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Biblical and Theological Foundations of Ecumenism

Biblical and Theological Foundations of Ecumenism

  1. Introduction

The word ecumenism comes from a family of classical Greek words: oikos, meaning a "house," "family," "people," or "nation"; oikoumene, "the whole inhabited world"; and oikoumenikos, "open to or participating in the whole world." Like many biblical words, these were invested with Christian meaning. The oikoumene describes the place of God's reconciling mission (Matthew 24:14); the unity of the Roman Empire (Luke 2:1) and of the kingdoms of the earth (Luke 4:5); and the world destined to be redeemed by Christ (Hebrews 2:5). In the biblical community the vision of one church serving the purposes of God in the world came to reflect a central teaching of the early Christian faith, the essence of the church. Ecumenism is a vision, a movement, a theology, and a mode of action.

2.Biblical Foundation

The unity of the church and of all creation is a dominant motif in the Bible. This witness begins in the Old Testament, or Hebrew Scriptures, not the New Testament. God established a covenant with the Hebrew people and gathered the disparate tribes into one religious nation, Israel, taking steps to overcome the alienation between God and humans and to reconcile God's people. The tradition of ancient Judaism, therefore, was based on the reality of the one people of God. Their unity was an expression of their monotheistic faith, the oneness of God (Yahweh). Israel's mission was to preserve the faithfulness and unity of all God's people and to prepare them for the realization of the Kingdom of God.[1]

The vision of unity is central to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the teachings of his Apostles. Those who confess Jesus as Lord and Saviour are brought together in a new community: the church. All New Testament writers assume that to be "in Christ" is to belong to one fellowship (Greek: koinonia). Jesus clearly gave the mandate when at the Last Supper he offered his high-priestly intercession, praying that the disciples and all those who believe in him "may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee . . . so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me" (John 17:21). This unity was evidenced in the miracle of Pentecost (Acts 2) and other actions that constituted the primitive church--e.g., the epoch-making Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15), which negotiated conflicts between Jewish and Gentile Christians.Paul taught the Ephesians, God's ultimate will and plan is "to unite all things in him [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth" (chapter 1, verse 10).[2]

The bible has many references to the question of unity. Jesus’ high priestly prayer is the most often quoted basis for the church union discussion in different parts of the world. St Paul too has given adequate explanation on the importance of unity.[3] In the book ‘A History of Ecumenical Movement: an Introduction’, O.L. Snaitang illustrates two biblical instances in relation with the theme of Ecumenism. The first of which explains what is not ecumenism. They are the following..

2.1.1.Babel experience of Unity(Gen. 11:1-9)

The Babel incident represented one type of unity. People had gathered together to ‘build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in heavens’. The main objective behind these plans was well expressed in the statement that says ‘ and let us make a name for ourselves’(v.4) although this chapter tells us that the whole world had one language there were in most probability many linguistic groups and national identities in the kingdom. In the previous chapter, the book of Genesis inform us saying, “each with his own language, by their families, in their nations” (10:5). The gathering, therefore, was an indication of the presence of a certain political authority that had ruled and controlled over different ethnic groups.[4]

Probably, the Babel assembly could have been an assembly of the majority by the majority and in the interest of the desires and wishes of the ruling majority. Their attitude to the minorities was thus negative and had hitherto successfully imposed a single nation and one language. There could have been a sense of satisfaction to the authority for imposing one language in the entire empire. But it was a disastrous movement as it ignored other languages and nations. The gathering of all people for the construction of a heavenward structure in the empire was to strengthen the power of the majority. These all point to the fact that Babel unity was not an ecumenical unity with a healthy mentality.[5]

2.1.2 Experience of Unity on the Pentecost Day( Acts 2:1-13)

unlike the Babel type of unity where humankind looked upward to reach God’s seat at the expense of the minorities, the happening on the day of Pentecost was somewhat different as the gathering together of the disciples in Jerusalem did not have any intention to enforce a mono culture on the people. As a matter of fact, the disciples were lonely poor and powerless. There was no authority that would recognize their presence or role in the society. They were people of humble origins.[6]

The book of Acts informs us that there were as many as sixteen linguistic groups on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem. All of them were different and maintained their own distinct identity. Want of a common language was a hindrance in communication. However, the experience of the power of the spirit was such that everyone could understand the Apostles even when they spoke in their own language. It was a mighty work of God. Therefore, the Pentecostal unity was a unity of understanding even in the context of the presence of diverse dialects. So unity in the day of the Pentecost was a unity in diversity. People experienced anew what liberation was- liberation from the bondage of not being able to understand each other.[7]

