Mr. Bos is a teacher at Hope Protestant Reformed School in Walker, MI.
One who has attended a number of BRF conferences, as this writer has, might be inclined to say that the 2008 conference was the best one to date. Maybe that’s the result of a faulty memory, or maybe it’s just because people seem to relate to the most recent event in life. Whatever the case, this past conference, with its theme being “The Work of the Holy Spirit,” was at least one of the best, if not the best.
It was held at a venue called The Share Center (or “Centre”—since it was in the UK, the British spelling holds) from July 25 — August 1. The Share Centre is located on Lough Erne, near Enniskillen in the southwestern part of Northern Ireland. While most of the previous conferences were held in places where we were all pretty much housed in the same building, the Share Centre had us in separate cabins, or “chalets.” There were four rooms in each chalet, one being a single room, and the others with two bunk beds in each room. There was a common room and a kitchen also (which came in very handy for those putting on “protein parties”). As the brochure we received said, the facilities were “purpose-built for guests with disabilities.” We should have paid attention.
Having this kind of setup had some disadvantages. First of all, having things “purpose-built for guests with disabilities” meant that such things as mirrors in the bathrooms were set so that we got really good views of our kneecaps. Also, being in separate cabins, and with activities spread around the grounds, it was sometimes difficult to find people one might be looking for. But these are minor things, and, all-in-all, the venue was a great place for the conference.
People who came showed the catholicity of God’s church. There were about 70 people who attended from all parts of the UK, from the US (including one from California), from Italy, and from Portugal. Some were there for the first time, while others were veterans. Because of the different nationalities, we sometimes had language barriers, which led to examples of biblical speaking in tongues (fitting right into the subject matter of the conference), with someone there to translate what was being said for the benefit of all there. What always amazes me at these conferences is the way that, no matter what our nation or tongue, there is an immediate connection with people who share a common faith in our Lord Jesus. Very soon we feel like old friends, being members of one body.
There were many activities at the Share Village, and these not only kept us busy, but they made the week go faster than any week I can remember. Many activities provided by the center required extra money, so this limited how many activities each person got involved in. Some took archery lessons and had a little competition. Others chose “banana boating” (like being pulled on an inner tube by a boat, but the inner tube being shaped like a banana), canoeing, or other water activities; in the water activities, we had to wear wetsuits and life jackets (the European Union having some hold on the rules at the place, we got a taste this way of European government regulations, fast coming to our country as well). There was also wall climbing, “fuzzball” (human foosball), and swimming in the indoor pool. Two large-group activities were a cruise on Lough Erne, including a visit to the ruins of Crom Castle and a trip to the Ulster-American Folk Park, which is an outdoor museum (similar to Greenfield Village, for those who have been there), which traces the history of the Irish immigration to America. There were also activities for the younger children, such as making tile mosaics.
Of course, the center of all these activities was the reason we were all there—the speeches themselves. There were six conference speeches given, each one followed by a question-and-answer session. We also, between church services on Sunday, had a discussion on the book of Revelation, which turned into a discussion on whether or not the Pope is the Antichrist.
We began with a speech on Friday night (the 25th) by Rev. Angus Stewart on the apostolicity of the church. He spoke of apostolic unity, holiness, and catholicity, and how these help us understand the other attributes of the church. He also pointed out how our view of this is different from the Roman Catholic view, in that the apostolicity of the church is based on the teachings, doctrines, and truths of the apostles, and not on the apostles themselves. This doctrine is ultimately tied, then, to Christ, the Cornerstone, and not to man.
There were two speeches on Saturday. The first of these was given by Prof. Engelsma on “The Person of the Holy Spirit.” He pointed out that there are two modern problems with regard to the Holy Spirit: the Charismatic Movement and the problem of a lack of attention to the work of the Holy Spirit. He talked about how the creeds and early councils helped to show who the Holy Spirit is and what His place in the Godhead is—that the Holy Spirit is a divine person, with emphasis on both parts, being divine and being a person (Matt. 28:19). He also brought out the teachings about the Spirit found in John 14-16, that He reveals the truth and guides us to all truth in testifying of Christ. The practical side of all this is that there can be a personal fellowship in the Godhead, and there can be a personal presence and work within us that makes us holy, living sanctified lives. We do not need the emotionalism of the charismatics.
