'Church Act' - Joseph Pulikkunnel (Part II)
After the crucification of Christ, the twelve apostles convened a synod at Jerusalem along with the faithful. The major problem sought to be resolved by the apostles was the administration of the temporal wealth of the Christian community. The Gospel reads as follows: "Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists murmured against the Hebrews because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the body of the disciples and said, 'It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brethren, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word"(Acts 6:1-4).
Here apostles established a divide in the Church.
1) The spiritual mentors of the Church shall have nothing to do with the administration of the temporalities of the Church.
2) The temporalities of the Church should be administered by the elected representatives of the community.
It is for the first time in the history of the world that administration of temporalities of the community was vested in the elected representatives of the community. It is very clear from the teachings of Jesus Christ and decisions of the apostles that there is no sanction for the spiritual mentors to administer the temporalities of the community.
Tradition of the Indian Church
According to the tradition, Thomas the apostle planted Christianity in India. Whether it is true or not historians attests that there were Christians in India in 5th century. According to the tradition the Christians in India followed a Church system which is known as the Law of Thomas or Thomayude Margavum Vazhipadum. This is attested by documents.
According to the Law of Thomas, there was clear demarcation between the spiritual service and the administration of temporal properties. The Temporal properties of each church was administered by the elected representatives of the Community. I cite hereunder the opinions of eminent Church historians regarding the Church system in India.
Rev. Dr. Placid Podipara CMI: (Patriarch of Kerala Church history)
"The assembly of the adults and the priests ascribed to a parish administered the temporalities of the parish and looked after the Christian life of the people. This assembly had the power even to excommunicate public delinquents. Matters of a serious nature were dealt with in the joint assemblies of two or more churches or parishes, while matters that pertained to the whole Church or Community were treated by the representatives of all the parishes. The Malabar Church thus presented the appearance of a Christian Republic''(The Malabar Christians: P - 3).
Rev. Dr. Xavier Koodapuzha (Former Professor of Church History, St. Thomas Apostolic Seminary, Vadavathoor, Kottayam):
''In the ecclesial life of the Thomas Christians, Palliyogam played a very important role. A yogam consists of the representatives of the families and the clergy of a parish. This assembly is presided over by the parish priest. The yogam discusses the problems connected with the life and activities of the parish, such as the approval of the candidates to priesthood, spiritual welfare of the parish, the financial administration, punishment for public sinners, reconciliation in times of conflict, etc. The candidates for priesthood have to get the desakkuri, the official approval, of the parish community....."
"....The local problems of the community were discussed in the parish yogam. Matters of wider importance were discussed in the General Yogam which consisted of representatives of all the parishes in the General Yogam the Archdeacon had a very decisive role. We come across such gatherings before important events of the Church. There were gatherings of this kind before and after the 'Koonan Cross' oath. The general gathering decided to send Fr. Cariatti and others to Rome. The necessary money was raised by the General Yogam. Fr. Paulinus of St. Bartholomeo, who was a Carmelite missionary in India calls it a republican system of government" (Ecclesial Identity of St. Thomas Christians, P- 78, 79, 80, 81).