The book “Christian Gurus: A Study of the Life and Work of Christian Charismatic Leaders in South India written by Dr. Werner Hoerschelmann was introduced in part 1. The empirical enquiry of the author into the phenomenon of the “Christian guru” was highlighted in part 2. In this 3rd part I have reproduced the section on the author’s enquiry of Joshua Daniel.
This is a very long post, probably the longest that I will ever post. The reproduction of this complete section un-edited on my site does not mean that I agree with every sentence but it is amazing how the author has made such excellent enquiries into the phenomenon of the “Christian guru” while many of us were blinded. I hope that blind eyes may be opened. Later I hope to give my formal comment on some important issues regarding the Laymen’s Evangelical Fellowship and Mr. Joshua Daniel highlighted by the author.
Joshua Daniel – second generation revivalist preacher
I. Physical surroundings (locality, buildings etc.)
The headquarters of the Laymen’s Evangelical Fellowship is housed in a building resembling a villa. The park-life grounds surrounding it are equally impressive. Joe Daniel himself describes the locality in which his headquarters is situated thus “The Fellowship headquarters at Madras is on Nungambakkam High Road. Big offices are on this road.” In the tranquil side-streets of this neighbourhood are the homes of people who generally have no financial worries. The parking lot in front of House No. 4 Nungambakkam High Road, with its two large foreign cars and at least two Indian cars does not really stand out in this residential area.
II. The ‘Christian guru’ as a person
It was not all that easy to gain access to Joe Daniel. His servants at first tried assiduously to keep the author from disturbing their master. Only after he managed to convince them that he had made an anointment in advance was he ushered in. The author’s companions were made to wait outside. Joe Daniel was sitting at a desk of enormous proportions in a pleasantly air-conditioned office.
Joe Daniel is 44 years old. His corporal bulk lends little credence to his claim that he used to be a first-class sportsman. One’s admiration for his excellent English, spoken with an affected British accent, is tempered somewhat by the slick, smooth quality of his voice. Everything about him — his speech, gestures, vocabulary — conforms to the stereotype, of the revivalist preacher. In the familiar stream of pious words, certain hints of Joe Daniel’s education, experience of the world surface from time to time. He sizes up his interviewer cannily. He would prefer to hold the interview without any witnesses – i.e., in the absence of the Indian theologian and steno typist accompanying the author. He must have his own reasons for keeping the other Indians waiting outside. It is not just that a conversation without witnesses would be less likely to be incriminating, and not only that one can perhaps be more open about certain issues with a foreigner than with a local person: Joe Daniel is obviously not too keen to show his Indian visitors into the luxuriously furnished room. On the other hand, he has no desire to sit in the heat of any of the other rooms of his building. When the author insisted on including his companions in the interview, Joe Daniel promptly suggested postponing the meeting until it could be combined with a visit to his summer house in Coonoor. Ultimately the author did have his way and proceeded with the interview.
Joe Daniel s family comes from Andhra Pradesh. His father was a convert from Hinduism. Joe Daniel gives no information on his caste background. He claims to have no knowledge of it; besides, it would be against his Christian principles to discuss caste. According to reliable sources, Joe Daniel is the product of an unconventional marriage between an outcaste and a Vellala woman.
Joe Daniel is obviously well informed about current affairs and global problems. He has been abroad several times, to the U.S.A., Germany and England. He holds an M. A. degree.
To Joe Daniel’s followers, however, the most important of all his personal qualities is the fact that he is the son of N. Daniel the revivalist preacher. The son has inherited the ministry, the charisma and the following from his father. The great reverence which the father enjoyed has been shifted to the son.
N. Daniel was born in 1897 in Ambalapuram in Godavari District, Andhra Pradesh. He was given a good education He graduated with a degree in Mathematics and became a teacher. His father must have had at least some contact with Christianity — if he was not actually sympathetic to it — for he not only sent his son to the Baptists, but was apparently unperturbed when the boy was converted at the age of 16. The conversion was quite undramatic, i.e., it was not accompanied by any son of vision, dream, and so on. It was simply the natural result of gradual spiritual growth.
N. Daniel must have been a man who was led to form an ideal of detached holiness because of his strong will, ascetic disposition and upright character combined with a particular form of pietistic Christianity and traditional Indian thought.
The specific shape of N. Daniel’s piety had already been more or less determined by the time he met Sadhu Sundar Singh. Yet this meeting must have been critical for N. Daniel for the idea of the necessity of imitating the life of the apostles became more potent for him from then on.
Meanwhile, he had married. His wife, like he had been converted from Hinduism, practised the same profession and was also the head of a school.
As a result of his daughter’s attempts to construe everything in N. Daniels life as having been willed by God, her description of her parents’ marriage is unintentionally humorous. “In the beginning my father wanted to remain single. But later on, the Lord told him: “I want you to marry.” The Lord brought him his wife and said: “Behold your wife!” So my father had to get married. ”
The wife who had been won in this way must have shared – in addition to all the parallels mentioned above – her husband’s sense of his professional calling, for when Indian and English friends suggested that he should dedicate himself to full-time evangelism, she agreed, even though she must have known that such a course would entail some difficulties for her family.
The actual assignment for which N. Daniel’s name was suggested (by a certain Dr. D. Dasan in particular) was the work among unemployed youth in Madras. N. Daniel gave up his position as headmaster of a school for this difficult appointment!
However, it appears that this was not an easy decision for him. He wanted to be absolutely convinced of his divine calling to this ministry. The daughter depicts an out-and-out struggle with God. She repeatedly uses such phrases as “he tested God”, “he gave God one chance”, etc. The test involved a certain sum of money which N. Daniel had advanced to the organization where he was to be-employed. The sum was expected back by a certain date. The “debtor” was God, who ultimately passed the test. After a long struggle with God in prayer, a postman brought a money order for the sum in question. “The Lord sent him all the money he wanted. So he had tested God.” Now he knew for sure that he had been called to begin the work.
The beginning in 1935 was difficult. N. Daniel was rarely successful in finding jobs for the unemployed young men. Also, his attempts to train them as preachers did not elicit the desired response at first. However, his main task consisted “in teaching them the full Bible.”
During the first stages of his evangelism work, N. Daniel must have received sufficient support from outside to enable them to occupy the house where his son lives to this day.
Foreign missionaries were also responsible for introducing him to the field which later brought him success: “Some missionaries from the churches began to invite my father to go and conduct meetings and the spirit of God began to come on the people. They confessed their sins and began to yield fruits.”
N. Daniel still remained the official head of the Laymen’s Evangelical Fellowship, whose task was evangelization, principally among unemployed young men. However, N. Daniel became increasingly well known as a famous revivalist preacher.
