African Reformed Churches: Confessional Reformation In Africa

Why A New Reformed Denomination?

Reformed Christians understand the significance of the Reformation and its effect on global Christianity. In Africa, there was an extended series of Reformed missions from the sixteenth to the early twentieth centuries. But this was not the first time orthodox doctrine was taught on the continent. Africa was influential in the early church: Augustine in Algeria, Clement and Athanasius in Alexandria, and Tertullian in Tunisia all contributed in lasting ways to the trajectory of the catholic Christian faith. Their influence extended far beyond the early church to the heart of the Reformation itself via Calvin and Luther.

It is estimated that Africa will be home to around 760 million Christians by 2025. According to that statistic, Africa seems thoroughly Christianized. But is it? Africa’s Christianity suffers from the likes of the prosperity gospel, syncretism with African traditional religions, the “apostles and prophets” movement, and other forms of theological compromise. In southern Africa especially, there is an increasing Western influence of postmodern identity politics, alongside remnants of the legacy of church-endorsed Apartheid. The consequence is that contemporary African Christianity, for the most part, has re-read Scripture, creed, and confession through worldly lenses that compromise apostolic, catholic, and Reformed theology, piety, and practice.

Much like medieval Europe in the sixteenth century, Africa is poised for a reformation in our day. Sadly, many of the Reformed denominations that were established in Africa, and especially southern Africa, have exchanged biblical and confessional faithfulness for political or other agendas. So-called “confessionally Reformed” churches often prefer innovation over confessionalism to remain culturally relevant. Some have reduced Reformed confessionalism to predestination. Others have significantly distorted the doctrine of Scripture, worship, the law-gospel distinction, the church’s mission in the world, and the doctrine of vocation. For this reason, there is a need for a new confessionally Reformed denomination that will seek to renew the Reformed witness in Africa.

What Is ARC?

African Reformed Churches (ARC) is a new Reformed denomination based in Cape Town, South Africa. ARC was founded at the end of 2023 by a steering committee drawn from the consistory of Reformed Church Southern Suburbs (RCSS) in Cape Town and officers in the United Reformed Churches in North America (URCNA), the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC). RCSS was previously a congregation of the Reformed Churches in South Africa and is now a congregation of the URCNA.

The local members of the committee from RCSS are Rev. Dr. Simon Jooste (Pastor), Mark Bechard (ruling elder), Rudolf Botha (ruling elder), and Alex Hewitson (ruling elder and candidate for the ministry). The international members of the committee are Rev. Dr. Dan Borvan (URCNA), Rev. Adam Kaloostian (URCNA), Roy Mukai (URCNA), Steve Perkins (URCNA), Rev. Gary Sinclair (PCA), Rev. Benjamin Hopp (OPC), and Rev. Mark Stromberg (URCNA).

What Makes ARC Different?

Aside from our theology and practice being normed by a traditional reading of the ecumenical creeds and the Reformed confessions, the Three Forms of Unity and the Westminster Standards together inform the confessional identity of ARC. We believe this multi-confessional identity is an important strategic enabler for our mission in Africa for several reasons.

First, it allows for the easier transfer of existing churches into ARC from Presbyterian and Reformed denominations, as well as those with affinities to the Westminster Standards, like the Anglican tradition.

Second, we see various confessions complementing each other to express the best of the global Reformed faith. For example, the Westminster Standards communicate robustly the Reformed doctrine of covenant. Clarity on covenant is especially important in the South African context where this doctrine has been twisted to give theological legitimization to Apartheid and other forms of Christian nationalism.

Third, it allows for the best aspects of ecumenism. For example, by widening fraternal bonds to include all NAPARC churches, their officers/interns/missionaries/members can potentially serve ARC.

Fourth, it disrupts the cultural hegemonies that still exist in southern Africa. In particular, these include the association of the Three Forms of Unity with the legacy of Apartheid, and the Westminster Standards with English-medium British Presbyterianism.

