What does strong church look like?


Some churches are stronger than others. They have a feel about them. They feel strong, mature, developed. Now a lot of what makes a churches strong is intangible. I don’t think it’d be possible to measure the spiritual vitality of a community of believers. But I do think that there are a couple of things that can be externally observed which serve as a litmus for where a church is. Here’s my thinking:

In the Baptist Union there are four types of churches: A-type, B-type, C-type and D-type churches. The designations are make believe, but it kinda helps us categorise who’s who in the zoo.

A-type churches are Self-governing, Self-supporting and Self-propagating. They are generally large, vibrant communities which have a long history.

B-type churches are Self-governing and Self-supporting. They are generally medium in size.

C-type churches are Self-governing. There are often smaller communities.

D-type churches are unconstituted or failed communities.

By saying Self-governing I mean autonomous, properly constituted churches.

By saying Self-supporting I mean that the church in question has called a fulltime shepherd who they are able to adequately compensate.

By saying Self-propagating I mean that the community is actively engaged in creating a community of like-minded believers in another properly constituted church.

Comments?

What is the Spurgeon Fraternal?


So I came back from the Spurgeon Fraternal this afternoon; and it was good. I thought I’d write down a couple of thoughts regarding it.

What is the Spurgeon Fraternal?

3 days, 8 sessions, focused on ‘God is the Gospel’.

The Spurgeon Fraternal is aimed at pastors who hold to the Doctrines of Grace and by and large is attended by those of a Baptistic position [that said, this year there was at least one Paedo-Baptist in the group].

The fraternity’s aims are mutual edification by fellowship with each other and prayer for one another.

That works out in the following way: We have three [or four] sessions a day, of one and a half hours during which we go through some content for half an hour, talk about the content for half an hour and then listen to brothers prayer needs and pray for them for half an hour. The rest of the time is set aside for fellowship and casual conversation (which translates into lengthy debates of the pastoral and theological type).

Where and When is the Spurgeon Fraternal?

Last night bonfire.

Currently the Spurgeon Fraternal happens twice a year; towards the end of the year it’s run on UJ Island, Vaal Dam, and towards the beginning of the year it’s run down in the Western Cape (in Stellenbosch).

The UJ Island, Vaal Dam fraternal is the fraternal that I can make. The beginning of November is just before things start getting crazy and has become a great way for me to gird my loins for the coming battle and I have no doubt that many of the prayer requests offered up are brought before the Lord by brothers regularly in the coming months.

How do I get to go to the Spurgeon Fraternal?

A walk on the wild side.

No group has “rights” to the Spurgeon Fraternal. The mix of Baptist Churches is quite encouraging. This year a number of Baptist Union of Southern Africa churches were represented, some Sola 5 churches, some churches that are in Sola 5 and the Baptist Union of Southern Africa, some independant Baptist churches and a guy from REACH (Reformed Evangelical Anglican Church).

The right person to speak to would be Peter Sammons from Germistion Baptist Church who is the custodian of the mailing list which will inform folk of what’s happening when (psammons@iburst.co.za).

Why consider going to the Spurgeon Fraternal?

To get to the island you take a ferry across the dam. Great times.

Consider going to the Spurgeon Fraternal if you hold tightly to the Doctrines of Grace and desire fellowship with like minded brothers. The fellowship this year was exceptional, the venue as always was great (the sleeping quarters are crude but the food is excellent), the speakers were good (the DVD presentation wasn’t as good as the local content led by Joachim Rieck and Brian Watts), there was worship (we sang a hymn before each session and spent a great deal of time in prayer).

I loved being amongst a bunch of Reformed Pastors and the sideline chats were as edifying as the billboard speakers (I spent an evening been schooled on Amillennial Eschatology and a morning considering Chapter 25 of the 1689; big plus for me). This is a firm fixture on my annual calendar.

Township church; the complexity of answering the question, “What can we do?”


Township Evangelism, church planting

Outreach to Grace Baptist Church, Daveyton. Published on the Crystal Park Baptist Church blog.

I read an excellent article this morning written on the blog Township Reformation. In summary the writer makes the point that we need to plant Bible centric churches in the township because there is an absence of Bible centric churches. Consider this closing statement:

“Our townships not only need more churches, they are desperate for more churches. Churches that are biblical, confessional, and faithful. Not tossed to and fro by any wind of doctrine blowing in this land. Let us pray earnestly to God to raise a new generation that would plant such churches. Also, let us support brothers who are in process of planting or have already, by Gods grace, planted such churches” (TR).

