Africa Trip Summary
By Elder Michael Gowens
I was privileged to travel to East Africa with Elder Sam Bryant July 22 through August 14, 2013. We visited two countries, Kenya and Tanzania, spending approximately one week in the Kisii, Kenya region, another in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and a third in Mbeya, Tanzania. I want to thank everyone who made this trip possible for me, as well as everyone who expressed goodwill and offered prayers on our behalf. The Lord has been very gracious to care for us during this effort to minister to the Primitive Baptists in East Africa.
It was a joy to travel with Br. Sam. I have admired him since my early teenage years and have always enjoyed his preaching gift. It was a real blessing to have the opportunity to fellowship with him during these three weeks and to both hear him preach and watch him interact with the brethren. My respect for him as a genuine Christian who loves and trusts the Lord, a powerful and relevant Bible teacher, and a wise an patient pastor has only increased during our time together. His wit and sense of humor has been a refreshing caveat to the challenge of assimilating into a different culture. His perpetual friendliness and knack for engaging foreigners in conversation has led to a number of interesting encounters and much entertainment. Because of Br. Sam, we've made friends with people from South Korea, Sweden, Greece, the Phillipines, Germany, England and many others, not to mention Kenyans, Tanzanians, South Africans, Zambians, and others who are native to this continent. It's amazing to watch the natural fear that many people have of others dissolve into an almost vulnerable familiarity as Br. Sam dons his "Larry King" persona and begins to ask questions about their background, occupation, family history, religious convictions, and/or political philosophy. He explains his philosophy like this: "Br. Mike, a smile is a language that almost everyone, regardless of their culture or ethnicity, can understand."
The average person in Kenya and Tanzania earns less than $1 (U.S. currency) per day. That translates into incredible poverty among the common people of these countries. The reprehensible economic conditions of the populace are perpetuated by pervasive political corruption, generally substandard educational opportunities, and traditionalism (e.g. a tribal mentality that thinks in typically isolationist, not collective, terms). Of course, Jesus taught that the poor ye shall have always with you. The Marxist ideal of a utopian society where poverty is unknown is illusory and unrealistic, for while it gives the illusion of equalizing the classes of society, it maintains the idea of an aristocracy that makes the rules and administrates the economy for each of these lower classes. Hence, it gives the illusion of equality, but the outcome is still the same class structure that it seeks to eliminate, i.e. the ruling/wealthy class and the worker/poor class. As long as sinful people inhabit this planet, there will always be those who use and exploit others to gain power and wealth.
Apart from a general overhaul of the political philosophy of this continent, the best help outsiders can be is to aid people at an individual level. This individualized approach might include the kind of work that Br. John Blevins, a member of Zion Rest PBC in Jasper, Alabama, is doing over here as well as the more spiritually focused ministry of men like Elders Sam Bryant, Vernon Johnson, and several other of our faithful ministers.
I am reminded of the testimony of a United Nations agricultural worker from America in 2010. During our final night in Uganda prior to leaving for home, Elder Vernon Johnson and I sat in a hotel restaurant and struck up a conversation with this lady. She was involved with a program aimed at teaching villagers the basics of row cropping and animal management. When she discovered that we were pastors teaching the word of God, she commented, "That's what these people really need." Her commendation surprised me. I fully expected her to defend the secularist paradigm that values physical and financial assistance as the panacea for every societal ill. Perhaps at one point immediately following her graduation from a reputable Ivy League institution (she was a graduate of Dartmouth), she might have denigrated our largely spiritual approach. But several years of real life experience on the ground had altered her viewpoint. She explained, "Superstition is rampant among the villagers and people in the bush. If one man's cow dies, he assumes his neighbor put a hex on it, instead of considering that it may have contracted some biological disease from polluted food or water supplies." She went on to tout the importance of the kind of education that comes from the moral principles of God's word. I left that conversation with a renewed appreciation for the words of the disciples in Acts 3: "Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have, give I unto thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk." The primary resource we have as Primitive Baptists to give to these people is the truth of salvation by grace alone. That message, founded on the sinful condition of humanity, explains the reason the world is in trouble. It also explains by virtue of its keynote of God's sovereign grace to sinners by means of the death of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross, that God has a people taught in their hearts by the Holy Spirit, out of every nation and tongue and people. Anything good in such people is there by a gift of Divine grace and such goodness, should overflow in a lifestyle of compassionate ministry to others. It is this truth that sets men free, regardless of their current socio-economic circumstances. Such labor in the Lord is not in vain.
