Reformed theology on Continental Europe.

We are not a Church that started yesterday or has no history…far from it, our history is long and very well established as our churches. Presbyterianism is found around the world and is a part of the family of Churches that stand in the Reformed Tradition. The Reformed Tradition has its beginnings with John Calvin, among the greatest of the Reformers, who was born in Picardy, France in 1509. Whilst pursuing his studies in Paris he came across the teachings of Luther which he embraced. After experiencing a religious “awakening” in 1533, he broke his ties with Roman Catholic Church and went into exile in Basle, Switzerland. After working through his theological ideas he wrote the very well known Institutes of the Christian Religion. He moved around a bit but eventually found himself settled in Geneva where he assisted Guillaume Farel in organising the Reformation in that city. After being expelled from the city for a while he was invited back and it was during his second stay in Geneva that he began his work that would have a lasting effect on the face of Europe going through the Reformation. His work in Geneva, which involved an attempt to establish a model of the City of Godwas an inspiration to a great many people during this period in history.

Reformed theology moves to Scotland.

One of those who embraced the work and teachings of John Calvin was a man by the name of John Knox. He was also influenced by Theodore Beza, although it was the former that exercised the greater influence on the thinking of Knox. John Knox, after visiting Calvin’s Geneva, returned to his native Scotland in 1559. It was then that he established the Reformed Tradition in that country which eventually developed into the Church of Scotland, in contrast to the Church of England. The Church of Scotland is where the name of this strand of the Reformation became known as Presbyterianism.  

Presbyterianism continues its journey.

The Reformed Tradition moved around the world from the Netherlands (as the Dutch Reformed Church) and from Scotland as the Church of Scotland or the Presbyterian Church. There were other groups that exported the Reformed Tradition to other nations but for our context (South Africa) these two are by far the most important groups of this tradition.

Presbyterianism arrives in Cape Town.

The Presbyterianism Church had its beginnings in South Africa among Scottish soldiers that were based in the city of Cape Town in 1806.The congregation grew and soon started to include other settlers that were of this denominational persuasion.In the 1830’s the congregation started its mission work among ex Islamic slaves and groups of black African workers that had migrated westwards to the growing City of Cape Town.  With the massive influx of settlers and missionaries during the 1820’s, the Presbyterian Church established itself in the Eastern Cape from this time and eventually arrived in Natal from 1850 onwards. The denomination moved into the interior parts of South Africa following the discoveries of gold and diamonds during the last parts of the 19th Century.

 

Schism makes an early entry.

During the 1890’s a concerted effort was made to unify all of these Presbyteries into one Church. The establishment of the Presbyterian Church of South Africa took place officially in 1897 but the majority of the Scottish Mission congregations refused to join the Church and formed themselves into the Bantu Presbyterian Church of South Africa which later became the Reformed Presbyterian Church in South Africa in 1923. This schism remained until 26 September 1999 when the two denominations formed the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa.

 

The Uniting Presbyterian Church today.

The Uniting Presbyterian Church of Southern Africa today has approximately 473 congregations of which 372 are constituted (functioning with a Minister and able to meet its own expenses); 50 are United (merged with Anglican, Methodist or Congregational churches); 13 Transitional (in the process of becoming Constituted Congregations); 7 Nuclear (Church plants) and 26 Preaching Stations (Places that normally belong to another “Mother Church” and used for preaching the Gospel in rural areas).  The current membership of the Church is unknown but is thought to stand at approximately 133 000-150 000.