First Open Letter
To A Church Divided
On Racial Grounds

Many today are voicing their opinions about the proposed merger between the "black" conferences and the "white" conferences in South Africa. The opinions of men abound, but what of the opinion of God? Is this not a time when we should hear God telling us that . . .

`The caste system and unjust racial prejudices, . . . all are set forth as unchristian and a serious menace to the well-being of the human race, and as evils which the church of Christ is appointed by her lord to overthrow?' (LS(15)473)

`Slavery, the caste system, unjust racial prejudices, the oppression of the poor, the neglect of the unfortunate, - these all are set forth as unchristian and a serious menace to the well-being of the human race, and as evils which the church of Christ is appointed by her Lord to overthrow.' (Ellen White, Life Sketches (15), p.473)

Is this not an opportune time for us to lead to Jesus those who are controlled by racial prejudices, that they might see that . . .

`No distinction on account of nationality, race, or caste, is recognised by God?' (COL386)

Is this not a time for us to prove that . . .

`He who is closely connected with Christ is lifted above prejudice of colour or caste? (Mar142)

Is this not the time for all who make up the body of Jesus to realise that . . .

`The spirit we manifest toward our brethren declares what is our spirit toward God?' (DA503)


My Dear Fellow Believer

Warm Christian Greetings To You.

You might already know that the church in South Africa is going through pains as the "black" and "white" conferences (relics from the apartheid era) struggle to unite. In an effort to answer my own questionings, I searched the inspired writings and I was pleased to find that God has not left us without guidance for just such a time as this.

It is my sincere conviction that we all would like to see God have His way in South Africa. My serious concern, however, is that almost no effort has been made to educate the laity as regards God's clearly expressed will on racial matters. Despite this oversight, we seem to be approaching a situation where the opinions of the laity are going to be taken into account in the final reckoning.

Yet, even if we did take the trouble to share the spiritual guidelines with the laity, we must understand that the merger is a moral issue and not an "optional extra" (the remainder of this document leaves one in no doubt about this fact). As such, it is a clear cut matter of right and wrong and not something that we can vote on. In other words, our only concern is the opinion of God, and not the opinions of men. After all, this is God's church, and we are only members of His church. Hence the warning . . .

`The opinions of men are not to weigh as amendments to the law of God; for the law of God is the expression of the will and mind of God, of Him who is unchanging in counsel.' (ST 11-14-95)

Some might respond to this statement by saying that the merger has nothing to do with the law of God. On the contrary, the law of God is all about love, and the central issue in this merger is whether we love our brethren or not - whether we love our black brothers and sisters enough to be united with them or not.

`Walls of separation have been built up between the whites and the blacks. These walls of prejudice will tumble down of themselves as did the walls of Jericho, when Christians obey the Word of God, which enjoins on them supreme love to their Maker and IMPARTIAL LOVE TO THEIR NEIGHBOURS. For Christ's sake, LET US DO SOMETHING NOW.' (SW43, emphasis supplied)

The Real Issue

Before we can do something constructive about the present situation, however, we have to understand the underlying issues.

Right now we are a divided church and this division we have inherited from the "apart-hate" era. As such, some might be tempted to blame our present division on circumstances over which we had no control in the past. Yet, whatever the case, we have to accept the indisputable fact that . . .

`The reason for all division, discord, and difference is found in separation from Christ.' (1SM259)

As such, we must realise that if we remain a separated church, this is going to speak volumes about our spiritual condition.

With this thought in mind, therefore, let us lay the axe at the root of the tree. If we are opposed to this merger, it is obvious that our problem is not just a racial problem but a deep spiritual problem. I fear to say this, but it is the only conclusion that we can come to because, . . .

`He who is closely connected with Christ is lifted above the prejudice of color or caste.' (Mar142)

This being the case, there should be no doubt in our minds as to what Jesus is calling for. We have not been called to debate the obvious. Nor have we been called to decide moral issues on a majority vote. Right is right and it is time for all who follow the Master to accept the fact that . . .