2.2 Christ’s teaching on church unity

Christ calls attention to how he wants his church to be. His church must be established upon the life and character of the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In his priestly prayer, Christ explicitly lays down this principle on the life of the Trinity: “that they may be one even as we are one” (John 17:21, 22). The unity of the church is also anchored on its headship as it has one shepherd, for “there shall be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16). This definition of church unity by Christ is explicit. This is a metaphor that takes the picture of sheep and a shepherd in order to give us a picture of how Christ sees the church.[8]

2.3 Apostolic Teaching on Church Unity

In his teaching Paul condemns disunity, divisions and acrimony. He condemns the divisions in the church at Corinth (1Cor. 3:1ff). The principle of church unity in Paul’s teaching is one Christ and one baptism which is foundational to subsequent growth and diversity of the church (1Cor. 3:10- 11). This church in Paul’s time was characterized by divisions over personalities and legalistic rules. Such divisions were capable of destroying the unity, growth and strength of the church. If the unity of a small congregation was vital in Paul’s teaching as he condemned its division, then the global church unity would also be in Paul’s mind. He reminded the Corinthians that they are “called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1Cor. 1:2).[9] Factors that divide the church are to be set aside according to Paul’s teaching. Paul calls the church the body of Christ (Eph. 1:23; 4:12, 16; 5:23, 30; Col. 1:18, 24; 1Cor. 12:27) by taking the picture of the physical body that has various parts but which all work in unity for the common good of the body. He justifies the diversity of the physical body because all the parts are not identical to each other (1Cor. 12: 14-20).

3.Theological Foundation

Ecumenism’s ultimate goal is the reunion of all in one Eucharistic community- the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.[10] Unity is not a marginal or optional concern for the Church. It constitutes the central mystery of all being and of all existences. It is the mystery of all being, because it is the mystery of God’s own being as three in One. And Christ’s great high priestly prayer ( john 17) prays that all may be one on the pattern of the father’s unity with the son.[11] Paulose mar Gregorios in his writings ‘on ecumenism’ narrates the Trinitarian basis of ecumenism. It is as follows…

  1. Trinitarian unity and its implication on Ecumenism

3.1.1 Trinitarian unity is personal unity mare than structural unity. It is held together as one, without however having any limitations in freedom for any of the three persons, by the bond of love, for God is love. Mostly our understanding of ecumenism is that it is structural than of personal.[12] Until the internal relations with in each church, with in each congregation, becomes more personal and love based than structural, the structure existing only to serve the community of love, genuine community does not happen in each congregation and in each church. Ecumenism thus demands changes in the internal structure of each church before it can be effectively ecumenical in its relation with other Churches. Personal community in love and freedom is the primary characteristic of Trinitarian unity.[13]

3.1.2 The characteristic of Trinitarian unity is manifested in the kenotic self- emptying of Christ. Christ did not regard his own equality with God as a thing to be clung, but emptied himself, trusting fully in the love of the father. Most often we regard equality with each other as a thing to be cling to. Mutual kenosis as churches can bring us close to the pattern of unity in the Trinity, but unlike the Trinity, the churches are not equal to each other in size and power.[14]

3.1.3 Trinitarian unity is not a self-regarding unity, but one that holds all else together in unity. So long as the church is preoccupied with unity only as an ecclesiastical problem, ecumenism is bound to dissipate itself into mere building up of greater power structures.

               Christ our Lord has become man, to redeem man in his entirety. He has purchased us with his own precious blood, and has united us with his body, not in order that we alone may be saved but that we may work with Christ in the redemption of the whole world. Christ is the great mystery of the unity of all existents. In him they were made. The unity of the Church can subsist only at the heart of the unity of mankind. The centre must shift in ecumenism, to Christ, and to mankind as a whole to the cosmos as a whole. This is the true pattern of ecumenism.[15] A book published by WCC as a, faith and order study book, illustrates the importance of Nicene Creed and the Apostle’s creed for signifying the unity of Church. They emphasises on the “one God, Father, Creator, one Christ, one baptism, holy catholic church”..etc. to denote the unity of the Church.[16]

Disunity in the world has been as a result of sin. It is the work of the forces of evil that seek to destroy the unity of human race. This has also affected the church, but Christ has conquered the evil forces and has given the church the grace and power to live in unity. Churches living in isolation from one another cannot share in the ecumenical experience. This unity is not a theoretical concept but is expected to have practical value. The unity of the church is the quintessential characteristic of the body of Christ. If the church is indeed the body of Christ, then all its diverse parts must forge together in complement of one another.[17]

