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A New Book calls Anglicanism 'a decomposed body' and accuses it of absorbing the Church of South India

A New Book calls Anglicanism 'a decomposed body' and accuses it of absorbing the Church of South India
St. Paul's Cathedral, Kolkata, India - Photo

By the Rev. Dr. Joseph Muthuraj
Special to Virtueonline
October 15, 2019

It is a thing to be welcomed when a new book appears promising to bring to light a set of new data about the origin and the character of the CSI or to add great significance to the existing knowledge; but when it is so displeasing that the new package is bringing more controversy and confusion to the rudimentary knowledge that people have about the formation of the CSI, it should then be taken serious note of.

The book is turning a heritage home into a storage shed

The book is entitled, The Greatest Act of Faith: The First Organic Union of the Church of South India (2019, 260 pp) written by the Rev. Israel Selvanayagam and published by Christian World Imprints, New Delhi. Rev. Selvanayagam received his ordination from the Church of South India about three decades ago and is currently serving as the minister of Evesham Methodist church, England with his family settled in Birmingham. His village in the southernmost tip of India has benefitted from development projects supported by British (Methodist?) money.

The book brings a big upset to the method of primary-data based research. The author's assertion that Anglicanism is a decomposed body and that those people who seek attachment with Anglicanism are those who are 'asking for a very late post-mortem and a share of a decomposed body' (p. xviii) seems to have no backing from the historical data. It probably makes sense in the context of author's personal experience (with a history of grievances?) as he confuses between the quality of Anglicanism in India in the first half of the twentieth century which set it all up for negotiation for unity and the type of Anglicanism encountered by the author in Britain since 1966. Do not mix up the two strands!

This is topped by the claim that the formation of the CSI was the greatest act of faith and it was 'a miracle next to the Pentecost' (p. xvii)! Hysteria in the extreme!

Some writers think that readers are impressed by superlatives, but a good writer should never use them except if they can be proven. Adding hyperbolical expressions of praise peppered with superlatives will not help the cause of history. The formation of the united church in South India can best be regarded as 'an act of faith', an act in obedience to the agonised prayer of Jesus who prayed to the Father that all his disciples may become one just as the Father and the Son are one (John 17). But there is a long journey after crossing that starting point. One should read the prayer of Jesus in toto to identify the other phases of tryst with unity that are far more demanding than the initial step of achieving an organic union which was not complete in itself.

It was the Archbishop Fisher (1945-1961) who called the CSI union 'an act of faith' but he added other nouns such as the 'venture, the sacrifice' to 'the act of faith' (see below). I do not know how many times the author repeats the name of Bishop Michael Hollis (1889-1986) and the first Moderator of the Church of South India in his book as he attributes the 'miracle' statement to him. Michael Hollis did not say that the formation of the CSI was the second miracle after Pentecost. He rather said, 'The most important "event" in Church History since Pentecost'. (The Significance of South India, 1966, p. 15). Does the author mean that God did not and could not perform any miracle after Pentecost and that he waited for 1,900 years to perform a second miracle in 1947? History and theology cannot accommodate such a romantic imagination. Why is such a miraculous church in such a pitiable and immoral condition now?

The descriptions of the CSI union which we read from D. Webster's What is this Church of South India? (1955) are more stunning. He wrote: 'The C. S. I. is the first adventure in union of this kind. It is a reminder, a bow in the cloud, a challenge, an irritant, an embarrassment, a vanguard into the future, a kind of first-fruits of the coming great Church.'

'Organic' union is interpreted in a most 'inorganic' manner

Though the author of the book The Greatest Act of Faith seems to have enjoyed the benefits of both worlds, namely the Church of England and the Methodist Church of Britain, since 1996 it is very clear in this book that he has been developing a fair amount of aversion for Anglicanism even though he was given the privilege to be part of or being closer to the Anglican establishment in Britain.

Perhaps the dislike for Anglicanism was catching up with him from his Congregational upbringing in the LMS mission areas in India. The reason could also be a cultural one in that he has developed an intolerant attitude towards the former Anglican community of the CSI over their growing influence and social progress.

