Since the inception of Sola 5, the importance of all the member churches coming together for fellowship, edification and direction, was recognized. Thus it was agreed that there would, on an annual basis, be an assembly of all the churches within the Sola 5 Association which would be held in the month of September. Seven years have gone by since that very first assembly, and in that time by God’s grace, we have witnessed the growth and progress of our association, to which we give all the glory to God. For those of us who have been to these assemblies we know that they are of incredible benefit not only to our own souls but also for the association itself. Below you will find a threefold report of the last assembly held in Livingston, Zambia. To give this report some more flavour and perspective we have asked three men to write on the three different aspects of the assembly. We trust that this report not only gives a faithful and accurate reflection of the assembly, but also for those of you who have not been to an assembly, that it will entice you to come to our next one. For those of us who have been to previous assemblies, we trust that this report will whet your appetite for our next assembly and set us all to prayer for it.
Sola 5 was born in fellowship! When pastors get together to talk and pray, things happen! A good number of pastors that were meeting together (during the course of some of our Spurgeon fraternals) in the very early years of the 21st century began to feel the need for a fellowship or closer association of God centred churches, and it is in this spirit that our first annual conference was held at Antipas Baptist Church in Pretoria in 2005.
Central to our annual assembly is the proclamation of the word of God. The word of God gives us our theological cohesion, but it is the loving fellowship of such likeminded brethren that makes the Word come alive: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). At our Sola 5 meetings one senses that here is the “truth on fire” and “in action.”
The conferences usually begin on a Thursday afternoon and end on a Sunday afternoon. Meeting the brethren upon arrival is such a wonderful experience in itself! Ronald Kalifungwa and I have developed the practice that upon seeing each other in the distance we would get on our knees and bow with our noses in the dust of the country which we happen to be in. I normally call him “your eminence,” whilst he bestows upon me one or the other unspeakable title! Christo Beetge gives me a bear hug, while Pete Sammons, Brian Stone, Conrad Mbewe, Roland Eskinazi, Des Baker and other Sola 5 veterans greet with a warm handshake. “It’s so good to see you, brother!” says Hein Strauss, our faithful administrator and coordinator through all these years, who reserves a special place in all our hearts.
These initial meetings were some of the defining moments of true fellowship in my own experience. As the years have passed these relationships have become treasured, to the point where we share in each other’s sorrows and joys. Now a few years later a new team of men and women are arriving and being integrated into this wonderful fellowship.
Getting to know a man like Dr. Grave Singogo from Evangel Baptist Church (Lusaka), Isaac Makashinyi from Emmasdale (Lusaka) or choice men like OB Macwele, Pastor Andy Simelane from Manzini Fellowship Church in Swaziland and Kobus van der Walt from Antipas Baptist Church in Vereeniging, is a real treat.
And now, lest I give a skewed report, and make it appear as if only pastors and elders were meeting at this conference, let me hasten to add that this is assuredly not so. Every year faithful members of our association of churches (men, women and children) make time to attend these conferences, thereby adding to the rich flavour of the conference. The flavour is often enhanced by being in a particular country. Thus, just having been in Livingstone, Zambia, we were out-flavoured by Zambians! Being in a particular country also means that some time is given to visit the tourist attractions of that country. I assure you that this year we had not come to Livingstone to catch up on sleep in our respective lodges, for we were irresistibly drawn to the place of the noisy waters, the majestic Victoria Falls!
Sola 5 is an association of churches in Southern Africa. We have managed to meet thus far in South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Zambia. Next year we shall, God willing, be in Swaziland. I for one look eagerly forward to that occasion when we shall continue to prayerfully consolidate the vision of our great God who calls us to subdue Southern Africa and this earth for his glory. I shall look forward in due time to be with you all, and I shall trust in the meantime that you also shall be there!
A Christian conference is not only a time to meet with other Christians to “confer” with one another but also a time to be challenged afresh from the word of God. We had plenty of this during the 2011 Sola 5 Conference in Livingstone. This year our attention was drawn to the theme of the cultural mandate and the need for us to take it seriously. Different preachers handled various aspects of this to bring about a good and complete meal for the conferees.
