The Four Lives of The Church
by Bishop Joseph Gregory D’Souza
Acceptance speech delivered at his consecration as the Bishop & Moderator of the Good Shepherd Community Church on 30th August 2014.
A Word from George Verwer
How I wish I could have been there when Bishop Joseph D’Souza gave this great and important message. I am so glad it is now it print and pray it can get wide circulation.
This message is historic, visionary, relevant, encouraging and a must read for all us who love in India. Read it.
We thank God for the rapid development and impact of the Church in India.
We rejoice that the work of OM going back to 1964 has grown into this great church movement now known as the Good Shepherd Church of India and that Bishop and Moderator Joseph D’Souza continues to carry this great leadership responsibility of the Church and its associated ministries. My blessing is with this great work of God in India.
Founder & Former International Director,
Part-1: Life of the Mind
My dear friends,
Glory to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
At the onset of my acceptance speech, I humble myself before my God and the Lord Jesus Christ. I also submit myself for the responsibility invested on me by the Bishops Council of the Good Shepherd Church which represents the leadership and congregations of the Good Shepherd Church.
I understand that the office of the Bishop and the role of the Bishop is as old as the New Testament. This is the call to be a shepherd of the flock of God under the Chief Shepherd who is Jesus Christ.
The early church had two symbols, one was the Cross and the other was the symbol of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. In the providence, wisdom, and mercies of God we adopted the name Good Shepherd Church. However, we did not know then that the Good Shepherd was one of the two early symbols of Jesus Christ.
The early church saw Jesus as King, Savior, Lord and Deliverer and also as the Good Shepherd, who guides, protects and takes care of His sheep.
Today, I am delighted to share with you my acceptance speech entitled, “The Four lives of the Church”.
It is to the four lives of the church which I am completely committed as the Bishop of the Good Shepherd Church. I pray that God will give me the grace and ability to work this out in our churches and ministries. I pray that these four lives of the historic church will take full root in our churches and institutions.
Before delving into our theme, I would like to thank everyone who has graced this occasion. I thank God for the civil society leaders who are here, to our brothers and sisters from other faiths, to the Bishops and church leaders, to all my dear friends who have come from far, to my colleagues in the Good Shepherd movement, Bishops, Priests co-workers and to those who have worked with me shoulder to shoulder for about four decades. I am grateful to God for our long service together. May God bless you all.
I am also thankful to God for my parents who are here. My father is 93 and my mother is somewhere near there. I thank God for them because
they modeled for me a life of devotion, honesty, integrity and commitment to Christ. They also freed me to serve Jesus Christ even though I was their oldest son and needed to take care of family responsibilities. I am equally thankful to God for my wife, my children and their spouses, who have journeyed with me in this walk of faith. I know I could not have continued without their support, encouragement, prayers and sacrifices. They have made the greater sacrifices.
It is important to me that my mentor, George Verwer prayed and blessed me this evening even though he is thousands of miles away. Bishop Paothang prayed George’s prayer.
I am thankful for the heritage of Operation Mobilization, for the international work as well as for the relationship with them. Those of you who know our history will remember that, from the earliest days, God was orchestrating developments in this work. God is the One who organized our Indian identity and George’s insistence of national leadership paved the way for this.
God has brought us into our 50th year in India, half a century! We are not new kids on the block or fly-by-night operators. We now look forward to the next 50 years and to hit our first century. I am thankful to God for the many developments in the work and the full-fledged partnerships we began in the 90s.
I am especially thankful to God for Dayspring without whom our teams would have stopped a long time ago. I am delighted that John and his family and Dayspring leaders are here today and I am also equally happy that they are moving from being partners to family members in the Good Shepherd Church. Tomorrow I will have the joy of ordaining John and David as the first US-based ministers of the Good Shepherd Church of India. Who would have thought that an Indian church would be ordaining Americans, right?
I am thankful to God for my co-workers and leaders of the Dalit Freedom Network in different parts of the world. I especially thank my friends from DFN USA who are present here. The Dalit Freedom Network has had an incredible journey. We are about 17 years into the freedom movement.
I am also thankful to God for every tradition of the Christian faith that is present here. The Good Shepherd Church respects and loves all Christian traditions and all those who see themselves as Christians and Christ-followers.
The Good Shepherd Church movement is an Anglican* and Evangelical institution. We believe and practice the full Charisma of the Spirit.
For governance, church order and the orthodox doctrines, we follow a Constitutional Episcopacy. Episcopal governance and traditions come from the main and earliest streams of the 2000-year-old Church of Christ.
However, there are other streams and all these streams have their strengths and weaknesses. After we have spent much time studying, discussing and deciding and thereafter getting to the present place in our church movement, we know that the Episcopal Evangelical stream is right for us and for our complex context. We are thankful to God for the scope of the Good Shepherd Church work in India.