The New Delhi statement defines unity in terms of “fully committed fellowship” of “all in each place”. This spirit of oneness is the outworking of the Holy Spirit. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are varying in degree and in kind but they all work for one purpose, the edification of the body of Christ. The urgency for church unity is a wakeup call for unity of humanity because if the church does not find itself in unity then the entirety of mankind will wax in broken relationships. The pursuit of church unity as well as that of all humanity through true justice is a divine mandate. Therefore the world-wide church must exist in this fashion in fellowship and confession of one Christ as Lord. It is on this solid foundation that its mission to the world can be accomplished with greater force[18]. Unity does not mean uniformity. Conciliar unanimity, the unity in the one spirit, should not be confused with generally imposed conformity. When Paul says that “all one in Christ Jesus”, after stating that “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and  female”(Gal. 3:28), he does not mean that Christians are an indistinct, neutral, sexless company of beings united in a kind of middle- off- the road compromise, but that the categories enumerated do not represent a limiting characterization of each; they are the expression of a unity in diversity.[19] Ecumenical theology implies total humility and intellectual honesty; it implies being prepared to be guided in to all truth by the spirit of truth (16:13).[20]

 

4. Conclusion

Ecumenism is thoroughly grounded in the biblical teachings of Christ, the apostles and the early church fathers. Ecumenism is grounded in the life of God. The Trinitarian God lives in unity of three persons as one God. Similarly, the church should both express itself in diversity and unity. The foundational principle of this existence is laid down in the teaching of Christ and the apostles. Ecumenism does not necessarily mean one single organization or one institutional church under one leadership. It rather means the spiritual fellowship of different confessing members under the spiritual headship of Christ. The bond of ecumenical church unity is the one Lord, one Spirit and one baptism. Through this global unity the Lord would accomplish his purpose for allowing the diversity to develop and meet needs that probably would not have been accomplished without the diversity.


[2] Ibid.

[3] O.L. Snaitang, A History of Ecumenical Movement: an Introduction( Bangalore: BTESSC, 2007), 7.

[4] Ibid., 7.

[5] Ibid., 8.

[6] Ibid., 9.

[7] Ibid., 9.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Dictionary of the Ecumenical Movement( Geneva: WCC Publications, 1991), 987.

[11] Jacob Kurian ed., Paulose mar Gregorios on Ecumenism( kottayam: ISPCK, 2006), 3.

[12] Ibid., 3.

[13] Ibid.,4.

[14] Ibid.,4.

[15] Ibid., 5-6.

[16]  Confessing the One Faith( Geneva: WCC Publications,1991).

[18] Ibid.

[19] Dictionary of the Ecumenical Movement( Geneva: WCC Publications, 1991), 1110.

[20] Ibid., 1110.

        Bibliography

Kurian, Jacob ed., Paulose mar Gregorios on Ecumenism. kottayam: ISPCK, 2006.

Snaitang, O.L. A History of Ecumenical Movement: an Introduction. Bangalore:                        BTESSC, 2007.

Confessing the One Faith. Geneva: WCC Publications,1991.

Dictionary of the Ecumenical Movement.  Geneva: WCC Publications, 1991.

http://cyberspacei.com/jesusi/inlight/religion/christianity/christianity..., 4 pm, 2-2-2014.

www.nou.edu.ng/NOUN_OCL/pdf/edited.../CTH272-Ecumenism.pdf . 4:30pm, 2-2-2014.

Written By: 
Rev. Vipin Kuruvila
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UNDERSTANDING THE IDENTITY, ROLE & RESPONSE OF MINOR PROPHETS - HABAKKUK

The book of Habakkuk in the Hebrew bible comprises two compositions, namely the oracle of Habakkuk and the psalm of Habakkuk. They belong to different genres but share a common theme which includes the preservation of loyal trust in god amidst challenge to faith presented by the bitter experience of foreign invasion and oppression.1

Identity

At the beginning of both the parts of the book, the author is called “the prophet Habakkuk”. From the liturgical nature of both parts of the book, especially the second part, we can infer that he was a cultic prophet on the staff of the Jerusalem temple. Thus, we can locate Habakkuk within one of the Judean prophetic traditions. He was undoubtedly a central prophet in Jerusalem who had social maintenance functions within the religious establishment.2

He was also one of the temple singers.3 The literary features of the book thus suggest that there are several other indications that the prophet functioned writing Jerusalem’s central religious establishment.4 His name has been identified with an Assyrian garden plant, and it has been suggested that he may have been a captive living at Nineveh or at some other point in the Mesopotamian world. Traditions refer the inclusion of Habakkuk in the story of Bel and the dragon as found in the apocryphal book. Through his writing we can judge this prophet as a man of God who through the personal testament of a soul confronts go in the face of difficulties. Here the prophet appears as a person of high ethical sensitivity, capable of the same kind of graphic descriptive writing as that found in Nahum.5 He is called as a prophet but like other Judean prophets is said to have seen his oracles.

