Original Research - Special Collection: Change agency in a 21st-century South Africa

Martin Luther and Beyers Naudé: Driven by conscience

brimadevi van Niekerk
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 74, No 3 | a4984 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v74i3.4984 | © 2018 Brimadevi van Niekerk | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 23 March 2018 | Published: 31 October 2018

About the author(s)

brimadevi van Niekerk, Department of Christian Spirituality, University of South Africa, South Africa


When Martin Luther tore the church asunder after he attacked ecclesiastical corruption, he unwittingly prompted alternative Reformations in other localities that would metastasize throughout the world. This new freedom begun by Luther – the separation of powers, toleration and freedom of conscience centred on the individual – spread also to our remote corner of the world, South Africa. Half a millennium later, Beyers Naudé, an Afrikaner of Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk parsonage, and a theologian, threatened Afrikaner civil religion through his stand against apartheid. While there are many differences between these men, there was one characteristic which they both shared in the use of their consciences, which was closely connected to their respective Christian faiths. The aim of this article therefore is to show firstly how Luther and Naudé followed the dictates of their consciences which caused them to act against the apparent flow of history in response to the moral values in the societies they found themselves in. Secondly, it will show that with their enlarged sense of responsibility came consequences for both the immediate people surrounding them as well as the community at large. Without over-simplifying the connection between these two individuals in history, the article concludes that both Luther and Naudé are human beings with highly developed consciences, and while both were morally obliged to follow a judgement of conscience formed in good faith and both attained their highest ideals, following one’s conscience is ambiguous because it may scandalise the consciences of those whose consciences are differently formed.


Martin Luther; Beyers Naudé; agents of change


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