Being Good Christian Citizens and Facing the Contemporary Social Challenges
Rev. Sudhakar Mondithoka had a life-transforming encounter
with Christ as a teen-ager in 1975 and has been involved in Christian ministry
right from his student days (in the UESI) and in his local church. He has three graduate degrees - M.
Sc (Zoology - specializing in Entomology and Neurophisiology, M. Ed (School
Administration) from Osmania University and M. A (Philosophy of Religion and
Ethics) from Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, USA. After working for a short time as an Entomological
Officer with the Andhra Pradesh State Health Department, he has taught Zoology for over 9 years in the prestigious
Wesley and Loyola institutions in Andhra Pradesh.
He is a Visiting Professor/Faculty of 'Contemporary World
Religions & Christian Apologetics' and 'Ethics' at SAIACS where he teaches the M. A. 2nd Year Students
and Christian Apologetics & Philosophy
of Religions at SABC where he teaches the M. Div., 2nd
Year Students. He has also lectured at a number of other Seminaries/Bible Colleges:
GFABS, NEIBBCS, Ichthous Bible College, IEM Bible College, etc. He has authored a small book
God - Science and Scientists and has contributed a chapter Apologetic
in a Hindu Context for a book Missiology For the 21st
Century: South Asian Perspective (Delhi: ISPCK-MIIS, 2004). He has also
contributed a major article Incarnation, the Mission Theology of for
IVP Dictionary of Mission Theology that will come out in September 2007
and a number of
other articles for Apologia, Vidyarthi Jwala, The Answer, Harvest Times
for Your Family, In Touch India, India Church Growth Quarterly, etc. He
is a member of the Evangelical Philosophical Society and Evangelical
Theological Society, USA.
While at Talbot, he won the prestigious Baker Book House Award for Excellence
in the Study of Theology.
He was ordained in their Local Church in the US, East West Community
Church (part of the NABC - North American Baptist Conference) in 2001. From 1994 Aug. to 2006 Jan. he
worked with RZIM Life Focus Society (as Asst. Director, Director-Ministries, and finally as Executive Director),
which is involved in evangelism (under-girded by apologetics) among thinkers and opinion makers and in training
Christian professionals, leaders, and Seminary Students in apologetics. He
served as the Executive Director of RZIM-India and also as the Editor and
Publisher of a Quarterly Magazine Apologia: Reasoned
Answers for Life, for three years from its inception.
He has spoken in over 10 countries and also in some the best Universities and Institutes of Higher Education in India, like the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, IITs, IIMs, Hyderabad Central University, M.S. University, Baroda, S.P. University, Anand, Andhra University, Nagarjuna University, APAU, NEHU, Shillong, etc. He has spoken in almost all major Denominational Church and Para-Church settings through out India. Rev. Mondithoka is now a Free-Lance Writer-Speaker and Apologist-Evangelist. He lives in Hyderabad with his wife, Mrs. Santha Kumari and son, Shamuel Susheel. They are members of the Centenary Baptist Church, Secunderabad. He is now the Pastor of the English Congregation of Centenary Baptist Church, Secunderabad.
According to the Bible, we are in the world, but not of the world and we are in the world for a purpose. This purpose is captured for us in many different ways – 1) being salt and light, 2) being the ambassadors of Jesus Christ, 3) being faithful stewards or managers, etc.
In this article we will discuss the issue of the relationship of the Christians to the world in some detail and then deal with some of the contemporary social issues and challenges that we encounter as we live our lives in this world as ‘dual citizens’.
Christians and the World:
John Stott says that we should be at least as worldly as Jesus Christ was in His incarnate state and describes Jesus’ worldliness as ‘holy worldliness’. This worldliness should not be confused with the ‘worldliness’ that we generally think negative thoughts about, which is the love of the world (1 John 2: 15-17). How do we understand the ‘holy worldliness’ that Christ exemplifies for us? It is to be understood as being in the real world as a real man or woman and yet not being contaminated by all the unholy or ungodly stuff that is present in the sin-ridden world.
In other words, it means for us that we maintain our distinctly Christian (Christ-like) identity or Character and live as responsible citizens of the country that the Lord has chosen for us sovereignly and identify with the people among who we live as light and salt and with the systems of the world. This is ‘identifying without the loss of identity,’ and needs a lot of careful balancing without which we can easily slip into some extreme views and practices.
This teaching flows out of the ‘cultural mandate’ that we find in the book of Genesis itself and we have to note that it came in the context of creation. The Bible says that all that the Lord God created is ‘good’ (functionally) and so the material world as well as the world of the living creatures is good (Gen. 1: 3, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, and 31). We also are made of the material as well as the spiritual and placed in the material world as ‘God’s vice regents’ to subdue the earth and to rule over everything in the world or to work it and take care of it (Gen. 1: 26-28; 2: 15). This is the first job or responsibility that God had given to man and this command of God is what we call the cultural mandate.
