Who are the Baptists in South Africa?

I created a little content for an interested party a month back or so and I thought I’d test it out on open platform. Please, take a look, make a comment. Agree? Disagree? Make sense? Confusing? I’d like your feedback.

Who are South Africa’s Baptists?

Baptist Union, Rezolution Conference, paedo-Baptists, Sola 5, Liberal, Charismatic, Pneumatology, Isaiah 58, Soteriology, Reformed, Reformed Baptist, Baptist, Baptists, South Africa, BUSA, Baptist Union of Southern Africa, Baptist Convention, Afrikaanse Baptiste Kerke

The Baptist Union

The South African census of 2001 recorded that out of a population of 44,819,774 citizens 691,235 people identified themselves as Baptists in South Africa.

The Baptist Union of Southern Africa in 2010, held in association 524 churches with 43431 members.

I’m a member (ok, I’m the pastor) of a church which is in the Baptist Union of Southern Africa and I think it’s fair to say that even as I look to the interests of my own local church I also desire to see the Union of churches as a whole strengthened. I’m not a passive bystander.

Theological identifications within the Baptist Union

Baptist Union, Rezolution Conference, paedo-Baptists, Sola 5, Liberal, Charismatic, Pneumatology, Isaiah 58, Soteriology, Reformed, Reformed Baptist, Baptist, Baptists, South Africa, BUSA, Baptist Union of Southern Africa, Baptist Convention, Afrikaanse Baptiste Kerke

Theological identifications within the Baptist Union

Two main theological camps have begun to emerge in the last 10 years within the Baptist Union.

Sola 5 Is a grouping of Reformed Baptists who are unified by their Soteriology (Reformed). They are a very well mobilised, cohesive group.

Isaiah 58 Is a grouping of Baptists who are unified primarily by their adoption of church growth strategies and – in lesser part – by their Pneumatology (Charismatic). It’s been pointed out to me that some in Isaiah 58 would see themselves as Reformed Charismatics, others Liberal Charismatics, still others not Charismatic at all.

The majority of the Union is not aligned to either of these camps but in our postmodern world, where truth is a grey substance that no one wants to be caught holding when the music stops, it is very interesting to me that groups are beginning to form which stand for anything. The church which supports me as a missionary is a member of Sola 5 and I actively foster relationships with churches in this group. Over time it seems inevitable that our church would seek dual membership with the Baptist Union and Sola 5.

Who’s networking with who?

Baptist Union, Rezolution Conference, paedo-Baptists, Sola 5, Liberal, Charismatic, Pneumatology, Isaiah 58, Soteriology, Reformed, Reformed Baptist, Baptist, Baptists, South Africa, BUSA, Baptist Union of Southern Africa, Baptist Convention, Afrikaanse Baptiste Kerke

the networks are far more complex than this, but this should get a conversation rolling?

Sola 5 churches have, and are developing, good relationships with paedo-Baptists. You can see these developing relationships in efforts like the Rezolution Conference and fraternal gatherings, like the recent visit by David Carmichael.

I’m a little far removed from Isaiah 58, however, I understand that they are developing relationships and holding joint conferences with a wide range of Charismatics. I hope I haven’t misrepresented them (anyone reading that can fill in the blanks?).

The Baptist Union ties two important Baptist groups together namely the Baptist Convention (former black union of churches) and the Afrikaanse Baptiste Kerke (Afrikaans association of churches).

Who’s training who?

Baptist Union, Rezolution Conference, paedo-Baptists, Sola 5, Liberal, Charismatic, Pneumatology, Isaiah 58, Soteriology, Reformed, Reformed Baptist, Baptist, Baptists, South Africa, BUSA, Baptist Union of Southern Africa, Baptist Convention, Afrikaanse Baptiste Kerke

The picture roughly demonstrates who feeds Our colleges and who they service

There are four colleges producing pastors for the Baptist Union in South Africa.

Christ Seminary produces candidates for churches like mine, Conservative Evangelical (although one could go further and say they groom Dispensational graduates – anyone want to contend?). Cape Town Baptist Seminary and the Baptist Theological College provide graduates to a far wider Baptist pool of churches. The Bible Institute of South Africa services a Reformed base of churches and the Afrikaanse Baptiste Seminarium addresses the Afrikaans constituency.

