Baptist theological education in Africa, particularly in South Africa: this article will identify some of the central historical and contemporary factors that are having an impact on Baptist theological education in Africa and, specifically, on South Africa
Attention is given to some of the social contexts in which theological education has functioned as well as the ecclesiastical factors that have influenced national Baptist leaders and conventions/unions. Specific attention is given throughout to theological colleges. I close with several analyses and proposals which, I believe, could have a positive and marked impact on theological education in Africa, if they were to receive the attention they deserve.
Setting the Scene: Baptists in South Africa
Baptists did not form part of the early white exploratory, missionary, or immigration patterns in South Africa. The Portuguese (led by Bartholomew Diaz and Vasco da Gama) rounded the Cape in the late fifteenth century, and later established slave markets in West Africa and colonies in Angola and Mozambique. The Dutch began to occupy the Cape in 1652, but lost it to the British in 1806, who then proceeded to establish themselves in the Western Cape.
Baptist origins in South Africa.–South African Baptist origins date back to the churches established in the Eastern Cape by the nineteenth-century English and German Baptist settlers. (1) The English Baptist settlers were part of a Wesleyan party led by W. Shaw in 1820. Once in South Africa, a number of English Baptist churches were established, first in the Eastern Cape and, later, in other parts of the country. These churches were established as a result of increased white conquest and occupation of the land for farming purposes or following the mining of diamonds in Kimberley (1870s) and gold on the Witwatersrand (1886). These English Baptist roots are important not only because they established the earlier Baptist churches but also because they located these churches within a colonial and settler paradigm. The land they occupied was given or sold to them by the colonial authorities. In this way, the settlers were used by British government to occupy and control the land that had been conquered, especially in the Eastern Cape, in a relatively cheap manner.
The second wave of settlers (1857-59) into the Eastern Cape was that of German soldiers (originally recruited for the Crimean War by Britain), followed by groups of German civilians. (2) Included in this group were five Baptists, one of whom, Carsten Langhein, was ordained by the English minister Rev. Hay in 1861. By 1892, over twenty-five German Baptist churches were established. In 1867, an Afrikaans (Dutch) farmer by the name of J. D. Odendaal was baptized by the German Baptists. He was ordained by them in 1875 and later became the founder of the Afrikaanse Baptiste Kerk (ABK). In 1877, the Baptist Union was formed, followed by the formation of the South African Baptist Missionary Society in 1892. In 1927, the Bantu Baptist Church (later the Baptist Convention) was formed.
These are identifiable as the facts of these early beginnings. But, facts are never entirely objective items of data. Inevitably they are both selected and interpreted. A traditional approach to the origins of the South African Baptist churches recognizes that this denomination was established as a direct consequence of the 1820 English and 1857-59 German settlers’ occupation of land in the Eastern Cape. (3) Less often mentioned, let alone rigorously analyzed, are the implications of these origins for the later institutional growth and theological education of these churches.
The long-term consequences of colonialism and white control.–The nineteenth-century English and German Baptist churches, finding themselves occupying a harsh, wild, and dry land and regularly facing armed retaliation from Xhosa tribes, identified with the ambitions and fears of the settlers and were part and parcel of the colonial occupation of Xhosa land. The settlers identified with the aims, policies, and structures of first, British imperialism and, later, white colonial self government. Further, these settler churches, whether they were Baptist, Methodist, or Anglican, became firmly embedded in the minds of the Xhosa-speaking and other indigenous inhabitants of South Africa as those who had given them the Bible while stealing their land. In this way, the scene was set for the still fully unresolved conflicts between the black and white inhabitants of South and Southern Africa. Therefore, the negative effects that these nineteenth-century roots had on twentieth-century relations in the Baptist Union between different racial groups, and therefore on theological education, cannot be overemphasized.
The momentous events following the release of political exiles in the early 1990s, preeminent among whom was past President Nelson Mandela, and the democratic elections of 1994 and 1999, have significantly clarified the political sphere, but, the socioeconomic future of South Africa is as yet unclear. Recent events in Zimbabwe related to political upheaval, and land occupations have pointedly reminded the citizens and government of South Africa of the urgency of resolving long-standing injustice and anger with respect to land ownership, whilst also maintaining food production and a stable economy. In putting right the wrongs of the past, however, neither unconsidered actions that fail to take into account subsequent land development nor the perpetration of new injustices will serve the interests of our struggling young democracy. These factors cannot, however, be used as an excuse to fail to remedy the injustices of the past.
Isolation and separation.-Nineteenth-century South African Baptist history was characterized by the attempt of a young, small, and struggling church to establish itself on the subcontinent of Africa. These struggles were intensified by the fact that the English Baptist settlers were given little financial or other support by Baptists at home, and they existed somewhat precariously. Having also experienced periods of persecution (and social ostracism) in both England and Germany, the Baptists tended to form tightly-knit social and ecclesiastical groups. Their memory of persecution and their relative numerical insignificance led to social isolation and an emphasis on internal ecclesiastical affairs. South African nineteenth-century Baptist nonconformity was restricted to religious affairs and certainly did not extend to the socio-political realm.
