Catholicity Challenging Ethnicity

An Ecclesiological Study of Congregations and Churches in Post-apartheid South Africa

by Erik Berggren (Author)
©2016 Thesis 448 Pages


This book deals with the relationship between the catholicity of the Church and ethnicity. Churches confess their «catholicity» – which means that they declare that their members belong to one community; but at the same time, the churches are often internally divided along ethnic lines. South Africa was a divided society under apartheid, which also shaped the churches ethnically. The legacy of apartheid continues to cause division between people through inequality, injustice, skewed power relations, and marginalisation. The author presents an analytical tool that has been derived from key documents of the Faith and Order movement and the World Council of Churches concerning the catholicity of the Church. In addition, he tests the catholicity of the Church against an operative ecclesiology of South African congregations and churches twenty years after the dismantling of apartheid.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Part I
  • Chapter One: Introduction
  • 1.1 General Outline of the Thesis
  • 1.2 An Abductive Reasoning Approach
  • 1.3 ‘Catholicity’ as an analytical tool to study Congregations and Churches
  • 1.4 Limitations
  • 1.5 Material
  • 1.6 Previous Research
  • 1.7 Terminology and Definitions
  • 1.8 Differentiation of People
  • 1.9 Disposition
  • Chapter Two: Church Rejecting Division
  • 2.1 Declarations, Conferences and Consultations before Democratisation
  • ‘Message to the People of South Africa’ and the Kairos Document
  • The Rustenburg Conference and Declaration
  • The Cape Town Consultation and Statement
  • 2.2 Consultations after Democratisation
  • Vanderbijlpark Consultation and Statement
  • Johannesburg Consultation
  • 2.3 The TRC’s Faith Communities Hearing
  • Institutional Hearings
  • Roman Catholic Church
  • Church of the Province of Southern Africa (Anglican Church of Southern Africa)
  • The Methodist Church of Southern Africa
  • Apostolic Faith Mission of South Africa
  • The TRC’s Final Report
  • The TRC’s Recommendations to the Faith Communities
  • 2.4 Conclusion
  • Chapter Three: Catholicity of the Church
  • 3.1 Catholicity in Faith & Order and the WCC
  • Church as Catholic, described as the Body of Christ
  • Catholicity in Christology and Pneumatology
  • Baptism as incorporation in the Body of Christ
  • The Role of the Eucharist in Catholicity
  • Koinonia in Catholicity
  • The Church as Local and Catholic
  • Catholicity Makes the Church a Sharing Community
  • The Catholicity of the Church: An in via Perspective
  • Catholicity in Apostolicity
  • Catholicity as Inclusion and Exclusion
  • 3.2 Catholicity as an Analytical Tool for Studying Ethnicity
  • The Christian Communion Transcends the Local Congregation
  • Ethnicity Transcends Division
  • Reconciliation of Ethnic Division is part of the Church’s Ministry
  • Languages Contribute to the Church’s Diversity
  • Poverty Eradication Eliminates Ethnic Boundaries
  • 3.3 Conclusions
  • Chapter Four: Ecclesiology in Practice
  • 4.1 ‘New Ecclesiology’ and ‘Modern Ecclesiology’
  • 4.2 Ecclesiology and Ethnography
  • 4.3 Ecclesiologies Revealed
  • Practices
  • Ecclesial Practices
  • South African Churches and their Operative Ecclesiology
  • 4.4 Case Study Design
  • Researcher’s Background
  • Choice of Churches
  • Choice of Congregations
  • Choice of Churches’ Leaders and Resource Persons
  • Research Ethics
  • 4.5 Case Study Approach
  • Interviews
  • Individual Interviews
  • Group Interviews
  • Observations
  • Collected Printed Material, Websites, DVD
  • 4.6 Conclusions
  • Part II
  • Chapter Five: Congregations and Churches on South African Soil
  • 5.1 The Churches in South Africa
  • Roman Catholic Church
  • Anglican Church
  • Methodist Church
  • Lutheran Churches
  • Apostolic Faith Mission of South Africa
  • 5.2 Congregations on the Ground
  • Johannesburg – the Place of Gold
  • St Peter Claver, Pimville – Roman Catholic Church
  • St Thomas’ Anglican Church, Linden – Anglican Church of Southern Africa
  • Cape Town, the Mother City
  • Athlone Methodist Church – Methodist Church of Southern Africa
  • Lutheran Church Bellville – Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa Cape Church
  • Durban or eThekwini
  • City Harvest Ministries, Ntuzuma – Apostolic Faith Mission of South Africa
  • St Michael’s Evangelical Lutheran Church – Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa
  • 5.3 Conclusions
  • Chapter Six: Reconciliation as Part of the Church’s Ministry
  • 6.1 Congregations as Communities for Reconciliation
  • St Peter Claver in Pimville – Roman Catholic Church
