Kerala Brethren

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The Kerala Brethren are part of the larger Christian movement spread around the world known as the Plymouth Brethren. Kerala is a small state in India, where this movement started in 1898 with the baptism of four men from traditional churches. Soon this movement spread all over Kerala and other parts of India, and today there are more than 600 Brethren churches in Kerala, and almost 2200 throughout India.

Overview[edit]

India had a Christian presence ever since Saint Thomas, the doubting disciple, brought the Christian message to this country. The middle of 19th century was a time of great spiritual awakening and revival among Indian Christians, more so for Christians in the state of Kerala. Itinerant preachers from India and abroad were warmly welcomed in revival meetings that were common in Kerala those days.

Of the preachers, V. D. David, popularly known as Tamil David, had a great impact upon many in the Marthoma and Jacobite churches. Many of them left these churches to embrace a non-episcopal type of church pattern. On 19 March 1899, a worship meeting with the Lord's Supper as per the New Testament pattern was conducted at Kumbanad. A communion service was conducted without any priest for the first time. This was the beginning of Kerala Brethren.

In strict adherence to the New Testament pattern, the local churches commonly known as "brethren assemblies" are all independent. There is no central hierarchy or governing body that oversee the local assemblies as with other denominations.

The early brethren, although few in number, had a significant impact on evangelical Christianity in India. Many of the Malayalam hymns that have become familiar to Malayalee Christians during the last century were composed by brethren including Mahakavi K. V. Simon, M. E. Cherian and T. K. Samuel. Brethren have also focused on gospel outreach work throughout India and have developed a reputation for advancing biblical knowledge and greater doctrinal accuracy.

The brethren assemblies in Kerala are also known as "verpaatu sabhakal" due to their heavy emphasis on separation from the world for greater devotion to Christ.

In depth[edit]

St. Thomas was believed to have arrived to Kerala, India in 52 A. D.[1] He was perhaps the only Apostle who went outside the Roman Empire to preach the Gospel. He is also believed to have crossed the largest area, which includes the Parthian Empire and India.[5]

"...It was his mission to espouse India to the One-Begotten...." – Hymns of St. Ephraem, edited by Lamy (Ephr. Hymni et Sermones, IV).

In 345 A. D., seventy-two families belonging to seven Jewish clans emigrated to Kodungalloor (Kerala, India) from Mesopotamia (Iran and Iraq) under the leadership of Thomas of Kana. Thomas of Kana came to know that the local Christians had no episcopate priesthood or hierarchical structure. So he imported bishops and deacons, and changed the lives and practices of the Kerala Christians. The historians who support organised churches think that the Indian Christians had no leadership, due to their weakness and opposition from others.

However, the truth of the matter is that Kerala Christians had been following the New Testament pattern given in the Bible. Kerala churches were independent and led by local elders only. Child baptism was introduced in India only after the sixth (6th) century A. D. The Brethren movement in England sent missionaries all over the world.[2]

The early ages of the Brethren movement had the vision of reaching the world with the Gospel of Peace – Jesus Christ and sent missionaries worldwide. It is coined in the pages of history that Anthony Norris Groves, had come to Andhra Pradesh, South India from England. This was followed by many revival meetings in the south by Tamil David and Handley Bird in late nineties (90's) of the nineteenth (19th) century A. D.

The first Brethren assembly meeting in Travancore took place at Kumbanad on 19 March 1899. V. Nagel, the missionary from Germany was leading the flock in the Northern part of Kerala (Malabar Coast) – Kunnamkulam in Thrissur Dist and observed the Lord’s Supper according to the New Testament pattern.[3]

1833 – Br. Anthony Groves[edit]

This spiritual movement of Plymouth Brethren found its way to India in 1833 through Anthony Norris Groves, who was professionally a dentist.