SATS and UNISA as distance learning institutions are all things to all men and I guess pick up the rest, but play an important role in post-graduate studies.

The Reformed camp, which is notoriously untrusting of local institutions, sends a number of their most promising candidates overseas for university education (Master’s Seminary, London Theological Seminary, Dallas Theological Seminary… – is this a fair statement?).

It’s my opinion that the ratio of graduates to established churches in South Africa is mismatched.

That, in a nutshell, is how I see the lay of the land. Too simple? Too complex? Too pointless? Comment below.

Mark Penrith (355 Posts)

Mark is a pastor at Crystal Park Baptist Church. Crystal Park Baptist Church is a community of regenerated believers who confess Jesus Christ as Lord; gathered together for teaching, worship, fellowship and evangelism. Mark is married to Liezl, has three children, Kaitlyn, Kathryn and Thomas and loves preaching, writting and thinking.


42 thoughts on “Who are the Baptists in South Africa?”

  1. I would think it would be worth adding George Whitefield College to the training colleges list. There have always been a few baptists training there – especially in the postgrad department. I’m also intrigued by your mention (in the diagram) of Reformed Presbyterians. Are those South Africans? If so I’d very much like to meet them.

    1. Hey there Stephen,

      A excellent man, Peter Sammons (both Sola 5 and Baptist Union), has been instrumental in bringing together a group of people from the Church of England in South Africa and the Reform Presbyterians, along with champions from there respective camps.

      A name you’re looking for is Neal Beatson. I’ll send you his details via a Facebook message.

  2. I would think it would be worth adding George Whitefield College to the training colleges list. There have always been a few baptists training there – especially in the postgrad department. I’m also intrigued by your mention (in the diagram) of Reformed Presbyterians. Are those South Africans? If so I’d very much like to meet them.

    1. Hey there Stephen,

      A excellent man, Peter Sammons (both Sola 5 and Baptist Union), has been instrumental in bringing together a group of people from the Church of England in South Africa and the Reform Presbyterians, along with champions from there respective camps.

      A name you’re looking for is Neal Beatson. I’ll send you his details via a Facebook message.

  3. Interesting that both London Theo., and DTS are used by your people! DTS has given some good people over the many years! I have a signed copy (Hardback with dustjacket, 1977) of ‘Things To Come, A Study In Biblical Eschatology’, by J. Dwight Pentecost.

      1. You are my ‘international’ readership :).

        On the subject of DTS, John French, a graduate from DTS has had a huge influence on my own spiritual formation. Also, a number of years ago, I completed a certificate course called Bible Training for Church Leaders which was compiled by a DTS graduate Dennis Mock.

  4. Interesting that both London Theo., and DTS are used by your people! DTS has given some good people over the many years! I have a signed copy (Hardback with dustjacket, 1977) of ‘Things To Come, A Study In Biblical Eschatology’, by J. Dwight Pentecost.

      1. You are my ‘international’ readership :).

        On the subject of DTS, John French, a graduate from DTS has had a huge influence on my own spiritual formation. Also, a number of years ago, I completed a certificate course called Bible Training for Church Leaders which was compiled by a DTS graduate Dennis Mock.

  5. Thanks Mark. For me, this is a rare insight into the internals of the Baptist Church in South Africa. I’d like to hear more. Perhaps on the theological differences?
    I know that some Baptist Churches could almost be Methodists (sorry about that!), but others would be considered beyond the pale by Methodists. (Of course there are Methodists and Methodists, just like there are Baptists and Baptists!)

    1. “Methodists and Methodists”, “Baptists and Baptists”. So true.

      I’d like to write more. Especially in the area of fighting denominationalism. Baptists have always advocated the autonomy of the local church, but in times of weakness one of the tendencies (such a South African political word) is to argue for more institutional structures. Not sure if that makes sense but I think it’d be worth while putting down on paper.

  6. Thanks Mark. For me, this is a rare insight into the internals of the Baptist Church in South Africa. I’d like to hear more. Perhaps on the theological differences?
    I know that some Baptist Churches could almost be Methodists (sorry about that!), but others would be considered beyond the pale by Methodists. (Of course there are Methodists and Methodists, just like there are Baptists and Baptists!)

