Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa
||The doctrines of the Dutch Reformed Churches of South
Africa are encapsulated in the following three articles of faith: the
Heidelberg Catechism, the Dutch Confession of Faith (Confessio Belgica), and
the Canons of Dordt. The Heidelberg Catechism, which was completed in
January 1563, consists of a confession in 129 questions on all the essential
aspects of Christian doctrine. The Dutch Confession of Faith, which was
mainly composed by Guy de Bray in 1561, consists of 37 articles which deal
with the fundamental aspects of the Christian faith such as the nature of
God, the Bible, the Trinity, the deity of Christ, original sin, election,
the incarnation, and the sacraments. The Canons of Dordt are a statement of
faith produced by the Synod of Dordt held in 1618-19 in the Netherlands.
These affirmed the following five points;
- the complete depravity of humanity;
- unconditional election;
- limited atonement;
- irresistible grace;
- perseverance of the saints.
This is essentially a restating of the Calvinist
position: that God has predestined who will and who will not be saved and,
therefore, people cannot contribute to their salvation.
||When South Africa was settled by the Dutch in the
16th and 17th centuries they transplanted their Dutch Reformed theology into
the African continent. The Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa was
formally established by Jan Van Riebeeck in 1652. The history of the church
has been very much bound up with the politics of the Afrikaner community of
South Africa. The most controversial aspect of the Dutch Reformed Church's
theology has been its support of the apartheid system: that is, the
insitutionalised separation of the people of South Africa according to their
race. South African Prime Miniister Daniel Francois Malan, who led the
campaign for complete segregation of the races in South Africa, was himself
a Dutch Reformed minister. The social segregation of blacks, coloureds and
whites was reflected in the establishment of churches for each of these
three groups. In the early 1980s the World Alliance of Reformed Churches
declared apartheid to be a heresy and expelled the Dutch Reformed Church
from its organisation.
Following the expulsion the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa has moved
away from supporting apartheid. In 1986 all congregations in the church were
desegregated. More recently the church has expressed repentance for the sin
of supporting apartheid. It is to be hoped that following the establishment
of voting for all adult South Africans regardless of race there will be
closer integration within the church.
||Like other reformed traditions the Dutch Reformed
Church of South Africa uses the symbols of bread and wine to commemorate the
death of Christ. Baptismal water symbolises the death of the old sinful self
and the rebirth into new life.
||In spite of the abolition of apartheid the
distinctive racially based groupings within the Dutch Reformed Church
continues to exist in practice. In 1996 the Dutch Reformed Church (mainly
white) had 1,288,837 members, the Uniting Reformed Church (mainly coloured)
had 1,216,252 members, and the Reformed Church in Africa (mainly Indian) had
2,386 members (Europa Publications Ltd. 1997, Vol 2: 2989).