Friday, October 31, 2008

Acceptance is the basis for unity- Russel Botman

Unification between Christians and churches will struggle if there is no unconditional acceptance of each others. Looking at a uniting ecclesiology on the basis of Scripture, namely Rom 15:6-7, he aimed to deal with it contextually in terms of the questions, where is the world now, what kind of testimony is called for in a time such as this, i.e. the question, ecclesiology for what? He argues that we should look at our world, then the question, what kind of church?

The reading of the passage lead to a few critical comments. Critical to a uniting ecclesiology is, acceptance of God and of each other as Christ has accepted us. We do this for the glory of God? We could have many reasons for uniting churches, good reasons, but if it’s not rooted in the one objective: to the Glory of God, then we will encounter problems.

In the history of the church, many returned to this text:
Bonhoeffer wrested with these and what does it mean to be baptised, the sacrament of acceptance, in context of Nazi- Germany and the question of the acceptance of Jews and how the church structure itself.

Lukas Vischer, also did some work around this verse, and John Calvin

The question is: What does it mean to be church, for ecclesiology in difficult times.

The touchstone, Botman argues, is acceptance of each other. A person might feel accepted or tolerated and then they want to understand why I am accepted. Why me ? Could it be because I am like them, more palatable then others ? Is there a catch, for whose benefits? Acceptance in unity has only one goal- the glory of God;

But then he warns that an exclusive acceptance is not what Paul is taking about; This kind of acceptance is rooted in the ‘volkskerk’ idea and the unity of the volkskerk. Out of this the next step is the unity of the volk, this is an exclusive unity. Common acceptance is violated in volkskerk.

Unrestrained acceptance is crucial; it leads to tension between learned and not-so learned, strong vs weak, i.e. a complex plurality. This living in a perpetual acceptance of each other ( of the other) is life in the uniting church, this is radical benchmark.

He then also referred to Phil 2: 5 e.v and the fact that church unity is tough, here we discover how we are to be one with Christ, we experience it: the united church is this sacred space to be a radical disciple. It is here that we experience three (3) challenges:
•church unity is a challenge to your status, in the world, over against others, on who is equal, etc;
•it challenge one’s love for one’s own culture; If you don’t feel this challenge, then maybe you have not been in the depth of unity; you are still on the surface;
•we are challenged to let go of what we had. Acceptance is costly love, it will cost you, not someone else; its not spiritual or theoretical, but comes at the costs of those involved; what is the second mile; what is still possible if we have to give up more, what is the extra mile ?
It means translating acceptance institutionally- we give it form and this struggle is as important as the work for equality, it is a struggle to come to terms with the fact that much of our diversity led to inequalities- these inequalities sit within the old structures ( old church), but it also sits within the (new?)uniting church;
Secondly unity feeds on the roots of justice. There can be no unity- if justice is not pursued.
Then he grappled with a deep and critical challenge. He started with a question, I wonder", he said, why is Russel here ? We (my generation) have failed because we have failed to accept each other. I don’t think, maybe I deserve the honour to speak here because we (my generation) are part of this scandal. There is something rooted in my generation: we are at conflict, seen too much blood, we have perfected the art of exclusion- are we still of any use, should we not wait for the next generation? I think the next generation will be more Christ-like then my generation. So my generation must ask: what foundation can we lay so that gen next can faind church is the sacred place for the christlike experience;

He then went to the difficult unification process withn the NG family and stated:
In URCSA/NGK we have all difficult debates- Belhar- I am asking myself: is it possible that a community/church can get at a point where they cannot go any further; what if a church cannot look at history from the underside, or give up their whole hermeneutics- where the volkskerk is still in it too much ( is the current generation at the end ?)
If you take many issues in Belhar; justice is a matter of faith, not simply a matter of ethics; does the NG kerk has the theological roots to accept these ?

These are critical questions for all Christian faithcommunities, in pursuit of unification.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

going the extra mile on building uniting and united churches

It seems as if the ability of the church to give hope in a world dividing is fading. Yet there are some churches who struggle to be a witness, of unity reconciliation and justice. The 8th consultation of the World Council of Churches, on uniting and united churches starts today in Johannesburg. This consultation will aim developing or descerning a uniting ecclesiology, meaning, a theological theory on uniting churches. This is critical for our time and for the challenges the world face, namely growing inequalities, fear and fundamentalisms, whether it be political or religious. The current spate of religious based violence meted our against Christians should remind all of us for the need to deal decisively with fundamentalism.

Looking forward to the consultation.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Beware of the mighty Man

Churches are so easily falling prey to the temptations of relying on the Mighty man for salvation. We create these strong, powerful figures in the church, we put our trust in them, we put our faith in them, we shower them with our sacrifices, and fall at their feet. And then they fail, and so we fail.