Of course, everyone here is not uneducated or superstitious. We have a number of very capable and talented ministers in Africa. These brethren are studious, zealous and devout servants of Christ. They are not ignorant or lazy or unstudied. But they are, in many respects, alone. They have very little support so far as fellowship with those of like precious faith is concerned. For the most part, they live at considerable distance from other brethren. Further, most struggle to maintain a daily subsistence for themselves and their families. Secular employment opportunities are few and the hours are long. Any kindness, consequently, is a mercy to these dedicated brethren. And the effort of our preachers from America to visit from time to time is a great encouragement to them.
I am thankful to witness a growing Primitive Baptist presence in Africa. The work here is not without its challenges and impediments, but God is evidently blessing the Primitive Baptists in Africa. Like our churches in America, these fledgling churches experience both reasons for encouragement and potential discouragement. But through it all, they seem determined to remain faithful to sound doctrine and a simple, New Testament church practice. Please pray for their ongoing strength, provision, and protection from the devil's assault. And pray that the glorious gospel of the grace of God in Christ may continue to spread, bringing the light of truth to the darkness of error and the spiritual beauty of the true gospel to this land of such impressive natural beauty.
Wednesday July 24: Our long journey toward Kenya ended with an uneventful flight to Kisumu. I'm so thankful that every piece of luggage made it. What a blessing it was to see Br. John Blevins and my dear friend, Elder Martin! Though we were extremely weary, we made our way directly to the church Br. Martin pastors. We arrived shortly before dusk. I preached first from Hebrews 4:14-16 on "The Throne of Grace." My fifteen minute sermon was followed by Br. Sam's own fifteen minute message on "Prayer" using Luke 11:1,11 as the basis for his remarks. We stopped on the way home to view the construction progress on Br. Martin's home, then made our way to our accommodations in Kisii.
Thursday July 25: It was a real blessing to have Br. John Blevins with us during our first week in Africa. His fellowship each morning at breakfast and company throughout the day connected us to home and added a welcome element of familiarity. He is a godly man and a great conversationalist. I so admire the investment of time, resources, manpower, and heart he has made here over the past two months.
We worshiped in the late afternoon with Entanda Primitive Baptist Church. At this open air meeting, the people were evidently wearied with the chores of the day, for the congregation struggled to sing with fervor. When Elder Charles rose to introduce the preaching portion of the service, he politely joked with the people, "You sing as if you've all been sick for a very long time." The entire group burst forth in laughter. I so appreciate Br. Charles' gentle manner of spiritual leadership. He is a blessing to the Primitive Baptists in Africa.
We were blessed to hear the two young brethren who are scheduled to be ordained to the ministry on Sunday. Br. Patrick and Br. Meshack, members of the Entanda Church, both brought brief but sound doctrinal messages. I preached next from Jonah 2:9 "(Salvation is of the Lord)" and Br. Sam followed on the Importance of Prayer. The people seemed to rejoice in the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Friday July 26: We traveled to Korina PBC, pastored by Elder Charles, for another afternoon worship service. Approximately thirty five people gathered into a 10x15 room that the church rents from a 100 year old Kenyan man. Once again, we had an opportunity to hear Brethren Patrick and Meshack and were encouraged by the substance and soundness of their brief messages on basic doctrines. I preached from Ephesians 4:12-13 on the subject of "Spiritual Growth" and Br. Sam followed with a very edifying message from Ephesians 5 and Galatians 5 on "Being Filled with the Holy Spirit."
