Unification Sermons and Talks

by Reverends Stadelhofer

The Eschatological Truth in Asian Theology - Part I

by Shirley Stadelhofer

According to contemporary Christian theologians, the Christian mission in Asian countries is facing a crisis, and they are desperately searching for new ways to "do theology." "There are signs of religious resurgence or revival or renaissance everywhere; in the world of Islam and Buddhism and Hinduism, and in Shintoism in Japan, and in the emergence of many new religions in Western countries. In view of this there is urgent need for a radical reassessment of the place and influence of Asian Christian communities in relation to other religious communities." (S.J. Samartha, Courage for Dialogue; Geneva, Switzerland: World Council of Churches, 1981; Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1982, p. 109.) The authors and religious writers of the many books and articles on "Asian Theology" have become in a sense prophets of a new era-sensing, intuiting and predicting the path and goals of the Christian mission in Asia today.

Christian missionaries have been in Asia for hundreds of years, obeying their missionary calling and dutifully hoping to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to peoples all over the world. Many missionaries have sacrificed their lives and yet, in spite of loyal and faithful efforts, Christianity remains a minority religion in most Asian countries.

There are partial exceptions in China, the Philippines and Korea. Here Christianity put down some deep roots. In spite of invasions, cultural revolutions, political and social oppression by people and governments, the gospel and the Christian mission survived.

"Many Christians must have thought that the Cultural Revolution was the end of God's mission work in China. To whose willing to see, there have been signs that the redemptive power of God's mission has not ceased to work in the people of China. One thing we have learned has been that the church is not in control of the destiny of the world; the world's destiny is in God's hands." (C.S. Song, "Open Frontiers for Theology in Asia," Tell Us Our Names; NY: Orbis, 1984, pp. 13-14.)

The early Christian missionaries, believing they were simply bringing the "truth" to pagan cultures, assumed the gospel would spread quickly, take root, and bring many converts blossoming into a universal religion. This expectation has obviously not been fulfilled, and in some nations has even regressed. "Already, Christendom has collapsed, ...and the post-Christian era has begun, especially in the third world." (Nam-Dong Suh, "Historical References for a Theology of Minjung," Minjung Theology: People as the Subjects of History, ed. Commission on Theological Concerns of the Christian Conference of Asia; NY: Orbis, 1983, p. 166. This book hereafter cited as MT.)

The dilemma of today's Christian theologians and religionists is how to revive and reconstruct the Asian church and how to bring the gospel in a way that can atone for past mistakes of "colonialism" and embrace the Asian people in their day-to-day struggle for freedom from oppression and poverty. Faced with the increasing riots, protests and revolutions of the common people of many Asian nations, there is an urgent seeking and effort by Christian theologians, Asian missionaries and conscientious laymen to ponder and grapple for the solution to these problems. The frustrated response takes the form of Asian and Western Christians seeking better ways of adaptation and accommodation of the gospel to Asian needs. Contemporary Asian theology seems to be moving away from dogmatic and traditional Western beliefs toward an "authentic living theology in Asia." (Virginia Fabella, ed., "An Introduction," Asia's Struggle for Full Humanity, NY: Orbis, 1980, p. 5.) It can be seen from the writings and reports stemming from Asian theological conferences that there is a more-than-ever willingness to give up old dogmas, narrow concepts, and fanatical traditions in order to "reach and touch" Asian people in their own "struggle for full humanity." (Fabella, p. 4.)

The theme of this paper is the meaning of the eschatological trend toward revolution and renaissance in Asia. This has urgent implications in understanding God's providence of salvation in history. I am not trying to offer a detailed solution to the problems of indigenization of the gospel in Asian countries, but merely to show, as I have perceived, that the sense of urgency, frustration and unrest in Asian peoples of today is connected to a greater dynamic. My proposal is to show that Asia is the last frontier in a worldwide divine plan before the coming of the "end times" and the simultaneous realization of the messianic mission to establish the Kingdom of God on earth.

"The frontiers of our theology must move from the history of Israel and the history of Christianity in the West to the history in which we are involved in Asia.... We Christians think of history generally in terms of a forward movement with the realization of the kingdom of God as its ultimate goal." (Song, op. cit., pp. 7-8.)

