Text and Context in Dialogue

Home  >  Volume 1  >  Number 4: November 2002

A Response to The Quandary of Caste

Coming from more a theology background and less an anthropological/sociological background I found the discussion about the theory of caste informative and interesting. This anthropological background is necessary to understanding the phenomenon of caste and yet I felt that the real missiological issue was not fully addressed. To me that is the issue of exclusiveness, prejudice and the whole concept of mission to people groups. Understanding the background of people's thoughts about their own group and other groups is important, as this affects their behaviour, but the crucial issue in the church is how those groups relate to each other in Christ.

The story that quoted from Perry about the sweeper is very appropriate in this context. Pastor Dewan looked at things from the point of view of the Newars: baptising the sweeper would, and did, drive them away. But look at it from the sweepers point of view: he was denied baptism in a Christian church simply because of his background. This is where one of the strongest arguments against the Church Growth school of missiology has been directed. The Church Growth school has argued that people like to become Christians without crossing cultural barriers, which is undoubtedly true. The controversial aspect is when they argue that the prime responsibility of the church is the increase of converts and the multiplication of churches. Thus all social barriers to conversion are to be lessened as far as possible in order to increase the number of converts. Pastor Dewan's response fits with this view. I would argue, however, that numerical growth is not the prime goal and responsibility of the church. It is important but, cannot come before faithfulness and obedience in other areas.

Looking at the New Testament the obvious parallel that is often drawn is with the Jew/gentile Christian controversy. The issues facing the early church, as I see it, are as follows:

The decision of the early church, most clearly presented in Acts 15 and worked out in other parts of NT was:

The example of Jesus must also be taken into consideration. There are many instances in the gospels of Jesus welcoming and accepting the unclean (how equivalent is this to outcaste or low caste?). If those who were higher on the social scale didn't like it, Jesus did not compromise. They could not dictate the terms of entry into the Kingdom, rather had to be willing to humble themselves. For this reason I cannot but say that my opinion of what happened to the sweeper was a case of caste prejudice.

Peter McDowell is working in the Language and Orientation Programme of the United Mission to Nepal and has a special interest in missiological issues.

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

bhakti. bhakti, nom. devotion, love, loyalty