American Banner of Truth Conferences
The 23rd American Banner of Truth Conference on the eastern part of the nation took place in Messiah College, Grantham, Pennsylvania, May 29-31. This has been its venue for over ten years having met in such places as Memphis and in Grand Rapids in the past. As the English Swanwick conferences share that centre in Derbyshire with another group so Messiah College had to be shared with a denominational gathering. For the last five years about 185 men have come to the Banner of Truth conference from hundreds if not thousands of miles away from Messiah. There were men who love experiential Calvinism present from Wyoming and Canada at Grantham.
Dr Robert Rayburn, the pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church at Tacoma, Washington, spoke twice. In his first address on “Preaching as a Mystical Event” he defined this theme as ‘a sermon which causes the present world to disappear and the invisible world to be seen.’ There is an encounter with God in true preaching. There one hears his voice, and nothing else. There is the impression of the truth on the heart. When the great central affirmations of the faith are brought to bear on the heart, then their application and the consequent repercussions on every part of life will follow. But it is the impression made at the time that is crucial not a remembrance afterwards.
Today a move from this standard to “exegetical teaching with application” has taken over. The minister has become the counsellor, the facilitator, the administrator, the programme developer, or the leadership developer. There is an opposition to solemnity, and preaching is degraded, and with the impressive silence, the sense of the divine love, conviction of sin and a sinner’s awareness of his guilt. To return to this, preachers need deeper reflection on the truth of God, so that they are more deeply moved by it to joy, fear and love. In order for the congregation to think more seriously of spiritual things the preacher himself needs to do this. This was the Conference message the present writer found most helpful.
The second message of Dr Rayburn was on “Preaching the Polarities of Biblical Truth.” In part he was opening up what John ‘Rabbi’ Duncan said, “preach the antinomies of truth and don’t attempt to reconcile them.” He used a striking story of the bewildering nature of the sovereignty of mercy in the life of David Berkowitz, the so-called ‘Son of Sam,’ the New York serial killer who murdered 6 people in an utterly arbitrary manner (he killed a man as he sat in his car), injured others, blinding a young man. He was tried and sentenced to 365 years in prison. Since that time, and for many years he has come to profess faith in Christ, working in the Sing Sing prison chapel and giving out literature. He has little or no hope of parole. He writes to an elder in the PCA known to Dr Rayburn who has met another man now in Greenville who observed Son of Sam for some years in Sing Sing. He displays the marks of new life. He is the dying thief of our generation. How staggering the thought that his victims as Christ-rejecting sinners will be in hell, whereas he, a mass murderer, will be in heaven.
Neil Pronk, minister of the Free Reformed Church in Brantford, Ontario, editor of “The Messenger” and radio pastor for the “Banner of Truth” broadcast, spoke twice on church discipline. There are three marks of a church, the Word, the Ordinances and Church Discipline (the ‘keys’). If this key gets rusty then the other two will also soon become rusty. Hence there has been a decline in gospel churches in the 20th century. Neil showed from Revelation 2 and 3 how concerned our Lord is for the purity of the church. The authority of the keys is a declarative power. God says that repentant and believing sinners are forgiven people, and the church then declares what God has done. This is an announcement of the divine verdict. The Kingdom of Heaven is like a city with bulwarks and gates. Watchmen line its walls. Preachers and elders are those watchmen. Every time we preach a sermon a division occurs amongst our hearers. Some gates are shut to people, while gates are opened to others. If a heart is hardened against the gospel a door is being closed to that man. The church is not like a hotel with people coming and staying for a while and then moving on. It is like a family home. If we ourselves fall into sin we are not to despair, nor to continue in it. They were both helpful messages on a neglected theme, dealt with in an unusual manner.
