This seven point scale defines contextualization of gospel and church in the Hindu world. Where are you on the scale? Where should you be?
This seven point scale defines contextualization of gospel and church in the Hindu world. Where are you on the scale? Where should you be? The H-scale is developed from the C-scale, a similar scale used for Islamic contexts. The C-scale focuses on Christ-centered communities in the Islamic world and how Muslims in Christ choose to relate to various types of churches.1 In contrast, the H-scale attempts to define degrees of contextualization in the Hindu world.2
The central issues in Hindu contexts do not relate to culture, but rather community. Thus, when H3 believers seek to integrate Hindu practices into biblical faith and life, true contextualization is still lacking because they reject their birth community in favor of the “Christian” community. H4 believers, although little concerned with contextualization, are true to the most fundamental aspects of Hindu contexts because they recognize that remaining integrated with their birth community is essential.
As the definitions indicate, contextualized expressions of discipleship to Christ in Hindu contexts remain undeveloped. This presentation is more an effort to define and encourage such development rather than outline existing situations.
H1 — Traditional Christians separate themselves from everything Hindu
- Traditional Christianity separates from everything “Hindu,” including diet, dress, name caste, ceremonies, etc.
- Does it exist? Many Indian churches and missions have followed and continue this pattern, leading Hindus to consider Christianity a foreign religion.
H2 — Traditional Christians renounce Hinduism but still accept some non-religious Hindu cultural practices
- Christians renounce Hinduism but are open to non-religious Hindu cultural practices.
- Name and diet are not necessarily changed, although believers often alter diet even if it is not deemed essential for following Christ.
- Caste is renounced with other religious and seeming-religious practices, i.e., a woman wearing a red dot on her forehead.
- Some music is drawn from indigenous traditions, but most is of foreign origin or adapted from foreign sources.
- Cultural aspects of a few Hindu festivals might be celebrated.
- Often not concerned with receiving foreign funding for Christian work even though many Hindus consider it scandalous.
- Future leaders are training in Western-style seminaries and Bible colleges—most have courses/discussions on contextualizing expressions of faith, but actions speak louder than words. These institutions are strongholds of Westernized Christianity in India.
- Does it exist? Most Indian churches are comfortable in H2, which has not affected the Hindu understanding of Christianity as a foreign religion.
H3 — Hindu Christians renounce Hindu religion for Christianity; but adapt Hindu religious and cultural practices
- Hinduism is renounced in favor of Christianity, but with efforts to adapt Hindu religious and cultural practices into biblical faith and practice.
- Efforts to develop contextual Indian Christian theology—willingness to use terminologies from Hinduism that traditional Christians avoid.
- Women wearing red forehead dot is not problematic.
- Vegetarianism is often practiced.
- Caste is recognized at least to a limited extent.
- Musical styles from Indian traditions are adopted, but Western music is also used.
- Hindu festivals are sometimes celebrated (in varying degrees, often modified).
- Hindu temples are studiously avoided.
- Commitment to indigenous financing is due to the stigma of foreign funding of Christian work.
- Does it exist? No historic Christian movements in India have effectively arrived at H3. The Christian ashram (spiritual retreat center) movement beginning in the 1920s was an attempt. Many individual Hindus converts experimented on these lines while within H1 or H2 churches.
H4 — Hindu disciples of Christ do not develop contextual expressions of discipleship
- Hindus who come to Christ maintain sociological identity as Hindus within their birth community.
- Do not identify as “Christian.”
- Do not develop contextual expressions of faith and discipleship.
- Name, caste, diet and dress (including red dot) are not changed because they are aspects of community life.
- Positive adaptation of Christ into Hindu values and methods is not attempted.
- Occasional study and fellowship gatherings are culturally neutral, appearing neither “Christian” nor “Hindu.’
- Hindu festivals are celebrated.
- Hindu temples are visited for family-related ceremonies.
- Full-time workers funded from abroad are not involved.
- Does it exist? At least one fledgling effort to develop ministry in H4.
H5 — HIndu disciples of Christ seek to develop contextual expressions of discipleship
- Hindus who come to Christ maintain sociological identity as Hindus within birth community.
- Seek to develop Hindu patterns of disicpleship in personal devotion, corporate worship, evangelism, etc., and to define their faith in contextual terms (contextual Indian theology).
- Often identify themselves as bhaktas (devotees) of Christ or Jesus-bhaktas—Christian in India is a sociological term more than a theological tag.
- Initially viewed with skepticism by Hindus due to traditional associations of Christ with radical cultural and community change.
- Minimal music from existing Christian traditions, perhaps except Christian music in traditional Indian styles.
- Corporate expressions of discipleship are often rare or non-existent due to practical considerations; but desire to follow biblical patterns of a corporate faith expression.
- Corporate development may be mono-caste for a time, but for practical rather than ideological reasons.
- Socially acceptable means of inter-caste fellowship will be developed. (No known current or historic case of Christ-followers has upheld total caste exclusiveness in teaching or practice.)
- Hindu festivals are celebrated, sometimes modified.
- HIndu temples are sometimes reluctantly visited for family-related ceremonies.
- Indigenous funding is deemed essential.
- Does it exist? Small stirrings toward H5.
H6 — Hindu disciples of Christ recognized as such by other Hindus but remain unassociated with other disciples of Christ
- Hindus in Christ remain in birth communities as Hindus.
- Individualized discipleship to Jesus is without corporate expression, except perhaps attendance at occasional traditional Christian gatherings.
- Not secret, but known as Jesus-followers in their Hindu social circles.
- Hindu festivals are celebrated.
- Hindu temples are visited.
- A significant number in Tamil Nadu in south India. Smaller numbers elsewhere in India.
- Does it exist? The “churchless Christians”—a misnomer since they are not “Christians” but Hindu disciples of Christ.
H7 — Hindu disciples of Christ keepfaith completely private
- Hindus in Christ remain in birth communities.
- Keep devotion to Jesus secret.
- Appear to participate fully in Hindu religious activity, but address all prayers to Christ or God through Christ.
- Does it exist? Some such people have always existed, but they are hard to identify and harder still to quantify.
1. This can be studied in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, second edition, 658-659.
2. For an analysis of churches in the Hindu world, see the outline of nine types of churches in India presented by Donald McGavran in Ethnic Realities and the Church. Most of these nine types are clearly H1 and H2 on the scale.
EMQ, Vol. 40, No. 3. pp 316-320 Copyright © 2004 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMQ. For Reprint Permissions beyond personal use, please visit our STORE (here).