Tuesday, August 06, 2013

The Conference

Speaking of "the conference," we have more audio up at the Word of Truth Conference site, from the 2012 conference (here).


Through the centuries since Christ, what is Christian history or the history of the church, men have thought of a new thing to do or a new way to do something that they were already doing.  Someone may be reacting to a problem or adjusting to a lack of numeric success.  People may try new things, they "work," and then others want to know what they did in order to get those results.  They want to copy some successful method that wasn't being used before that is now seen as a key to success.  So then we often see something new come into the church, and sometimes there is a debate about whether it is biblical or appropriate.

Since modernization, as a part of capitalism, something else can be at play in how churches operate.  We live in an era of celebrity, the fifteen minutes of fame.  Fame itself is old and there is a lot of similarity as to how to get it.  Much of it relates to talent and acceptance.  Sometimes a man has or gets a big church.  He has relatively lots of people gather on a Sunday.  In other instances, he's very dynamic, entertaining, or intelligent -- people like listening to him, he's motivational, and people react very well to what he has to say.

There is also a tendency for people to want to get together.  The Tower of Babel is an example of that.  Cities too.  There is a sense of protection and power to gathering.  Many organizations start with the idea to drum up popularity for a cause in government, politics, and religion.  Cults start.  Religions start.  There is often some new idea that goes along with it -- temperance, libertarianism, continuationism, evolution, suffrage, progressivism, etc.  In many cases, it's a cause that motivates people to come together.

I haven't spent enough time to pinpoint when "the conference" first began, but the conference is a big idea in both evangelicalism and fundamentalism of various types.  In the sense of dictionary definition, a conference is simply an exchange of ideas.  I'm on a orchestra board that engages often in conference calls.  We exchange ideas and make decisions on the conference.  Today the conference is a meeting, an assembly, for some particular purpose.  I want to zero in shortly on a couple of conferences to consider the idea and point of conference.

I don't see conference per se in the Bible.  Some may say that I've missed it, because there is the Jerusalem conference in Acts 15.  I don't see that at all as a conference like we see in the modern sense.  It was a conference, however.  It was two churches conferring with the desire to settle a sin problem, so they could stay in fellowship with each other.  I think it is important for churches to confer like that.  Several years ago, a church in a nearby town got a new pastor, and when he arrived, I called him to confer.  I invited him to lunch and we discussed how it was that we would handle situations.  The big one I wanted to talk about was what we would do with disciplined members.  We agreed on what we would do -- a phone call would be forthcoming.  Ultimately, he received disciplined members from our church with no phone call.  I don't know that his church ever disciplined any of his members for almost two decades.  That conference was a success at communication and agreement, but a failure at implementation.

Our church holds a conference every year.  We invite men together for the purpose especially of conferring on a particular subject.  For three years it was separation and last year it was the reason for apostasy.  Men, who I thought were capable, were assigned certain passages or topics or issues.  We sat and listened to their presentations.   The goal of the conference was for a church, ours, and churches, their fellowshiping ones, to protect and propagate the truth.  This was fellowship between churches based on doctrine and practice.  The Word of Truth Conference has been a help toward obedience to God to the praise of His glory.  It centers on exposition of Scripture.

We have a conference and it is churches, their leaders, fellowshiping around the truth.  Scripture teaches cooperation of churches according to the truth.  The truth forms the basis of the conference, which will sanctify its participants.

People who come to our conference will be interested in fellowship around biblical exposition.  It isn't pragmatic.  We don't invite celebrities.  I don't care how big the men's churches are or how famous they are.  I'm not interested in whether they are funny or dynamic.  I do want them to be scriptural.  I must trust they will handle scripture correctly, that their presentations will be biblical.  If there are differences, we talk about them -- we confer about them.  We come together based upon the truth.  We don't disregard truth in order to draw a crowd or make the conference bigger.  In essence, I don't care how many come.  Truth is the attraction.  If people are not attracted by that, they won't want to make the trip. I'm fine with that.

There are many conferences to talk about.  Many.  I'm going to deal with two:  Rezolution in South Africa and the Spiritual Leadership Conference in Southern California.  The first is an evangelical conference, what some might call a conservative evangelical conference, but it's also obviously a Calvinist conference.  The second is a revivalist fundamentalist conference in the tradition of the Hyles Pastor's Conference that got started in Hammond, IN by Jack Hyles years ago.  I wouldn't go to either of them.  Most would probably say that they are much different, the two conferences, but as someone looking at both of them from the outside, I think they are very, very similar.

Rezolution, which advertises expository preaching, passionate worship, and gospel devotion, is sponsored by the Antioch Bible Church in Johannesburg, South Africa.  Their line-up of speakers for this year were Charismatic Calvinist C. J. Mahaney, Presbyterian Ligon Duncan, Reformed Church Kevin DeYoung, and Southern Baptist Mark Dever.  Charismatic Bob Kauflin led the music.  And the conference master of ceremonies was African Reformed Conrad Mbewe.   With the exception of Mbewe, these men were brought in at great cost from the United States.  They have celebrity status among the young, restless and reformed movement.  Three of them make up the four men of Together for the Gospel, only excluding Al Mohler.  

