In My Humble Opinion

Sri A. Abraham Joshi asked a good question about my philosophy of mandali, so I chose this forum to articulate it, since this question about our bhakti confronts us again and again.

I have nothing to say about the Christian Church. They need it for their identity and to meet all their social, spiritual, and religious needs.

As an outsider I have no right to question or criticise the way they conduct their affairs to meet all their needs. And I completely endorse their right to conduct their church in the way they think is correct according to their doctrine and their bible or their understanding of their (respective) bible.

If a Hindu wants to become a ‘Christian’ as a convert and join a Christian (denominational) church, I still have no problem as it is her fundamental right.

But my one request to such converts is: try to mingle with your church and understand them and try to become one among them. Try to use every opportunity to serve your new community. But don’t play a ‘victim card’ by using the so-called ‘persecution’ by your family and community in order to earn some sympathy. In reality your family is actually persecuted by your community and society because of your conversion to Christianity. Not minding about their humiliation and suffering and all the consequences which you left behind for your parents and siblings (whose marriage will become a crucial issue now for your parents) to face, don’t use that ‘victim’ card.

Similarly don’t expect some extra privilege in the church as a ‘new convert’ or ‘first-generation Christian’. Once you become a convert, you are part of them. There never comes any question of new convert or first-generation Christian getting special privileges or rights.

Similarly don’t expect any extra concessions from your church to accommodate your sentiments and needs to understand their life (cultural, social, religious, ritual, etc.). If you want to survive among them as a Christian, you have to work hard and go the extra mile to know and learn to become a Christian among Christians. Be a Roman in Rome.

Don’t expect your church to understand your problems and worries and try to help you. Of course they will do it if they have time and resources. But they run their church to meet the needs of their members and not to pay exclusive attention to a convert. In other words, don’t expect the majority to adjust to accommodate your private needs. It is like giving up one’s citizenship of her birth country and becoming the citizen of another country. Then there she should try to integrate and accept all their terms and conditions and shouldn’t expect them to show some special privileges, unless you are a refugee.

As a digression I have to say some more important points here:

Your marriage and all your social needs are not your church’s responsibility. If you want to marry, then choose a partner among them, provided they are ready to do it for you. Some churches, having concern for their converts, try to help. But in the majority of cases, they have no time or energy to meet all your social needs.

I am not sure whether any church will openly encourage you to leave your Hindu parents by saying that you cannot and should not live with those ‘pagans’. But even if they do that, they won’t accept their social responsibility for you.

Two case studies are worth sharing here. First is a young man from North India. He accepted his North Indian Christian friend’s advice that once he made up his mind to follow the Lord he should leave his home with two sets of clothes and no money. He reached his friend’s house to inform him about his decision and wanted to stay with that Christian friend. In spite of his counsel, that Christian said, “How can you stay with me? I have two daughters. Above all, your father is an influential political person. And if he comes with some people to give trouble to me, what can I do?’ There he realized who is right and who is wrong (Muktiveda or the Christian). But the new convert also realized that he cannot blame that person as he himself allowed him to do that and accepted the bad advice.

Another case was here in South India. At Erode when a particular boy converted to an independent church, he came out from his home in Salem (another town) and began to live in that city, earning his livelihood as encouraged by his church. When the time for his marriage came, he requested his pastor to search for a spouse. Then, another Christian who knew that pastor and also had a lot of sympathy towards the new convert said to the pastor, “This new convert is also from your caste and is earning a proper income. You have a daughter. He is a good boy. Why don’t you give your own daughter to him in marriage?” To that the pastor responded, “Why should my daughter suffer by marrying him? Now he came out from his home. If my daughter marries him, she will miss her in-laws and the right to have her share in their property. It is our duty only to convert and not arrange the marriage for all converts. For all their practical needs he will depend upon me alone as he cannot expect any more support from his own family after his marriage.”

[What he meant was that if his daughter marries that boy, then the whole responsibility for them falls upon him, for which he is not ready. This means that like all other Indian parents, he naturally expected his daughter to become the daughter-in-law of another family and does not want her to continue to bother him, except in rare occasions to trouble him to take care of her husband’s family, which won’t be possible if he gives his daughter to that convert.]

Both these stories are real and not cooked up. The second one was told to me by my close Christian friend, who after hearing this became upset and told that pastor, “Then stop converting others!” And the first is a person known to me in Delhi who can confirm the story.

However sympathetic the church or individual members of a church are, they cannot replace the original home of the convert. Suppose if a new convert has some accident, who will take care of him/her till the end? In most cases, forgiving their children, most Hindu parents rescued their children from several sufferings in their life, even after their conversion, that too even after marrying a Christian boy or girl against their wishes. They do it because they still believe that their converted child belongs to them, though s/he is estranged.

Here I have another question that I would like to ask to such Christians who encourage new converts to come out from their home. Suppose if that convert is an only son and his parents have some property and good fixed deposits in the bank. What if the parents are unfortunately killed in an accident? How would the church advise that new convert? Will they tell him not to claim the inheritance of his ‘pagan parents’ and allow his other relatives to take everything? Suppose if he has other siblings; once his parents have died will he allow his ‘pagan’ siblings to take his share in the property of his parents while he continues to live as a pure Christian not contaminated by the wealth of his ‘pagan parents’?

Some might have done it, but I’ve never heard of such a thing. In most of the cases, almost all the converts want the fame, name, and property of their parents, yet do not want to live in their ‘pagan’ parent’s home.

When that North Indian convert, after realizing his mistake, returned to his home, not only did his parents received him as a Christian but also found a Christian girl for him as his wife. The Hindu parents were ready to go even an extra fourth and fifth mile because of their love for their child. But in the name of conversion what these Christians do is an obvious shame to the very gospel which never promotes such ideas. Misinterpreting verses like Mathew 19:29, converts are misled and the church is doing a great harm to many in the name of God and gospel.


On Spiritual Growth

Now, coming to the spiritual growth of such new converts. Joshiji rightly asked the question:

Now this whole new thing that you all follow – not going to church. Who shares the word of God? What exactly are the principles you follow? Please elaborate.

Though I am repeating what I have already articulated in Living Water and Indian Bowl, I won’t mind such repetition, if it will help me to articulate my view more clearly than what I have shared there.

As I said already, I won’t question how the church shares the words of God for the need of their congregation or to the new converts. It is their problem and I have no right to criticise or give any suggestions.

But what I have observed in a limited way is that a three-hour service in which a 20 to 30 minute message is preached is not enough for a new convert to grow in her faith/bhakti in the Lord (see II Chron 17:9). I may be wrong, but with much humility (?!?!) I can say that I have never seen or heard about any Indian church where the Word of God is ‘taught’ to members or to new converts. This is their problem and I have nothing to say more. And if there are churches which are doing that teaching, God bless them.

For a Hindu, worshiping God is not a Sunday three-hour church service. According to my limited understanding of the Muktiveda, it is the responsibility of parents to teach their children; but this was long ago outsourced to the pastors and Sunday School teachers. In the case of new converts who do not have Christian parents to teach them, it is the responsibility of the elders and other members of the church to give extra time to teach. But if they strongly believe that by attending once in a week a Sunday Service to listen to a 20-30 minute message they get enough help to grow in their faith/bhakti, I have nothing more to say.


The Bible on Conversion

Now let me turn to the major question. Does the Muktiveda promote such conversion for anyone to become a follower of the Lord?

