Multiethnic Churches

Tim Svoboda

Northwest Graduate School

Multiethnic Churches in Urban India

Submitted by Tim Svoboda

for PRM 715 Race, Poverty, and Urban Ministry in the Midst of Rapid Urbanization and Globalization.

Professor of Record: Dr. Ray Bakke. Instructor: Dr. Glen Kehrein

 

I. Introduction

          In a previous paper that I wrote for my NWGS course on Postmodernism, Hinduism, and Christianity in Urban India I addressed the topic of The Homogenous Unit Principle of Church Planting Methodology and its relevance to Caste, Culture, and the Urbanization of India. I have had to ask myself why I should write another paper on the topic of Multi Ethnic Churches for the Indian Urban World. I am writing this paper because the mission I am working with has not been thinking about the urban area when it comes to church planting. We have been doing an excellent job of church planting in tribes and villages. However, in the urban centers we are attempting to use the same strategy for what we are doing in the more remote and village areas of the country. India is going through a massive change due to urbanization, which is affecting caste, culture and therefore the methodologies we must use in ministry. In this short paper, I want to carry on from the last paper that addressed more the homogenous unit principle in church planting methodology and some of the confusion that was between caste and culture. In this paper, I will look a bit more into these areas and address the issues of multi ethnic churches. I have chosen to continue in this topic, hoping that what I have learned will influence our mission to strategize new ways of planting multi ethnic churches in the urban centers of the Subcontinent.

 

II. The need for Multi Ethnic Churches in a Changing Urban World

 

          The need for multiracial churches is a fact due to the urbanization and globalization of the cities. The authors of United by Faith state,  According to the 2000 census, people of color as a percentage of the United States population have more than doubled to 31 percent since 1960, and the growth of non-Europeans is expected to continue at an accelerated rate. In just the last twenty years (1980 to 2000), the African American population grew by nearly 30 percent, the Native American population by 75 percent, the Latino population by 142 percent, and the Asian American population by 185 percent. In absolute numbers, the United States has well over 35 million more people of color in 2000 than it did in 1980. [1]

 

           While Indian cities do not represent a large international population, they do have a diverse blend of people from various language and ethnic backgrounds from within India. India is a cultural mix of people and it is increasing due to the growing phenomenon of urbanization. On the website of Indian NGO’s they state, India no longer lives in villages. By the turn of the millennium 305 million Indians shall live in nearly 3700 towns and cities spread across the length and breadth of the country. This shall comprise 30% of its population, in sharp contrast to only 60 million (15%) who lived in urban areas in 1947 when the country became Independent. During the last fifty years the population of India has grown two and half times, but Urban India has grown by nearly five times.  In numerical terms, India's urban population is the second largest in the world after China, and is higher than the total urban population of all countries put together barring China, USA and Russia. [2] 

 

            The migration of people in the cities of India is a nationwide phenomenon. South is moving north and north is moving  south as businesses and globalization expands. Though there are no exact figures available for the language, ethnic, and foreign population figures in each of the cities of India it is a known fact that Indian cities are attracting a migration that is not only within the state but interstate and also international. The number of towns and cities in India has increased to 5161 as per the 2001 census. [3] These represent towns and cities exceeding 5000 people. The number of metropolitan cities that have a million plus population has increased to 35 as per 2001 census. [4] From 1947 to 2000 the population of India has grown two and half times, but urban India has grown by nearly five times. About one-third of urban India lives in metropolitan cities (million plus). The number of such cities in India has increased from 1 in 1901 to 5 in 1951 to 23 in 1991. [5]

 

            Within a sampling of just one million people, 16 languages will be spoken. This increases the diversity found within our cities and therefore makes the task of evangelism and church planting all that more diverse. [6] Most of the migration that is taking place in India is due to the emphasis on economic growth in urban centers by the government of India. The recent elections in India were lost by the ruling BJP because they used the slogan, “India Shining” which only represented the country’s major urban centers. Rural India responded en masse and voted the party out of power as they were facing poverty and unemployment. Urban India may be beginning to shine but rural India still gropes in poverty and thus the pull factor of the cities is causing a higher migration.

