THE HISTORY OF THE EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH IN SOUTHERN AFRICA
General Information about ELCSA:
ELCSA was born on the 18 th of December 1975 at Tlhabane, Rustenburg during the constituting Assembly which took place on the 15 th to the 20 th December 1975.
To mark the formation of our Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa (ELCSA) an uncalled for mysterious event took place. It happened during the time Dr Mau was bringing the greetings from the office of the Lutheran World Federation. Some teargas bombs were thrown through a window. Seventeen delegates were hurt and taken to hospital.
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND AND DEVELOPMENT – ELCSA
South Africa is more than any other country burdened with multiplicity of churches. We as Lutherans have added to this burden by the divisions that perpetuate within our family. Missionary Agencies from overseas who came to South Africa to spread the good news came from different Church and national backgrounds and unfortunately introduced those backgrounds and traditions among the racial groups with whom they came into contact. The Norwegians, Americans and Swedes came into Natal and worked among the Zulus. The German, the Hermannsburg and Berlin Mission also came. The Hermannsburg worked amongst the Zulus in Natal and Tswanas in the Transvaal. The Berlin Mission is the only Mission that worked in all the four provinces of the Republic of South Africa.
They worked in the Orange Free State and the Cape. The Cape/Orange Diocese is one of their products. In the Transvaal they established congregations which are today the congregations of the Northern Diocese. They worked among the Pedi speaking and Venda speaking. In Natal, they brought the good news to the Nguni speaking groups Zulu – Xhosa, Swati. For a long period of time these Missions or Synods continued working independently and separately from one another. The time came when these synods formed regional Churches. The formation of the regional Churches was the beginning of the new day for our Lutheran Groups.
On top of the regional Churches, a Council known as CCLF – Council of Churches on Lutheran Foundation was formed. This was later transformed into FELCSA – The Federation of Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Southern Africa. All Lutheran Churches both white and black joined the Federation except the Hannoverian Free Church today known as the "Lutheran Church in Southern Africa." There were thirteen Churches at the formation of FELCSA, one in Rhodesia, three in South West Africa, two Moravian Churches (East and West) and Seven Lutheran Churches in the Republic of South Africa.
The number of Churches in the Federation have favourably reduced through the Merger Activities. Four Regional Churches merged to form our own ELCSA. Some German Churches have united to form what is called "the United Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa although each retains its autonomy. On the reef we founded next we called "the Lutheran Co-
At the first meeting of the Unity Committee which met in 1968 the following members were present.
ELCSA – Tswana Region; the Rt Rev D.P. Rapoo, the Very Rev B. Rutkies, Mr J.A. Mauoane later replaced by Dean Dehnke
ELCSA – South Eastern Region; The Rt Rev H. Fosseus – Later replaced by Bishop Mhlungu. The Very Rev L.E. Dlamini, Mr S. Baloyi later replaced by J. Nyathikazi.
ELCSA – Transvaal Region; The Rt Rev P.G. Pakendorf. The Very Rev P. Sandner. The Very Rev N. Seloane.
Dean H. Bahr for Cape/Orange.
Bishop P.W. Schaberg for Moravian (West.)
Praeses J. Wernecke for EULCSA. At the second meeting of the Unity Committee January 22, 1969, delegates from South Eastern Region, Transvaal Region, and Tswana Region constituted themselves as Merger Committee.
Bishop P.G. Pakendorf was elected Chairman and Mr S. Baloyi Secretary. The FELCSA Secretary was invited to attend meetings of the Committee with the Special request to report about the proceedings to other FELCSA member Churches. He was furthermore requested to act as recording Secretary at this meeting.
The Cape/Orange Church continued to attend as observers until their Church took a decision to attend as representative of the Cape/Orange Church. It was reported at these merger conversations that the different Church Councils had in principle agreed to enter into these conversations so that those who took part in the conversation were accredited representatives. The Merger was discussed at pastors’ conventions, synods etc.
It was proposed that there should be four Dioceses;
One in the South Eastern Region with mainly Zulu language.
One in the West mainly Tswana as a language.
One in the North with mainly Northern Sotho and Venda as languages.
One in the industrial areas of the Reef and Pretoria with many languages.
This proposal was taken before our Cape Orange Church had made her mind to join. It was at the meeting of November 30 th 1973 when the members of the Cape/Orange Church attended as full delegates after the synod of this Church had taken a decision to this effect in 1972.
The Joint Church Council Meeting
This meeting was held from the 23 rd to 25 th April 1974 at Tlhabane. The meeting played a very important role in the formation of ELCSA. All our four Regional Churches were represented by all their Church Council members. The most important business item on the Agenda was discussion of the Draft Constitution. The members of the Church Councils worked through it paragraph by paragraph and the end the draft was accepted unanimously. When the draft constitution had been amended and accepted, it was then agreed on the date of the Constituting Assembly. The date agreed on was December 1975.
After the meeting of the joint Church Council, the work of the Merger Committee become so easy, meaningful and purposeful. The Merger Committee was given more power and confidence to implement the decision of the joint Church Councils and to deal with items left over from the agenda. A clear mandate was given to the Merger Committee to go ahead with all necessary preparations for the Constituting Assembly. The formation of ELCSA was not as difficult as the formation of our South Eastern Regional Church in Natal. With ELCSA formation it seemed there was readiness and longing for a oneness, for the formation of one Lutheran Church. It seemed everybody was saying – let us go ahead and established ourselves before we can try to solve problems. The desire was to unite and solve the problems later and that is what ELCSA is trying to do at the moment. (e.g. financial problem.)
We do not only regard our Merger as a historic event but as a very joyful experience and event which took place on the 18 th December 1975. The presence and existence of ELCSA does not mean that our task is finished. We are still divided into white and black churches. We are looking forward to a day when all the Lutheran Churches in South Africa will be constituted into one Lutheran Church and be geographically grouped not according to colour and race. As a member of ELCSA the largest of all the Lutheran in FELCSA I feel we should take a lead in convincing our white brethren and sisters that it is possible for people of different racial and traditional backgrounds to be together in one Church organization – one Church structure.
It was at the Constituting Assembly where it was resolved to establish a fifth Diocese and the Church Council was instructed to act as soon as possible to implement the decision taken. The establishment of the Central Diocese was the answer to the instruction of the Assembly. The General Assembly further resolved to re-
ELCSA Cape/Orange Diocese formerly known as ELCSA Cape Orange Region.
ELCSA – South Eastern Diocese formerly known as ELCSA South Eastern Region.
ELCSA Northern Diocese formerly known as ELCSA Transvaal Region.
ELCSA Western Diocese formerly known as ELCSA – Tswana Region.
Our Church is divided into congregations, parishes, circuits, dioceses and church, with General Assembly as its highest body. We are grateful to all those missionary agencies and organizations here and abroad who have given both their moral and financial support to the continuation of the work of ELCSA.
Above all we are thankful and give praise to our gracious God who brought us together and built us a church – ELCSA.