The history of the South African Assemblies of God dates back to 1908 with the
arrival in South Africa of some early Pentecostal missionaries. They did not
come with the intention of collaborating with one another, nor did they intend
to establish a church called the Assemblies of God. They began to cooperate
partly because of the need for fellowship and partly because of the
governmental objection to having dealings with a multitude of independent
missionaries. By 1936 the A/G was predominantly a black church with the control
in the hands of expatriate missionaries.
Peter and Paul
The A/G conference in 1938 adopted a radical and unprecedented policy which
opened the way for missionary bodies to come under the umbrella of the A/G in
SA. It entrenched the concept of a church body consisting of groups cooperating
within a single movement, but not having to sever ties with their respective
mission boards. This prompted H.C. Phillips and the Emmanuel Mission to join
the A/G, thereby bringing Nicholas Bhengu and James Mullan into the group. Both
of these men are numbered among our pioneers.
The new policy also permitted people within the A/G to branch out and establish
groups of their own, which were still affiliated to the A/G in SA. Mullan and
Bhengu subsequently planned to form a partnership, going to parts of South
Africa where there were no A/G churches or missionaries. Their agreement was a
Peter-Paul arrangement (i.e. Peter to the Jews and Paul to the Gentiles
- Galatians 2:8) with Bhengu going to the blacks and Mullan to the whites.
Bhengu's ministry had begun in the late 1930's in Benoni. In the 1940's James
Mullan arranged a crusade in PE for Bhengu. Miracles of healing took place
through the ministry. Crowds flocked in and 1000 conversions were recorded in a
few weeks. Bhengu announced that he intended founding a church and invited
those who wished to join to stay with him. The others he urged to return to
their churches. About 500 stayed and were formed into 3 congregations in
different areas in PE.
Bhengu's work grew dramatically with thousands of people being converted in a
very short space of time. By 1959 there were 50 assemblies that had been
started through his ministry. His meetings were characterized by power, both in
preaching and healing, and attracted thousands. In 1957 a church in the shape
of a cross and seating between 4000 to 5000 was opened in Duncan Village, East
Even the international media were interested in Bhengu, with the
TIME magazine of 23rd Nov 1959 calling him "the black Billy Graham" and
stating that his ministry resulted in the crime rate dropping by as much as a
third in some areas. At one meeting the police took away 3 vanloads of stolen
goods and weapons that people surrendered when they came to Christ. The TIME
article states, "it is not unusual for Evangelist Bhengu to end up by walking
down to the police station hand in hand with someone on the wanted list."
James (Jim) Mullan was an Irishman who had married the English Mary Paynter.
Together they served as missionaries in the Congo under the renowned pioneer
missionary and Bible teacher W.F.P. Burton. James and Mary Mullan left the
Congo in 1935 to join Hubert Phillips at the Emanuel Mission in Nelspruit. From
there they were sent to Tzaneen where they spent 9 years of ministry. During
this time James established a few churches amongst the black people, and also 2
amongst the whites, one at Tzaneen and another at Pietersburg.
In 1944, after his historic agreement with Bhengu, Jim Mullan moved to PE,
living in a caravan with his wife and children. Without support or contacts he
founded an assembly. On one occasion, Mary Mullan was counseling a backslidden
Pentecostal girl after a Sunday meeting. The girl burst out sobbing and
speaking in tongues. Mary was astonished when she realized that she could
understand what the girl was saying. She was speaking in a Congolese dialect
similar to the Kiluba language Mary had spoken as a missionary in the Congo. In
the language that was unknown to her, but not to Mary, the girl was confessing
her backslidden state and thanking God for his mercy in receiving her back.
