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This article was originally published in Missionalia , the journal of the Southern African Missiological Society . If you would like to see some other articles from Missionalia , have a look at the list of Missionalia articles on the Web

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The Need for New Patterns <

Attie van Niekerk 1


This article examines the close relation between Christian missions and the modern lifestyle, as manifested in the missionary era of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa during the 20th century. Unlike missions, the modern lifestyle poses an ideal of the 'good life' that millions of people strive for. Unfortunately it has a harmful effect because it is ecologically unsustainable and tends to erode human relations. Given the key role of the household in Africa, it is essential that Western and African Christians develop a new, beneficial lifestyle, as a concrete gestalt of our faith, in which elements of different cultural traditions are transformed, taken up and integrated on the basis of Christian values.

In the transition from the past missionary era to a new one, the transformation of the lifestyles of Christians will play a key role. The main arguments to support this statement are: a) The missionary era of the 20th century has run out of steam in the Dutch Reformed Church; b)The modern lifestyle was an essential part of this missionary era; c) The modern lifestyle has become obsolete and even harmful; d) The household is still at the centre of the African world; e) The transformation of our lifestyle is a high priority for a new missionary era.


The 20th century missionary era in the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) reached its peak in the fifties and sixties, at a time when the Afrikaners, the cultural group in which this church existed, felt strong and optimistic. They had ideals of remaking the world in their own image, of bringing progress, of keeping opposing forces under control. It was male dominated.

The DRC mission work of that time combined Christian faith and modernism. It consisted of evangelism (preaching), church planting, mission hospitals, centres for the handicapped, a few training centres, etc. Little attention was given to problems emanating from traditional African culture, in the expectation that they would disappear with modernisation and conversion to Christianity. Western civilisation was therefore seen as the visible expression of the Christian faith.

The essential transformation from mission to church gained momentum in the seventies, when Black Consciousness and the struggle for liberation resisted the domination of white missionaries and their culture in the church. The missionary movement as a whole was unable to transfer its impetus to the new dispensation, and started to decline.

The question is now: can a new missionary movement be born out of the present sense of uncertainty and loss of direction in the DRC? And what shape should such a movement take? One thing is certain, however, and that is that the old era has passed away. The following factors are indicators of this irrevocable change in the DRC.

Quantitative indicators

The visible structures of the missionary era have passed away at an ever- increasing pace, often amidst conflict and ideological struggles:

The Sendingsekretarisse of the various synods are disappearing fast. In Transvaal there are no full-time posts left.

The beginning, the progress and the decline of the mission era can be clearly observed in the receiving churches. In the Jaarboek van die NG Kerke of 1994, for example, the founding dates of the congregations of the (black) NG Kerk in Afrika of Northern Transvaal are as follows:

· 37 were found before the year 1900

· 52 between 1900 and 1924

· 63 between 1925 and 1948

· 625 between 1949 and 1976

· 61 between 1977 and 1994

In the last phase the growth rate is actually much lower; it could even be negative, because many congregations are vacant and have, in practice, merged with others. (More research is needed on what happened to church members)

Theological training is another example. In 1908 the Stofberg Teologiese Skool was opened near Vereeniging, to train black ministers. Fifty years later, 65 ministers had completed their studies, and 400 evangelists were still working in the church (Maree 1958:4).

The School closed in 1959, and four Stofberg Schools were established afterwards, all four in so-called homelands.

At Turfloop alone, an average of 7,2 ministers completed their studies each year between 1960 and 1971; between 1972 and 1984 it came down to 3,8 per year (Malan 1985:0); in 1986 the DR Church handed the School over to the DR Church in Africa; long suppressed conflicts immediately erupted, which, together with the political turmoil at the neighbouring university, led to the complete breakdown of the academic program and the end of Stofberg (Malan 1985:0).

Since the late eighties all four Stofberg Schools have phased out one by one.

A new theological training, that has to be born from the Church itself to replace the old one that was the child of the DR Church's mission, still has to take clear form; so has the shape of the unity of the church and of a new, joint missionary movement.

