Billy Graham Center
World Congress on Evangelism, 1966
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by I. Ben Wati

Events in recent years have demonstrated that India has come to occupy a unique position in Asia and in the world. Her experience as the world’s largest democracy, and her potential as a neutral force between the East and the West, make India a strategic nation. Multilingual and multireligious, with 45 centuries of history behind her, she is trying to emerge from the ox—cart to the modern jet age. The urgency to make this transition and the need for national unity and security are great, and therefore India is exerting much energy for economic development and nation building.

In the midst of these projects, what is the state of “Kingdom building” in India today? Of its 500 million people, (over 400 million are Hindus and 50 million are Muslims), only 5 million are Protestant Christians. However small it may be, we believe that the Church has come to stay in India. And we thank God that India is still open to the Gospel. Because religion matters much more to the average person in India than in most countries, government policy toward religion is neutral. Every citizen is free to profess, practice and propagate the religion of his choice. This fundamental right is of inestimable worth.

Basic to many of India’s problems is her vast population. It has about 15% of the world’s population, but occupies only 2% of the world’s land area. India’s population of 500 million is larger than the combined population of all of Africa and Latin America. With one million more mouths to feed every month, the problem of hunger and economic development in India is truly stupendous, all the more difficult because 82% of the people live in 550,000 villages that are steeped in tradition and are without proper education.

The challenge of the Gospel to a resurgent India and to its teeming millions is great indeed. After 250 years of Protestant missions we have less Christians than the country’s annual population increase of 12 million. Evangelism has made little impression, statistically speaking, and yet, India is a land, of seekers after Truth, and millions cry with Job, “Oh that I knew where I might find Him, that I might come even to His seat!” (Job 23:3). More than ever, seekers from all levels of society are coming, boldly to the Church. If the Church it India truly obeys her Lord and Master, He will certainly capture the heart of India. There is general recognition, therefore, that what the Church in India needs today is revival so that Jesus may reign supreme.

Unfortunately the Church in India is not ready to receive all those who want to come into the household of faith. This is true for several reasons.

1. The Church lacks spiritual life. “The Church....has failed to discharge its spiritual responsibilities to the nation mainly because of its spiritual feebleness .... What is needed is a deepening of the spiritual life of the average Indian Christian .... Unless the Indian Church is revitalized, there is no future for Christianity in India.” So wrote Mr. Rajaiah D. Paul not long ago.

2. The Church lacks spiritual leadership. Mr. Paul says further: “Our leaders have no time to train us for this evangelism, to help us to show forth in our lives the love of God, the redeeming grace of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.”

3. The Church lacks evangelistic concern. It is ingrown, and complacent regarding the Lord’s commission to proclaim the message. Because of a seeming lack of love and fellowship within the Church it cannot help people in their social setting and cannot contribute significantly to the nation.

These reasons indicate that the major hindrances to evangelism in India today are within the Church itself. It is true that much progress has been made toward church union in India by sincere people, one reason for this movement being that a united church would mean more effective evangelism. But honest church leaders admit that in the last 17 years church union has not led to any significant advance in evangelism.

It is not only within the Church, however, that we find obstacles to evangelism. The teachings of universalism and syncretism are rampant, and the revival of non—Christian religions also exerts increasing pressure on the Christian Church. In India, working toward a welfare state, missionary methods and language are being used by so called secular people to accomplish their aims. Areas of pioneer work previously in Christian hands are now increasingly being undertaken by government and social uplift groups to do educational, medical, leprosy work, tribal welfare, etc.

All over India tremendous forces have been released by independence and nationalism, sweeping vast millions away from their familiar past. This imposes a terrific strain on the ancient faiths to provide inner resources and power for everyday life. Leaders are painfully realizing that democracy is essentially a spiritual concept, that strong and sure foundations are needed to fulfill the ideals of equality, justice, and service. Many are feeling the void and bankruptcy of a life and society without moral foundations. Certainly the greatest problem is the same old problem of the human heart. Millions in India are looking for something new that will satisfy their inner longings.

Ten years ago the visit of Dr. Billy Graham to India gave an impetus to evangelism, and in some measure awakened Indian Christians to the need of reaching the lost within and with out the Christian community. Revival and evangelism became familiar and meaningful terms in the Church.

Six years previous, in 1950, the Evangelical Fellowship in India (E.F.I.) was formed to pray for the reviving of Christ’s Church in the sub—continent. The E.F.I. is a fellowship of the concerned, the concerned who long to see spiritual life and an evangelical faith in India’s weak and struggling Church. We are discovering that our fellowship in the Gospel, our unity in the defense of the Gospel, and our burden for the, furtherance of the Gospel is being blessed of God. We are also discovering that united fellowship and witness is much more powerful, convincing, and, fruitful than the ministry of any isolated individual or group, however good it may be. And thus we are finding great encouragement in united fellowship and action in co—operative ministries such as in radio evangelism, literature production, theological education, and preparation of Christian education materials for the Sunday schools, etc.

The Union Biblical Seminary in Yeotmal, India, is a fine example of evangelical co—operation to produce the needed leadership for India’s Church, With 100 students from all over India, and with students from 10 other Afro—Asian countries, it is one of the most significant theological colleges in India today.

Perhaps the most significant thing in India at present is the increasing number of evangelical nationals who are making a vital contribution to India’s Church. Aziz William, Subodh Sahu, Paul Sudhakar, Augustine Salins, Victor Nanogaram, Sam Kamalesan and others have ministered not only in India but also in other parts of the world.
While medical and educational endeavors continue to remain effective means of evangelism, literature has received special attention in recent years. Reading rooms located in the busy streets of towns and cities, Bible correspondence courses, work among young people and university students, increasingly effective Christian conventions and evangelistic campaigns —- all these are beginning to make an impact in India.

Like all countries in the world today, India is experiencing political, social, and economic insecurity. The threat of Communism is real, and the shadow of war is dark, but God is here and we must work while it is day.

We rejoice that the Church in India is a reality. It has taken root. Here and there are signs of deepening life and missionary vision. But there is real need for revival in the Church so that our evangelism will be more effective. We thank God for open doors. We also thank God for the many adversaries we must face, for they make us examine the Biblical bases for evangelism. We pray earnestly that we may overcome by the Blood of the Lamb and by the word of our testimony, that India may believe in Jesus Christ as the only Saviour and Lord.

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Last Revised: 11/1/06
Expiration: indefinite

Wheaton College 2006