CHAPTER THREE THE AMASIRAYELI IN RELATION TO OTHER SABBATH GROUPS
Having discussed the issue of missionaries and African traditional religion, it is appropriate to concentrate on the theology of the amaSirayeli. As the amaSirayeli are seen against the background of Sabbath Keeping groups, the principles that these churches embrace will be discussed. This chapter seeks to present a theoretical framework to describe the way in which the amaSirayeli emerged. In constructing such a framework, I will analyze the amaSirayeli’s richest heritage and source of inspiration.
Without the knowledge of Biblical Israelites and the hope in Biblical Messiah, it is difficult to conceptualize the amaSirayeli’s religion. I have chosen four key concepts of witness in order to lay a firm foundation for an appropriate understanding of the new and transformed life that Mgijima attempted to live. These concepts will be discussed later in this search for the amaSirayeli’s affiliation and are as follows:
Witness to God.
Witness to the covenant.
Witness to prayer.
Witness to the hope in the Messiah.
THE FOURTH COMMANDMENT
‘Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labour, and do all your work; but the seventh day is the Sabbath for Yahweh your God; you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your servants, men or women, nor your animals, nor the stranger who lives with you; For in six days Yahweh made the heavens and the earth, and the sea, and all that these things hold, but on the seventh day he rested; that is why Yahweh has blessed the Sabbath day and made it sacred58. The amaSirayeli believe very much in keeping the fourth commandment. In fact, they worship every part of it. This key aspect of their theology will be explicated in this chapter. The first four of the Ten Commandments determine the relationship of people to God. They are summarized by Jesus when he says: ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with your mind, and with all your strength59. This is the greatest and the first commandment, so says Jesus.
Again, 1 John the Apostle, and Revelations 60, acknowledges God as the one true God and His Son Jesus Christ, whom He sent, as central to having eternal life. The fourth commandment, as an expression of honour to and love of God, is therefore, not an end in itself but shows obedience to Jesus and the Father. This commandment includes the entire system of all holy days to be upheld, e.g. that, of the New Moon.
Tithing, which relates to the feast of first-fruits, and the Covenant Harvest61 are also based on a system according to which the days are counted. The book of the Hebrews combines the New Moon and other feasts by saying that after the temple, the Jews had an altar from which those who served in the Tent had no right to eat.
THE CHURCH’S INHERITANCE FROM ISRAEL
Both the Daily Dispatch and the Daily Representative described Mgijima as a false prophet, a charismatic yet a misguided visionary, a self-styled and a stubborn prophet. His church members have been referred to as religious fanatics, the law-breakers of Bulhoek, misguided people and crazy natives. Lea62 joined those who criticized the amaSirayeli by saying that they were a fanatical political-religious movement and a pathetic example of the blending of a poor understanding of the Christian religion with a foolish desire to get rid of the white man’s control.
However, Edgar63 refers to Mgijima as the Watchman of Israel (umlind’oSirayeli), an ambassador of the last days (unozakuzaku wokugqibela) and a wise man (inkintsela). Focusing on the Seven Keys and the Ten Commandments, especially on the Fourth Commandment, it is made clear that Mgijima represented an alternative being-in-the-world to the Western Christian viewpoint.
My assumptions are that Mgijima emerged at a time when the African nation wanted a leader who would understand their culture. He came to his people as a last hope of freedom. Mgijima, proclaiming himself to be an Israelite, maintained that Israel’s faith in Yahweh became firm because of Yahweh’s saving deeds that were manifested in their history. Because he came to the amaSirayeli as their last hope of salvation, his followers referred to him as an ambassador of the last days. The theological foundation of the amaSirayeli lies in the Seven Keys and the Ten Commandments which were given to them by Mgijima. Both rules function as Canonical rules for the life of the church and her people. The Seven Keys are referred to as the passage or the corridor that leads to God.
They are the foundation of the church and the plan of salvation. They not only define the identity of the amaSirayeli, but are also a guide to each member’s behaviour, acting like a code of conduct. It is believed that the keys were first revealed to Crowdy. Ntloko argues that the Ark of the amaSirayeli was built as a result of the Seven Keys.
