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The caterpillar is not given the glory but the butterfly

The caterpillar is not given the glory but the butterfly
Church of South India Synod's 70th Anniversary Celebrations
Reflections on the Order of Service designed for the occasion, 24th September 2017

NOTE. This story is posted against a backdrop of massive corruption and multiple lawsuits taking place in the Church of South India by a group of concerned laity aimed at their bishops.

By Dr. Joseph Muthuraj
October 11, 2017

A 6-page liturgy in English (also translated into south Indian languages) has been circulated to all the Church of South India churches in order to help them commemorate the 70-year anniversary of the formation of the CSI. It is good to remember and celebrate the 70 years of the CSI through liturgical observation in a Sunday worship service; that is a good thought, but I offer the following comments:

There is no place for 27 September 1947 in the Liturgy

The section on 'Thanksgiving' in the Liturgy begins from 1948, the year the first CSI Synod met as if to suggest the first meeting of the Synod marked the day of the birth of the CSI and that God began to guide CSI from that year onwards. The Liturgy has strung together the conference themes of each biennium from 1948-2017 to suggest they provided the inspiration for the church over the 70 years. Our inspiration and directives do not derive from our Synod Conference themes. I have observed elsewhere that the present generation of the CSI, including the leaders, seem to have forgotten the past history of the CSI, the stories of struggles for achieving Union. They are ignorant about them, and there is no serious interest to look back at those days of remarkable beginnings. When pushed for an answer, the reply comes from even bishops that four denominations joined into a kind an amalgamated body in 1947. Only that much history they are aware of. There is a poverty of knowledge of history in the CSI, and the glow of union is getting extinguished. The date of 27 September 1947 should be the focal point in a liturgy. It is a surprise that this day is not mentioned in the prayer of thanksgiving. Without looking back to that date how can we praise God for the formation of the CSI? The series of Synod biennial meetings in the last 69 years do not make our history.

How did we get to the 27 September 1947?

We must thank God for the 28 years of prayer and sincere negotiations as they happened in various parts of South India from 1919 onwards. We must thank God for inspiring the different churches and guiding them through open and patient dialogues which saw those churches organically united under one ministry, one Shepherd, one constitution and one organisation on 27 September 1947. This was and is a rare thing to have happened in World Christianity.

We must thank God for enabling and inspiring our forefathers to meet officially as the members of the Joint Committee on Church Union from March 1920 in Bangalore onwards until the final meeting, the 20th meeting, taking place also in Bangalore on June 1947. The Joint Committee met 13 times in Madras (Chennai), 5 times in Bangalore, once in Madurai and once in Trichy. Bold decisions were made, and costly consensus was reached in matters of theology and ministry that had prevented unity for centuries between the Anglicans, Methodists, Congregationalists and Presbyterians. Without celebrating that period of struggle and journeying together, we cannot speak of a 70th year anniversary of the CSI. The key moment was the meeting that took place on 1-2 May 1919 in a place called Tranquebar which sowed the seed so that we could harvest the yield for 70 years. We will continue to reap! The three-page "Tranquebar Manifesto 1919", the blueprint for the formation of the CSI, should have had a mention in the Liturgy.

Remembering this forgotten and neglected period will enable the present generation to take stock as to whether they are cherishing and preserving today that legacy of Unity and Reconciliation that which was bequeathed to them from stalwarts like V. S. Azariah, Mashack Peter, C.J. Lucas, D.M. Devasahayam, Sumitra, J.A. Jacob, Maclean, Banninga, Monahan, L. Newbigin and a host of others. Should we not offer thanks to our God for their illustrious lives which propagated Union?

The writers of this 70th year Liturgy should have read the Liturgy of the Opening Ceremony of the United Church held at 8 am at St. George's Cathedral in Chennai on 27 Sept 1947. They could have brought out some elements from that historic and memorable Liturgy of 1947 by including a couple of prayers; please note particularly this beautiful prayer to be added to the Liturgy.

Let us Pray

"Almighty and everlasting God, who alone are the Author of unity, peace and concord, we thank thee for the churches in this our land and for thy grace in choosing us to be members and ministers in thy Church. We bless thee for our fellowship, and for our rich inheritance. We praise thee for thy messengers from other lands who brought the Gospel of thy Kingdom to this land, and for those who have faithfully proclaimed it to succeeding generations, and for all who have prayed and laboured for the Union of Churches, especially in South India. Thou hast heard the prayers of thy people and blessed the labours of thy servants, and hast brought us to this day for the glory of thy name. In obedience to thy will and led by thy Spirit, as we accept one another as fellow members and fellow ministers, do thou strengthen the bond between us and unite us and make us one Body, thyself, O Christ being its Head. Make us all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity. Grant that this Church may ever be zealous in commending thy glorious Gospel to the millions in this land, that India may find in thee the goal of all her seeking and the fulfilment of her noblest aspirations. Hasten the time, O God, when throughout the world there shall be one flock, one Shepherd, and in the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Amen"

It is painfully noted that the Synod considers and poses itself as the Church. The Synod, according to the CSI Constitution, is "the highest representative body of the Church of South India".