Providential History

In his article, "Reflections from the Philippines," Carlos Abesamis claims God speaks through His saving acts in history. God is also speaking to the religious crisis of today through the pain and suffering of the Asian third world. History is the main theme of the Bible as it deals with the faith and social situation of biblical people. The Bible shows that God brings about salvation through the medium of human efforts and social movements aimed at an ideal world.

"The underlying theological persuasion for making history the source and material of our reflection is the conviction-in-faith that...the God we believe in is a God who acts and speaks very especially in concrete events in history.... Today when theology fixes its gaze upon history to find its materials there, it is looking at the present stage of saving history which is being played in our day." (Carlos H. Abesamis, "Reflections from the Philippines," in Fabella, op. cit., p. 129.)

Kosuke Koyama, a contemporary Asian theologian, says God is the "controller of history." Koyama thinks that the Biblical God who meets the Israelites in the wilderness of Kadesh is not only the controller of world history but rules over nature. The biblical view of history is linear, but Asians see history as circular since their experience of life and death is so closely connected with the cycles of climatic seasons and nature. Koyama does not see these two views of history as mutually exclusive but, when harmonized, there can be "an ascending spiral view of one unified history-nature." In this way Koyama believes that Asians can more easily accept the Christian gospel and see "their God" working through history also. (Kosuke Koyama, Waterbuffalo Theology, London: SCM, 1974, pp. 36-41.)

The Divine Principle, the main source for the teaching of the Unification movement, shows that human history is the history of God's providence to bring the "end times" or Last Days for the purpose of restoring the original world of creation. (Divine Principle, 5th ed., NY: HSA-UWC, 1977. "Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity" is the original name of the "Unification Church." This publication is an English translation from a Korean interpretation of "The Principle," based on the revelations to Sun Myung Moon.) This concept is looked at from four standpoints:

1) From the history of the development of cultural spheres.

Born out of man's original desire and search to attain goodness, religions developed. Even though the people of a certain religion may have perished, the religion, and the culture surrounding that religion, has survived. Among the many religions that have existed in human history, the religions with the "greatest influence inevitably formed cultural spheres" and the weaker were absorbed into the stronger. Today, as a result of the rise and fall of nations in history, four great cultural spheres remain: Confucianism/Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity. Today we can see the trend or direction of these religions or cultural spheres merging and overlapping, which will in the future form one unified world or God's original world of creation.

2) From analyzing the trend of religion and science.

These two areas work toward overcoming two aspects of human ignorance caused by the human fall: ignorance of the spiritual realm and ignorance of the external world and nature. "Today's highly developed scientific world is being restored externally to the stage directly prior to the transition into the ideal world."

3) From the history of war and struggle.

This is a worldwide struggle between good and evil. The final struggle in the "end times" will be a struggle between ideologies.

4) From the fulfillment of biblical prophecy.

The "Tree of Life," mentioned in the Book of Revelation in the Bible (Rev. 22:13-14) as what believers in the Last Days will find when they "wash their robes," is Christ. So, the Bible suggests that God's purpose through human history is to eventually restore the "Garden of Eden" (the ideal world of paradise) centered on Christ who is to come as the Tree of Life. (Divine Principle, pp. 105-111.)

An Asian theologian and prophet, Sun Myung Moon, has described the course of God working in human history from the time of Jesus until today in his book issued from Danbury prison, God's Warning to the World. (Sun Myung Moon, God's Warning to the World, NY: HSA-UWC, 1985. This small book is Rev. Moon's "message from prison," compiled from several of his speeches and sermons, and edited by Dr. Tyler Hendricks.) He writes that after Jesus' death and resurrection when the Christian gospel spread throughout Asia Minor, the providential goal was to evangelize Rome. At the time this target was virtually inconceivable considering the smallness in number of Christians who had no weapons to "conquer" the huge Roman Empire. But because the disciples had unwavering faith in God and willingness to sacrifice unto death, Christianity won over Rome and Roman Catholicism became the core of God's providence in the world.