1.2 Qualitative indicators

One can observe a decline in the missionary enthusiasm of the past century in diverse factors such as:

Few missiologists have fully dedicated themselves to the study of the local church's mission. Some got caught up in the international debates that take place in the USA, Europe, and all over; others became involved in Afrikaner politics or in the struggle against apartheid; others published widely in non-missiological fields; some have become post-modern and now dedicate themselves to the equality and coöperation of all religions.

The fact that some have kept their focus on the Missio Dei and the church's mission is, in the light of the above, a special reason to be grateful.

In the congregations the decline of the missionary era of the past century can be observed in a proliferation of actions, often of a somewhat undefined character, that tend to aim at miraculous events in far-away places with exotic names - with less interest in the more mundane, more complicated, less romantic work close at hand.

The good work that is also being done here, is the core of hope for the future. But these actions are of a diverse nature; each congregation does what is good in it's own eyes; there is no unifying vision.

1.3 The changing environment

The environment in which mission is taking place has created a new context that mission still has to adapt to:

· political power has changed from white to black (in spite of non-racial rhetoric);

· Western culture has lost it's position as norm, model or destiny for other cultures, and African culture is manifesting itself strongly;

· the Christian faith has lost it's dominant position in the state and in society;

· Africanisation has lost some of it's aggressive self-assurance because of the dire straits in which Africa as a whole has landed;

· the world is losing confidence and interest in Africa;

· communism and socialism have lost ground to the open-market system worldwide;

· the phenomenon of Afrikaner Power (the ethnic mobilisation of political party, church, media, businesses, police and army, artists, education and academics, civil service, etc., to work together for the Afrikaner's advantage) has all but disintegrated, leaving the church in somewhat of a vacuum;

· white and black youth lack confidence, vision and a calling that give inspiration for the future;

· the ecology is suffering terribly under both Western development and the African population explosion; the present processes are not sustainable;

· some calculate that up to 2000 South Africans contract the HIV-virus daily at the end of 1996.

1.3 Conclusion

Enough has been said to motivate a statement on which there is general agreement: that the missionary movement of the DR Church of the 20th century has run out of steam. That brings us to the second statement:

2 The modern lifestyle was a central element of DRC-mission

The DR Church's mission was shaped by the culture of it's time: churches were structured on racial lines; whites mostly had the initiative, authority, and financial responsibility; the mission promoted the modern lifestyle through education, medical care, theological curricula, architecture, clothing, names, technology. In the event many of the less beneficial aspects of modernity, such as unhealthy practices in diet, entertainment, social habits and values, were also transferred.

The modern lifestyle had a momentum of its own: sometimes it was actively promated by the missionaries, sometimes they fought it in vain (e.g. new consumption patterns of alcohol and tobacco), and sometimes it was strongly promoted by black christians themselves, such as the insistence of the black leadership on a theological curriculum equal to that of the DR Church, with Greek, Hebrew, a B-degree plus a BD, that created unbearable tensions between the poor lectures and students who, together, had to achieve this against a background of inferior education and political turmoil. Students' political protest merged with the rejection of Western academic standards and even a cry to bring the God of Africa, who is seen as the same as the God of the Bible, back into the church.

Political, cultural and religious liberation became one, but the ideal of a modern lifestyle remained a constant feature in all the confusion.

The vast majority of black christians including the radical Africanists, have pursued this lifestyle: cars, houses, clothing, hi-fi and television. Theological students at the University of the North assured me that the poorest of the poor have the same needs as the rich: they also want to drive a Mercedes if they had the money. Quite a number of black ministers have acquired the funds to buy luxurious cars and houses.

Almost all missionaries have lived in a modern household, with all the trappings of furniture, technology and style. Some have had a corner for wood-carvings, to indicate their relationship with the African world.

Most have lived relatively simply, but some have lived luxuriously, with big German cars and expensive suits.

Some have relocated to live in the black township, but without examining the values underlying the modern lifestyle.

This relation between mission and modernity has developed through centuries of trial and error.

