Chapter 18

The Mission of God in the Context of the
Suffering and Struggling People of Asia

I. A Historical Review

During the long history of Asian peoples through Nestorian Orthodox communities in China and India, Mar Thoma and Syrian Orthodox churches in India and Roman Catholic and Protestant missions and churches, Christian communities across Asia have born witness to Christ Jesus. Some Asian indigenous churches have emerged as well. It is the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA), however, that has been decisive in making the Christian witness really ecumenical among the suffering and struggling Asian peoples.

The ecumenical witness, enhanced by the very formation of CCA, gained its distinct character through challenging the divisive denominational, confessional, ecclesiastical and theological rivalry that originated in the Western churches and their missions in Asia. CCA catalyzed the process of transforming and consolidating Asian Christian organizations into united national churches and councils in which the distinct ecclesial and theological traditions and experiences of the denominations are no longer divisive obstacles but have become sources of mutual enrichment in unity.

CCA has called the churches in Asia to be in unity not only across different ecclesial and theological traditions but also across national political borderlines, religious-cultural and ethnic barriers and socio-economic demarcations. CCA has called the churches, their mission workers and their leaders into conferences and consultations to share experiences and wisdom for the witness to the Gospel in Asia. CCA has persistently resisted the residual pressures of divisiveness from church institutions in the West and in Asia.

Furthermore, CCA has sought to reshape the horizon of the ecumenical movement from that of an Asian colonial extension of Western Christendom to the authentic horizon of the Asian peoples. The Asian horizon, culturally and religiously a rainbow with many visible and invisible colors, had not been clearly recognized in the Western colonial horizon dominated by the Western Christian world view.

The national, religious and cultural identities and heritages of the Asian peoples and the diversity of their secular socio- economic and political contexts have been taken seriously in Asia. Ecumenicity in Asia has not meant merely the unity of the churches and missions but the catholicity of the Christian community in embracing the people of different cultures and religions in their di Verse socio-economic and political contexts. Ecumenical commitment in Asia has meant the rejection and overcoming of the dichotomy of Western Christianity vs. pagan Asia and the embracing of all the peoples of Asia with their different histories, cultures and religions. The ecumenical mandate was to respond to the peoples in Asia in their suffering and in their struggles. The ecumenical task of CCA, therefore, has been to consult, dialog and share among Christian communities, communities of Asian faiths, communities of different political convictions and a variety of people’s movements across national, cultural and religious boundaries.

In the 1940s and 1950s, the Christian churches sought to respond to the national struggles for political independence, to participate in the formation of new states and subsequently to take part in the task of nation-building. The issue of Church, State and religion has been an important one for the churches of Asia and accordingly for CCA. National revolutions, coupled with political struggles and a religious-cultural resurgence among the Asian people, demanded distinct historical responses from the churches. These historical challenges shaped the nature and content of the ecumenical witness to the Gospel among the peoples in Asia. Colonial chains, cultural as well as political, had to be broken by independence and cultural renewal. Christians in Asia joined in these national liberation struggles in spite of ecclesial ties with Western Christendom, whose extension was the colonial power.

The national independence and liberation struggle was not merely political: its task was to form a humane community for the realization of freedom, justice and peace. Therefore, human rights, socio-economic justice and international and national peace were basic requirements. National revolutionary processes and people’s resistance were often necessary against the different forms of foreign domination. Sometimes these took violent forms through revolution and war. This historical course shaped and reshaped the character of Christian witness in the Asian nations.

Since its inception, but especially since the 1960s, it is this struggle of the Asian people which has been the crucial context for debate on all ecumenical issues - evangelism, theological development, justice, dialog with Asian religions and the issue of Church and State - for CCA and the East Asia Christian Conference (EACC), the forerunner of CCA.

The ecumenical movement in Asia has undergone a shift from the ecclesio-centric paradigm of Western Christendom to the people- centered paradigm with which the Gospel is intertwined. General Assemblies and various conferences and consultations of CCA have said that the people have come of age in Asian history.

In the context of this new paradigm, the mission of God has been explored as a guiding dynamic for the involvement of Asian Christian communities in the history of their peoples. The theology of Misszo Dci has greatly influenced Christian communities’ participation in society since the traditional notion of the mission of the Church was too limiting, and the typical church was too tied to the ecclesial concern of church order and confessional formulas to be an incarnating community in the life of the people. The mission of the Church was seen as being preoccupied with and confined by evangelistic and social service concerns. Thus, Missio Dei has been the central theological theme providing the basis for ecumenical involvement among the peoples in the world.

One of the abiding questions in this ecumenical history and mission has been how to relate and engage traditional theological, ecclesial and missiological concerns directly and transparently with the suffering and struggling peoples of Asia. The more this question was pressed, the more acutely the limitations of traditional theologies and ecclesial forms were felt, especially Christology and ecclesiology, both in theory and historical practice. Therefore, CCA has in recent years undertaken new probes into Christology and ecclesiology from this standpoint through various consultation and reflection processes.

II. God Works among the Suffering and Struggling People in Asia

The basic witness is affirmed again: The story of the people unfolds as a story of the people of God according to the stories of the Biblical people of God. The peoples in Asia move and have their being in their suffering, their struggle, their hopes and aspirations as God moves and has being in their history, for the stories of Asian peoples are intrinsically connected with the story of Jesus Christ. Christian communities believe that the fundamental stream of the story of the peoples in Asia is being shaped by the story of Jesus Christ: Jesus is the Savior and the Messiah of the people in Asia. This paradigm determines the nature of the paradigm of Christian witness among the people.

This leaves us with the critical task of assessing the past history of Christian witness in Asia. The Asian churches internalized Western concepts of theology and practice, which are still in Western form and style; the churches’ colonial links with Western Christendom still linger as well, hampering our authentic witness. These links are not just bygone memories but remain in force in our theology, church order, missiological practice and Christian lifestyle as well as in our cultural, socio-economic and political life. A serious critical re- examination of Asian Christian life in the churches and in the world is in order and has been carried out to some extent as the churches seek to witness among the suffering and struggling peoples in Asia.