`Slavery, the caste system, unjust racial prejudices, the oppression of the poor, the neglect of the unfortunate, - these all are set forth as unchristian and a serious menace to the well-being of the human race, and as EVILS WHICH THE CHURCH OF CHRIST IS APPOINTED BY HER LORD TO OVERTHROW. (LS(15)473, Emphasis Supplied)

Clearly, therefore, when it comes to a moral issue of this nature, we can no more ask the laity to vote on the issue than we can ask them to vote on whether adultery is right or wrong. Regardless of our own feelings and opinions, the fact is that . . .

`No distinction on account of nationality, race, or caste (culture), is recognized by God. He is the Maker of all mankind. All men are of one family by creation, and all are one through redemption. Christ came to demolish every wall of partition (divided conferences?), to throw open every compartment of the temple, that every soul may have free access to God.' (COL386)

`The religion of the Bible recognizes no caste or color. It ignores rank, wealth, worldly honor. God estimates men as men. With Him, character decides their worth.' (2SM486)

Like it or not, therefore, the present conference structure - having its roots in a racist society, simply has to be dismantled. No matter what the cost, no matter how many people threaten to withdraw their tithe - and even if some threaten to break away from the mother church. No matter what, we have to hear God's voice speaking to us . . .

`You have no license from God to exclude the colored (black) people from your places of worship. Treat them as Christ's property, which they are, just as much as yourselves. They should hold membership in the church [or conference] with the white brethren. Every effort should be made to wipe out the terrible wrong which has been done them. . . . Is it not here that our influence should be brought to bear against the customs and practices of the world? Should it not be the work of the white people to elevate the standard of character among the colored (black) race, to teach them how Christians should live, by exemplifying the Spirit of Christ, showing that we are one brotherhood?' (SW15)

Yes, and do we not owe it to our black brothers and sisters to do all in our power to elevate the standard of character amongst them. What chances did they have in the apartheid era, when we were feathering our nests in the golden years of "oppressive peace?" Are we expecting them to be everything that we never gave them a chance to be?

"Do not all who have heard the truth belong to God? Did He not purchase all with the blood of His only-begotten Son? Did not Christ die for all? Would you wish to come into judgment having done no more than you have for the colored people? Ever since their release from slavery, God has been appealing to you to help them. Yet how little has been done for them!" {GCB, April 7, 1903 par. 15}

Surely it is time for us to step out of the comfort zone and to reach out a hand of friendship to those who have been so cruelly treated in the past? Those of us who are most comfortable need to listen most carefully because . . .

`Among what are called the higher classes, there is a demand for a form of Christianity suited to their fine tastes; but this class will not grow up to the full stature of men and women in Christ until they know God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent. The heavenly intelligences rejoice to do the will of God in preaching the gospel to the poor. In the announcement which the Saviour made in the synagogue at Nazareth, He put a stern rebuke upon those who attach so much importance to color or caste, and refuse to be satisfied with such a type of Christianity as Christ accepts. The same price was paid for the salvation of the colored [black] man as for that of the white man, and the slights put upon the colored [black] people by many who claim to be redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, and who therefore acknowledge themselves debtors to Christ, misrepresent Jesus, and reveal that selfishness, tradition, and prejudice pollute the soul. They are not sanctified through the truth. Those who slight a brother because of his color are slighting Christ. Whatever may be your prejudices, your wonderful prudence, do not lose sight of this fact, that unless you put on Christ, and His Spirit dwells in you, you are slaves of sin and of Satan. Many who claim to be children of God are children of the wicked one, and have all his passions, his prejudices, his evil spirit, his unlovely traits of character. But the soul that is indeed transformed will not despise any one whom Christ has purchased with His own blood.' (SW13-14)

`It is a shame for Christians who profess to be themselves redeemed by the blood of the Lamb to take a position to make these men feel that the mark of a humiliated race is upon them - men standing in God's broad sunlight with mind and soul like other men, with as goodly a frame as has the best developed white man. Cannot the children of God see that in conceding to the prejudice against the color of race, they are giving their influence to sanction a long course of neglect, of insult, or oppression? WILL NOT THE LORD CALL THOSE TO ACCOUNT WHO HAVE HAD A PART IN THIS WORK?' (8MR8)