    1. “Methodists and Methodists”, “Baptists and Baptists”. So true.

      I’d like to write more. Especially in the area of fighting denominationalism. Baptists have always advocated the autonomy of the local church, but in times of weakness one of the tendencies (such a South African political word) is to argue for more institutional structures. Not sure if that makes sense but I think it’d be worth while putting down on paper.

  7. Hi Mark. I appreciate the review. It seems pretty accurate, with GWC added. A concern is that some 650,000 so-called Baptists are unknown to most Baptist churches (unless adherents:members are 15:1)! It would seem that “Baptists” are a nominal lot indeed, perhaps like Israel ahead of exile…… Thanks for taking time to start a useful discussion.

    1. Hey there Andrew,

      The census numbers are strange. Next time I’m at Baptist House I’ll try and see who else is know to called themselves Baptists in the South African context.

      Charles de Kiewit pointed out that there are other groups, just less mobilised, and when I spoke to Martin Pohlman he said that possibly the ‘Liberation Theology’ guys deserve there own corner.

      I agree with your statement, “It would seem that “Baptists” are a nominal lot indeed.”

  8. Hi Mark. I appreciate the review. It seems pretty accurate, with GWC added. A concern is that some 650,000 so-called Baptists are unknown to most Baptist churches (unless adherents:members are 15:1)! It would seem that “Baptists” are a nominal lot indeed, perhaps like Israel ahead of exile…… Thanks for taking time to start a useful discussion.

    1. Hey there Andrew,

      The census numbers are strange. Next time I’m at Baptist House I’ll try and see who else is know to called themselves Baptists in the South African context.

      Charles de Kiewit pointed out that there are other groups, just less mobilised, and when I spoke to Martin Pohlman he said that possibly the ‘Liberation Theology’ guys deserve there own corner.

      I agree with your statement, “It would seem that “Baptists” are a nominal lot indeed.”

    1. Yes you’re right Simon, Evangelical Conservatives of the Baptist persuasion, and Doug’s (another DTS graduate) doing great work out there on the Westrand. Do you know the numbers?

    1. Yes you’re right Simon, Evangelical Conservatives of the Baptist persuasion, and Doug’s (another DTS graduate) doing great work out there on the Westrand. Do you know the numbers?

  9. This is somewhat dated – and what do I know? – but my late father, who was once a Baptist minister, used to comment on (and bemoan) what he saw as the shift that had occurred during his lifetime among SA Baptists from being more British-influenced to being more American-influenced. I don’t think that this was directly related to the divide you mention, although he did see the American (and particularly Southern Baptist) influence in the Church growth emphasis (which he hated with a passion although he was never a strong Calvinist and certainly later in life had problems with that theology). I don’t think that he saw the earlier British influence as more Calvinist as much as more mainstream and broadly evangelical, as well as (from my vague recollections) being more influenced by the holiness movement, the loss of which he also bemoaned… fwiw!

    1. Hey Macrina,

      That’s fantastic input and well worth pluging into any model. I would have shifted the English Baptist influence way backward historically but I agree with your point in principal.

      I’m surprised no one has picked out the biggest missing link in my model; I make not reference to race (black, white, colored or indian) and I make no reference to geographical considerations (northern association, western cape association…). These to me are the two glaring oversights on my point. Not even sure where to start on them.

  10. This is somewhat dated – and what do I know? – but my late father, who was once a Baptist minister, used to comment on (and bemoan) what he saw as the shift that had occurred during his lifetime among SA Baptists from being more British-influenced to being more American-influenced. I don’t think that this was directly related to the divide you mention, although he did see the American (and particularly Southern Baptist) influence in the Church growth emphasis (which he hated with a passion although he was never a strong Calvinist and certainly later in life had problems with that theology). I don’t think that he saw the earlier British influence as more Calvinist as much as more mainstream and broadly evangelical, as well as (from my vague recollections) being more influenced by the holiness movement, the loss of which he also bemoaned… fwiw!

