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Feature: By S.Gurumurthy

National Church: A Christian idea

All hell broke lose when the RSS chief K.S.Sudarshan said that the Indian Christian establishment should become independent of foreign control.He had merely suggested the formation of a swadeshi or a national church. And all that he had intended was a debate.

Is the suggestion for a national church unchristian, or anti-Christian or against the Christian evolution or history? A study of Christianity establishes that the idea of a national church is entirely a Chritian idea, not of the RSS or Sudarshan.All that the secularists need to read is the modern history of Christianity.

The idea of national churches independent of Roman Ctholic control was the product of the Protestant Reform movement and the consequent birth of nation-states in Europe. The Reformation which began in 1517 set off a serious erotion in the authority of the Pope who was originally only the Bishop of Rome. The transnational papacy was a later evolution. The Roman Catholic church of today was first known as the Western Church,the other being the Eastern.

The reformation resulted in the division of the western church into the Roman Catholic Church and the Reformed Churches.The ultimate result in the chain of this division was the formation of national churches in Europe and the evolution of independent churches in Africa and elsewhere later.

The first National Church,or to use Sudarshan's phrase, 'Swadeshi Church',was established in England in 1533.Henry VIII,a pious Catholic kingof England,sought the Pope's permission to divorce his first wife and to marry another.The Pope refused.Henry VIII,with the consent of the British parliament,renounced the Papal control and created the Church of England,seperate and independent Rome's control.

His simple logic was,if one English king could cede the control of English Christianity to the Pope in AD 664,another king(that is himself)could take it back. (Yet he,and the Church of England,continued to be Catholic till 1563).

In 1555, at Augsberg,a formula -"cuius regio,cius religio" was adopted.Under the formula,a ruler would decide which competing set of ideologies to follow and that would become the religion of his people.This is how,nation-states were born in Europe.In 1594-97,Richard Hooker,a leading figure of the Church of England,authored the Book "Laws of Ecclesiastical polity" in which natural law,rather than Biblical Scripture,was accepted as the ultimate source of authority.

In 17th century,the Church of England came to be popularly known as 'Anglican'.Likewise Scotland also has a national church.The anglican church is headed by the Crown.In most Protestant nations the Church became a state apparatus or a creature of national laws.

Even in the Catholic Religion,agreements called "Concordats" were signed between the Roman Catholic Church and the nations like France(in 1905),Italy(in 1894), Spain(in 1978).Under the Concordats,the national churches became independent of the vatican.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Denmark is the recognised official church of Denmark and managed by the Government.Norway,Sweden,Finland and Greece -all manage their national churches under their own national laws.The Constitution of Greece bans conversions-even from Greek orthodox Christianity to the other brands of the same religion.The same is the situation in Portugal.

Even the Africans have established their own national churches.The 'African Independent Church' is the 'indigesed' African Church.In this category falls the Russian Orthodox Church which is the national church of Russia.

National churches are thus the rule in the Christian west and Africa,not exceptions.They define the religious-national identity of the people of these nations.

It is because no self-respecting western (and African)country, Catholic or Protestant,would allow its people to be controlled, in religion or in politics, from outside. If national Church became a must for a Christian nation,is it unnecessary for a secular nation like India to evolve its own national church?is Indian Christianity less original than the Anglican,the Lutheran or the African? Should it remain only a carbon copy of the Western or the Roman?