The Carey Conference 2000
Swanwick Conference Centre January 11-14.
The opening session was chaired by David Kingdon. The first paper was given by Geoff Thomas. On January 6th was the 150th Anniversary of the conversion of Charles Haddon Spurgeon in 1850 in Artillery Street Primitive Methodist Church, Colchester and the theme of the paper was an examination of true conversion based on that of Spurgeon. (The paper is on the Banner of Truth web site). When the paper was given David Kingdon got up to say how indebted he was to Spurgeon, converted at the age of 15, when living in Spurgeon’s Homes, later studying at Spurgeon’s College he finally succeeded Spurgeon’s grandson as the Principal of the Irish Baptist College.
Erroll Hulse chaired the 8 p.m. session at the Tuesday and spoke of the twenty nations which were represented here in the Conference and over 150 men present. He spoke of the two South African Conferences which had just ended with Stephen Rees speaking, about the same number attending both.
Graham Hind reviewed the forthcoming book of John Blanchard — Does God Believe in Atheists? (EP) warmly commending it as John Blanchard’s finest book. Its price will be £19.95 but at the conference it could be ordered for £12.95.
John Campbell of Australia spoke on ‘Moses and the God of the New Millennium’. John has been visiting a number of congregations in England in the past weeks in their different conditions. He had even been spoken to by a man who told him of his enthusiastic support of the Nostro Damus prophecies. He told John that the 2nd coming would not be far off and asked John what he thought of this date. He did not want to offend (as a visitor to this congregation), and so he gave his stock answer — ‘I am only on the welcoming committee not the planning committee’.
John described the messed up world of post-modernism, sexually, morally, many folk in the entertainment industry and people ‘reinventing themselves.’ The difference between the old Star Trek and the new Star Trek is illustrated in the blurring of distinctions between men and machines. The clearest area of post-modernism is in hard feminism. God is no longer talked of as he or Lord or King, even the Lord’s Prayer is changed. ‘We women are going to bring an end to God’ says Mary Daley.
Here is a God who comes to Moses and names himself. He defines himself. He will not allow men to name him, or define. He brings him news of a changing situation.
1. The Desperate need of the People of God. The Exodus becomes a paradigm for bondage.
2. The Background of Moses is a world replete with false gods. There is the recurring problem of the Golden Calf. In the Western world Sport is the number one god. It effects our churches and the priorities of the Lord’s Day. We also worship the Sun and put on our worship clothes, go to the temple we call ‘the beach’ and put out our prayer mats and worship the sun, and if he is pleased with us we turn a nice brown, but if he is not we turn an angry red!
3. The Weakness of Leadership. There are 5 different excuses Moses raises. Why didn’t Moses see that if the bush were not consumed then he would not be consumed?
4. God reveals What He Is. What is his name? In many cases the name participates in the nature. We add nicknames — William the Conqueror, Stonewall Jackson, Ethelbert the Unready. And we name our sporting teams Lions, Demons, Bulldogs and we want them to act like their nicknames in the game. The character expressed by the name of YHWH was withheld from the people of Genesis, but in Exodus God shows much of the fullness of the name of God. Exodus gives us a metanarrative and a metaperson.
I AM THAT I AM, and Yahweh.
1. He is pre-eminent. Rich sponsors want the naming rights for many things. The superior person names that which is less — children, streets, animals etc. Men have called God the first cause, the supreme being, evolution, the ground of being, the force etc. There are the nicknames that men have given him from the time of Zeus. But here God gives his name to Moses. I am that I am. I am the only one who can be called God. You do not need to distinguish me from others. People say, ‘I like to think of God as. . .’ God tells us what he is.
2. He is personal. He displays moral and emotional characters. He speaks to us. He displays volitional and intellectual qualities. He is the God of the covenant who relates to people. God has a strategy and game-pan. And he reveals that strategy to Moses. God will dwell among them. He comes as law-giver and tells them how to behave: ‘Pharaoh and the Egyptians and Moses and the people will all know that I am the Lord when I redeem.’ In the encounter of redemption we know God. Moses said ‘Who am I?’ but he should have asked ‘Whose am I?’
3. He is present. Exodus is the book of the presence. He accompanies them throughout their journeys. ‘I am the God who will be there;’ it is not so much an ontological statement but a promise of present faithfulness. It is the context of a marriage, of people meeting together and going on through life together.
