Reforming Out Loud

Jesus. Church. Culture.

My Apology to the Mar Thoma Church

Mar_Thoma_Syrian_Church_Crest

Its probably not the best time to come out with a post like this at the same time one comes out with a blog. Ideally, an intro would do well here. Perhaps this helps focus the intention of this blog, that it may be random and sometimes un-syncopated with anything really. Having said that, I’ll move to the topic that got me here in the first place – an apology.

This apology is to the Mar Thoma church, officially the Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar. It traces its roots to the apostle named Thomas after he made his way to the western coast of India in AD 52. It is a church that is somewhat independent from the Reformation and kind of not (read their website and you’ll see). Today it can boast of having about 1,116 “parishes & congregations” worldwide, 795 priests, and approximately 900,000 members. And that’s probably one of the shortest intros you’ll ever find. Now, whats the need for the apology?

Laying Ground Work

Having grown up in this church, like any other kid, I eventually realized that it was possible to go through the motions. In fact, I can say that I did. I had time in various ministries of the church from children to adults. If church involvement is a two-way street – to give something (service) and take something (edification) – I can certainly say that I leaned heavily on the service side.

It was towards my last year of high school that I had gone through some personal struggles that made me hunger for more than these motions. My friend suggested that I visit Time Square Church (TSC) in NYC with him for their Tuesday night services. I really enjoyed my time there – so much that I became frustrated with my home church for its lack of TSCishness.

However, I didn’t take the logical step that any frustrated person in my position would do – change churches. That’s because I had family in my home church and dear friends that I considered to be family. How then could I leave? I would be leaving my closest social circle. The next option was to try influencing it somehow. And with some zeal I set out to do just that (not necessarily alone either). What did this look like? Well, as a choir director I would try to pick songs that TSC would sing. When given the opportunity to preach, I would preach like TSC preachers. When I prayed… well, you get the point. Although it’s difficult to deny fruit from these endeavors, what eventually happened was disheartening; I grew more and more frustrated with the practices of the Mar Thoma Church.

I wish I could insert some success story here; one that was Martin Lutheresque. Unfortunately I can’t. As soon as I graduated with an undergraduate degree, I ended up moving to Dallas, TX to enroll in seminary. And aside from a few visits here and there, Long Island Mar Thoma Church never heard from me ever again. The sorrows are certainly there and certainly mine.

Changing Perceptions

Since my time in Dallas, my circles of Christianity has exposed me to a multi-denominational seminary and well Dallas (a.k.a. the buckle of the bible belt). Since moving, my walk with Jesus has changed me quite a bit (but not as much as I would like, hopefully more on this later). After having my experiences in nondenominational (evangelical) circles, I grew accustom to its forms, which were very similar to TSC’s. Yet, eventually those feelings of frustration made its way back. And then I had to confess it – “No church is perfect!”

All churches have things they do well and things they don’t. As I got into more leadership positions in the church, what frustrated me in the nondenom churches was the lack of the grand narrative – the full redemptive/gospel story of our God: Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration. Any understanding of Christianity that misses this frankly misses Christ (and that is a big deal). Yet there were services “thriving” without any reference to it. What did it look like? Let me be a little facetious just to get the point across.

I noticed that in a given weekend, an entire service could revolve around a given theme and not touch the grand story. If the pastor was talking on marriage, then beginning to end, we need to pull out our marriage material – marriage songs, marriage prayers, marriage offerings (?), etc. And if it is on dealing with Financial wisdom, then the program would revolve around money that weekend.

There were questions in my heart that we weren’t answering in the services – the big “Whys.” Why are we dedicated to marriage? Why are we wanting to be good stewards of our resources? In my frustration, we were missing the grand narrative to put these themes into. Frankly, we were missing what liturgy does. I can’t speak for all liturgies, but I can for two influential ones that have shaped my worship and understanding of God, the Liturgy of the Mar Thoma Church & The Book of Common Prayers (Anglican). How did this understanding and conviction come about?

Towards a Re-formation

In God’s providence, I had the opportunity to serve at an Anglican church, a group of people who I still hold dear. Thinking that I was going “backwards” into a liturgical church, I did all I can to fight off requests to help with the music when offered a worship leader position.  But when a (non-heretical, my position then) church was willing to support me, it was hard to be picky with its practices. Yet, as in most cases, God had other intentions as well.

He had a plan to let me see what was missing. The structure of the liturgy followed the meta-narrative: Creation, Fall, Redemption, & Restoration. There was not one week I would walk out without hearing the gospel. There was not one Sunday I would not be made aware of my/our sin, God’s holiness, and His grace and mercy to me/us through His Son (with the future that entails). Although my time at the Anglican church was just 4 years, I’ve learned so much – so much that I felt as if I needed to extend an apology to the Mar Thoma church.