We have a nationwide involvement through our churches, schools, health initiative and literature distribution. Our 107 Good Shepherd schools bring freedom through education for the poor and needy sections of the society.
The brochure of the Good Shepherd movement demonstrates the ranges of these varied works that we are carrying on. Through our efforts, people in 7,000 communities across the nation experience the love of Jesus in one way or another. You will see how far and wide these works have gone in this country.
I am thankful to God that the Good Shepherd Church has found its location in both the Eastern and Western traditions of the church.
For us Indians, we derive our spiritual linkage to Apostle Thomas, who first brought Jesus and the gospel to India. He laid down his life for Jesus when martyred by some high caste priests, according to tradition. The particular cross we have chosen, as one of the symbols of the Good Shepherd Church, is St. Thomas Cross. Thus in locating the Good Shepherd Church in the Indian tradition, we are stating few significant points.
The first point is Christ’s Spirit has been present in India for 2,000 years.
Second, it was Christ who drew St. Thomas, Francis Xavier, William Carey, and Mother Teresa into India. It was Christ who raised Bakth Singh in India and has drawn many others to bring His love to this land, from outside and inside the country.
We emphasize that Christ has been in India for 2,000 years. Today, He is drawing tens of millions of Indians to Himself and to His love.
Thus I have to say in light of some of the debate going on in the nation that the Indian church and Christianity is 2,000 years old. We are an Indian faith or, if you will, an Indian religion, we have been here long before other religions in the nation.
If we are not an Indian faith, then neither are the offshoots of Aryan faiths. Then the only faith that is original to India is the tribal belief system.
So I repeat, if we have not heard it right, “Christianity is an Indian religion.”
No one needs to fear our loyalty to our nation. It becomes part of the local culture of a society or nation. This is why the Christian faith did not stay Jewish even though Jesus was Jewish. This is the glory of faith in Christ. Our faith is within the local culture and becomes an integral part of a society or a nation.
The other thing I need to say is that the Christian identity does not subsume itself into another religious or faith identity. I say this because of the debate about all Indians being Hindus.
Unfortunately, “Hindu” has become a religious identity for a long time. So terms like “Hindu-Christian” or “Hindu-Muslim” or “Hindu-Buddhist” or “Hindu-Sikhs” are misnomers.
There is one overarching identity now and that is INDIAN. Therefore we are already and definitely Indian Christians. We can have a national and faith identity at the same time.
Many of my Dalit and OBC friends are here with us this evening. They have helped me understand the complexity of the social, economic and spiritual dynamics in the nation.
I thank God for Dr. B. R. Ambedkar and the Constitution of India. Without Ambedkar we would not be this wonderful diverse and united nation and without him we would not have the freedom of conscience, religion and rights for women. The church in India owes an incredible debt to him.
Though Ambedkar is the most important Dalit icon, he belongs to every Indian and even to the world. Just as much as Martin Luther King belongs to every American and belongs to the world, I would say that Ambedkar also belongs to the Indian church.
The present Prime Minister of India is a self-confessed humble teaseller. It is the Constitution of India that has made him the Prime Minister. Otherwise, a backward caste tea-seller could not dream of becoming a Prime Minister.
Both Ambedkar and Mahatma Phule, the great backward caste leaders, had an incredible high view of Jesus Christ.
Ambedkar had his criticism of the church on the issue of caste and he was right. But he honored Jesus Christ because he saw that caste and the teachings of Jesus could not go together.
Mahatma Phule gave a stirring call to distribute the Bible in the schools of his day. He felt if the students read and applied the Bible to their lives it would bring about the required social change in society.
My acceptance speech, as pointed out, is about the four lives of the church.
What am I referring to? Where am I getting this from? Am I pulling this out of the top of my head? No! I am not pulling this from the top of my head. This is not original.
This subject comes from early church history, from the history of the monastic movements, from the reformations and from the evolution of the church as she grows in her understanding of the Bible.
Life of the Mind
Number one, and not in order of priority, is what I call “Life of the Mind” and the Good Shepherd Church commits itself to develop the life of the mind among her people.
God making us in his own image means that he has given us a mind to develop, expand and use. He expects us to cultivate the life of the mind. The Christian faith considers the mind as sacred, and a gift from God for us to become full humans and to know Him.
This means the mind is free to study, free to think and free to question and it is equally free to develop science, art and technology. The image-maker, God, has a mind and rationality. The Good Shepherd Church wants to cultivate this life of the mind.
We educate the Dalits, the marginalized and run schools for them becausethe educated mind cannot remain in any form of slavery.
This is why we educate the Dalits, the marginalized and run schools for them because the educated mind cannot remain in any form of slavery.
