Where to draw the line

Men are conservatives.  And they don’t want to be disturbed in their settled way of life.  So  any kind of new ideology, view, principle, practice etc. is introduced in their (collective) life, they not only feel disturbed but also feel threatened.  So, all these new things and people who want to introduce have to struggle a lot.


This is true even in our bhakti.  When I say that one can remain a Hindu and still be a bhakta of Bhagavan Muktinath, I know it is not that much easy.  And we have to struggle a lot on both front—Hindus and Christians.  But several times I felt that struggling in our home situation looks more easy than with the Christians.  Well, as I am not concerned about all the comments, misunderstanding and questions raised by the Christians for my view, yet there are few genuinely concerned individuals among them who are our well-wishers.  They say, ‘thou we completely agree with you on most of your points, yet we are not sure WHERE TO DRAW THE LINE for a Hindu to live as a bhakta of the Lord in her birth family and community.  As we are outsiders (I mean outside Hindu community not necessarily non-Indians), we don’t understand several things in Hinduism.  So we are not sure to know ‘where to draw the line and how far one could go?’  Few Hindu bhaktas, not knowing the background of several practices and principles of Hinduism and also not knowing Muktiveda in its textual, historical and theological contexts, raise the same question for them to take a stand for the Lord and bhakti.  In giving some kind of response to these two important questions I presented the following paper (actually I shared without having any written material on my hand but after the conference I wrote this paper) for one Conference.  And here I would like to share.

But before reading this one has to understand the ‘exclusivism’ is not necessarily a ‘dogmatic’ view when it comes to bhakti/faith only in Christianity or Islam (or any other non-Hindu faiths).  Even within Hinduism, in most of the sampradayas (sects), exclusive bhakti/faith in their deity and scripture is part of Hindu pluralism.  This is the context we have to understand the question about taking a ‘stand for the Lord’ by Hindu bhaktas of the Lord.  Though they use (without knowing) some Christian technical terms, yet what they mean is how to uphold ‘exclusivism’ when it comes to the question of having bhakti only in the Lord Muktinath.   Though this is viewed by liberal Hindus as strange, yet this is not some kind of evangelical fanaticism but have scope within our Hindu religious tradition.

db. December 9, 2011.

Where to draw the Line.

One of the crucial questions that asked in contextualization is: Where to draw the line?  This question is not only asked by those who are doing the ministry but also by the new believers.  But, as usual no easy, clear and general answer could be given to such question.  But my answer to this question is another question: WHO TO DRAW THE LINE?

It is interesting to note that the question ‘where to draw the line’ is always asked by those who are involved in the ministry as if they have the spiritual and moral authority to draw the line for other new believers.  Though this is not said explicitly but this one can easily infer in such question.

Before seeing these groups to understand where to draw and who draw we need to keep one thing in mind that some time we do not allow the right person to draw the line for us, but allow a wrong person to draw it.  Then she will draw not understanding the struggle and need of the other but according to her expectation and interpretation of the other’s life.  For example if we allow the Missiologiest, Theologian, Missionary or the Church leaders to draw the line for a new ‘convert’ or ‘bhakta’ then what will happen.  I need not explain it as we know what happened so far.  The same is the truth with a new convert or bhakta.  She too cannot draw the line for her Church members or leaders.  This is what several new converts do in the name of First Generation Christians expecting sympathy or concession from their Churches not understanding both their limitation and struggles.  The moment they call themselves ‘First Generation Christian’ they began to draw the line.  So there is no one general answer to the question: ‘Where to draw and who to draw’ the line and it depends upon who is asking the question to whom?  And to answer this question we need to keep four kinds of groups:

The first group is A.  These are the ‘converts’ who THINK that they have left Hinduism and Hindu community and joined Christianity and become Christians.  Though there are genuine exceptions, yet most of such converts, at least in the early days of their new found faith remain three hours in a week as Christian when then go to their respective church to worship the Lord and rest of the six days and 21 hours remain as Hindus in many ways. (In this respect the traditional Christians too in no way better or different from any ‘convert’.)

