Indians have a long history of pagan worship customs and Christianity is a foreign religion that was introduced to the country. Soon after the time of Christ, St. Thomas, one of the twelve disciples and a close associate of Jesus landed in India about 52 AD to preach Christ. There is enough evidence of the ministry of St. Thomas in South India and St. Thomas Mount and San Thome Church in Chennai are staunch reminders of St. Thomas’ life in India.
The traders and missionaries who began visiting India subsequently continued to teach Indians the way of life in Christ through their words and actions. Education and health care were some significant contributions of foreign missionaries to India. Many Indians still owe their life to the sacrifice and devotion displayed by missionary doctors who introduced modern medicines and health facilities to ailing Indians.
Several schools, colleges, hospitals and social institutions that were established by missionaries to help Indians still function and are managed by Indian leaders. For instance, the Christian Medical College and Hospital in Vellore still offers medical training and assistance at affordable rates to Indians. Very often Indians who have been beneficiaries of these institutions have come to know Christ as their Lord and Savior simply by experiencing the Christ like character displayed by Christian missionaries. As a result many Indians belonging to other faiths gave up their beliefs and began following Christ. Slowly Christianity took root as a minority religion in India.
Some of the most notable Christian missionaries to India include William Carey, Bartholomew Ziegenbalg, Amy Carmichael, Mother Theresa among many others. Many missionaries to India never returned to their native land, but lived and served Indians as they demonstrated Christ through their words and deeds.
The birth of Christianity in India was not without repercussions, some serious and life threatening. Severe opposition from members of other faiths and within caste groups posed huge challenges for Indian Christians. Many of these conflicts still exist. Anyone who decides to become a Christian leaving other native faiths loses his/her caste status and is pushed into lower class.
However, despite these hurdles, Christianity continues to grow in India. Congregational differences have widened over the years and there are several denominations of Christians in India. Protestants, Roman Catholics, Methodists, Lutherans, Anglicans and Pentecostal believers are found in India.
Indian Christians have faithfully taken the mantle from foreign missionaries and have stood up as shining witnesses of their faith. Some notable Indian Christians like Pandita Ramabai, Sadhu Sundar Singh, Bishop Azariah and a growing list with many others have made significant contributions in spreading the love of Christ in India.
Interestingly, Christianity has not uniformly spread across India. Some states in North Eastern India have more than 90% Christians whereas other states show very meager Christian representation. In spite of this, Christianity is the third most popularly practiced religion in India. A vast majority of Indian Christians are Catholics. Among others, Protestant Christians governed by the Church of North India and the Church of South India form a vast portion of Indian Christians closely followed by other denominations.
Churches belonging to different time periods and architectural patterns can be seen in India. Some of the Churches have been in existence for more than 200 years while others have a recent history. Newly formed Churches in India are built on the pattern of auditoriums with huge seating facilities without traditional elements found in ancient Churches.
Some of the renowned Churches in India include,
• San Thome Basilica, Chennai
• St. Andrews Kirk, Chennai
• The Cathedral Church of Redemption, New Delhi
• Church of St. Francis of Assisi, Goa
• St. Francis Church, Kochi
• Basilica of Our Lady of Good Health, Velankanni, Tamil Nadu
Worship traditions are diverse and vary in each denomination. Many worship traditions have taken an Indian note and incorporate elements of Indian Culture. Indian Christian weddings and festivals also display a heavy dependence on traditional Indian practices.
India practices religious freedom and so new religions like Christianity have been accepted. However Indian Christians in some parts of the country face severe persecution. Christianity is looked upon as a threat to local beliefs and Indian Christians often pay a hefty price for their faith.
Here are two books for further reading on the subject.
Buy Christianity in India: Two Thousand Years of Faith from Flipkart.com
Buy In the Shadow of the Mahatma: Bishop V. S. Azariah and the Travails of Christianity in British India (Studies in the History of Christian Missions) from Amazon.com