Bruce Button preached on the topic, “The Biblical Basis for the Cultural Mandate.” He handled this under three sub-headings: The cultural mandate established at Creation, affected by the Fall, and restored in Christ. He pointed to the statement “formless and empty” in Genesis 1 as the problem and then went on to show that in the separating of things and the filling of the earth God was bringing order and beauty to his creation. The climax of all this was the creation of man in his own image and giving to him the cultural mandate. Bruce explained the cultural mandate in a very practical way so that we could see how all our activities in the realm of law, science, art, etc., are an act of worship. We briefly saw how this was affected by the Fall and redeemed in Christ. The first three chapters are crucial in grasping what we are supposed to be doing on earth as God’s image bearers.
Jeff Gage preached on the topic, “The Theological Basis of the Cultural Mandate.” Having begun with the creation of Adam and Eve, he went on to trace three pairs of words in Scripture—kingdom and king, temple and priest, and covenant and prophet. He showed how these three pairs of concepts applied to Adam before the Fall, through the days of Noah, the nation of Israel in the Old Testament, in the person of Christ in the New Testament, and in the church’s role in bringing about the consummation of all things when Jesus returns. It was eye opening to see how the whole of human history can be summarised through the eyes of these theological concepts.
Joachim Rieck spoke on the topic, “The Historical Outworking of the Cultural Mandate in Western Civilization.” From the very onset, Joachim made it clear that he was not going to glorify Western culture because there is everything wrong with where it is today. However, he traced Western civilization from the end of the Roman Empire, through the split of the church into the Western and Eastern church in the 11th century, the Renaissance in the 14th century, the Reformation in the 16th century, the industrial revolution in the 18th and 19th century, etc. The central place of the Reformation, in bringing the Bible to the people, was emphasized. It was the root from which we have seen the explosion of knowledge in the last five hundred years. Joachim ended by reading two articles that showed that even the current boom in the economy of China is as a result of the Christian work ethic!
I preached on “The Place of Christian Education in the Cultural Mandate.” I sought to show that the concept of the cultural mandate principally seeks to answer the question, “Why am I here?” We are on earth to grow up, marry, have children and rear them, and then discover the principles of nature, harness these laws for the good of humanity and for the glory of God, according to the gifts that God has given us. Having said that, I showed the role that education—and especially Christian education—plays to ensure that this takes place. Education played a foundational, stewardship, and redemptive role. We need to know what God says as to why we are in his universe, we need to pass on this truth to future generations, and we need to do so cognizant of the effect of the Fall and of the redemption Christ brought to us through his death on the cross. Sadly most of us were brought up on atheistic and humanistic education. We must reverse this trend so that our children, our fellow church members, and the people in our community can know why they are on God’s planet.
Ronald Kalifungwa preached on the topic, “The Place of a Biblical Work Ethic in the Fulfilment of the Cultural Mandate.” Ronald bemoaned the absence of biblical work ethic in Africa and saw that this was one reason why Africa lagged behind in development. Ronald showed how work was from creation, how the Fall affected work, and how redemption in Christ is supposed to produce a working people. He implored us to evangelize the people around us and at the same time seek to transform Africa into garden cities through hard work. There is no doubt that if every Christian in Africa appreciated the place of hard work in the Christian faith, this continent would be transformed to the glory of God.
Finally, on the last day, Choolwe Mwetwa preached on the topic, “The Application of the Cultural Mandate in Africa.” He identified the Christian as salt and light in the world, using the concepts the Lord taught in Matthew 5:13-16. He argued from this that we have the duty to explore, to exploit, and to beautify this degenerating world. Choolwe traced a number of hindrances to the cultural mandate, including cultural enslavement, which is one of the biggest hindrances in Africa. He ended by drawing our attention to perceptual, structural, and relational adjustments, which needed to be engaged in as a way of coming out of this malady that has crippled us in Africa and caused us to fail to apply the cultural mandate. The gospel, he asserted, is the chief weapon in producing a people who would work hard in God’s world.
From this summary, one can immediately see that God spoke to us, leaving us with no excuse for our failure to live out the cultural mandate that he has given us. The word of God was faithfully preached. It was now up to us to shake ourselves out of our dull sloth and get to work in looking after God’s world in a God-centred way. By grace, we shall be obedient!
