In the recent history of the Dutch Reformed Church two documents played an important role. The
documents were Human Relations and the South African Scene in the Light of Scripture of 1974
and Church and Society of 1986. The first document stated the policy of the church on apartheid
and defended the policy on biblical grounds. The second document constituted the first step the
church took away from the policy of apartheid. The aim of this article is to follow the journey
which the Dutch Reformed Church undertook from Human Relations and the South African Scene
in the Light of Scripture to Church and Society. It starts with the origins of Human Relations and
the South African Scene in the Light of Scripture, describing how the document’s roots go all the
way back to the Cottesloe consultation of 1960. It also focuses on the reception of Human
Relations and the South African Scene in the Light of Scripture before describing four important
impulses that played a major part in forcing the Dutch Reformed Church to rethink its policy on
apartheid. These impulses were the Reformed day Witness of 1980, the Open Letter of 1982, the
meeting of the World Alliance of Churches in Ottawa, Canada 1982 and the status confessionis of
the Dutch Reformed Missions Church in October 1982 which resulted in the Confession of
Belhar. These impulses led to the decision during the 1982 General Synod of the Dutch Reformed
Church to revise Human Relations and the South African Scene in the Light of Scripture. The
outcome of this decision was the acceptance of a new document called Church and Society in
1986. The article highlights the important decisions in this new document which constituted a
break with the former biblical founding of apartheid in Human Relations and the South African
Scene in the Light of Scripture. Open church doors, open membership, no biblical prohibition of
mixed marriages and critical voice against apartheid, are examples of a new policy which showed
that the Dutch Reformed Church was on a different road. The reception of this new document
confirmed this by bringing the church in turmoil which led to a schism in the church and the
founding of the Afrikaanse Protetsantse Kerk in 1987. The struggle of the Dutch Reformed
Church did however not stop with the acceptance of Church and Society and the reaction of 1987.
In 1990 the General Synod of the church confirmed the policy of the church as stated in Church
and Society of 1986 but also made certain revisions which stated the church’s critique on
apartheid much clearer. The 1990 document stated that “the church made the error of allowing
forced separation and division of peoples in its own circle, to be considered a biblical narrative”.
The unjust system of apartheid was clearly condemned by the synod and although it also declared
that not everything could be branded as wrong and inhuman. The article concludes by accepting
that Church and Society was not the perfect document and certainly not the perfect answer the
world demanded from the Dutch Reformed Church. It was however a small step in the right
direction of a new journey, away form the biblical founding of apartheid towards justice and
reconciliation, a journey which led to the Rustenburg Church conference in 1990, the so called
General Synod of reconciliation in 1994 and onwards, a journey on which the struggle continues.
Mashiane, Mafabo Andries Bernard(University of Pretoria, 2008-08-05)
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