Mr. Oomkes is a member of the Byron Center Protestant Reformed Church.
On July 30, all of the British Reformed Fellowship’s interest was focused on the arrival of the conferees to their third biennial conference, which took place on the campus of the College of Textiles, located in Galashiels, Selkirkshire, Scotland. Most of the 120 who were registered had arrived by 6:00 p.m. for dinner hour. For our family it was our second time to a BRF conference, so we were eagerly looking forward to renewing acquaintance with those whom we had the privilege of meeting two years ago, as well as forming new relationships. Those who attended came from Singapore (6), East Germany (3), USA (16), and the rest from the UK.
A little information about the BRF might be helpful. The British Reformed Fellowship was set up in 1990 by a group of Christians concerned for the defense and propagation of the historic Reformed faith in the British Isles. Their doctrinal basis is the inspired, infallible, and inerrant Holy Scriptures and the doctrines set forth in the “Three Forms of Unity” as well as in the Westminster Standards. Their threefold objective is to promote the knowledge of the Reformed faith; to organize meetings, conferences, and preaching services to promote this faith; and, finally, to encourage formation of groups at the local level to promote the Reformed faith. In 1992, they had twenty members, and in 1994, 120 members. With the cooperation of our missionary, Pastor Ron Hanko, they have held numerous meetings in all areas of the United Kingdom. They also publish a 40-page quarterly booklet, called the British Reformed Journal. (This is available in the US for E7.00 Sterling annually by writing to the editorial office, 9 Church Road, Thornbury, Bristol, BS12 1EJ, United Kingdom.) In his closing remarks the secretary noted that the BRF had looked for a long time, seeking a denomination that would lend its support to their cause, and had to go half way around the world to the Protestant Reformed Churches to find it. He also stated that the BRF is most grateful for that support.
The conference began on Saturday night with an “Introduction and Fellowship Ministry” by the president of BRF, Pastor Jim North. He used Mark 6:31 as his theme: “Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while.” The emphasis was on the call of Christ to come apart from the busyness of the world, to live in. communion, and finally to learn. I am convinced that all of the aforementioned was accomplished in the following week “The whole week was a foretaste of heaven” is the description given by a first-time visitor. On Sunday we had two worship services led by Professors Hanko and Engelsma, with the morning worship preceded by a 45-minute prayer time. In the afternoon, the children up to age 15 met in one group, and all the other single young people in another group. These were similar to a Sunday School and Young People’s Society meetings. Each night “ended” with devotions at 10:00 p.m. Most discussions began after devotions and lasted into the “wee” hours of the morning. In the case of the young people and young adults, who met every night in the Hanko’s flat, some of those discussions lasted all night long. They had their own version of a Young People’s Convention in Scotland, with the participants from as far away as Singapore. According to our 15-year old daughter, who experienced her-second BRF Conference, this gathering was certainly a blessing for all the young people.
The theme of the conference was “The Doctrine of Sovereign Grace.” The six speeches given by Professors Engelsma and Hanko were as follows: “Sovereign Grace and Predestination,” which included a discussion of both election and reprobation, of the relation between sovereign grace and predestination, and of the revelation of predestination in the Old Testament (DE); “Sovereign Grace and the Cross of Christ,” including a discussion of the relation between the particular atonement of Christ and sovereign and particular grace (HH); “Sovereign Grace and the Preaching of the Gospel,” including an analysis and critique of the well-meant offer of salvation and of the preaching as a means of grace (DE); “Sovereign Grace and the Development of Sin,” which included the treatment of the idea of grace in the restraint of sin, and how God restrains sin as it develops organically (HH); “Sovereign Grace and the application of Salvation,” which dealt with a discussion of how God saves sovereignly in regeneration, faith, and conversion (DE); and finally, “Sovereign Grace and the Circumstances of Life,” which dealt with the idea of common grace as it is supposedly found in the good gifts which God gives to man, and also a demonstration of the believer’s comfort in particular grace and how grace is his only consolation in the trials of life (HI-I). All these speeches were followed by a question and answer session. The thoroughness of the speeches gave time for some very thought-provoking and well thought-out comments and questions. Those who attended this conference were well-versed in the Scriptures, which was evident in the discussions. The speeches also proved to be the topic of discussion after devotions. These speeches were well received and greatly appreciated. One Scottish seminary student remarked to me that he appreciated the boldness with which these professors spoke the gospel.
Tapes of these speeches are available for a cost of $16.00 US from Bill Oomkes, 6299 Wing S.E., Grand Rapids, MI 49512 USA; or from Desmond Callender, 127 Cregach Road, Belfast BT6 OLA, Northern Ireland for E8.00 Sterling.
On Monday afternoon, Tuesday all day, and Friday afternoon we toured the different sites where the Covenanters (e.g., Thomas Boston) preached and where they were hanged or beheaded and buried. We were also given a tour of the St. Giles Cathedral where the great Reformer John Knox preached. This was all accomplished under the direction of Rev. Sinclair Home, the secretary of the Scottish Reformation Society. He also spoke to us on Monday evening on the “Relevance of the Covenanting Witness for Today.” He spoke on the history of the Covenanters and the application of their witness for Christians in the modern world. This proved to be extremely rewarding because, as the saying goes, history repeats itself.
These conferences have become a very important part of our life. Many teary eyes were evident when we said good-bye. One could not help but conclude that our covenant God has used the PRC in an important work in gathering and strengthening His people in the UK. God has used the BRF, the Covenant Reformed Fellowship, and our churches to proclaim the truth of sovereign grace. Pastor Hanko has spoken literally all over the UK on behalf of the BRF. There is much work to be done in the UK. We have seen that the Word of the Lord does not return void. The Lord has surely left a faithful witness in the United Kingdom.
Plans are already in place for the next conference in 1996. A beautiful site has been chosen in East Sussex, England, just south of London. The Lord willing, we hope to see you there.