At this service we met a former Anglican Rector named Br. Antonio Ocharo, that has converted to the Primitive Baptists and joined Korina Church. He stated that he had read my book entitled "I Believe the Doctrines of Grace" and was blessed by it. He is a bright man with a humble spirit. I am hopeful that he will prove to be an asset to Korina Church, his pastor Br. Charles, and perhaps the cause of Christ in this country.
Saturday July 27: This afternoon, we journeyed to Omogonchoro PB Fellowship for an afternoon worship service. The crowd consisted primarily of elderly folk and little children. I preached from Psalm 23 on the blessing of living under the care of such a faithful and tender Shepherd as the Lord Jesus Christ. Br. Sam followed with a very comforting message from 1 Jn 4:18 on how perfect love casts out fear.
Sunday July 28: Today was a full day of gospel labor. We had a worship service, consisting of a general gathering of folks from the area churches, at Bombure Primitive Baptist Church, pastored by Elder William. I preached first from Isaiah 40:6-9 on "Every True Preacher's Theme" and Br. Sam followed from 1 Timothy 3 on the "Qualifications of a Minister." After breaking for a lunch of rice and beans (in which over 100 people were fed), we participated in the ordination service of the two ministers, Brethren Patrick and Meshack. These two men have been exercising under the oversight of Elders Martin and Charles for the past three years. The minutes of the Ordination Service follow:
Minutes of the Presbytery, July 28, 2013
Ordination of Brother Patrick and Brother Meshack to the Full Work of the Gospel Ministry
After seating the candidates, Elder William asked the ordained Elders to assemble themselves into a Presbytery. The Presbytery then, by motion and second, elected Elder William to serve as Moderator of the Presbytery. Elder William then appointed Elder Michael Gowens to serve as Clerk of the Presbytery. Elder William then appointed Elder Sam Bryant and Elder Richard to offer the Ordination Prayer. Elder William then appointed Elder Gowens to deliver the Ordination Charge.
The wives of the Candidates were seated with their husbands. The Church Spokesman was then brought forward. Elder Charles proceeded to question the Spokesman of Entanda Primitive Baptist Church as to whether or not the Candidates were members in good standing of Entanda PBC. He answered in the affirmative. He questioned about the marital status of the candidates and both men are the husband of one wife. He questioned about the general morality and good reputation of both men and the Church Spokesman verified their moral qualifications.
Elder Charles then proceeded to question the Candidates about doctrinal points, including questions about the Trinitarian nature of God, the inspiration of Scripture, the distinction between eternal and temporal salvation, the finished work of Christ, the limited extent of the atonement, the effectual and immediate work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration, the ordinance of baptism, the example of feet washing, the resurrection of the dead and the eternal states of the righteous and the wicked, the imputed righteousness of Christ to the elect, and the purpose of the gospel as spiritual food to the child of God. The brethren answered each question with Scripture citations to the satisfaction of the Presbytery.
The Presbyters then gathered around the Candidates for the Ordination Prayer and the laying on of hands. Elders Sam and Richard petitioned God for His abiding presence upon these brethren in their gospel labors.
Elder Gowens then delivered the Charge from Acts 20:28 and 1 Peter 5:1-3.
The Moderator then asked if the Presbytery and Church were satisfied. They both answered in the affirmative.
By motion and second, the Presbytery was dissolved and Elder Patrick and Elder Meshack were delivered back to the Church as duly ordained Elders.
The Church then gave the right hand of fellowship to the two brethren.
Elder William, Moderator
Elder Gowens, Clerk
Br. Sam and I both felt that the Kenyan Elders conducted the Ordination Service very well. I left that service encouraged by a sense of God's ongoing provision for His churches here.
