“God’s Glory, our Joy” is a conference for all Christians, organised by a group of churches in the North West of England. It has been running every autumn since 2000, and it runs for a reason: To build Biblical churches for the 21st century.
To that end, on the 9th and 10th of October this year, on the Friday evening and Saturday morning and afternoon, many Christians gathered to hear stimulating Biblical teaching, to hear reports from various churches, and to enjoy fellowship with one another.
(Some may also have come to buy books- one recurring feature of the conference over the years has been the very reasonably priced bookstall, which this year featured a bargain box full of books for 50p each)
The Charismatic Legacy
The conference began with a session for church leaders, Chris Hand, Pastor of Crich Baptist Church in Derbyshire, gave an intelligent and insightful paper entitled “The Charismatic Legacy”. Having spent some time in the Charismatic movement himself, he charted the influence of that movement- an influence which is still developing- on the Reformed churches in this country.
Reactions from different areas of the Reformed camp have encompassed a broad range, all the way from complete acceptance, through cautious welcome, ambivalence, scepticism, and unfocused antipathy, to principled opposition. The survey covered groups such as the Proclamation Trust, those who followed the lead of Lloyd-Jones, those who have allied themselves with the resurgent “new Calvinist” movement in the U.S.A., and many others. We saw how some elements of the Charismatic package, notably the music, have entered the Reformed mainstream. Broadly, the Charismatic legacy to the Reformed churches was characterised as one of division, confusion, and numerical diminution.
- “Largely, looking to the Charismatic movement for fruit is like looking for grapes on a thorn tree”
- “Fear lurked under the surface that a negative reaction would be to reject the Spirit… It seemed churlish to question the provenance of the enthusiasm”
- “Calvinism remains a tough sell in Charismatic circles. Mahaney, Piper, and others find more converts from Reformed than from Charismatic churches”
- “The change of music alters other things- lighter sermons, more jokes and pop-culture references. The majesty of God is lost. Not all of that is due to the Charismatic legacy, but the envy of the Reformed for Charismatic success speeds it along”
The first address, on “Strength in Weakness”, was begun by reading some extracts from a couple of books, one of them an autobiography, by a well-known church leader, whom Stephen was too diplomatic to name. The salient characteristic of these books was the persistent atmosphere of excitement and of being in the midst of great things taking place. Everything that happened to this man apparently deserved to be described with a string of superlatives. Nobody he met failed to be phenomenal. Then we looked at chapters 11 and 12 of 2 Corinthians, where Paul contrasts his own ministry and Christian experience to those claimed by the “super-apostles” in Corinth. We saw how unrealistic a “triumphant” view of Christian life and ministry is. Paul rejoices in his weakness and his failures.
- “I counted. In the first 124 pages: 16 ‘magnificents’. 14 ‘extraordinaries’. At least a dozen ‘powerfuls’. Also, electric, remarkable, formidable, phenomenal, great, majestic, awesome, explosive, breathtaking, dynamic, thrilling, wonderful, amazing, and brilliant. Used of meetings, songs, experiences, books, and people”
- “You can’t imagine Luke writing in Acts, ‘So the magnificent Paul came to Ephesus’ or ‘Peter was at his majestic best’”
- “The great preachers make the crowd fall on their knees and cry for mercy. Paul got stoned and left for dead.”
- “Super-apostles simply pray in faith, and the cheque arrives just in time to buy food. Paul went hungry, despite praying for daily bread”
The address on “Triumph through Weakness” was in a similar vein, this time looking at Paul’s master, who had already trodden the path of humiliation and weakness. We took soundings of Jesus’ life as we see it in the Gospel according to Matthew. Jesus is, at various points, tempted, weary, frustrated, afraid, and bewildered. Yet he triumphs through his weakness. The man on the cross is a figure of defeat, yet that defeat won the victory.
Love NOT the World
Oliver Allmand-Smith, Pastor of Ramsbottom Evangelical church, spoke from the first letter of John to the title “Love Not the World”. He identified one of the problems we face in the attempt to build Biblical churches as the separation of belief from behaviour. It is possible for us to get our doctrine technically straight, and still to have hearts full of love for this world rather than love for God. At the heart of the new life is love for the Father, and that works itself out in loving the things he loves- especially in loving our brothers.
- “John calls the church to a remarriage of belief and behaviour. How we behave is not just our business- it is the business of the whole church”
- (On all that is in the world, 1 John 2:16) “All this is selfish and enslaving. It is like Eve in Eden- the fruit appealed in all those ways. It is unlike Jesus in Gethsemane. He refused to love the world, but loved the Father.”
The all-round Christian Life
Ian Higham, Pastor of Belvidere Road Church, Liverpool, covered “The all-round Christian life”. He took as his anchor text, Colossians 3:17, “Do all things in the name of the Lord Jesus”. We were reminded us that the Christian life encompasses all of life, that it is Christ who lives in us, that the Christian life is ordered, and that it is busy. We then considered what the Christian life looks like at home, at work, and at church.
- “I’ve checked in the commentaries, and the word “all” here means, “all”.
- “There is always enough time to do God’s work. He never calls anybody to a work for which there’s not enough time. On the two occasions when he did, he stepped in to make the time stretch.”
- “Juggling balls come in threes. Most of us need to juggle home, work, and church. They compete for time and energy.”
- “You’ll never maintain a Christian walk in public if you can’t in private. If you don’t care when it’s just you and the Lord; then you don’t care.”
- “In the workplace, be the most hardworking, diligent, honest, punctual, employee your boss has ever known”
- “An all-round Christian is committed to, and understands his place in, his church”
Steve Wood, pastor of Free Grace Baptist Church, Ulverston, was warm and helpful as he preached the closing sermon from Acts 12. He took us into the situation there- with Peter in prison and James already killed- and showed us what the church did, what Peter did, and what God did.
- “I’ve never been good at golf, but I know not to take my eye off the ball. Because then it travels 2ft rather than 200ft. We can’t afford to take our eyes off our God. We need to be aware that he is sovereign, he is working his purpose out”
- “Adversity should drive us to pray. Prayer is our acknowledging that we can do nothing and that God can do all things”
- “Peter slept so soundly that the angel had to strike him to wake him. He knew he was in God’s hands, not Herod’s.”
All five of the conference addresses are freely available from the website. Also available here are the addresses from previous years, and, God willing, details of next year will be posted here when they become available. Subscribe for email updates!!
NB. All quotes have been supplied from scribbled notes, so they probably do not attain word-for-word accuracy.