 

            Shahid Sadruddin Nanavati states, “The first five year fiscal plans were totally geared to industrializing and developing the economy. (Desai 1972; Davis 1968). Consequently, investment in economic growth has been biased toward the capital intensive urban centers despite the fact that 80% of India resides in the rural areas. The poor from the rural areas have no other option but to seek a livelihood in the urban centers. The rural-urban divide imbalance in development provides an explanation for the unprecedented growth of urban centers and slums. [7] Shekhar Mukherji, Professor of Migration and Urban Studies in Bombay says,“For instance, Bombay has more than 50 % of population as slum dwellers, and Calcutta (43%) and Delhi (30%) follow the suit. Madras also has 2 million slum dwellers, followed by Ahmedabad (1.13 million), Hyderabad (1.1 million), Bangalore (1.03 million), Kanpur (0.8 million) and Pune (0.5 million). … In sum, in the setting of ongoing globalization, liberalization, and privatization, more and more such poverty-induced migration and urban involution will, occur in India in future.”[8]

          Srivastava and Sasikumar say,  In some regions of India, three out of four households include a migrant. . . . Urban pockets like Kolkata and Mumbai attracted rural laborers mainly from labor catchment areas like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Orissa in the east and Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and parts of Kerala and Karnataka in the south (NCRL, 1991; Joshi and Joshi, 1976; Dasgupta, 1987). The historical pattern of the flow of laborers persisted even after independence. …Recent evidence based on NSS figures for 1992–1993 and 1999–2000, and indirectly supported by the census, suggests an increase in migration rates – from 24.7% to 26.6% over that period. This evidence suggests the proportion of migrants of both sexes, in both rural and urban areas, increased during the last decade of the 20th century. Migration in India is predominantly short distance, with around 60% of migrants changing their residence within the district of enumeration and over 20% within the state of enumeration while the rest move across the state boundaries. A significant proportion of women migrate over short distances, mainly following marriage. [9] With migration patterns such as the one described above from such reliable sources we can only expect more and more migration into our cities. With that type of migration going on the need for multiethnic and multi-language churches becomes a large strategy that we should have been intentionally working on 10 years ago. Before we turn to looking at multiethnic churches I want to look into caste, race, and ethnicity.  

 

III. Caste, Race, Ethnicity

 

            The majority (about 80%) of Indian society is broken up into about 2000 castes, which can be further broken down into endogamous units, which are called sub castes; the total number of these units in India is estimated to have been 75000 at its peak, and still about 43000. [10] Caste cannot necessarily be confused with race. In trying to study this topic, I have found there are distinct differences between caste, race, and ethnicity. Therefore, before I can get into the topic of multiethnic churches in India a little background on caste, race, and ethnicity needs to be explored. George Yancey says, While ethnicity is a concept that is similar to race, there are important distinctions that have to be acknowledged. Generally, ethnicity refers to groups that have cultural distinctions, while race is used to denote groups that are perceived to be physically different from each other. When we are talking about those with contrasting ethnicities, we are looking at the distinctions between Puerto Ricans and Mexicans, Germans and Swedish, Japanese and Chinese. . . . When we talk about blacks and whites, we are talking about groups that most Americans perceive as physically different from each other. [11]

 

            In answering the question, what is Race?, Bert Thompson says, “A human “race” is defined most often as a group of people with certain features in common that distinguish them from other groups of people.”[12] In researching this topic there is a difference in how many races anthropologists would classify. Some say there are three, which would be the Caucasian, Mongolian, and Negroid. Others add to it the Australian Aboriginal Group though some suggest it is a sub branch of the Caucasian race. Still others add others called the Capoids and Nordics. The Mediterranean sub race from the Caucasian race according to David Frawley is where the Aryan and Dravidian peoples came from. Frawley says in commenting on whether they are two separate racial groups says, The idea of Aryan and Dravidian races is the product of an unscientific, culturally biased form of thinking that saw race in terms of color. There are scientifically speaking, no such things as Aryan or Dravidian races. The three primary races are Caucasian, the Mongolian and the Negroid.  Both the Aryans and Dravidians are related branches of the Caucasian race generally placed in the same Mediterranean sub-branch. The difference between the so-called Aryans of the north and Dravidians of the south is not a racial division. Biologically both the north and south Indians are of the same Caucasian race, only when closer to the equator the skin becomes darker, and under the influence of constant heat the bodily frame tends to become a little smaller. . . . An Aryan and Dravidian race in India is no more real than a north and a south European race. Those who use such terms are misusing language. We would just as well place the blond Swede of Europe in a different race from the darker haired and skinned person of southern Italy. [13]

