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Bala Ministers’ Conference 2007

Author
Category Articles
Date July 17, 2007

The Bala conference of ministers takes place each June in a delightful little market town in North Wales, now enhanced in my eyes through having its gospel church under a new pastor, Gareth Williams. He changed his career last year from being one of the lecturers in Systematic Theology at the Welsh Evangelical School of Theology to take up the pastorate, building on the fine foundation of his predecessors. His family have settled well into life in this town.

Bala was the community to which Mary Jones walked 30 miles, her shoes tied together and hanging around her neck, to buy a Bible from Thomas Charles.

Bala was the scene of a wonderful work of God 200 years ago when quite suddenly, during one normal evening service, little different from many others led by Thomas Charles, many in the congregation became gripped by the divine analysis of the human condition of being ‘desperately wicked’ in the sight of God. They knew without a doubt that there was no hope save through Christ’s redemption. They remained in their seats for a long time after the service, enervated by conviction. At the end of the evening as Thomas Charles walked home through the narrow streets he could hear the sound of hymns being sung in many homes. The work of God lasted for months and spread out into the surrounding county of Merionethshire and out through North Wales.1

This is the Bala where Dr. Lloyd-Jones was invited to become the Principal of the theological college of the Calvinistic Methodists in the late 1930s, but chose rather to accept the call from Campbell Morgan to work with him at Westminster Chapel. So the college without one evangelical teacher withered and died. It is the finest building in the town and today it is a youth centre for young people’s conferences; in fact the whole Calvinistic Methodist (Presbyterian) denomination in Wales no longer has a seminary – when once it had four or five – and there are just a few men preparing for the ministry.

In Bala is the North Wales conference centre of the Evangelical Movement of Wales, Brynygroes, and in the next two months it will be a hive of teenage activities with the happy summer camps.

About sixty of us preachers met there on 11th June for 48 hours of meetings. I guess fifteen of them were retired men, and ten of them were there for the first time. It was Dr. Lloyd-Jones’ special conference for many years. He chaired the discussions and gave the closing message until it all got too much for him; ‘There is no escape for me there,’ he said to me. ‘Even at the meal times men sit round and ask questions.’ So he finally packed it in and we struggled for a few years adjusting to the absence of his dominant ministry and leadership, but now the new egalitarianism rules everywhere in evangelicalism, by God’s will. There are no longer ‘legends,’ but just faithful men, some of whom have been in the ministry longer than others.

It’s not ‘my’ conference. I hardly say a word; I sit and sing and pray and receive the Word and listen to the discussions without contributing anything. The men have much wise counsel to offer. I had found Dr Lloyd-Jones’ stress on the baptism of the Spirit unclear. The men who claimed to have had it seemed to me to be no different from any other preachers; in fact many were weaker in their preaching than men who made no such claims. The fact that they had to tell other people they had had the ‘baptism’ seems to me to be the give-away. When a diamond sparkles there is no need for its owner to say, ‘This is a diamond.’ However the need for ‘baptisms’ of assurance and lucidity and authority and warm feelings about the truth of what we are preaching overflowing in persuasiveness to our hearers is a demand of the hour. That is what happened in Bala that great day when Thomas Charles preached to the congregation which became transfixed by the Word.

When Dr. Lloyd-Jones spoke on this theme forty years ago there were few of his books of sermons extant; certainly there was no biography. We were perplexed at someone whom we deeply revered (head and shoulders above any other minister and our definitive role model of what a preacher is) and so we were at a considerable disadvantage. We felt we were impertinent shrimps. When the two volumes of his life appeared23 I could appreciate how lonely and misunderstood he was. Why had I not given him more unstinted support? I wish I had known his life and struggles long before. How patient he had been with men like me, though I must have irritated and disappointed him. However, his presentation of the work of the Spirit in the minister was not as lucid as virtually everything else in his ministry was. What a gospel preacher he was.