His activities centred in the Godavari delta area of Bihar, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.[4] He established several churches in Andhrapraadesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.[5]

Quotes attributed to Anthony Norris Groves "Two masters that I cannot serve and therefore I simply choose the Lord." "The true servant of God knows better than any man the real value of money, the value of time, the value of talents." "In this world's history, great things are not accomplished but by great sacrifices."

Groves was known as a selfless, dedicated and saintly man as he served the Lord in India. One of Grove's more notable achievements was evident in a native missionary he mentored by the name of John Arulappan whose preaching ministry began in Tamil Nadu, and later came to Kerala and conducted numerous revival meetings. Arulappan acted on Groves' principles and as a full-time worker lived "by faith." Through Arulappan's ministry, a revival broke out in Tirunelveli in South India and many congregations were formed.[6]

1872[edit]

Anthony Norris Groves, who was one of the founding leaders of Plymouth Brethren movement in England, was the first Brethren missionary to arrive in India. John Arulappan was one of his disciples. Mathai padeshi, a CMS Evangelist from Thirunalveli who was a disciple of Arulappan, came to Kerala with a novel message: He spoke of the death of Jesus Christ, His second coming and millennium regime in his messages. The movement was spearheaded in Kerala by Mathai Upadeshi, a disciple of John Arulappan, who took the baton from Groves.[7] The Brethren movement takes root in Kerala, the place being known as God's own country.

1875 – Vidwankutty Movement[edit]

Yusthos Joseph alias Vidwankutty, a Tamil Brahmin and CMS priest, along with his fellow brethren started preaching gospel in Kerala. But one of his fellow brethren had a 'revelation' that on completing six (6) years from the year 1875 Jesus would come. This had become their subject of preaching from then. Being terribly mistaken in this matter, the movement of Vidwankutty had weakened. But his hymns and sermons helped to reach gospel among the Christians in Kerala.

1894 – Tamil David[edit]

In 1894, Mr. V. D. David known by Keralites as Tamil David and L. M. Wordsmith from Colombo, Sri Lanka (both from Tamil origin) came to Trivandrum and conducted many Gospel Meetings in various parts.

The second wave of great revival started in Kerala is attributed Tamil David's arrival in 1894. He spoke of Assurance of Salvation very evidently in his messages. He was an effective preacher, and thousands of people accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. A later notable eleven-year old boy named K. V. Simon surrendered his life to the Lord during one of Tamil David's meetings held at Puthencavu. Another great missionary who established assemblies in the northern part of Kerala was Brother Handley Bird.[6]

1896 – J. G. Gregson[edit]

A former Baptist [7] missionary and Bible teacher, J. G. Gregson, known as the famous Keswick Convention speaker, visited Kerala in 1896, and had become a cause for the new strength of Brethren Movement in Kerala.

Gregson, though a Baptist missionary, decided to join the Keswick team because of their swing to Modernism. It was C. P. Thomas of Ayroor who organised his Kerala visit. Under the leading of the Holy Spirit, Mr. Gregson started leaning toward the Brethren doctrines, and he is known as one of the founders of the Brethren movement in Travancore, Central Kerala. His Bible classes inspired several people in Kerala.

Gregson came to the place Ayroor near Kumbanad and preached the gospel. Mr. Gregson conducted numerous Bible studies and meetings organised by the Marthoma Church. Rev. P.E. Mammen also known as "Kumbanattu Achen", was one of the attendees of these meetings. Kumbanattu Achen was a priest in the MarThoma Church – who also happened to be the first Vicar of the Eraviperoor parish [8]

1897 – J. G. Gregson & Volbrecht Nagel[edit]

In 1897, Gregson was a speaker in the world renowned "Maramon Convention." He also took various sessions among the priests and laymen within the Marthoma Church. Many received assurance of salvation as a result of his preaching. Believer's baptism was also brought in as a subject in his classes. Following these sessions, some of the priests and laymen had decided to take believer's baptism.

These developments invited the fury of the Church-leaders against Gregson and they barred him from ministering in the Marthoma Church.

