Sola 5 is an association of evangelical churches across southern Africa that seek to be God-centred in their worship. I look forward every year to the Sola 5 conference because it is a time to meet likeminded brethren, who have become dear friends of mine over the years, from across the southern sub-region of Africa. Usually, we have brethren coming in from Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
This year the conference is being hosted by the Reformed Baptist Church of Harare, Zimbabwe at the Louis Mountbatten Primary School. The church is pastored by Joseph Soko, who is seen above welcoming us to the conference, which started this evening at 19.00 hours. I drove from Zambia with Felistas yesterday, arriving in Harare, the capital city of Zimbabwe, at around 22.00 hours. Whereas everyone else from Zambia drove in today, I came in yesterday because I was the first preacher at the conference and was scheduled to preach tonight. I really needed to be fresh. Thankfully, Felistas’ immediate elder sister and her family live in Harare, and so coming one day earlier was a bonus for everyone.
Although the meeting hall was well decorated, we were welcomed to the conference at 19.00 hours by pitch black darkness. There was no electricity! As the chairman of the Sola 5 steering committee, Christo Beetge, was trying to figure out how we could sing from song sheets in the dark, I said to him, “Welcome to Africa!” While efforts were being made to get a rather reluctant generator going, Christo commenced the meeting—yes, in the dark—with a few candles and torches to barely enable us see that we were not alone in the meeting hall!
As already stated above, Joseph Soko came forward to give a word of welcome. He assured us that Zimbabwe is full of peace-loving people and so he wanted us to feel at home. He apologized for the inconveniences we were likely to face while in the country. He then asked Christo Beetge to read Acts 10:30-33 (see picture above) as his concluding remarks, applying it to all of us who had come to the conference. He ended by quoting Spurgeon who said that the Bible is like a lion that did not need to be defended. All you need to do is to release it from the cage and it will defend itself!
Christo then read Daniel 4:28ff and then prayed. The fact that Christo was led to the very text I was intending to preach on was a great confirmation that God really wanted me to preach on his sovereignty based on this text. We then stood up and sang, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” We all sang using light from candles, cell phones and torches (as can be seen in the picture above as Christo sang with a candle on one side and a torch in his hand).
This year the theme of the conference is “God’s Grace Today.” I preached the first message on “The Sovereign Nature of God” being the fountain of God’s grace. Thankfully, my sermon notes were on my Sony e-Reader and so I was able to read them in the dark. My sermon essentially comprised four points, from the confession of King Nebuchadnezzar:
- The sovereign nature of God talks about his kingship. The Lord is king! “His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation” (Daniel 4:34).
- You only appreciate the sovereign nature of God when you contrast it with human sovereignty. “All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing” (Daniel 4:35).
- The sovereign nature of God when rightly understood must include the concept of absolute power. “He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth” (Daniel 4:35). Our election unto salvation by the grace of God finds its bearing here.
- The most difficult aspect of the sovereign nature of God is the fact that it is irresistible. “No one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?’” (Daniel 4:35).
Just as this Gentile king was brought face to face with the reality of God’s sovereignty by his dealings with Israel, I made an urgent plea that we should so order our lives as believers that unbelievers will meet with our God in his sovereignty as they relate with us. I also appealed to those who battle with this reality to bring their hearts to Christ so that by his saving power he might bring them to worship the true God who is sovereign on earth and in heaven. That is the only way they will worship him as God for all eternity.
We sang in closing “Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah.” Christo closed the meeting and supper was served. Due to the lack of electricity, many things suffered, including the allocation of sleeping places. This had to be done by candlelight and torches as can be seen above. By the time I left, which was just before 21:30, we still did not have any electricity. Welcome to the real Africa!
“The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple” (Psalm 119:130).
My first errand this morning was meant to be a quick visit into a convenience store to pick up some AA batteries for my flash on my way to the conference. It turned out to be yet another wake-up call to the situation in Zimbabwe when I almost failed to get some. The Spar, a shop which in Zambia would obviously have them, just had a few of the Made-in-China-type which get exhausted with just one flash, and they were not even in any original wrapping! Finally, I had to settle for rechargeable ones, which I found in a shop much later and I paid a leg and an arm for them.