Recently, however, we see a reverse development as illustrated by the conservative mood of the churches everywhere and the onslaught of certain American evangelical groups, which seem to have assumed a distinct political role on behalf of the global political power. Their apparent aim is political intervention in the name of international mission, attacking the Asian ecumenical movement in particular. This is a regrettable development for ecumenical witness among the Asian peoples. One has to be concerned about "right-wing" Christian penetration into Asian churches and Christian communities for the purpose of co-opting them for conservative political objectives.

A. Who Are the People?

"Minjung," "Janata": words for the suffering people can be found in all the Asian languages. It is our historical affirmation that the people are known by their stories of suffering and struggle and their aspirations in their historical context. Ordinary people tell their own stories to let other people know about their deep inner experiences as well as their external circumstances. The socio-economic history of peoples based upon their own stories provides deep historical knowledge about social reality when it is written and read from the Minjung perspective. We believe that this is the best historical epistemology. The people know, for they have experienced.

There have been efforts to clarify the question: Who are the Minjung (people)? This question has raised another series of questions: what is a definition, who defines, who names and what is the purpose of the definition? Is not the definition another form of control?

We need to clarify, however, the notion of the Minjung, that is, the reality of the Minjung without violating their subjecthood. The naming and definition of the Minjung should be defined by the people themselves based upon their own stories and should lead to self-affirmation and selfclarification.

The Minjung are the subject. They act, struggle against evil forces, have visions of the new tomorrow and tell their own stories. The subjecthood of the people is violated by others defining them. The people should define who they are and what they are.

Given this basic principle, we should still, however, be able to clarify who the people are in concrete terms. In Asia when we refer to the people, the Minjung, the Janata, etc., we are talking about the socio-economically poor, the politically oppressed and the religio-culturally alienated and suppressed. They are dalits, low caste and outcast people in India, oppressed ethnic minorities, colonized people. They do not have wealth, power or status in their own society. They suffer because of the structures that place them in unjust relationships with the powerful, the wealthy and the high-ranking or high-caste people. These structures may be socio-economic structures of class differentiation, authoritarian or dictatorial political systems of oppression, a cultural system of patriarchy, religious caste systems or discriminatory ethnical value systems. The systems of injustice operate in complex ways and in shifting combinations. Under them, the people suffer double and triple oppressions, which ultimately drains their spiritual vitality.

The objective conditions of the people are always changing while the basic structure of injustice, such as class, caste, patriarchy and race, remains fairly constant. The people’s subjective responses to their objective conditions vary according to time and locus, mood and atmosphere. The story that they tell is the integrated whole of the social and historical forces they have confronted and the experiences through which they have lived.

In the final analyses, the affirmation that the people are the subject of their own story means that they are the subject of history in general. Politically speaking, they are sovereign in the state and its government. The suffering of the people means that their sovereignty is violated by the powers and structures; it means that they must strive for the restoration of their political sovereignty.

The subjecthood of the people is manifest in their struggle in resistance against oppressive structures and powers. At this moment, the power reacts and becomes violent against the people. This level of suffering of the people is different from the "passive" suffering under unjust structures. The suffering of the people on this political level is caused by the violent powers-that-be in the form of military suppression, intelligence operations, political oppression, ideological ostracism and cultural "violence" (distorted education and communication). As the people stand up as their own subjects, resisting the unjust powers and struggling to transform the oppressive structures, the powers become fiercely violent against the people’s struggle.

The people define themselves and forge their being in response to the unjust and violent reality of the powers that oppress them. Under the despotic rule of kingdoms and ancient regimes, authoritarian and military dictatorships and totalitarian rule, the people are defined as the oppressed.

Under class domination, the people are defined as a suppressed and exploited class. Under the caste system, the people are defined by their caste. Under cultural domination, they are the culturally alienated. Under patriarchy, the women are the Minjung. Under generational oppression, it is the young. The Asian people, who are oppressed, exploited and repressed under coniplex forms of socio-economic, political and religiocultural domination, seek to liberate themselves through their struggle to overcome these dominations and to create new humane communities of liberation, justice and peace.

The suffering of the people is closely connected with the reality of the principalities and powers in Asia and in the world. To be concerned with the suffering of the people in Asia means to tackle the realities of the powers that dominate them and cause their suffering. Their struggle is to transform the oppressive dominating powers into servants of the people, not lords over them.

B. Power and the Suffering People:

Are the Powers Serving the People or Dominating Them?

The story of suffering of the Asian people is intertwined with the history of political regimes in Asia. Feudal lords, sultans, kings, military dictators, authoritarian and totalitarian powers must all be reckoned with when the people tell their own stories truly and fully.

The powerful have always justified themselves in the name of the people. Throughout history, polities have been formed and the powers-that-be have been legitimated in the name of heaven, in the name of the people and in the name of the truth. This process has to be unmasked. Reading the story of the people will expose the hypocrisy of the powers and their hidden evil motives of domination over the people.

There are generally three ways of justifying the powers-that-be: the traditional, the liberal and the revolutionary arguments. The source of authoritarian and despotic rule is usually the traditional language of Confucian, Islamic or Buddhist rule along with modern Western militarist and technocratic theories; the liberal justification comes from Western colonialism; and revolutionary political theories, such as Marxism, have come from the West as well. Often a combination of these political languages functions to defend the principalities and powers.

The people’s struggle, carried out under the concrete socio- economic conditions of their societies, also confronts the international nexus of economic and financial powers. The people have suffered under traditional, feudalistic or semi-feudalistic social structures, under the colonial economic structures of exploitation, under national economic structures penetrated by the global capitalist powers and networks and under socialist reconstruction plans. The prominent role of transnational capital in the form of giant transnational corporations (TNCs) and international financial institutions, such as transnational banks (TNBs), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, are known to be detrimental to the economic security of the poor people in every nation of Asia. The people are seeking not only food but also socio-economic security for the fullness of their life. In most Asian nations, the State plays the prominent role in planning and managing the economy; but in some nations, private economic powers have decisive influence. In neither of these cases do the people have any effective way to participate in the planning and management of the national economy. It is a fundamental necessity for a people to have a democratic vision of the socio-economic context of their own nation, free of domination from within or without.