After 5 years Jim Mullan moved to East London planting an assembly there, which
later grew to over 300 people under the ministry of Paul Lange. From then on he
travelled the country, going as far north as Zambia . Between 1945 and 1964 he
established some 20 Assemblies that stretched from Cape Town to Zambia and
The A/G had been a predominantly Black church under expatriate development
until the advent of Jim Mullan and Nicholas Bhengu, when it developed a
significant white membership, and its black membership came to operate under
black leadership rather than expatriate whites. During the period 1936-1944 the
A/G executive became multiracial. Until that time, the executive had consisted
of expatriate white missionaries.
W.F. (Fred) Mullan was led to the Lord by his brother Jim. In 1931 Fred came
out from Ireland to start a work in South Africa. He had no support and little
Bible training and was not connected to any organization. After founding 2
churches in Durban he moved to Johannesburg where ultimately he developed a
thriving and influential assembly of 450 souls at Fairview.
When in 1935 a decision was taken to admit missionaries and congregations
working among whites to the A/G fellowship, the first to join were Fred Mullan
and Louis Potgieter. Within time Fred Mullan became the general chairman of the
A/G S.A. holding that position for many years.
Fred had a vibrant ministry and a clear gift of
healing. One remarkable healing concerned a young boy who had been crippled by
polio. When God restored his legs perfectly, about 12 members of his wider
family circle were saved and became stanch members of the church.
Wonderful Easter conventions were held annually at Fairview with hundreds of
people attending from as far afield as Natal. Meetings like this injected much
enthusiasm and inspiration into the work.
Fred conducted evangelistic meetings in Norwood and established what would
become a thriving assembly. One of the many later converts in the Norwood
assembly was a young bodybuilder named Ray McCauley, who in later years founded
what became the largest and most dynamic Pentecostal congregation ever seen in
South Africa (Rhema).
In 1953 Jim Mullan preached
in Mowbray for 3 months and established the Cape Town Assembly, placing John
Bond there as the first pastor. In later years, under John Bond and Paul
Watney's ministry, the church experienced a mighty revival known as 'the Hippie
By 1967 Paul Lange had grown the church located at Harfield Road in Kenilworth
to over 300. John Bond again took over from Lange in 1967.
On reaching Harfield Road, he found a group of
dedicated elders who believed that it was God's will to start 10 new assemblies
using Harfield Road as a base. Indeed in the decade following, 10 white and 5
coloured congregations were started in the Western Cape and 12 churches built.
People flocked in, giving the church a 700 percent growth rate for several
years. John Bond felt led to plant a church in Fish Hoek. By the turn of the
millennium, the Fish Hoek assembly had grown to some 500 people.
The Coastal Assemblies
Mike Attlee was a young unconverted man with a promising Rugby future, but
tragedy struck early in his married life when his first son, Anthony, was born
brain-damaged and blind. Mike's father, Wilfred, not yet saved, heard about the
way that God was using the Zulu A/G evangelist, Nicholas Bhengu, in miraculous
healings. He persuaded his reluctant son to ask Bhengu to pray for Anthony.
When Mike located John Bond in order to make contact with Nicholas Bhengu, John
explained the way of salvation to him and he accepted Jesus as his Lord and
Saviour. When Bhengu prayed for Anthony, the little boy born blind was able to
see. Born brain-damaged, Anthony subsequently walked, talked and even went to
school. His miraculous recovery brought much joy and blessing to the Attlee
family until the Lord took him home 11 years later. Many came to Christ through
Anthony's story and the Attlees' testimony.
Mike Attlee went into full time ministry and ultimately oversaw what became
known as the Coastal Assemblies, many of which are located in Kwazulu-Natal,
although there are some others throughout South Africa.
The International Assemblies of God
Nicholas Bhengu and Jim Mullan had apostolic ministries in terms of founding
churches, establishing local oversight and moving on. The "things that mark an
apostle - signs, wonders and miracles" (2 Cor 12:12) were evident in their
ministries as well. Both Bhengu and Mullan still maintained an apostolic
authority over the churches they planted, much like the apostle Paul. The
American A/G contingent disagreed with this form of church government believing
that, like the U.S., South Africa should be split into regions, each headed by
a regional superintendent. In effect it would have meant that Bhengu and Mullan
would have been restricted in their church planting ministries, having to gain
permission from the regional superintendent to operate in their respective
areas. The A/G executive in S.A. found this to be unacceptable.