Role

Like many central intermediaries, he may have been required to produce oracles on specified occasions. He helped to insure the stability of the society by articulating Israel’s traditional faith and by uttering oracles against the people’s enemies.6 The problems on which Habakkuk seeks a response from god are evidently acute personal problems, challenging his own faith, even if he voiced them on behalf of others too. The prophet complained to god about the injustice of Jehoiakim’s rule. He also questions the presence of God amidst the evil situation around him.

Response

Habakkuk is made up of an extended and personal dialogue between God and the prophet. The major theme of Habakkuk is trying to grow from a faith of perplexity and doubt to the height of absolute trust in God. Habakkuk addresses his concerns over the fact that God will use the evil Babylonian empire to execute judgment on Judah for their sins. In the first chapter, the prophet expresses shock at God's choice of instrument for judgment. In his second prayer, Habakkuk focuses on the nature of God. In chapter 3, Habakkuk responds by expressing his ultimate faith in God, even as he doesn't fully understand it. Also the prophet gives a polemic against idolatry of the nation.7

Conclusion

The prophetic books of Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah give us the role these prophets played in the Judean country. The identity of these prophets and their message of the day of the Lord, warnings against idolatry and other wickedness of the people, bought a revival in their faith journey.


1 Ibid., 831

2 R.R. Wilson, Prophecy and Society in Ancient Israel. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1980), 278.

3 Thomas Edward McComiskey ed., The Minor Prophets vol 2 (Michigan: Baker Academic, 1998), 832.

4 R.R. Wilson, Prophecy and Society in Ancient Israel. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1980), 278.

5 James H Gailey Jr. The Layman’s Bible Commentary vol 15 (Virginia: John Knox Press, 1962), 53.

6 R.R. Wilson, Prophecy and Society in Ancient Israel. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1980), 279.

7 C Hassell Bullock, An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophetic Books (Chicago: Moody Pub, 2007), 221.

Written By: 
Rev. Thomas Rinu Varghese

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UNDERSTANDING THE IDENTITY, ROLE & RESPONSE OF MINOR PROPHETS - NAHUM

The prophetic account of Nahum intertwines the themes of divine judgment and compassion. The judgment coming on the Nineveh promises salvation for the people of God. The prophet proclaims the doom of Nineveh and says that God will show compassion to his oppressed people.

Identity

The name Nahum may be translated as compassion. Many scholars are of the opinion that Nahum’s ancestors were exiled in northern Israel and that Nahum wrote his prophecy in Assyria and sent it to Judah.1 It has been generally assumed that "the Elkoshite" given in Nahum 1:1, refers to Nahum's place of origin and not as ‘son of Elkosh’.

The critical study of this text infers that Nahum was a well- educated man, with access to royal files, and Judah's intellectual and military elite. As a citizen of Judah and a sensitive prophet, his feelings of sorrow and revulsion for the state of both kingdoms under Assyrian despotism must have been magnified by several factors. He represents the state of mind of the average man of his times, who has been rankled by the long-lasting oppression and humiliation of his people, and whose faith in God's goodness and power had been tested daily. A number of commentators even assumed a cultic background for Nahum’s prophecies. Nahum was a central prophet related to the Jerusalemite tradition.

Role

The sole purpose of Nahum's prophecy was to breach the wall of hopelessness, and persuade his listeners that salvation is coming, and that a complete downfall of Assyria is in the making. R.R. Wilson believes, "As a central prophet Nahum helped to preserve the social structure by expressing the nationalistic values of the royal cult."2

Nahum prophesied at a critical time in the history of the Israelite people. The nation was split, part in exile and part under the harsh Assyrian rule and internal despotism of Manasseh. The long Assyrian tyranny, coupled with Manasseh's long reign, and constant fear of a fate similar to that of the Northern Kingdom, have created an atmosphere of hopelessness. Nahum brought hope to the downtrodden nation.

Nahum's prophecy had a strong sense of God's sovereignty and lordship over history. Nahum used his extraordinary poetic capability to convey realistic scenes of the fall of a seemingly invulnerable empire. His eternal message is one of hope, which gives comfort to anyone oppressed by a long-lasting and seemingly invulnerable tyrant.

Response

His oracles against Nineveh have both religious and political implications, for his words help to maintain the whole social structure and not just the cult.3 To communicate his message to the people of Judah, Nahum uses theology, pathos, and irony. Assyria is undoubtedly a mighty empire, but the Lord is infinitely stronger.