Today was the first full day of the 2010 Sola 5 annual conference. The day’s meetings finally started at 10:00. Jeff Gage (shown above), the pastor of Free Grace Baptist Church in Boksburg, South Africa, led the worship. Theo Soko (shown below), an elder at the Reformed Baptist Church of Harare brought God’s Word to us. He appeared weak and the big white bandage on the right side of his face was a bit of a distraction to begin with (sort of feeling sorry for him) but as he went on we soon forgot the sight and got carried away with the message. He preached from 2 Timothy 3:1-9 on “The Sinful Nature of Man.” He began by pointing to the African tendency of blaming the escapades of children on the spirits of the ancestors whom they are named after. He stated categorically that these escapades are because children are born with a sinful nature. It all began with the Fall of man in the person of Adam as recorded in Genesis 3.
Theo then took us to the text and expounded it as an illustration of human sinfulness. Paul’s description of men as lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, boastful, abusive, disobedient to their parents, etc., was graphically explained and illustrated. Again and again he stated that this was not because of national traits or bad upbringing in certain families. Rather, it was because we are all born sinners. Theo pointed to the gospel as the power of God for salvation. The gospel alone has the power to transform our sinful hearts into God-honouring hearts. He appealed to those still in sin to repent and come to Christ.
After the sermon we were dismissed for lunch. While waiting for the meal, I took a walk around and found a small book table under a tent and the only books there were those authored by Peter Masters. The young lady (shown below) who was doing the selling could make you buy ice cream on the North Pole just by her warm and friendly smile!
Annual Business Meeting
After lunch, we went into the Annual Business Meeting (ABM). Christo Beetge (shown below), who is the chairman of the Sola 5 Steering Committee, chaired the meeting. There were 18 member churches present, with three sending in apologies. Then there were about five other churches that were represented but were not yet member churches. New church membership applications and existing church membership renewals were dealt with.
Clinton Stone (shown below), who had just finished training at the London Theological Seminary (LTS), shared with us about his return and the need for God’s leading for a field of ministry. Lewis Kabika from Trinity Baptist Church in Livingstone also shared the same burden. These two, and others, were prayed for.
Bruce Button (shown below), the Principal of the Sovereign Grace Theological Seminary (SGTS), also shared with us about the work of the SGTS. He reported on his family’s move to Lusaka and the integration of the Zambian Reformed Baptist Preachers College into the SGTS. He mentioned the involvement of the Zambian pastors in lecturing and the need to expand the full-time faculty. The SGTS presently had 38 students. Bruce finally spoke briefly about the Copperbelt Ministerial College upon request from someone in the congregation. Isaac Makashinyi prayed for SGTS.
We went through the accounts and then Hein Strauss (shown below working hard taking minutes on his laptop during the ABM) shared about the e-newsletter and the Sola 5 Chronicle. He was encouraged with the work that he is doing by a number of people who spoke after his presentation. It was clear that the communications department of Sola 5 was doing a good job!
There were four steering committee members that had to step down as a matter of policy. Two were willing to serve if renominated. As it turned out, they were renominated, while two new names were added. So, the new Sola 5 Steering Committee for 2010—2011 comprises: OB Macwele (Swaziland), Kobus van der Walt (South Africa), Christo Beetge (South Africa), Ronald Kalifungwa (Zambia), Conrad Mbewe (Zambia), Grave Singogo (Zambia) and Joachim Rieck (Namibia).
The ABM also decided on the venues for the Sola 5 conference for the next few years. Livingstone was chosen for 2011, Swaziland for 2012, and Namibia for 2013. Finally, thanks were given to Hein Strauss for his dedication to the administrative work of Sola 5, and Pastor Joseph Soko and the church in Harare for hosting the conference.