He rightly considers the Ten Commandments, the observance of the Sabbaths and the Holy Days as derived from the Fourth Commandment, which is found in the Bible. Members of the amaSirayeli share the belief that the Prophet Mgijima was raised up by God when the need arose to speak to his own people in their own language. Since he could be sympathetic towards their culture, he could bring them to God in a uniquely African way by revealing God’s plan of salvation to them.
The name of their church is derived and basically rooted in 1 Corinthians 1:1-2. The amaSirayeli are claiming that the name of the church was given to Mgijima the prophet by God through a white sheet that was thrown down from Heaven. In any service that the amaSirayeli conduct, the Jewish tradition from the Old Testament supersedes the Christian tradition.
I can calculate from seventy-five per cent Jewish tradition to twenty-five per cent Christian tradition making an important combination to the theology of the amaSirayeli, which is why they are considered as the first example of black Judaism in South Africa. The ecclesiological dimension of the amaSirayeli is the powerful foundation of the church’s normative beliefs, principles and socio-religious practices.
Since Mgijima believed that black Israelites who have affiliated to the Church of God and Saints of Christ, had descended from the ten lost tribes of Israel, his emphasis comes as very important from the Ten Commandments. Literal adherence to the teachings of the Bible would constitute a positive guide to salvation. The amaSirayeli could then be the descendants of the Jewish people of the Old Testament, just as Christ taught that his church was the continuation of ancient Israel, and as such a further development of its social, cultural and religious values. The following four sub-themes of the amaSirayeli church are also important:
Witnesses to God
Mgijima’s theology was not based on the sword and violence but on his sincere conviction that he was the mouthpiece and instrument of God. As a leader who was leading in times of sorrows and bondage, Mgijima was a spiritual instrument sent by God to rescue the amaSirayeli. Biblical Israelites were chosen and called by God not for their own sake, own glory or personal benefit, but to serve humankind by witnessing to God.
As the mouthpiece of God, this was Mgijima’s message to the amaSirayeli. The concept of God in Israel was that He is one transcendent God, who is the only God. He reigns over the world. He is the source of all life, but also the end of all things, the Alpha and the Omega.
In paraphrased statement from Peter64 speaking to the saints, he says God is holy and demands that His followers should attain holiness and perfection.
The discussion of the Seven Keys of Mgijima in chapter five will illustrate this fact. Therefore, Mgijima’s people think of God as the Sovereign Master and as a loving Father who is always with them. It is important here to look at the difficult times of being a witness to God. Bishop Mzimkhulu65 of the amaSirayeli, during the Bulhoek celebration made the following statement:
Beautiful Hebrews (MaHebere! amahle!!), meaning Black Jews, you did not arrive at this concept of God by way of abstraction, you came to know and understand God through the prophet Mgijima, through your own lives and the events of your own history.
He further emphasized that their mission was not without difficulties and failures. The ‘heathens’, as they call white people, were up in arms to destroy them. When Mgijima called his people to Ntabelanga, they were to wait for the destruction of the world. Those who were not God’s people would be swept away by the wrath of God. So he further on referred them to the scriptural verse that says, ‘Be holy, for the Lord your God is holy. By this scriptural verse Mgijima was teaching them about the lives which should be found in the hearts of each umSirayeli.
The context of this statement was the negotiations that took place with the government, which were constant temptations to the amaSirayeli to turn away from Yahweh. If the amaSirayeli would have done that, then it was going to be an insult to God, because it would make God to be the topic of political bargaining, which lowered his status to the level of fallible and imperfect human beings.
Therefore, Mgijima wished to maintain the status of God and that of the amaSirayeli being witnesses him as an infallible Divine Being. This was evident during the negotiations with Colonel Truter.
Witnesses to the Covenant
It is undeniable that in the Bible God made a covenant with his people, first with Abraham and then through Moses with all the nations, as follows:
Israel, you shall be my people, and I shall be your God, Deut 6:4.
God’s covenant was a pledge of his love to Israel. They were chosen from among the nations of the world so that they might serve in God’s plan of saving the world. Similarly, as God intended to make Israel a priestly people, to be a bridge between God and other nations, so the amaSirayeli consider themselves as if they are in the same covenant, which requires the same solemn commitment.