By the time of Nahum, the Israelites were well aware of God as their divine warrior. During Nahum’s life time, the people of god could still hope that the divine warrior would intervene and alleviate their oppression by destroying the Assyrians.4 This book is not just a warning or speaking positively of the destruction of Ninevah, it is also a positive encouragement and "message of comfort for Israel, Judah, and others who had experienced the endless cruelty of the Assyrians." Also Nahum shows the nature of God to be slow to anger. But God will by no means clear the guilty, but will bring his vengeance and wrath to pass. God is presented as a God who will punish evil but will protect those who trust in Him.


1 Thomas Edward McComiskey ed., The Minor Prophets vol 1 (Michigan: Baker Academic, 1998), 768.

2 R.R. Wilson, Prophecy and Society in Ancient Israel. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1980), 277.

3 Ibid.

4 Thomas Edward McComiskey ed., The Minor Prophets vol 2 (Michigan: Baker Academic, 1998), 777.

Written By: 
Rev. Thomas Rinu Varghese

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UNDERSTANDING THE IDENTITY, ROLE & RESPONSE OF MINOR PROPHETS - ZEPHANIAH

The book of Zephaniah opens with a vision of world disaster. But this book gives a radical call to the community to have a change of heart and warns them of the day of judgment of the Lord.

Identity

Through the introductory verses in the book of Zephaniah, we learn that he traces his ancestry back to four generation. His genealogy of four generation, which includes the name of Hezekiah reveals that, he is the only prophet to trace back his lineage back that far. The rabbinic commentators like Ibn Ezra and David Kimchi believed that Hezekiah in the list is most likely King Hezekiah.1

He is also noted as a prophet who concerns himself only with the upper echelons of society and not directly with the average Israelite (1:8-9; 3: 3-4). In this regard he is a city prophet. But he does not allude to the lot of the poor, and focuses more on to the misconduct of the religious and civil leaders.2 His name means, “the lord has hidden”. The prophet placed himself solidly within the Jerusalemite royal establishment and also has some connections with the Deuteronomistic traditions.3

Role

The role of prophet Zephaniah was mainly against the existing popular religion which was a mixture of Yahwistic and Pagan elements. During those days, the worship of Baal and other planetary deities were widespread. The functionaries of the ancient Judean society were an already corrupt system. Here, he announced the nearness of the day of the lord.

Response

The central theme of the book of Zephaniah is the ‘Day of the Lord.' Zephaniah elucidates two major aspects of this central theme, judgment and restoration. His reading of the popular religious attitude includes an awareness of those people whose hearts were stagnant and who thought that YHWH was stagnant too, uninvolved in Judah. The background of Zephaniah’s preaching in 1: 2-3:8 is his announcement of the imminent coming of the day of the Lord, of that time when God will pour out his destroying judgment on all of his enemies, including those among his own people.4 Because of Judah’s idolatry and indifference toward God and because of the pride of the foreign nation, the Lord “will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth” (1:2). Zephaniah also speaks about the Lord’s Sacrificial Feast in the second oracle.


1 C Hassell Bullock, An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophetic Books (Chicago: Moody Pub, 2007), 196.

2 Thomas Edward McComiskey ed., The Minor Prophets (Michigan: Baker Academic, 1998), 898.

3 R.R. Wilson, Prophecy and Society in Ancient Israel. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1980), 280.

4 Elisabeth Achtemeier, Preaching from the Prophet (Michigan: William B Eerdmans, 1998), 97.

Written By: 
Rev. Thomas Rinu Varghese

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AN EXEGESIS OF THE LETTER TO ROMANS PART II

Literary Structure

Greek had been the lingua franca of the Mediterranean world.1 Being a linguist and scholar, Paul uses language in Romans with plenty of metaphor, a practice he might have learned from the Hebrew Prophets before him. There is hardly any paragraph in this letter without a metaphor.2 Paul uses words not to define but to evoke. Paul’s language is a lively. Rather than including high technical words, he has used the language of common discourse loaded with metaphors.

Scholars have pointed out certain literary structural problems like the textual variations in the last three chapters. This concern about the element of grace and the doxology. Also the inclusion of chapter 16 shows an unlikely style of writing by Paul in including such a long list of salutation to a place and a church where he had never visited.3

Integrity

Over the years, the integrity of the letters to Romans had been under a long debate. According to the Radical Partition theories, several scholars have the opinion that the current form of Romans with all its complexities and difficulties is actually a composite of two, three or seven separate letters. The reason behind the proposal of such partition theories is due to the ambiguity in finding a single occasion and purpose of writing the letter.4 Scholars have also questioned the number of chapters in Romans. A century before the parchment P46 turned up it had been argued on internal evidence that the original letter to the Romans ended at 15:33. Thus it was said that the last chapter was a part of some other church wherein Paul was well known. Another debate which questions the integrity of this letter is the fourteen chapter version of Romans. The main argument for this debate is due to the doxology being placed in the end of chapter 14.