Thursday Aug. 1:
After resting on Monday, traveling to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on Tuesday, we spent Wednesday visiting with Elders Kenny and Anthony. Br. Anthony has been very ill and is presently in a weakened condition. We urged Br. Kenny to take him to the doctor which he did yesterday. This afternoon we made our way to Grace PBC in Dar es Salaam, the church established by the late Elder Obey Ndalima. The singing of these believers was beautiful. I preached first from 1 Peter 1:1-2 on "Strangers in the World, But God's Elect." The people responded very well to the message. Br. Sam closed the service with words of encouragement and comfort, focusing on Proverbs 3:5 and Hebrews 12:2.
It was a joy to finally meet Barnabas and Junes, the two eldest children of Br. Obey and Sis. Mary. I told Barnabas that I saw the dad in the son before me. He reminds me so much of his dad. We were able after the service to visit in their home for a few minutes. They and their cousin, Theopista (she was thrilled when I told her that her name means "faith in God") live near the church building. "Mama" Victor, a dear sister in the Dar Church, and others have diligently cared for these children during their formative years. They are now in their early 20's and are impressive young men and women of godly character.
Friday Aug. 2:
Again this afternoon, we sought medical care for Br. Anthony, taking him to an Army Hospital for tests. Afterward, we assembled with a few of the members of the Dar Church. As we waited for others to arrive, Br. Sam and I entertained Bible questions from some of the people. They asked good questions concerning the state of the soul at death, whether or not dreams and visions were from God, the identity of the individual in heaven, and the place of miracles in a New Testament context.
After a lively song service, I preached from Ephesians 3:21 "(Unto Him be glory in the church") and Br. Sam followed with a message from 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ("Your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost"). This was a very needful, practical message from Elder Bryant. Like America, Africa suffers from the consequences of sexual immorality. It is vital for Christian people who live in such a sex-saturated society to remember that their physical bodies are not to be used as instruments of carnality, but of righteousness. That the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit is a reminder that every believer, whether young or old, regularly needs in these days.
Saturday Aug. 3:
We visited the homes of Elder Kenny and Elder Thadeus today. I was thankful to see how these men have been blessed to construct a more comfortable and reasonable dwelling for their respective families. On the way to Thadeus' house, our vehicle had a flat tire. Br. Sam and I finished on foot the remaining one-quarter mile or so to the house. While the brethren repaired the tire, we had a little worship service with the eleven children and four adults that were there. After listening to a couple of their African songs, I spoke on the story of David and Goliath from 1 Samuel 17. Br. Sam closed with an exhortation to pray and trust in God always. It was a sweet time of fellowship in Br. Thadeus' home.
We were late to church because of the flat. As twilight fell, we again fielded questions from the few folks that were there. A number of the questions revolved around the question of what could be done to stimulate interest in outsiders. A couple of the members expressed dismay at criticisms they had received from friends about the use of the word "Primitive" and the fact that we sing without musical accompaniment. I suggested compiling a brief explanation of "who we are" and "what we believe" printing it in a brochure format, and making it available for the members to hand to potential inquirers. They seemed to like the idea. Br. Barnabas agreed to translate the text into Swahili. An English sample of the brochure follows:
Come and See!
GRACE PRIMITIVE BAPTIST CHURCH
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Our church was formed in 2006 as a Primitive (meaning "first" or "original") Baptist Church. The word simply identifies our desire to model the kind of first-century church-life that the apostles originally taught, both in terms of our doctrine and practice. In other words, we are concerned to be thoroughly Biblical in what we believe and how we worship. Though we live in the modern world like everyone else, we believe that the church should function the way the Lord Jesus Christ, who established it, intended. Our guide is the New Testament, not personal preference, public opinion, or the trends of popular culture.