 

            Frawley’s information is published on a pro Hindutva website which is suspect of a pro Aryan Hindutva bias in order to classify Dravidians not as a separate race but as a part of their caste system and thus make them come under Hinduism. Aryans have typically been the upper castes of India who have oppressed the lower castes who have typically come from the Dravidian peoples. Other anthropologists indicate that the Aryans are from the Nordic race and the Dravidians from the Mediterranean race. Others yet say that the Aryans are from the Mediterranean race and the Dravidians may be the original inhabitants of the earth all the way back to the Garden of Eden. Those from South India where Dravidians are concentrated state emphatically that they are a different race from the Aryans of the north. India also has a small population of Negroid's and Mongoloids. In the end, the Bible makes it clear that "From one man He [God] made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth."[14] We are all descendants of Noah’s family who were descendants of Adam and Eve. I have taken the time to look into this matter simply to define whether I should use the word multiethnic churches or multiracial churches. Though there are indications that the Aryan and Dravidian (the two main peoples of India who comprise most of the population) are two separate races for now I will refer to them as two separate ethnic groups of the same race. That may anger some south Indian anthropologists but the truth is that nobody seems to know for sure how to classify these two broad categories.

 

            Now that we have defined what is a race I want to look more at whether we can define caste as race or is it something separate. This will determine whether we need multiracial or multiethnic churches. Dipanker Gupta a noted sociologist in India says, “In an influential paper published in 1990 in Current Anthropology, an international team of scholars undertook anthropometric exercises and found no differences between different castes. They took three important measurements, viz., head length, head breadth, and bizygomatic breadth. After examining a wide range of material they came to the conclusion that all efforts ‘at typological/"racial" classification should be abandoned’ (Majumder, Shanker, et al.)[15]  Though according to Gupta caste cannot be equated with race it is nevertheless even more damaging than the black white divide in the U.S. because of the purity pollution concept that in ingrained in it Gupta says, “It needs also to be mentioned that it was commonplace to have a black cook or wet nurse in white homes in racially segregated ante bellum southern United States. While blacks were despised they were not considered polluting. Imagine the horror that would be aroused in the home of a traditional privileged caste in India at the very suggestion of an untouchable cook in the kitchen. Thus, while racism at its height might consider blacks to be despicable, it did not regard them as polluting.”[16]

 

            However Gupta goes on to point out that while race is something that cannot be changed, caste is something that can and must be changed. He says, When an equation is made between caste and race the suggestion often is that these caste categories are fixed and immutable. But many once upon a time low castes have become kshatriyas, sudras have become elite pen pushers and, if the tales of doms and mochis are to be believed, then those who were once in positions of power have now fallen into really bad days. If the ignominies heaped on certain castes arise from the occupations they were forced to follow by tradition, then it can be safely said that such a state of affairs no longer holds everywhere with the same degree of consistency. It is very rarely that one can correlate caste and occupation in contemporary India. … In India it is possible and, indeed, feasible to move from one kind of job to another in one’s lifetime, and with greater facility over two to three generations. Over 13% of Grade A services in the Government of India are today occupied by those whose predecessors were once considered untouchables. This percentage is bound to increase in the years to come. In that sense those who are descendants of so-called untouchables are no longer untouchables today. For them, at least, their caste position has changed significantly. [17]

 

             The case is different for blacks in America. Once a black always a black as the race of a person cannot be changed. However in India the once low caste Nadars of Tamil Nadu who were toddy (coconut tree climbers) tappers are now in prominent positions in both society and in the church. Unfortunately many of them in the church do not want to give room to others who they consider below them to advance as they once did. Gupta points out the similarity between caste and race and this must be the issue for the church to take prominent leadership in. Gupta says, There is one similarity, however, between the fight against caste and the fight against race. Ultimately the battle has to be fought and won by those who are victims of such stratified social orders. It is only by empowering the scheduled castes and blacks that casteist and racist prejudices, respectively, are not given the scope to manifest themselves in practice in everyday relations. No amount of consciousness rising can do this job adequately. Only when those that have been hitherto disprivileged have the power and the wherewithal to fight back will sectarian prejudices be halted in their tracks. [18] Therefore, though caste is not the same as race nevertheless it is a potent entity for division within society. I want to turn briefly now and look at how caste affects the church.