4. He is Jesus. Salvation comes through that name alone. The I Am’s of John’s gospel refers back to the God revealed in the Old Testament. ‘Unless you believe that I Am. . .’ etc. He will not leave us orphanless, and through the Holy Spirit he comes to us. The paraclete is ‘one of the same kind’ who comes to us.
Erroll Hulse led the Prayer Meeting at 7.30 of 80 men. Reports were given of the work in Spain and a horrific scene from Sierra Leone. Mike Webb spoke of the terrible civil war in that country, ‘the cruellest war’ it has been called. He spoke of two women coming nervously to their church in Freetown, both having had their hands chopped off and both are pregnant through rape. How do you welcome and show your love for such abused women? We prayed for them in our shock and grief.
At 9.30 David Kingdon gave a review commending Stephen Clark’s new book on divorce. In the place of Conrad Mbewe (whose father has just passed away) Earl Blackburn spoke on ‘Principles that Govern Prayer’ from 2 Chronicles 20:1-20. How do we approach this theme of prayer? We have a number of options. We could look at the pattern of Christ in prayer, or to the apostles who were great men of prayer, or the many OT examples of prayer — ‘they were written for our admonition.’
1.The Precipitating Circumstances Behind this Prayer. 2.When Jehoshaphat prayed there was a Return to his Prayer 3.The Principles that Govern Prayer.
1. The Precipitating Circumstances Behind this Prayer. The armies come from three sides to annihilate Jehoshaphat. No advance warning and the enemy was at the door. He calls the people to pray and they came from all over Judah. They wait before the Lord. Their little ones, wives and older children came and stood before the Lord.
2. The Return of Prayers. The Spirit of God moved upon a man (v.14) and he began to speak to all and especially to the king, urging him not to be afraid, because the battle was the Lord’s. ‘You need not fight in this battle,’ he says, ‘just stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord.’ Before them the Levites were to go and sing, ‘Praise the Lord for his mercies endure for ever.’ How quickly the battle was won; ‘no one had escaped’ of the huge army, and not one of the armies of Judah had drawn a sword. They pillaged their enemies without an arrow being shot and returned to Jerusalem in joy.
3. The Principles that Govern Prayer.
i) Realise and feel your need (vv. 1-2). Our feelings wax and wane; we cast ourselves on God. But we need to feel our need of God. We know the value of prayer theologically but so many times our hearts are unaware. Here is Jehoshaphat and he felt something — the reality of immanent destruction, the nearness of death and slavery. So often we go to our studies and have to cry, ‘My heart is so hard. Cause me to feel the desperateness of our situations.’ People need to be taught how to pray. Luther told Peter his barber to pray through the ten commandments. How important to rest in God, to see idols cast down, to keep our tongues free from oaths, to enjoy the Lord’s Day.
ii) Prepare Ourselves to Pray (v. 3). If you never prepare yourselves to pray you will never pray — ‘diligently seek him’.
iii) Claim your Covenantal Relationship (v. 6). ‘O Lord God of our fathers’. We go to the covenant of redemption and our apostolic fathers.
iv) Maintain our Awareness of the Ability and Power of God (v. 6). The affairs of this world are not controlled by Whitehall. Everything is going as God has determined. We must not only preach it but believe it in our souls. He rehearses in his own heart the mighty power and majesty of God, how the Lord had brought them into the land he promised them. He speaks of the omnipotence of God.
v) Utilise the Promises of God. He takes a promise from Solomon’s dedication of the temple, and prays to the effect. ‘We did not manufacture this: you have said that if we did these things you would bless and answer.’ McCheyne said, ‘Turn the Bible into prayer.’
vi) Learn the holy art of pleading in prayer (v. 10). ‘See this people coming to reward us by throwing us out of what is your possession’. These were people whose fathers received such kindness from the Lord, ‘will you not judge them?’ Our blessed Lord prayed in Gethsemane 3 times.
vii) We must consciously spread out our helplessness before God (v. 7b). We have so many people skilled technologically. They could make a computer dance an Irish jig. We have to humbly depend upon the Lord from whom all things come. Earl Blackburn told us how he went to Utah after seminary and thought that the gospel of free grace which he believed and preached in all its purity would in six months result in a church up and running. Instead, after a year and a half not one person was converted. He had to ask God to forgive him for his haughtiness. And if our confidence is in ourselves then the Lord will leave us keep trying. The Lord brings us to our extremities that we might depend on him.
viii) Joyfully and Completely Rely on God According to his Revealed Word. ‘A year ago my father died at 83 and I had prayed for him since my conversion, and then, a year before his death, he was converted.’ Earl thought he would never see him become a Christian but relied on God. In this passage the army got nearer and nearer and they still waited on the Lord. Jeremiah Burroughs says, ‘Have you been waiting long? Know this, you are waiting at the right door.’
