Gospel And Cultures: A Subaltern reading of the history of Christian Mission in India
review of the modern missionary movement which became dominant in India in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is an important
component of the current ecumenical discussions on gospel and culture. What was its impact? Did it play a constructive or
a negative role in Christian witness in India and in ‘nation building’? What are their lessons for today? These
are among the several questions being raised today.
the outset itself, it must be clarified that any generalization of the impact of the missionary movement would be too simplistic
and inaccurate. The rich contributions of the missionaries, especially in the areas
of health care, education and social upliftment has been widely acknowledged, not only within the church, but even by the
secular society and the state. There are, however, criticisms too. One major criticism, especially voiced today, is the way
in which the missionaries imposed “Western culture” as an integral part of the Christian faith, grossly undermining
the cultures of non-western societies. It has also been pointed out that the missionaries often colluded with the colonial
powers to have dominion over the local people. One historian notes that ‘colonizers and missionaries sailed on the same
boat; gun and gospel were carried on the same ship’. This may be an extreme view, but there is a fair amount of consensus
among church historians and ecumenical theologians, especially of the third world, that the missionaries in general supported
the process of colonization of the non-western world.
is great support for the understanding that the Christian mission and colonialism, in most cases, went side by side. The process
of colonization is often seen as ‘the colonization of non-Christian peoples by Christian nations.’ David Bosch feels that Europe’s colonization of the peoples
of Africa, Asia and the Americas has roots that go deep into the Christian history:
In fact, it can be argued that the roots of the later
conquistadors and the entire phenomenon of the European colonization of the rest of the world lay in the medieval teachings
of just war (Kahl 1978:66). On closer inspection one might even say that colonization was the ‘modern continuation of
the crusades'’(Hoekendijk 1967a:317 - my translation). In the words of M. W. Baldwin (quoted by Fisher 1982:23), ‘Although
Crusade projects failed, the Crusade mentality persisted
…There is undoubtedly an organic link between western colonial
expansion and the notion of manifest destiny…(p. 298) also, …since
the sixteenth century, if one said “mission”, one in a sense also said ‘colonialism’. Modern mission
originated in the context of modern Western colonialism (cf Rutti 1974:301)
idea of Christendom characterized by the union of colonization and Christianization was manifested in the mission of the church
from the time of Constantine till about the middle ages. The alliance between the church and state remained more or less intact
during this phase. With the Enlightenment period, however history began to change. ‘Henceforth, theocratic dreams would
belong to the past; colonial and ecclesial expansion were to be two separate things’.
affirmation of faith in humankind characterized by Enlightenment however was not the only factor that undermined the symbiotic
relationship between church and state; the great evangelical awakening too played its role. Under the pietistic and puritan
notions of ‘all have sinned and come short of the glory of God’, the
distinction between ‘home’ mission and ‘overseas’ mission disappeared rapidly. Salvation was understood
primarily in terms of the salvation of souls; societal changes were only of secondary concern. The spiritual and material
realms had parted company. Christendom was breaking up.
Curiously enough, in the nineteenth century colonial expansion
would once again acquire religious overtones and also be intimately linked with mission! There came a time when the authorities
enthusiastically welcomed missionaries into their territories. From the point of view of the colonial government the missionaries
were indeed ideal allies. They lived among the local people, knew their languages, and understood their customs. Who was better
equipped than these missionaries to persuade unwilling “natives” to submit to the pax Britannica or the pax Teutonica?…As it became customary for
British missionaries to labor in British colonies, French missionaries in French colonies, and German missionaries in German
colonies, it was only natural for these missionaries to be regarded as both vanguard and rearguard for the colonial powers
(cf Glazik 1979:150). Whether they liked it or not, the missionaries became pioneers of Western imperialistic expansion.
to more recent history, the ecumenical and third world theological thinking during the past few decades too shared this understanding
of the nexus between the missionary movement and colonial expansion. The focus of the third world theologians however is on
the ‘devastating effects’ of the missionary movement on indigenous peoples and cultures. A booklet titled ‘Gospel and Culture: An Ongoing Discussion within the Ecumenical Movement’, published a few years
ago by the World Council of Churches, reviews ‘how the gospel and culture discussions have been conducted within the
history of the modern ecumenical movement, in order to uncover the different facets of the debates and the presuppositions
that have governed the discussion’. The ecumenical
discussions on gospel and culture focus on a critique of the missionary impact on the non-western world, mainly from the perspective
of the indigenous people.