    1. Hey Macrina,

      That’s fantastic input and well worth pluging into any model. I would have shifted the English Baptist influence way backward historically but I agree with your point in principal.

      I’m surprised no one has picked out the biggest missing link in my model; I make not reference to race (black, white, colored or indian) and I make no reference to geographical considerations (northern association, western cape association…). These to me are the two glaring oversights on my point. Not even sure where to start on them.

  11. Hi Mark, what an amazing job you have done of an almost impossible task. Due to our distinctives such as the autonomy of the local church and freedom of conscience, we are by nature an “eclectic” bunch in praxis and broad theological definition. Trying to define, describe or even understand “Baptists” as a group therefore is like trying to nail jelly to a tree. But I think you have done a good job which provides good food for thought in terms of what Baptist Unions, Associations, Conventions etc. (we cannot use the word denomination) ought to bear in mind as we seek to cooperate with on another. Peter Sammons

    1. Hey Peter,

      I mentioned it above but let me confess again: I’m surprised no one has picked out the biggest missing link in my model; I make no reference to race (black, white, colored or indian) and I make no reference to geographical considerations (northern association, western cape association…). These to me are the two glaring oversights on my point. Not even sure where to start on them.

  12. Hi Mark, what an amazing job you have done of an almost impossible task. Due to our distinctives such as the autonomy of the local church and freedom of conscience, we are by nature an “eclectic” bunch in praxis and broad theological definition. Trying to define, describe or even understand “Baptists” as a group therefore is like trying to nail jelly to a tree. But I think you have done a good job which provides good food for thought in terms of what Baptist Unions, Associations, Conventions etc. (we cannot use the word denomination) ought to bear in mind as we seek to cooperate with on another. Peter Sammons

    1. Hey Peter,

      I mentioned it above but let me confess again: I’m surprised no one has picked out the biggest missing link in my model; I make no reference to race (black, white, colored or indian) and I make no reference to geographical considerations (northern association, western cape association…). These to me are the two glaring oversights on my point. Not even sure where to start on them.

  13. I think I mentioned in another comment somewhere that Patrick Hains, the minister at Bethany Baptis Church in Lyttelton, told me that there were three main varieties of Baptists in SA (in the Baptist Union, that is: Reformed, who are
    hypercalvinist; the Charismatics, who are not, and the Conservative, who are somewhere in between the other two.

    That was 30 years ago, so my knowledge is 30 years out of date, but the Reformed and Charismatic would seem to coincide roughly with the Sola 5 and Isaiah 58 groups you mention. Does that mean that they now have more formal structures, rather than just being theological tendencies? Formal structures in the sense of having constitutions and committees and membership etc.

    1. A sweeping review Steve (or I suppose reflecting Patrick Hains’ historic view). To class Reformed as Hyper-Calvinist would be equivalent of classing “Conservative” as Confused. I would think that neither are accurate and reflect a general prejudice rather than an informed observation. Charismatics are not defined by what they are NOT – but by what they believe (practically and theologically) because by the definition offered, “Conservative” Baptists are also then Charismatics.

      1. Well your explanation is much more nuanced that Patrick Hains’s one (which he undoubtedly simplified for a non-Baptist like me), but I just wondered if that was the result of changes over time, or just that it was his particular point of view.

  14. I think I mentioned in another comment somewhere that Patrick Hains, the minister at Bethany Baptis Church in Lyttelton, told me that there were three main varieties of Baptists in SA (in the Baptist Union, that is: Reformed, who are
    hypercalvinist; the Charismatics, who are not, and the Conservative, who are somewhere in between the other two.

    That was 30 years ago, so my knowledge is 30 years out of date, but the Reformed and Charismatic would seem to coincide roughly with the Sola 5 and Isaiah 58 groups you mention. Does that mean that they now have more formal structures, rather than just being theological tendencies? Formal structures in the sense of having constitutions and committees and membership etc.

    1. A sweeping review Steve (or I suppose reflecting Patrick Hains’ historic view). To class Reformed as Hyper-Calvinist would be equivalent of classing “Conservative” as Confused. I would think that neither are accurate and reflect a general prejudice rather than an informed observation. Charismatics are not defined by what they are NOT – but by what they believe (practically and theologically) because by the definition offered, “Conservative” Baptists are also then Charismatics.