A) Prayer is that which brings us into the presence of God.
B) Prayer is the means God has given for our receiving blessings from Him.
C) Prayer redounds most to the glory of God.
At 11.30 David Kingdon read to us a paper of Michael Haykin. David was ‘a vicar of Haykin’ so Tom Nettles introduced him. Dr Haykin was unwell and unable to attend. So this impossible task was given to David. ‘Hazarding All for God at a Clap’ was the title of the address. What was Bunyan’s churchmanship? Dr. Barry White rightly considers the church he pastored in Bedford as an Independent Congregation which tolerated a Baptist position. It was an open membership and open communion congregation. Because of his valued writings and sufferings Calvinistic Baptists want to claim him as one of their own. This was especially so in the 17th century when English Baptists were second-class citizens. In 1688 relief came for Bunyan and his fellow nonconformists, but three decades of persecution had drained them. The following century they were not initially noted for their zeal and spirituality. By the early nineteenth century there was new growth. The offence of baptism by immersion and in the open air was a very novel spectacle drawing great crowds.
The spirituality of believers’ baptism was properly emphasised, for example, by Fuller who was the pastor of Kettering since 1782. He looked the very picture of a village blacksmith, but diligently studied until he was one of the most valuable men of his time. David Kingdon told us that Carey sent his journal for his first 18 months in India to Fuller, and then Fuller was able to correct Carey’s Hebrew. For Fuller baptism was an oath of allegiance to Christ which expressed that one relied on the Saviour’s atonement and did his word. Baptism was like a soldier putting on his military dress. It was carried out in agreement with Matthew 28 and so expressed one’s agreement with the doctrine of the Trinity, acknowledging all the work of the members of the Godhead in our salvation.
The question session raised the issue of the origins of the English Baptists, whether it was from the Puritans (as Michael Haykin and most of the conference speakers believed) or the anabaptists (with their kinship theory). David Kingdon, Tom Nettles and Jim Renihan all made fascinating authoritative contributions on this issue, referring to dates, personalities, literature and incidents in the Puritan period that left the non-academic members of the congregation respectful and edified. All believed that it was the Puritans rather than the anabaptists who gave birth to the Baptists. The literature of the time supports this. The link with the continental anabaptists is chronological rather than via literature. The next question was whether baptism was a trunk and branch doctrine of Christianity or a leaf and twig doctrine. There was acknowledged to be a great deal of confusion amongst us concerning our understanding of church membership (open or closed) and the Lord’s Supper (open or closed). One of the conference speakers said, ‘You will end up with individual Baptists but not Baptist churches if you have an open membership and table in church.’ It is an ecclesiological question. Robust defenders of open membership spoke up. A pastor spoke of welcoming paedo-baptist people into membership, and in the course of the years he had seen all these people baptized. There was no agreement and much feeling on this issue.
PRAYER AND SHARING SESSION.
As usual John Rubens led it, this year acknowledging the difficulty of selecting men to speak because of the number of visitors from all over the world.
Paul Mizzi of Malta: ‘We haven’t decided in Malta whether we are European or not, but we are Roman Catholic!’ I was converted 20 years ago and the first Christian I met after 6 months was an Englishman. Malta is a tiny island rock: Five Baptist churches on the island, and ours is the only Reformed church on the island. We are a 1689 Confession church. One of the members has written a book introducing Christianity and these are being mailed to all ‘religious’ men on the island. Half the book of Psalms and many hymns are now in Maltese. We use tracts regularly — twice a week door to door and our address is on each one. A radio programme of 45 minutes once a week is now being broadcast, every Friday evening. It is unbelievable to us that we had this opportunity. The station is owned by an RC monk, and the gospel is being preached clearly. We have had one letter of response so far. We also write letters to the editor of the Maltese paper. One controversy about mariolatry went on in the letters column for months. We also have a branch of the Evangelical Library with 6000 titles. We use cassettes; we have Westminster Catechism and Heidelberg Catechism in Maltese. 80% of the people we talk to have a hang-up with Romanism. We want to plant a church on a sister island where Paul Mizzi comes from. There 16 meet in a Bible study now, mostly his relatives. Other churches do a good job on the island too, the pastor of one goes to Libya regularly.