Initially he was prepared to place his talents and successes at the service of the Canadian Baptist Mission. His daughter says: “He did not like to start another church. He said: “The existing churches were started by men of God.””
Nevertheless, the first “convention” of an independent Daniel Group was held in the year 1945.
The daughter is not very communicative when it comes to analyzing the motives which lead to the break with the Baptists.
From his experience N. Daniel realized that he was a more successful speaker than his patrons and “superiors”. His daughter expresses this experience thus “When my father used to preach to the people or talk to them, they used to feel that they were standing in front of the Almighty. He was so holy.”
Similar ardent expressions of devotion are applied to his son today.
One consequence of this devotion was that much-needed funds came in. (Some of the Daniels’ followers are not exactly among the poorest Indian Christians.)
The theological grounds that N. Daniel ultimately found for leaving the Baptists were that he could not work in (or rather, “under”) a church in which there were pastors who had not been saved.
N. Daniel’s following and reputation grew steadily until his death in 1963. In his “ministry” he was supported not only by the adoration of his followers but also by his loyal and helpful wife. She did her share for his ministry by working among women, writing tracts (e g. “A wise woman buildeth her home.”) and above all by bringing up their children in a devout Christian home.
Joshua, the heir, is reaping today what his parents sowed. He has taken over not only his father’s house, prestige and following, but his working methods, theological views and preaching style as well. He identifies completely with his father – well knowing that the authority he exercises (at least so far) has been handed down. Yet the sincerity and mesmerising directness which the father is said to have possessed have had to be replaced by a greater reliance on routine. Also, the degree of naiveté which made the father such an unforgettable personality is absent in the son.
The son feels pressured to imitate his father. Perhaps this is one reason why so much of what he says sounds affected, artificial, fake.
For instance, the story of Joe Daniel’s conversion sounds as if it were a set piece into which the personal data were later added (with the exception of the unusual role played by the father in this case): “I was converted when I was a boy of 15. Until then I had led a sinful, godless life. I was a rotten, wicked person, and indulged in all the pleasures of the world. I was a show-off and had only cricket, football and hockey on my mind. Once my father was getting ready for one of his bigger campaigns. While he was praying inwardly, the thought came to him: “What is the use if a man can preach the word of God throughout his whole life and does not change his own son?” This became a heavy burden for him. He was never hypocritical. He fasted and prayed for me, and then he had to leave. As he was saying good-bye, he said: “Before I shall return from this campaign you will be converted.”
And this is how it happened: All my sins appeared before my inner eyes : The Cross of Jesus came into my heart. The Lord spoke to me: “My Son, your sins have crucified me. Unless you follow me, my clarification will continue.” — Then I told Jesus I have given the world many chances, and I shall give you one chance. But you must give me back, what my young heart is hungry for and I will follow you.”
At midnight the Lord took possession of my heart. He forgave me all my sins. I prayed until 2 a.m. That was on Oct. 6, 1943.” The way before Joe Daniel led to higher studies, trips abroad and a part in his father’s work, which he ultimately took over.
III. The Teachings of the “Christian Guru”
1. Core ideas (general)
The Daniels’ main theological preoccupation is no different from that of other revivalist preachers: “When you have cleansed your conscience, the life of God flows into you and you became a son of God. PEACE and JOY flood your heart.”
N. Daniel says the same thing in one of his sermons, but with a telling shift of emphasis: “The oneness of the heart will be found only in God.” If you want revival there must be this oneness of heart. Elsewhere this “oneness of the heart” is depicted using an unconventional interpretation of Heb. 10:16- 17: “You should become one with God. This is the main spiritual purpose.”
The following method is used (particularly by the son) to achieve this spiritual goal: First, an ideal of perfection is constructed before the audience. Then, they are measured by this ideal, resulting in their total moral devastation. And then, as if by some magnanimous saviour, their shattered egos are repaired and reconstructed.
2. Trinity, Credo
The Apostles’ Creed and the doctrine of the Trinity it contains are recognized as sound formulations of the Christian faith. However, the Daniels are sceptical about the way they are employed by today’s nominal Christians, i.e. as a hypocritical formula: “Many Christians say the Creed… But where do you believe these truths? You believe them in the head… just by knowing the historical facts about Jesus Christ, you don’t become a Christian.”
3. God and the creation
God is distant and impersonal: “If there is a God. He is some millions of miles away somewhere in heaven. Viewed in the cold light of day, his creation is but a mishap. It is a punishment to be alive in God s world: “That is the use of being a citizen of this filthy world?”
The Cross of Christ is the one topic on which the Daniels will hold any sort of christological discussion. The main point of this “theology of the Cross” is the purifying function of the blood of Jesus:
“What can wash away my stain? Nothing but the blood of Jesus! What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus!”
Evil spirits, the “godless fools” who always utter the truth about God, the Bible and faith (against their will) inevitably answer “Jesus Christ” when asked who God is.
5. The Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit makes all things possible for a believer: “When we pray in the spirit for a sick person, God reveals to us the cause of the sickness and the hindrances to healing. This makes healing ministry easy and increases our faith. When we pray in the spirit, all our prayers are answered.”
6. Humanity and sin
A person who has not been saved has no peace of mind. The cause of this condition is her or his sins (plural!). He or she is ruled by them, at first without knowing as much. But when the right man points them out in the right way, one by one they are brought into the sinner’s consciousness: “When I went to the man of God Mr. N. Daniel… the Lord effected a change in my life”
Joe Daniel describes the sins that were lifted into his consciousness during his own conversion experience: “The Lord commanded me to return the money to the tailor. I had had a quarrel with him, because the trousers and shirt I had ordered had not been stitched properly. So I had paid him almost nothing for the suit which he had also made. I had cheated him because he had wanted to cheat me.”
Sexual libertinism is considered the apex of sinfulness. In the “Daniel Group” there are no inhibitions about saying as much: “In one place, in one big Church the elders of that church said: “All these sins are not found in our church. One Sunday morning, I preached in that church and in the evening after I had preached a young man was found trembling… When the morning service was going on he and another college girl were in the bed for fornication. He was trembling. He repented… Another church leader’s young daughter had thrown her virginity to the winds.”
The relatively open attitude is also evident in personal testimonies. Not only are the “common sins” like smoking, drinking and going to the cinema discussed; “social sins” (the most common of which are tax evasion, bribery, and so on) are also brought out into the open. For instance a wealthy doctor from Tirunelveli related in one of the meetings how he once was a successful young man leading a loose, totally irreligious life. Then one day, out of the blue, one of his acquaintances invited him to attend one of Joe Daniel’s meetings. The preacher had such an effect on him that he was suddenly overcome by the awareness of his sins. He confessed his sins — tax evasion, forgery of official certificates, etc. — to Joe Daniel. The latter persuaded him to set everything right. Yet, every time Joe Daniel laid his hands on the doctor, he discovered new sins in him, first adultery, then the fact that he had a Hindu partner in his practice, and finally his love of money. All the sins were confessed and thus removed. In the course of this narrative, one sentence recurs often: “I felt that I was still a sinner.” This feeling finally stopped when the last sin had been removed.