And for them the line is drawn by the Church and their Christian leaders in the church.  They are like a new daughter-in-law whose marriage is arranged.  And ‘contextualization’ is her husband.  And the Church is the mother-in-law.  Though as a new daughter-in-law she would like to bring some new insights to make at least her life meaningful and rich, is not allowed and accepted that much easily. And several times she won’t even get an opportunity to express such desire.  And a typical mother-in-law who will say, ‘this is not the way we cook, eat, live etc’ always expects the daughter-in-law to learn the way they cook, eat and live in her new home.  However she claims that the new things that she will bring will only add richens to their life in the home, she has to struggle a lot to get her legitimate right to bring her views to their life in her new home.  Though she can persuade her husband in private, but he too cannot do much as his dominating mother alone can decide most of the thing in the home.  Though he can personally plead to accommodate minimum expectation of his wife, yet he cannot force or fight for his wife’s legitimate rights because both as a son and husband he has no personal right and place to run the home. (Contextualization as a son can persuade the conscious of the church to accommodate the need of the new converts and also as a husband plead with his wife to keep patience till her time comes, but both ways he cannot do more than that.  Finally when the daughter-in-law becomes the in-charge of the home, she will be immune with the custom and tradition of the home and happily settle with it.)

But a new ‘convert’ who thinks that she become a ‘Christian and joined Christian community’ too should not except the church to change or accommodate her needs.  As it is her conscious choice, she alone has to change and learn to live adjusting with the church.  For example if a person chose to become a citizen of USA by forsaking her Indian citizenship, she has to live as per the law of UAS and never can refer back rights to live as an Indian.   So for this group A, it is the church which draws the line.  That is why, in few churches though the Pastor and leaders are willing to allow a new ‘convert’ to keep her cultural identity like ‘pottu’ (bindi) etc., in order not to offend rest of the congregation won’t permit them to do so.  The common excuse often given is ‘not to offend the weak one in the church’.  But the question here is ‘who is supposed to be weak and who is supposed to be strong’.  A new convert is expected to be strong to accommodate the weak traditional Christians in the church, who are hearing the Word of God from the womb of their mother.  And to keep them in their weakness the church is expecting the new converts to pay the cost!

[If a Hindu feels comfort to become a ‘Christian’ and join a church, s/he is free to do so.  But already there are plenty of problems in the church and why you add more by joining a church through your ‘conversion’ to Christian community.  We know well that Christian have no answers to our questions and need.  And they cannot help and give answers to our need and question, because of their various limitation.  So why should we add more problem to them?  A hostile home is better than a friendly but suspecting neighbor.  Every church is only a friendly but suspecting neighbor to all the converts.  Better stay back in your home and fight for your birth right to worship any God of your choice than selling it for some temporary comfort and refuge which a church could give for some time. Added on October 20, 2010.]

Group B is those whom we call as ‘Churchless Christians’ or ‘secret Christians’ etc.  But ‘converts’ in this group are those who are very biblical in their life.  Yes they strictly and easily follow the principle: Becoming all things to all men.  They will become ‘Christian’ to the Christians and remain ‘Hindu’ to the Hindus.  They want to enjoy the best of the both worlds but don’t want to identify with any one group permanently and struggle with them for their principles and ideology.  We cannot blame them alone for this, because they learnt this also from their church.  As the church/mission wants to use such ‘converts’ as trophies to parade the success of their ministry whenever they need and later dump them, such ‘converts’ also began to imitate them.  Higher in the hierarchy they will receive the treatment accordingly.  For example a Brahmin or a Muslim convert will be often paraded to demonstrate their success than a dalit or tribe converts.  And these so called high caste converts also love to go week after week and church after church to give their ‘testimony’ and witness for the Lord forgetting the fact that they need to witness more to their own family community first and in fact that is called real witnessing.  This they often do to please other Christians or to earn some sympathy from them.

As a digression I have to say one bitter truth.  More budgets will be easily allowed to convert the so called high caste people than the tribes and so called low caste people groups.  And if they are ‘Brahmins’ then ‘money’ won’t be a problem and it will flow like water to the ministry.  In the recently held RF meeting at Chennai on Feb. 27th I saw this.  The song book which CBSS printed with costly cover and appealing pictures at the back cover will easily prove this point. I wish I could ‘bought’ one to show the cost of the cover alone, though all the songs (totally 18 and around ten pages) are taken from old Tamil Lyrics and not even one new bhajan is added to it.

