THE MISSIONARY’S MESSAGE TO THE HINDU PEOPLE

SOURCE- (THE PRESENTATION OF CHRISTIANITY TO HINDUS THE REPORT OF A COMMITTEE PRESENT IN YEAR 1933)

The message of the missionary to Hindus must be adapted so as to appeal to them and win them. Here doubtless has been one of the chief defects of the Western missionary propaganda in the East. It has often ignored the real differences which exist between the people of the far West and those of the tropical east—a difference of environment and training, of temperament and viewpoint. The East and the West rarely approach a thought or an enterprise from the same side. Even the Decalogue, which they and we accept in common, receives such different emphasis among them and among us as to amount to a strange divergence. For example, they so overemphasize the fifth and sixth commandments as to lead to ancestral worship in the one case, and to making it a sin to destroy the minutest insect life in the other. The West, on the other hand, so emphasizes the seventh and eighth as to make them the cardinal virtues of life. These two differing aspects and emphases of fundamental obligations by them and us represent and, in good part, help create the two different types of life, character and civilization which they reveal. For a Western missionary to convey his message in the manner and with the emphasis which India demands for its full acceptance is a task involving great skill. Not very many missionaries have fully realized the wide gulf which has separated them from the Hindu in mental and religious makeup as well as in antecedents and prepossessions. This difference has now been accentuated and made more manifest because of the new assertiveness of the Hindu. Some of their leaders loudly express a repugnance to things Western, especially to the Western forms and the Western type of Christianity which they sometimes characterize today as “Churchianity” rather than as Christianity. A most distinguished Indian Christian, some years ago, said to a conference of India missionaries: “Gentlemen, we of the East do not care for your adjectival Christianity; what we need is the substantive thing.” Utterances like these, in the past few years, have brought the missionaries to realize more than ever before the wide gulf which separates them from the people of India, and the great care which they need to exercise in their efforts to present the gospel message.

1.A Presentation of the Essential Gospel—The missionary should aim to vitalize his message in terms of the essential gospel. He must determine how much of what he holds is essential and how much is temperamental, climatic, historical and distinctively Western. Every virile race — the Roman, the Greek, the Latin, the Anglo-Saxon, the Teuton— which has adopted Christianity, has given to it as well as received from it an impress and has sent it forth with a peculiar stamp. Each nationality urges upon other peoples that type of Christianity which it has developed and which reflects its own temperament and emphasis. But India has a right to hear the gospel message unburdened, as far as possible, by creedal or controversial elaborations and by Western interpretations, most of which have far less pertinence, meaning and value in India. It will perhaps surprise the young missionary to know how little of all this is of the essence of the gospel which he is to proclaim. But these unessential things have found a significant, even if a diminishing, place in the missionary message to India in the past.

  1. 2. A Presentation of Jesus Christ—Such a message must be emphatically a personal one. It must gather round the person, the character and the teaching of Jesus Christ. Hinduism has been, on the one side, the apotheosis of an impersonal deity, and, on the other, of a grossly and meanlypersonal pantheon. The unknowable Brahma and the toocommonly known gods and god lings must be displaced by avision of the Christ of God—by Him who is at the same time the true and supreme revelation of God and the perfect and glorified manifestation of man. The New Testament reveals beautifully and adequately the content of the missionary message. (1)The person of Jesus Christ is altogether adequate to satisfy the imperative need of India, which desperately needs a personal Saviour and one who is the full expression of the eternal Godhead and of a manhood which aspires to fellowship with Him.The adequacy of this personal message is being revealed in India today. Jesus Christ, the founder of Christianity, the substance of its gospel, the Saviour of mankind, is steadily coming to attract the life and ideals of India. It is the first time in all the history of that land that a perfect ideal of life and of love has been presented for the acceptance and adoration of the people. Among all the gods and sages of Hinduism, not one has ever been found worthy to be exalted as an exemplar and saviour of man. While the educated Hindu stands aloof from our type of Christianity, because it is Western and therefore unacceptable to him, he nevertheless sees in Christ “our Oriental Brother” who appeals to him and wins his confidence and love. Nearly all the modern institutions of India are based upon and inspired not by Hindu, but by Christian ideals. It is clear that when the faith of the people of India in Christ becomes established and indigenous in the land, it will increasingly express itself in a way that will be peculiarly their own and suited to build up faith in Christ among them.

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(1)Of course, in any complete conspectus of the Christian missionary enterprise as well as of Christian theological history, it would need to be pointed out that there have been himself. An admirable presentation of the theory of the churchly character of Christianity is to be found in “Christ and the Church, a Restatement of Belief,” by Arthur W. Robinson (Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge).