Several decades after the end of colonialism, churches that have
emerged from Western missionary activities are beginning to look at what they have inherited as the gospel message and “Christian”
culture. And they have a fuller awareness of the need to own the gospel anew in their own culture and in an idiom that makes
sense to their own people. There is a new self-confidence on the part of those who do theology from the perspectives of women
and the marginalized in society. At the same time, there is a growing impatience with those who deny the legitimacy of this
ecumenical movement acknowledges the role of ‘individual missionaries’ who worked selflessly for the upliftment
of people. There were also missionaries who tried to work out the meaning of the gospel in a specific culture. These were
however the exceptions. The mainline ecumenical thinking affirms that the missionary enterprise as a whole undermined the
local cultures of the non-western world. One of the characteristics of the new self-confidence of the emerging churches in
the third world was the rejection of the missionary pattern. The feelings in the churches were so strong that the General
Secretary of the National Christian Council of India hinted at the World Mission Conference in Tambaram (Chennai) in 1938
that it was perhaps time for the missionaries to “go home” and leave the task to local churches. Nacpil from the Philippines too, called on the mission societies
to leave the churches in Asia alone for some time so that they could discover themselves and their ministry to the people
and cultures of Asia. The ecumenical thinking on the impact of the missionary era is
clear: it was one of insensitivity to and arrogance in the context of mission; it undermined indigenous people and their cultures;
the churches that were planted by the missions were potted plants, remote controlled from the West.
good portion of the current theological thinking on mission too promotes the concept that the missionary movement was little
more than ‘imperialism at prayer’. In this framework, the movement was the ‘outcome of the eighteenth century
evangelical revival which gave birth to the Evangelical Party in the Church of England and to the multiplication of the new
denominations of Wesleyan and Calvinistic Methodism, an integral part of the colonial political structure and the accumulated
result of western cultural practice’. It was the nexus of political power, cultural manifestations and economic interests
that guided both the colonial powers as well as missionaries in the non-western world. In Colonialism
and Christian Missions: Post-colonial Reflections, one of the books published on this topic, Jacob Dharmaraj raises the
question whether a good part of the missionary idea and practice in India was not controlled by the colonial climate of thought
which did not belong to the essence of the gospel. In his own words,
I see the domineering European political structure in India on
the one hand, and the colonial evangelistic theology on the other, as a single constitutive reality. Attempting to separate
colonial ideology from missionary theology, or colonial hermeneutics from a mission model and its epistemological methodologies
in evangelistic action, would be futile. Since this kind of functional relationship between colonialism and mission spanned
the nineteenth century, mission and colonialism in effect favored and facilitated each other and helped carry out certain
ideologies over others.
is thus obvious that there is a fair amount of consensus among church historians and ecumenical theologians that the missionary
movement in general aided and abetted the process of cultural and political conquest of the non-western world during the last
the given history and theology however, there is a subaltern perspective on history. It is to this aspect that we will presently
the outset itself, it must be clarified that the current ecumenical and theological thinking on mission and colonialism -
especially the role of the missionary era - is influenced heavily by the thinking
and composition of the indigenous leadership that emerged in the third world churches towards the twilight of the colonial
period. In most parts, the transition was from the missionary leadership to local hands. Even after the formal transition
of leadership to indigenous hands, the missionary presence lingered on in a strong way, in the form of the church structures,
financial support and most of all, the cultural identification of the church as an appendix of western culture and religion.
As such, several questions remain: Why was there no serious exploration of the questions of power and hegemony, especially
in the context of the conflicting cultures and religions that the missions met with in the non-Western world? Why was it that
while some of the indigenous cultures and religions were accepted in the name of ‘inculturation’ and ‘indigenisation’,
several others were rejected as ‘pagan and heathen’? Was there a standard yardstick for such acceptance and rejection?
What was the position in this hierarchy of cultures, of the sections that eventually inherited the missionary mantle?
of these questions are important. A subaltern perspective would insist that the complexities of the Indian situation have
not been sufficiently appreciated in easy generalizations on ‘mission and colonialism’ (The term ‘subaltern’
is understood and taken to be ‘the inferior and less important consciousness of the people’ on the fringe who
are socially, economically, culturally and politically marginalised. There is a dominant national consciousness in India.
