Uniting Presbyterian Church of Southern Africa

Uniting Presbyterian Church of Southern Africa

Posted 5 Nov 2009 - 19:17 by admin

Uniting Presbyterian Church of Southern Africa website:

THE NATURE OF THE CHURCH

 
Through the Word and the Spirit God calls the Church into being and sustains it as a people gathered into fellowship in Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ is the King and Head of the Church. Its purpose and function is to bear witness to his saving gospel to all the world, to build up in faith, hope and love those who believe in him, to proclaim his sovereignty over all of life, and to work for his will in the world.
 
The Church is holy because it is of God, Christ covers the sins of all belie­vers and the Holy Spirit sanctifies it through Word and sacrament. It is catholic in that God of his love calls all people of every race, culture and class to be members in it. It is apostolic in that it is founded upon the Word of God taught by the apostles, hands on their teaching, and cele­brates the sacraments and worships and prays as they did.
 
ORIGINS
 
The Presbyterian family of churches, like all Christian churches, traces its roots back to the apostolic Church. It stands in the tradition of the Church fathers and also of the 16th century Reformers like Martin Luther, Huldreych Zwingli and John Calvin, who called the Church to return to the gospel. Tragic­ally that call split the Church. The main Protestant streams that issued from the split were the Lutheran, the Reformed and the Anabap­tist. The Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa be­longs to the Reformed family of Churches, which stems from Zwingli’s reformation in Zurich and Calvin’s in Geneva.
 
John Calvin was born in France in 1509. He studied Latin, logic, philoso­phy, theology, law and classical literature at several universities in France. While still a young man he became convinced of the truth of the Re­formation. As a result he was forced to flee from France and eventually found refuge in Switzerland.
 
Calvin became the leader of the Protestants in the city of Geneva, which became the centre of the Reformation in Europe. His theological masterpiece was the Institutes of the Christian Religion, which became the basic guidebook for very many Protestants in Europe and Britain. Calvin's particular legacy is in his teaching on the authority of Scripture, the sovereignty and glory of God, the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit, salvation by grace alone through faith alone, the Church as the mother of the faithful, the nature of the sacraments, the priesthood of all believ­ers, Presbyterian church structure, church discipline and the demand of the gospel that we live according to God’s will in both our private and our public lives. His ethical ideas helped to shape democratic society and Western thought.
 
From Zurich and Geneva Presbyterianism spread to Germany, Scotland, mainly through John Knox, who studied under Calvin, and to England, Ireland, the Nether­lands, Hungary, America and eventually other parts of the world, including the Dutch and British colonies.
 
Some 50 million men, women and children throughout the world belong to ‘Reformed’ or ‘Presbyterian’ Churches. About 30 million call themsel­ves Reformed and some 20 million Presbyterian. The name Reformed comes from Calvin’s intention to establish a Church reformed according to the Word of God. The name Presbyterian comes from the Reformed form of ‘polity’ or church government with ‘presbyters’ (Elders).
 
THE BEGINNINGS OF PRESBYTERIANISM IN SOUTHERN AFRICA
 
From 1795 to 1803 Britain occupied the Cape in its war with revolutionary France. Some of the occupying troops were Scottish, and W. Reid, a mis­sionary of the London Missionary Society, inspired them to form a ‘Calvi­nist Society’. When the war against Napoleon led Britain to reoccupy the Cape in 1806 with the first battalion of the 93rd Sutherland Fencibles, they revived the Calvinist Society. This met every week for prayer, Bible study and public worship and invited any passing missionaries to preach.
 
In 1812 George Thom arrived at the Cape. He was a Presbyterian minis­ter on his way to India as a missionary with the London Missionary Society (LMS). A meeting with the Calvinist Society led him to stay at the Cape and establish the first Presbyterian Church there. In 1814 the Scottish regi­ment was withdrawn from the Cape, and in 1818 George Thom left to work for the Dutch Reformed Church. The following year the depleted Presbyterians invited Dr John Philip to preach. Under his leadership they became the first Congregationa­list congregation in South Africa.
 