2.1 An early warning of the dark side of Western habits

In 1658, less than a month after the arrival of the first slaves in the Cape, Jan van Riebeeck opened a school in order to do something for the slaves' intellectual and moral welfare. The school combined Western and Christian education and it included elements of Dutch culture that had a destructive effect on the slaves. On 17 April 1658 Van Riebeeck wrote that, in order to stimulate the slaves to attention while at school, and to induce them to learn the Christian prayers, they were promised each a glass of brandy and two inches of tobacco, when they finish their tasks.

In the Dutch culture the brandy and tobacco were part of their lifestyle, like tea and cake for others, but the slaves, who were not used to these forms of relaxation, it was destructive (Du Plessis, 1965: 29, 30).

2.2 The pre-modern lifestyle also disappoints

The opposite approach was to try to bring the Gospel without the trappings of Western culture. The best-known example is Van der Kemp at Bethelsdorp near Graaff-Reinet since 1801. He regarded the Hottentots as

"free men, with all the rights and privileges of free citizens, he refused to use compulsion in his dealings with them. The children might attend school or not, as they pleased; truancy was visited with no subsequent punishment. No male Hottentot was obliged to engage in any useful employment ... To the Hottentots he became as a Hottentot, in the most literal sense of the words. He adopted their dress, ate their food, lived in their huts and married a young Hottentot girl" (Du Plessis, 1965: 126, 128).

He was seemingly influenced by Rousseau who maintained

that the life of the savage is the simplest and most perfect, that civilised communities are all degenerate, wealth a crime, government nought but tyranny, and social laws unjust (Du Plessis, 1965: 128).

The general opinion was that Van der Kemp was mistaken in his uncritical identification with the Hottentots. Reports of Bethelsdorp are "unfavourable in the extreme." The trees were all cut down for firewood, and nothing was planted to replace them; the huts were in a bad state; people were sitting around naked or in ragged clothes, their bodies lean; everything was marked by negligence and filth. People looked on Bethelsdorp as "a hotbed of indolence and vice." Van der Kemp was blamed that he was only interested in the "eternal salvation" of the people, and that he did not care about their temporary welfare. He never thought of "instilling habits of industry into his disciples" (Du Plessis, 1965: 125- 127).

The next response tries to utilise both Western and African cultures to combat suffering.

2.3 A new lifestyle as a result of conversion

The church's work in general was often focused on the salvation of the soul and not on relieving the plight of people. In the middle of the 19th century David Livingstone became convinced that the "indirect result" of mission, the "wide diffusion of better principles" as a consequence of conversion, and the beneficial influence this had on the social life of people, was an even more important goal than the conversion itself. He became intensely interested, not only in the salvation of the souls of "fallen creatures" as other missionaries generally saw their task, but in their lives with Christ here on earth. He saw people as "suffering" and not only "fallen," and he wanted to utilise all Christian and Western resources, summed up in the three C's: Christianity, commerce and civilization, to overcome the "open sore" of slavery and human suffering in Africa. He also believed that the human and material resources of Africa must be fully utilised in these efforts (Bolink, 1967: 2-5).

This approach had a strong influence in mission, e.g. in the "comprehensive approach."

At the Jerusalem Conference of the IMC (1928) the "comprehensive approach" was developed in an effort to find a proper combination of the planting of the church, and projects involving schools, hospitals, rural reconstruction, industrial and agricultural activities, social relationships, and the state and its legislation (Gerdener, 1958: 209, 234).

The comprehensive approach saw all these activities of the church as dimensions of one task. The way in which they relate and interact is one of the main problems that has not been solved adequately in this approach.

The theology of development was a later stage of the comprehensive approach. It did not remain unchallenged.

2.4 The rejection of "a new lifestyle ..."

The criticism of the missionary era included the rejection of the sought- after effects of conversion.

Recently the theology of liberation has also rejected the indirect results of conversion. Bonino (1975: 12), a Latin American theologian, writes:

"When a poor peasant or a worker in the new industrial areas becomes a Protestant, he stops drinking, starts working regularly, establishes a stable family, learns to read and write, and consequently gains social and economic status ... Protestantism is thus clearly linked with the whole North Atlantic ideological, cultural, economic, and political thrust ... the religious accompaniment of free enterprise, liberal, capitalist democracy."