Representation means, "the action of speaking or acting on behalf of someone". The Synod is not the Church. The people of God of over 4 million Christians constitute the Church. The string of Synod meetings from 1948 to 2017 may reflect the various stages of the journey of the Church but the sum total of the local congregations, their godly lives and activities of mission and witness made the church grew four-fold in number since 1947.

The list of all the Synod meetings (1948-2017) in the Liturgy could have been curtailed to include the vital stages that are more important in the history of the formation of the CSI. The caterpillar does all the work but the butterfly gets all the publicity. The caterpillar is not given the glory but the butterfly!

There is no place for 26 September 1947 in the Liturgy

The Liturgy fails to thank God for the date of 26 September 1947 in which the united church assumed a corporate face. It was the day, the most significant one in the 70 years of management of the finance and properties of the CSI. This was the day in which the "would-be" Church of South India registered itself with the Government of India and got the name of Church of South India Trust Association. The members who later became part of the CSI formed the Trust Association of the CSI on 26 September 1947 with fifteen members drawn from the South India United Church, Methodist Mission, the Anglican Church comprising the first members of the Association. The would-be CSI became a legal entity and an incorporated body responsible to Government laws and the provisions of Indian Corporate Law in the management of CSI's movable and immovable properties.

The CSITA is not a Trust as it is made out to be: it is a Company to be operated by the rules and provisions of the Indian Companies Act 2013. The CSITA was incorporated under the Companies Act of 1913 as a charity and non-profit organisation. A Memorandum of Association (4 pages) and the Articles of Association (8 pages) were drawn which are the guiding documents for the management of the movable and immovable properties of the CSITA Company.

The saddest thing is that the self-understanding of the members of the Association is still unchanged even after 70 years. It is saturated with ideas of a Trustee organisation or an Agent and not with thoughts of company identity formed and controlled by the corporate laws of India. There are obviously many differences between a Trust and a Company which are not fully appreciated by the leaders of the CSI. A Trust committee owns the assets that are placed by the grantors in a trust. The control was with the grantors, and it is this working principle operating behind the Synod of the CSI which gives instructions and directions in the matters of the CSITA. As a result, it is regarded only as a "bare trustee"'' functioning fully under the control and authority of the Synod of the CSI. The Synod has misled and exploited the CSITA!

The CSI has not accorded a rightful place to the CSITA and also has not properly understood its own place within the structure of the CSITA. What is lacking is knowledge about corporate laws and the principles of corporate governance. Corporate governance refers to a system by which companies such as the CSITA are directed and controlled by a Board-process administration in which decisions are made as per the "Board of Directors" system specified in the CA 2013 and not by one man- or one family- or one group-domination of the management machinery.

Corporate governance has to do with general organisational behaviour, and it is a science and art that every bishop and lay leader of the CSI has to learn. Mr. Robert Bruce's (CSI Synod Treasurer) famous reply to the Registrar of Companies on behalf of the CSITA when he was asked to explain the irregularities is worth noting here. He wrote, "The official members of CSITA are of honorary basis and they keep changing over two years, and these Committee members are religious heads and they are not conversant with the provisions of the Companies Act." This was a shameful admission of the administrative/managerial system of the CSITA. We need to develop an administrative and management culture which inculcates good organisational behaviour with ethical responsibility. Let us look back to the event of 26 September 1947! We have desecrated that day by failing to maintain our account books in a fair manner and to protect invaluable properties from the greed of the corrupt leaders of the CSI.

The powers of the Synod management work in secret when it comes to the management of properties and assets which are in the hands of the CSITA. The minutes and the reports are not available to the beneficiaries/stake-holders/members of the CSITA. Its property dealings are not brought into the public domain. The former Moderator Devakadasham was infuriated when I uttered the word CSITA. The CSI leaders do not want an ordinary member of the CSI to ask questions about and probe into the affairs of the CSITA. Remembering 26 September 1947 will break this taboo!

