Monday, June 27, 2016
Pastoral letter regarding the readmittance of the
Dutch Reformed Church to the WCC
With gladness to the most high God the URCSA took note of the decision of the WCC Central Committee on 26 June 2016 to approved a recommendation to readmit South Africa’s Dutch Reformed Church into the full membership of the global fellowship of Christian churches:
The central committee, based on Rule I.5. “Decision on acceptance”, acknowledging that during the established interim period, the member churches of the WCC were consulted and assessing that consensus of member churches has developed in favour of the above three applications decides that: – Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa is readmitted as a full WCC member church.
Historical background of decision
It is however important to put the decision in its historical context. The DRC, withdrew itself from the World Council in 1961. Hence on the DRC had been excluded from the global ecumenical fellowship which ultimately influenced their way of doing theology. In 1964 the General Assembly of the WCC, meeting in Frankfurt, declared that racism is nothing less than a betrayal of the gospel and that the unity in Christ of members, not only of different confessions and denominations, but of different nations and races, points to the fullness of the unity of all in God’s coming kingdom. The WCC stated clearly that the exclusion of any person on grounds of race, colour or nationality, from any congregation and part of the life of the church contradicts the very nature of the church. The World Council of Churches Programme to Combat Racism was launched in 1969 in response to a 1968 mandate from the Council’s Fourth Assembly in Uppsala, Sweden. The Programme to Combat Racism played a highly visible and controversial role in international debate about white-minority rule in South Africa. In 1970, the General Assembly held in Nairobi confirmed that the church must recognise racism for the idolatry it is and that the church that by doctrine and/or practice affirms segregation of peoples (e.g. racial segregation) as a law for its life cannot be regarded as an authentic member of the body of Christ. The DRC as well as the Nederduitse Hervormde Kerk did not heed to the above declarations of WCC.
This alienation led ultimately to the DRC theological justification of the apartheid ideology. The DRC played a pivotal role in the theological justification of what was later known as separate development. In 1970, the General Synod of the DRC appointed a permanent commission for the study of race and ecumenical issues. The report from this commission, approved by the General Synod in 1974, was published in 1975 under the title: Ras Volk en Nasie en volkereverhoudinge in die lig van die Skrif (RVN). The report was translated in English, Dutch, French and German in order to communicate both nationally as well as abroad about the DRC’s policy on race and ethnicity. In this document the DRC supported the policy of separate development. The white Afrikaans Reformed churches of South Africa throughout the years worked out in considerable detail the theological and moral justification for the system of apartheid. The DRC theologically justified the system of apartheid which deprived black people of their right to vote, the right to freedom of speech and assembly, and basic labour rights for example the fundamental right to live where they please, work, and receive education and social security without discrimination on the grounds of race or gender. The Ras Volk en Nasie was strongly critiqued by the DRMC, DRCA as well as global ecumenical movement inter alia the interpretation of scripture, the biblical foundation and the sanctioning of the political policy of separate development as well as the dualism between theology and practice in the document.
The decisions of our global partners inter alia Reformed Ecumenical Council, WARC and WCC on racism and apartheid during the past decades paved the way for the declaration of a status confessionis by the DRMC during September 1982 and the ultimately drafting and approval of the Belhar Confession.
One of the major decisions of the WCC Central Committee Meeting 2014 was on the readmittance of the Dutch Reformed Church to the WCC. The Dutch Reformed Church split from the WCC in 1961 after the council held a meeting of its South African member churches in response to the 1960 massacre of peaceful protesters in the township of Sharpeville. The DRC applied at the recent WCC Central Committee Meeting for re-admittance. The DRC church member. Dr Kobus Gerber, who appeared before the committee “described the subsequent path that the DRC has made over the last three decades, asking for forgiveness and making acts of repentance, including appearing before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Applying for re-admittance of the DRC into the WCC was a statement of repentance as well as reconciliation with the world-wide church. After decades the Dutch Reformed Church accepted responsibility, made acts of repentance for how it had “lost its path,” and experienced reconciliation.” THE URCSA supported the application of the DRC to be readmit to the WCC due to the fact that the DRC fulfilled all the requirements laid on them by the WARC during 1982 at Ottawa already in 1998 and had been readmitted to the WARC as well as to both to South African Council of Churches and the All Africa Conference of Churches: The DRC fulfilled by 1998 the following requirements of the WARC and had been therefore warmly restored to the full privileges of membership:
a. Black Christians are no longer excluded from church services, especially from holy communion;
b. Concrete support in word and deed is given to those who suffer under the system of apartheid (“separate development”);
c. Unequivocal synod resolutions are made which reject apartheid and commit the Church to dismantling this system in both church and politics.
With gratitude the URCSA took note that the suspension of the DRC had been uplifted by WARC in 1998. The URCSA supported the DRC application for readmittance to the WCC wholeheartedly. Therefore, with gladness the General Synodical Commission 2014 took note of the WCC Central Committee decision to approve the DRC application of re-admittance for a two-year probation period.
The way forward
Indeed, it is a great day for the URCSA to welcome the DRC back into the global ecumenical world. We seeing forward to reflect and to pray together to discern the path forward in this new landscape and to journey with the DRC on a pilgrimage of justice and peace in order to make a difference in our country and the world. We are indeed on a pilgrimage to search for change, for transformation of ourselves and of the world in which we live. We do so in the name of the coming kingdom of God with its justice, peace and joy. In the words of the moderator of the WCC, Dr Agnes R.M. Abuom we want to compelled the DRC “Let us walk together, with those who are denied justice, with people of all living faiths, movements, and all others who are striving for justice and peace, kindling hope through creative alternatives, speaking truth to powers and holding them accountable, so that in this partnership for justice and peace we may find ourselves working with our God of life. God of life, lead us to justice and peace. In the words of Micah 6:8 He has shown us what is good. And what does the LORD require of us? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God. God of life, lead us to justice and peace.
Prof Rev Dr Mary Anne Plaatjies van Huffel
On behalf of the executive of the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa