The Indian Pentecostal Church of God (IPC)
The Indian Pentecostal Church of God (IPC) is the largest Pentecostal organization in India. Its headquarters is situated in Kumbanadu, in the Pathanamthitta district of Kerala. It has about eight thousand local churches spread over all states of India, besides the Middle East, America, Europe, Australia and Africa and so on.
The first half of the twentieth century was a period, in which the Malankara Christianity was being prepared to witness a major spiritual momentum, thanks to its noble Christian heritage, and with the advent of renewal movements such as the Mar Thoma, the Breatheren, and with the evangelistic fervor which came through the missionaries. It was George Burg, a German missionary who first introduced the Pentecostal experience to Kerala. Subsequently, Pandalam Mathai Upadesi, a travelling preacher accepted the Pentecostal faith. The first Pentecostal church was established in Thuvayur, in Adoor in the year 1909. Gradually several spiritual fellowships were formed between Ranni and Kottarakkara. Although we may not call these fellowships as systematic Pentecostal churches, these small groups moved ahead with spiritual enthusiasm, prayer, Bible devotion and worship. It was at this time that Rev. R. F. Cook had arrived in Kerala. He stayed in Kottarakkara and began to establish Pentecostal churches. There was a dissident movement under the leadership of the great poet K. V. Simon which brought about a spiritual renaissance among the Malankara Syrian Christians. Simon sir had a disciple called K. E. Abraham who was a school teacher. He had been very actively participating in evangelism along with an organization called Anderson Church of God. He studied about the anointing of the Holy Spirit and the gift of tongues from Pandalam Mathai Upadesi. He then started praying with the desire to receive it. Eventually he received anointing of the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues as he was tarrying and praying at the home of a Pentecostal pastor called C. Manaseh in Parinayam in Trivandrum on 22nd April in the year 1923. Even before K. E. Abraham received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, there were small Pentecostal fellowships formed in places such as Kumbanadu, Ranni, Ezhumattoor, Perumbetti and so on. These fellowships were led by men of God such as Kodunthara Oommechen, Chethakkal Keevareechan, etc. who came to the Pentecostal faith through the evangelistic works of Rev. R. F. Cook. As a result, these churches had regular spiritual interactions with Rev. Cook. In the year 1924, K. C. Cheriyan, a colleague of K. E. Abraham received the anointing of the Holy Spirit and began to do spiritual ministries together. Gradually they were happily received by those churches under Kodunthara Oommechen and Chethakkal Keevareechan. This brought about collaboration between several churches.
Rev. Cook returned to America in 1924. But the Pentecostal movement gained strength under the leadership of people like K. E. Abraham, K. C. Cheriyan, Kodunthara Oommechen, Chethakkal Keevareechan, A. C. Samuel, and A. J. John. Since then K. E. Abraham and his co-workers started calling their churches as South India Pentecostal Church of God. These churches had a good rapport with the Assemblies of God because of their cooperation with its missionary Miss. Mary Chapman. In 1925, all churches under the South India Pentecostal Church of God in Ranni area came together and conducted a convention. The ground where the convention was held was known as Ranni Ittiayappara Kalakkattu Purayidam. Later on, this convention came to be considered as the first convention of the I.P.C.
In 1926, when Rev. Cook returned from America, K. E. Abraham went to Kottarakkara to see him and spoke at a meeting to receive him. Subsequently the South India Full Gospel Church of God under Rev. Cook and the South India Pentecostal Church of God under the leadership of K. E. Abraham and K. C. Cheriyan have decided to work jointly. That led to the formation of the “Malankara Pentecostal Church of God” on October 6 in the year 1926. A committee was also formed with Rev. Cook as the President and K. E. Abraham as the Vice President. Meanwhile Rev. Cook had established a firm relationship with the Assemblies of God during his visit to the U.S. Thus the “Malankara Pentecostal Church of God” became the official part of the A.G. At the same time the A.G. missionaries were also continuing their work independently. These evangelistic works in Kerala continued until 1929. In the same year the Assemblies of God South India-Ceylon Council was formed. And with that a new law came to exist which required all the A.G. workers to restrict their works to their own territory. Since it was an act of interference in their freedom, the South India Full Gospel Church of God, under the leadership of Rev. Cook and K. E. A. Abraham broke their relation with the A. G. and became an independent church. By this time several Pentecostal churches have been started and gained strength in Kerala.
