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.

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Baptist Assembly: Day 1


So the 2012 Baptist Assembly starts today and I’m kinda excited. I’m really looking forward to seeing some friends (especially the guys that don’t stay in Johannesburg like Malcolm and Rocky). I’m also looking forward to some great discussion, there are sound thinkers in the Union and I love to spend time getting sharpened by them. I’m looking forward to the morning devotionals (which were a highlight for me last year) and the keynote addresses (last year there were some outstanding expository sermons, especially Trent and ilk). Oh, and Gideon Mpeni is going with me and I’m really looking forward to introducing him to all that is good about being connected.

I’m a bit miffed that the Assembly is over a weekend, a Sunday away from the flock. I’m sure that the conference could (and maybe should) run from Tuesday to Friday. But the joy is that while I’m away our congregation will, for the next two weeks, receive teaching from two preachers from amongst our own number for the very first time, Charles and Gideon. Also while I’m on the Westrand I get to preach away from home this week which is always exciting.

Basically I’m going into the Assembly on a high note; which is much better than last year when I went in on an apprehensive note. I’ll check in regularly and hopefully take some good pics this year :).

Assembled


Baptist Union of South Africa Assembly 2011

The key highlight of the Assembly was the two hours each morning dedicated to inductive Bible study. Click image to enlarge.

I attended the Baptist Union Assembly this past week and was greatly encouraged; having arrived a disengaged delegate; unconnected, uncommitted and a bit uncomfortable but leaving reconnected, reinvigorated and excited.

The greatest swing for me was the assembled delegates commitment to God’s Word. Each morning began with a 2 hour inductive Bible study where all delegates met in small groups and studied through the book of Nehemiah. If I ever doubted the devotion of fellow Baptists to the Bible I can no longer.

Baptist Union of South Africa Assembly 2011

Some thorns. Malcolm Cunningham (Knysna Baptist Church), Rocky Stevenson (Living Waters Baptist Church), Tyrell Haag (Constantia Park Baptist Church), Me (Crystal Park Baptist Church) and Ian Stuart (Pretoria North Baptist). Click image to enlarge.

Secondly, whereas before I might have mistakenly thought I was a conservative thorn amongst more liberal roses I have since realised that Union is far more conservative than I had perceived. While it is true While I perceive that the more Reformed, orthodox, traditional voices are somewhat muted, apathetic or disconnected one cannot but acknowledge that they’re still there; with what I perceive is a growing desire to interact and intertwine for the cause of the cross.

All in all, I’m glad I went and I’m now looking forward to ways that I can positively contribute to the cause of Christ within the fold of the Baptist Union of South Africa.

Going Dotty (Part 6)


<— Click here for Part 5

Thanks to all the flesh and blood people who’ve phoned, emailed and chatted to me in the last few weeks regarding my “slow slide off the face of the earth”. I’ve taken a bit of a “blogging sabbatical” brought on by a decision faced by my wife and I regarding our involvement in the establishment of God’s kingdom. Truthfully I’ve been a bit too introspective to produce anything of any literary value of late. Thanks for your patience. God willing I’ll be back soon. Until then: this article was written by Christo Beetge*. There’s only one more installment to go!

More and more it seems to be the case today that people who call themselves “Baptists” or “Methodists” or “Presbyterians” are unable to define what they mean when using such specific terminology. This confusion and historical ignorance reveals itself further in the fact that people seem to be unclear as to the differences between these various ecclesiastical groupings. This means that if I were to say in conversation that my roots lie in the “Brethren Church” or the “Church of the Nazarene” (for example), it is unlikely that I would actually have communicated anything meaningful by saying so.

More and more people are keen to believe that being a “Christian” is all that matters, and that we should not bother to define our terms. A moment’s thought would reveal the folly of such simplicity. Even the word “Christian” is a technical term, laden with some freight. If you want to communicate something by using the term then you need to answer the question, “But what do you mean by calling yourself a… (Christian, Baptist, Methodist, etc)”. It is to help bring some clarity to the term “Baptist” that this series of articles has been written. These articles have sought then to answer the very reasonable question, “What freight is implied by the term ‘Baptist’?”

Thus far eight issues have been raised. I have argued historically that Baptists are a peculiar group of believers who hold in common a commitment to a bouquet of convictions called ‘Baptist Principles’. To this point we have mentioned and briefly discussed the following:

  • The Direct Lordship of Jesus Christ – every believer must by definition have a direct and unmediated relationship with God the Father by means of the Person and work of God the Son;
  • The Priesthood of all Believers – every believer is a priest unto God;
  • The Congregational Life – because every individual believer has this direct access to God through Christ and is enabled by the indwelling Spirit to be a priest unto God, such members have the right and the responsibility to participate constructively and definitively in the life of the local congregation;
  • The Authority and Sufficiency of the Bible – all matters of Faith and practise must be regulated and shaped by direct reference to the written Word which God has inspired, inscripturated and preserved for our eternal good;
  • The Priority of Verbal Proclamation in worship and service – since saving faith comes from hearing the Word of God, our activities in mission, evangelism and discipleship must be heavily centered upon verbal proclamation and application of all of Scripture;
  • Regenerate Church Membership – only those who are willing to make a credible profession of faith in Jesus Christ and who engage in good works may be considered as members of a local church;
  • Separation of Church and State – the authority of civil authorities is limited to civil matters, and must not encroach upon the authority of parents in the home nor on the authority of believers in the local church;
  • The Two Ordinances – only two ceremonies were ordered by the Head of the Church, the Lord Jesus Christ, namely baptism of confessors in Christ by immersion in water, and the eating of the Lord’s Supper as an act of remembrance in which Christ Jesus is present.