Our first pastor, the late Elder Obey Ndalima Mwakolonge, was walking down the street one Sunday in Birmingham, Alabama (where he was attending Bible college) when he saw a "Primitive" Baptist Church. With his curiosity peaked by that unusual name, he decided to go inside although he was unsure of what he might find. Much to his surprise, he discovered a group of loving, Spirit-filled Christian people who worshipped God in sincerity and simplicity, trying their best to follow the pattern for church-life outlined in the word of God. He was impressed by their concern to be as Biblical as possible, and to conduct church-life with a focus on pleasing the Lord. Obey had visited many different churches during his stay in America, but he found something among the Primitive Baptists that was different. He found a humble yet devout people. He found a welcome. He found love. He found a home.
Salvation by Grace Alone
It wasn't long before Obey found something else among the Primitive Baptists. He found truth...and the truth he discovered set him free (John 8:32).
The truth he learned is called "the doctrines of grace" - and it relieved his mind of so much confusion and his heart of so many burdens. It was the case of the dying thief (recorded in Luke 23) that gave him so much peace.
The dying thief experienced a change on the cross. At one point, both thieves reviled Jesus (Matthew). But one thief experienced a dramatic change and scolded the other saying, "Do you not fear God? We receive the due reward for our deeds but this man [speaking of Jesus] hath done nothing amiss." Then he turned to Jesus with this request, "Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom." Jesus replied to him, "Today, thou shalt be with me in paradise."
Obey realized that the thief had done no good works to earn salvation. He was never baptized. He never heard a gospel sermon. He had no opportunity to make amends for his past life for he died that very day. Yet Jesus told him, "Today, thou shalt be with me in paradise."
This clear example of salvation by grace alone, without any place for man's good works, was eye-opening to Brother Obey. He suddenly realized that all of his ancestors were not necessarily hopelessly lost and condemned to hell just because they were deceived by false religion. If the salvation of the dying thief was by grace alone, then the salvation of every one of God's elect must also be by grace alone. If God can reach the dying thief without the aid of a preacher, then He can reach each of His children.
The case of the dying thief also shows that God's children suffer in this world the consequences of sinful and disobedient lives. Though he was saved by God's grace, he still suffered the judgement due to him for a life of dishonesty and deception, for he was crucified for his crimes. But still, that very day, he was admitted into the glory and bliss of heaven by virtue of God's amazing grace.
This primitive, apostolic truth comforted Obey, and it still comforts us today. It is, indeed, the gospel - the only "good news" for sinful people.
Obey discovered one more appealing virtue among the Primitive Baptists in America. He found simplicity.
Man tens to move from simplicity to complexity. He loves pomp and pageantry. We see that in so much of modern religion. The programs and activities and elaborate organizational structure of popular Christianity sometimes seems to be a far cry from the simple worship and life of the early church in the book of Acts.
Among the Primitive Baptists, you will find a simple order of worship. We sing, pray and preach. Our singing is acapella (without the aid of musical instruments), congregational singing.
"Why don't you have musical accompaniment?" you may ask. We respond, "Because on each occasion where the New Testament speaks of music in the church, it specifically says to 'sing,' never to 'play'. And we are interested in following what the Bible says, not what other people might think proper." Of course, the fact that Scripture specifies what to do automatically rules out everything else.
Visitors are sometimes surprised when they listen to our unaccompanied hymn singing. The voices harmonize beautifully. When the Lord blesses us to feel the presence of His Spirit, no guitar, piano, trumpet or tambourine could possibly add any thing to the song service.
After a lively song service and humble public prayer, our pastor or one of the other ordained Elders brings us a message from God's word. We preach the doctrines of grace (including total depravity, sovereign election, particular redemption, effectual calling and the eternal security of the saints) and teach how to live holy and godly lives from the Bible. Our preachers believe in "preaching the word," not their own ideas or opinions.
The best way to learn more about us is to, as the Bible says, "come and see." Won't you join us soon for public worship? We meet each Sunday at 10 a.m. Our church building is located at ____________________. If you would like more information about Grace Church, please feel free to contact one of our Elders:
Elder Kenny ________________
Elder Thaddeus _____________
or the person that gave you this brochure.
