Church Outside the Walls by Raj Samuel
So this was an interesting (and quick!) read for me. Partly it was interesting to me because Mr. Samuel is from Asia originally, but has also lived in the West, so his writing sort of feels like home to me. Many of the things he analyzed and considered were things that would naturally arise from moving cross-culturally between Asia and the West. So I identified with the things that he noticed and responded to, though my conclusions weren't always the same.
Given that context, one particularly interesting thing for me was Mr. Samuel's focus on the believer as an individual rather than part of a collective group. I wonder if this is a response to his home culture in a similar way to how I began to question the West's individualism when confronted with the collectivist cultures of Asia. Like any part of culture, I think that individualism vs. collectivism is a question where there's no real winner or loser. All culture needs to be redeemed by God, and there are some ways that collectivist cultures reflect God's character better than our individualistic one.
Along that vein, I think I was most intrigued with Mr. Samuel's exploration of the meaning of the "body of Christ." He emphasized that the church is primarily the corporeal expression of Jesus in the world rather than a collection of individuals. In other words, from Mr. Samuel's perspective, each follower of Christ is the body of Christ in the world. When we gather together, we are expressing the unity of the body of Christ, but we don't become the body of Christ any more than what we are individually. He based this claim on the Hebraic understanding of the "body," and he highlighted that in Hebrew culture, the word for any part of the body could be used to represent the whole body. That is very different from what I have been taught from Paul's exhortation about the body of Christ, and I think I'm going to have to sit with that for a while to process just how a shift in my thinking on this topic might necessitate a change in my behavior. He seemed to make this line of thinking one of his foundations for arguing that each body of Christ (Christian) is called to the world to be the body through which Christ ministers here on earth. That calling is certainly something I believe in strongly, though I didn't need to have his interpretation of "body" to get there.
Overall, the book focused primarily on correcting what Mr. Samuel believes are improper doctrines or beliefs based on how the church has expressed itself in the last few thousand years. He strongly argues that the church is not an institution or an organization, and he calls each of us to follow Christ into the world. He says some incredibly true things about how most of the members of our so-called-churches have become merely passive receivers of information than never transforms lives, and he points out how harmful this has been to the witness of Christ. I appreciate his call to the church to equip and send out our people into the world to truly be ministers. He also makes the point that every Christian is called to ministry full-time--wherever they are. This really resonates with what I have believed since God clearly called me to ministry when I was a teenager.
In all, I suspect that many Western believers will not appreciate the author's direct style or the fact that Mr. Samuel lays a lot of groundwork in theology and in criticizing the church as it is now before giving any information about where to go from here. Actually, I would have liked to see more of that--more information about how to accomplish the changes that Mr. Samuel would like to see within the Church. For me, the abstract, philosophical, or even theological points can't truly be evaluated without a grounding in practical expression. I don't think there was enough discussion of the practical expression here.
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