The Presbyterian family of churches, like all Christian churches, trace their roots back to the early church in Jerusalem and to Paul, but specifically to Reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin (who has been called the Father of Presbyterianism). Calvin's legacy to us is found in his teachings and the Presbyterian Church structure. His ideals of morality, ethics and democracy helped shape Western thought. From Geneva, where Calvin lived, Presbyterians spread to Scotland and Ireland (through John Knox, who studied under Calvin) and to England, the Netherlands and America. Today, there are about 50 million people who belong to 'Reformed' churches—about 20 million of these are Presbyterians.
In 1806 Britain sent the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders Regiment to the Cape as occupation forces. These Scottish soldiers were an unusually devout group of Presbyterians. Although they had no chaplain of their own, they met every week for prayer, bible study and public worship, inviting passing missionaries to preach for them.
In 1814 the Scottish regiment was withdrawn from the Cape and the Presbyterian congregation virtually came to an end. But a growing number of civilian Presbyterians re-established the congregation and built a church, the "Mother Church" of the Presbyterians in Southern Africa, St Andrew's.
At the same time the Glasgow Missionary Society began work in the Eastern Cape in 1821, the first church being built at Glen Lynden in 1828. The Presbyterian Church of Natal" began in 1850 with one congregation. The growth of the Presbyterian Church in other parts of South Africa followed in the wake of the Great Trek, the discovery of diamonds in the Northern Cape in 1870 and gold on the Witwatersrand in 1886. Presbyterian congregations were also founded in Rhodesia and Zambia.
The first General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church met in Durban in 1897 and brought together Presbyterians across South Africa.
The inclusion of churches in Rhodesia and Zambia caused the name to be changed to The Presbyterian Church of Southern Africa.
However, the majority of Free Church of Scotland mission congregations did not join the PCSA, in particular those of the Eastern Cape and other areas. Instead they united to form the Bantu Presbyterian Church (BPC) in 1923. The relationship between the two groups remained harmonious, with congregants of the BPC being cared for by PCSA congregations when they were in urban areas. As a result of apartheid making the term ’bantu’ derogatory of Africans exclusively and not just simply meaning ’people of any background, the BPC became the Reformed Presbyterian Church of South Africa (RPCSA).
After 1948, both churches were increasingly drawn into the long struggle against apartheid, the PCSA in particular having to face the fact that there were racist attitudes and discriminatory policies within the church. After the democratically elected government was inaugurated in 1994, negotiations reopened around the question of unity and finally in 1997 the uniting General Assembly established the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa to fully express God’s unity in the new South Africa.
Today, the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa has more than 430 congregations and a membership of approximately 150 000 confirmed members, of whom about 139 000 are in South Africa, 5 000 in Zimbabwe and 6 000 in Zambia.
Justification by grace through faith: With other churches of the Reformation we stress that man is saved from aimlessness and self-centredness to the life which is God’s will for him. In Biblical terms this is spoken of as eternal life, salvation, or life in God’s Kingdom. We find it, not by our own efforts, but by God’s acceptance of us. This is spoken of as justification by grace through faith. God does not judge us on our perfection. If He did, none of us would stand a chance. He accepts us not because of our worth, but because of His love shown in His Son, Jesus Christ.
The place of the Bible: The Presbyterian Church accepts the Scriptures as the supreme standard - its rule for faith and life. Some people may select parts to suit themselves and so distort its central teaching. We do believe that the Holy Spirit working in the church through years of struggle, debate and discussion, gives guidance and leads the church as it endeavours to discover and to proclaim the truth.
The priesthood of all believers: The division between priests and people as two different grades of Christians led to the Reformed assertion that Jesus Christ calls all His followers to serve Him in His church. Whatever their daily work, all of God’s people are ministers or priests. By showing other men the sort of life God has given them, they invite them to share in this new relationship with God. We speak, then of the priesthood of all believers, not just of a priestly class, No one Christian has more access to God than another.
Sovereignty of God: In a world where there is so much doubt and speculation, we affirm that God is in control, our only hope is in Him, and He has so made men that they find full meaning in life only as they acknowledge His rule. The God we worship is powerful and just, but He is also merciful and loving. Thus we strongly assert the sovereignty of God.
God’s covenant: The Bible speaks of God’s covenant. This is a solemn agreement in which God takes the initiative. In this, God makes both an offer to men and a demand upon them. He calls, or elects, those who respond to His gift of life in Jesus Christ into His family and church.
In 1995 we took a new approach to Stewardship, based on the teaching of an Anglican minister, Terry Fulham. The basis of this approach is:
Our relationship with God must come first, not money! When we get this right, our relationship to money falls into place.
If God gives vision for something He wants done in the Church, then He will also provide all the resources needed to make it happen. This means that we are to let vision drive our church, never money!
In May 1997 we invited Earl Pitts, from YWAM Canada, to teach us further on this important area of our relationship with the Lord
Individually and corporately, we are learning to trust God to give us vision and then lead us to find the resources.
(Jerry Pillay – past General Secretary, Uniting Presbyterian Church of Southern Africa)
What is Stewardship?
Stewardship is a thankful response to Almighty God for all His blessings. It is acknowledging that all we have is a gift from God and is to be used to His glory. JESUS tells us: ‘freely you have received, freely give.’ (Matthew 10:8)
Stewardship is not restricted to the giving of money as Paul outlines in Romans 12:12—’so then my brothers, because of god’s great mercy to us in appeal to you: offer yourselves to god, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him.’
GOD calls all of us to use our resources (time, talents and treasures) which we list here as human resources and financial resources.
a. Time: - How much time do we offer to God in worship and service, compared with the time we spend on personal pleasures?
Is it proportional to the importance God should have in your life?
JESUS says, ‘set your mind on god’s kingdom and his justice before everything else …’ (Matthew 6:33).
Giving our time is only sacrificial when it becomes an inconvenience, when it takes precedence over other things that we should do for ourselves, and when we do it without grumbling. How much time are you giving the Lord?
b. Talents: - ‘whatever you do, do it all for the glory of god.” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Our talents and abilities are a gift from God and like everything else we have, we should ask God how He wants us to use them. How important is God’s work in relation to all the other calls on our abilities? We must discover, develop and then live up to their full potential, all the gifts God has given us. ‘whatever gift each of you may have received, use it in service to one another, like good stewards dispensing the grace of god.’ (1 Peter 4:10)
JESUS said, ‘give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over for the measure you use, it will be measured to you.’ (Luke 6:38).
Scripture Reference: - (Deuteronomy 12:6-7)
‘... There bring your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, what you have vowed to Give, and your freewill offerings, and the first born of your herds and flocks. There in the presence of the lord your god, you and your families … shall rejoice in everything you have put your hand to, because the lord your god has blessed you.’
There has never been any doubt about God’s requirement that we give to Him a portion of our earnings; neither has there been any doubt that God is important and that we should understand why the Church is asking us to give in this fashion.