Andrea Ferrari of Sicily: This large island is in the south of Italy where 5 to 6 million people live. We were in a Bible College of the AOG where we discovered the doctrines of grace We are working with others who also came out of the AOG and we are planting two churches. One town is of 70 thousand people and the other town is in the centre of the island. There are 35 members on one church and there are 9 Christians in the other group and some adherents. The latter is not constituted a church yet. We also have established a publishing ministry. We began to translate Owen and Spurgeon 5 or 6 years ago when we were still in the AOG and now have 12 titles — Edwards, Sibbes, Lloyd-Jones, Thomas Watson, Spurgeon’s Lectures to My Students.’ We also have a quarterly review of 40 pages which we send out to 200 people. ‘A Pastoral Review’ we call it and we print extracts from Owen and Edwards etc. In Sicily there are 300 AOG churches, some of which are very big. There are 200 Independent Pentecostal churches. There are 20 independent churches which are not Pentecostal. There is much prejudice from the RC’s. Few are committed to the RC church, but the media is being used by the Pope to bombard the people with Roman teaching. There is an increase of religious interest and experience but they do not want to hear of the God of the Bible. In the north of Italy there is an economic boom, but poverty in the south and that is where we live – in the most poor part of Italy.
Pal Borzazi of Romania: He works with the Hungarians there, but he speaks Romanian too. The fall of communism took place in 1989 and now lots of influence comes from the West. There is tension between Romanian and Hungarian. The Christian scene in Romania is based on the fact that evangelicalism is in the hands of Baptists. They had some quickening in the 1960’s but nothing since then and now they are quiet. The Orthodox Church has backed government legislation which wants any church which has less than 15 people being disbanded. I hope that it will not be passed. Our need is for preachers and teachers. There are 230 Baptist churches but just 45 pastors. One recently split in two over the Toronto Blessing. Literature is important: my brother began to translate The Experience that Counts and we are translating the 1689 Confession. He preaches each Sunday in a town and two ladies were converted last year. A third has recently been converted and is full of zeal. My marriage is taking place this summer, to a Hungarian whom I met in the training school in Welwyn.
Tibor Foldvari of Hungary is a Presbyterian and they make up 26% of the church-goers and the Baptists are smaller. The RC’s are the rest. There was a revival after the war. There is a ‘Bible Union’ which advances the faith and has a good Bible School. ‘I am an assistant pastor in Budapest. It is a very large Presbyterian congregation. There are ten million people in the whole country and two million in Budapest. The most important thing for us to do is to fix our eyes on Jesus.’ He is one of 9 students who is from the EMF school in Welwyn. It is a thirty week intensive course for training Europeans in the work of the Gospel. There are thirteen students there and nine are here because they have been paid for by the churches of the conference.
Joel Gonzalez of Cuba: It is the largest island in the Caribbean with more than 11 million people. ‘It is wonderful to hear the other eastern Europeans telling of the freedom which their countries have known. We have political and social factors which make the population sceptical of the government. Morality is relative. If you ask about the future they have no hope: ‘I don’t want to be hear when it happens.’ Pragmatism influences everyone. There are 54 denominations on the island, the main being Roman Catholic (we were once a colony of Spain). Churches in general are growing. There is also the thriving occult — 44% of the population (3 million) are involved in this. The seminaries are full. Two brethren in the Conference from Spain are sending literature to us. There are no foreign missionaries in the country. Preachers can visit for a month. All the evangelism is done by Cubans.’
David Kosiol of Poland: The situation is like Italy or Malta — 98% RC. But only 40 % attend church. The cults are there — speakers from India or China attract people. The church has experienced no revival but we pray that this may be the case. What is new is the end of communism during the 90’s and now materialism is coming in with the new wealth.
Volodymyr Kostyshyn of the Ukraine spoke of the spiritual life there, and that the population is the size of France. He comes from the western part, and there are 12 churches in that region. He represents a Bible Institute and it provides Bible teaching and materials for the churches. Every week they visit the churches with study programmes. They are publishing new books.
Vadim Stauchean of Moldova, near the Ukraine. There are 3-4 million and there are 2 languages, Russian being one and Romanian the other. There is a vacuum after communism. We need teachers. I am in a 80 member church with many young people and children.