It would be our pleasure to welcome you to our congregation. May the God of all grace richly bless you!
Sunday Aug. 4: Today we enjoyed a wonderful worship service with Grace PBC in Dar. Approximately forty-five people were in attendance. The church seemed genuinely encouraged by the good crowd, especially in light of the fact that the congregation has fallen off within the past year. There are a number of reasons for the faltering interest, not the least of which is the poor health of the pastor, Br. Anthony. This dear brother has simply not had the strength to carry the load of a weekly pulpit ministry or the need to minister the appropriate pastoral care to the members during the week. Br. Sam and I were blessed to visit at length with him about the need to focus on his own physical health. We have learned that in the aftermath of our visit, he has graciously stepped down as pastor in the interest of the church. He plans to relocate to Mbeya, near his family so that he can concentrate on regaining his health without the additional responsibilities of a pastorate. Please pray both for the Dar Church and for this dear servant of God, Elder Anthony.
The spirit of the church was good and the song service was lively and spiritual. I preached from John 14:4ff on "Four Christian Certainties" and Br. Sam followed with a needful message from Galatians 5 on "The Fruit of the Spirit," going into detail and making practical application of each "fruit" mentioned. I thought the Lord blessed us both with good preaching liberty today. The presence of the Holy Spirit and the good crowd made for a good day that I pray will translate into ongoing zeal and solidarity as this church moves forward.
I enjoyed meeting Gift and Given, the 15 year-old twins of the late Br. Obey and Sis. Mary. The precocious young men are students living away from home during the week but returning on Sunday for worship with the church in Dar. Br. Gift has expressed some interest in a possible burden to preach one day, so we will see what the Lord may have in store for this young man. We encouraged the Elder to consider "exercising" him from time to time, as they feel it may be appropriate and led by the Lord to do so.
Wednesday Aug. 7: We rested on Monday and, since our flight from Dar es Salaam to Mbeya was cancelled, on Tuesday as well. We spent the time visiting with the brethren and some of the residents at the secure compound where we are staying. Br. Sam knows a number of these people from past visits. One very interesting fellow is a scientist from South Korea named Hong. He makes solar panels capable of charging a cellular telephone or a small lamp for poor villagers. He is, as Br. Sam described him, "focused like a laser beam" on his work.
Today, we traveled safely to Mbelya in the southern highlands of Tanzania. The city is beautifully situated in the midst of mountains and the weather was much cooler than it was in Dar, on the coast of the Indian Ocean. We received news of a number of American embassy closings in the Arabian peninsula and North Africa, as well as the disconcerting news of a fire at the Nairobi airport where we had been just about one week previous. We are thankful that our journey thus far has been without event.
It was a blessing to meet Elder Moses and his oldest brother Joseph (our driver for the week) at the airport. Elder Moses leads a fellowship in Mbeya and is also working with a group of seven "miners" (these mountains contain rich natural resources) on the other side of the mountain. He expressed his appreciation for our visit time and again as we traveled from the airport to the hotel where we are staying.
Thursday Aug. 8: This morning we were met by Elder Moses and Br. Kezala Ngoma from Zambia. We enjoyed a good visit with both of these dear servants of God. Br. Moses is essentially isolated, geographically speaking, from fellowship with other ministers. To have access to Br. Kezala's fellowship will be an encouragement to both men, I'm sure.
We heard the spiritual experience of both men and discussed basic doctrinal beliefs of Primitive Baptists. We found these men to be well-studied, insightful, and committed to the truth of salvation by grace alone. Br. Sam asked Br. Kezala a number of questions about the distinction between eternal salvation and conditional time salvation (a distinction that Primitive Baptists believe is crucial to the proper interpretation of Scripture - 2 Tim. 2:15). He was very clear to distinguish between sonship and discipleship, between God's grace alone, without any admixture of human works, which fits a sinner for heaven and the numerous passages in Scripture that teach that blessings in this present world are primarily experienced in a path of obedience and may be missed as a result of disobedience. We were encouraged by Br. Kezala's grasp of the need to "rightly" divide the word of truth.