After Gregson's arrival, missionaries Mr. Edward H. Noel & Mr. Volbrecht Nagel (who composed the popular Christian song "samayamaam radhaththil njaan svarggayaathra cheyyunnu") and later Mr. J. M. Davis followed his missionary footsteps in India.[9]

During this period, Volbrecht Nagel, an impactful German missionary who worked for the Basal Mission in India, studied Scripture thoroughly and accepted the Brethren doctrines and practices. One of the earliest instances of the Holy Supper according to the New Testament pattern was conducted in Kunnamkulam, Thrissur under the leadership of Nagel.

Nagel wrote many songs and hymns in Malayalam that are sung even today by many Malayalee Christian denominations.[8]

A few of the hymns in Malayalam and their translations in English are given below Volbrecht Nagel:
  • snehaththin itayanaam yesuve, vazhiyum sathyavum nee maathrame... (Jesus the loving shepherd, you are the only way, and the truth …) – Belief.
  • ninnotu praartthippaan priya pithaave... (Our dear Father, we are coming for prayer...) – Prayer song.
  • jayam jayam kollum naam, jayam kollum naam... (Victorious, victorious, we will be victorious...) – Victory song.
  • daivaththinte ekaputhran paapikale rakshippaan... (God's only son, died on the cross to save the sinners) – Christ's passion and death
  • maranam jayichcha veeraa... (Hero, that won over death...) – Resurrection.
  • yesu varum vegaththil – aaswaasame... (Jesus will be coming soon...) – Second Coming.
  • ente jeevanaam yesuve... (Jesus my life...) – Comfort.
  • samayamaam radhaththil njaan svarggayaathra cheyyunnu... (In the chariot of time I am on my heaven-bound journey...) – It's not a funeral song, though no funeral procession is complete without singing this hymn.
Nagel's English Hymn to Malayalam translations include –
  • paapakkatam theerkkuvaan... (What Can Wash Away My Sins) by Robert Lowry
  • yesu enn svanatham, Hallelujah... (Blessed Assurance) by Fanny Crosby
  • yeshuvin thiruppaadaththil irunnu kelkka naam... (Sing them Over Again To Me) by P.P. Bliss
  • kristhuvinte daanam ethra madhuram... (Like a River Glorious)

Nagel came to Travancore and took Bible classes. He preached on the subjects "dying with Christ" and "crucifying the flesh". The combined ministry of Nagel and Gregson had an influential impact on a young MarThomite P. C. John, who turned his life over to Jesus Christ. His conversion along with that of his cousin Reverend P. E. Mammen made a substantial impact on the early Kerala Brethren Movement.

The influence of the gospel was making a difference in Kerala and disrupting the established order. Soon young believers were warned by their churches and families to either renounce their new-found faith or face expulsion from the church, the family, and even the town. In those days once thrown out of one's house, there was practically no dwelling place available in one's own town. Many were thrown out, others were beaten and abused mercilessly, and still others were mocked in inhumane ways. The young Marthomite P. C. John found himself caught in an altercation with his Achan at the Parish in Kumbanad. The young man dared to openly disagree with the priest's preaching and as a result was physically manhandled by the priest. When his cousin Reverend P. E. Mammen heard about this, he called John and they spent a long time in prayer together. This incident encouraged many to leave the episcopal churches.[10]

1899 – "Kumbanattu Achen"[edit]

On 19 March 1899, a worship meeting with Holy Supper, without a priest, as per the New Testament pattern was conducted at the residence of Kuttiyil Mathai in Kumbanad. P. E. John, P. C. John, Kuttyil Mathai and Kumbanadu Melathethil P. C. Chacko participated in the Lord's Table, following Songs, Prayers and Message.

P. C. Cherian Parayil from Kallissery, Rev. P. E. Mammen "Kumbanattu Achen", Cheruvallethu Koshy Mathunni, P. N. Ninan were also present in this meeting, though they were not partakers at the Lord's Table.