7. Salvation (the process of salvation etc.)
The conversion process leading to salvation generally corresponds to the well-known pattern: confession of sins and repentance with tears and remorse; prayer and fasting; confession of all sins, even the most secret; being given fresh courage through the experience of forgiveness which consists of the assurance that the Blood of Christ has washed away all sins This procedure results in “Wonderful joy and peace (which) flooded my soul,” and the duty “to keep His path of righteousness.”
Elsewhere the event of salvation is described much more characteristically and much more briefly. “I… confessed my immoral life… I humbled myself before God. I set right my conscience.” The result is always “perfect peace and joy.”
Another component of the conversion schema here is that salvation is linked to healing, quite as a matter of course and without any apparent theoretical connection between the two. “On that very day when God forgave my sins, my heart palpitation also was completely healed.”
Though Joe Daniel is much more hesitant than his father to make so casual a claim, it is apparently quite obvious to the latter that a good (i.e. “saved’’) person will have a good life, while a bad person faces troubles and hardship. In N. Daniel’s mimeographed sermons, this view is expressed unmistakably: “He (one of his college mates) was suffering in his life because he did not commit his life to the Lord Jesus.” or “Do not think that the life of a Christian is a burden. Isaac was blessed abundantly.” Or an even more direct adaptation of Old Testament thought: “The Lord is my shepherd. I do not lack anything.” There will not be accidental deaths, there will not be troublesome children, there will be abundant peace in your home. There will not be nights without sleep. There will not be any need for you to spend money for doctors. You will say: “My wife is like an olive tree and my children are like olive branches around my table.”
8. Baptism (baptism in the Spirit, speaking in tongues)
The process of salvation occurs in the conversion sermon and the ‘ordu salutis’ described therein. It is true that the “Daniel Group”, in keeping with its Baptist origins, recognises adult baptism by immersion, and baptism is celebrated as a sacrament founded on the scriptures but its place in the salvation process remains unclear. Baptism is practised “because Jesus commanded it” and therefore cannot be avoided
Neither N Daniel nor his son has ever performed a baptism. The senior Daniel always asked his friends who were pastors to perform any baptism that came up in his group This was due parity to a residual pietistic sensibility regarding “ordained officials”, partly to an indifference to the issue of baptism. However, N. Daniel did not go so far as to tolerate the pretensions of a particularly enthusiastic member of his group called Raja Ratnam who started performing baptisms himself. The last links with the Baptists, who would criticize such insubordination sharply, were more important to N. Daniel than his “star pupil”. N Daniel expelled him from the group — with the result that Raja Ratnam formed a group of his own. In Joe Daniel’s case only the indifference regarding baptism remains. He says bluntly: “It is a mechanical job. We have others to do this work.”
9. The Eucharist
The Lord’s Supper serves primarily as a albeit indirectly “disciplinary measure”: “Only those whose sins have been washed away are allowed to partake in the Lord’s Supper.” The actual decision, however, is left to the individual conscience and “the leading of the Holy Spirit.”
10. Holy Scripture
Thanks to their astonishing knowledge of the Bible it is a simple matter for people like the Daniels’ to buttress all their own opinions with verification in Bible verses, which are considered the final authority.
In the Daniels’ words, the Bible is an infallible authority — even for Satan and his host of evil spirits, for “they believe in the Word of God and fear it”.
11. Revelation (signs, visions, ecstasy, etc.)
God reveals himself to his chosen ones directly, breaking through all categories of human historical limitations: “He speaks to us with an audible voice, in visions and dreams, through writing on the wall — or simply through the Bible.” Of the host of possible Biblical proofs for this assertion, Noah is selected: “Even though Noah never studied engineering, he built the ark according to God’s command.” — In spite of this theoretical positivism regarding revelation, this issue is not nearly as significant to the Daniels’ as it is to the Pentecostals.
12. Prayer, meditation
A person who is converted is expected to lead a “prayerful life”. Yet even he or she is not free from temptations and lurking dangers when it comes to prayer habits: “Some people wake up early and try to pray on the bed. Satan makes it an occasion to lull them to sleep.” Still, the elect may resort to prayer to achieve anything natural or supernatural. This is what N. Daniel writes in his description of the life of Ann Preston: “When she was alone at night to keep the house, she could believe that God could help her when the thieves came into steal. When danger seemed inevitable she simply called on God and all of a sudden either the master would return or some other thing would happen to make the thief flee from the spot.”
The prayers of someone who has been especially endowed with grace by God work more wonders than those of an ordinary Christian. This idea also underlies the practice of distributing blank forms for “prayer requests” among Joe Daniel’s followers. The forms are filled out and sent back to him. He expects the following information from those who want him to pray in their behalf: “1. Your name, 2. Permanent address and college or office address if any; 3. Have you confessed all your sins, 4. Your need (if healing, state your case) 5. Are you subscribing for “Christ is Victor”, 6. Special Remarks.” At the end is a suggestive promise of efficacy in the form of James 5:16 “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much”. For those who fill out these prayer forms and send them off to “Mr. Joshua Daniel, M A.”, there is not the shadow of a doubt as to who the above-mentioned righteous man of effective prayer may be.
13. World view
Joe Daniel attributes the “fact of the existence of innumerable demons and devils in India” to the “idol worship of the Hindus”. In his eyes, the secret of his father’s and his own great success is to no small degree due to their “Victory over Satan’s activities”. In a Tamil tract bearing the same title he describes the struggle both he and his father waged against spirits and devils. Considering the importance of this theme in the Indian context, a summary of this tract might be in order at this point:
Human beings are suffering more and more because of the activities of the underworld. Evil spirits are growing increasingly rebellious.
They normally inhabit some person. When confronted with the Holy Spirit, they identify themselves. When they meet holy men, they begin to scream. The possessed persons fall down and foam at the mouth. Even ordinary Christians do not know what should be done in such cases — because they have no direct contact with Jesus Christ. They go to sorcerers and fortune tellers and spend a lot of money on them
My father, N. Daniel, was very close to God. When evil spirits met my father, they would tremble and were terribly afraid.
“In our meetings they behaved as though, they encountered Jesus Christ Himself. We condemned them in the name of Christ: Get away immediately. Those who act in such a way must be men of faith with a clean heart and the genuine mind — otherwise it does not work.
There are different kinds of devils. When more than one live in a man it will be difficult. Once I have driven forty devils out of a girl.