Yet God's providence centering on Christianity has not been without faltering. In the Middle Ages the "Holy Roman Church" became corrupt; the Catholic clergy claimed lineage to the Apostle Peter but couldn't overcome their own sin. Religious leaders abused their power and Christianity declined. Yet God marched forward with salvation history. In the Middle Ages St. Francis rose up to revitalize the spirit of the church. Later on, however, even the Franciscan Order became divided. At this point, the Catholic Church needed more profound reform.

Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses on the door of the Catholic Church and the Protestant Reformation was born. Righteous reformers emerged throughout Europe dedicated to winning liberation from oppressive doctrines and practices of the "ruling church." Later a Puritan movement began in England as a protest against the corrupt and autocratic practices of the Church of England. People who longed for freedom of worship had to flee the country or be thrown into prison.

The Pilgrims, seeking religious liberty, decided to escape to a new frontier across the Atlantic ocean, risking their lives and their families in the unknown land of America. They followed the same path and pattern as other righteous men in history: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses, leaving their own countries for God's providence.

Out of a seemingly impossible situation, the American Revolution took place with a small army of people dedicated to God, and independence was won. This was the story of America's spiritual heritage on the foundation of Christianity. God blessed this nation but not for the sake of the American people themselves. It was for the purpose of God's ultimate goal of salvation of the world and all humankind. (Ibid., pp. 78-86.)

"We cannot doubt that Christianity today is in definite crisis.... In the present world, tradition has become a shackle, and religions have no way to advance; their former disciplines or traditions are too small to embrace the world. This is why young people are so rebellious in their search for a more open atmosphere. When we see the imbalance and contradiction between the secular world and religious world, we can only conclude that if God is involved at all with this world, then the time has come for Him to undertake some extraordinary, revolutionary action to change completely the format of religion." (Ibid., p. 150.)

Another Asian theologian who has wrestled with the contemporary problem of the "Asian revolution" and sees the eschatological implications in it, is M.M. Thomas. In The Christian Response to the Asian Revolution, he writes: "It is legitimate to ask the question, `What is God doing in and through the Asian revolution?' There is a general consensus among the Churches of Asia that God in Christ is present in the Asian revolution and his creative, judging and redemptive will is its essential dynamic." (M.M. Thomas, The Christian Response to the Asian Revolution, London: SCM, 1966, p. 27.) In answer to the question, "What is it that God is doing through it all?", Thomas suggests three possibilities: to bring to Asians a new human maturity, to prepare them to receive the gospel, and that God is bringing about reform and repentance in the Asian church to fulfill the promise of the Kingdom. Thomas states: "Over against much of the utopianism and despair of secular faiths, the Church has to affirm the Easter faith, which knows the tragedy of the cross but goes on to affirm the resurrection beyond tragedy and, on that basis, sees history and the whole universe moving towards a consummation in the Kingdom of God and His Christ." (Ibid., p. 123.)

Asian Theology Through Dialogue

A Western pastor, Norman Vincent Peale, tells about a convention he attended when he was a college student. He saw a banner with the words, "The Evangelization Of The World In This Generation." Peale writes: "Up to that time I had no thought of being a minister, but when I saw that sign it electrified me. I was actually going to participate in the evangelization of the world in this generation! That was the generation of 1920 to 1930. After seminary I went to work preaching. It is now almost 1986 and we haven't got the world evangelized yet. But does that mean the dream must fade? No. Much progress has been made and we still hold the dream." (Norman Vincent Peale, "Your Dreams Make Reality," PLUS: The Magazine of Positive Thinking: Vol. 36, No. 10, Part II (Dec. '85), p. 21.)

In his paper, "Towards an Asian Theology of Liberation: Some Religio- Cultural Guidelines," Aloysius Pieris poses the consideration: "...what we Asians must readily grant, is that it is not perhaps a new theology we need, but a theological method, indeed the correct method of doing theology." (Fabella, op. cit., p. 89.) Dr. Pieris contends that it is more important for Asians to put practice ahead of theory, and that the creation of theology comes through total commitment and involvement with the oppression and suffering of the people. He says that the coming of God's kingdom will not be a "progressive development, but a process punctured by radical contradictions, violent transformations, and death-resurrection experiences...." (Ibid., p. 90.)