Coming back to our point of drawing the line, in this group both the church/mission and the converts will draw the line according to their ‘mood’ and ‘need’.  In South India a niece can marry her maternal uncle. Then her own grand mother will be her mother-in-aw.  So when she wants to get some favor from her mother-in-law she will approach her as her grand mother and when she become upset when her expectations are not met then her grand mother will become her mother-in-law to fight.  The same is the case with the role of the mother-in-law.  When they want to use the converts then she will be treated as the grand daughter but when she is not accepting their terms and conditions then she will become daughter-in-law.  And poor husband (contextualization) will be caught between the rock and hard place.  So the line will be draw according to the mood and need of both group.  And most of the time they will try to survive for their convenience and not with a clear conviction.  And they will show head to the snake and tail to the fish and learn to escape from both, like the snake fish.  [Whether true or imaginary, this is a Tamil proverb].

And in this group they insist to identify themselves mostly with their caste like ‘Brahmin Christian’ ‘Reddy Christian’ ‘Mudaliyar Christian’ etc.  It is interesting to note that A Hindu will never say that I am a Reddy Hindu, Mudaliyar Hindu or a Brahmin Hindu.  Of course the Hindu Nadars were forced to call themselves as ‘Hindu Nadars’ because of Christian Nadars.  When many Nadars become Christian they called themselves ‘Nadar Christians’ (to separate themselves from the Dalit Christians).  And in order to ‘defend’ their position, right and identity, then Hindu Nadars were forced to call themselves as ‘Hindu Nadars’.  When the Law came sin awakened.   In the same way by converting themselves as Christians, Nadars created problem both for the Church and their Hindu relatives, as a Tamil proverb says: Irundum keduttan, settum keduttan’ (created problem when he was live and also in death).

The third group is the Hindu bhaktas of the Lord.  Here analogy is a love marriage and that too the girl from a different (and a low caste).  The Hindu bhakta’s new found faith in the Lord is that girl and she will never be accepted easily as part of her husband’s home.  Some time the family members will tolerate their marriage because of their son, but to find her legitimate place as part of the home won’t be that much easy and in some cases it will never happen.  Though the Hindu bhakta too has to struggle like all other new believers (converts), yet he can struggle with his birth right as that is his home.  Though the struggle in both group A and C look one and the same, yet in C a bhakta can struggle with clear understanding whereas in group A the new ‘convert’ has to struggle without any understanding.  She will neither understand her church not even her faith.  But the struggles of a Hindu bhakta of the Lord with clear understanding about faith, his birth community and church is better than that of the ‘converts’ without any understanding of anyone.  And a hostile home is better than a friendly but suspecting neighbor.  For every Hindu bhakta of the Lord the church always remains a suspecting but friendly neighbor. Here we never allow any outsiders to draw the line for us.  Though we need not draw any line for us, yet some times we are forced to draw the line and telling Christians not to cross to come and disturb us. And if they dare to cross, then they will hurt themselves. Leave us alone is our request to them.  And I always promise that we (I) will never come and disturb your church and will never allow you to come and disturb us.

The fourth group belongs to all the evangelicals from traditional Christians who are interested in contextualization.  And their struggle is completely different.  In their attempt to do contextualization ministry, they will try to understand the struggle of all the three groups and try to unite them for the common cause of ministry by minimizing their differences.  But in this process they won’t understand their own struggle not knowing where to draw the line (both for themselves and others).  Most of the time, because of their position in their church and mission they cannot come out openly to support contextualization (and draw any line). They are like Nicodamus who came secretly in the night to see Jesus.  Many times they too cannot openly support the contextualization and particularly those who are in group C.  I can illustrate this from my personal experience.

When I wrote my first book: Living Water and Indian Bowl, I approached one top evangelical leader in Chennai and requested him to write a forward to that book.  With much sympathy he listened and then said, ‘though I agree with you on most of your approaches in your life and ministry, yet because of my position in the church and mission I cannot come out openly to support you’.  Then I approached late Dr. Devadasan who was the Field Director in FMBP.  As he was my mentor and the only Christian whom I accepted as my Guruji, I told how that the first evangelical leader refused to write the forward.  After listening me he too said, ‘I too in the same position like him.  If I write a forward to such book it will raise problem to FMPB within the church.’  Then I approached one leader in Church Growth Research Centre and received the same answer.  Finally I requested late Dr. B.V. Subamma and she wrote back, ‘Sorry.  Not acceptable’.  Finally Dr. Rokaya of Khatmandu wrote the Forward.  But I need to acknowledge that Dr. Hoeffer wrote the Forward to the American edition of Living Water and Indian Bowl, irrespective of his position in his church and mission for which I remain thankful to him.

