Project Canterbury

Beginnings in India

By Eugene Stock, D.C.L.

London: Central Board of Missions and SPCK, 1917.

Chapter XV. The First Steps toward an Indian Church

LET us again go to Calcutta in December, 1912. There were other functions there in that month, besides the two noticed in the preceding chapter; among them these two: on December 29 the first Indian Bishop was consecrated; on the next three days there was a Conference of Anglican Bishops, with forty "assessors," clerical and lay, English and Indian. These assessors unanimously recommended that the Anglican Church in India should be named "the Church of India in communion with the Church of England," and the Bishops, accepting this proposal, resolved that "it is desirable to take steps at once for the introduction throughout the [ecclesiastical] Province of full synodical government, alike provincial and diocesan, on the basis of consensual compact." Subsequently it turned out that any action to form what might be regarded as an independent Church would be a breach of the law, the original dioceses of Calcutta and Madras and Bombay having been established by Act of Parliament; and the Bishops were reluctantly forced to the conclusion that such a scheme was "at present impossible."

Now let us see what two experienced missionaries say on this subject. First, Canon Heywood of Bombay, some months earlier:

"Are we going to organize the Church of England in India? I speak as one who loves the Church of England with all my heart. . . . But I am sure that it is not the Church of England that we are to organize in India. . . . What, then, do we need? We need a Church in India adapted to the land and adaptable to the peoples who sojourn here; a Church which holds fast to the fundamentals as laid down in the Lambeth Conference, a Church which draws largely from the rich treasury of our Prayer-Book, but provides for the needs and aspirations of the peoples here; a Church which has the wisdom, claimed by the Church of England in the Preface of our Prayer-Book, to keep the mean between too much stiffness in refusing and too much easiness in admitting any variation from it."

And then Canon Wigram of Lahore, when the scheme had been adopted, and before it was for the time laid aside:

"The convert finds it hard to get up any enthusiasm about the corporate aspect of his Christianity, so long as he has to be told he is a member of the Church of England, to him a foreign organization. . . . How much more will the non-Christian feel that Christianity represents something altogether outside his patriotic aspirations . . .! But with an autonomous Church of India, in communion, indeed, with the Mother Church, but making its own Canons, and electing ultimately its own Bishops, the case will be wholly changed."

We must hope that in God's good providence this view of the matter will eventually prevail, and the difficulties be overcome. Meanwhile, let us briefly trace the previous preparatory steps taken in hop of the true consummation being attained. Up to the middle of the nineteenth century the question did not arise. The Christian communities in India were small; the missionaries were the pastors, and the few Indians ordained were practically their curates. The Indian clergy and teachers, the churches, the schools, were all maintained by the Missions. But this could not go on for ever, and even if it could, it would be disastrous, If the Church in India was ever to be a power in the land, it must have at least some measure of independence, and the phrase came gradually into use that it should be "self-supporting, self-governing, self-extending." Hence the native Church Councils of different kinds that were formed. They had their imperfections, but they have undoubtedly exercised important influence. They have learned to manage the local affairs of the congregations, and to defray the pastoral expenses; while the Missions have continued to support the greater part of the educational agencies, and of the purely evangelistic work. Most of the Indian clergy, and a large number of the teachers and catechists, are now supported by the free contributions of the people, and the Bishops allow the Councils to give titles for orders.

The partial independence thus attained, it should be noticed, is independence of the Missionary Society. This is right, for various reasons: (I) It is the main business of a missionary society to spend its resources in the evangelization of the heathen of India, not in paying for the worship and pastoral care of Indian congregations, We appeal to our poor and to our children for contributions mainly for the former. (2) It is not good for the Indian Christians to have everything provided for them. In their heathen state they had to pay for their religious privileges, such as they were, and they should do the same now. (3) The pastors and teachers ought to be the employees of their own Church, and not of a foreign Society. (4) It is not only a financial matter. Indian Christians should not look to a foreign society to manage their local Church affairs. They should do this for themselves. All this does not mean that a wealthy Church should not help a poor Church. Certainly it may; certainly it should. But only so far and so long as such help is really needed.