Before that it would be good if you can understand where this un-Muktivedic teaching began in the early centuries when Christianity gradually became an organized religion in order to survive.

In the Roman world, following one’s own tradition, that too religious tradition, even without having any personal faith, was considered important for the smooth functioning of the society. And they accused Christians of not having such an ancient tradition, therefore not having a ‘religion’, which meant following an ancestral tradition like theirs, thus creating problems in society by introducing this new cult of worshipping a person. And the Jews also joined in that chorus. So in order to prove that they too have an old tradition, the Church naturally claimed the Jewish tradition as their own, as the apostles also endorsed the continuity of the covenant promises by God.

But in order to make a difference, the Christians also claimed that following that tradition, unlike others, they appropriated it within themselves as a spiritual reality by having personal faith and commitment. Then in order to objectify it, the written Scriptures were promoted as the foundation.

So they did three things. They claimed to have a long tradition, therefore a religion like others. But unlike others, they appropriated it within as a spiritual reality. Then, to sustain it, they based everything on Scripture as the foundation.


On conversion:  

What does the Muktiveda say about conversion?

How could it promote conversion, when it does not even exist there?1 If anyone wants to use it personally for her own ‘conversion’, she has every right to do so. But for most Indians the word ‘convert’ is not a good word. And I personally hate it if someone calls me a ‘convert’.

Let me not spend too much time on the technicalities of this word and how it is appropriated both by Hindus and Christians. For me, the major issue is: does Muktiveda promote this kind of conversion from one ‘community’ to another ‘community’ viz., from Hindu community to Christian community? “No” is the clear answer.

This was one of the fundamental crucial issues on which Sevanand (Paul) stood and fought till the end. Muktiveda clearly teaches that a Jew can remain as a Jew and follow the Lord and non-Jews can remain non-Jews and still follow the Lord. In order to become a follower of the Lord a non-Jew need not become a Jew first (particular being circumcised). As you all know well about how Sevanand talks elaborately about this in Galatians, I need not repeat it.

Now from the Hindu point of view, as Hinduism is a parliament of religions (or sampradayas) [this is one among the several definitions of Hinduism], it allows any one group to have its own sampradaya side by side with other sampradaya. In this it never expects any sampradaya to compromise in its core issues related to faith/doctrine/theology. While it promotes pluralism and relativism, it also upholds ‘exclusivism’ when it comes to faith.

So if Muktiveda never expects me to change from one community to another in order to follow the Lord, and my own tradition gives space for me to remain as a follower of the Lord without compromising my bhakti in Him, then why should I leave my Hindu community and join another Christian community? At the same time let me reiterate, if any person wants to do so, she has every right to do so. But I see no need to do so in my own life.

Now the crucial question comes: what about doing all the other religious, cultural and social practices by a new follower of the Lord if she chooses to remain as a Hindu?

To be honest, I don’t have any ready-made solution to this. Each bhakta has to work it out based on her understanding and the freedom that she enjoys within her family and community which will allow her to do so.

But one thing is clear: the challenges are more severe for a convert to Christianity than for a Hindu who wants to remain a Hindu and follow the Lord. The Home is my home and I have every right to stay back and fight for my rights rather than going out and joining another community where my struggles are in no way less than what I have to face as a Hindu bhakta of the Lord. At least in my home I have to face known people, whereas among Christians I have to deal with unknown people. At home I have my birth right whereas among Christians I have to work hard to earn some space among them. At home I know the details to work out, but among Christians I have to learn everything new. At home I have to face only one kind of people or group, but by moving among Christians I have to fight on both sides. Above all: A HOSTILE HOME IS BETTER THAN A SUSPECTING BUT FRIENDLY NEIGHBOUR. And for every convert, Christianity is that friendly neighbour.


On Fellowship

One crucial thing that is so important for every convert or Hindu bhakta of the Lord is the avenue and opportunity to learn to grow in her faith/bhakti in the Lord.

As I often say, we don’t have a private bhakti or a private God, though we do have a personal relationship with Him. Our faith/bhakti is not a one-man operation. Either we sail together or sink together. For this, fellowship, learning, and teaching are important apart from worshipping together and also individually.

But the question comes: does the church really provide this kind of ‘fellowship’ which will help a new convert learn to grow in the Lord? As I already said, as an outsider I have no right to question it. But if a convert feels that she gets all the fellowship that she requires to grow in the Lord and proper teaching, God bless her and her fellowship. As I already said, once she made up her mind to become a convert, she has to adjust with that church.

But for me, as a Hindu bhakta of the Lord, I too have to work hard to create such a fellowship among other like-minded Hindu bhaktas to grow in my bhakti in the Lord. As I like that challenge and there are other such people to join to help me, we try to do our best. Of course we too face several challenges and problems and by making mistakes we too learn. But as we don’t have a prior model for us to learn through their experience and mistakes, we need to go an extra mile more than a convert where she is served a wonderful cake on a beautiful plate week after week. God bless her.

As I mentioned in Living Water and Indian Bowl, fellowship is not the ‘watery togetherness’ [Christopher JH Wright, Living as the People of God: The Relevance of O.T. Ethics, IVP, 1983, p. 98] that happens just for three hours in a week. Above all, since my position as a Hindu and bhakta of the Lord provides so many challenges in my life within my family and community which provide natural fellowship for me as a human being, I prefer this fellowship to grow more deeply in the Lord than to enjoy some ready-made instant food served once a week.

As the Muktiveda clearly teaches, teaching and learning about bhakti/faith is a family event and cannot be outsourced, so we encourage parents to take up this responsibility seriously and teach their children to grow in bhakti in the Lord as Hindus.

Finally, I think we have a wrong concept about so-called ‘fellowship’. Though I don’t want to criticise the church, yet according to my understanding, no convert can get the real fellowship that she needs to survive as a human being within the four walls of a church that gathers once in a week plus a cottage prayer meeting. In such a scenario, she has to spend six days and 20 hours in the outside world. That fellowship alone helps her grow in her faith/bhakti properly rather than having a wrong notion about fellowship gatherings once a week inside any building.

Here my Hindu worldview becomes very helpful to me. As we have ‘samajic dharma’ to live with others in our family and community and ‘sadhana dharma’ for me to grow in my spiritual life, I find it easy to handle this very naturally as a Hindu rather than adapting myself to an artificial entity that is new to my culture and tradition, all in the name of fellowship. Samajic dharma we cannot change as we are born in it, but we can adopt a sadhana dharma that best suits my individual aptitude. And here both the Muktiveda and Hindu world give lots of space and scope.

It may be helpful if I share how some Hindu converts request me to come and share the gospel to their parents who do not want to listen from them or are not ready to become Christians. One time at Kodaikanal I met young Brahmin Christian converts. One day they came and requested me to come to their home at Chennai to share the gospel to their parents. Then the man said, “They need not even come to the church. If they simply believe in the Lord, accept Him as the Lord and Saviour that is enough for us.”

Then I asked, “If you say this and if I come and share the gospel, suppose if your parents ask me, “Then why don’t you tell this to our children? We allow them to follow the Lord but why should they go to the church?” What kind of answer I can give to them? If they need not come to the church and if their confession of the Lord is enough for them to get saved and go to heaven, why that won’t work for you too?”

In response they said, “No. We cannot leave the church. We need the fellowship to grow in the Lord and also to witness for Him.”

