United Service in Preparation of the 50th Anniversary of the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa on 3 October 2017
Written by Samuel Matthew Arends
Theme: “What One Committed Christian Can Achieve”
Plasm 96 Matthew 28:16-20
Matthew 28:19,20 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
All our local churches celebrate Church Anniversaries. The purpose of doing it is manifold. We want to give praise and honour to out God for the blessings and the guidance received during the past year. We want to remember and honour our spiritual ancestors who have laboured faithfully in the vineyard of the Lord and who have reared us in the ways of the Lord. We want our children to follow our example and to teach them that we must accept Christ into our lives if we want to assist saving the world from destruction.
It is a time for reflection. It is a time for us to decide what was useful. It is a time for us to decide how we can improve what has not been favourable. But it is alas a time to remember how our denomination was constituted.
The Church of England broke away from the Roman Catholic Church. Some of the members of the Church of England believed that their Church did not conform to the pattern of order, worship and ministry which was found in the New Testament. They also did not want to belong to a Church of which the monarch (in their case, the King) was the head. They believed in the autonomy and independence of the Church and upheld the sole sufficiency of Scripture. And so, the Separatists movement began.
The earliest Congregationalists were known as Separatists. The Separatists believed that the Church should consist only of those who had responded to the call of Christ and who had covenanted with Him and with each other to “walk in all God ways.”
The first Separatist congregation was constituted in London 1567.
Beginning of Our South African Story.
God reminded one minister of Christs command to the disciples: “To proclaim His gospel in all the world.” The minster shared that experience with seven colleagues and a year later eight ministers met in Baker’s Coffee House Cornhill, London on May 4th, 1794 to discuss Christ’s Command’ to “Go and make disciples of all nations baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
The result was that a year later in 1795 a missionary Society was formed. Ministers and lay people responded to the call to go forth to spread the gospel in other parts of the world. The name was later changed to London missionary Society. Many of the founders were Congregationalists.
I trust that you will now understand the theme chosen for this gathering, “What One Committed Christian Can Achieve.” One led to eight and so it multiplied. We have to thank God for that one person who responded positively when God said to him, “In die donker lê daar siele (Gesang 317) Lord dismal.
The London Missionary Society in South Africa
The first LMS missionary to come to South Africa was DR. Johannes Theodorus van der Kemp, born in the Netherlands. He was a medical doctor. Van der Kemp, his wife and their daughter were in a boat that capsized on a river at Rotterdam. The wife and child drowned. Van der Kemp was saved with difficulty. He was a member of the Dutch Reformed church but not greatly concerned about religion. The accident on the river led to his conversion. He immediately wrote to the Society appealing to them “to reveal to him the will of God.” Later, he was accepted to become a missionary but he had to relocate to England for theological training. He added a Doctorate of Theology to his already imposing list of qualifications. He was ordained to the Christian ministry at the age of fifty-two years and arrived in Table Bay on the 31st of March 1799.
A Mission to the Ama Xosa is Undertaken
Dr. van der Kemp and a lay person, John Edmons were assigned the task of ministering to the Amaxosa people beyond the Fish River. Remember there were no roads leading to that area. They arrived at Graaff Reinet and rested there for a while.
Not long after arriving at their destination and becoming aware of the hostility against them, Edmons returned to the Cape. Van der Kemp persevered. He had settled between Alice and King Williams Town, where he remained for nine months. The Governor was insistent that he should that he should withdraw. Reluctantly, after much prayer and heart searching, he returned to Graff Reinet on December 31st, 1800, cast down, but not unto despair. Thus, ended the first attempt to preach the gospel to a Bantu tribe.
Graaff Reinett was a huddle of tiny houses, mostly wattle and daub, clustered round the Drostdy and Church. Van der Kemp was invited by the Dutch Reformed Church to take charge of the non-white worshippers. He refused. He fought for the upliftment of the underprivileged. But the discontent among the farmers came to a head. Graaf Reinet was attacked, houses were burnt, and van der Kemp was fired upon. The ground given for the discontent was not the preaching, but the admission of the heathen into the Christian Church, and more especially, the alleged harbouring of run-away slaves and servants.
Establishing of a Mission Station at Betheldorp.
Van der Kemp eventually received permission to establish a Mission Station at Bethelsdorp, not only was a Church Building erected, but a school as well. Simple crafts were taught.
Bethelsdorp became the headquarters of all the South African mission field.
Planting of Independent Congregations
The LMS planted Independent Congregations in different parts of the country. The congregations functioned independently of one another each being known as an Independent Church.
The South African Union of Voluntary Churches
In the year 1859, representatives of the Independent Churches met in Grahamstown and formed, “The South African Union of Voluntary Churches.” At a subsequent meeting held on the 27th and 28th of March 1861 the name was changed to, “The Evangelical Voluntary Union of South Africa.”