Nominal Christians will easily fall a prey to evil spirits. When they go into a Hindu temple or eat food dedicated to the idols or when they stand under a holy tree or when they go to magicians or soothsayers or go to cemeteries, the evil spirits befall on them. Sometimes because of this they had serious diseases for which the doctors cannot find any physiological cause.”
This is followed by a portrayal of how he healed a pastor’s daughter who, on her way to school passed through a Hindu temple where an evil spirit possessed her and thereby she suffered convulsions. Similar incidents happened with the young man who lay under a holy tree and a lady who, after she had come to faith in Christ broke the figures of her Hindu gods. The Spirit in the figures were furious and in revenge they fell on her. “Immediately I drove out the spirit.” The reason for this was seen in the fact that the lady was not strong in her faith. “Once they brought an Anglo-Indian girl to me. As soon as she saw me, she cried out: “You are a godman!” I had never seen her before. I commanded the evil spirit to come out of the girl. It said to me: “Lord, slap me and I will leave.” I answered: “The Name of Jesus Christ is sufficient to chase you away.” I poured out oil and pronounced the name of Jesus Christ. At once the girl fell down as if dead. A little later she was completely healed. My father also cured many cases which nobody else could.”
These exorcisms which are based so strongly on individual personality are supported by a theological framework which seems unimpeachable in terms of orthodox Christianity: “Those who are in Christ have come out of the darkness into the light. Strong faith defends us from the dark powers. Where the knowledge of Christ holds sway, there is no way open to Satan. Wherever the Lord’s Supper is celebrated in holiness, Satan is locked out. Satan can do no harm to a saved believer.”
“Evil spirits should never be sent into a house where people of weak faith live. They are easy prey for Satan.”
“It is dangerous to have a possessed person in the house because when he dies, the evil spirit leaves him and enters anyone whose faith is not sufficient to protect him.”
“Devils are vengeful. They try to attack those who exorcise them. Once I had to save an evangelist who had tried to exorcise a spirit even though he did not have the necessary power to do so. Ordinary believers should never attempt such a thing! It can be that they are successful in some cases, if several of them fast and pray together beforehand.”
“Evil spirits frequently try to kill possessed persons by pushing them into fire or water.”
A great number of illustrations follow which serve as a warning to would-be exorcists who lack the requisite “power”. Each story ineluctably concludes with Joe Daniel himself being called in to save the situation. Of course he himself has never yet been harmed! He relates a story about a woman whose enemy had employed sorcery with the intention of killing her. Joe Daniel was successful in breaking the spell in a most dramatic way. The evil spirit then went back to the sorcerer and said: “There is a more powerful spirit at work there. I am powerless.”
The Indian world is full of evil spirits: “In our land many people die a sudden death. There is no explanation for that. There is more idolatry in the villages; that is why such cases of death are particularly common there. But when one is under the Blood of Christ, the evil spirits are rendered powerless
“Evil spirits attack even animals. This can be noticed by their unusual behaviour at times. For example, cows may suddenly stop giving milk. A person who has authority over the spirits can make the milk flow again.”
A regular feature of modern Indian life elicits the following comment: “Evil spirits are particularly fond of inhabiting the homes of corrupt government officials. They can be cleansed only by sprinkling the Blood of Christ.”
The reflections of the two Daniels are concluded with a few remarks on the Indian-Hindu way of life, its similarity to the state of the Israelites in Egypt or to the dancing around the golden calf and the deliverance through the exodus from Egypt under the Cross and Blood of Christ.
14. Souls, Angels, Demons, etc.
As an educated and well-travelled man, Joe Daniel is naturally cautious about commenting on his world view. His knowledge makes it impossible for him to publicly accept the image of the world as a multistoreyed building. At the same time, the expectations of the majority of his followers hinder his espousal of a scientifically based world view. Thus, in spite of the frequent allusions to heaven, any closer qualifications as to its nature are judiciously avoided. Only the paper on demons written (not insignificantly) in Tamil contains the following sentence: “They (i.e. spirits) are able to describe heaven and hell.” From this statement it can be assumed that heaven and hell are conceived of as places within the cosmos but distinct from the Earth.
In keeping with the fundamentalist understanding of the Bible, the apocalyptic images of the Old and New Testaments, and especially those in the last book of the latter, are treated as prophecies which are to be taken literally. The immortality of the soul is also taken to be a valid tenet of Christian belief. Yet Joe Daniel (like all pure “revivalists”) differs from the Pentecostals in that he says: “We don’t put special emphasis on the end of the world. We never speculate about the time etc. Our main emphasis is on holiness and doing the will of God.”
16. Attitude to theology and the ‘ministry’
The Daniels’ attitude to theology in general, or, more precisely, to education in theological issues, is not purely hostile.
It is true that in the father’s case “The Lord taught him the will of God.” The son, too, feels no need for a theological education. He learned from this father, who describes and justifies this method of training thus: “Can the people who write bad books teach? Can the people who paint bad pictures teach? What does the Bible say? It says: only God will teach. But He teaches through you as parents of your children.” However, the training that is adequate for parents and children in general, or even for the singular case of N. Daniel s own preparation for his “ministry” is not considered sufficient for the main full-time evangelists of the Daniel Group. For them there is a theological training programme in a Bible School, whose existence is explained as follows by Joe Daniel: “Some people say that they have a call. So we want to know whether it is true. At present we have 25 inmates in the Bible School.”
IV. Community Life
1. The authority of the ‘Guru’ (in the ‘ecclesiological self-image of the group)
The hazards of his “ministry” are ever present to Joe Daniel. He says over and over again: “I am not their God. I teach them to look up to the real God.” On the other hand, he is fully aware of his god-like authority over his followers. Whenever he preaches, be it to students or to the man in the street, he always elicits the same response: “When I tell them the truth they will not argue with me. They just listen to what I tell them.”
In spite of the sensitivity to the danger of pride which is inherent in the above-quoted comment, Joe Daniel evidently feels the need to reassure himself by repeatedly evoking his authority. In that way he is able to lay full claim to his father’s legacy of complete power over his following. As Joe Daniel’s sister says: “When my father stood and preached the people used to feel that they were standing in front of the judgement seat of God.”
When N. Daniel died, his followers were convinced that he would rise again in three days. Any thought of a burial was dismissed indignantly. But after three days when the body began to decompose, the burial took place.
2. Activities (divine services, functions, liturgy, preaching style, music, working methods, etc.)
The main meetings are the weekly Sunday worship services and the Wednesday evening prayer meetings. Evangelization campaigns are also held in various places in South India, as is the annual “convention”. The 1972 Convention was held from the 12th to the 21st May on the grounds of St. George’s School in Madras. There was an average daily attendance of 2000. About half of these participants had been brought in to Madras by Joe Daniel, who is a Telugu, from his branches in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh. These simple country people were provided free boarding and lodging
In a big tent, a brass band was playing (with more verve than accuracy) triumphal songs of Western origin. The assembly was singing loudly, but without much enthusiasm. From time to time, various speakers appeared and gave their testimonies about their conversion experiences. After some time Joe Daniel came to the podium. He spoke in English. An interpreter stood on either side of him, one translating into Tamil, the other into Telugu.
