NEW ECUMENICAL AGENDA: ANOTHER REFORMATION
Let me begin
by describing a translation project for a study group in rural northern
A combination of factors have made it possible for a small rural northern Thai congregation to have a weekly study on their Christian faith in light of a new description of other living faiths through the use of the text "My neighbour's faith and Mine". This study is probably out of the ordinary not only by the fact that such a book is used but also in that it is an attempt to get the "audience" to participate in the very process of translating the English text into a common grassroot Thai. The participants are not encouraged to repeat what is expected as correct or right, tether, they are to work together, with the translator and leader, to formulate a common adaptation of the text. The final translation aimed at is the one the study group has helped to revise until a commonly understood text is determined and agreed upon. The translation may differ significantly from the English text. But that is not of primary concern. What is of primary concern is that the group of participants themselves will learn to speak their deep conviction together in a new way.
strongly that, for too long, the faithful in
To be sure, it is no longer an attempt to secure and defend a position or to attack a different position but to "conjure" up the faith together. Charismatically speaking, the question is "Do we have the Spirit at work in our midst
that we dare to engage in the process of uttering a new name for God"?
have been a more fruitful effort if the study could have included sane Buddhist
participants. But at this point in time in
does not mean that the Christians can afford to be monistic. They must assume
pluralism. For one thing, they can no longer go back to their monistic home in
the West because the West is no longer a culture dominated by the Church it
once was. This fact is reflected in the growth of pseudo-church organisations. Coupled
with that is the rise of new forms of religions and charismatic fundamentalism.
Together with other secular "confessions", these bodies make the West
pluralistic where the Church has lost its dominion. But the pluralistic West is
not the reason for our assuming pluralistic approach to reality. In
ourselves and with people of other faiths, particularly our Buddhist neighbours. There are multiple fields of meanings that we cannot ignore but must be engaged by. We must be confident that if the Spirit is with us, we will not be absorbed into godless existence or into the realm of death. It is more likely that we will inject newness of life and transformation of the larger community in such a way that we ourselves become its legitimate part. In summary, we must reform our community, informed by our particular cultural context, and we must participate in reforming the common community.
In the long
history of Christian mission to
But no matter how difficult the process of taking on a new skin may be, it is better than the mockery of "packaging” the eternal truth of God in various cultural costumes as if the Gospel was a product. Jesus Christ is both the message and the medium; God Himself and His image are one.
What I am trying to say, in other words, is that the Gospel of Jesus Christ in terms of community building cannot become a reality in a monistic model of the world.
Wesley Ariyarajah speaks of the resurgence of religion, "both
in its traditional and in its new forms", in our contemporary global
situation. In this resurgence a major aspect is the return to the fundamentals.
But, as in
have joined the movement, as I have encountered, appeared cultic and close-mindedly dogmatic. It is hard to see that they represent a creative force for building community. For one thing, their minds are set on the Armageddon that will precede the final arrival of the Kingdom. Clearly, they have no desire of working together with people who have not converted to their way, whether they are Christian, Buddhist, or otherwise.
the fact that in
a doubt, Buddhism in
No doubt, this task seems beyond anything human can do. How, in the world, can a minority religion be anything but alien in a monistic setting, albeit declining in strength. But we have learned that our faith was not a "once-and-for-all" faith. We must constantly adjust or reform our lives together as our culture also undergoes changes. Eternal truth keeps taking on new images in the concrete world.
I would like
to take us, at this point, to an issue that has continued to dominate the
Church today, i.e. evangelism. What does this
non-propositional theology, this mutual participatory engagement, and
pluralistic communitarianism do to evangelism? How do
we bear witness to Jesus Christ who, once and for all, reconciled us to God?
How is the Church to bear witness in
they confess Jesus Christ alone as their Lord and Saviour?
I believe that here we are face to face with the human dilemma of being under heaven and on earth. Heavenly truth takes shape on earth. The revelation of God does not come to us as lightning bolts out of the blue. It comes into specific and concrete living situation in a familiar way. It definitely involves a meeting of souls, of senses and of lives. Human faith is alive in the human limits. We can only point to the moment of transfiguration. We can only attempt to describe it afterwards but we go beyond our own limits to attempt at objective description. The Good News must be formulated in the encounter between souls. It cannot be prefabricated. A reflection and an articulation are necessary for the sake of communication and community.
This means we have to be aware that we communicate analogically and we must not encapsulate the Good News in static logical correctness.
Evangelism is a meeting. Without a meeting it becomes enslaving. Evangelism is not presenting a ready-made answer to a problem. It is representing Jesus Christ with imagination in a new setting. It is a rediscovery of his saving power in the very meeting of ordinary human beings. As we consider together what may be our new ecumenical agenda, dare we put a new emphasis on evangelism? I would like to hope that Evangelism in the pluralistic age will seek to build, at least, dual communities: a Christian community and a larger community of which it is an integral part.