CHAPTER THREE: HOPE NOT ONLY FOR THE CHURCH BUT FOR THE CIVIL COMMUNITY AS WELL
The previous chapter provided a historical overview of the situation which brought about Apartheid in South Africa. It explained that Apartheid was not only a product of the Afrikaner civil religion, but that the German ideology of Nationalism also played a part. While following the implementation of Apartheid as a legitimate policy, it has described the fierce opposition confronting this ideology. The birth of critical theology in this country was discussed as a ‘reactionary theology’. While the significance of this theology is not denied, this study remains of the view that it should have been interpreted primarily as a means towards an end, and not an end in itself.
In this chapter, the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa as a confessional institution will be discussed, concentrating on the new political context in which this church finds itself. Those who were involved with the Belhar Confession have prided themselves on the fact that the Barmen declaration was very similar to the Belhar Confession. Although, in reality, there are differences between the two confessions in terms of the socio-political conditions which informed them, Barmen was used as a guideline to inform the Belhar Confession
This chapter will discuss ways that the Belhar Confession might be used to inform a constructive engagement with the state. Barth could be considered the sole author of the Barmen declaration and his views, specifically his view with regard to the constitution of a confession, were widely used during the deliberations around a status confessionis in South Africa. This chapter will engage with Barth and the position of the Belhar Confession concerning church unity today.
The concept of a status confessionis is not new to the South African context. The controversy surrounding this concept as it re-entered the theological debate around Apartheid, raises important questions for the South African situation. This chapter will investigate the reasons that led to the state of confession in South Africa and critically debate the criterion of what constitutes a confession within the new context of the country.
While black and white people in this country were divided during Apartheid, the fact was that black people were further divided among themselves. This manifest itself in denominations which were created based on race. For instance, in the DRC tradition, there was a separate denomination for the coloureds called the Dutch Reformed Mission Church (DRMC), a separate church for blacks called the Dutch Reformed Church in Africa (DRCA) and an Indian church called the Reformed Church in Africa (RCA).
While the DRMC and the DRCA united in 1994, some sectors of the DRCA decided against the move hence the DRCA still remains an independent church albeit the majority now belong to the URCSA. The relationships between black and coloured people in the URCSA will be investigated in the hope that it will provoke a debate which will engender genuine deliberation between these two groups in this denomination. This is to develop a new sense of unity into people who were involved in the dismantling of a discriminatory regime. A confessing church can play a pivotal role in this process.
THE COMPLEX NATURE OF A STATUS CONFESSIONIS
The term status confessionis relates to certain situations in the church that should remain ‘neutral matters’ even though the gospel of Christ is at stake. The first adiaphora (neutral matters) conflict happened around 1548 when several Catholic customs and procedures were introduced into Lutheran Protestantism.
Some theologians, especially Melanchthon, endorsed them as adiaphora, however, others, such as Matthias Flacius, opposed them strongly (Smit 1984:8). According to Smit, Flacius was of the opinion that, in a situation of confession and offence, there were no adiaphora or neutral matters (nihil est adiaphora in casu confessionis et scandali—When provocation demands an act of confession, there is no such a thing as an indifferent practice [researcher’s translation]).
The concept was used for the second time in the twentieth century during raging conflicts in the church. When the confessing church in Germany came into being, it opposed the so-called German Christians16 who, in loyalty to Hitler, endorsed the exclusion of Christians with Jewish backgrounds from the offices of the church. The concept of status confessionis was used traditionally to remind the church that the time might come when it would be forced to speak boldly in support of the Gospel.
Smit concedes to the complex nature of the concept of confessionis and says that informal use of it leads to misconception that can nullify the meaning embedded in it (cf. Smit 1982:8). For Smit, the expression status confessionis is not a technical term with a fixed and definite meaning but must be understood in light of the few occasions in history when it was used. Similarly, Durand asserts that the controversy surrounding the events of confession, coupled with the spirit of intolerance in which a confession was issued, contributed to the fact that Protestantism never achieved the unity of spirit it desired (Durand 1984:33). Durand refers to the reformer of Strasbourg, Martin Bucer, and his reactions in 1529 to the question of whether Strasbourg should adopt a confession of faith drawn up by Luther.
