Gone are the days when a man of God would be identified by a trademark cloth bag, white veshti jiba (sarong and kurtha) and Hawaii chappals. Today’s man of God is a tech- savvy, ipod-toting, laptop-wielding and smartly dressed post-modern phenomenon!
In the past, the man of God used to be, at best, a high school graduate and articulate just in his own mother tongue. Today, he is atleast a college undergrad or even a post-grad, fluent in probably two or even three languages not his mother tongue. Most often, this suave creature would be more expressive in English than in his own mother tongue!
Men of God in the past would at the most, be able to play a tambourine or thump a drum with dexterity more than skill and would sing in either a guttural voice or a flat monotone! Today’s urbane individual is able to play atleast a guitar, (many are experts in more than one instrument), sing extremely well and would even be able to harmonize in different parts!
The disparity between these two, the golden oldie and the erudite youth of the day, is so obviously glaring that many Christians are in a dilemma as to whom they should model should accept, follow, and emulate! A whole generation is struggling to understand and come to terms with this change and correlate it with the known past. The fact that the Indian representation of godliness and holiness is the saffron-clad sadhu, who lives apart and in isolation from worldly pursuits, only complicates the issue. So the question uppermost in people’s mind is: With what is true holiness and godliness associated?
To answer this question, one needs to reach back to the scriptures to understand and come to terms with this paradigm change, in the light of another epoch-changing personality – the Lord Jesus Christ. It is significant to note that Jesus was incarnated in the form of sinful flesh, in the form of the very man He created. Why? Simply because that was His target group!
He first came to His own, the Jews and so “was made like unto His brethren in all things”. He could not have come as an angel, for then He would be apart from and different from them and so would be unable to tell them “take up your cross and follow me”! He was so like those He came to save that a king had to kill all the babies born around that time and a kiss had to be given to identify Him as the one to be tried!
Computing and extending this analogy to the present, it is obvious that to be contextual, the man of God needs to be incarnated or made like to his brethren of the day! The target group of the day is the smart techie, who commutes between countries as easily as if he is commuting between cities! The target audience of the day is so cosmopolitan that bumping across different nationalities has become a commonplace occurrence the result of globalization. In such a scenario, it is not a choice, but a necessity for the man of God to evolve to the present form.
This, however, does not imply that his value system should evolve or even change, for Jesus Christ, our example, showed us the balance between human incarnation and divine absoluteness – to be wholly human and yet satisfy the divine standards of morality, holiness and godliness. Thus, the core or the internal frame of reference of the man of God is still this: Be ye holy even as I am holy.
However, the peripheral issues can and should change – issues that do not bear on the aspects of his life that must conform to the divine model. This is the continuity versus discontinuity principle – Codes or standards must be a continuum but non-essentials can be, must be and should be discontinued. It is in this whole sphere of paradoxical understanding, viz. what must be continued and what should be discontinued, that generation gaps occur and divide the old and the new, each stuck in their own time frame.
How does one bridge this gap and draw an understanding between the old and the new? The one bridge that would span these two time lines would be the growth of knowledge and understanding of the times. For example, in the Indian panorama, in the past when a man/ family accepted Christ, they were ostracized by their near and dear, besides being ostracized by the community. As such, they were forced to adopt a very minimal and simplistic way of life, often being denied even the basic amenities of life.
Take for instance their clothes. For men it would be the ubiquitous jiba made out of a cheap, rough, white material. The local tailor denying them patronage, they were forced to use a garment with just a straight cut and holes for arms and head, ideal indeed for hand stitch! Thus, a practical, pragmatic, down-to-earth simplicity, born of necessity and convenience rather than holiness!
The modern day scenario speaks of shopping centers and malls overflowing with tailored–to-fit clothes, with anything available to anyone and customer service depending only on availability of cash. As such, it is ludicrous to even think of adopting white clothes on the behest of holiness, given the pollution levels and the cost of cleansing white clothes! It is ridiculous to invest in floor-sweeping, pristine white clothes that will need meticulous washing in a city where even daily water is rationed!
The core values in any time frame should relate to simplicity that suits the situation and therefore, investing in a pair of jeans that wears well with time, mixed and matched with a number of shirts would be a better option for someone subjected to the plagues of modern world! Unless called to live like John the Baptist, i.e. to make a statement with his lifestyle, the man of God would have to become a cultural chameleon, changing color with the times, in every way!
Leaving the core values of simplicity for a sophistication that costs more to sustain is at best both ridiculous and unholy for its waste! What sense does it make to boast of not wearing jewels while wearing a watch with a gold bracelet! How can it be simplicity to wear a pure white silk outfit as against a cheaper colored one! How can it be wrong when one who shepherds literally thousands, uses an air-conditioned, fuel-efficient car that helps him conserve his strength, energy and time? That’s not luxury; its not even common sense; its just smart sense! When what is feasible in one context, becomes a tradition in another that blinds to the truths of simplicity, contextuality and convenience, it is foreign fire on the altar!
Why is then there a reluctance to change or adopt such a changing lifestyle? Just that change is traumatic for anyone and change is fearsome when compounded with culture, politics and ignorance. Culture because here in context of India, the concept of spirituality is related more to the outward and rituals; politics because Indians are highly conscious of social opinion; and ignorance because Indian mentality just accepts tradition better than the rigors of seeking for the truth for oneself.
A man of God needs to plunge himself into the cauldron of humanity, willing to be spoiled outwardly in the process, yet impacting and changing those around him with his inward purity. He is the salt of the earth that disappears into the culture round him yet bringing the taste of true life to a tired and weary world. The need of the hour then is not asceticism in isolation but inward separation and consecration to the Lord.
Holiness and godliness are, therefore, to be seen not in not being like the people of the world outwardly but inwardly! It is seen in the maturity that weighs everything in the light of scripture and identifies the core principles of simplicity. It is seen in the man of God who learns to filter out the essentials from the non-essentials, who has enough savoir-faire to identify the continuity-discontinuity principle and who is flexible enough to move with the winds of change.
He is like the rock in his principles yet humble as a reed to bend and bow with the storms of changing life. He is the man who knows he needs to be “all things to all men that somehow a few may be won to Christ”! In short, he is like his Master, who overturned the tables of and on religiosity, a thorn in the flesh of traditions, but who gave His life even for those He offended!