One of the first commandments in the Bible is 'You shall not have/serve/love/worship any other gods, but Me'. Yet, time and time we fail to give heed to this. Hence, irrespective the competitions or golden circles or business breakfasts, or the slick and classy PR and gloss, or whatever is in for the take, the TD Jakes Megafest, or which ever big churchname, might not be what South Africa and Africa needs now. What maybe is needed is a caution for the cult of the mighty man... the cult of the big name- because where the church stop putting their faith in the One who died in shame, at the hands of the mighty in this world, then the church has lost her soul.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008



Dear Sisters and brothers

We greet you in the Name of our Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit who gathers, protects and cares for his Church by his Word and his Spirit, as He has done since the beginning of the world and will do so to the end.
One hundred and eighty-five delegates from all the regional Synods and presbyteries in South Africa, Lesotho and Namibia met at Prestige College near Hammanskraal. The theme for this fifth General Synod was: “Unity in diversity.” Our Moderator, Prof. Thias Kgatla in the opening service reminded us from 1 Cor 12 that we as a church is the body of Christ and that in Christ body there is unity in diversity. We as members of the body of Christ are diverse but our diversity is necessary to serve one another in order that the body can be one. All of us are important in the church. No one should ever feel inferior. God has given every member of his church a gift to serve the rest of the body. We had the privilege that Prof. Daan Cloete led us every morning in Bible study to expound this theme according to the gospel of John. Congregations will soon be able to buy this bible studies in book form so that all may reflect together on this important issue.
The delegates represented the diversity of URCSA members. Young and old, male and female, people with a range of educational background, from different economical backgrounds, different language groups and representing different race groups met as one in Christ.
Together we asked God to guide us to give answers to the challenges facing the congregations in Southern Africa.
We would like to share with you the important issues that we had to deal with.
Church unity within the DRC family was on our table. We had to take a difficult decision regarding our unity with the DRC. Over the past years we were covenanting with the DRC to unite and many meetings were held to find a way forward. The decisions of Achterberg on how we should proceed with unity were given to the congregations of both churches for their comments. We took note with sadness that in the DRC congregations responded negatively towards the acceptance of the Belhar Confession in a new church and their understanding of a church unification model of a Joint General synod is not acceptable to us. We have always maintained that church unity should be an organic model in which we are one church. It was in the light of the DRC decisions that we felt that their decisions has placed an unbearable burden on the integrity of the church and brings into question our deepest held convictions on the call of the Gospel with regards to the unity of the church and our faith as expressed in the Confession of Belhar.
We therefore decided to put a moratorium on the re-unification talks between the URCSA and DRC on a national level until the DRC is serious committed and ready for unity talks, but we also decided that we will invite the World Alliance of Reformed Churches to come and facilitate the process of re-unification between URCSA and DRC.
Because we are serious about unity we did not close the door to congregations and members of the DRC who eagerly wants to unite with URCSA. Regional Synods, presbyteries and congregations are still encouraged to continue with the existing efforts towards unification that are done in faith and with integrity, in obedience to the call of Christ and on the basis of the acceptance of the Confession of Belhar so that these efforts can remain as signs of hope, reconciliation and love to the fulfilment of justice, the edification and witness of the church and the glory of God.
We will also arrange for a public occasions where members and ministers of the DRC and the rest of the DRC can publicly support, identify with and undersign the confession of Belhar. We propose this as a way to continue meaningful progress with regard to church unification as URCSA understand it. This will open new possibilities for our walking this road together.
We also approved the memorandum of understanding between URCSA and the DRCA in which we will try and find a way out of the deadlock of court cases.
Internal unity
We as a synod took time to reflect on our internal unity and in the light of the positive experience we had when we openly talked about what is happening within URCSA, the synod decided that it will appoint a task team to provide the church with a strategic plan regarding the process of internal unity that will include clear guidelines to all levels of the church (from congregations to Synods) as well as ministries. It is our prayer that the delegates to this synod will bring back to congregations, presbyteries and regional synods the knowledge and experience that they have gained in this regard.
Scales of Remuneration
The General Synod approved the remunerations scale as presented and further decided to mandate the permanent SMFA to draw up formula/guideline on the scale. Congregations are encouraged to remunerate ministers not below the recommended scales.
Greetings from overseas churches
Meeting at Hammanskraal we had the privilege that delegates from churches in Europe and America attended and brought greetings. Amongst our guests were: Rev Marc Loos of the United Protestant Church in Belgium; Prof James Seawood from the Reformed Church in America; Rev Dietmar Arends from the Evangelical Reformed Church in Germany; Dr Gerard Dykstra, Executive Director of the Christian Reformed Church in North America and Dr Bas Plaisier of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands. All our guests came to tell how they accepted Belhar and how Belhar is guiding them in their situations. This brings the question: Why is the DRC reluctant to accept Belhar while other churches praise Belhar?
Challenges for URCSA.
We invited speakers to help us reflect on important challenges we are facing. Rev Basil Manning addressed us on racism and what we should do. He gave us the OUMA way. Take Ownership of racism; Understand what we mean by racism and how it is functioning in our church; Motivation - The command to love should motivate us; and Action. What is it what we should do?
Dr Johan Burger addressed us on crime and challenged us to make a difference. Bongiwe Dumezweni-Ntakumba helped us to understand the importance of leadership in the church and rev Averell Rust directed us how we should respond to economic justice. Our delegates have been given handouts on these topics that we urge them to use in the local congregations and presbyteries.
Theological training
This year we celebrate centenary of theological training for black ministers and evangelists. Prof Kritzinger has helped us to reflect on the past 100 years of theological training but also to look forward. Delegates will be bringing with them a booklet in this regard that can help congregations to reflect. The synod approved that besides theological training at Stellenbosch and Pretoria, a ministerial formation centre can be established in Bloemfontein at the University of the Free State.