But before that, please hear what I am and am not saying here. I am not saying that liturgical churches are the only ways to express our worship – it’s a pretty limited view of worship if that was. Nor am I saying that all non-liturgical churches need liturgy – many churches have other ways of emphasizing the gospel clearly at their gatherings.  All I am wanting to say is that liturgy can (and designed to?) give the church the meta-narrative that she needs, weekly. If it comes in other (non-liturgical) forms, awesome. I must also say a word to those thinking that a particular form is either “right” or “wrong.” Regardless of the church you are in, anyone can go through the motions – liturgical or non. A denomination cannot save you, only Jesus can.

The Apology

Having said that, here are some things I must apologize for:

  •  I apologize for thinking that liturgy was not good for the individual soul and the collective church. There is something absolutely beautiful about liturgy when the heart is truly worshipping Jesus and the words are based on God’s word.
  •  I apologize for thinking that zeal was the only appropriate emotion in the church. There is something beautiful about the reverence found in many liturgical churches. I imagine that anyone truly standing before the glory of God would have some element of this.
  • I apologize for thinking that having the position of priests in the church assumes that you don’t believe in the priesthood of the believer. I understand this no longer to be true. It is true that every church needs leadership that can rightly divide the word of God but what is not true is that we must not call them priests.

How to conclude? While every church has its sins, there must be still something consistent that transcends the reality of our time here on Earth. I’ll use the words of a DTS professor on this. I talked to Dr. Abraham Kuruvilla about the Mar Thoma church and his response addresses the essential truth needed for any true church at the end of the day. This was his simple reply to my question “What are your thoughts on the members there?”

“If they have a relationship with Jesus, they’ll be in heaven.”

Future Related Posts

I welcome thoughts on topics to write about. While I cannot promise to write on all topics, I will make a good effort to write on the ones I feel somewhat comfortable writing.  Below are ones that I already plan on.

  • What to do if you find yourself in the not-so-ideal church?
  • Is it ever right to leave a church? If so when?

47 Comments

  1. Fabulous Shawn. Allow me to disagree (potentially) with you only one point… Clergy-Laity distinction– regarding priesthood of believers. May be a minor issue. Love you lots my brother!

    • Once I took one of my Baptist pastors to a Marthoma Service and he appreciated the liturgy because it was full of Biblical truth. The style of worship is not a major issue for genuine believers. My major issues with the Marthoma denomination is lack of complete obedience to the Word of God and its tendency to be like the World; be it in India or the U.S. The lack of obedience is seen in matters like baptism, priesthood, universalism, and evangelism. Even the retired Metropoliton expresses ambiguity about Christ being the only way to attain salvation! It would be hard for any genuine believer to be part of a church with leadership that does not have a biblical theology.

      • shawn

        March 6, 2015 at 2:39 pm

        Linas, my experience with other denominations have led me to see that 3/4 areas that you mentioned (baptism, priesthood and evangelism) are interpreted and applied differently. And this is not a problem yet. God gives His church liberty in expressions. But where there is clear practice in direct contradiction with the Scripture a church is in danger. This is the case when it comes to universalism (that everyone will be saved regardless of their view of Jesus). Although I haven’t personally heard of officials in the church being guilty of this, I have heard others say they’ve heard similar things. Again, because I haven’t heard it with my own ears, I cannot say more. But I could imagine that this is not a view that the Mar Thoma church has historically held nor is it a view that bishops and priests collectively hold today. Other comments here are welcome.

      • Dr Juby Jacob

        March 7, 2015 at 9:10 pm

        Completely agree on this point. The Word is Truth and the Truth shall you free. Obedience is greater than sacrifice. As leaders we are held accountable in directing people according to the Word of God not rationalizing different perspectives.

    • shawn

      March 6, 2015 at 2:21 pm

      Abeychan, if I understand what you are referring to, I probably would agree. But in the grand scheme of things I also agree with the fact that it is a minor issue.

  2. Vince kanagaraj

    March 5, 2015 at 10:59 pm

    I honestly do not have an idea of how i landed here, but I loved reading this man. Keep at it. I look forward to reading more.

  3. Great post. I hope this sets you on the path to the apostolic churches.

  4. This is such a great article. I wish more people could read this.

  5. Shawn,

    I’m glad you wrote this. As a former member of the MTC who more or less grew up and experienced the same things you did, I agree with your apology.