There erupted some troubles in the “South India Full Gospel Church of God” after it broke away from the A.G. At that time freedom struggles were gaining momentum in Kerala. Obviously some local leaders took a strong stand against any kind of foreign domination. That prompted leaders like Pr. K. E. Abraham and K. C. Cheriyan to revive their old organization called “South India Pentecostal Church of God” and subsequently parted ways with Rev. Cook. This organization later accepted the new name “the Indian Pentecostal Church of God”. There was also another background for this parting of ways. In 1924, a new church was formed in Sri Lanka with the title the “Ceylon Pentecostal Mission” by Pastor Paul. His concept of ‘Apostolic faith life’ became very popular. Rev. Cook invited Pr. Paul to attend his meetings. Pr. Paul’s preaching and ministries impressed several people. He cited the apostolic age and exhorted the people to lead faith-life and shun financial aspirations. That created a new awareness among Pr. K. E. Abraham and his co-workers in the Malankara Church. This encouraged them to avoid the small financial assistance they were getting from Rev. Cook. Eventually they took a decision to sever ties with Rev. Cook.
The Ceylon Connection
Being independent after severing ties with Rev. Cook, the South India Pentecostal Church started to work jointly with the Ceylon Pentecostal Mission. Pr. Paul and Pr. Alvin were the main preachers in all of their main meetings. Pr. K. E. Abraham received the Ordination from Pr. Paul, who was the Chief Pastor of the Ceylon Pentecostal Mission. At that time some other churches were also interested to join with the South India Pentecostal Church. In Trivandrum, Aramada Kochukunju Sanyasi and his churches joined with them. The relation with the Ceylon Pentecostal Mission also brought Pr. P. M. Samuel and his churches into the fold of the SIPC. Pr. Samuel was a native of Keekozhoor, Ranni who had established 17 churches in Trivandrum. He received the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues in Sri Lanka.
By this time, T. G. Oommen received the baptism of the Holy Spirit at a Brethren meeting and became part of the Ranni Nellikkaman church and the SIPC. That resulted in a big growth of the church. The prevalent nationalism throughout the country also gave a fillip to this growth. As the relation between both churches continued, Pr. Alvin came up with certain new teachings within the C.P.M. The most important among them was that those who received water baptism under pastors who didn’t have the Holy Spirit baptism must take water baptism again. Obviously the South India Pentecostal Church could not come into terms with the requirement for several of its leaders who had already received water baptism under K. V. Simon sir to go for a re-take. Although the church wrote several letters to Pr. Alvin in this connection, he was adamant on his opinion. Hence the 3 year association between the South India Pentecostal Church and the Ceylon Pentecostal Mission came to an end in the year 1933. The noticeable advantage of this association was that the South Indian Pentecostal Church got two strong leaders such as Pr. P. M. Samuel and Pr. Aramada Kochukunju Sanyasi.
The territory of the South Indian Church was getting larger. At the beginning of the 1930s, Pr. K. C. Cheriyan established churches first in Malabar and then in Karnataka while Pr. P. M. Samuel moved first to Tamil Nadu and later to Andhra with missionary endeavor. Pr. P. T. Chacko also started church ministry in Andhra. As the number of local units grew, the church needed to have a systematic structure. Therefore the church elected a 14 member council at a meeting of its church representatives held on 5th June 1933. Pr. P. M. Samuel was elected as its first President. The church got registered at the Aranmula Register Office.
At that time the Kumbanadu church under Kodunthara Oommechen invited Pr. K. E. Abraham to Kumbanadu. He accepted the invitation and went to Kumbanadu and eventually settled down there. Pr. Kodunthara Oommechen gifted his 85 cent land to the church. Apart from him, people like Vettiyattu Cheriayachan, Puthuparambil Thomachan and some others also had sold their properties and gave to the church. It may not be wrong to say that these people were inspired by the renunciation teachings of the Ceylon Pentecostal Mission.
In 1935, the church got registered under the Eloor Society Act of Andhra Pradesh according to the existing British India Law. It was at that time the church changed its old name ‘the South India Pentecostal Church’ and got a new name ‘the Indian Pentecostal Church of God’. A resolution to this effect was passed by the Church Council in 1934. Pr. P. M. Samuel was the President of the church even at the time when the church got registered in Andhra. The other executives were Pr. K. C. Cheriyan (Vice President), and Pr. P. T. Chacko (Secretary). The members of the registered council were Pastors K. E. Abraham, T. G. Oommen, T. Kochukunju, K. C. Oommen (Kodunthara), P. T. Mathew (Podimala), P. V. Thomas, P. O. Thomas, P. T. Varghese, K.M. Sakharia, T.V. Isaac, P. M. Thomas, E. K. John and M. Simon.
The change of name from South India Pentecostal Church to the Indian Pentecostal Church God demonstrated a strong national feeling which was the product of the ongoing struggle for independence. It is noteworthy that the leaders of the church showed greater vision and commitment for a strong India.