Yet there are so many genuine obstacles to planting township churches one wonders how it may be achieved short of a miracle*. Consider first the competition any Evangelical work faces:

“The open areas [in townships] where we would play as kids have now been occupied by church tents… …Every school is packed with 3 or more churches using classrooms as places of worship on Sundays. This is on top of many old mainline churches that have existed for years… …and not forgetting the hip mega-churches that attract thousands of people from that same township.” (TR)

Then there’s the issue of finances. Now I get there’s financial diversity in the township. Shanty towns are very different to RDP towns which are as different to areas of bonded houses but a key constraint which Evangelical works face is finances. Actually all church plants face this problem alike but the issue is magnified and exponentially harder to overcome in areas where poor teaching regarding the People of God and their finances abound.

In fact, short of a miracle, it’s impossible to plant an Evangelical church into a township. Yet God is a God of miracles so I’d like to posit 3 ways we can answer the question “What can we do?”

1. We can pray

Even if our church isn’t already planting a church into a township we can speak to churches that are. Find out the name of the Pastor. Find out the location of the church. Commit them to pray in your services, in your prayer meetings in your personal devotions. Consider praying for Chris Mnguni at Grace Baptist Church in Daveyton. Or maybe John Ndhlovu at Cosmo City Baptist Church. God hears prayers, and while we remain silent is it any wonder that His Hand is stayed?

2. We can go

Nothing creates more opportunities for a Suburban pastor or congregant than getting a little township dust on their shoes. Once you’ve walked down a dusty street, had to fetch water from a dripping tap 50m away from where you’re working or used a smelly longdrop you quickly get a vision for the need and opportunity in the township. There’s nothing more powerful in a Suburban congregation than 5 people with a heart for a mission. There is a great cookie cut opportunity with an organisation called 3D-Outreach that you as a church might want to investigate. Check out we did here.

3. We can sacrifice

I mean it. Church planting into a township is a long term commitment. The challenges are huge. But the need is desperate. The Church, our church, your church, you in fact need to be prepared to sacrifice. For a limited time only we get to take the Gospel message out to a world that is dying without it. It is a great privileged to be used as an instrument of the almighty God as He goes about His work of calling in the lost sheep. When the time comes remember Paul’s pray for the Philippians,

3 I give thanks to my God for every remembrance of you, 4 always praying with joy for all of you in my every prayer, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. 7 It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because I have you in my heart, and you are all partners with me in grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and establishment of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how deeply I miss all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. 9 And I pray this: that your love will keep on growing in knowledge and every kind of discernment, 10 so that you can approve the things that are superior and can be pure and blameless in the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God” (1:3 – 11).

Who are the Baptists in South Africa?


I created a little content for an interested party a month back or so and I thought I’d test it out on open platform. Please, take a look, make a comment. Agree? Disagree? Make sense? Confusing? I’d like your feedback.

Who are South Africa’s Baptists?

Baptist Union, Rezolution Conference, paedo-Baptists, Sola 5, Liberal, Charismatic, Pneumatology, Isaiah 58, Soteriology, Reformed, Reformed Baptist, Baptist, Baptists, South Africa, BUSA, Baptist Union of Southern Africa, Baptist Convention, Afrikaanse Baptiste Kerke

The Baptist Union

The South African census of 2001 recorded that out of a population of 44,819,774 citizens 691,235 people identified themselves as Baptists in South Africa.

The Baptist Union of Southern Africa in 2010, held in association 524 churches with 43431 members.

I’m a member (ok, I’m the pastor) of a church which is in the Baptist Union of Southern Africa and I think it’s fair to say that even as I look to the interests of my own local church I also desire to see the Union of churches as a whole strengthened. I’m not a passive bystander.

Theological identifications within the Baptist Union

Baptist Union, Rezolution Conference, paedo-Baptists, Sola 5, Liberal, Charismatic, Pneumatology, Isaiah 58, Soteriology, Reformed, Reformed Baptist, Baptist, Baptists, South Africa, BUSA, Baptist Union of Southern Africa, Baptist Convention, Afrikaanse Baptiste Kerke

Theological identifications within the Baptist Union

Two main theological camps have begun to emerge in the last 10 years within the Baptist Union.

Sola 5 Is a grouping of Reformed Baptists who are unified by their Soteriology (Reformed). They are a very well mobilised, cohesive group.

Isaiah 58 Is a grouping of Baptists who are unified primarily by their adoption of church growth strategies and – in lesser part – by their Pneumatology (Charismatic). It’s been pointed out to me that some in Isaiah 58 would see themselves as Reformed Charismatics, others Liberal Charismatics, still others not Charismatic at all.