The Evangelical Voluntary Union of South Africa
The union adopted the following principles:
- It is the duty of every Christian Church to aid in the support and propagation of the Gospel.
- The stronger Churches are bound to render pecuniary aid to the weaker.
- For the above purposes, it is desirable that the sister Churches should form themselves into Associations (Presently: Region).
The Congregational Union of South Africa
In the year 1877, the Congregational Union of South Africa was constituted. This was as a result of a special meeting meeting of Union Church, Cape Town held during 1858. A decision was taken to address a circular to all Congregationalists inviting them to form a Union of Congregational Churches of the Colony for mutual counsel and assistance.
The American Congregational Church, through its missionary arm, the American Board Mission, also established work in Southern Africa, notably the Bantu Congregational Church in Natal (Kwa Zulu Natal).
In 1961 a Joint Committee of Bantu Congregational Church, the Congregational Union of South Africa (CUSA) and the London Missionary Society of Southern Africa was set up to explore the possibility of uniting the total work and witness of the three churches. From the outset, the joint committee accepted a commitment, “to doing nothing separately which could be done together (awakening of “Interdependency”).” In 1963, the three churches together established Adams United College, part of the Federal Theological Seminary, as an institution for the training of ministers.
United Congregational Church of Southern Africa.
Six years after the first meeting of the Joint Committee, on the 3rd October 1967, in Durban, The United Congregational Church of Southern Africa was constituted by the union of the Bantu Congregational Church, the Congregational Union of South Africa and the London Missionary Society of Southern Africa. At that historic service, the uniting churches, entered a solemn covenant which is included in the Communion Order of Service and which should be repeated at every Communion Service or at Special Occasions E.g. Church Anniversaries or Confirmation Services. The Peace must be shared after the Prayer of Approach.
In 1972, the South African association of the Disciples joined the UCCSA.
The Structures of the UCCSA
The Assembly is the highest authority of the UCCSA. It appoints an Executive Committee, consisting of the President, the President elect (the immediate Past President), the General Secretary, the Treasurer as well as the Comuners of all the Assembly Committee. The Assembly meeting consists of those mentioned plus selected delegates from Synod determined by Assembly.
The Assembly consists of five Synods: The Synod of Botswana; the Synod of Mozambique; the Synod of Namibia; the Synod of South Africa and the Synod of Zimbabwe.
Each Synod is divided into Regional Councils, A specific number of Churches within a specific area form a Regional Council. Local churches within those areas are represented on the Council. The Regional Council determines the number of delegates who may represent their church.
With the constitution of the UCCSA, we have moved from Independency to Interdependency. Let me mentor a few biblical commands that underpins Interdependency. “Carry each other’s burdens and in this way you will fulfil the laws of Christ,” (Gal, 6:2); “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds,” (Heb, 10:24); “and confess your sins to each and pray for each other so that you may be healed,” (James 5:16).
I want to refer briefly to three attitudes that are displayed when it comes to facing a new situation in the Church.
- There is the Reactionary Attitude/Die Teenworkendegesindheid
The reactionary attitude resents all change. It wishes to keep things as they are. It keeps on looking backward; and it has a built-in, tendency to say “No!” when a new course of action is suggested. The reactionary attitude is rampant in the Church. It may be seen in the desire to hang on to a certain form of constitution now long out of date. The reactionary attitude lives in the past; it tries to stop the tide of progress. If you try to stop a tide which should not be stopped, with some defensive dam, in the end the dam wall burst, and the result will be disastrous. Change is good if so directed by God; but change refuse can turn to explosive destruction.
- There is the Revolutionary Attitude/Die Opstandgesindheid
A revolution may be an essential thing. But we also must remember it can be destructive and it is temporary. A revolution cannot become a routine. A revolution can be likened to a demolition squad. A demolition squad may be called in to demolish a slum-infested area. The area may be left as if it had been hit by a tornado. You begin to raise new buildings but of the rubble. Revolutionaries need to see beyond the revolution. There may be plenty of demolition work to be done in the Church, but unless the revolutionary is ultimately prepared to turn into a builder, there is no future in his revolution.
- There is the Evolutionary Attitude/Die ontwikkelingsgesendheid
The Evolutionary attitude is the attitude which is constantly willing to adjust itself to the challenge of changing circumstances.
In the world in which we live, it is the creature which will not adjust to changing circumstances which is ultimately destroyed in the evolutionary process. The same may happen to a church that cannot change when circumstances warrant change. Change to growth is the characteristic of life. The Church, as the body of Christ, must continually seek the will of God. Since the grace of God is sufficient for all things, the Church can find the grace to deal with any situation.
Repeat the text and the theme.
Remember that the One who sat on the throne said, “I make all tings new” (Rev, 21:5).
I am concluding with Psalm 96:1-3
“1 Sing to the Lord a new song: sing to the Lord, all the earth. 2 Sing to the Lord, praise His name; proclaim his salvation day after day. 3 His marvellous- deed among all peoples.”