The Indian church is hugely diverse in every aspect. There are churches across the nation that adhere to a variety of doctrinal understandings, worship styles, church traditions and denominational affiliations. They also comprise people of various cultures, social strata, ethnic backgrounds and languages. Even as one moves through the length and breadth of the country, one would see how vastly distinct the forms of church are in this one single nation.
The major challenge with the Indian church, however, is that it is heavily divided along caste, socio-economic, language, people group and denominational lines. This creates huge rifts between local churches of various denominations and affiliations even if they are in the same geographical location. Churches are unable to reconcile their differences and work together for the common cause of the Gospel. Many of these differences are doctrinal but there could be other pertinent issues such as worship styles, church traditions, cultural influences, forms of worship etc. which these churches find irreconcilable. By not seeking to work together in unity and presenting a united front, the Indian church continues to be plagued by internal threats such as disunity and division as well as external issues such as persecution and marginalisation from anti-Christian forces.
Here I would like to present five focus areas all drawn from scriptures for churches in India to give due attention to move towards greater unity across denominational lines whilst aiming for harmony and cooperation at both local and the national level.
KEEP THE FOCUS ON CHRIST ALWAYS
A Christian’s gaze should always be centred on Christ. It’s easy for individual churches to get distracted with their programmes and activities. However, if Christ is sidelined, then whatever they do, no matter how contextualised or relevant it may be to their intended audience, it becomes worthless and doesn’t achieve anything. To this end, apostle Paul urges the Galatian church in Gal 3:26–27 to remind themselves that they are now children of God, having been baptised into Christ and having put on Christ. Our constant focus should, therefore, be on Christ and not on hollow and deceptive philosophies or thought patterns of the world. In Rom 15:5–7, Paul also says that it is God who gives us endurance and encouragement so that we can live in harmony. The end goal of this harmony is that we can—with one voice—glorify God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The aim of the church, therefore, is to glorify God in all they say and do. Furthermore, in Col 3:15–17, the believers are encouraged to allow the word of Christ to dwell in them richly so that they can teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in their hearts to God. The focus here is on the Word of God which reveals God and the salvific work He has accomplished through his Son, Jesus Christ. When the Word of Christ dwells in us richly, it helps us to be more faithful in living out our Christian faith encouraging the believers within the church as well as being a true witness to the world.
GAIN THE MIND OF CHRIST AND SHOW IT THROUGH HUMBLE UNITY
If church members along with their leaders have the mind of Christ that would help them resolve differences and work towards greater unity and harmony. Phil 2:1–11 is a beautiful summary of the Gospel talking about the incarnation, condescension, humiliation and exaltation of Jesus Christ. Paul’s encouragement for the church at Philippi is that they have the mind of Christ, so they need to strive for humility and unity among themselves. They ought to humble themselves and value other people’s interests over and above their own. They need to consider others more significant than themselves. Apostle Peter in 1 Peter 3:8–9 also encourages unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart and a humble mind. He urges the church to be united with each other, showing love and humility and this enables one to bless the other and in turn receive blessings from God. Paul in 1 Cor 1:10 urges unity with the same mind and same judgement. If churches can consider the model of Christ and his humility and seek to emulate the same by having the mind of Christ in them and showing the same love of Christ to each other that they have received, then they can strive for better unity and make progress in things of God.
AIM FOR PEACE, LOVE AND HARMONY IN THE CHURCH
A major issue plaguing the Indian church is the lack of peace resulting in conflicts and growing animosity between churches and Christian leaders. In 2 Cor 13:11 and Col 3:15, Paul is urging the church to live together in peace by agreeing with each other, aiming for restoration and reconciliation. When they do this the God of love and peace will be with them. It’s important to note that God’s presence among his people is conditional on them living together in peace and togetherness. Disunity in the body of Christ brings dishonour to God. Living together in unity is also a good witness to the watching world and it presents a ready testimony that we who have believed in the Gospel take the commands of the Gospel to heart and put it into practice. Love is another aspect that the church community should have among themselves. This is not superficial love rather deep-seated love that flows from the love for Christ that we have received in the first place. This supernatural love flowing through willing instruments like us will bind us together in perfect harmony with others (Col 3:14, Rom 12:16). Such harmony is glorifying to God and edifying to His Church. Hence, Jesus would pray in such a way in John 17:21 that his followers would be united just as the Father is in the Son and the Son is in the Father and that those who believe would also be in them.
ABIDE IN AND PROCLAIM THE TRUE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST
Many churches have stepped away from preaching as well as practising the True Gospel of Christ. They have twisted and maligned the scriptures to suit their own end and as a result, are heading towards destruction and damnation. The warning to such churches comes out clearly in 2 Jn 1:9 saying that those who don’t abide in the teaching of the Word, don’t have God in them. But whoever does abide in the teaching, has both the Father and the Son. This goes to show that one who anchors himself in the faithful preaching and teaching of the Word, is anchored in God himself. Even though the storms of life may come against them, they will stand firm in the Lord (Phil 4:1). 1 Tim 6:3–5 informs us that one ought to teach the right doctrine that agrees with the words of Jesus Christ. Such teaching leads to godliness. But if anything, other than true doctrine and scripture is taught, then it leads to pride, conceit, envy, dissension, slander and evil and this defames the name of Christ and brings dishonour to God. The Gospel has the power to save and transform people as well as communities and nations. Churches should always stay faithful to the preaching/teaching of the good news of Jesus Christ because only that can truly save people from their sins and grow them in spiritual maturity towards Christlikeness.
TRUST CHRIST TO GROW AND MATURE HIS CHURCH
Jesus Christ in Matthew 16:18 said he will build his Church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. It shows that the Church is Jesus’ idea not ours. The Church is his chosen instrument of grace through which He will accomplish his work in the world, drawing people to Himself. Jesus Christ is the head of the Church and through Him, we grow to become in every respect, the mature body of Christ (Eph 4:15). Apostle Paul in Eph 2:19–21 says that we who believe in Him, are members of His household (the church) which was built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. It is in Christ, that the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. To this end and for the growth and maturity of the church, the Lord has given apostles, prophets, evangelists and shepherds/teachers so that they, in turn, can equip the saints for the work of ministry for building up the body of Christ so that as a whole the body of Christ will attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the son of God to mature manhood to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Eph 4:11–13). We need to trust God to build His church and grow it into maturity. We have no liberty to take into our hands, what He has reserved for himself to do. We need to rely on Christ alone and trust in Him, be guided by His Spirit and be willing to grow into greater spiritual maturity in Him.
The Indian Church has many challenges on its hand. But by keeping our eyes on Christ and trusting in Him, as well as by being wise and prudent and sensitive to the voice and leading of the Spirit, we can aim to resolve these many differences between churches and denominations and pursue unity in Christ. Greater unity among the churches and a deep reliance on God and his Word will result in the growth and edification of the Church at large and the ongoing proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the unreached masses of this nation.