The Church of England in South Africa
The first Church of England service on record in South Africa was conducted by a Naval Chaplain in 1749. After the British occupation of the Cape in 1806, congregations were formed and churches were built. In 1938 the Church of England in South Africa drew up its own constitution, and appointed its first Bishop in 1955. In 2011 we are made up of approximately 150 churches and 130 ordained clergy, as well as a number of full time youth, women’s and children’s workers.
So, who are we and what are our distinctives?
1. We are a Word centred church.
As expressed in our motto ‘Your word above all things‘, the Bible occupies a central place in our denomination. The Church of England in South Africa is a ‘Biblical’ church. We read and preach from the scriptures every week in our services and Bible study groups. Scripture and Scripture alone is the standard by which all our teaching and conduct must be measured.
2. We are a Missional church
We are evangelistic and missionary in our outlook. It is our aim ‘to take the gospel to every man’s front door and to bring all people under the instruction and Lordship of Jesus Christ.’
3. We are an Evangelical church
What makes us Evangelical? We are evangelical because of the absolute supremacy we assign to Holy Scripture, the depth and prominence we assign to the doctrine of human sinfulness and corruption, the paramount importance we attach to the work and office of our Lord Jesus Christ and the salvation He has wrought for mankind. The high place which we assign to the inward work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of man and the importance we place on the outward and visible work of the Holy Spirit manifested in the life, conduct and behaviour of the believer in overcoming the world, the flesh and the devil.
4. We are a Protestant church.
Traditional Protestantism stands for the following: Scripture Alone, Justification by Faith Alone and the Universal Priesthood of all believers. It is on the third point that I want to focus when speaking of Protestantism. It implies the right and duty of the Christian not only to read the Bible in their own mother tongue, but also to take part in the government and all the public affairs of the Church.
It is opposed to the hierarchical system which puts the essence and authority of the Church in an exclusive priesthood, and makes ordained priests the necessary mediators between God and the people. The Church of England in South Africa upholds the priesthood of all believers. It believes it can only be effective in evangelism and mission if it trains and empowers its laity for gospel ministry.
5. We are a Reformed church
The Church of England in South Africa holds to the five points of doctrine which lie at the heart of the Reformation – grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone, scripture alone and to the glory of God alone.
Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury in the time of King I-lenry Vlll, was able to bring Martin Luther’s rediscovery of these great truths into the heart of the Church of England.
The Church of England in South Africa is Reformed in that it embraces and articulates these great biblical insights taught by Luther, Calvin and the other reformers.
6. We are a Creedal (Confessional) church
The Church of England is a church that uses confessions of faith to express the teaching of the Bible. The three creeds, namely the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed, and what is commonly called the Apostles‘ Creed, should be received and believed without reservation, because they may be proved from Holy Scripture.
7. We are a Covenantal church
The Church of England in South Africa can be called a covenantal church because it emphasises God’s one single covenant with his people promised to Abraham, which is a covenant not simply with individuals but with families. The Church of England therefore practises the baptism of infants of believing parents.
8. We are an Episcopal church
The Church of England in South Africa is an Episcopal church. It values Bishops as an ancient and well-tried form of ministry, agreeable to Scripture (though not actually required by Scripture). Bishops are viewed primarily as pastors and teachers. The ministry of women in the church is vital, but it does not require them to be ordained as Presbyters or Bishops. The proposal to admit women as Presbyters or Bishops would be a denial of the headship of the man as taught by the New Testament.
9. We are a liturgical church
The Church of England in South Africa is a liturgical church in that it values and uses set forms for its public services. in particular we subscribe to the theology, principles and format expressed in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. In practice that means that each service will be congregational and have a form and structure that includes confession of sin, praise and thanksgiving, the creed, prayer and the reading and preaching of God’s Word.
10.We are an Anglican church
What makes anyone an Anglican? Historically, true Anglicans are those who subscribe to the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and the 39 Articles. These have always stood as the touchstone of genuine Anglicanism. In addition to this, the Church of England in South Africa subscribes to the Jerusalem Declaration.
Denominations are certainly not the answer to the world’s ills, nor are they our last and only hope. But a denominational structure can be a valuable tool for the church in her mission. The vast majority of world missions, church planting, discipleship, and other forms of ministry are done through denominational partnerships. Our gifts, passions, and experience have great influence through a combined national and worldwide denominational network. A healthy denomination ultimately gives us strength. It’s a home and not a prison. It allows us to share specific theological convictions, share resources and practice expressions of ministry relevant to our particular context.
With J.l. Packer we believe that “Anglicanism embodies the richest, truest, wisest heritage in Christendom.”