On Sunday, at the end of an enviable feat of ecclesiastical commuting, The Right Reverend J. E. Lesslie Newbigin, Bishop of Madura and Ramnad, will have preached at Cambridge University, after delivering the William Belden Noble Lectures and last Sunday's sermon at Memorial Church.
He is one of seven "foreign" bishops of the Unitd Church of South India.
To Westerners who regard India as the most important non-belligerent battlefield for the Soviet and the Free World, Newbigin points out that there are no conditions in his country which are intrinsically antipathetic to Communism. "Not a prophet, but hopeful," he still states that existing remnants of the caste system will do as little to prevent the spread of Communism as respect for ancestry did in China. For the West, he feels, the best course would be to "have confidence in the Congress Party, but remember that Nehru must deliver the goods." One way to aid him would be a firm economic commitment to back the Indian Five Year Plans.
It is clear that Newbigin, like most Christian missionaries in potential Asian and African "democratic showcases," does not feel that anti-Communism is a creed for men to live by. "Communism should be fought, but the Church cannot be defined as anti-anything. It approaches people simply as human beings." In India, a religiously sophisticated nation, conversion is never a matter of "trying to rope people into the show, and a sense of God is taken naturally by the Indians," according to Newbigin. The main growth of Christianity is now taking place in the villages, by word-of-mouth rather than organized preaching.
The United Church has played a vital part in the impressive national drive that has swept through India since the British left in 1947. The tempo of change did not really pick up until 1951, when it became clear than the first Five Year Plan was succeeding. Although India's development has been mainly government run, many civil officials credit the Church with having "showed them how." Among the more interesting reforms the United Church has supported is an educational pilot project involving sociologists, technicians, and village residents. They will attempt to shape industry around village requirements and, if successful, should be able to work out an alternative to the construction of large, central factories.
Before returning to India, Newbigin will spend some time in other Western countries talking to churchmen of the need to unify the world missionary effort. His experience in India makes him an excellent spokesman.