C. The Peoples of Asia Are the People of God

Another question, in addition to the definition problem, is the theological status of the people. The most basic theological affirmation is that the peoples of Asia are the children of God. The suffering and struggling people are the people of God; they are created by God, who has overcome the forces of chaos and darkness, the power of death. God is the Life-Giver, Life-Sustainer and Life-Fulfiller of the people in Asia. God the Creator is the God of the suffering and struggling peoples of Asia, no matter who they are in terms of religion, political ideology or cultural differences.

The God of the Exodus hears the cries of the suffering peoples in Asia; the God of the Hapiru (Egyptian slaves) promises liberation to the suffering peoples in Asia; the God of the prophets is the Cod of Asian history, which is full of injustice and suffering. The people of God are anawim (the poor), Am ha Rethz (the people of the earth), goyim (nations) and ethne (ethnic people). The dal its, Janata, Minjung, the poor, oppressed, women and ethnically and culturally alienated in Asia are the very people of God.

The mission of God among the suffering people of Asia is to restore their life and dignity to the fullest so that the image of God may be realized among them. God makes the poor socio- economically secure. God frees and liberates those oppressed and imprisoned by the dictatorial powers. God establishes justice, overthrowing the structures and systems of injustice. God gives peace to the refugees, the exiled people, the captives in the desolate, war-torn wastelands.

God’s household is established to secure the life of the suffering people among whom God dwells. In God’s dwelling among the people, there is shalom, not war; justice, not Han (a deep sense of being wronged); freedom, not enslavement. God’s work among the suffering people in Asia is the establishment of God’s sovereign rule of justice in which the people become sovereign. It is the establishment of the oikonomia (household = political economy) of God in which the peoples of Asia may be socio-economically secure in order to have fullness of life. God’s work is to establish shalom among the people so~that they may enjoy a culturally abundant life as well as a free and secure life in society. The suffering and struggling peoples of Asia are the people of Cod. This is what we believe and confess.

In Asia, however, the Christian churches have constricted Jesus Christ to exclude the peoples of Asia from the category of the people of God. This Christological constriction made Christ captive to the established churches and unavailable to the peoples of Asia. The churches have been exclusive in the name of Christ, alienating the people of different religious faiths and political ideologies. Furthermore, the Christ of the established churches has been identified with the dominant powers-that-be and, therefore, could not be identified with the suffering and struggling peoples of Asia. Thus, there has been a tendency in the Asian ecumenical movement to favor Missio Dci over Missio Christi. Consequently, the ecclesial implications of Missio Dci have been neglected, and Missio Christi is shunned in the ecumenical movement, especially in the circle closely associated with the people’s movements in Asia.

It is M. M. Thomas who has relentlessly raised the Christological focus as the basis of the ecumenical movement, for he regards Christ as the center of the Gospel (M. M. Thomas, Risking Christ for Christ’s Sake, 1987). He seeks to find Christ not only in the churches but also in Indian religions and in the secular ideologies. Missio Dei, centering around God the Creator, is a more convenient concept in relating to other religions and ideologies, but it does not raise critical questions about the core of the Gospel, that is, Jesus Christ, and consequently, the Church, which is the body of Christ.

C. S. Song has helped us to find Christ in God the Creator, who is also Redeemer. Song seeks to overcome the dichotomy between Christ and Cod in the framework of God the Creator-Redeemer. Song also prefers the Creator as the Redeemer rather than only Christ as Redeemer.

We believe that the people of God are the suffering and struggling people of Asia. If this is true, then we must believe that the peoples of Asia are the people of Christ Jesus. We must clarify the relationship between Christ and the suffering and struggling people of Asia. We must proclaim that the people of Asia are of Christ and that Christ is of the peoples of Asia. Jesus is the Christ of the Asian peoples.

III. Jesus Is the Messiah (in Greek, Christ) of the People of Asia:
A Search for Christ (in Hebrew, Messiah) among the Suffering and Struggling Peoples in Asia

A. A Historical Note on Asian Christology

The ancient Christian witness by the Syrian Orthodox Church, the Mar Thoma Church and the Nestorian Orthodox Church penetrated quietly into the Asian civilizations, making a considerable mark upon the religious and cultural life of the peoples, which were still under the shadows of the dominant Asian civilizations and empires. They did not come through the sponsorship of the commercial and colonial powers. The experiences of these Christian communities are yet to be appreciated by our contemporary ecumenical witness.

When Christ came again, it was as Crusader and Conqueror of the Asian infidels, pagans and heathens under the aegis of the Roman Catholic missions, which came to Asia along with the Portuguese and Spanish commercial and colonial powers. Next there came a Christ protected by the colonial powers - a promoter of Western capitalism and a transmitter of Western civilization. The Asian people regard this Christ as profoundly ambiguous, associating him with Western colonial power, be it British imperial power, Dutch colonialism or American neo-colonial power. This Christ could not identify with the oppressed under the colonial powers nor with the exploited under Western capitalist economic powers. This Christ was only interested in the salvation of individual souls, in social reform according to the model of Western societies and in cultural enlightenment to replace the Asian cultures with Western civilization and paternalistic charity to the needy. The Christ of the Protestant missions was the product of Western middle-class culture; the Christologies of Western theology had been captured by this cultural milieu. This Christ could not come among the suffering and struggling peoples in Asia.

