How do churches, associations and unions relate?

Since the Baptist Union of Southern Africa’s 2013 Assembly I’ve been giving some thought to the inter-relation of churches, associations and unions; and how to transfer that thinking to my congregation. This is where I’m at so far and I’d love to hear where you’re at.

What is a Baptist Church?

A Baptist church is a gathered community of Protestant believers which accepts the supreme and final authority of Holy Scripture in all matters of faith and practice. Baptist churches observes two ordinances, that of Believers’ Baptism by Immersion and the Lord’s Supper. Baptist churches ascribe to the principles detailed above, although the implementation of them may differ from church to church.


What is a Baptist Association?

A Baptist association is made up of a number of autonomous local churches. All local churches in an association would prescribe to Christian tenants of belief and Baptist distinctives. Local churches would hold voluntarily membership with an association.

The Baptist Union of Southern Africa has 7 geographic associations affiliated to it. But not every Baptist association is a member of the Baptist Union of Southern Africa; for example Sola 5 and Isaiah 58 which are theological associations are unaffiliated to other bodies.


What is the Baptist Union?

The Baptist Union of Southern Africa was founded in 1877 by four English-speaking churches and one German-speaking church in the Eastern Cape. Today it comprises of many hundreds of churches spread throughout Southern Africa. It is a voluntary organisation comprised of a number of associations which prescribe to Christian tenants of belief and Baptist distinctives.


How do they inter-related?

So here I want to detail what the specified functions of associations and unions are and then briefly layout what each group ought to do.

The associations are to 1.) promote and provide opportunities for Christian fellowship and unity among the churches, the pastors and all the Baptists in the area; 2.) provide the opportunity and possibility for the churches, pastors and people to perform together ministries and services which they would not easily be able to do alone; 3.) to seek to provide resources to assist the churches, the pastors and the members to serve the Lord more effectively; 4.) to provide care, guidance, challenge and vision to the churches, pastors and members; 5.) to seek to establish, assist and nurture Baptist churches and fellowships in the area; 6.) to encourage evangelistic outreach and missionary activity among churches, fellowships and individual Baptists; 7.) to assume such functions and responsibilities on behalf of the union as may be mutually agreed upon; 8.) to disseminate Baptist Principles and to advocate religious liberty for all.

I’d sum the above up by saying that the associations are to provide facilitation between churches.

The union is to 1.) collect information respecting the history, organisation and work of Member Churches and Associations; 2.) co-ordinate and combine the efforts of Member Churches in all matters affecting the general welfare of the Union, and its Members; 3.) engage in medical, educational, relief and other benevolent work and to confer and co-operate as occasion may require with Member Churches and other christian communities and philanthropic societies; 4.) make provision for retiring and relief allowances for its staff, Ministers, Missionaries and their wives or widows; 5.) provide for theological education and for training for service in the churches; 6.) control admission to and deletion from the Union’s lists of accredited ministers; 7.) provide for the supply of church and mission requisites; 8.) give services of advice or arbitration in cases of difference or dispute, with the consent of the parties concerned; 9.) receive, purchase, hold, hypothecate, sell, donate, lease, exchange and partition movable and immovable property; 10.) act as Trustee for any Church or Association whether established or to be established; 11.) invest funds of the Union in such manner as may be prescribed by By-Law; 12.) To confer and co-operate as occasion may require with Member Churches and Ministers in connection with ministerial settlement and the like; 13.) tender advice to Member Churches and Ministers on all matters appertaining to ministerial settlements and the like; 14.) borrow money with or without security for the purposes of the Union, and Associations, in such manner at such times and on such conditions as the Executive may determine; 15.) appoint and dismiss staff; 16.) make or amend such By-Laws as it may deem necessary for the proper administration of its business.

I’d sum the above up by saying that the union is to provide administration services to churches.



The Baptism of the Holy Spirit (Part 3)

<— Click here for Part 2 Click here for Part 4 —>

The baptism of the Holy Spirit is, “…that work whereby the Spirit of God places the believer into union with Christ and into union with other believers in the body of Christ at the moment of salvation.” (Gotquestions 2010)

Inaugurated in the New Testament, on the day of Pentecost, the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Eph 4:5) is an exclusive ministry in this Dispensation. The Apostle Peter confirmed this while recalling the installation of the early church, “…the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning….” (Acts 11:15)

In the context of Paul’s words to the Ephesians (Eph 4:3 – 6) it is our Baptism, along with our shared faith, Lord and God, which encourage us to maintain the bonds of Christian unity. It is also that which unites us to His body (Eph 4:1 – 6), the church, and because once joined to the body a believer cannot be detached (Jn 6:39) it follows that baptism is a once off event.

If sin is the cause of man’s calamity then the baptism of the Holy Spirit is our boon as it represents the liberation from the power of sin in our lives (Rom 1 – 11).

<— Click here for Part 2 Click here for Part 4 —>

The Great Big Blue Dot (Part 1)

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Figure 1: The Great Big Blue Dot. Click image to enlarge.

Liezl, the kids and I attend a small church, Midrand Chapel, in the North of Johannesburg, South Africa.

Midrand Chapel isn’t exactly a descriptive label is it? Midrand covers a wide geographical area and comprises of many neighborhoods and the word Chapel conjures up images of some wishy-washy-anything-goes-pseudo-Christian wedding venue on the outskirts of town.

If you dug a bit deeper and took a squizz through our church constitution you’d discover we were formally called Midrand Baptist Church and we describe ourselves in the document as an Independent Baptist church.

What’s unique about Baptists anyway? Christo Beetge* from Brackenhurst Baptist Church sums it up quite nicely into 10 bite sized distinctives: The Direct Lordship of Christ, The Priesthood of All Believers, Congregational Accountability, The Authority and Sufficiency of the Bible, The Priority of Verbal Proclamation in Worship and Service, Regenerate Church Membership, Separation of Church and State, The Two Ordinances, The Autonomy of the Local Church and Freedom of Conscience.

Bottom-line, Baptists world over share a common set of identifiable doctrinal distinctives. Because of this most congregants attending Baptist‘ish [sic] churches think of themselves as belonging to The Great Big Blue Dot (see Figure 1). Metaphorically, anything inside the circle is Baptist, anything outside is not and the solid blue fill represents our unified doctrine. Simple.

The Great Big Shaded Dot. Click image to enlarge.

Actually it’s not so simple. Those identifying themselves as Baptists today, although agreeing on some central points of doctrine, differ widely from one another on many other matters of faith. Differences in Ecclesiology, Eschatology, Soteriology and Pneumatology for starters make us a fairly heterogenous bunch.

The image on top isn’t completely inaccurate but instead of one shade of blue Baptistdom in South Africa is more like The Great Big Shaded Dot (Figure 2) which acknowledges a broad’ish** range of Theological diversity which is how churches which cling to traditional Baptist tenants such as Rosebank Union, Honeyridge Baptist Church, Brackenhurst Baptist Church, Constantia Park Baptist Church, Antioch Bible Church, Grace Christian Church, New Covenant Baptist Church and even little old Midrand Chapel can co-exist in unified tension; held together but pushed apart; a mixed bag of fruit.

** While there is a plethora of diversity within the Union and beyond it is worth mentioning that the differences are nothing like the swath of division faced by other mainline denominations such as the Anglicans.

Christo Beetge Brackenhurst Baptist Church

* The ariticle referenced in this post was written by Christo Beetge, formerly pastor of Springs Baptist Church, handles much of the counselling at the church. Christo also oversees the Young Adults ministry of the church. He is married to Maureen and has two children: Anton and Gillian.

Click here for Part 2 —>