The Reformed Churches in South Africa have existed since 1859, and have grown from the original 5 churches to 382 churches in 2023. There are currently 240 ministers. Local churches are spread across the RSA and also in Namibia, Zimbabwe and Zambia. There are currently 240 ministers serving these churches, in approximately 15 languages. The GKSA has its own Theological School which started in 1869 in Burgersdorp and has been established in Potchefstroom since 1905. There are 12 professors and 3 administrative officers attached to the Theological School who have been integrated into the Faculty of Theology of the NWU.
The GKSA maintains its own archives and efficient building complex that includes a well-equipped auditorium. Ecumenical ties have been established with churches in the USA, Scotland, Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, the Congo, Japan and Korea. The GKSA operates in accordance with Holy Scripture, the three Formularies of Unity and the Canons of Dordt.
There was never a need to split the church during the first century and a half of settlement at the Cape since 1652.
The early 1800s, however, saw the Reformed church of the Cape Colony import a new hymnal from the Netherlands for worship services. Many of the hymns contained in this book were in conflict with the confessions of faith (Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism and Canons of Dordt), as set out by the Synod of Dordtrecht in 1618/1619. Protest arose from members of the remote north-east districts, also known as “die Doppers”. Certain members refused to sing these hymns right from the start, saying: “In God’s house God’s song”. These were simple folk from farming communities who strongly ascribed, like their forebears, to Reformed authors such as à Brakel, Smijtegeld and d’Outrein in conjunction with the Dutch Authorised Version of the Bible.
A new form of church governance invested the state and synod assemblies with every-increasing authority over local church councils. A number of Reformed members joined the “Groot Trek” of 1836 and those who remained behind would experience trying times in the colony. The “pastoral letter” of the Ring of Graaff-Reinet in 1842 especially added fuel to the fire. This missive claimed that the “styfhoofdiges” (obstinate) refusing to sing the new hymns were piercing the body of Christ. The members who joined the Great Trek soon heard, at the Transgariep, similar objections to the existing church. Their objections to the hymns fell on deaf ears and at times provoked heavy opposition. In die Republic of the Orange Free State it was the Nederduits Gereformeerde Kerk and in the Republic of Transvaal it was the Nederduitsch Hervormde Kerk. One of the main reasons the Voortrekkers left the Cape was indeed the rigidity of the church in terms of the state. They would initially experience the same in the Transvaal.
The months preceding 1859 saw 15 brothers in the Rustenburg area decide to split from the Nederduitsch Hervormde Kerk in the then Republic of Transvaal; among which was Paul Kruger – later the president van die Zuid-Afrikaanse Republiek.
They gathered on 10 and 11 February 1859, under a syringa tree, beside the Rustenburgse Hervormde Kerk. Here 300 members took up membership with the Gereformeerde Kerk in Suid-Afrika. They asked Rev. Dirk Postma, a visiting minister from the Netherlands, to become their minister of the Word and he accepted, thereby taking up permanent residence in South Africa. Rev. Postma’s considered the safest route, in terms of the hymns, was to stay with those based on texts of the Bible.
These brothers’ spiritual family in the south at Winburg, Reddersburg, Colesberg, Burgersdorp and Middelburg (Cape Colony) eventually joined them. Congregations popped up in quick succession in the Mooirivier district, Pretoria, along the Crocodile River, Nylstroom and Lydenburg in the Republic of Transvaal.
A few months after the founding of the Gereformeerde Kerk in Rustenburg the N.G. Kerk minister in Bloemfontein, Rev. Andrew Murray, acknowledged in a letter to his brother, John that they had failed to reach the spirit of the true Doppers. He further concluded that the new ministry led by Rev. Postma would, however, be able to reach their hearts… hearts that had always seemed closed to them.
The end of 1862 already saw 1,079 confirmed members, this number rose to 12,125 in 1904 and the Almanac of 1941 reported a total of 33,487.
The need for training of ministers of the Word and teachers grew over time. In 1862 there were only two ministers, who had to minister to the members of the entire country, which grew to 17 by 1904 and 66 in 1941. The first training took place in Burgersdorp in the north-east Cape, but moved to Potchefstroom after the Anglo-Boer War.
Out of this school the Potchefstroomse Universiteit vir Christelike Hoër Onderwys grew into a fully-fledged university, with its Faculty of Theology that inter alia serves as a theological school for the training of ministers of the Word.