Text and Context in Dialogue

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Reply to the Editor ...

From Dayanand Bharati


In reply to Dr. Khatry [see Letters to the Editor, Voice of Bhakti 1: 2, May 2002] I would like to say that I agree with some of his views. And although there are a number of points that I disagree with I will focus on one issue that he brings up - that of persecution.

Persecution has become the main preoccupation of the minds of many evangelicals. In the life of many converts persecution has become the main point of reference for his genuineness of conversion experience. In some cases it has also become the criterion to decide whether he is witnessing for the Lord or not. As most of the converts do not know the exact context of persecution mentioned in the Bible, it is artfully and artificially grafted in their mind. And in order to win the sympathy of the Christians they will began to sing all the time the songs of persecution in their life. I recently received a letter telling me about a 'Brahmin evangelist' named Samuel to whom my acquaintance was teaching piano. He had fled his home where he had 'had a very dramatic conversion and suffered much as his grandfather is a pujari'.

Now this 'Brahmin evangelist' has to suffer not because of the gospel or because of leading the life of a witness among his own family and community, but because of extra-biblical activities of evangelicals beginning with changing the name and making him a full-time worker etc. Now he has run away from his home and people (as well as his responsibility to his parents) and in the name of God's call went to serve among the three hundred year old traditional Christians in the South. The evangelical Christian who wrote the letter to me is sincerely teaching him piano though it is in no way going to help him to do any kind of ministry among his own people. And to survive among such Christians he has to sing all the time the persecution song as he learnt the mindset of evangelical Christians-who will dance to this tune very well.

But no one thinks of the persecution his parents are facing in the family and community because of the conversion of their son to 'Christianity'. There is no doubt that, as Dr. Khatry says, 'The Bible indicates that all that desire to live truly to the Lord will suffer'. But this truth is applicable to all-including traditional Christians who 'try to live truly to the Lord'. But in the evangelical world 'persecution' becomes another 'evangelical programme' for the convert - a necessary result of his 'witness'. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said that:

it may even be that we are almost pleased when somebody does behave with us in the manner of the dog and swine, for then we feel we have been persecuted for Christ's sake, when in reality it is not that at all, but simply that we have not known our scriptures and have not witnessed in the right way.(Studies In The Sermon On The Mount, Inter Varsity Fellowship, London. Reprint. 1966. Vol.II, p. 188.)

I am not sure whether VOB and any other missiologists like Bishop Waskom Pickett and Dr. McGavran would ever suggest that 'converts can avoid all persecution during conversion to Jesus'. And, somewhat cynically, I can say that definitely no convert can avoid some persecution from the hands of Christians first! But the truth is that if one is converted only to Jesus he can definitely avoid all kinds of sociological persecution from his family and community. But if he is converted to Christianity he has to face every kind of persecution both from his family and community as well as from Christian communities.

When a missiologist suggests that an individual can avoid some kind of social persecution if the whole family is baptised, that suggestion should be understood sociologically. Lloyd-Jones again:

We can bring endless suffering upon ourselves, we can create difficulties for ourselves which are quite unnecessary, because we have some rather foolish notion of witnessing and testifying, or because, in a spirit of self-righteousness, we really do call it down on our own heads. We are often so foolish in these matters. We are slow to realise the difference between prejudice and principle; and we are so slow to understand the difference between being offensive, in a natural sense, because of our particular make-up and temperament, and causing offence because we are righteous (ibid. Vol 1, p. 130).

My main point here is that Dr. Khatry oversimplifies the issue of persecution. No missiologist will recommend to any individual not to receive Jesus in his life till his whole family decides to follow the Lord. Receiving the gift of salvation from the Lord and receiving diksha (baptism) by an individual is a totally different issue from the same individual becoming a Christian and joining another (Christian) community-at least in India and Nepal. I think that VOB and other sensible missiologists understand the difference between these two events. Above all, what the Bible teaches about persecution in every context needs to be studied and taught properly to every convert.

Most of the time the early Christians were persecuted not for their witness and godly living among their own people (see, for instance, the arguments in Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity, Harper San Francisco, 1977). Of course when they were persecuted they witnessed for the Lord and took a firm stand for Christ and laid down their life rather than denying Him. One interesting fact in the early church was that the church grew because of the witnessing life of the lay people among their own people-keeping all their sociological and cultural values as it is. The church was persecuted not because of her witness. In fact, as pointed out by Roland Allen (The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church and the Causes which Hinder It, WS Publishers, 1997, p. 48). While the church was busy in creating all kinds of heresy it was only the lay people who sincerely and faithfully spread the gospel among their own people. And this would have never been a fact if their own family and community persecuted them.

We must be careful when we graft the 'doctrine of persecution' in the mind of every convert. When I met one such convert at Varanasi he confessed that his parents alone were more persecuted emotionally, socially and, above all, financially because of his 'conversion' to Christianity, than he was. Now he has decided to go back to his home and live with them as a witness for the Lord. This is what he said,

They have no problem with my faith in Christ but Christians always insist that, to "live truly to the Lord", I have to leave my family and home as it is impossible to be a witness among my own people. They said that God called Abraham to leave his home and land and promised him to make a great nation.

I showed him that, though Abraham left his land, he brought his whole family with him-not to mention his extended family! Above all he sent his slave to find a girl for his son only from his people whom God asked him to leave. His daughter-in-law, Rebecca, also sent her second son only back to her own people and Abraham's two grand-daughters-in-law also came only from his people and even one stole her household deities. This is the true story of God's chosen family. Yet God remained true to His covenant relationship and fulfilled His promise.

By mentioning Abraham's story I am not justifying any mistake committed by a convert. What I am trying to say is that while we teach a new convert we must be very careful not to mislead them to fulfil any of our pet evangelical plans and programmes.

Dayanand Bharati,
Hosur, India.

Voice of Bhakti welcomes interaction with its readers. If you have a comment please email the editor at the address below. Mark Johnson, editor

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