The result is that the book creates a basic algorithm for division in the church in a most inorganic way which is already stuck in a rut and floating in a marshy land of corruption -- i.e. looting church resources for private economic and political gain by individuals and networks of individuals in power. The corruption and the present legal crisis faced by the CSI/CSITA do not concern him as much as his seeing Anglicanism as a grave danger to the CSI. He brushes aside the whole problem of corruption simply by stating, 'we do not know the magnitude and reality'. The home of the CSI union of different church traditions and heritages is turned into a shed to store things that are rusty and not used frequently or that are too unclean to store in the home.

The book does not define 'organic union'

The phrase 'organic union' is used so frequently but it never gets treated anywhere. His conception of unity seems to be that the CSI was formed as an organic union in which all the four denominations should have died, and that the Anglicanism though half dead is absorbing the entire CSI by declaring it a 'province' unilaterally in Anglican terms. Added to it is the recent visit of the Archbishop of Canterbury to India, seen as an attempt to recolonise India. 'The Indians are ignorant over it' is the coolest message that a Non-Resident Indian author could easily convey. He thinks that the Indians (except himself) are still living with a colonial psyche and that they are as short-sighted as Esau in selling their birthright foolishly as an exchange for overseas trips made once in ten years to participate in the colourful and attractive event in Lambeth (p. 246).

No primary data researched by the author to back up his claim

The bibliography looks rather poor with limited sources and without the listing of documents, reports, minutes and publications coming from the period when the union negotiations were in progress (1919-1947). Living in Britain, the author has a good opportunity to lay hands on materials that are so crucial to the understanding of the union and its 'mantra' that brought the churches together into an organism on the basis of an adapted historic episcopacy. According to his Preface he has not spent days in the archives himself going through various collections which itself could have been an education and then selecting relevant materials/sources to conduct the study and analysis before embarking on a rigorous task of putting the pieces together to enlighten the author as well as the readers.

The book presents the Methodist Church in Britain, which employed the author for more than two decades, in a goodly neutral light but gets into a nit-picking mood whenever he touches on the Anglican side of the story of Church Union in south India. If a critic makes one-sided criticisms regularly it will then discredit the critic. Here and there the reader finds some wise utterances, but the authors emotionally charged hyperbolic statements are hard to be reconciled with a sound academic venture of arriving at fair conclusions based on a careful analysis of the primary data collected from the period of study in question.

The mine centres of sources for research on the CSI are the library/archives in Oxford, Cambridge, Birmingham, Newcastle universities, the denominational seminary libraries, mission archives in London (?), the Lambeth Palace library and, of course, the great British library to dig up a wealth of information.

Bishop Stephen Neill, the Church Historian of the twentieth century, was spending time in the archives soon after the treatment for heart-attack

It was August, 1983 in the archives of the Oxford University. I did not recognise the gentleman sitting opposite to me in my reading desk in the archival room throughout the day until 4 pm. The gentleman rose a few minutes before 4 pm to go to his room in Wycliffe Hall where I was given an appointment to meet with him. People told me that it would be very difficult to get an appointment with the bishop as he was recuperating from a heart attack. The librarian was kind enough to try and got me an appointment with him. As the gentleman left, the librarian told me in a soft voice that was Bishop Neill. I was jubilant, not having recognised him as I had not seen him before. He visited my village, a centre of SPG mission, when he was the bishop at Tirunelveli diocese (1939-1944). My father was one of the candidates confirmed by him.

[The village was a unique SPG centre where the ancestors of my great-grandmother (joined by 40 families) handed over two Hindu temples as a mark of conversion to Christianity to the SPG mission Assistant Bishop Robert Caldwell in June 1877. He dedicated those temples to the God of Light by dumping 53 idols in a well nearby. Bishop Caldwell was honoured with a doctorate degree for his literary achievements by the University of Durham.]

I was stunned by Bishop Neill's dedication. A man with a heart ailment was going through the manuscripts and other materials for his next book just sitting three feet away from me! What a privilege to do research sitting opposite the great man! What a conversation we had in his room (with a cup of tea made by him) on the history of Christianity in India and the publication of Tamil Christian literature in the nineteenth century. The great man blessed me by laying both hands on my head. I learnt archival research from him and drew inspiration to write the history of the Church. I expressed once to Dr. Eric Lott, my Professor of Religion at the United Theological College, Bangalore, that I try to imitate Bishop Stephen Neill in writing history. I read his works with great delight. It is precisely for the same reason that I take the liberty to criticise him at times.

