Life in the Spirit ... and the Shepherds Conference.
This has been quite an unusual week for a conference lover like myself. I haven't actually been at any conference, but I have been keeping in touch with two conferences that seem to be going on virtually simultaneously - yet they are radically different. Life in the Spirit has been held at High Leigh, Hertfordshire (they did have a website but it doesn't seem to work anymore) and the Shepherds Conference has been going on in California, USA. I've been keeping in touch with Life in the Spirit through a pastor friend of mine there, who has been providing me with daily texts and if I'm really lucky, the occasional phone call. I've been following the Shepherds Conference through the liveblogging (a new phenomenon to me) from Tim Challies.
The speakers at Life in the Spirit were Greg Haslam of Westminster Chapel, London and Paul Reid of Christian Fellowship Church, Belfast. The speakers at the Shepherds Conference were, of course, Dr John MacArthur, Al Mohler, R C Sproul and Ligon Duncan. And yes, if three of the four from Together for the Gospel were there, you won't be surprised to know that C J Mahaney was also at the Shepherds Conference (he even played golf with MacArthur).
The themes from the Shepherds Conference were again perhaps unsurprising. Having almost 15 years of familiarity with John MacArthur's ministry (I was introduced to him through reading "Charismatic Chaos") a lot of time was given to discernment, Romanism and judging heresy. One seminar that caught my eye was entitled; "Evangelical Charismatics" given by MacArthur's personal assistant. Apparantly the seminar opened by paying tribute to "charismatic men who have impacted his walk for Christ" - these were John Piper, C J Mahaney and Wayne Grudem (I would question whether at least two of those men actually even are charismatics).
There was a useful and interesting look at the continuationist versus the cessationist views. The seminar ended by asking the question perhaps on many people's minds. How is it that if MacArthur and Grace Community Church are such avid cessationists, yet they can stand with 'certain continuationist leaders' together for the gospel? (One supposes Mahaney is born in mind here). The answer? There are three levels of doctrine in the speaker (and therefore MacArthur's mind):
"Level 1: Doctrines necessary to recognize someone as a Christian, and in particular doctrines regarding the gospel and the person and nature of Christ. We cannot have unity with anyone who does not share these beliefs.
Level 2: Doctrines important for the formation and operation of a church or seminary. There are issues which must be confirmed to be on staff or to be member in a church. These would include, for example, infant or adult baptism, the charismatic gifts, etc. These do not forbid us from having a person teaching or preaching on occasion.
Level 3: Doctrines that we can disagree on but still have unity within a particular church. This could include dispensationalism eschatology, and so on. These are not issues that are unimportant, but are issues that do not mean a person cannot join a particular staff or church."
This was helpful for me in clarifying exactly what is going on in the USA particularly with TG4.
An interesting point I picked up on, came during the "annual Q and A" session that happens at the Shepherds Conference apparantly. MacArthur was asked about the practice of "naming and shaming" a public ministry if there is something that one doesn't agree with. He replied;
"When a book or ministry is public, it is exposed to necessary and public criticism. MacArthur invites criticism of his words. Once we put something out there it is subject to assessment and evaluation to guard both the truth and the people of the truth".
The themes from Life in the Spirit were to do with 'the Cross'. I suspect that theme was something of a broad outline as the messages didn't seem to follow that theme at all. Paul Reid spoke on Church culture and how it should touch (but often alienates) the seeker. Greg Haslam's messages were drawn from Exodus and Numbers - to do with Moses, and were apparantly extremely powerful (I have the CD's on order!). There was a seminar on the issue of "Emerging Church" presented by Andrew Whitman and Peter Cockrell.
Life in the Spirit has traditionally been set up for the purpose of "Reformed Doctrine and Charismatic Experience". Therefore the worship is lively with contributions welcome. The worship leader used to be, till a couple of years ago, Chris Bowater - the well known songwriter, it is now a young leader from one of the Conference Committee's churches. Apparantly the conference benefited hugely from Greg Haslam's presence there - he brought a number of key prophecies that set the meeting alight so it seems!
By contrast the reporter from the Shepherds Conference noted that the "worship" was "several songs" led by a choir and orchestra and there was "one hand raised".
So What? ...
A good question. Well I wanted to write on this week because it has been quite unique. I am bound as I am able to only writing things on this website that I feel Dr Ern Baxter would have had an interest in - and I feel sure that he would have had a keen interest in two very different conferences that were occuring in the worldwide church of God (he did of course speak at Life in the Spirit in 1991).
But I must confess to being very impressed with the liveblogging that Tim Challies brought from the Shepherds Conference. I found it useful and could almost imagine myself there at the conference. Maybe this is something that we in the UK could learn from and put into practice for the conferences we are going to? Although being an IT-nerd, I wouldn't have a CLUE how to liveblog!
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