The following is an excerpt from Dr Kevin Roy’s book “Zion City RSA” with a few alterations, additions and subtractions by me to make it more suitable for the blogging format. For the full bibliography see the bottom of the article
This is the sixteenth in a series of posts I am doing on pivotal moments for the Gospel in South African history. If you would like to read the first in this series click here
As Pentecostalism rose at the dawn of the 20th century a spiritual dynamic emerged that continued to expand and evolve, increasingly influencing the church and the world. The first wave of this movement caused the formation of what is now called classical Pentecostal churches (e.g. the Assemblies of God, the Apostolic Faith Mission, the Full Gospel Church of God). However in the late 1950s and early 1960s a second wave of Pentecostal phenomena occurred in Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Reformed, Baptist and Methodist churches. People spoke of being baptised in the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues and healing. This neo-Pentecostal or charismatic renewal gained even greater momentum after 1967, when it began to spread rapidly in the Roman Catholic Church.
In an astonishingly short time, tens of millions of Christians from all over the world representing the entire spectrum of Christianity were identifying enthusiastically with this charismatic renewal. Many were determined to remain in their denominations and saw the renewal as a potent force for the revitalization and expansion of historic Christianity. However frustration and impatience with conservative church leaders and traditional structures and liturgies led some charismatic Christians to leave their churches and form new ecclesial communities which we call ‘newer charismatic churches’. Terms such as ‘third wave’ or ‘post charismatic’ churches have also been used for these groups. While they share with all other Pentecostal and charismatic Christians an emphasis on the special work of the Holy Spirit in empowering believers for service and imparting gifts for ministry, the prevailing ethos in the newer charismatic churches is quite different from that in the classical Pentecostal churches. The latter were heirs of the nineteenth-century Holiness movement and inherited from them strict prohibitions against activities such as drinking, smoking, dancing, and the attendance at cinema houses. The former grew out of more liberal mainline churches and have carried with them a more tolerant view of such ‘worldly’ activities.
The older Pentecostal churches defined their doctrine more rigidly, usually insisting on the gift of tongues as a necessary evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The newer charismatic churches have been more flexible in their doctrinal definitions and interpretation of spiritual experiences. With such rapid expansion and the proliferation of many different movements and bodies, there has also developed a wide variety of theological emphases, too complex and nuanced to be explained here.
Reactions to the charismatic movement have varied from outright rejection to breathless praise. On the negative side, some conservative Christians have denounced the entire movement as a demonic delusion, preparing the way for ‘the signs of antichrist by counterfeit fire (Revelation 13:13,14) and counterfeit miracles (Matthew 7:22,23),’ as claimed by the International Council of Christian Churches[i]. Others have criticized the movement on the grounds of theological naiveté, spiritual pride, divisiveness, emotionalism and social and political irrelevance. Still others, while admitting to weaknesses in all these areas, have drawn attention to the positive gains of the charismatic renewal: radically changed lives, renewal of Christian faith and hope, deliverance from besetting sins, impressive church growth and evangelistic outreach, and dramatic ecumenical breakthroughs. As the twentieth century has worn on, an increasing number of internationally respected Christian leaders have offered positive appraisals.
In South Africa, the charismatic renewal has widely influenced most of the mainline churches and produced a cluster of new Christian groups and fellowships. Edmund Roebert became the pastor of the small Hatfield Baptist Church in Pretoria in 1963. Discouragement and lack of growth in the church led him to start praying early each morning for spiritual revival. News of the renewal movement in the USA encouraged him in hthis practise. Arguments with local Pentecostal pastors prejudiced Roebert against their doctrines, but the testimonies of a Methodist minister from Benoni and an Anglican priest from London, both advocates of the renewal, made a strong impression on him. Some of Roebert’s church members visited the Methodist minister in Benoni and were baptised in the Holy Spirit, as they later testified. Soon the charismatic movement was flourishing in the Hatfield Baptist Church, despite the opposition of some of its deacons and members. The rapidly growing congregation moved to a more spacious sanctuary in the Pretoria suburb of Brooklyn in 1976. Soon that was too small and yet another move to an even larger building in Pretoria East was required. By 1989 the congregation was nearly 5 000 strong. Roebert found the congregational form of church government, traditional in Baptist churches, unwieldy in the context of such a large membership. Further study led him to the conviction that it was unbiblical. This brought him into conflict with Baptist Union, which, in its annual Assembly in 1984, passed a resolution insisting ‘that each individual member has the unalienable right and responsibility to participate fully in the life and government of the church, including the appointment of its leaders.’ Roebert led his church out of the Baptist Union, and it was subsequently known as the Hatfield Christian Church.