      1. Well your explanation is much more nuanced that Patrick Hains’s one (which he undoubtedly simplified for a non-Baptist like me), but I just wondered if that was the result of changes over time, or just that it was his particular point of view.

  15. Hi Mark, Des Henry pointed me to your work on BUSA. I’ve enjoyed your thoughts.

    I think your summary on ISA58 is a bit brief though. I’ve connected with them a bit and they are no where near as organised as you reflect.

    Your diagram indicates the bring together Pentecostals, Independent Baptists and Emergent, this isn’t the case. ISA 58 is a loose grouping of BUSA churches who are not cessationist who are wanting to pursue:
    1. The ministry of the Holy Spirit within the ‘security’ of a Baptist view of scripture.
    2. Compassionate action ministry and injustice issues.

    Also I think you comment… ‘Isaiah 58 Is a grouping of Baptists who are unified primarily by their adoption of church growth strategies and – in lesser part – by their Pneumatology (Charismatic).’ is incorrect. Church growth strategies have nothing to do with ISA58, they are united by their Pneumatology.

    I hope this helps with the conversation

    Thanks for your insight – m@

    1. Hey there Matthew,

      So I’ve got to admit, at the point of writing this post I only had third hand information about Isa58 – and by third hand: I hang out with the guys on the opposite theological end from Isa:58, and let’s face it, detractors make lousy primary sources.

      Since writing this article I’ve conducted two interviews – one through the night conversation with Craig Duvel – who rather gratuitously answered question after question and seemed to have all the time in the world, and one with a secondary source.

      I do believe member churches in Isa 58 are having conversations beyond baptist circles; however, I have to agree with you: whilst S:5 is an association, and highly organised, Isa:58 is a fraternal, and lacks the organisational structure that the Reformed movement currently enjoys (the equivalent Baptist fraternal in the Reformed world is the bi-annual Spurgeon Fraternal).

      I’ve also got to agree that Pneumatology is what binds this fraternity together, however, I think it’s important to note that organisations like Willow Creek (church growth) see this group as the platform for penetrating the South African “market”.

      Thanks for challenging what you read.

      What do you think?

  16. Hi Mark, Des Henry pointed me to your work on BUSA. I’ve enjoyed your thoughts.

    I think your summary on ISA58 is a bit brief though. I’ve connected with them a bit and they are no where near as organised as you reflect.

    Your diagram indicates the bring together Pentecostals, Independent Baptists and Emergent, this isn’t the case. ISA 58 is a loose grouping of BUSA churches who are not cessationist who are wanting to pursue:
    1. The ministry of the Holy Spirit within the ‘security’ of a Baptist view of scripture.
    2. Compassionate action ministry and injustice issues.

    Also I think you comment… ‘Isaiah 58 Is a grouping of Baptists who are unified primarily by their adoption of church growth strategies and – in lesser part – by their Pneumatology (Charismatic).’ is incorrect. Church growth strategies have nothing to do with ISA58, they are united by their Pneumatology.

    I hope this helps with the conversation

    Thanks for your insight – m@

    1. Hey there Matthew,

      So I’ve got to admit, at the point of writing this post I only had third hand information about Isa58 – and by third hand: I hang out with the guys on the opposite theological end from Isa:58, and let’s face it, detractors make lousy primary sources.

      Since writing this article I’ve conducted two interviews – one through the night conversation with Craig Duvel – who rather gratuitously answered question after question and seemed to have all the time in the world, and one with a secondary source.

      I do believe member churches in Isa 58 are having conversations beyond baptist circles; however, I have to agree with you: whilst S:5 is an association, and highly organised, Isa:58 is a fraternal, and lacks the organisational structure that the Reformed movement currently enjoys (the equivalent Baptist fraternal in the Reformed world is the bi-annual Spurgeon Fraternal).

      I’ve also got to agree that Pneumatology is what binds this fraternity together, however, I think it’s important to note that organisations like Willow Creek (church growth) see this group as the platform for penetrating the South African “market”.

      Thanks for challenging what you read.

      What do you think?

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