The majority of the Union is not aligned to either of these camps but in our postmodern world, where truth is a grey substance that no one wants to be caught holding when the music stops, it is very interesting to me that groups are beginning to form which stand for anything. The church which supports me as a missionary is a member of Sola 5 and I actively foster relationships with churches in this group. Over time it seems inevitable that our church would seek dual membership with the Baptist Union and Sola 5.

Who’s networking with who?

Baptist Union, Rezolution Conference, paedo-Baptists, Sola 5, Liberal, Charismatic, Pneumatology, Isaiah 58, Soteriology, Reformed, Reformed Baptist, Baptist, Baptists, South Africa, BUSA, Baptist Union of Southern Africa, Baptist Convention, Afrikaanse Baptiste Kerke

the networks are far more complex than this, but this should get a conversation rolling?

Sola 5 churches have, and are developing, good relationships with paedo-Baptists. You can see these developing relationships in efforts like the Rezolution Conference and fraternal gatherings, like the recent visit by David Carmichael.

I’m a little far removed from Isaiah 58, however, I understand that they are developing relationships and holding joint conferences with a wide range of Charismatics. I hope I haven’t misrepresented them (anyone reading that can fill in the blanks?).

The Baptist Union ties two important Baptist groups together namely the Baptist Convention (former black union of churches) and the Afrikaanse Baptiste Kerke (Afrikaans association of churches).

Who’s training who?

Baptist Union, Rezolution Conference, paedo-Baptists, Sola 5, Liberal, Charismatic, Pneumatology, Isaiah 58, Soteriology, Reformed, Reformed Baptist, Baptist, Baptists, South Africa, BUSA, Baptist Union of Southern Africa, Baptist Convention, Afrikaanse Baptiste Kerke

The picture roughly demonstrates who feeds Our colleges and who they service

There are four colleges producing pastors for the Baptist Union in South Africa.

Christ Seminary produces candidates for churches like mine, Conservative Evangelical (although one could go further and say they groom Dispensational graduates – anyone want to contend?). Cape Town Baptist Seminary and the Baptist Theological College provide graduates to a far wider Baptist pool of churches. The Bible Institute of South Africa services a Reformed base of churches and the Afrikaanse Baptiste Seminarium addresses the Afrikaans constituency.

SATS and UNISA as distance learning institutions are all things to all men and I guess pick up the rest, but play an important role in post-graduate studies.

The Reformed camp, which is notoriously untrusting of local institutions, sends a number of their most promising candidates overseas for university education (Master’s Seminary, London Theological Seminary, Dallas Theological Seminary… – is this a fair statement?).

It’s my opinion that the ratio of graduates to established churches in South Africa is mismatched.

That, in a nutshell, is how I see the lay of the land. Too simple? Too complex? Too pointless? Comment below.

Why I’m using the Holman Christian Standard Bible


Baptist, Benoni, Crystal Park, Crystal Park Baptist Church, dynamic equivalence, English Standard Version, ESV, formal equivalence, gender neutral language, GNB, Good News Bible, HCSB, Holman Christian Standard Bible, King James Version, KJV, NASB, New American Standard Version, New International Version, New King James Version, NIV, NKJV, optimal equivalence, translation

Photo by Tom Cocklereece

Hey there church,

I hope I find you well this morning? It’s getting colder in Johannesburg and we’ll be starting to fire up the heaters in morning services very soon.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been reading the Bible. “Ah”, you might say, “I kinda expected that from my pastor” :). Yes you should, but what I’ve been reading has been a little different and I wanted to tell you about it.

I’ve been concerned about which Bible we use as a congregation. You may have noticed, we’re a diverse bunch of people. Lots of kids who generally read out of the Good News Bible. Lots of foreigners (I love that Crystal Park is the melting pot of Africa) and second language English speakers who generally read out of the New International Version. And the rest? They generally read out of the English Standard Version, King James Version and New American Standard Version.

Now I’m all for diversity, but something’s changed. The New International Version has changed their translation policy to include more gender neutral language. This might not seem a big deal, but think about the way we preach – verse by verse, line by line – we really care about what the original author meant to say to his original hearers. This changed policy is a step too far away from the original language. We need to consider our options.

I received a Holman Christian Standard Bible a few weeks ago. I’ve read the Pentateuch, the Old Testament books of history and long portions of the New Testament since then. I’m impressed. I’ve also done a detailed word study of Colossians 4:2 – 6 and 7 – 18, asked the translators questions and gotten back satisfactory answers.

Maybe you’d like to know a little more about this translation? Well English translations can be simplified into three basic categories: formal, dynamic and optimal equivalence. What does that mean?

