Thiruvananthapuram, Jan 6 (IANS) – “Today we are 500,000 in number and the growth appears to be tremendous in recent years. May be it is because there is growing unrest in most frontline traditional churches,” said Sam Kuzhikala, media coordinator of the Indian Pentecostal Church (IPC).
“We do not run any campaign but believers on their own come to our church,” Kuzhikala told IANS. The IPC was set up in 1924.
As if to assert this, the Pentecostal church is to hold an eight-day international convention at Kumbanad near Thiruvalla from January 18. Close to 100,000 devotees are expected to attend, as are 3,000 pastors.
The unrest in the traditional churches may not be of recent origin, but a sudden exodus seems to have taken place as is evident from the number of Pentecostal churches that have mushroomed in Kerala in the past five years.
“We had about 700 churches in Kerala in 1996. Today we have grown to more than 2,500. Also, close to a thousand Pentecostal churches have applied to us for affiliation. Isn’t this enough to show that the once traditional churches have shrunk?” asked Kuzhikala.
Another recent phenomenon is that the majority of those coming into the Pentecostal fold are non-resident Indians settled mostly in the Middle East and the U.S.
“The basic reason for this is may be the September 11 attack that led to a general sense of anxiety among many. They realised the only way out is to come closer to God,” maintained IPC supreme head Pastor T.S. Abraham.
Church spokesmen say the essential difference between the traditional and the Pentecostal churches is that while the latter believe in the full gospel doctrine of the Bible, the traditional churches are more Episcopal in nature.
Divine Feast, a Pentecostal church in Kottayam that opened just three years ago, has grown to a congregation of 8,000 in the town alone.
“I was an alcoholic and when my church ignored me, a friend brought a Divine Feast pastor to my house. In a matter of three days, I was a transformed man.
“I wanted to change but when my own church ignored me I got solace from the Pentecostal movement. Now I am a fulltime member of the new church“, said another believer, declining to give his name.
Asserted Pastor Abraham: “We are not for mass conversions as propagated by our adversaries. Instead, we are into mind conversion and that has to happen inside one’s own mind. If that does not happen, then their sojourn with us would be short-lived.”
Traditional church leaders are not worried about the exodus.
“Our followers are with us. The trend of some leaving the church has always been there but there is no mass exodus,” said Baselius Mathews Mar Thoma II, the Malankara Metropolitan now involved in a war of words with the Patriarch faction in the Orthodox church.
© Copyright 2003 IANS India Private Limited, New Delhi. Posted on Religioscope with permission.