Sunday, 29 November -0001 19:00

Banner of Truth Minister's Conference 1996

Written by Rev. C. Pronk
Last month (May 21-23) I attended the annual Banner Conference in Pennsylvania along with my colleagues Bergsma, Procee, Vander Meyden and student John Koopman. There were ministers and other church leaders in attendance from different denominations: Presbyterians of various stripes, Reformed Baptists, Christian Reformed, Independent CRC's, Orthodox CRC's, Heritage NRC (Dr. Beeke and four ministerial students), as well as a number of men from other countries, for instance, a pastor from Cuba and another one from Jamaica.

What brings these men from different backgrounds and traditions together year after year is their interest in and love for experiential Calvinism. The Banner of Truth Trust through its publication of soundly Reformed and Puritan books over many years has been mightily used by God to introduce a great number of pastors and other Christians to the theological and devotional works of such men as Calvin, Flavel, Owen, Edwards and Spurgeon and more recent writers as Lloyd-Jones, John Murray and Sinclair Ferguson. The primary and driving force behind this 40-year old movement has been the Rev.Iain Murray, author of many books and articles on church-historical and practical subjects and frequent lecturer at conferences all over the world.

This year's conference featured such familiar names as Geoff Thomas, John Marshall and David Staub, and a new one: Mark Futato. The first speaker was David Staub who gave an address on John 17 under the theme: The Intercession of Christ. The intention of these introductory speeches is to encourage weary pastors by expositions of Scripture passages which emphasize God's care for His servants. Christ's High Priestly prayer certainly reflects this care, as our Lord there pours out His heart on behalf of His disciples.

The highlight of the conference, however, was the contribution of Geoff Thomas who gave three lectures/sermons on the theme, The Servant of God: his status, his equipment and his need. Pastor Thomas, who serves a church in Wales, has a warm and energetic style of preaching and keeps his audience's interest from beginning to end. In his first address he spoke from I Corinthians 4:8-10, where the apostle Paul reminds the Corinthian believers of the apostle's low esteem in the world in sharp contrast with their high opinion of themselves. You are wise, he says, but we are fools; you are strong, but we are weak; you are honoured, but we are considered the scum of the earth. "God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world and to angels and to men." Thomas explained that not only the apostles, but all God's faithful servants will be treated by the world as captured enemies were treated by Roman conquerors who would drag their captives into the capitol, tied to chariots at the end of the victory procession, after which they were thrust into the amphitheatre to be killed by gladiators or lions under the scornful eyes of the spectators.

Whenever and wherever true Christianity is practised, the enmity of the world will be manifested. During the great revivals of the past, God's servants were often ridiculed and suffered a great deal of abuse. We often pray for revivals, but do we realize that if our prayers were answered, God would send us with the revival also the suffering that is inseparably connected with these movements of the Spirit?

In the second sermon Thomas spoke of the equipment of God's servant, using as his text Colossians 2:9-10, where Paul says: "For in him [i.e. Christ] dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him which is the head of all principality and power." Thomas stressed that while God's servants in themselves are weak and helpless, in Christ they are strong and able to do whatever is required of them. If we are joined to Him by faith, all that the Father has given Him is ours. God knew what He was doing when He called and equipped us. Therefore we have no excuse for saying, I have no gifts or energy for doing this or that. To all such, the Lord says what He said to Elijah under the juniper tree: "What doest thou here Elijah?" We need to stir up the gift that has been given us. Not to do so is to deny what God has begun and continues to do in us.

In his last address Thomas dealt with the minister and his needs or requirements. Among those needs are the following:

1. He must know that his sins are forgiven and preach much on the forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ.

2. He must love the people entrusted to his care and be persuaded that God loves them. We may say to one and all: I offer you a Saviour who loves sinners. The same loving attitude that Christ has toward sinners must characterize His servants. A congregation pastored by Paul felt loved by him.

3. He must seek the anointing of the Holy Spirit.

4. He may never lose a sense of expectation as to what God can do.

5. He must live a holy life and be a man of prayer. Prayer is impotence grasping omnipotence.

These sermons or lectures were listened to with great interest and I saw several men weeping as they left the chapel, especially after the first address.

Another fine speaker was Dr. Futato, professor of Old Testament Studies at Westminster West (California) where Dr. Pipa also teaches. Dr. Futato had been asked to speak on "Gender and God's Created Order." There were two lectures, the first one dealing with the equality between men and women as created by God and the second one dealing with their differences in roles and functions.

Dr. Futato started out by saying that the issue of feminism remains a very explosive and divisive issue. His main concern was with evangelical feminism which poses the most serious threat to our churches as it claims Scriptural grounds for its views. Evangelical feminists assert that before the fall there was absolute equality between the sexes and that any differences between men and women are the result of sin and cultural influences. We tend to read back these differences into Genesis 1 and 2 and until recently we have read all of Scripture with a patriarchal bias or from a man's point of view. All this is changing as people are beginning to realize that we need to take our starting point not in Genesis 3, but in chapters 1 and 2. Dr. Futato, however, showed that this new approach is exegetically untenable. The first two chapters of Genesis clearly indicate that while men and women were created equal as to status, they are nevertheless different as far as functionsgo. Man is created first and the woman second, being taken out of the man. Man is constituted by God as head of the woman and also as covenant head representing the entire race. The woman is given to the man as a helper suitable for him. Feminists don't want to hear of this and are desperately trying to twist Scripture to make it say what it does not say.

The speaker gave some striking illustrations of the false exegesis suggested by leading feminist theologians. He warned us that faithfulness today involves clear Biblical preaching on male-female relations as this will be the issue facing us in the coming years. The feminist attack on the Biblical role of men and women involves much more than this issue alone. It has repercussions for other doctrines of Scripture, such as the Trinity, the nature of God and the Gospel itself. For instance, as Dr. Futato pointed out, the submission of the wife to the headship of her husband is patterned after the submission of the second Person to the first Person of the Trinity. In other words, Christ becoming the servant of God in order to save sinners is reflected in the male-female relationship. Christ is equal to the Father in status but subordinate to Him as Servant. Similarly, men and women are equal in status, yet at the same time different as to role and function. Just as God in Christ helped us and became our Saviour, so the woman helps the man. Indeed, just as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto but to minister, so the woman is to minister to the man in loving service. Thus feminists in their total rejection of male headship and female submission are attacking, wittingly or unwittingly, the very heart of the Gospel.

These lectures also were listened to with great interest and approval. It is encouraging that there are still scholars willing to take a stand, unpopular as it is today, on the basis of Scripture without wavering.

There were other speeches on such topics as church discipline and ministerial unfaithfulness, as well as a biographical study on Robert Haldane, the Scottish evangelist of the nineteenth century who spent some time in Geneva where he became one of the main leaders of the Swiss revival which also spread to the Netherlands.

I thought that this conference was among the better ones I have attended in recent years. The speeches for the most part were instructive and inspiring as well as searching. The fellowship with other ministers was also refreshing. It was especially exciting to see so many young men showing an interest in the doctrines of grace. Many come from Arminian backgrounds or merely traditional Reformed circles. They are looking for a religion that speaks to the heart as well as to the mind. The Banner of Truth Conference offers both. May God continue to bless these meetings and bring many more under the influence of experimental or experiential Calvinism, for it is the best and only antidote against the normless subjectivism and emotionalism so rampant in many Pentecostal and charismatic movements of our time.

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