Indian Church To The West, On Whose Mission?
Indians from all faiths have migrated to the West since the early 20th century. Today Indian diaspora is also the largest in the world. Their influence on a few aspects of western culture is significant. One notable contribution is the popularisation of Eastern mysticism. Today, Yoga or Transcendental meditation have become familiar names in Western cultures. Besides that, many people of Indian origin are in influential positions. For example, the current vice-president of the United States of America and many CEOs of multinational companies are people of Indian origin. Amid this strident progress, what is the impact of the Indian Church in the West?
Is it so insignificant that many believers from India moved to the West, yet God’s purposes for his kingdom through them were unnoticeable? Did we genuinely seek God’s kingdom, or was it merely our desire for economic or professional progress?
In response to God’s call, missionaries left their homes and local churches and travelled to unreached places to serve the people, proclaim the gospel and plant churches. For example, there was a great missionary movement from the West in the 18th and 19th centuries to India. Notably, Bartholomew Zieganbalg and William Carey, who did enormous work in developing vernacular languages, started schools for the poor. Ida Scudder pioneered the healthcare system in India, and Sam Higginbottom pioneered agriculture education. Their sacrificial service transformed nations and the hearts of people through the gospel.
Similarly, in the early nineteen sixties, the South Indian church sent missionaries to the northern part of India to bless those regions in many ways. They were ready to leave the comfort of their homes and families to face opposition, sickness or even death for the cause of the gospel. However, by the early nineties, when mission organisations challenged believers to go to north India as missionaries, it was not in the interest of the youth, their parents and even church leaders for varied reasons. Moving to the US became God’s blessing, but the missions of north India or Africa were questionable.
Indian Church on a new mission
Meanwhile, the churches in India were busy aping the West; their music, theology, liturgy and programs filled our churches. So, instead of becoming the disciples of Jesus, we have become disciples of Western Christianity. As their money started pouring in, north India missions mostly became mere promotion material to raise funds.
In the name of evangelism, Christian leaders opened the way for the prosperity gospel preachers and televangelists who came preaching that health and wealth are all we need to seek from God. Therefore their motivational talks prepped us to dream big and pursue the American dream God is giving us.
Then with the changing economic conditions and an increasing number of qualified youth, this theology helped the Indian church take on a different mission. As a result, thousands of Christians, if not millions, have left for the West to study or work toward their professional goals.
The problem: We lost sight of the kingdom
The problem is not about moving to the West but why. The church is imitating the world in our pursuits of career, wealth and status and completely ignoring the kingdom of God. Most of us fail to understand what it means to seek God’s kingdom and why Christ commands us to do so. Because the institutionalised Church, by and large, lost the understanding of the gospel and its call to disciple nations. Therefore we did not cultivate a missional mindset to serve and disciple nations in our homeland or the lands our work or study took us.
Except for a handful, most of us believe that moving to the West is a legitimate blessing God gives to the good. Those who moved take pride in subtly messaging it through social media. They mislead even the ‘born-again’ to lose sight of the Kingdom of God and focus on material blessings.
That is why, when we move to the West, we get stuck to our regional subcultures (Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, Hindi Sunday gatherings) with no purpose of integrating with the culture and the local Church where God has taken us. Instead, we send money to churches or televangelists back in India to satisfy our religious obligations. It shows that we prefer to identify by language, even worse, by caste than by the kingdom of God.
A glimmer of hope
Despite these cultural pressures to seek greener pastures, many truly obeyed God’s call. For example, a doctor from CMC Vellore decided to serve the poor, but his family and his church discouraged him from that. They said, “Don’t take your faith that seriously.” But, he and his wife went to restore an abandoned leprosy mission hospital in Makunda, Assam. They transformed it into an affordable yet self-sustaining hospital that continues to serve the poor in that region even today. Another doctor couple dedicated their lives to helping eradicate Malaria in the Malto hill tribe region of Jharkhand while building the body of Christ there.
A few sought opportunities as professionals to live and serve not just in the West but in cities, remote places, or among hostile cultures across the globe. To take God’s kingdom to where God sent them to disciple their neighbours. So, for example, a family who moved to Sydney introduced the practice of family prayer time in their local Australian church, which they don’t practise nowadays.
There is a well-established movement among Indonesian believers who go to the West for education and desire to move back to serve their country and strengthen the church. Admittedly, Christians are a minority in that country, but their presence and contribution to the nation are well recognised. Similarly, Indian believers who heard God’s call returned to India to serve the Church and the country in different ways.
Unfortunately, though there are many such beautiful testimonies, the number is almost negligible compared to the size of the Church in India, which still fails to see God’s kingdom. Sadly the Indian Church, by and large, has not taken part in preparing, sending, praying, or supporting the work of the gospel locally and to the ends of the earth, that is, to disciple all people in the way of the kingdom. Those committed to serving in unreached parts of India rarely see their church partnering with them.
Do we seek to return to Christ and His kingdom?
Praise God if the Spirit of God persuades you to seek His kingdom wherever you are or have moved. To understand what it means to seek God’s kingdom first, we need to understand the context Jesus is teaching this. He is teaching this to his disciples about how we ought to live in His kingdom. (Matthew 5,6,7)
To seek first the kingdom is to prioritise our life to live in the way of the kingdom. Knowing we cannot serve the kingdom and mammon or sin or world.
