On October 20, roughly 150 people gathered for the 2012 London Presbyterian Conference in Oxford Street, London.
This was to mark the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of England and Wales (EPCEW), initially known as the Presbyterian Association of England.
Rev. Ian Hamilton, minister of Cambridge Presbyterian Church, gave a keynote address on warm-hearted Presbyterianism. Rev. Brian Norton, minister of the church in Durham, traced the history of Presbyterianism in England and Wales back to the 1640s.
This was when the Assembly of Divines meeting in nearby Westminster framed the document that provides Presbyterians the world over with their confession of faith.
Mr Hamilton said, ‘Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him for ever’. The first statement in the Westminster Shorter Catechism reminded us that worship must glorify God, and glorying in God is what Presbyterianism is all about.
If our Presbyterianism does not pulse with delight in the trinitarian God, it is counterfeit. You can have the name, but, if you do not have the animating heart, the name is nothing.
His text was from Romans 11:33: ‘Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable are his judgements and his ways past finding out. For of him and through him and to him are all things, to whom be glory for ever’.
He pointed out that Paul has shown us the depths of human depravity, and opens up the privileges of being in Jesus Christ. That little word, ‘Oh’, captures the heart of biblical Presbyterianism.
Our churches should have that word punctuating every gathering of its people. We should be overwhelmed with heart-stopping wonder at God’s character. It is not eclectic worship but our God that warms our hearts. We who were damnable sinners have been shown unfathomable grace in Jesus Christ.
Preaching like this is a far cry from the English Presbyterianism that some will remember from half a century ago.
Rev. Dr Kevin Bidwell, minister of Sheffield Presbyterian Church and conference organiser, spoke on the challenges and opportunities of church planting.
He reminded us that the harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few. He said that, when Christ saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, and this was central to the way in which he conducted his mission.
There is a message to proclaim and we are called to be heralds, faithfully delivering a message on behalf of another. The message is the command to repent and believe the gospel to receive the forgiveness of sins.
So English and Welsh Presbyterianism is no newly planted sapling, but a tree whose tap root was laid down centuries ago by the grace of God. Its distinctive is not a particular mode of baptism or church leadership, but a concern first and foremost for the glory of the triune God.
Mr Hamilton spoke again, saying, ‘Above anything else, and before everything else, we believe Presbyterian churches should throng with the wonder of the triune God and of our Saviour, Jesus Christ’.
It is a distinctive that unites to rather than divides the EPCEW from other evangelical denominations, as Rev. Dr Bob Letham, senior tutor at the Wales Evangelical School of Theology and member of Bethel Presbyterian Church, Cardiff, made clear in his lucid exposition of Ephesians 2.
He said, ‘All distinctions between races have been erased. We are in communion with the church of Christ across the world. We who once were far off have now been brought near’.