A couple of weeks ago I spent three days down in London at the Evangelical Ministry Assembly, organised by the Proclamation Trust. I’ve not been to this conference for a few years and it was good to catch up with old friends.
The theme was “Removing the veil- the glory of God and the preaching of the Gospel.” You can listen to the talks here. Truth be told, I can’t say that I learnt a lot that was new as such. However, as we are currently learning from 2 Peter here at Woody Road, we are those who need reminding of things that we know but have forgotten. And in order to aid my memory, I’m writing up some of the things that struck me afresh in this post- and hoping that they will be useful reminders to us as a church.
The Centrality of the Word of God
PT exists to encourage preachers of God’s Word and so it is probably no surprise that the importance of this was a major emphasis. There was a reminder from 2 Cor 4:1-6 of the central task of proclaiming Jesus as Lord as we set forth the truth plainly from Scripture. A sermon on John 17 picked up the fact that the church today comes together in unity as the word of the apostles is announced. Sinclair Ferguson was helpful in pointing us to Ephesians 2:17. In that passage Christ is said to have preached peace to those in Ephesus? How did He do this? It must have been through the preaching of the apostles. As His Word is preached, Christ Himself speaks.
I spend a fair chunk of my week studying the Bible in order to prepare to preach. At times that can feel a strange use of time- couldn’t I be seeing people or organising something? It was good to be reminded that people are saved and the church is built through the preaching of the Word of God- and it is therefore appropriate to work to that end.
The Need for Dependence on God
Mike Cain started each morning by taking us through 2 Corinthians. This is familiar territory for me- I take every opportunity I get to speak on this book! But it did me good to hear 2 Corinthians 4:7-18 again. God’s ministry is entrusted to jars of clay. Our expectation should be a sense of ongoing weakness. That is certainly my experience. Foolishly I keep anticipating that one day I will feel on top of the job, emotionally stable and with a great sense of strength. But God hasn’t made things that way. The emotional weaknesses we sometimes fear are a disqualification for ministry are often the things that the Lord uses to make us strong and useful in dependence upon Him.
Perhaps the strongest challenge across the assembly came in Vaughan Roberts’ talk on Martyn Lloyd-Jones. I found this a fascinating session- and probably the highlight of the week. It was particularly interesting for me as I gave a talk on Lloyd-Jones myself about a year ago to the Magdalen Road trainees- something I may write up in a series of posts at some point. Actually, Vaughan and I shared similar conclusions- even if his were expressed more clearly! While there are aspects of Lloyd-Jones’ ministry that can be critiqued (not least his teaching on the baptism of the Spirit), he does pose major questions for us today- in particular our reliance on human strength and techniques rather that the power of the Spirit. True spiritual growth relies on a demonstration of the Spirit’s power- as Lloyd-Jones frequently preached from 1 Corinthians 2. I appreciated a quote which I hadn’t come across before- that God is able to do more in thirty seconds than humans can do in fifty years. This must be especially poignant for the church in this country at the moment: in his talk on Romans 1 John Stevens noted the figure in Operation World that puts evangelical growth in the UK at 0%. If anything I would have loved to see this challenge come across more strongly. There is a danger of complacency- we think we are doing ministry well. However, I still fear that we (I?) spend far too much time planning and coming up with great strategies whilst spending too little time in prayer crying our for God to work. I’ll never forget one elderly couple’s comment on the contemporary evangelical scene- “Too much of man; too little of God.” If that’s right- and I suspect it may be- then we need to learn afresh the importance of depending on God.
The goal is the Knowledge of the Glory of God
Lloyd-Jones once said that he could forgive a man anything provided that he gave us a sense of the glory of God. It was interesting to hear Sinclair Ferguson’s two sessions on preaching the glory of God. In truth, the logic was hard to follow at times. But what did come across strongly was a sense that a great God was being spoken about. Life is about enjoying communion with a glorious Trinity. In a different session, it was good to spend time in John 17 and consider the glory of God revealed in the cross- that is you want to see anything precious (such as love, justice, service and so on) that it is most perfectly revealed in the death of Christ. As a challenge, I was struck by Sinclair Ferguson’s quote from John Owen (whose grave incidentally I came across during one of the lunch breaks)- that many Christians are strangers to the contemplation of God. I fear that has been too true of me- the danger of doing ministry whilst forgetting the wonder of knowing and being known by God. And when you think of the greatness of God’s glory you suddenly realise the folly of living for and contemplating anything less.
So- altogether I am grateful for a reminder to preach the Word of God in dependence on God in order that people might have the greatest joy that this world affords- a deep experiential knowledge of the glory of God.