In one Rethinking Conference held at Bangalore (1995?) one Navigator Missionary from outside India told how in his ministry in India they don’t give ‘baptism’ and never celebrate ‘communion’ to their Hindu believers.  He also defend his teaching by saying that both ‘baptism and communion’ were mere symbols and was relevant to the first century followers and now we need not strictly implement them.  So simply having faith in the Lord and living as his follower is more than enough in their home and community not becoming Christians?  Then in the question and answer time then I asked, ‘if baptism and communion are mere symbol, then the death of Christ on the Cross also could be a symbol and we need not take it literarily.  And this is what many elitist Hindus and liberal Christians also promoting.  In that case the forgiveness of sin and our salvation also could become symbol’.  Before he could answer to my question power went off and the time for dinner also came.  So he cannot answer my questions and God saved both of us from each other.  And next day when I raised these questions to Rajesh Hemchand he said, ‘last night I spoke about it to him and confronted him whether he will say the same thing back in his church and mission in home?  And he said that he cannot say there’.  So what they secretly or indirectly do, they cannot do openly.  Similarly another Missionary who agrees with me that ‘faith’ is not a criteria for marriage and the so called ‘believer should marry a believer’ is not in the bible cannot openly support it because of his position in his church and Mission.

I can give several examples to show how such evangelicals cannot openly support contextualization because of their position in their church and mission.  So they cannot sure where to draw and also to whom to draw the line.  Though they secretly support people like us, yet when we were crucified and put to death by the church and mission, they will come openly to burry us and their successors in future will come to resurrect us to glorify as the pioneers in contextualization.  This is what happened with Brahmabandab Upadhyay and R.C. Das.

Upadhyaya was thrown away from his Catholic church and he ended up even becoming a Hindu by doing prayaschitta and after his death his Hindu friends cremated his body (though some Christians tried but failed to get his body to ‘bury’.).  While he was struggling to contextualize the gospel and his Catholic faith (calling himself as Hindu Christian) his church crucified him.  But several decades later Fr. Gisbert Souch S.J. (of Vidya Jothi of Delhi) and Prof. Julius Lippner brought out all Upadhyaya’s writings and resurrected to glorify him as the FATHER of Indian Christian Theology.  While he lived he became an orphan and treated as a ‘Pariah’ in his church but after his death, now he is resurrected and become the FATEHR of Indian Christian Theology?!?

The same is the case with R.C. Das. When I was in Bible institute and few months in UBS I never heard the name of R.C. Das.  Most of the Indian Missionaries and also theological seminary students never knew about him.  He tried to contextualize the gospel living at Varanasi. But he too was deserted by his Mission and finally Catholics at Varanasi took care of him.  He died without any money and the Catholics were kind enough to burry him and they alone even preserved most of his writings and magazines.  Then H. L. Richard came and done all the research and published the book ‘R.C. Das the Pioneer of Contextualization.

And if the question is asked ‘how far we have to go’ for this group, my answer is: ‘you need to go to the extent of loosing your faith.  Then alone you will understand the problem of the converts’.  Because when the gospel is shared the minimum thing required is that a Hindu should not only confess his faith in Muktinath but also to give up his faith in his other gods.  However they are ready to go any extent to reach him, yet they expect him to come where they are. And to come to their place he needs to give up so many things.  And in order to understand all his struggles, those in group D should go to the extent of loosing their faith (as they expect a Hindu convert to do) to understand all his struggles. [Or to understand this the counter question should be ‘how far they (converts/bhaktas) should come out’ from their community, culture, tradition etc. to follow the Lord?]

So to the question: ‘Where to draw the line and how far one should go’ we need to ask the counter question “Who will draw the line’ both for themselves and others.  All these days in the name of protecting the purity of doctrine it is the church and mission draw the line to every convert.  Here the purity of the doctrine is not exclusively (minimum) biblical doctrines but their own respective denominational doctrines, their own traditions, views, administration etc.

And when we insist that no outsider can draw the line for any Insider movement.  This I strictly implement even to my shishyas in North India.  I told them clearly several time that as a South Indian I cannot understand all their social and traditional customs and will encourage them to take decision for every crucial issue. But anything related to immoral activities which are common to all, and then I will take a firm stand and tell them to be biblical.  But when we allow the Insiders to draw their own line, we are often accused that we are ‘compromising’ with the gospel and encourage Syncretism.

