History of Pentecostalism in India
Pentecostalism has grown in India since its introduction in the early twentieth century. Several Pentecostal missionaries who had participated in the Azusa Street Revival visited Kerala from 1909 onwards. During the 1920s the missionary Robert F. Cook established the Indian branch of the Church of God, based in Kerala. Two other churches founded around this time were The Pentecostal Mission, founded in Sri Lanka by the Indian evangelist Pastor Paul, and later brought to India; and the Indian Pentecostal Church of God, set up by K.E. Abraham after he split from the church founded by Cook. A later foundation, in 1953, was the Sharon Fellowship, which runs the Sharon Women's Bible College. Many of the Pentecostal churches in India are represented in the Assemblies of God in India.
Robert F. Cook and the Church of God
During the early 20th century the Pentecostal movement experienced rapid growth with the arrival of a number of foreign missionaries. One of the most significant among the missionaries of that period was Robert F. Cook, from the United States. Though a number of missionaries came before him and though the Pentecostal experience took place in India independent of foreign missionary work, it was Cook who first established works that began to spread into neighboring areas. He came to India in October 1913 and established a few mission posts in North India. However, due to lack of support, he was unable to develop his work in a significant manner. Cook relocated his headquarters to Mulakuzha in Kerala. The headquarters of the Church of God in India remains there now.
Until 1921, Cook was stationed in Bangalore. However, in 1920, he became acquainted with Kalloor Chacko, of Thrikkannamangal, Kottarakara, and was convinced by him to relocate to Thrikkannamangal. In January 1921, he headquartered his work in a rented home adjacent to Chacko's and began his work in Kerala. He registered his churches under the name "Malankara Full Gospel Church of God". By 1922, he passed his work in Bangalore over to fellow workers and permanently moved to Thrikkannamangal.
The Pentecostal Mission
The Pentecostal Mission (TPM), formerly known as Ceylon Pentecostal Mission (CPM), is a Pentecostal denomination which originated in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka. The international headquarters is now situated in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India. Ceylon Pentecostal Mission was founded in 1923 by a convert from Hinduism named Ramankutty, later known as Pastor Paul. Pastor Paul was born to Hindu parents in the district of Trichur in Kerala. While in Sri Lanka, at the age of 18, he became a Christian. Later, he began to preach and share the gospel in various parts of India and Sri Lanka. In the initial stages, he had worked with other evangelists. Pastor Paul served as the founder and chief pastor of this church.
This organization stands out among the Pentecostal churches because of its exclusivist teachings and organization structure. Some of the distinctive features are that full-time workers were expected to practice an ascetic life-style including celibacy, obedience to the elder pastors, and communal living (including disposal of private possessions) in faith homes. Today the church is known by different names in different countries, but all stand under the name of “The Pentecostal Mission”. It now has churches in over 65 countries.
Indian Pentecostal Church of God
K.E. Abraham, a pastor who had worked closely with Cook for a number of years, decided that he no longer wanted the mission work taking place in India to receive foreign funds. With that as his main reason, he split from Cook and established the Indian Pentecostal Church of God (IPC) in 1924. Many others were involved in the establishment of IPC, which became largest Pentecostal Denomination in India.
Sharon Fellowship Church was founded in 1953 by Pastor P. J. Thomas, Pastor Thadathil George Koshy (later founder president of Faith Theological Seminary in Kerala) and ten other members including two women.
Pastor P.J. Thomas was born on 15 April 1914, the son of Pastor P.V. John. He converted to Christianity in 1936. He studied at Serampore University and earned a Diploma in Theology. He went on to attend Wheaton College (Illinois) where he received a master's degree in Comparative Religion, and taught there for a short time before returning to India in 1952. He purchased the present Sharon property in March 1953 and with the completion of the Sharon Hall, he founded Sharon Bible School and later formed Sharon Fellowship Church. He died on 24 March 1998, and was succeeded as president by Rev. Dr. T.G. Koshy. In January 2015, due to ill health, Rev. Koshy handed over the presidency to Rev. John Thomas, while remaining in his capacity as Senior General Minister.
Sister Aleyamma Thomas of the Sharon Fellowship was instrumental in starting the first Women's Training Centre in India at Thiruvalla, Kerala, which is now known as Sharon Women's Bible College. The Sharon Fellowship has more than 2050 local churches in India and another 34 churches internationally, in addition to several associated Bible Schools and Seminaries.
Assemblies of God in India
The Assemblies of God in India, representing many of the Pentecostal churches in India, now has 8,000 member churches. Its governing body is the General Council of the Assemblies of God. It is a member of the World Assemblies of God Fellowship and operates an Assembly of God College in Bangalore. The district of Kerala has now been divided into two in order to better handle the growth. 8 Sothern revenue districts (Thiruvananthapuram to Thrissur) are grouped together called 'Malayalam District Council' and the rest of the revenue districts (Palakkad to Kasaragod)formed 'Malabar District Council. Both these District councils are coming under the "South India Assemblies of God". The church has also established a number of Bible Schools throughout India. Pastor Sam U serves as the youth department (Christ's Ambassadors-CA) President of Malayalam District Council of Kerala.
The Church of God in India, the Assemblies of God, the Indian Pentecostal Church of God, and Sharon Fellowship are some of the largest among the Pentecostal organizations in India. There are numerous other groups that are either independent or affiliated to the above-mentioned mainline Pentecostal groups. With strong support from churches and charities in the United States, Europe and Australia, these groups have been able to build organizations with presence in almost every state of India. Many of these groups are more charismatic in theology and often do not conform to the foundational teachings accepted by the mainline Pentecostal churches.
- Kannampally, Sam (2009). "The Keralite Pentecostal Community:The Past and the Present". Agape Partners International.
- "How it all Began", Faith Theological Seminary