Before we mention one further Baptist Principle here (leaving a final one for the fifth and concluding article in this series), let it be stated again plainly, that all Christians, by definition, will hold to a selection of the above convictions. None of these principles is unique to those who use the name “Baptist”. But what is unique is that Baptists, by definition, hold to all ten of these principles, and these convictions shape local Baptist churches and flavour their ethos and approach.

Furthermore, let it also be stated again, that the word “Baptist” is not a political or denominational designation. It is possible to be authentically ‘baptistic’ without actually using the word “Baptist” in your churches name. Too many people seem to think that you can only be a “Baptist” church if you belong to some formal grouping like the Baptist Union, or some grouping of that kind.

Well, now to the ninth Baptist Principle. Although baptistic churches, emphasising as they do the significance of the local church, have emphasized inter-dependence and sought not to be isolationist or sectarian in their independence, we none the less want to remain committed to the idea of autonomy. By the notion designated by the phrase, “the autonomy of the local church”, Baptists certainly do not want to suggest that one local church has absolutely no need of other like-minded Baptist churches.

In fact, this inter-dependence is the very reality that lies behind co-operative associations like the Sola 5 family. It is simply a logical fact of economy and limited resources that means that in order to be productively engaged in world missions and theological education, each local church will need to pool its limited resources with those of other like-minded congregations. But, (and here’s the point), this associating of ourselves together for the purpose of greater strategic involvement in missions and training, must not be allowed to develop into some ecclesiastical structure that will ultimately supersede the local church in authority.

To put it plainly: There is no “Head Office” to which the local “branch” like BBC is accountable. Or to state it slightly differently: When BBC gathers as an assembly of formal members and God is present by His Spirit, then there exists no higher ecclesiastical authority on earth! The pope of Rome is only head of the Roman Catholic Church – He has absolutely no authority outside of the his ecclesiastical structure.

Thoughtful readers will immediately see the significance of the issue discussed last time, under the heading “Separation of Church and State”. No one has the right, according to the baptistic understanding of God’s delegated authority to the local church and her office-bearers, to interfere in our local church affairs. The reason for this is that we simply do not see anywhere in Scripture that there is another strata of authority under which the local church falls.

Two Scripture issues immediately bear mentioning. The first is the fact that the seven letters in Revelation 2-3 were addressed not to the organization but to seven individual local churches. These local churches were recognised by God the Spirit as separate entities. They had specific strengths and weaknesses and needed individual attention by their ever-present Lord and Master. They were “the seven churches in Asia”, not “the church in Asia”.

The second Scripture issue is the church Council convened at Jerusalem in Acts 15. Many local churches in the various regions to which the gospel had spread were facing a common threat from Judaizers (i.e. those believers of Jewish origin who wanted to impose certain Jewish practices upon new converts to Christ). This matter was referred back to the gathered apostles in Jerusalem. The question then, is this: “Does Acts 15 not run counter to our baptistic conviction regarding autonomy?”

Dutch Reformed and Presbyterian synods, for instance, would argue against Baptists on this matter, suggesting that there is indeed a layer of authority that supersedes the local church. Baptists would hold rather that the Jerusalem Council is an example of co-operation for the sake of clarity, involving a unique group of Apostles. Today, we have the completed canon of Scripture (rather than the authoritative office of “apostle”). Whilst a gathering of spiritually mature representatives from various local congregations (such as their Elders) may benefit each local church by applying their collective wisdom to a matter, they may not impose their will on any local congregation. Rather than hierarchical structures, Baptists delight in the promise of the Lord Jesus that “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them” (Matt 18:20).

Baptists feel very strongly that the emphasis should be kept at the level of the local church acting as a body with the unmediated wisdom and direction of the Holy Spirit. Christ is the Head of the Church and will direct affairs in local churches by means of the Spirit through the agency of the written Word. (I trust that increasingly it is becoming clearer how inter-woven the logical connection is between these various Principles?)

Having raised these issues of conviction then, again the question must be asked: “Are you a Baptist? Or do you just happen to worship at a church with that name?

Christo Beetge Brackenhurst Baptist Church

* An article, written by Christo Beetge, and published in 5 parts in the Brackenhurst Baptist Church’s monthly in-house publication entitled Pastors’ Pen. This publication is produced by the Elders, with a view to stimulate congregational discussion and debate and to promote rigorous Christian discipline in reading and thinking.

<— Click here for Part 5