Back on track! One cannot write history by summoning people to fetch you this book or that book from the libraries for reading at home. Sources should be sought after and collected in a painstaking way. I do not know why the author suggests that the research for the book was 'hazardous'. The danger is actually in picking the quotations already used second hand. The book by Selvanayagam has more than one third of the footnote references 'quoted', that is, contents picked from a variety of secondary sources which had already used them. The author has generously used quotations chosen and used by others rather than finding appropriate quotes from the primary source to substantiate his arguments. Another 40-50% of the footnotes are strings of 'ibid'. That is, the contents are gathered from the same source again and again. This type of research will not help one to discover something new, and the author will end up reproducing what others have said, though in the author's own style. One has to toil for hours, days, months and years in the libraries/archives to produce a book which I think will fulfil one's responsibility and duty in a most Christian way. 'Discover yourself at all costs' is the motto!

Bishop Newbigin, a non-Episcopalian views 'organic unity'

Bishop Newbigin (1909-1998) was a sharp theologian and an excellent historian. He was a historian who either during personal conversations or public lectures could pull out on the spot anecdotes from his fantastic memory box, particularly of those events which one might not have read in any history book.

Newbigin was a man deeply rooted in Presbyterian and Congregationalist tradition but who showed to the world church how a non-Episcopalian could come to terms with accepting the Anglican episcopacy and work with it in a manner the Union scheme had envisaged. This is how Bishop Newbigin, a non-Anglican, who should have shown more aversion to episcopacy, viewed 'organic union'.

He mentions the first World Conference held in New York in 1913, at which it was agreed that 'while organic unity is the ideal which all Christians should have in their thoughts and prayers, ... it was no accident that this initiative came from Anglican sources.' (Organic Union, 1991)

These following words of Bishop Newbigin caught my eyes. 'The healing which we need cannot be accomplished by merely piecing together our broken structures. It must be the whole body of the faithful that grows together into one. Episcopacy and presbytery and congregation will find their true unity when Episcopalians and Presbyterians and Congregationalists accept one another and agree to share a common life, not before.' (Anglicans and Christian Reunion, 1958, p. 226)

He adds, '... at the point of reunion, we accept one another simply and completely without hedging or reservation, as fellow-members and fellow-ministers in Christ by his pure grace.' (p. 226). In conclusion, Newbigin sums up: '... we do not demand of each other certain measures of reform as the pre-condition of acceptance. It means that when we turn together to God in an act of repentance, which includes a willingness to surrender our separate existences in order to put ourselves afresh under the judgment and mercy of God, at that point we accept one another as we are. That is surely the only method of Christian reunion which is proper to the order of grace.' (p. 227)

The description of 'organic unity' by Newbigin: 'As the Body of Christ, the church is an organism "joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied when each part is working properly" (Eph. 4:16). Its unity is therefore properly described as organic. All churches accept and use this biblical language with reference to their own inner life. The debate about organic union arises when churches seeking closer unity have differing views of the way in which unity and diversity are related to each other in the Body of Christ.' (Organic Union, 1991)

PLEDGE, a great South Indian recipe for preserving organic union

How did South India manage to bring together episcopal and non-episcopal churches when churches around the world are struggling and failing to find suitable medicine for uniting episcopal and non-episcopal churches?

The simple answer is: PLEDGE, a great South Indian recipe for uniting churches that could not be united. No other nation tasted it! The PLEDGE, a gentlemen's agreement, is its full text: 'The uniting Churches recognize that the act of union will initiate a process of growing together into one life and of advance towards complete spiritual unity. One essential condition of the attainment of such complete unity is that all the members of the united Church should be willing and able to receive communion equally in all of its churches, and it is the resolve of the uniting Churches to do all in their power to that end.' Why is it called a 'gentlemen's agreement'?

'They (the uniting churches) therefore pledge themselves and fully trust each other that the united Church will at all times be careful not to allow any over-riding of conscience either by Church authorities or by majorities, and that it will not in any of its administrative acts knowingly transgress the long-established traditions of any of the Churches from which it has been formed. Neither forms of worship or ritual nor a ministry, to which they have not been accustomed or to which they conscientiously object, will be imposed upon any congregation; and no arrangements with regard to these matters will knowingly be made, either generally or in particular cases, which would either offend the conscientious convictions of persons directly concerned, or which would hinder the development of complete unity within the united Church or imperil its progress towards union with other Churches.' (Newbigin, Reunion of the Church, pp. 115-116)

The Pledge is written into the CSI Constitution. The spirit of the Pledge ought to be shown even today as and when it is necessary within the union. Because the CSI is still the uniting church. As J. I. Packer has observed, 'The Pledge expresses, on the one hand, the belief that the differences of conviction involved here are tolerable within a united church and, on the other hand, an attitude of mutual love, trust, and pastoral concern.'

