THE MISSIONARY CHALLENGE OF CHRISTENDOM AND MODERNITY
IN SOUTH AFRICA: A DUTCH REFORMED ACCOUNT
JAN H. NIEDER-HEITMANN* [Published in the International Review of
Mission, April 2003]
In this paper I intend to venture on a preliminary interpretation of South African history
from an Afrikaner perspective, with a view to proposing an agenda for the missional
transformation of the Dutch Reformed Church. Following the lead of Lesslie Newbigin’s
so-called "Gospel and Our Culture" agenda, I wish to explore our context from the
hypothesis that both culture and Christendom are in crisis in South Africa, and that this
challenges us to re-vision the task today for the Dutch Reformed Church in the country.
Our “rainbow nation” Whereas most western societies can readily be described in terms of a dominant culture
that is modern and becoming postmodern, South Africa presents much more of a
kaleidoscopic picture. As a modern state, it emerged out of a colonial history of 350
years, as diverse colonial, settler, and indigenous forces vied for hegemony. It was not
simply a matter of western culture encountering an array of indigenous cultures;
consecutive waves of disparate colonial forces also led to a struggle between competing
variations of western culture and Christendoms. Within these, the gospel has been
interpreted in various ways to accommodate a plurality of worldviews and interests.
Hence, a single dominant cultural paradigm demanding the allegiance of all groups has
until recently not clearly been in evidence. Yet, we have of late been going through a
transformation of such seismic proportions that it influences all of our life together, as
well as our particular cultures. All of society, and not only politics, is now impacted by a
hitherto unknown consciousness and desire for freedom.
i This has offset a powerful
wave of secularisation, and has left all aspects of our public life awash. The situation has
now been institutionalised because our new democracy is founded on a liberal
constitution and one of the most liberal bills of rights in the world to protect the individual.
This development constitutes a new cultural paradigm within which all other existing
cultures of western and indigenous African extraction have to negotiate their place. It
tolls the bell for our various Christian projects and poses a formidable crisis for our
churches that have a history of legal, social and cultural establishment.
Only a small number of people in South Africa, through their exposure to western tertiary
education, have been influenced by post-Enlightenment culture, and could be
considered to have a thorough modernist worldview. Now, however, as a result of the
freedom struggle, this culture is gaining dominance over all other worldviews.ii As
Anthony Balcomb vividly portrays the new situation:
Sangomas [magical functionaries] open conferences for intellectuals, praise
singers and enter parliament. Whites go to soccer matches, blacks to rugby
matches, gays parade in the streets, and born-again Christians take to the streets
in protest at all this licentiousness. South Africa has suddenly become a liberal
society. It is an extraordinary phenomenon. And it is unique in Africa.iii
In a highly pluralist society such as ours, the new uninhibited integration of various ethnic and cultural inflections is furthermore promoting pluralism as a worldview, with the concomitant subjectivism that is elsewhere associated with the postmodern condition.
Even so, not all our peoples are affected in the same way by the paradigmatic changes of the recent past. The moot question is how our various social, racial and cultural categories are responding to secularisation and the ascendancy of a modernist worldview. Acculturation can yield different results depending on a variety of historical and cultural factors. An important aspect of the South African Gospel and Our Culture(s) ivagenda is to assess our shared national culture and the way in which the plurality of Theologian, Prof. Jaap Durand takes this theme a little further
ethnic cultures relates to it. Missionary anthropologist, Prof. Piet Jonas, has taken the by relating the cultural shift directly to the traditional Afrikaner Reformed churches, which
lead in this respect in a paper read at a conference of the Gospel and Our Culture(s) have provided the spiritual cement of Afrikanerdom. The present transformation is Network in South Africa.vposing a major crisis to Afrikanerdom and its churches.
