Dear Friend in Christ,
We would like to take this opportunity to re-/introduce Reformed Church Southern Suburbs (RCSS), now a congregation of the United Reformed Churches in North America (URCNA).
RCSS began as a mission work in Cape Town, South Africa, under the oversight of Reformed Church Bellville in 2012, with a Bible study.
Cape Town is South Africa’s second-largest city and most sought-after tourist destination. Comprising more than 4.6 million residents, Africa’s most southern metropolis is a melting pot of ethnicities seeking to realise Nelson Mandela’s dream of a “rainbow nation” since the official fall of apartheid in 1994.
Beyond “junk bond” status as a third-world country, South Africa faces the ongoing challenges of racial prejudice, postmodern identity politics, xenophobia, state capture, and “loadshedding” (electricity blackouts). While there are groans for socio-political transformation, the scattered cries for church renewal are more resounding.
Aware of the above challenges and needs, at the end of 2019, RCSS was particularised within the Reformed Churches in South Africa (RCSA, of continental Dutch Reformed origin).
In March 2023, RCSS left the RCSA and became provisionally accepted as a congregation of the URCNA, Classis South-West, pending ratification at Synod 2024.
Our departure was mainly because of the RCSA’s unwillingness to discipline congregations ordaining female elders. This unwillingness became patently clear at RCSA Synod 2023 where, despite women in special office having been on the agenda for forty-plus years and no decision ever being made in favour, Synod decided to defer the matter of discipline – yet again – until 2026 (see Report on RCSA Synod January 2023 attended by Rev. Jooste).
As a congregation of the URCNA, RCSS will endeavour by God’s grace to launch a new continental Reformed federation in the English language, hoping to reach the ethnically diverse demographic of the new South Africa. The provisional name of the new communion is the African Reformed Churches (ARC). See the vision for ARC below.
Currently, the membership of RCSS is in the mid-forties, plus about 10 regular attendees, some of whom are being catechized towards membership. (During her life, almost 60 members have left RCSS, most of whom have moved on to other parts of South Africa and the world to join true churches, mainly because of economic and political hardships.)
RCSS is one of a handful of continental Reformed churches in South Africa that worships in the English medium. Historically, the Reformed witness has been predominantly in Dutch and Afrikaans.
At present, particularly in Cape Town, one struggles to find a confessional Protestant church of any stripe. Beyond the continental Reformed tradition, other creedal traditions – such as the Anglican, Presbyterian, and Lutheran – have mostly taken a progressive turn. It is fair to say that since the Western Revolution of the 1960s, most churches in the “pink city” (Cape Town) have adopted a social justice or politically egalitarian agenda. Those in the rest of South Africa, particularly in the larger cities, have followed suit. Considering the above, we see the need more than ever for a confessional Reformed witness on the southern tip of Africa in the most widely accessible language of English.
RCSS is a demographically diverse congregation. As a commuter church, we draw on folk far and wide, from working professionals to refugees living above the poverty line. We have members whose home language is Xhosa, Afrikaans, or English and who come from Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Cameroon. For more background on our context, see the Modern Reformation essay, “From Orange to Pink: A History of Politics and Religion in South Africa’s Cape Town”, available freely online.
Yours in Christ on behalf of the RCSS Council,
Rev. Simon Jooste
Pilgrim Politics: A vision for African Reformed Churches
Running parallel with politically liberal and postmodern gains in identity politics wars in South Africa has been the loss of Christian orthodoxy, perhaps most remarkably in the legacy of the Reformed tradition.
Like the theological liberalism of the twentieth-century West, the leftward turn of confessional Protestant churches in southern Africa has signalled a displacement of the cruciform Christian creed with a politicised mission.
Arguably more pernicious than the challenge of modernity in J. Gresham Machen’s day, twenty-first-century applied postmodernism promotes superficially pious “justice” by deconstructing everything through language. Like other parts of the Christian West, South African churches have increasingly capitulated to the respectability and pragmatism of an egalitarian agenda.
A shackled continent, a rainbow nation, and a ‘pink’ city
For all its exquisite beauty and abundance of natural resources, the African continent is also shackled by intertribal warfare, genocide, xenophobia, and nepotistic tyrannical governments. Furthest south on this vast expanse of land is Nelson Mandela’s “rainbow nation”, a country deeply marred by the so-called civilising effect of Christianity-endorsed colonialism.
