Text and Context in Dialogue

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Understanding and Appreciating the Gospel

by K. B. Rokaya Ph. D.

For people to believe in Jesus they have to hear, understand and appreciate the gospel. For people to understand and appreciate the gospel, the gospel has to be preached and presented in forms and ways that are easily understood by them and in a way that is relevant to them and makes sense to them. If we really desire that people should hear, understand, appreciate, accept and believe in the gospel, we must present the gospel in ways and forms to suit the social, cultural and religious context of the people. For this to happen, the preachers should know the background of those to whom they are preaching and the spiritual level and understanding at which the people are. We should start from what people already know and where people already are in their understanding of God. All this requires contextualisation of the Gospel.

Jews and Gentiles

At first the disciples must have a thought that only Jews could become followers of Jesus; i.e. Christian, a title given to the Gentile followers of Jesus in Antioch by others around them. But that concept of the disciples was cleared when God revealed through Peter that the gospel was also for the Gentiles and the Gentiles were also equally partaking of the grace of God which came through Jesus Christ. As long as all the believers were Jews there was really no problem. But as soon as gentiles became Christians, there arose a problem. Some Jewish Christians were of the opinion that unless the Gentile Christians were circumcised according to the custom of Moses, they could not be saved. They insisted that it was necessary to circumcise the gentile Christians and to charge them to keep the Law of Moses. In other words, they were in essence saying that the Gentile Christians had to become Jews and follow Jewish customs and traditions. Is not this also the problem today? But Peter, Paul and others argued that it was not necessary for the Gentile Christians to be circumcised and to keep the Low of Moses. Peter further put forth his case that they were making the trial of God by putting a yoke upon the neck of gentile disciples, a yoke which neither their forefathers not they themselves had been able to bear. Is it not the same way with us also? We often expect from others a standard which we ourselves are never able to attain.

The Context of the Bible

The Bible was written in the eastern context. Is is a book of the east. In the Bible on meets the eastern way of life, eastern culture, eastern wisdom, and eastern values. It is unfortunate that today the Bible comes to us as a western religious book, Jesus as a western god, and Christianity as a western religion accompanied by a western way of life.

It is not only unfortunate but a historical mistake with eternal consequences that Christians in India and Nepal have followed a western version of Christianity.

Personal Experience

I am grateful to my India friends who introduced me to Jesus at a time when I was experiencing a deep identity crisis as an engineering student at Jadavpur University, Calcutta, back in 1973. The words of Jesus and the company and fellowship of my Christian friends saved my life from being a total ruin. I was baptised in Carey Baptist Church. It was after my baptism that for the first time I bought a tie and suit to go to church on Sunday. Many times my Bengali friends would come to me and say, 'I would like to go to church but, what to do, I do not have a tie and suit'. They were being honest and sincere in saying this. Because they saw me going to church every Sunday morning suited and booted, they thought that one must wear suit and tie to go to church. Many sincere and seeking Bengali friends of mine were thus prevented from knowing Jesus just because they could not afford to buy a tie and suit or their Indianness did not permit them to do so. How sad that this is still the picture of Christianity in the mind of the majority of the people in Nepal and, I believe, in India also.

The Situation in Nepal

In Nepal, Christians are labelled as the followers of a 'cow-eating religion' and are charged with destroying the cultural heritage of Nepal. Of course culture is an integral part of life of any people, community or society. A community cannot exist apart from its culture as a fish cannot live without water. if you want to destroy their culture. By doing that you detach them from their past history, you blot out their identity as a special people, you snatch away from from them that which they called their own and of which they felt proud. That way you make them feel worthless and they now start looking to other for support, for help, for a purpose, for a meaning, and do an identity. This is why the Nepali people are so antagonistic towards Christians; because they think that Christians are destroying the historical ground and the rich culture heritage which their forefathers handed down to them and which gives them a special identity as a nation, as a people.

It has been the tradition and practice in Nepal that when someone becomes a Christian he or she gives up almost everything and anything that has to do with his/her previous way of life. The music, the art, the dances, the songs, the poems, the literature and the identity as a special community of people are all left behind. The festivals are forgotten, the important national days are not remembered any more. One becomes so taken up by his/her new heavenly citizenship and the spiritual membership of a wider family of God that he/she forgets that he/she is also a citizen of this country and a member of the community. Everyone wants to do the Lord's work and often leaves his/her previous profession as a teacher, professor, nurse, writer, singer, businessperson and so on. The Nepali churches encourage their members to be actively involved in evangelistic work to be actively involved in evangelistic work but do not encourage them to become actively involved in various secular jobs. Let others (meaning the non-Christians) do the teaching, let other provide health services, let other do the business, let others product food, let others do the politics, let others rule the country, but we (the Christians) should do the Lord's work and preach the gospel. This is the way Christians think in Nepal. If the present trend continues of the Christians only preaching, and, one day, all the people of Nepal become Christians, what will Nepal look like then? Who will govern the country? This seems to be a matter of real concern to the people of Nepal.

When Christians in Nepal sometimes complain saying that the Nepali society and the government of Nepal have not recognised the Christian community, I tend to ask back that question 'why should the people of Nepal and the Nepali government recognize the Christians? What contributions in real terms has the Christian community made in the development efforts and struggles in Nepal?'. Recognition is not given but it is earned. When the Nepali Christians make a significant contribution in the development of Nepal then the Nepali people and the government of Nepal will be forced, if not willing, to give due recognition to the Christian community in this country.

K. B. Rokaya, an engineer by profession, is a development worked and church leader in Kathmandu

(Extracted, with kind permission, from the Forword to Living Water and the Indian Bowl by Dayanand Bharati, 1997, enlarged edition 2001, Delhi: ISPCK.)

bhakti. bhakti, nom. devotion, love, loyalty