Rezolution will ignore continuationism, amillennialism, covenant or dispensational theology, pedo or credo baptism, rock music or Charismatic style worship in order to get together.  That's not all.  C. J. Mahaney and his churches in the Sovereign Grace movement for years covered up rampant child abuse that would look like certain fundamentalist abuse, except on steroids.  All of that ignoring is the "gospel devotion" aspect of the conference.  Anyone who is a Southern Baptist must remain indifferent to the gospel in his fellowship, because he fellowships with liberals and Pelagians as part of the cooperative program.  Rezolution proclaims, in essence brags on, passionate worship, which is exactly what Jonathan Edwards preached against in his Treatise Concerning the Religious Affections.  They preach expositionally, but I would think that it would be important to leave out all of the prophesies of the kingdom for the sake of the Amillennialists or about 25% of the Bible.

Calvinism does not tend toward bigger churches.  No.  But people can begin to enjoy Calvinism more if it is mixed with worldliness (called liberty and gospel devotion) and pop music (called passionate worship).  You may say, "But they preach expositional."  You can preach exposition and leave out important application or conform a passage to a particular worldly behavior.  It's not what the passage is teaching.  The eclectic theology will allow for a lot of people from various points of view to gather together comfortably.  No one will have to separate over a lot of what the Bible teaches.

Several people I know have attended the Spiritual Leadership Conference at Lancaster Baptist Church and West Coast Baptist College in Lancaster California.  I'm always curious as to why these mainly revivalist fundamentalist Baptists find interest in this conference.  I know why, and it's what they say.  They want to find something that will "work" in their church.  The word "work" is a consistent theme.  I heard someone say, "it's not the preaching, but finding some things that will 'work' at our church."  Things are obviously "working" in Lancaster and men want to find how to imitate it.  This is no different than the Hyles Pastor's Conference, where men wanted to find out how First Baptist in Hammond got so big.

I could help you out if you want to know how to get big.  It's the same stuff that Finney taught and called "new measures."  There are things that will work for you and you can skip the conference.  I don't think it's that hard, no disrespect.  Here it is.  Find out what unsaved people like and give it to them.  They like pop music, so change up your music to be more popular.  I know you might not be able to go all the way with this, but at least get it fast paced and implement aspects of popular style with your rhythms, pace, and harmonizations.  Center it mainly on how people feel -- work on people's feelings.

Have many programs and big ones.  This really is the felt need aspects of Hybels that mixes and mixed well with Hyles.  There are certain things people want.  You can get them into the church with give-aways, social aspects, big activities, refreshments, fun times, amusements, and activities customized to the flesh.  They love that!!!  Don't be just like the world, but you can modify something to be less than where the world is.  It is worldly, but it is not as bad as where the world presently is and worse than what the world once was.  Make your preaching emotional, spiced with stories, and not too doctrinal.  You want to keep it very practical, convincing them that they will be helped out in their life.  They will have a much better life now if they follow the very practical messages you give.  They've got to see how it will improve their lives.

The speakers for the Spiritual Leadership Conference are also celebrities.  They have big churches and they have perfected a particular conference speaking style.  They are models of it.  Something big will happen, can almost be guaranteed, because all of the attributes are there to see it happen.  Common ground for the Spiritual Leadership Conference is a wrong view of repentance.  It's a must to keep a certain church growth methodology going.  There is some variation, but the people who attend are fellowshiping based on something less than a true gospel.  I know many of the churches in the Lancaster orbit, and they don't believe what the Bible teaches about repentance.

I was talking to someone who attended Rezolution and he was talking about how that Mark Dever was the big dog when all these guys got together.  However, if Albert Mohler was with the group, he was the alpha male.  He would go on a safari and be reading a book, looking up briefly to point out certain details about the animals that everyone was looking at.  All of that talk was identical to what people would say at the Spiritual Leadership conference, just a different group of celebrities.  Some of the same former fundamentalists who didn't like the celebrity promotion of fundamentalism have just chosen a new set of celebrities.

The Conference can be a great means of promotion.  People will identify your church with those celebrities that you have, and you can be the go-to church, the one everyone remembers, because it was there that Gibbs or Dever or Ouellete or Mahaney or Farrell or Piper came and preached.  It might not be, and probably won't be, that these men are popular because they are the best models of Christianity or obedience to the Bible.  That is not the point.  Some may argue that it is why.  It isn't.

We have a conference, but you don't need one.  It can be valuable to confer, but it should confer on obeying all of what God said  We are sanctified by the truth -- all of it.


Steve Rogers said...

No matter how many steroids A-Rod took, I don't think he could have knocked it out of the park farther than you did with this post!

Church members will drive or fly hours to go to one of these "conferences" to hear a celebrity, but they won't go faithfully to their local church meetings to hear their pastor or someone their pastor has invited in, knowing the spiritual needs of his flock. No, they need to go to hear the Big Shots, who have made a name for themselves, so they can find the secret to make a name for themselves. They've become like the old Amway rallies.

Kent Brandenburg said...

thanks steve. well put.

Unknown said...

Pastor B. Are you or would you allow live streaming some portions of the Word of Truth Conference?

Kent Brandenburg said...


I don't know how to live stream. Maybe we could do that though if we figured it out. I'm not against it.