Multilingual Churches

There are various ways in which linguistic issues are being tackled by churches. For instance, there are those who wish to reach out to their own linguistic community and so traverse land and sea to reach their own community. Examples of such would be Hindi or Sindhi or Malayalee congregations making efforts to establish linguistic church communities in other nations. There are others who wish to only have their linguistic denomination in the foreign country they are living in. Sadly, not many of these may be willing to reach and draw in disciples from other linguistic communities.

However, there are examples of churches that hold services in a particular vernacular or more common language, but are not known as a Hindi church or a Chinese church or an English church. These are more open to reach out everyone around and when they feel the need to have services in more languages, they do so while keeping intact the vision of the one flock.

In Acts 2, we have a very vivid example of God’s way. When the disciples were filled with the Spirit, they spoke in tongues, but the Scripture testifies that people from various language groups heard in their own respective languages the words that the disciples were uttering by the Spirit.

And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs– we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.” (Act 2:6-11)

Paul says to the Corinthians: “unless you utter by the tongue words easy to understand, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air.” (1Co 14:9)

Truly the Church is redeemed by Christ’s “blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev 5:9) and Christ wants all to hear the words of His Gospel of liberation in words that can be understood. It is very important for people to hear the words distinctly and understand their meaning.

So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading. (Neh 8:8)

Even things without life, whether flute or harp, when they make a sound, unless they make a distinction in the sounds, how will it be known what is piped or played? …So likewise you, unless you utter by the tongue words easy to understand, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air…. Therefore, if I do not know the meaning of the language, I shall be a foreigner to him who speaks, and he who speaks will be a foreigner to me. Even so you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel. (1Co 14:7-12)

Paul here talks about speaking in tongues and the importance of the gift of interpretation. The principle, however, is that people should be able to understand the meaning of the words in worship service. Of course, this also means that preachers shouldn’t use jargon and words (no matter how elite it may make themselves feel) that make no sense to the congregation. On the other hand, it also means that where the best possible solution is procuring the help of an interpreter to translate the message (as in bi-lingual or multi-lingual single services), the preacher must try to facilitate ease of translation rather than make it trying to the interpreter.

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Existential Challenges of A Mega Church

The challenges of a megachurch are not a few. But, the most disturbing challenge is the challenge of defining what true “shepherding” really is. One “church” in the south of India uses membership card swipes to track attendance of church members. If a card is not swiped, the member will get a call from the church office the next day to inquire if all things are fine. There are also various plans and prizes being offered all the time to attract financial involvement. On the member’s birthday, gifts would be sent to them to express how personally valuable the member is. In a way, this group tries to make sure that the members are active, at least in attendance and financial contributions.

Another pastor of a fast growing congregation confessed the dilemma that he experienced. He met a young man during the week who expressed how happy he was to finally find this church. The pastor wanted to hear more. The young man replied that he was trying to find a church in which people would not ask him any questions or try to bother him with anything, a place where he could just go in and come out. This mega church offered him the very thing he wanted: attendance, enjoying worship and sermon, but no personal member identity. Of course, no pastor will be happy to hear such a “happy” confession from anyone. The services from this assembly are also live streamed so that those who cannot attend the services can watch them online and also pay offerings and tithes online.

The questions to ponder upon are:

  • What does it mean to be an overseer of God’s flock?
  • What does it mean to make disciples and teach?
  • Is it just about opening an office and preaching from the pulpit?
  • What does it mean to be a flock?
  • Should churches follow corporate business organizations in their patterns of employee or customer relations?
  • What does it mean to comfort each other and edify one another (1Th 5:11)?

Probably, the answers to some of these questions are not in any textbook or seminary classroom but in the heart of a true shepherd.

“My Church” “Your Church” – How Right Are These Expressions?

With the growth of denominational and non-denominational groups, the expressions “my church”, “our church”, “your church”, and “their church” have also become part of many a church jargon. Of course, none of the users of such expressions intend to mean that the church “belongs” to them in the sense of “ownership”. Usually, users of these phrases only may mean to say “the local church group that I am going to or am part of”. Or do they?

