250,000 at your Thanksgiving?
Not many people have 250,000 people attending their thanksgiving, but Bakht Singh did in the year 2000. And for good reason. He had brought the Gospel to millions of Indians over his life time as an evangelist and church planter. But what was special about him was that he did it in a uniquely Indian Way.
That made him, in the minds of the church establishment, an edgy saint.
Born in 1903 into a Sikh home he was wired hostile to the Gospel. Tragically most Indians thought the "Christian Gospel" was for the white man or the outcaste, not for the masses. This apathy towards the Gospel had been heightened by the way the imperialistic white man had treated the Indian.
As a young man Bakht Singh travelled to the West and was converted on one of his journeys. Returning to India at the age of 30 he was rejected by his parents for his newfound faith in Christ and so began his life-time's work as an evangelist and then church planter.
Starting in Karachi (then part of India) he went all over India preaching the Gospel, but with a difference....
The Gospel in an Indian Cup
...the difference? In spite of all the good western missionaries did for the Gospel in India, one negative legacy was the refusal to incarnate the Gospel into Indian culture. They brought over and imposed upon the Indian a stack of stuff they thought was Gospel (because they'd grown up with it) but which had nothing to do with the Gospel - it was mere human western tradition.
So they insisted on western hymns sung with western instruments, sitting upon western chairs, in western-looking buildings, with western Bible Colleges, meeting for the classical western duration of 1.00000 hour (not, heresy of heresies, 1.000001 hour), starting of course at the western 11.00am. No wonder many Indians rejected the Gospel - they had to become a westerner before they could become a Christian.
Like Sundar Singh before him, Bakht Singh realised from the Scriptures that you could be an Indian Christian, and needn't become a westerner to become a Christian. Out went the chairs, away went the building, in came the Indian harmonium and drums, out went the 1.00000hour service, in came the x hour service (where x is considerably greater than one), out went western ecclesiology, in came biblical all-body minsitry - and so on.
The effect? "Revivals" I am not sure whether I would call them revivals, I would call them the natural and powerful result of preaching the Gospel incarnately. The Gospel is attractive, the Gospel fits into every culture; the problem with us is that we wrap it up in so many layers of tradition, so its beauty is hidden.
His forerunner, Sundar Singh put it like this:
"Indians do need the water of life, but not in a European cup. They should sit down on the floor of the church: they should take off their shoes instead of their turbans. Indian music should be sung. Long informal addresses should take the place of sermons.." (p.179, Bakht Singh of India)
Whose really got the edges then?
Many westerners - and western-trained easterners - regarded Bakht Singh as an edgy Christian, not least because he hadn't been 'ordained' (Ordained? Where's that in the Bible? Come on?) But he wasn't and edgy saint. He was the guy going back to the Bible.
The real "Edgies" were the western missionaries who went over to India before doing their homework, before sorting out what was Gospel and what was Tradition. If they had done that, they'd have realized that 3/4 of what they were pushing was English High Tea Tradition - which frankly is far more weird than sitting on the floor, playing a harmonium......