A peep into life in Africa, through the eyes of an African Reformed Baptist pastor.

Water, water, water, everywhere. What else do you expect? I am a Baptist, and I live in the land of the mighty Victoria Falls!

Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Zambian Reformed Conferences—Fifth & Final Day

Yesterday was the final day of the conferences. I missed the morning sessions. In the afternoon, there was a question and answer session. Ronald Kalifungwa moderated, while Don Carson and “yours truly” answered the questions. Some of the questions were about cremation, being baptised for the dead, generational curses, spiritual warfare, postmodernism, how an impeccable Christ could be tempted, etc. It was good to have Don present to answer the more difficult ones!

Q&A session in the afternoon: Ronald, Don, and "yours truly"
The evening session was the final plenary session of the conferences and it was led by Lukonde Makupe. Isaac Makashinyi spoke about the Lusaka Ministerial College (LMC). He gave a brief historical account of the college and went on to talk about its latest excursion into the Western Province with the new Liseli Pastors Training College (LPTC).

Thabiti Anyabwile closed with a sermon on “Finding Assurance” from 1 John 5:13-21. In this passage he spoke about:

Lukonde receiving final details from Ronald before leading worship
1. John’s purpose in writing (v.13). John was addressing believers. He wanted them to know that their belief was not in vain. He wanted them to be confident of this. God wants every believer to have this assurance. It is very easy for “eternal life” to lose its lustre because of over-use. Eternal life is eternal and thus cannot be lost. It comes from Jesus and is tied in with him.

2. The five blessings that flow out of a life of assurance.
(a) We have confidence in prayer (v.14-15). God hears us and we have what we ask for. The Creator and Governor of the universe is not at all too busy to hear us and answer our requests.

Isaac Makashinyi speaking about Lusaka Ministerial College
(b) We can offer saving prayers (v.16-17). We ought to have a brotherly concern for those brothers who are taken in sin and this concern should express itself through prayer. Although some see this as spiritual death, it must be referring to physical death. God cares more about the quality of our lives than about the length of our lives.
(c) We have blessed assurance of deliverance from sin and the devil (v.18). The habit of such a person is not in sin. We are also kept safe from the father of sin. “Deliver us from the evil one” has been answered through Christ.

Thabiti Anyabwile giving the closing address on "Finding Assurance"
(d) We are under the Lord’s control and not the devil’s control (v.19). Listening to the news gives the impression that the world has spun out of control. Yet we know that God is still in control and we are under his spiritual protection.
(e) We enjoy our union with Christ (v.20). Jesus gave us understanding, which results in our having knowledge of him, which results in us having all the blessings that are in Jesus. The Christian faith is to experience this rich fellowship with Christ.

Don Carson receiving a token of thanks from one of the Namibian ladies
3. John’s final exaltation (v.21). This seems like a very abrupt ending. Let us keep ourselves from everything that takes our attention away from God in Christ Jesus. Let us keep growing in the knowledge of his Word. Amen!

It was on this note that the 24th Zambian Reformed Conferences came to an end. It was a wonderful week of rich instruction in the Word, with about 1,400 brothers and sisters in attendance from across Zambia and other countries. We are already suffering from post-conference withdrawal symptoms. When is the next conference?

The concluding hymn was sung with much exuberance 

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Zambian Reformed Conferences--Fourth Day

I have been running late in posting but I hope this is not too late. I was back at the Reformed School of Theology yesterday, which is one of the two meetings taking place simultaneously with the Reformed Family Conference. For the morning sessions, I relied on feedback from Billy Sichone, as I was unable to attend any of the sessions. In the first session, Thabiti Anyabwile preached from 1 John 2:15-17, continuing his theme on “Finding Assurance”. He answered three questions:

The first question was, “Who do we love?” He identified the two possible objects of our love—God or the world, God or mammon (Matthew 6:24). He defined the word “world”, which is used in different ways in the Bible, as a system of thought that is at enmity with God. Creation in itself is good and must be enjoyed by us. However, when it takes the place of God it becomes a snare and a sin.

