A few unpretentious meetings, numbering between fifty and a little over two hundred, are not the stuff of headline news. And there were no reporters present at the meeting place of Antipas Reformed Baptist Church in Pretoria when believers from around southern Africa gathered together in the Spring of 2005 to establish a new association of churches. Yet, those who participated in these meetings believe that the formation of Sola 5 during 2005 has signalled a historic year in the progress of God’s kingdom in southern Africa. We do not claim any special insight into the sovereign plans of God, who alone is the Lord of history, but the unmistakeable sense of his presence in our gatherings encourages us to believe that his blessing is resting on our endeavours. Our heartfelt response to the developments so far is to say with Samuel and the people of Israel, “Ebenezer—thus far has the Lord helped us” (1 Samuel 7:12). We wish to acknowledge his mercy by providing a short account of his working among us up to this point.
One cannot speak about the formation of Sola 5 without speaking about the Spurgeon Fraternal—a fellowship of pastors from across South Africa which gathers two or three times a year for prayer, mutual instruction and encouragement. The Fraternal has been meeting since 1998, and in the time since its inception some deep, trusting relationships have been built. Only a few of us attended the Spurgeon Fraternal meeting of July 2004 (held at Skögheim on the Kwazulu-Natal south coast), but there was among us a deep sorrow that Christians—especially those who share our convictions—were apparently so weak and fragmented. I remember our pleading with the Lord to make us more united and effective for Him.
The next Fraternal (held at the Vaal Dam during October 2004) was much better attended and a very different spirit prevailed. Suddenly the men present seemed to share an enthusiasm and a vision for an effective association of churches that would embrace the whole of southern Africa. Similar ideas had been discussed before, but we had never had so clear, cohesive and concrete a view of the way forward. The Lord seemed to be initiating something.
Shortly after that Spurgeon Fraternal, the Reformed Baptist Association of Southern Africa (RBA) met at Germiston Baptist Church. For some time there had been discussion within the RBA about how we could co-operate more effectively for the glory of God. When the idea of a new, southern African association was shared, the response was warm and positive. After some brief discussion, the meeting appointed an Interim Committee to prepare the ground for such an association. This entailed the drafting of a new confession of faith, declaration of values, and constitution for the planned association. Those appointed to serve on the Interim Committee were Christo Beetge, Bruce Button, Jeff Gage, Ronald Kalifungwa and Nico van der Walt.
Laying the Foundations
The Committee was soon hard at work. Jeff and Ronald drafted the declaration of values, Nico and Bruce worked on the confession, and Christo prepared an introduction. Our aim with the confession was to draw up a document which would retain the important elements of our historic faith, but would express these elements more concisely and in more modern language than the 1689. The declaration of values, which has come to be called the Core Values of Sola 5, was an exciting project. Beginning with obvious ethical issues like the sanctity of life and sexual ethics, the document was gradually expanded to include issues like “animals and the environment” and hyperorthodoxy.
The initial drafts were discussed, refined and reworked a number of times in a process that was both exciting and challenging. We were thankful for the mutual trust and respect that we had built up through the Spurgeon Fraternal. This enabled us to express ourselves clearly and at times boldly, and yet to discuss the issues until we found true unity of heart and mind.
The documents were circulated to members of the RBA during January, and were then distributed to all the like-minded pastors and churches that we could think of, along with an invitation to attend a conference at Heidelberg (Gauteng, South Africa) in April 2005. The plan was that the association would be inaugurated at this conference.
Important last-minute preparation for the Heidelberg conference was done at the Spurgeon Fraternal held near Lydenburg in March 2005. Some potentially contentious issues were addressed and further practical plans were made. Amongst these was a decision to send two representatives to Zambia before the April conference in order to extend a hand of fellowship and to convey the message that we wanted our brethren outside South Africa to feel included as equal partners in the proposed association.
Heidelberg: 6–8 April 2005
The gathering at Heidelberg was attended by about 45 people from Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Mozambique and South Africa. Although the initial idea was that the association would be inaugurated formally at Heidelberg, we discovered that the greater need was for delegates to get to know one another and to get to grips with the details of the planned association. Thus our meetings, to a large extent, took the form of workshops, but God’s guiding hand was evident all the way.
Representative of the whole conference was a lengthy discussion on Thursday morning about the name of the association. The Committee, with input from a number of people, had proposed the name “Sola 5”, with the subtitle “An Association of God-centred evangelicals in Southern Africa”. However, many of the brethren felt that the word “Baptist” should be included in our name. Strong opinions and strong feelings were expressed on both sides; it would have been easy to take a vote and get the issue out of the way so that we could move on to the planned business. However, under Ronald’s sensitive chairmanship, something far more valuable was accomplished: we were able to listen to one another and eventually to agree from the heart. We were truly able to say, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.” Discussions on the Core Values, Confession and Constitution were equally workmanlike and productive.
The conference ended with our signing of a Declaration of Intent to establish Sola 5.
Sola 5 is Established
After the Heidelberg conference, attention was focussed on the planned First Annual Conference of Sola 5, to be held in Pretoria from 29 September to 2 October. Final changes to the documents, stemming mainly from Heidelberg, were incorporated and 2000 copies of an introductory booklet were produced. These were distributed across the region. Further visits were made—by Ronald and Jeff to Zambia, and by Christo and Bruce to Namibia. We looked to the Lord with great expectation for the planned First Annual Conference.
We are pleased to record, with gratitude to God, that pastors and churches from around the region have responded positively to the vision of Sola 5. This response was reflected in the presence and participation of brothers and sisters from all over southern Africa, leading to the formal establishment of Sola 5 with eleven churches and over thirty associate members. We praise and thank God for the way He has guided us and has brought so many pastors and churches to see the value of Sola 5. May his glory be over all the earth.