This is why we embrace the fullness of life under God. We are free to do science, industry, create wealth, do art and follow our interests.
This is also why we study Scriptures throughout our lives. In Scriptures we find wisdom for all aspects of living, as it is the revelation of God.
Think about the concept of freedom. Where did this notion of freedom come from? Jesus said “If the son shall set you free, you shall be free indeed. His freedom was not limited to spiritual freedom. He also was referring to the freedom of being and thinking: all under God.
The early church was not afraid of intellectual freedom. She created the monastic movements where Scriptures, Science and Art were the focus of inquiry. Out of these movements emerged the great universities of Europe.
You take away intellectual freedom and the mind freezes. Life freezes.
Individuals, cultures and civilization freeze. This freedom is quite different from anarchy. It functions under the God of reason. It understands that God is scientific.
The Bible underlines freedom of conscience, freedom of choice and will. It is not the privilege of the elite or educated. The most primitive man and culture substantiate that man has the ability and freedom to believe or disbelieve God.
The story of the garden of Eden begins with man’s ability to choose. The history of the human race in the Bible is about choice. Why religious freedom and freedom of conscience are so important to us is because it is about us being human.
It is not about making people Christians. No one can make people Christians. The concept of forced conversion is untenable according to the Bible. Faith is always a matter of choice even for the Christian.
The State has no right to interfere in matters of conscience. It cannot determine people’s belief system under the rationale that people do not know what to do.
The Good Shepherd Church believes in religious freedom for all, including those who choose to be atheists. It is true that in the past, the church did not understand this truth. We have persecuted one another when people exercised this fundamental right. Thank God most of this kind of history is behind us.
Most Christians would accept that freedom of conscience is the most fundamental of rights. Pope John Paul II said that if you take away religious freedom you will lose other freedoms in due course.
I would like to have a further word on the importance of the Bible: Our faith for life here and hereafter finds it roots in the Bible.
The most studied text in human history is the Bible. We do not believe that the Bible came down from heaven in a written form, rather we believe that God’s Spirit engaged the mind of the writers so that they wrote the inspired Word of God.
An important truth for the growth of our life of the mind is the study, interpretation and application of the Bible. We have not always come up with the right interpretations. We have had controversies and will continue to have controversies.
Bible understanding and application in the present world is alive and well. The majority of the Global South Christians drive a new understanding and application of the Bible text.
In other words, the powerless are interpreting God’s Word in a significant manner.
For too long, the interpretation of Scriptures came only from the powerful and those with wealth.
The Good Shepherd Church needs first-rate scholars, writers and interpreters of the Bible. Their understanding of Christ will enrich the world’s understanding of Christ. Thus, our commitment to theological training will stay strong.
In the same manner, the Good Shepherd Schools will continue to grow and develop. Education develops the mind and nothing is beyond our God in the field of education who himself was called “Teacher” here on earth. An individual moving from a teachers’ education college to a liberal arts college to a nursing college is a natural progression. The sky the limit!
This is part of our church heritage and part of our kingdom of God heritage. There is one other reason why life of the mind is important in India today.
Our Prime Minister on Independence Day talked about the horrendous reality of the sexual abuse of women and girls. Word of the rape of girls and women in India takes prominent media space. The UN discusses it.
The mental mindset of Indian men should change. Society needs to be changed. Recently on NDTV, I watched a two part episode on the Devadasis or the Joginis where everyone says that the mindset of Indian men and society needs to be transformed. But how does it happen?
Will the harshest of laws punishing rapists change the mindset? I think not. It may put fear into the hearts of men. But, as we know, the rapes continue. Now they also murder the victim so that there is no witness.
Recently a Dalit Christian girl, a techie from Andhra Pradesh, went missing in Mumbai. News then came of her kidnap, rape and killing. The family is running around trying to get justice.
Now look at how the Bible and Jesus go about changing the mindset and building character in men. It is by changing the thinking in the mind.
Jesus says, “I redefine adultery! Leave alone the issue of rape or adultery. I hold women in such high regard that you men are not allowed to lust even in your mind. If you lust in your mind you have already committed adultery. You stand condemned and guilty. If you are my follower you must not lust in your mind.”
The Bible asks us to focus and study Scripture to remake our minds. Instead, what is informing our mind about the women in India? Bollywood item numbers? Women as sexual objects and not as persons? Male chauvinism which says women’s place is to serve men? Gender inequality?
Jesus knows where the problem is and asks us to frame a new idea of women and to think of them as ones created in the image of God. In the Good Shepherd Church, we want to cultivate the Biblical life of the mind without any compromise.
The Good Shepherd Church & Associated Ministries India.
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* The terms Anglican and Episcopal is used interchangeably.