  • St Thomas’ in Linden – Anglican Church of Southern Africa
  • Athlone Methodist Church – Methodist Church of Southern Africa
  • Lutheran Church in Bellville – Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa Cape Church
  • City Harvest Ministries in Ntuzuma – Apostolic Faith Mission of South Africa
  • St Michael’s Evangelical Lutheran Church – Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa
  • 6.2 Church Leaders’ views of Reconciliation
  • 6.3 Commissioners of the TRC’s views of Reconciliation
  • 6.4 Conclusions
  • Chapter Seven: Ethnicity and the Christian Communion
  • 7.1 Congregations Affected by Division
  • St Peter Claver in Pimville – Roman Catholic Church
  • St Thomas’ in Linden – Anglican Church of Southern Africa
  • Athlone Methodist Church – Methodist Church of Southern Africa
  • Lutheran Church in Bellville – Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa Cape Church
  • City Harvest Ministries in Ntuzuma – Apostolic Faith Mission of South Africa
  • St Michael’s Evangelical Lutheran Church – Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa
  • 7.2 Ethnic Diversity or Division
  • Roman Catholic Church
  • Anglican Church
  • Methodist Church
  • Apostolic Faith Mission
  • Lutheran Churches
  • 7.3 Conclusions
  • Chapter Eight: Church Services Gathering Christian Communion or Ethnic Groups
  • 8.1 Similarities and Differences
  • St Peter Claver in Pimville – Roman Catholic Church
  • St Thomas’ in Linden – Anglican Church of Southern Africa
  • Athlone Methodist Church – Methodist Church of Southern Africa
  • Lutheran Church in Bellville – Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa Cape Church
  • City Harvest Ministries in Ntuzuma – Apostolic Faith Mission of South Africa
  • St Michael’s Evangelical Lutheran Church – Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa
  • 8.2 Diversity as an Obstacle for Communities
  • Diverse Church Services
  • Liturgy and Hymns
  • The Residence of Worshipers and their Attendance at Services
  • Eucharistic Celebration
  • Diversity in Duration of Services
  • Cultural Diversity
  • Prayers and Intercessions in Church Services
  • Confessing Catholicity
  • 8.3 Conclusions
  • Chapter Nine: Tower of Babel or Day of Pentecost?
  • 9.1 Congregations’ Accommodation of Languages
  • St Peter Claver in Pimville – Roman Catholic Church
  • St Thomas’ in Linden – Anglican Church of Southern Africa
  • Athlone Methodist Church – Methodist Church of Southern Africa
  • Lutheran Church in Bellville – Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa Cape Church
  • City Harvest Ministries in Ntuzuma – Apostolic Faith Mission of South Africa
  • St Michael’s Evangelical Lutheran Church – Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa
  • 9.2 Language Change in the Churches
  • 9.3 Conclusions
  • Chapter Ten: Congregations’ Relationships with Other Congregations and Churches
  • St Peter Claver in Pimville – Roman Catholic Church
  • St Thomas’ in Linden – Anglican Church of Southern Africa
  • Athlone Methodist Church – Methodist Church of Southern Africa
  • Lutheran Church in Bellville – Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa – Cape Church
  • City Harvest Ministries in Ntuzuma – Apostolic Faith Mission of South Africa
  • St Michael’s Evangelical Lutheran Church – Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa
  • Conclusions
  • Chapter Eleven: Congregations’ and Churches’ Ministries and Work towards Poverty Eradication
  • 11.1 Local Engagement Serving Community and Society
  • St Peter Claver in Pimville – Roman Catholic Church
  • St Thomas’ in Linden – Anglican Church of Southern Africa
  • Athlone Methodist Church – Methodist Church of Southern Africa
  • Lutheran Church in Bellville – Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa Cape Church
  • City Harvest Ministries in Ntuzuma – Apostolic Faith Mission of South Africa
  • St Michael’s Evangelical Lutheran Church – Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa
  • 11.2 Difficulties in Making an Impact on Democratic Society
  • 11.3 Conclusions
  • Part III
  • Chapter Twelve: The Church in an Ethnically-diverse Society
  • 12.1 Theoretical Background, Analytical Tool, and Methodology
  • 12.2 The Churches before Democratisation
  • 12.3 The Churches’ Visions for a New Society
  • 12.4 Reconciliation as a Practice of Catholicity
  • 12.5 Ethnicity and Socio-economic Conditions Challenge Congregations and Churches
  • Church Organisations Serving Catholicity
  • Sharing as an Instrument to Change Society and the Church
  • Language as a Means to Communicate
  • 12.6 Denominational Belonging Influences a Realised Catholicity
  • 12.7 Final Comments
  • References
  • Abbreviations