In the afternoon, we met at Mbeya PB Fellowship for worship. Br. Sam preached first on the importance of gospel "Assurance." He used Mt. 3:17-4:3, contrasting the Father's endorsement at Jesus' baptism ("This is my beloved Son",) with the devil's question in the wilderness ("If thou be the Son of God.") He established that God is interested in fostering assurance in His children, but the devil in raising doubts and fears. It was a great message. I followed with a message from John 17:1, developing the thought that Jesus' words "The hour is come" suggests that He was in the world on purpose. He had a mission to accomplish. The cross, in other words, was not an afterthought or an accident, but rather, the objective of God's great plan for the salvation of His people, a plan known as "the Everlasting Covenant." I talked at some length of the different parts of that Covenant of Redemption before the world began, including the great truths of Electing Grace, Predestination, and the Son's voluntary assumption of the role of Mediator and Sin-bearer.
Friday Aug. 9: This morning we met again with Elder Moses and Br. Kezala. Br. Sam suggested that we study together the "Doctrine of the Church." Br. Sam spoke for awhile on "The Identity of the Church" citing four identifying characteristics of a true New Testament Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. He taught that the true church: 1) preaches a true doctrine, i.e. salvation by grace alone; 2) observes a simple church practice; 3) maintains Biblical church discipline; and 4) observes a congregational form of church government. I added that, as a part of the practice of the church, a true gospel church observes gospel ordinances, i.e. water baptism and the Lord's Supper.
Afterward, I spoke for awhile on the subject of Church Government. I outlined four different models of church government, three spurious and one Biblical. We talked about: 1) Papal government - as practiced in Roman Catholicism, in which one man, claiming apostolic succession, governs all the churches; 2) Episcopal government - as practiced in Anglicanism and Episcopalianism, in which one Bishop governs a group of churches (often called a parish or diocese); 3) Presbyterian government - as practiced among Presbyterians and a number of Independents, in which several Elders govern one congregation of people; and 4) Congregational government - as practiced among Congregationalists and Baptists, in which a local congregation makes decisions under the Headship of Jesus Christ as He has revealed Himself in Holy Scripture.
In the "congregational" model of church government, the Elder(s) and Deacons are servant-leaders of the church, not executors. A number of Bible verses might be cited to support this model, such as Mt. 18:17, 1 Cor. 5:1ff, and 1 Cor 6:1-4. The congregational model is illustrated at length in Rev. 2-3 in the letters to the Seven Churches of Asia. In each case, the risen Christ arbitrates and adjudicates, sending his message to the church body by means of the "angel" or messenger, i.e. pastor, of that church. He calls on the body (or congregation) to take necessary steps to correct the areas of censure and promises that the body enjoy the blessings of compliance.
In this age of ecumenical influence with its emphasis on a more user-friendly, generic Christianity, it is so important to remember that what matters is not what I think of or you want in a Church. The ultimate issue, as illustrated in Rev. 2-3, is "What Does Christ think of and expect in the Church?"
This was a lively discussion that involved questions about a number of potential scenarios. For example, what if a majority rules in favor of something that is unbiblical? What is the pastor to do in such a case? How should a conflict between fellow church members be handled? Are local churches autonomous, i.e. self-governing, or semi-autonomous? How should one local body respond when another deviates from doctrinal or practical essentials? I emphasized that PB's have historically been suspicious of any attempt to centralize power, whether it is an Association that rules church polity or a Confession or Creed that governs church doctrine, because of their insistence on the congregational model. But though this loose confederation of local churches under the Primitive Baptist banner is not always neat and tidy, local governance under the Lordship of Christ does provide for liberty of conscience, and our persecuted Baptist forbearers would tell you that freedom is worth the cost of periodic deviations from a local body here or there. Amazingly, the Holy Spirit has done a wonderful job of preserving the Church through the centuries. I trust Him to continue to do so until the Lord Jesus Christ returns to inaugurate the Church Triumphant.
