In search of ecclesial autonomyy : a church historical and church juridical study of developments in church polity in the Dutch Reformed Mission Church in South Africa (DRMC) and the Dutch Reformed Church in Africa (DRCA) from 1881-1994

Van Rooi, Leslie Bernard (Stellenbosch : University of Stellenbosch, 2010-03)

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: The Dutch Reformed Mission Church (DRMC) and the Dutch Reformed Church in Africa (DRCA) was established in 1881 and 1910 respectively. As pointed out in this study both these churches grew from the mission endeavours of the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC). In April 1994 the DRMC and the DRCA united in forming the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa (URCSA). This church has as confessional base the Belgic Confession of Faith, the Canons of Dordt and the Heidelberg Catechism as well as the Belhar Confession. The church order of the URCSA is built on these Confessions and in particular on the Belhar Confession. In this study I argue that it was only after the unification of the mentioned churches that a history characterised by guardianship, subordination and semi-autonomy came to an end. However this may be the histories of the DRMC and the DRCA point out that, on a church juridical level, these churches where subordinate and to a large extent directly governed by the DRC. Here the model for the church planting as followed by the DRC will receive attention. By looking into the primary documents through which these churches were governed as well as the documents that formed the church orderly backbone of the mentioned churches in that, through their principles and stipulations, the DRMC and DRCA were organised internally, I attempt to evaluate these documents. These documents include the initial constitutions for the governance of the DRMC and the DRCA, the deeds of agreement between the regional synods of the DRC and the regional synods of the DRCA as well as the Deeds of Agreement between the DRC in South Africa (the Western and Southern Cape Synod of the DRC) the Synod of the DRMC, the first church orders of the DRMC and the DRCA and, to a lesser extent, the church order of the URCSA. Through their histories these churches were granted church juridical liberties. These liberties form the foundation for the initial development in the polity of these churches. The content of the abovementioned documents highlights these liberties as well as the effect it had on the theological identities of the DRMC and the DRCA. As the histories of these churches depict a strong strive towards reaching a position of ecclesial autonomy and the acknowledgment of their autonomy by the DRC, special attention is given to the concept and interpretation of ecclesial autonomy. In this regard I remark on the historical interpretation of ecclesial autonomy as it played out in the histories of the DRMC and the DRCA. Through the works of renowned Reformed theologians, I further look into historical interpretations of this theological principle, which is ecclesial autonomy. In doing this I attempt to formulate a specific understanding of ecclesial autonomy based on a particular interpretation of the Lordship of Christ. As outcome this interpretation shows towards the interdependant relation between churches. It can be argued that this impacts directly on the relation between the DRC, the DRMC and the DRCA, specifically in the ongoing processes of church re-unification. In a final turn in which I affirm vi the interdependent and interrelatedness between churches, I argue towards the building of a vulnerable ecclesiology which impacts directly on an understanding of ecclesial autonomy, the specific polity of a church, as well as on the structures embodied by a community of believers. Some of the tenets and convictions of Reformed church polity, as they are relevant to this study, are discussed in detail. In turn I use these principles in evaluating the church juridical position of the DRMC and the DRCA in the mentioned period. As such I point towards the strong deviations in Reformed church polity as it played out in the history of the churches within the family of Dutch Reformed Churches. In this regard I also point towards the interrelatedness of these churches within the broader social context of South(-ern) Africa. I argue that these unique deviations are to a large extent distinct from the ecclesial context of South(-ern) Africa. Concluding remarks are made in this regard. Through the unpacked notion of what is termed an ecclesiology of vulnerability, built on the interdependent relation between churches, I make brief suggestions regarding the ongoing process of church re-unification between the churches within the family of Dutch Reformed Churches.