American Banner Of Truth Conference
On a Tuesday morning, Pastor Overgaauw rolled out of bed at 3:00 am (or earlier?). By 3:15 am he and his car were rolling out of the driveway, and he was on his way to Nobleton. What would induce four pastors with flexible schedules to get up and start travelling at such an unusual hour? It must be the annual Banner of Truth Ministers & Elders Conference held in the rolling hills of southern Pennsylvania. As late May approaches, memories of Conferences past surface as hearts of men from all over North America turn toward the spiritual feast of edification, and fellowship they know will be awaiting them at the Conference.
From the Toronto area, it is about an eight hour drive through some glorious countryside, much of it following the beautiful Susequanna River valley. Years ago this was the frontier that knew the faithful labours and lasting legacy of the great missionary David Brainerd. (You’ll find his work recounted among the writings of Jonathan Edwards). During the drive we as four pastors enjoyed Christian fellowship arriving in the early afternoon at Messiah College situated in the heart of ‘Pennsylvania Dutch” country.
After many years of enjoying the privilege of attending the annual Banner of Truth Conference I cannot recall ever hearing a disappointed evaluation or regret concerning the time and resources spent in coming. The 2006 Conference lived up to the high ideals of the past. Its theme was “Faithful to the Past… Ministering in the Present” The central theme that coursed through the messages was the continuing relevance of preaching, prayer, and heart-felt striving for spiritual maturity in order to build the Church of Jesus Christ. In the middle of a world of so many changes, these spiritual callings remain a bedrock of unchanging truth. The Church is still built by the Holy Spirit’s application of God’s Word to the lives of pastors and congregations alike. One cannot attempt to give a summary of each of the messages in a short article. What follows can only give a “taste” of what was feasted on.
Each conference begins and ends with a sermon. A stirring opening sermon by Rev Matt Kingswood of an RPCNA near Ottawa, then in the evening Rev. Sinclair Ferguson began with a message entitled “Jesus Christ, the Church Builder”. His first point was that the Church is central to the vision and work of our Lord Jesus Christ. God’s Word is not just for isolated individuals. We are not just the “called out”, we are also the “called into” the assembly of the saints. The question that served to challenge us was, “Do we love the Church and give ourselves to it?”
The Church is the context for the transformation of our lives, and for New Testament evangelism. The second main point was that the Church is built on occupied territory and its context is one of “cosmic conflict”. To enlist in the gospel ministry is to enlist for a life of danger. He quoted Martin Luther who has written, “Those who are in the teaching office should teach with the greatest faithfulness and expect no other remuneration than to be killed by the world, trampled underfoot, and despised by their own . . . Teach purely and faithfully, and in all you do expect not glory but dishonour and contempt, not wealth but poverty; violence, prison death, and every danger.” (Luther Works 12.220-221). Such thoughts give a corrective that serves to humble and convict our hearts of the sins of pride and desire for ease. These must be replaced with a greater willingness to bear a cross for Christ. Thirdly we received the reminder that the Church is built on the work of gospel ministers as we proclaim the word of the gospel. The word of the gospel is the foundation, not personalities. And fourthly Dr. Ferguson expounded on the fact that Church is modeled by Christ on a pattern of death and resurrection.
Rev. Philip Ryken, pastor of the Tenth Presbyterian Church of PA preached on the Need for Reformation Today from Jeremiah 7:1-15 and on the Basis of Reformation Today from Ephesians 2:19-22. In the later message he brought out the continuing need and powerful relevance of the five Sola’s or Alone’s of the Reformation:Christ Alone, Scripture Alone, Grace Alone, Faith Alone, and Glory to God Alone.
Ian Hamilton gave a worthwhile and fascinating historical study on Charles Hodge and his views on such ecumenical and controversial matters as Catholic baptism.
Mini-seminars were given on Pastoral Visitation, and Preaching in the Inner City. Joel Beeke gave two powerful presentations on the Churches Present Need of “Mature Faith” and “Mature Ministers” and the conference closed with an uplifting sermon by Mark Johnston, minister in South London England and Trustee of the Banner.
Let me sum up the experience of attending the Banner Conference by quoting Donald R. Linblad, pastor of the Trinity Reformed Baptist Church in Kirkland WA: “For almost a quarter of a century, the Banner of Truth Minister’s Conference has been a priority for me. Only providential hindrances could keep me from attending. In a world that is marked by change and uncertainty the Banner Conference is an anchor, unmoved and unmovable in its commitment to a Biblicism that argues both for conformity to the Reformed Confessions and a faithful piety…”
Reprinted with permission from The Trumpet May/June 2006 published for the Orthodox Christian Reformed Churches in North America
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