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This article was first published in Salt Shakers, a bi-monthly magazine published by the youth of the Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church, Singapore. It is reproduced here with permission. The author of this article, Lisa Ong, is a member of that church.
This year from 26th July to 2nd August, I was given the privilege to attend the British Reformed Fellowship Conference. The theme was “Be Ye Holy (1 Peter 1:16): The Reformed Doctrine of Sanctification” and the main speakers were Prof. Herman Hanko and Prof. David Engelsma.
Held every two years, the BRF Conference is a spiritual treat for people in the British Isles (England, Northern Ireland, Ireland, Scotland, Wales), America (USA and Canada), and more recently, continental Europe (Hungary) and Asia (Singapore!). All in all, there were eight countries were represented by 126 attendees at Gartmore House, Scotland. No hostile negotiations took place, only sweet fellowship and the partaking of God’s Word.
It was my first time going halfway around the world alone. I waved goodbye to friends and family who saw me off, and catching the last glimpse, I felt ambivalently adventurous and apprehensive. Thankfully, I reached the Conference site without any hiccups. Yet, being in a new setting, there were some things I had to adjust to over the eight days at the conference.
1. The chilly (about 10-15°C) and occasionally damp weather, even though it was summer! Although it rains quite frequently in Singapore, the environmental temperature seldom goes below 23°C. Nevertheless, the fellowship was very warm in contrast to the weather. I fondly recall the moments when I had hour-long conversations with other ladies on the bus to/from day trips; there were just so many things to talk about – the different cultures, raising children, struggles in the Christian life and so on.
2. The time difference between Singapore and Scotland, together with the 17-hour daylight (4:30AM to 9:30PM). It was all the better; there were longer waking hours to enjoy the communion of the saints. At 10:00PM every night, except on Saturday, the night was young for the young at heart as they sang Psalters in parts and participated in social games – Murderer and Psychiatrist (you have to attend to find out what this is!).
3. Being away from family and church in Singapore. But there was no other better place than to be with Christ’s family gathered from different nations. I had a blessed time with Prof. Hanko and Aunty Wilma, and Prof. Engelsma and Aunty Ruth, the spiritual grandparents to many young people. Also, I bunked with two sisters in Christ—Stephanie Adams (USA) and Christina Perkins (England)—we were a multi-continental sisterhood.
4. Getting to know the hundred odd persons I was meeting for the first time. (Thanks to the organisers for nametags, they were really helpful for the first few days!) It was remarked that the BRF Conference is a foretaste of the fellowship in Heaven, where people of different lands gather to worship and praise God. Although I was meeting almost everyone for the first time, yet due to our common love for God, we were no strangers. It was a special experience.
5. Drinking in the beautiful sights and sounds of Scotland, which are so different from the city concrete-jungle of Singapore. Big thanks again to the organisers for the five day-trips to Loch Katrine, Edinburgh, Stirling, St Andrews and Loch Lohmond. I was constantly mesmerised by God’s creation and got to appreciate the sites of Reformation History. This appreciation was reinforced by the speeches Pastor Stewart gave on John Knox and James Fraser.
6. Playing badminton almost everyday and participating in the European league futsal (Northern Ireland vs. the Rest). I gladly adapted to this as I enjoy sports and not to mention, my futsal team won! Plus, sports were a great way for me to break the ice as I was a newcomer.
7. Scottish food is obviously different from the Singaporean diet. Although I missed my Singaporean food very much, I was content with fresher milk that Scotland offered. This is not surprising, given that cows are next-door neighbours to many Scots. By any means, the sincere milk of the Word was even more desirable. Through the speeches, I learnt what it means to be sanctified—to be consecrated to God by the Holy Spirit (1 Peter 1). One must not confuse sanctification with justification, whereby God declares that we have no sin, for instance when God said “(I have) not beheld iniquity in Jacob” in Numbers 23:21. Sanctification comes after justification as we are able to do good and live lives consecrated to God only if we have been declared righteous by God.
