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Protestant Church Dismisses Two Bishops After Evangelist´s ´Ordination´

Updated: February 11, 2004 05:00 PM GMT
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The controversial ordination of an evangelist as an archbishop a year ago has triggered dramatic reactions in two major Protestant Churches in India.

On Jan. 30, after a lengthy review of circumstances surrounding the event, the Church of North India (CNI) dismissed two bishops who, without Church consent, joined the ordination of Pastor K.P. Yohannan as archbishop of Believers´ Church of India. Reverend Yohannan founded his own branch of the Pentecostal Church in 1990 and heads the "Gospel for Asia" evangelical group.

The dismissals came after the CNI Theological Commission met and, on the basis of a separate review, concluded that the ordination was not valid. Formed in 1970, the CNI is a union of the Council of Baptist Churches in Northern India, Church of the Brethren in India, Disciples of Christ, Church of India, Methodist Church and United Church of Northern India. The bishop who presided over the controversial ordination on Feb. 6, 2003, and belongs to another congregation is now under pressure to resign.

Bishop K. J. Samuel of East Kerala, former moderator or chief executive of the Church of South India (CSI), led Reverend Yohannan´s ordination. After its own year-long probe, the CSI Synod also declared the ordination as invalid. Moreover, a faction in the CSI leadership wanted Bishop Samuel to resign on grounds that he ordained the evangelist without the synod´s permission. Bishop Samuel´s term ended this year, and on Jan. 16 the CSI elected Bishop B.P. Sugandhar of Medak as his successor. The CSI was formed in 1947 when Anglicans, Congregationalists and Presbyterians in southern India accepted an episcopal form of Church administration.

The CNI general secretary, Reverend Enos Das Pradhan, told UCA News on Feb. 11, following the CNI decision to terminate the tenures of Bishops P.M. Dhotekar of Nagpur and Bancha Nidhi Nayak of Phulbani, that the Church executive body´s decision had been "very painful." Even so, "we wanted to uphold the discipline of the Church and its constitution," he pointed out. "Nobody is above law and order or control of the Church executive committee."

Reverend Pradhan said the CNI has withdrawn all facilities extended to the dismissed bishops, including use of their residences, vehicles and phones. Another Church official said the terminated bishops would not be reinstated.

When the CSI Synod met last October, it declared that the episcopal ordination of the evangelist was "invalid" and that no bishop, including the CSI moderator, could validly ordain anyone outside the Church´s jurisdiction. According to Bishop Sam Mathew, a former CSI moderator, the Church does not regard the evangelist as a bishop in light of the synod´s decision.

Bishop Mathew told UCA News on Feb. 10 that the decision was made after the CSI Theological Commission "studied in depth whether it was legally and theologically correct for Bishop Samuel to consecrate people not belonging to CSI and the fellowship." That fellowship comprises CNI, CSI and the Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church, an offshoot of the Orthodox Church.

However, the synod did not propose "action or punishment" against Bishop Samuel, Bishop Mathew added. Bishop Samuel, who is still CSI moderator, declined to speak about the matter when UCA News contacted him on Feb. 10.

Meanwhile, the man at the center of the controversy asserts that the CSI Synod decision has not affected him in anyway. Archbishop Yohannan told UCA News on Feb. 10 he is sad that the synod decided to invalidate his consecration, "but I have been ordained a bishop and I continue to be one."

The evangelist-prelate also said that his Church "is engaged in the great work of propagating the word of God. We are also undertaking a number of social welfare programs across Asia. We will continue to do this good work under my leadership." His speeches are broadcast via radio in 53 languages all over the world. He manages several institutes of charity, education and nursing across Asia, and he has written more than 100 spiritual books.

The Believers´ Church of India claims that it has about 4,500 regional parishes and 5,000 mission stations spread over six countries of Asia.


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