Thabiti Anyabwile teaching church leaders on "Finding Assurance"
The second question was, “How do we know if we love God or the world?” We know what we love when we check our motivations. We can be motivated by our love of the world. We can also be motivated by our love for God. When the latter is the case, we find assurance building up within us.

The third question was, “Where is our love taking us?” This love that we have should be in God and must be an abiding love. A time is coming when we shall be in heaven and will love God with an everlasting love. Satan often discourages us when we discover that our love is not what it should be. We must not be discouraged because our love grows with time—until it is consummated in heaven.

Don Carson teaching church leaders on "Fighting Temptation"
Don Carson handled the second session. He dealt with the temptation of Peter from Galatians 2. Peter was quite a mixture of belief and unbelief. He rebuked Jesus for saying he was going to die after saying, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” Peter assured Jesus that even if everyone denied him he would remain faithful but it was not long before he denied him. And now in Galatians 2 he was eating with Gentiles but now he stopped. So, how do we understand this?

There were two circumcision groups: The unbelieving Jews, and the believing Jews who were conservative. It was possible that the team from James may have been the second group and had asked Peter to withdraw from Gentiles to reduce the rippling effect his eating with Gentiles was having in Jerusalem. The reason why Paul opposed him was because (1) it was going against the exclusive sufficiency of Jesus’ death on the cross, (2) it was splitting the church, (3) Peter was acting out of a false understanding of Scripture which would have led to wrong decisions. We are also in similar danger.

Don ended by exhorting us to keep studying the Scriptures daily in order to avoid falling prey to such temptations. False theology has terrible consequences.

Thabiti Anyabwile teaching on Islam in the afternoon plenary seminar
In the afternoon, Thabiti Anyabwile took a plenary seminar on Islam. He first shared his testimony about how he got converted from Islam to Christianity. Then he gave a brief history of Islam. He began with the Prophet Muhammad and went up to the standardising of the Qur’an and the coming up with the “constitution” of Islam, i.e. the Sharia law. He went on to give some basics on Islam, which included the current statistics, the articles of Faith, and the five pillars of Islam. He spoke about Islam’s view of Christianity. Thabiti finally made some suggestions for gospel witness to Moslems. There were a lot of questions asked, which clearly showed that Islam was a matter of real concern to many.

Collins Sakalunda leading worship in the evening plenary meeting
Collins Sakalunda led the evening plenary session. Ray Warwick spoke on the African Christian University (ACU). He gave the history of the university, the ethos of the university, the appointments of management and staff, and the progress that had been made thus far in the establishment of the university.

John Chundu, the board chairman of the ACU, also came on to emphasise the fact that the ACU is a Zambian initiative. So, he challenged those present to begin thinking about supporting the ACU in prayer, finances, etc.

Ray Warwick speaking on the African Christian University
Michael Hudson, a brother who attends these conferences every year all the way from the UK, sang his signature song, “It is well with my soul.”

Bill Issa shared about the work that he is doing in Uganda. He talked about his conversion and his “journey in grace”. His excitement could not be missed as he talked about coming from Islam into charismatic chaos, and later finding not only the Reformed Faith but also a Reformed family here in Zambia.

John Chundu speaking about the African Christian University
Finally, it was time to listen to the preaching of the word of God. Don Carson preached on "Fighting Temptation" from James 1:12-25. He began by narrating two stories. The first was about a preacher who fell into adulterous affairs in three different pastorates and was evidently unrepentant after each situation. The other served God faithfully in the medical field but went through trial after trial as he lost all his children and yet ended up very grateful for God’s grace. Don asked the question, “Which one of these two would you like to be?”

After an uneasy silence, he proceeded to state that in order to be helped to come out graceful and not bitter after temptation and trial, it was important to learn three lessons from this passage.