2.5 Conclusion

In contrast to the missionary era, the modern lifestyle has not run out of steam. It has been promoted and pursued by a wide variety of people, across the boundaries of political ideology, economic status, religious conviction, education or age.

It was not promoted by missionaries in the first place. I still remember a small shop, deep in Venda, on a quiet, hot and dusty afternoon. One advertisement offered "The most exclusive taste of London" in a cigarette. Another displayed a picture of young people in a cool, blue swimming pool, with their broad smiles, the water on their skins, and their Cokes. Under these placards young people in ragged clothes were sitting on the steps outside the shop, drinking a Coke and sharing a cigarette.

That brings us to the third statement:

3 The modern lifestyle has become obsolete and even harmful

The effects of modernisation on a macro-scale, the massive processes such as urbanisation, industrialisation, the forming of nation states, modern transport, communication, etc., merit a separate discussion. The church leaders, and church members who are involved in these processes, have to search for appropriate structures. The collapse of modern macro-systems in Africa is a massive challenge, that few of us can do anything about.

But today we focus on the role of the household, the micro-system that plays a key-role between the individual and the macro-systems. Here are opportunities for literally every person to make a meaningful contribution and so become involved in a new missionary era.

But before we can solve a problem, we must first know what the problem is.

One formulation of what the problem is, could be that the modern household plays a destructive role because:

1 it is ecologically unsustainable;

2 it has become the ideal of millions who cannot afford it; and

3 it has a disintegrating social impact.

3.1 The modern household is ecologically unsustainable

The modern household is not designed to be sustainable. It consumes and pollutes water, that must be piped and purified at a very high cost; it uses non-renewable energy, and produced a lot of waste that never gets recycled.

Various calculations have been made to quantify the consumption of the average household, and a lot of controversy is generated. But there is general consensus that we do not know the limits of the world to absorb pollution and sustain consumption. As modern development and population growth increases, so does the danger that we may surpass the limits of a sustainable lifestyle, with unforseen consequences.

3.2 The modern household poses an unreachable ideal

In 1994 we were doing fieldwork in an informal settlement on the West Rand. People told us how extremely uncomfortable their shacks were: hot in summer, cold in winter, wet in the rain, full of dust.

Prof Dieter Holm, the architect who was with me, noticed two traditional clay houses. People said these houses were cool in summer, warm in winter, dry in the rain, and cheap to build.

We tried for some time to get an answer to the obvious question: Why don't you all build such houses? Eventually people said: "Jy sien, dit sal lyk of ek nog op die plaas is." The discomfort is not too high a price to pay for the symbolism of modernity.

We have even been to a unstable and dangerous shack of iron sheets and poles, 3 storeys high, with a cellar.

The mere presence of the modern house creates far away, the shack, because it poses an ideal that people cannot afford. So they leave the old without finding the new.

The visible problem is clear enough: there are 5 million people staying in informal houses in appalling living conditions, that lead to crime and damage to the ecology. These settlements are vulnerable to fire, floods, to winter cold and summer heat.

They do not promote human dignity.

An economic analysis indicates the gap between the needs and the resources: a house of only 50 m2 (the size of a double garage) costs about R50 000; for a loan of this amount a house owner will pay a monthly instalment of R860 (at present interest rates); he or she will need an income of at least R3 000 per month.

But 75% of South African households earn less than R1 500 per month, and 40 000 of those who did qualify for loans failed to pay their instalments in June 1996.

Government plans to fill the gap between household incomes and needs is estimated at about R100 billion over the next ten years (Finansies en Tegniek, see Bibliography).

But money alone doesn't solve the problem: the government has built thousands of houses of 18 m2 (from a subsidy of R15 000 per low-income family, of which more than 50% goes for infrastructure), because of the (unaffordable) model of a suburban home: an angular house with a separate angular erf, with infrastructure and services.

Pursuing such an expensive model with inadequate resources puts unbearable pressure on the authorities, the private sector, and the families themselves.

Utility companies such as ESKOM run into unaffordable situations: up to a thousand households are electrified every day in order to modernise society, but at an enormous loss. The expensive peak demand is increased even further, and many new problems are created.

