Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Christ Divided

I am busy reading the book 'Christ Divided:Liberalism, Ecumenism and Race in South Africa' by David Thomas. Steve Hayes reviewed it here.
This book is helping me to crystalise my thinking on issues of church and race - but I find myself just as confused as ever as to the way forward.
The church deals with the history of the church in South Africa and describes the involvement of the early missionaries, showing how this affected and affects the church today. Basically, Thomas says that there were two missionary approaches. The one was to plant a church within an ethnic community and allow that church to be fully owned by the community - in effect, once the church had taken hold the missionary would withdraw. This is the understanding of 'good mission work' that I have always had due to whatever books I have read. The best evangelism is done when the evangelist is from the same ethnic group or community as the people amongst whom he or she is working. BUT - it turns out that this mission focus was held by the people who ultimately drew up apartheid - separate churches (based on ethnicity) led to separate development. This mission practice was carried out by the Lutherans and the Dutch Reformed Church, amongst others.
On the other hand the Methodist Church and the Anglican Church had a different tack. They believed passionately that the church should not differentiate on the basis of race and that if they were to have separate churches it would be like saying that God saw blacks and whites differently. The drawback to this approach was that for sometime black people were in the minority in the churches and so things tended to go the way of the white people and black people had few opportunities for top level leadership. Some black people actually requested that they be allowed to establish their own churches.
I'm struggling with the question of , 'So what is right? Group consciousness and self determination or multi-racial at all cost'. I believe that the Methodist Church in Southern Africa today could easily be divided into two bodies - black people who are tied closely to their traditions and heritage and see little use for white people and their ways and white and black people who want to work together to develop a common heritage and a common future. I think that if we made that distinction, both churches would grow and flourish. But would it be right?


Anonymous said...

You and I are thinking about the same things :).

I read this dissertation last week: ‘A critical analysis of the structural dynamics operative within the Baptist Union of Southern Africa (BUSA) from 1960 – 2005 and an evaluation of these dynamics in the light of BUSA Ecclesiology’

It was an easy read and I finished it in 2 sittings. I wished it stretched across to Theological dynamics as well because that’s really where I think the game is at but it at least gave me some insight into the Baptist movement.

Anonymous said...

Oh, the link: http://upetd.up.ac.za/thesis/available/etd-06252009-144940/unrestricted/dissertation.pdf

Unknown said...

Hi jenny, Good questions to ask.

Our Lord Jesus have us the Church the Great Commission to go and make disciples of all people. There is no distinction here as to black and white or pink and brown and as to a divided church. Yes there are different church groups but under on headship. We need each other to build an economy and especially as Christian to be seen as one. But yes we have different language groups, all eleven of them and cultural traditions, but still one gospel. The vibrant church of today is the small groups within the churches where they share the same values and language, but are they reaching out?
But unless there is the working together of two or more people, organizations, or things, especially when the result is to be greater than the sum of their individual effects or capabilities then I believe there has to be collective cooperation and effort. If you were a missionary without a translator visiting another language group, then you need one. Where else but in the church can we really learn to understand one another but when we have one Lord? Where and how else do we learn tolerance of one another? If our schools were more integrated and the vision is there, would we not become a better society, so why not in the church? How else to grow a better and stronger leadership than in a more unified church. The predominant working language of today is English, and whether you are Afrikaans, Zulu, Xhosa, Peddie or one of the other language groups in business English dominates and is the more spoken word. I believe the world in South Africa is changing and that in the informal area that I preach on a Sunday all the congregants understand English. I do not use the normal liturgy (maybe I am one of the few) and concentrate on the message being understood and relevant, and I have not had any requests to do the African liturgy. I do not think that in the Methodist Church we should make a distinction.
Oliver Tambo said the following and I quote:
He said: “Africa is rich, there is plenty that grows wild, you don't have to cultivate it, you don't have to water it, to nurse it. But unity is not like that. It does not grow wild. It has to be nurtured, built up, it wears away. It must be doctored, treated. It also has many enemies like the enemies that enter any plant that you grow, and you have to keep vigilant against these. And where does unity begin and where does it end? “
“There are a welter of problems peculiar to the state of political advancement known as independence. How to tackle these? I still think that the key answer is unity.”

I think that this is also true for our church unity needs to be cultivated, yes it is a long process, but separation is not the answer.