Furthermore, churches separated by language, culture, and doctrine were the norm. Even when the Baptist Union was formed in 1877, a great many of the German Baptists did not join the Union largely because they were opposed to the practice of open communion. Only in 1955 did the German Bund amalgamate with the Baptist Union.
Later institutional developments, as a result of the conversion of Afrikaners and blacks, continued this tradition of having separate churches for separate language and cultural groups, with the additional factor of race later assuming enormous significance. Once the Bantu Baptist Church (later the Baptist Convention of South Africa) was established in 1927 as a separate group under the auspices of the South African Baptist Missionary Society (SABMS), (4) the institutional separation between black and white Baptists became firmly fixed. Thus, as late as 1977, the centenary of the Union, the Baptist Union structures included not only regional associations (e.g., Western Cape and Southern Transvaal) but also a number of general associations such as the ABK (Afrikaners) and the Baptist Convention (Africans). Thus, it was virtually impossible for Baptists in different regions in the country to work together as they were deeply divided by culture, language, and race.
As far as the black Baptist churches were concerned, as late as 1975, no black churches were members in the union itself, but fell under the jurisdiction of the SABMS. (5) In other words, South African social patterns of stratification were duplicated in church structures. Cooperation occurred between white Baptists, but relationships between white and black churches (including the African, Colored, and Indian congregations), were either nonexistent or extremely circumscribed. (6)
During the 1980s, black Baptists (and some white Baptists) broke away from these policies and structures in a deliberate attempt to end the pattern of white dominance. The formation of the Fellowship of Concerned Baptists in 1986, and the breakaways of the Transkei Baptist Union in 1982 and the Baptist Convention in 1987 all form part of a pattern of resistance to the Baptist Union. Since then, the Transkei Baptist Union has again been incorporated into the Baptist Union, the Fellowship of Concerned Baptists has disbanded, and the Baptist Convention has remained an autonomous group affiliated in its own right with the Baptist World Alliance. In the past six years, despite strenuous efforts on the part of some, the Baptist Union and Convention have not yet effected a unification, although relations are much less strained than they were between 1987 and 1994.
A further comment can be made concerning the low status and dependent roles of women within the Baptist Union. In this area the Baptists were no different from the other denominations, and it is only recently that the feminist challenge has become more effectively directed toward the churches in South Africa. Nevertheless, bearing in mind the Baptist emphasis on the priesthood of all believers, their non-sacramental theology of ordination, and their belief in congregational government, their failure to include over half of their members in the Union’s decision-making processes and theological education must be noted.
The educational impact of the past.–That the nineteenth-century Baptists existed in South Africa in relatively small numbers, with few new Baptist immigrants arriving from England or Germany, also had a subsequent impact on education. Unsupported by the Baptist Missionary Society (BMS) who had agreed with the London Missionary Society (LMS) that the latter would concentrate on the area south of the Limpopo River while the BMS would be active to the north of this river, (7) and rarely supported by Baptist churches in England, Baptists did not have vigorous churches. Unlike the Methodists, who also formed part of the 1820 settlers, the Baptists did not engage in mission work until late into the 1800s. German Baptists began work in Tschabo in 1870 and the Rev. Pape was active as a missionary from 1874, but the SABMS was formed only in 1892.
The Methodists, who had arrived in the Eastern Cape along with the Baptists in 1820, formed mission stations in the Eastern Cape at places such as Butterworth in 1827; and Morely, Clarkebury, and Buntingville in 1830. Because schools were always part of these mission stations, thousands of black children were exposed to the gospel and the Methodist church. Consequently, by 1996, the government census revealed that the Methodist Church in South Africa numbered approximately 2.5 million people whereas the Baptist Union and Convention jointly number less than 300,000. Even bearing in mind differences in the way these churches calculate their membership figures and possible inaccuracies regarding government census figures for church membership, this is a vast difference. Furthermore, the church government polity of the Methodists meant that, from the outset, it was one church. Although Methodist churches were racially divided, especially at regional and local levels, this was not true nationally. Both black and white churches were represented at the annual Methodist Conferences. Thus, it was possible for black leadership to be developed and to emerge to play a significant role in churches like the Methodist and Anglican churches. By way of contrast, black and white Baptist assemblies met separately, and Baptists remained institutionally divided along racial lines.
For most of the nineteenth century and for the first half of the twentieth century, the church schools supplied primary and secondary education to sectors of the black population. By and large, the intellectual and moral education was of a high standard although, obviously, it catered only to a part of the black population. This changed in 1953 under the Nationalist government, which withdrew subsidies from the church schools and offered Bantu Education devised by Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd to educate blacks in accordance with what he perceived to be their subservient station in life. (8) Some, such as the Catholic Church, continued their schools but had to greatly increase their fees. Because the vast majority of churches did not appear to realize the intentions and effects of Bantu education, many were financially unable to continue, and some regarded evangelism and other church work as more important than primary and secondary education, these schools, including a few Baptist schools, passed into the hands of the government. (9)
At one stroke, the intellectual and moral input of these church schools was replaced with a more widespread, but inferior, government controlled system of education. In 1976, the chickens came home to roost with the outbreak of revolt among school children in Soweto and elsewhere in the country. This was followed by twenty years of disruption in black schooling during the final years of the political struggle against apartheid.