"Well, now that we have seen each other, if you'll believe in me, I'll believe in you. Is that a bargain?" This little quote from Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll was used by C.S. Song very cleverly and delightfully to describe the hope that human beings, from entirely different races, cultures and religions have in dialoguing with each other. (Song, "The Seven Stages of Dialogical Conversion," op. cit., p. 123.) There is a wide gap and bias that can be overcome when participants in ecumenical conferences agree to humble themselves, listen to and try to learn from others with different beliefs from their own. From this kind of agreement and cooperation, a contemporary Asian theology could emerge that would not be "new". That is a theology which proclaims that all peoples of all races, religions and cultures should be united under one God and one Christ, loving each other regardless of their differences. Thus human beings would no longer hurt one another but would treat each other as they would a son or daughter, a sister or a brother, or a mother or a father. The conviction is that this theology is not only the ideal of Almighty God (the Absolute or Supreme One) but the desire and wish and deep longing of every single human being for peace and happiness and harmony, not just in heaven or in an afterlife but on this earth.

In The Emergent Gospel, Peter K.J. Lee says, "Christianity is not new enough for the Asians of today in that it is still tied up with the colonial past." (Peter K.H. Lee, "Between the Old and the New," in The Emergent Gospel, ed. Fabella, NY: Orbis, 1978 [Papers from the Ecumenical Dialogue of Third World Theologians, Dar es Salaam, 1976], p. 129.) It requires only a small awareness to see that "an old order" is crumbling in Asia and the people are in a "spiritual vacuum." He asks the question, "What, then, is keeping the church from making the message of salvation known and acceptable to the people?" He answers his own question in saying that traditional dogmatic Western theology is indeed blocking the way, but instead of revolution, as "liberation theology" would advocate, he proposes the development and building up of the Asian people. Dr. Lee suggests dialogue and working together on "national and local development plans." (Ibid., pp. 127-133.)

The Emergent Gospel and Samartha's Courage for Dialogue are excellent sources for the consensus of many sympathetic and knowledgeable religious leaders and theologians. An outstanding claim of these people is that because of the dialogue, the visits to the homes and working places of the Asian people, and the live-in experiences of the participants at the conferences, there was a reawakening to the urgent importance and need for continuing dialogue with people of different religions and cultures of Asia. In the "Final Statement" of the Conference of "The Ecumenical Dialogue of Third World Theologians" (Aug. 5-12, 1976) it is professed that "...We believe that these religions and cultures have a place in God's universal plan and the Holy Spirit is actively at work among them." (Ibid., "Introduction", p. xvii.)

"But the most important purpose of dialogue is the common search for community-the one world under God-which has become a desperately urgent issue in the world we live in today.... Either we learn to live in mutual acceptance, openness and in brotherhood with our neighbors or miss the mission of God of bringing all things under His love." (S. Wesley Ariarajah, "The Understanding and Practice of Dialogue: Its Nature, Purpose and Variations" in Faith in the Midst of Faiths, ed. S.J. Samartha, Geneva, Switzerland: World Council of Churches, 1977.)

Through the International Religious Foundation (IRF), an affiliate of the Unification Church International, a tour is sponsored each summer for young students from various religious, races and cultures. In the tour of July 4-Aug. 24, 1985, one hundred and forty participants went on a religious tour to 38 countries, some of which were: Israel, Turkey, India, Thailand, Hong Kong, China and Korea. Excerpts from an article in Today's World entitled "World Peace Through Religious Dialogue and Harmony" state:

"The participants not only learned about the various world traditions first hand, but in each place they went they made an impact. In a sense the seminar participants were young ambassadors of peace, and together we were a living message of hope for world peace and harmony." (From an article by Mel Haft and Ian Haycroft, written about the Youth Seminar of World's Religions [YSWR], a religious world tour sponsored by the Unification Church. Excerpts are taken from the magazine, Today's World [Oct./Nov. '85], pp. 65-66.)

"On this trip the relationship between our ecumenical movement and our direct witnessing became much clearer to me.... Both aspects are crucial to the same goal of building God's Kingdom.... The most essential religious experience for me on the trip was the feeling I got for the contribution that all these religions made in providential history." (Ibid., pp. 69-70, "A Chance to Engage in Profound Soul- Searching," by Andrea Higashibaba, a student at the Unification Theological Seminary.)

