On Saturday 22 October, the Presbyterian Reformed Church, Stockton, held its annual autumn conference at the Bible Centre. The theme was ‘Christian witness in a changing culture’. It is impossible, in a short report, to do full justice to the three excellent addresses and stimulating question times that followed.
The first address by Roger Fay was, ‘Witnessing wisely in hostile circumstances: the example of Christ’. A distinction was made between modern ideas of witnessing and the biblical emphasis, illustrated by the law court situation where it is what is said by the witness that matters. The message witnessed to must be true.
Jesus’ whole ministry was a witnessand he faced hostility because of the contentof his message. Changing culture makes us feel insecure, but we must not respond with anger, fear, harshness or insensitivity.
Christ faced the hostility of Satan, relations, friends, ordinary people, Pharisees, Herodians, and Sadducees. We cannot expect to be treated differently. Christ, however,continued to witness to the truth.
Witnessing wisely involves privilege — not blaming God for workplace trials — gentleness, focus on Christ, silence where necessary, wisdom and perseverance.
The second address by Bill Schweitzer was ‘Maintaining evangelical truth in a changing culture: lessons from the New Testament church’.We were reminded that Scripture is sufficient for all times and places and that nothing important has changed.
God still calls us to be faithful. The church is tempted to deny, remain silent, or compromise. It often fails, like Peter when he denied the Lord, but we are exhorted to be faithful.
We are to be encouraged that the church is empowered to be faithful. Peter’s preaching on the day of Pentecost is instructive. It was not about contextualisation or adapting the content of the message to the hearers’ expectations. His message was about concrete facts.
He corrected the peoples’ errors, gave accurate knowledge of Jesus Christ, including his resurrection and the judgment to come. The call to repentand believe resulted in many conversions.
The speaker’s practical applications included that humility is necessary regarding our weakness, and we are not to be afraid, but pray for boldness and the power of the Holy Spirit.
The third address, given by Simon Calvert of the Christian Institute (CI), was, ‘Defending righteous conduct: gains and setbacks to date’. After a brief outline of the role of the CI, relevant apostolic teaching was considered.
In particular, Romans 13 emphasises that ‘rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil’. Where vital principles are at stake, it is right to make a stand. In Acts 16:35-39 Luke tells us that Paul stood against corrupt local government. He stood for the law and publicly shamed those who had flouted it. The fact is, if we do not use our freedoms, we lose them.
Some cases supported by the Christian Institute were described, including Ashers’ Bakery, the Bull’s B&B, John Craven’s open air preaching, the Scots’ Named Person Bill, Cornerstone’s adoption and fostering, and not a few others.
Politicians and judges might not understand Christian conscience and seek to banish it from employment, business and the public square, but the conviction of Martin Luther remains true today: ‘It is neither safe nor right to go against conscience’.
It is a fundamental British value that conscience remains a higher court of appeal than Sovereign, legislators, or judiciary. Without this principle, Britain ceases to be Britain.