The Marthoma Vicar, P. E. Mammen (vicar of Kumbanad and Eraviperoor parishes) known as "Kumbanattu Achen" had learned the teaching that redeemed children of God need to gather for Holy Supper on every Sunday from Handley Bird.

Due to the protest of the parish and family members of Mammen, they were not able to continue the gathering in the following week in the same house. An attempt to conduct the meeting outside the house in the garden was also foiled.

Reverend P. E. Mammen went to Kunnamkulam and took believer's baptism from Handley Bird and later left the MarThoma Church and became a gospel preacher. P. E. Mammen was responsible for baptising his cousin P. C. John.

These events marked the Brethren movement in Kerala. Many who believed took believer's baptism in places like Kuriyannur and Nedumprayar and joined this young new movement.

1906 – The Birth of Brethren Schools and Orphanages[edit]

Nagal purchased 75 acres of land in Nellikkunnu and started a school and orphanages in 1906.

1914 Nagel Cannot Return to Malabar[edit]

In 1914, Nagel travelled back to his native Germany. His plan was to send his older children to England for education and return to India in 6 months, but the beginning of World War I prevented his return. As a national of the German Empire, he could not enter British administered Malabar.

1915 K. V. Simon's Expulsion From the Marthoma Church[edit]

K. V. Simon, a profound scholar, was actively involved in the spiritual activities of MarThoma church. The leadership he provided to the youth movement (Yuvajana Samaajam) was significant among them. During this time three members of Yuvajana Samaajam received believer’s baptism. The vicar had reported to the Metropolitan that K. V. Simon himself had believer’s baptism and he preached believer’s baptism among the members of the church. Following this Simon was summoned and expelled from the MarThoma Church.

The Expulsion order issued on 25 December 1915 was a significant turning point in the history of Brethren movement in Kerala. This helped Simon to preach the doctrinal truths very strongly.

1918 "Viyojithar"[edit]

There were a number of believers separated from nominal Christian churches by the work of Simon Sir and his fellow-workers in various parts of Kerala. Representatives of these brethren from Pennukkara, Mylapra, Manjanikkara, Edasserimala, Puthenpeedika, Valanjavattam, Kadammanitta, Ranni, Prakkaanam, Poovathoor, Mallassery, Budhanoor, Vazhupadi, Mazhukeer, Edayaaranmula gathered on 22 June 1918 at Edasserimala assembly hall and decided to have fellowship between the local assemblies they represent and to stay united. This group was called "Viyojithar" (separatists) and existed until 1929, when the number of assemblies were about 35.

1919 – Lonappan[edit]

Evangelist Lonappan was used by the Lord to establish an assembly in Angamali. He had to experience severe opposition and persecution. On 5th on February 1919, a brutal incident took place. The buried dead body of one of his children was taken out from the cemetery and was placed near his house by his opponents. He had to bury the body in his own premises with the help of police.

1920 – M. J. Davies[edit]

M. J. Davies moved to Trichur and started labouring there.

1921 – Evangelist Lonappan's suffering for the Saviour[edit]

If Nagel made an impact on the Brethren Movement in India, it would also appear that India's young Brethren assemblies would leave a Pauline longing in him as well. In a letter Nagel sent to his assembly fellowship in Paravoor four years prior to his death in 1921 reflects the hunger in his heart for souls in Malabar.

That letter contained the following words,

My sweetest treasures are in India. My heart belongs to there".[9]

In November 1921, Evangelist Lonappan and a believer Kidangoor Thaipparambil Joseph were very severely beaten up. Later the opponents continued to attack believers. They looted their agricultural produces. Bibles were burnt. But the believers remained calm and did not even makee any formal complaint to the local authorities. But the authorities registered case by themselves.

1929 – "One Movement"[edit]

Syrian Brethren

  • P. E. Mammen

Open Brethren

  • E. H. Noel

On 20 January 1929, Viyojitha assemblies of K. V. Simon joined with the movement of Mr. Noel. Later the assemblies favouring P. E. Mammen (Kumbanattachen) also joined them resulting in the formation of a single Movement. The late Brother Nagel and his team had paved the foundation of Brethren assemblies in North Travancore, Cochin and Malabar.

