Early on in my journey to share the Gospel with unreached people groups in South Asia, I was introduced to the concept of Hindu followers of Jesus. For me it was difficult to reconcile the two. How could one truly be a disciple of Christ while remaining a Hindu? Wouldn’t the two be contradictory?
I initially rejected this idea when I first heard about it. There were however a few things that moved me to re-evaluate and decide to embrace the idea that a person could remain a Hindu while being an obedient disciple of Jesus. The first factor was being exposed to the Indian Christian community, the second was meeting a man who identified himself as a Hindu follower of Jesus, and the third was coming face to face with what the Bible teaches on the subject.
Some might find it odd that being exposed to Christianity in India could make me more inclined to accept a Hindu follower of Jesus, but previously I hadn’t experienced the expression of Christianity presented by the traditional Indian Church or Christian community. Now I must say something here. I love and respect all from among the Christian community in India. But in most of the world, religion is synonymous with community. In much of the West, to be called a Christian means that one has made a personal commitment to follow Christ in his or her own life. We even often add a clarifying statement, identifying ourselves as a ‘believer’ or a ‘follower’ or saying we are ‘committed’. This brings focus to the centrality of Jesus in our lives. In India, you belong to the religion that you are born into. To be a Christian is to be born into a Christian family, regardless of your faith or commitment to the teachings of Jesus. The same is true of someone born into a Hindu family. Therefore ‘religion’ primarily refers to social community. Faith issues are secondary to that.
When I became acutely aware of the fact that Christians in India are so removed from Hindu society, being separated by multiple barriers of language, culture, and lifestyle, I knew that there had to be a better way. Surely the Biblical requirement to follow Jesus didn’t include discarding the name your parents gave you for a western one, or changing your diet from vegetarian to include eating meat, or becoming a part of another social community, thereby communicating rejection of your family and society. Surely Jesus was talking about internal heart changes, not merely superficial or external ones?
The second experience that caused me to change my mind was having the opportunity to see a man living out the reality of a Hindu Christ follower. The experience transformed a mere concept in my mind to a real possibility fleshed out. I saw how this man was living a changed life, driven by a love and passion for Jesus yet he remained in his family and his community and continued to honor them. He was able to walk and live culturally and socially as a Hindu, while being faithful to scripture and to the commands of Christ, and keeping a faith wholly devoted to Jesus. I saw how he maintained honor and relationship with other Hindus, while at the same time challenging practices found in Hindu communities that were contrary to the teaching of scripture. Once he purposefully asked for a glass of water from a low-caste woman, which as a high-caste man would be socially unacceptable. I saw him living out devotion to Christ as a bold witness while remaining as a light in Hindu community. His community identity was as a Hindu but his allegiance was to The Lord Jesus Christ.
Finally, I was presented with a strong teaching from the Word of God that outlined the possibility of Hindu followers of Christ. Walking through the book of Acts and Corinthians I saw the initial spread of the Gospel into Gentile communities. In Acts 10 I read how the Gospel spread into the family of a Roman centurion. Then in Acts chapter 15 the council at Jerusalem urged the Jewish believers not to add undue obstacles to Gentiles who were coming to faith. For the first time, Gentiles were allowed to follow the teachings of Jesus and fellowship with other believers without changing their community through the observance of circumcision or by following the Mosaic law. I urge you to read the whole teaching here.
Now I ask you the question: Have we been making it more difficult for Hindus who have wanted to put their faith in Jesus? Have we added an extra-Biblical requirement to change their community, a requirement that even the Indian supreme court doesn’t place on them?
A Hindu may embrace a non-Hindu religion without ceasing to be a Hindu… Hinduism is, then, both a civilization and conglomerate of religions, with neither a beginning, a founder, nor a central authority, hierarchy, or organization. – The Supreme Court of India 1977
Can we accept the concept of Hindu followers of Christ? Can we encourage them to maintain their social and community identity, their cultural heritage? Yes, this would require that they be wholly devoted to Jesus and that they worship Him only, forsaking all idols. But there are many Hindu atheists as well. They don’t profess faith in any God, yet they culturally and socially identify as Hindus. Is it not then possible for Hindus to retain their identity while being wholly committed to serving and following Jesus?
Jesus never asked us to change what community we belong to. He asked us to change our hearts.
The truth of the matter is that whether we embrace the concept or not, there is a movement underway in which many Hindus are turning to Jesus while retaining their social identity. Although this change may not be widely recognized now, as it gains momentum, more and more people will have their eyes opened to the idea of Hindu Followers of Christ. I pray that the doors of their hearts will begin to swing open as well.