Text and Context in Dialogue

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Conversion is the Confusion

by Dayanand Bharati

Followers of Christ from a Hindu background live with an un-recognized tension. They have to ride on two horses at the same time, unlike their Hindu neighbours who ride on one horse without any tension. To understand this, begin by asking a simple question: "Who is a Hindu?"

A Hindu is a member of a particular community, irrespective of his religious faith. In south Asia society is organized, not religion. In western countries, on the other hand, religion is organized and not society. There a Christian is one who holds membership in a church. One can become a Christian by conversion to Christianity there, and its outward expression is entering the church fellowship of one denomination or the other by acquiring membership in it.

To say this in other words, in Western countries a Christian's identity is his faith in Christ plus his membership in a particular church. But in south Asia one cannot become a Hindu by conversion. "There is practically only one way of entering the Hindu community: to be born of Hindu parents; and only one way of separating oneself from the Hindu community: by declaring oneself to be a Muslim or a Christian." [1]

So a Hindu lives naturally as a member of his community irrespective of his religious faith. In this sense an atheist can be a Hindu. But great confusion was introduced into India when Western missionaries tried to impose an structured religion into a society which left religion unstructured. The outcome was confusion and a great deal of tension. This is not properly understood by those who have been brought up in a Christian community. But almost every new convert faces great tension and confusion, compounded by two further matters.

First, once he enters a church through conversion he finds a group of people who are keeping Hindu values while wearing the mask of the Christian and professing a Western organized religion. Many Christians in south Asia once a week for three hours follow their western organized Christianity inside the church. The rest of the time throughout the week they live as Hindus, though claiming that they have come out of the clutches of Hindu society. In keeping their social identity (caste stigma), in dress, in food habits, in demanding dowry, in aspects of each of the three central ceremonies surrounding birth, marriage, and death, and in a generally superstitious view of life, they remain more Hindus than Christians.

The second problem is that the three hours of weekly western religious activities (which they call worship) are imposed on them as the true form of Christianity and they are gradually brainwashed to give up many distinctives of their cultural and social identity based on this. This involves, among other things, the changing of Hindu names to Biblical and even merely western ones and the arranging of a 'western' marriage in the church (with a "dummy Christian lady", to use the bitter words addressed to me by the parent of a new convert) and claiming this only as true "Christian" marriage. All of these tensions relate to the new believer's struggle for existence within his society while keeping his faith in Christ.

What is the solution? If every new believer is allowed to live with complete freedom in his society as a member of his own community, while still being given regular, accurate, systematic Bible teaching, he can live as freely as his Hindu family members and community as a true bhakta of Christ, both sincerely confessing, as well as conveying to others, his faith.

Can't we Hindus remain Hindus? Is it necessary for one to become a "Christian" in the present sense of becoming a member of a western religion? This does not mean that we must accept all the evils within Hindu society, many of which are of course also present in the churches anyway.

As a Hindu is a member of a particular community with his freedom to profess any faith, what is the need for him to become a Christian in the present sense of holding membership of a church? Let a Hindu remain a Hindu, while following those aspects of his own cultural and social life which are not against the Bible. There is no reason to think that he must necessarily compromise his theology or faith in Christ. My point is, let the Christian faith be incorporated and incarnated in Hindu culture.

Should someone say that one cannot be a member of a Hindu society and at the same time remain as a bhakta of Christ, they are only showing their lack of knowledge both of the Bible as well as of Hinduism. If American and British Christians can add Easter eggs to their Easter celebration then why cannot a Hindu remain Hindu and assimilate his cultural traditions with his new found faith in Christ? [2]

I know some will call this heresy but I am not mainly speaking to those inside the western churches, who even go so far as to ask "What is wrong in western worship?" I am rather addressing those innocent victims who have been proselytized or who are yet to be proselytized, to safeguard them from the clutches of the "Christian" conversion which causes such confusion.

How one can live as a Hindu in a given Hindu society both culturally and socially while still remaining fully faithful as a bhakta of Christ is not a small issue that can be given a specific, one time, uniform answer. Each individual and community will need to think it through for themselves. Those who have thoroughly adopted the "Christian culture" must not dictate terms and corrupt the new believers by conforming them to their own image. Should we go astray Biblically, we welcome correction and advice, but please refrain from stuffing programmed solutions to difficult problems into the minds of babes of Christ.

God has given spiritual authority to all believers for mutual correction, teaching, and obedience to build up His kingdom on this earth. But none should use this to promote personal interest. Listen to what Richard Foster wrote:

What does the power that creates look like? Think of the early church gathered at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15). They had gathered to answer a momentous question: Can Gentiles have genuine faith in Christ without conformity to Jewish religious culture? It was an issue that could have easily split the Christian fellowship right down the middle. Yet as they gathered, as they talked, as they listened, the power of God broke through in a Spirit led unity of heart and mind. Miraculously they saw that Gentiles could live faithfully before God within the context of their own culture and that Jews could do likewise. So the cultural captivity of the church was broken, and believers everywhere could receive one another without needing to proselytize for their own culture. They experienced the power of unity in the Holy Spirit. [3]


  1. Staffner, Hans, Jesus Christ and the Hindu Community, Gujarat Sahitya Prakash, Anand, 1987, pg 85
  2. "? in early times eggs were interred with the dead. Later they were linked with Easter. The church did not oppose this, though many egg customs were pre-Christian in origin ?", Newall, Venetia, "Egg" in The Encyclopedia of Religion, ed. Mircea Eliade, MacMillan, New York, 1988, vol. 5 pg 37.
  3. Foster, Richard, Money, Sex and Power, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1985 pp. 199-200.

Swami Dayanand Bharati lives in Tamil Nadu, India, from where he travels to visit groups of Christ-Bhaktas living in the Hindu community.

bhakti. bhakti, nom. devotion, love, loyalty