31 MAY 1930, Page 7

The Church in India

[Rev. W. H. G. Holmes, the author of this article, is a member of the Oxford Mission to Calcutta and has a long experience of Indian Church life. He is the author of The Presence of God, and other works.] INDIA offers a crucial challenge to the Christian Faith.

This is not mainly because of the amazing- diversity of its peoples, comprising six ethnic groups -and over forty races; nor because its civilizations vary from almost primitive semi-barbarism to high modern culture,. so that in India the first .century and the.twentieth may overlap. The challenge is crucial because as regards religion these multitudinous peoples are, as it were, securely dug in or entrenched. For the most part they give, allegiance to two great systems, and these systems are so organized that they present an almost impenetrable front to the onset of new spiritual truth and life. On the one hand Hinduism is. the vaguest and loosest of all systems of faith—a Hindu may be an atheist or he, may believe in scores of deities—but on the other it is welded securely together by one of the most unyielding and apparently most permanent social bonds ever forged by man, that of caste. Without caste Hinduism would die ; but caste is not dying, whatever reformers may assert. Islam is a compact system of belief and practice to which caste is foreign, but Islam has a law to deal with " apostasy,?' and although the extreme penalty cannot be enforced, yet there remains a social power which can and does exact heavy retribution from any that " apostatize."

I have said that India presents a challenge which is crucial. In this metaphor is hidden another salient fact ; for it is precisely the doctrine of the Cross which Hindu and Moslem repudiate ; the Moslem because his con- ception of God debars him from believing that God would allow a prophet to die in ignominy, the Hindu because his doctrine of karma makes it imperative to maintain that a man who was crucified deserved to be crucified, either for sin in this life or more probably for sin in one of his innumerable previous lives. So the challenge of the Christian. Faith to India is crucial indeed ; it is the challenge of the Cross.

Yet, although Hinduism and Islam are deeply dug in, Christianity is making headway, and rapid headway, in India. It is computed that on an average three thousand converts are baptized each week. The secret of this is that hovering on the fringe of Hinduism there' are other classes of people, such as aboriginals and hill folk, mostly animist by religion, and a body of outcastes numbering forty millions, who, though classed for census purposes as Hindus, have no love for Hinduism and still less for caste- Hindus. Large numbers from these three classes are turning to Christianity ; and when it is remembered that the aboriginals are for the most part simple, hefty, virile folk, and many of the outcastes are capable of producing admirable qualities, it will be seen that to-day we have the nucleus of a numerous and powerful Christian Church in India.

Moreover, it is being demonstrated that, apart from the individuals from the educated classes and high castes, some of them distinguished men—an Indian Christian is a member of the Executive Council of the Governor- General of India—who have been drawn one by one to Christianity, the conversion of outcastes and aboriginals is having a very marked effect on caste folk in some parts of India. In one district in the -Deccan I heard last September of the baptism of: five hundred caste people in a month, several of whom were Brahmans ; and I was told that the movement could be traced to the impression made by the uplifting of the outeastes through the Christian Faith. To-day Christians in India number about five millions, and when it is .recalled that modern missions are really modern, it will be recognized that though Hinduism. and Islam seem safe in their dug-outs, yet in places Hinduism at all .events is being tunnelled. A body of five millions in 1930 may be fifty millions in 2000.

To say that modern missions are really modern reminds us how strangely unmissimiary was early Prcitestantism. Luther, we are told, took refuge in the thought that the Lord would dispose of heathendom and " the Turk " at His second coming. It took three hundred years before Protestant missions manifested any vigour, though some work was begun a century earlier. Whilst Ltither was for leaving the Lord to dispose of heathenism in India and elsewhere, Francis Xavier was setting sail for the East, where he laid the foundation of work which abides until this day. Protestants in Europe were content to occupy themselves in doctrinal controversies and fresh regroupings, whilst the Roman -Catholic Church dili- gently pursued its labours in various parts of the world. The result to-day is that -Roman Catholics in India number about three millions of the total Christian population.

But when Protestantism woke at long last to the duty of spreading the Evangel there was vigOrmis 'and con- tinuous action. Higher education as well as 'consecrated medical skill were employed as indirect means Of draWing Indians to the knciwledge of Christ.' In this modern work the Anglican Church, in which the two streams of Catholicism and Protestantism flow together and inter- mingle; has had a very considerable share ; and as regards numbers now comes next to the Roman Catholic Church. It must be confessed, however, that during the blank period the Catholic element in her 'was just as supine as the Protestant, and when she did begin to stir she used for a time evangelical Lutherans from Germany as her agents.

Novi the fact that the Anglican Church combines Catholics and Protestants in one body, and maintains the historic episcopal ministry, has led to a novel and interesting attempt at Church union. For a long, time Indian Christians have disliked the different groupings into which missionary societies in Europe and America have necessarily separated them. Converts are Anglicans or Wesleyans or Presbyterians, not because they have ComParecl the dOctrines of the various bodies and come to the conscientious conclusion that one was to be pre- ferred to the rest. They have simply accepted Christ- ianity in the form in which • it was offered to them. Nor would" it "seem strange to them that Christianity should expreis itself in several ways, for they accus- tomed . . tomed both in Hinduism and Islam to an almOst bewil- . . dering variety Of sects and cults. But to-day they are very "strongly moved by two desires : the first is that Christianity should be clothed in Indian habiliments, or, to use a term commonly employed in India, should • be " naturalized ; and the second is that Christians. in India should not merely belong to an invisible Church, kit shOuld be Members of a society which is•-Visibly and organically one "Theie have already been successful attempts at uniting 'Protestant societies both in the North and Sinith. But the novelty of the new proposals lies in this—that the attempt is now being made to unite those who may roughly be described as Catholics and Protestants. Here comes in the function of what has been known, not very happily, as " The Bridge Church.'' It is only a Church which has managed, more or less successfully, to comprehend Catholics and Protestants, gradually catholicizing the ' Protestants, and possibly vice-versa, which could be the body to bring Indians of separate Christian societies into organic union with a common ministry.

The passing of the Indian Church Measure, by which the Anglican Church in India, retaining full communion with-the Church of England, haS become legally separate, and has now- authority to make- its' own Constitutions and Canons • (the Measnre.teicik effect on March 1st) has largely increased the desire" of many Christian§ in India to be in communion with that Church ; and perhaps it may be added that -the high spiritual prestige which many of the' Indian Bishops - deservedly enjoy has 'strengthened their hereditary devotion' to a systeth which can give them Gurus whose authority, rooted in the past, is spiritually verified in the 'present.' - The passionate longing to' have a Christianity in Indian dresS which is moving hi the hearts of many will have' to be prudently handled; for it must be tempered by the recollection of what befell the movement of Robert de Nobili; the nephew of Cardinal Bellarmine, who having come out 'in 1605, wore a Brahman's dress and had his house • fitted up so as to resemble in its minutest details the house of a Brahman. His systeth of imitating Hindu externals was upheld by a Papal decree in 1623 after much controversy, 'but its success was purely illusory. At his death, though it was claimed that he had converted 100,000 'Hindus, his chief Mission station Only- numbered 200 ChrittianS.

The European in India, who is still believed to resent the paising of the Indian thiireh MeSSuie, the Vine' s of India has lately stated—Oblivious of the fact that his representatives in the Councils voted' almost solidly for it-will probably notice no difference whatsoever now that " Disestablishment '' is an established fact. His own services are carefully provided for, and he will find article, by Canon E. F. Spanton, and " i The Church in West Africa," by Major Buxton. -This article will be followed by others on the Church in South Africa, Uganda, China, Japan, and the West Indies.]