His reaction to this call was that faith is based on the sure and only Word of God. The human mind, he believed, is unable to comprehend and express this Word adequately; the unity of faith should therefore be sought in divine Scripture rather than in human words, which can only end in discord (Durand 1984:33).
Bucer does not deny confession but he understands that human words are undoubtedly fallible and should not replace the sovereign Word of God in the Bible. Christians are bound to differ among themselves for they do not perceive reality in the same way. The question raised by the Church created a dilemma of whether the time was right to call upon such a confession.
Confessional speech about God does not suggest that humanity is not in a position to speak, but instead it reminds humanity of the fact that human speech and thought about God is limited. It reminds us that what we might be saying today with conviction and passion might not be as relevant and necessary tomorrow. As people whose realities are conditioned by numerous and diverse aspects, we have to come to grips with the fact that choosing a side and aligning ourselves to a particular course, does not guarantee that all other Christians will agree with us. We acknowledge that there are many situations in which the church should have called upon its confession in its situation; furthermore, it is imperative that we remind ourselves of the complexity in which we find ourselves as Christians.
Theologians of the 20th and 21st centuries agree that the first major call for a status confessionis was during the church’s struggle in Germany (cf. Smit 1984; De Gruchy 1984; Cochrane 1976).17 It was during April, 1933, that Bonhoeffer concluded that a moment of decision can occur in which ongoing disputes in church and theology suddenly end and change into a situation of confession because the Gospel itself is put at risk and everything becomes concentrated on one crucial issue (Smit 1982:9). Bonhoeffer was of the opinion that these circumstances compelled the church to confess and to voice its opposition to forces that threatened Christianity.
The catalyst, which prompted the church in Germany to think critically about its position, was precipitated by the introduction of the Aryan paragraph. According to this paragraph, only Aryans were allowed to become preachers or office bearers in the German Evangelical Church while Jewish Christians were not allowed to these offices.
Cochrane (1976:22) maintains that whether one regards a theory of the racial superiority of the Aryan race or anti-Semitism as the basic principle of National Socialism, the fact remains that, from the beginning, National Socialism viewed Jews not merely as an inferior race but as the Gegenrasse whose main objective was to overthrow the Aryan race. In the light of this, German Christians sought to combine Christianity with tenets of National Socialism (Cochrane 1976:37).
The confessing church in Germany came into existence, not necessarily through Hitler and National Socialism, but to combat the German Christians with their natural theology. Barth was aware of the feelings among the confessing Christians that National Socialism, with its belief in the superiority of the German race, was innocuous as long as it did not dictate how the church should manage its affairs. In 1942, Barth pointed out that most of the members of the confessing church ‘thought they could agree to, or at least sympathise with, the political and social aims of National Socialism’ (Hunsinger 2000:78).
When Hitler appointed Bishop Muller to the office of protectorate for the German Christians, it became clear to the evangelical church that Muller was no longer a mere liaison between Hitler and the church but had become a representative of the party in the church. The confessing church had to take a stand to stop the church being dictated to by secular forces. It felt the threat that the state wanted to determine membership to it, hence its call for a status confessionis (Smit 1982; Busch 1976; Cochrane 1976).
The German status confessionis compelled the church to express its disagreement with the discrimination of Jews which was against Christian teachings. The confessing church had to align itself with those who suffer, and, in that situation, it was clearly the Jews who were placed deliberately on the fringes of the German community. Christian Jews were not allowed to occupy any key positions in the church. Although the church wanted to profess solidarity with the Jews, the church was faced with the difficulty of a sound theological declaration because there remained always the danger of falling into the snare of its own ideologies. Therefore, while there was a situation that called for such a confession, it was felt that some time should pass before the declaration of a status confessionis.