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During my time as a student at the Graduate School of Ecumenical Studies in Bossey, Geneva, I realised that differences of ethnic background had a vast effect on the student community. Living and working in South Africa was another experience where ethnic background affected how people related to one another, even in the church. My research is a result of such issues, which have intrigued me for many years.

Professor Sven-Erik Brodd came for an exchange visit to the University of Cape Town, encouraged me to become a doctoral student at Uppsala. Sven-Erik Brodd and my co-supervisor, Professor Kajsa Ahlstrand, have guided and accompanied me on my journey, giving me many challenges and much freedom. They have given me insights and new perspectives, and helped me with improvements. Their broad knowledge of Ecclesiology and World Christianity has inspired me in my research. I appreciate Sven-Erik’s British kind of humour and Kajsa’s many stories from diverse parts of the world.

I am honoured that the Faculty of Theology at Uppsala appointed me as a postgraduate with research and teaching. I have also had the opportunity to attend several training courses for university teachers that have increased my didactic competence. I was also granted a generous contribution from the university from the Sederholms scholarship for travel abroad. This made it possible to carry out the case studies in South Africa during the spring semester of 2011. I also received contributions from the Nathan Söderblom Memorial Foundation, Lund’s Mission Society, and the Clergy Support Foundation.

I am grateful that the theological faculty at the University of Stellenbosch invited me to be a guest researcher during my stay in South Africa. Special thanks go to the International Office at the university, and in particular to Lidia du Plessis, who arranged the stay for the whole family. Few universities have such an excellent international office, and Lidia is brilliant.

Special thanks to church councils, congregations, church leaders, former TRC commissioners, and university academics in South Africa who gave me time for interviews, meetings, and discussions. Congregations allowed me to carry out my observations, and I receive several documents and a range of materials that were important for my research. The meetings became very important to me, and were special moments in my research. I also want to thank ELCSA, Cape Orange Diocese, and Bishop Andreas Fortuin, who originally invited me to work as a ← 15 | 16 → hospital chaplain in Kimberley 1999–2003. Without that invitation I would never have done this kind of research about South Africa.

Besides my supervisors, several people have, at different stages, examined parts of the thesis and provided valuable advice: Jan-Åke Alvarsson, Ninna Edgardh, Hans Engdahl, Sune Fahlgren, Ove Gustavsson, Anders Göranzon, Jonas Ideström, Mattias Martinson, and Herbert Moyo. The research seminar in ecclesiology has been an important and stimulating environment over the years, and I have made many new friends. The seminar has given me constructive criticism and feedback and offered many good post-seminars. I have also been invited to research seminars at the University of Western Cape and the University of KwaZulu-Natal, where I have presented papers and received valuable advice and comments.

Professor Dirk Smit from Stellenbosch came to Uppsala for a short but valuable visit to be my opponent at my final seminar. From him I received valuable and constructive advice to improve the whole thesis.