LITERATURE WORK AND THE EVANGELICAL PRESS
Of French language work Robert Strivens spoke. The books are sold also in West Africa in Benin, Togo etc. In the Ivory Coast there is some instability. There are also radio broadcasts. It is going through a transition. They are using Bill Clark tapes and recycling and they are training a man from the Ivory Coast to continue this programme. France is a desert. There is no one here from France, though there are small Reformed churches there.
In Russia the work of publishing began five years ago. The environment was completely Arminian. The books are centred in Belarus and then throughout Russians the Balkan countries, the USA and Israel and wherever there are Russian communities. Last year there was a Christian Book Fair in St Petersburg and we met many who read our books. Some are teachers in the biggest seminaries of Russia, but the most common readers are students. In the competition of Best books at the Fair the 1st prize was Calvin’s Institutes. It was a great event in Russian history. It is a coming back to the basics. So reformation has started. The Sovereignty of God by Pink has been like a bomb in Russia. Pray for the political situation in Russia. Where are we going? Pray for the distribution of Reformed books.
Maciek Stolarski spoke of the work of literature in Poland. David Rivero is in Malaga, Spain at the 6th largest church in the country. He trained in Toronto Baptist Seminary and worked in 8 years in Tenerife and then in another church for 6 years in Leone and now Malaga has called him with its population of 600,000 to 700,000 people. We are thirty people in the congregation, and that is average for Spain. The area of Spain is twice as large as England with 40 million people. One in two hundred claim to be evangelicals and half them are gypsies.
Victor Roshior spoke of his work travelling to Siberia, being in the northern part just last month. ‘If you talk of this Swanwick climate as ‘winter’ you are wrong. It is freezing there and we could only survive with the deerskin we bought when we got there. There is no way that Greenpeace can stop the deer being killed in Siberia. Siberia is huge and children from different areas come to the schools in the towns and stay there for much of the year. I am back there in February. The work started about 4 years ago and on our first trip we crossed the mountains and soon the tarmac road ran out. Another way of transportation is rail. In the summer we can use boats. For the first time some of the villagers were seeing foreigners — like Paul at Athens the people enjoy hearing something new. They have no cinema or theatre and sometimes the whole village will all come to hear us. Please pray for us. It is very unstable in Russia and how long will such doors stay open?’
Aard van Onselen introduced Laban Mwashekele of Namibia. He has a local church and is evangelising the whole country, or he has the vision so to do. He is married with four children. ‘I actually met a white man who could speak my language fluently. He was a Christian and he told me the gospel and then I was converted. When I was first converted I was a typical Arminian evangelist. I worked alongside the Southern Baptist missionaries. At a theological school I read Timothy George’s book on Southern Baptist theologians and that book taught me a Reformed faith. Tom Nettles was one of the authors.’ He then pastored a church for a year and Erroll Hulse visited and encouraged him. In 1995 he began a Reformed Baptist Church. At 8 a.m. three times a month he was invited to preach to young people every Sunday morning on the radio. At that time he read DMLJ’s Sermon on the Mount and that was tremendous and showed him the possibility of expository preaching. So his influence grew. In his city there is much HIV and AIDS and Namibia is the third country in the world for this disease. Having heard his radio broadcast people in influence looked to Laban and believed that the preaching of the word of God would be something that could change people’s conduct. Crowds came and after he preached many wanted to see him, and then they came back the next day, and so it was for the whole week. 10,000 in a day listened to him. He used the principle God gave Gideon and sent people home who were afraid. The next week there was a week of teaching. He put 97 people who were deeply interested under one of the elders of the church. In the next series of meeting in another city the same phenomena were observed. He has bad health with acid in his stomach, and he going to visit his doctor when he goes home.
On Wednesday evening Baruch Maoz of Israel preached on the work of the eldership, and this was generally considered the most helpful session of the Conference. In the message he said these words:– We tend to consider ourselves threatened by anyone who dares question our teaching because he wants to think through the issues himself, and we are often intimidated by individuals of equal or greater gift. Because of this, we evidence an unwillingness to cultivate other people’s gifts or make room for them in the leadership of the church unless we are confident of what we describe as ‘their loyalty’, although we have most likely not asked ourselves: loyalty to whom? So we exert authority, impose our views and put down any real or imagined danger to our position in the church. Of course, we do so ‘for the good of the people’ — or so we say — and if we say it often enough, we just might convince ourselves.