 

IV. Caste inside the Church

 

            That caste has been inside of the church is a known fact by most people in India today. Many of the early converts that came to Christ through the missionaries did so along caste lines. It was only natural that this would take place as India is and has been divided up clearly along caste lines. Thomas C. Fox states, The earliest European missionary efforts, trying to convert the upper castes, abandoned the lower castes. Early missionaries reasoned that by converting a few Brahmans they could convert the nation. But those efforts failed. Later, missionaries began to focus efforts on the lower castes. However, by then the old caste differences were part of the Catholic Indian portrait. Shortly before Pope John Paul II visited India in 1999 a group calling itself the Dalit Christian Liberation Movement wrote him a letter saying, "oppression and persecution of the dalits within the church remains as serious and appalling as the oppression and persecution of the religious minorities in the country." Their letter was widely circulated. [19]

 

            With the advent of urbanization, these distinctions are beginning to break down but the church along with much of society retains the old forms and it will take some time for them to pass away. However, the church should be intentional in ridding themselves of these evils. However, that has not always been the case. The following article by Surojit Chatterjee explains a very current situation in the southern State of Tamil Nadu: Madurai - It is a known fact that many Dalits (the hidden apartheid of India) embrace Christianity because of oppression by higher-caste Hindus. But, according to news reports, there seems to be no escape for the neo-converts as discrimination continues in churches too in South India. It is reported that Dalit Christians have separate pews and burial grounds and are served Holy Communion wine from a separate chalice in certain churches in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The most visible form of untouchability is the double tumbler system in which a separate drinking glass is kept for Dalits in tea shops.

 

           A similar system followed by the church till the late 20th century, particularly in Thanjavur district, was the double chalice system. A separate chalice was kept for serving Holy Communion wine to Dalit Christians. The practice is now waning following agitations within the church by some 'enlightened priests and sisters'. Following the ban on double chalice system, some churches have now resorted to serving communion wine with a spoon. "Shocking as the revelation may seem, this is the truth,'' lamented Rev. Dr. Dhyanchand Carr, the principal of the Tamil Nadu Theological Seminary, Arasarady, Madurai, who has spoken out on behalf of the Dalits, much to the chagrin of his fellow believers. Rev. Carr said Dalit Christians still suffered ostracism, segregation and oppression in the church. Neo-converts have to sit in separate pews during mass and have separate burial grounds. Some churches have also 'generously' built crucifixes, (miniature churches) in the vicinity of the main church for Dalits to make their appeals to the Creator.

 

          A majority of the descendants of the Christians from Tamil Nadu and Kerala, who were converted from upper-caste                communities’ centuries back, now hold lower-caste brothers at bay. A majority of the clergy too belongs to upper castes and so the Dalits are treated with scorn. Rev. Carr related an incident that happened at the church in Tiruppuvanam, near Madurai, in the early 80s. About 200 Hindu Dalits embraced Christianity. On one occasion, a Dalit member 'dared' to handle the offertory bag. The pastor, who noticed it from the altar, shouted at the man mentioning his caste and demanded to know how dare he touch   the offertory. Unable to bear this insult, the Dalit flock walked out and reconverted to Hinduism. It took almost five years to bring them back into the Christian fold, said Rev. Carr.  Though the situation has changed over the years, caste discrimination still remains deep rooted in the church. Converted Dalits find no place in the decision-making bodies.  Rev. Carr, who never covers himself with cassocks or vestments, says Dalit students find it difficult to enter educational institutions and hostels run by the church.  Those who raise their voice against such discrimination have been stigmatized as 'Dalit pastors'.