Bill Issa speaking about his "journey in grace" in Uganda
1. When you are struggling under trial remember the Christian's goals (v.12). Trials produce perseverance and perseverance produces character. It is under trial that we toughen up (v.2-4). Then there is the eternal reward that is called "the crown of life". These are goals we should think about under trial.

2. When you confess God's sovereignty do not misunderstand God's motives (v.13). The word “trial” and the word “temptation” in the Greek here is the same word. It is the context that determines how to translate it. God tests us to prove our faith, to lower our pride, etc., but he never does so to induce us to sin. He is holy and he wants his people to be holy. Instead of blaming God, understand that it is our sinful nature that makes us to sin (v.14-15).

Michael Hudson singing his signature song, "It is well with my soul"
3. When you feel abandoned and crushed do not forget God's goodness (v.16-18). God is good all the time. The greatest display of God's goodness is in our new birth (v.18). He saved us through the gospel by his own choice.

4. When you hear gospel instruction do not merely listen to it but live it out (v.19-21). The gospel in the Bible is the big category in which discipleship grows. The gospel motivates us to seek to be conformed to the image of Christ. We must, therefore, seek to obey its injunctions (v.22-25).

Having taught us these four lessons, Don asked the question again, “Do you want to be like man number one or man number two?” It was now easier to answer!

Don Carson giving the evening address on "Fighting Temptation"

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Zambian Reformed Conferences--Third Day

Yesterday, I missed the morning meetings again. So, I will limit myself to the combined afternoon and evening meetings. I trust those of you who would have loved to be with us will find the limited summaries helpful in catching up with what the Lord did among us yesterday.

In the afternoon, we had an informal business meeting where we primarily considered the commencement of an annual national (and regional) missions conference. The discussions were handled in a way that enabled everyone to feel free to express themselves. In the end, the general feeling was that instead of increasing the number of conferences per year, we should maintain the current one annual feast (i.e. the Annual Family Conference and School of Theology). However, every alternate year we should have a theme related to missions. We also heard brief reports from about five Reformed Baptist churches that had commenced in the country since August last year.

Thandika Chirwa leading worship during the evening meeting
After this, we had a prayer meeting and dinner. Then we went into an evening meeting. Misheck Daka shared about the Zambian Reformed Baptist Building Trust Fund, which was instituted in 1997 as a revolving loan facility to help Reformed Baptist churches in Zambia to put up church buildings. He stated that the Fund had almost doubled from US$45,000 to US$83,000. There were sixteen Reformed Baptist churches that were subscribing regularly and he urged more churches to participate in this. He also urged those churches that had received loans to be faithful in repaying them so that others would profit from this facility.

Misheck Daka presenting on the Zambian Reformed Baptist Building Trust Fund
Peter Mukalula shared about the Zambian Baptist Historical Society, which was established a few years ago to preserve the history of Baptists in Zambia. He talked about the society’s project to raise K150,000 (about US$30,000) in order to restore the first Baptist church building, which was opened in 1916, and to put a new gravestone on the grave of the first indigenous Baptist leader, Paul Kasonga, who died in 1954. He urged those in attendance to consider joining the society so that they can actively participate in these and other ventures.

After these two presentations, Thabiti Anyabwile gave his third message on “Finding Assurance”. He began by quoting the “beliefs” of a bishop in a church in the USA who denied all the major tenets of the Christian Faith. He then went on to state that what we think about God determines how we live before God. Thabiti then took us through a three point exposition of 1 John 1:5-2:2.

Peter Mukalula presenting on the Zambian Baptist Historical Society
1. Assurance comes when we accept the true nature of God, that God is light (1 John 1:5-2:2). The source of this message is Jesus, the Son of God. This is why Christianity is distinct from all other religions on the planet. The channel of the message is that of hearing and speaking. The content of this message is that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. It is not primarily a message about man but a message about God. By light John means that God is absolutely holy, pure, etc. This is both bad and good news. It is bad news for those who die in their sins because it means he must punish them forever. It is good news for those who believe in him because it means he is absolutely trustworthy. 2 Cor. 4:6 and 2 Peter 1:19 speak about how the light from God becomes light in our hearts. It is as the Holy Spirit miraculously makes the things of Jesus very real to us. This is done as we meditate on the gospel of Christ until the message out there becomes a message in our hearts.