Afternoon Preaching Session
After an hour’s break (spent chatting together, as can be seen in the photo below), we commenced the last session of the day. We started at 16:00 instead of 17:00 because of the electricity problem we faced yesterday. Even if that did not reoccur, we had since noted that of the twelve fluorescent tubes in the meeting hall only one was working!
Christo spoke about Brackenhurst Baptist Church’s missions efforts in India through their missionaries. He also mentioned two more church planting efforts that are being investigated within Gauteng Province in South Africa.
Carel Pienaar (shown below) shared about two church plants outside Cape Town that are being done by Goodwood Baptist Church. He also mentioned a project where one of their members who lectured at the Cape Town Baptist Seminary had started mobile theological classes through which he had centres in Mozambique where bi-vocational pastors were coming for training.
Isaac Makashinyi (shown below), the missionary pastor at Emmasdale Baptist Church in Lusaka, Zambia, took over the podium and led us in worship and then handed over to Kobus van der Walt, the pastor of the Antipas Church in Vereeniging in South Africa, who read Ephesians 1:1-14 and preached on “The Specific Nature of Salvation.” He brought a number of vital truths about grace that we needed to know in order to appreciate the grace of God.
- All human beings are by nature totally depraved. They are actually dead and hostile towards God. Hence, they are objects of God’s wrath.
- Each person is accountable to the Creator who does not allow any sin to go unpunished.
- Sinful man is by no means able to save himself. It is totally impossible!
- God is free to save whom he wants to save. It is his right as Creator (Rom 9:20-22). Hence those who get saved receive what they do not deserve. All sinners deserve hell.
- The specific condition in which a sinner is has nothing to do with whether he receives grace or not. God’s saving grace is eternal.
Kobus (shown above) went on to delineate for us the various roles of the three persons in the Godhead. The Father chooses, the Son dies to secure the salvation of those who were chosen, and the Holy Spirit applies this salvation to the hearts of the chosen ones.
Kobus ended by saying that although the Jews of the first century were guilty of the cruel death of Christ, it is us—the elect of God—who nailed him to the cross. His death was deliberate because of the elect whom he wanted to bring to heaven. So, this truth ought to keep us humble. Amen!
Isaac Makashinyi then led us in singing “Rock of Ages” as we closed the conference for today.
“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Revelation 4:11).
Today’s meeting started at exactly 10:00. The Zambian delegation (seen above) just began singing “And Can it Be” a few minutes prior to that time, and others joined in. When the song was finished, Brian Stone (the Pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in South Africa) stood up and put his hands on the shoulders of Kennedy Sunkutu (the Pastor of Kafue Reformed Baptist Church in Zambia) and announced to all of us, saying, “When I get to heaven, I want to live on the same cloud as this brother just because of his wonderful singing!”
Joachim Rieck, the Pastor of Eastside Baptist Church in Namibia, led us in prayer and read the whole of Revelation 5. We then all joined in singing the chorus, “Thou Art Worthy” based on the passage quoted at the start of this blog. He then gave us a missions report on Namibia, covering Ovamboland and the Herero people. He also talked about a magazine they were now producing in Namibia (see photo above). Joachim mentioned other areas that they were burdened about, such as the Nama-speaking people, Angola, Germany, etc.
Joachim invited Laban Mwashekele, the pastor of the Monte Christo Evangelical Baptist Church in Namibia, to come forward and he prayed for him (see photo above). Laban proceeded to preach on the subject of “The Successful Nature of Christ’s Work.” He drew our attention to the two natures of Christ—lion and lamb, God and man, King and servant. He divided his sermon into two parts: the sight and the song!
The sight: “And one of the elders said to me, ‘Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered. . . .’ And . . . I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain” (Revelation 5:5-6). A lion speaks of strength and conquering. Jesus is the promised Messiah who has been given all power in heaven and on earth. Yet, he has conquered not by might but by his own blood. Hence, he is also described as a lamb. Having died and been raised from the dead, he went into heaven to be made king and to receive the blessed Holy Spirit. The Lamb who saved you by his death is now the Lion who protects you by his life.
