The race issue is still very much alive in South Africa, also in the Reformed Churches of that country. The following are excerpts from the RES News Exchange.
The General Synod of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa, which meets every four years, convened the latter part of October. The DRC is probably the most influential (white) church in South Africa. For this reason, . . . a long report on race relations . . . on its agenda . . . sparked much comment. . . . The report on race (Landman Report) was issued from a more “enlightened” element within the DRC. So hopes were high that the Synod would adopt resolutions that would provide new and strong leadership in the touchy area of race relations.
The final product, like most synodical decisions was a child of compromise. As a result, it evoked widely varied reactions. The Scriptural basis and the principles derived there from show a genuine willingness by the church to listen to the demands of the gospel in the matter of race. However, the practical implications drawn from these principles disappointed many observers, even many of those traditionally sympathetic. The congregations received very little new practical direction from the DRC Synod.
However, a clearer look at the biblical givens can exert a considerable influence on a church: in this regard definite steps were taken by the Synod. It unequivocally rejected all attempts to found the racial differentiation of mankind on the Noachitic curse. Also rejected was the identification of South Africa with the Israelites, a practice that had applied God’s commands to Israel to be a separate people to (white) South Africans.. . . Although the New Testament recognizes the diversity of races, it does not make it into a supreme principle, but holds as the highest norm for relations between the races the command to love one’s neighbor. However, the report maintains the New Testament does allow that under certain conditions different races may arrive at a way of living together in the same country through the way of “separate development”. . . .
On the subject of social justice the report makes strong principal statements. Although. it maintains that the church has a unique role in this world, which is not first of all to deliver a program of action for all dimensions of life, but to preach the gospel and administer the sacraments, the report sees it part of the church’s task to take a critical and healing stance toward sinful structures in society. . . .
The principal part of the Landman Report was adopted by the Synod with relative unanimity. The practical consequences, however, evoked heated debate and strong differences of opinion. The R.ES (Sydney 1972) resolution on interracial marriages, which was adopted by the “Mission Church”, a daughter of the DRC, was rejected. . . . .
. . .The report proposed that the churches open their doors to all races and worship together. Another proposal suggested that (white) church buildings be shared with congregations of other races. Both proposals gained considerable support, but the Synod concluded that, given the function of Synod within the formal (Reformed) structure of the church, it could not really impose such recommendations upon the congregations. Many commentators felt that the Synod neatly dodged the issue.
. . .The Synod resolved to look more closely into the socio-economic forces that are creating frustration within the Colored and Asiatic communities. Some observations were not adopted by the Synod, on the grounds that the church does not have the duty to hold up a blue print for social change to the government.
In connection with this, we may also note that the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa has threatened, in the form of an ultimatum, to break off fraternal relations with the Gereformeerde Kerken in the Netherlands if the latter does not reverse its headlong plunge into false doctrine. This ultimatum has stirred a large amount of controversy in the Netherlands. The whole issue of race in the South African Churches is part of the controversy.
A New Reformed Seminary In France
On October 13 and 14, in Aix-en-Provence, in Southern France, a new Reformed Seminary was officially opened. It is an independent and inter-denominational Seminary, but its avowed purpose is to uphold and maintain the Reformed faith, and to train ministers in the Reformed faith for work in the Reformed Churches in France. Although the faculty is taken from various denominations, the French Confession of Faith is the confessional basis of the Seminary. The French Confession of Faith was written at about the same time as the Belgic Confessions, closely resembles the Belgic Confession in form and content, and was written under the influence and with the advice of John Calvin. It has always served as the confessional basis of the Reformed Churches in France, but the major Reformed denomination in France, the French Reformed Church, has become increasingly liberal and pluralistic.
The main support of the Seminary comes from conservatives within the French Reformed Church and from the Independent Evangelical Reformed Church in France which is a member of the RES. The school is opening with a Faculty of five, within twenty-five students, fifteen of whom are full-time.
The new Seminary has provoked considerable discussion within the Reformed Churches in France. Especially leaders within the larger and more liberal denomination consider the Seminary a divisive force within the Churches.