Barbro Engdahl has providing me with articles from South African libraries that were difficult for me to access from Sweden. Karin and Johannes Oljelund assisted me with materials from the Department of Government Communication and Information System in Pretoria. Viera Larsson has contributed the illustrations as part of the thesis’ visual communication. Enid Nelson has at different stages helped me to choose the right vocabulary. My dissertation has profited greatly from Mike McCoy’s corrections regarding language. He does not only speak English and Afrikaans, but also knows some isiXhosa and other languages, which has been valuable for this thesis. I appreciate his help very much.

I am grateful that the Faculty of Theology at Uppsala, the Segelbergska Foundation for Liturgical Research, and the CSM’s Foundation for Mission Research have given financial support for the printing of the thesis.

My parents, Sven and Else-Britt, took me as a child to live in North and West Africa, broadening my horizons and forming me to be open to diverse forms of life. They have always supported and believed in me. My children Gabriel and Elise have reminded me that life is so much more than books and a computer. They have waited for the thesis to be finished. It is finally a book, and I hope now to have much time for them.

My wife Helena shares my passion for Africa and its people. She has given me support and encouragement throughout the whole process of completing the thesis. There are no words to express my love for you. This thesis is dedicated to you.

Uppsala November 2015

Erik Berggren

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Part I

| 19 →

Chapter One: Introduction

South Africa is probably one of the most diverse countries in the world. Some people have even described South Africa as a continent in a country because of its enormous diversities. There are seas and deserts, mountains and fields, poverty and wealth, peace and violence, and people from many parts of the world. South Africa must have been one of the first multi-ethnic places in the world, but with a complex history that has produced a society full of contrasts. The extremes make the country very interesting but, at the same time, very challenging.

South Africa was colonised early in the European colonial period, and people were segregated according to background from the start. Its origins may be found in the first efforts of different people to live peacefully together, and in particular in the British attempts to systematise government and reconcile contrary interests.1 When the National Party came to power in 1948 and began to implement its racially discriminatory policies, it legalised what had been going on for a long time. After the election of 1948 a more explicit path to a discriminatory society appeared in South Africa, and the term ‘apartheid’ was coined. No single area of society was exempt from the influence of discriminatory policies. Even the religious life was supposed to be included, but protests from the churches meant that this was never applied to the text of the law.2 One of the central apartheid laws established certain territories and places of residence for each ‘race’ group, resulting in the compulsory relocation of certain parts of the population. The Group Areas Act of 1950 and the establishment of ‘homelands’, which earlier had been called ‘reservations’, separated the different groups in South African society almost completely.3

Apartheid in South Africa was one experiment among many others during the colonial era that were devised as an attempt to handle diversity, and to enable the colonial power to govern. The idea of creating apartheid was to handle ethnic diversity, but also to provide a basis for exploiting and oppressing the majority of the population. The whole society, including the churches, was affected by apartheid.

For a long time, South Africa’s apartheid legislation permeated the whole society, and even churches became divided on ‘racial’ lines. The struggle against apartheid also induced many churches and religious groups to unite in action against the government. Because of international pressure, and wise leadership, South ← 19 | 20 → Africa overcame violence and political uprisings and succeeded with a peaceful democratisation process, leading to the first democratic elections in 1994.4 Reconciliation became a key word, and influenced the transformation process as well as the development of the country when the new democratic government came to power. Inequalities, racism and divisions between people were supposed to be eliminated in order to unite the people of South Africa into one nation. It was also natural that diversity was accommodated to counter possible threats to national unity when the new constitution was drafted.5

Many years have passed since democratisation, but the society is still divided on the basis of peoples’ backgrounds. Congregations and churches in South Africa are no exception: they too are divided. Studies of churches and diversity could have been undertaken in Sydney, Rio de Janeiro, New York, or London with similar patterns emerging. South Africa, however, is unique in its divisions because of its very specific history of a government policy that divided people into diverse ethnic groups.