`Those who are workers together with God, who are filled with divine compassion, will see and estimate men in the same way that God sees and estimates them. Whatever may be the nationality or color, whatever may be the social condition, the missionary for God will look upon all men as the purchase of the blood of Christ, and will understand that there is no caste with God. No one is to be looked upon with indifference or to be regarded as unimportant, for every soul has been purchased with an infinite price. Therefore, in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, let not the colored [black] race be longer neglected by those who claim to believe in Christ as the Saviour of men.' (SW31)

In the light of these inspired statements, it is obvious that we, as a divided church, simply have no power behind our message. We have been called to preach a message of reconciliation to every kindred tongue, nation and people. How can we preach reconciliation with God, when we cannot even be reconciled to each other? Has Jesus gone to prepare two heavens?

In fact, our continued separation suggests that we might even be separated from our Lord, for . . .

`Unity with Christ establishes a bond of unity with one another. This unity is the most convincing proof to the world of the majesty and virtue of Christ, and of His power to take away sin.' (5BC1148)

As such, there is no basis whatsoever upon which we can debate about the pros and cons of the merger. All that we can do is to call on the Holy Spirit to make us willing to unite. Then, . . .

`When the Holy Spirit is poured out, there will be a triumph of humanity over prejudice in seeking the salvation of the souls of human beings. God will control minds. Human hearts will love as Christ loved. And the color line will be regarded by many very differently from the way in which it is now regarded.' (2SM487)

Then, when God finally gets His way, and the Holy Spirit enables us to see things as He does, . . .

`The Christ in us will meet the Christ in our brethren, and the Holy Spirit will give that unity of heart and action which testifies to the world that we are children of God.' (9T188)

A New-Look Church

Instead of upholding separatism, instead of entrenching values from the apartheid era in God's church, we have now to fall on our knees and to ask God for grace that we might see our unworthiness in the light of His kindness, that we might see Jesus on the cross for every one of us, and then we will stop looking askance at each other.

`Men may have both hereditary and cultivated prejudices, but when the love of Jesus fills the heart, and they become one with Christ, they will have the same spirit that He had. If a colored [black] brother sits by their side, they will not be offended or despise him. They are journeying to the same heaven, and will be seated at the same table to eat bread in the kingdom of God. If Jesus is abiding in our hearts we cannot despise the colored [black] man who has the same Saviour abiding in his heart.' (SW13-14)

`This is the unity God requires in His service. When God's chosen people are of one mind, barriers of selfishness will disappear as by magic, and many, many more souls will be converted because of the unity which exists among believers. There is one body and one spirit. Those who have been building territorial lines of distinction, barriers of color and caste, might better take these down much faster than they put them up.' (ST 02-07-00)

`Christians will manifest the self-sacrificing spirit of Christ in their work, in connection with every branch of the cause. They will do this heartily, not by halves. They will not study their own aggrandizement nor manifest respect of persons. They will not, cannot, live in luxury and self-indulgence while there are suffering ones around them. They cannot by their practice [or their vote] sanction any phase of oppression or injustice to the least child of humanity.' (SW17)


As we consider what can be done to heal the wound that apartheid has driven into the body of Jesus, we need to remind ourselves that only grace can bring the desired results, and that, as such, any kind of militant action will only widen the gulf instead of narrowing it. This is why . . .

`We are to avoid entering into contention over the problem of the color line. If this question is much agitated, difficulties will arise that will consume much precious time to adjust. We cannot lay down a definite line to be followed in dealing with this subject. In different places and under varying circumstances, the subject will need to be handled differently. It is Satan's plan to call minds to the study of the color line. If his suggestions are heeded, there will be diversity of opinion and great confusion. No one is capable of clearly defining the proper position of the colored [black] people. Men may advance theories, but I assure you that it will not do for us to follow human theories. So far as possible the color line question should be allowed to rest.' (9T213)

Therefore, whatever we do, . . .

`Let us follow the course of wisdom. Let us do nothing that will unnecessarily arouse opposition - nothing that will hinder the proclamation of the gospel message.' (Mar142)

Right now, with the world falling apart all around us, . . .