The author should realise that God is present in all 'types' of church unity, be it covenant, federation, conciliar, inter-communion, association etc. The Organic union of churches is always desirable but other forms of unity need not be branded as inferior. We should also ask the self-critical question as M. Gibbard has asked: Is unity enough? Has union in south India succeeded? -- Yes and no.

Episcopacy in the CSI

We do not know all the stories of union which happened in the history of the world Church particularly when there are several darker periods in history. It might be safer to say therefore that the CSI is probably the first united church in the post-Reformation era uniting the Episcopalians and non-episcopalians, but one must add the most important clause: 'on the basis of episcopacy'. The CSI is the first of its kind! All of us say and write in a most casual manner that the CSI is a Union between 'Anglicans, Methodists, Presbyterians and Congregationalists' leaving out the most important aspect of union that made it more unique, that is, 'by agreeing to have episcopacy as a common basis'.

The novel episcopacy, as Bishop V.S. Azariah called it, of the united church added a constitutional dimension to it. Further, the 'historic' episcopacy was extended backwards to the early church which was guided and administered by the apostolicity of purity and simplicity. The historic episcopacy for the CSI begins from the Acts of the Apostles in the NT not from the Constantine era. No western theories of episcopacy were demanded by the new CSI and faith in Apostolic Succession was not totally rejected. But the CSI was opposed to the notion, 'where there is a bishop there is church'. Apostolic Succession was understood in congregational terms, i.e. divine authority passing from one congregation to the other where the bishop is the servant-leader. The CSI Moderator would be addressed as Mr. Moderator not 'your Grace' or 'Lord' or 'Thrimeni'. That does not mean that one can disrespectfully address the bishop or Moderator in the CSI or treat him/her with low dignity.

The fourth feature of the Lambeth Quadrilateral, 1888 is: The Historic Episcopate locally adapted, in the methods of its administration, to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of His Church. The author has replaced 'adapt' with 'adopt' (p. 191) and has consistently throughout the book uses the expression 'adopting historic episcopacy' and thus makes it as a target of the principal attack.

There are more challenges ahead! Instead of harping on the word 'first' church to unite Episcopalians and non-Episcopalians, it will do Himalayan good to seek ways to broaden the union that can bridge other major divisions in the history of the church. The character of 'historic episcopacy' is so vital for the CSI as many sectarian groups have started ordaining bishops for their churches. The question of validity and authenticity of CSI's priestly leadership will arise in the coming generations. It is important therefore that the bishops of the CSI stand in the line of the historic succession that begins in the NT church through to the main line of traditional churches of the West and the East, however broken it might be. If the Mar Thoma Church and the CSI unite based on an understanding of a well-defined historic episcopacy acceptable to both of them then a new union healing the division of East and West of 1054 AD will be born. The Marthomites want the word 'Syrian' attached to the new name of the united church, which the CSI should consider. Let the negotiations re-start with theologians of broader vision (for union) and higher wisdom (to transcend cultural hindrances) meeting from both sides.

Is the CSI 'absorbed' by Anglicanism?

Selvanayagam asserts throughout his book on almost every fifth page that the CSI is now absorbed by Anglicanism and that the people of the CSI in India are little aware of it. His reasons are: first, CSI is now part of the Anglican Communion. Answer: All the united churches in the Indian sub-continent are part of the Anglican Communion. That makes good sense because the CSI had more than half of its members from Anglican dioceses at the time of its origin, and the CSI took over some vital ingredients such as episcopacy, liturgy, three-fold ministry, etc., from Anglicanism. Traces of Anglicanism can be found in the government of the church where Congregationalism also made a good contribution. There is nothing wrong for such a church as a 'witness' and 'sign-post' for church union to be part of a fellowship of churches coming from more than 150 countries. There is a long history of Anglicanism in India beginning from the year 1710-11, and such a bond cannot be totally demolished in the name of 'organic union'.