Even today, the apartheid legacy of education continues in that millions of blacks do not receive an adequate basic education. Many tertiary educational institutions offer bridging courses to prospective students. The educational crisis in the country has not been helped by recent, well-intentioned, but inept educational experiments and poor management on the part of the educational authorities. A further serious problem we face at present is the lack of a culture of education in the black schools with the pupils lacking the necessary discipline and many teachers lacking the necessary dedication.
Baptist Theological Education in South Africa and Elsewhere on the Continent
I shall focus on the formal education offered by the theological colleges (mainly certificates and diplomas) and not on theological or Christian education more broadly understood as expressed in sermons, songs, popular literature, Bible study groups, Sunday schools, discipleship training, et cetera.
Baptist Theological Colleges in South Africa: Facts and figures.–The emphasis is also on the South African Baptist scene, although mention is also made of other African Baptist Colleges.
(1) Baptist Union Colleges
During the nineteenth century and for the first few decades of the twentieth century, the Baptist Union was dependent on theological colleges abroad. (10) Initially, ministerial training for Baptist ministers was provided through the ministerial education committee that set courses to be studied privately as well as offering some tuition to prospective pastors.
The first Baptist Theological College in South Africa was opened in March 1951 in Parktown, Johannesburg. (11) The aims of this college were “to train ministers of the Gospel, Missionaries and Christian workers.” (12) This description excluded neither blacks nor women but, given the nature of South African society and the Baptist Union, these groups were, in effect, excluded.
The policy of separate education for Baptists had been clarified in the late 1940s in a report on ministerial training in which three categories of service were distinguished: English-speaking Europeans, Afrikaans-speaking Europeans, and “non-European candidates for work amongst the non-European.” (13) In the early 1960s, the pattern of separate education for separate race and language groups was reinforced by the opening of the ABK’s Seminarium in Kempton Park in 1962. (14) The latter took this step as they were convinced that their Afrikaans-speaking candidates were not being sufficiently cared for at the English-speaking Baptist Union College.
In 1961, the idea of a college for “Colored” ministers was put forward by the Baptist Union. (15) Thereafter, it was proposed at assembly that the executive “investigate the possibilities of establishing a Theological College or Colleges for our Colored and/or Indian students.” (16) After much debate concerning who was to be admitted to the Western Province College, it opened its doors in 1974 to “Colored,” white, and, later, African students. (17)
In the meantime, from 1930, black ministers were trained separately at the Ennals Institute at Berlin in the Eastern Cape, which catered specifically to “Native Ministers and Evangelists.” (18) By 1943, training for black ministers was continuing at Berlin but was also offered at the Millard Institute in Orlando (situated in the eastern part of Soweto) near Johannesburg. (19)
Following the establishment of apartheid in 1948, pressure was put on the Baptist Union to move the Orlando College to a rural native “home-land” because of the view that blacks were not to be regarded as permanent residents in the white urban areas. (20) Thus, the Baptist Bible Institute (BBI) was established in a remote area outside of King William’s Town (confusingly also known as Debe Nek and Fort White). Virtually all the pastors who are today ministers in the Baptist Convention were trained at this college. No white Baptist pastors were trained at BBI.
Why did the Baptist Union have racially separate theological colleges? This was a following through of the earlier policy of separate churches and colleges for separate race groups. There was the undoubted fact of educational requirements and standards. The unequal economic and political circumstances in South Africa naturally meant that it was extremely difficult for blacks to obtain even a basic education. (21) At the Ennals Institute, the admission requirement was as low as Standard 6 (eight years of schooling). (22) By way of contrast, the admission requirement at the Parktown College was a matriculation certificate (twelve years of schooling), a policy which effectively excluded the majority of black Baptists. (23)
The Baptists, despite their much repeated belief in the separation of church and state and the freedom of religion, permitted the government to decide where, they should train their ministers. Thus, black students were excluded from the Parktown College because it was in a white area.
(2) The Baptist Convention of South Africa: Theological Colleges
Once the Baptist Convention of South Africa broke away from the Baptist Union in 1987, the latter had no further use for the BBI. This college was sold by the Union to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) of the-U.S.; consequently, the Baptist Convention of South Africa effectively lost its college and had to later start from scratch when it sought to establish the Baptist Convention College (BCC) in the early 1990s. Renamed the Baptist International Theological Seminary (BITS), its teachers, with the exception of Philemon Moloi, were American and the syllabus, ethos, and teaching material were all orientated toward a Western-type of theological education. The lifetime of BITS was rather short-lived as the Union sent their students to either the Johannesburg (Parktown and, later, the Randburg College) or the Western Province College (in Cape Town), and once the Baptist Convention College (BCC) was established at the end of 1995, the convention no longer sent their students to BITS. BITS closed its doors in t,996, and the bulk of its library and some furniture were donated to the BCC in Soweto. None of the financial assets realized by the sale of BBI to the SBC by the Baptist Union nor the money from the sale of BITS by the SBC were transferred to the Baptist Convention of South Africa.