`We must sit as learners at the feet of Christ, that He may teach us the will of God and that we may know how to work for the white people and the colored [black] people . . . We are to do as the Spirit of the Lord shall dictate, and agitate the subject of the color line as little as possible. We must use every energy to present the closing gospel message to all classes . . .. As we are led and controlled by the Spirit of God we shall find that this question will adjust itself in the minds of our people. When we are prepared to take hold of the work in earnest we shall be better able than we are now to deal with the questions involved in this work. Let every believer do his best to prepare the way for the gospel missionary work that is to be done. But let no one enter into controversy. It is Satan's object to keep Christians occupied in controversies among themselves. He knows that if they do not watch, the day of the Lord will come on them as a thief in the night. We have no time now to give place to the spirit of the enemy and to cherish prejudices that confuse the judgment and lead us away from Christ.' (9T215-216)

The purpose of this document, therefore, is to present the truth, and to lay out our moral obligations as far as the merger is concerned. The purpose of this document is not to create an issue out of the color question but to diffuse an issue that already exists, one that is sure to explode if we do not present our people with the clear-cut spiritual truths.

If `unjust racial prejudices, . . . are set forth as unchristian and a serious menace to the well-being of the human race, and as evils which the church of Christ is appointed by her lord to overthrow,' then this document is but a humble effort to heed the counsel and to do `do something now.' (LS473; SW43)

If we are Christians, and we sing the words, "Others Lord, yes others, let this my motto be," - then let us not consider how we will be affected if we do merge, but rather let us consider how our dear black brothers and sisters will be affected if we do not merge? Their dignity, their self-respect, their perception of our spirituality, the world's perception of us as a church, are far more relevant considerations than are our own comforts, cultures, finances, and positions etcetera.

Let us not even entertain the thought that our evangelistic efforts will be hindered if the merger goes through - this idea has no basis in truth. For as long as we continue as a church that is divided on the basis of color, a church that refuses to follow God's divine will, the Lord will find it very difficult to bless our evangelistic efforts. This point will be reinforced by a careful study of Counsels on Diets and Foods, p.455.

We are the body of Jesus, and He is our Head. He has never sanctioned the idea of a dismembered body. And as long as that body is divided, we will be unwise to seek the opinions and the vote of the laity and unwise to even debate the issue. If God said it, then that should be enough for us.

Let us not `exalt human reason, idolize human wisdom, and set the opinions of men above the revealed wisdom of God.' (TMK206)

`We look upon the Jews as inexcusable because they rejected and crucified Christ. But today the messages that the Lord sends are often received in a manner similar to the way in which the Jews received Christ's message. If the instruction of the Lord does not harmonize with the opinions of men, anger takes control of reason, and men play into the enemy's hands by opposing the message that God sends.' (5BC1089)

`The wise course is the best. As laborers together with God, we are to work in the way that will enable us to accomplish the most for Him. Let none go to extremes. We need wisdom from above; for we have a difficult problem to solve. If rash moves are made now, great mischief will be done. The matter is to be presented in such a way that the truly converted colored [black] people [note who we are called upon to consider first] will cling to the truth for Christ's sake, refusing to renounce one principle of sound Bible doctrine because they may think that the very best course is not being pursued toward the [black] race.' (9T215)

As we look to the future, therefore, we must conclude that the merger that we are ultimately looking for is not merely a merger of organizations but a merger of hearts - an unconditional uniting of hearts.

`As we come in sight of Calvary, and view the royal Sufferer who in man's nature bore the curse of the law in his behalf, all national distinctions, all sectarian differences are obliterated; all honor of rank, all pride of caste is lost. The light shining from the throne of God upon the cross of Calvary forever puts an end to man-made separations between class and race. Men of every class become members of one family, children of the heavenly King, not through earthly power, but through the love of God who gave Jesus to a life of poverty, affliction, and humiliation, to a death of shame and agony, that He might bring many sons and daughters unto glory.' (1SM258)

Then, as we stand beneath the foot of the cross, we will see that we are neither white nor black but that all of us are red all over - covered with the precious blood of Jesus. And oh how much we need that blood, for . . .