Churches around the world have often avoided dealing with ethnic diversity. Various solutions for handling ethnic diversity within the churches have been adopted, both by churches themselves and by societies; but they are seldom studied and investigated. Some churches, for example, have tried to integrate people of different backgrounds within the same worshipping community, with varying degrees of success. Others have accepted the existence of different worshipping communities. They have understood that Church unity is to be found within the church as an organisation as dioceses or districts, but with diverse ethnic communities. Some churches have a divided organisation and divided worship communities according to ethnic background, and emphasise the unity of the church as a spiritual and eschatological reality.6

Unity in the Church in the face of human diversity is a challenge. The Church claims that baptised members are one single community, the body of Christ. At the same time, ethnic diversity often divides the human community into specific groups.7 The South African churches are, from this point of view, uniquely ← 20 | 21 → placed to understand the relationship between catholicity and ethnicity because of the challenge of their history.8

In this thesis, I will investigate the relationship between the catholicity of the Church and ethnic diversity. The purpose of the thesis is twofold. Firstly, I want to develop the notion of ‘catholicity’ as an analytical tool, using key documents from the Faith & Order (F&O) movement and the World Council of Churches (WCC).9 Secondly, using that analytical tool, I want to investigate how South African congregations and churches have been dealing with ethnic diversity two decades after democratisation.

To achieve my twofold purpose, I have analysed documents and texts from the beginnings of the international ecumenical movement to develop an analytical tool concerning the Church’s catholicity. I have also conducted a case study of six congregations in South Africa and the denominations they belong to, two decades after the advent of democracy. Through interviews, observations, and printed material, I have established a body of source material that I will analyse through the lens of catholicity. When I use the term ‘analytical tool’ I mean that I have chosen specific issues from the ecumenical documents concerning the catholicity of the Church. These issues are adopted as a pattern to analyse the empirical material. ← 21 | 22 →

Before I go on to describe the theory, method, research questions, and material, I will first explain the general outline of how I have chosen to structure the thesis.

1.1 General Outline of the Thesis

The thesis is divided into three parts, and I have chosen to place background, theory, and method in specific chapters rather than in the introductory chapter. The reason for this structure is that I do not want to produce an oversized chapter right at the beginning. A fuller disposition of the thesis will come at the end of this chapter.

Part I consists of a general introduction, history, theory, method, and material. A large part of the introductory chapter will explain how I am going to use specific terms in the thesis.

Part II will present the empirical material derived from the South African congregations and churches. Every chapter in this part examines diverse themes related to ethnicity, and all are productive to examine.

Part III will present the conclusions of the thesis, and I will discuss the theory and method that I have used.

In the sections that follow, I will offer a general introduction to the theory, method, and material and to the research questions. A more detailed elaboration will be presented in Chapters Three and Four.

1.2 An Abductive Reasoning Approach

I have adopted an abductive reasoning approach, which is most common in research that is based on case and field studies. Abductive reasoning can be characterised as a combination of inductive and deductive approaches; but it is not simply a mixture of inductive and deductive reasoning. It is a kind of interaction between empirical material and theory. During the process of abductive reasoning the theory is adjusted and refined.

The abductive approach can be criticised for not having a definite view point from the start of the study, and for allowing the theory to be adapted to the empirical material.10

The inductive approach has its own weaknesses: it does not always take into account the underlying structures or situations that have to be considered. It is based on a variety of individual cases, and claims that there is a correlation in ← 22 | 23 → the observed material that is generally valid. Generalisations are easily made on the basis of observed external connections. The deductive approach also suffers from the weakness of easily presupposing what is to be explained: it starts from a general rule, and confirms what is to be explained.11

My original intention, when I started my research, was to construct a theory of Catholicity based on the documents of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), and especially the Faith Communities Hearing in East London in 1997. I would then have applied this material to the empirical material from the South African congregations and churches. I discussed my research design with several scholars in Europe and South Africa before I began my field study. Soon after I had begun to undertake the interviews, however, I realised that few interviewees indicated that the TRC had had any effect on them or their churches. Hardly any follow-up processes to the TRC were evident in the churches. There was also limited awareness of the Faith Communities Hearing and particularly of the TRC’s final recommendations to the faith communities.

