Saturday, April 29, 2006

Reflections on the Banner Minister's Conference

Speakers (left to right): Ted Donnelley, Mark Johnston, Al Martin, Graham Heaps,

Iain Murray & Maurice Roberts

(Garry Williams must be a little camera-shy as he didn't turn up for the photo-call)

I last attended the Leicester Minister's Conference over a decade ago, so it was good to return to the f0ld this year. It was a time of excellent ministry and good fellowship.

Maurice Roberts of Inverness opened the conference with a sermon on Jude. We were urged to contend for the faith once delivered to the saints over and against the false teachings of our age.

Ted Donnelley of Northern Ireland gave three addresses on Preaching in Pagan Times - The Ministry of Jeremiah. Donnolley urged us to preach the judgement of God just as Jeremiah preached God's judgement in his own day. This message will cut through the corrupt relativism of our times and confront people with their need to repent and believe the gospel. But preaching judgement will have a cost. Jeremiah suffered for his message as this sensitive poet was shunned, schemed against and persecuted because of his faithfulness to the truth. The prophet did not labour in vain. His message gave hope to the people of God at the time of the Babylonian captivity. Donnelley's final address pointed us to the new covenant hope of Jeremiah that finds its fulfilment in the Lord Jesus Christ. These messages were heart warming, challenging and uplifting. Ted Donnelley has an exceptional gift of being able to get into the text of Scripture and into the hearts of his hearers. I have never failed to listen to him without being deeply affected.

I was present when Al Martin last spoke at the conference on conversion back in 1989. This time, he preached on Keep a Close Watch on Yourself and on the Teaching, based on 1 Timothy 4:16. With his rich baritone voice, aged features and close-cropped hair the veteran preacher resembled a Word War II General. Time (and grace) has mellowed Al Martin somewhat. Gone (mostly) was the shouty preaching style of old as Al gave us a good mixture of Biblical exposition and practical application. In the last address Martin powerfully warned us against Ministry-destroying and God-dishonouring sin. Only by taking heed to ourselves and pursuing holiness can we avoid becoming part of the ministerial wreckage that the preacher had witnessed during his long years in the pastorate.

Garry Williams of Oakhill Theological College gave two addresses on Jonathan Edwards and the Atoning Work of Christ. Here was historical theology at its best. Williams began by reflecting on the way in which Edwards divides opinion. Some hate him others lionise the great American theologian. The speaker suggested that this is because Edwards was preeminently a Christian man. The world hates Edwards just as the world hated his Master. These addresses reflected on Edwards' emphasis on the infinite excellency of Jesus Christ. The fact that Jesus stooped from the infinite heights of glory when he became Man demands infinite love from believers. Gary Williams sketched out Edwards' insight into what was happening in the mind of Jesus during his suffering on the cross. There, as He bore the sin of the world, Jesus' mind was dominated by a sense of the loathsomeness of sin and the holy wrath of God against the sin He bore. That is why the Saviour cried out, "Why have you forsaken me?". Williams' exposition of Edwards' teaching that Christ made satisfaction for sins not only on the cross but throughout the time of his humiliation, caused some controversy during the discussion time. But the speaker's great burden was to impress upon us the infinite excellence of Christ and the debt of love we owe to Him.
Iain Murray gave a brief word on John Knox and his message for us today. Graham Heaps spoke briefly, but thoughtfully on Becoming a Better Pastor. The conference was brought to a fitting conclusion by Mark Johnston, who spoke of the danger of ministers loosing the plot. Our Biblical plot is set out in Ephesians 4:11-13. Pastor-teachers have been gifted by the risen Christ to bring his body to unity and maturity. We need to keep our eyes on that goal in these difficult times.
It was good to renew fellowship with some old friends and to meet brethren from different parts of the world. I managed to get myself invited to an unofficial (mostly) Welsh Minister's fellowship. A small room was packed with Pastors, the air reeked of Diet Coke and Pringles and Geoff Thomas held court. We discussed our favourite books and "Where have the giant preachers like Lloyd-Jones gone?" Earlier that evening, Geoff Thomas had packed the "Five Points of Calvinism" into his vote of thanks to the University catering staff. "We are not YUPPY or DINKY Ministers" he said, "but TULIP's - Totally Unappreciated Low Income Pastors!" Geoff went on to speak about the meaning of the real "Five Points" to the most helpful staff.
In all, this was a most enjoyable, stimulating and profitable conference.

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