. The pastors should not find themselves awkward if they write on gender equality, environment, education and so on in public media. May be they should be reminded that C.S Lewis is a novelist as well as a theologian.

Church programs should create lay leaders through classes. It is also the church responsibility to provide the “practicum field” for the leaders to be. The church should be the motor for the social engineered environment. When all means are provided towards the same goal, the church will, at the same time, build the laities’ characters through the discipleship. It is interesting when the church leaders realize that the basic principle in the Body of Christ is “labor intensive and field extensive”. Congregation’s participatory is a serious matter.

The church should also tap the seminaries and look into their curriculum. To what extent do they prepare the pastors-to-be with the need of paradigm shift? Will everybody find equality in the seminaries? Or, do the institutions become the birth laboratory to “patron-client” models instead? What kind of alumni can we expect? Cruise directors of a tourist yacht or chief commanders of a dragon boat?

Inter-denomination dialog should also become a habit. Dialogues, which is not merely on cosmetic issues, but on different ways of reaching the goal. The evangelical or charismatic may learn how the liberals work together with other fellows (whatever their religions are) in creating public pressure on certain policies. While the liberals, can extend their hands and coach their fellows in Christ to think outside the box of “salvation” (note: I dream that one day we don’t even have to label ourselves as Presbyterian, Charismatic, Evangelical, or Liberal. We can just call ourselves – Christians).

The second method is “bottom-up”. We do have limited pastors and church elders as resources but we can never say we lack of human resources. Many cases happen in a country where a social movement starts from the grass-root level. If a church has lost its saltiness, then it is the call of the para-churches to salt its “home”.

Instead of becoming church’s hardliner opposition, congregations or para-churches should start the internal movement to make the change. Small but many discussions on paradigm shift discourse can be held within the congregation. Our koinonia must produce not only diakonia in terms of raising fund for those in need but also nation building as the fruit of marturia. Those who are the real players in the field – politicians, NGO activists, lawyers, economists, doctors, educators – should see the church as part of their “outreach”. We should equip the pastors with current topics on professional ethics or national issues. It is our task to spend time with the theologians and open their mind to the real situation. Won’t we find it fruitful when they preach from the pulpit, they can talk on contextualized message instead of a message from the La la Land?

As believers, we should realize that being a Christian is not merely accepting Christ (cheap grace) but following Him (costly grace) . Many of us hold the grace but don’t want to think about the price it takes. We don’t even want to sacrifice believing that heaven is secured for us. We have become the tourists instead of the rowing team. Often time, we leave everything (including reading books on social issues) to our pastors. We ask them to chew things for us. Unconsciously, we have become invalid believers ourselves. We feel complacent just becoming robots or spectators in our church. It is our task to build interest on social issues and see it as an integrated part of our faith. We should be sensible to the Word that we have heard and connect it to the world surround us. If our house is burnt, then it is our call to put it off. If we have crisis of identity as Christians in Indonesia, then, it is our responsibility to be awake and start to build our militancy. All of us (and not only the clergy) are the salt of the world. If we lose our flavor, we are good of nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.

Weilin Han

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