10 Issues for Discipling Hindu Background Believers Today

Christians must be willing to walk fellow believers who grew up in different religious contexts through the challenges posed by their upbringing.

Making disciples of all nations and teaching them to observe all Jesus commanded (Matt. 28:18–20) means disciple-makers must engage new believers within their cultural and religious context.

In this blog post I want to share ten issues I have personally encountered when discipling new Hindu background believers cross-culturally.

1. Exclusivity of Christ

Hindus worship many gods, so the belief that salvation is in Christ alone by faith alone does not come easily. Most Hindus enjoy and listen attentively to the stories of Jesus and are happy to pray to Jesus as well. Praying to Jesus does not automatically mean Hindus are wholeheartedly or singularly devoted to Jesus as the only Savior. New believers must see the beauty of Christ and learn to leave all else behind (Matt 13:44–46).

2. Baptism

Many Hindus verbally profess Christ but don’t want to immediately, publicly identify with Christ and his church. Baptism signifies a formal break from their religion from the perspective of the Hindu community. Baptism comes with a social cost, so many learning about Christ continue to meet regularly for worship but delay this important step of obedience

3. Persecution

New believers must be ready and willing to suffer when (normally, not if) persecution comes. Local churches must help and encourage these new believers as they become family and their critical support system.

4. Health and Wealth Gospel Influence

The health and wealth gospel is pervasive in South Asia and these issues must be addressed. Many people come for physical healing and are “with” Jesus because of a miracle, but have little knowledge of the gospel, and sometimes no salvation testimony (John 6:24–30; 60–66).

5. Understanding Sin and Repentance

Hindus often see problems as primarily physical, relational, educational, and financial, but not spiritual. Often those interested in the gospel are looking for a helper and life guide, but not a Savior. The idea of sinning against a holy and righteous God is absent in Hinduism.

6. Christianity is seen as a Foreign Religion

Many South Asians believe that “to be Indian, is to be Hindu,” so to be a Christian is to deny and reject your country and family. Most would have no problem with foreigners worshipping Jesus, in fact, they may applaud because Jesus is “their god.” Hindus in polite conversation may quip that “God is one and all religion is the same.” That amiable attitude regularly changes when a family or community member wants to become a Christian.

7. Family Discipleship: Marriage and Parents

How the Bible describes marriage and honoring parents is quite different than Hindu cultural expectations. Hindu converts must deal with honoring their parents while often depending on their parents to provide food and shelter. These complex domestic arrangements put intense pressure on new believers to submit to their parents wishes. New believers must learn to avoid worshiping idols at Hindu festivals without alienating their families.

8. Fear, Power, and Spiritual Warfare

Hindus commonly wear amulets, bracelets, and ropes on their arms and sometimes their waists. Women wear bangles on their wrist and die on their forehead. Many times, these have spiritual significance and are believed to provide protection from evil. New believers must be taught and encouraged to apply Scripture to these cultural and religious practices. New believers may not immediately recognize the danger of these practice and may be pressured by relatives to continue wearing these charms.

9. Issues of Caste

New disciples will have to rethink how they deal with expectations, norms, and their identity as primarily children of God and not members of a caste. Disciples must understand they are members of the body of Christ and fellow sibling of people from every caste. Disciples must be encouraged to cross caste lines to reach and evangelize those who have never heard the gospel.

10. Sanctity of all life

Many believers have never been taught that life begins at conception and that abortion is wrong. These are issues that rarely receive attention or moral questioning in Hindu contexts. I know many women are amazed to learn of the development of children in the womb and the importance of protecting life before birth.

This list of ten issues in Hindu discipleship is certainly not exhaustive, but does provide an insight into areas of ministry that may not be obvious on the surface. Teaching people from every nation to observe all things means that Scripture brings fresh concerns to every culture and answers the unique questions of every culture.

Joshua Bowman

Joshua Bowman holds a Ph.D. in Missiology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and is Assistant Professor of Missions and Theology at Cedarville University. He served with his wife Amy and their four children in Zambia and South Asia with the International Mission Board for seventeen years as a church planter, church strengthening strategist, and team leader.