Indonesia Remains Deeply Religious
Indonesia, a nation of 145 million, has been described as a "meeting place of the world's religions." It contains perhaps the world's largest Muslim community. There are also significant Buddhist and Hindu minorities. Since 1965 the Christian population has grown from 4 million to 13 million. Christianity has a strong influence. Education has raised the standard of living of Christians. As a result, they play a more important role than their number would indicate.
Indonesians are called "spiritual people." They are very much aware of the reality of the spirit world. The spirits are either benevolent or malevolent. The traditional world of the Indonesians is that of many spirits. Evil spirits must be appeased. Good spirits can be called on for help. Spirits and people form a community.
Indonesia is a deeply religious nation. Since the republic was proclaimed in 1945, it has been illegal to be an unbeliever. Atheism has been branded as politically subversive, especially since unbelievers were associated with the attempted overthrow of the government in 1965.
On June 1, 1945, Sukarno delivered an address called the Birth of Pantja Sila. The Pantja Sila (Five Principles) were incorporated in the draft constitution and became the nation's spiritual and political basis. Sukarno explained that Pantja or Five is a religiously symbolic number in Indonesia and elsewhere.
The Pantja Sila are as follows:
1. Belief in one God.
2. The principle of humanity.
4. Sovereignty of the people.
5. Social justice.
The first principle, the belief in one God, constitutes the very basis of Indonesia's political life. This confession doesn't identify God. And it doesn't force Indonesians to forsake their own concept of God. Article 20 of the constitution guarantees freedom of religion. When President Suharto came to power in 1966, he didn't bring an ideological change. He, too, accepted the five principles as the political and ideological basis of the nation.
Religion is a vital part of the Indonesian way of life. Since every citizen is expected to belong to a religion, social pressure to join a recognized religion is strong. But is the Indonesian really free to choose his religion? In August, 1978, the government handed down two decrees (Decree 70 and 77). They have made a strong impact on the life and ministry of the Christian church. Officially, these two decrees were designed to discourage overt proselytism by any religion. But Christians see them as a hindrance to their mission outreach, especially among Muslims.
Decree 70 declares that everyone is entitled to his own faith, and an attempt to convert anyone from one religion to another is unlawful. So tract distribution, door to door and open air evangelism have been officially prohibited. Decree 77 is directed to the work of foreign missionaries, declaring that they are to train Indonesians to take over their task.
Time limits, though not specific, have been mentioned.
The Indonesian government is concerned about the rapid growth of the Christian church. The reaction of the Muslim community the spreading of the Gospel is feared. President Suharto is becoming increasingly worried about Islam's threat to the basic ideals of the Five Principles. "As Suharto sees it," a government spokesman insists, "militant Islam poses a threat to Pancasila (Five Principles) and the unity of the country." The Minister of Religious Affairs, Lt. Gen. Alamsyah, told Muslims that "the mosque is not the right place for politics."
"The mistake Muslims made in the past," Alamsyah told gatherings in Sulawese, "was in carrying forward a politically-oriented Islam rather than a religious-oriented Islam. The government suspected Muslims of being anti-Pancasila while Muslims feared that Pancasila would be made into a religion." "Now," the minister said, "the government has no intention of making Pancasila a religion or subverting religion with Pancasila."
Alamsyah warned Muslims that at the 1982 election Dakhwah (Islam missionary activity) should not be mixed with politics. The Minister of Religious Affairs, it seems, shares President Suharto's fears of politically spiked Islam contesting the 1982 elections.
Indonesians are sandwiched between "many spirits'' and "several spirits," between the spirits of ancient animism and the spirits of Indonesian political ideology. But in the midst of all this tension, the Holy Spirit of God is at work.
Church growth is continuing. Thousands of young people are coming to Christ. It is said that Indonesia could use 10,000 trained pastors immediately. There is a great need for educated leadership. The following two examples illustrate the spiritual awakening in Indonesia.
Rev. Junus Atmarumeksa reports that the Back to God Hour is making an impact in Indonesia. The broadcast enters the country from Manila, the Philippines; and it is distributed as well, all over the country by 62 small, independent stations. In 1979, the island of Guam also became a basis for transmitting the Gospel to Indonesia. Rev. Atmarumeksa says that one of the converts from the Muslim faith, formerly a student in a Muslim seminary, became a Christian through the radio ministry, and is now studying to become a Christian missionary.
Indonesian Christians themselves are becoming more and more missionary minded and are sending evangelists and teachers wherever there are opportunities for spreading the Gospel. Brig. Gen. Willy Lasut is a national lay preacher who has a successful ministry among his own people. Jakarta's Merdeka newspaper group voted the Brigadier General, "Most Admired Governor of 1979." However, Lasut was fired after only 15 months in office as governor of the Clove Rich North Sulawesi Province.
"They needed to slice up the wealth of the province and they needed me out before they could do it," says Willy, 54, of his controversial dismissal. The soldier who won the respect of the two million of his Province has pledged to "uncover the North Sulawesi clove syndicate and the identity of its powerful backers when the time is ripe."
The ardent Christian has effectively repulsed a smear campaign begun against him. "I was slandered with having a harem and numerous love affairs," the widower and father of five recalls. The former governor is now spearheading a religious revival in 1143 hamlets of North Sulawesi. He is greatly used by the Holy Spirit to lead many of his people to Jesus Christ.
Churches, mission programs and individuals are busy with the ingathering of the elect into the fold of Christ. The opportunities are great. Let us prayerfully remember our Indonesian brothers and sisters in Christ as they face government interference, militant Islam, but also a rich spiritual harvest.
Johan D. Tangelder