Monday, October 15, 2012

On the Ceremonially Unclean Side of the River

As many of you know, our family had the privilege of serving the Lord in Varanasi, India in 2006-2007. Varanasi is one of the holiest cities in all of Hinduism. You've probably seen photos such as the one above. The Hindus are ceremonially bathing in the Ganges River in the hopes of washing their sins away. Large stone steps, referred to as ghats, line the city side of the river. Literally thousands of people pilgrimage to V-town every day to dip in the Ganges.

The far side of the river is barren. I don't have a photo of it because there isn't anything to see other than a mud bar and some small trees. The far side is considered ceremonially unclean by the Hindus. Somewhat ironically, and appropriately, the Indian Christians of the city hold their baptisms on the far side. What the Hindus consider impure, the Christians embrace.

The Christians often baptize of the far side because they face less persecution there. This is completely understandable; they will face enough persecution as it is. There's no reason to foolishly invite more by trying to baptize on the ghat side. As a bonus, the far side, while considered ceremonially impure by the Hindus, is actually much cleaner because there's nothing over there.

The baptisms on the far side of the Ganges remind me of Hebrews 13:11-13:

"For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured."

In many ways, the Indian Christians of Varanasi have run to Christ outside the gate. When they leave Hinduism for Christianity they often face all sorts of persecution (some worse than others). The far side of the river baptisms are a perfect illustration of living outside the gate with Christ. They have given up much for His great cause. They suffer with Him. They see that it's worth it.

It's odd living here in the USA. I often wonder what it truly is to go outside the gate to live with Christ. I've never suffered in any significant way for my Lord. I'm not complaining, but it certainly seems like an anomaly compared to what most believers face around the world today.

To some extent we all suffer a little when we reject the things of the world. However, in the United States this isn't really that big of a deal. We American Christians almost never face actual persecution for following Jesus.

I suppose the best thing to do is to be ready to suffer when the time comes. We'll all likely to be called to reside outside the gate sooner or later.


Chris Jefferies said...

I suppose that in the UK we suffer a little more persecution than you do in the USA, but only a little.

Some people have lost their jobs by insisting on wearing an emblem such as a cross or a fish, for example. But it doesn't compare with many Muslim countries where people regularly die because of their faith.

But your post made me think about something else entirely. We need to be like the Hindus in choosing our river with care. They wash in the muddy and polluted Ganges or the Brahmaputra. We can bathe in the River of Life, the living water that wells up within us. (John 4:10-15)

The Ganges is good for baptism, but the water that Jesus gives is truly good for life. And that's the real difference.

Hindu's have to wash again and again in an ineffective river. We need only drink once from the river of abundant life in Christ. HalleluYah!

Eric said...

Well said brother!

Aussie John said...


In some situations the same applies here as Chris indicates in the UK.

Most persecution I have observed, and, to a minor extent, tasted is from those who claim to be Christian. Much more subtle than that affecting our brethren in other lands and times.