The model that is pursued is not tailor-made for the needs of the occupants. If occupants cannot afford toilet paper, for example, and use newspaper, the toilets get clogged up and the system breaks down. The structures are often not community-creating, sustainable, healthy, affordable, or satisfying.

Economists warn that the gap will continue to widen, because the population grows faster than the economy does. The government expects that 20 million more people will become urbanised by the year 2020.

The economy gets caught in an evil cycle: people are dissatisfied with the services they receive, this leads to unrest and low motivation, which leads to low economic growth and low incomes, which leads to the failure of Masakhane, which leads to poor services, which leads to dissatisfaction.

A purely economic definition of the problem leads us into a purely economic solution that cannot bridge the gap between needs and resources.

Political transformation or liberation will not necessarily put things right. The transformation of power from whites to Africans started in the early seventies, according to analysts (Terreblanche 1996:49). And in this period the household income of African and White household changed as follows (1991 Rand prices):

    Bottom 40% Next 20% Next 20% Next 20%











11 894

10 741


24 780

34 243






37 167

23 594


72 469

53 721


90 901

84 937


177 194

177 134


Source: Whiteforth & McGrath, 1995, Table 6,3, quoted by Terreblanche (1996:49).

The political transformation greatly improved the income of the top 20% of African households while the rest became poorer, the bottom 40% with up to 41,5%.

The income gap between the African households increased from 8 times in 1975 to 19 times in 1991. The so-called gravytrain and the failure of the RDP could well mean that this tendency will continue.

The conclusion is: if 80% of African households are becoming poorer, realising the ideal of a modern household for each family is disappearing more and more over the horizon for the vast majority of the population.

Pursuing this expensive, unreachable ideal has put tremendous pressures on the government, the private sector, the ecology, and the individual households themselves. In this way the modern household has become destructive, just by being there, by being so attractive.

By being visible, but out of reach, it creates unhappiness and dissatisfaction.

3.3 The disintegrating impact of the modern household

Being out of reach is not the only problem. The attractive image of the modern household is itself misleading.

In 1956 already the German sociologist E Fromm pointed out that the rich countries in Europe have a much higher rate of divorce, suicide, alcoholism and drug abuse, compared to the less developed European countries. It seems that this lifestyle leaves basic human needs unfulfilled.

To sustain this household requires hard work, usually away from home. The result is that many fathers and mothers spend most of their day away from the children. The modern household separates, it doesn't create community or togetherness.

There was a time in Western culture, says de Graaff (n.d.: 439-444) that the house was a meeting place of God and man. The house stood firmly on the earth, it was formed out of the earth. The roof and the chimney brought a relationship with the sky above, the wind, rain and sun. The interior of the house had a sacral character. The backdoor was used for daily life on earth, the frontdoor was used for those events in life that are related to heaven: baptism, marriage, funerals.

In the house, the family gathered once or twice a day to read the Bible and to pray (de Graaff n.d.:440).

In the modern home, all of this has disappeared. In the European cities of today, the communion with God, with the forces of nature, and with the fellow human being has often broken down. At a recent conference, the moderator of a large Dutch church spoke of the concrete jungle, where God is absent, where in some areas fewer than 1% of the people go to any church, where even the preacher experiences the absence of God, where he is a lonely voice who preaches and prays in a void, a spiritual desert.

De Graaff (n.d.: 442) says that modern technology has created the new world in which people live today. TV has replaced the altar in the house. TV brings people into relation, not with God and other people, but with unreal images, with a dreamworld created by technology. These images constitute the world in which people live there in their modern house or flat. The relationship to people becomes distant; the flat has no contact with either the earth or the sky.

The African household has often been described as an unbroken circle, with the emphasis on balance, harmony, unity and continuity. It is a microcosm of the African world and worldview.

The traditional African household is the centre of religious, social, economic, educational, agricultural, technological and other activities. This integrated totality has specific significance for our reflection on the church's responsibility.

One must beware of over-simplifications. The traditional household also has had its share of tensions, jealousies, hatred, sickness, famine, and so on. The existence of witchcraft is proof of unsolved underlying social conflicts. But it is true that this culture has had a certain integrated and harmonious worldview, an underlying cultural that pattern. And this pattern has felt the impact of modern culture.