Major Themes

After the regular greetings, Paul develops his theme. He states that all mankind both Jews and Greeks needs to be put right with God. The term Justification is used by Paul to describe an effect worked in those who believe what God has done in Christ. Since God has acquitted people in judgement, they were now justified.5 He also uses the term Righteousness, which means to have a right relationship with God. Pauls two main themes, the integrity of the gospel committed to him and the solidarity of Jews and gentiles in the messianic community are already apparent in the first half of the letter’s first chapter.6

Next Paul describes the new life in union with Christ that results from this new relation with God. In chapters 5-8, Paul discusses the purpose of the Law of God and the power of God’s Spirit in life of believers. He also brings into light that the rejection of Jesus by Jews is a part of God’s plan for bringing all mankind within the reach of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. Also themes like baptism, new order, service to God, the duty of Christians to the state and to one another and questions of conscience has been widely discussed here.

Conclusion

Of the nine letters of Paul which are generally recognized as authentic, the most important are Romans, I and II Corinthians and Galatians.7 Romans it is said that has been composed with greater leisure and thus has been crafted with much more precision and the themes included are systematically placed. Scholars claim this book to be the principal source of book for the study of Paul’s gospel and is undoubtedly the most important theological book ever written.8 It is also sometimes described as Paul’s last testament. As we travel across this letter, we find ourselves immersed in a classic work of spiritual formation.


1 Ibid 89

2 Rochard Foster, Dallas Williard. The Spiritual Formation Bible. (London; Hodder and Stoughton, 2006) 2045

3 C K Barrett, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, (Great Britian: R & R Clark, 1957) 11

4 Andrew Das, Solving the Romans Debate,( Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007) 10

5 Raymond Brown, An Introduction to the New testament, (New York: DoubleDay, 2009) 577

6 John Stott, The Message of Romans, (England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994)36

7 Interpreters Bible 355

8 Ibid 355

Written By: 
Rev. Thomas Rinu Varghese

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AN EXEGESIS OF THE LETTER TO ROMANS PART I

Introduction

It is generally said that there is no more interesting body of documents in the New Testament than the letters of Paul. One of the ancient Greek literary critics has pointed out that, “Everyone reveals his own soul in his letters. In every other form of composition it is possible to discern the writer’s character, but in none so clearly as the epistolary.1 As compared to his other letters, there is a stark difference in Paul’s letter to the Romans. The main reason being that while writing to the Romans, he was writing to a church he had not founded.2 So this letters seems to be more impersonal as compared to the other letters. The Roman church was not set up by Paul and is believed to have existed by the early 40 CE. He felt that by proclaiming the gospel in Rome he would be able to spread the message of Christ all across the globe.

In this paper we shall discuss about the origin, authorship, literary style and major themes of Paul’s letters to the Romans.

Authorship

In 1:1 Paul names himself as the one who writes this letter to the Roman Christians.NT scholars generally accept the Pauline authorship of Romans and believed that the letter at least in major part, is from Paul’s hand. The style and Vocabulary of the letter are similar to the letters to Galatians and I and II Corinthians. Another argument which proves the authorship of Paul is that the letter covers the issues of Christian doctrines which was severely disturbing the early church. Also certain external evidences like the use of this letter during the early second century by church writers like, Clement of Rome (AD 95), Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp of Smyrna etc proves that this letter of Paul by that time was well known.3

Date, Time and Place

It is generally believed that the letter was written during Paul’s stay in Greece, probably at Corinth as mentioned in Acts 20:2.4 Though the date of the letter cannot be confirmed, it is believed that the letter might have been compiled during winter between late 54 and early 59 CE. At that time Pau was writing this letter.