Then there arose a desire for an indigenous Christ with a flat nose and Oriental garb as the nationalist reaction against the colonial West became intense. Much debate has taken place on the issue of indigenization of the Gospel concerning the authenticity of the indigenized Christ. Was it capitulation to the indigenous cultural tradition of the people, already in need of radical renewal? Was it another form of accommodation to the politically emergent powers of nationalism? Or was it a liberation of Christ from the Western cloak of cultural and ideological domination? This question remains to be debated and answered.

Christ’s presence in the ecumenical movement has had different manifestations. The shells and masks of Christ that were constructed under the past colonial era have been completely shattered, though their remains still linger.

Responding to the nationalist powers’ commitment to nation-building through revolution, the Christ was still associated with the Westerner. Revolutionaries, both nationalist and socialist, rejected Him as anti-revolutionary. The churches witnessed to a Christ who was transcendent over the revolutionary process in Asia. Christ did not work in a revolutionary way to fulfill the aspirations of the peoples in Asia, but rather He was bound to the individualistic and spiritualistic ethos of the liberal middle class in Asia, similar to that in the West. Revolutionaries in China, Vietnam and Korea viewed the Christ as the enemy of national liberation. Although they fought for revolution side by side with Christian revolutionaries, they refused to recognize the revolutionary Christ, who could have revolutionized the revolution itself.

B. Missio Christi among the Suffering People

God dwells among the Asian people, establishing God’s household (oikonomia). This event, this historical fact and this faith is the Biblical witness and faith in Christ. Christ is Immanuel (Matt. 1:23: God with the people = God dwells with the people of God). Thus, Missio Dei is necessarily and inevitably Missio Christi (Rev. 21:3).

There is a new Christ in Asia: Christ Jesus as Cod dwelling among the Asian peoples, suffering and struggling with them for a new history and a new society. We are discovering this new and Biblical Christ and are seeking to discern a Missio Christi among the suffering and struggling peoples in Asia.

The mission of God is most clearly manifested and revealed in the Christ who is the Suffering Servant among the suffering peoples of Asia. In suffering together with the Asian people, Christ finds His identity and even His being in Asian history. This is the first dimension of the solidarity of Christ with the Asian people. It is Messianic solidarity, which is in contrast to Christ as a political Messiah dominating the people.

Jesus identified with - and shared His life and destiny with - the suffering servants of his time: He became a slave to be friends with the ochlos, the crowd, the Minjung, the sick, the sinners and the poor and oppressed of His time (Ahn, Jesus and Ochlos, 1979). He ate, drank and feasted with them. He had communion (koinonia) with them in joy and sorrow. Crucifixion was His destiny in which the ultimate solidarity and identification with the suffering people was realized. His disciples knew that the way of this crucifixion was the mark of true solidarity with the people and, therefore, solidarity with God. The final and decisive Christology is manifested in the form of the hungry, the thirsty and the imprisoned (Matt. 25:31-46). This is the supreme Christology in which the Christ and the suffering people are indistinguishable. Christ is everywhere. Christ does not appear with special Christological titles, special ecclesial status or metaphysical justification. The presence of Christ is discerned where He is in solidarity with the suffering people. This is the supreme Christological mystery, abundantly transparent, but utterly unbelievable to the oppressor and the rich.

The Christology of the Suffering Servant and Kenosis Christology (Phil. 2:6-11: Christ became a slave on the cross) has been regarded as somewhat ambiguous by us ecumenical Christians. The servant or slave image has been particularly repugnant to us as it could be used to justify and romanticize the suffering of the people to put them to sleep. True, this has been the interpretation of the established churches.

Victims of political oppression and economic exploitation, however, easily identify with Christ the Victim. Christ the Suffering Servant is preeminently the Christ struggling against the power of the Roman Empire, the principalities and powers and the power of death. The Roman Empire was on trial at the cross before the Divine Tribunal of Justice. This was only recognized by the suffering people with whom Jesus identified. The Suffering Servant exposes the injustices of the Babylons throughout the ages and here in Asia too.

The Suffering Servant names the beasts - the Leviathan and the Behemoth - which destroy life in the Garden. Today the suffering peoples in Asia name the beasts - the dictatorships and TNCs - which are the twin beasts of the imperial powers. The Suffering Servant names them as the Leviathan and Behemoth that destroy the people in the Garden of Life of Asia.

Jesus’ identification and solidarity with the Suffering Servant has positive Christological implications for the redefining and transforming of power (exousiai) and authority (arche) . He says, "If anyone wants to be first, he must make himself last of all and servant of all (Mark 10:35)."

Servanthood is the true nature of the principalities and powers-that-be; this is directly coined in the sovereign rights of the people. The beasts have legitimacy only through their servanthood to the people. The solidarity of Christ the Suffering Servant with the struggling people in Asia means that the purpose of His struggle against the powers and principalities is to transform and tame them to serve the people. Christ’s solidarity with the people cannot tolerate the dominant powers that oppress the Asian people.

The ecumenical movement has used the unity paradigm in the past and in the present. The Christological foundation is that Christ is one. Here the churches should be one in Christ so that the world may be one. We feel that this ecumenical paradigm of unity is necessary but not sufficient when we take seriously the historical horizon of the people. Christ was one with the people, the suffering and struggling people of Asia. This oneness with people should be called solidarity. Cod was in solidarity with the people in Christ. Cod dwells with the people in Christ. Here we are moving to a new ecumenical paradigm of solidarity. The Christological foundation for solidarity is that Christ means Cod’s solidarity with the suffering and struggling people for their liberation. This Christ is different from Christ the Conqueror.

When Christ means solidarity, the ecumenical movement finds its new paradigm in solidarity with the suffering and struggling people. What is the nature of this solidarity? It is Cod’s relationship with God’s people; certainly it is not merely Christian solidarity. Christian solidarity is a means to participate in Cod’s solidarity with the people. Solidarity is inclusive, all-embracing and even universal. Solidarity is catholicity to embrace all peoples in the whole of oikoumene. The Christological paradigm of solidarity demands that the ecumenical movement and churches be in solidarity with the suffering and struggling people in an all-embracing and inclusive way.