Mwangi, a Kenyan writer, describes the life of two labourers who live in a shanty town in a modern African city. Life has degenerated. The two men are almost always drunk and running after harlots. Everything is terribly dirty. One night, the shanty town is burned down by the City Council's health department.

"There is something malignant about shanty towns. They go up in the smoke at dawn, spring to life again by twilight. One just cannot keep them down. The Council knows this. Char them as many times as jou like and they mushroom back just as many times. Sticks, wire, paper and iron sheets is all it takes. The shanty house is reborn, maybe a bit frail, but quite potent and once again a health hazard. People have got to eat, defecate, live" (Mwangi 1980:179).

The human relations in such a shanty town are also described in very negative terms. There is lust, but not love; the friendship of drunks does not survive for long, there is no faithfulness, no respect, no dignity. One morning the two wives and children of one of the labourers appear at the shack where the two men are staying. The man is shocked to see his family. "The expression on his anguished face declares plainly he could murder the lot." They, however, are happy to be there: they have left the country to come to the city. They have high expectations of an exciting and prosperous life. They are

"glad to pay their beloved prodigal father a surprise visit. The father tries hard not to frown.....

'Did you have to bring all the children, the whole lot?'

'They are on school holiday', the younger woman answers. 'We have not seen you for a long time. They wanted to see you'.

'I was going to come', Ocholla says unconvincingly. They should have stayed at home, worked on the fields. Who the devil is minding the fields? And the cattle?

'The cattle are all dead' the older woman speaks up.... There was the drought, then the great diarrhoea. They all died. There are no chickens any more, we ate them all up. During the drought. There is nothing left to look after."

That evening, the two men left the women and children there, climbed silently "out of the dead and rotting river valley," got drunk, and went to the harlots they used to visit before (Mwangi 1980: 183-191).

The old has integrated under the impact of the new, and the new itself has degenerated into a destructive, sad spectacle.

The question is: what is a meaningful response to such a situation? That brings us to our next statement, referring to the one, most important redeeming factor in African society (apart from the church):

4 The household is still at the centre of the African world

There is a very practical reason why the household should play a key role in a new missionary movement: it is the centre of the African world, and despite all that falls apart, the centre still holds.

In Africa there is one institution that has consistently and spontaneously succeeded in the struggle against poverty: neither the Transnational Corporations, nor the Western colonial governments, nor the post-colonial African governments; neither bigger nor smaller development projects, but the family.

In their analysis of the situation in their continent, the African ministers responsible for development state (Report, 1994, p12):

"Though the state of human and social development is critical, one cannot be blind to the role played by African religions, customs, traditions, and indigenous social structures, particularly the extended family, in protecting the social fabric, and in offering mutual support to many families and local communities" (emphasis: ASvN).

Striking proof of the ministers' statement is given by Harden (1992: 66). He also refers to the crucial role of the family in a situation where the macro- systems have failed:

"The failure of the state left a void, and the extended family filled it. The most dramatic filling of the void occurred in 1983, when neighbouring Nigeria, in a fit of xenophobia, ordered the expulsion of more than 1,3 million Ghanaian workers. The mass deportation could not have come at a worse time. Unemployment was at a record high, most crops had failed, and a worst-of-the-century drought had triggered bush fires that burned out of control across much of the country. Hunger and malnutrition were widespread. It was as if 20 million penniless immigrants had poured into the United States - within two weeks - at the height of the Great Depression. Anticipating social upheaval and fearing mass starvation, Western relief agencies drew up emergency plans to erect feeding camps. Foreign journalists descended en masse to chronicle the expected suffering. Within two weeks, however, the deportees disappeared, absorbed back into their extended families like spilled milk into a new sponge. What was potentially the greatest single disaster in Ghana's history was defused before foreign donors or government policy makers could figure out what to do about it."

It is, without doubt, the same family that acts as safety-net for that 80% of the South African community that has been sinking deeper into poverty over the past few decades.

