The aim was to encourage every church leader and member to examine his or her commitment to the reformation of the local church. Judged by that aim, the conference can only be reckoned an overwhelming success. I would be amazed if any of the hundred and fifty or so folk who attended, went away unchallenged. Personally it was a privilege to have been there. If you didn’t enjoy that privilege, then order the tapes. You need to hear the papers; your church needs to hear the papers. And we all then need to go away and do something about what we’ve heard. As we were reminded in our last session, we are to “be doers of the Word and not hearers only”. By God’s grace we must all play a part in the reformation of our local churches and thus bring glory to God’s wonderful name – only then can we truly enjoy Him forever!
The conference opened on Friday when about 35 pastors and office-bearers gathered to hear an encouraging and challenging word from John Palmer on “Reformation today and tomorrow”. John spoke from his own experience over many years of applying reformation principles to one small local church in Lancashire.
Daniel Grimwade spoke in the evening on the topic of reforming inter-church relationships, drawing upon a number of examples from his own church connections in Yorkshire.
Stephen Rees’s paper on Saturday morning was entitled “A call to Biblical reformation”. Stephen reminded us that every Christian who is loyal to Christ must be committed to reformation, it is not an option. He went on to outline what a New Testament church should be and how much Christ loves churches: each true local church is so precious to Him. The work of reformation will be costly, often slow and painful, but with God’s blessing it can be blessed above all our expectations. Churches must be constantly reforming and all our thinking should be dominated and shaped by the five great reformation truths. When everything that we do in our churches is governed by the Bible alone, driven by grace alone, calls us to faith alone in Christ alone and brings the glory to God alone, then and only then will we be able to say that we are ‘reformed’!
Ali McLachlan then gave an extremely thought-provoking paper on reformation in mission. I challenge anyone to hear this paper and remain unmoved by it! Ali reminded us that the theme of Gods’ glory extending to all the ends of the earth is a recurring one in the Old Testament and when Christ came, He gave clearer instruction to His disciples:-“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…”. The problem then has never been with the nations or with God’s glory – it is with the local church and how it has viewed world mission. In the New Testament mission was very much an every member thing, always gospel led, always a church-planting exercise and invariably costly. However, since the 1800s missionary organisations have been springing up and taking over the job of the local church. Ali finished with a bold and Biblical vision for mission – he challenged us to think about elders in the local church identifying individuals and training them and sending them and supporting them. Here, he argued, is a truly Biblical and therefore God-glorifying way to carry out missionary work.
David Harding addressed the issue of reformation in children’s and young people’s work in an equally challenging manner. He outlined the problems that we have today. We live in a world where the family has changed, religion is no longer respected and we are trying to reach young people who know virtually nothing. In the past evangelism was a matter of building upon what people already knew: how times have changed! Yet have a solution in that we have God’s Word which is clear and sufficient. David then outlined his biblical strategy. We must focus on the family: instruct our own families first and then we can reach other families. Many believe today that we reach the parents through the children. David argued that we should emphasize reaching the children through the parents. He finished with two questions that I’ve no doubt will stimulate much debate – it’s always good when Christians are made to think! “Am I saying that we should do no outreach to children?” “Am I saying that we should never send our children to secular schools?” Listen to the tapes if you want to hear his answers!
The final sermon was entitled “Reformation in hearing. Beyond the Amen”. Billy McCurrie challenged us to really hear, believe and then apply God’s Word.
As always it was good to meet with God’s people from many churches. The lengthy coffee-breaks between each session gave all who attended ample opportunities to meet up with old friends and new. We went home tired, exhilarated, instructed and challenged.