The English Standard Version, King James Version and New American Standard Versions are formal equivalence translations. They’re word-for-word, literal translations, and seek to preserve the original language by representing each word of the translated text with an equivalent word so we can see what the original author wrote. I favour this for myself and recommend Bible students to study out of one of these translations.

Translations like the New Living Translation and the Message are called dynamic equivolence translations. They are thought-for-thought and try to capture the meaning of the text more than the form. At Crystal Park Baptist Church we don’t generally encourage people to use these (even though I know some of you do… and yes, I know they’re sooo easy to read).

The HCSB uses optimal equivalence. By that they mean that a literal translation is used when possible, but when clarity and readability demand they’ll opt for an idiomatic translation, the reader can then access the original text through footnotes.

If you’re a visual person I tried to capture the thinking above in the chart below:

Baptist, Benoni, Crystal Park, Crystal Park Baptist Church, dynamic equivalence, English Standard Version, ESV, formal equivalence, gender neutral language, GNB, Good News Bible, HCSB, Holman Christian Standard Bible, King James Version, KJV, NASB, New American Standard Version, New International Version, New King James Version, NIV, NKJV, optimal equivalence, translation

So what’s going to change? I’m so excited to begin preaching through the book of Acts from the 2nd of June. I’m planning to use the HCSB from then. Add to that, the weekly memory verses in the pewslip will be out of the HCSB from now on.

I visited CUM Books in Eastrand Mall last week and they sell HCSB’s at reasonable prices and I checked Christian Book Discounters and they’ve got them available on their website. When we can get hardcover copies at reasonable prices we’ll stock them at church too.

the Penrith's, Mark Penrith

Got questions? Come speak to Gideon or me. I’m sure we’ll release an Elder’s Questions and Answers in the next few days.

In Christ and for His glory alone,

Mark

Three reasons why you return to your sin like a dog returns to vomit, and three reasons why you don’t have to


Dog vomit, sin, shackles

Sin has a power, it festers, it makes you a slave. Click image to enlarge.

What, you think because I’m the pastor I don’t understand the power of sin? It’s festering grip? Enough about me, let’s talk about Joe Soap (that’s you by the way). Why can’t Joe shake off the shackles of sin? Why do you keep on doing precisely what you don’t want to do? Actually, there are tons of possibilities, here’s a stab at three:

1. You enjoy it, you love it, you revel in it.

Oh, I’ve heard plenty of testimonies of how bad things were before a person came to Christ, and how rosy things are now; but maybe that’s not you. Maybe you think back and you’re not quite sure things were as bad as the guy weeping his heart out at the front of the church says it was.

2. You’re not a mass murderer, it’s not like anyone’s getting hurt by what you’re into.

Like we all know of someone who gets drunk and beats up their wife or kids. Those guys really need Jesus. For their own sake, and the people around them. But you’re not that bad. You’re not hurting anyone. Your sin is under control.

3. You’re on top of things. Yes you sin, but you’re trying really hard to keep Mr Hyde under wraps.

Like everyone else you’re doing what you can. Trying really hard not to get cross, really hard not to watch porn, really hard not to drink, really hard not to… I don’t know what you’re wrapped up in but I know if you try hard enough the neighbours’ll think you’re a saint.

But, it doesn’t work does it? Ever watched a dog return to it’s vomit? It’s a disgusting thing. But they do; again and again and again. Good News is you don’t have to and here’s why:

1. If you love your sin more than Jesus I’ve got to tell you about my saviour.

Sin’s lying to you. Remember Eve in the garden of Eden? Remember the snake? The fruit? Remember what he said? “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Satan lied. In a way Eve did die that day, and with Adam she lost her ability to choose good of her own free will. Maybe that’s you? Maybe you’ve fallen in love with the forbidden fruit? Don’t feel alone; the Bible says “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and it says that “the wages of sin is death” and it says that “God’s wrath remains on them.” If you’re a great sinner you’re in need of a great saviour. Jesus Christ lived a perfect live and died so that you may be saved from that wrath, from that death. A wonderful life in eternity is promised, free from sin; and an abundant life in the present can be experienced too, no longer living as a slave to one’s sin.

2. If your sin is as black as night I’ve got to tell you something of God’s grace.

I’ve got one of those testimonies where I tried everything. Well maybe not everything but enough to make my ears burn red and leave me knowing I needed a saviour. For the longest time I didn’t trust anyone who said they’d become a Christian when they were a kid. I just couldn’t see what drove them to the cross unless they’d done something dreadful, something wicked, like me. I underestimated the sinfulness of sin. Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi and whoever else you put up on a pedestal all have something in common: they have a condition they share; sin. Oh their sins may look a little whiter than yours or mine but we’re not their judge. Comparing ourselves to Adolph Hitler or Lady Gaga isn’t helpful when one day we’ll stand before a holy God who’ll compare us to His perfect standard. Even our good works on that day will be like filthy rags. But His grace; His infinitely, brilliant, saving grace, which makes me weep right now even to think of it, is enough! It’s enough to turn you and save you and keep you.

