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Four decades of good things

February 2007 | by Geoff Thomas

Churches

Churches have been planted or transformed beyond recognition. In such churches one can be sure of many things – being taught the meaning of a passage of Scripture; having one’s affections stirred by the preaching of Christ crucified and living; enjoying worship characterised by reverence and godly fear; knowing that the great solas of the Reformation are understood and accepted; and being assured that one will leave that church having met with the Lord in the midst of his people.


This is certainly true of all 55 churches in the Associating Evangelical Churches of Wales. For a small country to have such a group of likeminded churches is an enormous blessing – and few of them functioned in this way forty years ago.

Books

There are British publishing houses producing more than a hundred helpful books each year. Strange that many American authors prefer their manuscripts to be published by Banner of Truth, Evangelical Press, Christian Focus and Day One (who can save money by sending the books back to the USA to be printed).


Forty-five years ago InterVarsity Press supplied us with Lloyd-Jones, Packer and E. J. Young. Then along came the Banner of Truth, and a new chapter in British publishing began.


To start a publishing house is one thing; to maintain a biblical standard of truth in such categories as the history of redemption, exegesis, piety, revival and ethics for a half century is an enormous accomplishment, and can only be of the Lord.

Conferences

Then there are the conferences that have become regular features of the Reformed evangelical scene during these 40 years – Carey, Affinity, Leicester, Grace Baptists, Bala, Metropolitan Tabernacle, Proclamation Trust, F.I.E.C., Aberystwyth, Reformation and Revival, and Westminster (in current date order). There is almost one a month, not to mention Word Alive and Keswick, both of which are serious-minded conferences.


There are few experiential Calvinistic speakers who can grab a conference by the scruff of its neck, shake it up, then soothe it with the balm of Christ. But there are some whom God has blessed with such a ministry. Strangely, Americans often do well in the UK and British preachers do well in the USA.

Seminaries

Seminaries have emerged or been reformed that seek to strengthen the church’s commitment to the infallible Word. London Theological Seminary jumps to mind, as does the Evangelical Theological College of Wales.


Ulster has the Belfast Baptist College, the Belfast Bible College, and the Whitefield Seminary – which has recently produced a splendid set of volumes on the 1859 revival in Ulster. In Scotland there are the Highlands Theological College and the Free Church College.


Anglicans have the Cornhill training programme and Oak Hill College – which doesn’t seem to have the problems that dogged the Anglican seminaries in Bristol forty years ago (see McGrath’s biography of J. I. Packer).


There are other seminaries and Bible schools whose theology leaves much to be desired but there are conservative students doggedly sifting the wheat from the chaff and preparing themselves for a fruitful ministry.


How many evangelical men are now training in these institutions for the ministry? Five hundred perhaps? Surely, some among them will have an awakening ministry.

Magazines

Then there are Christian magazines (again in alphabetical order) – the Banner of Truth, the British Church Newspaper, Covenanter Witness, the English Churchman, the Evangelical Magazine, Evangelical Times, Evangelicals Now, the Evangelical Presbyterian, the Free Church Record, the Free Church Witness, the Free Presbyterian Magazine, the Gospel Magazine, the Gospel Standard, Grace Magazine, and Reformation Today,


And there are at least six magazines for children – Cheering Words, the Explorer, the Friendly Companion, the Instructor, the Tender Grape and the Young People’s Magazine.


I guess the circulation of all twenty of these publications is static or declining slowly, but all are helpful.


But there are surely too many. I wish that some of them would amalgamate and produce a weekly, addressing different sectional interests in different issues. A few years ago some of us held a feasibility study into bringing out such a paper, but nothing came of it.

Missions

This is not the place to discuss overseas missions – except to point out that many such ministries are based in the UK.
But there are many home missions, not least the Inter Varsity Fellowship (now the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship). The last forty years has seen the demise of the Student Christian Movement as a living organisation, demonstrating again that modernism is infertile. It was to resist such error that the IVF was born – with a message centred on the cross and a fine summary of Christian doctrine as its foundation.


I always feel thankful to God when asked to sign the confession of faith which a Christian Union secretary sends to me as a prospective speaker. I acknowledged those truths in 1959 when I first joined the committee of the Cardiff University Christian Union. I believe them still.


No matter how many years pass, true evangelicalism cannot change, for it derives from the unchanging Word of God. Its Christ-centred piety, evangelistic zeal, prayerfulness and gospel fellowship live on to the glory of God alone

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