The Liturgy Prays to God who has no other Business except Forgiving Sunday after Sunday

In "Call to Worship" God is characterised as "God who keeps forgiving our trespasses". As the Words of Assurance the Liturgy has it, "The Lord knows our journey, he watches our ways, he is ready to wash our tired and callous feet filled with stains of sin and marks of evil ways". This is the opium administered to the people by a corrupt church!

There have been several extensive Reports made to and made by the Indian Government particularly from the Registrar of Companies (RoC), Chennai under whose authority the CSITA functions. According to those Reports, our accounting standards are the areas of great concern, and it is in this area that the devil rules and operates. A Company is punishable when it is proved that the affairs of the company were conducted fraudulently. The findings by the RoC conclude invariably with the recommendation that the "verification of books of accounts and records of the Company is required", and more particularly with the statement that the Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO) should be ordered by the Home Ministry to make a thorough investigation "in order to unearth the malpractices". The Report from the RoC concluded its 45 pages with a strong statement that "the business of the Company is carried on for a fraudulent/unlawful purpose". The SFIO has therefore been ordered to investigate wrong-doings and irregularities amounting to corruption and fraud. This has lowered the credibility of the Christian religious Company, the CSITA. A member from Medak diocese (supported by former Moderators) has moved the court to block the investigation so that crores of unaccountable money and missing funds and illegal sale of Church properties could not be unearthed by the SFIO and that the culprits should go unpunished.

There has particularly developed a standard operating procedure in the management of properties, appointment of bishops and the selection of Synod office-bearers and at all levels of church administration where the selling or purchasing of power or privilege are involved. There are different forms of corruption such as bribery, extortion, cronyism, nepotism, patronage, craft and embezzlement. There is also another important type. In the CSI and CSITA, church resources are used by the hierarchy of past and present to retain power for themselves and "to maintain or strengthen their hold on power". It is this form of corruption that needs to be challenged and encountered with the power of the Word of God and the charism of the Holy Spirit. Can the Liturgy reflect these conditions from which we seek God's forgiveness and liberation?

The Liturgy Needs to be Built-in with Anti-Corruption Aspirations Worshipping the God of Judgement

Anti-corruption aspirations are not mere Christian sentimentalism; they have strong biblical roots. Anti-corruption is reflected in the very character of God, and furthermore there is a call for the radical reform of our corrupt behaviour. When I open my Bible to listen to what it says on bribery and corruption, I am totally amazed with the sternness, clarity and robustness with which various forms of corruption were approached, opposed and fought against within the community of faith in Yahweh.

There is no need for any commentary or scholar to do the exposition of the following texts written by the most Supreme Council of the Lord Most High: here is the biblical notion of God. God is a just God who cannot be bribed. Deut. 10: 17 says, "For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe." "Now then let the fear of the LORD be upon you; be very careful what you do, for the LORD our God will have no part in unrighteousness or partiality or the taking of a bribe" (2 Chronicles 19:7).

The prophet Samuel was a leader from the days of his youth until his hair turned grey; he said to his people: "Here I stand. Testify against me in the presence of the Lord and his anointed. Whose ox have I taken? Whose donkey have I taken? Whom have I cheated? Whom have I oppressed? From whose hand have I accepted a bribe to make me shut my eyes? If I have done any of these things, I will make it right" (I Samuel 12: 3). He was ready to repent of his sins of cheating, fraud and accepting bribes in his old age. The people replied, "You have not taken anything from anyone's hand."

It was the daily prayer of King David, "Do not take away my soul along with sinners ... in whose hands are wicked schemes, whose right hands are full of bribes" (Ps. 26: 9-10). "Extortion turns a wise person into a fool, and a bribe corrupts the heart" (Eccl. 7: 7).

How about choosing leaders? In Exodus 18: 21, it says, "Select from all the people some capable, honest men who fear God and hate bribes. Appoint them as leaders over groups of one thousand, one hundred, fifty, and ten." Prophets condemned bribery and exploitation. The prophet Isaiah says: "Your rulers are rebels, partners with thieves; they all love bribes and chase after gifts. They do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widow's case does not come before them" (Isaiah 1: 23). Again, Isaiah says, "Woe to those ... who acquit the guilty for a bribe, but deny justice to the innocent" (Isaiah 5: 23). What about the leaders in the Community and their council? Listen to the words of Ezekiel, Amos and Micah: "In you are people who use power to shed blood and who accept bribes to shed blood" (Ez. 22: 6-12); Micah thunders, "Hear this, you leaders of Jacob, you rulers of Israel, who despise justice and distort all that is right; ... her leaders judge for a bribe, her priests teach for a price, and her prophets tell fortunes for money. Yet they look for the Lord's support and say, 'Is not the Lord among us? No disaster will come upon us' " (Micah 3: 11). Amos cries out, "For I know your manifold transgressions and your mighty sins: they afflict the just, they take a bribe" (Amos 5: 12).

