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The Christ of the Indian Road
By E. Stanley Jones
The Abingdon PressCopyright © 1953 E. Stanley Jones
All rights reserved.
THE MESSENGER AND THE MESSAGE
I have been asked to tell in this book of my evangelistic experiences in the East. I have found that all real evangelistic work begins in the evangelist. Around the world the problem of Christian work is the problem of the Christian worker. As family training cannot rise above family character, so Christian service cannot rise above the Christian servant.
I, therefore, cannot begin it in any better way than to tell of a bit of personal experience— apart from which I question whether I would have had the courage to undertake it. After over eight years continuously in India in various types of missionary work, ranging from pastor of an English church, head of a publishing house, missionary to the villages, district superintendent of large areas, I felt strangely drawn to work among the educated high castes, the intelligentsia. As a mission we were doing very little indeed among them. We had taken the line of least resistance and nearly all our work was among the low castes.
Along with my regular work I had started a Bible class and study group at an Indian club house where leading Hindus and Mohammedans gathered. After tennis in the evenings we would sit together until darkness fell and study the New Testament and discuss spiritual matters. One day one of the leading government officials, a Hindu, remarked, "How long has this mission been in this city?" I told him about fifty years. He asked very pointedly: "Then why have you gone only to the low castes? Why haven't you come to us?" I replied that I supposed it was because we thought they did not want us. He replied: "It is a mistake. We want you if you will come in the right way." We want you if you will come in the right way! Almost every moment since then I have been in eager quest for that right way. I have come to the conclusion that the right way was just to be a Christian with all the fearless implications of that term.
But who was sufficient for these things? For it meant standing down amid the currents of thought and national movements sweeping over India and interpreting Christ to the situation. I was painfully conscious that I was not intellectually prepared for it. I was the more painfully conscious that I was not Christian enough to do what the situation demanded. And most depressing of all, I was physically broken.
The eight years of strain had brought on a nervous exhaustion and brain fatigue so that there were several collapses in India before I left for furlough. On board ship while speaking in a Sunday morning service there was another collapse. I took a year's furlough in America. On my way back to India I was holding evangelistic meetings among the university students of the Philippine Islands at Manila. Several hundreds of these Roman Catholic students professed conversion. But in the midst of the strain of the meetings my old trouble came back. There were several collapses. I went on to India with a deepening cloud upon me. Here I was beginning a new term of service in this trying climate and beginning it—broken. I went straight to the hills upon arrival and took a complete rest for several months. I came down to the plains to try it out and found that I was just as badly off as ever. I went to the hills again. When I came down the second time I saw that I could go no further, I was at the end of my resources, my health was shattered. Here I was facing this call and task and yet utterly unprepared for it in every possible way.
I saw that unless I got help from somewhere I would have to give up my missionary career, go back to America and go to work on a farm to try to regain my health. It was one of my darkest hours. At that time I was in a meeting at Lucknow. While in prayer, not particularly thinking about myself, a Voice seemed to say, "Are you yourself ready for this work to which I have called you?" I replied: "No, Lord, I am done for. I have reached the end of my rope." The Voice replied, "If you will turn that over to me and not worry about it, I will take care of it." I quickly answered, "Lord, I close the bargain right here." A great peace settled into my heart and pervaded me. I knew it was done! Life—abundant Life— had taken possession of me. I was so lifted up that I scarcely touched the road as I quietly walked home that night. Every inch was holy ground. For days after that I hardly knew I had a body. I went through the days, working all day and far into the night, and came down to bedtime wondering why in the world I should ever go to bed at all, for there was not the slightest trace of tiredness of any kind. I seemed possessed by Life and Peace and Rest—by Christ himself.
The question came as to whether I should tell this. I shrank from it, but felt I should—and did. After that it was sink or swim before everybody. But nine of the most strenuous years of my life have gone by since then, and the old trouble has never returned, and I have never had such health. But it was more than a physical Touch. I seemed to have tapped new Life for body, mind, and spirit. Life was on a permanently higher level. And I had done nothing but take it!
I suppose that this experience can be picked to pieces psychologically and explained. It does not matter. Life is bigger than processes and overflows them. Christ to me had become Life.
Apart from this Touch I question if I would have had the courage to answer the call to work among these leaders of India's thought and life. It was too big and too exacting. But here I saw my Resources. And they have not failed.
