I've written an article for the Evangelical Times on the Aber conference, it will be published in the October issue I imagine. Below is based on what I sent to them, but rewriten in parts to include:
- what I wanted to write but didn't have space
- what I wanted to write but didn't think would be entirely appropriate (or didn't have the guts to say!)
But this is my blog, there is no need to tone down my opinions :-) . The changed sections are in red, with my original comments in a tooltip (on most browsers), and added bits in blue.
The Aberystwyth conference started for me with Geoff Thomas' unofficial yet well-loved mini-series on Sunday and Monday morning. This year he spoke on 'Perseverance of the Saints'. While his first sermon did talk about why we believe this doctrine, it didn't seem that persuading people of the truth of the doctrine was his particular aim, but rather to help us have a biblical understadning of it. He emphasised the warnings about not persevering which all Christians need to take note of, and that glib 'once saved always saved' platitudes should be of no comfort to those who are not walking with God. His words on how God keeps us were also very helpful both in encouraging us to be diligent in our Christian lives (in attending to things like good preaching etc. that will keep us walking with him) and also to have huge confidence and trust in the everlasting arms that will without a doubt protect us and bring us safe through every circumstance. He seemed (to me) to get the balance just right. In his words, Perseverance of the Saints:
- ... is not "relax and rely" but "trust and obey"
- ... is not being saved by our own efforts but by His keeping
The conference proper started with a gripping and hard-hitting sermon by John Blanchard on the Monday evening. He spoke mainly on our need to respond to the lostness of the lost, to take the gospel to those who face the terror of God's eternal judgement. We were warned of the danger of being like the lepers of 2 Kings 7, of gorging ourselves on the feast that is the Aber conference, while ignoring those who are starving. For me this message was both a very important challenge in itself and crucial in establishing a healthy attitude to the rest of the week.
The main speaker for the week was Andrew Davies, who had been given the topic of 'Revival' to speak on. Mr Davies spoke entirely from a Biblical and New Testament perspective, all four talks centring on the way God was at work in the early years of the church, especially at Pentecost. A number of things came out particularly strongly to me:
- First, that revival cannot be separated from evangelism, and in fact the giving of the Holy Spirit had everything to do with evangelism and witness.
- Second, that the practices that become characteristic of a revived church are still our responsibility even when God is not moving in a special way. The truths about the Lord Jesus and His gospel that burn in people's souls when the Holy Spirit comes in power are still true even if He does not. While we ought to be longing for God to work in a special way, we are not supposed to simply sit and wait until He does.
- Third, the way in which the gospel was lived out in the lives of the early Christians, and not just talked about, was crucial. The message being preached was so believable because it was accompanied by visible proofs of its effects - such as the amazing courage the disciples showed, and the practical love and genuine unity in the new church community. How much we need this today if people are going to take us seriously.
I especially enjoyed the evening talks, both in terms of their strong evangelistic content and the rich variety of styles. Perhaps the most memorable was David Carmichael's powerful message from Mark 13 on the coming of the Son of Man. He vividly brought home Jesus' description of that great and terrible day, the need to be ready now, and to take urgent notice of the signs all around us. He also spoke passionately on the need to resist heresy, to run from every new 'Christ' we are offered back to the Christ of the Bible. None of us will forget his explanation of those meetings where the speaker takes his jacket off, waves it over the congregation and many collapse before him: "B.O."! Alan McNab also spoke movingly on the prodigal son, and on the emptiness of the 'far country' with it's broken promises -- I wished certain people had been there to hear it.
On top of all this, there was the much enlarged 'extratime' programme organised for the young people. This year there was a new afternoon programme, which suits me so much better than the evening ones. In fact, I don't know that there are many people who are really able to profit from a meeting that starts at 9:30pm after one just finished at 9:00 -- in fact it only makes you forget what you just heard. The afternoon talks I attended, though, were all excellent. The first was "Living clean in a dirt world" by Paten James, and then a series of three Bible overviews on different topics by Mark Barnes. I was only sorry that some of them weren't that well attended -- hopefully in the future they will become more popular.
The prom, always a feature at Aber, remained so this year, but not the traditional walking up and down. Instead we went for prom 'Ultiamte Frisbee', which was ace, despite some cheeky people rudely walking through the section of prom that was clearly ours.
I'm sure I speak for many in expressing my thanks to the conference organisers and the extratime team for all their efforts, and especially to God, and in asking Him that we will be found faithful stewards in our response to these extra blessings.