Christendoms, modernity and secularisation - the case of the Afrikaner and the
Dutch Reformed Church
I hereby attempt to reinterpret the history of the Afrikaner, the oldest and largest of their churches, viz. the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC—Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk),
and Christendoms in South Africa. In the light of this history and the present crises of our culture and that of new forms of -Christendom, we need to engage the question of how this rapid social change challenges the churches to witness faithfully and effectively to the gospel. This exercise of assessing the nature of our cultural and social crises, as well as the history and present praxis of our churches, plus the reinterpretation of scripture and tradition in order to construe the gospel for such a context, and the
envisioning of what missional transformation requires of the various churches, also
needs to be done in the various other cultural and ecclesial contexts of our nation.
Afrikaners consist of the descendants of mainly northern European colonial settlers, and they have supposedly remained Caucasian. Despite the fact that we roughly constitute only 5% of the total South African population, we have had an influence on the history of our country disproportionate to our numbers.
Colonial-Reformed Christendom and patronato companio
The Dutch Reformed Church came to the Cape of Good Hope under the patronage of
the United East India Company (VOC). If patronato regio in colonial Latin America was
an aberration of standard Vatican policy, the taking on by a company’s management of the patronage of a Reformed church was a situation equally deviant from normal Dutch Reformed church polity. According to this tradition, Christ reigns over the church directly by his Spirit and Word, which is ministered by the office of teaching elder, and governed by councils of elders. The state was expected to protect the church, and rule in a Christian fashion. Now, however, a commercial company received patronage, not only with respect to state functions but also of ecclesial affairs.
Established in 1602, the VOC established a refreshment post in 1652 at the Cape of Good Hope for ships en route to the East and, with expatriates colonising the Cape, acted as colonial agent for both state and church for the first 143 years of the country's colonial history. Van der Watt describes this situation not merely in terms of state
vii This highly abnormal situation could even more aptly be depicted as the
church being run as the subsidiary of a company, or the church acting in a chaplaincy interference in church affairs, but rather of the church functioning as a state role for the Company. department.
The VOC at the Cape allowed no other Christian denomination for more than a hundred
years, not to mention non-Christian faiths, despite the fact that there were many
members of other church traditions and religions in the area. When, at last, towards the
end of the VOC administration, the Lutheran Church was allowed to minister in the Cape,
scores of Lutherans had already become Reformed to secure their employment. This
resulted in virtually all colonists and their descendants being members of the Dutch
Reformed Church, and laid the foundation for this church (and its northern sister
churches) to become the “folk” church(es) of the Afrikaner people.
This development corresponded well with the powerful influence of English Puritanism
that spilt over to the Netherlands during the early 17th century. The emphasis was on
divine election and the covenant of grace, which in turn calls for a human response of a
deep and authentic experience of salvation in Jesus Christ, and devotion and practical
piety according to the law of God, coupled with a strong theocratic ideal for a public life
that reflects this human response. As experienced in the Cromwellian revolution, this is
a vision that can translate into militant radicalism, with a view to creating a society and a
people regulated to conform to this radicalism.
For the Dutch, Puritanism probably confirmed their conviction of being God’s chosen people. The synod of Dordt (1618-1619), which consolidated the dogma of God’s free
election, coincided with the dawning of Holland’s golden age in which it rose to the level
of a global economic superpower. These factors combined to foster the belief that Reformed Dutch were divinely elected to “let God’s kingdom come”. This Puritan-
Reformed faith was brought to the Cape under the patronage of a company that was the epitome of Dutch maritime and commercial ascendancy, and which was tasked not only to exert the state’s responsibility of protecting “pure religion”,ix but also to govern the
church. Hence, stringent measures were put in place to ensure that all company
employees attended religious services and observed religious practices. Whereas the
Reformed Church in the Netherlands enjoyed a privileged position among the churches
as the established church, the degree of ecclesial establishment was that more intense
at the Cape. When congregations attempted to establish some kind of classis at the
Cape, the VOC soon terminated them because they threatened the company’s authority.
This kind of political interference in the church's internal organisation obviously militated
against the Puritan-Reformed understanding of church governance. Yet, given this
tradition's appreciation of a theocratic society, it is conceivable that the church could
acquiesce even in the face of such blatant political intervention.