It is called the ‘mainstream’ of the nation, though it may not represent the consciousness of the majority of
the people. Beside and behind the dominant consciousness, there is the subaltern consciousness ). While “the collusion of the missionaries with the colonial
powers and the insensitivity of the missions to the indigenous people and culture” was a common approach in ecumenical
historiography till recent years, a careful look at the history of the missionary movement, at least in contexts such as India,
would reveal that the relationship of the missionaries with the colonial powers was often far from being cordial. Analyzing
the Indian situation, David Bosch notes that the interest of the colonial powers in India was primarily mercantile and thus
it clashed with the concerns of the missionaries. ‘.…the Dutch, British and Danish trading companies, at least
in the early stages, usually refused to allow any missionaries in the territories under their jurisdiction since they saw
them as a threat to their commercial interests’.
Sanneh’s analysis of the impact of the missionary period on indigenous people is more comprehensive. He questions the widely prevalent view that mission was little more than “imperialism at prayer”.
Apart from missionaries being out of tune with the commercial interests of the western political powers, Sanneh says that
colonialists also felt that missionary work might interfere with the traditional lifestyle and practices of the indigenous
people. Taking India as a case, he traces the problematic relationship William
Carey had with the British colonial authorities:
Carey had earlier experienced difficulties with the East India
Company authorities in Calcutta. After he moved to Serampore, these difficulties did not abate. There, between 1806 and 1812,
attempts were made to restrict the work and to halt all missionary endeavors in India. The authorities argued that mission
was a threat to British rule by inciting a spirit of religious animosity, which, by some explicit chemistry, undermined the
basis of colonial rule.
main focus of Sanneh’s monumental critique of mission and colonialism is the recognition that translation and vernacular
renewal played a crucial role in not only the spread of Christian mission in the non-western world but in the liberation of
the indigenous people as well. This factor has also been recognized in India. Analyzing the work of William Carey and the
Serampore Mission which he led, in relation to the Bengali cultural renaissance of the 19th century - especially
at the development of the Bengali language - M. M. Thomas says, ‘They were Vernacularists in the 19th century
debate about the medium of education, unlike the Anglicists who suppressed the local cultures and languages and missed “a
rare opportunity of constructive combination” of eastern and western cultures through dialogue. Such suppression, Thomas
notes, had devastating effects on the future course of the country, and holds a lesson for the church’s mission today:
Perhaps a good deal of the religious fundamentalism and communal
passion which bedevil public life even today may be a continuation of the people’s revolt against the earlier neglect
of their traditional cultures. In contrast, the Serampore Mission emphasized vernacular languages as the sphere of intense
cultural interaction between western culture, Christian religion and India…In this light, I am afraid that the Indian
church’s concentration on English medium education, today as in the past, may lead to the church’s continued neglect
of the renaissance of the national languages and cultures necessary for building India as a community of diverse cultures.
commercial interests of the colonial powers in promoting Western languages thus clashed with the focus of the missionaries
in translation which made mother tongues the centerpiece of missions. The continuation of the missionary era however went
far beyond mere evangelisation and the numerical growth of the church, though those admittedly were their chief objectives.
Translation and vernacular renewal had a profound impact on the cultural and social renaissance of the indigenous people.
The sections that had ‘no place’ so far found a place under the sun. Their awakening to a new identity and self-dignity
enabled the indigenous people to struggle against all forms of oppression. Far from being ‘the running dogs of colonialism’
as some sections of the current thinking holds, the new converts were at the vanguard in resisting colonialism. As Sanneh
Missionary translation was instrumental in the emergence of indigenous
resistance to colonialism. Local Christians acquired from the vernacular translations confidence in the indigenous cause.
While the colonial system represented a worldwide economic and military order, mission represented vindication for the vernacular.
Local Christians apprehended the significance of world events, and as such the purposes of God, through the familiar medium
of mother tongues, with subject peoples able to respond to colonial events in the light of vernacular understanding.
The primary context for Sanneh is Africa. In India, the role of the missionaries, the new converts and the indigenous
people in resisting colonialism has gone largely undocumented, partly due to the class-caste nature of the secular and theological
thinking here. During the several decades of the transitory period from western colonialism to national independence in India,
the paramount question in the church and theological forums was, to what extend can the Indian church be truly indigenous.
That the leadership that was posed to replace the missionaries was an upper caste, elite, male leadership was often forgotten.