The song: From the words, “you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9), some people teach that Christ died for some sins of some people. Others teach that Christ died for all sins of all people. The final position is that Christ died for all the sins of some people. Laban showed that the first two positions were wrong, and he proceeded to show from our text that the third position is the only corrected one.
It was with those words that Joachim came forward and closed the morning session, and we went for lunch. As usual, such breaks provided friends the much-needed opportunity to get together and chat, as can be seen from the two friends above! The Steering Committee had a quick meeting after lunch. Christo Beetge was re-elected as chairman. The 2011 Sola 5 annual conference was scheduled for 1-4 September in Livingstone.
We recommenced our meeting at 16:00 hours. Brian Stone, the Pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in South Africa, asked the now famous singer of hymnody Kennedy Sunkutu to start “A Debtor to Mercy Alone.” We heard missions reports from Zimbabwe and Swaziland. Joseph Soko, the host pastor (see photo above), gave a quick historical overview of the growth of the Reformed Baptist movement in Zimbabwe from about 2001 to the present day. Andy Silemane (see photo below) talked about their church’s growing missions efforts in conjunction with the World Mission Centre in Swaziland starting from 2002. Each of the missions reports was followed by prayer.
Brian (see photo below) then led us in singing “Not What These Hands Have Done” before Jeff Gage came forward to preach on “The Supernatural Nature of God’s Grace.”
Jeff (see photo below) began by asking us whether we believe that God knows the future for certain—everything about the future with certainty. He went on to assert that if we did then we should also believe everything being taught in this conference. God knows exactly and with certainty before we even decide to do it. How? There are two answers. The first was that he does not know with certainty. To take that route would be to deny the very nature of God. The second answer is to say that he knows everything because he plans everything.
He then asked, does God know with certainty who will be saved? Of course, because he planned their salvation. Others say that he knows who will be saved because he peeps into the future to see the individuals who will be saved. But how can he see anyone believing unless he makes them believe? Jesus Christ came to die for those whom the father planned to save. He did not come to provide a possible salvation. Thus the work of the cross was successful. All those whom God chose and those whom Christ died for will be saved.
The main thrust of Jeff’s sermon comprised answering the question: How do the elect of God receive this salvation? He used John 6:35-44 to bring out three important aspects about the supernatural nature of God’s grace. Jeff said:
- This passage begins with the sweeping offer of the gospel. It is “whoever” comes to me, “everyone” who comes to me will have eternal life, etc. This is based upon the all sufficiency of who he is. Particular redemption is sufficient for everyone!
- There is also the sovereign will of the Father in this passage (v. 37). The Father will not fail to save all those whom he has chosen and given to the Son (v. 39). What about man’s free will? We have a natural freedom to do and choose things. However, our persons are not entirely free. We are limited not only by the way God has made the world but also by our present constitution.
- There is finally the certain response of the elect. It is not prevenient grace that God uses when saving sinners but irresistible grace. God uses almighty power to change the sinner’s will and so makes him able and willing to take up the free offer of the gospel. This is called “effectual calling.”
In conclusion, Jeff said that this truth of God’s supernatural saving power ought to give us encouragement in preaching and in evangelism. It also must ground our assurance of salvation and deepen our humility. Finally, he said that it ought to energise our worship. Amen!
During the entire hour-long sermon I noticed that a lady held her small camera right in front of the pulpit recording the sermon on video (see above two photos). Every so often she changed hands or supported her arm with her other hand. She persevered to the very end. I was impressed!
Brian Stone led us in singing “Glory Be to God the Father” and Christo Beetge closed the meeting in prayer. Join me tomorrow as we experience our final half-day of the conference!
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-5).
Today was the last day of the 2010 Sola 5 Conference. The programme was to run only up to lunch so that those who needed to travel out of Zimbabwe could get to the border before it closed. Our meeting commenced with spontaneous singing again at about 09:15. We sang “A Debtor to Mercy Alone” and “Before the Throne of God Above.” I was asked to lead this final meeting, which was a great pleasure. The final day is the “sweet course” of any conference!
