Centralization in South Africa

By Paul K. Williams

The progress of institutionalism and centralization in the Church of Christ in South Africa is, as in America, many faceted. In 1963, when the Turffontein (Johannesburg) church precipitated the split by sending out letters of “withdrawal” labeling Gene Tope and Ray Votaw as Bowers of division, the liberals managed to make the main issue seem to be whether the church could relieve non-Christians from the treasury. They imported James Judd for a one night debate with Ray Votaw on this subject and have since .steadfastly refused to have any more debates on that or any other issue separating us.

But with the division accomplished and with the free hand which this gave them, the liberals began introducing the same centralization which their brethren in America were already infamous for. The particular form which is most popular is the preacher training school. There is one in Benoni (near Johannesburg) for whites and one in Pietermaritzburg (50 miles from Durban) far non-whites. Another one is being planned for Cape Town. They are under the direction of elderships in America, etc.

The Benoni school (Southern Africa Bible School) is governed by a board of trustees who are chosen by an advisory board made up of white preachers in Rhodesia and South Africa who are selected by “the Board of Elders of the Church of Christ with business headquarters at 10715 Garland Road, Dallas, Texas, U.S.A.” The school solicits and accepts money from churches and individuals wherever and whenever it can get it. And the whole mess is defended as nothing more than a “Sunday School.” It is no wonder these brethren won’t debate! I would hate to have to defend such a “Sunday School,” too.

The Head of The Church of Christ

Another aspect of centralization has affected faithful preachers more directly. The South African government allows whites into the Homelands (rural African areas) only when they possess permits to enter-permits issued by the Bantu Administration in Pretoria. Gene Tope and I have had permits to enter Vendaland for a long time. Mine was first issued in 1968, his before that time, and they have been renewed each year on application. But in 1972, when Ron Chaffin and Ray Votaw applied for permits, they were refused. On inquiry it finally became apparent that the applications had been referred to the “Head” of the Church of Christ in South Africa and had been turned down by him.

It turns out that John Hardin, official and teacher in the Southern Africa Bible School, director of its annual lectures, etc. was recognized as “Head” of the Church of Christ in South Africa by the Bantu Administration at some time previous to 1972. Since that time all applications for permits have required his approval before being granted by the Government. He has used his position to deny faithful preachers Government permission to preach in African areas!

Words fail me in describing my feelings about this. I cannot fathom how any Christian would ever use his influence with the Government to hinder the preaching of anyone. There is not a hint in the New Testament that Christians are in any way to hinder or persecute those with whom they differ. The weapon we wield is the sword of the Spirit, not the sword of the government! Such tactics can only have been learned from Catholicism; they did not come from Christ.

An intriguing question is: Who appointed Brother Hardin to be “Head” of the Church of Christ in South Africa? Did the churches have a convention at which he was elected? Or was he self-appointed? Or was he appointed by a small group of “interested” men? And I wonder where the scripture is for such appointment regardless of how it was done! It is obvious that he functions as head only in matters requiring Government approval, but where is the scripture for that?

In 1974 when Gene Tope was moving to Durban he attempted to get Ray Votaw a Vendaland permit by asking the Bantu Administration to let Brother Votaw replace him. But that did not work.

I got involved through a different matter. The church in Masakona, Vendaland, wants to build a church building. In 1973 the chief of the village gave them a site to build on and they made application to the Magistrate for permission to build. I helped with the application and all requirements were met. These things take time, though, and the last of April this year I received a letter from the Magistrate. He wrote: “We have been informed that the Department of Bantu Administration and Development is having two branches of the above-named church denomination on its records-or two different church denominations using the same name . . . . We would like you to inform us about the legal name of the one under which Mr. Jim Munyai preaches and who the registered head of that branch is.” So we were bumping up against the same problem.

I made a trip to Pretoria the following week where I talked with three different officials. I went into the whole problem of permits. I received a sympathetic reception and decided that the main problem must lie with the Venda Government. So I made my week-end trip to Vendaland for June a day early. On June 6th I met a white official in the Venda Government and explained the whole problem. I think I talked with the right man and he was very understanding. He suggested that I talk with the Magistrate concerning the church building, so I stayed until Monday and talked with him. He also understood and indicated that everything should now move smoothly.

I hope this problem is sorted out. Leslie Maydell of Pretoria who has just returned from Florida College is now making application for a permit to preach in Vendaland. This will be a test case to determine whether the stumbling blocks have truly been removed. We should know soon.

There seems to be no stopping place on the road to Rome, brethren. The centralized combines naturally attract power-hungry people. Only the “readiness” of the members will govern how soon these people will lead the liberal churches into a fully organized hierarchy.

Truth Magazine XIX: 44, pp. 698-699September 18, 1975


In my article, “Centralization in South Africa,” (Sept. 18, 1975) I stated that Brother John Hardin was recognized as “Head” of the Church of Christ in South Africa by the Bantu Administration. Furth inquiry has established that at least one department of the Bantu Administration (the one dealing with application to build church buildings) recognizes him as “liaison.” The official in charge understands that he is not “head” of the church of Christ. I sincerely apologize to Brother Hardin for unintentionally misrepresenting this matter.


Paul K. Williams (signed)

Correction appeared in Truth Magazine XIX: 50, p. 794
October 30, 1975