Credenda Agenda History Conference
Even as Christians, we seldom see the need for face-to-face friendships. How often is it that the only contact we have with our fellow-believers is at the Sunday worship service.
by Ria Van Dyken
The eighth annual Credenda Agenda History Conference was held in Moscow, Idaho, February 6 – 8. Attended by well over 800 like-minded Reformed people we enjoyed two and a half days of lectures given by Dr. George Grant, Rev Steve Wilkins, and Pastor Douglas Wilson. The lectures dealt with the mean of the early church: Ignatius of Antioch (c. 39-111), Athanasius (296-373), Gregory the Great (540-604), Ambrose of Milan (340-397), Basil of Caesarea (329-379), John Chrysostom (c. 349-407), Augustine of Hippo (c. 354-430), Jerome of Bethlehem (c. 325-420), Constantine the Great (c. 280-337), and finally, Boniface of Crediton (680-755).
Each of these men lived in the patristic age of the church. Although not always correct in their thinking, nor always exemplary in their lives, God yet used these men and their work for the building of His church. Perhaps the most poignant message was by George Grant on the life of Jerome of Bethlehem. Grant prefaced his speech with a discourse on the need of godly friendship. Not a sentimental, sappy, "nice" friendship, but a covenantal David/Jonathan type. True Christian friendship is a means of grace and covenantal accountability The modern world declines to take the time or make the sacrifice to cultivate meaningful friendships.
Even as Christians, we seldom see the need for face-to-face friendships. How often is it that the only contact we have with our fellow-believers is at the Sunday worship service. How many of us feel really close to the other members of the body? Yet the reality of relationships in a Christian community is God’s means of grace. Maurice Roberts states that true friendship gives us friends in whose company we are most ashamed to sin. Men like John Calvin and Martin Luther had many deep and abiding friendships.
Jerome of Bethlehem was a difficult, mean-spirited, caustic man, who was saved for productivity by godly friendships. Not a pastor or a preacher, Jerome was a scholar of great intellectual prowess. Recognizing these great gifts but also his corrosive personality four men and women covenanted to stick by Jerome. Now realise this was no easy task! During the course of his life he retired to different monasteries where his presence led to the eventual break-up of four of them. Similarly, when he joined a group of hermits living in the wilderness, five of them returned to civilisation to escape Jerome! Even as he lay dying and his friends were attempting to wipe his fevered brow, his only word of thanks was, "Get that cloth off my face, you’ll only smother me the faster."
Yet through the efforts of these four friends, Jerome was able to use his great intellectual gifts for the edification of the church. He translated Eusebius and Origen; wrote commentaries, and translated the Scriptures into the Latin vernacular.
Time and space prohibits further details on the lectures. However, the reader is encouraged to go to the various books available such as Philip Schaff’s History of the Christian Church, or Christopher Hall’s Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers, as well as any of the original works by the men indicated.
One by one the speakers encouraged us to think covenantally and historically. Today’s Protestant world has allowed the Roman Church to hijack the Patristics and claim them for their own. So many of today’s Protestant/Evangelical churches have no sense of history or continuity with the past or even the future. In the words of George Grant, "We must measure our success in terms of generations and centuries not careers and years." We must make the most of our time and not be cowed by circumstances. We must have principled leaders who define all of life by principles and not expediency. The Patristic fathers and later the Reformers were incredibly productive men in an age without the amenities we enjoy – computers, land/air travel, etc.
And finally the closing challenge. We need to educate our children, raise up the next generation, teach boys to be men: bold, fearless for the kingdom. And then in the words of Boniface: "Run toward the roar, for there Christ’s most victorious victories shall be won."
Attending the Conference was as usual heady, exhilarating, exhausting, and challenging. Conferees travelled from all the parts of the United States and Canada and even one attendee came from Japan. We were able to renew old friendships, cultivate new ones, and satiate our never-ending thirst for books at the various book tables.
Attending two worship services on Sunday with a combined congregation of about 1,500 Reformed, like-minded Christians can only be described as a precious foretaste of the joy that is to come. My husband and I have remarked many times that since we left the CRC 23 years ago, how large the Reformed world has become for us. If you are in the Pacific Northwest next February, we strongly urge you to make use of one of God’s means of grace.
Ria Van Dyken, member of the Sunnyside, Washington, Orthodox Christian Reformed Church.
The Trumpet, March 2003
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