Second, Anglican sources mention the CSI as a 'province' and the Moderator as the 'Primate', these being Anglican modes of ecclesiastical expression which should be fully resisted. Answer: It is because there are no equivalent words in the CSI to call ourselves. The word 'idly', a common dish for breakfast in south India, can only be translated to an Englishman as 'rice-cake' which is not the proper translation but that is the nearest equivalent word used for communication. Similarly, the second common food 'dosa' can only be conveyed with the word 'pancake' which is the near equivalent, or there may be a better equivalent. The point is that the 'idly' and 'dosa' do not have identical words in English.

In Britain, a Superintendent of the Methodist church introduced himself to me I looked little perplexed. Noticing this, the good Methodist told me, 'You know, it is equivalent to "Bishop" in the CSI.' I said, 'Oh, yes!' For the sake of their convenience, the CSI uses by Anglican ecclesiastical words, but they are used for an occasion and for their own understanding. Let the CSI show some charity towards that! The CSI never has officially changed its status as an Anglican province. Don't worry, some purists in the Anglican Communion still refuse to accept the CSI as Anglicans! This is a great blessing!!

Third, the CSI bishops are lured to attend the Lambeth Conference. Answer: The CSI bishops attend the conference as the members of the united churches who are in full communion with the Anglicans, and not as members of the Anglican denomination. I myself have criticised CSI bishops attending Lambeth Conference, but for a different reason.

Fourth, the Anglican Christians of the CSI are too proud to accept the union. Answer: Similarly, some sections of the SIUC (Congregational and Presbyterian churches) stayed away from union for a decade or two before joining the CSI. Why blame only the Anglicans? The author also makes it to sound like a charge against the Anglican churches in the CSI by stating that they formed their own Trust Association being unwilling to join the CSI Trust Association to manage the finance and the properties of the church. The CSITA was formed in 1947, whereas the Tirunelveli Diocesan Trust Association was formed much earlier, in 1920.

The author instructs the CSI that the Anglican Church is connected with monarchy and that it is a church of the colonisers. The poor Indians do not know that, you see! Does this mean that Methodists and Congregationalists in Britain were opposed to colonial rule? Are they opposed to the monarchical system of their country? Never! It is the Danish King (who was also immoral in his private life) who sent Protestant missionaries to India in 1706. How can the author having negative pre-dispositions towards Anglicanism write a history of a united church consisting of Anglicans, etc.?

The CSI stood against absorption by the Anglicans as it rejected re-ordination for non-Anglicans at the time of the inauguration of the Union

The Christians in South India who were under the jurisdiction of the General Council of the Church of India, Burma and Ceylon, the General Assembly of the South India United Church, and the South India Provincial Synod of the Methodist Church were joined together in one Church in a service held at St. George's Cathedral, Chennai on 27 September 1947. They were joined together on the basis of episcopacy inherited from Anglicanism but which was re-defined from the unity point of view.

It was an event of great ecumenical significance, generally seen as providing both a model and inspiration for union negotiations elsewhere in the world. But the Lambeth Conference 1948 thought the opposite. It took a stand that the union was welcome but that the CSI could not be seen as a model to follow by other churches seeking union, particularly in West Africa and the Middle East. It recommended rather the proposals for union that came from Ceylon and North India as suitable models, for the reason that they included a clause on 'supplemental ordinations' of the non-episcopal ministers by an Anglican bishop as a condition for union whereas the CSI scheme of union considered all ordinations by the non-Anglican churches as equally valid just as the Anglican because all ordinations performed either by a bishop or a presbytery are basically from God. The CSI paid a heavy price for this theological conviction as fundamental to its organic union.

What is not 'organic union'?

Too much is assumed under the phrase 'organic union'. What is supposed to happen in an 'organic union'? There is a funny view about 'organic unity' that each constituent tradition will be the watchdog of other traditions. One will be the funeral director or mortician of the other tradition without realising that it is a type of unity in which one embraces the other; one rejoices over the other. Secondly, 'organic union' is not a trade union type of confederation where one is always keen and watchful to claim and demand an equal percentage of worth and recognition in a united state of the church. It will be quite impossible to fight for an equal footing every time and occasion among the four constituent traditions as they all differ in their origin, history, mission and other kinds of inputs they brought to the unified church.