    When I decided to move to a full gospel church it wasn’t because my local MTC wasn’t like a full gospel church. It was because of their lack of commitment and conviction of the Gospel. I agree with Linas, the leadership do not have a strong theological roots. However, Jesus will build His church no matter what. Also if people in MTC truly believe, repent and walk with Him, we’ll see them in Heaven

  6. I am not a Marthomite, but I loved this article. Great job

  7. Good one. One sentence struck a chord with me. ” The sorrows are certainly there and certainly mine.”.

  8. Rev. Roy A. Thomas

    March 6, 2015 at 6:50 am

    We adore the real presence of God in history as we engage in liturgy. At times the church has failed to be the CHURCH we profess through liturgy. Yet, the grace of God leads us to absolution in the Cross of Jesus Christ and new life in the Holy Spirit. May our liturgical fellowship become a doorway to greater service in our local neighborhood and around the world. Thank you Shawn for your candidness. Blessings.

  9. Geogi Eapen Zachariah

    March 6, 2015 at 1:29 pm

    My answer to the first question is that finding truth is a personal journey and the worship in marthoma church and the sermons allow that . The quest is to participate , to be an active listener and an active reproducer as we participate.liturgy literally pierce your hardened mind and heart and keep asking this question yourself , how can every word of liturgy touch me and move me. Keep challenging onself, for example when I used to answer this prayer by priest with an answer ” our hearts are truly with The Lord” , after every communion, I used to ask myself ” was I truly with The Lord when I said that ” , question each word with ” what does that mean to me ? ” that constant endeavour results in your hardened emotions getting melted and. One getting. Closer and closer to The Lord. Once you become a brand with” Jesus inside ” like. ” Intel inside chip” , you start enjoying the worship like overwhelming presence of our good lord. Share the way , make a difference. To second question , it is not whether it is right or not, it is whether you need to? My answer isnot needed. The journey is what you seek and it is very well available. I. Have heard this allegation that our liturgy is repetitive, well that is not the problem with liturgy , that is the problem with my mind. Having been an atheist for a long time, I vouch for that statement

  10. Shirley Jacob

    March 6, 2015 at 1:41 pm

    Dear Shawn,
    Thanks for the blog post. Some observations were eyeopeners.
    I liked ” I apologize for thinking that having the position of priests in the church assumes that you don’t believe in the priesthood of the believer. I understand this no longer to be true.”
    Waiting for more posts.
    Shirley Jacob

  11. I totally can relate to your experience. Growing up partly in a MarThoma tradition and partly in another independent fellowship, I was always gravitating towards the latter, because of my youth/ wanting to be ‘in the moment’ ,and also my lack of understanding about the ‘grand narrative’ as you put. Again my young eyes could see in church a lot more of ‘going through the motions’ rather than worship with ‘heart and soul’ . Add to that a few combative ‘General Body meetings’, and I was sure about leaving and never coming back. But I did. For more or less the same reasons as you did…:) So its wonderful to read this and see how beautifully you’ve expressed what I’ve felt all this while. May God bless you, and may many be blessed by you work!

  12. Jesudas Athyal

    March 6, 2015 at 3:16 pm

    This is brutally honest and most valuable. Thank you, Shawn, for this. You have an inquisitive and discerning mind, and you have travelled much. Ultimately, we all belong to the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. I regularly attend both the Mar Thoma and Episcopal worship services and sometimes think, the only difference is in the announcements by the priest/secretary at the end of the service. We all sing the same hymns, listen to the same Bible, affirm the same creed, and partake of the same body and blood, broken and shed for ALL of us. All the same, your insights are most valuable for MTC in the diaspora. Believe it or not, there are still some bishops, clergy and laity out there who seek geuine change. And you have a great mission, both in the particular denomination and in the church universal. Believe me, a skeptic like you may be more valuable to God than hardened believers.

  13. Loved it Shawn!!!

  14. Abel Joshua Abey

    March 6, 2015 at 3:39 pm

    Hey Shawn,
    Glad u wrote this blog.It would be an eye opener for the youths who do not like the litury of the Marthoma Church without understanding the meaning…..i’m right now living in Mumbai….
    The liturgy of the Marthoma church is truly beautiful.
    Just like the late Juhanon Marthoma Metrapolitan said ” every marthomite is an evangelist” …let all work together for the glory of God and for the growth of His Holy Apostolic Church…
    Hope u get into more relations with ur Mother Church…

    Thank u once again for sharing this
    Abel..

