Re: Retrieving lost sheeps
- Mr. Thannikkottu,
Thank you for sharing your answers to questions posed by a pentecostal member. It was interesting and enlightening.
First, I would suggest a resource to find answers to common questions such as:
Why do we baptize infants? Why do we pray for the dead? Should I confess before a priest?
Answers can be found from the writings of Mar Osthathios and Rev. Dr. Curian Kaniyamparambil, which were translated to English by Mr. Paul Philipose:
One other thought that came to mind when reading the letter of the pentecostal member is how many of his doubts/skepticism are in line with common arguments of the non-apostolic churches. It's therefore safe to assume that these ways of thinking were given to them by someone else.
This brings up a very obvious point about our church. As Mr. Thannikkottu alluded to in his first post, in the olden days, our faith was given to us by our family (which included the "extended" family we think of today). Plus, the church included the community. We prayed and worshiped together as one family within a village. So there were many different people who held the same faith.
Now we grow up with only our parents. Our grandparents, uncles, aunties, and cousins are either in another state or another country. Our friends don't even know who Christ is. The church is someplace we go for 3-4 hours within a 168 hour week.
With these changes is the necessity of our church to change, as well. Church can no longer exist as a Sunday-only institution. Ministries must start within our church: regular prayer meetings, youth/men's/women's ministry, etc.
From my observations in America, where there is a church with ongoing spiritual activities and get-together's, there you will find members who are more attached to their faith. As they get together to learn about Kurbana, tradition, faith, etc., they have a deeper understanding and appreciation of their church; they begin to take ownership of their own faith.
The concept of infant baptism alludes to this idea. Why do we baptize a child who is ignorant of what's happening to him/her? One of the main reasons is because the Church is seen as a family, under One Body. It therefore becomes the role of the Church, the family, to form this child into the faith that he/she will eventually accept. Why does our church not allow the mother or father to be the godfather/godmother of their child? Aren't they the closest ones of the child? One main reason is because the family of this Christian child must now extend beyond simply his mother and father. In other words, an active and vibrant church community is more likely to bring about an active and vibrant Christian.
Anyway, this idea of moving away from a Sunday-only church has its barriers. First of all, if the priest is working full-time at a secular job to feed his family, this idea becomes impossible. It's no surprise that pastors within pentecostal churches are typically full-time pastors. Unfortunately, this is not the case for many of our churches outside of India. Another major barrier is the mentality of the church members. If priority is given to secular events, then families will only look to the church on Sunday morning's. And typically these families will inherit children who place secular things first, and the church last.
On the other hand, our church is gradually seeing the benefits of ministries outside the Holy Qurbana. If these on-going ministries are led by church-loving leaders, then they will serve to bring greater value and importance to the centrality of our Holy Qurbana.
So, in summary, let us think about ways in which we can make our own churches move beyond the thinking of a Sunday-only institution.
- This message is compiled based on my responses to various queries raised by members of Pentecostal church on various occasions.
Usually the question which creates confusion among faithful is that "Are you saved?"
This is the ladder through which our Pentecostal group starts climbing. Following this first question, the next question would be related to infant baptism. Both are very tricky questions to trap a person.
Through baptism Holy Spirit anoints an adult/ child thus s/he becomes part of the church. The blessing of Holy Spirit is not limited to adult or child as there is no age limit. Or in other words Holy Spirit could work on infant as well adult as we could see Holy spirit was working on John the baptist by letting him know about Jesus when he was still in Elizabeth's womb and this Holy Spirit was working on Apostles as well. If a non-Christian person decides to become Christian, baptism will be conducted on an adult as s/he has to understand about Father, Son and Holy Spirit before accepting baptism. However, for a child born to a Christian family (in Orthodox Church), an infant could be baptized. At the time of baptism itself a godparent would be given the responsibility of growing child to teach the right faith. Normally this godparent will be the grandfather/grandmother of this child if they are accepting/ practicing the same faith. So teaching the child the right faith & getting him/her in understanding of Jesus Christ is the responsibility of parents and other members of the family. And church asks to give baptism as early as possible as church never would like to see anyone away from Holy Spirit's access. In that sense, it is a great mistake if we are consciously blocking someone from accessing & experiencing Holy Spirit. Usually baptism will be conducted after 40 days of the child's birth as mother of the child will not go to the church till these 40 days. For the mother of child, it is considered as the days of purification. In bible, we could find such days of purification were observed by Mary, mother of Jesus Christ as well. Church also takes the responsibility of the growing children by organising Sunday school classes, etc for their spiritual growth.
