The Anti-Reformists in the Church
While the Church was making rapid progress in all spheres of its life, there was an Anti-Reformists group silently working its way up from the early decades of this century. A band of young educated men, who were opposed to the Open Bible and the evangelical tradition, slowly started to undo the work of the reformers and return to the orthodox doctrines of the former church.
The endeavours of the Anti-reformists group to shake the evangelical faith and doctrines of the Mar Thoma Church yielded results. With the consecration of one from the anti-reformist group as Bishop in 1937, it gained considerable momentum. Bishop Abraham passed away in 1947 and Bishop John was installed as Metropolitan Juhanon Mar Thoma. After this, the Anti-reformists gained the upper hand in the Church. Steadily and enthusiastically they went ahead with their programme of bringing the Church back to sacerdotalism. The reformists, a minority, felt that the essence of evangelism and the teachings of the bible were being set aside because of the newly adopted theological and hierarchal ways. The new ways included the adoption of new treatises put forth by the hierarchy in addition to the 66 books of the Bible as the foundation of the church. The Church was abandoning its core fundamental principles and the reason for its splitting away from its parent church almost a century earlier. Discontent, protests, and disenchantments developed among the followers of Metropolitan and the followers of the reform powers.
Oppression and persecution
Though the Metropolitan preached comprehension and toleration, he was not prepared to tolerate the reform movement. He was determined to see that faith of the reformed Mar Thoma Church was gradually but definitely wiped out and the Church eventually left with a different faith altogether. Those who held on to the reformed faith were denied all facilities to meet together or to strengthen their fellowship. They were denied all opportunities to occupy any position of influence in the Church or in any of its organizations.
The catastrophe that has befallen the Mar Thoma Church was the election and consecration of three persons of the anti-reformist group as the bishops of the Church. This was a calculated stroke against the faith of the Church since all of them wholeheartedly joined with the Metropolitan in his cause.
Mr. K.N. Daniel’s Endeavors
Mr. K.N. Daniel, one of the lay leaders of the evangelical group in the Mar Thoma Church, an eminent liturgiologist, theologian, an author of many books, a prominent lawyer, and a church historian of renown, published on his own several books and pamphlets about the dangers the Church encounters. Since all the efforts of the Pathiopadesa Samathy (see the section below) were not fruitful in turning the Church away from the clutches of the anti-reformists, he filed a court case for a declaration that the doctrines sought to be propagated by the Metropolitan and his associates were alien to the Mar Thoma Church. The Metropolitan used the civil case to get the anti-reformist doctrines imposed even more harshly on the Mar Thoma Church.
Pathiopadesa Samathy’s Activities
Pathiopadesa Samathy was the group formed by the Reformists in the Marthoma Church to adhere to its founding principles. Up to 1958, Mr. P.S. George, an attorney, was the president of this Samathy. In 1958, Rev. P. John Varghese took charge as the president of the Pathiopadesa Samathy and Rev. P.I. Mathai, Rev. K.O. John, Rev. C.M. Varghese, Rev. P.C. Zachariah, and very many others also began to participate in the activities of the Pathiopadesa Samathy. They conducted Bible classes and taught the fundamentals of Christian faith. They were not allowed to conduct these classes at the Mar Thoma Parishes. But the members of the Mar Thoma Church who sided with the reformists warmly and whole heartedly welcomed the above clergy and other leaders of the Pathiopadesa Samathy into their homes. They conducted classes in specially erected ‘pandals’ (means tents) in several places.
Their classes and fellowship meetings gave momentum to the reformists, and the Metropolitan and his anti-reformist group became very worried about the growth of the reformists. Suddenly, the Metropolitan and anti-reformists decided to ex-communicate four presbyters from the Church - Rev. P. John Varghese, Rev. P.I. Mathai, Rev. K.O. John, and Rev. C.M. Varghese. The ex-communication order was signed on November 7, 1960. The reformists were driven out of the churches which they had built with their own labor and money and were forced to hold their worship services in private homes or temporary sheds and tents or even under the shades of trees.
What could be done in this desperate situation? There were three choices available: To resign to one’s fate and remain silent in the Church silently holding to one’s faith. To resist constitutionally and when the right to do that is persistently denied, to resort to legal remedies, thereby contributing to tension and bitterness within the Church. To avoid all wrangles and come out peacefully leaving all the temporalities of the Mar Thoma Church and to revive the reformation Church in Kerala.
A very costly decision:
Realizing that the Church could not be saved from within, and that the evangelical reformed faith could not be maintained under the existing conditions, the reformists decided to follow the last of the three above mentioned courses.
The decision to separate was a very painful and costly one indeed. In every parish in the Mar Thoma Church there were members who were in sympathy with the reform movement. In some places the majority sided with the Reformists. More than 50% of the Church buildings, Seminaries, Colleges, Schools and other institutions in the Mar Thoma Church were built during the previous 25-year period leading up to 1961, and also mostly by the Reformists. Leaving the Mar Thoma Church meant giving up everything which they themselves had built with their money and labor; and start building them all over again with no help from any quarter. Knowing all this and realizing how much it would cost, the decision to separate was taken by the Reformists. This led to the formation of the St. Thomas Evangelical Church of India.