This is not an uncommon development within the Churches. Our own country has seen similar phenomena. Conservative and orthodox leaders who have experienced the liberalism of their parent denominations and who have seen the church’s seminaries become increasingly liberal, have turned to independent seminaries which are under no Church control as the solution to the problem. Apparently suspicious of church controlled seminaries, they see independent seminaries as the only viable alternative of preserving the Reformed faith and preparing students for it.
This, quite naturally, brings up the problem of the legitimacy of independent seminaries. While we can sincerely sympathize with those who have become thoroughly disgusted with the liberalism of church-controlled schools, and while we can understand why the trend is toward independent Seminaries, we have some reservations about this trend. The problems which this trend seems to create are of two kinds: the one principal and the other practical. The Reformed Churches have always taken the position that the instruction of young men for the ministry of the Word is part of the official preaching of the Word. If this position is correct, and we believe that it is, then it seems to follow that the theological school which trains such ministers must also be under the control and direction of the Church. That is the principal matter which concerns us. The practical matter concerns the ability of a Seminary which is independent to prepare successfully young men for the pastoral ministry. Is there not a very real danger that a Seminary, loosed from all ecclesiastical control, becomes a Seminary where the study of theological disciplines is an end in itself? Is it not possible that the very fact that such a Seminary is separated from the life of the Church will lead to a Seminary where there is little or no pastoral preparation in the true sense of the word?
These problems may be worth discussing as the trend continues towards independent seminaries.
While this subject is perhaps somewhat removed from the ordinary subjects we discuss in this column, we thought it interesting enough to include a few remarks about it here.
Some time ago, Newsweek magazine contained a short article in its Science section which dealt with bodily rhythm. The article pointed out the well-known fact that people speak not only through words, but through a variety of gestures of the hands, arms, torsos, eyes and other moveable parts of the body. It pointed out further, that listening is also accompanied by clearly visible bodily movements such as movement of the head, raising of the eyebrows, shifting of the body, etc.
Some scientists have recently made a study of more subtle and less noticeable bodily movements which are made in listening. To their astonishment, they discovered that there are some interesting features about such bodily movements. In the first place, these movements start very early in life, as early as twelve hours old, and may perhaps take place already before birth. In the second place, they discovered that infants begin immediately to establish in their bodies a rhythm of bodily movement which corresponds to the rhythm of the language being spoken. While mere nonsense syllables or disorganized sounds bring about nothing else but disconnected and unrhythmatic movements—even in infants, the rhythms of speech soon are synchronized with the rhythms of bodily movement in children. Ordinarily, it takes only about two months for “babies motoristically to lock into a speech rhythm.” And, because different languages have different rhythms, the bodily movements are different also and the rhythms established differ according to the language which a child hears.
The scientists were mostly interested in this question because they saw its potential as a diagnostic tool to discover autistic babies early in life. The tests showed that autistic babies respond to speech differently than normal children. If this is true, it will be an invaluable aid in the field of education.
But there are interesting implications of another sort. It is not our purpose to discuss them here. But several things come to mind. Everyone who has ever watched a child learn to read, e.g., will know how such a child uses his entire body to struggle through the first simple words of the printed page, and how such bodily twisting and turning seems to be a necessary part of the reading program of children. Or again, we are interested in the fact that the language which people learn as children is very really their “mother-tongue.” That is the language they remain most fluent in all their life, though they may learn three or four or more languages as life progresses. And when such people reach old age, it is not at all uncommon to find them reverting to the language they learned as children. Perhaps this is because the speech rhythms of those first sentences remain with them all their life.
It seems as if this is true even in a more general sense. Those who have Dutch backgrounds, e.g., find it much easier to learn to pronounce the Dutch language than one who has a background of a different nationality, even though neither had ever learned a word of Dutch in their first twenty years. I have even seen this in connection with the pronunciation of various dialects in the Dutch language.
Well, it is an interesting subject, and seems to have implications of considerable scope in the whole area of verbal communication. Perhaps it would be worthwhile for some of our teachers to pursue this matter further.