Now other argument is that "church is not going to save & it is purely wastage of time that we spend in church with all these symbolic acts". This is the next difference between Pentecostal teaching & Orthodox teaching. For Orthodox Church Holy Qurbana is not symbolic but real whereas for Pentecostal church it is symbolic. For Orthodox churches Holy Communion or Holy Qurbana is not symbolic, rather it is the real body & blood of Jesus Christ. Jesus never said it is like my body & blood for us to say it is symbolic, but Jesus said it is my body & blood. Whereas Pentecostal/ protestant churches consider bread & wine as symbolic of body & blood which is against the teaching of Jesus. In fact there was only one church in 1st century. That time all were practicing same faith and everyone believed in same. But as time passed people who came with different fantasies divided that one & only one church to meet their expectations. If you believe in that one and only one holy apostolic & Catholic Church, it is sure you will be saved provided your actions match the faith. As similar to the Orthodox Church, Roman Catholic church also believe Holy communion is real body and blood of Jesus Christ. However the difference is that Roman Catholic Church went to the extent of scientifically defining how the particles/ materials in bread & wine becomes real body & blood of Jesus Christ using some definitions such transubstantiation, etc, whereas Orthodox Church never went to define this change of particles/materials to real body & blood of Jesus Christ. Rather Orthodox Church believe in Jesus' body and blood without raising a question "how is it becoming body & blood?" with the same faith wherein we believe Jesus was born of a virgin. As we never go to cross-question Holy spirit's work by questioning, how could a child born from a virgin?, we never question conversion of bread & wine to real body & blood.
Sometimes people say church has its own limitations & so you have to do it yourself. But the fact is that there is no limitation for the church established by Jesus Christ. But it is true people in church have their limitations and excuses. We think church has limitation by looking at this people instead of looking at the church. Church also never differentiate saying you are Jew or the other is Greek. And this holy apostolic & catholic church which is established by our Lord 2000 years before is superior to any church which is mushrooming today with fantasies of different individuals. 1 Corinthians 9:20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. We the orthodox church is also practicing the same. Church is ready to accept local practice to win someone to our Lord Jesus Christ as far it is not against our basic faith upon which our church is established.
There is vast difference between the words believe & faith. In fact the word believe is very loose in its expression. Whereas the other word faith has a strong characteristics. Orthodox Church is built upon the faith. As of my understanding Pentecostal/ protestant church only speak about believing, but not about the faith. The word believes has a very loose structure -believing in something means it can be one out of many options. But faith is strong & ultimate - not one out of many, but it is the one and only one without any choice.
Orthodox Church takes death as a separation of physical body & soul. And those who are physically separated from us are also very much active. That is why we call our Lord as the Lord of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob as given in Psalms though Abraham, Isaac & Jacob are already physically dead. Our Holy Qurbana is for the living & dead. We believe in repenting, confession & receiving Holy Qurbana will relieve as from our sin & thus giving eternal life even after physical death. As there is eternal life, those who are departed from us are very much active and they can pray for us and we can also pray for them.
As Pentecostal/ Protestant churches teaches bread & wine as symbolic body & blood, it is not possible for them to believe in eternal life through Holy Qurbana. When there is no hope of life through Holy Qurbana, there is no point of prayers for the dead. This is why Pentecostal church teaches not to pray for dead. And so they don't believe saints can pray for us as they can't believe saints as still living. Finally I would like to ask how Pentecostal group can ask "are you saved?" when they themselves are teaching not to pray for physically departed or not believing in activity of physically departed people thus indirectly accepting those who are departed are not living & active any more and that means not saved at all.
Sajy Thannikkottu, Kathmandu