The following blog is from an article published 31st March 1973, and written by Rev Edwin Steel.

It was shared by his son Ron Steel at our most recent Kgotla discussion, where the subject of finding unity across denominational and orthodoxy divides, was discussed.

The questions and points raised remain as pertinent as the were 43 years ago. We would value your contribution to this discussion. Especially important would be practical ways in which you have experienced a closer coming together, in order to witness to the One Holy Apostolic Church.


One holy Apostolic Church

by the Rev Edwin Steel. Published in Religion for Living 31/3/1973

DURING this Lenten period a group of people, mostly laity, from different branches of the Christian Church in our city, is meeting each week to discuss and pray about church union. There is no doubt that the very meeting together is, in itself, proving of value and blessing.

It may still not be generally known that there is now to hand the first draft of “A Plan for the Union” issued by the Church Unity Commission of South Africa on which are represented the Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregational churches. By the end of this year it is hoped that all these churches, in their governing courts, will have agreed to a “Declaration of Intention” to seek union with each other.

A great Archbishop of Canterbury once remarked: “I believe in the Holy Catholic Church-and sincerely regret it does not exist.” By Catholic in that context, he meant of course, universal, unified, one.

That such a united church does not in fact exist is plan for all to see. A growing number of both church leaders and people feel unhappy about this and would admit with shame that the Church’s divisions are more than a scandal, they are a sin.

Not that the church is so divided as the man in the street would sometimes like to think. We have much more in common than he imagines, and during the past 50 years or so the Church has increasingly spoken with some united voice and acted in a united way.

It must not be forgotten either, that there is a basic unity of Christendom however much we church people fall short of our calling, and however poorly we understand the denominational differences that divide us.

We have a common Faith, a common baptism, a common able, a common Lord, Jesus Christ, the great Head of the Church.

Opponents of church union, and unfortunately they are mainly within the Church, have said that the whole movement is not a sign of life bot of death; that it is based on the false assumption that several weal bodies brought together will make one strong. It is merely a suggested “marriage of convenience”.

Even, they say, that the world is fast going international and so the Church is trying to get on the bandwagon as soon as possible. It is all a move of desperation, or weakness, or expediency.

To which, I think, there is only one answer. If the search for church union is only so motivated it might as well be dropped now, for it will never succeed.

Its advocates and ardent supporters would say, and there they take their stand, that the fundamental and only worthy motive for church union is in the very meaning and purpose of the Cross of Jesus Christ, at the centre of the Gospel.

Jesus Christ died to gather together the scattered children of God, to bring them into the fold of God, into the family of the redeemed God; the one Household of Faith.

Such, they believe, must be the starting point and the finish. At the centrality of the Cross where men are reconciled to God and through Him to each other. Where they are brought into a unity of repentance and consecration sacrifice, suffering and service of which, it were only real and deep enough, the world could not help, but take notice.

It can never be just a case of smashing a lot of denominational eggs and having one big, juicy omelette. Not, of necessity, reaching some uniformity. It is a case of going forward with the best of the past to Church of Christ of the future, in which Christian people gather together to worship and pray to be fed at the Holy Table to hear and receive the Word of God, and are in the world as God’s servants, His body united through which he is able more perfectly to work.

IN a divided society it is all the more imperative that the Church of Jesus Christ not only preaches the message of reconciliation but demonstrates it in its own life. A divided Church will always mean a divide witness.

My own belief is that more and more, Christians, guided by the Holy Spirit, will no longer think only in terms of MY church, of MY denomination, MY traditions, and come to realise that the closer they get to Jesus Christ, their common Lord and Master, the closer will they get to each other, and then be able to cross those man-made denominational boundaries and to move towards the reality of one Holy Apostolic Church.