There are at least three views relating to inter-church fellowship in Reformed Baptist circles: there are those who believe that inter-church fellowship is best expressed and realized by churches taking up membership in a fixed and formal communion. Then, there are those who believe in inter-church fellowship but do not believe that they ought to belong to an association of churches in order to express it. In their view, it is possible to have inter-church communion via personal communication, temporary interchurch teams, and financial assistance. Finally, there are those who either don’t believe in inter-church fellowship at all or are not so sure about it, and therefore reserve judgment on its propriety and remain aloof from involvement in its activities.

Whatever our particular brand of beliefs may be about inter-church fellowship, we cannot ignore the fact that over the last few years, the subject of inter-church fellowship has been much alive in the minds of reformed brethren right across Southern African The rise of interest in the subject has been inspired by a desire to see more visible unity expressed among brethren of the Reformed Baptist persuasion, as well as a recognition that there is much in the way of the Lord’s work that cannot be accomplished by a single local church, but through united effort. Deliberations over how we can give visibility to this unity, and do exploits for the Lord together, eventually led to the birth of a regional association of churches called SOLA 5, as well as the formation of national inter-church associations in Namibia and here in Zambia. Does the formation of these associations imply that all of the ecclesiological differences mentioned above have dissolved? Certainly not! As a matter of fact it has exposed these differences.

This edition of Reformation Zambia (RZ) seeks to harmonize Reformed Baptist views and practices, and to also provide some teaching on inter-church fellowship to those who may still be groping in the dark with respect to this matter. It proceeds on the assumption that inter-church association, whether formalised or not, is biblically, historically and confessionally mandated. Accordingly, four lines of thought are pursued in this issue:

Kennedy Sunkutu, sets the ball rolling by setting the theological framework for understanding inter-church relations, through interacting with some of the biblical passages that bear on this important matter. Isaac Makashinyi traces the history of Reformed Baptist inter-church association, with particular emphasis on the Philadelphia Baptist Association in America. He cites the reasons, functions, achievements, and challenges this association faced in her long history. I will discuss the confessional basis for inter-church fellowship by laying down the theology of inter-church association as outlined in the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith. Denis Chiwele gives a practical outlook to the whole question of inter-church association by outlining the case for inter-church fellowship in Zambia, citing what have been its nature, strengths and weaknesses. He also makes suggestions as to how the churches in Zambia can enhance their fellowship in future and what some of the possible projects are that they can jointly embark on together.

Should we be embarking upon projects? I think we should. We have many physical and spiritual challenges to meet here in Zambia and on the continent of Africa at large.  Ignorance, poverty, disease & superstition confront us every day. The continent is under the grip of easy-believism and the prosperity gospel is having a field day. The churches in many places are weak, church leaders are largely untrained or have received a sub-standard biblical and theological training, and syncretism is rife. We cannot be living in the midst of so many needs and look the other way. We must do something—together.

And as we join hands to do something, let us be inspired by the fact that these challenges recounted above notwithstanding, we live in a day of spiritual opportunity here in Zambia and in Africa at large. There is no doubt that, generally speaking, Africa is very open to the gospel at this moment in time. This is the reason why she is imbibing any and every spiritual idea being laid at her door. We have a duty to seize this opportunity before it slips through our hands. And the opportunity beckons us to spread the biblical gospel to every corner of our great continent, to plant and encourage biblical churches, to spread a biblical worldview, to train leaders who will have an impact for good upon the church and upon the social-political and economic terrain of our countries. Furthermore, I can hear Africans calling for help to be trained to live up to their full potential, as creatures made in the image God. I can see them waiting for someone to teach, inspire and encourage them to implement the cultural mandate more fully and to live a life in acknowledgement of the glory of the true God. Once again, we cannot see these opportunities and look the other way. We must do something about it—together.

This is an opportune time for us to hold communion together. The work before us cannot be done by one local church. We need a group of churches. We need a strong meeting of prayers, minds, gifts, and money to achieve this vision. Let us endeavour not only to assist one another to do it, but to do it together, following in the footsteps of the early church, and our Reformed Baptist forefathers.

I end with the words of the great Apostle Paul who wrote: “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:1-4).This mentality of mutuality should be at the heart of any associational relationship.