Mrs. Crossett is a member of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland. The conference took place in Scotland, July 26-August 2.
After agreeing to write this article on the British Reformed Fellowship (BRF) Conference in Scotland, I spent about thirty seconds thinking, “This will be so easy! So much happened and I had such a great time!” I then spend the next two weeks thinking, “This is going to be so hard! So much happened and I had such a great time!” Figuring out how to share this amazing trip with people who have not experienced it, without writing a mammoth article that would bore people to tears, has proven difficult! But this article will have to suffice.
For those of you unfamiliar with the BRF, I would recommend you check out their Facebook page (search for British Reformed Fellowship) or their website (www.britishreformed.org). Those means do a far better job of introducing themselves than I can. What is important to know at this point is that they organize a biennial conference that is attended by Reformed believers from all over the world. For those of you reaching for a dictionary or worried I cannot spell, biennial means every other year as opposed to biannual, which is two times each year.
The Conference began on Saturday, 26 July. Driving up to the Gartmore House we could not help but be amazed by the picturesque views of Scottish countryside surrounding us. The American tourists among us were especially keen to get photos of the many cows in the farmers’ fields all around. The rest of us were more focused on other landmarks. Throughout the week those interested explored a lot of the surrounding area with day trips to Edinburgh (pronounced Eh-din-burro for the struggling tourists out there), St. Andrews, Loch Katrine (pronounced Lock KAY-trin), Stirling, and Loch Lomond. We also were able to explore Reformation history through special lectures on the fascinating John Knox (did you know he worked as a bodyguard, was a skilled broad-swordsman, and was forced to become a galley slave after he was captured by the French?) and the work of the lesser-known James Fraser of Alness, walking tours discussing the martyrs of St. Andrews, and a visit to the Magdalen Chapel in Edinburgh. Getting to see the places mentioned so often in church history and learning about some of the godly men used to bring truth back to the churches was an eye-opening experience.
All this history was used as a backdrop to the Conference focus—the doctrine of sanctification. I know that for many of us it was a stark reminder that “…there is no new thing under the sun” (b). The dangers that we face today in our own Christian walk are the same sins and trials faced by our fathers before us. We do well to learn from the mistakes of churches and believers past as well as from the successes and strengths of our brothers and sisters of years gone by. The focus on sanctification reminded us of the importance of God’s work in us in making us holy, helped us better understand the differences and connections between sanctification and justification, clarified the role of the law in the Christian life, and highlighted the imperfections of our sanctification in this life as well as the dangers from the antinomianism threat even within our own true, Reformed churches. The practical speech on living a victorious Christian life concluded the speeches and summarized the blessings we have through this sanctification in our lives.
Rev. Angus Stewart, Rev. Martyn McGeown, Prof. Herman Hanko, and Prof. David Engelsma did an excellent job of bringing forth the practical and meaningful truths of sanctification to us all. So much learning and discussion was packed into a week, but no one was complaining. Young and old embraced the opportunity to speak and learn. A highlight for all was the simple yet profound question asked by five-year old Patrick from Spokane, WA. The way that Prof. Hanko clearly answered the question “Why did God make it so man could sin?,” without condescension or trivialization, exemplified the way in which the complex and beautiful truth of sanctification was treated throughout the week. If you haven’t seen it already, you can check out a video of this question as well as the other speeches and questions and answers at the Covenant PRC NI YouTube channel.
This profound moment also helps to show how blessed we were to be worshiping there with believers of all ages and who come from such different backgrounds. We had representatives from eight different countries, three continents, and many different churches. The ages ranged from infants to those who believed they were attending their last BRF Conference due to advancing age. We shared the oneness of brotherhood in Jesus Christ, allowing us to share a bond that is hard to express and defying the short seven days we spent with one another. Friendships were made, and we grew together, young and old. With over 100 people present, we were privileged to meet and learn from many believers who have had different lives and experiences from our own. What a blessing we have in the catholic church, formed through all time and in all places! Together we talked, laughed, played, sang, explored, praised, learned, encouraged, and even cried. These experiences cannot be fully expressed on a page or two. If you want to know what I mean, you really should come and experience that for yourself in two years’ time!
The strength of the bonds formed was most fully experienced as the week came to a close. Goodbyes are rarely easy, but the saints in the British Isles had an especially difficult goodbye to make to Professor and Wilma Hanko. There was hardly a dry eye in sight when hearing “We probably will not see most of our friends again in this life,” as they said goodbye after more than twenty visits over the past years. The goodbyes were a reminder that the spiritually fulfilling week was truly coming to a close and that we were going back to the reality of our day-to-day lives. For many of the saints—especially for those outside of the USA—that reality is a serious lack of the true preaching and blessed fellowship experienced at the conference. I know that when I lived in West Michigan, both of these were things I took for granted. Here in Northern Ireland in our small church we are still blessed with true preaching and with more fellowship than many of our friends have in other places. I know that I for one was challenged in this week to keep those fellow saints in my prayers, to continue to learn from their examples, and to really focus on how God is working to sanctify me where He has placed me.
If you are wondering if you should come to the next BRF Conference in 2016, I can tell you this: you will come home tired from a busy week, yes, but strengthened in your faith by what you have learned, not only from the excellent speakers, but also from your fellow saints from all over the world. Perhaps God will use your presence to be a blessing to others as well. I know the saints in Ballymena, Northern Ireland certainly love any visitors we get, reminding us that we are not alone in this wicked world. It can only be more of a blessing for those deprived of true Christian fellowship where they live. I cannot say enough how much I would recommend the BRF Conference for believers of any age. This was my first of, Lord willing, many Conferences. I hope to see you July 16-23, 2016 at Castlewellan so we can learn together under our speakers, Prof. David Engelsma and Rev. Andy Lanning!