  15. Hi Shawn,

    I liked your article. Keep writing. I share a lot of your sentiments and happened to write a similar article yesterday. Sharing it here.

    http://www.walkwm.com/2015/03/pride.html?m=1

    Take care,

    Aju

  16. Vinoo Mathews

    March 6, 2015 at 5:03 pm

    All denominations and divisions in Christianity happened, not as much due to differences in faith, as much as these were due to what I call the religious ego and arrogance, the urge to be supercede, to be one up over the other. From this fact emerges the need to create differences, in interpretation of faith, in theological differences, in the rites and order of worship. How else can the flock be convinced? Some faiths have been adept at evolving the rites based on relevance to the present times, based on feedback of earlier christian communities and so on. For many mainstream denominations once a certain worship order is finalised, it is kind of as God given, a permanence is rooted in it. Like what happens like in any religion one cant question it. Many new generation breakaway christian faiths have been very good at creating worship services which are more appealing to the soul, as well as to the body in how it resonates. Some get captivated by that.

    I got the feeling that Shawn was heavily labouring the point, which is more on the superfluous. What is finally crucial is to what extent each of us can go beyond ritualistic danger that is there in all worship, awaken and strengthen the spiritual in us and be connected to Jesus Christ. There is enough in every worship order of every christian faith for any one to connect and remain connected with our Lord Jesus. It depends on each of us and not on the rites.

    Vinoo Mathews

  17. Shawn you have expressed some of my feelings over the course of my lifetime. Thank you for eloquently putting it together. My spiritual journey mirrors yours except for being a worship pastor and influence from Anglican book of prayers.
    Today I feel like the liturgical service at my church enables me to hold on to the Biblical ordinances and values each Sunday. I’m glad we have option/s to serve God and worship in reverence.

  18. Shawn,
    First of all, great job on this blog/well written. I born and raised in a Marthoma church and was a member till i got married. since my high school days, I have also attended the Pentecostal church on occasion and enjoyed the Praise and worship style service. While I may prefer the praise and worship style of the Pentecostal church, I think the marthoma church service is of great value. I believe that the Mar Thoma church was founded and is set in deep Biblical roots. As a Marthomite, I have never heard in the church that anything else in this world saves you except your personal relationship with God. The Mar Thoma church does say that each person is responsible for bringing others to Christ. The HOly Communion service reminds each week of the the greatest truth of the Bible–Jesus died for you and me — to save us and He is Alive and will come again. i think i have appreciated the service more after i left the church and attend the marthoma church like once a year. The people of the church may not do justice to the church as it was set up by our forefathers. Every church has its own issues because of the people who attend. it. Proud to say that i am a Marthomite.

  19. I am so appreciative of your input into this Church (intentional capital C) conversation. Those of us who feel called to move other places are often clumped into a group that questions all MTC practices, but this is not the case. I hope everyone can get to where you have come to be.

    Every church should strive to be a picture of the entire narrative of God. Members are more than “assets” to church ministry. Ministry is more than the denomination you serve. And denomination is far less important than our citizenship in Heaven.

  20. Mathews George

    March 6, 2015 at 8:03 pm

    Hello Shaun, your post oozes personal life experiences. For that very reason, it is real. I am glad you could have a great journey so far. I am sure you also know that you aren’t yet on the shores of Ithacca, to borrow a mythological imagery. The journey must continue.

    Wishing you the most amazing journey with the Lord as you discover the desert, Marah, Canaan, Exile, Jerusalem, Nazareth, Calvary amd beyond.

    Rev. Mathews George
    Youth Chaplain, Mumbai City.

  21. Well written and thought provoking. I am not from MTC, but the story is the same in many places. There should be a clear division between administrative and spiritual roles that could help clergy to concentrate on their flock.

  22. Shawn, great insight on the liturgical aspect of our service. I honestly appreciate the words chosen and if believed wholeheartedly, it can trancend the physical plane that exists as words on a paper, and become a style of worship, which our chanting opens the door for. Personally the liturgy took on a deeper meaning when assisting and when lay leading since it provided me a opportunity to focus and achieve that presence of mind to look beyond the pages.

    While I dont believe alot of what the Mar Thoma Church stands for today, at its core, it is still a church of traditions and beliefs that shaped my life, and my family life today. I am glad you took the time to point out one of the few positives that remain, as it did reinforce my appreciation for being “Martho”.

    Keep writing, its helped many, and willl continue to, since your experience can be a teacher to others including myself.