In the afternoon, we preached once more at the Mbeya PB Fellowship. After another lively song service (this church can really sing), I preached from 1 Samuel 30:6, "David encouraged himself in the Lord his God." Br. Sam followed with a message on the details of "The Disciples' Prayer" in Matthew 6.
Saturday Aug. 11: Today was the busiest day of the entire trip. We departed at 9 a.m. from our hostel in Mbeya and made the drive to Mbelizi where we visited with the late Elder Obey's mother. She wept when she saw Br. Sam, commenting that she never thought she would see his face again after Obey's death. We visited a bit, had prayer, and left for an appointment at the church her late husband, Br. Obey's father, once pastored. Br. Sam preached first from Romans 6:23 ("For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord"), explaining at length the difference between a "wage" and a "gift." I followed with a message from Luke 7:11-16 that I called "Lessons from a Funeral." I mentioned that when Jesus arrived at Nain, a village about six miles from his hometown of Nazareth, he was met with a very sad and affecting scene. A funeral was in process. It was the funeral of a young man who was the only son of his mother and she was a widow. As I discussed the fact that Jesus came uninvited, unsolicited and unexpected to that pathetic scene and brought blessing to what appeared to be a hopeless situation, I compared the dynamic to God's grace in salvation. The sinner's condition is just as helpless and hopeless as the widow's only son. He is "dead in trespasses and in sins." But Jesus comes, uninvited and unexpected, to do the impossible. He gives life to the dead. The congregation received the message enthusiastically and when we were done, Jonah, Br. Obey's younger brother, told the congregation that preaching like they had heard today was "very rare."
We left Mbelizi and traveled to the rural region of Igale, Br. Obey's birthplace. In this beautiful, but remote area, we visited the gravesite of Elder Obey and Sis. Mary, his beloved wife. After a reflective moment we made our way down to the house where his 90 year-old grandmother lives. Br. Sam commented that these are the kinds of places one might see in National Geographic magazine.
All but one of her living children were present and received us warmly. We chatted with her by means of Jonah's translation. Br. Sam commented about her long life and asked her if she would like to live to be 120, like Moses. She replied, "No, I'm tired. I'm ready to go home." He then queried, "Where is home?" She answered, "I want to go to my God."
On the way home we enjoyed a lively Scriptural discussion with Br. Jonah, Elder Obey's younger brother, about Primitive Baptist views concerning how God saves sinners and the doctrine of eternal security. Jonah demonstrates a teachable spirit and I pray that the seed sown in this conversation will yield a harvest of gospel conversion in days to come.
Sunday Aug. 11: Today we held the final worship service on this particular trip. A good congregation of approximately thirty people gathered at Mbeya PB Fellowship for morning worship. I preached first on "Rest" from Hebrews 4, developing the thoughts of the everlasting rest awaiting the redeemed in heaven (2Ths. 1:7; Rev. 14:13) and then, the gospel rest that "remains", (or abides now) for God's people (Jer. 6:16; Ps. 37:4; Mt. 11:28). Br. Sam followed by speaking on the theme of "Coming to Christ." He contrasted the "coming" in regeneration described in John 6:44 with the "coming" in gospel experience in Matthew 11:28. I felt that it was a very edifying service.
We returned on Monday to Dar es Salaam where we now reside as we await our early morning flight back to Istanbul and then to America. Thank you for your prayers, your financial assistance, your encouragement, and most of all, your fellowship in the gospel of Christ. Please continue to pray for these precious believers in Africa.
For this cause, I bow my knees unto the Father,
Elder Michael Gowens