200 and 2000

It has been hard living so far from New Zealand during the two hundredth year celebrations of the arrival of the gospel - on Christmas Day, 1814. I've been following all the facebook chatter closely.

I've loved that space at Oihi Bay for a number of years, even taking a horde of friends on a pilgrimage to Marsden Cross to mark my fiftieth birthday. One of the delights of that day five years ago was to ask Ben Carswell to bring a short devotional, only to discover later that his family was from the very same village in Yorkshire as Samuel Marsden. Incredible. Then, earlier this year, I was able to visit Ben's family in that village and see the Marsden memorials over there for myself.

But in the week of the bicentenary celebrations of the gospel's arrival in New Zealand, I've made a visit to one of the key sites that marks the arrival of the gospel here in India almost two thousand years ago. It is the Little Mount Church in Chennai, with a history associated with the Apostle Thomas. The taxi driver had no idea where it was and so we arrived late, as the sun was setting and the moon was rising...

But to be greeted by a favourite phrase from a favourite chapter in the Bible was a thrill:

A plaque by the front door of the church added some historic detail, while the fuller history can be found in various places - with this blog post helpful.

I am a little torn in my response.

I can hear the skepticism about the authenticity of such tradition (although my hunch is that religious devotees are pretty good at getting these things right). I also find the way Christian 'stuff' in South India (churches, symbols, icons etc) morphs into looking like 'stuff' from other religions to be a bit disconcerting. It is the same over-contextualising in order to try and make things relevant that seems to afflict the church everywhere, especially in Western countries.

Having said all that, I am stirred by the tradition. Christian worshippers continually on this very site for almost two thousand years? The possibility of Thomas himself walking on these paths and rocks? That was buzz-worthy. It is always good to have these reminders of the need to shed the snobbery that so easily and so often forgets that the people of God have an early and deep and wide history far from the borders of Europe and its legacy to us.

nice chatting



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