Over the past century, the most southern city of Cape Town has signalled the ferment of various kinds of cultural freedoms, ranging from apartheid ideology and black nationalism to liberal democracy and queer identity politics. Hence, its name, the “pink city”.
In the unfolding of the South African story, the Reformed tradition has played a pivotal political role to the extent that her cruciform creed is in danger of being eclipsed by cultural equality and respectability.
Theological liberalism in new drag
As of 2023, many churches in the South African context have assimilated into their polity not only the economic levelling of Marxist socialism or equal rights liberal democracy but also the disembodied and irrational agenda of social justice activism. Under the guise of texts such as Galatians 3:28, even those formerly conservative confessional Reformed churches have sought to further Mandela’s “rainbow vision” through Word, sacrament, and discipline.
Joining the pursuit of racial equity in the wake of apartheid, through the more expansive lens of postmodern critical theory, is the so-called Gospel liberation from every hierarchy and distinction. Hence, the church’s baptism of the LGBTQ+ agenda and the opening of the ordained office to every queer identity possible. Mixed into the fluidity of policing power differentials are the “sharp solids” of black and white nationalism, making for a troubling ecclesiastical landscape.
Renewing the Reformed confession in English
The true church is a holy nation transcending political or ethnic allegiances while affirming the stability of embodiment, liturgical order, and historical creeds. Finding a church in the West with this spiritual polity is increasingly difficult, and South Africa is no exception.
The need to renew the Reformed tradition is pressing, particularly in the English-language medium – English being the common language out of 11 official options. Furthermore, English is arguably best suited to navigate the ethnic tensions besetting Mandela’s “rainbow nation”.
It is imperative that the continental Reformed tradition is no longer monopolised by the Afrikaans language, which – unfairly or not – is still associated with the legacy of apartheid, so fresh in the psyche of many South Africans. Hence, the vision for a new confessional Reformed denomination in southern Africa and beyond, through church planting and the assimilation of like-minded churches looking for a new confessional home.
Envisioning African Reformed Churches
The provisional name of a new English-medium continental Reformed denomination in South Africa is the African Reformed Churches (ARC).
The expansive choice of the name is intentional. South Africa is home to many foreign nationals who are either temporary or permanent residents. Those who return to their country of origin can “cross-pollinate” their newfound spiritual riches.
The “Reformed” part of the name also connects South Africa to a global history of confessional Protestantism and contemporary worldwide reformation, particularly in North America.
ARC seeks to model her doctrine and practice on the best of the historic global Reformed tradition. It envisions a renewed Reformed witness that combines a robust apologetic able to withstand the (modern) reasoned and (postmodern) “double think” attacks on the faith.
Launching from Cape Town
In 1652, the Dutch Reformed landed at the Cape of Good Hope as part of an exploration by the Dutch East India Company that became a colonial conquest. In 2023, Reformed believers are responsible to recover Reformed Christianity without the trappings of ethnicity, politics, and ideology.
Cape Town is strategically located as the political, cultural, educational, tourist, and economic hub of South Africa and the continent of Africa. Just as the Afrikaners trekked north in the early nineteenth century for political reasons, a renewed Reformed tradition could spread northward with support from other parts of the Christian West.
The endeavours to increase the visibility of RCSS and ARC in the future include:
- Faithful ordained ministry and Lord’s Day worship;
- Conversing with like-minded churches towards unity;
- Exploring church-planting opportunities;
- Promoting Reformed theological education;
- An internship programme;
- Friendship evangelism;
- Organised outreach/apologetics;
- An active online presence; and
- Visiting supporting churches locally and abroad.
Integral to the founding of RCSS has been the imprint of the best South African and North American Reformed witnesses. RCSS seeks to perpetuate this legacy in the English medium on the African continent. Towards this end, the future realisation of ARC will depend most immediately on the support of the URCNA and sympathetic individuals in at least the following ways:
- Doctrinal and pastoral accountability;
- Formative and continuing education of ministers;
- Provision of interns and ministerial candidates; and
- Financial support.
First National Bank
Cheque/current account: 62832224464
Branch code: 251945
Reference: “RCSS donation”
United States of America
Please make your tax-deductible donation to “Grace United Reformed Church” (reg. non-profit)
Address: Grace United Reformed Church, 2400 W. Carson St. Suite 120 Torrance, CA 90501
“For:” section, please write: “RCSS church plant”
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