"I also learned that it is not enough to study a religion and have interfaith dialogue with its believers. To understand the heart of a religion we must also be able to touch the spirit, the mystical core of faith. Even though we may not agree in doctrine, by doing this together we can meet the heart of God." (Ibid., p. 70, "To Touch the Spirit of Islam," by Christine Hempowicz, also a student at UTS.)

Commemorating the centennial of the World's Parliament of Religions, held in Chicago in 1893, the Assembly of the World's Religions convened Nov. 15-21, 1985 at the Great Gorge Hotel in McAfee, New Jersey. Over 600 participants gathered from 85 nations of the world. This historic event was the result of a vision for interreligious unity and dialogue that the founder of the Unification movement has had for over 40 years: seeing religious leaders of the world join together in the urgent quest for communication, harmony and action in order to solve the injustices of the world. Several participants later made the following comments:

"In ecumenical conferences of this type you usually hear speeches about how great everyone is, and what wonderful things the churches are doing. But on the opening night Reverend Moon spoke and he pointed out our shortcomings. He let us know that the work is not done, that we're not really there yet. And every one of us-even the great leaders of religions, swamis, and professors-the speech humbled us all. He said that we have let atheists take the upper hand in the world because of our religious separation and our nationalism and because we don't truly understand the real meaning of our own religions." ("The Assembly of the World's Religions," Today's World; article by Laura Reinig describing the event. This quote was excerpted from one of the participants, Hafiz Farid: "Two Participants Share Their Thoughts about the Assembly," p. 45.)

"One significance of the conference was that it helped people see where the answer isn't. The answer isn't in trying to make one world religion based on concepts and beliefs.... It's not a matter of synthesizing the traditions.... It's too mechanistic and you will never get an agreement. The answer is each of us taking responsibility for being who we really are.... It's the coming together with people who have gone through a common experience that's going to change the earth.... God isn't a concept to be understood but an experience to be realized and expressed." (Ibid., p. 46. Excerpted from the same article by another participant, George Emery.)

The main theme of the Assembly of the World's Religions was expressed in the Founder's plenary address, "Dialogue and Alliance." In it Rev. Moon said that the "... Messianic hope of an ideal world is not just a vague dream, but should become a substantial reality in our lives." The main content of the address was an honest look at the reality of today's world and how "God has worked through the world's religions to restore fallen humanity to its original state." ("Dialogue and Alliance," Founder's Address by Sun Myung Moon given at the Assembly of the World's Religions, Nov. 15, 1985, Today's World (Jan. '86), p. 40.)

"God is asking religious leaders, today's prophets and priests, to solve these problems.... There should be a new reformation.... Every religion should work beyond its own benefit to liberate the world from poverty and disease.... Only through a religious and spiritual revolution bringing great harmony, love and compassion will we finally realize the ideal world of peace.... Only in communion with the Absolute and with love for one another can individuals, groups and nations prepare for and become a part of the Kingdom of God on earth." (Ibid., pp. 41-42.)

In addition to ecumenical dialogue with peoples of other faiths, many contemporary Christian Asian theologians are writing refreshing, penetrating and challenging ideas about how to reconstruct and support the turmoil that is taking place in Asian theology today. Tissa Balasuriya, an Asian theologian, in his article "Liberation of Theology in Asia," has an interesting point of view. He admonishes his peers to take a "fresh look at the central core of the Christian message," that is, go back to the Bible to the original source of revelation and purge our minds of the creedal doctrines that have denied the "universality of Jesus Christ," urging that they become more familiar with the "historical Jesus of Nazareth." (Tissa Balasuriya, "Liberation of Theology in Asia," Fabella, op. cit., p. 26.)

"As an Asian I cannot accept as divine and true any teaching which begins with the presupposition that all my ancestors for innumerable generations are eternally damned by God unless they had been baptized in or were related to one of the Christian institutional churches.... God is surely not an unfair God; God is no exceptor of persons; God loves all. Theology must honestly respect these millions upon millions of my ancestors and future human beings, before I can accept theology as a true interpretation of revelation from a loving God, Father of all." (Ibid., p. 19.)

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