Book Review | Christ, Caste & Church
Updated: Jul 13, 2018
June, 2018 | J N Manokaran
I just finished reading an excellent book titled, "Christ, Caste & Church: A Call to Purge the Church of Casteism", written by C. Stephen David. It carries a straightforward, simple and compelling message for this generation of Christians.
C. Stephen David has lovingly, passionately and earnestly appealed to the Indian church to repent of the sin of casteism. Profound thoughts are presented in simple English. It is a clarion call for reformation. The author has rightly identified caste as the most damaging cancer that has afflicted the church in India.
The book has been divided into three sections:
1) The Origin and Nature of the Caste System
2) A Biblical Response to the Caste System
3) Practical Measures to Abolish Casteism in the Church.
The author has analysed the caste system well and has brought out five important aspects of it. They are: 1. Hierarchy, 2. Heredity, 3. Endogamy, 4. Definite Occupation and 5. Social Restriction. Explaining the Hindu worldview of caste origin, he brings to focus that a Hindu can convert to any religion, but cannot convert out of his own caste to any other caste. Casteism cannot develop love but only hate.
Honour killing is a horrific form of punishment for violating the rules of endogamy. However, there are other milder forms of punishment like ostracism, when all family members, relatives, and caste members boycott the victim.
The dignity of labour and dignity of labourer is missing because of definite occupations allotted to each caste group. Education has helped reduce the impact of this menace, nevertheless, it still exists in villages. The people belonging to lower castes are not supposed to aspire for better professions and wealth.
The author has given a strong biblical basis for human equality and tolerance. He writes: “Every thought, attitude, and behaviour of caste superiority is a blasphemous denial of all human beings who are created in the image of God.” (page 60)
The author brings to focus the depravity of human beings and the Lord Jesus Christ’s atonement on the cross of Calvary. He emphasizes that ‘Cross unites, caste divides.’ He denounces ‘churchless Christianity’ as the believers should be a community. He also condemns caste based congregations and churches which violate biblical values.
The dehumanizing and discriminating practice of caste should never be allowed inside the church. All believers are one in Christ and there are no specific caste name pre-fixed Christians. The author reminds the readers of the servant attitude of Lord Jesus Christ who washed his disciples’ feet. He challenges the upper caste people like Brahmins to wash the feet of Dalits.
The author proposes several remedial measures the church should urgently undertake. Teaching sound doctrine (instead of preaching material benefits and worldly prosperity) from pulpits, seminaries, and through TV should eradicate caste system within the church.
Churches should have a casteless culture. He suggests that Christians should drop off their surname of caste. However, the author fails to note the Dravidian movement in Tamil Nadu has made it mandatory to drop off all caste surnames and in the past four-plus decades, schools do not register surnames.
Also, the author calls for casteless and dowryless marriages. The author asks: “Are such caste-centered marriages considered holy in God’s sight?” He emphasizes the need for fellowship meals in the church, that will eradicate caste hierarchy and bring the principle of equality. Church discipline should include ways and means to eradicate caste in the local churches.
The author also has answered a few questions regarding caste and Christians. He rejects the idea of Christians declaring themselves as Hindus for getting reservation benefits. He also considers young people give excuses for the sake of dowry and caste, stating they honour father and mother.
The author gives the example of King Asa who removed his mother from being queen for violating God’s commandments. Hence, parents should be honoured but not by violating biblical principles. Even if evangelism is targeted towards a particular caste group, the new believers should be integrated to the whole Body of Christ.
Verdict: A Timely book to be read by all Indian Christians. Pastors especially should study and preach biblical principles taught in this book. Bible colleges should make this book mandatory reading for all students. Christian leaders should take lead to bring changes that honours God and not culture and traditions.
Reviewed by: J.N. Manokaran
Dr. J.N. Manokaran is a civil engineer by profession. He and his family served in Haryana as cross-cultural missionaries for eleven years. Since 1997, they have returned back to Tamil Nadu to help missionaries and pastors to build their capacities by teaching, training, and writing. He has completed his Bachelor of Divinity From Immanuel Theological Seminary, Georgia, as an external student, did his Master of Theology at Hindustan Bible Institute, Chennai, and earned his Ph.D. from International Institute of Church Management. Currently, he is based in Chennai and serves as a trainer and consultant to several Christian organisations. He has also written six books, in addition to several articles.
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