I Feel Like I Have Just Met the Apostle Paul

Monday, August 25th, 2014

One of the advantages of sustained interaction with the global church is that our brothers and sisters can help re-introduce us to Christianity. As every year passes it becomes increasingly clear that what is “bought and sold” as the Christian faith in North America is often only a pale reflection, almost a dim memory, of the actual article. Our long sojourn with Christendom has domesticated the faith, sanding down every rough edge, making it comfortable, almost coterminous, with western pragmatism. Once you have swallowed the pill of the kind of “feel good-self help-therapeutic-market driven” Christianity which has become so persuasive you can begin to think (after sustained exposure) that this really is the real thing. We slowly begin to actually believe what is said from the pulpits of America rather than what is set forth in the text of the New Testament and proclaimed by the Apostles. This is where the global church can provide a powerful corrective.

For the past twenty seven years I have spent each summer in India serving at a training center known as NTC (New Theological College). This has been a wonderful platform to help train future pastors and to familiarize myself with the dynamics of church planting in the hostile environment of North India. This summer I was there again, but had the added privilege of bringing two of our Asbury Seminary Trustees to see the ministry (which is now one of Asbury’s global partners). One day I took them several hours into the mountains to see a rather large district of India, which twenty years ago had not a single church and no known Christians. One of our NTC graduates, Samuel P. Rajan, became the pioneer who brought the gospel into the region.

There have been many setbacks and problems. There has been intense persecution. But, in the end, there are now hundreds of new believers, dozens of churches and a strong Christian school in the area, all pioneered by NTC graduates. Three of the church planters met us and shared with our Asbury Trustees what it was like to bring the gospel to this area. One of them (whose name cannot be shared for security reasons) is a former road-worker who was one of the earliest to respond to the gospel in the region. He shared with us his love for Christ and the amazing ministry God has given to him. He is constantly traveling, bringing the gospel to new villages all over this mountainous region. When many people of his age are thinking about retirement, he is thinking about which villages have not yet had the opportunity to hear the gospel. He has personally led over 500 Hindus to Jesus Christ. When we left the meeting, one of our Trustees turned to me and said, “I feel like I have just met the Apostle Paul.”

That’s the gift which the global church can give to us. We can discover a post-Western Christianity. We can hear and see the gospel through the eyes and ears of others. We can re-discover the gospel itself. I have spent enough time with the church around the world to realize that they, too, have problems and issues, just as the early church did. But, the point is, they are often not our problems; they do not suffer from our blind spots. The result is that they can help us to see our own situation more clearly.

I remember the first time it really dawned on me that I was actually a nominal Christian. The real tragedy is that such a possibility had never even crossed my mind. So, lift up your eyes and see afresh the mighty works of God around the world. Learn to laugh out loud whenever you hear some new proposal which has as its presupposition that North America is somehow entitled to be the vanguard of Christian faith and practice. Believe in the seemingly heretical possibility that we who were for so long called to be teachers and leaders, just might be called to a new season of listening and following.

Comments

  • Church history informs us that the center of Christianity always moves to where people are hungry for the bread of life. People who are hungry form GOD’s who will seek God.

  • Dave Sweet says:

    Great reflection Tim; and a great commentary on the struggles in our church. I feel like I need to start an NTC tour company.

  • Rod Janssen says:

    Sounds like these people in India and other so-called Third World countries have more faith than Americans. They will not settle for the pablum we do have in the U.S. God bless them.

  • Rod Janssen says:

    I forgot to ask-what do the initials NTC mean?

  • Mary Page says:

    LOL! Jesus wins every time. What an honor to watch whole communities change as the ways of Christ manifests at application level in a town. Once you have the Gospel then it goes to others with help in feeding the hungry, caring for the sick and creating systems of justice. Are we ready as Western Christians to accept the different flavorings that will result? Jesus is personal. Does not Western Christianity manifest in humanitarian tendencies? Would you not say our unusual propensity to create huge programs of global humanitarian aide comes as a result of being so steeped in Christianity that we do it in secular ways unheard of elsewhere in the world? Have we so moved beyond words that we have created systems that move us to generosity nearly without thinking since Christians are in every work now at application level that we need church to remember the words in our mind of why we do these things and why the United States really does it and leads that. It is not normal to rich, the military power and be generous. Just a thought?

  • Ralph says:

    Amen Dr. Tennent. Thank you for being willing to stand up and say what is so painfully obvious to those of us who have regular and/or sustained contact with the global church. We need to sit down and listen and learn from our brothers and sisters about what it means to be a Christian all over again. Because we are all incubated in the same bubble of Western Christianity, we are simply unable to see our own blind spots. We need help from outside, from the global south and east. Are we humble enough to listen and do?

  • Brent White says:

    Masterfully written! This corresponds exactly to my experience on two occasions of teaching Wesleyan theology, doctrine, and church history to a group of indigenous United Methodist pastors in Kenya.

  • […] my experience of going to Kenya and teaching indigenous United Methodist pastors. On that note, Tim Tennant shares this reflection about the “powerful corrective” that the global church can offer to Western churches. […]

    • Luke Kuepfer says:

      I couldn’t agree more Dr. Tennent…it’s truly a privilege to partner with the indigenous church! Your closing comment was stated so well, we “just might be called to a new season of listening and following.”

  • […] Tennent writes about a modern-day apostle he met recently in India. One of them (whose name cannot be shared for security reasons) is a […]