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The 12th Salisbury Conference

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Date October 17, 2008

On Saturday 4th October the twelfth Salisbury Conference took place at Emmanuel Church. Over 150 people attended to hear Richard Barcellos of the Midwest Center for Theological Studies in Owensboro, Kentucky.

Dr Barcellos’ first study was on John Calvin and the Decalogue. Why should this Genevan Reformer be studied? He had a great impact on his own generation, and on the next hundred years, but he lacks an impact on the church today. Calvin saw the natural law as common to all men and written within everyone. Calvin also saw the ten commandments as given to Christian believers to assist them in the Christian life. Is this what Scripture teaches? It is, for God wrote the same in the heart of Adam, and on tablets of stone and on the hearts of all who know him. All the commands of God are trans-covenantal and trans-cultural. God says,

‘The time is coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,’ declares the LORD. ‘This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after that time,’ declares the LORD. ‘I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.’ (Jer. 31:31-33)

These words are re-echoing some in the book of Exodus and they are picked up by Paul in 2 Corinthians 3:3,

You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

The second paper was on John Calvin on Antinomianism. Antinomianism is the belief that it is not necessary for the Christian to obey the moral law of the Old Testament, that is, the law that was given prior to Christ. There are practical, radical antinomians whose sinning lives demonstrate their lawless beliefs, and there are moderate, theological antinomians. They seek to live holy and obedient lives and yet say that they will obey the laws of the Old Testament only if they are also given in the New Testament. They believe that the Decalogue is not binding on the Christian today. Calvin taught that the law had a threefold purpose: as a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ; as a protector of civil society; and as a guide to the sanctification of believers. John Calvin dealt with antinomians by chastening them and correcting their faulty logic. There was and remains a denial of the usefulness of the Ten Commandments for the Christian when God has written them on the believer’s heart. The moderate antinomian protests that God in Jeremiah is speaking of writing the whole Mosaic law on the hearts of his people, but that interpretation fails to be sensitive to the progressive sweep of redemptive history. The Sabbath took on the aspects of life in Eden, and then life under the old covenant, and finally of life under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

The third paper was on Public Worship. The view that came from Geneva and was developed under the Puritans was that whatever God commands we must do and what he does not command we must omit; nothing more; nothing less; nothing else. The thought came to me as I was listening intently, that the worship that God requires is the worship that God desires, is the worship that God gives, creates and sustains, and is the only worship that God blesses.

If we have God then we must not add false elements. All self-made religion, however splendid, is a curse. Only what is approved by God’s Word is acceptable. God alone has the right and authority to determine the elements of his public worship. Whatever God commands we must do. Whatever God forbids we must not do. We have no right to detract from what God has revealed. The old covenant elements were temporary and were fulfilled by Christ and so have been abrogated and taken away. We now need new guidelines and the apostles have provided those things for us. In the New Testament is found God’s will for his church including such elements of public worship as prayer, reading, singing, baptism, the Lord’s Supper and church discipline.

The message came to an end with an exhortation on the text David Clarkson employed in his famous sermon on the higher status of public worship to private worship, Psalm 87 verse 2,

The LORD loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.

The Bible is here confronting hyper-individualism. We are invited to the theatre of praise each Lord’s Day.

Thus a fine feast of relevant teaching was given to us. It reminded me of the ethos of the early years of the Puritan Conference except for the lack of discussion. There was a splendid book table and warm welcome from the church.

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