The business matters Sola 5 has to attend to are mainly addressed by the Annual Business Meeting, the 2011 ABM being the seventh meeting of its kind.
Fifteen Sola 5 member churches were represented at the ABM, far exceeding the constitutionally required 30% for a quorum. The conference was attended by a significant number of non-member churches: one from as far afield as Kenya, five from South Africa, six from Zambia, and even two from the United Kingdom. Regarding the latter, the meeting received with thanks the greetings brought from the Evangelical Movement of Wales by Joyce Steven, who was attending her third Sola 5 Conference.
The meeting approved new membership applications from three churches:
- Birchleigh Baptist Church, which is in Kempton Park, South Africa;
- Kafue Baptist Church in the town of Kafue about fifty kilometres south of Lusaka; and
- Midrand Chapel, which is halfway between Johannesburg and Pretoria.
Membership renewal applications were tabled and approved for 21 of the 23 member churches. Unfortunately Grace Bible Church (Nelspruit, SA) and the Fellowship of Believers in Christ (Nampula, Mozambique) did not apply for renewal of membership and the meeting agreed that according to our constitution, their membership would lapse. This brings the Sola 5 church membership total to 24.
Apart from church membership, Sola 5 also has individual Associate Members. The purpose of Associate Membership is to provide fellowship, encouragement and teaching for believers who are not able to find a likeminded local church in their area. Associate membership provides such individuals the opportunity of participating in activities of the Association, and to facilitate the process of church planting. The 2009 ABM amended the constitution by adding a requirement for associate members unable to attend the annual conference and ABM to show how they participated meaningfully in the activities of the association in the preceding year. This requirement has naturally led to a drop in the number of associate membership renewal applications. The renewal applications of Gordon Bull and Paul Karstens were tabled and approved. The new application of Boyd Scriven was also approved.
Between the ABMs the business of the Sola 5 association is handled by the steering committee. Kobus van der Walt (Vereeniging SA): Christo Beetge (Alberton SA), Jeff Gage (Boksburg SA), Ronald Kalifungwa (Lusaka), Conrad Mbewe (Lusaka), and Pieter Slabber (Windhoek, Namibia) were elected for 2011-12 to serve with current members, Roland Eskinazi (Cape Town), OB Macwele (Manzini, Swaziland) and Peter Sammons (Germiston SA). Peter was subsequently chosen by the committee as chairman for the term. Ronald and Conrad requested Grave Singogo and Isaac Makashini be co-opted onto the committee in their place.
The main business of the 2011 ABM revolved around Sovereign Grace Theological Seminary (SGTS) and the African Christian University (ACU).
Sovereign Grace Theological Seminary
Bruce Button, head of the SGTS, reported that SGTS was established five years ago. In 2008 it was decided to relocate SGTS to Zambia where it would fall under the joint oversight of Lusaka, Kabwata, Evangel, and Mount Makulu Baptist Churches. An administrator was appointed a few weeks prior to the ABM. Bruce reported a current enrolment of 16 students: seven from Zambia, two from Malawi, three from Zimbabwe, three from South Africa, and one from Namibia. Despite progress made, SGTS still faces a number of challenges, the biggest of which remained the addition of full time staff. It is envisioned that the SGTS would become the theological faculty of the ACU.
Bruce challenged the member churches of Sola 5 to consider tithing an amount equalling 10% of their pastor’s salary to SGTS.
African Christian University
Ken Turnbull, director of ACU, provided background and led the discussion. ACU is a mammoth project under the oversight of the same four churches as SGTS. Ken showed an inspiring DVD which provided detailed background as well as outlining the ACU vision and strategy. Readers requiring more information are encouraged to have a look at the website, as well as an article in a recent edition of the Sola 5 Chronicles.
Future Sola 5 Conferences were planned as follows: 6 to 9 September 2012 in Manzini (Swaziland), to be hosted by Manzini Fellowship Church; and 2013 in Windhoek (Namibia), to be hosted by the Windhoek Sola 5 churches.
We request that you please not only diarise the dates of our next assembly and seek to make the necessary arrangements to attend, but also that you pray for the association and for the assembly. We look forward to seeing you in Swaziland and will give you further details of the assembly as the time draws closer.