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MISSIONARY SPOTLIGHT-South Africa

July 2000 | by Christo Beetge

South Africa – a personal view

It does not take deep analysis to realise that Evangelicalism in South Africa is in decline. But my own recent travels in the USA convinced me not only of that fact, but also that Africa is in spiritual crisis. With poverty, disease (HIV, AIDS, TB, Malaria etc.) and crime levels so high in Southern Africa, gospel ministry there becomes doubly urgent and significant.

When I fell victim to an armed hijacking in South Africa, losing virtually my whole identity (car, wallet, briefcase, cell phone, diary, Bible), I realised that God was graciously allowing me to get an inside view of what all too many people in SA have been facing.

Questions and answers

The majority of people in South Africa’s sterile spiritual environment are not seeking true answers to questions regarding the meaning of life and the validity of various value-systems. Anyway, the only answers acceptable to most are those offered by the ‘African Renaissance’, the Parliament of World Religions, the demise of denominationalism, and a resurgent youth-culture.

President Thabo Mbeki has called for Africans to ‘rediscover and return to their spiritual roots’. This, together with the constant media coverage given to ‘other major world faiths’, are indicative of the new ethos.

Around the world anything that is ‘old’ or ‘traditional’ is being systematically debunked, even though it may have served a previous generation well. In SA this trend has resulted in apathy and indifference towards many such things, including mainline Christian denominations.

It is far more acceptable to call your place of worship a ‘Community Worship Centre’ than the ‘XYZ Baptist Church’. At best, denominational labels generate a lethargic yawn for the emerging culture.

SA is right up to date with world trends over inclusive language and thinking. Consequently, our society is ripe for the rise of syncretism, laced with mystical and animistic beliefs.

There is an incredible tolerance towards virtually any new idea. Swept along by postmodernism, there is a corresponding antagonism towards any notion of absolute truth or revealed doctrine.

Cell-church concept

The ‘cell-church’ concept is solidly in vogue. If your church hasn’t yet done the Alpha Course then you really are asking to be written off. Any pastor wanting even to evaluate such material objectively is inviting ridicule.

Few pastorates (certainly in Baptist circles) last longer than five years. Indeed, ‘warning bells’ should be sounding as we note the closure of the majority of university Biblical Studies faculties around the country. Even institutions like the Baptist Theological College have had a record low intake of first-year students (less than a third of normal).

Prospective ministerial candidates are switching to institutions which offer short courses on techniques for church growth, rather than an academic study of theology in its various disciplines, or the study of the Bible and its original languages.

From a human perspective, any local church that orders its worship biblically and emphasises systematic expository preaching in a family context is in its twilight years. Many express anxiety about the kind of ‘church’ our children will inherit.

Faithful pastors report that the ground is barren and hard. Genuine conversions in response to passionate, expository, Christ-centred preaching are rare. Things are likely to grow worse unless God visits our country with true spiritual reformation and revival.

Growing acceptance

But, despite these realities, groups like the Spurgeon Fraternal – a group of pastors committed to the rigours of reformation ministry – are finding growing acceptance amongst colleagues not willing to capitulate to pragmatism.

These men meet three times a year for three days of prayer and fasting in the hope that the God of grace would visit his people yet again with heavenly showers. To this end we would urge your prayers also.

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South Africa