  23. Hi Shawn
    Eventhough I don’t know you, your thoughts are very natural for the hard core MTC member. Well as to me being a member, seeing and participating in the activities of the church seems to be like for names sake. People have changed. Their insights have changed as well. There is no meaning to any sort of worship here coz everybody has only one aim…. MONEY…. which is definitely the worldly aspect of worship….
    The liturgy as you and everybody here spoke about is written by somebody out of their own conscience but our BIBLE is the words of the heavenly Father and his Son Jesus… is it the same kind of things happening inside? Think about it…
    Secondly the worship you mentioned here, did Jesus ever tell us to worship him or did he ask us to worship the Father in heaven? But what does the Sabha teach? Think about it…
    Third about priesthood which you mentioned. Well please read Hebrews which very clearly talks about the Most High Priest and how Jesus was ordained for the same after an Oath and how he was and is and always forever the living High Priest for his people. So why the man made priests…. we are still living with the old testament rules and regulations but we claim to do the new testaments. … is that true? Think about it…
    Don’t mind about the critics mentioned here but this is how I feel…. WE HAVE LOST FOCUS ON GOD’S WORDS…. rather we have gained focus on the worldly possessions and assets which will not be carried to the grave…. but do the members think about this?
    Thank you and May God show you the real meaning of worship….

    • shawn

      March 11, 2015 at 1:25 am

      Rebs,
      You have said quite a few things. Many good points as well. But I do want to respond to point 2: “the worship you mentioned here, did Jesus ever tell us to worship him or did he ask us to worship the Father in heaven? But what does the Sabha teach? ”

      Biblical Christianity teaches that both God the Father and God the Son (and God the Spirit) are all persons in the Trinity and therefore worthy of worship. I may have misunderstood you.

  24. Dear Shawn,you have shown the candid reality.Truth shall set you free.God bless ya

  25. Thank you Shawn form putting this article out there! I am in my 30s and find myself struggling with all the politics and no religion I see in our Mar Thoma Church. And yes, I know there is much of that with any church but when you have spent your entire life and week after seek in church listening to requests from the Diocese for nothing but money for this fund and that fund, it becomes disheartening. It’s also hard to work with priests coming over here tO the US with a major culture gap and their unbending inflexibility and a willingness to sincerely hear out our young ones when they offer suggestions. There is a “quantity over quality” matter where if there is tension in a church, there is also strong encouragement to go ahead and split up into two churches rather than genuinely and wholeheartedly trying to reconcile. I am also frustrated by the audacity of vicars and higher ups who for example, demand to be flown first class to guest parishes and have freebies for their families- and yes, I know their salaries aren’t much bit they have plenty of perks that the rest of us don’t have. I see entitlement happening on a weekly basis as well as ego trips and petty infighting and can’t imagine how the church will hold on to more of the younger generation.

  26. Why do we need to keep hearing week in, week out about our sins? I would rather keep hearing week in, week out about His righteousness…….

    • shawn

      March 12, 2015 at 4:38 am

      Jacob, indeed Jesus’ righteousness is great news to hear weekly. However, the Bible does not present his righteousness without any context. The Scriptures say that “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). Also after we believe and enter into a relationship with God, according to the Lord’s prayer, we should be confessing sins often. Therefore, we are commanded to confess sins and remember that we stand in the righteousness of Jesus repeatedly.

      • Shawn:
        Good blog. A friend from MTC forwarded me your blog.

        To your comment to Jacob, can I suggest you to consider one key aspect for your understanding. Hope you take my points in a positive note.

        The gospel has many facets (what I mean is doctrines) and so are people, since they too have many facets with their likes and desires across the world.

        So for one person, hearing about sin every Sunday could become very depressing and may fail to comprehend the message, while for another the same message could be inspiring to avoid sin.

        On the other hand for another person hearing about righteousness every Sunday could be inspiring them to live a righteous life by staying away from sin and seeking the Holy Spirit for everyday living, while for another the same message could be boring or not-Biblical since their is no mention about sin or repentance.

        Yes, sin and repentance is critical for a person to grow, but once he has understood repentance, he needs to practice that daily otherwise he is stuck at Level 1 of spiritual maturity, they are still drinking milk like Paul says. They need to grow further where they have a better understanding to take their saved self to have a Christian walk on marriage, family relationships, work ethics…where the fruit of the spirit is revealed into the life of the person. This is when Christ is fully living in the person. However, once in a while, the church needs to go back to the basics and talk about sin and repentance. Then they also need to talk about growing as a Christian, this is where a Christian can grow from where he was to where he should be, where humility is expressed through our life, or words and our actions.

        As you said correctly, there is “no perfect church.” The reason for that is that each church tends to lean towards one or few of the doctrines. However, the gospel is very balanced with regard to sin, righteousness, sanctification, glorification, baptism, repentance, communion, spiritual gifts and other foundational doctrines. We need ALL of them and not just emphasize on a few.

        Just like you, I have struggled through many churches. I have come to recognize is that no church tends to follow all of them in a balanced manner. Each pastor or priest tends to focus on a few and the rest they ignore, which is not intentional, but as an outcome of their tradition, environment or membership. This is where our dissatisfaction begins and we all get disturbed in our churches, since we are not able to adapt to the limitations that our church follows or practices.