Anglicans pioneering organic union

Considering organic unity was the Church of England's stated aim from the 1920 Appeal onwards:

Lambeth 1920 Resolution 9/IVb: 'The vision which rises before us is that of a Church, genuinely Catholic, loyal to all truth, and gathering into its fellowship all "who profess and call themselves Christians", within whose visible unity all the treasures of faith and order, bequeathed as a heritage by the past to the present, shall be possessed in common, and made serviceable to the whole Body of Christ. Within this unity Christian Communions now separated from one another would retain much that has long been distinctive in their methods of worship and service. It is through a rich diversity of life and devotion that the unity of the whole fellowship will be fulfilled.'

Lambeth Conference 1920 Resolution 9/VIII: 'We believe that for all, the truly equitable approach to union is by way of mutual deference to one another's consciences ... all ministries of grace, theirs and ours, shall be available for the service of our Lord in a united church.'

Resolution 9/IX: '... each group is prepared to make sacrifices for the sake of a common fellowship, a common ministry, and a common service to the world.'

Church Union in South India meant that the heritage of each member of the constituent group might become the heritage of all. The spiritual and ecclesiastical elements of Anglican, Congregational, Presbyterian and Methodist have coalesced together in a supplementary way. The Proposed Scheme of Union rightly summed it up: 'Each Church, in separation, has borne special witness to certain elements of the truth; therefore for the perfecting of the whole body the heritage of each is needed. Each, maintaining the continuity of its own life, will be enriched by the gifts and graces of the others.' (The Proposed Scheme of Union, 1943, p. 2)

William Temple: Complementarian ecclesiology for Church Unity

The Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple argued in favour of a complementarian nature of Anglicanism and followed it as the model for the reunion movement. He was motivated by philosophy and theology to a complementarian understanding of church unity (ref. E. Loane, William Temple and Church Unity, 2016). This has had an impact on WCC deliberations on Church Unity. Temple's views led to the formulation of the New Delhi statement of 1961 (see unity of 'all in each place'). Newbigin observes that this statement does not use the term but expresses what has generally been understood as 'organic union'. He comments, 'At no point before or after this has the WCC committed itself so explicitly to the goal of organic union.' (Organic Union, 1991)

Geoffrey Fisher: The CSI takes with it undiminished the tradition of the uniting bodies

The Archbishop of Canterbury Geoffrey Fisher, at the service of Intercession for the new Church of South India held in the Church of St Martin-in-the Fields, Trafalgar Square at 4:00 p.m. on Wednesday, 24 September 1947, made one of the greatest and most remarkable speeches in history from the head of the Anglican Church.

'What has brought us together here in this church tonight is the fact that on Saturday in a far distant country the Church of South India comes into being, a new unit in the universal Church of Christ. Christians in South India who have hitherto known themselves as Anglicans, Methodists, Presbyterians and Congregationalists will as from this day become all equally members of the Church of South India. They do not disown their past experience of the truth of Christ in separation but bring it with them to the service of a richer apprehension of it in unity ... The more profound unity which they seek to reach and to serve is full and unfettered fellowship with one another with the great Catholic unity of the whole Body of Christ. This venture is beyond all dispute made for Christ and for His Gospel's sake. It was born in faith and love, it has grown in faith and love; in faith and love it is now enacted. For them the stage of calculation is over; the divine imperative has been felt and obeyed; the hand is set to the plough ...

'THESE HAVE DARED ... And all of us as we wish them God speed must search our own hearts lest we allow our caution to become cowardice and our careful deliberation to paralyse action or obscure the goal. It is a challenge to us that our brethren thus make the venture, the sacrifice, the act of faith. And it is made in India at this anxious moment when India takes charge of its destiny ... In two spheres at once, ecclesiastical and national, it faces an uncharted journey. And yet it is not really so in the ecclesiastical sphere. For it takes with it undiminished the tradition of the uniting bodies.' (The sermon was never meant to be published, but a few excerpts from the sermon were published in The Times on 26 September 1947.)