Theological Purpose of the Book

The letter to the Romans is addressed to the Christians of the capital if the Roman Empire.Paul states in 1:8, 15:19 that he has finished his work in Asia Minor and Greece and wanted to plant churches farther to West. Since the message of Christ had been spread in parts of Italy, pauls states his plan of visiting Spain and spreading the gospel there. Some argue that the purpose of the letter is to state Paul’s plan of visiting the Roman church on his way to Spain. The counter point to this argument is that why do we need such a theologically sound and long epistle just to state one’s arrival. To this some point out that the intention of Paul might have been to gain sufficient financial aid for his Spanish mission. It might be for this purpose that he stated the importance of the universal need of salvation through Christ and not being ashamed of the Gospel etc. he thus urges the Romans to support his effort to take the gospel to the ‘barbarians’ in the western parts of the empire.5

By including the complicated themes of Justification of faith to a community which he had not founded, the question of such a purpose arises. For such a reason some comment that it was basically written as a general letter not specifically intended to be sent to Rome.6

Also some are of the opinion that he wrote this letter seeking prayer and support from the Roman church on his journey to Jerusalem. It is believed that the journey to Jerusalem was full of dangers. Also Paul is said to have enemies there. The verse in Romans 15: 30 supports this point.

Paul was a great strategist. He might have thought of establishing Rome as his base to work in the new western terrains.7


1 William Barclay, The New Daily Study Bible (Bangalore: Theological Publication In India, 2010), xxiii

2 Ibid 1

3 George Arthur Buttrick, John Knox, Interpreters Bible, (USA: Parthenon Press: 1954), 359

4 T W Manson, Black M Peake’s Commentary on the Bible() 940

5 George Arthur Buttrick, John Knox, Interpreteres Bible, (USA: Parthenon press: 1954) 359

6 Joseph Fitzmyer, The Anchor Bible (New York: Doubleday, 1992) 71

7 William Barclay, The New Daily Study Bible. The Letter to the Romans. (Bengaluru: Theological Publication in India, 2010) 5

Written By: 
Rev. Thomas Rinu Varghese

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Such a Man Did Live - BOOK REVIEW

Such a Man Did Live: Celebrating the Life of Suffragon Metropolitan Zacharias Mar Theophilos

There are some initiatives that would stand out in history not only because of its monumental value but also because of the appropriateness of its timing. “Such a Man Did Live” is one such kairotic gift to all of us and as the title of book suggests it indeed is one expression of the celebration of the life and ministry of Suffragan Metropolitan Zacharias Mar Theophilos. It is on the one hand a reflection of hundred people of repute, who journeyed alongside Thirumeni. Like anyone else in the world they were also grieved by his loss since they walked closely with him or at least watched him closely as he went about ministering to the people of God. On the other hand it is a beautiful caricaturing of Thirumeni using a wide variety of verbal images that comes from the hearts of people who intimately interacted with him. There is no disputing the fact that Thirumeni was much more a towering personality than the book could capture, but at the same time one must admit that the larger than life impact of Thirumeni is very fairly captured in the kaleidoscope the book tries to offer to the reader.

The 400 page volume published by the Notion Press stands out primarily for the galaxy of contributors. These wide ranging personalities include Bishop Zacharias’ classmates, colleagues, co-workers and co-travellers in life’s pilgrimage. The fact that twenty five Bishops of global stature has written in itself tells of the influence Thirumeni was. The General Secretary of the Christian Conference of Asia and former General Secretaries of the World Council of Churches along with several other ecumenical personalities of repute have penned their impressions.

The editors Rev. Vinod Victor, Mr. Jacob Chandy Varghese and Mr. Oommen Koruth have all had a very personal and passionate relationship with Bishop Zacaharias and that is evident in the care with which they have weaved together the tapestry of the book. The Publishers have done a good work in giving a professional touch to the book though one could have desired that the photographs were more obvious and patterns more uniform.

Perhaps a humble attempt to pick a few quotes from the book would throw some light into the width of the spectrum the book is trying to cater to

The Valiya Metropolitan Philipose Mar Chrysostom while giving us an inclination to the pedigree of Bishop Zacharias recalls, ‘ I remember Israel Vydian, his parental uncle, who was well known and well respected. I know that Zacharias Thirumeni’s family was a blessed family. Only from such blessed families we receive blessed spiritual leaders like him. We need to be thankful to God almighty for giving us a spiritual leader like him’.

The words of Joseph Mar Thoma Metropolitan reveal the intimate relationship they had working together as Bishops, “ My memories also go back to the days of his initiatives for the establishment of Santhigiri Ashram. I supported Thirumeni especially when some people raised concerns about the establishment of Santhigiri. He was a visionary and his social concerns and ecumenical outlook prompted him to venture the establishment of Santhigiri. His concern for the healing ministry was also incredible. He established funds for the poor cancer patient’s treatment and also initiated the palliative care services. His contributions to those areas will ever be remembered by the Church”.