It is into this material world that the second person of the Trinity, God the Son had come with a real material human body in His incarnation to live among and with men and women, to reveal true divinity and humanity and to redeem mankind. When He returns to take us to be with Him forever, He will raise us from the dead and we will be in heaven that cannot be understood without the new heaven and new earth, as body (of course glorified)-soul composite beings.
This should all help us to understand the value that God places on the material world, our existence and responsibility in it as God’s people. God prepared this world for humanity and the world does seem to be anthropocentric, biblically speaking and this is now being confirmed by science also – the Anthropic Principle is the proof for it. The implications of all this for us are that we have agricultural, economic, ecological, social, scientific, aesthetic, spiritual, and other responsibilities. This means that we should not reduce our responsibility just to the evangelistic one, although that is the most important aspect of our total responsibility.
When we come down to the level at which we live our lives in this world, we see three different approaches – 1) Withdrawal/Separatism – living a kind of detached and ascetic life, being separated from all that goes on in this world as much as possible, 2) Total identification or Assimilationism – living just as every one else lives in the world and thus getting assimilated into the systems of the world completely and hardly maintaining any distinctive Christian identity, and 3) Engagement or Identification without the loss of identity – living a life of moral distinctiveness and social engagement. Jesus’ high priestly prayer (particularly John 17: 13-19) reveals that the third of these approaches is the right one for Christians.
It is in this context that we can understand our role and responsibility in this world as Christians that the well known figures speak of – light (dispels darkness, all that is evil), salt (prevents and arrests corruption), stewards (take care of some one else’s property and be productive), witnesses and ambassadors (speaking for and representing the one who sends), and royal priesthood and a holy nation – speaking of the double identity of the Church of Jesus Christ as a witnessing and worshipping community (1 Peter 2: 4-12). It is through the qualitatively distinct good lives that we live that we glorify God and fulfill our responsibility. The Apostle Paul also addresses this issue when he says that we make the gospel attractive when we live authentic Christian lives in our respective places (Titus 2: 9). This leads us to the practical consideration of some of the challenges we face in this world.
The Contemporary Social Issues and Challenges that Christians Encounter:
Because of the fall and its consequences we see corruption all around us and in ourselves as well. But because we are redeemed we are different from the others in this world. The others are sinners and we are forgiven sinners, saints. We are born-again and regenerated and we need to demonstrate our new status in Christ by the way we live. That is why Paul says that we should no longer allow the world to squeeze us into its mold, that is, we should not confirm to the patterns of the world, but rather be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12: 2).
The implication here is that when we are transformed in our thinking, then we will be transformed in our living. Jesus says to His disciples that the light of their good deeds or works should so shine before others that they might praise God. This should be the case in every area of our lives and that is the reason why the Bible is full of practical instruction about the conduct of God’s people pertaining to every single aspect of our life in this world – submitting to authorities and paying taxes (Romans 13: 1-7), relating to other believers, relating to other people, the way we treat others, the way we treat our spouses, children, and servants, working and providing for our families (2 Thess. 3: 6-15; 1 Thess. 4: 11-12; 1 Tim. 5: 8), the way we relate to secular authorities, the way we love our nation and pray for the people in power (1 Tim. 2: 1-4), etc.
God blesses a nation – its land and people if God’s people live godly lives (Deut. 7: 12-15; 2 Chronicles 7: 14; Gen. 18: 16-33) and both in the OT and the NT we see that God expects His people to be channels of His blessings to their neighbors and nations. But as we try to live our Christians lives, the world around us applies on us a lot of pressure to compromise and confirm to its patterns rather than the patterns and principles we find in the Word of God. So we will now briefly look at a few areas where we see a lot of Christians compromising and going along, rather being washed along the cultural currents like dead fish (rather than swimming against the cultural currents or living counter cultural lives like live fish).
Corruption is a deadly curse that we as a nation are continuing to suffer from and Christianity and Christians do not seem to be making much of a difference where it really matters. Our hearts should ache, if we truly love the land of our birth that God wants us to love and serve, when we see our nation being listed as one of the most corrupt nations in the world. We have the dubious distinction of always being among the top ten to fifteen most corrupt nations in the world, although this years listing gave a little bit of a relief. We can pray against the spirit of corruption that pervades the nation at all levels, only if we are not corrupt ourselves.
According to one survey that I read two years ago, 95% of the people who went to government offices in Delhi admitted to have bribed to get their work done. If this is the situation in the capital city, then we can imagine how the situation might be in the rest of the country. It is very sad and depressing to learn that the judiciary is one of the most corrupt sections of our societal machinery. What breaks my heart most is the fact that most Christians are no different from the rest of the society. It is an open secret that like others Christians also bribe for the sake of a seat in the train compartment or to get an electrical connection to a Church or to get building plan approved and so on. Christian do not seem to be willing to pay the price or wait for God to intervene.