        Hence, the perfect church will only be found in heaven, until then we have to learn to adapt to what God has called us to and to the church that he has led us to.

        Your apology to the MTC is a sign of your growing maturity in the Lord and your humility. As the Lord continues to lead you, such truths will further revealed.

        God bless you my friend….feel free to connect via email for further discussion.

        Stanley Samuel
        MA Spiritual Formation
        Moody Theological Seminary

        • shawn

          August 19, 2017 at 10:50 am

          Stanley,

          Thank you for your message. It seems as though you are in agreement with me. Although you say that repetition of themes such as sin and repentance can cause individuals to be depressed or bored (para. 3 and 4), you rightly acknowledge that an individual “needs to practice that daily.” Since churches typically gather on a weekly rhythm, it looks like we both will stress the importance of walking through these practices whenever they meet. All this, of course, as we wait for the new creation.

          shawn

  27. ChristAlmightyisLord

    March 8, 2015 at 12:40 am

    Shawn, a well written article, however honestly, I personally have pulled away from the Marthoma Church, not because it is not a good Church or anything, but after reading the history of the Church, the influence from British CMS missionaries and such, plus what the reformers did to the St. James Liturgy and now the new liberal ideologies that appear to be creeping inside the Church, it has personally pushed me away. In AD 33 after the Resurrection and ascension of our Lord Jesus, the Church (body of Christ) was established and in fact, the FIRST Christians were in Antioch (per Holy Scripture). Marthoma Church is a reformed Church due to the initiation of Abraham Malpan, who took influence from Claudius Buchanan and the British party; the doctrine became completely Protestant. Now think about this, all of the Biblical areas (Middle-east and Such), Christians are predominantly either in Churches within the Catholic Communion or Eastern or Oriental Orthodox Communions – why is that? The Catholic Church (which headquarters in Rome) comprises of many churches with different rites, both eastern and western making up over 1.2 billion believers and is the LARGEST Church in the world. Then you have Eastern Orthodox Churches and Oriental Orthodox Churches (including the Syriac (Jacobite) and Indian Orthodox Churches). All of these Churches are ancient and accept one another as Apostolic Churches, although not in full communion due to Council of Chalcedon and the “filioque” controversy of 1054, relatively the ancient doctrines and traditions are similar! Throughout the history of Christianity, you had these “reformers” like Jan Hus, John Wycliffe, Martin Luther, Zwingli and Calvin with doctrines according to the way they saw it. Martin Luther is the father of modern-day Protestantism and all the branches that stemmed from it, including the Marthoma Church. Evidently, Luther wanted to remove the books of James and Revelations in the Bible, but thank God, they remained! Due to reformation, Marthoma Church has watered down the St. James Liturgy (in it’s Syriac tradition) to the point of many “smaller” and more “contemporary” versions, why did this happen? The Early Church fathers like St. Ephraim and others who wrote these beautiful Anaphoras; the Syriac Orthodox Church, Indian Orthodox Church, Thozhiyur Church and Malankara Catholic Churches follow the St. James Liturgy in full – they will not water down the Liturgy because it is part of Holy tradition! The typical Marthoma rebuttal will be “liturgy was revised to adhere to the Bible”, but truth of the matter is, the St. James Liturgy followed by the other churches mentioned are also Biblical, but the everyday Marthomite will not recognize it because he/she is Protestant in mindset. I don’t have all the answers and please, if I sound like I am bashing Marthoma, please forgive me, at the end of the day, we are all One in Christ. Just something to think about…

  28. I really liked your article. Thanks for helping me understand the MTC a little more. I was married into a marthoma family. But my husband and I had moved to an independent church when we were single . Post marriage, I had ample opportunities to witness marthomites first hand. I am sorry to say I did not see the zeal in them to actually be holy in their daily lives. They don’t hesitate to gossip, to tell a lie for their convenience, to pay a bribe, to slander their church leadership sitting in a group over evening tea and let’s not even talk about hatred, unforgiveness and self righteousness
    If this is the state of majority of the church members, there is something majorly wrong with the church and let me also add that these are people who claim to have personal relationship with Christ. They probably do not even understand the meaning of relationship with Jesus. Over a few months of my stay in my in laws’ place, I had ample opportunities to listen to the then vicar whom i was quite impressed with and appreciated his zeal for the Gospel openly. To my dismay, I later once happened to listen to another evening tea conversation criticising him for being pentecostal. If this is the state of majority of marthomites, things are not right , however much you talk about doctrines and what is written in the church founding documents and principles. A church is what it’s members are in their personal lives and not what they show or feel in the church.

