A Tour Of The Reformed World In Uganda

After my lecture in Covenant Theology class, a student, John,1 came up to speak with me. He shared that he was having trouble paying his fees, which is a common struggle post COVID. But he was having trouble for a more particular reason: he came from a Pentecostal church. As his theology came to be more shaped by the Scriptures, he was becoming Reformed in his convictions. The members of his church were beginning to love his teaching, but his sponsor did not appreciate his convictions. His funding was pulled. I knew that John was going to meet with some family members to see about raising some support, but he appeared dejected. The conversation had not gone well. His uncle had offered to buy the family land, his only inheritance from his deceased father, in exchange for clearing his debt. The land was worth much more, and his uncle knew it. John was in a sore position. “Don’t give up now,” I implored him. “I can’t quit now,” he said, “I’ve learned too much to quit now when I still have so much left to learn.” Such are some of the struggles of the Reformed Reformation in Uganda.

Such is also the history of the Presbyterian and Reformed theology, piety, and practice in Uganda. Presbyterianism has a rich history in Uganda, starting with its most prominent missionary, Alexander Mackay (1849–90), who was the son of a minister in the Free Church of Scotland and a devout Presbyterian himself.2 Unfortunately, Mackay encountered great trials in his ministry being the sole survivor of his eight-man team after a period of only three years, and his work was often hampered by persecution. He often preached illegally, having been forbidden to teach Christianity in any form outside the court. Mackay died at the age of 41 of malaria, but his Christian legacy endures. To this day he is remembered locally for his dedication to bringing Christianity to Uganda.

Today, however, the major religious strains within the country are Anglicanism (through the Church of Uganda), Catholicism, Pentecostalism, Islam, and traditional African religion.3 The Reformed faith exercises relatively little influence numerically in the country so that while roughly 82% of the country reports being Christian, less than 0.1% of the population identifies with being Reformed or Presbyterian. What follows is a summary of the current state of Reformed influence and education in the country of Uganda, along with resources, and ways you can help and pray.

Presbyterian Church in Uganda

The Presbyterian Church in Uganda (PCU) was founded in 1979 by Dr. Kefa Sempangi, who was trained at Westminster Theological Seminary while in exile from his native Uganda.4 He captures the story of the Idi Amin years (1971–79) quite movingly in his autobiographical account titled A Distant Grief.5 He was originally a pastor of a Pentecostal church but having fled for his life to avoid religious persecution during that time, he encountered the Reformed faith in the Netherlands. Then Sempangi went on to get a Master of Divinity at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. Returning to Uganda in 1979, he started a presbyterian church and pastoral training focused on Reformed teaching. Ultimately, this led to the creation of the Presbyterian Church in Uganda. The PCU now operates with six presbyteries and 56 congregations. The organization of the denomination is presbyterian in form with local congregations having sessions composed of Teaching and Ruling Elders which are organized into presbyteries and finally a General Assembly. The presbyterian form of government is especially unusual in Uganda where nearly all religious institutions are either episcopal in arrangement or are single pastor ministries. The denominational standards are the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms.

Reformed Presbyterian Church of Uganda

The Reformed Presbyterian Church of Uganda was organized in 1989.6 The original member churches were from the PCU but left after a matter of church discipline led them to believe that the standards were not being kept and that a new denomination would be necessary. The RPCU boasts dozens of congregations and around 5,000 members. While other presbyterian ministries and denominations have had connections with individuals or institutions from outside Uganda, the RPCU claims to be an entirely indigenous movement within Uganda. They report their denominational standards to be the Apostle’s Creed, Canons of Dort, Heidelberg Catechism, Westminster Confession of Faith, and Westminster Larger Catechism.

Reformation Church in East Africa

The Reformation Church in East Africa (RCEA) is a new Reformed denomination in Uganda having been founded in 2019. The RCEA recently had a Vision Gathering conference in order to pray and work towards biblical reformation and church planting in East Africa. The core presbytery at the outset has been the Uganda Presbytery which is functionally the founding presbytery of the denomination. Nevertheless, the emphasis from the beginning has been a vision beyond the borders of Uganda. To that end, representatives from more than a dozen countries came to the conference to learn about the denomination and to prayerfully consider what their role might be in joining or church planting for the RCEA. The doctrinal standards of the RCEA are the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms. Their form of church government is presbyterian with teaching and ruling elders which comprise a session, presbyteries, and a general assembly. While a relatively young denomination, the RCEA is growing rapidly through its concerted efforts at faithful training and gospel centered church planting.

African Bible University

African Bible University (ABU) is the third African institution founded by Dr. Jack and Nell Chinchen known collectively as African Bible Colleges.7 They also founded institutions in Liberia and Malawi as well as having ABC Online for online degrees and African Business Institute (ABI) which offers a Master of Business Administration. The campus of ABU is in Lubowa, a suburb of Kampala. Dr. Jack Chinchen (1924–2019) was a founding member of the PCA and a Teaching Elder.8 The first head of ABU (referred to locally as a Vice Chancellor) was Dr. O. Palmer Robertson who served from the beginning of the institution in 2005 until his retirement in 2019. ABU has four bachelor’s degrees: biblical studies, education, mass communication, and business administration. The focus of the institution is on teaching the treasures of God’s truth. While the institution is open to all students with a Christian testimony and from any evangelical background, the Biblical Studies department are all Teaching or Ruling Elders in NAPARC denominations. Uganda has a national form of accreditation referred to as chartering under the National Council of Higher Education (NCHE). ABU is the only fully chartered institution of its type in the country which offers a liberal arts form of education as well as university level Biblical training. Most of the graduates go on to ministry with many of them going on to pastoral ministry. ABU also has a radio station, Radio ABC 99.3FM which operates around the clock broadcasting both local and international biblical teaching. Some of the content is available online at  Vice Chancellor Hour or on any podcast platform under the title VC Hour. ABU is a residential campus with facilities for 300 students.

