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South India, Church of

The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church
F. L. CrossF. L. Cross, E. A. LivingstoneE. A. Livingstone

South India, Church of. 

The Church inaugurated on 27 Sept. 1947 by the union of three religious bodies:

  1. (1) the (Anglican) Church of India, Burma, and Ceylon, in respect to four of its dioceses, namely Madras, Tinnevelly, Travancore and Cochin, and Dornakal;

  2. (2) the South India Province of the Methodist Church;

  3. (3) the South India United Church, itself the result of a movement which brought Presbyterian, Congregational, and Dutch Reformed bodies into organic union in 1908 and was joined in 1919 by the Malabar District of the Basel Mission, which drew its foreign workers from Continental Lutheran and Reformed Churches.

The Church of South India, which numbers somewhat over one and a half million, is based doctrinally on the Lambeth Quadrilateral (1888) and claims to be a united and visible Church, in which the Congregational, Presbyterian, and Episcopal elements are preserved. The union was achieved by the acceptance of ministers ordained in each of these traditions into a united ministry (without requiring any reordinations), combined with the introduction of an episcopate in the historic succession (from Anglicanism) and its maintainance for the future, with the assurance that all future ordinations would be episcopal. It was expected that at the end of 30 years all presbyters would have been episcopally ordained.

The creation of the Church of South India was the fruit of negotiations which began at a historic conference at Tranquebar in May 1919, when the 33 participants (31 Indians, 1 American, and 1 Englishman, almost all ministers of varying denominations) determined to remedy the evils arising from divisions to Christian mission work in India. The 1920 Lambeth Conference Appeal to all Christian People quickened hopes, and a Joint Committee of the three bodies concerned was set up. The challenge to traditional Catholic order in the proposed arrangement led to much controversy and many delays; but the 1930 Lambeth Conference gave general encouragement to the scheme, believing that Catholic principles would be sufficiently safeguarded. The scheme was later subjected to considerable revision, and in 1947, if one vote had been differently cast, the union would have been delayed. In the Nandyal district of S. India some 40,000 Anglicans refused to join the Church. It has subsequently been joined by various other small groups, including the Basel Mission Council of Bombay-Karnatik in 1958.

The 1948 Lambeth Conference gave the union a measure of qualified approval, and in 1955 a state of ‘limited inter-communion’ between the Church of South India and the C of E was approved by the Convocations of Canterbury and York. This was somewhat extended by the General Synod in 1972. The Church of South India is now a member of the Anglican Consultative Council, the Lambeth Conference, and the Primates' Meeting.

The method of uniting the ministries adopted by the Church of South India has been widely advocated in union negotiations in various parts of the world, but usually rejected in favour of the imposition of hands by bishops on all uniting ministries at the time of union.


G. K. A. Bell, Documents on Christian Unity (4 vols., 1924–58; nos. 71–81, 139–43, 147, 204–8 and 267–74).Find this resource:

    B. [G. M.] Sundkler, Church of South India: The Movement towards Union, 1900–1947 (1954).Find this resource:

      [A.] M. Ward, The Pilgrim Church: An Account of the First Five Years in the Life of the Church of South India (1953).Find this resource: