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!”