Christendom at the Cape : a critical examination of the early formation of the Dutch Reformed Church

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

The primary research question of this dissertation is: What was the particular form that Christendom took on at the Cape during the formative period of the Dutch East Indies Company (VOC) rule and how did it shape the Dutch Reformed Church as established church in this locale? This question was prompted by my hunch that the Dutch Reformed Church at the Cape and in the later South Africa has since VOC rule displayed signs of regarding itself as an important ecclesiastical partner in a Christian establishment. This was evidenced in the development of the Church2 into a quasi-established position (during British rule and thereafter), and the Volkskerk of the Afrikaner people and nationalism. In post-VOC times Christendom at the Cape Colony and in South Africa has also undergone various transformations. The answer to the primary research question can therefore contribute to our understanding of the contemporary character of Christendom in South Africa and the Church. A secondary research question is how the development of Christendom at the Cape can help us understand the phenomenon of Christendom itself. In order to answer these questions I embarked on a critical and comparative study of the concept of Christendom in various contexts and the position of the church within them - postChristian Europe, post-Vatican II Latin America, and post-1960's North America. In the light of this study an archival and theologically critical analysis was made of Christendom at the Cape, mainly from the vantage point of the Dutch Reformed Church. The findings were categorised under three headings: Church privilege; the control of state and culture over Church and gospel; and, the freedom of the Church. The primary research question yielded a picture of the Church as inheritor of, and involuntary partner in a Christendom that was the result of a colonial venture of capitalist upper middle class Dutch Reformed merchants. The Church imbibed the habit of being co-opted by the powers that be for the sake of material and social benefit and for the sake of promoting its evangelistic, diaconal, and educational charges. In the process it grew accustomed to compromise the integrity of its own faith and order and ultimately its public witness.

Includes bibliographical references (p. 255-260).