The Cape society, however, although regarded as being Christian in terms of the
Puritan-Reformed tradition, was also deeply involved in the rise of a global capitalist
system built on colonialism, monopolistic practices, slave labour and the resultant racist
class system whereby white colonists were automatically afforded middle class status,
while all others were regarded as either slaves or working class. This had some
precedent in Holland as Reformed churches there had always maintained a close
alliance with the middle classes and their culture. In the Cape the racial situation
automatically ascribed middle class status to every white colonist.
x showing how much church rank Seating during church services and other social functions reflected the structure of this formed part and parcel of the same Christendom system. type of Christendom. All seating was arranged according to rank. Church offices were
neatly woven into the ranking system of the company,
As for the position of slaves, decisions taken at the synod of Dordrecht in 1618-1619 had an influence. Children of slaves were to be baptised and given a Christian education. This gave them some of the same rights as other Christians, and some were given freedom at one or other stage of their lives.xi
An inability to satisfy the demand for fresh produce soon caused the VOC to establish a class of “free citizens” as farmers. French Huguenots, belonging to the emerging agricultural bourgeoisie in France and also sharing the Reformed faith, soon strengthened their numbers. This fed the growth of modern notions of free trade and an awareness of civil rights. Rights, in this context, therefore came to be associated with Europeans of Reformed faith. In time, this development was strengthened by influences of the brewing revolutionary climate in Europe and North America that reached the Cape colonists via the Dutch Patriots and their Cape counterparts. This spirit was evident in the short-lived attempts to form independent republics within the territory of the Cape Colony. These attempts would find fulfilment in the establishment of the 19th century thBoer republics and the 20 century Republic of South Africa. The above currents
constitute a strange dialectic in the emerging Afrikaner psyche. On the one hand, there was the strong Puritan-Reformed theocratic ideal, which found itself at home in this particular kind of Christian environment. On the other hand, a republican vision had emerged within Cape colonial society in the growing protest against abuses of colonial rule. For a long time, the latter development did not meet with much sympathy from the institutional church, although the church was forced to “follow the flock” as many Afrikaners trekked northward to establish their own republics. The theocratic ideal and republican vision were in time to be meshed into a single vision for society, as evidenced in the new Christendom of the apartheid republic.
For a century and a half therefore, the dominant cultural paradigm was a colonial form of early modernity within a colonial-Reformed Christendom under the patronage of the VOC, and this produced a society characterised by class distinction based on race. The colonial population consisted of a conglomerate of Europeans who were homogenised in the “melting pot” of this form of Christendom. In time, their supposedly racially pure descendants would identify themselves as Afrikaners. They developed their own
peculiar brand of western culture in a context distinct from that of their relatives in Europe, and in comparative isolation from other cultural developments on the continent. In what became South Africa, a particular constellation of western culture in its colonial mutation, met and clashed with the age old cultures of indigenous bands of pastoral Khoi and hunter-gatherer San of the southern tip of Africa. Dislodged cultures of slaves imported from Mozambique, Madagascar and Malaysia were soon added to this picture. Within this colonial society, the meeting of different cultures resulted in the formation of a numerically strong population of people of mixed racial, cultural and religious descent. In apartheid South Africa, they were classified as “Coloureds.”
By 1795 the VOC had lost its maritime monopoly. Napoleon was expanding his
dominion, which included the Netherlands, prompting England to take over the colonial
authority at the Cape to protect its maritime interests.
The crisis of colonial-Reformed Christendom
British occupation was probably the lesser of two evils compared to French control.
Although revolutionary ideas had received some hearing, England, which maintained a
Protestant form of Christendom, was more acceptable. The fact that the English
establishment had learnt to accommodate religious diversity also made the transfer less
painful. Apart from the established Church of England, the Church of Scotland enjoyed
established status, and Britain had also learnt to live with the phenomenon of free
churches.On the other hand, England had experienced the revolutionary potential of
Puritanism. Therefore, the new regime in the Cape simply continued the role that the
VOC had played and by so doing “annexed” colonial-Reformed Christendominto a wider
colonial-Anglo form by maintaining its role of patronage. As the second British
occupation proved to be permanent, the Church of England took over the status of the
established church, with the Dutch Reformed Church having to settle for a place
alongside other “free” churches, i.e. free from, or rather deprived of state privilege, but
yet not free to govern themselves.