The synod tabled this important issue with a report by a task team led by Dr Alan Boesak. A Thorough debate took place and in the end he synod decided to re-affirm its decisions of Pietermaritzburg (2005). As a church we acknowledge the diversity of positions regarding homosexuality and plead that differences be dealt with in a spirit of love, patience, tolerance and respect. We again confirm that homosexual people are members of the church through the faith in Jesus Christ. We again rejected homophobia and any form of discrimination against homosexual persons. We appeal to URCSA members to reach out with love and empathy to our homosexual brothers and sisters and embrace them as members of the body of Christ in our midst.
The synod also decided: to refer the report and its recommendations to the Regional Synods, Presbyteries and local congregations for discussion. Please make sure you read the report and discuss it.
The General Synod urges congregations, Presbyteries and Regional Synods to send the correct information between 1st August and 31st September every year for publication in the Yearbook.
General Secretary for URCSA
The synod in principle approved that such a position be created to help the church in its daily operations.

We greet you in the precious name of Christ our Lord! Celebrate the unity in diversity!!!!

The executive is also representing the regions AND FOR THE FIRST TIME A LADY ON THE EXECUTIVE!!!! We are proud that the executive also represent unity in diversity.
Moderator: Prof ST Kgatla Northern Synod
Assesor: Dr Mary-Anne Plaatjie - van Huffel Cape Synod
Scribe: Dr Dawid Kuyler Free State and Lesotho
Actuarius: Rev Godfrey Betha Phororo
Rev Reggie Nel Southern Transvaal
Rev MP Moloi KZN
Dr Henry Platt Namibia

Monday, October 06, 2008

URCSA, Boesak and the Gay question

The recent spate of media releases on the position of Prof AA Boesak need to be put into perspective. Of course the Executive Committee of the church may at some point restate the position of the church in this regard, but also with regards to the actions Prof Boesak, who is a member of the Synod and of the church.

What is however crucial is that the decisions with regards to homosexuality and homosexual Christians be read in terms of what the task team of researchers (led by Prof Boesak), asked of the church. They asked:
that the same ethical directives that apply for heterosexual living in all its facets should also apply for homosexual living. Synod shall not require of them what it does not require of its heterosexual members.

This means that homosexual persons express their intimate sexual relations within the context of the relationships accepted above, which for us means the context of Christian marriage blessed by the church.

In line with the provision made by law and the Constitution of South Africa, those who have conscientious objections to these unions shall not be obliged to officiate in them.

Since homosexual couples cannot bring children into the world they should have the opportunity to adopt children and to participate in the Christian practice of hospitality to children and provide a safe space for them. The church offers the same covenantal support as it does heterosexual couples.

As confessing members of the church of Jesus Christ homosexual Christians shall, on the basis of their faith in Jesus Christ have access to all the offices of the church, and upon fulfillment of all academic requirements for the ministry, to the office of minister of the Word of God.

This taskteam, of which Prof Boesak was the chairperson, also concludes their report with the following:

Ongoing study and discussion in congregations of this report and these decisions is highly recommended and encouraged.
In the ongoing process Synod pleads for an ethic of love and graciousness, embrace and togetherness in the midst of differences that might still exist. Those who disagree with it shall not in any way be forced to accept it, while we may hope that all will remain open to discussion and to the persuasion of the Holy Spirit of God.

Now, on his own account these recommendations are quite progressive in terms of what most of Reformed churches have been saying. In fact he suggested that taking these decisions would make the URCSA one of the few, of not the only, who would understand the gospel in this way.

The Synod then, prayed for guidance, discussed it in small groups and then, after a robust and sometimes heated debate, decided to express her appreciation for the work of the taskteam and (as the task team suggested )that the whole report be referred to the various structures of church for discussion, but also, that another studyteam (again as suggested by the taskteam) be appointed to look at all the different viewpoints on this serious matter.

URCSA never endorsed the demonizing and vilifying of people of homosexual orientation or Prof Boesak because of how he sees this matter, so it is indeed surprising that he responded in such a manner.