The knowledge that I thus acquired led me, in accordance with abductive reasoning, to change the theoretical foundation. I decided instead to use the key documents, statements, and papers of F&O and the WCC as the foundation for developing ‘catholicity’ as an analytical tool. However, it is essential to state that F&O and the WCC have not produced an extensive document on the Church’s catholicity. I have instead analysed the key documents of F&O and the WCC from 1927 to 2011. I decided to stop in 2011 because my case study was conducted in 2011. I have analysed the documents concerning ethnicity, and have developed ‘catholicity’ as an analytical tool for studying the catholicity of the congregations and churches in South Africa. As a consequence of using this theoretical framework, I can also make statements about the congregations’ and churches’ catholicity. The analytical tool has been developed in dialogue with the empirical material, becoming refined during the process as part of the abductive approach. I will come back to this analytical tool in Chapter Three, where I will develop my theoretical framework.

I found it interesting that the ecumenical documents are very disparate. There is little continuity between the different meetings, assemblies, and studies. A subject has been discussed in one meeting, and another issue has drawn attention in the next meeting. One example is ‘catholicity’: it was highlighted during the Fourth World Conference on Faith and Order in Montreal in 1963. The issue was brought to the attention at the Fourth World Assembly of the WCC in ← 23 | 24 → Uppsala in 1968, but at the next World Assembly ‘conciliar fellowship’ was discussed instead. The Seventh World Assembly of the WCC in Canberra in 1991 dealt with the Holy Spirit, and the Fifth World Conference on Faith and Order in Santiago de Compostela in 1993 discussed the koinonia of the church. It is possible, however, to find clear statements about the Church’s catholicity in the ecumenical texts and documents, despite the fact that the organisation has dealt with disparate issues concerning the Church.

1.3 ‘Catholicity’ as an analytical tool to study Congregations and Churches

Ecumenical documents have been produced since the emergence of the modern ecumenical movement in the early twentieth century. The F&O and WCC documents contain material on the catholicity of the Church, both explicitly in the form of statements, but also implicitly in several documents.12 I have used the F&O and the WCC’s key documents as the foundation for creating an analytical tool about catholicity that is focused on ethnicity. This analytical tool has been applied to the empirical material in order to study the congregations’ and churches’ understanding of ethnicity. This means that there are three intentions. Firstly, the F&O and WCC documents make statements about the catholicity of the Church. Secondly, I am creating an analytical tool based on the ecumenical documents. Thirdly, the congregations’ and churches’ understanding of ethnicity can be revealed by using the analytical tool.13 The analytical tool will, as mentioned earlier, be described in Chapter Three.

I have established an ecclesiology focused on ethnicity in the congregations and churches, based on the case study material mainly derived from interviews, but also based on observations, documents, statements, and various printed materials. My approach is based on the assumption that ecclesiology is made visible through ecclesiastical practices and also through congregations’ and churches’ statements, documents, resolutions, creeds, etc. I will apply an operative ecclesiology to both practices and doctrines in order to establish an ecclesiology of the South African ← 24 | 25 → churches and congregations. The operative ecclesiology that I have used derives from the work of the French theologian Yves Congar, as later developed by other theologians. I argue that, according to Congar, it is possible to reveal a church’s ecclesiology by examining both the doctrines and the practices of the church being studied.14

I will use the concept of ‘realised catholicity’ in the thesis. This expression will mean that the teaching of the Church about being ‘catholic’ is related to and interlinked with actions that are carried out in the Church. When the catholicity of the Church is lived, created, and practised, the catholicity of the Church is realised. The Church’s practices cannot be isolated from the teaching about the Church as catholic. Realised catholicity appears when a church enacts catholicity through its practices.15

The Scottish philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre has described practices in society as important because they are part of a narrative history and create communal frames for groups of people.16 Several theologians have used MacIntyre’s social definition of practices, and have transferred the concept by studying ecclesial practices. Dorothy Bass and Craig Dykstra from the USA, for example, have identified church services, sacraments, hospitality, forgiveness, prayers, etc. as ecclesial practices that deal with needs in life and are cooperative human activities.17 According to this method, an ecclesiology can be revealed by examining ecclesial practices in the congregation and churches, as well as through statements, documents, resolutions, creeds, etc.