The Major Arch Bishop of the Syro-Malabar Church, George Cardinal Alencherry, being an ecumenical fellow traveller reflects,

‘… The very name Theophilus signified a friend of God. His close attachment to our Lord Jesus Christ, was reflected in his concern for the poor and the sick. He worked tirelessly even to the last moment of his life to keep alive the values of the Gospel among the people he live and worked for. Through his close contacts with the leaders of other churches and religions, he knew where and how to discern the areas of unity and co-operation’.

The former General Secretary of World Council of Churches Rev. Dr. Konrad Raiser in his article points of the “ecumenical value” of Thirumeni, “As a delegate of his church to the 7th Assembly of the WCC at Canberra in 1991 he was elected as a member of the Central Committee. Subsequently the Central Committee elected him as member of its Executive Committee. He continued to serve in these two capacities even after the 8th Assembly at Harare in 1998 until the 9th Assembly at Porto Alegre in 2006… Raiser further states “ Under his guidance a sub committee was able to prepare and present to the Central Committee the revised version of the draft texts enabling the Central Committee in 1997 to take its important decision on the policy statement “ Towards a Common understanding and Vision of the WCC “. He was thus directly involved in giving shape to the new understanding of the role of the WCC in the context of the wider ecumenical movement at the beginning of the 21st century.”

Bishop Theophilus was successful in understanding the heart throb of the pastors because he himself was a successful pastor. Mary Nebu Mathew from Mumbai recalls, ‘ The advent of Rev. Oommen Koruth to the St. Thomas Mar Thoma Church, Santa Cruz, in 1975 was a fillip to the youth of the parish, especially to the teens and youth who were brought up in Bombay… Rev. OK’s Bible study classes were unique in many ways… He encouraged us to think for ourselves, giving scope for our thoughts and ideas, at the same time enlightening us with Biblical interpretations at a deeper level.’

Smt. T. Sumithra a class mate of Thirumeni the wife of Mr. Govindankutty Menon re calls how they happened to meet Zacharias Thirumeni immediately after his consecration at Trivandurm one Sunday, ‘… After the Sunday service, Thirumeni spent quite some time with us that evening exchanging details about our lives during the period we lost contact. Before leaving, he led in prayer, invoking the Lord’s blessing for each one of us… Thirumeni must have been extremely busy with a lot of important engagements. Yet he found so much time to spend with us. We were simply overwhelmed.’

His College mate Thampan Thomas recalls, how Oommen Koruth joined them during the student’s strike in 1958 at Union Christian College, Aluwa, ‘ … By noon more than 300 students were in police custody. When we announced that as the last batch we too were courting arrest, the student Oommen Koruth too joined us for picketing and we were taken to police station…’

Rev. Jaisen A. Thomas recalls, ‘ Thirumeni was a mentor and a true friend whose love and nurture helped me towards ministry….About eighteen years ago, while I was still in college, my family had gone through a great tragedy. My younger sister, Jaisle, had been kidnapped (she is still missing) and as a family we were struggling, especially during those initial days. During those difficult times, Zacharias Thirumeni came to stay at our house in Richmond, Virginia for four days and comforted us with his loving presence and sincere prayers. At that

point, Thirumeni was not just a Bishop visiting us but, a true friend who shared in our pain and reminded us and encouraging us in faith and hope. As my mom often said, “Zacharias Thirumeni was a saint and even though he had many difficult times he always had a heart for others’… It was this heart that is shared by several authors in the book and this is what made him instrumental in the formation of several Mar thoma churches in diaspora contexts.

K. Raju who served Thirumeni as his personal driver for 33 years gives us a glimpse of Thirumeni’s daily routine, ‘Thirumeni’s days starts early in the morning. After his private prayer he gets himself ready to be in the chapel at 7.30 am with the entire staff, so also at 7.30 pm. After breakfast he turns busy with visitors or visits, functions, meeting etc., He spends time after dinner for study, reply to daily mails and phone calls till he retires at 12 midnight.’

There are gems culled from the life of Thirumeni in each of the hundred articles but that is best left for the reader to cherish grabbing a copy of the book.

The Editorial board and the advisory team must be complemented for the meticulous work behind mustering such a variety of articles. Yes one could surely point out several key omissions. People who worked closely with Thirumeni and would have been able to give deeper insights about his personality. But not everything can be included in one book. The Glimpses of Thought though given without the context of each gives us several personal traits of the great man. The analysis of his songs, the sharing of his selected sermons and the attempt to read his theology and mission in the back drop of modern scholarship are worth the attempt.

It is only appropriate that Santhigiri one of the most conspicuous living memorials of Thirumeni’s vision and passion has taken up the onus to publish this book and to distribute it and as the Preface hopes, this book would help several people to be inspired to live a life which such a man lived.

Written By: 
Rev. Sunny George

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