Joe Daniel began by extolling the virtues of the books written by his family: “We believe a good deal in the ministry of good books.”
Then his eight year old daughter came to the microphone and sang a solo about the Blood of Christ.
Then came an extempore prayer spoken in an emphatic tone. Finally the sermon began. The opening text was Matt 4, the temptation story. The second temptation was explicated first: “The Devil wanted to cast doubts on Jesus’ identity as the Son of God Many people thought that he was just a prophet. In India, Jesus is also assigned a place among the great religious leaders in a “universalistic” manner. “But there is salvation in no one else, and there is no other Name…” (Acts 4:12)
“There are 30,000 gods in India, but what the heathen sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils.”
The key word “sacrifice” provides material for the next five minutes of the sermon. The first example is the challenge of sacrificing one’s heart to Jesus.
The transition to the next subject — “miracles” — is abrupt: “In India we come across many people who perform miracles for their own glory.” Many people came to Joe Daniel’s father exclusively for healing. N. Daniel, however, insisted: first God’s Word, then healing! Unfortunately, many of those who had been healed were not grateful to him.
And now another quotation from the sermon: “It is very common in India to say of a person, ‘You are God.” This is a great temptation for me. I do not allow the people to touch my feet.” And further; “Don’t live on miracles! All want shortcuts to God. They want to prove Jesus!”
After this amazingly construed critique of miracles, which is obviously intended for the ears of the relatively large proportion of educated, more critical members of the audience, Joe Daniel goes on to the story of a seriously ill heart and liver patient whom he has healed. He embroiders this story so colourfully that it must seem like direct proof of God’s intervention to every listener who is uneducated and naive.
Yet in the very next breath even this miracle story is relativized when Joe Daniel warns against the ability of idols and devils to perform miracles. They can imitate genuine miracles.
The subject changes — with the aid of some Biblical references — to “prayer”, “Bible reading” and “holy living”. The climax is reached in the pronouncement: “Tobacco smoking and Holy Ghost don’t go together — What people need is repentence!”
A perhaps even more reflexive thought is tacked on to that: “The Lord Jesus Christ takes from your heart the love of cheap popularity and love of money.”
The third temptation from Matt. 4 is interpreted as “the degenerate nature of the world’. The key word “world” provides an opportunity for Joe Daniel to hold forth on his travels in various Western countries. The desired impression is made on the audience!
The “degeneracy of the world is definitely behind all the talk of “socialism”, “social progress”, etc. For instance, land reforms is in reality nothing other than lust for profit, and naked greed. Instead: “Produce one soul — that is winning.”
This brings Joe Daniel to the foreign missionaries in India. Their presence is futile, if not actually harmful, “because they produce colleges, churches, all kinds of education etc. — but no single soul. — We need “soul winners”! When they leave India, the only fruit of their work is the fighting over the wealth accumulated by them.”
Joe Daniel’s group, of course, has nothing to do with all of this. It grows satisfactorily enough anyway — with new souls.
The transition to the “moral part” of the sermon is introduced by the question “How can a Christian speak a lie?” and some anecdotes from counselling experiences.
The concluding moral downpour on keeping the tongue, eyes and ears in check, repeatedly interrupted by constantly inquisitorial questions (“Did you resist in the hour of temptation ?” et al.), thunders to a crescendo at the end of the sermon, by which time the audience has begun to sigh and moan.
With the abrupt announcement: “Let us pray!” Joe Daniel’s voice and the general emotions soar to even greater heights, and then fall into an interminably long, sermon-like prayer.
After some songs and a few interjected announcements the meeting is brought to a close. This “order of worship” is also followed at Sunday services.
Without a doubt, Joe Daniel knows how to hold an audience. Such is his rhetorical mastery of that even the most arbitrary parallels seem enlightening and the most abrupt transitions appear logical. He has the emotions of his followers completely in his hands.
Judging from N. Daniel s mimeographed sermons his style is less elaborate, more folksy, particularly in the inclusion of many illustrations from everyday Indian life. He too, is not invulnerable to the appeal of tastelessness. For instance, he describes Esther’s induction into Ahasveros’ harem and subsequent efforts on behalf of the Jews with the title “A girl of the Altar of God “.
3. Miracles, healings and exorcisms (practice and theory, use of medicines, etc.)
Joe Daniel’s ambivalent attitude to the issue of miracles has already been brought up in the context of the sermon described above. His father’s naivete has given way to an obvious awareness of how problematic the issue is. In his comments in this context, Joe Daniel shifts between a primitive belief in miracles, enlightened critique, and Biblical references, depending on whom he happens to be addressing at the moment.
In the interview he expressed himself thus: “whatever the Lord told his disciples (meaning Matt. 10) is meant for me. I am his disciple today. I am just an unworthy instrument, I keep myself humble, clean and holy. Doing this I am able to heal. Healing is dangerous gift. We have raised many from death. There are witnesses for it, even doctors. They cannot be mistaken easily. But father always taught me that healing is a dangerous gift.”
To the question regarding those who come to him exclusively for healing, not knowing or wishing to know anything about Christianity, he responds as follows: “The point is, there are certain magicians who give temporary relief. But the people are never cured completely. We insist that a person who comes for healing must first hear the word of God before he gets healed. We do not have any special healing services, they come up after the sermon or the meeting. We pray for them and they get healed. We do not publish the cases.”
In actual fact, the healing of the body is not given as much importance as the conversion of the soul in the Daniel Group. Healing is carried out quietly in one corner of the meeting room, or in Joe Daniel’s private rooms. The patient kneels before Joe Daniel, who places his hands on him or her and prays. The relative openness on the issue of healing is also apparent in the fact that Joe Daniel is not against the use of medicine. He considers it scientifically based and beneficial.
4. Social rules (official positions and related licenses, role of women, etc.)
Joe Daniel proclaims as if it were a matter of course: “We bless marriages and we have ceremonies for the dead.” It is to be assumed, by the same token, that he has a government license for performing marriages.
5. Festivals and special days
No comment available in the book.
6. Holy places and objects, special rites, etc.
No comment available in the book.
7. Fasts and ascetic practices
Using Matt. 17:21 and similar Biblical sayings as a base, prayer and fasting are taken to belong together in the Daniel Group. Fasting as a special, sanctifying form of prayer has its place in the life of the group, though more in the individual’s personal decision than in collective meetings.