Thabiti Anyabwile preaching on "Finding Assurance" from 1 John
2. Assurance comes when we avoid three fatal deceptions. The first deception to avoid is that of making a false profession (1 John 1:6). It is those who lie and do not live by the truth. The second deception to avoid is that of self-deception (1 John 1:8). This especially happens when a person denies his own sin and sinfulness. The third deception to avoid is that of self-righteousness (1 John 1:10). Such people call God a liar to justify themselves.

3. Assurance comes when we attend to three promises of assurance. The first is that the blood of Christ cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7). “Oh the bliss of this glorious thought!” The second promise is that God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Grace has come to us when in our sins we flee to Christ. The third promise is that Jesus will speak for us when we sin (1 John 1:1-2). We have a lawyer, an advocate, and a counsel in Jesus Christ. He is the righteous one. God is satisfied in Jesus because of his righteousness. He is the elder brother who stands in the way of God’s wrath and turns it away from us.

Attendance at the evening meeting on the second day
I end this report by saying that assurance of salvation is an important part of our peace of mind and our effectiveness as Christians in this life. Being falsely assured also has very serious eternal consequences. Hence, these messages by Thabiti are worth listening to again and again.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Zambian Reformed Conferences—Second Day

For the purpose of this blog post, I decided to spend my day at the Reformed School of Theology yesterday (Tuesday, 27 August). This event is meant for pastors, church leaders, Bible college students, and their wives. Due to other demands on my time, I was not able to stay and listen to all the messages but kept going in and out. So, I asked our son, Mwansa, to give me a summary of the two messages. (This is also a disclaimer!) He attended the Reformed Family Conference, but the messages were essentially the same.

Thabiti Anyabwile preaching at the Reformed School of Theology
Thabiti Anyabwile preached from 1 John and used various passages from there to deal with the subject of assurance of salvation. He said that our assurance of salvation should be based on Jesus Christ rather than on us. Once we drift from this principle we fail to understand the concept and will never really be able to answer the question of whether or not we truly are Christians. Assurance is not about how we felt at the time of our conversion but about the faith in the death of Christ on the cross on our behalf.

The key and major factor is not necessarily our actions but the well from which our actions spring, or to put it another way, faith does not make us born again but it is because we are born again that we have faith. Our assurance should always come from what Christ did and our belief in that rather than from any of our actions both past and present. This is because we fall quite often but Christ’s work was and is perfect.

Don Carson preaching at the Reformed School of Theology
Don Carson spoke on the temptation of Eve in Genesis 3. He said that the serpent did not arrive with a contradiction to God’s command (not to eat the fruit) but with a question. That question was the root of the evil. However, it was aided by Eve. Eve added to the command by saying that God said the fruit should not even be touched. This was a ploy by Eve’s mind. It made God seem unjust and over-controlling. The root of all temptation is the thought that God is petty and jealous in his commands. Once these thoughts begin to spring we start creating lines for ourselves and then we cross not only those lines but also the lines that God has said we must not cross.

Attendance in the Reformed School of Theology
The afternoon had seminars done by local pastors. I was not able to attend any of them (for reasons mentioned above). The seminars were:
1. The spirit of Adoption--Isaac Makashinyi
2. Biblical Antidotes to Sexual Temptation--Grave Singogo
3. The means of grace (private and public) as they relate to temptation and assurance--Kennedy Sunkutu

In the evening meeting, "yours truly" spoke about Reformation Zambia. I am yet to be corrected, but as far as my knowledge goes, it is the only Christian magazine in Zambia. Hence, I appealed to those in attendance to support it by buying and reading it. Michael Hudson from the UK sang a solo. He is excellent and puts his voice to good use. He did the same last year at this conference.