The Seven Keys represent their faith in God, in that they are used to observe God’s law with loving obedience. This is confirmed by the fact that at different tabernacles their faith is celebrated on every Sabbath. During the Passover festival, the Bishop, Evangelists and Elders bring sacrificial lambs to God on behalf of the amaSirayeli.
After the sacrifice, the faithful receive these offerings in the hope of uniting themselves with the gift that God has accepted. This would be done with prayer and supplication. Everything is done in haste.
The Ark of the Covenant that was brought back from the Albany Library (Grahamstown) on October 3, 1995, symbolizes their commitment. After seventy-four years of darkness, the Ark of the Covenant eventually entered tabernacle No 5 in Queenstown, with Bishop Mzimkhulu leading the amaSirayeli. As it was entering the tabernacle, the congregation was spiritually renewed and emotionally overwhelmed.
On delivering the Ark (Ityeya yocebano), Ntloko66 urged that it should dominate the amaSirayeli’s religious life and history. He further told the group of the amaSirayeli that the covenant was the key to God’s plan of salvation and that one should witness the faithfulness of God through it. The Bishop, priests and the elders decided that the Ark should be kept pure and no words of disrespect were to be uttered against it.
Witnesses through Prayer
The amaSirayeli have a rich heritage in religious songs, psalms, liturgical prayers and blessings. Ecclesiologically, this is a wonderful treasure. Steeped in faith and in awareness of God, the amaSirayeli give expression to people’s deepest and most varied feelings towards their Creator. Their form of conducting prayer is performed through witnessing.
After an Elder or an Evangelist has completed his sermon, a deacon will be appointed to conduct a service of witness (inkonzo yobungqina). Mgijima taught his people to know the psalms off by heart and they are sung and recited, especially during the liturgy of the Word. All these actions serve as a reminder of the living hope in the saving Messiah. The amaSirayeli should be wholeheartedly religious and have irreproachable morals.
Witnesses to Hope in the Messiah
Prophet Mgijima called his people to Ntabelanga to wait for deliverance and for the Kingdom of God because he saw that his people were suffering and were being led to destruction and disaster under the government. They were invaded and reduced to slavery. They were taken into exile by means of being located to small camps and subjected to the farmers and missionaries.
When the amaSirayeli realized that God was with them their faith matured rapidly. One of the deep-rooted hopes that the amaSirayeli had, was the coming of the Messiah. They never lost that hope at Ntabelanga, not even during the massacre. They hoped for deliverance through God’s final requital.
The amaSirayeli’s exact identification with Israel can be observed on the Eve of the Passover when they slaughter and roast the sacrificial lamb. All the member families gather for this religious meal. The Bishop, as the father of the family, begins by giving thanks and blessings. He then relates the story of the Passover, and instructs the young people who ask their elders, why that night was different from all other nights?
These themes will be elaborated during the discussion of the Seven Keys. The formal theology of the amaSirayeli is primarily contained in these Keys and the Constitution. The Keys are as follows:
the Church of God and Saints of Christ (1 Cor 1: 1-2).
wine is completely forbidden in the church of God (Lev 10: 9-10).
the Church will use unleavened bread and water for Christ’s body and blood (Matt 26: 26- 28).
foot washing is a commandment given by Christ to his disciples (John 13)
Jesus taught his disciples The Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6: 9-13).
one must be breathed upon with a Holy Kiss (John 20: 22).
the Ten Commandments are the true theological foundation (Exodus 20:-18).
Analyzing the deeper significance of these rules, one finds that they are intended to act like a church catechism. Readers of history will be reminded here of the catechisms of the sixteenth century reformation. The Keys are also intended to instruct people about what to believe and how to conduct their lives. These rules deal with subjects such as religion as a duty, hypocrisy, envy and jealousy, selfishness, repentance, foot washing, and the Disciple’s Prayer. Another peculiar matter is that of members worshipping God in a Jewish way. When relating the history of their church, the amaSirayeli relate their experiences rather than offering a sequential account of historical data, facts and events. This message touches, convinces and liberates them from the bondage of oppression and heals them from illness and sin.
Every member gives testimonies about personal conversion and in public, witnessing during worship services, and in evangelistic outreaches. When these members, like Dokoda, Ntloko and Mbayi, give their testimonies, they always ensure that these have theological relevance for the present, although these were not written down but everyone gave his best.