8. Lifestyle (taboos, conditions for induction, etc.)
One might expect that in a Christian group in which salvation begins with a confession of sins, such a confession before the group might be a precondition for induction. However, a group which is led by a charismatic leader does not form a congregation in the sense of a community. Everything depends on the decision of the “divine leader”. Induction is determined by the personal relationship between him and the individual follower. Thus Joe Daniel’s answer to the question is very vague, in fact empty. He talks about how he would naturally not accept anyone who breaks taboos like smoking, etc.: “For the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit!” Yet on the other hand, he energetically condemns the making of rules in this matter. Personal influence is all that counts: “We must give them guidance and they will follow automatically”
He rejects even the practice of public or written “decisions for Christ”, which are popular in similar groups: “We do not insist on decision making. In India this kind of decisions are forced and false. The people very often say “yes”. But they don’t mean it. In our country “yes” has many meanings and many shades.” He explains this doubtlessly accurate observation, which should be taken into consideration when assessing any Indian phenomenon, thus: (1) The Indian populace was colonized for a long time; (2) the Indians have a heathen background; (3) they are too polite to say “no”.
Despite these occasional critical appraisals of social realities, all traditional social ideas and behavioural patterns of the Indian middle or upper- middle class are considered to be divinely ordained. For instance N. Daniel considers arranged marriage a heavenly institution, love marriage is illustrated by the example of angel marriages from Gen. 6 with the comment: “Man tried to fulfill the desires of his flesh by selecting a woman of bus own choice. The result was — evil increased by leaps and bounds.” No matter what the context may be, the bourgeois-patriarchal milieu of Indian society is supported by Biblical authority: “Disobedience of the children is a very sad thing in a Christian home. David did not teach his son Absalom because he was afraid of him, and in the end he had to lose him.” or “Lot’s wife ruled her husband for sometime. At that time their home was not in the fear of the Lord.” The fate which finally overtook her is history!
Unfortunately, when it comes to the ever tricky question of the consumption of beef, no Biblical passage condemning the practice can be found. The Daniels seem to have adjusted their attitude accordingly. Joe Daniel says: “I know a woman who was a Hindu convert. She never had touched beef in all her life. In the beginning she used to get sick from the mere thought of it. It is a Hindu idea.”
9. Self image of the group (double membership, solidarity, etc.)
For all the emphasis on middle-class domesticity, the atmosphere in the Daniel Group is marked by a relatively elitist mentality. Here one is very conscious of the “power to transform the lives of men and women.” The — at least theoretically — exalted ideal of a pure sinless life does impart an aura of nobility and exclusiveness, but also is conducive to pharasaical attitudes. The “advantage” of this ideal is that it is a feeling which creates a bond between people; on the other hand, it does not impose any need for community-building efforts.
V. The organization of the group
1. Authority of the ‘guru’ (in organizational matters)
As already mentioned above, the “man at the top” is to be seen as the all-determining “structural principle” of the group. And Joe Daniel appears to be one of those “spiritual leaders” who is somewhat aware of this state of affairs. He says: “Leadership is granted by God.” Despite all his modest talk, he compares his father and himself to Moses and Joshua: “They had been given the spirit from above.”
When questioned about his followers’ public exhibitions of deference, such as touching his feet etc., Joe Daniel draws a comparison with the Hindu concept of the guru: “Many Hindus expect their Guru to be full of virtues of God. (The Gurus) get these virtues through meditation etc. Even to touch them would give them (“the disciples”) blessings and a share in the virtues.” And then, hinting at a sort of “apostolic succession”, he says that his father was a disciple of Sadhu Sundar Singh; that is reason enough to touch his feet in reverence. It goes without saying, of course, that he, Joe Daniel, is in turn his father’s disciple and heir. This would explain comments such as this: “Give me any group. In a matter of 5 to 10 minutes I will get a grip on them and convert them.”
One of Joe Daniel’s followers speaks of his former attitude to a “political leader” as if it were perfectly natural: “I worshipped the founder of this party.” This terminology can be applied just as easily to a “spiritual leader”.
2. Bodies entrusted with responsibility (voting, minutes, etc.)
Joe Daniel responds with quick-witted irony to the question as to the existence of any attempt at democratic functioning in his group, any committee which has a part in decision-making, or such: “A committee consists of very important persons, who alone can do nothing but together can decide that nothing can he done.”
3. Disciplining and excommunication
The issue of excommunication does not arise in his group, according to Joe Daniel.
The Daniel Group has already settled the question of succession once. And, if all goes according to Joe Daniel’s ideas, it will be settled m the same way in the future. “The scripture says: His righteousness endureth to all generations. If we read in the scripture, the ministry in a priestly family always continues in the family.”
5. Partners (in work, and life-partners)
6. Inner circle of followers
7. Workers (appointment, number, titles, assignments, training, payments etc.)
Even if Joe Daniel’s sister may not be considered his work partner in the strictest sense of the term, she nevertheless assists her brother in much the same way as their mother helped their father. The sister’s husband is also active in the evangelization work.
The “inner circle’’ comprises, besides the Daniel family, of mostly well educated group members, such as the doctor from Tirunelveli who was mentioned above. His conversion experience prompted him to combine his medical work with evangelization, particularly, as he says, among Hindus
In this way, Joe Daniel has many volunteer workers. However, the branches are headed by fully-paid “evangelists”. They are generally pupils from his Bible Schools. In addition there are trusted staff members at the headquarters who have been given various duties.
As to the question of remuneration, Joe Daniel says: “We do not pay any salary to them. The ministry will support itself. God will took alter them!”
8. Work areas and branches
The Daniel Group has permanent branches in Madurai and Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu and in Hyderabad, Guntur, Massolipatnam and Kakinada in Andhra Pradesh.
9. Membership rolls (statistics, fluctuation)
Joe Daniel refuses to give a figure when asked about the number of members. He professes never to have made an estimate. As a matter of fact, it would be difficult to fix on a number, given the absence of a “membership roll” and the considerable fluctuations, at least at the periphery of the group, Of the nominal church members who attend his meetings more or less regularly, Joe Daniel puts the largest number as members of the T.E.L.C. and the second largest as of the C.S.I.
10. Official registration
No comment available in the book.
11. Converts (Hindus, Muslims etc.)
In all these groups, the hackneyed claim “We have lots of Hindu converts” is reiterated constantly. Joe Daniel also uses it at every appropriate or even inappropriate opportunity. When asked for more precise data, he first said “We can easily say about 30% are Hindus, who have been converted.” But then, to play safe, he added: “But I am not sure, it may be also wrong.” There are only “very few” converts from Islam in his group: “It is my hard to convert them.”
