Being a Christian in India in the third millennium poses unprecedented challenges and innumerable opportunities to all who take Jesus seriously. Media reports only a tip of the difficulties faced by Christian missionaries in India. Even those with utmost zeal and commitment feel the heat and are branded propagandists amidst the most altruistic services they offer. Do the Christian missions in India hold some hope other than the minority rights?
Evangelization in the new perspective
India is not the old India that we have seen in the last century. Hindutva forces have succeeded to inject the venom of fundamentalism even in the minds of school children while a vast majority of the population is either indifferent or decides to be pro-development. Services provided by the missionaries like education, health care and social work projects are more effectively offered by various corporates and NGOs if not by the government. Therefore, the service of the church is not a sine qua non for the public. This is true of many villages as well. What does it mean to be a missionary Church today?
Church is essentially a missionary. The command of Jesus to the Church is to “go and preach the good news to every creature” (Mk 16:15). Church cannot but preach. But where, when and how? It is in the current Indian socio-political matrix that we need to view the missionary Indian Church.
Church personnel have to be totally aware of the context. They cannot just ravish in their tradition and boastful past. Reading the signs of the present they need to be equipped to address the Indian subcontinent. It is sad to learn that neither the prelates, nor the missionaries, who are at the grassroots, fully understand the undercurrents of the Indian polity. Being so, what could be a plausible approach to the missionary presence in India today?
In the gospels we find Jesus speaking of the old wineskins and the new (Mat. 9: 16-17; Mk. 2: 21-22; Lk.5: 36-39). During the time of Jesus, partially fermented wine was usually stored in wineskins. As the fermentation process continued, it produced more gases stretching the wineskin, which was made from the hide of a goat. An old skin, which was no longer elastic, could not stretch for the new wine. Therefore new skins we required for the wine of subsequent years.
So is the missionary presence of the Church India. The old wineskins should give way to the new in order to make Church’s mission relevant and effective. There are beliefs, systems and practices that should be set aside, and there are beliefs, culture and practices that should be incorporated into the very being of the Church.
Jesus is the centre of Christian faith. Jesus, as seen in the Gospels, is a leader with deep contemplation, clarity of vision and a deep love and concern for each and every person. He was so composed, confident, pleasant and assertive. Very rarely did he get infuriated before some who were insolent. He is the ideal for growing from religiosity to spirituality as he resisted the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and scribes and disregarded the traditional ways of prayer and religious customs. He broke many an established rule of the orthodox religion and declared that Sabbath was for humans and not humans for Sabbath. Thus he positioned himself at the centre of history. He chose disciples who were from diverse and contradictory backgrounds. He was totally fearless. He respected women and empowered them to be great leaders of the Jesus movement.
Church cannot but adapt to the ways Jesus viewed and responded to reality. That should be the style of new evangelization. At the same time, one should be cautious while using the term ‘evangelization’ as the popular meaning of the term refers to ‘preaching the gospel’ or ‘converting to Christianity’. Such a use would create a spat among the non-Christian, especially the Hindutva forces. Radical Hindu movements often claim that Christians engage in duplicitous missionary practices in an effort to “Christianize” India. Sometimes they move into Christian pockets, preaching a gospel of Hindutva and urge people to take part in ‘ghar vapasi’ ceremonies. Carnage and lynching like in Khandamal, Orissa, are becoming the order of the day. It is in this socio-political context that the Church in India should open its eyes wide to understand and effectively respond to them.
How did the Indian Church respond to the Indian pluralistic theology proposed by doyens like Michael Amaladoss, Felix Wilfred, Raimon Panikkar, Aloysius Pieris and Jacques Dupuis? How pluralistic is the theology taught in the faculties of India. Apart from a few inter-religious forums, which are part of the paraphernalia, how far has the Church integrated plurality in its everyday life? Even in the 21st century, Church is unable to shed the ‘foreign’ air, which it is accused of. I strongly believe that movements like USM (Universal Solidarity Movement based in Indore, M.P.) would lead the path to Indian Church in this regard.
The Church ought to move from religiosity to spirituality, where contemplated truthful action would supplant the ritualistic and male-dominated lifestyle. Church should be a Eucharistic community where every one is respected and cared for. With transparency from top to bottom, all administrative facility will be participatory in a style where no one is insignificant. Service is the hallmark of the Eucharistic community. Woman is no less than man and the transgenders too have their respectful position therein.
Contribution to Nation Building
With a long tradition of twenty centuries what has really been the contribution of the Church to nation building? Though Catholics in India are only about 2 percent, through the 25,000 educational, health and numerous other institutions, Church contributes about 27 percent of the services in India. But how far are we nationalistic in spirit? What was the role of the Church in the freedom struggle? How do the Church people align themselves with various people’s movements all over India? Where does the Indian Church practice the ‘preferential option for the poor’?
New Wineskin for the New Wine
The present socio-political-cultural context of India is the new wine. This varies from Kottar to Jammu-Srinagar and from Rajkot to Miao dioceses. The Church needs to have a holistic understanding of the context and its history to be effective in being the SALT of the earth. Adaptation to the ways and methods that are most fitting to the present day is a must for the Church in India today. Of late, USM Indore has come forward with practical suggestions for the Church India to make a prophetic presence. Church has to shed the heavy burden of pride and cult-centredness and has to be contextual, Biblical, open, altruistic and Christo-centric for the mission in the new millennium.(Published on 21st January 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 04)