“If you want fellowship and going to the church is the only way to witness for the Lord, then why do you deny the same for your parents and expect that if they just confess the Lord is enough for them so that they can go to heaven?” For that, they had no answer.

But I don’t blame them. This is what they were taught and how they were programmed. Many converts, particularly those who become ‘full-time workers’, always live with a guilty conscience that if their parents don’t accept the Lord, it is a shame to their faith and a failure to their ministry. That is why many of them arrange a ‘deathbed mukti’. I personally heard many of them saying that at the end, on their deathbed, their parents confessed the Lord and were saved. I never question or doubt their claim. Let it be and God bless their parents’ souls. But I never live with such a guilty conscience. Of course I too want to see that my parents and other relatives also become bhaktas of the Lord. But if they don’t I will never arrange a ‘deathbed mukti’ for them. When one such full-time worker shared this, I asked him, “Now you are happy that your parents finally went to heaven? What about your chacha and mama, mousi and aunties and other relatives, particularly your grandparents? Do you think that your parents will be happy in heaven not having their parents and other relatives also with them?”

I never live with any agenda or carry such a burden unnecessarily within me. I will live naturally and spontaneously as a Hindu bhakta of the Lord, leaving the rest in His hands. I will do what I have to do and will never try to do what God alone can do.


My Obligation to the Church

I confess that as a bhakta of the Lord, I have an obligation to other followers of the Lord, even in the church. Pointing this out, another follower of the Lord among the Christians confronted me by saying, “Do you really not love us who are part of a particular church? Then why don’t you come and teach us, which you have done a bit in the past, but now have completely stopped?” In response, not as a joke, but will all seriousness, I said, “I too love them and I strongly believe that all the followers of the Lord belong to the body of the Lord of which I am also a part. But every church has its own (original) problems to handle and burdens to carry. And I know that every convert only adds to the burden. In other words, every convert is a ‘problem’ to the church and not a blessing. If I love someone truly I will see that I don’t trouble them anymore. As I truly love the church, I don’t want to add more problems and burdens to them. That is why I keep away from them. My simple principle is this: let James live peacefully at Jerusalem. But if some Christians, like Judaizers, come and give us trouble, then like Sevanand (as he has done in Galatians), I too will stand and fight against them. But I won’t come and give trouble to them and won’t allow them to come and trouble me/us.

Regarding going and teaching or telling Christians about alternative models for Hindu converts all I can say is this: in the past, several converts tried and miserably failed. They thought that if they could change the mindset of the church, they could do more effective service to the Kingdom of God, but they failed till the end of their life. Just few examples like Brahmabandab Upadhyay and Narayan Vaman Tilak are enough to quote. While they lived and tried to change the(ir) church through their teaching and persuasion, they were rejected and literally thrown away. To use the words of another right-wing critic, “While they were alive they were crucified on the Roman Cross. But after a century they are now resurrected and glorified as the pioneers of Indigenization (or contextualization).” Though I cannot compare myself with those giants, learning from their mistakes, I don’t want to repeat the same adventure to be crucified again, though I won’t be glorified in future like them by the church.


On Marriage

Whichever might be our personal spiritual journey, as human beings we all have several social needs that religion alone cannot meet. And one of the crucial issues of such social needs is the marriage of the new convert. Already I have given two case studies, but here comes the theological aspect.

Let me spell out what I believe on this crucial issue:

  1. The Muktiveda never promotes that a believer should marry another believer. This is a misinterpretation of 2 Cor. 6:14-15 where the word ‘yoking’ has nothing to do with marriage. It could mean any kind of partner—even in business.
  2. Every marriage is a blessing, as God constituted family as the foundation of society.
  3. Faith is not going to help much when it comes to family life after marriage. Initially it may enhance mutual understanding, but family life is based on humanitarian considerations and a give-and-take policy.
  4. If possible a new bhakta can negotiate with her/his parents to permit her/him to marry another bhakta. But if the parents insist to marry within the community (caste) then it is better to obey their wishes.
  5. In Hindu homes they never bring a wife to their son, but rather a daughter-in-law to the family.
  6. In Hindu marriage (in fact in every other marriage) it is not just two individuals that are joining together, but two families are joining and extending their relationship with several other families. So don’t break that social cord and harmony in the name of faith.
  7. No parent is going to find the worst possible girl/boy for their son/daughter. Trust them and also trust God.
  8. Concerning the rituals in marriage, 90% of them are more cultural and socially oriented and about 10% of the marriage is involved with religious rituals. Even in that minimum ritual mostly priests and parents are involved and not the boy or girl directly, except bowing before the family deities and touching the feet of elders (which, again, is more cultural than religious).
  9. In those areas where a boy or girl has to participate in some minimum ritual, they are in a situation like Naaman (read 2 King 5). Participating in those rituals does not mean permission but rather a concession because of the parents’ position and honor in the extended family and community.
  10. As parents are ready to accommodate a new bhakta’s wishes, there is no harm in accommodating their sentiments related to religious/cultural and social issues.
  11. Regarding having a life partner not having the same faith, Sevanand (Paul) clearly gives the guidelines in I Cor. 7:12-14. For example, in a family where they are totally Hindus, suppose the husband becomes a bhakta, should the wife leave him or should he divorce her? Definitely NOT. They should continue to live together as husband and wife with mutual love and respect for their faiths.But the question will come, how do we accommodate the rituals and puja of the life partner now? Our position in this is that like all other social obligations, the life partner should do everything s/he needs to do without compromising his/her personal bhakti in the Lord. We cannot give any uniform solution to such issues and each mixed family needs to work things out based on mutual understanding and respect. But don’t hurt someone else’s faith, and if a situation compels the bhakta, she should without any hesitation arrange, pay for, and take part in such religious events as part of her/his social obligation.This is not syncretism or compromising with one’s bhakti in the Lord. Christians may object to this, but we cannot be bothered about them. They compromise in so many other areas in their life but when it comes to the Hindu bhakta or convert suddenly they impose several rules and regulations which they are not following in their own lives (see Mt. 13:4 and 15). If a Hindu ‘convert’ in order to please their Christian friends and mentors marries a Christian and deserts their parents and family, we have nothing to say about it.But they should remember one thing that neither their Christian friends nor their mentor will become part of their family. If they migrate to another church soon they all will disappear from their life. But their parents and siblings will still remain part of their family. Once hurt them in the name of faith, and then reconciliation will be painful and costly. One quick step in the wrong direction, then we need to invest the whole life to correct it.
  12. Most converts live in an imaginary world that once they marry another believer, then every part of their life is going to fall in line based on their faith. But I have seen many Christian families where normal life is not lived based on their faith but rather on family values—as partners in life. As a Hindu I can say that faith never remains the criteria for any Hindu when it comes to everyday life. It is both ‘karma’ and ‘dharma’ which remain the guiding principle or the two tracks on which their life moves. It is true that a bhakta’s life is centered and guided by her ‘faith’ and Muktiveda. However what the actual Muktivedic principle is, again comes from our interpretation rather than the plain reading of the text or taking every verse literally. And, as I have (closely) observed, it is not ‘faith’ or Muktiveda that decides the everyday life of any kind of believers (both Hindu bhaktas or traditional Christians) but the same ‘karma’ and ‘dharma’ (without mentioning those terms). Like the Hindu Veda, Muktiveda remains ‘normative’ to refer or quote—particularly to guide and control others, rather than being taken seriously. Exceptions are there always.
  13. Even when converts try to keep ‘faith’ as the deciding fact for their normal married life, there is no guarantee that no problems or issues will ever arise. Or that all their problems and issues can be resolved based on Muktivedic principle. Even two converts with the same faith in the Lord will have different understandings and approaches about Muktinath and Muktiveda. Their tastes in life, hobbies, entertainment, social life, etc. are not going to be the same or be guided or decided by Muktivedic principles. Since they have to adjust and live based on a ‘give-and-take’ policy, they can do the same if a convert is compelled to marry according to the wishes of her/his parents.As some entertainment, including reading fiction or weekly magazines (even newspapers in a few cases) is considered ‘unspiritual’ in some churches, if one partner is from that background, and if she or he is not going to allow or participate with her/his life partner, then how are they going to adjust? The same is the case in keeping relationships with friends and other relative. When important family functions (like marriage) are arranged, and if the converts are invited or have to participate, their participation not only depends on whose side those relatives are (husband’s side or wife’s side) but what kind of function it is, how close they are to those relatives and what their part in it is.Suppose a convert’s husband’s sister is to get married, where he needs to be present and also take part in some events, which might include going to the temple or honoring the elders, etc. Can he do it naturally and joyfully—that too with the cooperation of his wife, or not? I know several converts who became an alien to their own family and community by preferring to avoid all such events in order to guard their faith and doctrine as well as to take a stand for the Lord. But they forget that if they participate, they will become one among the crowd which others may not even notice. But their absence or non-cooperation will highlight their alienness which will embarrass their parents and even hurt them. There the decision they took won’t be considered taking a ‘stand for the Lord’ but deserting their own family (parents) or even betraying them.