CSI -- An Heir of all the Christian centuries

The Church of South India -- what do these words mean? Some years ago, I put this question to the members of the CSI Synod Executive Committee. It means an alloy synthesised from all the distinctiveness of church traditions of olden times. It has not been proved to be a loosely connected chain which will dismantle into pieces at any wild shake. The word 'synthesis' may not sound a positive thing to a western mind and also it is often seen as an allied expression of the watchword 'syncretism'. Hinduism is still regarded a syncretistic religion in the western text-books on religion. Syncretism is said to lie at the bottom end of the canon of what one might call 'truth' because it mixes what should not be and cannot be mixed. Any system or faith which individualises itself and differentiates from others to hold itself 'supreme' or 'better' in comparison to others are said to reflect truly a critical mind and therefore deserves to be at the top end of the canon of truth. The cohesiveness that was brought to all the diverse traditional and cultural heritages, some of which were antithetical to each other, into one single unified existence itself is to be considered a major achievement in 1947.

Different heritages of the CSI outlined in The South India Churchman journal

From December 1947, the South India Churchman, the official magazine of CSI, published a series of articles under the heading The Heritage of the C.S.I.. Each article was able to identify and focus on not only the unique aspects of each constituent member of the CSI but also what each nation contributed to the resources of CSI heritage. They spoke of the heritage of the Methodist church, heritage of the Basel Mission Christians in Malabar, the Presbyterian heritage, Congregational heritage, the Anglican heritage, the Indian heritage, the common Christian heritage, American heritage and the British heritage.

Marcus Ward, a British-born Methodist, who wrote on the Methodist heritage of the CSI, identified three aspects of Church life that have gone into the united Church. In his words, '... the three facts (a) the necessity and primacy of personal religion, (b) the supreme importance of fellowship, (c) the spreading of spiritual holiness; and in the particular expression of Church Organization and practice based on it, Methodism has something of value to bring to the spiritual treasury of the new Church.' (December 1947, p. 39)

Bishop Lesslie Newbigin, writing on the Presbyterian heritage, underlined that the church order of Presbyters and Synods/councils and the ministry of lay-elders, and Church functioning independently of State control are the hallmarks of Presbyterianism within the CSI. (January 1948, pp. 52-54)

The Basel Mission Christians in Malabar brought in a Lutheran element of pietism and the spirit of Reformation into CSI's life, and its democratic Church government, in which the emphasis falls on the Church as a whole where every section has a role to play. 'Neither of the different parts of the Church has authority over the others -- not pars pro toto -- but they all in their respective places take part in the church government -- pars in toto.' (February 1948, p. 80)

The Congregational heritage stresses the local church and fellowship, and it considers none as 'unattached Christians' because 'to be a Christian is to be a member of the fellowship of believers'. (March 1948, p. 100)

The Anglican heritage lies in Freedom and Order, and its major contribution is episcopacy. 'The Bishop (Father-in-God) is the centre round which the official life of the Church of the Diocese revolves.' (April 1948, p. 120) Another contribution comes from liturgy and the use of the Book of Common Prayer, from which the CSI liturgy has drawn heavily.

The Indian heritage is found in the fact that it has the power to unite various ecclesiastical and cultural traditions. Yet, there should be a new attempt to reconstruct theology in India, argued A.J. Appasamy (May 1948, p. 144). The task of the CSI is to evolve a theology and liturgy based on Indian spirituality and expression. The theology of CSI should derive from 'experience (pratyaksha)' and particularly from mystical experience.

C.B. Firth noted as the British heritage several important features, namely: i) English as the common language; ii) the ways of worship particularly in accordance with the Book of Common Prayer; and iii) various church traditions -- British Presbyterianism, Congregationalism and Anglican. (June 1948, pp. 155-157)

The places Vellore, Madurai and Jaffna were the centres where the American missionaries were at work. They are now part of the CSI and they bring with them three aspects of American heritage: i) emphasis on practical Christianity; ii) democratic spirit and representative councils in the Church government; and iii) willingness to experiment. (July 1948, pp. 170 -172).

All heritages, both ecclesiastical and international, flow as one river and, in the words of Bishop Pakenham-Walsh, 'the Spirit of God is mightily at work guiding some of these distributaries to join again in one stream, and to pray and labour unitedly for the further purification and unity for the river of God.' (August 1948, p. 192)

Carrying the river metaphor further, he recognised the fact that the individual rivers were God's gifts and yet none of those rivers was free of mud. He therefore wrote, 'For that is a power which each and all must claim and receive continually, and it is when the Church is failing to use that great inheritance, that, as we have said, the river becomes muddy.'(August 1948, p. 192). Union does not mean that it has extinguished the former church traditions and has stuck to the act of union. CSI should not be described in terms of 'neither-nor', in terms of its historical and ministerial identities. It is neither an island of its own nor a self-contained denomination. It is in continuity with all three traditions, namely Anglican, Presbyterians, Congregationalists and Methodists, and therefore an expression of universal Church.