By 1824 a growing number of Presbyterians formed a new congregation. In 1827-29, with help from the British Government and from Dutch Refor­med congregations, they built a church in what is now the centre of Cape Town. First called ‘the Scottish Kirk’ and later ‘St Andrew’s’, this is ‘the Mother Church’ of Pres­byterianism in southern Africa. The congre­gation also started a great work among the slaves and other people of colour. In 1827 Dr John Adamson, cousin of the famous Dr Thomas Chalmers, arrived from Scot­land to be its first minister. He served as minis­ter until 1841 and helped to found the University of Cape Town, which he served as its only professor for some time. (Later most of the ex-slaves broke away and be­came part of the Dutch Reformed Church’s Mission. The St Andrew’s congregation absorbed the rest.)
 
MISSION WORK IN THE EASTERN CAPE
 
In 1821 the Glasgow Missionary Society (GMS) sent its first two missiona­ries to work on the eastern frontier: John Bennie and William Thomson. Others soon followed. In 1824 they established a mission station at Incehra named Lovedale after Dr John Love, former secretary of both the GMS and the LMS. In later years, under the leadership of Dr James Stewart, Lovedale became the most famous Presbyterian institution in South Africa and the springboard for Livingstonia, the equally famous Presbyterian mission and institution on the shores of Lake Nyasa in the north (now Lake Malawi).
 
As early as 1823 a Presbytery was formed and churches spread rapidly throughout the whole eastern frontier. In due course the work was di­vided into three Presbyteries: Kaffraria, Mankazana and Transkei.
 
The mission stations on the eastern frontier eventually fell under the over­sight of the Free Presbyterian Church and the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland. Later when these Churches reunited with the Church of Scotland, its Missions Committee took over this oversight.
 
Meanwhile the 1820 Settlers had also arrived in the eastern part of the country. They erected the first Presbyterian church building actually completed in South Africa, at Glen Lynden in 1828, and gradually spread through the eastern Cape.
 
 
IN NATAL AND IN THE INTERIOR
 
The beginnings of Presbyterianism in Natal go back to missionary work. Organised Presbyterianism began in 1850, when Presbyte­rians met in the Congregational Chapel and resolved to form what they called ‘The Presbyterian Church of Natal’. William Campbell, a minister of the Free Church in Scotland, accep­ted a call to become the first minister of this young congregation the next year.
 
The growth of the Presbyterian Church in other parts of South Africa fol­lowed in the wake of the Great Trek that began in 1830, the discovery of diamonds in the Northern Cape in 1870 and the discovery of gold on the Witwaters­rand in 1886.
 
IN ZIMBABWE AND ZAMBIA
 
In 1896 the first Presbyterian congregation in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) was formed at Bulawayo, and in 1903 another at Salisbury (now Harare). Others soon followed. Several important educational institutions such as David Livingstone Secondary School, Gloag Ranch and Mondoro Sec­ondary School were also started.
 
The first Presbyterian congregation in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) was established in 1926 at Livingstone and named the David Livingstone Memorial Presbyterian Church. This congregation was to remain the only PCSA congregation in Zambia until 1956. Now two Zambia Presbyte­ries, Central and Copperbelt, make up a vibrant branch of the Church.
 
FORMATION OF THE PCSA AND THE BPC
 
Meanwhile back in 1882 St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Cape Town initi­ated a move to unite all Presbyterians (if all colours) in South Africa. This led to the meeting and constitution of the first General Assembly of the Presbyter­ian Church of South Africa in Durban in 1897. John Smith, minister in Pietermaritsburg, was elected the first Moderator. By the end of the next year this had brought together congregations and mission stations scatter­ed all over the Cape (west, east and north), Natal and the Transvaal and also the congregation in Bulawayo.
 
Some missionaries and leaders feared white domination in a united Church, however, and felt that the Scottish missions should stay out of the union unless the PCSA adopted a rule that separate white and black majorities had to approve all important decisions. Tragically the negotia­ting com­mittee did not accept this, so that all the Free Church and most of the United Presbyterian Church mission stations and black congrega­tions eventually stayed or opted out of the union. The intention never­theless was that all the groups would one day unite. In 1923 all the mis­sion sta­tions and congregations that had stayed out of the PCSA united to form the Bantu Presbyterian Church. In 1979 this renamed itself the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa (RPC).
 
Meanwhile in 1958, the PCSA, because its work in the countries north of South Africa had now expanded, also changed its name, to the Presby­ter­ian Church of Southern Africa.
 
THE UNITING PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH IN SOUTHERN AFRICA
 
Several attempts to unite the two Churches were pursued during the 20th century. All failed until, with the coming of democracy in South Africa, the RPC in 1994 initiated a new attempt. This culminated in the formation of the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa (UPCSA) on 27 Sep­tember 1999