Dr John R. deWitt, the minister of the First Presbyterian Church in Colombia, South Carolina (ARPC), spoke familiarly on “David – a Servant of the Lord in Temptation and Sin.” He began by talking of the lack of spirituality and seriousness amongst church leaders in our day. When he first started in the ministry 40 years ago he remembers attending a synod meeting and the ministers were discussing an increase in salary. One elderly retired pastor got up and addressed the gathering: “Brethren – get all you can!” he cried. When the spirit of the world has so much place in churches it is little wonder that falls like that of David occur. “What if some of you should know that at some time in the future you would face a sin like David’s then you would bring all manner of Christian resistance to it today, e.g. saying to yourself, ‘How can I do such great wickedness and sin against God?’ You would consider its consequences for your family and church. However, it is possible to be building a wall against God, or encouraging the development of a sinful cataract so that the eyes of faith refuse to see this evil. Consider, for example, Adolf Harnack’s seductive 7 volume “History of Dogma”. It is a powerful and persuasive presentation of the view that the metaphysics which are a part of Christian theology are an alien intrusion from Greek sources. Harnack believed that the message of Jesus was human brotherhood to the exclusion of all that was doctrinal. He died in 1930 and had a deadly influence in Europe. Dr deWitt showed how possible it is, with the best intentions in the world, to be charmed and captivated by Harnack, and even wish to be identified with him, and so lose the faith. Thus it was for David already having numbers of wives, to see Bathsheba, and failing to resist the temptation that arose within him.
Two Britishers also spoke (while Irfon Hughes provided another Welsh accent evident as he chaired a number of the sessions). John Marshall preached the opening sermon from 2 Peter on the second coming of Christ, and the present writer gave three addresses on the Divine Glory of Christ which are presently on his church website.
WEST COAST BANNER OF TRUTH CONFERENCE
The sixth Banner of Truth Ministers Conference was held from May 29 to 30, 2001, on the campus of Westminster Theological Seminary, Escondido, California. The Banner of Truth and the conference committee are deeply grateful to Dr. Robert Godfrey (the president) and the Board of the seminary for their kindness in making the seminary facilities available to us. We are also grateful to Ms. Kelly Sweeney of the seminary for taking care of the arrangements for our meals, arranging for the transport of speakers and their accommodation at the Best Western Hotel in Escondido. Grateful mention must also be made of the staff at the Banner of Truth USA office who processed all the registrations and maintained excellent communication with the conference committee. This was Mr. Jim Eshelman’s last conference as the manager of the USA office and we are deeply grateful to Jim for the hard work and organization he has contributed to these minister’s conferences. Although we shall miss Jim, we are delighted to have Mr. Jack Smith as the new manager of the USA Banner office. The final week prior to the conference saw 73 registrations, by the time the conference began we had some 106 who had registered. There were many who were ‘walk in’ registrants.
On the final day of the conference I made it a point to speak with as many participants as possible to get their views of the conference. I heard such comments as, “This is the best west coast conference ever.” “I found the conference most beneficial.” “We hope you will continue these conferences on the west coast.” These were most encouraging. One matter which the committee needs to address is the cost of the conference to the men attending. Although the registration fee was reasonable, the cost of housing in a motel (even at a special conference rate) and the addition of travel for those flying into San Diego (nearest airport) including the ground transportation from San Diego to Escondido caused a few participants to consider attending the Banner of Truth east coast conference where the housing arrangements make the conference cost lower.
Those who attended came from a variety of denominational backgrounds. I hesitate to mention the denominations represented for fear of leaving someone out. Amongst those attending were missionaries, some of who shared testimonies pertaining to their respective ministries.
The conference speakers this year were the Rev. C.J. den Dulk, pastor of Trinity Christian Reformed Church, Sparta, Michigan; Dr. Sinclair Ferguson, pastor of St. George’s Tron Parish Church, Glasgow, Scotland and a Trustee of the Banner of Truth Trust; Dr. Robert Godfrey, President and Professor of Church History, Westminster Theological Seminary, Escondido; Dr. Art Azurdia, pastor of Christ Community Church, Cordelia, California; Dr. Hywel Jones, Professor of Practical Theology, Westminster Theological Seminary, Escondido, and Dr. David Hegg, pastor of the Corona Evangelical Free Church in California. A welcome late addition was Rev. Mark Johnston, pastor of Grove Chapel, London, England and a trustee of the Banner.