The oral tradition given by the above church historians is handed down by word of mouth from generation to generation down the line. Their thought patterns are shaped by their oral heritage. These memories are faithful repositories that contain past human experience and also explain the how and the why of its present conditions for the church.
Mzimkhulu explains that this oral tradition is not only spoken, but also sung through hymns. Members of the church understand the Bible literally. During Sunday school, the Bible is thoroughly worked through – every verse, after which an audible response of Amen follows from all. Children are taught from a very young age some verses and stories about their church’s existence.
The scriptural reason for this is that Moses included everybody and their animals when asked by Pharaoh about those who would be left behind. He emphasized that every Israelite will go and be with their Lord and Master. Therefore, the march that takes place after the service of the amaSirayeli illustrates practically what Moses told Pharaoh.
THE GROWTH OF UNITARIANISM
This section considers the historical issue of the Sabbath organizations. These groups were formally adopted into Unitarianism in 163867. In contrast to the orthodox doctrine of God’s triune nature, Unitarianism acknowledges a single personality of the Deity. As a result of their Unitarianism and not for their Sabbath, the Hungarian churches that embraced this belief were persecuted for two centuries and their properties were confiscated.
Francis David, from the book of Lea6 8 one of the staunched members of the Sabbath churches would not compromise his faith and chose to die in prison. Even though he was a Socinus, himself a Unitarian, David tried to persuade him to modify his rigid views to save his life. It is said that he was denied the status of a church membership when even the Jews were granted such status. He, therefore, wrote his sermons out by hand in chain letter style.
The Inquisition was ruthless in its suppression of this system and, in the west Sabbath alone was enough for him and other to be executed. At the beginning of the twentieth century the Sabbath members had 140 churches. A book of hymns that appeared in 1865 made no provision for the worship of Christ. True and faithful remnants of Unitarian churches are Sabbath members. Such remnants in a way resemble the amaSirayeli who survived the Bulhoek Massacre in 1921.
Those that keep the Sabbath recognize the Sabbath days and the Holy days, such as Passover, Pentecost, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of the Tabernacles, the Last Great Day and the New Moons as important days. The Feast of Trumpets, however, is not listed separately in the hymnal. Their doctrine encompasses the physical Millennium of 1,000 years at the beginning of which Christ will return and gather together Judah and Israel.
There will be two resurrections, one to eternal life at Christ’s coming and another to judgement by the end of the Millennium. Salvation is by grace but the laws still need to be kept. God calls people because the world in general is blind. Adult baptism is practised. Their doctrine of baptism is absolutely subordinationist Unitarian, much like the early Sabbath Church. Therefore, for the Sabbath Keepers everybody is expected to keep the Sabbath simply by worshipping the One True God.
The lack of indigenous leadership led to the failure of the African church to grow as it was supposed to do and also to the rise of Nativistic movements. The specific nature and characteristics of any Nativistic movement depend largely on the local circumstances, but the main types seem to be responses to the intensity of the frustration and pressures which beset the people.
In many parts of Africa people experienced a socio-religious breakdown of their older patterns of life, which became evident during Mgijima’s era. A parallel incident that can be recalled from the history occurred in the West of the USA where Indians were evicted from their land. Wynia69, remarks that the West Indians had introduced a ritual called the Ghost Dance.
According to this ritual they had been promised the return of the ghosts of their ancestors as allies in the forthcoming fight to rid the community of the white man. As with Mgijima’s followers, tradition says that Africans were promised miraculous immunity to the white man’s bullets and a resultant relocation of the land to the original owners. As in Ntabelanga, West Indians were promised a better life than ever before.
There was a certain moral obligation to this ritual because many of their leaders insisted that they were suffering because they had departed from the teachings of their fathers and had been corrupted by the white man’s ways.
In the same manner, during the unveiling of the late Mrs. Mpondwana’s tombstone, Dokoda reprimanded his congregation for not strictly adhering to the teachings of Mgijima and for not obeying the Seven Keys and the Ten Commandments which were the cornerstone of the church (ziyinkasayiya).
Dokoda called upon his people to return to the teachings of the prophet. More or less like the Mgijima movement which experienced the Massacre, the Ghost Dance ritual was doomed from the beginning, but to the West Indians it would be the only possible way of escape.