Now a word as to that right method of approach. There were two or three methods of approach then current: (1) The old method of attacking the weaknesses of other religions and then trying to establish your own on the ruins of the other. (2) The method of Doctor Farquhar, which was to show how Christianity fulfills the ancient faiths—a vast improvement on the old method. (3) The method of starting with a general subject of interest to all, and then ending up with a Christian message and appeal.
I felt instinctively that there should be a better approach than any of these three. I see now how I was feeling after it. I have before me a note written eight years ago laying down some principles I thought we should follow. (1) Be absolutely frank—there should be no camouflage in hiding one's meaning or purpose by noncommittal subjects. The audience must know exactly what it is coming to hear. (2) Announce beforehand that there is to be no attack upon anyone's religion. If there is any attack in it, it must be by the positive presentation of Christ. He himself must be the attack. That would mean that that kind of an attack may turn in two directions—upon us as well as upon them. He would judge both of us. This would tend to save us from feelings and attitudes of superiority, so ruinous to Christian work. (3) Allow them to ask questions at the close—face everything and dodge no difficulties. (4) Get the leading non-Christians of the city where the meetings are held to become chairmen of our meetings. (5) Christianity must be defined as Christ, not the Old Testament, not Western civilization, not even the system built around him in the West, but Christ himself and to be a Christian is to follow him. (6) Christ must be interpreted in terms of Christian experience rather than through mere argument.
That was written eight years ago. As I look back I find that we have been led forward in two most important steps since then: (1) I have dropped out the term "Christianity" from my announcements (it isn't found in the Scriptures, is it?), for it had connotations that confused, and instead I have used the name of Christ in subjects announced and in the address itself. The other way I had to keep explaining that I meant Christ by Christianity. (2) Christ must be in an Indian setting. It must be the Christ of the Indian Road. I saw that no movement would succeed in India that cuts across the growing national consciousness of India, that Christianity did seem to be cutting across that national consciousness, it was therefore not succeeding—at least among the nationally conscious classes. A leading Nationalist said to me, "I am not afraid of Christianity as such, but I am afraid of what is happening. Everyone who becomes a Christian is lost to our national cause." No wonder he suspected it. Christianity to succeed must stand, not with Cæsar, nor depend upon government backing and help, but must stand with the people. It must work with the national grain and not against it. Christ must not seem a Western Partisan of White Rule, but a Brother of Men. We would welcome to our fellowship the modern equivalent of the Zealot, the nationalist, even as our Master did.
As to the manner and spirit of the presentation of that message, we should consider it of the highest importance that the penetrating statement of Tagore should be kept in mind that "when missionaries bring their truth to a strange land, unless they bring it in the form of homage it is not accepted and should not be. The manner of offering it to you must not be at all discordant with your own national thought and your self-respect." I felt that we who come from a foreign land should have the inward feeling, if not the outward signs, of being adopted sons of India, and we should offer our message as a homage to our adopted land; respect should characterize our every attitude; India should be home, her future our future, and we her servants for Jesus' sake.
We have come, then, this far in our thinking: that the Christ of the Indian Road, with all the fullness of meaning that we can put into those words, should be our message to India.
That this centering of everything in Jesus is the right lead is remarkably corroborated by Doctor Gilkey, the Barrows lecturer, who has just returned from a great hearing in India. After consultation with a great many, of whom I was honored to be one, he chose as the subject for the lectures, "The Personality of Jesus." To choose such a subject was in itself an adventure. A leading Christian college president in India said to Doctor Gilkey: "If you had chosen that subject as recently as five years ago, or even three, you would have had no hearing. I am as much amazed as you are at this burst of interest and these crowds." The leading Hindu social thinker of India, commenting in his paper, remarked, "The Barrows lecturer could not have chosen a subject of more vital interest in India to-day than the subject, 'The Personality of Jesus.'" It was good to find my own experience corroborated in the experience of another.
Hitherto it has been exceedingly difficult to get non-Christians to come to a Christian address of any kind. But in ——— the most prominent Hindu, a Mohammedan judge, and a Christian missionary signed the notices that went out calling the meetings. To me at that time it was a new experience to have them do it. An experienced missionary said to me after one of the meetings, "If you had told me a week ago that the leading men of this city would sit night after night listening to the straightest gospel one could present and ask for more, I would not have believed it, and yet they are doing it." I have found that they will listen when that gospel is Christ and are drawn when he is lifted up.