C.D. Mohanan quoted the beautiful words of John Foster who remarked, 'No scheme of Union is worth considering which waters down every distinct feature, so that there shall be nothing for anyone to object to. A Church so unified would contain nothing a man would die for either ... Church Union is not a least common Church denominator sum -- it ought to be a grand addition.' (October 1948, p. 226.) All brought their wisdom and experience to a common stock of union. Unity was theological and was not a matter of expediency. In the words of K.M. Carey, 'Never before in the history of Christendom has a group of Churches episcopal and non-episcopal come together into union on an episcopal basis.' (The Historic Episcopate, p. 130).

The Non-Resident Indian's view of India

A non-resident Indian tends to pocket every opportunity of representing the country and church of their origin in meetings and seminars overseas, and that makes the NRI to feel superior. It matters to him that his superiority was recognised and acknowledged at home. So he produces messages for the Indians to listen and carry out his message. If the author idolises organic union then why does he serve a denominational church for the most part of his life?

The famous Indian journalist Swapan Dasgupta wrote in Times of India (16 August, 2009) thus: 'Taking advantage of a more connected world, the professional NRI (who knows no other identity) has stepped up his battles to cast India (Indian church) in his own confused image. No Indian website is free from the voluminous but pernicious comments of the know-all, ultra-nationalist NRI banging away on the computer in splendid isolation. From being India's would-be benefactors, the meddlesome NRI has become an intellectual nuisance, derailing civil (ecclesiastical) discourse with his paranoia and pseudo-superiority. It's time he was royally ignored.'

It is the non-Episcopalian leaders within the CSI who distorted the episcopacy of the CSI

I am sure that the anti-Anglican stand taken by the author will also win friends for him in the CSI who still mistakenly believe that it is Anglicanism that is responsible for episcopal domination and for the defacement of episcopacy. This is reflected in the foreword from Jeyakaran Isaac. If we look at the list of Moderators and deputy-moderators and other office-bearers of the CSI synod since its formation it is the non-episcopal men who exploited the episcopal system of constitutional episcopacy, abused it and created illegal routes to ascend and cling to the highest position of the church. Who imposed the amendments to increase the power of the bishops? It was master-minded by a non-Episcopalian from the Methodist background. Barring exceptions, the dioceses where corruption and fraud are the most common practice are the former Methodist and Congregational churches (e.g. Medak, Vellore, Kannyakumari, Madurai, Coimbatore, Karnataka Central, South Kerala, etc.). This does not imply that former Anglican dioceses are perfect. The point is that it is the non-episcopal element that has dominated the CSI and made the church to deviate from the sacred trust of episcopacy inherited from Anglicanism and even trampled 'constitutional episcopacy' under its feet.

When the non-episcopalians wore mitres and held pastoral staffs they thought they had become feudal lords and owners of the church properties. Their non-episcopal upbringing did not help them much to maintain the dignity of the office of the bishop, and it is such leaders who tended to be corrupt and became more corrupt in the passage of time occupying the seat of power.

Apart from the Anglican bishop Michael Hollis who was also the first Moderator of the CSI and the illustrious Bishop P. Solomon (1910-2002), bishops in Dornakal diocese from an Anglican stock not only earned names for themselves serving as exemplary Moderators but also brought holiness and respectability to the highest office in the church.

Come, let us re-build

Let us bring a new vision and fresh energy from whatever heritage our Christian faith received its origin, and express them within the framework of a comprehensive union to cleanse and redeem the sinking CSI. Union does not mean extermination of one by the other and one growing at the expense of the other. We will not be members of a united Church when that happens! Let us begin to re-learn and appreciate what each one brought and could bring into the home of heritage. May the spirit of unity, not a spirit of differentiation, rule the CSI!

The Rev. Dr. Muthuraj, is a former member of St. John's College, Durham and a graduate of the University of Durham, UK. Through his publications, he has been established as a CSI historian who currently writes on the relationship between the united churches and the Anglican Communion. He has been one of the strongest voices in the global theological communion appealing for a renewal of Episcopacy to bring an end to the corruption in the Church of South India.

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