It was also forgotten that the primary arena of the missionary activity - the Dalits and the adivasis, the truly indigenous
people - were still nowhere in the picture. The awareness that Dalits and the adivasis too have perspectives on mission and
theology, is a recent one. The emerging Dalit, adivasi/ tribal and womanist theologies today question the established notions
of Christian mission in India.
criticisms have enormous relevance in today’s context of neo-colonialism characterized by the process of globalisation
and the universalisation of the ‘American way of life’. The mission enterprise had several dimensions to it. While
rejecting the history that undermines the role of the missionaries in the cultural rejuvenation and the awakening of the indigenous
people, there is the need to critically approach the missionary era also. Like all the other phases in the history of the
church, the mission era too will be scrutinized closely and judged for its contributions and shortcomings. Such a historical
process, though inevitable, cannot however be based on given history alone. Historians and theologians, like others, are children
of their times. As history extends to accommodate the subaltern people also, mission perspectives too change. In the Indian
context, the mission era would be reviewed not only from the perspective of the elite, upper caste and male nationalist, but
from the perspective of the Dalits, adivasis/ tribals and women too.
of the characteristics of the modern period is the vigorous awakening among the subaltern sections in India. While suffering
for millennia from the baneful consequences of the myth of pollution, they have been marginalised to such an extent that economic
deprivation, and social discrimination with religious sanction were heaped on them. Inspired by creative leaders conscious
of their own experiences and above all of their power, the people are now seen to be asserting themselves as subjects and
agents of their own deliverance. In the church too, the subaltern perspective of mission is characterized by a re-reading
of the church history and the missionary movement. To cite just one instance, in the context of the St. Thomas Christians
of Kerala, a major landmark was the ‘Synod of Diamper’ which was convened in 1599 by the Portuguese Archbishop
Menezes. Following the Synod, the Kerala church was brought under the control of the Roman Catholic Church. There was stiff
resistance among the St. Thomas Christians to the Roman control and in 1653, an oath was taken by a section to be free. The
mainline church history is that this incident, popularly known as the koonan cross
oath, marked the liberation of the church from Western domination.
the tools of modern analysis, the Dalits however are today challenging this part of the church history. The Dalit perspective
of history is diametrically opposed to that of the St. Thomas Christians. According to Vijaya Kumar, the Synod of Diamper
marked the starting point of an anti-caste movement within the church in India. Before the arrival of the Portuguese, St.
Thomas Christians were believed to have followed, like upper caste Hindus, a caste system and norms of untouchability, and
also resorted to oppression of the lower castes. In this context, Menezes attempted to purge St. Thomas Christians in Kerala
of their Hindu values and to make them “real Christians”. His attempts were ‘revolutionary’ since
among other things, he opposed untouchability and wanted equal rights on family property to be granted to women. These progressive
steps however were short lived as the church reverted to its traditional patterns.
historians today ask whether the resistance of the St. Thomas Christians was to ‘foreign control’ or to making
the church open to people of all castes. It is significant that, in order to extricate themselves from the hands of the Jesuits,
the Thomas Christians sought allegiance to the Patriarch of Antioch, under whose dominion, the St. Thomas Christians continued
for several more centuries, as “high caste” churches. That the fellowship in Christ did not enable the Kerala
church to transcend caste barriers has been underscored by several other historians too. According to Lesslie Brown,
..it was in consequence of the place which the community occupied
and accepted in the Hindu caste-structure of Kerala that they observed untouchability with respect to the outcast groups like
the Hindus and ‘never attempted to bring their non-christian neighbors to the knowledge of Christ and so into the Christian
is also significant that several mainline church historians agree with the Dalit re-reading of history. According to Mathias
Mundadan, it was the coming of the Portuguese and the first contact with them in the early sixteenth century which helped
the ancient Christians of India to break through their traditional pattern of life and enter into a meaningful communication
with world Christianity. The initial encounter with western Christianity set the pace for their history in succeeding decades
and centuries. The most significant change perhaps was that this encounter with the foreigners compelled the Indian church to redefine
its cultural and religious identity as a caste based community.
caste exclusiveness, the practice of untouchability and the lack of Christian mission, all seemed to have gone together in
the history of early Christianity in India. The rigidity of caste in the Syrian Christian church was first challenged by the
western missionaries - the Portuguese in the 16th century and the Protestant missionaries of the Church Missionary
Society (CMS) and the London Missionary Society (LMS) in the 18th century. The missionaries combined their evangelistic
mission with radical social action that sought to liberate the marginalised people. That the given history chose to disregard
this phase perhaps indicates the caste/ class orientation of the historians themselves. As the subaltern people attempt to
find their place under the sun, such re-reading of history has an important place.
