An Indian perspective on the nature of the Church in the context of poverty and religious pluralism, with special reference to the works of M.M. Thomas
Christian theologians throughout the centuries have looked at the Church from different perspectives: dogmatic, institutional, social, cultural, etc. The main concern of this thesis is to look at the Church from the perspective of her image in India and to evaluate the various ecclesiologies proposed in this context. However, the study concentrates on the works of M.M. Thomas, one of the outstanding theologians of the present times. `The basis of any ecclesiology needs to be Christology.' It is from this proposition that the various ecclesiologies are evaluated and the main argument for confessing Christ in India is developed. It is maintained that unless the Church recognises her centre outside herself in Jesus Christ and His Kingdom, she cannot confess Christ's Lordship. From this perspective the nature of the Church's mission is recognised and it is pointed out that the mission of the Church determines her nature. It is further suggested that the nature of the Kingdom of God is the key to relate the Church to her context of poverty and religious pluralism. Furthermore, it is maintained that the Church lives in the context where the poor are seeking humanity and the people of other faiths are also involved in the issues facing humanity. This makes it urgent to look at the emphasis on the availability of `the New Humanity' in Christ and thus to see the mission of the Church in wholistic terms, as both salvation and humanisation. This also means that the methods of mission can no longer be seen as mere proclamation or involvement but that both are necessary. These aspects taken together form the basic premise from which follows the suggestion that the Church needs to see herself from the perspective of her mission, as a sign and an agent of the Kingdom: it is only when she confesses Christ's Lordship in a wholistic way, including her role as a suffering servant, that she can present Him as the crucified and risen Lord. It is not dogma nor institutional understanding which defines the nature of the Church, but only people's relationship with Christ. However, it is also emphasised here that there cannot be a docetic understanding of the Church, but that the relationship with Christ must be expressed in People's relationships with one another. Only in her togetherness is the Church the Body of Christ, not as a variety of unrelated groups. It must be maintained that the Church cannot be a ghetto community interested in her own affairs, but must be an open fellowship where the poor and the oppressed will find salvation which includes the promise of redeemed humanity in Jesus Christ.