Small forms of protest erupted against the Aryan paragraph, but the people were continually reminded about adiaphora. This discouraged members of the church from interfering with it. Bonhoeffer wrote a private letter to Barth asking him whether it was not time that the church brought about its confession with regard to its situation. Barth was convinced that the situation did warrant a status confessionis but he was not sure as to the immediate steps to take (Smit 1982:10).
Another significant church debate in which the status confessionis featured was the ecumenical rejection of racism. The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) announced a status confessionis concerning racism and Apartheid at Dar es Salaam in 1977 and declared once again that the situation did not involve merely adiaphora but that the essence of the church itself was at stake. Under the theme of ‘Christ a New Community’, Manas Buthelezi delivered an address on ‘In Christ a Community in the Holy Spirit’. The meeting adopted a concise, threefold resolution with the title ‘Declaration on confessional integrity’ (status confessionis in South Africa) (Smit 1982:13).
This assembly maintained that, under normal circumstances, the Church might have differences of opinion on political issues. Political and social structures could become perverted and oppressive but that it was ‘in agreement with the confession’ to reject the Apartheid system publicly and unambiguously. In Smit’s opinion, the statement clearly involved the question of what constitutes adiaphora ‘under normal circumstances’ but it did not spell out what ‘in agreement with the confession’ meant (Smit 1982:13). It became increasingly clear that many of the assembled were confused by the jargon of status confessionis. Some thought that it referred to the Confessio Augustana, especially article 16. It was suggested that a study commission of experts be elected to look into the issue and that it would gather later to advise the LWF. Many were convinced that the term status confessionis should be abandoned, though the designation of an abnormal confessional situation could be retained (Smit 1982:13).
Despite the confusion that surrounded the use of this concept, a lively debate ensued in Lutheran circles in South Africa. The resolution taken by the LWF influenced the debate on this subject at least within the Reformed church family. Even though the resolutions by the Dutch Reformed Mission Church (DRMC) took place independently of the decision by the LWF on the subject (Smit 1982:13), it would have been impossible for the DRMC to ignore the LWF’s findings on the issue. In turn, the DRMC adopted a number of strong resolutions concerning the ideology of Apartheid and rejected it as being in conflict with the teaching of the Gospel on church unity and reconciliation. These resolutions were reached after the incident of the LWF.
CHAPTER ONE: RESEARCH PROPOSAL
1.2 Research problem
1.5 Limitations and key assumptions
1.6 Organisation of the thesis
CHAPTER TWO: THE SIGNIFICANCE OF HISTORICAL CONTEXT FOR A TRANSFORMED
2.2 An Interlude to the Afrikaner’s Quest for Nationalism
2.3 The abuse of Neo Calvinism for the Ideology of Apartheid?
2.4 A synopsis of the Church’s Struggle against Apartheid
2.5 The Rise and Significance of Black Critical Theology in South Africa
2.6 An Examination of Black Liberation Theology as Critical Theology in South Africa
2.7 The Place of Black Consciousness in Black theology
2.8 The Crisis of Black Liberation Theology in South Africa
CHAPTER THREE: HOPE NOT ONLY FOR THE CHURCH BUT FOR THE CIVIL COMMUNITY AS WELL
3.2 The Complex Nature of a Status Confessionis
3.3 The Political Status of the Belhar Confession
3.4 The Current Context of the Church and Theology in South Africa
3.5 Unity in Barmen and Unity in Belhar
3.6 Reviewing the Relationship between Church and the Public Sphere?
3.7 The Relationship between Church and State in Democratic South Africa
CHAPTER FOUR: THE SIGNIFICANCE OF ETHICS FOR A TRANSFORMED INSTITUTION
4.2 History of Ethics: Moral philosophy
4.3 Theological ethics
4.4 Ethics today
4.5 Historical context and sources for radical theologyadical theology
4.6 Paulo Freire on Language and methodologies
4.7 Economic Globalisation/Capitalism and Poverty
CHAPTER FIVE: CONCLUSION
GET THE COMPLETE PROJECT
The church as a credible contributor to moral regeneration in Democratic South Africa today: A theological-ethical approach to current challenges