Christianity in Sri Lanka

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Christians in Sri Lanka
6th century, known as the Anuradhapura cross plays a significant role in Christians in Sri Lanka.
6th century, known as the Anuradhapura cross plays a significant role in Christians in Sri Lanka.
Christians by region (1980-2000)
Christians by region (1980-2000)
Total population
Decrease 1,509,606 (2012)[1]
Thomas the Apostle
Regions with significant populations
 WesternIncrease 752,993
 North WesternIncrease 300,367
 NorthernIncrease 204,005
 CentralDecrease 90,519
 EasternDecrease 80,801

Christianity is a minority religion in Sri Lanka. Christianity was introduced to the island in first century, probably in AD 72.[2] Traditionally, after Thomas the Apostle's visit in Kerala in AD 52, Christianity is said to have been introduced via India because of its close geographical and commercial ties.[3] According to Christian traditions, the apostle Thomas preached the Gospel in Sri Lanka.[4] Records suggest that St. Thomas Christians and Nestorian Christians lived in Sri Lanka.[5] Anuradhapura cross is one of the archaeological claims that suggest Christianity in Sri Lanka before the[6] Portuguese.[7][8] Roman Catholicism was introduced by the Portuguese in 1505. There were conversions by Dutch persons in the 17th century, which resulted in a percentage of church members in excess of 10%.

The Christian population of Sri Lanka includes members of both the Sinhalese and Tamil ethnic groups.

Roman Catholicism[edit]

6.19% of the population (1,261,194 persons) is Roman Catholic, according to the 2012 census.[9] Roman Catholicism thus constitutes approximately 83.5% of the Christian population as of census day 2012.

Catholicism was first introduced by the Portuguese, who left a notable mark in that Portuguese surnames are still used by many Catholics. Dutch missionaries tried to spread Protestantism after the Portuguese were expelled, but most Sri Lankan Christians are now Catholics. There is a Roman Catholic archbishop and 11 Roman Catholic bishops.[10] The dioceses are:

  1. Archdiocese of Colombo
  2. Diocese of Anuradhapura
  3. Diocese of Badulla
  4. Diocese of Batticaloa
  5. Diocese of Chilaw
  6. Diocese of Galle
  7. Diocese of Jaffna
  8. Diocese of Kandy
  9. Diocese of Kurunegala
  10. Diocese of Mannar
  11. Diocese of Ratnapura
  12. Diocese of Trincomalee


290,967 persons in Sri Lanka (1.43%) are Protestants as per the 2012 census.[11] The Ceylon Pentecostal Mission has about 16,500 church members and 70 churches (faith homes) in Sri Lanka. About 2000 people (1998) are affiliated with congregations belonging to the Baptist World Alliance. The Lanka Lutheran Church has about 1,200 members. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints claims 1,200 members in Sri Lanka.[12]

The main Protestant churches in Sri Lanka are Anglican, Methodist, Baptist and Salvation Army. The Church of Ceylon is an extra-provincial Anglican church, and the Church of South India (a united church of Anglicans, Presbyterians, and other Protestants) is a full member of the Anglican Communion and has a diocese in Jaffna. The Anglican Church has a strong effect on people in some areas. Methodist missionaries established 187 schools of which only 2 remains (Wesley College and Methodist College) because all the other schools were taken over by the government. Methodism has over 40,000 followers in Sri Lanka with 45 circuits, 200 churches and 120 pastors. Moratuwa Area and Kutunayake Negombo Areas are the regions where many Methodists live. In 2005 and 2006, the Methodist Church of Sri Lanka had a very difficult time during a period of anti-Christian violence.

St. Andrew's Church in Colombo is a congregation of the Church of Scotland. For administrative purposes, it is part of the Church of Scotland's International Presbytery.

According to the 2002 yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses, around 4,019 active members are in Sri Lanka.[13]


The Ceylon Evangelical Lutheran Church is a confessional Lutheran Church in Sri Lanka, and the only Lutheran denomination registered with the Sri Lankan government.[14] The Church consists of more than a dozen congregations or mission stations, mainly concentrated in the tea plantation regions of Nuwara Eliya, Central Province.[15]


Christian in Sri Lanka (2012 census)[16][17]

  Catholic (81.94%)
  Protestantism (10.63%)
  Oriental Orthodox (5.21%)
  Other Christianity (2.22%)

Originally named the Lutheran Church in Lanka, leadership of the Church was assumed by missionaries of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) in 2015, and the name was officially changed to the Ceylon Evangelical Lutheran Church in February 2017.[18]

The first pastor ordained into the CELC was Rev. P. Gnanakumar, who had served as a vicar in the Lanka Lutheran Church for more than a decade, and was ordained on 2 September 2017 by Rev. Charles Ferry,[19] the LCMS regional director for Asia.[20] On the same day, Rev. Dr. Edward Naumann,[21] LCMS Theological Educator for South Asia, launched the Church's official publishing house, the Ceylon Evangelical Lutheran Publishing House (CELPH).[22]

In October 2017 all three pastors of the Lanka Lutheran Church, Rev. Nadaraja, Rev. Arulchelvan, and Rev. Devanesanin, applied and were accepted for membership of the CELC Ministerium, bringing the total number of Sri Lankan pastors to four.