Paul exerted no such authority. He did not mind being challenged as to the wisdom of his last trip to Jerusalem and his letters are full of conversational arguments that reflect discussions he had with those in and outside of the church. Where direct revelation was not involved, we did not speak as from the Lord but merely as a servant of the Lord, who might well be mistaken. He left young churches earlier than most of us would dare to leave ours, ordaining over them individuals whose natural gifts had been sanctified by the Spirit and recognized by the members of the congregations he founded. Never once do we find him overruling their decisions, except where severe sin was involved (such as in Corinth), although we can safely assume that these newly appointed Elders made more mistakes than they had hair on their heads — after all, we make as many in spite of our greatly superior training.
Paul also sent Timothy, Titus and others to churches in order to deal with important issues such as divisions (Timothy and then Titus in Corinth), the appointment of Elders in every city (Titus in Crete) or instructing the church (Timothy in Ephesus). He provided Timothy and Titus with criteria, but did not supply them a list of individuals whom they were to ordain. Paul delegated, even on important issues. He did not think that he was the only individual who could deal with touchy and important issues. Paul also treated other teachers with the utmost respect, indeed, as equals. He says of Apollos, for example, ‘what, after all, is Apollos? and what is Paul? Only servants. . . as the Lord has assigned to each his task’ (1 Cor. 3:5). Our calling is to facilitate the process of equipping the saints for the work of the ministry, rather than hoarding all the authority, initiative and freedom to act for ourselves. Our goal is a vibrant, responsible, holy and spiritual church that is not dependent on us but has been taught by word, by example and by ongoing experience to trust in the Lord — nothing less.
The office of the Elder has to do with the preaching of the word of God, not the replacement of individual thinking and responsibility. None is stronger in Christ than he who has learnt to study the Bible for himself, evaluate his own lifestyle, discover his mistakes and make his own decisions in the fear of God and by the help of the Spirit. Such a person would be wise to consult (not only with the Pastor — wisdom can be found elsewhere as well), but woe betide him if consultation takes the place of individual decision making. And woe betide us if, instead of helping a fellow Christian think and pray through an issue, we pontificate as to what she should do. Let me repeat myself, using different wording: one of the important purposes of the Eldership is ‘to present everyone perfect in Christ’. Maturity is an aspect of perfection, and the ability to make up one’s own mind concerning faith-systems and day to day decisions is an aspect of maturity that we dare not inhibit.
‘John the Baptist: the Silence that broke the Silence.’ David Kingdon.
A fundamental debate between Presbyterians and Baptists is this: is the church to be conceived of as believers only or believers and their children? It is unfortunate that the relationship between the testaments is not considered as an essential preliminary to the debate. That will influence the debate. One’s understanding of the church is deeply related to how one understands the two testaments. Baptists stress the discontinuity of the two testaments while the Presbyterians emphasise the continuity, saying if children of believers were members of the church in the Old covenant then they cannot have less privileges in the New. The silence of the NT on the baptism of infants is claimed as working for the ongoing nature of this practice.
1. The Place of John the Baptist in Redemptive History. All four gospels begin with a brief summary of John’s ministry. The apostle Peter in the household of Cornelius (Acts 10:37-38) recognises the significance of John the Baptist. So does Paul to the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13). So the work of the Baptist marks the boundary between the old and new covenants.
i) He is the forerunner of the Messiah. He is predicted in the OT. He came to bear witness to the light (John 1).
ii) He is more than a prophet. In what sense? In Matthew 11:10 Jesus asks the people who did they go out to the wilderness to see? He is singled out by Jesus as a hyper prophet, and also the subject of prophecy. John had borne witness to Jesus. Jesus there bears witness to him. He alone has that unique relationship to Jesus.
iii) He is the climactic point of OT prophecy. The prophets prophesy ‘until John’ He is the Elijah who is to come. The prophetic corpus finds its climax in him. All the prophets before John say that the Messiah is coming. John says ‘Behold the Lamb of God.’ So he has a unique place in the biblical story, as Mary in her way. The Lord Jesus said that of those born of women there had not risen one greater than John (Matt. 11:11). So he is the climactic point, yet Jesus adds that he who is least in the Kingdom of God is greater than he. The NT kingdom is radically new. John in his role as forerunner is outside the kingdom.
iv) John calls out a remnant people for the Lord. God’s wrath is coming on the nation, so they must turn to new covenant obedience. That is the theme of his ministry. The axe is already at the root of the tree. He administers baptism in the Jordan and those baptised confessed their sins (Matt. 3). They were committed to produce fruit in keeping with their profession.
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