 

         Dalit Christians are denied the rights and concessions extended by the Government to Dalits who have not converted to Christianity. The church too does not compensate them for this loss nor does it advocate for their rights, lamented Rev. Carr.The neo-converts find it hard to shed their Hindu identity and continue to dress as before and observe the same customs, he said. The case of Dalits who convert to Islam is different. They shed their dhotis and begin wearing lungi and often sport a beard, Rev. Carr said.  However, mercifully, the situation is changing for the better with more progressive young non-Dalit men entering priesthood in the church, the outspoken priest felt. But it will take a long time before the Dalit Christians begin to feel that they are being treated as members of the same fraternity, he concluded. [20]

 

            Speaking for the Church of South India, Rt. Rev. Dr. M. Azariah, has declared, "The Scheduled Caste (Dalit) Christians are thus discriminated against and oppressed by fellow Christians within the various churches for no fault of their own but the accident of birth, even when they are second, third or fourth generation Christians. The high caste Christians who are the minority in the church carry their caste prejudices even after generations, unaffected by Christian belief and practice.”[21] According to one researcher in a telephone interview with me stated that here in Madras after Rev. Azariah took over, as the Bishop of Madras in early 2000, there was a large exodus of people from the Nadar community from the Church of South India. One church in the city, which caters to the Nadar community, experienced large growth during his years of service as Bishop because the Nadars left the Church of South India. This was because Bishop Azariah began to give appointments to non-Nadars in church committees, schools, hospitals and other institutions controlled by the Church of South India.

 

            In yet another article a report is shown that low caste Catholics are threatening to become Hindus because of oppression. Low-caste leaders in a Catholic parish in southern India's Tamil Nadu state said some 3,000 of their people will become Hindus if the church fails to protect them from high-caste oppression. In this case, they say, the oppressors are church leaders. The threat hit national headlines, and some right-wing Hindu groups have reportedly offered the Dalit (low-caste) Christian’s protection and benefits. The move came in the wake of Hindu nationalist attempts to "reconvert" Christian tribals and low castes, whom they say the church enticed through money and coercion. The dalit Catholics of St. Anne's Parish, Pathiavaram, in Vellore diocese, set a May 16 deadline for their conversion, but church authorities dismissed it as an "empty threat." Dalit leaders say they are "tired of Christianity," which they say "is supposed to have freed us from caste oppression [but is] doing just the opposite." They blame the "high-handedness" of Bishop Malayappan Chinnappa of Vellore and the Sacred Heart brothers, who run a secondary school in the parish. They say they want the brothers, who they say have "oppressed the dalits" for 25 years, to leave the parish immediately. [22]

 

          In a stinging article in the Indian Express the following was printed: The Puthiya Tamilagam founder K Krishnaswamy today unwittingly gave critics of Christianity cannon fodder by calling for all out efforts by the heads of various denominations of Christianity to rid the religion of all “casteist divisions” that was at present plaguing Hinduism. You should eradicate caste-based discrimination in churches first,” he said as archbishops seated on the dais squirmed. He was the speaking at a seminar organized to oppose the anti-conversion law. He referred to terms such as ‘Dalit’ Christian, ‘Nadar’ Christian and so on being used to describe converts to drive home his point. [23]

 

            All one has to do is look at the classified section of the newspaper on any Sunday and look at the matrimonial columns where families are advertising for suitable partners. Caste is still quite strong in churches. Here are just a few samples of Christians advertising in the newspaper from the Sunday matrimonial classifieds.

 

VELLALA CHRISTIAN 28/MS Computer Engineer employed in US with H1B visa. Seeks tall, fair, slim, girl born 1980 or after from Vellala, Naidu, Mudaliar, FC from any State in India Protestant Christian family. Qualification MCA, B.E. any PG. Box No.AA21060, THE HINDU, Chennai-600002

 

SC PALLAN Christian 24/165 BE CSE Wipro Tech Chennai 3.5lac/pa seeks professional/Doctor groom in same caste & religion Box No HB-8985 THE HINDU Chennai-600002.

 

CSI NADAR, 25/170, fair, BE (ECE), Rs.37000pm, seeks fair CSI Nadar girl, MBBS/BE, 23 years. Box No.KR42644, THE HINDU, Chennai- 600002. [24]

 

The three samples above show Christians advertising with their caste designation mentioned as Vellala, Pallan, and Nadar.

 

The total of advertisements in the December 12th, 2004 classifieds Hindu Newspaper was as follows.

