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Jesus Christ and Church

June 7, 2008

In this post I am trying to look at how I came to understand what “Church” is – starting from early impressions to a later stage (still early years of my walk with Christ). And at each point I had to decide not to get distracted by what I was seeing and observing – but focusing more on more on the Person of Jesus Christ – meditating and understanding Him.

What Next?

After I decided to follow Jesus Christ, there came an obvious question – What Next?

In the bible there are numerous examples of people following Jesus and then all they did was spent time with him – or rather He spent time with them. They walked with him, traveled with him, ate with him, and at times even slept at places where he slept. I wanted to do that – but there was one problem – He was not physically there anymore!

Well, the next logical thing for me to do was to ask Uma, what they do. She shared about how they meet in a house 2-3 times a week. On Tuesday they meet to study the bible together – usually an elderly person from their group teaches something from the bible or they could be reading specific books in the bible – the bible is one book containing many books. They also meet on Thursday for prayer – as a group they pray for various people, events and such. And then they meet on Sunday’s as well. I decided to start with the Thursday prayer meetings.

The group meeting on Thursday had 5-8 people, couple of elderly people, some married couples and few youngsters. The first meeting was a unique experience. I had prayed before – alone. But never in a group. And that too for an hour! It felt great to pray for people’s needs, their problems, talking to God about various challenges, and also sitting quietly meditating when others prayed. I noticed, some took turns, without any planning or guidance and individuals were praying. Some did not pray – including me. I kept going to the Thursday meetings whenver I could – while studying and reading the bible on my own.

Few weeks later I decided to attend the Tuesday bible study. The house we were meeting in was a small one – with maximum capacity of say 20 people. On Tuesday, the group was slighly larger than on Thursday’s but not significantly – and usually Uma’s father and one other elderly person used to teach. I was enjoying the studies and the teaching. At the same time, lot of questions would crop up in my mind – and I would quietly take notes and then if and whenever it worked out – I would try to read the bible and attempt to find answers. I did not find any answers to my questions every time I studied. In some cases it used to take months and months.

In all this I was trying to answers one question all the time though – What does it mean to follow Jesus Christ?

Sunday Meeting

Then one day (probably after four to five months) I decided to attend the Sunday meeting. I have to confess – Sunday was my day of rest. It was the only day where I would sleep till 11am or even noon. Everything started in an extremely relaxed mood. Even taking a bath in the morning was “work” that was not required. I used to enjoy reading the Sunday newspaper – special edition with lots to read. When I was growing up, Sunday was a day of “playing” cricket all day long. We would have first of our many games start around 9am and go all the way till 4pm or so – most of the times without any lunch breaks!

So, getting up on a Sunday morning, early (by my standards) and taking a bath, and going somewhere and spending time with people – was a new thing for me.

The meeting on Sunday was different than the weekday meetings I had attended earlier. The overall mood was very quiet. The meeting start time was 9am – I was there by that time and people were still coming in an taking places. The house was well organized with rows of metal chairs on which two song books were kept – one of English songs and one of combined Marathi/Hindi songs. As people sat on the chair, they picked up the song books and kept with them. Men sat in a separate rows than women, the two camps were divided into two halves of the living room we were sitting in. I also observed that almost all women and some girls covered their heads, either with a long scarf or a white cloth. I had seen my mother cover her head whenever she was in a temple – so this was not something new – but it seemed odd.

After some initial singing, the time for Worship was announced. The songs were new – I had never heard them before. There was no music either – people were just singing.

This was new to me – what does worshiping Jesus mean?

Everyone was quiet, bowing down. Someone would stand up (just men) and then read some verse or a passage from the Bible and pray and say some amazing things about Jesus. Because I was studying the bible on my own, I was able to locate the books, chapters and verses. But there were times when I had to look at the table to contents often to find the book. Sometimes I would just skip finding it and listen to what was being read or spoken. Some men would just stand and offer up their prayers – praising Jesus for dying on the cross. Some would suggest a song and everyone would sing – do not remember if women suggested any songs – I think they did. This continued for forty five minutes or so. Then two men announced that they are going to break the bread and partake of the cup. So they broke a loaf of bread and passed it around. Some people were eating it and some were not. When the plate came to me, I did not know what to do, so I picked up a piece and ate it. Then they passed around the cup with grape juice in it. When it came to me, I took a sip and passed it on. Then there was a collection of money, in a small bag that was passed around. I did not put anything in it and passed it on. Then someone taught a message for another hour and the meeting was over. After the meeting, there were some snacks to share and a cup of tea for everyone. People came to me and were asking about my work, where I live, who I know from their group and how did I know about them and so on. These were mostly people I had not met with on the weekday meetings. I did see some of them who also came to weekday meetings.

I left that day with lot of questions. Why women did not pray? Why only men prayed? Why did women cover their head? Why breaking of bread and partaking of the cup took place? Where does the collected money go?

Next Sunday, I was told not to partake of the bread and the cup, since I was not yet baptized. I did not understand it, but I decided to obey. I skipped couple of Sundays, because I did not know why I could not partake of the bread and cup and did not understand the relevance of Baptism and decided to stay at home instead.