Cod’s solidarity with the people is most singularly manifest in Christ the Suffering Servant. The unique nature of this solidarity should be maintained and preserved. It is manifest in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christ’s suffering on the cross and His struggle to overcome the forces of death is the very matrix of the suffering and struggle of the peoples in the world. God’s solidarity with the people is made historical in the life and death of Jesus Christ; and at the same time, Jesus Christ is the paradigm of all solidarities with the suffering and struggling people. This is our ecumenical confession in Asia today.

This crystal-clear event and paradigm of Christ’s solidarity will liberate churches and Christian communities to become involved in solidarity across religious and ideological boundaries. The uniqueness and particularity of Christ’s solidarity with the people will lay the foundation for churches and Christian communities to be all-embracing and inclusive in their solidarity relationships. The uniqueness and catholicity of Christ’s solidarity with the people are two essential foci for ecumenical solidarity with the peoples of Asia.

In this ecumenical solidarity, the Christian churches and communities are to share suffering and pain, joy and hope and vision and passion with the peoples in Asia to transform the present for a new tomorrow.

In China, such solidarity of the churches with the people enables Christians to divest themselves of ambiguous Western vestiges and to discover the selfhood of the Chinese Christian community. This solidarity of the Christian community with the people enables them to understand the deeper aspirations of the Chinese people and to communicate the deeper meaning of the Gospel beyond ideological, political and cultural levels. In solidarity with the people, the churches can share the Good News of the Gospel in the deepest sense. The message of the Gospel brings the people into solidarity with Christ, and the churches’ solidarity with the people brings the people to the depth of the Gospel.

IV. The Body of Christ Is the Oikonomia of God among the People

The Church is not merely the gathering and community of believers in isolation and exclusiveness, but it is the Body (Soma) of Christ, which is in solidarity with the people. Therefore, there is an intrinsic identity and solidarity between the Body of Christ and the body of the people of Jesus Christ, that is, between the community of Christ and the community of the people. Christ means God’s dwelling and solidarity among the people. Therefore, the Body of Christ means God’s solidarity with the body of the people in a sociological sense. The historical- sociological formation of the Body of Christ or ecclesia or community of Christians is the foundation, the root and the leaven for the social body, that is, the community of the struggling and suffering people in Asia.

The ecclesiology in the Asian ecumenical movement should be stated as "the Body of Christ in solidarity with the people." It is the oneness of the Body of Christ with the body of the people, the bodily and social solidarity (incarnation and Immanuel) of God with the people in Asia (John 1:14). The Body of Christ means the oikonomia tou theou with the people of God (Eph. 2:19- 22), that is, the management of the household of God for the security of the people of God. The oikonomia of God as the Body of Christ is the establishment of the "socio-economic security" of the people of God, establishing the Garden of Life, full of justice and peace. This is the deepest level of our ecclesiological foundation. Koinonia as the internal life of the Body of Christ and diakonia as the external mission of the Body of Christ are grounded in the oikonomia of God. Already in God’s oikonomia all the suffering and struggling people are included. The Body of Christ is broken for the people. The life of Christ is shared with the people and given up for them. This is the ecclesiology of believers that embraces the sociology of the people in Asia.

The implication of this ecumenical ecclesiology is very clear: first of all, we need to review the historical and existing ecclesiologies in Asia - not merely in terms of Asian church history - but in terms of the history of Asian peoples, that is, in terms of solidarity with the peoples in Asia. The traditional understanding of issues of church and society needs radical review.

The ecclesial reality of the ancient churches witnessing among the Asian peoples must be reviewed historically and ecclesiologically. The experiences of the ancient churches in India as well as contemporary ecumenical experiences; the Chinese experience of Nestorian Christianity, its relation to Maitreiya Buddhism and ecclesial development in contemporary China; and a critical review of the Roman Catholic and Protestant ecclesiologies need to be done.

Was the Roman Catholic ecclesiological tradition and form merely an extension of the political, socio-economic and cultural reality, or was it the persecuted Body of Christ in solidarity with the people, like the early Roman Catholic community (Kyowoohoe) in Korea? Kyowoohoe had neither Yangban (aristocrat) nor commoner, that is, no social discrimination and, therefore, was very subversive of the Yangban-dominated society.

Has Protestant ecclesiology been an extension of Western Christendom with all of its paraphernalia or the formation of a new community of believers in solidarity with the oppressed people? Churches in Indonesia, Korea and other countries acted in solidarity with the struggling people for independence and liberation. The ecclesiological experiences of this solidarity need to be explored more deeply.

Such experiences are the important beginning of a new ecclesiology to respond to the aspirations of the people for national independence and liberation. Many independent churches in Asia and Africa have attempted this path of solidarity with their struggling people, even though these attempts have been overshadowed by an ecclesiology dominated by the Western churches and their theology.

The Asian ecumenical movement has seen major developments in transcending the various divisions of the churches, establishing new ecumenical ventures in solidarity with the people and overcoming its isolation and separation from the people. A new ecumenical horizon has been opened to deepen the meaning of being the Church among the people.

There have been creative discussions and debates in the life of CCA: the ecclesiological discussion in conjunction with the political vision of the peoples in Asia, as well as with the question of faith and ideology, and the Christological discussion in conjunction with the suffering and struggling of the people. These discussions should be deepened and widened in all dimensions. Historical review is required. Fresh Biblical probes and reflections have to be carried out in the context of the people’s movements. Traditional ecclesiologies and existing church orders must be examined in light of the missiological tasks of the churches as well as in light of the social reality and vision of the peoples in Asia. In this sense, a new and continuous theological thrust in the search for Christ and the Body of Christ among the suffering and struggling people should be high on the agenda of the Asian ecumenical movement.

