At an early time Christianity came to South Asia, where it adapted itself to the prevailing culture. The most notable example is the Thomas Christianity of South India. Historically, Christianity has a 2,000-year tradition in South Asia. Cult and culture combined to preserve a community authentically Christian as well as thoroughly Indian, an integral part of the culture of the region.
South Asian Christianity experienced rebirth in countless reincarnations, demonstrating the ongoing translatability of the gospel. Attempts were made in Tamil Nadu, in Bengal and in Maharashtra to express historic Christianity in independent Indian cultural forms. At Madurai the brilliant Jesuit scholar Roberto de Nobili (1577–1656) completely Tamilised the gospel. Tamil Nadu had Vedanayagam Shastriar (1774–1864), H. A. Krishna Pillai (1827–1900) and others who enculturated the Protestant Christianity of the South. In Bengal the most radical attempts were the Christo Samaj of Calcutta (1887), led by Kali Charan Banerjee (1847–1902), and the Church of the New Dispensation of Keshub Chandra Sen (1838–84), who, however, remained outside the Christian fold. In Maharashtra the Brahmin poet Narayan Vaman Tilak (1861–1919) brought the richness of the Hindu bhakti tradition into the Marathi Church.
The term ‘Independents’ in this essay differentiates lesser-known congregations and small clusters from the better-known ‘great tradition’ – the historic Protestant, Orthodox and Catholic denominations. Frequently overlooked, the churches and movements of the ‘little tradition’ have become highly influential in today's majority world. This essay focuses on some examples of Independent churches and movements in South Asia.
Independent Churches in Chennai (Madras)
Probably more than any other major city, Chennai (Madras) is home to a vast number of Christian denominations and institutions, including Independent churches and related ministries. One such is the Maranatha Full Gospel Association, founded by Pastor D. Henry Joseph and headquartered in Kilpauk. Originally begun as a Bible school of four students, from it have sprung some 200 churches, six Bible schools and two primary in 1980 as a single congregation, by 1997 had grown to 45 churches with 7,000 members. Some 75% of the members are said to come from non-Christian backgrounds. The Madras Pentecostal Assembly, with 20,000 members, led by Pastor Stanley Vasu, is probably the oldest Pentecostal fellowship in Chennai. The Apostolic Christian Assembly is an influential mega-church with branches and headquarters in Chennai. schools.