For nigh on twenty years we have made the annual pilgrimage to the Welsh seaside town of Aberystwyth for the Evangelical Movement of Wales' English Conference. This year the main speaker was Art Azurdia III. With his quickfire preaching style, coupled with rapid hand movements, he was bound to make something of an impression. But what endeared him to the congregations that packed the University Great Hall was his evident passion for vibrant, gospel-centred Christian living. His theme for his four conference addresses, delivered each morning from Tuesday to Friday was "A clarion call to a Worldly Christianity". The textual basis for his messages was John 17:17-19 and Hebrews 4:14-16. In the first address, Art asked the question, "Why has God left Christians on earth rather than taking them straight to heaven?" He suggested that believers face two dangers when it comes to relating to the world. We may so disengage from the world that we become "culturally anorexic" or we may gorge ourselves on the pleasures of the world and become "culturally obese". Neither alternative is the biblical. God has sent us to bear witness to him in the world and that means we have to engage with the world without becoming like the world (John 17:18). His catchphrase was "You cannot be authentically Christian without being meaningfully worldly." The preacher told us that he was alarmed to see believers retreating into a cultural ghetto where contact with non-believers is minimised. He revealed that he and his wife had taken their children out of a Christian School and placed them in the State sector in order to make contact with the non-Christian world. Their decision brought with it fresh challenges, but also new opportunities for the family to bear witness to Christ in the community. Art modestly suggested that his American background did not qualify him to speak to the UK situation with any authority, but his emphasis in this first address on meaningfully worldliness hit the nail right on the head. He avoided the temptation to reduce worldliness to a set of arbitrary evangelical taboos. He emphasised that God made the body as well as the soul and that the Christian hope is that of bodily resurrection in the new creation. Worldly Christianity does not mean asceticsm. Believers are free to enjoy the riches of God world, sport, literature, music etc.
In the second address, Art Azurida addressed the matter of sanctification. We can be authentically Christian and meaningfully worldly only because God sanctifies in answer to Jesus' prayer. There is too much talk about mission that is not grounded in the gospel. But we cannot be truly missional without being theological. Sanctification is God's work of setting believers apart for himself via the truth as it is in Jesus. We need this sanctifying work is we are to face up to the problems of false teaching and poor conduct in the the church and the opposition of the world. Emphasis was laid on the importance of the instrument of sanctification - "the truth". In conclusion Art pointed out that we have so many different Bible versions and editions today: KJV, NKJV, NIV, ESV, MacArthur Study Bibles, Reformation Study Bibles, black leather, brown leather etc. But is the Christ-centred Word really having a sanctifying effect upon our lives?
On Thursday morning, the speaker drew attention to the sacrificial work of Christ. The sacrifice of Jesus was voluntary. He "sanctified himself" - set himself apart for the work of the cross (John 17:19). Jesus' life was not taken. He gave himself for us. The sacrifice of Jesus was specific, "for their sakes I sanctify myself (John 17:19 cf. 14, 15, 16, 18). Christ died specifically for the church, his people. In doing so he has redeemed a vast multitude out of every tribe, tongue and nation. The sacrifice of Jesus was purposeful. On the cross, Jesus cried out "It is finished!" (John 19:30). Redemption has been accomplished. In this powerful address, Art placarded the cross in all its effective glory. In closing, he told us that not to engage in mission is to negate the purpose of the cross. The atonement itself a call to meaningfully worldliness.
In his final message the preacher based his sermon on Hebrews 4:14-16. We are utterly dependent on need Jesus, our great high priest as we seek to bear witness to the gospel in the world. Art had four things to say about the text, 1. Jesus has accomplished what all other priests could only prefigure. He has sat down at the right hand of God, having completed the work of redemption. 2. Jesus possesses a stature that qualifies him as the ultimate priest. He is the Son of God who took human nature. That is why he is the uniquely qualified at act as mediator between God and man. 3. Jesus endured the full force of temptation's power. He was "tempted on all points as we are, yet without sin". We all too quickly give in to temptation, but Jesus endured the worst that the devil could throw at him. He had to fight to maintain his sinlessness. Jesus is therefore able to help us in the battle against temptation as we seek to be in the world but not of it. 4. Jesus supports his people with everything necessary to persevere in the world. With him there is mercy and grace to help in time of need. Our great high priest will enable us to be authentically Christian and meaningfully worldly.
All four addresses were delivered with power and punch. The preacher's prayers evidenced his dependence upon the empowering presence Holy Spirit. May this clarion call to a worldly Christianity continue to ring in our ears! CD's and DVD's of these addresses are avaliable from the EMW office.
See here for report of evening meetings.