It may be that we will yet discover that good Christianity is good tactics, that the straightforward, open proclamation of Jesus is the best method. Paul believed this, for he says, "I disown those practices which very shame conceals from view; I do not go at it craftily, I do not falsify the word of God; I state the truth openly and so commend myself to every man's conscience in the sight of God.... It is Christ Jesus as Lord, not myself, that I proclaim" (2 Cor. 4. 2-5, Moffatt). He let Jesus commend himself to every man's conscience, for he knew that Jesus appeals to the soul as light appeals to the eye, as truth fits the conscience, as beauty speaks to the æsthetic nature. For Christ and the soul are made for one another, and when they are brought together deep speaks to deep and wounds answer wounds.
That this approach is probably sound is seen by the statement of the non-Christian chairman who rebuked a Christian speaker because he had tried to come at it gradually: "We can speak of God ourselves, we expect to hear from you about Christ."
We often quote Paul's speech at Athens as a model of missionary approach and yet it was one of Paul's biggest failures. He did not succeed in founding a church there. Mackintosh analyzes his failure thus: "The Christian propaganda failed or prospered in proportion as the fresh data for religion present in Jesus were studiously concealed or openly proclaimed. Take Paul's address at Athens: says some fine things, God's spirituality, a God afar off—one in whom we live and move, creation instead of chaos. Providence instead of chance, men of one blood instead of proud distinction between Greek and Barbarian. But at no point is publicity given to the distinctive Christian message. In this studied omission of the cross is the secret of his comparative failure at Athens and his subsequent change at Corinth. He writes penitently, 'I determined to know nothing among you save Jesus Christ and him crucified.' The gospel had lost its savour when it was merged in Jewish commonplace" (The Originality of the Christian Message, Mackintosh).
But the Hindu insists, and rightly so, that it must not be "an incrusted Christ," to use the words of the student representative before the World's Student Conference at Peking. It must not be a Christ bound with the grave clothes of long-buried doctrinal controversy, but a Christ as fresh and living and as untrammeled as the one that greeted Mary at the empty tomb on that first Easter morning.
A Hindu puts the matter thus: "We have been unwilling to receive Christ into our hearts, but we alone are not responsible for this. Christian missionaries have held out a Christ completely covered by their Christianity. Up to now their special effort has been to defeat our religious doctrines, and therefore we have been prepared to fight in order to self-defense. Men cannot judge when they are in a state of war. In the excitement of that intoxication while intending to strike the Christians we have struck Christ" (The Goal of India, Holland).
But we too must acknowledge our part in the mistake and see to it that in the future India has a chance to respond to an untrammeled Christ.
A friend of mine was talking to a Brahman gentleman when the Brahman turned to him and said, "I don't like the Christ of your creeds and the Christ of your churches." My friend quietly replied, "Then how would you like the Christ of the Indian Road?" The Brahman thought a moment, mentally picturing the Christ of the Indian Road—he saw him dressed in Sadhus' garments, seated by the wayside with the crowds about him, healing blind men who felt their way to him, putting his hands upon the heads of poor, unclean lepers who fell at his feet, announcing the good tidings of the Kingdom to stricken folks, staggering up a lone hill with a broken heart and dying upon a wayside cross for men, but rising triumphantly and walking on that road again. He suddenly turned to the friend and earnestly said, "I could love and follow the Christ of the Indian Road."
How differs this Christ of the Indian Road from the Christ of the Galilæan Road? Not at all.
Christ is becoming a familiar Figure upon the Indian Road. He is becoming naturalized there. Upon the road of India's thinking you meet with him again and again, on the highways of India's affection you feel his gracious Presence, on the ways of her decisions and actions he is becoming regal and authoritative. And the voice of India is beginning to say with Whittier:
"The healing of the seamless dress
Is by our beds of pain; We touch him in life's throng and press, And we are whole again."
THE MOTIVE AND END OF CHRISTIAN MISSIONS
There is a good deal of misunderstanding as to why we are undertaking Christian missions and as to what we are really trying to do. A very severe criticism is beating upon this whole question of missions from many angles and sources. Personally I welcome it. If what we are doing is real it will shine all the more. If it isn't real, the sooner we find it out the better.
Excerpted from The Christ of the Indian Road by E. Stanley Jones. Copyright © 1953 E. Stanley Jones. Excerpted by permission of The Abingdon Press.
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