The story of the establishment of the BCC has been told elsewhere. (24) All attempts on the part of the convention to negotiate a joint Baptist college with any or all of the parties present at the BICTE IV (Baptist International Consultation of Theological Educators) in 1993 in Johannesburg were unsuccessful. Despite the acceptance of a resolution at the conference by the representatives of the Baptist Union, the Afrikaanse Baptiste Kerk and the Southern Baptist Convention to work towards a united, credible, and relevant Baptist theological education, once the international conference was over, this commitment was largely forgotten. The problem lay not so much with the theological educators themselves (members of both the Randburg and Kempton Park colleges were ready to find a way of working with the convention) but with the executive leadership of the two bodies–the Baptist Union and ABK.
At the convention’s assembly in George in 1994, the convention decided to start its own college which, it was hoped, would indeed equip pastors and other leaders in the convention for the demands of ministry in the ever-changing situation in South Africa. The BCC opened its doors first in Yeoville in November 1995 and then moved to Soweto in January 1997. Ironically, the buildings used by the College (in Orlando, Soweto) were the very ones used by the Millard Bible Institute in the 1940s.
To date, Baptist Colleges in South Africa include the following: two Baptist Union Colleges (Randburg and Cape Town), the ABK College (Kempton Park), and the Baptist Convention College (Soweto). In my own view, this is a ridiculous use of human and other resources.
Baptist colleges elsewhere in Africa.–In November 2000, the All-Africa Baptist Fellowship (AABF) hosted a conference in Ibaban, Nigeria, to produce a substantially fuller picture of African Baptist theological education.
The existing Baptist theological colleges can be divided into the regions of Southern, Western, Central, and Eastern Africa, omitting only North Africa due to the preponderance of Islam.
According to information presently available to the AABF, in Southern Africa Baptists have colleges in:
Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa
Randburg, Johannesburg, South Africa
Kempton Park, South Africa
Cape Town, South Africa
In West Africa, colleges are to be found in:
Ndu, North West Province, Cameroon
Ndikinimeki, Cameroon (Francophone)
Lome, Togo (Francophone)
Ogbomosho, Oye State, Nigeria.
In Central Africa there is only one:
Gesevyi, Rwanda (Francophone).
In East Africa Baptist Theological Colleges are to be found in:
This makes a rough total of sixteen, not counting those that are not listed by the AABF or are still classified as Bible schools rather than theological colleges or seminaries. While the vast majority have links with overseas theological colleges or universities, these African colleges presently have few, if any, links with each other. It was this unsatisfactory state of affairs that promoted the AABF to include this statement in its Durban Resolution of 1998:
We note that there are many theological education institutions offering
different levels of education for Baptists on our continent. However, the
work of these institutions is mostly fragmented and, in Francophone Africa,
We call upon theological educators to inform the General Secretary of
the AABF of the nature and range of their courses and for him to create and
distribute a directory of theological educators and institutions. This will
enable us to pool our human resources with respect to the contribution of
African scholars to the work of the AABF. We urge those responsible for
theological education to send delegates to future AABF theological
conferences. We also urge them to direct their energies, teaching, writing
and research to the needs of the people of Africa.
Bearing in mind this brief explanation of the state of play with respect to Baptist colleges on the continent of Africa, attention can now to turned to an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of African Baptist theological education.
Strengths and Weaknesses of Baptist Theological Education in Africa
In general terms, many strengths can be identified. For one, Baptist theological education in Africa is not in its infancy. Baptists have been in Africa since the nineteenth century, and a number of theological colleges already exist in several of the main regions.
We also need to remember that behind the mere listing of these colleges stand years of commitment on the part of local churches and the dedication of many teachers and ministerial students. Much work and effort has gone into the establishment of these colleges, particularly bearing in mind the many difficulties–particularly socio-political and financial–that they have had to overcome. In many parts of the continent, churches are growing at a steady rate, and ministerial training is greatly needed–for both lay and ordained ministry. Enormous opportunities exist for discipleship, church growth, mission, and the further development of theological education. The existence of the AABE as a facilitating agent, as well as the range of contacts already established between African theological colleges and colleges overseas, also bodes well for the future.
In South Africa, the theological education offered at the Johannesburg and Cape Town colleges (Baptist Union), Kempton Park College (ABK), and Soweto College (Baptist Convention) is of a sound academic standard. Their qualifications are accredited either by other South African universities or by the Joint Theological Board. (25) At the Baptist Union and ABK colleges, white pastors were well trained for ministry in local congregations. The college in Parktown, under the principalship of Rex Mathie, prided itself on its “evangelical fervour, theological conservatism and high academic standard.” (26) But, while they focused on conservative and/or moderate evangelical theology, evangelism, church planting, and pastoral care, less attention was given to the wider social context in which South African churches operated. This was true not only for the majority of white ministerial students, but also for the few black (mainly colored) students trained at the Baptist Union and ABK Colleges. (The Baptist Bible institute, where black ministers were trained by the Baptist Union until the formation of the Baptist Convention College in 1995, is discussed below.)