In parallel, I was studying my Bible. While reading the book of Acts, I saw verses about people meeting in homes and breaking of bread. Then I saw examples of people requesting to be baptized after believing in Jesus Christ as the Savior. I also read about baptism of the Lord in the book of John. Then one day, I came to a chapter in Romans that talked about identification of our death in baptism and as we come out of the water, we come to a new life in Christ. This explained some of the aspects of the meeting on Sunday. The night I decided to accept Jesus Christ as my Savior, I was convinced that I need to be baptized. So I called up the person in whose house we meet and told them that I want to be baptized tomorrow morning. He was a bit surprised. Nobody in their group had spoken to me about baptism, why take it and who takes it. So he decided to discuss that with me coming Sunday and asked me to wait till then. The next Sunday he and another elderly person spoke with me and wanted to know why I want to be baptized. I told him that I want to become a disciple of Jesus – and that is what I read in the bible – baptism is what people go through when they decide to follow him. And I want to commit myself to Him and so want to be baptized and thus recognize Him as Lord over my life. I believed it is an action that is necessary on my apart – so that I can break all my bondage to my old faith and life and start a new life in Jesus Christ. And so I was baptized after few months – there were some practical limitations in getting the tank filled with water since it was at some other location and had to be reserved for such occasions. I was not happy about it – because I wanted to get baptized immediately. I did not mind if it was done on a weekday or anywhere there was enough water for me to be immersed. But then I decided to obey the elderly people who advised me to wait till we reserved the tank.

There were some other people from other groups in the city that witnessed my baptism. My Father was there too, but he was neither a believer nor fully understood why I was doing this. Next Sunday I took part in the breaking of bread – and now with good understanding of why it was relevant for me. Not just because I was baptized – I was doing it in remembrance of my Savior and Lord as a reminder of His sacrifice for me.

Early Impressions

I really enjoyed the house based group I was part of. It was an informal setting and I got to know some people really well. There was no official membership or directory of people. There were no formalities, and even though there was some order to the meetings on Sundays, the whole environment of Worship on Sundays felt spiritual. I grew in appreciation of the one hour of worship where men sang, prayed and freely said amazing things about the Lord. Soon, I started standing up and praying and doing the same – poring my heart out as I shared my appreciation for Him. It was a free environment of Worship and Adoration of Jesus Christ the Lord. The issue of women not praying and covering of head was still lingering – but there were some answers given to me by pointing me to some chapters in the letters to Corinthians. Women not teaching was also a puzzle for me, but then I was directed to some passages that talked about women not teaching when men are around in a meeting. It was not that I fully understood and agreed with the views, but at least it was based on some references in the bible and not a general approach of suppressing spiritual liberty of women.

I decided to leave it there and move on to other matters of Faith in Christ. It was soon clear to me that whether or not I find convincing answers to such questions, it has nothing to do with my personal faith and relationship with Jesus Christ as a disciple. I need to focus on that first and let questions like these be answered over the coming years – there was no rush to resolve the matters then and there. May be, because I am a man, I could think this way. For a woman, it may mean something different.

In all the meetings, there was some emphasis on sharing our faith with our family, friends and those who we come in contact with. But there were no formal evangelism programs or activities that the group undertook. The focus for the group seemed sharing about Jesus Christ within the four walls of the house we gathered in and teaching the word of God to the believers who assembled there. There was much emphasis on prayer meetings and bible studies, even though the attendance to such meetings was poor as compared to Sunday meetings. There were some senior men in the group who were called Elders. They usually took the message on Sundays. But there were other men as well, who taught on Sundays. The teachers were usually 35 or above in age – and once in a while there were visitors from another city who took messages. An interpreter would translate the message in another language (Marathi or English) depending on the language in which the teacher was speaking. I also discovered that the kids in the group meet after the meeting is over, around noon time, and sing songs and some women coordinate those activities. This was called Sunday school, I learned. There was no separate Sunday school during the time of worship, may be due to space reasons, since we assembled in a small home, all the children sat with their parents for almost 3 hours – quietly!

As a new believer I found this home based gathering to be very comforting and giving me the space and time to grow in the knowledge of the word of God and Jesus. I discussed some of my views with people in the group. I continued to be quiet and tried to grasp what was being taught – but did not always accept any of what was taught on its own basis but studied the bible. There were times when I had understood a passage in a different way than what I gleaned from what people in the group understood as – but I did not contend or argue on it and kept it to myself. Over the years I have discovered that the Holy Spirit in me is my best teacher and I need to be a disciple of that Spirit and not just of the teachers around me. Lord does use and reveal truths through people, but that cannot replace my personal study and meditation with guidance from the Spirit.

At the end of almost one year – I had developed an understanding of what Church was – it was a group of people who assemble together, encourage each other, pray, sing, say some amazing things about Jesus Christ – and then keep doing that over and over again – week by week.

I had questions – but I left them where they were – and continued focusing on Christ my Lord – understanding Him and getting to Know Him. After all, I had decided to spend rest of my Life with Him – so might as well take time in discovering Him.

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