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The Kerala Brethren are a subgroup of the larger Christian movement 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 India, and today there are more than 600 Brethren churches in Kerala, and almost 2200 throughout India.
At a glance
India has had a Christian presence ever since Saint Thomas, the doubting disciple, brought the Christian message to this country. The middle of 1800s 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 Mar Thoma and Jacobite churches. Many of them left these churches to embrace a non-episcopalian 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 "verpadu sabhakal" due to their heavy emphasis on separation from the world for greater devotion to Christ.
History of the Kerala Brethren
1872 Anthony Norris Groves, who was one of the founder leaders of Plymouth Brethren movement in England, was the first Brethren missionary to arrive in India. John Arulappan was one of his disciples. Mathai, 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. This paved way for the commencement of Brethren movement in Kerala, the place being known as God's own country.
1875 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 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 In December 1984, a well-known gospel preacher, Tamil David visited Kerala. He spoke of Assurance of Salvation very evidently in his messages. An eleven year old boy named K. V. Simon accepted the Lord during one of his meetings held at Puthencavu.
1896 The Kerala visit of J. Gelson Gregson, the famous Keswick Convention speaker, had become a cause for the start of Brethren Movement in Kerala. Gregson was a Baptist missionary. But he joined Keswick team because of their swing to Modernism. It was C. P. Thomas of Iroor organised his Kerala visit. Gregson took various sessions among the priests and laymen within the Marthoma Church. Many were received assurance of salvation as a result of his preaching. Baptism was also brought in as a subject in his classes. Following these sessions, some of the priests and laymen had decided to receive baptism. This development attracted fury of the Church leaders against Gregson and they barred him from ministering in the Church. In the year 1897, P. E. Mammen (Kumbanattachen), vicar of Kumbanad and Eraviperoor parishes, received baptism from a Brethren missionary, Handley Bird, at Kunnamkulam.
1897 The first instance of the Holy Supper according to the New Testament pattern was conducted in Kunnamkulam under the leadership of Volbrecht Nagel. But that was not a gathering resulted from complete separation from Nominal Christianity.
1899 P. E. Mammen (Kumbanattachen) had learned the idea that redeemed children of God need to gather for Holy Supper on every Sunday from Hardley Bird. On 19 March 1899, a worship meeting with Holy Supper 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 P. C. Chacko participated in the Lord's Table, following Songs, Prayers and Message. P. C. Cherian Parayil from Kallissery, P. C. Mammen, Cheruvallethu Koshy Mathunni, P. N. Ninan were also present in this meeting, though they were not partakers at the Lord's Table. P. C. Mammen was baptised in the afternoon same day. 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. Many who believed were baptised in places like Kuriyannur and Nedumprayar and joined this new movement.
Conventions and conferences
Annually, the largest Kerala brethren convention is held at Kumbanad in the last week of December, hosted by the local assembly there. Many other local assemblies throughout Kerala also conduct their own conventions and gospel meetings around this time.
Medical Mission Facilities
TMM Hospitals at Tiruvalla, Mannmaruthy, & Vazhoor and the College of Nursing at Tiruvalla
- Noel Memorial High School, Kumbanad.
- Noel Memorial High School, Kariamplavu.
- Brethren English Medium High School, Kumbanad.
- Several Upper and Lower Primary Schools in Noel Memorial Management.
- TMM Hospital College of Nursing Thiruvalla.
- Bethany Bible School, Kumbanad.
- Brethren Bible Institute, Pathanamthitta
- Gospel Training Centre, Perumbavoor
- Vedanadam Bible School, Kannoor.
- Rehaboth Theological Institute, Thrissur.
- V. Nagel Bible School, Kunnamkulam.
- Sathyam Theological Seminary, Idukki.
- Gujarath Brethren Bible Institute, Gujarath.
- Brethren Bible Training Institute, West Bangal.
- Stewards Bible College, Tamil Nadu.
- Madurai Bible School, Madurai.
- North India Bible Institute, Alwar, Rajasthan
- HATS Bible School, Bhopal
- Bethesda Boys Home, Irinjalakuda.
- Rehboth Girls Orphanage, Thrissur.
- Daya Vihar Orphanage, Thiruvalla.
- Kerala Evangelistic Missionary (KEM) Fund
- Gospel Missions of India
- General Gospel Fund
- Stewards Association of India
Homes for the Elderly
- Brethren Mercy Trust Kumbanad
- Rehoboth Old Age Home(Nellikkunnu)
References and sources
- Thiruvalla Medical Missions
- Keralabrethren.net History page
- Thekkel.com brethren history page
- Brethren institutions
- Mahakavi, K.V. Simon, History of the Malankara Brethren Churches (Malankarayilae Verpadu Sabhakalude 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, U.S.A., Schoettle Publishing Co., Inc., 1988