Another independent charismatic congregation that was to grow even larger than the Hatfield Christian Church was the Rhema Bible Church, founded by Ray McCauley. McCauley had left school two years before matriculating to work as a hairdresser and to pursue his interest in bodybuilding. In a gymnasium a preacher befriended McCauley and led him to Christ. Soon McCauley was enthusiastically giving testimonies in churches in Johannesburg of his new found faith. He regarded 1975 as a high point in his life, the year in which he came third in the Mr Universe competition in London, met his future wife, and was baptised with the Holy Spirit. Feeling a call to the ministry, McCauley went to Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1978 to study at the Rhema Bible Training Centre of Kenneth Hagin. Hagin, controversial advocate of the ‘Word of Faith’ message, emphasized God’s desire to bless in every area of life all who do not doubt him. After one year in Tulsa, McCauley returned to Johannesburg and began holding services in his parents’ home. Within six weeks the growing congregation moved to a cinema building that could hold 600. Eighteen months later McCauley was holding three services
every Sunday morning and attendance had grown to 2 500. In 1985 a large auditorium was built which could accommodate over 5 000 people. By 1988 membership of the Rhema Bible Church had reached about 12 000.
Many other independent charismatic churches sprang up throughout South Africa, and in 1985 Ed Roebert called a meeting of church leaders in Durban to consider possible ways of cooperation. It was decided to form the International Fellowship of Christian Churches (IFCC), ‘a united charismatic front … formed to provide spiritual covering, mutual support and open communication channels to nondenominational churches.[ii]’ This body also gave its members an identity in their dealings with the government so that marriage officers, and Defence Force chaplains could be appointed and tax concessions negotiated. Five leaders, including Ed Roebert and Ray McCauley, were recognised as fulfilling an apostolic function within the fellowship. The leaders were determined that the IFCC should be ‘not another denomination, but a fellowship of cross-denominational, non-racial churches and church leaders, endeavouring to recognise and release the five-fold ministry in our land, so that Christians in our country can come to unity. All churches and ministries in the IFCC remain autonomous, retain their individual identity and govern their own affairs.[iii]’
By November 1988, the IFCC claimed a membership of 493 congregations and ministries, representing a community of about 270 000 members. The close association of the IFCC, and especially the Rhema Bible Church, with the prosperity, or positive confession, theology of Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland and others in the USA was the source of considerable controversy in the early years of the IFCC. According to this teaching prosperity and health are God’s will for all his children and can be attained and maintained by the right use of faith. Critics have pointed out that principal teachers of positive confession theology do not properly distinguish between God and human beings. ‘You don’t have a God in you. You are one,’ taught Copeland[iv]. Word of Faith teachers have rightly been accused of holding erroneous doctrines concerning the person and work of Christ. There is no doubt that in his early ministry McCauley simply reproduced the doctrines of his teachers. But he was willing to learn and change, and quite soon he moved away from the extremes of the ‘faith’ doctrine, resulting in a reformation of his movement from within.
These developments in the life and ministry of the IFCC were not without internal tensions and conflict. Ed Roebert was not happy with some of the developments, especially with the reorganisation of the IFCC’s structure in 1997. He felt that the fellowship was becoming a denomination. He withdrew from the IFCC together with about nine of its churches. They formed the South African Interchurch Network, closer to the pattern of his original vision for the IFCC. The IFCC is certainly not the only fellowship of independent charismatic churches in South Africa.
Other, smaller, cooperative groups of churches with a charismatic ethos have emerged: Christian Fellowships International, founded by Fred Roberts; Foundation Ministries, established by Derek Crumpton; and New Covenant Ministries, led by Dudley Daniels. A student Christian movement in Cape Town, His People, expanded to become a rapidly growing cluster of churches with extensions overseas. Still other associations have their origin outside South Africa, such as the Association of Vineyard Churches, originally established by John Wimber in the USA, and New Frontiers, a fellowship of churches with British links. Several of these groups have joined in a loose association called Christian Ministries Network. The names are not well known to the wider Christian public, yet it is these groups that represent the growing edge of Christianity in South Africa and will probably play an increasingly important role in the church of the twenty-first century. Unlike the earlier generation of Pentecostal churches, there is a high caliber of theological leadership in some of these newer charismatic fellowships.
This is an excerpt with slight alterations from me: Roy, Kevin . Zion City RSA. The Story of the Church in South Africa. (Cape Town, South African Baptist Historical Society 2000); Hofmeyr, J. & Pillay, G. J., 1994. A History of Christianity in South Africa. Pretoria: HAUM Tertiary