The Inauguration of St. Thomas Evangelical Church of India
The Reformists' leaders told the world that they were leaving everything, with no shelter and no roof over their heads and no churches to worship in, but only guided by the faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and His teachings and for reviving the essence of His church through evangelism and missionary work.
The St. Thomas Evangelical Church of India was formally inaugurated on January 26, 1961. Over thirty thousand people drawn from all the different Christian denominations, from Roman Catholic to the Pentacostal gathered together at Bishop Abraham Nagar at Thiruvalla, in Kerala. Priests of the Roman Catholic, Jacobite, Church of South India, and the Mar Thoma Churches were present. Twenty presbyters who had been ordained in the Mar Thoma Church joined the new Church and declared acceptance of the faith in the Church and pledged allegiance to the new Church and its constitution.
The consecration of the Bishops - The laying on of hands
After the inauguration service, two ministers of the new Church, viz: Rev. K.N. Oommen, Rev. P. John Varghese, were consecrated as Bishops in the ‘Church of God’.
An order of service for the consecration of the Bishops had been prepared. The Bishops were consecrated by the laying on of hands by the entire body of the presbyters representing the whole Church. They were guided and supported in this step by the word of God (The Acts 9:11-12; 15-18; 13:1-3; Romans 10:15; I Timothy 4:14; etc.) and by clear precedence in the early Syrian Church of Malabar.
We believe that men are called upon by God to the ministry and set apart in the Church. We also believe that in ordination, the Lord in answer to the prayers of the Church, assures and bestows on those whom He has called upon to lead His Church for any particular form of ministry, His sufficient grace and strength to carry out the ministry. We further believe that in all ordination and consecration, the true Ordainor and Consecrator is God, who in response to the prayers of His Church, and through the words and acts of its representatives, commissions and empowers for the office and work to which they are called, the persons it has selected. In the ancient Church of Alexandria before 328 A.D., presbyters used to consecrate Bishops.
“The twelve presbyters of Alexandria elected one of their number as Bishop whenever there was a vacancy and perhaps jointly consecrated him. This custom lasted up to time of Athanasius Bishop of Alexandria (A.D.328).” See 'Lights and Shades of Christendom', by Bishop Pakenham Walsh: Vol: 1 Page 72.
The St. Thomas Evangelical Church of India - Its Founding principles
The St. Thomas Evangelical Church of India is an Evangelical and Episcopal Church. We have decided to stand as true Christian fellowship dedicated to preserve the real Mar Thoma Church and its original faith and doctrines. We hold the Bible as our sole basis and authority for all matters of faith and doctrines. We accept the Nicene Creed and the two sacraments as they are in full conformity with the Bible. Christian charity will be governing principle of our administration. Our Bishops will not belong to monarchical hierarchy, but will be ministers of Christ, the successors of the humble Apostles who walked the shores of Galilee. But they will have powers and authority as provided in the constitution of the Church to which they owe allegiance.
Salient Features of this Church
]The St. Thomas Evangelical Church of India is one of the branches of the Malankara Church (Kerala's Malabar Church) founded in A.D. 52 by Apostle St. Thomas. The Church is Evangelical in faith and Episcopal in administration.
The Church accepts the Holy Bible which consists of 66 Books of the Old and the New Testaments as the basis for all matters of faith and doctrine. The Church accepts the Nicene Creed which is in conformity with the Scriptures. We believe in the Triune (Trinity): God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. We practice the two sacraments instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ viz: The Holy Communion and the Holy Baptism.
We have three Orders in the Church: Episcopa (Bishop), Presbyter (Kasseesha), Deacon (Semmash).
The Holy Communion is a thanksgiving service to remember the death of our Lord on the Calvary and the elements used in the Holy Communion are the sign and symbol of the Christ’s Body and Blood. We deny the Transubstantiation Theory, Consubstantiation Theory, Localization Theory, the Spiritual Presence Theory, etc.
The Representative Body of the Church is the supreme body which can decide on all the spiritual and temporal matters of the Church. The Presiding Bishop is the administrative head of the Church who is elected from among the bishops of the Church for a term of five years.
Prominent Leaders of the New Church
The prominent leaders of the new church included Bishop K. N. Oommen, Bishop P. John Varughese, Rev. P. I. Mathai (Plavunkal Achen), Rev. P. C. Zachariah, K. N. Daniel, Esq., Rev. P. S. Varughese, Rev. C. M. Varghese, A. G. Mathew, Esq., Mr. K. Abraham, K. S. Joseph, Esq., Rev. K. O. John, Rev. A. C. Mathew, Rev. P. T. Thomas, Rev. T. C. George, Mr. K. A. Abraham, etc. Rev. P.I. Mathai was the presiding presbyter at the consecration service of the new Bishops at Thiruvalla, Kerala, India, on January 26, 1961. Rev. P.C. Zachariah and Rev. P.T. Thomas were the first General Secretaries of the Church. Rev. T. C. George became the Treasurer of the Church. Advocate A.G. Mathew and others made remarkable contributions in framing the constitution of the Church. Mr. P.K. Mathew (Valakom) was in the forefront in the North Travancore region.