It begins with putting Christ and our way of thinking and living according to Christ’s teaching; His righteousness should be our priority. That is single-minded obedience to the will of God in all areas of our lives. So, no, it is not merely about being religious, giving money, joining the seminary, or doing evangelism.
So, as citizens of the kingdom, we don’t worry about what we eat or wear; we don’t pursue careers or status as the world does. Instead, we seek the kingdom and God’s righteousness in all aspects of our lives and the rest of our needs He provides. (Matthew 6) Then the world will recognise us by God’s righteousness and justice in us, not our name, status, or wealth according to worldly standards.
Here are a few critical actions we need to take.
- Recovering the gospel of the kingdom: The Church mostly buried the gospel; we think the gospel is about going to heaven if we believe in Jesus. No, it is about the triumph of Christ and the inauguration of his kingdom in heaven and on earth. It is about the reign of Christ in our lives and the His glory filling the earth. It is about redeeming and restoring us as His children to rule with him. It is about uniting heaven and earth as His dwelling place. Unless we relearn the gospel of the kingdom of heaven, we do not understand our role in it.
- Rejecting the escapist eschatology: We have distorted the gospel because we have distorted our eschatology to satisfy our itchy ears. (2 Timothy 4:3) Our eschatological views forced us to ignore the gospel of the kingdom. Instead, it focused on winning converts, the immanent doom, anti-christ, and our dramatic escape to the clouds. We must return to the Word of God, seeking to be taught by the Spirit of God and be transformed.
- Recovering our call: What does it mean to be redeemed as a child of God? Restored into His image and reign with him as kings and priests in His kingdom? What does it mean to live as a new creation while still in this body? What does it mean to become the body of Christ, which is the dwelling of God?
Recovering our call to become like Christ by taking up our cross and following him so we can reign with him as kings and priests in this kingdom. That is to seek opportunities for God’s will to be done in our neighbourhoods, workplaces, cities, government, schools & colleges etc., as it is in heaven.
- Dismantle to rebuild the church: We must dismantle the churches we built on our idols: our pride, ego and self-interest to rebuild on Christ to serve His kingdom. So that we may disciple the world into God’s righteousness, justice, holiness and love.
- Rooted in fellowship and discipleship: Rooted in the fellowship of the saints by sharing our lives in common as a local church. To serve one another as the body of Christ in the household of God. Giving to hospitality, prayer and giving. In doing so, we imitate Christ and disciple one another. Christ calls us to discipleship. That is to follow Christ in all areas of life and teach it in the household of faith and outsiders. Remaining as a lone Christians is not God’s will.
- Cultivate missional living: Discipleship in the fellowship of the saints, building God’s kingdom as we seek the welfare of our neighbours (Jeremiah 29: 4–7), is missional living. That is to live, reflecting Christ and his righteousness in all our thoughts, pursuits and possessions led by the Spirit of God. That requires equipping ourselves to understand and engage with the local culture and its challenges so that we can contribute to the common good through discipling. The local church has an important role to play here.
- Seek partnerships and opportunities: When we focus on seeking God’s kingdom, we need to partner with other local churches in our cities, villages, and distant countries because it is the kingdom that matters. Partnerships help us seek professional or economic opportunities to serve Christ in new areas. Again, not driven by our ambitions and plans but waiting on the Lord to provide opportunities.
From the early 18th century, God sent his people from the West to show his love for India, significantly transforming it through the church. In his book Renaissance, Os Guinness suggests three tasks for the global church in this 21st century. The first task is to “win back the west.” If this is a reasonable proposal, does the diaspora in the West have any part to play? Do we see our role in God’s mission to bless those nations where we have immigrated? But, on the other hand, is the Western Church willing to learn and partner?
For example, a new movement called the “Third Education Revolution” is gaining momentum in the West, pioneered by Christians in the diaspora and the Western Church. Its vision is to bring education back to the Church where it was first cultivated.
I believe a faithful, spirit-filled Christian diaspora can bring new biblical thought and practice to revive the western Church. God has sent many believers to the West in the recent past. But do the diaspora and the western Church understand why? (Watch this inspiring story of a Jamaican pastor reviving a church in Europe)
Let us ask God’s help to seek His kingdom and righteousness wherever we are. First, seek the fellowship of a local community of saints to serve and, through it, serve our neighbours. Then, when God calls you to a different place, He will clarify it. Remember, our chief duty is to reflect God’s kingdom in our lives as kings and priests. Love our neighbours as we teach His righteousness and justice to the world so the world may obey Him.
May God restore His Church to take His kingdom to the ends of the earth!
Remember, our chief duty is to reflect God’s kingdom in our lives as kings and priests. Loving our neighbours as we teach His righteousness and justice to the world so that the world may know Him.
For further reading:
Book: Renaissance: The Power of the Gospel However Dark the Times by Os Guinness
Article: Inquire, Introspect, Involve: The Inquiry 2020 and Christian Missions in India by JN Manokaran