The Daunting Task of Hinduism
We have often said that the sphere of unreached peoples with the largest number of sub-groups to be reached is the Muslim sphere-- roughly 4,000 groups. The Tribal sphere is also quite large, but the unreached Tribal groups are almost all small societies that feel like the world is crowding in upon them. They don't think that their way of life is necessarily better so they're ready to convert in any direction--Islam, Buddhism, whatever.
But the Hindu peoples, while they may not have quite so many sub- groups, may be the toughest sphere of all. Moreover, in the Hindu sphere the sub-groups are enormous in size. And not only that, their theology is about the farthest removed from Christian theology--and even Muslim theology. By comparison to Hinduism, Muslim theology and Christian theology seem identical; Muslims almost seem to be Christians just a little bit off the beaten track by comparison to Hindus. Because the Hindus are the farthest away from Christianity, they are perhaps the hardest to reach of all the unreached people groups,
This is why the theological challenge that Premkumar Dharmaraj and the India Center for Mission have addressed is enormous. (See page 25.) In his strategizing how to reach the Hindu world, he is really pioneering. No other centers in the world that are doing research on India focus above the level of the churches within the so-called Dalat sphere or in the Tribal sphere, both of which are outside the Hindu caste system.
The two major religious groups in India are Islam and Hinduism. There are also other smaller groups, one of these being Christianity with thirty million--or eight million adherents--depending upon whom you ask and what you define a Christian to be.
But when you look at the Hindu bloc, the largest of all, it breaks down into various strata. And outside these strata, but nevertheless often carelessly considered Hindu, are the so-called Dalats and the Tribals. As far as the Hindus are concerned, the Tribals and the Dalats do not represent some other religion; they are just inferior Hindus. And the Christians of India are almost all in the Dalat and Tribal category.
Now how does Christianity make its way up? Does it rise like an elevator up into the caste system of India? This is the challenge--to work deliberately up into those levels. Now, the number of Christians in India is relatively small in terms of the total number of Dalats-- that is to say, the people who are outside the caste system. There is a lot of work to do in that world. Of the thirty million Christians, most are nominal, second-or-third-generation Christians who don't really know Christianity as more than a way of life. They don't necessarily have a personal religious faith. I have heard very reliable people say that 98% of all the evangelism in India is focused on the Christians that have fallen away, who do not really know Christ. And what of the other two percent? It is focused on the other peoples in the Dalat sphere or Tribal sphere. If this is true, then how much effort is focused on the Hindu sphere? Zero percent!
Recently, however, a little bit of work is being done in the unreached Hindu sphere. There are some beachheads of the Holy Spirit, you might say, some fascinating things happening here and there. But they are just fleeting, tiny little phenomena. The main muscle of the eight million really vital Christians, out of 30 million altogether, is not focused in that direction. That, however, is not true of the India Center for Mission, and the Institute of Hindu Studies, both located on the campus of the U.S. Center for World Mission.
The Hindu world is the most perverted, most monstrous, most implacable, demonic-invaded part of this planet. There's just no question about it. The Islamic peoples around the world are like backslidden Christians by comparison to the Hindus. And the Tribal societies are just as lost as the Hindus; in fact, anybody who is lost is just as lost as anybody else. But the point is, some groups have more access to the Gospel than others. Some are closer in their understanding than others. And when we look at the unreached spheres, the greatest, biggest, blackest, most hopeless mass of confusion, perversion, deception and oppression is this massive Hindu bloc.
