After the arrival of the Baptist missionary William Carey in India in 1793, more missionaries from various denominations, from both America and Europe, made their way to India. In spite of facing many hurdles, the missionaries persevered in offering the locals a living hope in the Gospel, and also a helping hand by way of establishing hospitals, schools, colleges and through various other avenues to alleviate human suffering. Because of their relentless efforts to reach out to the people of India, some churches were established both in the North and the South of India. And thus, various Christian denominations spread across India.
But more recently, owing to the rise of the house church movement, student ministries and other indigenous missionary movements, there are undoubtedly more Christians in India than there ever have been. With unlimited access to the internet even in remotest regions, Christian sermons and videos are heard and seen in different parts of the country. Despite the fact that ‘Christianity’ is still a tiny minority in comparison to the large swaths of the Indian population, it is on the rise. Having said that, the church in India at large is still flimsy in terms of its theology and ecclesiology. As a result, all kinds of heresies and unbiblical practices have made inroads into the church. This means finding a church which is confessional is next to impossible! There are literally thousands of churches which do not even have a basic statement of faith, leaving room for ignorance and heresy.
With the spread of the health, wealth and prosperity Gospel, words like ‘doctrine’ and ‘theology’ are considered detrimental and dangerous to the growth of the church. But, is it possible to build healthy and biblical churches without laying proper doctrinal foundations? The answer is a resounding ‘no’. History is replete with records of how the church was invaded by darkness when it lost its doctrinal and confessional moorings. As early as the 4th century, the church fathers and the councils proved the absolute necessity for the doctrinal purity and clarity to the foundation of the church of Jesus Christ. Being removed from the larger biblical and historical context will only make the church vulnerable and potentially heretical. This further points to the absolute necessity to have a statement of faith regardless of where one lives in this world.
This is the background one has to understand when speaking of the ‘Reformed Baptist Church’ in Vinukonda, of which I am the pastor. We believe that the doctrines of the Reformation and the Baptistic distinctives are inseparable from a local church. Ours is a church whose statement of faith is largely if not entirely based on the ‘1689 Baptist Confession of Faith’. We encourage all our members to read and understand our statement of faith before they become members.
One of the challenges we face from time to time is when we have to train members who are illiterate in sound doctrine. So, we make sure that all the key doctrines are explained frequently both from the pulpit and also by way of conducting doctrine classes. We also have arranged special doctrinal conferences for the church to help them understand the doctrines we believe in. As a result, most of our members can articulate the essence of all the core doctrines in their own words, which is very encouraging. Because of our insistence on the doctrines, our members can distinguish between biblical and unbiblical teaching. This is highly important in our context where unbiblical teaching is rife.
We believe the Word of God should be the final authority for our life and practice, all the aspects in the life of the local church should be guided and guarded by it (2 Tim 3:16. 2 Pet 1:21). And, all the important decisions in the church—be it our corporate worship or the appointment of the leaders to the office or acceptance into the fellowship or commitment to the local church or disciplining a sinning member—are made based on our statement of faith, which is ultimately tethered tightly to the Word of God. In spite of receiving criticism of being ‘narrow-minded’ and ‘too rigid’ for our insistence on the Reformed Baptist Distinctives, it is worth taking the risk for the Glory of God and to the edification of the local church because it is through the local church that the radiance of God and the mysteries of the Gospel are revealed to the outside world.
Many in our context think that because there is such poverty, lack of education and indifference to Christianity, we need to lower the standards for establishing a local church. And, therefore they argue, any explanation of the key doctrines is laying an extra burden on the simple and the poor. This kind of logic is evidenced in countless churches that have no absolute biblical foundations and roots. We believe, on the contrary, that laying a doctrinal foundation for the local church is commanded in the New Testament (1 Tim. 3:15, 1 Tim. 4:6, 4:11-16). God’s people enjoy, grow and prosper spiritually when the Word of God is explained, preached and applied, no matter where we live, be it in India or in Scotland (Jn. 10:27). When different ethnicities are commanded to be united in the blood-bought church of Jesus Christ (Gal 3:28), it is implied that the same doctrine is applicable to different ethnicities and people groups in the entire world. We have one God to worship, one Gospel that rescues, and one system of doctrine to be explained and understood, no matter where we live in the world. And, therefore, it is our prayer that the Lord would help us see the need for the countless churches to be doctrinal (confessional) in this country. May the glory of God be reflected by the establishing confessional churches in this land of great need and great harvest!