DALLAS, Texas – Is it possible to be a Hindu and a follower of Jesus Christ?
Some of the world's top missiologists are not only nodding their heads, but even advocating the practice.
Contrary to what most Christians might think, it is possible to be a fully devoted follower of Christ who remains truly and fully a Hindu – a Krista Bhakta, as they like to be called.
"You can't say a Hindu is a person that believes in A, B and C," said Raghav Krishna, a Brahmin Hindu Krista Bhakta whose real name is withheld for security reasons.
"Probably the best way to say it is someone that is born to Hindu parents is a Hindu and you can have any beliefs you want."
At this year's annual gathering of the International Society for Frontier Missiology, Krishna emphasized that there is no consensus over the definition of a Hindu. It's notable that India has over 4,500 different communities so what are considered Hindu forms change depending on the individual's community.
Keeping the Hindu forms can mean attending a house gathering for Sunday service instead of a church building, singing bhajans (Indian style devotional music) instead of English hymns, continuing the Hindu dietary restriction, and having a water ceremony instead of a baptism in a Christian church.
Throughout the conference, speakers addressed the common misconception that Hinduism is a uniform religion when in fact it is more of an umbrella identity for vastly diverse cultural and religious communities. Most Christians, however, tend to perceive the word Hindu to mean a singular, homogenous religion – an understanding that is both erroneous and misleading.
"Historically, quite a number of people – including William Carey – referred to the term Hindu Christian to mean Hindu in a civilizational sense and Christian in a religious sense," pointed out H.L. Richard, who spent over 20 years working and studying Hinduism and Christian ministry among Hindus.
"Today, most consider this terminology too confusing and wonder why a follower of Christ needs to abandon a Hindu identity and adopt all the baggage that is included with the 'Christian' label," he added.
Richard said the term Christian should also not be confined as only a religious reference. He pointed to Europe where the word Christian is primarily used in a historical and civilizational manner more so than a person's way of life and religious beliefs. The scholar noted that Hindus understand the word Christian as a geo-political and civilizational description, rather than as a spiritual or religious one.
Why the Hindu Forms are Needed
Proponents of the Hindu Krista Bhakta movement argue that Hindus who turn to Christ should not be forced to abandon their culture and identity, but rather be followers of Jesus Christ while rejoicing that God made them Hindus and desire to serve Him as Hindus.
"In Islam and Hinduism, we've insist that people come out of their culture and that is not biblical," said Dr. Ralph D. Winter, founder of the U.S. Center for World Mission and one of the founders for ISFM, to The Christian Post in September. "It is a misunderstanding of the Bible and it is not successful and never will be. It shouldn't be.
"God doesn't want to destroy their (Indians') language or culture, He wants to refine them."
Krishna, for example, said that the western form of church is "foreign" to a Hindu person. He acknowledges that many Hindus who are in Christ can eventually adjust to Western worship forms, but said this comes at the cost of alienation from family and friends and a possibly closer relationship with God.
"The importance of social forms for me – because I was born in a Hindu family and I'm used to these forms – is they enable me to experience Christ in a much deeper way," said Krishna.
Furthermore, supporters of the movement argue that followers of Jesus who remain Hindu and express their faith using Hindu forms are in a better position to witness in their community and avoid creating unnecessary tension within their families.
"The stumbling block in India has nothing to do with theology," said Richard. "A triune God is absolutely non-problematic to Hindus. It is a problem for American rationalists and to Muslims, but no Hindu has a problem with the Trinity.
"The offense of Christianity is change of community," added Richard, who is a strong proponent of new believers maintaining with integrity their Hindu culture.
"Why are you leaving us and going to them? How are they better than us? Isn't there as much corruption in 'Christianity' as there is in 'Hinduism'? Why are you shaming our people?" he listed as possible questions from the communities.
"So this community issue is absolutely basic and fundamental," declared Richard.
Some of the younger attendees who were not familiar with the concept expressed skepticism at first when they heard that a person could follow Jesus as a Hindu, but later said they support the practice after understanding that Hinduism is not a religion, but a complex civilization that accepts multiple religious expressions within its various cultural forms.
"I still walk in Hindu traditions as long as they don't contradict my faith in Christ," explained J.V., a Brahmin follower of Christ who oversees a campus ministry catering to Hindu students in the United States.
The International Society of Frontier Missiology held its 2007 meeting Sept. 15-17 in Dallas, Texas, and convened missiologists, missionaries, and those working in the mission fields. The annual conferences focus on frontier mission – an area of missiology that concentrates on reaching the people with the least access to the gospel. The theme this year was India: Debating Global Missiological Flashpoints.