On The Front Lines: Christianity in India


On The Front Lines:

Christianity in India

 

INTRODUCTION

India is an amazingly huge country with a vast population.  Britannica states, “With roughly one-sixth of the world’s total population, India is the second most populous country, after China.”[1]  Religion is a large part of the sociological make up of India.  “Hindus now make up about three-fourths of India’s population,” according to Britannica[2]  Hinduism is the largest and most dominant religion in India.  Britannica states, “Muslims, however, are still the largest single minority faith (more than one-ninth of the total population), with large concentrations in many areas of the country, including Jammu and Kashmir, western Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Kerala, and many cities. India’s Muslim population is greater than that found in any country of the Middle East and is only exceeded by that of Indonesia and, slightly, by that of Pakistan or Bangladesh.”[3]  The unique thing about Christianity in India, is that it was brought there by one of the apostles.  Pathil states, “According to an ancient South Indian oral tradition, St. Thomas, one of the 12 apostles, sailed to India and landed at Cranganore (Kodungalloor) on the coast of ancient Malabar (present-day Kerala) in the year 52 A.D. There he converted many high caste Hindus and established several Christian communities. The early Christians built a pilgrimage shrine at his tomb. No primary evidence of this ancient tradition exists today.”[4]  India has very tough social orders of people that further support oppression of its people and restrict many freedoms we exercise in America.  For this reason, India suffers economically despite its sheer size and population.  India does have a very strong culture of religion and this is why many were founded there.

SOCIAL INFLUENCES

The British Empire maintained control of India from 1858 until 1947.  Britannica states,   “the subcontinent was partitioned along religious lines into two separate countries—India, with a majority of Hindus, and Pakistan, with a majority of Muslims; the eastern portion of Pakistan later split off to form Bangladesh. Many British institutions stayed in place (such as the parliamentary system of government); English continued to be a widely used lingua franca; and India remained within the Commonwealth. Hindi became the official language (and a number of other local languages achieved official status), while a vibrant English-language intelligentsia thrived.”[5]  What is important to understand is the founding of religions in India and the part it plays at this point.  Pathil states, “India is the birthplace of several world religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism.”[6]  The regional location of India and the influence of Islam made an impact that shaped Muslim incursion into India.  India is an extremely diverse country with so many religions present; however its system of castes and tribes has been a form of sociological control.  The caste system has dominated the social community and family for years.  Blank stated, “I believe the analysis of religion, nationalism and politics can be undertaken in a unified framework.”[7] This system has been so prevalent that the people are controlled by it and at the same time look to it for social stature and identity.  This system is a means of structure by which the people believe they are receiving social support.  This system has defined the regions and political structure that has allowed some to maintain control of the people within that region.  According to Britannica, “Although it is not as visible as it is among Hindus, caste is found among Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jains, and Jews. In the 1990s the Dalit movement began adopting a more aggressive approach to ending caste discrimination, and many converted to other religions, especially Buddhism, as a means of rejecting the social premises of Hindu society.”[8]

RELIGIOUS INFLUENCES

As we have already covered, Hinduism was founded in India, Muslims emigrated from neighboring countries, and Christianity was believed to be brought over by St. Thomas himself.  Pathil states, “Before the arrival of the Portuguese missionaries, this ancient Church adopted a positive understanding of Hinduism, cultivating good relations with its Hindu neighbors in a spirit of communal harmony. The St. Thomas Christians held the view that “each one can be saved in his own law, all laws are right,” the term “law” referring to other religions.”[9]  This relationship between the Christians and others allowed for a better understanding of on another at that time.  Frykenberg states, “What had begun with the Thomas Tradition—belief that the Apostle brought the Gospel to India in ad 52 and that he suffered martyrdom near what is now Mylapore (Mailapur)—remains extremely strong, whatever the historicity of this tradition may be.”[10]  While the Hindu population dominates most regions, Mylapore has been a place of deep Christian heritage for the region.  Although being deeply rooted within their own culture, the majority of India still needs Christian evangelism.  Society in India is ingrained with their dominant religions of Hindu and Muslim, while Christianity is still less than 3 percent of the population.  Pathil states, “The Catholic Church in India is a communion of three particular churches: (1) the Latin Church, (2) the Syro-Malabar Church, and (3) the Syro-Malankara Church. The Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) was established as the assembly of all the Catholic bishops of India in 1944”[11]  These churches struggle with support of the clergy and bishops and working together to spread the gospel.  This by and large is one of the main issues facing Christianity.  The lack of centralized globalization of Christian efforts together has been the downfall and reason for the inability for Christianity to spread in a way that Hinduism and Islam has.  The protestant churches have formed an organization as well.  Pathil states, “The Protestant churches in India have a common ecumenical forum called the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI), which had its origin in 1914.”[12]  These organizations of the three major Catholic churches (CBCI) and their Protestant counterparts (NCCI) are working towards forming a group together.  This will serve both organizations better in aiding and spreading the gospel.  While the growing Christian groups are learning to work together in India, the Hindus and growing Islamic believers are still the dominant religious force in India.  A path of evangelizing India will be very difficult as Hindus and Muslims are trained in their faith to cast of Christian evangelism.  This battle is one Christians find in India.  India faces poverty and a corrupt central government that exploits its people in order to keep certain factions in power.  The relationship with the British and the history India has with them affects the ability for American and British evangelist to witness to Indians.  In the years to come it will be of great interest to see if the Christians of all denominations can combine their efforts to advance the Kingdom of God in fulfillment of the Great Commission.  Let us not forget the call of Christ in Matthew 28:16-20, “But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”[13]

Footnotes

[1]. Encyclopedia Britannica Online, India, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/285248/India (accessed December 3, 2012).

[2]. Ibid.

[3]. Ibid.

[4]. K. Pathil, “Christianity in India,” New Catholic Encyclopedia 7, no. 2 (2003).

[5]. Encyclopedia Britannica Online, India.

[6]. Pathil, New Catholic Encyclopedia.

[7]. David Martin, Future of Christianity: Reflections of Violence and Democracy Religion and Secularisation (Farnham, Surrey, GBR: Ashgate Publishing Group, 2011).

[8]. Encyclopedia Britannica Online, India.

[9]. Pathil, New Catholic Encyclopedia.

[10]. Robert Eric Frykenberg, “Christianity in India: from beginnings to the present,” Oxford Scholarship Online, 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198263777.001.0001 (accessed December 3, 2012).

[11]. Pathil, “Christianity in india.”

[12]. Ibid.

[13]. Hendrickson, comp., The NASB Minister's Bible (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2005).

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