    • shawn

      March 12, 2015 at 4:45 am

      Anu,

      I agree with your reservations against a community of people who do not reflect the fruit of the Spirit. I’ve felt similarly. Then again, I am reminded that no one is perfect, no church is perfect and certainly no denomination is perfect. We are all sinners saved by grace. There is technically nothing wrong with being a spiritually mature person surrounded by spiritually immature people. Jesus often found himself in this position claiming that it was the sick that needed the physician not the healthy. Let’s labor for the Kingdom so that the grace of Christ may expel all temptations to hypocrisy you find in the church.

  29. Hi Shawn,
    Good to see an article with reflections from your faith journey. I can agree with you that no denomination is perfect and we all have responsibility in the denominations where we are. You have mentioned about the beauty of our liturgical worship. Good to hear that. I agree that our liturgy is based on Word of God, however some prayers we have are based on old covenant which is significantly different from the new covenant in Jesus Christ where we have the assurance of salvation through His ultimate sacrifice. For example, our confession prayer before communion, says “accept me as you have accepted the thief on the cross/sinner woman” Does a believer, who is saved, who came to the salvation experience has to pray this prayer again and again? I know that Jesus accepted me when I got saved. I am not saying that we are sin-free or perfect. However a person came to the saving grace and a person who is outside are different. I am accepted and I am His child. That salvation assurance in Christ is the beautiful promise a new covenant believer has and many of our liturgical prayers don’t reflect that. Also in one of the prayer on Sunday Holy communion service Achen says “Do not banish us from your presence”. Jesus promised that I will never leave you or forsake you, then why we doubt His promise by praying “Do not banish us from your presence”. It could be a reflection of Psalm 51, where David prayed, however we know that all the prayers David prayed in Psalm 51 got fulfilled/answered on the cross for us. There are prayers like, do not send us to eternal judgment in some places. John 3:16 says, if you believe in Christ, you have eternal life. So then why we doubt it? The song before communion, Daivasuthar naam ayiduvan in Malayalam still has the remnants of Orthodox/Jacobite faith that the fathers who gone before us will be standing for us.. (Daiva suthan Mokshe avare anukoolamakkum.. If I interpreted the meaning correctly, if not please ignore it). Also we become the Daiva suthar (children of God), by believing Jesus Christ (John 1:12).., not by following the “Prarthana and kazhchakal” of what they did. Through faith we become children of God and our prayers and offerings will reflect that. Not the other way. New English translation of that is corrected; I hope there will be corrections to Malayalam also.
    I know many people will not agree this because this is against the traditions. I tried to express my opinion few times, but I was labeled as rebel, or against the church. If I am totally wrong on this, I am willing to be corrected, however, nobody gave me a right explanation these questions I asked. I am interested to hear your thoughts on it.
    At the end we all know, no denomination can save us, only Christ. All denominations have their problems. But I believe as individual believers and church we all need to grow in word of God in the Excellency of the knowledge of Christ as Paul mentioned.

  30. Shawn,
    I wrote a response to your blogpost. Just wanted to share it with you.
    http://www.walkwm.com/2015/03/an-apology-to-shawn.html
    Mathew

  31. Jesudas Athyal

    March 14, 2015 at 5:58 am

    Rachel Held Evans’ recent exit from evangelicalism in order to join the Episcopal church seems to have strong parallels with Shawn’s position. Rachel says that the way to stop the exodus of millennials from churches isn’t cosmetic – better music, sleeker logos, more relevant programming, etc. but, “Sharing communion, Baptizing sinners, Preaching the Word, Anointing the sick, Practicing confession. You know, the stuff the church has been doing for the last 2,000 years.” – See more at: http://jonathanmerritt.religionnews.com/2015/03/09/rachel-held-evans-
    defends-exit-evangelicalism-calls-christians-celebrate-sacraments/#sthash.0dhi4T6B.dpuf

  32. Shawn, a masterful entry into the blogosphere! Thank you for your candor and forthrightness. Can’t wait to hear what else is packed away in the storehouses of your mind.

    I, too, echo your appreciation for the vastness of what worship entails. Not so long ago, I thought worship was only musical. But, as I have grown in my continuing spiritual journey, I have come to realize that worship comes in all shapes and sizes: musical, liturgical, meditational, etc. Wouldn’t you agree that worship is our response to the greatness and glory of God? If that’s the case, then worship is our basking in that greatness. And, any worship revolving around the Grand Narrative is fruitful and complete. Listen, if God spoke to Moses as a burning bush and Elijah in a whisper, couldn’t we also vary the way we show our devotion to our Lord? Praising out loud is well and good; revering His Majesty in the quietude is awesome, in truest sense of the word.