`The nature of man is in opposition to the divine will, depraved, deformed, and wholly unlike the character of God expressed in His law.' (ST 06-09-90)

Realizing our depravity, on what grounds can any of us stand aloof from a brother - regardless of his skin colour? Understanding our spiritual deformity, on what basis are we seeking the opinions of men on a moral issue, the outcome of which will have eternal consequences?

`How reads the word of God? Turn from the opinions of men to the law and to the testimony. Shut out every worldly consideration. Make your decision for eternity.' (2T495)

`Look to Jesus, and not to men. We must realize the nothingness of man's wisdom.' (SpM292)

`My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality.' (James 2:1)


As far as the merger is concerned, in the first place we are looking at a moral issue, in the second place, we are looking at problems associated with this moral issue. The histories of Israel and the church assure us that whenever God's children are called upon to take a stand on a moral issue there will usually be problems - and there will usually be disaffected brethren. God has not promised that it will ever be easy to take a stand for principle, but He has promised us His blessing and guidance when we do - and He has also promised us the withdrawal of His blessing if we don't. This, in fact, is one of the more dominant messages in Scripture.

This being the case, we need to carefully consider the problems, but we cannot under any circumstances allow these problems to cloud our minds to the fact that as far as the merger is concerned we are dealing with a non-negotiable moral issue - not just with another problem. God will help us to deal with the associated problems, but we must take our stand for what is right for . . .

`He who is closely connected with Christ is lifted above the prejudice of color or caste.' (Mar142)

Addendum 1

While there is no question that the conferences should merge, we need to keep in mind that the Lord's servant actually suggested that it is not always best for different cultures to worship together in the same church. This suggestion was not made on racial grounds but because some would be deprived of valuable experience in leadership and organization. At least this was the situation in the Southern states of America. Circumstances may well be different in South Africa today.

`Let the colored (black) believers have their place of worship and the white believers their place of worship. Let each company be zealous to do genuine missionary work for its own people and for the colored people wherever and whenever they can.' (9T210)

`In regard to white and colored people worshipping in the same building, this cannot be followed as a general custom with profit to either party--especially in the South. The best thing will be to provide the colored people who accept the truth, with places of worship of their own, in which they can carry on their services by themselves. This is particularly necessary in the South in order that the work for the white people may be carried on without serious hindrance.

`Let them be shown that this is done not to exclude them from worshipping with white people, because they are black, but in order that the progress of the truth may be advanced. Let them understand that this plan is to be followed until the Lord shows us a better way. ' (9T206)

To understand this suggestion in its context, the reader is urged to consider the counsel as it is given in Testimonies Volume 9.

 Addendum 2

In the light of the above, may I share with you my opinion that the merger of the Trans-Orange Conference (TOC) and the Transvaal Conference (TC) will not result in the TC churches suddenly being swamped with TOC members. This has not happened in other areas where conferences have already merged, and there is therefore no reason to believe that it will happen in the Transvaal or in the Cape

Because people always gravitate towards their own cultures, and because convenience, distance and expense are always considered when choosing a home church, no great changes will take place at church level should the merger go through.

What will be affected by the merger, however, will be the leadership structure of the church - especially at conference level. Thus I am of the opinion that what we are seeing at the present time, and this despite the many overtures that are being made to the laity, overtures that have made a serious issue out of the impending merger, is primarily a leadership struggle.

The tensions will dissolve, however, if we are just willing to close our ears to the folly of human sentiment and if we listen carefully to the voice of Him who left the luxuries of heaven to bear the penalty for all sin for all people for all time - even for those who hated Him. If Jesus has challenged us to follow Him, even to the point of loving our enemies and being willing to die for them, is it not an easy thing to love our black brothers and sisters and their dear children?

`Beloved, if God so loved us, we also aught to love one another. And this command we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.' (1 John 4:11, 21)


After the above document had been widely distributed, we received a number of responses - the great majority of them were very positive. We did receive one or two negative communications, however. One of these, together with our response, is included on the following page.


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