January 16, 2018

Highlighting the History of Christianity in India

Mike Reddick

It has been said that India is the mother of one of the oldest and most complex religions of the world: Hinduism. This native Indian belief system has produced many offspring including Jainism, Sikhism, Hare Krishna, Transcendental Meditation, the New Age Movement, and Buddhism. Sadly, today billions of people around the globe adhere to one of these pagan religious systems.

Early Missions Efforts

It was five hundred years before the birth of Christ that a young disillusioned Hindu named Siddhartha Gautama claimed to have reached the highest degree of God-consciousness, or Nirvana. This young man would soon be known to the world as the Buddha. It is no surprise, then, that India would be the first major thrust of foreign missions. Although William Carey is rightly known as “The Father of Modern Missions,” he was not the first missionary to reach the shores of India. Thirty years before Carey, Count Nicolaus von Zinzendorf sent missionaries around the world; ninety years before Carey, King Frederick IV of Denmark, a German Pietist, established the Danish-Halle Mission. In 1706 he sent Bartholomew Ziegenbalg and Henry Pluetschau to Tranquebar on the southeast coast of India.

Although Ziegenbalg and Pluetschau were hampered by the commercial opposition of the Danish East India Company, they nevertheless made progress and witnessed many conversions during their years of service, eventually translating the entire New Testament and a large portion of the Old Testament into one of India’s many languages.[1]

In 1750 the Danish-Halle Mission sent Christian Fredrick Schwartz, and for forty-eight years he faithfully served the Lord in Chennai (Madras). By the time of his death in 1798 he had mastered several Indian dialects and built a church with two thousand members. It would be through the help and influence of Schwartz, who was on good terms with the Danish East India Company, that William Carey, Joshua Marshman, and William Ward would be allowed to enter and stay in Kolcota (Calcutta) and eventually start the Serampore Mission, which would eventually be the center of Baptist missionary activity in India.[2]

When William Carey and John Thomas arrived in India on November 19, 1793, under the banner of the Baptist Missionary Society, they ushered in what is commonly known as the “Great Century” of foreign missions. It has been said that William Carey, “more than any other individual in modern history stirred the imagination of the Christian world and showed by his own humble example what could and should be done to bring the lost world to Christ.”[3]

It was Carey who uttered those immortal words: “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.” By the end of his forty-year ministry Carey had seen hundreds saved and baptized. He established the Serampore College for the training of indigenous church planters and evangelists. He also made three translations of the Bible (Bengali, Sanskrit, and Marathi) and helped in other whole and partial Bible translations.

Through the influence of Carey came Adroniram and Nancy (Anne) Judson, Luther Rice, and five others. Although their stay in India was short-lived due to the antimissionary position of the East India Company, they made history as being America’s first foreign missionaries.

In 1813, just one year after the Judsons left India for Burma, the British Parliament wrote into the charter of the East India Company allowances for missionaries from England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland to begin work in the three Presidencies in India, which were under the British East India Company’s control. Prior to the change in policy the British East India Company refused to allow any Christian missionaries into their territories. They believed that the missionaries were a threat to their commercial interests. In 1833 the British Parliament wrote another clause into the charter of the East India Company, this time opening missionary work to all non-British missionary societies.[4]

After the new charter of 1813, missionaries from the British Empire flocked into India, and by 1833 missionaries from around the world were free to evangelize. One of the most innovative and influential missionaries during this time was Alexander Duff of Scotland. Duff, who had the support of William Carey, was burdened to evangelize the upper classes of Indian society by means of higher education. From the start his school was a tremendous success. Hundreds sat in his classes and heard the gospel. His concept of combining education and evangelism was copied by other missionaries around India, which planted the seeds of the gospel in the hearts of many in India.

While Duff was reaching the elite and upper classes, American Baptist Missionaries Dr. and Mrs. John Clough were reaching the untouchable lower classes. In 1865, in their work at the Lone Star Mission in Ongole a tremendous revival broke out among the outcastes. The moving of the Holy Spirit was so powerful that in one day during the summer of 1878 Clough baptized 2222 believers. During the century following that time, more than one million Mala outcastes professed faith in Christ!

Later Missions Efforts

In 1892 the young student-volunteer John Hyde arrived in India. From the time of his arrival he was deeply burdened for a spiritual awakening in India. He devoted much of his time to intercessory prayer, often spending whole days and nights pleading to God for an outpouring of His Spirit. Some 50,000 were reportedly saved during one six-month period.

