We continue with the book “Christian Gurus: A Study of the Life and Work of Christian Charismatic Leaders in South India written by Dr. Werner Hoerschelmann which I introduced in part 1. To study the phenomenon of “Christian Gurus” the author undertook an empirical study on such leaders. As the author often spent time in Tamil Nadu, it became the most convenient area to carry out the necessary field studies. The author felt that the greatest number of “self sufficient Christian groups” were found in Kanyakumari, Tirunelveli, Tanjore, Madurai, Coimbatore and the metropolitan area of Madras (Chennai). To keep it manageable, the author concentrated on one urban area (Madras) and one rural area (Tirunelveli & Kanyakumari). He selected “Christian groups outside and independent of the Church, led by individuals who claimed exclusive authority in matters of doctrine and community life.” Discussions and observations took place via visits to group meetings, interviews with group leaders, interviews with members of the groups and interviews with outside informants (if available). 4 “Christian Gurus” from earlier years, 8 from the urban area and 8 from the rural area were selected. The list of 20 potential “Christian Gurus” researched is given below. Details will not being provided except for the section on Joshua Daniel which will appear in part 3 of this series. Although many of us have been influenced by Joshua Daniel of Laymen’s Evangelical Fellowship, there are other Christians who have been influenced by leaders of other groups. This list is published with the hope that it may be of use to people from other Christian groups. Just because a leader or church appears in this list, please do not assume anything. Buy the book and check them out for yourself. I am interested in studying other Christian groups if possible and if there is a need. So do respond with your comments.
Although I went to the Laymen’s Evangelical Fellowship from childhood, I gradually began to realise there were spiritual problems in the Laymen’s Evangelical Fellowship and with Joshua Daniel himself. It was almost impossible to find critical information on LEF but later I came across references to a book which I then purchased and have been reading. I want to introduce to our readers the book “Christian Gurus”: A Study of the Life and Work of Christian Charismatic Leaders in South India by Dr. Werner Hoerschelmann. I have already quoted from it and some readers are earnestly waiting for more from this book! The author was a pastor for the German speaking congregations in South India and Sri Lanka and a part time lecturer at the United Theological College in Bangalore from 1969 to 1974. During his stay in South India, he came across 40 German speaking followers of a “Christian Guru” (Lawrie) which included a German who had deserted her husband and child and refused to return. Realising that this was not an isolated case, he researched the phenomenon and wrote this book. Indians seem to be so used to Gurus that Westerners seem to be more alert to such deviations. I believe that we can learn a lot from this book and so I wish to share thoughts and excerpts from this book. It was published in German in 1977 and an abridged English version was published in 1998 by Gurukul Lutheran Theological College and Research Institute. If you find this useful please purchase the book from the publisher.
The author has coined the term “Christian Guru” in order to define the phenomenon of charismatic leaders of independent, indigenous Christian groups in South India. He explains the environment from which this phenomenon has evolved comparing and contrasting India’s social and religious context, analysing Church history in the sub-continent especially the Pentecostals and using examples of Indian (non-Christian) charismatic personalities. Then 20 Christian leaders including Joshua Daniel are described with reference to a predefined outline. After that the author tries to systematise this phenomenon, compares the “Christian guru” with Hindu charismatic personalities and evaluates this phenomenon. The actual and possible impact of this phenomenon on the Church and society is described. Finally a conclusion is given along with some open questions.
Rules certainly make some aspects of life easier. But allegiance to them indicates a fear of error, not a mark of love. People who love know they’ll make mistakes. But they also know they’ll learn from them and mature through them.
Jesus taught in principles. Principles require a degree of maturity in discerning how to apply them. Jesus’ summation of the entire Law in loving God and people was a slap in the face of religious tradition. Tradition had taken the place of a relationship with God.
-Dr. John Townsend
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6. These extraordinary words are often repeated at Christmas season especially in cards and sermons. The prophet Isaiah and the numerous people who were waiting for this promised child would have expected Him to have a peaceful childhood. But amazingly there was quite a lot of trouble surrounding the birth of this promised child.
Mary a God fearing virgin girl who is betrothed to Joseph a God fearing man, gets pregnant before marriage! She and Joseph must have had a difficult time as gossip spread. Around the time of the delivery, Caesar Augustus declares a registration and they were forced to travel (without modern comfort) to Bethlehem and there was no suitable place (and hospital) for the delivery. Seeing a special star, some wise men or magi make a trip to worship this baby. It appears that the star was not always visible during the journey and so they go to Jerusalem to get directions. Unfortunately Herod the Great who reigned in Jerusalem at that time was a ruthless and paranoid tyrant who even killed his father-in-law, some wives and two sons. Hearing their mission, Herod decides to secretly kill Jesus. When that plan was foiled, he kills all male children below 2 years in that area. To avoid it, the newly wedded couple had to escape to Egypt with an infant!
