Can conversions be stopped?
The stringent ordinance the Government of Tamilnadu has come out with to ban forcible religious conversions has triggered controversy all over the State and the Country, both within Christian circles and other communities. The reactions of the leaders of the various sections of the Church are varied. There are talks of protest fasts, marches and closure of Christian institutions. The simple-minded and sincere Christians are thrown in a wilderness of confusion as to how they must respond to this Ordinance of Prohibition of Forcible Conversions. As a Bible teacher and a Mission mobilizer for over three decades, and as a Tamil Christian, I present here my viewpoint. "I think I also have the Spirit of God" (1 Cor 7:40).
Ordinances against conversions should not surprise Christians, especially those in India. Anticonversion bills have been in force in the States of Orissa and Madhya Pradesh for many many years. Pioneer missionaries working in these States are used to all these bills. In fact, Church growth is only vigorous in such places. Immediately after mentioning the word "church" for the first time, Jesus declared, "The gates of hell shall not prevail against it!" (Mt 16:18). The building of the Church and battling against Satan will always go together (Neh 4:17). We must not forget what Pharaoh and his taskmasters did to the people of God in Egypt. "The more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew" (Ex 1:12). Mr. C. Rajaji that great statesman had the wisdom to understand this. He admonished antichristian leaders, "Don’t crush Christians; they are bed-bugs!" There was not a single period in the entire Church history when evangelism was not opposed.
The ordinance says that no one should be converted from one religion to the other "by force, allurements or fraudulent means." In a country like India where superstitions and sentimentality overrule rational thinking, how will anyone give up his religion if he is forced? It would have been sensible if an ordinance to ban defections from one political party to another had been promulgated! Only politicians are telling outright lies and giving false promises to the illiterate masses of the country and "allure" them to their parties for self-interest.
Jesus promised peace, joy, forgiveness and eternal life to the people. If this is called "allurement," sorry, we can’t help it! All Christians are commissioned by Christ to proclaim the Gospel of these blessings to everyone on earth. The authority for this proclamation is given to them by Jesus the King of kings (Mt 28:18-20). No government can take away this authority from them. Preaching the Gospel to the non-christians is statutory and obligatory for Christians. Missionary work and evangelism are not optional for the Church. A Christian who does not make others Christians has failed in his calling. Any follower of Jesus has to be a "fisher of men" (Mt 4:19).
We are not doing acts of charity to convert people but to comfort them in their suffering because they are helpless. Why did Mother Teresa pick up babies from garbage, and the dying from the streets, and treat them in her home? Why did Graham Staines leave his country and work among lepers in Orissa? We are imitating our Heavenly Father who "makes His sun shine on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Mt 5:45). If folks are attracted to Christianity by its selfless and sacrificial service, and love for the poorest of the poor and the downtrodden and the untouchables, is it "allurement?" Undoubtedly this law will become a hindrance to the yeomen services rendered by several Christian relief agencies for the poor and the marginalised. In fact the Gospel of Christ enlightens the illiterates and protects them from being exploited by cunning businessmen who fund corrupt politicians.
God who sits in the heavens laughs at the antichristian rulers because they are fighting a losing battle. I sincerely urge all of them to read the second chapter of the Book of Psalms in the Bible and be instructed.
I predict that the anticonversion law introduced in Tamilnadu will usher in an unprecedented revival in the Tamil Church. In order that God’s ultimate purpose in letting the rulers promulgate a law like this may not be defeated, I present here some practical counsel for all Christians to follow.
1. Let prayer for missions and evangelism be our top priority. When the first century preachers of the Gospel were threatened, the first thing they did was bending of their knees before the God of heaven and earth (Acts 4:23-30). This prayer is worth memorizing. God honoured this prayer by filling the believers with sublime boldness through the Holy Spirit (v 31). Preachers and people have spent too much time in praying for head aches and stomach pains. It’s time we bring the proclamation of the gospel and salvation of men and women to the top of our prayer list (1 Tim 2:1-7).
2. Let the entire Church be mobilized for soulwinning and evangelism. Teach every Christian how to win souls for Christ. The results of personal evangelism will outwit that of public meetings. Conduct more missionary conventions and soulwinning classes than healing campaigns. This may be the final hour of the endtime harvest in Tamilnadu. Give the Sunday morning pulpit to a frontline missionary or a mission leader atleast once a month. Let each member of the congregation catch the missionary vision.
3. Don’t keep on addressing Christians in public meetings, broadcasts and telecasts. The Tamil Church has been guilty of evangelising the evangelised, comforting the comforted, blessing the blessed, but neglecting the neglected. The Hindu convert preachers must specialise on speaking to and writing for the Hindu majority. The percentage of Christians in Tamilnadu is just about six. Do you know that over 90% of offerings received from people is spent on this small group only? Gross injustice and subtle imbalance!
