During my 30 years as a missionary for the Presbyterian Church in Canada working in India, I met people of diverse religious and ideological persuasions. In remote Punjabi villages I met old Christians, many from untouchable castes or Dalits, who converted during the early decades of the last century. No one in their families could read or write; but they had Bibles. After a bath in a nearby pond they would sit around The Book and pray. They would touch the Bible and then put their hand on their forehead. They had nothing, just a one room shack, hardly any food. They were despised by the ‘higher’ castes. They had only one thing and that was their faith. I am almost 77 years old now and still long for that faith. It is the children and grandchildren of these people and people like them that Rev. Peter Bush writes about in his article, Missionary Rebound.
(And, I suppose, also of me, since I am descended from those old villagers; as is the Record’s managing editor Andrew Faiz. We are, in our way, rebounding missionaries.)
In one of the Upanishads the pupil asks the teacher what he should learn. The teacher replies, “Know That, by knowing which everything else becomes known.”
Faith is not a matter of dogma, doctrine and reason. It is based on experience—the experience which touches the roots of our being and transforms us. Throughout India, those old people I encountered came to Christianity because of illiterate men pulling rickshaws or on rickety bicycles. That is the power of the gifts given us through faith.
We create dogmas and doctrines to communicate this experience and give it shape. We create them. But faith is the gift of God to all human beings—not just Presbyterians. Sermons, theology, Latin and Greek feed our mind; spiritual experience feeds our soul. Once we have that, the dogmas, doctrines, in fact everything else dissolves. The presence of Christ illuminates our whole being.
In May, Rev. Daniel Scott wrote about the changing dynamics of international ministries. His article was, to my mind, a wholesale reconsideration of the church in the Western world. The message of Christ is spreading throughout the developing world, in spite of suppression and persecution. Theology and sermons are for those already converted; not for those who are looking for answers to their spiritual needs. The basis of the church is spiritual.
The church in the West needs to reacquaint itself with this spirituality. That, to my mind, is what Peter Bush is talking about in his article; about a radical infusion of spirituality into our church. This can only be good news.
In order to be relevant and alive a religion must meet the needs of people. In our modern society people’s spiritual quests and needs are different from the olden days. They are not interested in sermons and lectures. They are looking for something tangible, something that can fill the void they find in their lives and mend their broken self. Something they can touch; something that can bless them. Jesus’ experience and innovations in worship can certainly achieve this.