A state church? A consideration of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa in the light of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s ‘Theological position paper on state and church’

Dion Forster


This article considers whether South Africa’s largest mainline Christian denomination, the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, is in danger of embodying or propagating a contemporary form of ‘state theology’. The notion of state theology in the South African context gained prominence through the publication of the ‘Kairos Document’ (1985) – which celebrated its thirtieth anniversary in 2015. State theology is deemed inappropriate and harmful to the identity and work of both the Christian church and the nation state. This article presents its consideration of whether the Methodist Church of Southern Africa is in danger of propagating ‘state theology’ in dialogue with Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s important document, Theological Position Paper on State and Church. The article offers some insights into the complex relationship between the state and the church in South Africa in the apartheid and democratic eras. It further problematizes the relationship between the Methodist Church of Southern Africa and the governing African National Congress by citing some concerning examples of complicit behaviour from recent history. The MCSA’s polity and doctrine on church and state relationships are also considered before some critique and warning is offered in the light of Bonhoeffer’s Theological Position Paper on State and Church.


Bonhoeffer; Church and state; Political theology; Methodism; John Wesley; Ethics; Methodist Church of Southern Africa; Ecclesiology

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.17570/stj.2016.v2n1.a04


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