In this regard Mgijima provided a millennial hope of success and an opiate by which people could ‘escape from it all’. Developments and movements such as these mentioned here are almost always very short lived. Some of their goals are negative since the people attempt to turn history back and others offer meagre rewards that simply do not compensate for the enormous effort.
After Mgijima was excommunicated from the Church of God and Saints of Christ, because of his notorious visions, a society that was in the process of introducing changes was formed. New social groupings took place and there was recognition of unmet needs. The history of change in any society never consists of steady upward progress, but also reflects several stages in the process of renewal. After his excommunication, renewal was necessary to cope with the many challenges inside and outside the movement. Futile efforts of survival were eventually made, and came to a head in the valley of Ntabelanga.
Lea70, believes that, the rise of a movement may be brought about by a church leader or leaders who find it intolerable in the other body, or who refuse to conform to its discipline, or who have been disciplined by the church, or who want to satisfy their personal ambitions, or desire to administer church property and money, or to form a tribal church with African customs, or as a result of discrimination by white missionaries, or as a result of a need to have official status and become free from white control in ecclesiastical and political life.
Lea further named the following churches as some of the leading secessionist churches, many of them are rooted from the Methodist Church:
The Mount Hermon Church
The Thembu Church, 1884, founded by Revs. Nehemiah X. Tile and Jonas Goduka
The Ethiopian Church, 1892, founded by Rev Mangena M. Mokone
The African Methodist Episcopal Church, 1896, founded by Rev James Mata Dwane
The African Christian Union (Natal), 1986, founded by Rev Joseph Booth
The Zulu Congregational Church, 1896-1897
The African / Bantu Presbyterian Church, 1898, founded by Rev P Mzimba
The African Coloured Baptists, 1899-1901, founded by Rev C S. Morris
The Order of Ethiopia, 1900, founded by Rev James M Dwane (Provincial)
The Independent Wesleyan Church, 1900, founded by Rev Joel Msimang
The Church of Christ, 1910, founded by Klaas Oliphant, Charles Sigxabhayi and James N. Limba
The African Congregational Church, 1917, founded by Rev CB Mvuyana
The Bantu Methodist Church (Donkey Church), 1933, founded by Rev JH Hlongwane
The Transkei Methodist Church, 1978, founded by Rev de Waal Mahlasela
The Church of God and Saints of Christ in South Africa 1914, founded by EJ Mgijima
This list is not conclusive. It shows that the Methodist Church of Southern Africa has many men and women who are not only theologically trained but who could also go out and plant new churches, an outreach that deserves encouragement. The perception that secessions were simply owing to a desire to lead is one sided.
An interest for the spread of the gospel was another factor. They were motivated by a true concern to share the Spirit of Christ with other Africans. I fully concur with Professor DDT Jabavu when he observed that the formation of the independent churches was often an attempt by the natives to express themselves and not necessarily an act of antagonism toward the white churches. It is clear that there was no separation on doctrinal grounds.
However, true that black people were sick and tired of being led by white missionaries. They wanted to manage their own affairs. Black ministers had the ability to lead and it only needed to be developed. This ability was never recognized by the whites. Rev Joel Msimang left the church because he was transferred to a malaria-infested place in Mozambique while his children were still small. The church made no attempt to replace Msimang there.
Sometimes an older black minister would be placed under a young, uninformed white superintendent or a white missionary who had no sympathy with black ministers or did not know how to control the church. Ministers from other churches would laugh at such black leaders calling them ‘the boys of the white bafundisi’.
Following other historians such as Durkheim71 he remarks ‘religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, beliefs and practices which unite into a single moral community called a church’. Beliefs concern the shared ideas that explain the nature of things that religion defines as sacred. By using indigenous hymns as sacred praises of God, Mgijima and his people became a singing church in an appealing, vibrant new style.
