EMA, St Helen's Bishposgate
I had heard a lot about the annual Evangelical Ministry Assembly, organised by the Proclamation Trust. But I had not attended the assembly until last Friday. The conference venue is St Helen's Bishopsgate in the heart of the City of London. Although the event is organised by Evangelical Anglicans, the conference attracts support from many Evangelical Nonconformists. I spotted various Free Church luminaries, leading lights from the Evangelical Fellowship of Congregational Churches, the great and the good of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches and various other Nonconformist apparatchiks.
What, I wondered is the force that unites this pan-Evangelical jamboree? The conference is well organised and efficiently run and there is a plentiful supply of tea and coffee. The City of London location makes for an excellent location, where the ancient grandeur of St Helen's Bishopsgate bumps up against the the shiny postmodernism of Lord Rogers' London Gherkin.
The "London Gherkin"
But what unites this meeting of Pastors, Rectors and Curates is the EMA's emphasis on the exposition of the Word of God. The first morning session was entitled Exposing half hearted religion. Peter Adam, the Principal of Ridley College, Melboure spoke on Malachi 3:6-15. He gave a lively, challenging and at times humorous exposition of the passage. He urged preachers to speak to the "corporate culture" of their churches, just as Malachi confronted the corporate culture of post-exilic Judah. If the corporate culture is "touchy feely" emotionalism, then we must preach the importance of doctrine. If a church is too preoccupied with its own needs, then we must highlight the importance of evangelism and mission. A doctrinally correct, yet loveless church needs to be exhorted to live out the Word in practical obedience to God. Adams testified that in his own experience, tackling the corporate culture of a church is a challenging and difficult business. But, we must be faithful to our calling and trust in the transforming power of God's Word.
John Piper spoke next on Will we last? Enduring in ministry. I have read several of Piper's books, but this is the first time that I have heard him preach. I was not disappointed. In a sense, he was the only speaker who really preached to us. After a number of stories that told of perseverance in disaster, Piper spoke on Jeremiah 31:38-41 . With great passion he urged us to pray that God will keep us in the ministry and not give up. He repeated again and again that God does not keep us from troubling times, but he gives us grace to keep on keeping on. From the text, the preacher showed us that God will guarantee the perseverance of the saints, "I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me". Piper emphasised that God delights in enabling us to persevere with all the infinite joy and determination of his Being, "I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul". It was worth the 5.30am alarm call and the motorway / tube journey just to hear Piper preach this message to us with power and boldness. I felt stirred, moved, challenged and encouraged.
The first afternoon session was Exposition for Expositors Psalm 119, The logic and dynamics of Bible delight. Christopher Ash gave a workmanlike study of the final few sections of the Psalm. Finally, Simon Manchester spoke on Preaching the Christian life Expositions from 1 Peter. Manchester gave us an overview of 1 Peter 4 & 5. He majored on the challenges and encouragements to Christian service in these chapters.
My overall impression from Friday's assembly is that the accent was more on exposition than proclamation. Some years ago I heard a former FIEC president say that, "The problem with the Proclamation Trust is that they do not proclaim!" Preachers are more than expositors. We are heralds who are called to Preach the Word! (2 Timothy 4:2). The EMA is focussed on equipping men to handle the Bible effectively and be good expositors. That is good and essential. But we don't just need expositors, we need expository preachers.