Zebras at a Waterhole in Okaukejo, Etosha Pan, Namibia . PHOTO : J . Rieck

Monday, January 31, 2011

REFLECTIONS ON THE OCCASION OF MY 21st ANNIVERSARY OF ORDINATION (January 28th 1990 - 2011)


I grew up in a good home , with good parents , but  we  did not  love and serve Christ. My parents had me ‘baptized' when I was a baby and dutifully I was taken off to  the confirmation classes  of  our Evangelical Lutheran church when the time had come around the age of 13. After  I  had  been confirmed I never darkened the door of the church   again.  


Conversion

I enrolled  for a Bachelor of Commerce degree  at the University of Cape Town at the beginning of 1978.
I was converted on a Thursday evening   the 22nd June 1978  when  Frank Retief, Pastor of St James Church, Kenilworth, Cape Town  preached the Word of God  to students  of the University of Cape Town  at   the Leo Marquard Hall  men’s residence. The  Banner  that hung outside the residence  announced the  subject: “Christ, the Controversialist!”

I had not planned to go to this event,  but I had been invited by  some Christian Students. I went  out of a sense of obligation. That night  the word  of God  changed my life. The sermon from  Revelation 3:15  spoke to my heart that  day: “ I know  your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other. So, because you are lukewarm – neither cold nor hot – I am about to spit you out of my mouth.
What struck me was this particular distinction:  “you are neither cold nor hot…you are lukewarm!”  In an instant I comprehended that I was that lukewarm man, whom the Lord was about to spit you out of His mouth”.

My life changed  drastically. I loved  Christ and I loved the church.  From the very  moment I was converted,  I was  an enthusiastic worshipper. I attended  worship at church  every  Sunday morning and evening and became involved in the Student YMCA – so much, that I forgot about my studies!  After my second year  I gave up my  University studies  and  did my  mandatory  two year military service.
After this I  joined  EDGARS, a  clothing retailer, and  became a Trainee Manager. After a few years I was appointed  Store manager.  I was never very  persuaded that this was  to be my  lifelong profession. My busy life as a store manager  did not interrupt my  commitment to my local church.


Call to the Ministry

The home of  Eastside Baptist Church  - Windhoek
In November  1984 I was asked to  do a  funeral  of a farmer,  a friend  of my father,  near  the town of Karibib. I had no  preaching or pastoral experience – but since I was asked to do this by the family, I did it!   I believe that this was the beginning  of the ‘unsettling process’ at EDGARS   and the  start of the new direction  from God  although it would take me another 7 months to understand what God was leading me to.

In June 1985  I received my call to the pastoral  ministry. The text  which spoke strongly  to me was Titus Chapter  2. It was also in June 1985 that I was privileged to become   a founder member of Eastside Baptist Church, then under  the  leadership of Pastor Charles  Whitson  a Southern Baptist Missionary pastor. EBC was constituted   on  the 16th  June 1985 with 21 charter members.

At the beginning of 1986  I applied to the Baptist Theological seminary in Cape Town  and  spent the  next 4 years  completing my Licentiate in Theology and graduated  Cum Laude.

The highlight  of that period was when I met my wife Marcelle in 1986.  We were married the next  year on the 10th January 1987  at Mowbray Baptist Church in Cape Town.
In 1988/89  I was called to be the Youth pastor of the Bellville Baptist church, a church  which we loved and  where we were loved  – a happy two years!

In August 1989   I was called by the  Eastside  Baptist  Church  to become their pastor. This call came at the same time  as  a possible call to serve in the YMCA student chaplaincy at UCT.   I chose the local church.

I started  in January  1990 and was  ordained by our church on   the  28th  January   of the same month.  Peter Holness, then the principal    of the Baptist Theological Seminary, Cape  Town   led the ordination service.

REVIEW OF  21 YEARS OF MINISTRY

I will review the  years   of  ministry  at Eastside Baptist Church in 4 sections:

1. 1990 – 1995  -  Turbulent  beginnings  

Old pastor versus   new pastor:  Our  older, very experienced  pastor almost withdrew immediately, much to my regret.  I wished I could have hidden behind him a little longer. At that time we had no  elders – no biblical leadership to help me. Some people struggled to adapt to their new pastor and sadly left.  

Time of political change in Namibia:   Namibian independence  from South African control  was granted on the 21st March 1990. At this stage  many more members left, being repatriated to  South Africa.

