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Social holiness as agency? : reactivating the mission imperative ; "human empowerment and economic development", in the Methodist Church of Southern Africa [MCSA]

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This research paper explores the ways by which the practice of social holiness can be reactivated in the lives of the members of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa in order to enhance the church’s mission pillar on human empowerment and economic development in the face of the existential reality of poverty in South Africa. The MCSA is one of the largest mainline churches and it is renowned for its historical role in social transformation through the actions of members as they spread scriptural holiness. These actions are the heritage that can be traced from the Methodist movement in the 18th century England to South Africa, especially in advocacy for human rights during the apartheid era. The central problem of this research is that the “cutting edge” of Methodism in South Africa seems to be losing its sharpness in spite of its well-articulated vision, mission statement and strategies which are aimed at bringing healing and transformation. These initiatives seem to be failing to yield significant results to offset the presently escalating levels of poverty and other social ills in society in the Republic of South Africa. This research paper traces the concept of social holiness to the Wesleyan doctrine of Christian perfection, which is central to the lives of the Methodist people. This doctrine is unpacked to show that this perfection is not an inward, purist holiness journey, but rather the spiritual formation of a character and then the community whose sole purpose is to seek to love God and his/her neighbour. This holiness is relational to the character of a disciple, whose life manifests the inner holiness outwardly in the works of mercy extending the love of God to the neighbour. The goal being a life lived in faith, to be a channel of God’s love as means of grace to the world thereby ushering in the values of the kingdom of God. This paper makes inferences to the framework of “Social Theology” which was suggested by Steve de Gruchy in Haddad (2012: 124-128). This is a multi-dimensional approach influenced by many disciplines, especially development and liberation. The suggested approach borrowed from this framework is the See - Judge – Act method. First, based on available literature, a social analysis of the existing situation of poverty in South Africa is conducted. Second, the paper judges how the members of the MCSA are practising social holiness as a virtue of moral character using the theory of virtue ethics. According to MacIntyre (1995) the goodness of any virtue lies in its practice for the attainment of internal goods which are standards of excellence which contributes to community building. Third, the suggested actions for the reactivation of social holiness and the enhancement of development and empowerment are developed through the sustainable-livelihood approach which recognises the role of human agency for development, according to Steve deGruchy (2003). The conclusions of this study indicate that many people in South Africa, including the members of the MCSA, are trapped in the vicious circle of poverty and they are living in contexts of vulnerability and powerlessness. There is a decline in the practice of social holiness in the lives of the members of the MCSA which is mainly traced to the growth in numbers and structures at the expense of disciple-formation. The research concludes with a suggestion for the revival of the disciple-nurturing processes which will serve as empowerment of the individual agency to facilitate people-centred development initiatives. These will contribute to the enhancement of the mission pillar on development and human empowerment.


Master of Theology. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg 2016.


Theses - Biblical & Historical Studies, Theological Studies & Ethics.