Even though strengths such as these can be easily identified, a number of weaknesses also need to be noted. As I am more familiar with the Colleges in South Africa, I shall now focus on these so as to identify specific issues relevant to South Africa. Issues relevant to the rest of the continent will be indicated.
Race.–The issue of race has long bedeviled Baptist theological education in South Africa. Baptists, along with other Christian denominations, tended for most of the twentieth century to train ministers from different races apart from each other. The inability of many whites to break out of the racist paradigms that had for so long dominated interpersonal and social relationships in South Africa as well as government legislation with respect to the Group Areas Act of 1950 and other acts were largely responsible for this state of affairs. In many instances, the international Baptist community did little to challenge these racist presuppositions and practices, possibly as a result of lack of contact or because some of these forms of racism were shared by nineteenth- and twentieth-century Baptists in Europe and North America. This meant that practical problems, such as educational standards, culture, and language, easily became rationalizations defending separate education rather than obstacles to be overcome.
Whereas issues of race, understood as conflicts between black and white, receded in importance in those African countries that became independent of European colonial control during the course of the twentieth century, ethnic conflicts between Africans reemerged to sour the victory of African independence. The ethnic genocide perpetrated in Rwanda in the mid-1990s, though the most brutal, was not an isolated example of ethnic related political and economic conflict.
Partly for this reason, African leaders have repeatedly spoken out against the new “people group” mission policies of the North American, Southern Baptist Convention Foreign Mission Board. Their objections are centered on the ethnic divisiveness of this policy as well as the fact that this policy is perceived to be a way of bypassing the national African unions and conventions:
We note with concern the polarization and disharmony between some
Conventions/Unions and mission bodies. We call for a dialogue on these
issues with the sending bodies. We also want to caution against the
implementation of the “people group team” concept as we believe this can
have negative effects on countries already fragmented. It also avoids the
partnership issues raised by national conventions/unions (from the AABF
Durban Resolution of 1998).
This concern also highlights the matter of the dominance versus partnership models of mission work. As a result of the financial power of many mission-sending agencies, local African unions/conventions as well as theological colleges are very vulnerable to manipulation and control by overseas bodies. This incapacitates the ability of national African leaders to devise workable solutions to the problems faced by African churches and theological colleges.
A privatized faith.–The individualism, dualism, spiritualization, and acontextual approach dominant in the white Baptist tradition in South Africa (27) meant that the broader social issues facing the subcontinent were seldom linked to Baptist theology, Christian experience, or the activities of local churches. Nor did the truncated faith taught at theological colleges equip either white or black Baptist leaders to confront or resist the government’s apartheid policies.
Theological education was directed towards the “spiritual” needs of the churches and did not address the physical, social, political, and economic needs of the broader community. (28) In the mid-twentieth century at the Millard Institute, for example, the SABMS missionaries sought to train “spiritual” leaders for the black community. (29) But they did not analyze what the other needs of the black community were, nor why the black community was constantly (30) having to cope with poverty, unemployment, and discrimination. Even the so-called spiritual needs of the black people were not fully addressed since the missionaries demanded that blacks repress and destroy their cultural identity and embrace a Western conception of the Christian faith. In so doing, they emasculated and impoverished black religious experience.
Similar criticisms can be made concerning the theological education later offered at the Baptist Bible Institute (BBI) at Debe Nek. Not only was the education offered at the BBI academically inferior; it also failed to equip black pastors to develop a prophetic witness that could effectively critique, on theological grounds, either the national heresy of apartheid or the privatized theology and unequal distribution of power and resources within the Baptist “Union.” (30) Such an education could not provide a basis for the development of strategies to achieve genuine church unity across racial and cultural lines.
Despite claiming to train ministers for work in the South African Baptist context, the Baptist Union colleges did not offer courses in ethics or missiology that included the social dimension of these subjects. During the 1970s and 1980s, when the country was literally aflame with protest, little was taught in the colleges about the rise (or implications) of African, Black, Liberation, or Feminist theologies. (31) Further, South African church history, social ethics, or contextual theology did not specifically form part of the syllabus. Even the larger Parktown College library contained only a few titles written by South Africans and practically nothing written by black South African theologians.
Although this has changed in the last five to ten years, the legacy of these omissions lives on in strained relations between black and white Baptists. Similarly, at BBI in Debe Nek, a privatized understanding of the Christian faith determined the substance of the courses. In other words, while many other South African Christians were vigorously debating how Christians should respond to their South African context, such issues were not reflected in the theological education offered to either black or white pastors at Baptist Union colleges.
This privatized focus, not only in South Africa but also elsewhere on the continent, has limited the capacity of the Baptist churches and theological colleges to relate their faith to the enormous needs of the continent. These needs were summarized in the 1998 Durban Resolution as follows:
We note the high levels of political and socio-economic turmoil of
different kinds on our continent. These include: political oppression,
corruption and ineptitude; military and civil conflicts; economic decline
in the form of poverty, unemployment and homelessness; the social suffering
of refugees, women, children and all who are marginalized; and, health and
environmental problems such as AIDS, inadequate health care and the
degradation of the environment in which we live.