In my thesis, I will use the analytical tool to examine the selected South African congregations and churches by studying their practices through interviews, observations, and collected material. In Chapter Four I will develop the foundation for my method of studying an operative ecclesiology. ← 25 | 26 →

Through the description of my ecclesiological approach, my research questions have emerged. It will be productive to investigate how the South African congregations and churches have been dealing with issues concerning ethnicity two decades after democratisation, and what determines ethnic integration. It is interesting, furthermore, to examine whether there are differences between the congregations’ and churches’ practices concerning ethnicity, tested against the notion of the Church’s catholicity as found in the ecumenical documents. Congregations and churches belong to different denominations, and it is useful to analyse different possibilities of a realised catholicity. The concept ‘realised catholicity’ will be developed later. My task of exploring the South African congregations and churches will be developed in Chapter Four.

1.4 Limitations

I have studied the five largest historical mainline churches in South Africa by membership – that is, those that had more than one million members according to the latest national census reflecting religious affiliation. These are the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Lutheran, and Pentecostal/Charismatic churches. The Apostolic Faith Mission (AFM) was selected to represent the Pentecostal/Charismatic churches because it is the largest and oldest Pentecostal church in South Africa.

All of these churches are present in South Africa, but some also have congregations, dioceses or districts in other southern African countries. This study will consider the churches’ activity within the borders of South Africa. I decided from the beginning not to include the Reformed churches in the study, even though they are the largest church family by membership among the mainline churches. The Reformed churches mainly supported the previous government’s policy, and many scholars have already carried out much research on these churches.18

I am aware that not the whole Dutch Reformed Church supported apartheid, and that several theologians opposed apartheid. Some of them even used the Church’s catholicity as an ecclesiological foundation against divisions in the Christian communion.19 ← 26 | 27 →

I have to admit that it would have been interesting to include the Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk (NGK), but then I would also have needed to include the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa (URCSA). I suggest that these churches need to be studied separately.

The case studies were located in the three largest municipalities in South Africa. The selection of congregations in urban areas was made in order to obtain a large range of the ethnic diversity found in South African society – a range that is not attainable in rural areas. It was also important that the selected congregations did not include a cathedral or a similarly important church building, for at least two reasons. The first is that such congregations have always included people of diverse backgrounds. The second is that these congregations mostly represent a diocese, district, or region; and not all the denominations have such buildings and congregations in the cities. Further limitations will be presented in Chapter Four when the research design will be described, and I will explain my choice and selection of congregations, church leaders, and material.

The ecclesiology that has developed in Sub-Saharan Africa during the twentieth century emphasises, for example, the Church as ‘the family of God’ or as an ‘ancestral koinonia’. I will not, however, use African ecclesiology, even though it makes many significant contributions to the understanding of the Church. I have chosen an international ecumenical approach that includes a perspective that could be applied in any context, not just in Africa. The ecumenical documents have been developed in an environment with people from different backgrounds. The international ecumenical approach, furthermore, creates a helpful distance between the language of analysis and the empirical material. Using African ecclesiology would involve a different kind of research task.20 ← 27 | 28 →

1.5 Material

As described earlier, I aim to develop a concept of catholicity derived from documents on the Church’s catholicity from the World Conferences on F&O from 1927 onwards, and from the World Assemblies of the WCC from 1948 onwards, together with F&O and WCC Central Committee documents regarding ethnicity, until 2011. I will refer to these documents in Chapter Three.

To establish the nature of a particular ecclesiology, I will primarily use interviews, supplemented by observations, statements, texts, and information documents from the congregations and churches. The congregations were selected according to a combination of convenience sampling and snowball sampling in the three largest municipalities in South Africa. The church leaders who were interviewed were the respective churches’ general secretaries or equivalent persons. The interviews with the congregations’ leadership were conducted with the local decision-making body, to which for convenience I have given the generic name ‘church council’. A description of the case study design will be given in Chapter Four.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2016 (April)
Democratisation Faith and Order World Council of Churches Operative Ecclesiology
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2016. 448 pp., 2 coloured fig., 1 b/w fig.

Biographical notes

Erik Berggren (Author)

Erik Berggren is a priest and works at the international department at Church House in Uppsala, the headquarters of the Church of Sweden. He studied Theology and Political Science at Uppsala University. He has also completed the Graduate School of Ecumenical Studies in Bossey, WCC/University of Geneva.


Title: Catholicity Challenging Ethnicity
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450 pages