Church structure[edit]

The CELC Church Order provides for an episcopal polity, which is not considered to be a point of doctrine, as the Church works closely with the LCMS, which maintains a congregational polity. Currently no bishop has been elected, so the Church is administered by the CELC Board of Directors.

Relationship with other Lutheran bodies[edit]

The Ceylon Evangelical Lutheran Church is a member of the International Lutheran Council, but has no official relationship with the Lutheran World Federation.

On 26 September 2018, the International Lutheran Council received the CELC as a full member, thus bringing international recognition to the CELC.[23][24]

According to its governing Church Order, the CELC classifies all clergy of the LCMS and churches in communion with the LCMS as 'recognized clergy' who are subsequently granted permission to conduct Word and Sacrament ministry in CELC congregations.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "A3 : Population by religion according to districts, 2012". Census of Population & Housing, 2011. Department of Census & Statistics, Sri Lanka.
  2. ^ "A Brief History Of Christianity In Sri Lanka".
  3. ^ Aprem, Mar. "Early Christianity in Sri Lanka and India and Issues of Identity". Assyrian International News Agency. Retrieved 26 February 2015.
  4. ^ Hattaway, Paul (2004). Peoples of the Buddhist World: A Christian Prayer Diary. William Carey Library. ISBN 9780878083619. Retrieved 26 February 2015.
  5. ^ Pinto, Leonard. "A Brief History Of Christianity In Sri Lanka". Colombo Telegraph. Retrieved 26 February 2015.
  6. ^ "The Forgotten Christian World". History Today. Retrieved 26 February 2015.
  7. ^ "Mar Aprem Metropolitan Visits Ancient Anuradhapura Cross in Official Trip to Sri Lanka". Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East. Archived from the original on 26 February 2015. Retrieved 26 February 2015.
  8. ^ Weerakoon, Rajitha. "Did Christianity exist in ancient Sri Lanka?". Sunday Times (Sri Lanka). Retrieved 26 February 2015.
  9. ^ "Population by religion and district, Census 1981, 2001, 2012" (PDF). Department of Census and Statistics od Sri Lanka. Retrieved 20 February 2016.
  10. ^ "A SHORT HISTORY OF CATHOLIC CHURCH IN SRI LANKA". Ministry of Christian Affairs Sri Lanka. Retrieved 20 February 2016.
  11. ^ "Population by religion and district, Census 1981, 2001, 2012" (PDF). Department of Census and Statistics od Sri Lanka. Retrieved 20 February 2016.
  12. ^ LDS Newsroom (Statistical Information)Sri Lanka – LDS Newsroom Archived 2008-12-16 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ "Jehovahs Witnesses: Countries Compared". Retrieved 20 February 2016.
  14. ^ Public Records of the Registrar of Societies, Sri Lanka, registered under Company Registration No. GA 135, an Association within the meaning of section 34 of the Companies Act No. 07 of 2007.
  15. ^ "Congregations". Ceylon Evangelical Lutheran Church. 24 April 2018. Retrieved 25 April 2018.
  16. ^ "A3 : Population by religion according to districts, 2012". Census of Population & Housing, 2011. Department of Census & Statistics, Sri Lanka.
  17. ^ "Census of Population and Housing 2011". Department of Census and Statistic. Retrieved 13 October 2019.
  18. ^ Public Records of the Registrar of Societies, Sri Lanka.
  19. ^ "Charles Ferry". Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. Retrieved 25 April 2018.
  20. ^ "'Bless the Lord': The Primacy of Theological Education in Sri Lanka". 28 March 2018.
  21. ^ "Edward Naumann". Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. Retrieved 25 April 2018.
  22. ^ "Built on the rock: New church, pastor, publishing house in Sri Lanka". Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. 23 October 2017. Retrieved 25 April 2018.
  23. ^ "CELC Joins International Lutheran Council". 2 October 2018.
  24. ^ "ILC welcomes 17 new member churches representing 4.15 million Lutherans worldwide". 26 September 2018.
  25. ^ Church Order of the Ceylon Evangelical Lutheran Church: Tamil and English edition. Ceylon Evangelical Lutheran Publishing House. 2017. p. 2.

External links[edit]