Marriage is a very complex issue and there are many other matters to consider, but I will just say one more thing with much pain. I know several converts, particularly from the so-called high castes, and particularly girls who remain single as they could never find a life partner arranged by their church. Some of them regretted their decisions, but very late. Their churches never recognized or understood their suffering. It is one thing to remain single by choice (as I have done), but it is really a curse to live as a single when it is forced on the convert because of their wrong perception about marriage and wrong teaching by the church/Christians.


On Other Life Events

Like marriage, there are other crucial issues, like what to do when one’s parents die or for other life cycle events (called samskars like birth, naming, etc.) For a convert these are not issues as she has to follow what her church says. As usual, we cannot prescribe a uniform solution for every Hindu bhakta as there are different traditions and customs according to our own respective backgrounds. The common minimum principle that we worked out is to try to negotiate with your parents and others if you have good rapport with them. More than that, try to understand what is cultural, social and what is exclusively related to religious ritual. If possible, try to get some concessions related with religious rituals. But where that is not possible, like Naaman in 2 Kings, go ahead and do what that particular situation demands.

But remember one thing, by participating even in certain religious ritual, you are not compromising with your bhakti in the Lord. And by refusing to participate in them you are not taking a stand for the Lord. Your absence and refusal will get more attention and be highlighted than your silent participation. Refusal to participate will draw more attention and it will bring humiliation to your parents more than help you to take a stand for the Lord. There are so many other crucial ethical and moral areas where you can take a strong stand for the Lord rather than these little religious events which most Hindus themselves never take seriously. For a Hindu, life is not divided in watertight compartments as cultural, religious, social, ritual, spiritual and religious. They overlap with each other and we cannot draw any straight line to divide them neatly.

As we never question the right of a Christian convert to do what she wants to do, here too we expect others to give the same space and benefit of doubt for us.

This is a long subject and if I began to narrate all the areas related to our life with our bhakti and the challenges that we face, it will again be a repetition of Living Water and Indian Bowl. However, one final crucial point is worth discussing here, as this topic is again and again asked to me.


On Idol Worship and Prasad

Already I have dealt about it in Living Water and Indian Bowl, so I will not repeat it again here. But Sevanand’s writings in the Corinthian context and also Kenneth Bailey’s exposition on it will help me to articulate my stand here. First I would like to share in length what Bailey has to say on this subject. Though long, it is worth reading as this issue is considered the basic principle for a Hindu bhakta’s relationship with his family and community. Also read the comments which I give in the text itself on that particular point. Instead of taking it out, I am leaving it so that those who read my response to Bailey’s views will understand the context:

Food Offered to Idols: Freedom and Responsibility. 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, in Kenneth E. Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes: Cultural Studies in 1 Corinthians, Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic.

The overall essay focuses on the question of how Christians are to live out their lives in a pagan world. Are they to accommodate to that world, and if so—to what extent? Are they to blend in or stand apart? The question of food offered to idols offered Paul a concrete case study for a discussion of this critical concern.—p.229

…The sacrifices were the property of the priests of the various temples and what the priests could not eat, they sold. During the numerous feasts there was an inevitable glut in the meat market, and the price would drop accordingly. For many of the poor of the city (which certainly included at least some of the Christians) that was probably the only time they could afford to eat meat. Furthermore, if a person didn’t ask the butcher, he or she would not know whether a particular piece of meat had been offered to an idol or not. None of the idols existed anyway, so why not enjoy some rarely affordable beef or lamb?

In the context of a city like Corinth all of this made perfect sense. But if reported in Jerusalem, such a practice would sound like a trashing of the Jerusalem agreement. Paul could have simply issued a ruling such as, “Barnabas and I agreed with the apostles in Jerusalem on this matter and I insist that our agreement be honored. No Christian is allowed to eat meat offered to idols, and that’s final!”

Instead of issuing a new law, Paul asks his reader to reflect on “knowledge” and “love.” In the six lines of cameos 1-2 {8:1-3}, the words knowledge and knowing appear seven times with at least one occurrence in each line. The words know and love occur together twice. The last line in cameo 1 reads, “knowledge puffs up but love builds up” and cameo 2c affirms, “But if one loves God, one is known by him.”

The two key words knowledge and love reappear in the hymn to love in 13:4. Once again, Paul is quietly building up a list of negatives that appear when love is absent. In the process, he describes the inner working of “knowledge” on the one hand and “love” on the other. Knowledge, by its very nature, can easily create pride and arrogance. The one who has large amounts of knowledge can easily look down on those less informed.—p. 233

…The Corinthians who knew that idols did not exist were in grave danger of using that knowledge in a way that would tear down what Paul, with great effort, had built up. The issue of food offered to idols could easily split the church in Corinth and elsewhere into Jewish-background believers and Gentile-background believers….—p.234

Paul’s context is easy to reconstruct. Temples served meals where the meat on offer had been sacrificed to one of the gods. Even in private homes, extended family social occasions would involve meals where the “main course” was meat offered to idols. Such meat was perhaps the only meat the family could afford. Paul presents the problem in Cameo 5{vs. 8:7}. What about the people who were still frightened by the ever-present temples with their statues of “the gods”? If they ate meat offered to them, were they not ingesting the god into their very lives? “Isn’t that what happens at the celebration of the Holy Supper?” they could have asked. Or perhaps the “god” they no longer worshiped would make them sick if they ate “his meat” while refusing to worship him? The “strong” in the community were likely insisting “these gods do not exist. This meat is ‘food for the stomach,’ and nothing more needs to be said.” But, what about the “weak”?

