Scielo RSS <![CDATA[Studia Historiae Ecclesiasticae]]> vol. 34 num. 1 lang. pt <![CDATA[SciELO Logo]]> <![CDATA[<b>To stand where God stands: Reflections on the Confession of Belhar after 25 years</b>]]> The Confession of Belhar was first adopted by the synod of the Dutch Reformed Mission Church in 1982, and then formally accepted as a fourth confession in 1986. Since then it has become the bedrock of theological reference and reflection as well as a salient point of theological identity within the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa. It has not escaped controversy, and today has become quite the most visible point of conflagration in the tortuous process of reunification of the Dutch Reformed Church family. Over the past twenty-five years,, the Confession of Belhar has been accepted as the formal confession of a number of churches within the Reformed family world wide, is seriously being studied as an important theological contribution to the thinking of the ecumenical church and significantly informs such documents as the Accra Confession, adopted by the World Alliance of Reformed Churches' General Council in Accra, Ghana, 2004. This article, first presented in a lecture series, offers historical and theological reflections on the confession. It endeavours to show the relevance of the confession in the different contexts into which it came into being and how those contexts are challenged by the confession. It looks at the theological understanding upon which the confession rests, and argues that it remains of great relevance to and theological importance for the churches in South Africa as well as world wide, and is an absolute necessity for the theological integrity of the church unification process. <![CDATA[<b>Freedom to understand and serve: The contribution of Spinoza to biblical research</b>]]> This article discusses the contribution of Spinoza to the interpretation of the Bible. After an introduction setting his research on the Bible within his time and context, it investigates several facets of his hermeneutics. The article then focuses on his methodology, the application of reason, his historical approach to the Bible and the way in which he understands both the human and divine nature of the Bible. A brief conclusion points out Spinoza's interpretation of the Bible as an attempt to promote freedom of thought. <![CDATA[<b>The quest for religious freedom in Kenya (1887 - 1963)</b>]]> The freedom to choose one's religion is one of the basic freedoms that every person needs to enjoy. It is also one of the fundamental rights that the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed on10 December 1948. In Africa, since religion and culture are hard to separate, a denial of religious freedom is tantamount to denying all other rights that the UN declared. This includes: the right to life; the right to liberty and security; the right to education; equality before the law; freedom of movement and religion; freedom of association; and freedom to marry and have a family, among others (Gitari 1996:18). The article attempts to survey the nature of missionary and colonial suppression of African religious discourses of the Kikuyu of Kenya during the colonial period (1887-1963). In other words, how were the Kikuyu religious discourses undermined by the missionary activity that ran concurrently with the expansion of European hegemony in Kikuyuland, and how did it supplement the colonial policy? How did the Africans attempt to reclaim their religious freedom? To achieve its stated goal, the article not only cites some cases where suppressions of Kikuyu traditionalism and religion by both the missionaries and the British administrators are evident, but it also attempts to show the African reaction to this course of events. On a positive note, it also cites some cases of the philanthropic ministry of the European missionaries, especially how they responded to a series of natural disasters that had hit the Kikuyu Nation. By and large, the article rests on the premise that, even though no culture is perfect, Gospel supersedes culture. Genuine propagation of Christianity will not need to discard the culture of the people being evangelised because not only is this suppressive but, more importantly, it poses the danger of Christianity appearing as "a religion that operates in a vacuum". <![CDATA[<b>Religious freedom and the Age of Enlightenment: The case of the French Revolution</b>]]> This article explores whether the Age of Enlightenment, in general, and the French Revolution of 1789, in particular, promoted or restricted religious freedom. The International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 defines religious freedom as the "inalienable right of individuals and groups to choose or change beliefs as their consciences dictate and be free from intimidation, restrictions and biases based on those beliefs". In other words, people must have an opportunity to exercise their religious beliefs in an atmosphere that is free of intimidation and interference. During eighteenth century, the Age of the Enlightenment ushered in a profound scientific and cultural transformation. This transformation altered the conditions under which religion was practised. In theology, pietism served to promote new scientific discoveries and theories. In addition, a secular culture developed; nothing was regarded as sacrosanct and secularists sought to prevent believers from worshipping God according to the dictates of their own consciences. A consequence of the French Revolution was that some of the spirit of the Enlightenment became reality-interference in religious affairs. This article will argue that by joining the Third Estate to form the National Constituent Assembly, the clergy negated one of the fundamental pillars of religious freedom: the separation of church and state. The Constituent Assembly forbade the taking of religious vows, regular religious life was restricted to houses, the state was involved to interfere with the selection of priests, and believers were harassed and imprisoned. In the words of Comby (1989:111), the French Revolution signified a "war with Christianity". In 1791, Pope Pius VI condemned the principles of the French Revolution and interference in ecclesiastical affairs by the state. It should be noted that the key role of the state is to respect and protect religious choice, not to mandate religious conformity. <![CDATA[<b>The state of exception and religious freedom: Revisiting the church-state confrontation correspondence and statements of 1988</b>]]> This article revisits the documentation related to the church-state confrontation of 1988 with the aim of showing how it reflects different views on the prophetic role of the church in society, as well as different presuppositions regarding freedom of faith and worship. After a discussion of the polemical 1988 correspondence between church leaders and the State President, the second part of the article attends to the thought of the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben, and more specifically to his provocative discussion of the notions of "homo sacer" and "state of exception". The last part of the article brings aspects of Agamben's thought into conversation with the church-state correspondence of 1988 in order to argue for an understanding of freedom of religion that encompasses the freedom of the church to speak prophetically against any attempt by the state to normalise a state of exception that threatens vulnerable life.