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Die Nederduitse Gereformeerde Sendingkerk (NGSK) en die Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk in Afrika (NGKA) het onderskeidelik in 1881 en 1910 tot stand gekom. Soos wat hierdie studie uitwys, het beide hierdie kerke gegroei vanuit die sendingaktiwiteite van die Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk (NGK). In April 1994 het die NGSK en die NGKA verenig in die Verenigende Gereformeerde Kerk in Suider-Afrika (VGKSA). Hierdie kerk het as konfessionele basis die Nederlandse Geloofsbelydenis, die Dordtse Leerreëls, die Heidelbergse Kategismus sowel as die Belydenis van Belhar. Die kerkorde van die VGKSA is dan ook gebou op hierdie belydenisskrifte en dan in besonder op die Belydenis van Belhar. In hierdie studie redeneer ek dat dit eers ná die eenwording van die vermelde kerke was dat ’n geskiedenis gekenmerk deur voogdyskap, ondergeskiktheid en semi-outonomie agterweë gelaat is. Dit kan vermeld word dat die geskiedenis van die NGSK en die NGKA duidelik uitwys dat hierdie kerke, op ’n kerkregtelike vlak, ondergeskik was aan, en tot ’n groot mate regeer is deur die NGK. Die model vir die planting van kerke soos gevolg deur die NGK geniet in hierdie verband in die studie aandag. Verder het ek probeer om die inhoud van die primêre dokumente waardeur die NGSK en die NGKA regeer is, sowel as die dokumente wat as kerkordelike basis vir die interne organisering van hierdie kerke gebruik is, te evalueer. Die vermelde dokumentasie sluit in die oorspronklike Grondwette vir die regering van die NGSK en die NGKA, die Aktes van Ooreenkoms tussen die streeksinodes van die NGK en die streeksinodes van die NGKA sowel as die Aktes van Ooreenkoms tussen die NGK in Suid- Afrika (die sogenaamde Kaapse Kerk) en die sinode van die NGSK, die eerste kerkordes van die NGSK en die NGKA, en, tot ’n mindere mate ook die kerkorde van die VGKSA. Deur die verloop van die geskiedenis is daar sekere kerkregtelike vryhede aan die NGSK en die NGKA toegestaan. Hierdie vryhede vorm, myns insiens, die basis van die oorspronklike kerkregtelike ontwikkeling(-e) in die vermelde kerke. Die inhoud van die bovermelde dokumente wys juis hierdie vryhede uit sowel as die effek wat dit op die teologiese identiteite van die NGSK en die NGKA gehad het. Aangesien die geskiedenis van die NGSK en die NGKA ’n sterk strewe na kerklike outonomie en die erkenning van hierdie outonomie deur die NGK uitwys, word spesiale aandag gegee aan die bespreking van die konsep en interpretasie van kerklike outonomie. Die historiese begrip van hierdie term word verduidelik en spesifiek hoe dit uitgespeel het in die geskiedenis van die NGSK en die NGKA. Deur te verwys na die werke van welbekende Gereformeerde teoloë, word daar ook aandag gegee aan die historiese interpretasie van kerklike outonomie as teologiese beginsel. Daarvolgens probeer ek om ’n spesifieke begrip vir kerklike outonomie te formuleer. ’n Bepaalde interpretasie van Christus se heerskappy is hier as basis gebruik. As uitkoms dui hierdie geformuleerde interpretasie van kerklike outonomie op inter-afhanklike verhoudinge tussen kerke. Myns insiens impakteer dit direk op die verhouding tussen die NGK, die NGSK en die NGKA en hier spesifiek dan op die proses van kerklike hereniging tussen hierdie kerke. In ’n finale rondte gaan my argument oor die bou van wat genoem word ‘n kwesbare ekklesiologie. Hierdie argument is gebou op ‘n verstaan van kerklike outonomie wat wys op die inter-afhanklike verhouding tussen kerke. Myns insiens impakteer hierdie argument direk op ’n spesifieke begrip van kerklike outonomie, die spesifieke kerkreg wat uitspeel in ’n kerk, sowel as op die strukture wat beliggaam word in ’n gemeenskap van gelowiges. Van die oortuigings van die Gereformeerde Kerkreg komend vanuit ‘n spesifieke konteks, soos wat dit betrekking het op hierdie studie, word gedetailleerd bespreek. Ek het ook hierdie oortuigings gebruik om die kerkregtelike posisie van die NGSK en die NGKA in die vermelde periode te evalueer. In hierdie verband wys ek op hoe daar in die geskiedenis van hierdie kerke sterk afgewyk was van die Gereformeerde Kerkreg. Melding word in hierdie verband gemaak van die inter-afhanklikheid van hierdie kerke en die breër sosiale konteks van Suid(-er)-Afrika. Myns insiens is hierdie vermelde eiesoortige afwykings tot ’n groot mate uniek aan die kerklike konteks van Suid(-er)-Afrika. Slotopmerkings word in hierdie verband gemaak. Wanneer die konsep van ’n kwesbare ekklesiologie, gebou op ‘n verstaan van die inter-afhaklike verhouding tussen kerke, beskryf word, maak ek kort opmerkings rakende die aangegaande proses van kerkhereniging tussen die kerke binne die familie van NG Kerke.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/4025
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