The quest for unity between the Bantu Presbyterian Church of South Africa and the Presbyterian Church of Southern Africa, 1959-1973

Xapile, Spiwo Patrick (2000-03)

Thesis (DTh)--Stellenbosch University, 2000.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Nineteenth century Presbyterian witness in South Africa provides us with a wonderful testimony of close work relationships between ministers that served independent colonial congregations and missionaries in native mission stations. However, these relationships remained good as long as these two streams of Presbyterianism were kept separate. Attempts to form one Church failed resulting to the formation of the Presbyterian Church in South Africa, a coming together of some mission and colonial congregations, in 1897. The majority of mission congregations stayed out of this union and formed themselves into the Bantu Presbyterian Church in 1923. From the beginning of the twentieth century the Ecumenical Movement posed a challenge to the world church, condemning her inability to live as the Body of Christ and as God's one big family. South Africa witnessed a deeper polarization of society through the rise of divisive nationalist ideas among Africans and Europeans. Churches did not escape this wave of thought. They also could not ignore the challenge by the World Council of Churches. Unity talks started just after 1923 and took a serious turn in 1959 under the heat of South Africa's racist policies. In the same year a Committee on Union Negotiations was appointed by both Churches. It had become very clear that a divided witness was a mockery of Presbyterian witness as well as of Christian witness in general. This was evident in continued conflict in areas where work overlapped. Africans in both Churches did not understand why there were two Presbyterian Churches. They changed Churches as it suited them sometimes to avoid disciplinary action. Whilst there was a desire to have the two Churches unite problems relating to,: 1. the laws of the land, the legal policy of the Government, that of separate development and an un-Christ-like attitude of Whites towards blacks weighed heavily in the minds of most people. 2. a distorted Christian understanding of the members of both Churches as the Body of Christ due to lack of theological reflection, 3. suspicion and mistrust of each other 4. and an inadequate or total lack of information on unity negotiations with decisions only at the top with very little or no input from most congregations derailed all attempts on union. There were genuine fears on both sides. Blacks had learnt never to trust white people. These negotiations came to an end in 1973 with the Presbyterian Church of Southern Africa voting in favour and the Bantu Presbyterian Church against. In 1994 another attempt was made. This time the laws of .the land had changed, Both Churches had come to accept the need to come together. Past hurts were addressed and this led to the formation of the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa on the 26th September 1999. It is still not too late. We can still help make this union have real meaning to most people at grass root level. We must help people develop trust, create a strong theological base and mobilize them around a better understanding of the church.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Negentiende eeuse Presbiteriaanse getuienis in Suid-Afrika verskaf aan ons 'n wonderlike getuienis van noue werksverhoudings tussen predikante, wat onafhanklike van koloniale gemeentes gedien het, en sendelinge wat die inheemse bevolking vanuit sendingstasies bedien het. Hierdie verhouding het goed gewerk solank as wat die twee Presbiteriaanse strome apart gehou is. Pogings om een kerk te vorm het misluk en aanleiding gegee tot die stigting van die Presbiteriaanse Kerk van Suid-Afrika deur die samevoeging van 'n aantal sendingstasies en koloniale gemeentes in 1897. Die meerderheid sendinggemeentes het egter buite hierdie kerkeenheid gebly en hulleself gedurende 1923 georganiseer as die "Bantu Presbyterian Chuch". Sedert die begin van die twintigste eeu het die Ekumeniese Beweging 'n uitdaging aan die Wereldkerk gerig deur haar onverrnoe tot uitlewing van "die liggaam van Christus" en "God se groot familie" te veroordeel. Suid-Afrika is verder gepolariseer deur die opkoms van verdelende nasionalistiese idees tussen die Swart en Wit gedeeltes van die bevolking. Die Kerke het nie ontsnap aan hierdie kennisgolf nie en hulle kon ook nie die uitdaging van die Wereldraad van Kerke ignoreer nie. Versoeningsgesprekke het net na 1923 begin en In ernstige wending in 1959 geneem veral as gevolg van Suid-Afrika se toenemende rassistiese beleidsrigtings. In dieselfde jaar is In Komitee van Eenheidsonderhandeling deur beide Kerke aangestel. Dit was duidelik dat die verdeelde geestelike uitlewing In bespotting van beide Presbiteriaanse sowel as Christelike getuienis gemaak het. Daar was volgehoue konflik binne areas waar werk oorvleuel het en Swartmense het nie verstaan waarom daar twee Presbiteriaanse Kerke was nie. Hulle het dan ook na willekeur van Kerk verander ten einde dissiplinere stappe te voorkom. Alhoewel daar 'n begeerte vir die vereniging van die twee kerke was is dit ernstig belemmer deur o.a.: 1. Die wette van die land, die regsbeleid van die Regering, afsonderlike ontwikkeling en In on-christelike houding van Blankes teenoor Swartes. 2. 'n Verwronge begrip van die Kerk (as Liggaam van Christus) onder gemeentelede, hoofsaaklik as gevolg van 'n gebrek aan teologiese refleksie. 3. Agterdog en wantroue en 4. 'n onvoldoende of selfs totale gebrek aan inligting oor eenheidsonderhandelings. Besluite is slegs in die topstruktuur geneem en daar was weinig of geen insette van die afsonderlike gemeentes nie. Bogenoemde faktore het aile pogings tot eenheid ontspoor, daar was werklike vrese aan beide kante en Swartes het 'n totale wantroue in Blankes ontwikkel. Die onderhandeling het in 1973 tot 'n einde gekom toe die Presbiteriaanse Kerk van Suidelike Afrika ten gunste van en die "Bantu Presbyterian Church" teen eenwording gestem het. 'n Verdere poging tot eenwording is in 1994 aangewend. Teen hierdie tyd was die landswette reeds gewysig en beide Kerke het die onderlinge behoefte aan mekaar besef. Verskille van die verled~ is aangespreek en die "United Presbyterian Church in South Africa" is op 26 September 1999 gestig. Hierdie eenwording was nie te laat nie en dit kan werklike betekenis vir mense op grondvlak he. Mense moet egter gehelp word om vertroue te ontwikkel, In sterk teologiese basis moet ontwikkel word en hulle moet gemobiliseer word tot 'n beter begrip van die kerk.

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