Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
The Church has been called into being by the will of God, who gathers all people into a fellowship in Christ, which is created and sustained by the power of the Holy Spirit. Its purpose and function is to bear witness to the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ to all who do not yet believe in him, to build up in faith, hope and love those who already believe, and to proclaim his sovereignty over the world so that his rule may be extended in it. The Church is holy because it is of God, and not of man’s creation. It is catholic in that God of his love calls all people to share in its membership. It is apostolic in that it remains faithful to the apostolic teaching.

The Lord Jesus Christ is the King and Head of the Church. Under his authority, and with the Holy Scriptures as its supreme rule, its laws are framed and administered and its functions exercised with the promised guidance of the Holy Spirit.

The Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa is a branch of the holy catholic Church, and maintains the liberty of all members of the holy catholic Church to worship as and where their conscience directs.

The Presbyterian family of churches, like all Christian churches, trace their roots back to the early church in Jerusalem, to Paul and the Church Fathers like Augustine. In 1517 Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany. This public challenge to the practices of the church of his time led to the formation of a new family of churches known as the Protestant Churches. The two main streams of Protestant churches as the Reformed Churches and the Lutheran Churches. The Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa belongs to the Reformed family.

John Calvin has been called the Father of Presbyterianism. He was born in France in 1509. He studied Latin, Logic and Philosophy at the University of Paris. Later he studied law and classical literature. In 1533 he became convinced of the truth of the Reformation ideas. He was forced to flee from Paris after publicly expressing his new ideas. He found refuge in Switzerland. There he wrote the first edition of his theological masterpiece, The Institutes of the Christian Religion. This book became the guidebook for many Protestants.

John Calvin visited Geneva in 1536 and became the leader of the Protestants in the city. From 1538 to 1541 he was exiled because of differences of opinion with the city fathers. He was invited back in 1541 and under his leadership the city became the centre of the Reformation in Europe and its church a model of basic Presbyterian organisation.

Calvin’s legacy to us is found in his teaching on the sovereignty of God, the priesthood of all believers, and the Presbyterian church structure His ideas of morality, ethics and democracy helped shape Western thought.

From Geneva, Presbyterians spread to Scotland and Ireland, mainly through John Knox who studied under John Calvin, and also to England, the Netherlands and America. In the years 1643 to 1649 a group pf Presbyterians in England worked out a doctrinal guide known as “The Westminster Confession”. The influence of the Westminister Confession is clearly seen in the Articles of Faith adopted by the Presbyterian Church of England in 1890 and by the Presbyterian Church of South Africa in 1897.

Throughout the world there are some 50 million men, women and children who belong to the Christian family which goes by the name of “Reformed and Presbyterian”. About 30 million call themselves Reformed and some 20 million answer to the name Presbyterian. The name Reformed refers to the fact that this group of Christians trace their heritage within the church universal to and through the 16th century reformers. The name Presbyterian came into use as a distinctive title in England in the 16th-17th century to distinguish one group within the Church of England from others who held different views on some issues. Reformed therefore is the wider title and Presbyterian that with more particular reference and used generally in the English speaking world.

Early beginnings at the Cape. In the year 1806 Britain sent the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders Regiment to the Cape as an occupying force. These Scottish soldiers were an unusually devout group of Presbyterians. Although they had no chaplain or minister of their own, they formed themselves into “The Calvinist Society” which met every week for prayer, Bible study and public worship. They continued their religious activities until 1814, always inviting oassing missionaries to preach for them.

In 1812 the Rev George Thom arrived at the Cape. He was a Presbyterian minister on his way to India as a missionary with the London Missionary Society (LMS). After meeting with the Calvinist Society he decided to stay at the Cape and the first Presbyterian Church was established there. In 1814 the Scottish regiment was withdrawn from the Cape and the Presbyterian congregation was almost totally depleted. In 1818 the Rev George Thom resigned his charge and the first Presbyterian Church virtually came to an end.