This year the main speaker was Stuart Olyott, and I have rarely heard him better in three wonderful messages on the three chapters of Paul’s letter to Titus. I wondered as I listened how Stuart can continue to be so fresh and vital with such pertinent humour, courageous in dealing with spiritual experiences true and false, anchoring everything in the verses of each chapter which he took us through each day. It was a bracing, humbling experience so that I said to myself afterwards, ‘Oh that I could preach like that.’ But the three addresses were not recorded. Isn’t that incredible for 2007? The conference addresses have never been recorded and this year was no exception. Pity, pity, pity.

My only caveat with Stuart’s messages was his overall title, ‘When the Church is in a Mess.’ I would much have preferred, ‘The Glorious Body of Christ.’ Think of that first generation of Christians in Crete who by grace were now living holy and blameless lives under the ministry of Titus as Paul exhorts them. A positive title would help change men’s grumbles and despairing ““ consider how men can demean local gospel congregations; isn’t that prevalent today? Consider the state of the mere Christian, eternally beloved, regenerate, a new creation, washed, justified, adopted, united with Christ. Of whom is this true? Every believer. So it would be desperately unbelieving to describe a Christian as being ‘a mess.’ So it is with a gospel congregation; it is the glorious body of Christ.

Another session at Bala had us sitting at the edges of our seats; Jay Smith is from London and spoke of the time he has spent evangelizing radical Muslims. It was earth-shattering to hear of his exploits. He has studied Islam and debated with Muslims for years. London is the one place in the world where one can safely contend publicly with them boldly. Jay goes to Speakers’ Corner each Sunday afternoon, gets up on his aluminium ladder at 3:30, holds a Bible in one hand and the Koran in the other, and then he gets cracking. There are at least half a dozen well trained Christian workers standing in the crowd, and as Jay warms up so the Muslims get agitated, but the police who know Jay are steadily moving around. Then the workers scattered in the crowd near the angry men get cracking and turn to them and ask the Muslims why they are getting upset at what they are hearing. So the group of 200 Muslims are broken down into small groups and fierce debates take place for hours. Sometimes the meeting is not over at 10:00 pm.

Jay has a group of men, all graduates and some of them Ph.D.s, who are all scrutinizing the Koran as it has never been scrutinized before. Its many errors, its bloodthirstiness, the false claims of its traditions are being analyzed and refuted; the fruit is appearing. There is a church in London with 400 converted Muslims. In Dundee a Muslim came to study medicine. He has a special title awarded to him as given to those who have memorized the entire Koran (it is the size of the New Testament), but he had done this by the time he was 16. He insisted that the medical school prepare two rooms for male and female Muslims to pray. Then after some months went by he was given some material pointing out the errors in the life and teaching of Mohammed. He read it to refute it, but it exposed to him as never before the evils and inconsistencies of that faith. He was shattered; he had been giving such time and energy to a false religion? Then he was given a New Testament and what a contrast! He has become a more earnest follower of the Lord Jesus than he ever was devoted to Mohammed, and now he is back in the Middle East working with all his redeemed energy for the exposure and overthrow of Islam.

Jay gave us such factual information that was edifying, and spoke for an hour without notes – and at such a speed! ‘Isn’t this preaching?’ I said to myself. He had been in a little country last week, adjoining Kazakhstan, one of the former nations in the Russian empire block. The country is 75% Muslim, and the Christians are hungry to learn how to take the gospel to them. He had spent a week teaching the leaders, and this is what he does all across Europe. So in Bala there was this thrilling session, quite breath-taking, which every conference needs, but it was not recorded. Drat!

One of the features of Bala I would not want to see changed is the morning hour of prayer, as these 60 men pray for the state of the nation and the gospel pulpits. These are men who live close to God and so can pray with the energies of their souls and can pour themselves out before God. These preachers do not need to be directed or exhorted to intercede. They pray. I love to allow their spirit of intercession wash over me purifying and strengthening my own desires for God, kindling in me a desire to pray. When you hear a man who really is in prayer, then you know it. You know at once that he is holding communion with God. I cannot say how you know, but you do know. You feel it. You are arrested and gripped by real prayer. I remember talking to Peter Jeffery some years ago about a blessing he had had at a barren time while attending the Bala conference. I asked him what preacher had helped him. ‘It was in the prayer meetings that God met with me,’ he said. Some of us will pray with our earnestness, but then one man will pray and you know here is someone wrestling with God, who knows God intimately, whose soul is pouring out wondrous intercessions and uttering urgent petitions and when he finishes we are renewed and refreshed. That is the wonderful reality.