The short period of three years that witnessed the return of Dutch rule aggravated the
crisis of colonial-Reformed Christendom in a certain sense. Instead of things returning to
“normal”, the United Netherlands was by then a thoroughly modernist state. Even their colonies were united under the misnomer of the Batavian Republic. J.A. De Mist,
Commissioner General of the Cape, used his power of patronage to rewrite the Cape
DRC’s church order to bring it in line with the new Enlightenment understanding of the
church as a voluntary association that should deal only with religious matters . This
challenged the Puritan-Reformed understanding of a Christian society and the church's
role therein. Education, for instance, which used to be a church responsibility, became
secularised. However, these policies did not met with popular approval because the
Puritan-Reformed vision held sway.xii
The second British colonial regime maintained De Mist’s provisional church order and
even allowed the church to develop its own governing structure — something the VOC
had only allowed in a limited way and for a limited time — in the form of a synod and
later even a new church order. However, the government retained its patronage through
the presence of political commissioners and by requiring that the government must ratify
all resolutions. This it did by replacing De Mist’s order with a new ordinance that was
meant to keep the church submissive.
The 19th-century crisis of colonial-Reformed Christendom led to several aborted
attempts to disestablish the DRC from colonial-Anglo Christendom , and to maintain its
connection with the Afrikaner people, of whom many had moved out of the Cape Colony
to establish their own republics further north. Court cases were lost and sealed the fate
of the Cape DRC as a church bound by British colonial rule. The legal hold of colonial-
Anglo Christendom was only annulled in 1961, the year of the establishment of the
Republic of South Africa. The intention was to pave the way for the newChristendom of
the apartheid era, and to bring an end to the crisis of colonial-Reformed Christendom.
The English occupation witnessed both the coming of English colonists who were more
urbanised and affected by the Enlightenment, as well as cultural developments
associated with the industrial revolution in Britain. Afrikaners, on the other hand, were
predominantly farmers and hence more isolated from these influences due to physical
isolation and the language barrier. Ironically, carriers of a modernist worldview were in
many cases not British but DRC ministers who had studied in the Netherlands.
With a shortage of DRC ministers, British governor, Lord Theophilus Shepstone, saw an
opportunity to anglicise Afrikanerdom and thereby integrate it more fully into colonial-
Anglo Christendom. Scottish Presbyterian ministers were recruited for the DRC to play
this role. Instead of doing this, however, they provided spiritual resources that helped the
DRC to deal with the legal disestablishment set in motion by De Mist’s church order, and
the fact that the DRC had been replaced by the Anglican Church as the established
church. Coming from a free church tradition, these Scottish ministers even promoted the
process of legal disestablishment. Moreover, they had developed a 'culture-critical'
approach with respect to modernity. Hence, they countered many a Dutch speaking
minister who had imbibed the modern view of reality and liberal theology. Although the
Presbyterian clergy shared the Puritan-Reformed vision of society, their evangelical
leanings nourished a spirituality that promoted a critical assessment of the popular
xiiiculture and encouraged individuals to take a stand against values held by state and Opposition to the culture of
society that were not in accordance with the gospel.modernity and the resultant liberal theology culminated in the establishment of a local
seminary at Stellenbosch in 1859. John Murray, a prominent Scottish minister, was one
of the first two professors.
On the other hand, the influence of the Scottish Presbyterians also cultivated a more
radical pietist side of the Puritan-Reformed tradition that readily accommodates to
modernity’s dichotomy of public facts and personal religious values. This set in motion a
current of self-secularisation that is now being revived in post-apartheid South Africa,
after the apartheid version of Puritan-Reformed Christianity ended in shame for DRC
Another reaction to modernity, viz. theology's retreat into confessionalism, has led
church and theology to evade a missionary engagement with this culture and
modernity’s challenge. It is this current of thinking that opposed Prof. Johannes du
Plessis and caused his eventual dismissal as professor of missiology at the
Stellenbosch seminary. The evasion also left the Dutch Reformed Church with a
xiv for which it has paid, and continues to pay dearly since the new
South Africa opened the floodgates of modernity upon us in 1994. We simply do not
have a theology of modernity.