    I very much understand where your open apology comes from, but at the end of the day, putting all denominations aside, a church must adhere to one essential doctrine: that Jesus Christ is Lord. Like you said, any church that gives the full picture of (1) who Jesus is, (2) why we need Jesus, (3) what Jesus did and how He did it and (4) what Jesus continues to do and will do for us is fulfilling the right purpose and mission. Yes, every denomination has its positives and negatives, and every church has its man-made walls (multiple meanings here), but (a la Revelation), I know in my heart of hearts that, in every church, there are those “dressed in white” who hold fast to the foundation of Jesus and will toil tirelessly to make His name and mission known, to build His church erect, despite the obstacles, drama, and negativity. There is no greater charge, Shawn, than to tell Jesus’ story, by whatever means necessary! 🙂

  33. Wow, this was such a great and wonderfully said apology! 🙂
    As a young MTC youth member recently becoming a part of leadership (that I wasn’t exactly ready to hold mentally) I see a lot of the flaws in our church, but I also greatly appreciate the fact that our church has, at it’s core the “grand-narrative” you pointed out. Understanding that “narrative” is lacking, though. And the fear is that the new generation doesn’t really care for that. From what I’ve observed is that a growing number of people just want a “quick-fix” and a band-aid to their spiritual walk, to feel good for a short time in service and to walk away from it feeling like they did their “Christian” duty,which makes them feel good and comforted, instead of being truly convicted to transform their lives and the lives of others. I am guilty as charged, and I am not trying to sound jaded or cynical, I have met people who really come to Church for the commitment to the narrative and the community of believers around them. However, we are slowly but surely losing that community and real faith to the pull of empty but entertaining sermons, and empty but beautiful songs, we are losing that “narrative” willingly, for the sake of numbers and for the sake of appeal to emotions. And the one thing we can rely on for real content is more often than not the main complaint : the liturgy. Thank You for posting this, it was a great read.

  34. This was exactly what I needed to hear. Thank you

  35. Thanks for finally talking about > My Apology to the
    Mar Thoma Church – Reforming Out Loud < Liked it!

  36. Shawn, can we publish your article in the online magazine FOCUS. Please visit the links below for past issues. Please read below information about FOCUS, an organization formed for the Diaspora Mar Thoma laity. Thanks.

    Dear Friends in Christ:

    FOCUS, is a lay movement formed in late nineties in England for the laity of the Mar Thoma Church living around the world. It is an independent movement of the Diaspora laity of the Mar Thoma Church; and we have started publishing a quarterly online journal under the name FOCUS since April 2013; and as such FOCUS is not an official publication of the Mar Thoma Church. With abundant grace from our Lord Jesus Christ, we were able to publish ten issues of FOCUS online magazine so far. It is first of its kind in the history of any Christian denominations from Kerala. We have just published the July 2015 issue on two web sites solely dedicated for online magazines . The online journal is published on a quarterly basis with an intention to connect the Diaspora Marthomites living around the world and at the same time to build loyalty and support to the Mar Thoma Church, its leaders including clergy and Bishops. FOCUS also wants to pass on to the future generations of Marthomites living around the world, the rich heritage, faith and practices of the Mar Thoma Church and also the importance of the liturgical corporate worship of Mar Thoma Church. As Pope Francis said the number of religious ‘Nones’ are increasing in the world especially in the western countries. This tendency is affecting the generations of Marthomites as well, since most of them are not attending our worship services due to so many reasons known and unknown; they are considered as religious ‘Nones’ of the Mar Thoma Church. For the Mar Thoma Church’s healthy continued existence outside India, it is necessary that the ethos of the Mar Thoma Church should be transferred and experienced by the future generations of Marthomites in a meaningful way and understandable form. FOCUS aims to transmit the ethos of the Mar Thoma Church through its online quarterly magazine. We seek your blessings, support and prayers for this endeavor of FOCUS. The links to the online magazine are given below, which can be accessed by clicking the links and can be read online and also downloaded to your computer in PDF format to be read at your own time. Your suggestions, comments, messages and articles in word format along with a passport size photo of yours in JPG format with a small bio-data to be included in the future issues (subject to the editing and approval of EB) to be sent to the e-mail address of FOCUS at mtfocusgroup@gmail.com

    http://issuu.com/diasporafocus/docs/focus_july_2015
    https://www.scribd.com/doc/269857847/Focus-July-2015

    Editorial Board
    FOCUS

  37. Thanks for your marvelous posting! I definitely enjoyed reading it,
    you may be a great author.I will be sure to bookmark your blog and will eventually come back
    later on. I want to encourage you to definitely continue your great work, have a nice evening!

  38. It’s hard to come by experienced people on this topic, however,
    you seem like you know what you’re talking about!
    Thanks

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