The Rise of the Reformed Baptist Movement in Zambia
I recently attended a conference with a group of pastors from five continents and 15 countries. A number of them had heard about the vibrant and growing Reformed Baptist movement in Zambia, and they asked me what the contributing factors have been. Thankfully, I have been doing some research for a writing project, and so I was able to give an informed answer. So here are the ten human agents and circumstances the Lord has used over the last 40 years or so to start a movement that is making waves in the country and across the continent.
We can never fully quantify the impact of Rev Joe Simfukwe in igniting the Reformed movement in Zambia. He will tell you that it was not his intention to start a Reformed movement since he simply describes himself as an Evangelical. However, he inadvertently sparked the movement in three ways. His expository preaching at Lusaka Baptist Church that began in 1980 and went through the book of Romans, Ephesians, and John were particularly used of the Lord to draw souls to salvation and give them a passion for the Word of God and for evangelism. ‘Ba Joe’, as his disciples fondly call him, also introduced a whole host of university students to the Banner of Truth books which further grounded them in the Reformed teachings of the Puritans. Lastly, Rev Simfukwe helped the movement rise by spearheading a church planting movement in urban areas, which saw churches planted in the major towns of Zambia (Lusaka, Choma, Chipata, Chingola, Mufulira, and Mansa). As the university students who were sitting under the preaching of Rev Simfukwe began graduating and getting jobs in different towns, they were getting discontent with the churches in those towns and ended up planting Reformed Baptist churches.
Banner of Truth Books
As has been mentioned that the Banner of Truth books played a major role in shaping the budding reformers’ beliefs as they devoured whatever books they laid their hands on. The Puritan flavor of the books invariably rubbed off on them and Reformed convictions were formed and/or cemented.
The Rise of the Charismatic Movement
The early 1990s saw the introduction of the Charismatic movement in Zambia with its emphasis on the supernatural gifts and the prosperity gospel. The young pastors and their young churches wanted to make sure they shielded themselves from this error. As a result, they were forced to define themselves with clarity and forcefulness. The movement’s emphasis on their identity drew labels of ‘separatists’ at best and ‘cultic’ at worst.
In the early years the young pastors in the Reformed movement realized the need for training and fellowship. Since they could not immediately go into seminary, they held annual meetings in Chingola at meetings they termed ‘Parsons’ Diet’ where they presented papers on different pertinent theological issues of their day. One result of these meetings was a camaraderie among the pastors which produced unity among the churches.
Achille Blaize was pastor of Grace Baptist Church in London when he came to Zambia in 1989 and 1990. He is now retired. He is the man who set Zambia ‘a-blaize’ (forgive the pun). He came initially in 1989 at the invitation of Scripture Union Zambia but brought with him many copies of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, that year being the 300th anniversary of that document. The fledgling Reformed Baptist movement was excited to see that they had a historic document to fall back on. Pastor Blaize returned in 1990 and preached at the first Reformed conference organized by this movement and helped the young pastors and their congregations to be more defined doctrinally and to base all their practices on the Word of God. The rest, as they say, is history.
The Reformed Family Conference
From the talks with Blaize, the Reformed Family Conference was born. It has been running since 1990 and has grown in leaps and bounds. The conference has dealt with all kinds of themes with the goal of spurring the growth of the movement and has managed to draw different kinds of preachers in the Reformed circles around the world.
The International Preaching Itinerary of Conrad Mbewe
Dr. Conrad Mbewe’s international ministry did not grow the movement, but it brought it into the limelight before the larger Reformed movement was known around the world. As people heard him preach in different countries, they developed interest in the state of the Reformed movement in Zambia. This in a sense made the movement attractive, particularly to younger people.
The Centrality of Preaching in the Churches
One distinguishing mark of any true Baptist is their high regard for the preached Word of God. This should be true of any Baptists worth their salt. One could argue that this is even more true among Reformed Baptists. And for over 30 years, God has blessed these churches with faithful and, dare I say, world class preachers. These men have been steady, sure, and consistent. Some of them have labored in one place for years. God has in turn blessed their faithfulness with abundant fruit from east to west, north to south. The steady and faithful preaching of the Word has anchored the growth of the movement.
The Exposure to International Preachers and Their Writing
The growth of the internet has meant easy access to blogs and sermons of different pastors and authors. People have been exposed to all kinds of preachers of the Reformed persuasion that have in a way grounded them in the doctrines. In fact, there have been cases of people who have developed Reformed convictions while they are in non-Reformed churches because they are largely listening to and reading from international preachers and writers of Reformed persuasion.
A Growing Church Planting Movement
People who are Calvinistic in their doctrine of salvation are often accused of being un-evangelistic and lacking a passion for missions. However, the Reformed movement in Zambia has been characterized by a zeal for church planting that has seen them plant churches in all the ten provinces in Zambia, and they have planted or have partnered in planting in at least five African countries. This passion for church planting has contributed to the growth of the movement in Zambia as more people have come to salvation through the preaching of the gospel.
Let me offer a few concluding statements without much explanation:
- No work can flourish, unless the Lord blesses it. If this was a human effort, it would have crashed years ago. Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain that build it.
- God uses human means to carry out His purposes. He particularly uses faithful men and women who have a burden for his work, Word, and glory.
- One cannot over emphasize the importance of preaching to the life of the church. In a time of gimmicks, tricks and business strategies in the church, Paul’s word to Timothy should ring even louder: Preach the Word!
- There seems to be a direct correlation between a healthy reading and writing culture and depth in doctrinal understanding. When Christianity was flourishing in Europe, they were the hub of Christian literature, and the same has been true of the USA for a number of years. Could it be that the general shallowness in theology on the continent is due to a lack of thoughtful articulation through pen and paper? I leave you to ponder on it.
Of Further Interest
I recently attended a conference with a group of pastors from five continents and 15 countries. A number of them had heard about the vibrant and growing Reformed Baptist movement in Zambia, and they asked me what the contributing factors have been. Thankfully, I have been doing some research for a writing project, and so […]
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