Pioneers[edit]

  1. J. G. Gregson
  2. Handley Bird
  3. V. Nagel
  4. P. E. Mammen, "Kumbanattachen" - former Marthoma Vicar of Kumbanad and Eraviperoor parishes
  5. P. C. John Upadeshi
  6. Mahakavi K. V. Simon
  7. Dr. T. A. Kurien Sagar
  8. Edward. H. Noel
  9. Alex Souter
  10. J. M. Davies
  11. Black
  12. Fountain
  13. Silas Fox
  14. K. V. Simon
  15. P. C. Joseph (Joseph sir Chethackal)
  16. K. G. Kurien
  17. K. G. Thomas
  18. V. T. Mathai
  19. Y. Ezekiel
  20. M. E. Cherian, Madurai
  21. E. P. Varghese
  22. Mammen Kurien
  23. T. K. Samuel
  24. E. J. Mathew
  25. A. T. Mathew, (Gudalur-Nilgiris)

Conventions and conferences[edit]

Annually, the Kerala brethren general convention is held at Kumbanad convention ground in the second-last week of December. Many other local assemblies throughout Kerala also conduct their own conventions and gospel meetings.

Institutions[edit]

Medical Mission Facilities[edit]

TMM Hospitals at Tiruvalla, Mannmaruthy, & Vazhoor and the College of Nursing at Tiruvalla

Schools/Colleges[edit]

  1. Noel Memorial High School, Kumbanad.
  2. Noel Memorial High School, Kariamplavu.
  3. Brethren English Medium High School, Kumbanad.
  4. Several Upper and Lower Primary Schools under Noel Memorial Management.
  5. TMM Hospital College of Nursing, Thiruvalla.
  6. Clarence High School, Bangalore
  7. Noel Memorial lower primary school(N.M.L.P.S),vilangara ,kottarakkara

Bible schools[edit]

# Brethren Bible Institute, Pathanamthitta

  1. HOPE Academy of Theology & Sciences (HATS), Bhopal
  2. Bethany Bible School, Kumbanad.
  3. Gospel Training Centre, Perumbavoor
  4. Vedanadam Bible School, Kannoor.
  5. Rehaboth Theological Institute, Thrissur.
  6. V. Nagel Bible School, Kunnamkulam.
  7. Sathyam Theological Seminary, Idukki.
  8. Gujarath Brethren Bible Institute, Gujarath.
  9. Brethren Bible Training Institute, West Bangal.
  10. Stewards Bible College, Tamil Nadu.
  11. Madurai Bible School, Madurai.
  12. North India Bible Institute, Alwar, Rajasthan

Orphanages[edit]

  1. Bethesda Boys Home, Irinjalakkuda
  2. Rehboth Girls Orphanage, Thrissur
  3. Bird's Memorial Children's Home, Chennai
  4. Daya Vihar Orphanage, Thiruvalla

Mission funds[edit]

  1. Kerala Evangelistic Missionary (KEM) Fund
  2. Gospel Missions of India
  3. General Gospel Fund
  4. Gospel Fellowship Trust of India
  5. Stewards Association of India
  6. Hope Assembly Workers Fund (HAWF)

Homes for the elderly[edit]

  1. Brethren Mercy Trust, Kumbanad
  2. Rehoboth Old Age Home, (Nellikkunnu)

References and sources[edit]

  • Mahaakavi K. V. Simon, History of the Malankara Brethren Churches (malankarayile verpaatu sabhakalute charithram) – republshed by Sathyam Publications, Tiruvalla, Kerala, India. in Feb 1999.
  • Lang, G. H., The History and Diaries of an Indian Christian: J. C. Aroolappen, USA, Schoettle Publishing Co., Inc., 1988

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]