In cameo 3 {vs. 8:4} Paul grants the validity of this argument as it was made by these “strong” believers. Idols do not exist. But here in cameo 5{vs. 8:7}, as an act of love, Paul urges his readers to refrain from opening the way back to idol worship for those who do not yet emotionally feel what their heads are telling them. As G. G. Findlay has written, “Knowledge operating alone makes it an engine of destruction.” {“St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians.” The Expositor’s Greek Testament. Edited by W. Robertson Nicoll. Vol. 2. New York: George H. Doran, 1900., p. 839} –p.239

[Is this emotional blackmail? How long will the weak remain weak and blackmail the mature ones based on emotional feeling. Where is the guarantee that they will limit only do this with food offered to idols and not try to blackmail on other areas to create problems for the mature ones? And what about the ‘gospel obligation’ on the part of the mature who try to reach out to their own people? Above all, it is not because of some ‘gospel obligation’ on our part, but as our birth right that we won’t allow others to blackmail us regarding our rights as Hindus, as God caused us to born in this community.

Any knowledge that creates pride and condescending acts towards others is a crime, but insisting on remaining in ignorance is also not correct. While the non-Jewish new believer with clear understanding (knowledge) tries to build up his community with social interaction—thereby accepting meals in which food offered to idols is served, the weak Jewish or non-Jewish new believer insists on remaining in ignorance and blackmailing the strong ones based on sentiment. This I call prejudice.

Particularly the Jews, whatever concessions shown to them, are not going to accommodate the social obligations of the non-Jews because of their religious prejudice towards the non-Jew’s religious/cultural/social views. This is proved by the very life of Sevanand (see Acts 14:44-52). In spite of his constant effort to reach out to them by going a third mile at the cost of the non-Jew’s sentiments towards their culture and social view, he never succeeded. Here I don’t want to compare the same with the traditional Indian Christians and the adjustments that the new converts are forced to make to survive among them—though I am tempted to do so. My understanding is that ignorance can be corrected through proper teaching, but prejudice can never be removed as it often stems from racial pride.

Here I feel that Sevanand also failed. However he tried to become all things to all men, he remained a Jew at his core and this is also acknowledged by Bailey: see. p. 256-57, 261. Of course he never had Jewish prejudice against the non-Jews, but he allowed it among his own people by giving too many concessions for them, either to get recognition for his seva among the non-Jews or try to win them for his mission. But in the end he failed as he failed to address their prejudice and only tried to accommodate their sentiment. Those who always use their sentiment will use the victim card to blackmail others.–db ]

…It is a case of a person with a strong conscience who wants to force his ethical choices on others. On the other hand there are those who walk their own path ignoring the havoc their choice will wreak in the body of Christ.—p.240

Paul continues, “We are no worse off if we do not eat.” {8:8} That is, it would have been easy for those who ate idol meat to boldly affirm, “There are no idols, so there is no problem! We the strong can eat this meat. Doing so proves the strength of our faith.” Those same people would naturally have looked down on the “weak” who were not strong enough to eat this good, cheap food. No, replies Paul, the one who chooses to refrain is not worse off (i.e., weak in faith) and you who eat this meat are not better off (i.e., strong in faith). The issue has to do with love. You the “strong” can become a stumbling block for the “weak.” Love must influence how you use your knowledge.—p.240

…The failure to love others in the debate over “food offered to idols” is not a little disagreement on a minor point of ethics. It is a sin against Christ, whose love was so great that he died to save.—p. 241.

[If the strong force their ethical choices on others, particularly on the weak, the weak through their ‘emotional feelings’ try to blackmail the strong. In that scenario what should be done? Educate the weak and make them strong. And if they continue to want to remain in their weakness, then leave it to their choice and allow the strong to move forward.—db]

3.6 Food Offered to Idols. Freedom and Responsibility (A Final Word). 1 Cor. 10:23-11:1.

The second semantic envelope in this homily (cameos 2, 6) is also remarkable. The two matching cameos are seen together in figure 3.3(3).

2.        25 Eat whatever is sold in the meat market

Without raising any question on the ground of conscience.

26 For “the earth is the Lord’s,                                   EAT

and everything in it.”                                      ALL Is the Lord’s

6          31 So, whether you eat or drink,

or whatever you do,                                        EAT

do all to the glory of God.                              In All—Glorify God

Figure 3.6(3). Cameos 2 and 6 (I Cor 10: 25-26, 31)

These two cameos unite around the topic of “eating and the divine.” Cameo 2 tells the reader: All meat sold in the marketplace belongs to God, not to the idols, because the entire earth is the Lord’s. This affirmation must have been hugely liberating for Paul’s readers. Imagine a new Greek Christian entering the meat market in Corinth with great inner turmoil and wondering, “If this meat was offered to Asclepius the god of health, it must belong to him. And if I buy it and eat it, will Asclepius make me sick because I no longer worship him?” “No,” answers Paul—“it all belongs to the one Lord who created all things” (cameo 2). Such fears are groundless. So if you eat it or do not eat it—give all glory to God alone (cameo 6) and do not be afraid. (p.289)—pp.287-89

As is common the climax of the homily appears in the center (cameo 40), where love is prominent. Paul indirectly tells his readers, “Your rights and your freedom are not the only components in this discussion. What about love?” We do not know if the informant whispering in the ear of the Christian guest is the unbelieving host showing consideration to his guest, or a fellow Christian who happens to be present at the banquet. In either case, what should the Christian guest do when he or she is specifically informed at the banquet about the pagan origins of the meat? {emphasis added by DB}

To paraphrase Paul’s directive he seems to be telling his readers, “If you are invited to a meal in an unbeliever’s home and someone quietly informs you that the meat is “idol food,” out of your love for the informant, who is trying to be sensitive to what he thinks are your feelings, don’t eat the meat. Your freedom should be tempered by love.—p. 290{emphasis added by DB}

In the opening homily (8:1-13) of essay three, Paul asked that knowledge and love be kept together. At the close of the essay he urges the uniting of (p.290) freedom and love. Paul is again subtly preparing the reader for the hymn to love that will appear in chapter 13.

The uniting of freedom and sensitivity/love here in cameo 4 {10:28} is connected to cameo 1 {10:23} at the beginning and cameo 7 {10:32-33} at the end. Summarizing Paul’s opening cameo he insists that “all things are lawful, but all are not helpful or “upbuilding”. Why is this/ Because freedom must be marinated with love (came 4 {10:28}). At the end of the homily in cameo 7 {10:32-33}Paul teaches: Give offense to no one, seek their advantage, not your own—that they may be saved. This reflects the love admonished in the center cameo.

The larger question is not, what does freedom assure me (cameos 3,5 {10:27, 29b, 30}? But rather, what does love require of me (cameo 4 {10:28, 29a}? For Paul’s readers who were accustomed to ring composition, this climatic call for sensitivity/love was unambiguous and compelling.

As noted earlier, for many contemporary readers the order is confusing. We are conditioned to listening to a presentation that offers:

On the one hand:

At home (2) and at private banquets (3) give thanks, eat what you like (5) and give glory to God (6).

But, (alla) on the other hand::

If someone tells you, “This is idol meat,” for his sake do not eat the meat (4).


This is how a Christian can live in a non-Christian society. As noted, Paul’s theme song throughout the essay is “Freedom and Responsibility”. That responsibility (cameo 4) takes on the color of love and sensitivity.

In summary, Paul has earlier discussed

1. What about idol meat served in temple-operated restaurants? Paul’s answer is, It is acceptable if you really understand that the idols do not exist and as long as there is no one present who is still deeply unsettled about these so-called gods.

