‘Barriers are broken down by proclaiming the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth!’ This final sentence was the fitting conclusion to the 2017 Grace Baptist Assembly (GBA).
We met at the Hayes Conference Centre, from 9-11 May, for our 14th year as a residential conference. Malcolm and Jean MacGregor were hosts, and Malcolm opened the Assembly by drawing attention to challenges arising from the numerous and complex issues that have shaped our nation over the past 50 years. In speaking of the pre-eminence of Christ, from Colossians 1, he reminded us that ‘only something as majestic as this can give us hope again’.
Pastor Ruslan Antonov and his wife, Olga, from Ukraine were able to join us despite a delay in obtaining visas. We were blessed as Ruslan told us about the wonderful growth God has given to Reformed churches and ministries in his own country since 1991. Our overall theme was ‘Destroying the barrier’. Paul Watts, using the title ‘Transcultural church’, spoke at two sessions, as we considered whether as churches we are really seeking, in Christ, to unite diverse people.
Like many others this year, we marked the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Paul Lintott preached helpfully at our evening meetings about the practical implications of the doctrine of justification by faith for non-Christians and Christians.
We were treated to an excellent paper on William Gadsby from Oliver Allmand-Smith. Just how could a man like Gadsby, with so many things against him, be so significantly used by the Lord? We sang together, appropriately, ‘Immortal honours rest on Jesus’ head’.
Mike Judge, in our closing session, showed us from Acts 10 how both our themes of ‘justification by faith’ and the ‘breaking down of barriers’ are seen in the account of the conversion of Cornelius and his household.
Peter and Cornelius learned that salvation was to both Jew and Gentile. ‘In the end’, Mike concluded, ‘the preaching of the name of the Lord Jesus Christ was, and still is, the way in which barriers are truly broken down’.
Since its inception, the GBA has brought together Baptist churches, while maintaining the principle that it is a ‘vehicle only for churches to have fellowship and debate issues, and not in any sense to take authority to itself’. More than 100 people were in attendance from around 50 different churches. All the sessions can be downloaded from the GBA website. Next year’s Assembly is at the Hayes, from 16-18 May.