 

551 Bridegrooms wanted. Of these 472 was Hindu/Jain, 55 were Christians, 23 Muslims and 1 with no religion mentioned. Those who mentioned no caste name in the advertisement were as follows. 10 Hindu’s, 12 Christians, and 18 Muslims did not mention a caste name in the advertisement. Those that used the words “caste no bar” or advertised in such a way to intend they were open to all castes but nevertheless put their caste name in the advertisement were as follows. 31 Hindus and 6 Christians.  

 

Of the 684 Brides wanted posted in the classifieds on the same day 605 were Hindu/Jain, 55 were Christians, 17 Muslims, 7 of no religion or caste mentioned. Those who mentioned no caste name in the advertisement were as follows. 6 Hindu’s, 24 Christians, 16 Muslims and 7 of no religion. Those that used the words “caste no bar” or advertised in such a way to intend they were open to all castes but nevertheless put their caste name in the advertisement were as follows. 30 Hindu’s and 4 Christians. If we add up the figures with percentages, it would look like this.

 

1235 brides and bridegrooms advertised on December 12th, 2004

 

1077 Hindu’s/Jains. 77 did not mention caste or mentioned caste but advertised as “caste no bar.” This represents 7.1% (Only 1.4% did not mention their caste affiliation)

 

110 Christians. 46 did not mention caste or mentioned caste but advertised as “caste no bar.” This represents 41.8% (Only 21.8% did not mention their caste affiliation.)

 

40 Muslims. 34 did not mention caste. This represents 85%.

 

8 of no religion or caste. 100% did not mention caste.

 

            Though this is just a short analysis and it would be hard to draw definite conclusions what we can see above is that Christians are a bit more progressive than the Hindus in eradicating caste but not as much as the Muslims. Marriage is where caste comes out in the open more than any other place. From the above articles and interactions it can be said that caste is very much alive in some sections of the church and missions. It is not only hurtful but it is damaging to the witness of the church in the nation. It must be eradicated and the only way to do that is to build a theology of Oneness that creates multiethnic churches.

 

V. The theology of Oneness

 

            The Bible itself presents a strong case for multiracial and multiethnic churches. In what is termed a Theology of Oneness the New Testament in particular presents a strong argument. In describing the world of the first century, church United by Faith states the following: “The world in which Jesus and members of the church lived did have distinctions that brought division and hierarchies that produced discrimination rooted in personal and societal understandings of ethnicity and culture. These differentiations often contained the same emotional and structural power to divide as race does today. This was particularly true of the divide between Jews and Gentiles [people from other nations].”[25]

 

            The Jews separated themselves from the other groups of their day. This is much like the castes of India. The authors of United by Faith state,  The diverse mix of people in Galilee reflected the demographics of much of the Roman Empire. The Galilee in which Jesus grew up included Assyrians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Macedonians, Persians, Romans, Syrians, and indigenous Canaanites. In the mind-set of first-century Jews, all these groups were Gentiles. . . . Jesus was raised in Galilee and influenced by this milieu. . . .  The Gospel writers wanted it to be known that Jesus was raised in an environment that maintained his own Jewish cultural and religious identity yet was enriched by the influence of various Gentile cultural elements. This prepared Jesus for a ministry that was radically inclusive. This is evident in his “congregation” of disciples. … The attempt by some religious leaders to implement an exclusive approach to religious faith was challenged by the radically inclusive Jesus.  Jesus broke all the rules that these religious leaders made to separate themselves from others. It clearly indicated his acceptance when Jesus publicly shared meals with tax collectors and those deemed sinners. [26]

 

            Israel in the time of Christ was dominated by the Romans and the upper elite of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Yet Jesus included all in this mission. It can be argued by some that a strong homogeneous church of one culture would be the best tool for breaking dominance and oppression. As the church of one community becomes large, there is more power in the numbers of that church to break the divisions politically and socially through agitation and revolution. In fact, most of the Dalit Liberation theology would move the church in this way to fight for their rights and agitate in mass. While that does need to be done, a revolution may begin to bring some outward changes but the inward changes will only take place through reconciliation. Jesus methodology was not a revolution but a revelation of oneness with others that crosses cultural and ethnic barriers. The Gospel broke down dividing walls through uniting people with God and then with one another through multiracial churches.

