A history of the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) as a federative denomination (1924-2015)
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This study is about the history of the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) as a federative denomination in South-Central Africa. This denomination comprises five synods that are more or less independent of each other and function in a kind of federation known as the General Assembly. The research issue was identified by observing that following the Presbyterian system of church government, one would expect that the church's courts would continue to become stronger and more powerful from the session to the General Assembly. However, what one actually sees on the ground is that real administrative and ecclesiastical power ends with the synods, so much so that the General Assembly appears to be a kind of umbrella organisation of no real significance. This is so despite the transformation of the constitution of the General Assembly in 2002, which aimed at giving more power to the General Assembly over and above the synods. This means that despite the CCAP clergy's intention to give more power to the General Assembly, the autonomy of the synods makes them more powerful than the General Assembly itself. The aim of this research was to investigate the history and nature of the CCAP as a federative denomination. The study makes a conscious departure from most research activities on the CCAP which confine themselves to the histories of individual synods and or issues related to them without trying to engage with a composite history of the synods together with their General Assembly. This study therefore makes an original contribution to knowledge in the area of Church History and Polity by engaging with an integrated history of the synods and General Assembly of one of the mainline Protestant churches in South-Central Africa, thereby enriching our knowledge of Church History in this region. The research was done through gathering of material from archival sources and contemporary documents and conducting informal and formal in-depth interviews with key informants. The material gathered from these activities was analysed systematically following the procedures of qualitative research. The study shows that the CCAP Synods share their theological and historical roots all the way to the Reformation through the life and ministry of John Calvin in Geneva. The study also shows that the CCAP is a child of revivals as the missions that gave birth to the denomination were actually influenced by the spirit of revivals. It has been shown that during the formation of the CCAP there was much cooperation among the missionaries, indicating that the synods have always been one in cooperation and not in competition with one another, at least in their early history. However, things began to change with the actual process of the formation of the CCAP as the different attitudes of missionary personnel from the three original missions began to manifest. The result of such differences was that the formation of the CCAP endured many compromises for the sake of the success of its unity. Consequently, many things were not ironed out during the formative years of this federative denomination. Besides, the emerging African leadership did not play a significant role in the formation of the union and yet they were the ones to be entrusted with its future life. Consequently, the indigenous leadership of the CCAP has had to struggle with an elusive unity of the denomination over the course of its history. The study validates the research hypotheses that the CCAP, with its ongoing inner wrangles and its own leadership’s recognition of lack of real unity, has lost its denominational bearings, having become in fact a loose umbrella body of five distinct ‘denominations.’ The study further demonstrates that the original intention of the founding fathers of the CCAP to retain Synodical autonomy in respect of the mother churches arrested the development of the CCAP into a single and fully united denomination. In view of these observations it follows that whatever unity the future of the CCAP holds, it must first of all be acknowledged that there is actually no one CCAP denomination but five denominations. It must also be realised that the CCAP has actually never been a single denomination before, except in assumption. The efforts of the CCAP to move forward in its unity have often been hampered by references to a history that cannot be fully apprehended as it was beyond the grasp of African leadership to take full control of the CCAP while the missionaries, who were the initiators of the project, belonged to their own exclusive camps. The onus is therefore on the current leadership to re-orientate the denomination since current developments show that the denomination has reached a stage where a drastic landmark decision in its history is supposed to be made. I argue that this re-orientation of the denomination can only be successful if the leaders of the synods are concerned more with the future of the CCAP and its contribution to the Kingdom of God than with current divisions or the glorious past of the missionary era from whence the CCAP synods have come.