The opening address, which in many ways sets the tone for the rest of the conference was given by Rev. C.J. den Dulk. Using the prophets Haggai and Zechariah as his example C.J. encouraged us to be faithful to our God ordained calling to faithfully preach the word in spite of what opposition we may encounter. God’s method of building His work has always been through the preaching of His word. The people we minister to in our congregations are so much like the people whom Haggai and Zechariah were sent to preach to. They are more concerned about their personal comforts than about God’s work. But as these two prophets preached, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the governor of Judah and the spirit of Joshua the high priest, and the spirit of the people, so that they came and worked on the house of the Lord. Perhaps under the blessing of God on our preaching our own people will dedicate their lives to build God’s church and our preaching will not only be commended by the Lord, but our people may well say to us, “Thanks preacher, we needed that,” meaning that they would express their gratefulness because we were faithful to our God given calling. This was both an excellent sermon and an encouraging word which we needed to hear.
The three evening addresses were in the hands of Dr. Sinclair Ferguson. On the first evening taking 2Timothy 1:1-14, Dr. Ferguson spoke on ‘An Apostolic Pattern for Ministry.’ We were reminded that the apostle Paul sought from Timothy a heart for ministry, a heart resulting from the gift of God which Timothy possessed through the laying on of the hands of the apostle and that of the eldership. In 1 Timothy 4;14, Timothy is exhorted to not neglect the gift of God that was in him, and in 2Timothy 1:6, he is reminded to stir up that gift. As with Timothy we ministers must be devoted to serve God’s people with the gift God has given us. Paul also desired from Timothy an unashamed fidelity (2 Timothy 1:8). Timothy must manifest a life of sanctity (2 Timothy.1:9-12). To make one life holy it takes such a gospel as that of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our people’s greatest need is our personal holiness. Timothy must be devoted to orthodoxy (2 Timothy 1:13-14). The apostle knew what devastation false teaching can cause. Martyrdom cannot destroy the people of God, but false teaching always does. Such a stand for orthodoxy may cause suffering, Timothy himself suffered imprisonment, but we must be faithful to God’s truth whatever the cost. On the second evening, which meeting was open to the public over 250 people came together to hear Dr. Ferguson speak on ‘Major Problems in Ministry.’ Taking Luke 15:29 & ff., the attitude of the elder brother in the story of the Prodigal Son, we were taught that this section of the parable was spoken with the Scribes and Pharisees in mind who were critical of our Saviour’s ministry. The elder brother regarded his service to his father as a form of servitude. Is this the way we ministers view our service to our heavenly Father? Dr. Ferguson spoke on the Origin and Character of such an attitude, its Evident Fruit, Its Dangers and Its Final Results. Satan ever seeks to distort our views of God. He would have us think that God was a hard taskmaster than a welcoming father who not only welcomed back his antinomian son, but had a place in his heart also for his legalistic son. This attitude of servitude produces a judgmental attitude towards others. It produces an unbiblical spiritual narrowness and causes us to say that for all our labours God has given us nothing. The attitude of the older brother in a minister will hinder him from being a minister of grace. This brother had no difficulty in analyzing his younger brother’s spiritual condition, but he was blind to his own, and he was unable to delineate the remedy for his brother. On the final evening of the conference Dr. Ferguson took as his theme ‘A Pastoral Theology For Ministry.’ His address was based on the teaching of Colossians 3:1-17. Pointing out that there was a parallel between the Colossian church of Paul’s day and the Christian church in the west today, Dr. Ferguson stated that here we have (1) A Pastoral Theology Rooted in the Believers Union to Christ; (2) A Pastoral Theology Which Calls Us to Mortify Sin Through Jesus Christ; and (3) A Pastoral Theology Which Necessitates the Importance of Our Transformation Into the Image of Christ.
Dr. Robert Godfrey gave us two addresses on ‘Calvin the Preacher.’ He reminded us that the authentic Calvin is Calvin the pastor to whom preaching was the focal point of his pastoral ministry. Calvin was concerned that preachers should give thought to their hearers and he himself gave careful time to the preparation of sermons. The aim of his preaching was to bring his hearers to trust in God and in His Son our Saviour Jesus Christ.
