By Nazarul Islam, Copy Edited By Maham Abbasi, TIO: Seven prophetic words: “You cannot serve both God and mammon.” There is deep wisdom, in the words of Jesus Christ— in his famous ‘Sermon on the Mount’ that has encapsulated the central tenets of Christian discipleship. This emphatic exhortation of Christ seems to have been long forgotten by the Church if one looks objectively at the way it functions today.
In case you are wondering, Who or what is mammon? The word Mammon has a Latin etymology. It is a term used to mean money, the greed for money, and the debasing influence of material wealth. Christ was always on the side of the poor and the dispossessed, whereas Church today is unabashedly on the side of the rich and the powerful.
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The quintessential teaching of the master is all but forgotten by a few self-anointed custodians of the faith. Suffering and sacrifice are no more worthy options in Church life. Serving the poor and the downtrodden is on the back burner, and just so much cosmetic, in nature.
Quite a few Churches today are immersed in the creation and worship of wealth. There are noble exceptions here and there, but the general trend is one in which money plays a significant, if not central, role.
There have been reports of financial malfeasance involving different denominational churches in recent times. There was even an aborted move by the present government in the South India’s state of Kerala to enact a law to make churches financially accountable to the government from time to time.
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The result—all the churches united and rose up in protest, vibrating a rare sense of unity and solidarity. So, my question again is: Why are churches reluctant to be transparent?
Another shocking report is about a recently established church in southern India, which boasts a modern medical college under its aegis—and was the subject of an unpleasant raid by the Income Tax department. Reportedly, this action unearthed several million in hard currency stashed away in cellars, unused cars parked in their warehouse, and such ‘infractions’.
Again, this church has been in the focus more than once, for alleged foreign exchange violations and ownership of lands and real estate investments in various parts of the country. Magnificent churches and priestly extravagance are a visible manifestation of the new generation leadership’s misplaced priority. ‘Mission’ is a word still used—but all this has sounded very shallow, in real terms!
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Bishops traveling in opulent cars has been a matter of common sight. I was pleasantly surprised to see a video of a reverend Bishop, boarding his official ambassador car after attending a ceremony with his parish. I was advised that his successor has chosen to retain the same car. This exemplary conduct of these Bishops is praiseworthy, but not emulated.
Christ’s mission is abundantly clear, and so the Church has boasted of a readily available ‘manual’. Obviously, this ‘manual’ is in the form of the gospel where Christ’s invocations are stated in unambiguous terms. Service to the poor is equated to the worship of God.
‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (St Matthew 25:40). Is the Church today practicing this covenant with the Master?
Greed for others’ wealth, or covetousness, is condemned in the Bible. Churches are often obsessed with amassing wealth and questioned for raising funds for different causes—chiefly to construct buildings or structures Then, there are instances of alleged misappropriation and unauthorized use of Church property, and funds. We live in a world of human desires, which are never satiated!
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I had also been apprised of at least two such clear instances, to reflect how far removed some of these Churches are in India, Pakistan, or Bangladesh. Are such practices, in conflict with the avowed principles of truly Christian life and being a witness?
A classic case happens to be what is really taking place in the Orthodox Church, again in South India. Know what the kidshey is poised to annex all the Jacobite churches, their erstwhile fellow-believers, on the basis of a court judgment. Be that as it may, can’t they give up the claim and be magnanimous enough to not grab what’s not theirs?
If they do so, the decades-old, expensive court battle and the resultant bitterness and enmity will all come to a pleasant closure. Why can’t the Orthodox leadership see this God-sent opportunity and rise to the occasion?
The second example is about the Church’s role in education. Christian institutions undeniably have played a stellar role in shaping modern India through their schools and colleges.
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The missionaries of yore reached the remotest parts of the country and spread the light of learning. Even to this day, they are a byword for quality education. People of all religious backgrounds seek to educate their children in Christian schools and colleges for this very reason.
It’s all very well, but the crux of the matter is whether this distinctive role is played responsibly by the Church today. We hear about many institutions that take advantage of their reputation and demand capitation fees for admissions. They also extract money for job appointments.
These are not compatible with a Christian ethos. If Christian values of truth and charity are to be imparted to the students who study in these institutions, these corrupt practices have to be stopped.
The Church can reclaim its pristine glory only if it comes away from its propensity to serve mammon. The sooner it happens, the better.
Compiled and Curated By Humra Kidwai