2003-02-18 00:00:00

A Protestant bishop has landed in trouble after consecrating an evangelist as the first head of an independent Pentecostal church in the southern India state of Kerala.

Groups in the Church of South India (CSI) demand that Bishop K. J. Samuel of East Kerala resign for ordaining Pastor K.P. Yohannan on Feb. 6 as archbishop of the Believers´ Church of India. Reverend Yohannan, who also heads the evangelist group Gospel for Asia, founded the Pentecostal church in 1990.

Bishop Samuel is CSI moderator, the Church´s top official, but other CSI officials will convene a meeting of synod executives Feb. 28 to decide on complaints that Bishop Samuel violated CSI norms and rules of Fellowship, a wider Protestant Church body that includes CSI.

In a statement issued Feb. 10, Reverend K.C. Mathew, a senior CSI member, said Bishop Samuel is not allowed to consecrate people not belonging to CSI and the Fellowship. He noted that many CSI parishes and Church groups oppose Bishop Samuel´s "unilateral decision" to consecrate Pastor Yohannan and that all mainline Churches in Kerala resent the Pentecostals´ campaign to persuade other Protestants to join their Church.

CSI came into being in 1947 when Anglicans, Congregationalists and Presbyterians in southern India accepted an episcopal form of Church administration. In 1982, CSI and two other mainline Protestant Churches -- Church of North India and Mar Thomas Syrian Church -- formed the Fellowship.

T. M. John, secretary of the CSI Central Kerala diocese´s Pastoral Board, said Bishop Samuel´s action was "unethical." He told UCA News the bishop must explain why he "acted against the belief of the CSI" and violated CSI rules. However, Bishop Samuel maintains he did the consecration after obtaining prior permission from the higher Church authorities. He said in a statement he issued on Feb. 10 that Pastor Yohannan´s Church requested the CSI synod in 2002 for a bishop to conduct the episcopal ordination. "I acted according to the rules and regulations of the synod," Bishop Samuel asserted.

Reverend T.O. Oommen, a CSI Central Kerala diocesan synod member, Feb. 10 also issued a statement that acknowledges the Church received an application from Pastor Yohannan´s Church but says its theological commission refused permission for the ordination. According to Reverend Oommen, Bishop Samuel acted against apex rules governing CSI. It is "really sad," he said, an episcopal Church bishop elevated an evangelist in a Pentecostal Church.

Asked to comment on the ordination, CSI Bishop George Issac of North Kerala told UCA News he is studying the issue. "We will discuss the matter at the synod," Bishop Issac told UCA News Feb. 11.

Meanwhile, Pastor Yohannan´s Church says CSI leaders are "unnecessarily making an issue" of the leader´s consecration. C. P. Mathai, a Church member, told UCA News Feb. 11 the consecration of "our supreme pontiff" was "a great event" attended by thousands from India and abroad.

Mathai claims that "Archbishop Yohannan" is Asia´s best-known spiritual propagator. He said, "Our bishop and Church have been engaged in propagating the word of God along with the Gospel for Asia. He has also led many social welfare programs in various parts of the country."

Pastor Yohannan´s speeches are broadcast on radio in 53 languages all over the world. He manages several institutes of charity, education and nursing across Asia, and has written more than 100 spiritual books.

The newly ordained archbishop claims his Church has some 4,500 regional parishes and 5,000 mission stations spread over six countries in Asia. In a statement issued after his consecration, he predicts that his Church will eventually have 29 bishops as well as other Church officials. He also says he will work for the unity of Churches in India, and "maintain and uphold the Indian tradition and apostolic heritage."


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