Friday, April 15, 2011

Banner Ministers' Conference 2011 Episode I

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 in home 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.


Jonathan Hunt said...

And I thought I was prolix. You've only covered one message in your first post! My two offerings are done and published. Mostyn Roberts has done a good one too.

Andrew said...

So glad you're blogging these reports Guy. Was sorry (yet again) not to get to the conference this year.

Judging by your photo the numbers were very poor indeed :-)

Graham said...

Perhaps it's a combination of many of the above? None of which (apart from Big Name Syndrome) necessarily are inherently bad reasons to choose not to attend.

If a youngish pastor wants to go to a conference for spiritual nourishment but doesn't want to go without his family (surely totally understandable, especially in school holidays) nor indeed to go to a conference which to him is culturally (you said it yourself that ML-J was quoted right at the start, always a sure sign of a certain age/culture...) miles away from where he is, do you really think it's surprising that many might choose NWA rather than Banner?

Perhaps the argument about pastors fellowshipping together etc is a good point to consider so then perhaps Banner should recognise times change and should try to avoid such dates (NWA, school holidays etc) in the future as if I were a Pastor (which I'm not) then I would no doubt want to go to both.

P.S. Please don't take my comment re ML-J the wrong way. The guy proclaimed and preached Christ in such a clear and effective way that any young Christian should take note. My point was that there is still (almost 30 years after he died...!) a certain Evangelical culture (such as Banner) in which he is awesomely venerated but in a way that can feel slightly weird if you're not used to it.

Ben said...

Well I do live a sheltered life, but I'd never heard of New World Alive.

As far as I can tell from their confusing website, to talk of an event arranged by them clashing with the Banner conference must be a bit like saying that Aldi made a mistake by opening a new store too close to a Waitrose.

rhiannon said...

I still feel that without a sharp systematic hymnology, it is difficult for the movement to keep its tenets before the congregations in a memorable and instructive way. I'm not speaking against Psalm-singing which is very refreshing after too much unclear and subjective, personal material. But surely believers want to grow in remembering the full body of what we have been taught from the scriptures, so not to be 'tossed back and forth'. I have discussed that in 'about' on my blog

Jonathan Hunt said...

I simply don't buy the NWA Banner clash. In purely financial terms: Banner - £175. NWA - Nearer £1000 especially with a family. It doesn't compare in any way.

PJ said...

I didn't go this year, and I can't think of any single reason for it.

a) Economy - flights were much more expensive this year as everything is. This was a factor for me.

b) Ted not being there. Can't say his absence made it more attractive. But it wasn't a deciding factor. That said, I'm not convinced by the arguments that we should completely disregard who the speakers are. God has gifted certain men with extraordinary teaching and preaching ability. That's just fact. And I don't think I should feel too guilty about taking who is speaking into consideration when I'm putting my signature on my conference payment and flight ticket. That is not a criticism of any preacher, but rather a recognition that not all of us have the same ability. Nor do I think this is exactly the same as the party spirit evident in Corinthians.

I might also add at this point that it did not help that Banner did not tell us who was speaking on their official web site etc. ever, in fact even after the fact Ted Donnelly is still listed as the main speaker???? So was I going to pay for a flight, train, bus and there be no one taking 3 or 4 sessions.

c) NWA...doubt Jonathan says its a different beast (in more ways than cost). I would never dream of going (no offence to NWA).

d)Holidays? Not over here. It's this week and next over here.

e) Does it need modernised?...T4G?...oh please no.

f) Psalter? Last year they sung hardly any psalms.

g) Some other reason? Yes. The elephant in the room I think is that there are big theological shift in 'reformed' evangelicalism that "may" have covenant theology, anti-sabbatarianism, openness to charimata, desire for modern "vibrant" worship (maybe NWA is a factor after all?) etc.

Just some thoughts.

Paul Wallace
MRBC Northern Ireland

Graham said...

Jonathan, buy it or not, it's a fact that NWA is now a massive fixture on the Conservative Evangelical calendar (if there is such a thing...) in this country.

Ben, i don't think your somewhat patronising comment towards NWA helps anything.

Let's just thank God for blessing this country with such an abundance of true Gospel preaching, even if they could work on the scheduling a bit better.

Jonathan Hunt said...


I didn't find Ben's comment patronising, rather a confirmation of mine. Banner and NWA do not compare in any way. One is a minister's conference, one isn't. And I have attended NWA so I don't speak from ignorance (for once!)

I will say this - NWA represents a much broader evangelicalism than Banner, so for example you would find Liam Goligher or Garry Williams speaking at both events, but you wouldn't find other big name speakers from NWA at Banner because they do not hold the same views of Covenant Theology, etc.

Your comment about 'conservative evangelicalism' made me smile. It must be pretty broad these days - many who call themselves conservative evangelicals would never go to NWA because they would never accept the style of worship and, as I have said in another place, would never accept the way that at NWA, Sunday is 'just another day' like any other.