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Spring 1991 · Vol. 20 No. 1 · pp. 72–76 

Evangelicalism in India: Dealing with Nominalism and Cults

M. A. Solomon

In India one finds every conceivable church denominational group, not to speak of the non-evangelical groups like Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, and Roman Catholics. Some of the main evangelical groups are the Baptists, Methodist Church in India, Church of North India, Church of South India, Evangelical Lutheran Church, Mar Thoma Church, and many of the parachurch mission agencies. Though their numerical strength is small when compared to other large denominational groups, the Mennonites are known for their biblio-centric approach in their teaching, preaching and dealing with matters of faith and life. It is not {73} uncommon in India for Christians of one denominational group to join another group or an organization of a para-church nature. In most cases, such a shift is based on monetary considerations rather than doctrinal differences. An Indian’s adherence to the Christian religion is mostly based on bhakti (devotion). The church in South India is the strongest numerically and spiritually.


Spiritual lethargy, nominalism, and influence of liberal theology throttled the evangelistic and missionary zeal of the church in India until the late 1940s. In the early 1950s, there was a fresh breath of revival and new life in the churches of South India. It was at this time that the Evangelical Fellowship of India, which is now affiliated with the World Evangelical Fellowship, was born. The Union of Evangelical Students, the Evangelical Literature Fellowship, Evangelical Fellowship of India Commission on Relief, Child Evangelism Fellowship, Evangelical Medical Fellowship, and the Christian Education Fellowship are some of the related agencies of the Evangelical Fellowship of India. In other words, the Evangelical Fellowship of India is a rallying platform bringing together evangelicals in India for cooperative action in the areas of revival, evangelism, missions, Christian education, relief, and development. It is the voice of evangelicals before the government and other authorities in all matters affecting the Christian cause in India. Some political, social and economic issues, and the discriminatory treatment meted out to Christians, especially those with downtrodden backgrounds in education, bring Roman Catholics and Protestants on to the same platform to work together for society’s development, justice, and peace while at the same time maintaining their distinctive denominational identity.

According to the 1981 census, Christians in India number just 2.4% of the population. Since there has been growth in the church in the past decade, Christians today could number 3%. There are about 4,200 Indian missionaries at present, making India the largest non-Western missionary-sending country in the world. Most of these missionaries are working within the borders of the land cross-culturally. India is not a mere country, it is a sub-continent with many small countries. {74}


The council of evangelists and Bible teachers, some of them well-grounded in evangelical theology, gave effective leadership to the church in India in the past four decades. Rev. Dr. I. Ben Wati, whose forefathers were headhunters in northeast India, had been the executive secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India for 25 years from its inception. He also served as the Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Union Biblical Seminary and in the course of time became the President of the World Evangelical Fellowship. Rev. Dr. Theodore Williams, who began his ministry as a teacher in the South India Bible Institute in Karnataka State, rose to become an evangelist and theologian of international renown. He is the founder of the India Evangelical Mission which celebrated its silver jubilee in 1989. This mission, started with one worker in 1965, today has 350 missionaries, mostly working in unreached parts of India in cross-cultural settings, with an annual budget of six and a half million rupees raised from within the country.

Another individual, not a trained theologian, and yet whose ministry had a great impact on the Indian church as a whole in the past half century, is Brother Bakth Singh. Trained to be an engineer in England and Canada, he received a definite call from God after his conversion in Canada to preach the gospel in India. Bakth Singh awakened lethargic Christians, created in them an unprecedented hunger for the Word of God, and taught them to love the Lord with implicit obedience to his Word. He established assemblies in India and in several other countries on the pattern of the churches established by Watchman Nee and his “little flock” in China.


Hindu fundamentalism is glaring in the eyes of the Indian evangelicals. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad and RSS are bent upon building a temple in Ayodhya, the birth place of Lord Rama, by demolishing a four-century old mosque supposed to be built by Babur, the Mongolian invader in 1528 AD. Disregarding the archaeological and historical evidence available, Hindu fundamentalists argue that Babur destroyed an existing temple and on its site raised a mosque. The country is witnessing fanaticism and bloodshed over the issue. The Jagat Gurus {75} (world teachers) of various peet has (seats) located in different parts of the country have of late started speaking authoritatively on national issues. This is a very disturbing phenomenon. The modern cults of Sathya Sai Baba, Swami Ayyappa, Raghavendra Swami, Narayana Guru, Maharshi Mahesh Yogi, ISKON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness), Acharya Rajneesh and hundreds of other cults and gurus attract thousands of people and pose a great challenge to an evangelical witness in India today. The Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharatha, telecast on Indian television over a period of time, have roused the sentiments of Hindus by making them conscious of their religious traditions.

India is the second largest Muslim country in the world. Islam has become a missionary religion now in an unprecedented way. Dogmatic, dialogistical Islamic literature is produced on a mass scale. Aligarh University in North India is offering theological degrees at the doctoral level in Islam of Shia and Sunni and other sects. Mosques and dargas have sprung up everywhere in urban and rural areas in the country. The fundamentalistic Islam in Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia is being exported to this land. Additionally, the Sikh religious fundamentalism, with its terrorism, continues unabated. Besides these religious trends, there is the increase of poverty, oppression, and suffering.

On the church front, the situation is grim. Large numbers of our Christians are still nominal. They have never experienced the power of the Gospel of salvation. These nominal Christians are blatantly identifying with Hinduism or Islam by their practices and their denials. There are cases of people being reconverted to Hinduism. It is a general observation that there are more false devotees of Jesus Christ than true disciples in Indian churches. Pagan influences from the native culture creep into Christian practices. For lack of thorough Scriptural knowledge and spiritual discernment, such trends are not discriminated. There is failure in stewardship, and integrity is lacking among Christian leaders. The concentration of power in the hands of a few is weakening the leadership in the church. Embezzlement of church monies as well as foreign funds by church leaders is the order of the day. All this is a blot on the evangelical witness of the Indian church.

So Indian evangelicals have great challenges before them. Transformed and empowered by the Spirit and looking unto {76} Jesus, they have to run the race that is set before them, occupying till the Lord comes. In the words of Theodore Williams, we are not victims but we will be victors.


  • Sunder, Clark. Let the Indian Church Be Indian. CLS. 1985. Evangelical Fellowship 6/3, 1958.
  • Into the Nineties with Christ. Official reference volume of the All India Congress on Missions and Evangelism. EFI. 1989.
  • Hedlund, R. E. Roots of the Great Debate in Mission. ELS. India. 1981.
  • Shenk, Wilbert R. Mission Focus-Current Issues. Ontario: Herald Press, 1980.
  • Williams, Theodore, ed. Building Bridges or Barriers. India: WEFMC. 1985.
M. A. Solomon, the former Secretary of the Governing Council of the Mennonite Brethren Church of India, is Lecturer in English in Mahbubnagar and is the editor of El-Shaddai, an English monthly.

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