A. The Political Economy (Oikonomia) of God and the Body of Christ

Solidarity among the peoples in Asia is the reality of Christ, which is God’s oikonomia with the suffering peoples in Asia. The theology of solidarity is manifested in the reality of Christ, who is the historical fact and final realization of God’s being in solidarity with the people, the Immanuel and the incarnation. The Body of Christ is God’s oikonomia with the people, that is, the Church and the ecumenical movement.

An Asian ecclesiology of solidarity spells out more than solidarity among Christians; for even at the risk of Christian solidarity, the churches and ecumenical movement must pursue solidarity with the suffering and struggling people. This is the true being of the Body of Christ, which is broken for the people so that they may have eternal life.

The churches and ecumenical movement in Asia should involve themselves in the political economy of the Asian people for the realization of the oikonomia of God among the people. In the household of God, the basic socio-economic security and shalom (well-being) of the people are assured, as the land and the production and distribution of resources for the people’s life are in the hands of God. The integrity of the Asian earth is also for the secure and full life of its people. No power or principality should be allowed to plunder the resources of life merely to serve the greed and profit of the rich and a powerful minority.

In the ecumenical paradigm of solidarity, the basic framework of the life and mission of the churches, as well as of the faith and order of the Christian community, should be the oikonomia tou theou, the household of God which manages the life of the people of God for their justice and shalom. In the household of God in which all people participate, the koinonia, diakonia and kerygma of the churches should be expressions of God’s solidarity with the people.

B. Ecumenical Solidarity and Communication among the People:
Building Ecumenical Solidarity Is Essentially a Matter of Communication

We have stated that God’s oikonomia is among the peoples in Asia and that this is the way that God’s solidarity relations are established. We have also stated that Christ means God’s oikonomia and solidarity with the people. Christ is not Christ by Himself: Christ is the Messiah of the suffering and struggling people in Asia, and therefore, the Body of Christ is one with the social reality of the people (soma = body = communality). In the solidarity relations of God, Christ and the Spirit with the people, there emerges a theological constellation: the sovereign Reign of God over the whole world in which the people are sovereign subjects; the Messianic Reign of Christ, which manifests itself as the oikonomia (political economy) of God fort he socio-economic security of the people; and the life-giving power of the Spirit, which sustains the people with new vision and hope in the midst of their suffering and struggle.

Now we are earnestly hoping to have a new event of ecumenical Pentecost, to pronounce the Year of Jubilee when the people will receive the Spirit - the Spirit who gives vitality, passion, hope and vision to them. For too long, the work of the Spirit has been misunderstood as trivial superstition confined within ecclesiastical boundaries; the power of the Spirit on earth to transform the historical realities of death, injustice and darkness into life, justice and shalom has been ignored.

The Spirit is the source of life among the people; the Spirit raises the prophets to proclaim the justice of God among the people; the Spirit raises dry bones into living people to renew history. The Spirit gives the people a vision of a new heaven and a new earth so that they may have passion and the will to struggle for a new history, so that they may perceive historical realities as the rule of the power of death and so that they may have hope for their final victory in the Messianic Reign of Christ Jesus. This Spirit cannot be narrowly contained within the ecclesiastical institutions. The Spirit works and moves among the peoples in Asia.

It is no wonder that the first Pentecost was a communication miracle in which the preaching of the apostle Peter was communicated to the hearts of the people, who spoke different languages. This communication event not only overcame the division and separation of the people but also enabled them to build new communities of solidarity, a new oikonomia, a new language and new communities - a historical leaven that overthrew the "Babylonian" political economy, and historically speaking, the political economy of the Roman Empire.

The Good News must be proclaimed among the suffering and struggling people. God is in solidarity with the peoples in Asia. This is the meaning of Christ in Asia: that Jesus Christ is the Messiah of the Asian people. In this solidarity relationship, the Spirit communicates to create, sustain and renew the life of the people.

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me
because the Lord has anointed me;
the Lord has sent me to preach
Good News to the poor,
to proclaim release for prisoners and
recovery of sight for the blind,
to let the broken victims go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor."

The principalities and powers-that-be are dominating, monopolizing and manipulating the language of the people, whether it is the propaganda of the political powers, the advertisements of TNCs or the cultural and educational institutions of the powers. Most of all, the communications media, as well as its language and content, are dominated by the powers to make the people mutually isolated and separated, mutually misunderstood and hostile, and to maintain their power by control and domination of the people. Traditionally, religious communities created and sustained languages (truths) for the people. In modern times, intellectual communities, such as universities and research centers, create and manufacture practical (scientific and technological) wisdom for the powerful.

The principalities and powers are waging a "cultural and communication war" against the suffering and struggling peoples in Asia and everywhere to shut the people up, to suppress their cries and to eliminate their voices - especially the language of freedom, justice and peace emerging among the oppressed and poor. It is into this context that the ecumenical movement must take the Good News. Essentially, the mission is to communicate God’s solidarity with the peoples in Asia: the story of Jesus Christ. This is the work of the Spirit. The Great Commission must be understood in this context of the cultural war of the principalities and powers against the peoples of the earth.

Communication of the Good News is essential to realize God’s solidarity with the peoples in Asia. Solidarity with the people is a prerequisite for communication with them. Any message of salvation that is packaged in the language of domination will be rejected, however precious it may be. The task of evangelism is communication of the message. As in China, when Christian communities are associated with the powerful West, the people reject the message. When Christian communities are in solidarity with the Chinese people, their simple life and witness open opportunities for communication of the message: the message that God is in solidarity with the Chinese people. Thus, communication and solidarity are essentially one and the same. Communication of the Christian message in atheist societies has special importance. Experiences of such communication are important, not only for the Christian communities in the atheist nations themselves, but also for those in the rest of Asia. The solidarity of Christian communities with the people is the essential basis for communication of the message; and for this solidarity, we need a new ecumenical paradigm of God’s solidarity with the Asian people.