The conference speech in the evening was given by Prof. Hanko. Its topic was “The Outpouring of the Holy Spirit.” This event was the culminating work of Christ, yet it is often reduced to a simple revival or dismissed altogether today. Pentecost really is the beginning of the new dispensation. All before this was type and shadow. But Christ establishes the kingdom through the work of the Spirit. Prof. Hanko talked of the three signs of Pentecost. The sound of the rushing mighty wind shows the kingdom is invisible and does not come with observation, and also shows the power and sovereignty of the kingdom. The tongues of fire show the saving and purifying work of the Spirit and the work of judgment. Sin is destroyed in order to save us. “Zion is redeemed through judgment.” The speaking in tongues shows the positive work of Christ—the salvation of the church in all nations, and the catholicity of the church. Prof. Hanko also showed that the Spirit never works apart from the Word, and how the Spirit now does all this work through the church. We still need the church, even though we are all anointed into the three-fold office of prophet, priest, and king.
On Monday we had a special lecture by Rev. Stewart on Pentecostalism. He dealt with the “baptism of the Spirit,” tongues-speaking, and prophecies. He showed how these ideas attack the biblical concepts of one baptism, that this baptism happens at regeneration, and that it is unconditional. The Pentecostal idea also attacks the unity of the church, dividing it into “haves” and “have-nots.” Tongues-speaking in the early church was not gibberish; real languages were spoken, languages in which the speaker expressed the “wonderful works of God” (Acts 2:8-11), the purpose of which was edification of the church.
On Tuesday there were two conference speeches. In the morning Prof. Engelsma taught us of “The Holy Spirit and the Covenant of Grace.” It is through the Spirit that we have the blessings of the covenant. Our calling, faith, justification, sanctification, preservation, and glorification are all the work of the Holy Spirit. The covenant, then, is made with each of us personally, since the Spirit works within each of us. This is the new covenant written on our hearts, spoken of by Jeremiah (ch. 31). Prof. Engelsma compared the old and new covenants, and showed that while there are differences, they are not two completely different covenants. Both are God’s fellowship with His people, but we should not desire to go back to the old covenant. The Spirit is the giver of the gifts of salvation that we have within us, and He does all this to glorify Christ. The Spirit binds Himself to Christ and the work of the cross, so that He is identified with Christ.
“The Spirit of Christ as the Spirit of Truth” was Prof. Hanko’s topic for the evening address. The Spirit is the author of truth as the church comes to know it and confess it in the midst of the world. As the Spirit of truth, He is also our Comforter, bringing the blessings of salvation. He gives the church the power of knowing the truth, loving the truth, living the truth, and confessing the truth. This truth is infinite, is revealed only through our Lord Jesus Christ, and is revealed only to the elect. This Spirit of truth is with us always. He works in the church slowly, almost unnoticed, and it is an ongoing work as the church comes to an ever-deeper understanding of the truth.
On Wednesday, Prof. Engelsma spoke on “The Holy Spirit and Assurance.” Assurance of salvation is part of salvation itself. It is experiential. He spoke against those who teach doubt about salvation, and the need for a radical “conversion experience.” Ephesians 1 tells us that our assurance is a conscious experience, that it is shown in hearing and believing, which are active, conscious things. Romans 8 and Psalm 23 are both confessions of assurance. Nothing can separate us from the love of God, no matter what the trials of life are. The witness of the Spirit within us is not a witness “to” our spirit, but “with” our spirit (Rom. 8:16). We have the knowledge that we are the children of God.
The final address on Thursday night by Prof. Hanko was on “The Holy Spirit and the Church.” The church is invincible and invulnerable. The church is the bride of the triune God. God will do anything it takes to bring His Bride to heaven—even the death of His Son. And He works all things for the good of His Bride. All the work of Christ on this earth, from birth to death, involved the Spirit. So it is with the church. The calling of the church is first of all to preach. And preaching depends for its efficacy on the work of the Spirit. The most important of all the signs at the end of time is the gathering of the church by the saving power of the gospel and the Spirit, which is done by the preaching. All the seals in Revelation are dependent on the first seal—the spread of the gospel.
It is hard to do justice to the speeches in such a small space. All the speeches were recorded and can be found on the BRF website (www.britishreformedfellowship.org.uk/audio.htm).
The conference was worthwhile on every level. I wish that all could experience this event. One can grow in so many ways by attending these conferences. For those for whom this kind of thing is viable, I encourage you to plan to attend the next one. It is scheduled, the Lord willing, to be in the southern part of Wales in the summer of 2010, and the topic will be on the Word of God in this present age. Prayerfully consider this.