12. Finances (tithes, collections, donations, fees for healings and exorcisms, foreign funds)
Joe Daniel insists that at least the regular members of his group should pay tithes: “One tenth belongs to God. They must do it as if God is asking them to do.” Yet: “Many of them do not have sufficient faith.”
A portion of the financing of the work comes from the branches, as “Whatever they get from the ministry will go to God. i.e. will come to us.” As to his own financial resources, Joe Daniel says, “I have no money of my own. All the fellowship money is invested in souls. Eternity is my absorption, I am interested in my bank — Heaven.”
Joe Daniel also mentions funds which he has received from abroad. However, because of malicious and unfounded rumours about alleged financial mismanagement in his group, these donations have been stopped. This account of the situation is to be seen in the light of the fact that Joe Daniel has excellent contacts with Americans and Germans.
Joe Daniel’s own printing press probably brings in some financial profit. At any rate, it is a medium for publishing all his own and his family’s members’ writings. At present the reflections of the Daniels’ are available under ten titles for a maximum price of Rs. 0.90. Eight of these papers have appeared in English. Besides these tracts and a monthly journal called “Christ is Victor”, Joe Daniel has his own song book with 113 (only English) songs and also publishes a calendar every year for the Laymen s Evangelical Fellowship and assorted short pieces by appropriate authors at this press. They are sold at the book stand in his house.
No social institutions are maintained by the Daniel Group. Joe Daniel indicates only the “Gospel clinics”, i.e. doctors who carry on their mission within and parallel to their practice and offer treatment for a nominal fee or free of cost to poor people.
VI. Relationship to the environment
1. Attitude to other religions (Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and in general)
Joe Daniel puts his attitude to Hinduism thus: “Hinduism is an immoral religion.” “Indian (meaning “Hindu”) culture is culture based on idolalory.” It is particularly clear in the case of Joe Daniel that this sharp opposition to Hinduism is based not so much on rational differences as on communal rivalries. One of Joe Daniel’s followers, G. Abel, provides a typical illustration of the social conflict between the Hindu majority and Christian minority groups: “After passing my high school examination I told my father that it was my intention to change my name into a Hindu name, apply for a Government scholarship for college studies as a Harijan. My father, however, opposed my plan. I was quite upset and told my father that to lose fine prospects of advancement in the world, in the vain speculation of attaining heaven, beyond, was the highest of madness.”
The penetration of Hinduism, against which one must constantly be on guard, occurs not only on the social and communal plane, but also in the form of subversively religious and of ossified philosophical infiltration. Joe Daniel complains of spirits in a tract: “In the homes of Christians are still so many Hindu customs like auspicious days, astrology, magic etc. They keep all these secret sins. The word of God is of no benefit for them if they hear it as sinners.” This grievance is developed into an attack: “The people talk of philosophy in India but do not lead a holy life. Gandhi gave a bad example because he did not accept Christ fully.” The sort of Christian thinking which Joe Daniel represents looks upon Hindu universalism as a latent and deadly danger to be repulsed untiringly. A follower of Joe Daniel confesses one of his most serious sins: “I professed to believe that all religions were the same and that all religions taught the same things in different ways.”
The following statement of Joe Daniel’s is just about tantamount to a cry of desperation: “What are the Christians doing in India? Christians are selling Jesus. For some rupees, for a Harijan scholarship they will sell Jesus. They will do anything if they can get a few rupees.”
2. Attitude to the mother ‘Church’
There is a non-binding “friendly” relationship with the “Mother Church”, i.e. the Baptists.
3. Attitude to other Protestant Churches
The senior Daniel was still eager to cooperate with the organized churches (which were mostly missions at that time) when it came to pooling resources for the work. He would gladly accept their invitations to preach, even in later years. However, difficulties first arose while N. Daniel was still alive, his son says. The reason: “caste is strong among Tamil Churches. Dowry system is another evil. My father preached against it.”Joe Daniel himself has only contempt left for the churches. “The churches with their organizations are like Government institutions. They mean money first, secondly they cloth Christianity in Indian culture, or they think, they have Christianity if they put some particular type of garments at a particular service, once red, another time green etc.”
Above all, the low moral standing of the churches is a target of his attack. The churches teem with adultery, greed, corruption and political manoueverings. “Great faction fights take place in the mission (meaning “church”) establishments over important jobs. They frighten people till they get blood pressure. They threaten and oppress people till they get heart attacks.”
And, indirectly making out the patriarchal “form of organization” he practices to be far superior. Joe Daniel cries out, “Oh dear people do you want me to be a hypocrite. Do you want me… to flatter you. No I will not do that. I have to give an account to God.”
N. Daniel for his part sees the reason for the downfall of the churches quite simply in a “lack of prayer”.
4. Attitude to the Roman Catholic Church
The attitude towards the Roman Catholic Church is summed up as follows: “There are many people who have gone back to Hinduism or Roman Catholics. They (Roman Catholics) are very close to Hinduism. They worship idols.”
5. Attitude to missionaries and foreigners
Joe Daniel’s overseas connections are manifold and close. His sister says: “Almost every year my brother goes to the States and Germany. He has got many friends there. They arrange meetings and invite him there.”
His somewhat less cordial attitude to the foreigners in India (particularly missionaries) comes through from time to time. Among them only the revivalist preachers of the past, e g. Hebich of the Basel Mission, are given any credit at all. Present-day missionaries are accused of having brought not only modernism into theology but also commercialism into the Church: “What can we learn from their religion? — They do not even believe that Christ was born of a Virgin!” And an example taken from Bombay: “At a distance of only thirty feet from the church, the mission had put up a building. They let it out for rent to Hindu and Muslim marriages… Some Missions today commercialise their premises.”
At any rate, Western missionaries are becoming less and less interesting from day to day “because of lack of money”.
N. Daniel’s differing view of missionaries does come across clearly: “If the Western Missionaries would not have come to India what would have happened here?”
For the son, Joe Daniel, the era of the missionary movement from West to East is unquestionably over. His conversation with the author was sprinkled liberally with his pitying, condescending remarks on the condition of spiritual poverty in the West. Joe Daniel has extended his sphere of activity to the West: in a manner not unlike that of the exporters of Hindu philosophical wares in the grand style of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi or Guru Maharaj Balyogeshwar. One of Joe Daniel’s Western followers, a German lady, Ulrike Papst on being questioned on 20.11.1974 said that Joe Daniel goes to Germany twice a year. In the meantime his German following has grown to 120 persons. The writings of the Daniel family have been translated into German. Germany has become the “mission field” for the “Indian missionary”, Joe Daniel.
6. Attitude to similar groups
Joe Daniel is wholeheartedly in favour of friendly relations with fundamentalist and evangelical groups of every kind. However, he categorically dismisses the idea of any co-operation with the Pentecostals. The reason: They are paid from abroad. He feels the strongest theological and spiritual bonds with the early Methodists. He has the deepest respect for the Wesley brothers.