2. What about eating and drinking in an idol worship service? Paul’s answer was, “Never! Such eating is participation in the worship of demons.” (p.291)

In this text Paul considers two further questions. These are:

3. Can I buy this idol meat in the market and eat it at home? Paul replies by saying, “Eat whatever is sold in the meat market” (cameo 2). The idols do not exist and the meat itself belongs to God—not to the idols. The whole earth is his.

4. What about a dinner party in the home of one of my unbelieving friends? Paul responds using language that is almost a direct quote from what Jesus told the seventy disciples when sent them out two by two. Both Jesus (Lk 10:8) and Paul say, “Eat whatever is set before you” (cameo 3). But if someone tells you, “This is idol meat’, out of love for the informant—don’t eat. (pp.291-92) [see note 2 for a few other points from this section—db]

Now let me tell one imagined story about this, as I found that verse 8:12 is the crucial one. For the sake of the conscience of the one who served the food offered to an idol a bhakta should refrain from taking it.

Basant is a Newari bhakta of the Lord from Nepal. Whenever he visits his home one of his school time friends always invites him for a meal. And not to miss a good feast and also to celebrate his friendship Basant never says no to it. But there is another reason for Basant’s friend Prem to invite his friend. His wife cooks good food when he invites any guests. Other times he will get only ordinary food. So in order to enjoy that good food he never miss any opportunity to invite guests to his house, and knowing that Basant is his school time friend his wife will take extra care and serve the best food.

Both Basant and Prem know from where the meat comes, as they were part of that society. But Prem’s wife made extraordinary food and Basant could not wait, so he urged his friend that it was time to go to visit another person. But having some concern for his friend, Basant would always say “no” when Prem’s wife insisted for him to take third a course of that special dish, as he wanted to leave some for his friend also.

But one particular day that special dish was prepared in a very limited quantity. Then Prem thought that if he played some politics he could make Basant ignore that particular dish and taste the rest, so that he could have all of that special dish for himself. So he came and secretly whispered in Basant’s ear, “You know from where the meat for that particular dish comes from. This I say so that I should not cause any trouble to you as you worship Jesus and as per your faith you should not consume food offered to idols.”

Then, understanding the trick, Basant also played the same politics and said, “Oh, yeah. We both know that. But my conscience is clear and I consider all the best things are a blessing from my God. I have no problem. But do you have any issue?” And as Prem said ‘no’, knowing full well that even before he whispered Basant knew the origin of the meat, Basant to take revenge on his friend for playing such a food politics without showing any mercy appreciated Prem’s wife saying that he had never tasted a dish like that before, and when she compelled him to eat more, he finished all of it.

The moral of this story is, when a Hindu invites any guest he always wants to see that his guest eats well. That alone will give him satisfaction. Above all, if he says anything which would make his host not eat he will bring demerit (sin) to himself. So no host will say anything to any guest to stop him from eating food properly. This is true not only in Hindu contexts but in any other culture no host will say anything to his guest which will prevent him from enjoying his hospitality. According our Indian tradition, a guest is treated as god as the saying goes ‘atiti devo bhavba’, let the guest be your god. From this we can understand the treatment that ought to be given to a guest.

Sixteen kinds of service need to be offered to him, known a ‘sodacha upacharam’.3 This can be understoond from another point of view. Gods should be treated like a king in the temple and like a guest at home. This shows the importance of the guest. Even Yama the god of death was disturbed when a guest was ill-treated at his door in his absence.4 Now don’t jump and ask how can you worship a guest as a god; this does not mean we literally worship a guest, but it shows how a guest is treated like a god with respect and reverence.

And in Indian contexts, when a Hindu comes and offers any prasad, he never thinks that by receiving it, that particular person is giving up his faith in his own personal God. He never even enquires about it. Above all, when your neighbour brings any prasad, he brings it because of his love for you. And he will never give it to his other neighbours with whom he does not have good relationships. And if you with all humility explain that by receiving it you are dishonouring your deity and breaking a vow not to eat the prasad offered to other deities, as every Hindu respects other’s religious sentiments, he will never insist further for you to accept it.

In other words, the conscience of a Hindu is very clear: he never expects you to give up your faith in the Lord or thinks that by accepting that particular prasad you are giving up your faith in the Lord. If he thought so, he wouldn’t do it as it would bring demerit to him. So now it is left for you to accept or reject it. And if you still fear that by accepting that prasad you will be hounded by demonic forces, then don’t accept it. This will also show that your God has no power to protect you from such demonic forces. And when you invite your Hindu friend on your religious festival, then he too has every right to say ‘no’ to your invitation as you said ‘no’ to him.

My point is this: not understanding the Indian context and superimposing the Corinthian context which we do not know well (whispering, etc.), if we make any decisions on such issues, there is no solid basis for it and we all have to live in an imaginary world in which we have every right to read whatever we want to read into any given situation.

In the Corinthian context (about which we know little, but based on the imagination of Bailey), the host might whisper in the ear of a guest about the origin of the food, but in India no Hindu needs to whisper about the origin of prasad. S/he will come out with a clear mind and conscience by saying, ‘this is the prasad of God’. Now it is left to the follower of the Lord to take a decision about receiving it or rejecting it. So what is inferred and interpreted based on the Corinthian context we need not apply here in India. Of course, Christians always hide behind the conscience of their weak brother/sister in the church. As I said earlier, either make them strong or if they continue to remain weak even after several generations of Christianity, let them continue to remain in their weakness and let the Church continue to pamper them. That is not our issue, problem or burden.5

When Hindu converts and some evangelicals take such a wrong and strong view about idol worship among Hindus and instruct converts to keep away from it, I cannot understand about other kinds of ‘idols’ they keep and continue to worship in their life which go against Muktivedic demands, like love for money, name, fame, etc. While keeping so many subtle idols and worshiping them every day, what they say and comment about so-called ‘idol’ worship among us Hindus looks very inconsistent.


On Naming

Before closing this discussion I would like to point out one minor issue which highlights the lack of proper understanding about the Muktiveda and the lack of teaching which causes the Christian to unintentionally create lots of problems for Hindu converts. And these Hindu converts too, not thinking on their own but aping the Christians, repeat the same mistakes. This I say not to hurt either the Christians or the converts but only to highlight the problem that we face. I learnt most of these things after making mistakes. But it saddens me to see that the same mistake is repeated again and again, whether it is pointed out with humility or with much accusation.

Instead of sharing my own views or understanding I am going to share what an American Evangelical wrote with much pain and concern for what is done in India in the name of evangelism and conversion. And what an American scholar says will always have more weight than what I would articulate, as no local prophet is accepted or respected in his own place by his own people. This is regarding the changing of names. Though this is not a big issue, I deliberately choose it because if we begin to discuss all the major issues which we confront in our bhakti in the Lord because of past mistakes made unintentionally by missionaries, then several volumes could be written. Here comes the example of name changing:

Biblical Justifications for Renaming

Christians typically assert, “The Bible says, . . .” to justify this practice. Usually one of two reasons is given. As a new person in Christ, you should take a new name like Abraham, Peter, or Paul. The other common reason is anti-Hindu. If your name is a Hindu god-name or sometimes any Hindu name, they assert, you must change it so that you don’t have a god-name, or a “Hindu” name (said with the wrinkled nose and tone of disdain).