Here comes the divine command from the Deuteronomist: "Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the innocent. Follow justice and justice alone" (Deut. 16: 19). The sons of upright Samuel did not follow his ways. "They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice" (I Samuel 8: 3). Who can stand before the consuming fire of God? It is this man/woman according to Isaiah 33: 15-16: "He who walks righteously and speaks with sincerity, he who rejects unjust gain. And shakes his hands so that they hold no bribe." The leaders who loot Church property should read this verse: "And Ahaz took the silver and gold found in the temple of the Lord and in the treasuries of the royal palace and sent it as bribery to the king of Assyria" (2 Kings 16: 8). "For the company of the godless will be barren, and fire will consume the tents of those who love bribes" (Job 15: 34). The book of Proverbs has these three beautiful verses: "A wicked man receives a bribe from the bosom to pervert the ways of justice" (17:23); "The king gives stability to the land by justice, but a man who takes bribes overthrows it" (29:4); and "He who profits illicitly troubles his own house, but he who hates bribes will live" (15:27).

"You shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of the just" (Ex. 23: 8). "Cursed is anyone who accepts a bribe to kill an innocent person. Then all the people shall say, 'Amen!' " (Deut. 27: 25). Of course, our Lord was betrayed for a bribe of thirty pieces of silver. It was considered "blood money" (Matt. 27: 3-9). The religious authorities even today are ready to bribe anyone who can come forward to carry out their schemes, particularly those who are superficially disciples and those who wish to hold the purse.

Forgiveness of God is not Cheap and under the Control of human Prayers

The mechanical confession as printed in the Liturgy works neurologically by producing quick-fix "feel-good" hormones that lower feelings of guilt or anxiety, and thus restore the sense of emotional safety from sins. Forgiveness may be free but is not cheap, bound hopelessly to the words of human prayers. God's forgiveness does not mean that we can live as we like after saying few words in prayer. We must live differently from that moment on. It is not biblical for a community to sin habitually and continually as a lifestyle and still be a pilgrim church. We do not live a lifestyle of continual, unrepentant sin. Instead of learning from our mistakes can we go and do them again ... and again ... and again? Can the God of justice forgive us after so many repeat offences? In the Liturgy, a torrent of biblical words and phrases are filled with arrogant pride about our goodness and righteousness. The CSI Christians have come to know that on 22 September 2017 the Synod office was raided simultaneously by four different agencies like the Central Intelligence Bureau, Income Tax etc. Corruption issues worth crores of money have been unearthed and proofs have been confiscated. The soul of the CSI/CSITA is dead that feels no load of sin.

The Liturgy is obsessed with the noun and adjective of the word "pilgrim". The word "pilgrim" occurs 25 times and they are clumsily and unbiblically used. "Pilgrim" means "a person who undertakes a journey to a sacred place as an act of religious devotion". Our activities suggest that we are not pilgrims, aliens and strangers in the world (I Peter 2:11-12). "We do the things that worldings do, sing their songs, play their genre of music, watch their films and plays, dance their dances, and wear their most daring styles, along with other compromises that would have horrified believers throughout the last two millennia." We do not behave like a "Pilgrim Church" but a community saturated and immersed and rooted in the cultural habits of the evil world. In the process, the CSI forgets its real nature and purpose of its journey and the destination.

"God did not spare the angels when they sinned" says the author of II Peter. The false teachers are slaves of corruption; they malign the truth and exploit others with deceptive words. In the time of Noah, God brought a flood on a world of ungodly people. The punishment on Sodom and Gomorrah is an example of what is coming to the ungodly. The author further says that they have hearts trimmed in greed and they will suffer the penalty. They have left the straight road and have gone astray, following the road of Balaam who loved the wages of doing wrong ... a speechless donkey spoke with a human voice and restrained the prophet's madness (2: 10ff).

The Caterpillar of the CSI and the CSITA has escaped from the memories of the church; the butterfly seeks to dominate though its colourful wings are broken!

Wake up and Arise, O CSI and CSITA. Let your worship and liturgy focus on repentance from the sins of corruption and fraudulent acts. God will not keep on forgiving you. He is a God who hates theft and bribery and will surely punish the wrong-doers. The days of the Judgement are already at your door-steps. Hurry up, cleanse yourselves and approach the mercy seat of Christ.

Rev. Dr. Joseph Gnanaseelan Muthuraj
Bangalore: 23 September 2017

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