On the other hand, the Scottish ministers’ influence also spawned so-called “common
sense realism”. This was a theological current that formed the breeding-ground for
theologians who would in the 20th century engage the modern scientific worldview
theologically (Johannes du Plessis), and critique the civil religion that underpinned the
new Christendom of apartheid (Ben Marais, Bennie Keet, David Bosch, Beyers Naudé
xvand Willie Jonker).
thThe early 19 century eastern frontier of the Cape Colony became the scene of
6 protracted conflicts between Afrikaner farmers, Bantu speaking tribes, London
Missionary Society missionaries, and the colonial authorities. The latter sided with the
missionaries who had accommodated modernity’s egalitarian view of humanity and xvi advocated the abolition of slavery. The tension was brought to a head as significant numbers of Afrikaners left the Colony to establish their own independent republics Afrikaners, in their resistance to liberalisation as introduced by the English colonial further north. They did this by subjugating different Bantu speaking tribes and kingdoms. powers, as well as by Dutch Batavia republican rule, ironically resorted to some Here, they would not tolerate the liberal value of the equality of races.selfsame modern ideas, such as a republican vision based on the sovereignty of the volk
(people). Governor De Mist had already espoused this offshoot of modernity, viz., the idea of national (read “ethnic”) sovereignty.xvii This accommodation with modernity
provided continuity between the Afrikaners’ Puritan-Reformed heritage of a vision of a
Christian people on the one hand, and the Enlightenment values of freedom, democracy and fraternity on the other, provided that these values were reserved for Afrikaners only. The felt crisis of colonial-Reformed Christendom was alleviated as these republics approximated the kind of society that existed under VOC rule, with the added advantage of republican self-rule. The ensuing wars England waged against the Afrikaner republics fuelled the nationalistic current of modernity amongst Afrikaners, which they then accommodated neatly into their Puritan-Reformed vision so that it developed into a syncretistic civil religion strong enough to mobilise Afrikaner power to establish what might be called the new Christendom of the apartheid era.
It was the discovery of diamonds and gold that led the British empire to wage war and annex the 19th-century Afrikaner republics for the empire. In 1910, the three defeated republics, together with the Cape Colony, were united to form the Union of South Africa. The defeat heightened the crisis of colonial-Reformed Christendom and fuelled the modern element of nationalism and the republican dream.
The great crisis for colonial-Reformed Christendom associated with the Napoleonic wars and the British takeover of the Cape in 1795, also witnessed the flowering of a missionary awakening in the West that would soon aggravate the crisis. Whereas the Moravian pioneer missionaries had been expelled as a result of complaints from DRC churchmen fifty years earlier, the return of missionaries of this church in 1793 signalled the coming of missionaries from a number of societies. DRC missionary enthusiasts followed suit and took part in the establishment of a local inter-denominational society. The increasing number of converted slaves and indigenous Khoi people, of which many were baptised in the DRC, stressed the internal contradictions of the society. Converted slaves had to be baptised and given the rights of other Christians, inter alia to join the
Lord’s table and eventually set free. This militated against all economic interests and the racially fixed class system that had developed. Missionaries highlighted this contradiction, which eventually contributed to the abolition of slavery in 1834. The deep division between the white middle class and black working class led to separate worship services in separate buildings for these two groups of church members. Tradition was, however, still strong enough to insist on the communal sharing of the Lord’s supper. The
situation came to a head in the form of an appeal to the synod of 1857 that “due to the weakness of some brothers” separate communion services should be held. Sadly, the synod passed this motion. Later, the isolation of members of colour led to the formation of a separate denomination for them. More racially defined denominations would in time be established further north as a result of missionary work. This ecclesial separation
subsequently provided the inspiration and justification for the separate institutions and amenities of the apartheid policy. Gustav Warneck’s missiology provided justification for it, yet the theological and societal contradiction inherent in this praxis would cause a crisis as the “mission churches” took the strongest measures imaginable to protest against it. The status confessionis of the Dutch Reformed Mission Church later led to the
adoption of the Belhar Confession (1986), which was the first confession from the ranks of Dutch Reformed churches since the acceptance of the Canons of Dordt in 1618/9.