Certainly, only Christ has used the expression “My church” and “My sheep” in the Bible. He said,

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. (Matthew 16:18)
Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep. (Joh 21:17)

The apostles only used expressions such as “the church in Jerusalem” and “the church in your house” (Acts 11:22; Philem 1:2). When talking to the Ephesian elders, Paul said:

Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. (Act 20:28)

Notice, he says “the church of God”.

Usually, pastors may be using the phrase “my church” in the sense of “the flock I am made accountable of”. However, many servants of God consciously refuse to use such phrases. They feel grieved when anyone would use such a phrase and will humbly correct it as “Christ’s church” or the “church of Jesus”, and so on; rightly so.

But, in a highly fragmented world, where at times one may find several “churches” in the same location, or even the same building(!), people wish to identify with some name to distinguish between the groups, and these pronouns sound very meaningful and useful to them in such contexts. But, these phrases also often express the sense of fragmentation.

One danger of possessiveness is to forget that the Chief Shepherd is the one who cares for each His flock. The other danger of fragmented identities is that one may not feel so much at one with a member going to another group. But, if one cannot love his neighbor whom he sees, how can he love the Lord whom he doesn’t see? How real is this sense of “belongedness” to some group? Could it be cultic or communal to some extent? The same question can also be asked of para-church missionary movements and groups.

The flock is essentially the flock of God. The church is the sheep of God. Pastors and elders are only overseers entrusted with the care of the sheep. This doesn’t mean that they become restricted in their accountability for just flocks of one “denomination” and “group”. This responsibility is not man-appointed and doesn’t have boundaries imposed by men. It also doesn’t end with retirements imposed by man. Their accountability is primarily to God and for whoever the Lord appoints them to take care of.

Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away. (1Pe 5:2-4)

The Scattered but United Church

 

Tongues of Fire

Biblical unity is not organizational unity, but a spiritual  one. Jesus did not intend the church to be centralized under Peter. Paul doesn’t mention Peter as the one who sent and commissioned him. In fact he writes,

“But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called [me] through His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those [who were] apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.” (Gal.1:15-17)

And again, “But from those who seemed to be something — whatever they were, it makes no difference to me; God shows personal favoritism to no man — for those who seemed [to be something] added nothing to me.” (Gal.2:6)

The church was meant to be scattered and not just confined to Jerusalem. That is the vision of Acts 1:8 that when the Holy Spirit had come, they would receive power and be His witnesses to the ends of the earth. That is the beauty of Pentecost that transcends the linguistic barriers of disunity through the Holy Spirit and puts an end to the Babel confusion that resulted from anti-biblical unity. My professor of Acts, Dr. Daryl Merrill Sr. would often say, “Acts 1:8 was fulfilled in Acts 8:1”. The disciples were confined to Jerusalem until persecution arose and drove them farther off.

The greatest bane to the Christian phenomenon is trying to centralize the church and all ministries. Nothing is more antichristian than trying to hijack the church phenomenon and consider only oneself or one’s own group as the only genuine, legitimate, and authoritative seat of the Holy Spirit. This is idolatry. The Catholic Church and, later, many different forms of denominational churches and groupings, in time past, have committed the sin of trying to discredit someone who wasn’t like them or “under them” or “one of them” as being heretical or strange or illegitimate. But, Jesus told His disciples to not stop someone who wasn’t with them but was still casting demons in Jesus’ name; for, He said, he that is not against us is with us (Lk.9:50). Did Jesus personally commission this guy like He commissioned the Twelve? Did Peter or the Twelve appoint Paul? Certainly not. But, this is the essence of understanding Christ as the Lord even of the OT saints and those who haven’t been evangelized yet. Those who are not against Him are with Him.

Dr. Matthew K. Thomas, Senior Pastor of Fellowship Church at Itarsi and Chairman of Fellowship Churches of India, once said, “My ambition is not to build a denomination, but to lift the Lord Jesus Christ.” 

