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The Bala Conference

Category Articles
Date June 17, 2005

There seemed to me to be more men this year in the Evangelical Movement of Wales Ministers’ Conference than for some years – about 70 men. As always the spirit amongst us preachers in all our gatherings in the UK is loving and supportive. The main speaker was Arturo Azurdia, a pastor from north of San Francisco, and the author of “Spirit Empowered Preaching”. He opened up the theme of the book in a warm and non-controversial way, not allowing the phrase ‘baptism of the spirit’ for the enablings of God coming upon a preacher.

Art Azurdia did give us one telling anecdote to illustrate Spirit empowered preaching; some years ago an elder’s sister who was not a Christian, got AIDS, and during the following 12 months in which she lived she was converted. She proceeded to witness to everyone, especially those in the HIV support groups she attended. The funeral service was in his church and her friends asked for an ‘open mike’ in which they could speak and testify to her qualities. They were granted that spot during the service, but it was abused and some horrible things were said. Azurdia shrank in disgust, sitting near the mike, and thinking, “This is being said in our church!” But when he got up to speak for the following fifteen minutes he was given an extraordinary authority, clarity and love. You could hear a pin drop. He did not have that on the next Sunday in the morning sermon. That was a telling illustration of what I understand as Spirit empowered preaching.

Of course the fellowship with the men is always the best feature of conferences. I sat for lunch on the final day with Chris Pegington, Keith Mawdsley, Bruce Powell, Dafydd Job and Stuart Olyott. So I raised a question at the table by asking Stuart, “Do you believe that there are some orthodox men who never preach Spirit empowered sermons? Do you believe there are some orthodox men who always preach Spirit empowered sermons? Do you believe that there are some orthodox men who occasionally preach Spirit empowered sermons?” Stuart thought there were some who never preached Spirit empowered sermons, and no one who always preached Spirit empowered sermons. (What of Spurgeon? I wonder . . .) But definitely Stuart believed there are many who occasionally preach Spirit empowered sermons. We had all heard Dr. Lloyd-Jones on an off day, and everyone seemed to come to broadly the same conclusion on our table. Better preachers preached more Spirit-empowered sermons than others.

We went on to agree what a confusing area this is. Some people heard a sermon and described it as Spirit-Empowered when other Christians thought the same message waffle, and vice versa. We all thought that being convinced that there was this Spirit-empowered dimension to preaching was crucial. We deplored those who have dismissed the whole possibility of the Spirit coming upon a message making it life and authority and salvation. That denial was a fearful state to get into.

I think of my own memories of Dr Lloyd-Jones preaching. He would begin and for the first twenty minutes one had a glow of contentment, that one was alive and hearing the Doctor preaching again, that he had not lost his gift and how interesting his preaching was. Then, after about half an hour, something happened. It was as if he went into a new dimension, and those worthless and patronising thoughts of “the Doctor doing so well for someone in his late seventies,” all disappeared completely. I suppose it was that under the word preached one was being intimately confronted with God and with oneself and the immeasurable saving love of Jesus Christ, and with the breathtaking gospel. Time stood still at those times; one could have heard Dr Lloyd-Jones for another hour. One wished he wouldn’t stop. A sadness has come over me as I write these words that such preaching has been taken from us; sinners in Wales cannot hear it any longer. It is that dimension (which he was given in his preaching more than anyone else I have ever heard, or ever shall) that is “Spirit empowering.”

There were two features of the Bala conference which were quite outstanding. The first was a discussion on preaching Christ from the Old Testament. Again it was salutary to me that such a theological discussion of this high calibre was possible at a Conference in Wales. The biblical theological criticism of systematic theology was raised by some and answered well, as was also dismissed the warning about ‘imposing’ Christ on the Old Testament etc. It was very impressive; I truly felt out of my depth. How I wish there were more examples of Old Testament consecutive expository preaching to hear today. We all appreciate Ralph Davies of Mississippi.

The second feature was the morning time of prayer, Tuesday and Wednesday. After a sweet devotional by the conference chairman, Gordon Cooke of the New Inn Congregational Church in Pontypool, corporate prayer began at 9.20. It did not end for an hour and twenty minutes. Minister after minister rose to his feet and prayed, sometimes two started together and one gave way to the other. One or two were a bit preachy in their praying; one or two were over-emotional, but those were the exceptions. The praying was moving and earnest and full of God. The time flew by. It was an honour to be there.

The Bala Conference next year is June 12-14 with Iain Murray speaking.

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