- The settlement of Cape Town by the Dutch East India Company in 1652 provided the first opportunity for Protestantism to establish a foothold on the continent of Africa. The Reformed Church of the Netherlands primarily served the colonizers, but it also began to spread among their African servants and slaves. The Reformed Church retained its privileged status even after the British arrived in 1795 and reorganized the local government as a British colony in 1806. By that time the Moravian Church had also set down roots (1737). It was the first to actively evangelize the local population, over the objections of the colonists.The British takeover brought the Church of England to the Cape and the London Missionary Society (Congregationalist) to the interior. The establishment of British authority throughout south Africa was achieved over the staunch resistance of the Afrikaners (settlers of Dutch background), culminating in the Boer War (1899-1902). The Union of South Africa became independent in 1934.The London Missionary Society, the source of the present-day United Congregational Church, would be led in its early years by several illustrious missionaries, including Johannes van der Kemp (1747-1811), Robert Moffat (1895-1983) and David Livingstone. Within a generation they were joined by Methodists, Baptists, Lutherans, and Presbyterians, giving the colony the same spectrum of Protestant churches found in England. Each church developed congregations among the British settlers and then reached out to local residents in the interior. Each of the churches split into two or more branches and denominational bodies as blacks and whites separated.The Reformed Church splintered as well. Regional churches were established as Afrikaners settled the interior, beginning with the Transvaal in 1853. Differences over African evangelism and over schisms in the church back in the Netherlands caused additional splits. in 1881, black members were segregated into the Dutch Reformed Mission Church. still other churches were set up through missionary activity in the different provinces. in 1962, the white Reformed churches merged to form the Dutch Reformed Church. in 1963 and 1994, the several Reformed churches serving the African community merged to form the Uniting Reformed Church in southern Africa.in 1895, the small Christian Catholic Church based in Zion, Illinois, established an outpost in Johannesburg. The church grew rapidly, primarily among Zulus. It was the vehicle in 1908 for the introduction of Pentecostalism to South Africa. Almost the entire membership became Pentecostals, but they split over their relation to the Apostolic Faith Mission, which had initially brought the new teachings to Africa, resulting in two churches: the Apostolic and the Zionists.As they spread across southern Africa, these two churches in turn became the parents of a set of Apostolic and Zionist churches (denominations). The largest today are the 7-million-member Zionist Christian Church, the largest Christian body in south Africa, and the Apostolic Faith Mission of south Africa.The larger Reformed community, which includes about 9 percent of the country's residents, became deeply involved in the country's political struggles. In the 1940s, following independence from England, the Afrikaner National Party took control of the government, and the Reformed Church became an integral part of the apartheid system of racial segregation. By the 1960s, apartheid meant territorial segregation of blacks and a system of police repression.As apartheid became more severe, the World Council of Churches established the Cottesloe Consultation to look at the problem by its member churches within the country, causing the white Dutch Reformed Church and other white churches to resign. The predominantly African Dutch Reformed Mission Church, on the other hand, strongly denounced apartheid in 1974 and 1979, as did the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, which suspended the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa from membership in 1982.Bolstered by international support, the Dutch Reformed Mission Church promulgated the Belhar Confession in 1986, a landmark in mobilizing South African churches against apartheid. Previously, the Institute for Contextual Theology brought together a group of church leaders to discuss apartheid as a theological issue; in 1985, they had issued the Kairos Document, which spoke of getting beyond apartheid through repentance and reconciliation. Both documents took on programmatic significance through the south African Council of Churches and its several general secretaries - most notably Desmond Tutu (1978-85), Beyers Naude (1985-88), and Frank Chikane (1988-95).Desmond Tutu, as a bishop and then archbishop in the Anglican Church of the Province of south Africa, brought the largest of the older churches in south Africa into the antiapartheid cause. He was given the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984.Today, the Protestant community in South Africa, with well over 100 denominations, claims about 75 percent of the population. The most important ecumenical associations are the south African Council of Churches (affiliated with the World Council of Churches) and the Evangelical Alliance of south Africa (affiliated with the World Evangelical Alliance). South African members of the WCC include the Church of the Province of South Africa, the Council of African Instituted Churches, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of South Africa, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of South Africa, the Methodist Church of South Africa, the Moravian Church in South Africa, the Presbyterian Church of Africa, the United Congregationalist Church of South Africa, the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa, and the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa. Meanwhile, the newer African Initiated Churches have formed the African Independence Churches Association, the Assembly of Zionists and Apostolic Churches, and the Association of Pentecostal Ministers of South Africa.See also Africa, sub-Saharan.Further reading:■ Johannes du Plessis, A History of Christian Missions in South Africa. (Cape Town, South Africa: Struik, 1911, 1965)■ C. F Hallencreutz and M. Palmberg, Religion and Politics in Southern Africa. (Uppsala, Sweden: Scandinavian Institute of African Studies, 1991)■ P. Hinchliff, The Anglican Church in South Africa (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1963)■ Piet Naude, The Zionist Christian Church in South Africa: A Case-Study in Oral Theology (Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1995)■ J. Sales, The Planting of the Churches in South Africa. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 1971).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.
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