Ecclesiology and ethics: An analysis of the history of the All Africa Conference of Churches (1963 - 2013)
Sakupapa, Teddy Chalwe
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This study entails an historical investigation of how the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC) has addressed the ecumenical tension between ecclesiology and ethics in its history between 1963 and 2013. The study is arguably the first comprehensive analysis of the history of the AACC focussing on ecclesiology and ethics and will therefore make an original contribution to ecumenical theology in Africa in this regard. The study argues that the tension between what the church is (read: ecclesiology) and what it does (read: ethics) has undeniably been present in the ecumenical movement in Africa. The study is situated within two concentric contexts. Firstly, it is located within the context of the WCC study project on ecclesiology and ethics that was conducted during the period 1992 to 1996 and will contribute to wider discourse in this regard. The WCC project was an attempt to bridge a deep divide in the ecumenical movement between those who emphasise that the way to unity is through doctrinal agreement and those who believe that “doctrine divides” while a common moral cause (service) may unite. Secondly, this study is aimed at discerning how the AACC has addressed the relationship between the theological quest for unity (read: ecclesiology) and the social responsibility of the church (read: ethics). The study examines how the AACC assisted its member churches to respond to contemporary challenges in three distinct periods in recent African history, namely the periods of decolonisation (1963-1974), development (1975-1992) and neo-liberal globalisation (1993-2013). The hypothesis of this study is that these periods correlate with the AACC’s ways of negotiating the tension between ecclesiology and ethics. The study argues that although the AACC has privileged the social agenda of the church in society (read: ethics), the ecumenical quest for ecclesial unity (read: ecclesiology) has not been completely absent. While the study acknowledges that the tension between ecclesiology and ethics is not easily resolved, it affirms that these two ecumenical concerns are inseparable. The study therefore suggests an appropriation of the African notion of ubuntu as a horizon for ecclesiology and ethics. The intuition behind the proposal is that ubuntu resonates with biblical notions of koinonia and diakonia and is thus an apt notion for an articulation of the interconnectedness between ecclesiology and ethics. The study is divided into two parts, comprising eight chapters. The first part covers four chapters in which I offer an historical background to the modern ecumenical movement, an analysis of the ecclesiology and ethics debate in the wider ecumenical context and a brief institutional history of the AACC. The second part of the study comprises three chapters. Therein, I present a critical analysis of the AACC’s handling of the tension between ecclesiology and ethics in the period 1963-2013. Each chapter describes and analyses the various ways in which the AACC addressed the tension between the theological quest for the visible unity of the church on the one hand (read: ecclesiology) and the social responsibility of the church (read: ethics) on the other in specific socio-historical contexts. The hypothesis of the study is confirmed on the basis of such analysis. This study contributes to discourse in African theology on authenticity (read: ecclesiology) as expressed in theologies of inculturation and indigenisation and on social relevance (read: ethics) as expressed in theologies of liberation and reconstruction. It further contributes to academic reflection on the history of the ecumenical movement in Africa and the quest for an appropriate ecumenical vision on the African continent amidst the tensions between mainline churches, independent churches (AICs) and a variety of Pentecostal churches and the many social challenges that churches have to address.
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