Evaristo Mambwe presenting on the work of Bible Society of Zambia
Evaristo Mambwe, the General Secretary of the Bible Society of Zambia, made a presentation on the work of the Bible Society. Perhaps the most exciting moment was when he announced that a fifteenth language in Zambia (Mambwe) now had a whole Bible translation, and it was to be launched in Northern Province on the coming Friday. He also announced the latest ESV Global Study Bible that “yours truly” participated in.

Michael Hudson singing a solo in the evening plenary meeting
Finally, it was time for the preaching of the word, and Don Carson spoke on the temptation of Joseph from Genesis 39. Beginning with the central part of the text, Don made his way outwards to show how this story fitted into the whole narrative of Genesis and to the whole Bible. In speaking of the way Joseph was tempted by Potiphar's wife, he showed us some elements of the power of Joseph's temptation, some reasons why Joseph resisted the temptation and some ways of God hidden behind temptation.

Don Carson preaching on the temptation of Joseph
In showing us some reasons why Joseph resisted temptation he said (1) Because Joseph was conscious that he had been given a position of trust and needed to prove trustworthy. (2) Because he called a spade a spade—i.e. sin and not some moment of indiscretion. (3) Because he saw the whole of life in the light of God himself. (4) Because he not to play with fire. (5) Because he was more concerned for his purity than for his prospects.

Congregational singing during the evening plenary meeting
If there is only one sermon you have time to listen to, it must be Don Carson’s evening sermon. I suppose it must be because it was the only sermon that I listened to yesterday. It was powerful beyond description. My wife’s comment at the end of the evening sermon was simply, “Man, this is preaching!” And I thought she had been listening to "preaching" for the last 25 years!

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Zambian Reformed Conferences Started Today

The combined first plenary meeting of the Zambian Reformed Conferences commenced promptly at 18.00 hrs today. It was led by Charles Bota, the organising team's chairman. Alfred Nyirenda welcomed the over one thousand participants by nations and by provinces. Almost all the provinces in Zambia were represented. Some countries that were present were Botswana, Cayman Islands, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda, UK, USA, etc.

Alfred Nyirenda welcoming visitors, flanked by Charles Bota
Ronald Kalifungwa was the keynote speaker. He preached from Romans 13:11-14. In this passage, Paul spoke of taking off works of darkness and putting on the armour of light. Referring to 1 Thessalonians 5:8, Ronald showed that the armour of light is actually faith, hope and love. Ultimately, he said, we are to put on the Lord Jesus Christ. We are to follow Christ. He gave various motives for loving and following Christ based on his person and work.

Ronald also explained how we put on Christ. It is by hearing his word, knowing it, and putting our trust in him as he is presented to us in his word. Hope grows as we meditate much on his promises. Love grows as we reflect on his love.

Ronald Kalifungwa giving the keynote address
What has all this got to do with temptation and assurance? Putting on Christ is the way we make no provision for the flesh. We have fresh faith, fresh hope, fresh love for Christ. Hence the dazzling things of the world pale into insignificance. Putting on Christ is the way we confirm to ourselves that we are in the faith. When we reflect the life of Christ it confirms us in the view that we are truly the Lord's.

Ronald ended by appealing to us to put on Christ in order to overcome the pull of the world and of Satan. He also urged us to put on Christ in order to grow in our conformity to him.

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Young, Restless, and Reformed…In Africa

After my last blog post, which went “viral” compared to my other blog posts, I have decided to write on something more positive that is happening across Africa—at least in English-speaking countries. This is the growth of the “young, restless, and Reformed” movement on the continent.

In the recent past, I have been in touch with a significant number of people across Africa, who are largely young professionals in their twenties and thirties, and who have recently embraced the Reformed Faith. They have sought me out and shared with me their excitement at their new discovery.

How has this happened? 
This has been almost exclusively through the Internet. Having grown up within extreme Charismatic or mainline Liberal church circles, they did not know any better. However, a growing discontentment has caused them to search the Internet for sermons that would feed their famished souls.