Webster’s Dictionary defines bribe or bribing as 1) anything, esp. money, given or promised to induce a person to do something illegal or wrong and 2) anything given or promised to induce a person to do something against his or her wishes. But in India we bribe generally not to get things done out of the way, but often to get what we are entitled to get.
Biblically, a bribe is a gift given to pervert justice or to pervert some one leading to unrighteousness. It is the sinners’ hands that are full of bribes (Psalm 26: 10) and God commanded His people not to accept a bribe, because a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the righteous (Exodus 23: 8). A righteous man or woman does not accept bribe (Ps. 15: 5) and hates them (Proverbs 15: 27). Israel suffered under leaders who loved bribes (Isaiah 1: 23) and God told them that the man who dwells on the heights is the one who does not accept bribes (33: 15). Prophet Samuel challenged the Israelites in his farewell speech to find fault with him, if they could and states the fact that he did not accept bribe from any one (1 Samuel 12: 3). God’s charge against His people was that they accepted bribes (Amos 5: 12).
We find examples of those who accepted or tried to get bribes and those who refused to bribe and those who refused bribes (Samuel’s sons – 1 Sam. 8: 3, Balak – Numbers 22: 17, 37, Simon – Acts 8: 18, Judas and Priests – Matt. 27: 3-9, Soldiers – Matt. 28: 12-15, Simon – Acts 8: 18, and Felix – Acts 24: 26). The totality of Scriptural teaching on this subject should help us to understand that God hates both those that bribe and those that accept bribes, because bribes corrupt justice and the God of the Bible is a God of justice.
Dowry is another social evil that plagues our nation and leads to the deaths of may women every year. It is immoral (because the man and woman who enter into marriage are equal and the man needs the woman as much as the woman needs the man and because dowry commercializes the holy and God-ordained and initiated institution of marriage) and is illegal in India. It is definitely not as rampant among Christians as it is among others, but it is nevertheless present among Christians also and often it just takes different names and forms.
Caste-based and all other kinds of discriminations and favoritisms are also chronic problems that our society is plagued with. According to the Hindu belief system, all people are not equal, because they are created unequally and caste-system is integral to Hinduism. On the contrary, the Bible is very clear in its teaching against all kinds of discriminations. The same God creates all humans with the same humanity in the same image and likeness of the Creator God and we are all recreated in Christ and made children of the same God and co-heirs of the same eternal life. In Christ there are no distinctions or differences that justify discrimination of any kind against any one or any group (Gen. 1: 27; James 2: 1-9; 1 Pet. 3: 7; Col. 3: 11; Gal. 3: 28).
But unfortunately there are all kinds of divisions and discriminations within the Church and those who look at the Church from outside hardly find any difference between the Church and the Society. Casteism is rampant (we have Churches and denominations that are identified with different castes and tribes), both male chauvinism and feminism (which are equally wrong biblically speaking, because both deviate from God’s plan and purpose for humanity) are present, linguistic bias and favoritism are glaring and the rich-poor division is striking. How can we reconcile between this state of affairs and the glorious figures that the Bible uses to describe the Church (body of Christ or family of God or God’s household)?
Often it appears that we are Christian in confession (profession and preaching) and Hindu in conduct (practice) – there seems to be a chronic belief-behaviour or preaching-practice inconsistency and the gap seems unbridgeable. It is disgraceful and painful. No wonder that Mahatma Gandhi challenged the Indian Christians by saying, ‘show me one true Christian and I assure you that whole of India will become Christian’. There is certainly exaggeration in this, but there is also a great deal of truth. It seems that India has not yet seen the transforming power of the gospel mainly because the Church (or the Christian community, including the UESI family) has not adequately demonstrated that the gospel has transformed it.
We cannot proclaim the gospel as the power of God unto salvation with any degree of integrity if we do not exhibit the fruit of salvation in every aspect of our lives. We need to look like what we are talking about. It is we who communicate primarily and not so much the words or ideas and so we should, under God, strive for personal and corporate authenticity.
So if we truly love our country, want it to change for better and desire God’s blessings for it, then we need to turn to God in repentance, reform our ways, and then intercede for it. Otherwise, there is no hope of India seeing the truth and the transforming power of the gospel in a much more significant manner than it has seen so far. May the Lord enable us to become more powerful agents of transformation both at the local and the national levels for His glory and the blessing of our nation.
*This article is published with permission from Rev. Sudhakar Mondithoka website.
For more information, please visit Rev. Sudhakar Mondithoka