E. Stanley Jones was a Methodist missionary in India for 50 years! Jones had relationships with leaders from all the major religions of India – Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, etc. He wrote an incredible book about Gandhi after the death of the Hindu leader. Mahatma Gandi: An Interpretation was published in 1948. In chapter 5, “Gandhi and the Christian Faith,” Jones records Gandhi’s answer to a vital and still relevant question for our time and place: “What would you, as one of the Hindu leaders of India, tell me, a Christian, to do in order to make Christianity naturalized in India (not a foreign thing)?” Gandhi’s response was brilliant and concise. Here are his answers and some of E.S. Jones comments on them:
“First, I would suggest that all of you Christians, missionaries and all, must begin to live more like Jesus Christ. Second, practice your religion without adulterating it or toning it down. Third, emphasize love and make it your working force, for love is central in Christianity. Fourth, study the non-Christian religions more sympathetically to find the good that is within them, in order to have a more sympathetic approach to the people.”
Jones makes these powerful comments:The first item was quite enough! It is possible to serve Christ and not follow him – not follow him in Christlike living.
But he said a more remarkable thing in the second: “Practice without adulterating it or toning it down.” We don’t reject it; we reduce it – reduce it to a creed to be believed, or an emotion to be felt, or an institution to which we are to belong, or to a ceremony or rite to be undergone – anything but a life to be lived! “We have inoculated the world with a mild form of Christianity so that it is now proof against the real thing.” Gandhi doesn’t point to a wrong or weakness in the thing itself; the weakness or wrong is in our practice….There is no demand to change Jesus; the demand is to change ourselves to make us more like Jesus. When I go to India, I have to apologize for many things: for Western civilization, for it is only partly Christianized; for the Christian Church, for it too is only partly Christianized; for myself, for I am only a Christian-in-the-making. But when it comes to Jesus, there are no apologies on my lips, for there are none in my heart. He is our one perfect possession. All else needs to be modified. He alone needs no change. He needs to be followed implicitly.
Then Gandhi put his finger on a third necessity: “Emphasize love, and make it your working force, for love is central in Christianity.” Note here that Gandhi asked us to organize love instead of organizing force for he said that love force is stronger than physical force. And he demonstrated that it is.
Fourth, “Study the non-Christian religions more sympathetically to find the good that is within them in order to have a more sympathetic approach to the people.” … Jesus “came not to destroy but to fulfill,” and so every truth found anywhere was a truth that pointed to him who is the Truth. We could therefore rejoice in finding truth anywhere, knowing that it was God-implanted and would be God-fulfilled in Christ…The end is not eclecticism nor syncretism, but life assimilating. We can be sympathetic to truth found anywhere and be true to our own gospel.
…religions are man’s search for God; the Gospel is God’s search for man. One is from man up to God, and the other is from God down to man.
These words from Jones and Gandhi are a graduate school education in how to embrace and share Jesus’ Gospel in a complex world. May we learn and practice well!