What the Bible Says about Renaming

Do people change their names in the Bible? Yes. Do they change to a culturally foreign name that separates them from the society around them? Never. Of thirteen key name changes in the Bible none of them changed away from their cultural name to a foreign, separatist name. In fact, in the cases of Joseph (Gen 41), Gideon (Judg 6), Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, Azariah (Daniel 1), Hadassah (Esther), Simon (Peter), and Saul (Paul) their new names connected them to the broader culture around them. They did not separate them from culture.

More telling, Joseph, Gideon, Daniel, Azariah, and likely Esther all took foreign god-names by which they were known in their host cultures. In addition, a number of New Testament believers had names that originated with Greco-Roman religion or mythology: Apollos, Phoebe, Aquila, Narcissus, Hermes, Hermas, Olympas, Jason, and Nympha.

Not one of these believers changed their god-name to a “Christian” name. The Bible did not teach this and the early believers did not practice or require this.

Since Peter and Paul are most commonly used to enforce this teaching, let me briefly address their situations. Both of them contradict common Christian practice and teaching about renaming, when we actually read what the Scripture says.

Simon was Greek for the Old Testament Simeon (indicated in Acts 15:14). So he had a Bible name already. When Jesus changed his name to Stone (Cephas in Hebrew, Petros in Greek), He gave him a name no one else had ever had in Scripture. So Peter’s name change is not from a cultural name to a Bible name. It’s the other way around.

What about Paul then? His original name, Saul was again a Bible name, that of the first king of Israel. Robert Priest, in his discussion of Christian renaming in other contexts, addresses this misapplication of scripture:

When asked to justify the requirement of a name change at conversion, nineteenth-century missionaries pointed to the switch from Saul to Paul in the New Testament. But while missionaries sometimes claimed that this name change marked Saul’s conversion, the narrative of Acts continues to refer to ‘Saul’ for years after his conversion and only switches from Saul to Paul in the middle of Paul’s first missionary journey. (Priest 2012, 179)

The change to Paul, in other words, was a change from his Bible name, his Jewish name, which was a foreign name to the Gentile world in which he now served. Paul, on the other hand was a cultural name that identified him with the Gentile world, rather than separating him from it.

When all of the Scripture evidence is examined, then, we have no evidence for a name change that separated a believer from their culture, not even when the name had a god component. Not a single example!

Is it wrong to take a different name? Maybe not. But if you want to follow the Bible, choose a name that builds a bridge to the culture, not a barrier from it. Every Bible renaming instance indicates engagement with culture, not extraction from it. Make sure that you are actually following the Bible, not Christian tradition. They teach exactly the opposite and only one practice is the Lord’s will.

—Dr. J. Paul Pennington, Christian Barriers to Jesus, Conversations and Questions from the Indian Context, pp. 120-121, from the original manuscript. With the kind permission from the author.


In all these discussions we need to understand that God expects us to use all his best gifts in our culture and tradition which are not against Muktivedic principles. At the same time, what is ‘un-Muktivedic’ depends on our interpretation of the Word of God as well our proper understanding about our own culture and traditions. We do have examples that guide us in the Muktiveda itself. Covenant, circumcision, baptism and so many other things which we find in the Muktiveda, which the Jews and later followers of the Lord followed, were not exclusively invented by the Jews or given specially and specifically for the Jews by God. All these were once ‘pagan’ practices which the Jews borrowed, giving new meaning to them. I need not give details for this. If you have time and interest you can search the internet on this subject and find lots of materials about this.


1. No “Convert”

Some English translators insert “convert” in Romans 16:5 and 1 Timothy 3:6, but the original Greek has no word for convert in either place. If your version has “convert” there, the translators added it. This means that the noun “convert” (a person who has converted to Christianity) does not exist anywhere in the New Testament for the followers of Jesus. In addition, the verb “to convert” in the sense of evangelists converting people to Jesus never occurs in the New Testament.

The word “conversion” only occurs in some versions in Acts 15:3, where Paul and Barnabas described the “conversion of the Gentiles” (NASB, ESV). The original epistrophe only occurs here in the entire New Testament (Moulton, Geden and Moulton 1978, 372). This is rather strange, because it was commonly used in secular Greek with a wide range of meanings related to its root idea from epistrepho (see below) of “turning” or “turning around” (op. cit., Liddell, Scott and Jones 1940). In other words, Paul and Barnabas reported the “turning” of the Gentiles. This is the only time, though, that “conversion” occurs in the New Testament. —Dr. J. Paul Pennington, Christian Barriers to Jesus, Conversations and Questions from the Indian Context, pp. 120-121, from the original manuscript. With the kind permission from the author. P. 122

2. Food Offered to Idols: Freedom and Responsibility. 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, in Kenneth E. Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes: Cultural studies in ! Corinthians, Downers Grove, Illinois, IVP Academic

…three patterns of life for Christians living in a non-Christian world. Sometimes they can identify fully with the world (chap. 3:3). At other times they can identify partially (chap. 3:4), and finally there are times when they must stand totally apart (chap. 3:5)….—p. 230

A clear and powerful progression of thought moves through the homily {I Cor. 8:1-13}. Love builds, while knowledge creates pride. It is not what we know that matters, but who knows us! If we love God, God “knows” us.

  1. Knowledge, love and God. Love is more important than knowledge. Love builds, while knowledge creates pride. It is not what we know that matters, but who knows us! If we love God, God “knows” us.
  2. Knowledge, idols and God. We know that idols have no existence. There is only one God who has created all things through one Lord.
  3. Knowledge, your brother/sister and God. The weak person may think that idols are real, and such a person’s conscience is defiled if he or she sees you eating meat offered to idols.
  4. Knowledge, your brother/sister and Christ. This weak person is your sister or brother, and causing him or her to stumble is a failure to love and thereby a sin against Christ.—p. 232

…The term to know is biblical language for the marital relationship and the linking of “to love” and “to know” reaches into the heart language of intimacy….—p. 235

3.6 Food Offered to Idols. Freedom and Responsibility (A Final Word). 1 Cor. 10:23-11:1.

…Paul created a multicultural church, and he urges his readers to care for the interests of “the other” (believer or nonbeliever), setting aside their own interests.

The opening lines of each of these two cameos are related in a special way. Cameo 1 sets out general principles while cameo 7 offers applications of those principles. We can almost hear the conversation between Paul and his readers. It is as if they are engaged in the following dialogue:

Paul     As a general principle (cameo 1 {10:23}) I can say, “All things are lawful to me but they are not all helpful. Nor do all things build up.”

Paul’s readers            Can you give us a general sense as to how to apply these two principles?

Paul     Yes, I can (cameo 7 {10:32-33}). Let us look at the two parts of what I have just said.

  • Regarding being helpful, don’t offend Jews, Greeks or the church of God. You gain nothing by offending people. It makes them angry, and they become entrenched in their opposing views. Giving offense is simply not helpful.
  1. As for building up, when you do not offend you have the opportunity to commend your message of salvation, and in the process build up the community at large. You need to also build up the believing community internally. Work to build up, not tear down. (p. 287) […]

In cameo 7 Paul sets a high standard. He is engaged in evangelism and his theological goal is clear. But his method is also clear. The standard is: Give no offense to Jews, Greeks or to the church. For him there will be no public attacks on the faith of others. Critical analysis, yes, attacks—no! While writing to Christians he does not hide the fact that the gods of the “the Gentiles” do not exist and that their worship brings them into fellowship with demons. As noted, archaeology has identified Greek shrines in Corinth dedicated to the worship of twelve different gods. But there is no attack on any of these idols, their sacred books, their temples or their priests. When lecturing on Mars Hill (Acts 17: 22-31) Paul found common ground between his message and respected Greek authors. In Paul’s ministry, tolerance, open-mindedness and respect flowed together with critical analysis and non-apologetic evangelism. To update Paul’s directive into the twenty-first century we could say, “Give no offense to Jews or to Muslims or to the church of God. Do not seek your own advantage, but theirs—and at the appropriate time, in a respectful and culturally sensitive way, bear witness to the Christian story without apology.” This directive is clear, yet Paul leaves the reader with a further question.