The setback was only temporary. In 1824 the once more growing number of Presbyterians re-established the congregation and built a church. Completed in 1827, it stands to this day in Cape Town and is known as “the Mother Church” of the Presbyterians in Southern Africa. The Rev John Adamson arrived from Scotland in 1827 to be the first minister of St Andrew’s as the congregation is called. He served as their minister until 1841.

Mission work in the Eastern Cape. In 1821 the Glasgow Missionary Society sent its first missionaries to work on the Eastern Frontier. The first two were the Rev John Bennie and the Rev William Thomson. They were soon followed by others. In 1824 they established at Incehra a mission station which they named Lovedale after the Rev Dr Love. In later years, under the leadership of the Rev Dr James Stewart, Lovedale was to become the most famous of Presbyterian institutions in South Africa and the African springboard for the equally famous Presbyterian Mission and Institution in the North, namely, Livingstonia on the shores of Lake Nyasa (now Lake Malawi).

As early as 1823 a Presbytery was formed and churches spread rapidly throughout the whole Eastern Frontier. In due course the work was divided into three Presbyteries: Kaffraria, Mankazana and Transkei.

The first church was built at Glen Lynden in 1828.

Work in Natal and in the interior.
The beginnings of Presbyterianism in Natal go back to missionary work. Organised Presbyterianism began on the evening of 28 October 1850 when a gathering of Presbyterians held in the Congregational Chapel resolved to form themselves into a congregation with the name “The Presbyterian Church of Natal”. Their first minister, the Rev William Campbell, minister of the Free Church of Alexandria in the Presbytery of Dumbarton, Scotland accepted a call to the young congregation on March 16 1851. The growth of the Presbyterian Church in other parts of South Africa followed in the wake of the Great Trek beginning in 1830, the discovery of diamonds in the Northern Cape in 1870 and gold on the Witwatersrand in 1886.

Presbyterians in Zimbabwe.
In 1896 the first Presbyterian congregation in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) was formed at Bulawayo and in 1903 another at Salisbury (now Harare). Others soon followed. Several educational institutions such as David Livingstone Secondary School, Gloag Ranch and Mondoro Secondary School were also started.

Presbyterians in Zambia.
The first Presbyterian congregation in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) was established in 1926 at Livingstone and named “The David Livingstone Memorial Presbyterian Church”. The Livingstone congregation remained the only congregation of the Presbyterian Church of Southern Africa, in Zambia , until 1956. Now there are two Presbyteries: Central and Copperbelt, and a vibrant church community.

Formation of the Presbyterian Church of South Africa.
Largely through the initiative of the Rev John Smith of Pietermaritzburg the first General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church met in Durban in 1897 and he was the first Moderator. The General Assembly brought together the Presbyteries of Cape Town, Natal and the Transvaal, the white congregations of the Synod of Kaffraria (Free Church of Scotland), the white congregations of the Presbytery of Adelaide (United Presbyterian Church of Scotland) and the two independent congregations at Port Elizabeth and Kimberley.

As the church expanded and included work in the countries north of South Africa, the church’s name was no longer appropriate and it was changed to the Presbyterian Church of Southern Africa.

Formation of the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa.
The Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa (UPCSA) was formed through the union of The Presbyterian Church of Southern Africa (PCSA) and The Reformed Presbyterian Church in South Africa (RPC). Both former denominations owe their origin to the Church of Scotland – the former came into being in 1897 at its first General Assembly held in Durban through the amalgamation of a number of different congregations established by Scottish settlers in Cape Town, the Eastern Cape and Natal. The latter was initially under the Missions Committee of the Church of Scotland with its base mainly in the Eastern Cape. In 1897 the Scottish missionaries feeling that the predominantly Black church was not yet ready for incorporation into the PCSA formed a separate denomination called the Bantu Presbyterian Church. Later this was changed to the Reformed Presbyterian Church and union was finally achieved in 1999.