4. Increase work among youth. College students and other youngsters are enslaved by sex, drugs and movies. They are tired of the hypocrisy and humbug of the politicians. The Church has failed to address the issues of young people specifically. When nearly 50% of the population is below the age of 20, why not one of the 4 or 5 Sundays every month be observed as a Youth Sunday in our Churches? As long as the youth meeting is conducted only as an extra-curricular activity "after" the Sunday Service, we will continue to lose our young men and young women to Lucifer. See how many times the aged John refers to young men in his short epistle (e.g. 1 Jn 2:12-14). Who should be the main actors in God’s last day outpouring?—"sons... daughters... young men" (Acts 2:17).
5. Avoid using militant language in gospel preaching. Don’t shout, "India for Christ!" but say "Christ for India!" Christ has not called us to christianize the world but evangelize it. Don’t call the gospel meetings as crusades! The word "crusade" means a military expedition. Don’t attack other religions. Don’t preach in front of temples and mosques, and distribute gospel pamphlets in religious festivals of non-christians. Respect the sentimentality of others. Because of the blasphemous remarks made by the leading Baptist preacher Jerry Falwell of USA in October 2002 against Prophet Mohammed, riots were ignited in Maharashtra in which nine people were killed. He later apologised in public and assured that he would always show respect for other religions, faiths and denominations. Preachers, beware of lighting fires that could grow into a terrible conflagration! Jesus grew not only in "favour with God" but also in "favour with men" (Lk 2:52). That was the secret of the daily phenomenal growth of the early church too (Acts 2:47). Tolerance is a Christian virtue and it is not compromise. One of the greatest lessons of wisdom in Solomon was that he ruled for 40 years without war. He had the same enemies that Saul and David had, but was at peace with them. They favoured and respected him, which helped to make him great. That’s why God chose him, and not David, to build the temple (1 Chron 28:2,3,6).
6. As far as possible, don’t use non-Indian preachers in public meetings. Christianity is already considered as the white man’s religion in India. Don’t we have enough evangelists in India who can preach with cultural understanding and sensitivity? It is only practical wisdom that we don’t use foreigners in direct evangelism in India. They can help as trainers and equippers in seminaries and seminars. Christianity in India, especially in Tamilnadu, is highly westernised. Apostle Paul released the gospel from the Jewish clothing. Martin Luther released it from the Latin clothing. Let’s do so from the Western clothing. I often wonder why Tamil Christians celebrate English New Year so enthusiastically, but they care the less for the Tamil New Year! We the Tamil Christians speak a Tamil that sounds like Greek and Latin to the Tamil non-christians. We are yet to realize why God got the New Testament written in Greek the market language and not in Hebrew the religious language of the Jews. Use updated and simplified versions of the Tamil Bible, atleast while addressing non-christians. "Unless we speak words easy to understand, we will be speaking into the air!" (1 Cor 14:9).
7. The Church in Tamil Nadu is divided and fractured. Jesus said that a kingdom which is divided against itself shall not stand. Satan is not divided. All his workers and agents work in perfect harmony. Shame on us! Stop stealing sheep from other folds. Put an end to fighting over matters which matter not. Don’t attack other churches or preachers in pulpit or print. We quote Paul and argue, "Did he not openly warn people against men like Alexander?" (2 Tim 4:14). This was a personal letter written to an individual. Even the epistles to Churches were letters for private circulation only. But our magazines are registered with the Registrar of Newspapers in India, and the copies fall in the hands of so many antichristian folks. What foolishness that we attack our own preachers and ministries in our magazines and periodicals! It is betrayal.
8. God is looking for Josephs and Daniels to be placed in high positions in civil administration. Years ago there were so many Christian IAS officers in the Tamil Nadu Secretariat and District administration. Nowadays we hardly come across Christian names in IAS cadre. Christian youngsters are interested in computer science and overseas jobs only. I call upon young people to work hard and aspire for administrative posts. We are the salt of the earth. We are the light of the world. The society will decay and die without salt and light. Parents, pastors and preachers must motivate their youngsters to face this challenge. Strong Christian presence in the government will influence the decision-makers. The impact left in Collectorates, Directorates and the Secretariat by Tamil Christian IAS officers like Mr. S. P. Ambrose, Mr. Daniel Gunanithi, Mr. Wilfred Davidar and Mr. Jagadeesh Pandian is still sharp.
9. Let’s multiply our evangelistic activities but do so with wisdom. Preaching of the gospel is not banned. If such a law would come up, we will have to obey God rather than men (Acts 4:19,20). Under the present ordinance, there are certain legal formalities to be done before baptising non-christian converts. Let’s go through them. Who knows, this may be God’s way of stopping fake conversions! We already have in the Church more nominals than those really born again. I urge evangelists not to do anything hastily and get everyone into trouble. Zeal without knowledge is dangerous.
10. The Tamil Christians have perhaps sent more missionaries to North India and spent more money for missions than the Christians of other States during the last three decades. "God is not unjust to forget your work and labour of love which you have shown toward His Name" (Heb 6:10). However, in the recent years the Tamil Christians have started to substitute praying and giving for going. When the early Christians lingered on in Jerusalem without moving out to Samaria and other regions beyond, God sent severe persecution among them. The result was, "They were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria... Those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word" (Acts 8:1,4). Chennai is the Jerusalem of India. If it is to scatter Tamil Christians and preachers all over North India that God has stirred the rulers to come up with this anticonversion ordinance, it is welcome!