 

            Even after the death and resurrection of Christ, we see the Holy Spirit’s operation of inclusiveness in Acts chapter 2. On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit enabled people to hear the gospel in their own languages. “On the day of Pentecost the Jerusalem congregation grew from 120 Galilean Jews to over 3,000 multicultural, multilingual Jews.”[27] Therefore, this initiative of the Holy Spirit right from the beginning forced the church to go beyond a mono-ethnic focus. The Jews who hated the Gentiles reconciled with them because reconciliation was the Gospel message. The city of Antioch provides for us a picture of racial reconciliation within the church. “Antioch was the third largest city in the Roman Empire, with a population of nearly half a million people. A wide cultural mix of peoples including Syrians, Romans, Greeks, Arabs, Persians, Armenians, Parthians, Cappadocians, and Jews made up Antioch’s urban population. … The problems faced by Antioch in the first century rival those of any city in the world today. … Ethnic strife was intense. … Race riots were common because so many people of differing ethnic and cultural groups lived together in cramped, overcrowded conditions. [28]  It was into this city that a dynamic multiethnic church was born which exhibited a multiethnic leadership team. Stegemaan and Stegemann say about the church of Antioch, “Christianity offered a new basis for social solidarity.”[29] This is why they were called Christians because they could not be identified with any of the fractured and separate groups in Antioch.

 

            Some here in India argue that Christianity has become a third culture that does not relate to any Indian culture. It is true the church has mainly adapted western cultural forms in worship and architectural styles. This is because the church was led and dominated in years gone by with Western leadership. As the church is now mainly indigenous in leadership there is still a shedding of the foreign cultural patterns that tend to dominate. Some churches have done better than others have. Now the issue before the church is what cultural form it should take. What is Indian culture? Is it a Dravidian style or an Aryan style? Should it use the sitar in worship services-which is only used in the upper castes of India? Or should it continue with a piano or organ-foreign to both upper and lower castes of India? What language should the church especially in the city operate in? In a city like Bangalore, the major languages would be Tamil, Kannada, Telegu, Hindi, Malayam, and English. Each language would represent a separate culture that eats a variation of food and has different customs and practices. How do those merge in the church?

 

            Paul was sent out of this church and the Antioch church became a model of reproduction. The congregations that Paul planted included both Jews and Gentiles and therefore were multiethnic.  In contrast to the Church Growth method of homogenous churches, Paul’s strategy was different. The homogenous strategy stresses the importance of keeping the evangelistic focus upon one people group so there is a spontaneous multiplication of people coming to faith in Christ. Wagner wrote in Frontiers in Missionary Strategy, in a chapter entitled, "Strategy for Urban Evangelism," he says, “Try not to allow diverse social and cultural elements to mix on the congregational level any more than necessary. Churches must be built as much as possible within homogeneous units if they are to maintain a sense of community among believers.” [30]  However Paul not only baptized Lydia in Philippi who was a Jewish business lady but Paul preached to the Gentiles at the same time and cast out an evil spirit which put him in jail. While in jail he preached to the Roman guards. All of this in contrary to McGovern’s and Wagner’s model of church planting. In Galatians (2:11-14) Peter in his visit to the Antioch church was under pressure from the Jews from the Jerusalem congregation. These Jews were concerned with the mixture of Gentiles in eating together and Peter therefore stopped his fellowship of eating with the Gentiles. These Jews from Jerusalem were insisting the Gentiles be circumcised and embrace Jewish cultural practices which can be seen in Acts 15:5. Paul objected to what Peter was trying to propagate. Paul at this point could have planted a separate church. However he found it more paramount to unite the factions and let the church be a demonstration of reconciliation.

 

            We can talk about a spiritual unity with those of a different ethnic or racial background who live near us but Paul was more concerned about functional unity. For functional unity to take place it needs the mixing of races over the dining table to ensure that separation has been broken down. Man’s separation from God has resulted in man’s separation from one another. The Apostle John tells us, Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”[31] The test of our having come to Christ is our ability to get along with people who we once had difficulties with. The Gospel breaks down the dividing wall first between God and us and then between one another. But the proof of whether we have been truly born of God is whether we love those we did not once love.

Youth With a Mission: City Ministries 2016

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City Ministries is a ministry of Youth With a Mission International

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