Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Worth thinking about...

Indigenous Christian movements

I’ve just read Robert Frykenberg’s article on indigenous Christian movements amongst the Tamils of Tirunelveli in India.

Here’s seven lessons from this case study of an indigenous church planting movement:

1. Outsiders
The renewal of the church in mission always begins on the fringe. The mission to India was an initiative of the Pietists, a renewal movement that sprang up in response to the staid orthodoxy of post-Luther Lutheranism.

2. Stages of development
The movement developed in three stages:
a. Initial stimulus. Missionaries translate the message into idioms tha tare local and acceptable.
b. Incubation period. Early converts absorb, internalise and adapt the gospel to their culture.
c. Explosions of spiritual energy. Whole communities come to faith. The numbers of Christians double or triple every decade.

3. Spontaneous combustion
Time and time again it was adventurous and gifted converts who brought the gospel to their home villages in their own language. Local leaders led the movement.

4. Holistic
In the Pietist tradition, the early missionaries came preach the Gospel and to educate. To plant churches and to build schools. They trained Tamil pastors and school teachers who fanned out across the region. Eventually printing presses, colleges and seminaries for training leaders, and hospitals were built. Voluntary societies were formed to support the poor, to foster education and to spread the gospel.

5. Paying the price
As whole villages turned to Christ, the wrath of landlords who feared loss of control, was aroused. They hired toughs to plunder and torture believers. Thousands lost everything. They saw their homes and prayer-schools torn down. Property was taken, families were stripped, beaten and sent into the jungle to die. Christians set up “Villages of Refuge” as havens for the persecuted. The persecution lasted a century.

6. Home grown
The Tamil believers were not dependent on Western resources, motifs or styles. They formed and ran their own congregations and voluntary societies to pursue their mission. These Christians remained culturally Tamil—in art, architecture, poetry and music.

7. Transformation
Eventually the Christian communities became numerous, prosperous and strong, they helped, in some measure, to transform local Hindu culture and society.

According to Frykenberg, the story of Tirunelveli evangelical Christianity provides a template that can be applied to the story of every other major conversion movement in India over the past two centuries. There are hundreds of such stories, each reflecting unique peculiarities of its own processes of inception, incubation, and expansion under indigenous impetus.

Stories like this explain why Christianity is moving “south” and fast becoming the faith of the developing world.

Article taken from Steve Addison's blog

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