The DRC is still confronted with the challenge to adopt this confession, unite with its “mission churches” and, in so doing, finally say farewell to colonial-Reformed and new
Christendom. The Belhar Confession critiques racism as an ideology in the light of the gospel and offers a missional vision of a racially united church. A theological universe of discourse is offered here that steers between the Scylla of Afrikaner Reformed churches’
nationalistic aberration of the Puritan-Reformed faith, and the Charybdis of a radical pietism that divorces faith from public life.
The burgeoning missionary movement also contributed to this crisis in another way. It led to the development of the ecumenical movement that vehemently opposed the new
Christendom of the apartheid era.
Although the Afrikaner had lost the second Anglo-Boer war, it acted as the catalyst for the bringing together of the already emerging Afrikaner nationalism. The seventeenth century’s Puritan-Reformed pietism, with its close association of church and people, now
mutated into a strong civil religion. It was meant to provide Afrikanerdom with a new sense of identity in the light of the power of British political and cultural hegemony. For this purpose, Christian-national education was instituted. Afrikaners were socialised to shun influences from their English compatriots. The latter were branded as liberal, and any meaningful association with them would label one as also being liberal. Christian-nationalism initially meant to counter British cultural imperialism and to regain Afrikaner identity and hegemony; unintentionally it became an impenetrable bulwark against the forces of secularisation. Afrikaners’ worldview, under this ideology, formed a close knit
system with God at its heart.
Ironically, in this radicalised form, this system was in itself a form of secularisation. To marry, God’s sovereign election and covenant of grace with Afrikaner nationalistic
aspirations was a profanation and desecration of the theological heritage of the Puritan-Reformed faith. Yet, it managed to provide Afrikaners with a coherent worldview that had a strong religious base. The end product was a civil religion with deep roots in the history and psyche of the Afrikaner, and one that had the power to convince Afrikaners of its validity and truth. It is small wonder that dissident voices were few and far between.
The power of Afrikaner politics and economics were mustered under the powerful
chaplaincy of Afrikaner civil religion. This resulted in the National Party coming to power
in 1948 and apartheid being institutionalised as a political programme, hence reviving
the vision of colonial-Reformed Christendom in a new Christendom built on the
8 syncretism of Afrikaner nationalism and Puritan-Reformed theocratic ideals. xix The
Afrikaner Broederbond, a secretive organisation consisting of Afrikaner men in
leadership positions in church, state, education and other institutions, was the driving force behind this new Christendom. It provided the place where decisions for both state, church and other spheres of public life were effectively taken. However, much criticised by churches locally and worldwide, the apartheid state was ironically only one of two regimes in the world at the time that still professed to be constitutionally Christian. This rendered the Afrikaner establishment immune to self-censure.
New Christendom, lasting until 1994, managed to insulate Afrikaners almost completely from influences that were regarded as volksvreemd (foreign to the people). Separate
educational institutions could now follow the precedent already set by the maintenance of separate denominations for Afrikaners, English and people of colour. Apartheid had a full-blown civil religious base that controlled every aspect of Afrikaner thought and life, as well as all other cultures in South Africa, through a vast web of laws and Christian-national education for all.
As much as the apartheid ideology was intended to ward off the unacceptable individualist and egalitarian anthropology of English modernity, its implementation as a political programme was itself ironically and distinctly modernist, albeit a particular variation of modernity. As Balcomb ably explains:
Apartheid was a classic case of modernisation in Giddens’ terms. The
disembedding of social relations and reorganisation in terms of a grand design xxbased on race and ethnicity, the creation of institutions to enforce racial
separation and the consequent bureaucratisation of the system to maintain separation are all essential features of modernity.A further irony was that a local construal of Abraham Kuyper’s new Calvinism played a
foundational role in the gestation of this ideology. This worldview was meant to present a
xxiChristian alternative to the Enlightenment’s understanding of freedom.
