‘Christ, the Head of the Church?’ : authority, leadership and organisational structure within the Nkhoma Synod of the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian

Zeze, Willie Samuel Dalitso (2012-03)

Thesis (DTh)--Stellenbosch University, 2012.


ENGLISH ABSTRACT: This dissertation has as its title: ‘Christ, the Head of the Church’: Authority, Leadership and Organisational Structure within the Nkhoma Synod of the Church of Central Africa, Presbyterian. This study affirms the statement that Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church, noting that this statement of faith entails various assumptions: First, the church has only one Head, that is, Jesus Christ. Secondly, only Jesus Christ must be exalted and have the pre-eminence in the church. Thirdly, this prohibits anyone or any governing assembly to lord it over another one or exercise authority other than the authority from Jesus Christ. Fourthly, Christ is more than the head of the department or the head of any organization in whose absence the church would still be able to function. In line with these points, in this study the thought of Christ being the Head of the church or the confession of the headship of Christ over the church refers to His leadership, highest authority, and position of superiority and sovereignty. There are many references to the concept of the Headship of Christ in the Bible, confessions of faith, catechisms, and church orders. In light hereof, the question is asked whether the affirmation of the Headship of Christ has found sufficient form in the church polity discourse and practice of the CCAP - Nkhoma Synod. The answer to this question requires an ecclesiological study including the critical examination and evaluation of the Church’s Confessions, Catechism, Church Order, Constitution, Newsletter, and Minutes of its official meetings. Given this, the dissertation is structured as follows: Chapter 1: The topic and title are introduced, then the research questions and hypothesis. At the heart of this chapter is the question of the understanding of the Nkhoma Synod of Christ’s rule through office-bearers, whereas it omits in its Church Order that Christ exercises his reign and dominion through his Word and Spirit. In the discourse on the Church’s polity this discrepancy has resulted in a tendency of identifying the power and authority of office-bearers with that of Christ. Consequently, the office-bearers can easily claim to have unchallengeable possession of Christ’s power and authority. As a result the authority of Christ’s direct rule through His Word and Spirit is excluded and transferred to the office-bearers who constitute or represent the highest ecclesiastical authority. Chapter 2: The social-political, economical, religious, and ecclesiastical contexts are described, in which the Nkhoma Synod has found itself. Although church polity and church government are subject to what God has revealed in his Word, which is systematically summarized in the confessions, we conclude that in the Nkhoma Synod church polity and church government are sometimes dictated by the existing social-political, economic, religious, and ecclesiastical milieus. Chapter 3: Definitions of ‘Reformed church polity’ and ‘church government,’ are offered and then the distinctiveness of Reformed church government is described together with some suggestions for present-day Reformed church polity. Chapter 4: This chapter studies the Church policy sources of the Nkhoma Synod, i.e. the Belgic Confessions of Faith, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Canons of Dordt. The question is asked whether the Nkhoma Synod used these documents as sources from which it developed its church polity. Chapter 5: This chapter focuses on the sources for the practice of Church government in the Nkhoma Synod. Special attention will be given to the concept of the headship of Christ and how the Church’s understanding of this notion impacted on its church polity discourse. Chapter 6: Some important church-political developments within the Nkhoma Synod from 1889 to 2007 are discussed, focusing on issues of authority, leadership, and organizational structure. The question is discussed whether and how the concept of the headship of Christ described in the Zolamulira negatively influenced the Church’s practice of church government. Chapter 7 draws conclusions from the rest of the chapters. A call is made for a critical-theological examination and evaluation of the church polity discourse and practice of the Nkhoma Synod in the light of remarks made on the preamble of the Zolamulira, as well as in the light of the ideas of John Calvin, the Reformed Symbols of Unity, and other important sources from the Reformed tradition.


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