Africa Reformation Theological Seminary

African Reformation Theological Seminary (ARTS) can be found just outside Kampala.9 An original institution named Westminster Theological Seminary Uganda (WTSU) was formed by the above PCU in conjunction with Birmingham Theological Seminary of Birmingham Alabama, but in 2016 WTSU changed to ARTS and began the process of chartering under NCHE and is currently working under a provisional license but with fully accredited courses. ARTS is unique among licensed institutions in Uganda as no other independent graduate level seminaries exist. Other theological institutions offer diplomas or bachelor’s degrees in addition to any graduate degrees that they may offer. All ARTS lecturers subscribe to the Westminster Confessions and Catechisms, the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dort. The purpose of ARTS, like most seminaries of its kind, is to train church leaders especially with an eye towards pastoral ministry. ARTS offers Master of Divinity and Master of Arts in Theological Studies.

Knox School of Theology

The Knox School of Theology Uganda (KTSU) is in eastern Uganda in the city of Mbale and is connected to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.10
The purpose of KTSU is for pastoral training with a commitment to the Reformed faith for the purpose of establishing healthy churches in Uganda. KTSU offers a bachelor’s degree in Theology as well as a Diploma in Theology. In Uganda, a diploma is a two-year course which comes after secondary school and is roughly equivalent to the American associate’s degree. Most pastors in Uganda are operating with no theological training, and the educational barriers to obtaining a bachelor’s degree are too high for many. But a diploma offers a way for pastors to receive the appropriate theological training without the barriers of cost and time. KTSU makes education accessible to pastors or pastoral candidates in eastern Uganda.

Trinity Biblical Institute

Trinity Biblical Institute (TBI) is located in Kapchorwa which is on Mount Elgon in eastern Uganda.11 The institute is partnered with ARTS as well as the PCU. TBI offers diplomas in Biblical Studies and Theology as well as certificates in the same subjects. Kapchorwa is in a relatively rural area, and TBI gives local pastors the opportunity to attain theological training necessary for pastoral ministry. In addition, TBI hosts training conferences. TBI is conscientiously Reformed in its curriculum and training.


The single biggest need in Uganda is for biblically trained ministers to preach the word of God. Many of the students come from churches or ministries that do not know the basics of the Gospel. When they encounter the theology of the Reformers for the first time, it seems odd. They wonder how they could have never heard it before but as they are trained to read the Bible as it has been given to us, they go back to their communities, churches, and ministries preaching differently because they truly understand the Bible for the first time. That knowledge kindles a fire in them which drives them to want to share. Pray for these denominations and institutions that we would be faithful and that the Lord would bring us willing students and the resources to train them. From Mackay the missionary to John, my Biblical Studies student, the Lord is working in Uganda.

©Jeremiah Pitts. All Rights Reserved.


1. Pseudonym for a real student.

2. For more on the fascinating life of Mackay consult Alexander Mackay: The Christian Who Changed the Face of Uganda: The Life Story of Alexander Mackay by James Joseph Ellis; Explorers of the Nile by Tim Jeal; The White Nile by Alan Moorehead; and The Making of Modern Uganda by Kenneth Ingham.

3. Report on International Religious Freedom: Uganda.

4. See The History of First Presbyterian Uganda.

5. F. Kefa Sempangi A Distant Grief (Eugene: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1979).

6. Reformed Presbyterian Church Uganda.

7. African Bible Colleges.

8. Missionary John Jack Chinchen Called Home to Glory.

9. Africa Reformed Theological Seminary.

10. Knox School of Theology Uganda.

11. Trinity Biblical Institute.

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  1. It’s encouraging to see what is happening next door.
    I hope the RCEA will pick up and set up shop here in Kenya, God-willing.

    • I believe they have contacts in Kenya, and I know they are willing to expand to Kenya. If you are interested in matching up with their director, I can get you his contact if you email me. It’s worth a conversation for sure.

  2. Interesting (in a good way) developments. Here in Kenya we also have a denomination called the RCEA; Reformed Church of East Africa, founded in 1944. It is Continental Reformed subscribing to the Three Forms of Unity and the Westminster Standards.
    In Kenya our own history with Reformed theology is intriguing. Unfortunately our historic Reformed denominations are not places where the tradition seems to be faring well. Then out of the blue you will hear about strong connections and interesting interactions. In Prof. William Edgar’s book “Truth In All Its Glory – Commending the Reformed Faith” he makes reference to Washington A.J. Okumu a Reformed Christian who was instrumental in negotiations between Nelson Mandela, F.W. De. Klerk and Prince Buthelezi.
    Hughes Oliphant Old seems aware of the goings on in our Reformed denominations enough to make a comment on one of our well known ministers giving somewhat of a hint as to why the Reformed tradition is not as strong as it could be.
    I do hope that Reformed theologians (specifically Scottish, Dutch and American) can work with our existing denominations here in Kenya for a Reformed renewal. I know for sure that there are some FV theologians with links here and that along with other issues does worry me.

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