Dr. Art Azurdia spoke on ‘Spirit Empowered Preaching.’ Basing the major part of his remarks on 1 Corinthians 2: 1-5. In our preaching we must not only preach the Biblical gospel, but we must do so in the power of the Holy Spirit whose help we must ever seek. This Spirit empowerment is not anything which the preacher controls, but is ever the work of God’s Sovereign Spirit. Although we must persuade our hearers to believe in the Person and work of Christ, they will be persuaded only as the Spirit enables them.
The Rev. Mark Johnston also brought us two addresses. The first was on the ‘Preacher’s Task.’ We must recognize that a preacher is a herald standing as it were between two worlds. He is at once a man of the word and also a man of the world. Preaching can quite easily become mechanical. But in true preaching the text of Scripture must engage the preacher first of all. We must immerse ourselves in the Scriptures and we must also understand the state of the world in which we are living. Our people live in a real world and we must understand the needs of the people we are ministering to. We must know all they can about our people. In his second address, Pastor Johnston spoke on ‘The Preacher’s Goal.’ The goals we set may not always be the goals of Scripture. We must aim to produce churches that are functional, united, mature, fulfilled, stable and growing.
Dr. Hywel Jones also taking 1 Corinthians 2: 1-5, described his adresses as a sort of appendix to what we had already heard. He reminded us that there is a mysterious connection between our work and what the Spirit of God does. Our speaking must never be foolish, there must always be careful reasoning and appealing. I was reminded of the fact that this was a central feature in the preaching of the late Dr. Martyn LLoyd-Jones. Although Paul repudiated such matters as rhetoric as the world understood it, he used rhetoric. An examination of the apostle’s preaching would indicate that his rhetoric was doctrinally driven. It was a rhetoric which could be the vehicle of the Spirit’s power. He stated that we must give ourselves to plain speaking to and close dealings with our hearers. He thought that preachers in the reformed tradition did not give sufficient attention to the manner of their sermon presentation. In his second message Dr. Jones emphasized the need for the preacher to bear in mind that amongst his hearers there will be people who are unconverted, “natural” men and women; there will be those who are converted, but living carnal lives, and there will be those who are spiritual. Each of these three groups must be considered and our sermons should be directed to each.
Dr. David Hegg took as his theme, ‘The Place of Preaching in a Minister’s Life.’ He told us that by this title, he did not mean the priority of the work of preaching. As preachers of reformed conviction we were committed to the priority of preaching in our lives and ministries. Rather, he asked if we preachers ever listened to our own sermons. What place did our own preaching have on our lives? The texts we preach from must first wash over our own lives. What we preach to others must first confront and change us. Again I was reminded of a statement by John Owen which went something like, ‘The word must come with power to us before it can go with power from us.’ I think it is in volume 16 of his works published by the trust. We must also be disciplined keeping ourselves away from those things which would hinder our preaching. We must also be disciplined in our reading and study. A question we were asked was whether we trusted preaching to accomplish what God said it would accomplish.
This year the fact that we had a central theme (Preaching in the 21st Century), contributed much to the unifying of the addresses brought to us.
The west coast conference committee is beginning to plan for the Banner of Truth conference in 2002, the dates will once again be the from the Tuesday after Memorial Day.
Four Meditations from John Owen September 26, 2023
This is a reprint of an article that was first published in the Banner of Truth magazine, July – August 1968. His words remain searching and pertinent today. * * * The Value of the Gospel No men in the world want help like them that want the Gospel. A man may want liberty, and […]
Peacocks and Rutterkins: Calvin the Colloquial Communicator August 31, 2023
John Calvin is thought of, principally, as a theologian. Of course, he was that. But, as Andrew W. Blackwood once told me, in his day he was first of all considered a preacher. Too few of his sermons have been preserved.1 English translations are mainly in 16th century English!2 Nevertheless, the more I read them, […]