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16) This is the most important verse in the Bible in my opinion. Being sinners we were all destined to perish but God’s grace and love made a way for our salvation. Amazingly God did all the hard work and asked us to believe on His Son! This sounds too good to be true and so unfortunately people add extra rules to receive this gift. The Roman Catholic Church adds baptism, the sacraments and other regulations into a package for salvation. The common “sinner’s prayer” is an unwanted adaptation since the focus is on the prayer and not on believing.
The Laymen’s Evangelical Fellowship sadly has its own version of salvation. Since they do not have written doctrines, it is not possible to determine their official position but they have a fairly consistent approach to salvation. In its evangelistic meetings there will be one or more testimonies in which the person usually gives details about their sinful past, how it was confessed and stolen money and goods were returned, how God “spoke” to them through a Bible verse and finally how they were filled with peace and joy. Then the message, especially Mr. Joshua Daniel’s message, will focus on sinful actions and end by asking the gathering to go home and pray and that God would “speak” to them. Not much is preached about how Jesus obtained salvation nor believing on Jesus for salvation. In the oral and printed testimonies of people the pattern recurs. Confession of sin, returning stolen money and goods, getting right with people they earlier had problems and God speaking to them from a verse in the Bible showing them that their sins are forgiven and they are saved and finally being filled with peace and joy. There is nothing wrong with these steps but unfortunately the fundamental step of belief is relegated to the background and rarely mentioned.
Since the simple step of belief has been wrapped around by many “holy” procedures, the general attitude of LEF is that they are superior Christians. This is probably the biggest reason why people do not easily leave the Laymen’s Evangelical Fellowship. Nobody wants to leave superior Christianity for inferior Christianity! Confession and restitution are good but it should be spontaneous and not forced. In Luke 19:8, Zacchaeus committed to return four times the amount he cheated people. In Acts 19:18&19 some new believers in Ephesus confessed their deeds and burnt their books of occult. But the Bible does not record such incidents happening for every new believer. It is recorded that in the early revivals of LEF, incidents of public confession spontaneously occurred. In my opinion, what happened spontaneously has been converted into a doctrine without a strong Biblical mandate. They also incorrectly use the term repentance for this process. In the Bible, the word “repent” means “to change one’s mind”. By changing the meaning of the word, there is a false feeling that they are more closely following the Bible than other churches. LEF’s “superior” position has led to some people feeling that they are not saved since they did not get any verse from God or feel saved even though they believe in Jesus, pray and read the Bible regularly. Also when people wait for verses for a proof of salvation, it is no longer by faith but by sight! There is also no guarantee for a nice feeling after believing. “The wind blows where it wants to. You hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. That’s the way it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:8 (ISV).
The Bible is comprised of 66 books written by around 40 different people. It has many genres of literature which can be broadly classified as history, law, wisdom, poetry, prophecy, gospel, letters and apocalypse. Although the Bible is so diverse in authorship, age and genre it beautifully agrees with one other. If the Bible was a handbook, reference book or a book of rules each individual verse can be understood and interpreted on its own. But the Bible is about Jesus, the son of man: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.” (John 5:39 ESV). “Jesus then explained everything written about himself in the Scriptures, beginning with the Law of Moses and the Books of the Prophets.” (Luke 24:27 CEV)
The Word of God is like a body with many parts: “The body of Christ has many different parts, just as any other body does. It takes many parts to make a single body. That’s why the eyes cannot say they don’t need the hands. That’s also why the head cannot say it doesn’t need the feet.” (1Cor 12:12,20,21 CEV). Similarly, a single verse from the Bible should not be taken on its own to form a doctrine. Instead the Bible has to be taken as awhole to form any doctrine. Unfortunately this principle doesn’t seem to be well known or understood and sadly many Christians and churches misinterpret and twist the Word of God by clinging on to favourite verses without seeing the big picture of the Bible. The Devil loves to take verses out of context and deceive. He even tried it on Jesus and said, “Since you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, because it is written, ‘God will put his angels in charge of you,’ and ‘With their hands they will hold you up, so that you will never hit your foot against a rock.'” (Matthew 4:6 ISV). But Jesus, rightly dividing the Word of Truth replied saying “It is also written, ‘You must not tempt the Lord your God.'” (ISV Matthew 4:6).
God can’t give us peace and happiness apart from Himself because there is no such thing.
– C. S. Lewis
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.
Christ never meant that we were to remain children in intelligence: He told us to be ‘as harmless as doves’, but also ‘as wise as serpents’.
– C. S. Lewis
New is often exciting but in matters of faith, it should be carefully tested as warned in 1 John 4:1 (HSBC) “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to determine if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”. The foundations of the Christian faith have already been fully laid after the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul writes to Timothy: “From childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3: 15 – 17). This clearly shows us that the scriptures are enough for all generation. It is true that we need pastors, teachers, books, seminars, etc but these have to be based 100% on the scriptures. Unfortunately over the centuries many extra-Biblical teachings and false doctrines have tried to creep into the church.
The term ‘extra-Biblical’ refers to: (1) Any form of information, knowledge or experience concerning God, His Work or His Will, which is not directly quoted in scripture. (2) Teachings, concepts and practices claimed to be supported by or taught in the Bible, but are based on incorrect interpretation.