Racial segregation and the social taboo against associating too strongly with the “liberal English” managed to keep another secularising force at bay, viz., pluralism. South Africa,
with its plurality of cultures and faiths, is indeed the ideal breeding-ground for full-blown pluralism.
Meanwhile, the exclusion of Africans from universal franchise in the 1910 constitution encouraged the growth of an African nationalism that eventually led to the demise of the old South Africa and to the birth of the new, non-racial, non-sexist, liberal democracy we have at present, which is a society more secular than it had ever been under white rule.
The birth of a missionally reformed church?
The basic view guiding the Gospel and Our Culture debate in the UK and North America is that the church has lost its position of power and influence, and that the dominant culture of modernity has become a missionary challenge. Jaap Durand is the first to speak clearly in these terms concerning the position of the Afrikaner churches and Afrikaner culture. Riddled by feelings of guilt about the injustices committed in the name of our civil religion and apartheid, we are not merely stripped of the nationalistic mutation of our faith tradition, the ozone layer of our whole “sacred canopy” is also opening up to expose us to the glaring rays of secularisation and modernism. Yet, Durand states,
xxii The church’s claim of the gospel as the grand Afrikaner Christians will not easily perceive our situation as a missionary challenge. To narrative that encompasses all of our common life is simply no longer generally recognise and address this new context requires one of the most fundamental accepted as public truth, and Afrikaner church people are willingly giving up on this age transformations for Afrikaner churches.
old faith claim. Now, we happily settle for modernity’s restriction of the gospel to the ghetto of individual piety, values and beliefs.
The termination of the new Christendom finally let loose the powers of the
Enlightenment not only on Afrikaner civil religion but moreover on its very Puritan-
Reformed foundation. Whereas this foundation in its syncretistic form still manages to provide a strong counter force against the secularising power of the Enlightenment, it is now also seen to be a cause for embarrassment. What Newbigin brands as the most
fundamental trait of modernity, viz. the dichotomy between the spheres of private
religious opinions and that of public supra-religious facts, is fast becoming the only escape route for Afrikaner believers in a secular state. Modernity in this sense is rapidly becoming the only plausible structure for them. Modern Afrikaner Reformed Christians
now indeed also have to run the proverbial gauntlet between a failed Christendom and a false privatisation.
xxiii The only religiosity that seems to flourish in the Dutch Reformed
Church at this stage is one that yields to the pressure exerted by the modern paradigm,
viz., the more radical pietist side of the Puritan-Reformed tradition that has never had
any time for the theocratic vision because religion is seen to be a very private, spiritual
xxivaffair that should not interfere with matters of public life. This is reflected in the
sudden cessation in 1994 of intercessory prayers for the public sphere. While worship services that attract the masses are those that are being transformed into celebrations of private religiosity, hosts of regular church goers are simply retreating into the greater privacy of their homes where they still claim to practise their own privatised religion.
Against this background, the operative missiologies in our churches will have to be rethought. Merely reaching the unreached far away and planting churches there; leading individuals to a personal relationship with Jesus; recruiting for our own congregation new converts and other Christians seeking for a spirituality that is more to their liking, and doing good to the poor, are inadequate missiologies for the challenges that face us. When domestic mission and evangelism become uncritical accommodations of cultural trends in order, as it is put, to retain or gain the largest share of the religious market in a time of floundering denominational and congregational loyalties, we have what George Hunsberger calls a domesticated missiology.xxv
At the other end of the spectrum, another new Christian vision, based on a
fundamentalist reading and application of the Bible, is emerging and offering itself as the obvious and proper vision. This emanates from the burgeoning charismatic churches, which are rapidly gaining the status of role models for a DRC in crisis. Our
hermeneutical deficit fosters this development. With a surge of new nationalist
sentiments lurking below the surface, and as the age-old memory of how things used to be lingers on, this pull may prove to be irresistible.
The reality of two hundred years of historical critical method is only now hitting us, and this belated dawning of the Enlightenment is causing a crisis for biblical hermeneutics. The historical Jesus debate, as reflected in the so-called Jesus Seminar, is receiving a lot of press coverage and confusing even more the already disorientated rank and file 10