In the year 1904 his prayers were answered in Sialkot, Northwest India. Revival came that deepened the spiritual life of Christians and brought many unbelievers to faith in Christ. The American Presbyterians reported that from 1904 to 1909 their churches in Northwest India saw a 400% increase. In Punjab it was reported that the Christian constituency from 1904 to 1914 quadrupled, from 37,695 to 163,994. During the same period Christianity grew sixteen times as fast as the Hindu majority, and the number of Indian evangelists and workers also doubled.[5]

During the same period, Welsh missionaries, such as John Roberts, D. E. Jones, and others, traveled into the rough hills of Northeast India to evangelize the animistic headhunters of Assam, Naga, and Mizoram. In early 1903 missionaries and church leaders in the Khasia Hills, Assam, met together to seek an outpouring of the Holy Spirit throughout Khasia and all the world. In 1904 these prayer meetings became more fervent in spirit, and in March 1905, God answered their prayers and a wave of revival swept the hills of Northeast India. This revival continued for several years, bringing thousands of men and women to Christ.

Regarding this moving of the Spirit, revival historian J. Edwin Orr said, “One effect of these Revivals, within a generation, was to make head hunters into a predominantly Christian people, inhabiting India’s most Christian and most evangelical area, in zeal far surpassing the early evangelized fields, as well as the places which claimed a thousand years or more of a traditional Christianity.”[6] Today, nearly one hundred years after the initial moving of the Holy Spirit this area, Northeast India has the highest percentage of Christians in India and is one of the most Christianized areas of the world, claiming to be 80–90% Christian. The hundreds of Baptist and Presbyterian churches are self-supporting, self-governing, and self-propagating and have thousands of Bible students and missionaries throughout India and Asia. It should be noted that not all these who call themselves Christian are born again. Sadly, over the years liberalism has slowly crept in and confused many.

At the turn of the twentieth century God sent a host of missionaries to evangelize the land. To South India came the young and eccentric Amy Carmichael. Within a few years she established the famous Dohnavur Fellowship, which is remembered for saving children from a life of temple prostitution. In the decades to follow hundreds of children were rescued, born again, and housed at Dohnavur.

Others such as C. T. Studd, who labored for six years in India before moving into Inland Africa, also came. In the early twentieth century came E. Stanley Jones, who labored among the educated elite. His reputation as an evangelist and Christian statesman brought him into contact with Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharal Nehru. By the mid-twentieth century missionaries had established Christian schools, colleges, and hospitals. By 1940 it was estimated that 90% of all nurses in the country were Christians and about 80% of these had been trained in Christian hospitals.[7]

But the most important legacy left by the missionary was the establishment of the Bible college. Here thousands of local men and women could be trained to take the gospel to areas the missionary could not go. In the last forty years it is likely that thousands upon thousands of men and women have been trained in good Fundamental Baptist Bible colleges and have taken the gospel back to their towns and villages and to remote corners of the earth. Although India is no longer open to the traditional church-planting foreign missionary, their work remains and is carried on by those who received their message.

Although India received the first foreign missionaries from Europe, England, and the Untied States, it is still one of the least-reached countries in the world. In 1887 the Christian population of India was 0.79%,[8] and today it hovers around 2%. It also contains the largest concentration of unevangelized people in the world. In Utter Pradesh in North India there are some 180 million people, and less than 0.1% are Christians.[9] Since India is one of the least reached countries in the world and will likely be the most populated country by 2025 we must “pray . . . the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest” (Matt. 9:38).

Mike Redick is a missionary-evangelist serving under International Baptist Missions, Tempe, AZ.

(Originally published in FrontLine • January/February 2007. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)

  1. Ruth A. Tucker, From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1983), p. 114. []
  2. D. Arthur Jeyakumar, History of Christianity in India (Delhi, India: ISPCK, 2004), pp. 18–19. []
  3. Tucker, p. 114. []
  4. Jeyakumar, p. 24. []
  5. J. Edwin Orr, The Flaming Tongue (Chicago: Moody Press), pp. 153–57. []
  6. Ibid., p. 137. []
  7. Jeyakumar, p. 40. []
  8. Ibid, p. 62. []
  9. Patrick Johnstone, The Church Is Bigger Than You Think (Manila, Philippines: OMF Literature, 1998), p.223. []

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