7. Attitude to the NCC
8. Attitude to the WCC
Joe Daniel s comment on the ecumenical movement is succinct and conclusive: “That kind of prominance we do not like!”
9. Attitude to social issues
Both the Daniels exhibit an extremely broadminded attitude to India’s social problems. However, their perceptions and words do not result in any action. It is typical of N. Daniel that when he took over the social work — viz. caring for unemployed young men — from others, he gradually modified the thrust of the work until it became purely evangelization-oriented. The Daniels’ (purely verbal) keen preoccupation with Indian social problems’ ranges from the mania for gold and jewellery and the meaninglessness of the dowry system to the issue of slums, unemployment and the all-pervading corruption. All these observations end with the remark: “There is no hope for our country. Our country has rejected the Lord.” There is only one answer to the social problem: “If a man is possessed by Jesus, his way of life will change. His social conditions will improve.”
10. Attitude to politics
Joe Daniel has a very aloof, if not downright hostile, attitude to anything to do with politics and government. “Our Government is producing a lot of thieves, not only in the lower rungs of the administration but also in the higher strata.” In this context, Indira Gandhi comes in for sharp criticism because she, a professed agnostic, went to the Tirupathi temple and made empty, pious speeches, as a cheap campaign ruse.
11. Attitude to communism
A prized feather in Joe Daniel’s cap is having been instrumental in the conversion of some communists. He recounts how a Communist once tried to disrupt his meeting by shouting atheistic slogans. Then the trouble-maker witnessed an exorcism. At that he accepted the fact that there was a higher power which he could not see. Through this incident, the entire Communist group in that place was disbanded. Its members joined Joe Daniel.
By contrast, N. Daniel seems not to have perceived Communists as being exclusively “of the Devil”. In one of his sermons he says: “For a rich man a church means coming to the services on Sunday morning and going back and indulging in the things of the world. In this respect the Communists are better than us. They help the poor and uneducated. If any man comes to the church poorly dressed, we reject him.” Of course he used this argument to show himself in a favourable light when compared to the churches.
VII. Evaluation (by members, disinterested parties and opponents)
1. The ‘guru’ (self and external assessment)
N. Daniel never had to face any doubt as to the validity of his divine calling, for the “ministry” flourished and he was often “led in a wonderful way”. His son, for his part, confronts the problem of integrating his inherited “stock of divinity” into his own person. The many inconsistencies and contradictions in his words and behaviour indicate that it is rough going for him. In addition, his greater academic sophistication rules out escape into a “naive solution” to his identity problem.
On the other hand, this very academic sophistication is an aid in establishing his self-image as an “apostle to the educated” — particularly to students. The father’s work among unemployed youths had metamorphosed into student work. Besides, even the father had already struck a responsive chord in the higher classes of the Christian “bourgeoisie”. The son has been able to broaden the Daniel family’s influence in these circles to a considerable extent.
The success among “the educated classes” and foreigners will ultimately help him overcome all twinges of self-doubt. The fact that the work “pays off’ surely helps as well.
2. The group (based on survey of members and external assessment)
The results of the questionnaire for the Daniel Group members confirms the assessment as to the social sphere in which it is most effective. They are as follows:
57 people questioned (30 men, 27 women): average age : 37.4 years; professions: 10 university students, 8 teachers, 7 labourers and coolies, 5 skilled workers, 2 catechists, 2 tradesmen, 1 unemployed person, 1 doctor, 1 midwife, 1 university lecturer.
Average monthly income: Rs. 447.06 (maximum : Rs 2000/-, minimum Rs. 35/-).
Religious or church background: 27 C.S.I.; 14 Lutheran (T.E.L C. or A.L.C.); 12 Hindu; 2 Salvation Army; 1 Methodist: 1 Catholic. 4 of the C.S.I. and 4 of the Lutheran members retain their original membership in their respective churches.
Castes: 18 Vellalas; 17 Harijans; 15 Nadars; 2 Syrian Christians; 2 Naidus; 1 Mala; 1 Ezavar; 1 no indication.
One is not surprised to note that only 3 mentioned healing as the main motive for membership in the “Joe Daniel Group”. In “these circles”, it is not considered quite “correct” to admit to having such mundane reasons for being interested in spiritual matters. The others are divided as follows: 31 named the preaching; 8 the counseling; 8 the “holy life” of the “spiritual leader” in first place. Three others felt themselves particularly attracted by the singing and two others by the “common life of the group”; one had joined out of aversion to the established churches, and one had followed his wife into the group.
The general impression one has of Joe Daniel’s following is that it is, drawn from an unusually high social and economic stratum. The members who come from lower social classes (labourers, coolies, the unemployed persons) are marginalized in the group. The fact is that they function as an “alibi” for those who are better off definitely.
The author found a similar pattern in the Bhakt Singh group.
3. The environment (influence on the Church and society)
By virtue of their exclusiveness, which is hardly if at all based on the substance of their teachings, these groups offer an alternative to charismatically led Pentecostal groups at one pole and the established churches at the other. Thus they attract people who feel the need for a “charismatic leader” but disdain Pentecostalism as “too primitive”. This model seems — in comparison with the Bhakt Singh group — to appeal strongly to foreigners. Bhakt Singh, much like Sai Baba and other Hindu “godmen” or even like Joe Daniel, is surrounded by a host of believers from abroad.
Such people are not interested in some sort of explicit theology, not even the Pentecostal “theology of the Spirit”, but rather in a religious experience which cannot be more precisely defined in theological terms, and the transmission of this experience through the person of a charismatic.
For the charismatic leader himself, his higher level of academic sophistication becomes a reason for not having espoused pentecostalism, for he too finds its way of thinking too “primitive”.
And yet another observation may be made in this context: The aversion to implicit theologies felt by people seeking a religious experience through an individual person often results in the Pentecostal charismatics’ specifically a Pentecostal corpus of thought being whittled down beyond recognition. Thus Joe Daniel is a representative of a “species of religious leader” who is best able to meet universal religious expectations. His missionary path from East to West confirms this supposition.
A mostly “semi-educated bourgeoisie” found all over the world, disgusted by theological-denominational delimitations (because they are perceived as either due to hair-splitting sophistry or as too popularly naïve), finds its needs best fulfilled in the “outstanding spiritual personality”.
The critical faculty which serves so well when it comes to other forms of religious experience is somehow not quite sharp enough when it comes to self-scrutiny. It is flooded by the tide of one s own religious emotions. So it is that an objective observer of the Daniel Group, astounded at the lack of self-awareness in the “upper bourgeoisie” surrounding Joe Daniel, is prompted to remark: “Joe Daniel is worshipped by his followers like a God”.