CHAPTER ONE Mapping the Landscape
1.2 Relevance for Contemporary Society
1.3. Theological Significance
1.4. The Scope of the Study
CHAPTER TWO A REVIEW OF THE AFRICAN INITIATED CHURCHES (AIC’S) – THEIR ORIGIN, NATURE AND ETHOS REGARDING THEIR CHRISTIANITY AND AFRICAN THEOLOGY
2.2. The Role of the Missionaries in planting Christianity in South Africa
2.3. Establishment of Black Theology
2.4. An introduction to African Traditional Religion
2.5. African belief in God as the Provider
2.6. Different Race Groups and their views on the Attributes of God
2.7. African Traditional Religion and Christian Religions
2.8. AmaSirayeli as seen from the eyes of African Traditional Religion and Christianity
2.9. African Church Leaders: Reasons for Leaving Mission Churches
2.10. Nehemiah Tile in the Queenstown District. (1884)
2.11. The Ethiopian Church: Rev Mangena M Mokone
2.12. The African Methodist Episcopal Church of Rev James Matta Dwane
2.13. PJ Mzimba and the issues of his appointment as a Marriage Officer
2.14. Makhubu’s opinion regarding the African Independent Churches
CHAPTER THREE AMASIRAYELI IN RELATION TO OTHER SABBATH GROUPS
3.2. The Fourth Commandment
3.3. The Church’s inheritance from Israel
3.4. The Growth of Unitarianism
3.5. Nativistic Movements
3.6 The Dispensationalists and Mgijima as a Visionary
3.7 Names of God between African Religions
3.8. Comparison between Anabaptists and amaSirayeli
3.9. Rusape Community of Zimbabwe
CHAPTER FOUR AMASIRAYELI’S IDENTITY
4.2. Prophetic Messages during the Period of Israe
4.3. Chief William Kama (1798-1875)
4.4. Prophet Mgijima and Chief Kama
4.5. Kamastone: The home of Jonas Mgijima
4.6. The Land at Kamastone
4.7. The Theology of the Land
4.8. The Leadership of the amaSirayeli
4.9. The Prophecies and Visions of Mgijima
CHAPTER FIVE THE CHURCH OF GOD AND SAINTS OF CHRIST IN QUEENSTOWN
5.2. The Constitution of amaSirayeli
5.3. The History of the Church
5.4. Bishop J. Msikinya of Uitenhage
5.5. Mgijima’s life at Ntabelanga
5.6. Mgijima: A Prophet and Leader of amaSirayeli
5.7. The Tabernacle: Mgijima’s Robes and the Ordination Credentials
5.8. Dress Codes of the Church of God and Saints of Christ
5.9. Building up amaSirayeli
5.10 The Seven Keys: The Plan of God
5.11. Analysis of the Keys
CHAPTER SIX THE CLASH BETWEEN AMASIRAYELI AND SMUTS
6.2. The amaSirayeli at Ntabelanga before Negotiations
6.3. Attitudes of amaSirayeli during negotiations
6.4. Actual Negotiations before the clash
6.5. Clash between Mgijima and the Police at Bulhoek
6.6 The Aftermath of the Massacre
6.7. The amaSirayeli conquered fear
6.8. Some different reactions about the Massacre
6.9. Mutual respect after the Bulhoek Massacre
6.10. Common life after the clash
CHAPTER SEVEN RELIGIOUS LIFE AND ACTIVITIES OF AMASIRAYELI
7.2. Specific features found in amaSirayeli
7.3. The Role of Women in the Church of God and Saints of Christ
7.4. Religious activities of the Church
7.5. AmaSirayeli and Oral Tradition
7.6. The beauty and Joy of the Singing Style
7.7 Music performed by the amaSirayeli.
7.8 The Conduct of a Regular Morning Service
7.9 Celebrations of African Music in Rhythm
7.10. The Creed of AmaSirayeli
7.11. The Religious Observance
CHAPTER EIGHT AN ERA OF BISHOP JC MZIMKHULU AND CERTAIN COMMEMORATIONS
8.2. The life of Bishop JC Mzimkhulu
8.3. The Leadership skills of Bishop JC Mzimkhulu
8.4. Leadership abilities of EJ Mgijima
8.5. Celebrating an unveiling of a tombstone
8.6. Commemorating the death of Prophet Enoch J. Mgijima
8.7. Significance of the Bulhoek Massacre to Mzimkhulu
8.8. The Future of AmaSirayeli
8.9. Should God be free from Religious Fanaticism?
CHAPTER NINE FINDINGS, CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS
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