This resolution went on to say:
We call upon our member churches to develop and live out a holistic
understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our understandings of sin,
salvation, the church and mission must be biblical and related to the many
needs of our continent and its people. As member churches we need to be
informed about and committed to praying for and assisting each other. We
call upon member bodies to raise levels of awareness and involvement of
Baptists in family, local community and national issues. We cannot separate
our Christian faith from the realities of life in Africa. Given the growing
movements of Democratization, Human Rights and Constitutionalism on our
Continent we, as Baptists in Africa, must take seriously the prophetic role
of the Church.
This should include addressing local and regional economic development
and national and Continental macro-economic issues such as foreign debt and
the value of the local currency.
In short, theological education on the African continent cannot afford to be unrelated to the personal, family, and social contexts within which African Baptists live.
Theological education and Baptist women.–A further point of critique that can be raised in relation to Baptist theological education in South Africa, indeed for the entire continent, is that it offered no real place for women. Even though the modern feminist theological debate is of fairly recent origin, this critique remains valid because of the roles women of all races have always played in Baptist churches. White Baptist women served as missionaries, were active in the Baptist Women’s Associations, taught in the Sunday Schools, engaged in evangelistic work, and visited the sick. Yet, they were not offered any formal theological education by the Baptist colleges that aimed at providing not only ministers but also missionaries and Christian workers. Ironically, Baptist Women’s Associations across the continent annually supplied provisions and raised money, which they sent to the very theological colleges which ignored their needs, perceptions, and gifts.
Similarly, black Baptist women were loyal members of Baptist churches. In the rural areas, in particular, they were and still are the mainstay of the churches. Yet their situation was even worse than that of white Baptist women for they did not have the educational opportunities, financial resources, and access to books, courses, and conferences that their white counterparts enjoyed. They also carried the heavy burdens of poverty and the lack of homes, jobs, water, land, and, in South Africa, political representation.
This rule had a few exceptions. For example, in the mid-1950s, a special women’s course was offered at the Parktown College for wives of prospective ministers. (32) In 1968, the BBI started a course for women students. (33) But it is difficult to regard these attempts as more than mere tokenism. In short, within Africa, Baptist theological education was essentially offered only to men. (34)
Happily, this situation has begun to change, and a few Baptist women in both the union and convention of South Africa have been ordained. Increasingly, women are also receiving a full theological education. However, it is simply not true that women are adequately represented at any of the levels of leadership in Baptist churches in South Africa.
This practice of virtually ignoring the educational needs of Baptist women has not been restricted to South Africa. In a response delivered at the 1998 Winter School of Theology hosted by the Baptist Convention of South Africa, Frank Adams, the Ghanian-born general secretary of the AABF said:
We know that over half of the church membership in Africa is female. The
church of African [sic] must empower our women to help complete the task of
missions in Africa. It is sad to say that Baptists are lagging behind in
the area of the emancipation of women into church leadership. (35)
Division, isolation, and the unwise use of resources.–The availability of resources in Africa (for instance, money, buildings, and books) is a serious problem. Many colleges are extremely poorly equipped and constantly struggle to make ends meet.
In South Africa, the financial problems facing theological colleges is no less acute. However, bearing in mind that we are responsible to God for the way we obtain and use our resources, it must be asked whether the existence of no less than four theological colleges, especially given the relatively low numbers of Baptists in South Africa, can be justified. Particularly between 1993 and 1995, a golden opportunity was lost to establish a unified system of Baptist theological education. However, despite the many errors of the past, all is not lost. A rationalization, integration, and sharing of resources will reflect a genuine commitment to Baptist fellowship as well as make possible a sensible use of human and other resources. I am happy to report that negotiations in this regard are presently continuing. We have reason to believe that a much more united and cooperative effort will be successful in the not-too-distant future, not least because of the pressure of financial realities.
Challenges for the Future
Bearing in mind the historical sketches provided above, together with the analysis of the present strengths and weaknesses of Baptist theological education in Africa, particularly South Africa, what can be done? (36)
Staff development.–To my mind, the place to begin is not simply to deal with the lack of finance and physical resources, but with the academic, moral, and skills development of the staff presently engaged in theological education in Africa. The essential battle must be fought in these areas since these are the primary persons who are in a position to radically transform Baptist theological education in Africa. In particular, issues of discipleship and leadership require urgent attention. Africa desperately needs critical, effective, and well qualified theologians and leaders. Empowerment is needed, not only in terms of academic study, but also in the areas of developing the character of leaders and their administrative and management capacities.
These needs cannot simply be catered to by offering Africans scholarships at overseas universities or colleges. Some of the problems that routinely arise in this regard are those related to the following: high expense; family problems arising from translocation; cultural differences; the fact that some students do not return to Africa on the completion of their studies; and the difficulty of foreign institutions offering an education adequately related to needs of the African context.
