Gereja Kristen Indonesia (GKI) dapat dikatakan sebagai sebuah “gereja baru” di Indonesia sebagai buah penyatuan dari GKI Jawa Barat, GKI Jawa Tengah, dan GKI Jawa Timur.
Berdirinya GKI melewati perjalanan sejarah yang panjang, dimulai dengan berdirinya ketiga gereja yang menyatu itu sebagai gereja yang berdiri sendiri-sendiri. Pada tanggal 22 Februari 1934 di Jawa Timur berdirilah gereja yang kemudian disebut GKI Jawa Timur. Demikian juga, pada tanggal 24 Maret 1940 di Jawa Barat berdirilah gereja yang kemudian disebut GKI Jawa Barat, dan pada tanggal 8 Agustus 1945 di Jawa Tengah berdirilah gereja yang kemudian disebut GKI Jawa Tengah.
Sejak tanggal 27 Maret 1962 ketiga gereja itu memulai upaya menggalang kebersamaan untuk mewujudkan penyatuan GKI, dalam wadah Sinode Am GKI. Sesudah melewati perjalanan hampir tiga dekade lamanya, pada tanggal 26 Agustus 1988 ketiga gereja tersebut diikrarkan menjadi satu gereja yang diberi nama GKI.
Berikut ini adalah perjalanan sejarah proses unifikasi Sinode GKI (dalam bahasa Inggris).
THE UNIFICATION OF THE GKI 1926-1997 : PROCESS AND MEANING
Many church activists of the GKI like to think the unification of the GKI as beginning with the formation of the Sinode Am GKI (The General Synod of The Indonesian Christian Church), which brought the three Synods of the West Java GKI, of the Central Java GKI, and of the East Java GKI into one General Synod, in 1962. This is only partially true.
As a matter of fact it is a crystallization, so to speak, of a long effort of unification of larger church participants, each with membership mostly coming from the Chinese descent, since 1926. The theme of unification, along with that of independence, has been the principal driving force of those churches since their first conferences in 1926-1928 to unite themselves as one church, and persists up to this day. In the process it assumed different names, forms and meanings in different contexts along its history. In that process, three cultural strands can be identified intertwining one to the other constituting the GKI: the Chineseness strand, the Indonesianness strand, and the Dutch Calvinism strand.
First, under the influence of the Chinese nationalism and within the context of the Dutch colonial government over the Indies, (within which basically etnhic churches had been planted for a couple of centuries), during 1926-1928 the Indies Chinese congregations in Java founded their own first ecclesial organisation to unite themselves. It was a time of identity search for the Christian Chinese in the Indies. Sociologically it was their first attemp to come to terms with their new experince as Christians and as Chinese at the same time and to establish their new identity at the time when becoming Christian was considered as becoming Dutch.
The situation can be succintly described as follows. Exponents of the Chinese in Java knew very well that the Indies Chinese was a people without land and without cultural back-bone, which meant that sooner or later they had to have to choose between European culture and Indies culture. Therefore when Chinese nationalism emerged in the beginning of the 20th century they embraced it enthusiastically. Christian Chinese from different denominations gathered to found a unity among themselves to have an independent ecclesial organization. It turned out that as much as they wished to remain Chinese as Christians, they could not deny the indigenous aspect of their identity, which was primarily expressed in their adopted Malay and local languages as their mother tounges replacing Hokien as language of origin. This mixed cultural identity is identiviable in the bylaws of the organization they founded.
Its official name, significantly expressed in two languages, Chinese and Malay, was Tiong Hoa Kie Tok Kauw Tjong Hwee (THKTKTH) and Bond Kristen Tionghoa (BKT), the Chinese Christian Union. This was an expression of their Chinese roots which had been modified by the process of indigenization into the local cultures of the Indies.
Their wish to remain Chinese, while becoming Christian, was expressed in several ways. BKT was founded for the Chinese Christian only, as Christians from other ethnic groups in the Archipelago each had had their own church organization. BKT’s principal “enemy” was what they called “denominationalism” which was qualified as a Western product that caused schisms and therefore confused the Chinese to come to believe in the One Lord Jesus Christ. The Gospel accepted from the Dutch was felt as “not yet Chinese” and they wanted to transform Christianity into a Chinese religion just as Buddhism. This line of sentiment was arrested and modified in the next two phases of the GKI’s history by its Malay or Indonesianness strand, as this strand was becoming more and more focal within the identity of the GKI.