In due seasons, they have come across sermons of men like John MacArthur Jr., John Piper, Paul Washer, Thabiti Anyabwile, etc. Sometimes, it has been because a friend in church or across town or even in another part of the country has made the discovery and commended the site to them.

Sometimes this search has been occasioned by a lively debate among them over Christian doctrine. With the Internet now available on smartphones, they have gone searching for answers so as to return the next day with arguments to win the day. This has landed them in the laps of these preachers.

The testimony of these young men and women has been universally the same. They have listened to a few of the sermons and felt like men and women who have starved for years and stumbled into a room with food meant for a king. Hence, they have listened to everything that they can lay their hands on. They have also foraged the blogosphere for Reformed discussions and monologues.

Upon listening to a number of these preachers, they have invariably added to their vocabulary names and words that they either never knew existed or had been wrongly informed about. They have come to know about preachers like John Calvin, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Jonathan Edwards, plus a whole host of Puritan writers, etc. They have read anything they could find written by them.

They have wrestled with and finally come to know and love the doctrines of grace and the basics of the Reformed Faith. All this has been happening while they are still going to the churches that believe the exact opposite of what they have now come to embrace.  This has set them on the path of searching for churches on the continent that believe what they have now come to believe.

The challenge they now face
This is now their challenge. For most of them, the nearest churches with any semblance of Reformed principles are in cities hundreds of kilometres away. This is the cry that has come to my attention. It is largely a call for help. These young adults are crying for living shepherds who faithfully expound the Scriptures and take oversight work seriously to look after their souls.

This is something some of us have been praying for for ages. Whereas the Reformed movement in Zambia is growing by leaps and bounds, it looked as if it was an oasis in the midst of a continent-wide desert (but for a fountain here and there). This is now changing. Like old Simeon, I now feel like saying, “Lord, let your servant depart in peace for my eyes have now seen your salvation.”

Yet, this is not the time to quit. The work has only begun. It is a Macedonian call, summoning us to send out missionaries who will plant churches where these young men and women are and disciple them as they marry, raise families, and take up places of responsibility in their communities. Many of them have no idea what a proper functioning local church really looks like.

There is need to be by their side as the doctrines of grace go from the head into the heart and transforms them into truly gracious souls. We know how, without proper guidance, the Reformed Faith has led many people into hyper-Calvinism and other terrible extremes. This is the time to nip this tendency in the bud.

The “young, restless, and Reformed” sprouting up all over Africa remind me of the early years of the Reformed movement in Zambia in the 1980s. We counted our doctrines on five fingers and thought that was what the Reformed Faith was all about. We knew next to nothing about “sola Scriptura” in ecclesiology and worldview matters, but we wanted to turn the world upside down for what we had come to know as the Reformed Faith. This is what I am seeing all around.

I have met a few of them in person in my travels around the continent. You cannot miss the first love for the doctrines of grace, which we once had. They’ve found the centre of the solar system of salvation and everything in the Bible is now going around in perfect symmetry. The whole Bible has come alive to them!

Reformed “blacks” in South Africa?
It seems that one country on the whole continent that is leading in this phenomenon is South Africa. Whereas previously the Reformed Faith in this robust form was almost a monopoly of the “white” South Africans and “blacks” shunned the R-word because of its associations with Apartheid, yet these “black” young adults love the R-word and are changing the demographics altogether.

See, for instance, their Facebook discussion wall, “Township Reformation”. Their cover photo has the word “Reformed” screaming out at you. Then the subtitle reads, “Explicitly Calvinistic Language, Christocentric Themes, Strong References to Sovereignty.” This is not coming from graduates of Bible colleges with theological degrees. These are young adults expressing their newfound faith!

I recall spending some time with two of them recently while on a trip to South Africa. They pleaded with me to plant a Reformed Baptist church in their city and, more specifically, in their township. When I was leaving, we got a photo together. I saw it on Facebook a few minutes later with the words, “You see, I told you, I am also Reformed!”