The Afrikaanse Konferensie (1968-1974) and its significance for the Seventh-Day Adventist Church in South Africa.
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In 1968 a group of Afrikaans believers protested that the Seventh-day Adventist Church in South Africa had remained foreign to their experience. They maintained that American leaders had dominated the Church. They also asserted that their cultural, linguistic and literary needs had not been adequately catered to, and that the work of evangelization in the Afrikaans speaking areas had been sadly neglected. Some headway had been made by the Church in the years prior to 1968 with translations, firstly, into Dutch and later also into Afrikaans. Advancement had also been made by evangelists into the Afrikaans-speaking areas of the Transvaal and the Orange Free-State. The history of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in this country, however, corroborates many of the grievances enumerated by the dissatisfied Afrikaans believers. The predominance of English in the administrative work of the Church and at its educational institutions had always been a thorny issue, resulting in continuous friction between the Church leaders and the Dutch and Afrikaans-speaking members. Problems had also arisen with regard to the use of Afrikaans at the publishing house of the Church. Positions of leadership in almost every department of the Church had been filled by non-South Africans. As a result, by the late 1960s, tensions in the Church had reached a boiling point. At the end of 1968, at a special business session of the Transvaal Conference, the objections of the Afrikaans believers met with very strong resistance. No opportunity was granted to them to air their frustrations and grievances and, as a result, a number of delegates left this meeting in protest before it had been officially closed. This unilateral action resulted in the establishment of an organization called Die Afrikaanse Konferensie van Sewendedag Adventiste. This new conference was, however, considered to be schismatic and was never acknowledged by the established Church. From the outset, the Afrikaanse Konferensie set out to cater to the needs of Afrikaans-speaking people in very forceful fashion. Many people felt that this new conference had a legitimate cause and its membership grew very rapidly. It initiated a welfare society, opened up several geriatric centres, its own printing press and a correspondence Bible school. It also held, throughout the ensuing years, numerous evangelistic campaigns. By the middle of 1973, however, the opposition and incessant pressure applied by the established Church and the severe problems that had emerged from within the ranks of the Afrikaanse Konferensie, swiftly contributed to its demise, with most of its members eventually rejoining the established Church. At the time of the disintegration of the Afrikaanse Konferensie, the leaders of the Church resolved to strengthen the evangelistic work directed at Afrikaans-speaking people. They also determined to have more literature produced in Afrikaans, and to strongly promote the use of Afrikaans at the publishing house and at the Church's educational institutions. These resolutions, however, proved ineffectual , and in the years that followed, the work of the Church showed no improvement in its approach to the Afrikaans speaking people. Twenty-five years have passed since the demise of the Afrikaanse Konferensie and the Church finds itself, because of both, external and internal factors, in a position that could be considered decidedly worse than at the time of the formation of the Afrikaanse Konferensie in 1968. As from 1995, after a protest march by students on the campus of Helderberg College, instruction in Afrikaans was no longer provided at a tertiary level. The production of Afrikaans books and the translation of reading material into Afrikaans is almost non-existent. As a result, voices of dissent are once again being heard that the Afrikaans work is being neglected. This predicament in the Church can neither be ignored nor circumvented and the only way for the Church is to deal with the crisis in the utmost sincerity without allowing itself to succumb to it. The source of the problem appears to lie primarily in Seventh-day Adventist ecclesiology where a gulf exists between its interpretation of unity, and its understanding of mission in a multicultural context. Authentic church unity cannot consist only of an outer dimension whereby unity and mission are cosmetically combined. It involves a deeper internal dimension, where the striving for unity becomes a witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ, while the mission of the church simultaneously embodies the obligations to cater to the cultural and linguistic needs of all of Christ's people. It is this essential synthesis that has yet to take place in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, where both these facets are to be fostered as complementary aspects of its total vocation. It is this fusion of unity and mission which will open the way for the Church to complete its mission, unhindered either by the polarizing and divisive effect of religious and cultural diversity, or by any misguided attempts to impose uniformity. In their quest for positive resolutions for the challenges facing the Church, its leaders must ask what it means to be "church" in the social context in which it finds itself, what precisely is its mission in the pluralistic, multicultural situation in which it is located and how essential is the Church to God's mission in this country? Judging from the nature of the dilemma that the Seventh-day Adventist Church in South Africa still faces today, it appears that these are questions that have not been satisfactorily answered. After assessing both the past and present modes of the Church's operation it becomes essential for the Church leaders to do some critical rethinking about certain facets of its existing ecclesiology and its missionary strategies. It is just as important to systematically abandon the organizational structures that no longer fit the purpose and mission of the Church and to realign them with new paradigms that will effectively cater to the spiritual, cultural and linguistic needs of all the peoples of this country.