Jobless people, fatherless children, the elderly, the physically and mentally disabled - all of these people in need are taken up and cared for by a family.

The growing number of street-children are an indication that the family is under pressure, and is beginning to fail to cope with the demand. Some people now fall through the net and appear on the streets.

The family and the household hold the key to the solution of many of Africa's problems. And the failure of the family as system is the source of many of these problems.

The pressures on the household are not only external (political and economical), but, in the first place, internal, on the level of religion and world view, the level on which church and mission are also operating.

The traditional household is an expression, a gestalt, of the traditional cosmology and religion, a microcosm where the natural and supernatural worlds, past, present and future, life and death, inside and outside, above and below, and all other opposites come together, united in the circle.

The survival of traditional society depends on the constant restoration of this primal unity, and African writers have described the re-unification of all things in this circle as the only human progress, including the human and spiritual worlds.

This groundmotive clashes with the modern ideal of progress, which is linear and upward -moving, and strives for control over the natural world.

This clash of groundmotives is right at the heart of Africa's miseries today.

The church as witness to a third, alternative groundmotive, the coming of the kingdom of God in Christ, must determine its role in this struggle that is so decisive for the future of this continent.

That brings us to our last argument.

5 The transformation of our lifestyle is a high priority for a new missionary era

There are several reasons for this argument:

5.1 The alignment between mission and modernism, in opposition to traditional African culture, must be left behind as part of a previous era, on theological and practical grounds (the church should never completely identify itself with any culture; and modernism has proved not to be the solution for Africa).

5.2 In the new era our challenge is to design a lifestyle based on Christian values, as gestalt of our Christian confession, that should take up elements of both Western, modern culture, and traditional Africa culture into a greater pattern. This ideal presents an alternative to the current ideal of modernism.

5.3 In the missionary era of the past century, many people accepted the Christian faith: figures of up to 70% of the South African population have been mentioned.

These figures have been contested. The point is: if we as Christians do not give content to our faith in a lifestyle where we have gained victory over the most serious problems of our present existence, our confessions become hollow and unconvincing, and the salt loses its saltiness.

5.4 But if we as Christians can evolve lifestyles in which we illustrate the victory over our society's problems, such a lifestyle will be a very powerful testimony, shining like a city on a mountain.

We have to find (evolve, design) living patterns that move away from the destruction of the ecology, the erosion of human relations, and the damage to physical and mental health. The restoration of our relationship to God in Christ must work through to all these areas of our lives.

5.5 The missionary era of the 20th century provided opportunities for some teachers and many medical workers. The designing of new lifestyle patterns provide opportunities for literally every Christian: we can start in our own lives, or we can join hands with others in more organised projects.

5.6 The search for new lifestyle patterns on our continent, where old and new cultures are pushing against each other in almost every house and community, must be one of the most exciting, interesting and meaningful challenges for young people anywhere in the world today. The church owes it to the youth to be exposed to the problems, the challenges, and the opportunities, so that they may enter the new century and new millennium with vision, energy, and hope, and that they may carry forward a dynamic, sensitive, well-conceived new missionary movement.

A new missionary movement is needed, that builds on the foundations of the previous one. One obvious unfinished task is to have the christian confession take shape in a new lifestyle.

If that happened, it could make a massive contribution to the stability of the country, by presenting an alternative model that would bridge the gap between the needs and resources, that would be acceptable, even desirable, affordable, ecologically sustainable and socially beneficial.

This is a challenge that the church can respond to, because there is not only a technological gap between needs and resources; there is also a human and religious gap between Western and African cultural patterns in the household. The church as new household of God must help create a new lifestyle at home.

In the missionary era the church, with its Western background, gained experience of both the African world and the African household. This experience should be made functional, also in designing a household that takes the various cultural traditions, and the various inputs of technology and the sciences, and transform and integrate them on the basis of Christian values.

It is a challenge that white and black christians from all walks of life should tackle together.


Bolink, Peter 1967: "Towards church union in Zambia" Franeker: T Wever.

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1 Dr Attie van Niekerk is attached to the Institute for Missiological and Ecumenical Research (IMER) at the University of Pretoria.

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