Let us look at one Indian congregation. It has a Tamil incumbent, a convenient church, a mission-hall, schools for boys and girls; not taking a single rupee from a missionary society; administering its own affairs through a local Church Council, in which it combines with three or four other smaller congregations; the whole body served by, and supporting, four Tamil clergymen, and seventy male and female teachers; and not by any means wrapped up selfishly in local interests, but having a band of volunteer lay members, including University graduates, Government clerks, etc., who go out regularly on preaching expeditions, and through whom, year by year, the numbers are increased by new converts. This is Zion Church, Madras. The senior pastor, who is chairman of the Church Council, is a Tamil, the Rev. W. Devapiriam Clarke, B.A., who succeeded his father-in-law, the much respected Rev. W. T. Satthianadhan, and has been in charge twenty years. Not every Indian congregation, of course, is like this one, but very many others are doing well in various degrees.

Now notice an important point. These congregations, though independent of the missionary societies, are not independent of the Church of England. 'They are, for the time, an integral part of it. An English Bishop ordains their clergy, and confirms their baptized members. Is that enough? It is not. The ideal will not be reached until, as above indicated, there is a Church of India independent like the Irish and Scottish Episcopal and American Churches, but, like them, distinctly members of the Anglican Communion; governed by its own Bishops and Synods, with the liberty to frame its own regulations for worship and discipline.

But a perplexing question at once arises: What of the large British community in India? Are they to be outside the Indian Church? Surely not. The Church of Christ is to unite different races, not to separate them. This does not arise, or scarcely arises, in other Mission Fields. In China and Japan, and in parts of Africa, the Church is already organized, partially at least, though not wholly, independent. But in India the presence of the governing race introduces difficult problems, and these are all the graver owing to the fact that the English Church in India is so closely linked with the State that any attempt to establish an independent Church would require in the first instance an Act of Parliament to open the door for it.

Meanwhile, the Bishops are doing what they can. Although full synodical organization seems at present out of the question, Diocesan Councils are being formed, in which both the English and the Indian sections of the Church will be represented, and which will have great moral influence, though without coercive authority. And one hopeful step has been taken by the consecration of the first Indian Bishop. The new Diocese of Dornakal is in the territory of the native State of Haidarabad, and therefore not within the legal boundaries of any English diocese, so it was possible to appoint an independent Bishop to it. But the new Bishop, V. J. Azariah, is also an Assistant Bishop under the Bishop of Madras, which is in fact his official status. He is the son of a former Tamil clergyman in Tinnevelly, and he had done excellent work as founder and secretary of the Tinnevelly Church's own missionary society, and also in connexion with the Y.M.C.A. at Madras. He was consecrated at Calcutta on December 29, 1912, that memorable time already referred to, eleven Bishops laying their hands upon him. The result has so far been in every way most happy.

There is one other question. We must never forget that the Anglican Communion in India is but one of many Christian communions, and that its Indian members are but a small minority, say one-tenth of the whole, reckoning the Syrians, the Roman Catholics, and all the Protestant denominations. Must we take it for granted that all our home divisions are to be perpetuated in India? That would be a grievous issue of our Missions, yet none of us can see at present how to prevent it. Two things, however, we can do. (I) We can openly acknowledge, what many do not acknowledge, that the ideal would be one great Indian Church. (2) We can energetically, and generously, aim at as much union and co-operation as is consistent with fundamental principles. That was the object of the gatherings held in December, 1912, under the chairmanship of Dr. Mott. Every Church and denomination was free to be represented, and almost all actually were represented. And the result was the election of a National Missionary Council for mutual conference and united prayer, which has met each year since. This will at least tend to prevent friction and promote friendly co-operation. And we must continue in prayer that all may approach nearer to the fulfilment of our Lord's own aspiration, "that they may all be one, . . . that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me."

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