Over 500 ‘ordinary Christians’ gathered in Chester on Saturday 31 January for this important conference. The opening devotions were led by Chairman Martin Grubb, who stated that the aim of the conference was to ‘encourage contentment and confidence in the Christ of Scripture’, rather than to ‘supply verbal hand-grenades to throw at our charismatic brethren’.
In the first session, Edward Donnelly underlined the Bible’s sufficiency on the basis of its authority, nature, definiteness, purpose and riches. In a moving conclusion he likened believers to children paddling at the edge of the mighty ocean of God’s Word. After a brief question and answer session, Stephen Rees spoke on ‘Prophecy, tongues and the New Testament’. His address was closely argued and razor-sharp as he explained the gift of tongues as a ‘sign of judgement on Israel’ and a ‘revelation of God’s purpose’ for an international church. He emphasized our great need for the Spirit to draw near and make his once-for-all revelation live.
Nick Needham took us on a whistle-stop tour of church history, warning against ‘the danger of being prisoners to the present moment’. He focused particularly on the early church fathers and the Azuzah Street revival in 1906, which was the forerunner of the Pentecostal and modern Charismatic movements.
Stuart Olyott gave the concluding address asking, ‘What difference does it make?’ His burden was that we might be free from tyranny, to enjoy the Bible and be the sort of Christians found in the pages of Scripture. ‘I can be all that God wants me to be by having an open Bible in my hand,’ he maintained. Using illustrations, he made the point that ‘Nothing can be imposed upon us except what is in the Bible.’ His final comment summed up the whole conference: ‘The voice of Jesus Christ found only in, everywhere in, and nowhere outside the Bible, brings freedom.’
For the writer, the greatest encouragement received from this conference was that lively, God-honouring preaching still attracts crowds of God’s people. Inevitably, many came away with unanswered questions and needing to work through some of the issues raised. It is hoped that a similar event will take place next year.