On 21 October 2015, the Presbyterian Reformed Church, Stockton-on-Tees, held its first Autumn Conference. People attended from as far afield as Carlisle and Whitehaven and a good time of fellowship was enjoyed. There were three addresses with associated question times.
Philip Tait, director of ministry of the Protestant Truth Society, spoke on ‘The importance of Protestantism today’. He explained how Protestantism emphasises the fundamentals that Reformation churches hold in common, as a shared heritage, despite denominational distinctives.
Protestantism is distinguished from Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy primarily by the doctrine of redemption. Justification by faith, without works of devotion and charity, is the central issue.
‘How well have Protestants held to what is important?’ The answer is, ‘Not well’, and reformation and revival are needed again. Christ’s purpose is unity in truth, in order to advance the truth. He would have believers ‘one’ in the Father and Son, ‘that the world may believe’ (John 17:21).
Roger Fay gave an interesting paper on the importance of open-air preaching today. He began with reference to Proverbs 1:20-23: ‘Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the streets … Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you’.
Open-air work is not primarily polemical or to oppose loose morals, but a compassionate ministry to bring people to a saving knowledge of Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 1:23). Three historical examples of blessing in this ministry were cited: A. W. Tozer, James Buchanan and George Whitefield at Kingswood.
The biblical warrant for open-air witness is seen from Enoch to Christ and his apostles. The historical record that includes Lollards, C. H. Spurgeon, Covenanters and Methodists, underlines the need for resilience in the face of opposition, a loving heart and God’s Spirit.
Twenty-four practical benefits of this work were briefly given, including that many hear who might otherwise never hear the gospel; unconverted folk are disturbed even if not awakened; and Christianity is kept in the public space. The preachers also benefit personally in various ways.
Witness to military
Mike Wajdner, northern deputation speaker for SASRA, gave an interesting presentation of the strategic value of Christian witness to soldiers and airmen, starting with SASRA’s text — Matthew 24:44, ‘Be ye also ready’.
He outlined why many join the military and emphasised that cash and uniform do not provide a proper compass for life or a safe eternity. Something more is needed, and SASRA is a specialist mission that helps answer this need. Soldiers need a moral compass, as well as guidance concerning the way of salvation.
SASRA seeks to demonstrate the love of God, befriending those contacted and being there in time of need. Some encouraging accounts were given, including of witness at a gunnery range resulting in two soldiers being converted. Mike reminded us that there is a standard and discipline for both soldiers and Christian soldiers. The latter often become pastors and church workers when they leave the military.
In all, the conference was informative and challenging, and the breaks for food and drink provided opportunities for fellowship with old and new friends.