Satanic attacks : During the first three years   of our ministry  we  found sacrificed cats on our door steps  and  a number of encounters with demonically possessed people.  I  participated  in  one  demonic deliverance  on the  3rd of January 1993.  A cult, the Moonies, had also  at that stage  secretly crept into the church, undermining the faith  of  some of our members.
Dr Eric Tordiffe (elder) and  Prof Roderick Zimba (deacon)
Theological strugglesEastside Baptist Church   was very loosely constituted. The only thing that we knew is that we were supposed to  be “Baptist”, and that our meetings  were supposed to be  congregationally governed. Most of our members had come from  all sorts of church backgrounds and they essentially  had no  idea  why we were a Baptist Church. 

Most Protestant churches   for this reason have a  confessional basis (including  some Baptists), but  there was a group of Baptists in our church  who were  deliberately ‘anti-creedal’.   The absence of a  clear position was causing  severe confusion. The charismatic movement in particular   had emerged as a strong force in those days  and many charismatically minded people in our church were wondering which way this young pastor was going. We needed a confession of faith!

Added to this  was  a deeper  issue. Those of you who know your Baptist  church history  know that there was a  great  theological shift that had taken place in  Baptist circles in the USA. The shift  happened  at the end of the 19th century / beginning  20th century   in which  the  Southern Baptist Church (the largest American  Baptist denomination)  had moved from a largely  Reformed (or Calvinistic)  theological  position to an essentially Arminian position. We were  a church planted on Arminian principles.
 
I   had become a convinced  Reformed Baptist  whilst studying  at  the Baptist Theological  Seminary in Cape Town. Reformed Doctrine  is  wedded to the Sola  Scriptura principle (Scripture alone) and this principle   does not like pragmatic  solutions for  directing church life. Scripture alone is our final authority. This  led  me to re-think   many issues   with respect to church practice and doctrine such as ...

1. How  to preach and teach  the doctrine of salvation.  
2.The doctrine of the church and in particular the matter of elder led  congregationalism. 
3.The matter of worship  (God centered versus  man centered worship).  
4. The primacy of expository preaching   over   topical preaching. 
5. A more God centered view of evangelism  and  missions. 

We struggled  through these issues, and I to the point of exhaustion!  Our church finally  adopted the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith in June  2001. This had led to a time of great peace, since we were now  ‘on the same page’ and people  now knew what to expect when they  wanted to join the church.

2. 1996 – 2000  :  Difficult  years :

Good fellowship in our courtyard after every service
In 1995 the Lord gave us a welcome break   when we  were  privileged to  have Erroll Hulse  of the  Leeds Reformed Baptist Church in our  pulpit, and  our young family had a wonderful break in the UK.  

After our return  from the UK our church was becoming  increasingly  inwardly divided. This was another attack of  Satan who flourishes best where  there is  no strong  spiritual leadership and where there is  a  lack of  doctrinal  steadfastness. This time proved to be  worse than those aggressive  satanic  attacks of  '90 – '93.

Things went wrong on may fronts. Not only were we doctrinally  a very mixed bunch, but we had wrong ideas of church government  and of the qualifications  for public ministry. A  group of ladies  (most of them unhappily married and theologically confused) began to form a support group  which began  to undermine our  weak  leadership in the church. To many of them I actually had been very close. It was one of the saddest times  in my ministerial experience. Our  youth pastor  at that time  had to  leave  and I myself barely survived.  

In 1996  I suffered an emotional collapse. I was severely fatigued by  all the conflict   and  told the  deacons  that I could not preach in this condition. I remember that Sunday morning in April  very well. We had organized another preacher and I dragged myself to church, and when at the end  Pieter Slabber (now an elder)  asked  me to conclude in prayer, I  wept  like a little child. I could not even lead the church in prayer.  I went away  for a month of recovery, and after my return  I went  through the toughest  period in my life. Some have called such an  experience   “the dark  night of the soul”. This horrible  experience  lasted for three years   and  probably longer still. That period is  still dark and hazy in my mind, but  God sustained  me, my family  and   our church  through this time.
I struggled to  preach, but I  clung to God. There was  very little understanding or sympathy  in the congregation in terms of  what was happening to me.  

In 1997  Pastor Martin Holdt and I  had begun to speak  about the need to have a pastor’s  fraternal  to  help pastors  like myself to cope  in their difficult  circumstances.  In 1997  Martin Holdt, always a man of action and influence organized the first  Spurgeon fraternal  in South Africa.  The Spurgeon fraternal was my spiritual  life line  and since then many pastors  have been helped through this wonderful support group!

In this difficult period Pastor Laban Mwashekele and I severed our ties with the Southern Baptist Mission. We were simply tired of doctrinal conflict and constant disagreement. Much of the church planting efforts  of the Southern Baptists had  come to nothing in Namibia. All  we  wanted to do  was  to focus positively on gospel ministry.  

