When Heinrich Alberts preaches his last sermon at Hoogland Dutch Reformed Church, Port Elizabeth on Sunday it will be a bitter-sweet time.
He will be sad that he has to leave the church he has loved and led for over seven years and his ministry in the Dutch Reformed church because of doctrinal differences with the denomination over baptism.
He will be excited about the new, independent church, Pharos Gemeente, which he will be launching in PE the following Sunday.
For the past two months Heinrich has been completing his term of employment at Hoogland but barred from preaching and serving in public ministry.
He says while it is unfortunately not possible to plant his new church out of Hoogland he aims to maintain good relations with his old church.
“That is my heart for Sunday when I give my last sermon. I want to bless Hoogland because it was always good to me and was my spiritual home. It will be an awkward, very sad day for me. But it is also very exciting.”
Burnout and renewal
Asked about what led to his dismissal from the DRC in which he was ordained in 1991, Heinrich traces the beginnings back to a time in 2000 when he experienced burnout and renewal. He says that while pastoring a DRC congregation in Algoa Park he burned out from working hard in the flesh rather than by the power of the Holy Spirit. His church board responded graciously and he went on retreat to George where a spiritual mentor led him through pertinent scriptures and he received the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
He did not feel different when he got back to PE but his wife, Liesl, who had recently experienced the baptism of the Spirit told him there was a difference in his preaching. Later he did have a wonderful encounter with the Holy Spirit but in hindsight he believes God was preparing him for this season when he anticipates ministering to people who are hungry for more intimacy with God but held back by intellectual mindsets.
Heinrich says after his personal renewal, Liesl wanted to be baptised as an adult believer but said she would wait for him to want it too.
“Within a year the Lord worked in my heart and I was baptised,” he says. Thereafter, in 2001, he baptised Liesl. They were now believing something that was contrary to the doctrine of the DRC which practices infant baptism and also baptises older people who have not previously been baptised. Heinrich says he wanted to promote diversity regarding baptism in the DRC and realised that to have a voice he would need to stay in the denomination.
He shared his beliefs with some colleagues who expressed understanding and even support for his views. But for years he sacrificed what he believed about baptism in the hope of being a change agent. In 2010, however, during a mission trip in Egypt, four members of Hoogland spontaneously asked him to baptise them, which he did, in the Mediterranean Sea at Alexandria. He felt free to do so because they were not at Hoogland or in SA.
Back in PE he told colleagues about what happened in Egypt. Nine months later, unexpectedly, the matter was raised in a meeting with the Moderator and in December that year the church council asked him for a oral undertaking not to baptise members again.
During a mission trip to Israel in 2014 with a diverse group of people from different church backgrounds he participated as people, including a DRC candidate minister who was about to be ordained, celebrated their baptism — be it infant baptism or believer’s baptism. They were transparent about the event and even shared photos on Facebook.
Later, back in SA, to his surprise, a complaint was laid against him over what happened in Israel and he was suspended for three months. The candidate minister’s ordination was revoked but was successfully reinstated after two weeks.
Heinrich says he wanted to appeal his suspension but on the advice of colleagues he submitted a legal document to last year’s DRC General Synod, motivating the introduction of a dual baptism practice (infant and adult believers) as is practiced by some denominations. His proposal was overwhelmingly rejected and he was subsequently advised his services in the DRC would end as he was officially in dissonance with the Church.
Looking ahead, Heinrich is excited about the journey. Pharos Gemeente will meet at 9am on Sundays in the hall of M T R Smit Children’s Haven in Circular Drive. In addition to renting the hall the church will also bless the haven by taking on its hall and entertainment areas as special development projects. During informal, pre-launch services over the past three weeks about 180 to 200 people have attended. Liesl preached the message while Heinrich was still employed at Hoogland — and she set a high standard, he says.
He says Pharos (which means lighthouse) will be positioned between mainline churches and charismatic/pentecostal churches. It will focus on good teaching and the heartfelt vision statement is ‘Every member a active disciple’. The language medium is Afrikaans but a number of English speaking people have attended informal services, so they already have an exciting language challenge, says Heinrich.