Indian church leaders attending a once-every-four-years meeting of the National Council of Churches in India in Shillong have spoken out against what they describe as the growing commercialisation of the Christian faith - writes Atto Akkara.
"Churches too are caught in the trap of seeing people primarily as individual customers, and the Christian faith becomes a product to be marketed," lamented Bishop Dinesh Kumar Sahu, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in India, a grouping of Orthodox and Protestant churches.
"Today's phenomenon expresses itself in the form of an unholy alliance between 'evangelism' and 'consumerism'," rued Bishop Sahu of the Church of North India. He was speaking on 2 May, the second day of the council's assembly that has as its theme, "Together in mission: empowering local congregations". Subu asserted, "In the marketplace of religious ideas and persuasion, free and competitive denominationalism contradicts the basis of being a Church."
He spoke after a colourful opening ceremony that began with a parade by hundreds of local Christians in traditional costumes through the streets of Shillong, the capital of India's northeastern Meghalaya state to the Jaiaw Presbyterian Church. More than 270 delegates are attending the 1-5 May assembly in the city, which is tucked away in the foothills of the Himalayas and surrounded by Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma (Myanmar) and China.
"The sellers of the prosperity gospel are doing great disservice by selling the Gospel to those who seek success in their business, profession and student examinations," decried Kunchala Rajaratnam, a former NCCI president, on 1 May in a keynote address.
Besides this "sacred commercialisation", Rajaratnam asserted, "we also have rampant secular commercialisation of the administration and elections of the Church." He asserted that bribes were being paid for appointments in church institutions.
Acknowledging that not all churches were involved, Rajaratnam, who is director emeritus of the Chennai-based Gurukul Lutheran Theological College, noted that by indulging in such corrupt practices, churches "were forfeiting the moral right to proclaim the Gospel, thus invalidating the legal rights we possess". With poverty being the "bane of Indian society", Rajaratnam urged the churches to be "models of development" for the government and civil society.
In his address to the assembly in the city known for its churches, Bishop Jeyapaul David, the NCCI president, also made critical comments about any evangelisation that did not respect and empower local congregations.
"Many people talk about making disciples without integrating them into a worshipping community called Church," noted David, who heads the Thirunelveli diocese of the Church of South India. "We hear about crusades being conducted across the country challenging the people to accept Christ as their saviour. But, when they respond and turn to Christ they are not integrated into a congregation."
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/7076