marginalsied section, the tribals too are today contributing greatly to a rethinking on the history of Christian mission in
the country. Tribals are among the indigenous people of the country and are concentrated in North East India, Jharkhand and Chattisgarh. By and large, the tribals, all through history, were marginalised
by the mainstream. Though Christianity has been indigenous to India for almost two thousand years, the tribal Christians affirm
that it was the western missionaries that brought them the faith. Christianisation in the tribal areas was accompanied by
radical social changes too, especially with regard to literacy and translation. Nirmal Minz, analyzing the context of Jharkhand says, ‘missionaries gave
a written form to Mundari and Kudux
languages and the Bible or portions of the Bible were translated into these languages. Dr. Alfred Nottrot translated the Bible
in Mundri by the year 1895. Fr. Ferdinand Hahn translated the gospels into Kudux
language. Education and medical ministries were part and parcel of mission and evangelism’.
with vernacular renewal and translation, the missionaries concentrated on basic social changes too. India being primarily
an agrarian society, the ownership of land is central to radical social transformation. Historically, it was the ‘landlords’
who owned vast stretches of land and the marginalised people in most cases toiled as bonded labourers on the land. The ownership
of land meant wealth and security in traditional India and the landless tribals were
entirely at the mercy of the exploitative landlords. That the missionaries realized this social situation as part of their
concern is evident from an instance cited by Minz:
The secret of attraction was that Fr. Lievens took up the land
question of Adivasis (tribals) and fought on their behalf and won cases in their
favor in the Court. He worked for the liberation of the Adivasis from exploitation
and oppression by the Jamindars (land lords). To protect the land meant literal
protection of the Adivasis. He accepted dealing with land issues and other social
justice activities as an integral part of mission and evangelism in his ministry to the people.
short, the subaltern perspective today questions the hegemonic reading of the given history of Christianity in India. The
contribution of the missionaries in translation, vernacular renewal and social change is a historical reality. Perhaps their
most significant contribution in India was to break the spiritual sanction of caste. The spiritual fervor created by western
education and the renaissance of traditional religions, both closely associated with the missionary period, contributed, perhaps
more than any other factor, to social reform and the consequent awakening and humanization of the marginalised communities.
acknowledging the rich contributions of the missionaries, it is also significant that the subaltern theologians do not consider
the missionary era as an unmixed blessing. The general approach of the missionary movement was to lead people to renounce
their respective religious affiliations and to become Christian. It was assumed that Christianity which had taken shape in
the West was normative. Plurality is to be seen as God’s gift and the Christian
mission needs to respect the religious integrity and faith commitment of the people of other religions. The approach of the
missionaries was often perceived as being insensitive to the local cultures. Analyzing the theology of Arvind P. Nirmal, considered
as one of the pioneers of Dalit theology in India, J. Russell Chandran writes,
Nirmal’s theology does challenge us to abandon the traditional
missionary policy and call upon people of all faiths to believe in Jesus Christ and become disciples of Jesus, telling them
that when they believe in Christ they are not required to renounce their religious beliefs and practices unless they are contrary
to the mind of Christ, such as idolatry, superstitions, caste discrimination, corrupt practices etc. Christ came to fulfill,
not to destroy; to enrich not to impoverish. We certainly have the responsibility of helping the people of other faiths to
know Jesus Christ and become his disciples and to discern which practices are against Christ.
Devasahaym, another Dalit theologian, also question the missionary approach asking whether their strategy was ‘not only
in favor of upper caste people but was also biased against the low caste people and Dalits because it was feared that their
entry into the church would lead to ‘baptized heathenism’ and become a deterrent for upper caste people from embracing
Christian faith. It was generally when the upper castes and the Syrian Christians
rejected the missionaries that they turned to the Dalits and the other lower sections. ‘It was the Dalits, (not missionaries)
who took the initiative in mass movements and the missionaries were forced to respond to this Dalit initiative’.