While there is temptation for groups to want to identify with names and big names, one must not forget that the Holy Spirit is the Lord and not subject to any organization or name or movement. It is pharisaic to try to discredit others on the basis of human laws and traditions. While one does need to organize–local churches and ministries of the apostles were organized– it is anti-Spirit to tribalize and communalize the church and Christian ministry. This applies also to denominational and theological accreditation groups.

The beauty of the church is that she is diverse and yet one, not in the sense of members looking similar to each other, but all joined to the one Head, Christ. And, the church is meant to go out into all the world and spread over and replenish the earth.

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Counseling in the Church

THE BIBLE upholds the importance of seeking counsel in times of need. We are told that “Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety” (Pro 11:14). If the law is taught by priests and the word proclaimed by prophets, then counsel was expected from the wise (Jer.18:18). The most important source of counseling in the world is the Bible; for, it is the Scriptures that make one wise for salvation (2Tim.3:15). And, the witness of Scriptures is of Jesus who is called the Wonderful Counselor (Isa.9:6). The greatest blessing for the church is the presence of God with us through the Holy Spirit who is called the Counselor (Parakletos, Jn.14:16,26; 15:26; 16:7). The ministry of counseling, therefore, in the church is always through the Spirit based upon the Word of God for the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ and God our Father.

Pastors are counselors; however, this doesn’t mean they should use the title “Counselor”, since that title is a professional one and pastors are not counselors in the sense of a professional that the world understands. They are counselors only in the sense that they use the Bible to help someone understand a situation and find for themselves the biblical solution for the same. Therefore, pastoral and biblical counseling is not the same as psychological counseling. The role of a pastor is of a shepherd who watches out for the souls of Christ’s flock, as one who must give account (Heb 13:17). A pastoral church is that in which each member knows that he is his brother’s keeper. Therefore, biblical counseling lies at the core of Christian fellowship. We are called to exhort (parakaleo) one another daily (Heb.3:13).

AREAS OF COUNSELING IN THE CHURCH
The issues of the soul are many. The soul is the part of man that reasons, feels, and decides. It is the place of intellect, emotion, and will. Therefore, it often gets engrossed with intellectual, emotional, and decision problems. The pastor approaches such issues with, chiefly, the word of God and prayer. “The word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb 4:12). Some of the areas that biblical counseling addresses are:
• Healing and Deliverance
• Spiritual Formation
• Family Counseling
• Pre-Marital and Marital Counseling
• Grief and Crisis Counseling
• Leadership Counseling

Healing and Deliverance
Biblical counseling is not psychological therapy. It flows from the comfort, consolation (paraklesis), and power of the Holy Spirit. The word of comfort is spiritual in nature and is life-giving and comforting. Therefore, from the Spirit comes life and deliverance. Jesus declared that He was anointed by the Holy Spirit to heal the brokenhearted, i.e. heal those whose heart has been broken in pieces (Isa.61:1; Lk.4:18). However, He cannot heal those who think they are fine and do not need a physician (Matt.9:12). Those living in fear, anxiety, and depression need healing and deliverance and there is nothing more powerful than the Word of Truth that can truly bring spiritual and emotional deliverance. The Word instructs anyone who is sick to call for the elders of the church so that they can pray for him (Jas.5:14,15). Sometimes, this prayer session may also involve confession of sins to one another and prayer for one another (Jas.5:16). The prayer of faith is not discouraging but full of positive expectations and encouragement. Therefore, it is effective. The man of God will not discourage the sick, but will minister through word of faith and the prayer of faith that both can only build the other in faith and bring healing into his soul and body. There are some who are in bondage of evil spirits. Such need the ministry of deliverance and also the ministry of the Word in order for them to be rooted in the truth that sets them free.