Some possible ways to combat these problems can be advanced. One way is significantly to strengthen African theological colleges. Because of the low exchange rate of African currencies, a few foreign dollars go a long way. Such links are best achieved in the form of carefully crafted and agreed on partnerships between African and overseas colleges, rather than simply pouring money into the unknown. In this way, both colleges can benefit from the partnership, albeit in different ways. It is also important, I believe, to insist that African students complete at least their initial theological degree in Africa. If further education is embarked on overseas, this could be in the form of, for example, two or three annual three-month visits to the overseas institution to consult supervisors and libraries. This does not mean that I am totally opposed to longer periods of study, but they are not suitable for all persons.
Africa must also take responsibility for its own future. On the basis of the energetic spirituality so prevalent in African churches and theology, theological education and curriculum development require creative attention by African scholars and theologians. Rather than simply repeating what everyone else is doing, a more vigorous African theology that is closely related to the actual challenges and problems facing local congregations needs to be encouraged.
Equipping and empowering women and lay leaders.–It is a matter of urgency to integrate women more fully into existing formal theological education and ministry in local churches. In addition, the education and training of the leaders and members of the many women’s associations is essential, not least because of the impact women have on the church in Africa.
For too long, we have thought in terms of ministers as (male) ordained pastors of churches. The traditional idea of the role of theological education as that of “ministerial formation” is far too narrow. So, if we speak of “ministerial formation,” this concern must be wider than the ordained ministry. In the past, Baptist ministers have been educated according to a clerical model and theological education has been regarded as restricted to “religious” matters such as preaching, Bible study, worship, personal discipleship, and evangelism. But, if Christians are to have a meaningful impact on the wider community, they need to be much more aware of social issues and of the social content and implications of their faith. In the past, too few people have been able to gain access to the theological education offered by Baptist colleges in Africa. Many women, men, and young people have not had the time, money, educational qualifications, transport, or church support to gain a formal, short- or long-term, theological education. This means that problems of access, as well as the various forms of theological education need to be analyzed for these limitations to be overcome.
What is needed is a number of different levels of theological education that will train the people who actually function as ministers in our churches and communities. Lay persons need to be better educated theologically so they can practice their faith in their fields of expertise (e.g., as teachers, business persons, laborers, clerks, civil servants, domestic workers, technicians, parents, community leaders, and health care workers). Such an emphasis would encourage “tent-making” ministries to complement “full-time paid” ministries. In a context where many churches need to be either established or developed, an over-reliance on full-time ministers means that present models of Baptist theological education will only serve the needs of those upper- and middle-class churches who can afford to pay a full-time minister.
Infrastructure.–Under this general heading, I would list needs such as financial resources for staff salaries and student bursaries, buildings, books, computers, food, stationery and the like. All of these are in extremely short supply and create endless problems in terms of delivering the education required to equip all types of Baptist leaders and members.
One particular problem is communication. It is extremely difficult for African theological colleges to cooperate with each other given the inadequacies of the postal and telecommunication services. Until such time as the technology of land lines can be bypassed by satellite technology (probably within the next two to five years), I cannot see this problem being easily overcome.
One only has to travel to some of these colleges to be confronted with the contrast between facilities and resources available to Baptists, particularly in North America, and those available to Africans. In fact, using what Americans routinely throw away, we could significantly improve life in these colleges. This is, I believe, an indictment to those of us who believe in the body of Christ and often speak all too glibly of “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.”
But the challenge is not only to the international Baptist community. African Baptists need to pool their resources much more effectively and also deal constructively with the challenges of the African continent and not be tempted by the opulence of more comfortable contexts.
In this regard, creative solutions also need to be found. At the Baptist College in Gweru, Zimbabwe, for example, under the leadership of Henry Mugabe, agricultural initiatives have made the college self-supporting–goats, sheep, cows, chickens, vegetables, fruit, maize, and so forth, are all farmed on the college property. (37) The principal’s salary is also largely funded by the annual short-term teaching he provides at Richmond College in Virginia.
Networks.–The formation of theological networks is also a means by which theological education can be strengthened on the continent. To some extent, this is already occurring between African colleges and certain overseas colleges and universities. But Baptists in Africa have not yet achieved sufficient levels of cooperation. Networks possibly can be formed in the various regions of Africa, not only between various theological colleges in these regions but also between colleges and national universities in West, East, and Southern Africa. My own university, the University of South Africa, because it is a distance education university, is well poised to assist in the provision of inexpensive, contextually relevant, theological education at both undergraduate and post-graduate levels. Baptist theological colleges in South Africa, if speedily united, can effectively pool their resources and provide top-class theological education at a variety of levels, relatively inexpensively, within the whole of Southern Africa, in cooperation with other Southern African colleges and universities.
I am convinced that a sound knowledge and analysis of the past can assist us to overcome previous errors, however grievous. In establishing genuine partnerships within Africa itself, as well as with the international Baptist community, a new era of Baptist theological education can dawn, offering hope and direction to the millions of people on the much exploited African continent.
(1.) S. Hudson-Reed, Together for a Century; The History of the Baptist Union, 1877-1977 (Pietermaritzhurg, S.A.: Baptist Historical Society, 1977), 11 ff.
(2.) C. W. Parnell, “The detailed History,” in S. Hudson-Reed, ed., Together for a Century, 18 ff.