This ecumenical paradigm of solidarity must open real dialog and communication with those atheists who are sincerely concerned with the pain and struggle of the people. Ecumenical dialog with the living Asian faiths and ideologies has been very important for the churches and ecumenical movement in Asia. Here, too, we see the importance of the ecumenical paradigm of God’s solidarity with the suffering and struggling people in Asia, for this is the basic presupposition of dialog and communication between the Christian community and the people of living faiths and ideologies.

Solidarity is not merely a political matter. For the ecumenical movement, it is an absolutely theological matter of faith and confession. It is the basic foundation of the mission of God among the Asian peoples. Therefore, the dialog is communication, and the communication is for mutual solidarity with the people.

Furthermore, the frontiers of solidarity have been reopened with the people of living faiths in Asia. The most important, most difficult and yet most neglected aspect of the ecumenical movement in Asia may be witnessing to the building of solidarity relationships with the people of the Islamic faith. Dialog alone is difficult enough with the living faiths in Asia, for the people of these faiths do not recognize and trust the Christian community enough to build solidarity. There are historical and political reasons, as well as religious and sociological grounds, for their rejection of solidarity relations of trust and common work. Much fault may have been on our side, and yet the churches should be open for the emergence of solidarity relations with the people of the Islamic faith, especially CCA should be eager to support such developments in Asia. CCA should follow the wisdom of the Christian communities and the good will of the people of the Islamic faith.

C. Sharing Experiences among the People:
Agenda for Ecumenical Communication

The sharing of experiences of struggle for justice and peace among the people is based upon solidarity and is needed to build solidarity. New ways of communication and mutual exchanges among the people should be supported as the expression of the churches’ solidarity with them. Sharing of material and human resources should also be done in solidarity and trust with the people - building solidarity with solidarity. For this relationship to transpire, communication built on confidence and a mutual trust of priorities, analyses and experiences is an absolute necessity.

It is in this context of building solidarity links among peoples in Asia and in the world that a new ecumenical policy for languages and communication to build solidarity links among peoples in Asia and in the world should be considered. The people’s languages in their social and cultural forms should be taken seriously, and the political-ideological dimensions of language and communication should be carefully looked at to overcome language barriers. The churches should truly become an ecumenical communication network to build solidarity links among the peoples in each country, in Asia and in the world.

The ecumenical sharing of resources in the past has not examined the relationships of the Asian churches with the peoples in Asia, on the one hand, nor the relations of Asian churches with Western churches and donor agencies in the context of the global political economy, on the other. The language of solidarity in this context has been abstract - sometimes expressing sentimental practicality. It has not expressed mutual bonds (covenant) of faithfulness and has not translated itself into relationships of mutual accountability in solidarity. That is because it did not examine the sharing of ecumenical resources in the real context of the global political economy.

The agenda for ecumenical sharing in Asia should be the sharing of wisdom and the experiences of the struggles of the people against the oppressive powers. This demands intra-national and intra-regional sharing of experiences as a top priority. Effective communication, interactions, itineration, exchange visits and mutual training are probably the most useful ways of sharing resources in the context of solidarity-building among the peoples and their movements. Personnel and financial resources should be used to support communication for the building of ecumenical solidarity among the people, in the world context as well as in Asia.

D. Cultivating Reservoirs of the Gospel Message

Bible studies, theological reflections, educational and liturgical actions and cultural activities should facilitate the communication of God’s solidarity with the people and contribute to the building of solidarity among the suffering and struggling peoples in Asia.

Bible translations in the people’s languages, popular Biblical hermeneutics and Bible readings and studies should occupy a far more fundamental place than they now have in the ecumenical movement. The Bible societies and Christian literature societies have played important roles during the phase of the mission of the Church. The ecumenical movement, however, now needs a popular communication strategy in the churches and among the peoples in Asia. This requires not merely renovation of earlier structures, but the creation of new infrastructures or networks to carry out this agenda of ecumenical communication. The foci are (1) the cultural struggle of the people and (2) the communication of the Gospel among the people.

Liturgical renewal and worship in the churches must be set in the context of the cultural actions and expressions of the suffering and struggling peoples. Liturgia is the life of the people’s movements to protect the Earth, the source of livelihood of all peoples.

The solidarity of the peoples together with God and Christ has implications for their political and economic life, their religio-cultural life and their whole life on earth. The eschatological vision of earth is centered in the Messianic Reign where God has direct and immediate oikonomia with the people in the New Heaven and New Earth. This vision, shared and communicated among the people, generates the passion and will to struggle for the New Earth; it enables the people to discern the dark realities of their history; and it gives abundant imagination to the people for their struggles for justice, participation and shalom.

E. The Vision of Solidarity and the Power of the People

The movement of the people has been at the center of ecumenical thinking in the life and mission of Asian Christian communities and in the life of CCA. People’s movements, peasant’s movements, worker’s movements, the urban poor movement, women’s movements, the youth movement, movements of ethnic minority people and movements of the religiously oppressed - all are struggles of the peoples in Asia. It is in their contexts that the ecumenical vision of solidarity should make sense. While training and organizing in the people’s movement should continue to be the priority concern on local and national levels, this solidarity demands "communication-communion" with the people on the wider Asian and global levels. This in turn will lead the Christian communities into deeper solidarity with the people and will enable the churches to act as mediators for global solidarity.

The movements of the people have been seeking to clarify their own ideological identities while exposing the dominant ideologies of the powers-that-be. The social and cultural webs of domination against the people have come under the scrutiny of the people’s movements. Strategic and tactical skills for the organization of people’s powers and their actions have been studied and shared, and yet inter-movement solidarity among various movements of the people as well as intra- and inter-regional solidarity and global links of solidarity have not clearly emerged at the present historical stage. Active interaction and communication on inter-regional levels - Sduth-South and South-North - should receive more attention from the perspective of ecumenical solidarity.

