Original Research

South Africa’s Reformed Churches improved aspects of the Dutch church polity in the 19th century

Philippus R. du Toit
Verbum et Ecclesia | Vol 43, No 1 | a2544 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ve.v43i1.2544 | © 2022 Philippus R. du Toit | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 31 March 2022 | Published: 14 September 2022

About the author(s)

Philippus R. du Toit, Department of Systematic and Historical Theology, Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa


Systematic theology determined church polity, and that had an influence on church history. Thus, the Church Order of Dordt (1618/19) was for centuries the standard of church polity within the Reformed Church in the Netherlands until it was replaced by the General Regulation (1816). Because this church played a major role in the development of the reformed churches in South Africa, the assumption was that the mainline churches in South Africa closely followed the example of the Netherlands. This article aimed to evaluate the development within the mainline churches in South Africa regarding three aspects: the delegation by a church council to broader (major) assemblies; the naming of the presbytery as a circle; and finally, the composition regarding a synodical commission. A comparison was made between the densely populated Netherlands and the scantily populated South Africa. For a comprehensive view, both demographical and geographical differences, as well as political and historical developments were considered. The outcome clearly showed that church polity cannot be applied in the same manner in different locations. The majority Reformed Churches in South Africa (the Dutch Reformed Church – the whole family of churches); the Netherdutch Reformed Church of Africa (Nederduitsch Hervormde Kerk van Afrika) followed the same route. The only exception was the Reformed Churches in South Africa (Gereformeerde Kerke in Suid-Afrika).

Intradisciplinary and/or interdisciplinary implications: This paper contributes to a new appreciation for these three aspects as still being regarded as true church polity, but in a ‘decolonised’ way from the Dutch situation during the first half of the 19th century.


Reformed Church polity; Church Order of Dordt; General Regulation 1816; Church Order of De Mist; staggered representation


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