Times are hard in South Africa. The shrinking economy has had a far reaching effect on people and organisations. The cost of living in South Africa has risen. This week the unemployment figure reached a ten year high at 27,7 percent with a youth unemployment rate at 55,9 percent. We’ve started to hate hearing stats because there’re all negative. Business and organisational financial tightening, job cuts, contraction has fuelled pessimism which in turn has fed emotions of frustration, blaming, suspicion and anger.
The church has both been impacted and been involved in assisting people and families in crisis. The church, empowered by the Spirit of Christ, has got involved but has not been impervious to the negative emotions and questioning.
And congregations look to pastors. And pastors look to…? There are no easy answers. There are only other godly pastors who are asking similar questions and have similar concerns. This has lead to an attitude of prayerfulness and a crying out to God and a renewed confidence in God who alone can rescue.
But on the ground, survival is uppermost on the minds and hearts of South Africans. Political survival, institutional survival, ecclesiastical survival, family survival, physical survival, spiritual survival.
A choice is often faced by the pastor, perhaps even without a realisation of the choice – to withdraw and pursue a more monastic life, or to relate and find support. The one is an attempt to find answers from God in the quiet place, the other is an attempt to find answers from God in the ‘relational place’ (often among likeminded brothers).
The answer, I believe, is both; pray privately and pray with others. However, I have found withdrawal and privacy leads to introspection, often with an unreasonable weight placed on my wife (who has her own weights) followed by a desperate but cautious grasping for answers, while connection and togetherness leads to honesty and a shared burden which when prayed for, leads to lightness and encouragement and mutual awareness and appreciation and relationship and respect.
Those who withdraw often justify their reason for withdrawal and often this is sinful in itself (blaming, suspicion, self-justifying hurt) or leads to sin (personal justification, theological arrogance, pride, isolationism and a reduction of recognition of the reality of ‘church’ beyond this local church).
So, pray and connect and pray.
Today, I feel hope for the future of our Baptist Union! We have taken a number of steps forward and “one giant leap” ahead when I think about all that unfolded last week at the Baptist Union Executive meeting. Last week’s meeting could well be described as a roller coaster ride of climbs, turns, u-turns and loops. When the week ended, we arrived safe back home, but not the same as we were when we started.
Here’s a list of some of the more significant decisions reached regarding the restructuring. Each of these decisions, will, necessarily, be presented to this year’s Assembly to be voted on.
- It was agreed that every Association will become a regional Network over the next three years.
- There will be formally recognized regional networks and informal networks.
- Every formal network would need to meet certain requirements in order to be approved as a formal network by the newly formed National Leadership Council which will replace the Baptist Union Executive.
- Previously, the matter of the restructuring of the Baptist Union left the Associations very much wondering what as to what their future may be. This was answered finally as the Baptist Union Executive put the matter to a ballot vote and voted on the question, “Is it necessary for a member church to belong to a formal Network?” It was agreed that this would be the case (18 Yes, 2 No, 1 Abstention). The rationale for this was the thinking that our structure should be built around our core beliefs. And one of the core beliefs that the BNA holds to is the Unity of the Body of Christ. Thus, we do not believe that a member church of the Baptist Union which acts independently and in isolation, is what God intends churches to be and that a spirit of independent isolation is detrimental to the pastor, the members of that church, threatens the unity of the wider Baptist body, very often leads to that church acting against their Statement of Faith and Baptist Principles, and sets a poor example for others to follow.
- The National Leadership Council will consist of 5 positions; the National Care Developer, the National Administrator, the National Network Developer and the Ministry Board Chair augmented by 7 representatives from the formal networks.
While this is hugely promising and leaves me with a sense of optimism, the greater sense of hope and joy came from the Baptist Union Executive’s virtually complete satisfaction and acceptance of the Draft Statement of Belief which will be circulated to every member church and tabled at this year’s Assembly in Port Elizabeth. There are a number of significant improvements on the 1924 Statement of Belief;
- For the first time in South African Baptist history, in addition to stating that we believe that Scripture in fully authoritative, proof is given of this by every statement of our Statement of Belief now being supported with Scriptural texts, so emphasizing the point and serving as a teaching tool in churches for people to know what God has said directly that we must believe.
- A statement on the role of translations with respect to the originals and the process of inscripturation (point 1).
- Clarity on the love of God for sinners such that from before creation, God determined to save by the sacrifice of His Son (point 2).
- A new statement on creation which includes the equality of men and women and the distinction of roles of husband and wife (point 3).
- A new statement on the person and work of the Holy Spirit (point 7).
- Clarity as to the roles of women in leadership in a church (point 9).
- How a church is ruled, governed, led and served by Christ, members, shepherds and deacons respectively (point 9).
- A new statement on the mission of the church (point 10).
So it seems some are not sure what the BNA Consultation is all about (starting Monday 20 February starting at 2:00p.m. at Constantia Park Baptist Church at 645 Rudolf Street, Pretoria). It is simply an ‘information ingathering session.’ Questions like, “What are the benefits of belonging to the Baptist Union?” and “What keeps us together as Baptists?” will be asked and answered.
It is an important meeting to attend as it will give the working group more voices to listen to in its task of seeking God’s direction for the re-organisation of the Baptist Union.
Dear church leaders
I know its almost the end of the year and people are trying to find ways of lightening the load, but there is at least one more big thing that needs consideration.
I believe it is of vital importance that we as a church leaders decide and ideally agree on some form of study and discussion of the proposed new Baptist Union Statement of Faith by the members of the church. This statement has been officially tabled for discussion by all the churches of the Baptist Union, the hard copy documentation was sent out by the Baptist Union and it is expected that every church, read, think, discuss, suggest possible improvements and send delegates as a church to finally vote on this at next year’s Baptist Union Assembly to be held in Port Elizabeth in October 2017. It is hoped that the process of fine-tuning the statement will be taken in earnest by all the churches now, such that, by the October’s Assembly next year, the final form of the document is complete already, as churches have interacted with it and are in the loop as to it’s final form.
Thus, I would like you to consider how we can do this?
I think, and there may be other alternatives, that one of the ways would be to have church Bible studies take this as their discussion material in the first half of 2017. Consider an official church ‘kick-off’ event with the material available and such that new people can easily plug in and find a group and get going. Sadly, the document does not yet have verses attached for each affirmation. That is still planned, so this will not make the study ‘ready to eat’ as it were, but maybe, if you decide to do this (and I really hope you will), you can record the verses used and send them to the Theological Forum Committee (TFC) for inclusion.
Everything’s on the web and you’ll find…
- the preamble (which is a motivation as to why we need a new statement after 92 years) here
- the proposed statement of belief here
- the powerpoint files here which show a page by page comparison between the 1924 statement and the 2016 statement and a powerpoint of the statement itself
- the email address for recommendations and suggested improvements to this 2016 draft statement TFCchairman@baptistunion.org.za
I am convinced that we as Baptists have arrived at a pivotal moment in history. This statement of faith seeks to define what we have always believed and never written up adequately. It defines what is meant by the word “Baptist.” If you’re not convinced, read the preamble – it will blow you away as to the quiet threat that Baptist churches face. Dr. Kevin Roy, church historian, past-lecturer and pastor said this recently about this proposal, “I believe that this is the most significant thing in Baptist history in the last 30 years.”
Please give this your earnest, prayerful and studied consideration.
Yours in Christ
BNA Area Co-Ordinator