Academic journal article International Review of Mission

North-South Partnerships - the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in South Africa and the Department Missionnaire in Lausanne

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

North-South Partnerships - the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in South Africa and the Department Missionnaire in Lausanne

Article excerpt

Phases in north-south relations

Discussion about how churches in the north are to relate to churches in the south (and vice versa) is far from finished. Formerly, the discussion appeared in the form of debates about "autonomous younger churches." In this regard, the names of Henry Venn and Rufus Anderson, both of whom were influential in Protestant missions in the nineteenth century, are significant. The two men coined what later became known as the "three selves formula," i.e., self-support, self-government and self-propagation. The "three selves" formula, proposed both as "goals" and "tests" of autonomy, initiated heated debates about north-south ecumenical relations. From 1971, the debate shifted gears when a Kenyan by the name of John Gatu proposed a "moratorium" on missionaries to Africa. Various "solutions" to the older church-younger church problems have been proposed and experimented with. The Evangelical Presbyterian Church in South Africa (EPCSA) -- Departement missionnaire (DM) relationship is one such experiment.

North-south church relations may, "for the sake of simplification" be divided into three distinguishable phases (Bosch & Saayman 1987:123). During the first phase, all decisions relating to church life were taken in the country of the sending church. The second phase is characterized by a situation where "the missionary is no longer the one who knows everything.... No longer is the younger church merely an object.... Now the older and younger churches(1) address each other in first and second person terms (Bosch & Saayman 1987:124). Negotiations become the prime mode of mutual interactions. The third phase is the time "in which the younger churches take the initiative whether the older churches like it or not" (Bosch & Saayman 1987:124). In many African countries, the third phase seems to be triggered off by political independence or the advent of nationalism. According to Bosch and Saayman, this phase is the most traumatic in terms of heightened tensions between older and younger churches.

I want to use this "simplified" scheme of phases suggested by Bosch and Saayman as a lens through which to review the partnership relations of the EPCSA and her Swiss partners over the years. Although Bosch and Saayman attached time frames to the phases, I shall not subscribe to these as they are not entirely compatible with EPCSA-DM relations.

In South Africa this debate has national as well as international overtones. The north is both distant and local. Such a situation is due to gross internal imbalances created by apartheid over many years. Some South African churches engaged in missionary activity both inside the country and also in some neighbouring states. As a result some "black mission churches" are the fruit of internal churches' missionary work, while others derive from the north-to-south missionary awakening that began during the nineteenth century. The EPCSA belongs to the latter group.

Phases in the EPCSA's relations with Swiss churches

The EPCSA's relations with Swiss Protestant churches are now a hundred and twenty odd years old.(2) This church was initially known as the "Swiss Mission in South Africa," after its founding missionary society -- La Mission Suisse dans l'Afrique du Sud.(3) Later (in 1962) it became the Tsonga Presbyterian Church, and in 1982, it became known as the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in South Africa. These changes in name are fairly indicative of the changing relations between the EPCSA and her partners in the north; they also illustrate changes in EPCSA's self-understanding as it gradually took control of its own life.

Phase one in DM-EPCSA relations -- missionary control

For EPCSA, this phase began in 1875 with the establishing of the church, extending through the period when the church existed as the "Swiss Mission in South Africa," that is, eighty-five odd years (1875-1962). …

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