The Americans were also unhappy with the very brief 7-point constitution
believing that it should be more comprehensive. The constitution was jokingly
dubbed the "Bikini Constitution". Due to an inability to reach agreement on
these and other matters, the Americans in S.A. broke away in 1964 forming what
was called the International Assemblies of God.
The Group & the Independents
The A/G work amongst blacks was mainly spearheaded by Nicholas Bhengu. Work
amongst whites developed in 2 streams, these being led by Jim Mullan and his
brother Fred. Those working with Fred became known as the Independent
assemblies, and those with Jim became known as 'the Group'.
Fred Mullan concentrated his efforts in the Johannesburg area and early on
established his congregation in Fairview. Attendances at this assembly grew to
a few hundred, and became a centre of growth on the Rand. Churches connected
with the Independent stream were mainly on the Reef and in the southern
Transvaal. There were 15 churches, namely Fairview, Benoni, Brakpan, Nigel,
Bezuidenhout Valley, Roodepoort, Vereeniging, Vanderbijlpark, Westonaria,
Carletonville, Krugersdorp, Stilfontein, Klerksdorp, Orkney and Kenilworth.
In about 1972, Jim Mullan
made contact with Sam Ennis, an Irishman of Salvation Army background. He hoped
to draw Sam into the Group to work with him. After sending Sam around South
Africa to look at the available prospects, Sam opted rather to become the
minister of Roodepoort assembly. Roodepoort was then one of the small
Independent assemblies but in time it grew to a congregation of about 800
people. Sam pastored the Roodepoort Assembly for 30 years until 2002.
Sam's talent and charisma soon made him a leader of the company of Independent
assemblies, who up to that point had been largely unfocused and leaderless.
They felt that Jim Mullan's work was growing more because it operated in unity
as a group and thus formed themselves into a group called the F.I.A.M.
(Fellowship of Independent Assemblies and Ministers).
Succession in 'the Group'
As Jim Mullan aged, the question of succession arose in the Group assemblies.
When Jim turned 70 in 1971, he appointed 5 men in whom he had confidence, as
'potential apostles'. These were Mike Attlee, John Bond, Noel Scheepers, Trevor
Yoko and Paul Lange. Paul Lange opted to rather follow an itinerant ministry
and Trevor Yoko left the A/G. This left Jim Mullan's work in the hands of the 3
remaining brothers, along with the additional assemblies each of them had
In general the Western & Southern Cape and Transvaal assemblies fell under
John Bond's leadership, the Eastern Cape under Noel Scheepers and the 'Coastal'
(Natal) assemblies under Mike Attlee. Many assemblies on the Rand (now called
Gauteng), with their ideas of church government more influenced by Fred Mullan,
remained autonomous but affiliated to the F.I.A.M. Fred had believed in the
autonomy of each assembly and that the church government should reside solely
with the local oversight of elders and deacons, rather than having any
accountability to the apostolic founder of the church. Due to the misuse of the
title 'apostle' in certain circles, the Independent assemblies were generally
reticent to use the term and some felt that the ministry of apostle had ceased
after the 1st century church.
The end of an era
In 1967 John Bond succeeded Fred Mullan as the general chairman of the A/G SA.
Fred Mullan went to his reward in 1981. A quiet, shy man, Fred had made his way
by sheer weight of spiritual worth. His character commended him to his
brothers, some much older than himself, making them happy to work with him as
their leader. When he died, the restraining effect of his presence was removed
and the relationship between the Independents and the Group deteriorated.
Tension was particularly high at executive level.
