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India worship conference draws over 2,000 people

HYDERABAD, India (BP)–Traditional forms of worship were affirmed and newer styles and indigenous features of worship were encouraged when more than 2,000 people attended the first-ever Baptist in Worship Conference in Asia held in Hyderabad, India, at the Hyderabad Baptist Church, Oct. 5-8. The conference was sponsored by the Baptist World Alliance and the Asian Baptist Federation.

Through lectures, workshops and variety in worship, participants embraced and celebrated their diversity even as they challenged stereotypes of worship styles, such as those handed down to them from their missionary forebears.

Modeled after the initial Baptist Conference on Worship held by the BWA in 1998 in Berlin, the India conference featured the same five styles that were first presented there; seeker sensitive, Holy Spirit renewal (or charismatic), creative/traditional, reflective/meditative, and modern contemporary.

Wati Aier, principal of the Oriental Theological College in Dimapur, Nagaland, spoke on worship and the Trinity, emphasizing the need for worship to be anchored in God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

“Worship,” Aier said, “is a gift of participating through the Holy Spirit in the Son’s fellowship with the Father. Since the Son has offered himself on the cross to the Father once and for all for humanity, the worshiping people of God participate in union with Christ.”

“By his Spirit, the Son draws men and women to participate both in his life of worship and fellowship with the Father and his mission to the world,” Aier said.

Speaking on prayer, J.M. Franklin, president of India’s Ramapatnam Baptist Theological Seminary, told participants, “We are more in need of prayer than preaching.

“God can send revival without singing, or even preaching,” Franklin said, “but never without sincere prayer. This is the one indispensable condition for spiritual blessing.”

Nalla Thomas, senior pastor of the Centenary Baptist Church in Secunderabad, India, described how family worship can be difficult for Indian families if the entire family does not know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. He pointed out that in Asia especially, family life, customs and traditions rule everything. “If one or two people in a non-Christian family accept the Lord, then they will have a problem for family worship,” Thomas said.

However, Thomas said if families are able to have family worship, it is one of the most powerful tools for witnessing in India.

“Unlike in Western countries,” he said, “Christian families are spread among non-Christians, so all of the activities that go on in the Christian family will be observed by non-Christians and can influence non-Christian families. This is especially true with the singing of the bhajanas [devotional songs], meditating on God’s Word and praying especially for the neighbors. This is all the more powerful if the Christian families show concern for the non-Christian neighbors.”

One of the newest forms of worship introduced to Indian Baptists was seeker-sensitive worship led by Alan D. Stanford, pastor of the Leesburg Baptist Church in Virginia. He told participants that effective evangelistic worship today is plugged into four sources of power: technology, local culture, people’s perceived needs and the Holy Spirit, all features of this model.

Stanford said that worship is a powerful evangelistic tool, especially when it is designed to meet the needs of people in the audience. He urged Indian pastors to make their worship relevant to their context and culture, celebrate in their worship and lead people into a sense of intimacy with God.

On a topic of particular significance to Indian Baptists because of the religious situation in which they now find themselves, Denton Lotz, BWA general secretary, spoke on “Christian Worship and Religious Needs.”

“Worship is a very important dimension of religious freedom,” Lotz said. Mindful of the anti-missionary bias now spreading throughout India, Lotz pointed out that every religion has gained followers by being a missionary religion.

Almost two years after the burning of the Australian Baptist missionary Graham Staines, Hindu national groups are calling for foreign missionaries to be banned from their country. In key news articles, some of these nationalist leaders have challenged the constitution of India that declares it a secular state.

“Why are these foreign churches allowed to carry on their activities on our own soil?” one leader is quoted as saying.

While India has more than 1 billion people and is overwhelmingly Hindu, the Christian population is just over 2 percent. There are more than 1.5 million Baptists throughout India.

Using the story from the biblical book of Daniel, Lotz said that like the three men thrown into the fiery furnace, people continue to be persecuted because of their faith in Jesus Christ and rulers and authorities often move to prohibit religious expressions other than theirs and pass laws that restrict worship.

“Daniel,” Lotz said, “is an example of someone who used worship as a protest.” Lotz cited modern-day examples: “Hitler and the Nazis opposed the church and eventually were defeated. Communism in the USSR for many years persecuted the church and eventually collapsed.”

Lotz said that the Book of Daniel is an encouragement to those who are persecuted for their worship because it points to the end of history “when God will rule and be all in all.”

Baptists must emphasize religious freedom for all and especially the right of each religion to propagate its faith, Lotz said

Worship that embraced many of the cultures of India was interwoven in the worship services of the conference. Mizo and Naga Baptists dressed in their distinctive national dress performed both national music as well as international music. Telugu, Bengali and other regional expressions of dancing and drama were offered at the conference.

Tony Cupit, BWA director of study and research who led the conference, said, “New themes were introduced, new directions in worship, new ideas, new methods. Yet all the essentials were stressed, the Bible, preaching, prayer, hymnody, evangelism and pastoral care.”

Bob and Nancy Scheffey from Leesburg Baptist Church who participated in the seeker sensitive worship said the conference served to unite Indian Baptists as well as expose them to the moving of God’s Spirit in the unique worship styles indigenous to each region. “We sense that holding the event in India was a great and much-needed encouragement to them — a way of saying we have heard of your struggles and faithfulness and we want to uphold and undergird you in Christ,” Scheffey said.

P.C. Muanthanga from Shillong, North East India, who led the section on charismatic worship said, “I went back with many blessings from this conference. Already I have shared with local church leaders about this exciting meeting.”

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  • Wendy Ryan