The Swedish Connection
The church began to grow at a faster rate with the name I. P. C. The tie up with the Pentecostal churches in Sweden contributed immensely towards the growth of the I. P. C. This relationship began in 1936 when Pr. K. C. Cheriyan met a Swedish missionary Rev. Carl Swann in Mangalapuram. Afterward they invited Pr. K. C. Cheriyan to visit Sweden. As a result Pr. K. E. Abraham and Pr. K. C. Cheriyan visited Sweden in the same year. That was the beginning of a solid spiritual relationship which lasted for many years. The Swedish Pentecostal church which believed in the independence of the local churches began to help the I. P. C. financially without any administrational binding. This money was used to gain big growth even without broadening the financial infrastructure. The money generated out of the initial phase of foreign trips undertaken by Pr. K. C. Cheriyan and Pr. K. E. Abraham to Europe and America was used to construct lots of church buildings and planting new churches.
In 1939, I. P. C. started a secular school at Kumbanadu with the twin objectives of providing English education and helping pastor’s children with education facilities. However the financial recession owing to the Second World War in 1945 forced the church to stop the school. It would have given the I. P. C. an important role in the education sector of Kerala, had it been continued or re-started later. That might have even encouraged other Pentecostal organizations also to venture in this sector. Thus it can be said with a huge sense of loss that this withdrawal from the education sector was a big mistake in the history of I. P. C.
The Anti-Kumbanadu faction began to work as an independent church. They also acquired some properties for the church and registered under the name “Suvishesha Sankham”. Some of those properties are now with the I. P. C. in the same name. In 1957, some reconciliatory talks were held under the leadership of Kunjappy Upadesi of the Mar Thoma Church.
This meeting which was held at “Suvisheshalayam” in Tiruvalla brought the two factions to a settlement. However, during the time of the division, so many capable pastors and families have gone to the Sharon Fellowship which was established by Pr. P. J. Thomas. In reality this has pulled back the growth of I. P. C. ten years backward.
There was another split happened exactly after 5 years which, in fact, was the continuation of the old one. It lasted for about 4 years. The difference was that some leaders shifted their factions and fought. The result was the loss of thousands of families which came out the Episcopal churches and the loss of evangelistic zeal.
Apart from this, some ineligible people were raised up to the leadership through this factional politics. And the history tells us that the church had to face lots of troubles through these people. The split that lasted for 4 years has finally been resolved in 1966. The fact that the I. P. C. people learned a lesson from these two splits that they have been able to avoid another split for the last 5 decades is especially notable.
The T. S. Era
Pr. T. S. Abraham came into the leadership of I. P. C. by virtue of becoming the General Secretary of the Kerala state I. P.C.The following 3 and half decades saw Pr. T. S. Abraham reigning in I. P. C. in the capacities of State Secretary, General Secretary and General President and running the affairs of the church.
In the meantime, some amendments were made in the I. P. C. constitution which included a clause to limit the age of the church executives to 80. Therefore Pr. T. S. Abraham had to retire from the administration at the age of 80 in the year 2006. He led the I. P. C. for a long 32 years. The tenure of his leadership was the appropriate period for the I. P. C. to establish itself as a systematic church organization.
The System of Administration
The I. P. C. has the strongest democratic system of administration among all other Pentecostal organizations in India. The elected State and General Councils are running the administration. Each local pastor and a member who is elected in proportion to the strength of that church have the voting right. The fact that the laypeople also have the voting right and membership in the General Council is both the strength and the weakness of the church.
The advantage of the democratic system of governance is that it provides the believers a share in the administration and thereby responsibility, while the disadvantage is the democratic indispensability of having election on the basis of panel and election campaign. This actually pollutes the church.
In 1933, when the Council was formed for the first time, it was actually a Minister’s Council with only pastors as members. Later when the church got connected with the Swedish Church, the Council was dissolved in 1939. The church did not have a Council for about 10 years. But as the church grew the Council became a necessity. Not only that, as more regions were created, each of them had special Minister’s Council.
The Kerala State Council was created in 1971. It was from that Council onwards that the laypeople began to get representation in I. P. C. A decision to this effect was taken mainly because of the intervention of Pr. P. M. Philip and some other like minded people. The involvement of the laypeople in the administrative system of the I. P. C. brought in credibility and church growth to a certain extent.
The Sister Concerns
In 1947, the youth wing called P. Y. P. A was started. Pr. A. J. John was its first President. Pr. T. S. Abraham was the Secretary. The initiative to start the P. Y. P. A. was taken by some students who were studying in U. C. College, Aluva and University College, Trivandrum. The ‘Sodareesamajam’ and ‘Sunday School Associatio’ are also the sister concerns of I. P. C.
The Kumbanadu Convention
The convention held in 1925 at Ittiyappara, Ranni is considered as the first convention of the I. P. C. Since 193, the Kumbanadu General Convention is being held. This is most famous Pentecostal convention in India and biggest Pentecostal convention in Kerala which is held every year.