The church has lived for a very long time promoting and maintaining divisions in the church based on race, creed, tradition, language and culture. The church in general and the DRC family churches must die to live a new united life in Christ.
It is my perspective that, church unity should start where the church is, meaning the local congregations. In the past it was difficult to work towards practical unity from the local congregations.
Both churches have accepted the provisional order that allows the fast tracking of church unity in the practical work. The vision that needs to pull all the members of the DRC and URCSA is captured in the preamble of the provisional order: “We, therefore, envisage a new reunited church in the DRC family, which is missional, committed to the Biblical demands of love, reconciliation, justice and peace”.
This vision will only be achieved through selfless sacrifice in this pilgrimage to unity and justice, hence we are saying in the preamble of the provisional order: “We are called to a life, ministry and ecclesiology of obedience and sacrifice. Knowing that walking this road will ask us to put all selfish ambition aside and to give ourselves as Christ did, we do this in active response to the gospel that Christ in his mercy poured out on us. We respond to Christ’s love and the Spirit who unites us to Christ in a deep and eternal fellowship.”
The Belhar confession and church unity is one aspect that is very serious to both churches. We are all aware that the DRC did not manage to accept the Belhar confession as the fourth confession in their confessional basis church orderly, but we always need to be looking more on the positive side of the democratic processes that was utilised by the DRC.
The positive way is that the majority of the DRC members accept the Belhar confession based on statistics. Secondly, the Memorandum of Understanding (MOA) signed by both churches states clearly that the Belhar confession will be a confession of the reunited church.
These two points need to energise us both, the DRC and URCSA, to participate from local congregation to the General Synod level. We have also committed ourselves to journey with the DRC on section 4.6 of the MOA that states: “Where congregations, ministers, and members of the Dutch Reformed Church do not underwrite the Confession of Belhar as an article of faith, we are committed to journey with them.”
This is the commitment before God and the church that we need to live and die for, for the sake of the body of Christ. The following are steps I suggest to be followed to actualise Jesus’s prayer in John 17:
- The church could use its vehicles (the United Ministry of Service and Witness, Season for Humanity and its theological faculties) to develop a transforming theology for church unity from local congregations.
- Local congregations could start doing Bible study on church unity and studying together the provisional church order.
- Congregations could start joint church council meetings and joint projects as partners on an equal basis as human beings.
I believe the conclusion of the MOA are the best words to conclude this article: “We do this in obedience and dependence in Jesus Christ who is the Lord of the church.”
▶ Prof Leepo Modise is the moderator of the general synod of the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa.
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