(3.) See S. Hudson-Reed, By taking Heed: The History of the Baptists in Southern Africa 1820-1977, (Roodepoort: Baptist Publishing House, 1983), 15 ff.
(4.) The South African Baptist Missionary Society was formed in 1892 mainly for the purposes of evangelism and church planting among the black population of South Africa. See L. Kretzschmar, The Privatization of the Gospel: Mission, Social Ethics and the South African Baptists (Legon, Ghana: Legon Theological Series & Asempa Press, 1998), especially 186-331. The Baptist Union and Baptist Convention had separate churches, assemblies, theological education, pension policies, and ministerial lists as published in the South African Baptist Handbooks.
(5.) Cf. Hudson-Reed, Together for a Century, 135.
(6.) Cf. D. Hoffmeister and B. Gurney, ed., The Barkly West National Awareness Workshop: An Empowered Future (Johannesburg: Awareness Campaign Committee of the Baptist Convention of South Africa, 1990), especially 24-67.
(7.) Cf S. Hudson-Reed, “Baptist Beginnings in South Africa, 1820-1877” (masters thesis, University of Natal, 1972), 151; H. J. Batts, History of the Baptist Church in South Africa (Cape Town: Maskew Miller, ca. 1920), 133-34.
(8.) Pam Christie, The Right to Learn (Johannesburg: Raven and Sached, 1985).
(9.) See L. Kretzschmar, The Privatization of the Christian Faith, 241-42.
(10.) White pastors came to South Africa from places such as Moody Bible Institute (USA), Spurgeon’s College in London, Glasgow Theological College, and also from Germany.
(11.) South African Baptist Handbooks, 1951-52, 34. Note: This Baptist Union College later moved to Randburg. Both Parktown and Randburg are in the Johannesburg area. Hereafter SABH.
(12.) Ibid., 1951-52, 108.
(13.) Ibid., 1948-49, 41.
(14.) Ibid., 1961-62, 51, 61. In the years that followed, conversations were held about amalgamating the Baptist Union Parktown College and the ABK Seminarium, but this never materialized. E.g., ibid., 1968-69, 56, 66.
(15.) Ibid., 1973-74, 76.
(16.) Ibid., 1967-68, 219; and 1968-69, 91. Up to this time several colored people had been part of the ministerial education training program, ibid., 1968-69, 69. See also 1970-71,211; 1971-72, 177 ff., and J. N. Jonsson, Verbum Crucis Spiritu (South Africa Baptist Historical Society, 1980), 30 ff., where he argued that the “Colored” Baptist Alliance resisted the idea of a separate “Colored” college.
(17.) See the debate in L. Kretzschmar, The Barkly West National Awareness Workshop, 30 and Chris W. Parnell, “A Letter to those who attended the May 31 to June 3, 1990 `Awareness’ meetings at Barkley [sic] West and to anyone who is interested” (June 1990), 2-4.
(18.) Ibid., 1930-31, 29.
(19.) Ibid., 1943-44, 27. For a time the Millard Institute was closed but it reopened in 1954 to provide training for spiritual leaders among the black community, cf. ibid., 1954-55, 52; and 1957-58, 68.
(20.) Ibid., 1958-59, 56, 68, 85 and 158; and 1959-60, 65.
(21.) Ibid., 1944-45, 31.
(22.) Ibid., 1944-45, 25.
(23.) Ibid., 1960-61, 15.
(24.) See the articles by L. Kretzschmar and P. Msiza, Awakening the Sleeping Lion: The Role of Baptists in Contemporary Africa, ed. L. Kretzschmar, P. Msiza, and J. Nthane (Johannesburg: Baptist Convention of South Africa, 1998) 2-15, 49-61.
(25.) An accrediting body of which a number of South African churches and theological colleges are participating members. All the examination scripts for the Diploma in Theology, for example, are externally examined at all levels.
(26.) See the Parktown College, Prospectus (1978), 2.
(27.) See L. Kretzschmar, The Privatization of the Christian Faith.
(28.) SABH, 1963-64, 45, and 48. See the Baptist Bible Institute (Prospectus, n.d.).
(29.) SABH, 1954-55, 52; and 1957-58, 68.
(30.) See P Mhlophe and D. Madolo, The Barkly West Awareness Workshop, 54-55, 60.
(31.) E.g., SABH, 1984-85, 103-06.
(32.) Ibid., 1955-56, 40.
(33.) Ibid., 1968-69, 102.
(34.) See also the booklet published by the Ghana Baptist Seminary at Abuakwa-Kumasi, n.d.
(35.) F. Adams, “The role of Baptists in Contemporary Africa,” ed. L. Kretzschmar, P. Msiza, and J. Nthane, Awakening the Sleeping Lion (Johannesburg: Baptist Convention College, 1998), 92-93.
(36.) See also the proposals of H. Mugabe and F. Adams in Awakening the Sleeping Lion, 30-38 and 90-95.
(37.) The Ghanian College also grows all its own fruit and vegetables.
Louise Kretzschmar is lecturer in theological ethics at the University of South Africa in Pretoria, South Africa.
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