3. 2001  - 2006:  New Beginnings - Growth and Consolidation

Eastside  Baptist Church  was finally reconstituted as a Reformed Baptist Church  in June  2001

In 2001  we started  the  Namibia Grace Ministers Conference, to encourage  pastors  in the work of reformation. Dr Wayne  Mack  was our first speaker.
SOLA 5 Conference in Windhoek  2006
In this period  Eastside Baptist Church had helped  Pastor  Laban Mwashekele to get Monte Christo Baptist Church  going. Our church provided quite a bit of financial  support for  the initial building phase   and has been always involved in supporting Pastor Mwashekele since then.

SOLA 5 Conference 2013  again in  Windhoek  
2002 saw the start  of our eldership process  -  a marvelous story   which  needs to be told separately. We invited  Pastor Baruch Maoz  of the Grace and Truth Congregation in Israel  at  this time and he  helped us significantly  with the start up of our eldership.

In  2004 we helped to get the  Faith Reformed Baptist Church going – and contributed initially  to the upkeep of the pastor. 

We had also helped Havana Baptist fellowship in an informal settlement area. 

In 2006 we helped  to get  Grace Reformed Baptist Church going. At the date of writing  we are still in the process  of overseeing that process. (Postscript: This church was constituted in 2012)

 Namibia Grace Pastors Conference
Eastside Baptist Church  has steadily sought   fellowship  with like-minded churches  and has been involved  in the formation of SOLA 5 in 2004
SOLA 5 is  an Association of God centered Evangelicals in Southern Africa). We hosted the second SOLA 5 conference in 2006.

Eastside Baptist Church has  also been instrumental in the formation of a  Namibian Minister’s fraternal, a  forum for our Reformed Baptist Churches in Namibia.  As a matter of interest, almost all of our Baptist churches  in Namibia are now of  a Reformed Baptist persuasion.

This is all very good, but we do have a problem. We  are too thinly stretched!  As a result we have lost some  evangelistic  momentum.

4. 2006 – 2011 -  Renewed Challenges

Eastside Baptist  Church  became 25 years old  in June 2010. This occasion was celebrated  with a dinner and many activities. We were able to reflect upon the amazing grace of God. I have been privileged to have been part of this, and 21 of these years as  pastor.

Eastside  Baptist Church  has been a marvelous tool in God’s hands, despite  the fact  that we  have  had  to contend with so much  coming and going and with a fair bit of  internal disagreement and satanic resistance.

The greatest gain made in this period is  was  doctrinal firmness and unity in doctrine. We now have a foundation to build on.  We have  successfully addressed a number of key theological  issues  and have seen corresponding growth of our members. 

We   have seen more  true conversions  in this period than in  any  period before

We have been expanding our pastoral ministry  through adding  an additional  elder to our pastoral team.  We are praying now for a suitable  student pastor  to assist us.

Challenges:

1. Eastside Baptist Church  is still very vulnerable. We  have a relatively small  membership   from which to draw our  resources, and  to  continue our ambitious  kingdom vision.
2.  EBC is a multi-cultural church. It is a privilege to  belong to such a unique configuration of people  although it does have its challenging moments. We  are often forced to think “Christianly “ about issues of culture and language. Culture  easily  threatens to overshadow  our Christian convictions.
3. We need to focus more now on becoming a community church. We have  done a lot of work “out there” – but not nearly enough “in here”. We pray that God will give us  wisdom how  to  penetrate  the barriers of our community.
4.We need  a  biblical diaconate to help our elders. We  are currently rethinking  the way in which our diaconate operates.
5.We need every member to help   us to function  better as a church.  A strategic meeting in  October 2007  had brought about  some wonderful initiatives , but still lack  a lot of implementation. 
6.We need to  continue the missions vision under the leadership of stable doctrinally  firm and sound , committed  people and leaders. 

SOLI DEO GLORIA !

3 comments:

Conrad Mbewe said...

I have just read your "reflections" as you have clocked 21 years at Eastside Baptist Church. Many of the twists and turns sound like my own and so I felt for you and with you. Interestingly, EBC is just a few months older than KBC, and so we were on your heels as far as the reforming experience is concerned.

Thank you for sharing this with us. The fact that things are looking upwards is a great encouragement. The establishment of biblical churches is vital for the well-being of Christians and of our entire nations. So, soldier on, brother. May the Lord give you another 21 years of fruitful and effective service. Amen!

Thomas Louw said...

The yearning to the ministry gets stronger everyday within me. When I read testimonies like this, part of me gets scared. “Will I be able to handle the dark times?”
Thanks for your encouragement, I pray that you will stay strong and grow.
Praise God.

Sikamena said...

Unlike brother Conrad, I am struck speechless at your church/life story. My prayer list just grew another two or three bullet points.