In the second essay Paul boldly instructed the Corinthians to dismiss the incestuous man. In this third essay he directs them to give “no offense to the church of God.” How can these two texts be reconciled? Was he not potentially offending at least a part of the church by urging the dismissal of the (p.288) offender…. It may be possible to combine these two texts by suggesting that what Paul means is, “Strive to avoid offending the conscience of anyone, and at the same time, maintain ethical standards within the body of Christ, even if that effort may require discipline in order to protect the spiritual health of the community and save the offender.”


3. In the following points I want to share from different scholarly sources on the way guests are treated in Indian contexts. From Keener I give Muktivedic information. Though a bit excess, this will help us to understand how various scholars endorse this view:

If a guest turns back from a house disappointed he takes away all the merits of the householder and leaves his own sins behind.— ANCIENT INDIAN TRADITION & MYTHOLOGY; translated by a board of scholars, Edited by Prof. J .L. Shastri, Delhi; Motilal Banarsidass Pub. Pvt. Ltd. (1970), 2002, The Siva Purana Four Volumes, SATARUDRASAMHITA, 28:11, 10:48, p. 1494.

…It is also said that a guest who is disappointed in his host takes with him as he goes his host’s merit, and leaves behind his own evil, even as a king who fails to do justice takes upon himself the criminal’s sin. If you have nothing else to give your guest, give him at least ‘water and a welcome’. —Mbh., 12.191.12 etc.— Benjamin Khan, The Concept of Dharma in Valmiki Ramayana, Delhi, Munshi Ram Manoharlal, 1965, p. 202.

…The basic pattern of worship follows the pattern of personal attention devoted to an honored guest or a king…..— Klaus K. Klostermaier, A Survey of Hinduism, Albany: SUNY Press, 3rd edition, pg. 134.

Puujaa is, however, a clear continuation (Witzel 1980) of the Rgvedic guest worship offered to the gods….— ‘Vedas and Upanisads’, Michael Witzel, in The Blackwell Companion to Hinduism, Gavin Flood (ed.), UK, Blackwell Publishing Ltd, Indian Reprint 2003, p. 90.

The object of performing the puja in this manner is to treat the deity as one would a guest, with honour and respect. In temples, the deities are treated as kings.—India Mystica, p. 4, ibid.

…the argument in favour of temple puja was carried forward by analogy and appropriation: just as important guests were traditionally welcomed in well-to-do homes and offered things that pleased them, so too were the gods welcomed in temple-homes and offered things that pleased them. This, if nothing else, settles the origin of puja.— Michael Willis, The Archaeology of Hindu Ritual: Temples and the establishment of the Gods, Cambridge, 2009, p. 6.

…The working model for puja, as we have seen, was the domestic sacrifice and the reception of guests. These rites, also as we have seen, were moved from the domestic environment to the temple to develop a ritual repertoire for the image-cult. Just as guests received offerings in the home, so the gods received offerings in the temple. This is clearly laid out in the Vaikhaanasasmaartasuutra….—ibid. p. 123.

…The sixteen types of service are:–invocation (Aavaahana); offering the seat (Aasana); water offering (Arghya); washing of the feet (Paadya); water for rinsing the mouth as a mystical rite (Aacamana); oil bath (Abhyanga snaana); (p. 69) offering of cloth (Vastra); scents (Gandha); flowers (Puspa); incense (Dhuupa) lamps (Dipa); food offering (Nivedana); waving of lights (Niiraajana); betel leaves (Tambuula); obeisance (Namaskaara); and mystical discharge and conclusion (Visarjana). —op. Cit. ANCIENT INDIAN TRADITION & MYTHOLOGY; Vidyesvarasamhitaa, 11:25-29, pp. 69-70.

10:11-13. Showing hospitality by taking in travellers was one of the most important virtues in Mediterranean antiquity, especially in Judaism….— Craig S. Keener , BBC NEW TESTMENT, Illinois, IVP, 1993, MATTHEW p. 73.

24:29. … insistence was part of hospitality (e.g., Judg. 19:5-9; 1 Sam 28:23).—ibid. LUKE, p. 257.


4. This is from Katha Upanishad:

As a very fire a Brahmana guest enters into houses and (the people) do him this peace-offering; bring water, O Son of the Sun! –I.1.17

Hope and expectation, friendship and joy, sacrifices and good works, sons, cattle and all are taken away from a person of little understanding in whose house a Brahmana remains unfed.—I.1.8

‘Since thou, a venerable guest, hast stayed in my house without food for three nights, I make obeisance to thee, O Brahmana. May it be well with me. Therefore, in return, choose thou three gifts. I. 1. 9.—S. Radhakrishnan, The Principal Upanisads, Centenary Edition, Delhi, Oxford University Press, (1953) Fifth impression 1992, pp. 597-598.


5.It is interesting to note what Frederick Smith says in the context of ‘ritual transactions that centrally invoked coded substances’, making a comparison between Christian Eucharist and Hindu Prasad (Frederick M. Smith, Deity and Spirit Possession in South Asia, Delhi, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 2009, 212). His note spells out these details:

At the risk of opening up a new topic relevant in this context, one of comparative nature that cannot be dealt with beyond this note, we must recall that Christianity was in many ways founded on the exchange of essence between the living and the dead, namely, the eucharist. The essences involved, bread and wine, qualify as coded substances and are marked by a kind of ritual transfer that is reserved for this instance alone in Christianity (though analogous but lesser instances are common Christian practices such as pilgrimage). If such a weighty transfer of essence occurred in Indian religion, it might be theorized as approaching legitimate notions of possession, outstripping its role as prasada or the remains of offerings to a deity that are then “consumed” by the deity before being returned to the supplicant for consumption.  In the latter case the substance consumed is not considered to be body of the deity, as the eucharist is considered to be of Christ. (Ibid., p. 239)

The following is the text to understand this points from his foot notes:

Two general differences between transfer of essence and possession may be noted. First, in “transfer of essence,” the substances transferred are elemental and constitutive, such as sexuality, life-force (prana), disease, sacrificial essence (medhas), Brahman-splendor (brahmavarcasa), and the taint of transgression (enas).  Except for prana in certain texts, these substances do not themselves indicate or include within them whole and integrated personalities. Second, transfer of essence is not driven by independent intentionality, but is guided externally. Intent, the psychomental vehicle accommodating the essence to be transferred flows from a conscious bearer to an (often unsuspecting) individual or locus in or on which it eventually subsists. Most often in the vedic theological texts transfer of essence is explained as either an artefact of an original and paradigmatic act of creation—it was obvious, after all, that offspring were somehow defined by the essences (semen and blood) transferred from their progenitors—or, doubtless based on this and other observable patterns in nature, part of a chain of ritual transactions that centrally invoked coded substances87….—Frederick M. Smith, Deity and Spirit Possession in South Asia,Delhi, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 2009, 212