A picture of Hinduism can be seen in the photo of a man with his leg and his foot up around the back of his head. The perversion of Satan in this part of the world is just absolutely legendary. Years ago, Arthur Koestler, a very astute scientific writer who was not a Christian but in fact a former Communist, went to India searching for spiritual answers. He spent months going around and sitting at the feet of four major swamis, teachers of Hinduism, and reading their Scriptures. He wrote a book called The Lotus and the Robot, a comparison between Japan and India. The part on India has fascinated me for years. He picks up on the theme that Hinduism has a concept of power over matter. Hindus want to be able to endure hardship and suffering, such as putting a leg behind their heads. Any physical thing that you think could NOT naturally be done, they would like to be able to do it somehow. This represents some sort of spiritual mastery, they feel. This concept is a trick of the devil, of course. For every bodily function there are Hindus someplace who have somehow perfected the reversal of that function. For example, they reach into their mouths and cut the flesh that binds the tongue to the bottom of the mouth. Then the tongue can be turned backwards and close up the passages into their nose because that is the reverse of the function of the tongue. What is the purpose of this? It is a religious achievement, of course , and is performed by demonic influences. But Koestler was repulsed by this.
Hinduism is characterized by demonic oppression, spiritual perversion and philosophical confusion or deception, all mixed together. Practically all of Hinduism is invaded by the demonic. And to suppose that the bodies that God created should be reversed in every conceivable sense, and that this would be a religious achievement, is just almost the ultimate of spiritual stagnation, deception and perversion. And so we really have a monstrous religion. The word "monstrous" fits. It doesn't just mean big, it means evil; it means horrible. There is a monstrosity about India and Hinduism. It is a tremendous challenge.
Now right in the middle of all this monstrosity, the most hopeless people from the Hindu point of view (the so-called "out-castes") are the very people who are being renewed by the Gospel. While this means that the Gospel will not automatically percolate up into the higher strata of society (such as the Brahmin strata), it also means that these Brahmins who think they are so great and look down their noses at such people find they are being absolutely transformed by the Gospel. Their smiles and songs and buildings and hospitals and universities, their learning and their skills are becoming known around the world. These Christians are absolutely destroying the myth that the Dalat and Tribals are inferior people!
When the missionaries first went to India they felt that if they could reach the upper-class people first, the Gospel would trickle down to the lower castes. But, accidentally, their servants began to follow Christ and the Gospel went from servant group to servant group. The missionaries might have said then, "Oh horrors, we're losing control of the Christian movement. It's invading these lower strata! And we're going to lose." But it was probably God's strategy. Those millions and millions of snobbish, holier-than-thou, upper-level Hindus are seeing that the really redeemed people of India are the people for whom they would give you no hope at all. Once more, God has taken the weak things to confound the mighty.
So there is hope for India. The Gospel has got to break loose in these upper strata, but it cannot just be stretched up. There have got to be new penetrations. And this is where the India Center for Mission is hoping to be able to work--directly into those strata. This is one of those cases where "you can't get there from here." It is very difficult to reach the proud upper castes going from a palem, which is like a ghetto outside a village where only the untouchables live. Although the word untouchable has been outlawed in India, the untouchables have simply been renamed and are still there. Any middle- caste Hindu that would ever even put his foot down on the path to the palem would have to go through all kinds of ritual cleansing. He would be defiled. And yet it is out there in the palem where high schools are appearing. And out there are the mission-established hospitals, where you have two doors so people can get into the hospital from either side, the caste side or the out-caste side.
The problem of India is not its people. It's not that they are not intelligent; India has some of the most brilliant people in the world. It's not that they are technologically behind; in India there are more advanced computer programmers than in any other part of the world. It's not that they are unable to do mathematics; they are the world's best mathematicians. It's not that they can't make motion pictures; they make more than any country in the world.
But inasmuch as the Hindus of India are captured by the "god of this world," no amount of technology, no brilliance, no computer skills can redeem them. Oh, the apathy, the brutality, the perversion and the fatalism which we see in the Hindu strata. Yet, how we want to see the name of Christ honored among these peoples! Perhaps, as a result of the widespread showing of the Jesus film--as well as a secular film about Him produced locally--just perhaps there will be a turning to Him, who is the only One who can bring hope and redemption to the millions of India. It is an irrefutable fact that the redeeming, transforming power in India belongs to our Lord Jesus Christ. No one can deny that!
But we must pray!