Kennedy Sunkutu (shown below), the pastor of Kafue Reformed Baptist Church, gave the Zambian missions report, which covered the period since our last Sola 5 Conference in September 2009. He began with the bad news of the ending of two pastorates, in Botswana and Ngombe (Lusaka). He spoke about the new outreach efforts in Ethiopia and Uganda. He also reported on the ordination of three missionary pastors—in Katete, Chipata and Mansa—and the new church plants in Solwezi, Chipulukusu and Lubuto.
As for the urgent needs, Kennedy specifically mentioned the need for church buildings. He also shared on the internship programmes, which are helping to prepare younger men for pastorates. Apart from the national Reformed conference, which had become international in scope, he also reported on regional (provincial) conferences in the Eastern and Southern provinces of Zambia. Finally, he spoke of two churches that are now autonomous—in Kafue and Livingstone.
Since it was a Sunday worship service, we took an offering, which was going to go a long way in helping with the costs for the conference. After that, Christo Beetge prayed for both the offering and the Zambian missions report. I read Ephesians 1 before introducing Victor Kanyense as the preacher of the day. Victor preached on “The Steadfast Nature of the Christian’s Enablement.”
Victor is the pastor of Mount Makulu Baptist Church in Zambia. He commenced by giving a bird’s eyeview of all the topics dealt with by the previous five preachers. He then went on to say that when we get converted what we know of God’s grace is but a drop in the ocean. The Christian life is about growing more and more in understanding this great salvation. In Ephesians 1, Paul shows that our Christian lives are anchored in the Triune God. In understanding this, we are made humble. This truth also brings assurance, stability, and doxology to our lives. As Victor got into the heart of his sermon, he took us to Ephesians 1:15ff and said Paul dealt with three truths there:
First, the hope to which Christians are called. The Gentiles were hopeless outside Christ before their conversion. It is the same today for all who are without Christ. Yet, it is the exact opposite for the Christian. There is light in the valley of death for us. There is certainty as far as the future is concerned. How we live the Christian life is determined in large measure by how we think about the future (e.g. 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12; 2 Peter 3:11-13). Christians are never too heavenly minded to be of any earthly use. Sadly, we are often too earthly minded to be of any use to God in this life!
Second, the riches of God’s glorious inheritance in the saints. In the OT the nation of Israel was regarded as God’s inheritance (e.g. Psalm 28:9; Malachi 3:16-17). Even the Promised Land was given to them because of this. Hence, God was also their inheritance. Paul uses this imagery for the New Testament church. We are God’s treasured possession. We must never take this for granted. This is why God protects his possession (1 Peter 1:3-5). This is what makes Christians willing to give up so much for the sake of the kingdom of God (Hebrews 10:34).
Third, the immeasurably great power of God towards those who believe. Paul knew that the believers in Ephesus were surrounded by powerful cults. They needed to see that the one who was in them was mightier than the one who was in the world. Hence, Paul prayed that they may know this power in an experiential way. This power is expressed in Christ’s resurrection, his ascension and his dominion of all powers across history and in eternity. This is the same power that presently works for us as believers. Christ being at the right hand of God echoes Psalm 110:1. He towers over sin, Satan and death for the sake of the church. We need to see this, especially when we are in the midst of personal trials.
Victor said in conclusion that this is what it means to belong to Christ. This is God’s grace for today. He has given grace sufficient for all our need. This is where our security lies. Christ cares for his own body and rules the universe for us. With those concluding words, Victor led us in a closing prayer.
I asked the congregation to sing the hymn “Before the Throne of God Above” before we had the final announcements and the benediction. Joseph Soko (shown above), the host pastor, expressed hearty thanks to all of us for coming to Zimbabwe despite their many economic and political woes. It was a great encouragement to their church. That is how the 2010 Sola 5 Conference came to an end. Due to public demand, we took a group photo at the very end of the conference. It was not a fair representation of the attendance because a number of people had already left, but, as they say, half a loaf is better than none!
To God alone be the glory. Amen!