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  1. A Message Definitely Ethical—The missionary mustpreach a strong message of ethical personality. Pantheism has prevented Hinduism from developing a sound ethical basis. Philosophic and ceremonial Hinduism has always failed to enforce the moral imperative in life. The incomprehensible Brahma and the many dissolute gods of the pantheon have made a high moral code impossible among the people. Moreover, Hinduism has not coordinated religious faith and morals. It has never been made sane by strong ethical ideals. It has given emphasis to mystic piety, while it has ignored ethical purity. Buddhism, on the other hand, while requiring ethical self-culture, made its entire appeal to the Hindu conscience through an impersonal system. Thus it was left to Christianity to coordinate these two great elements of life and to reveal their mutual dependence one upon the other. Missionaries must, in that land preeminently, devote themselves to the work of welding the spiritual to the ethical in the life and ideals of the people, and of showing that each is essential to the other. Without morality faith becomes vain and vapid, and without mystic companionship with a holy God the conscience has no adequate strength, and morality lacks both a vision and an inspiration.
  2. A Message Distinctively SpiritualThe missionary’s message to Hindus may well be expressed, so far as possible, in terms of mystic piety. The Hindu is a mystic of the mystics; religion at its best is a spiritual union of the soul withthe Divine. However much the man of the West may correlate his religion with philosophy, science, or a system of doctrines, he must, as a missionary to India (following the example of the great apostle to the Gentiles), aim to commend Christianity to the people of that land as a spiritual experience, an aspiration of the individual soul after union and fellowship with the Divine. While properly insisting upon right ethical conduct with fellowmen, he must seek to foster among them that life “which is hid with Christ inGod.” The last thing that the missionary to India should fear is either to be called a mystic or to be found cultivating a mystic vision of God and of himself as the ambassador of Christ to that people. He should magnify his faith as the supreme way by which God links souls with Himself, through a unity of will and purpose. Let him study the New Testament epistles to see how constantly they link closely with highest thought the deepest experiences of the life of faith, and how the transcendent utterances of our Lord are interpreted in the terms of the indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit.
  3. A Message Definitely Scriptural—The missionary message must be found in the Bible. Its authority must be traced to the Bible and be supported by it. Hindus believe implicitly in inspired authority. No people lean more fully upon the utterance of their Shastras, or inspired books, for testimony and support; no other religion depends more upon what are regarded as the divinely uttered or divinely sanctioned messages of their faith. A faith without a Bible is to the Hindu impossible; and the Christian Bible possesses all the qualities which the Hindu expects. The missionary should make much of the fact that behind his message is a Book which is not only fully attested by Heaven, but which divinely commends itself to the approval of men everywhere. In South India, Hindus call Protestant Christians “Bible people.” They recognize the fact that Christians are a people who revere the Bible and whose message of life finds in the Bible its fullest expression.
  4. A Message Which Emphasizes the Unity of Faith— The missionary’s message must always emphasize the unity and unifying influences of Christianity. In no other non-Christian country is this emphasis more required than in India. A more divisive faith than Hinduism never claimed the allegiance of men. Its genius has been to keep men apart and to set them one against the other, even while holding them all in one external system; it normally breathes forthjealousy and domination. The caste system of Hinduism is a remarkable system of disunion; it sets loose all the social forces of separation. To such a people Christianity must be presented as the religion of love which aims supremely to unitemen in fellowship with men, and the kingdom of God as the great family of God whose all-controlling purpose is to “love one another” and whose badge is kindliness and peace. Christianity’s mission to India is to heal the wounds of caste hatred and suspicion and to overcome the tendencies to antagonism and dissension which, through Hinduism, dominate the land and people. The Christian emphasis upon the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man makes a glorious antithesis to the divisive vagaries of Hinduism. In India any distinctively Western presentation of Christianity with its distracting claims and petty jealousies has been and is a misfortune. The missionary should realize that such unessential differences have little real meaning or reason for existence in India. Christianity will fully triumph there only when its missionaries learn to leave behind them in the West those prejudices and institutions which have their divided the body of our Lord. In this particular there has been wonderful progress during the last few years. Missionaries are increasingly studying and emphasizing those essential things of our faith which make for union and unity,for fellowship and cooperation, and are minimizing, if notignoring, the relatively smaller things which differentiate them.(1)

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1 All believers in Jesus Christ as Lord should be deeply thankful that, in comparison with the large area of fundamental truth which is held in common by all such true believers, their differences are relatively of secondary importance. Yet to the missionaries who are called to the actual task of building up the church of Christian India it is as evident as to theologians at home that the points on which different branches of the Christian church differ are by no means all small or negligible. The true path to union lies along a greatly increased recognition of the value of the elements of truth which are held by the different bodies and by the determination that through more sympathetic contacts and clearer mutual understanding all the various elements of comprehensive Christian truth shall be recognized, and preserved to form parts of the beautiful Temple that is still to be.

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  1. A Message Which Exalts the Divine Immanence as Well as Transcendence—The missionary message in India must exalt into prominence the great truth of God’s immanence. It is this truth by which India has been attracted during the centuries and which has developed the pantheistic trend of religious thinking, while the West has given disproportionate emphasis to God’s transcendence. Both these doctrines are necessary to a complete view of God in India as in the West. But the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, involved in the thought of immanence, clearly thought out and well expressed, naturally will have a prominent place in the thinking of the Christian church in India. In the West, three-fourths of all the doctrinal conflicts of the ages have gathered around the person of Jesus Christ. In India those conflicts do not appeal to the people; for few Hindus find much difficulty in accepting the metaphysical deity of Christ. The Christians of India will need rather to understand the Holy Spirit of God in active relationship to human life. The missionary must know how to lead the people to realize God’s Christlikeness and His universal activity.This of course must be done by showing as divinely human and humanly divine the person and the work of our Lord who Himself is Immanuel, “God with us”; also by constantly interpreting the Christ by the Spirit and the Spirit through the Christ. The universal One must be known and loved in the supreme personality of our Lord. He is the immanence of the divine transcendence which is incarnate in the man, Christ Jesus.
  2. THE LESSONS TO RE LEARNED FROM PAST MISSIONARY EFFORTS IN INDIAChristianity has been at work in India for at least fifteen centuries. The Syrian Church boldly claims its founding by the apostle St. Thomas, though unable to prove it. The prospective missionary needs to study carefully the varied Christian attempts during the centuries to convert the Hindus in order that he may discover and appreciate, through such experiences, the best methods of approach to that people.