The first step in the Christian journey of faith is ordinarily baptism.
But for new believers in India – The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod’s oldest mission field – cultural barriers might mean that converts go months, even years before being baptized.
In fact, Rev. Samuel Thompson, pastor and seminary professor in the India Evangelical Lutheran Church, believes there may be millions of “unbaptized believers” in India.
“Indian society is marked with strong community and family ties,” Rev. Thompson explained. “Conversion to Christianity implies a self-removal from one’s social, family and cultural ties. Many of the converts find themselves being ostracized by their loved ones when they transition to a new faith.
“A convert who [publicly] joins the institutionalized church through baptism is seen as betraying his own family, his loyalty to them and/or bringing shame to them,” he said. “This often leads them to lose all or most of the emotional, social and material support…from their family.”
In recent years, another obstacle to Christianity in India has developed: the rise of Hindutva (meaning “Hinduness”), a political movement to establish India as an exclusively Hindu nation.
Anti-conversion laws have now taken effect in five of India’s states, where Christian organizations like Compassion International (which provides assistance to India’s poorest children) have been expelled because their charitable works are interpreted as an “allurement” to become Christian.
How can the Lutheran Church witness?
Rev. Thompson has found that house visits and neighborhood gatherings in Christian homes to be places where new and searching believers can find support and have their questions answered as they walk the path to baptism.
And now, due to a fresh reprinting by LHF of the Small Catechism, Malayalam-speaking Indians have another source for answers.
“Luther’s catechism is extremely helpful because it summarizes the major elements of the Christian faith in a handy way,” Rev. Thompson said. “I usually present a copy to my students so they can go back, read and reflect upon what we have learned together.”
As the 500th anniversary of the Reformation (and LHF’s 25th anniversary) approaches, Rev. Thompson said Luther’s Small Catechism
is more relevant than ever.
“The catechism helps new believers realize that what they learn isn’t some manmade story, but it is the real truth which comes from the Bible,” he said.
“What I also find interesting in my ministry is that, after each candidate receives sufficient instruction, the catechism equips them with resources to teach others,” he concluded. “So new believers not only know what they believe, but they are also able to guide others to God’s love in Jesus Christ.”