Exploring Communion as a Means of Reconciliation

Apartheid is a form of racial segregation that affected South Africa for decades. Most effective during the period of 1948 and 1982, the Nationalist party’s aim was to divide the country into separate states based on race. Undeniably, these actions led to many fiscal and economic disparities in the black parts of the country. Places of the country that white South Africans would have never considered taking over were seized and blacks were forced into poor townships that possessed little to no resources. The educational system for nonwhites during this time period was greatly inferior to that of the white students, and essentially prepared black and colored students to do nothing more than serve their white oppressors. Miscongenation was something that was strongly discouraged so as to achieve national purity and make apartheid most effective. Such efforts toward a complete and total apartheid, however, were never completely realized. Much of the lesser governing rules of social apartheid were abolished in the 1980s.

The core of the corrupt system, however, was political apartheid. Although South Africa’s approach to governing was democratic, democratic rights such as free franchise rights were only awarded to white citizens. By denying blacks, coloreds, and Indians the right to vote, such persons were not able to elect to overturn apartheid neither could such persons obtain a political office that would threaten apartheid’s ideology. This action was what allowed apartheid to persist as long as it did, and also encouraged the voice of liberation to occur outside of the ordained political arena.

However, this evil form of oppression and exploitation does not find its roots in the South African secular society, but in the Christian Church. At the Synod of the Dutch Reformed Church in 1857, leaders debated over whether or not white settlers had to partake in communion with the indigenous black people. The Synod decided that it was scriptural for the African people, referred to as Heathen, to be absorbed into the white congregations whenever possible. Yet, it was preferable for them to practice their faith in a separate building.

Resulting from this decision, the Dutch Reformed Mission Church for Colored People formed in 1881. Soon thereafter, the Dutch Reformed Church in Africa was established for black people, and the Reformed Church in Africa for Indian people. This theology of apartheid naturally began to create a racial caste system that greatly benefitted white people, at the expense of those who were Colored, Indian and Black. For decades, these non-whites were oppressed, impoverished, exploited, beaten, killed and completely wasted away, while whites increased in power and wealth, and failed to see a connection between their faith and their actions.

Unfortunately South Africa’s history is not unique. In America, the Church has also participated in a similar separationalist theology, forbidding those who do not represent the majority culture to come. Motivated by ethnocentrism and perhaps even fear, the Church or at least those who represent the Church has pushed away the poor, people of color, GLBT persons, immigrants, and Muslims. In some cases, communities who are excluded have formed their own congregations and faith communities. However, in many more instances, these communities and persons remain lost and unconnected.

In studying the model of communion as established by Christ and practiced in the early church, it appears evident that this was never God’s intent. In fact, it seems like the purpose of communion is to draw a united group of believers to Himself to corporately share in the sacrifice of Jesus for their sins. In this sharing, all who trust in Jesus for salvation are invited to participate as in Him “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female, for…all are one in Christ” (Galatians 3.28, NASB). And this is important, because if there exists no division of believers in Christ, those divisions have no place in the Church or in society at large. However, it is because the Church allows and even at times perpetuates these divisions and injustices, that it is missing entire classes of people coming to the table of the Lord for not only fellowship, but for the salvation of their souls.

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