While this approach is rare, it is not unique. Historical precedent includes the Reformed Church of New Zealand in the 1950s and, most recently, Reformation Italy. In our African context where the Reformed witness is sparse, the kind of unity offered by multi-confessionalism is necessary. Each set of confessional standards was written in different historical contexts, and so a carefully defined and managed hybrid approach is likely to draw wider cultural reach without theological compromise.

What Is ARC’s Strategy?

ARC envisions renewing the confessional Reformed witness in southern Africa and beyond through church planting and providing a new home for like-minded churches. To those ends, our initial objectives include to:

  1. Develop ecclesiastical documents, including vision statement, prospectus, book of church order, etc.
  2. Identify strategic locations for church planting.
  3. Network with Reformed-leaning churches in Cape Town to assess their interest in ARC.
  4. Continue developing donor relationships.
  5. Continue forming relationships with seminaries and churches—locally and abroad—to supply interns, advice, and other support.

Our longer-term objectives include helping to provide a quality Masters in Divinity, networking with neighboring countries, and resourcing churches within ARC.

To these ends, Alex Hewitson has joined RCSS as a ruling elder and a potential candidate for the ministry. A significant component of his role is to advance the work of ARC through serving on the steering committee, developing the book of church order, fundraising, and networking with churches in South and southern Africa.

What Can You Do to Support ARC?

We are thankful to the Lord for supplying qualified men to serve on the steering committee, and for the financial provision to date.

Given South Africa’s deep social and political challenges, we expect that ARC will rely on long-term external funding. Costs will include compensation for ministers and interns, and ARC operational expenses, including overseas travel. The travel expenses will be significant as we establish and maintain donor relationships and ensure the credentialing of ARC ministerial candidates through NAPARC channels. To contribute financially, please click here.

Furthermore, it would be very useful to have pre-funded visits by pastors and ministerial interns to assist existing and prospective ARC churches. We also welcome with open arms visits from individuals and families looking to serve ARC on the office-bearing, evangelism, hospitality, and diaconal fronts.

Finally, please pray for the needs expressed in this vision statement. May Christ be glorified in fulfilling the Great Commission through the founding church, RCSS, and her expansive ARC mission.

We hope that readers of this article would prayerfully consider how they can support the work of ARC, and that you would be participants in the joy of being part of this exciting chapter in church history. You can contact us by commenting on this article, or through the contact form on the ARC website.

May the Lord of the harvest receive his full reward!

 

Yours in Christ,

Rev Simon Jooste and RE Alex Hewitson

(On behalf of the RCSS consistory and the ARC Steering Committee)

 

Editor’s Note: For further details on the work of ARC and brief bios of each of the steering committee members, please visit the ARC website: https://africanreformedchurches.org. To learn more about RCSS, please visit: https://rcsasouthernsuburbs.com.


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Posted by Simon Jooste | Monday, May 13, 2024 | Categorized in Church Planting, Pastoral Ministry. Simon Jooste. Bookmark the permalink.

About Simon Jooste

Rev. Simon Jooste (Phd, Stellenbosch University) is a former USA Division I tennis player and CPA now living in his native South Africa serving the Reformed Church Southern Suburbs. He is a research associate for Stellenbosch and North-West Universities working on Embodiment and Power: the Essential Nature of the Women in Office Debate (2022) and Pilgrim Politics: Putting the Cruciform back in the Creedal (2023).

One comment

  1. I hope one day there will be an ARC church here in Kenya. Nairobi seems to be on a trajectory similar to Cape Town albeit behind by several years and prematurely stalled by its own version of Christian Nationalism at a national scale.
    As the work to develop documents continues, it would be good (in my opinion) to have a BCO that aims for brevity. For example the International Presbyterian Church in the UK has a BCO less than 200 pages. Some NAPARC churches have voluminous BCO’s with pages going into the hundreds.
    Precision and brevity in a BCO can go work together when trying to be accessible and efficient. Of course, it is the need at hand that will ultimately determine its length and not a dogged commitment to brevity for brevity’s sake.
    May God bless this work because it is sorely needed.

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