3. If your best isn’t good enough I’ve got to tell you about His best.

I was a dreadful student at school. I remember once or twice my dad sitting me down and saying, “Son, just do you best, that’s all I ask.” God doesn’t demand your best, He demands perfection, and you’re never going to measure up to that. That’s why He sent Jesus. Jesus, the Son of God, is the best. Ever heard that hymn “Jesus paid it all?” We’re beggars at the foot of the cross with nothing to offer. “Jesus paid it all.” Your work, your effort, it’s stupid hypocrisy. Trust in that and on that Day you’re standing on sinking sand. But trust upon the name of Jesus Christ, His finished work upon the cross, and you’re standing on a sure foundation.

What am I saying? Maybe you’re struggling with sin because in truth you’ve not laid the burden of it down at the foot of the cross and come empty handed to the saviour, trusting in His finished work rather than your own; God’s abundant grace rather than your own excuses or a professed a love for the beautiful saviour rather than a lust for the things of the flesh. Maybe this note’s for you.

Three reasons why you didn’t go to church today, and three reasons why you should have


The Body of Christ

The church is a body. The Head is Christ. Click image to enlarge.

So here’s the thing, it was cold this morning, I was lazy this morning, and if it wasn’t for the fact that I’m the pastor I might have been tempted to give church a skip this morning. Actually, there are a billion reasons (little bit of hyperbole there) why you might not have gone to church this morning and I’m not going to uncover all of them, but here is a stab at three:

1. Church is for people that need church, I’m fine, by myself, with my Bible, at home.

Truth is if you think anything like the heading above you’re not in the minority. Loads of folk think church can happen wherever they are (like underneath the duvet on cold Winter days). Church is for people who need church and if you don’t need church don’t feel guilty for not going.

2. Church is for people who have something to offer, I’m too short/too nerdy/too poor/too rich to add any value to church.

Can’t help driving around Jozie and noticing the billboards all over the place with really rich looking pastors, bling draped around their necks and on their fingers, 1,000,000 Million Dollar smiles plastered on their faces. Or those guys that lead worship with the rock star haircuts and designer clothes. Even the woman that operate the coffee pots look like they hold theological degrees. Churches can sometimes leave us with the feeling that they don’t need you. So why bother going?

3. My local church wouldn’t miss me if I disappeared for 10 months on an excursion to the Amazon, I’m just not needed.

So here’s the thing, have you ever gone to church, for ages, and then you skip a few weeks and no one notices? Yip, like they make such a big deal about how important people are, but when push comes to shove you’re not too sure if you matter… to anyone other than your mother… and she doesn’t go to that church anyway!

Well here’s the thing (take two), whilst many of us have experienced any number of the objections listed above at one stage or another, they are dreadful excuses for not finding, getting involved in and grafting yourself to a local church. Here’s why:

1. You’re not fine, by yourself, with your Bible, at home.

Church isn’t all about you ninny; it’s about Jesus. Think of this metaphor. Church is like a body. You’re a member of the body. Jesus is the head. Want to be connected to Christ? Be connected to the body! Cut a finger off the body who’s worse off? The finger or the rest of the body?

2. You have something to offer, and maybe it is that you’re too short/too nerdy/too poor/too rich.

God chooses us. And He’s got a plan in mind. He chooses every individual member with intent and has predestined good works for us to live in before the foundation of the world. So it doesn’t matter what your deficiencies are, your characteristics are needed, both by others and to God’s glory.

3. Don’t go on a 10 month excursion to the Amazon, not just yet, you’re needed where you are.

So maybe you’ve had a bad experience. Sorry about that. Truth is just because some group here or there messed up your relationship with them doesn’t negate your obligation to serve God and His people. See, the church isn’t a building that people go to, leave and don’t go back to. The church is the people. You are part of that people. That people need you to be the people they are supposed to be. I’m thinking of Paul right now. I read Romans 16 and Colossians 4 earlier this morning. Paul lists about 36 people in those two chapters that are part of his life and his ministry. Who’s life and ministry are you part of? Who’s part of your life and ministry? You’re required.

Get out of bed. Find a church. Get connected to the body and Head. Live out your life to God’s praise and glory.