We others had prayed without much of the Spirit in our souls, but when that man prayed his whole soul was glowing with the Spirit of God. There was a sort of incandescence within him and all the men in the prayer meeting felt it, and we felt the better for it. I suppose that this is what Dr. Lloyd-Jones was speaking of in what he described as the baptism of the Spirit. When the praying is over what once happened to Peter Jeffery has happened to others – they have forgotten themselves and their problems. They have come out from that time of prayer into a different world for a while by the help of the Spirit of God, from the shadowlands into the real world, the kingdom of God. They know that they are no longer on their own; Christ is with them and beside them and he is truly helping and hearing them. What extraordinary fluency, freedom and earnestness men can have while they pray. I am not talking about hysterics, or shouting ““ God forbid ““ maybe tears, certainly emotion, but in it all the religious affections, exercised with purity and a love for the Saviour in God’s presence, led one’s brethren to the throne of grace to find mercy and grace to help us in our time of need.

The other two speakers were Welshmen, Dafydd Job from the Welsh Evangelical church in Bangor, and Gwyn Williams from the Welsh Evangelical Church in Cardiff. Dafydd’s grandfather and Gwyn’s father both lie buried in front of the famous Bethany Calvinistic Methodist Church in Ammanford. Dafydd’s grandfather was a pastor during the 1904 revival in Bethesda in North Wales. He had lost his wife and children with an illness, and also the son of his second wife, but his remaining only son lived and to become a lecturer at the university in Aberystwyth where Dafydd grew up. I knew him as a little boy. All the grandfather’s letters and diaries have been preserved, a vast quantity, and from them has come a moving account of his experience of a harvest of conversions and growth in 1904 in Bethesda near Bangor, and that was the subject of his paper.

Finally Gwyn Williams preached on the words ‘not in word only’ in a moving closing address. He spoke of his experience as a little boy going each week on Thursday night to the Bethany church ‘seiat’, the experience meeting, and how boring much of it was for him until those regular occasions when the converts of 1904 would stand and speak, and express their guilt over their sins. This took their eyes away from their OXO games gluing them to these people they loved. What possible sins could these holy people have committed? Gwyn said, ‘The prayers of my father and his successors for a time of revival were never answered but they are still there before God, and we must add our prayers to theirs that we might finally see what they never saw, a great awakening again.’

Notes

    • Thomas Charles’ Spiritual Counsels

      Selected From His Letters and Papers by Edward Morgan

      by Thomas Charles


      price £12.75
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      The Bala conference of ministers takes place each June in a delightful little market town in North Wales, now enhanced in my eyes through having its gospel church under a new pastor, Gareth Williams. He changed his career last year from being one of the lecturers in Systematic Theology at the Welsh Evangelical School of […]

    • Life of D Martyn Lloyd-Jones

      D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

      Volume 1: The First Forty Years 1899 - 1939

      by Iain H. Murray


      price £17.50
      Avg. Rating

      Description

      The Bala conference of ministers takes place each June in a delightful little market town in North Wales, now enhanced in my eyes through having its gospel church under a new pastor, Gareth Williams. He changed his career last year from being one of the lecturers in Systematic Theology at the Welsh Evangelical School of […]

    • Life Of D Martyn Lloyd-Jones

      D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

      Volume 2: The Fight of Faith 1939 - 1981

      by Iain H. Murray


      price £19.00
      Avg. Rating

      Description

      The Bala conference of ministers takes place each June in a delightful little market town in North Wales, now enhanced in my eyes through having its gospel church under a new pastor, Gareth Williams. He changed his career last year from being one of the lecturers in Systematic Theology at the Welsh Evangelical School of […]

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