The churches’ solidarity with the people has enriched the internal life of solidarity among the Christian communities in Asia and in the world and should continue to do so. Christian solidarity has been dominated by Western church-centered or local church-centered solidarity, which is not really solidarity with the people. The deepening and enriching of the churhes’ life of solidarity with the people, the churches and the ecumenical movement in Asia, as the embodiment of God’s solidarity with the people (and the Body of Jesus Christ and His peace, justice and freedom), may be the new leaven and yeast in Asia’s communities, generating passion for struggle, sharing visions for a new society and struggling together for the common destiny of the peoples in Asia. This historical process in Asia will have important implications for the churches and people’s movements in the powerful nations of the North as well as in the South, to the extent that they are in solidarity with the people in their own context and are linked with the global solidarity network of peoples and churches as well.

VI. Building Ecumenical Solidarity among the People

We have defined solidarity as God with the people, God’s dwelling with the people, incarnation, Immanuel. But the simplest and most concise word on solidarity comes from Jesus:

"A person can have no greater love
than to lay down his life for his friends...
I call you friends
because I have made known to you
everything I have learned from my God."

The sharing of total life, even to death, and communication in full confidence is the true mark of solidarity, which we have called, in our Ianguage, love. Love is the full content of solidarity. In the Indonesian language, it may be called satia kawan (faithful friend).

However, we have to clarify the socio-economic and political references as well as the spiritual and cultural implications so that the ecumenical paradigm may not remain merely theological or political-ideological. The term "solidarity," in particular, has been used in the progressive social and political movements. Whatever legitimacy and definition the term may have in these movements, the ecumenical movement in Asia needs to clarify the way we use it, theologically and sociologically.

Solidarity means a relationship or link on the basis of common goals and things in common, such as racial and geographical commonalities. The English term "solidarity" has an unfortunate rigidity, but the Korean word yondae (connected bonds) has the lineal meaning of binding everyone in a circle. Biblical words relating to solidarity include covenant (faithful relations), koinonia (sharing and communication) and oikonomia (common living). Solidarity is a form of sociality and communality of the people for common living in justice and peace. The precise Biblical word for solidarity is stereoma, meaning steadfastness of community. In Acts 16:5, we read:

"The churches were continually being strengthened (being made solid) in the faith."

The term "solidarity" is used here to avoid the insufficiency of the term "unity" in our ecumenical discussion. "Unity" is a static and abstract word meaning one. The term "one" is much more dynamic and vital, but "unity" has been the primary term used in our ecumenical movement. The concept of unity has served the ecumenical movement well to overcome schisms and hostilities among the churches. It has also served to involve the churches in the movement of ecclesial unity and the people in secular unity in the form of reconciliation and cooperation.

However, as the Asian ecumenical movement has worked among the peoples of Asia, unity as an ecumenical paradigm has not been enough, especially when the ecumenical movement gets involved in issues of justice, which are the paramount problem for the people.

The Biblical term "one" should in many cases be translated as "solidarity" rather than "unity." We cannot deal at length here with this technical but important question. Suffice it to say that God’s relationship with the people of God is that of solidarity rather than that of unity.

Building solidarity requires the full recognition of the other partner. It is absolutely necessary to recognize and respect the selfhood and subjecthood of the people to build solidarity with them. This is the basis for trust and confidence in the people with whom the solidarity relationship is to be built. God commanded the people of God to recognize God as subject. This implies that the people of God are God’s partners, having subjecthood and selfhood.

Building solidarity requires full and confident communication in mutuality. Communicating trust and confidence as well as experiences, perceptions, visions and goals is essential for the building of solidarity relationships. God had seen the miserable state of the people, had heard their cries and knew their plight. The people of God were commanded to have full confidence in God.

Solidarity is the sharing of life and death. Solidarity is sharing a common abode and household. It has the implication of sharing a common socioeconomic life (oikonomia = political economy). Solidarity is koinonia, the sharing of everything, material and spiritual. This also implies socio-political relationships of participation and sharing.

The Suffering Servant is solidarity par excellence. Sharing a common destiny is the mark of the deepest level of solidarity. Jesus Christ was crucified in order to manifest God’s true solidarity with the people of God. The Crucified One engages in the struggle to overcome the power of death; He rises up and joins in the resistance movement against historical and spiritual forces of death.

The people in solidarity share in common the signs of the times: the historical perceptions and social analyses of the reality of the powers that are destroying the people. At the same time, the people in solidarity share the vision of the Messianic Kingdom for justice, peace and life.

Of course, these formal descriptions do not bring about solidarity among Christians or solidarity among and with the peoples of Asia.

The fundamental core of the solidarity network is the people with whom God is in solidarity. Christ Jesus is the very manifestation of this solidarity, and the Church as the Body of Christ is the very embodiment of solidarity with the people. Solidarity is both the goal and strategy of the people’s movements; but to build solidarity among the peoples and churches, the major strategic step is communication by, among and with the people. Ecumenical communication is primarily with the people; or to state it in another way, the churches must listen to the people. There should be an ecumenical listening structure in the churches, a forum in which the people speak to the churches and ecumenical bodies.

Ecumenical communication on the regional and inter-regional levels needs mediating structures of communication: for solidarity; for overcoming the isolation, separation and victimization caused by the divide-andrule tactics of the powerful; and for sharing experiences of struggle among the people. Ecumenical communication on this level must consist of mediating structures for solidarity-building among the people’s movements within the regions and across the different regions.

In our communication with the North, it is crucial to challenge the existing communication order of the powerful, which prevents, distorts and manipulates the people’s communication process. The ecumenical network of communication should be a counter- communication network or an alternative network that mediates solidarity among the people’s movements on the global level. The existing ecumenical communication channels are challenged or have been co-opted by the existing global communication order, and therefore, it is extremely important to extricate the ecumenical communication channels from the existing structure of communication. It may even be necessary to build new infrastructures for the communication network in order to build a solidarity network among the people’s movements and churches.

The process of solidarity-building begins with the suffering people and with those who are already in solidarity with them. We celebrate those who have died in solidarity with the peoples in Asia, following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, who is our God in solidarity with the suffering and struggling peoples in Asia.