Spiritual Formation
The Christian is not a perfect human being in this world. His life in Christ from day one of his conversion is a life of progress in faith. He moves from strength to strength (Psa.84:7). He doesn’t consider himself that he has attained, but keeps moving forward (Phil.3:13-16). But, such progress is not possible without the ministry of the Word, fellowship of the Body, and prayer. Now, the ministry of the Word in spiritual formation has two aspects: Preaching and Teaching. While preaching calls forth one to repentance from sins and obedience to faith, teaching roots, builds, and establishes one in faith. Teaching that builds one up is patient in nature and convinces one of the truth by proper reasoning from and interpretation of scriptures. It also rebukes someone who is hardened against the truth and is frivolous about sin. But, it exhorts the one who is weak and needs help to stand again. Therefore, it says: “Preach the word! …. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching (2Tim 4:2).

Family Counseling
Churches are made up of families. A big role of the pastoral ministry is to help families be founded upon the model of the Divine Family of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The church herself is the Household or the Family of God (Eph.2:19). Family counseling involves counseling to children, to adolescents, to teenagers, to adults, to parents, and to the elderly at home. Therefore, it is required of a pastor that he should be someone “who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?)” (1Tim 3:4-5). Elderly women are called to be godly teachers of good things, and to counsel the younger women to love their husbands, children, and be good homemakers (Tit.2:3-5).

Pre-Marital and Marital Counseling

Pre-marital and marital counseling occupies a very important space in the ministry of the church in the present age. Humans are bombarded with all kinds of conflicting and false-liberation ideas that have damaging influences on their views of relationships, marriage, and marital life. The Lord has raised several ministers in these days who specially minister in this area to help married couples as well as prospective couples to learn the teaching of the Bible on this subject as well as understand important practical lessons on the same. Increasing conflicts, separations, and divorces have drawn the ministry of church heavily towards this area of need. It is not surprising that much of teaching today caters to the need of family and marital counseling. Certainly, people fall where there is both no counsel and bad counsel. But, they are established by right counsel.

Grief and Crisis Counseling

Grief that comes from loss of beloved ones cannot be comforted by mere words alone. Then, there is also grief from loss of job or business. The more one draws deeper in the waters of counseling, the more one knows how much it is important to identify and feel along. The very words “sympathy” and “compassion” carry the connotations of feeling along. Jesus is a Wonderful Counselor because He is a High Priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses (Heb.4:15). The Holy Spirit (Parakletos, One who is called to our side) “helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Rom 8:26). One without mercy and compassion cannot even start to think of helping anyone in times of grief and crisis. A minister detached from the conflicts, anguishes, cries, and fallings of people around is a minister at paradox, for he cannot even begin to minister unless he comes along with them. The Good Samaritan is good because he didn’t talk much but helped so much with all he had.

Leadership Counseling

Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus teach us that he was truly a very good counselor to leaders, through the grace of Christ given to him in all wisdom and understanding. The letters give us only a glimpse of all the time and mentorship that he invested in them so that they could become good soldiers of the Lord Jesus Christ. Leadership counseling involves attempts to understand others. Paul knew that Timothy was young, therefore he encourages him to be strong, fearless, and an example to others. He empowers him with sound words and authority. He calls both Timothy and Titus as his “true son” (1Tim.1:2; Tit.1:4). We also see the leadership counseling of Paul in his letters to the Corinthians, where he instructs them about the various questions of doctrine, practice, and church discipline. Jesus said that a true leader doesn’t lord over others but serves them (Mk.10:42-45). Peter tells us to shepherd the flock by being examples to them (1Pet.5:3). One cannot counsel a leader just by power-point presentations; one has to be a leader indeed and be able to say like Paul said, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1Co 11:1)

CONCLUSION
We briefly went through the various areas of need that calls for the church to minister by the comfort of the Word and prayer. It is important to note that one cannot teach unless one has learned; therefore, the Bible discourages the church from appointing a novice to a place of authority (1Tim.3:6). Unless one has spiritual maturity and understanding of the truth of God, one cannot teach the truth of God. Therefore, the Bible discourages people from being hasty to become teachers (Jas.3:1). However, this doesn’t mean that we should not stop exhorting each other daily. Yet, true biblical counseling will have the all-sufficient and irrefutable backing of the Holy Scriptures, in all right and proper interpretation. Therefore, it is called biblical counseling and is an important ministry of the church.