The secret of true religion
This year's Banner Ministers' Conference was dominated by one question, 'Where is everybody?' As recently as 2006, around 400 people attended the event. However, this year saw barely 200 souls wending their way to Leicester for the annual gathering of Calvinistic preachers. Not even Gary Brady was there. I don't think I've ever been to a conference without La Brady being present. His absence made me wonder whether I had turned up at the right event. A Reformed Minister's conference without Gary Brady? Surely not! It was like Hamlet without Yorick.
Another question. 'How did so many become so few?' Suggested answers: The conference took place during the Easter hols, making it difficult for family men to attend. Didn't stop me. The dates clashed with New Word Alive. Fair point. No 'big name' speaker, with the absence of Ted Donnelly due to ill health. In 2006 the line-up included Al Martin, Ted Donnelly, Garry Williams and Maurice Roberts, see here. Have we become followers of men a la 1 Corinthians 1:12? The Banner conference is failing to attract younger men as it seems to be a little old fashioned. Granted, Banner isn't Together for the Gospel. You are not likely to get Mark Driscoll giving sexed-up talks on the Song of Solomon at Leicester. Granted also that continued use of the olde psalter gives the event a dated feel. But since when has trendiness been next to godliness and ministerial effectiveness? I'm not saying that there isn't room for improvement at Banner, but it still did my soul and hopefully my ministry good to be there.
And so to the event itself. As always with these blogged-up reports, some brief notes cannot begin to capture what it was like to be in attendance, but perhaps they are better than not being there and no reportage.
Stephen Curry on Matthew 6:1-18
Stephen Curry opened proceedings with a searching exposition of Matthew 6:1-18. According to D. M. Lloyd-Jones this is "the most uncomfortable portion of scripture". In the passage Jesus sets forth the piety of the kingdom. Teaching is given on religious duties; alms-giving, prayer and fasting. Children of the kingdom are to be different from hypocrites and pagans in terms of their motives and goals as they carry out their religious duties.
1. The description of hypocritical piety
Jesus warns us "do not be like hypocrites", like actors who changed masks to play different characters. Hypocritical holiness is only skin deep. The actor presents the unreal as real, performs in public and hopes for public applause.
Three examples of hypocritical piety: Matthew 6:2-4, giving charity becomes an an act of vanity. Matthew 6:5-15, prayer becomes a public performance, drawing attention to self. Matthew 6:16-18, fasting should be an expression of humiliation and repentance, indicating dependence upon God. But for the hypocrites it has become an exercise in self-sufficiency, Luke 18:9-14. In each case, the activities are good, but the motives are bad, tending towards a man-centred love of preeminence. This is the hallmark of hypocritical piety, Matthew 6:2, 5, 16.
The Reformed tradition is perhaps not so man-centred as the wider Evangelical scene. But even with us there are still dangers. Preaching and praying to impress. Mechanical rather than heartfelt singing. There are real temptations for ministers here as we have to carry out religious duties in public. If it is public applause we are after we will be get it, "they have their reward", Matthew 6:2, 5, 16.
2. The mark of an authentic godly piety
The emphasis here is on acts of righteousness in private, Matthew 6:4, 6, 18. The secret of religion is religion in secret. The mark of true discipleship is what we are in private, before the all-seeing God.
It was only revealed after Spurgeon's death that he had used the money from selling eggs laid by his chickens to support two widows, even though he was traduced in the press for selling his eggs rather than giving them away.
Is our prayer in secret as fervent and frequent as in public? Is our great concern for God's name, kingdom, and will?
When it comes to fasting, we should also be careful to do so without drawing attention to ourselves. Unlike theological students who would publicly decline food in the college canteen as they were fasting.
Our Lord's emphasis on piety in secret does not mean that there is no place for religious acts in public. We can't preach in secret. Public prayer in worship services isn't wrong. Good works should be visible, Matthew 5:17. Jesus often spoke absolute categories to expose wickedness. Nevertheless, the mark of authentic, godly piety in is how we are in the secret place. Contrary to the hypocrite, with his delight in public acclaim, the godly man's great concern is the glory of God.
This principle also applies to how the minister behaves inhome and church. Are we as gracious and kind to our wives and children in the home as we are to church members in public? If not, we are guilty of a form of hypocrisy.
3. The importance of a genuine godly piety
We live our lives in the presence of the all seeing God, "Your Father who sees", Matthew 6: 4, 6, 18. We cannot deceive God, Genesis 16:13.
John 21:15-19. Can we say to the Lord, "you know that I love you"? The Lord hates hypocrisy and loves sincerity. We are called to feed sheep out of love for him and his people. Our reward will be based not on appearances, but on what the Lord sees .
Stephen's penetrating sermon was delivered without shouty histrionics, yet it was deeply penetrating, searching out the hypocrisies of which ministers (at least this one) are often guilty, Proverbs 25:15. A message that had many of us thanking God for 1 John 1:9.
Stephen Curry doesn't have the high profile of many of the speakers who are often called upon to address ministers' conferences. I'm thinking of Piper, Beeke, MacArthur, Ferguson etc, but his ministry was used of the Lord to speak to our hearts and hopefully make us better men in secret and more effective men in our public ministries.
More Banner bloggage anon.
More Banner bloggage anon.