criticisms are not entirely unfounded. In several respects, the identity and structures of the church established by the missionaries
in most parts of India to this day retain several aspects of the western church. The general image that the Indian Christians
are mere appendages of the western culture is too deep rooted to be easily changed. Did the missionary, directly or indirectly,
aid the process of colonialism in the country, as charged by several historians? Did they really favour the elite and the
upper castes over the marginalised people, as the subaltern theologians themselves charge? Did the initiative for liberation
come primarily from the missionaries or the subaltern people? There are conflicting accounts on all these, about the real
intentions of the missionaries. What is important however is not so much the intentions, as the consequence. As Lamin Sanneh
puts it, ‘Western missionaries provided some of the most important categories for understanding intercultural encounter,
whether or not such encounter conformed to their motives and intentions or in other ways was to their credit’.
distinction that Nirmal draws between ‘religious beliefs and practices’ in general and those that are ‘contrary
to the mind of Christ’ is significant. The role of the missionaries in undermining the religious beliefs and practices
of the country has been well documented, both in academic as well as church history. Equally important is the missionary perception
that a casteist society and Christianity can never go together. For long years, traditional Christianity in India sanctified
the tribal, caste, class and folk divisions without opening them up for transformation in the light of the New Humanity in
Christ. The first effective challenge to the caste - class hegemony
of both the Indian church and society was posed by the missionaries. That also partly accounts for the resistance to the missionaries,
especially when the country was at the threshold of independence. It is significant that the call to the missionaries to ‘go
back home’ came generally from the western - educated, upper caste, male, Indian Christian leadership. Their attempt
was to make the Indian church ‘truly Indian’. The criticism of the subaltern sections is that the church has been
trying to become ‘Indian’ in terms of the Sanskritic culture. While the desire of the Indian leaders for the church
to take local roots was truly a reflection of the anti-imperialistic climate of that period, the virtual exclusion of the
marginalised people from the leadership would raise questions such as, whose concerns were the church leaders really representing?
short, it is neither by endorsing entirely nor condemning the history of the missionary era, but from a critical review of
the period, especially from the perspective of the victims of history alone that a truly Indian Christian mission theology,
representative of all Indians, can evolve. A reappraisal of the history of Christian
mission in India in general and the role of the missionary era has enormous contemporary relevance. The socio-political context
of India today is surcharged with the rise of religious fundamentalism and attacks on minority communities. Hindu fundamentalist
forces, comprising largely of high castes and landlords, have shed their inhibitions and have assumed centre-stage roles in
re-defining the history of the land and threatening the very secular and social fabric of the country. The primary targets
of the fundamentalist forces are the Christian mission work, especially among the Dalits and tribals. The underlying assumption
is that the awakening of the marginalised sections will threaten the very social structure of the caste system and landlordism.
In such a context, a generalized call for ‘Indian Christian theology’ or an ‘Indian church’ would
be futile. As long as caste and the ownership of land continue as the fundamental realities of the Indian social structure,
the authenticity and relevance of the church and theology will be judged by their sensitivity to this situation.
In the pluralistic context of India, the search for relevant patterns of mission and evangelism in most cases
is also an encounter between the Christian faith and other faiths, raising questions of gospel and culture at the theological
level. The intrinsic relation between religion and culture also thus becomes central to our search for new paradigms of mission
The search for relevant patterns of Christian witness needs to be rooted firmly
within the complexities of the Indian Church, religions and cultures. There is also the need to raise questions about the
ongoing ecumenical discussions on ‘gospel and culture’ (often used
in the singular). There is the danger that the complexities (or plurality) of societies such as India will not be sufficiently
appreciated in these discussions. India is a land of diversities. Diversities in religion often tend to overlap with social
hierarchies. There is therefore the need to situate the ecumenical mission discussions on gospel and cultures in relation
to the Indian social realities. The perspective of the indigenous people that it
is the Christian faith, brought to them by the missionaries, that liberated them from their traditional bondage and exclusion,
is significant in this context. Such insights also call for a re-appraisal of the role of missions and missionaries, from
the perspective of the people. The debate on mission at this stage becomes elevated from the plane of a singular indigenous
‘culture’ versus western mission, to the complexities and hierarchies within the indigenous cultures and their diverse responses to Christian mission. It is equally important to distinguish the missions of the church in relation to the mission
of the church. As D. T. Niles put it, ‘There is no task greater right now than that of re-defining the missions of the
churches in terms of the mission of the church’. Indeed,
the subaltern perspective of mission becomes the Indian contribution (or corrective) to the current ecumenical discussions
on gospel and cultures.