Banner Conference 2009
A few days before the conference, I was on a plane flicking through their in-flight magazine. I found little of interest until my eye registered a picture that seemed right out of context. It was the profile of John Calvin!
What was Calvin doing in such a setting? It was an advert to visit Geneva on the 500th anniversary of his birth (July 2009). If even an airline registers this date, how much more should the church? And so this year’s Banner of Truth ministers’ conference focused on the great Genevan reformer.
Derek Thomas, a Welshman in exile at Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, Mississippi, gave three papers. He spoke on Calvin’s sermons on Jeremiah and on the Pastoral Epistles, and on Calvin’s work as a theologian. We were reminded of Calvin’s phenomenal work output. We were also reminded of his high view of preaching.
Calvin may seem like a ‘colossus’ striding over Europe with little difficulty, but Garry Williams, formerly of Oak Hill Theological College and soon to take charge of the John Owen Centre, London Theological Seminary, showed that Calvin faced huge trials and difficulties. He was only in his twenties when he had to flee his native France, and was later exiled from his refuge in Geneva.
He lived at a time of political unrest. He suffered the loss of three children in infancy and then of his wife. He endured constant poor health.
We were instructed by Calvin’s example to keep going in trials, sustained by a strong confidence in God’s sovereignty and wise providence. A second paper by Garry focused on Calvin’s ‘courageous and careful’ conduct in contending for the great gospel truth of justification by faith.
Question: Who set up a seminary that in just a few years sent out 2000 preachers all over Europe? Answer: That man Calvin again! Lindsay Brown, a recent General Secretary of IFES, sought to correct misunderstandings over Calvin and mission. Many think, quite wrongly, that the Reformers had little interest in evangelism. Yet so many young preachers went out from Geneva to France that the King of France complained about them! The Netherlands, Poland, Scotland, Hungary, and even Brazil, all benefited from Calvin’s passion to spread the gospel.
Perhaps seeking to avoid the charge of Calvinolatry(!), two conference sessions were on the subject of union with Christ. Sinclair Ferguson explored Colossians 3:1-17 and how Paul turns every issue faced by Christians to the great truth of union with Christ.
There were also opportunities for less formal instruction and edification over two afternoons and an evening (for the under-40s). During two ‘ten minute’ slots – a recent valuable innovation – Jonathan Watson spoke on the 1859 revival in Ulster and Alun McNabb urged us to evangelism.
The conference opened with an address by Lindsay Brown on ‘so great a salvation’ (Hebrews 2:3), and closed with a sermon by Mark Johnston on Isaiah 66:2, showing that God’s favour rests on the one who has a right view of himself, his sin and God’s Word.
No doubt the 300 or so delegates have returned home with much food for thought.