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William Carey and Unity in Christ

In 1793, William Carey sailed to India to bring the good news of the gospel to the unreached Hindu people. A majority of the religious adherents were crippled by the rigid caste system that divides Hindus into four castes—Brahmins (priests and teachers), Kshatriyas (warriors and rulers), Vaishyas (farmers and merchants) and the Shudras (laborers).

Denouncing Hinduism means denouncing this caste system, and, for the 18th/19th century Hindu, denouncing Hinduism meant denouncing an entire way of life. So important was this distinction that Carey and his fellow missionaries held all things in common as the early church did in Acts 4. The message was clear—to accept Christ as Lord was to accept others as family.

Perhaps this paradigm shift was one of the reasons that Carey did not baptize his first convert until 1800 (a Shundra named Krishnu). Two years later, he baptized the first Brahmin (a man by the same name).

James Culross records the event as follows:
A great Christian principle was affirmed in connection with the reception of the first Brahmin into membership of the Church—the principle of Christian brotherhood. Previous missionaries had not merely tolerated caste in the ordinary social life of their converts, but had even allowed it to appear at the Lord’s table. Carey and his friends determined against this from the outset. A Brahmin of the name of Krishnu-Prisad made avowal of faith in Christ, and was baptized. The same day, at the Lord’s table, Krishnu the Brahmin received the bread and the cup from Krishnu the Shudar. Thus the principle was unmistakably enunciated that no caste-distinctions could be recognised within the brotherhood of Christian believers. No objection, however, was made to the poitoo, or sacred thread, which was looked upon as a merely social distinction, and he continued to wear it across the shoulder for three years, when he laid it aside of his own accord.

Though we are not beholden to any officially recognised caste system, there are often unspoken distinctions among Christians. Those with more money, power or clout are looked at with a respect that is not available to those with poverty, weakness or anonymity.

It is easy for us to see that the Hindu caste system is wrong. It is far more difficult to see that we are to “show no partiality” or that God has “chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith.”

Lord, teach us unity in Your Spirit.