Second, in the thirties the strong impetus toward unity and independence among the local Chinese congregations in Java to assert both their Christian and Chinese identity at the same time gained momentum as more congregations joined the movement and more Chinese Christians proclaimed the Gospel to the Chinese people, which used to be done by Wertern missionaries. In 1936 they named their renewed unity in one Synod (Tay Hwee), again significantly in two languages, Chinese and Malay, Tiong Hoa Kie Tok Kauw Hwee (THKTKH) or Chung Hua Chi Tuh Chiao Hui (CHCTCH), after the name of the united church in China, and Gredja Sariket (the United Church). One momentous event was the visit of John Sung, the Chinese missionary, who came to Java in 1939 and helped thousands of Chinese to give themselves to be baptized. He preached in Chinese and was translated into Malay and used short Gospel songs in Malay which helped drive the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ into the heart of many Chinese people. By the end of the decade the alienness of Christianity among the Chinese people in Java was diminished.
As a sure indication we can pinpoint the change of atttitude of Kwee Tek Hoay, the leader of Sam Kauw Hwee, which can be seen as the counter movement of the Chinese conversion into Christianity in colonial Java, changed his view in 1941from considering that becoming Christian for a Chinese meant losing his/her Chineseness into considering that the conversion was due to lack of appreciation of Chinese culture and religions.
One unique congregation in this period needs to be mentioned. In 1936 the Batavia Rereformed Church of Kwitang, whose membership originally came from various native ethnic groups, joined the THKTKH due to coincidence in the use of Malay as the church language. It was not insignificant that one of the first initiatives to change the Chinese name of the church THKTKH into GKI, as an expression of the Indonesian identity of the GKI, came from this congregation (1955).
Thirdly, after the wars in the forties, Dewan Geredja-geredja Kristen Tionghoa di Indonesia (DGKTI), the Council of the Christian Chinese Churches in Indonesia, comprising the local churches of the THKTKH throughout Indonesia, was established in 1949. Orientation to China had been changed into orientation to Indonesia. The next year, 1950, when the Dewan Geredja-geredja di Indonesia (DGI), the National Council of Churches in Indonesia, was founded, the DGKTI suggested its members to join the DGI due to the latter’s wider-based membership which is open to all ethnic churches in Indonesia. This change of orientation to Indonesia was not a sudden and altogether new matter for the THKTKH. The element of Indonesianness had been there in the being of the THKTKH in various expressions: cultural strand, native membership, statement of some part of the THKTKH.
The movement of unity and independence of the GKI/ THKTKH was directed to the Dutch in the colonial times and in the times when the strong influence of the Chinese nationalism under the leadership of Sun Yat Sen came earlier than the Indonesian nationalism. Accordingly the emphasis on Chineseness was conducted more over against the Dutch rather than to Indonesia and the shift to the focalization of the Indonesianness within the identity of the GKI/ THKTKH was more natural when the time came, that is, the Indonesian nationalism became stronger and came of age after the wars.
Fourthly, in the next decade in the fifties, the time was ripe for the THKTKH to translate its own name into the Gereja Kristen Indonesia (GKI). It was a literal translation as well as a positional or orientational one, that is political and cultural. KTKH (Kie Tok Kauw Hwee) means Christian Church. The TH (Tiong Hoa) was replaced by Indonesia, not as an adverb of place, but an adjective as the word Tiong Hoa functioned as one in the name THKTKH. This signified the identity shift of the GKI, the focalization of its Indonesianness.
In the meantime, it turned out that joining the DGI with its goal “the founding of the Gereja Kristen Yang Esa di Indonesia (GKYE), the One Christian Church in Indonesia” did not speed up the realization of the oneness of the church. Concurrent with the process of becoming Indonesia, the spirit of unity of the GKI was manifested in the Badan Permusjawaratan Persatuan Geredjani (BPPG), the Body for Concensus of Church Unity, comprising the West Java GKI, the Central Java GKI, and the East Java GKI, the three largest church members of the DGKTI. As the result of their work Sinode Am GKI (the General Synod of the GKI) was founded in 1962 with the goal to unite the three synods into one church with one church contitution/ bylaw. By this time the GKI was becoming more and more pluralized ethnically and culturally as more and more native Indonesians from all levels social class join the GKI.
After some ‘digression’ in the seventies, a commission on church bylaw (Komisi Tata Gereja) was established in 1988 and a second one in 1992. Now the last part of the GKI’s constitution/ bylaw is being drafted. Next year, October 1997, is the planned enactment of the whole constitution, which will signify an important phase of wholeness in the ‘unitedness’ of the GKI. The unity of the GKI under one church bylaw is perceived as one that contributes to both the realization of the GKYE (the One Christian Church) in Indonesia, which is the goal of the PGI (the Communion of the Christian Churches in Indonesia), formerly the DGI, and the national unity of Indonesia which is considered as a conditio sine qua non for the implementation of the national development plan.
The spirit of unity and independence of the GKI underwent many stages, drawbacks and breakthroughs, as it persists through times and obstacles in its faithfulness to the Lord Jesus Christ. With Rev. Pouw Peng Hong, the first leader of this movement, we can say with a little paraphrasing: the movement for independence and unity may lost its voice, from time to time, yet its spirit persists.