But what they mean by compromise and syncretism?  We too believe that Muktinath is the only Lord and Savior; Mukti is possible only through Him and Muktiveda is the Word of God.  Now tell me where we are compromising and promoting syncretism?  If we don’t accept their particular interpretation of the Muktiveda and their denominational doctrine, then if we are accused as ‘compromisers’ then I am willing to happily remain a compromiser and promoter of syncretism.

I am also several times accused by the Christians that I am a heretic and producing new cult.  First of all they should understand what is mean by cult and heresy.  When a group, not agreeing with the doctrine and tradition of a sampradaya (sect) and breaks away from them and create their own sect almost based on the same doctrines and tradition giving new interpretation and explanation, then they are called heretic and their new sect as a cult within the sampradaya.  But we are not part of any Denominational Christianity; we are not even part of their particular denomination church and Christian Community. Though we are part of the UNIVERSAL CHURCH, we are not members of any Christian group as we are the members of Hindu community.  If at all any one has any right to call as heretics and promoters of new cult, only Hindus have that. But they have no problem with our freedom to worship any God of our own choice (Ishta devata) remaining part of their community and society.  So for them we are not promoting any cult group with their sampradaya but we remain part of their community and society making our own choice of sadhana and faith.

Tell me, if Christians can have: Baptist; Free Will Baptist, Anna Baptist and Full Baptist within one denomination, then who is a heretic to whom and promoter of new cult?  Those who claim Saivm and Vaishnavism as the off shoot of Thomas Christianity alone can be called the promoters of new cult and heretic within Christianity.  As we are not part of any Ecclesiastically Organized and Institutionally Christianized Churchianity and sociologically separated Christian communities they have no right to call me as a heretic and promoter of new cult within their denominations.

Finally, some evangelicals are worried that in the long run Hindu Muktinath Bhaktas also will end up another organized religious institution and also to prevent false teaching some kind of monitoring is needed.  I appreciate their concern. But where there is money, power and authority, in order to control them, organization is inevitable.  But I strongly promote ‘de-centralizing’ and never believe in remote controlling.  Each bhaktas movement within a particular cultural and social group needs to grow independently.  They are answerable to the Lord and to the Word of God and we should trust Holy Spirit and them to grow more than controlled remotely by me or anyone.  Appointing any person by us even one among them will never help them.  They should recognize their own natural leader who can lead them and they should accept his leadership than imposed from outside.  Of course our Lord selected twelve disciples and the early church seven catechists and Paul two of his disciples as church leaders.  But we need not imitate their pattern but follow the principle, which is: some one to lead.  For example imitating the Lord the Apostles never appointed 12 catechist or Paul seven church leaders. Whatever might be the reason for them to select and appoint the leaders; we need not imitate the same patters.  Apostles never appointed their own choice but asked the Greek speaking Jews to select seven among them and only recognized them as their servants to take care of their food and rations.

Once we decentralize and refuse to do any remote control, we need not worry about any split.  In fact I always encourage multiplication through split.  For example if more than 10 bhaktas join a Mandali, better split them in two group and ask them to worship and grow independent of each group with in their locality than gather them under one roof.  If the Christians still not convinced by this and argue for Organizational unity then my answer is that already there are more than 48.000 and more denominations in Christianity few more won’t make much difference.

Now I would like to give my response to few issues raised in the meeting:

On the whole, some of the issues/questions that came up were:

  1. as I had mentioned before) Where to draw the line?—see my paper above—db
  2. While the method of reaching is required, people need to be conscientious of not disturbing people in churches.—I clearly told that I am not stealing any sheep from any church.  I also clearly told that I won’t come and disturb the church.  When one Canadian Missionary, after quoting the example of Messianic Jews and the problem that it is causing some churches back in Canada, I told that lack of teaching is one of the main reason for the church members get disturbed, which though one retired Pastor opposed, yet few agreed with me.
  3. What growth strategy and (in essence) monitoring strategy are in place to check false teachings? –see my paper above.—db
  4. That Swamiji should give interviews to students and people should make themselves available and open for scholars to study and document. To this … responded that ‘insider movements’ need to be protected and not exposed like Paul had to protect the Gentile believers from the Jewish believers; and that the past few bad experiences with ‘scholars’ in effect have shut the doors.—I clearly told that such interviews are not helping the lay people in the church or our movement.  Those entire Ph.D. theses remain buried in the Seminary Library for some future student to do some reach and again to write finally buried in the Library. Above considering my age, limitation and priority, I don’t have the luxury of time to give interview to any Theological students.–db
    March 4, 2010