The Assemblies of God Fellowship (AGF)
the general conference of the A/G in 1981 there was another split in the
movement. One of the main issues was concern about a clause in the general
constitution regarding property rights. The Independents were under the
impression that the ownership of their church properties by the local
congregation was at risk.
Another issue concerned the re-election of the executive members. The final
straw for the missionaries and the Independents was the discovery that many
black delegates had been privately lobbied in order to replace certain members
of the executive. Many white independent ministers, Noel Scheepers, the
missionaries, the Portuguese assemblies, the 'Coastal Assemblies' work
connected with Mike Attlee, and some of the black churches split from the A/G.
Jim Mullan, who was by then retired, subsequently also resigned from the
movement he had helped to build.
Sam Ennis was among those who withdrew from the A/G in SA. Together with others
of a similar persuasion and with a desire to maintain fellowship, he took an
active role in the establishment of a new organization called the
Assemblies of God Fellowship (AGF). Sam had
initially served on the Board of Trustees for the Assembly of God. A leader of
leaders and an exemplary ambassador of the kingdom of God, Sam was the first
chairperson of the AGF, holding that position for around 20 years, until he
retired from the Roodepoort Assembly in 2002.
In 1985 that spiritual giant, great leader and apostle, Nicholas Bhengu, went
to be with the Lord. This man had won the hearts of whites and blacks alike
throughout Southern Africa and abroad with his simple yet profound preaching,
spiritual insight and wisdom.
His death left a leadership vacuum, but the work associated with him ('Back to
God Crusade' and the 'Assemblies of God Movement') has held firm. The anxiety
that his death would result in the dissolution of his work has proved to be
unfounded, emphasizing the sound foundation that he laid. His outstanding
ministry bore the imprint of the hand of God.
Jim Mullan, the beloved pioneer, apostle and tireless worker for God, also went
to be with the Lord in 1987. Mullan himself was undoubtedly one reason why the
A/G grew so rapidly. He had a very strong personality but was not at all
flamboyant; he typified a Victorian gentleman - conservative and very
disciplined. Being a very able Bible teacher, this ensured the doctrinal
stability of the churches he established. He instilled a sense of confidence in
people and they were happy to be associated with him. In all his work for God,
he always displayed a Christ-like spirit.
Sam Ennis graduated from this life to his eternal reward on Thursday the 2nd June
2016. He was known as a true gentleman, who with a turn of phrase, superb humour
and a ready smile, could win people’s confidence and trust, irrespective of their
age or station in life.
Sam was succeeded in the AGF leadership role by Ken
Paynter, pastor of the Brakpan AGF.
Ken was later succeeded in the AGF
leadership position by Reg Berowsky. Reg, a faithful servant of Jesus Christ,
and leader of the AGF Fellowship for many years, went to be with the Lord on
27th July 2016.
The Present A/G
In 2002, the three groups (Assemblies of God, Assemblies of God Fellowship &
International Assemblies of God) found a formula for unity. To date nothing
practical has resulted from the reconciliation, with the groups still holding
separate conferences and having separate governing executives. However by the
grace of God, the previous animosity between the groups has thankfully been
laid to rest.
The current President of the Assemblies of God Fellowship (AGF) in South Africa is
Philip Dungulu, while Justus Carstens is the Vice-President. The Secretary
General is Julio Da Silva. Other members of the National Executive Council (NEC)
are David Khoza (NEC for Gauteng, Northern Cape), Ndivhaleni Rabonda (NEC
Limpopo) and Aaron Hlongwane (NEC KZN). The trustees are:
Gauteng: Abel Cerro Guerreiro
Limpopo: Simon Shirinda, Joseph Mamabolo, William Seisa, Fhulufhedzani
Netshitavne, Judas Mudau.
KwaZulu Natal: Rogers Shazi, Donald Human.
"From Africa's Soil - The story of the Assemblies of God in Southern Africa":
"For the record - Reflections on the Assemblies of God": John Bond
Compiled and edited by Gavin Paynter