Indians have a tendency to idolize leaders. We idolize our film stars, politicians and even people who have authority over us like our bosses. Maybe it is because of the culture that worships countless gods which make people revere anybody with power or authority. Or maybe it is because we do not value the individual adequately and so we tend to place undue respect on leaders. It is therefore not surprising that we have innumerable gurus. Unfortunately Christians in India often venerate their leaders and some even treat them as gurus, although this was explicitly forbidden by our master Jesus Christ who said “None of you should be called a teacher. You have only one teacher, and all of you are like brothers and sisters. None of you should be called the leader. The Messiah is your only leader.” Matthew 23:8 & 10 (CEV).
The Laymen’s Evangelical Fellowship seems to be guilty of venerating their leader, Joshua Daniel who passed away recently. Whatever he taught was blindly accepted by them even if it was contrary to the Bible or he himself did not practise it. Contrary to Biblical principles, he had total control of the Laymen’s Evangelical Fellowship. People gave up their independence and made him their master. People wanted him to choose brides and grooms, suggest courses to study and even where to go on a honeymoon! Sadly he was also very happy to oblige. Members not paying adequate respect to him were not respected and even slandered publicly. It is quite possible that he wanted the members to obey him in all aspects of life and thus the vicious cycle of people relinquishing their authority and his usurping of authority started. His control over the church was so great that nobody was able to get him to displace his trusted but errant leaders. Even his own daughter, unable to influence her parents, repeatedly writes stinging comments on Facebook against these leaders. Mr. Joshua Daniel often preached contrary to what he lived. He preached regularly against going abroad but strangely he and his family has lived for decades overseas. He preached against owing a car but he owned multiple luxury cars that were rarely used. Somehow people were blind to the fact that he also was a mortal and he had flaws. Maybe the flaws were skillfully covered up and the gullible members did not care to look deeper! After a prolonged sickness, he recently passed away. This has come as a shock to many as some never expected him to die and wanted him to live till Jesus returned! It is true that he has worked tirelessly and preached all over the world and lives were touched and changed. But in the kingdom of God, we are all servants to one master. Some do their task better than others but the glory goes to God alone.
This problem doesn’t seem to be unique to Indians. Even in St. Paul’s days the Corinthians were showing similar tendencies and he had to rebuke them: “Some of you say that you follow me, and others claim to follow Apollos. Isn’t that how ordinary people behave? Apollos and I are merely servants who helped you to have faith. It was the Lord who made it all happen.” 1 Corinthians 3:4,5 (CEV) Thankfully the early Christian seem to have accepted Paul’s exhortation and not made gurus of their leaders. There is no precise location for the sepulchre where Jesus’ body was laid temporarily or specific burial place for many apostles. This shows that the people probably were more interested in their faith rather than mortal people. Leaders can sin and make mistakes in their teaching. When people start venerating leaders, these errors are ignored or even get accepted as truth. Instead of honouring God, people end up honouring man. The praise and adoration from the people can get leaders puffed up, that they think that they are invincible and can do anything and nobody can question them. As more and more people start venerating a leader, the crowd mentality enters. Those who oppose this veneration are sidelined and it becomes the norm to be subservient to the leader. The leader gets more power and less opposition. But thankfully there is an end to all of this madness. Often some serious sin is exposed and the leader looses respect. If not death will generally bring veneration to an end. Sometimes the veneration is passed on to the son (as in the case of Mr. Joshua Daniel, who received the respect given to the father) but rarely does this go on for more than 2 generations.
I urge my fellow Indian Christian to stop making gurus out of Christian leaders but keep “looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2a). Study the scripture as I have implored in earlier posts so that you will get your priorities correct.