There is a danger in confusing the order of sanctification and justification. One example is the Roman Catholic belief that sanctification is prior to justification; thus man is able to do good and earn his justification. To understand the relationship between sanctification and justification rightly, we must acknowledge that the sin of Adam, Man’s federal head, was passed down to all men and killed them all spiritually. But when Christ, the federal head of His people, died to redeem them from their sins, He made them legally righteous before God and sends the Holy Spirit to sanctify them (Romans 5: 12-19).
Yet, sanctification is a work-in-progress in this life due to our fleshly nature (Galatians 5:17) and our battle against spiritual wickedness in high places (Ephesians 6:12). This causes our sanctification to be a painful process. However, this will make us grow more sincere in prayer for thee forgiveness of sins and all the more yearn for Heaven. Furthermore, Romans 8 encourages us to endure in fighting against sin as the enemy will be overcome. This victory is certain because it is not dependent on us, but Christ has won the battle over death and sin for us. We can experience blessed communion with God forever. What a comfort!
Looking forward, the next conference will be held at Castlewellan Castle, Northern Ireland, from 16th to 23rd July 2016. The theme is “Behold, I Come Quickly”: The Reformed, Biblical Truth of the End, and the main speakers are Prof. Engelsma and our very own beloved Pastor Lanning.
I have told some of the BRF Conference attendees (all non-Asians), to come to the churches in Singapore and the Philippines in one trip to South-East Asia, and if possible to attend CERC’s church camp. Likewise, I hope that we Singaporeans can do the same: attend the Conference and travel the Irish Isles, and worship and fellowship with the saints in Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland, and the Limerick Reformed Fellowship in Ireland. This way, we can have more opportunities to enjoy the wonderful catholicity of the church of God.
So come 2016, I strongly urge members of CERC to consider seriously their attendance at the BRF Conference—keep the dates free, start saving money, and express interest promptly when registrations open. Let us desire to learn about the end times and fellowship with the saints from this part of the world.
by Samuel Watterson
Unlike the writer in this publication two years ago (Mr. Ed Bos), this writer had not been to a BRF conference before 2010, and indeed, was brought by the sovereign grace of God to believe the biblical and Protestant Reformed faith not much more than two years ago. Nevertheless, God's timing is impeccable, and all His glorious providence is perfect, regardless of how much one would feel the desire to have been to many such conferences after having attended in 2010. We were reliably informed however, that this year's BRF conference was again, possibly the best yet.
We were magnificently hosted in Hebron Hall, a grand old conference centre just outside Cardiff, and conveniently near to the airport. The general opinion of the eighty-seven attendees (plus some day-visitors) was very much in hearty approval of the facilities, apart from perhaps the steep hill at the entrance which proved difficult for some of the more elderly saints. Aside from the delicious food, en-suite bathrooms, comfortable mattresses, and sporting facilities, the venue was also well-situated for day trips to historical places such as Bath in England, Caerphilly Castle, and Tintern Abbey. Some also took trips to Cardiff, and some others even went white-water rafting. Other activities included tennis, football (soccer), basketball, volleyball, swimming, ping-pong, pool, snooker, and for the even less physically active, a board-game, a psychiatric game, a Sicilian game, and a zoological game. These activities, along with mealtimes, helped people to “break the ice” and get to know each other better.
Once again, many tongues and tribes were represented at this British conference, including people from: Italy, Germany, Éire, Northern Ireland, Wales, England, Spain, Portugal, France, and even the USA, Canada, and China. The catholicity of the church was greatly manifested and celebrated, and the communion of the saints was greatly enjoyed, and practised. There was sweet fellowship in common confession of the truth, and in mutual edification and encouragement to love God more in thought, word, and deed. This was especially felt in the reverent singing of the God-breathed Psalms together, and in our other regular prayers together. It was also evident in the Bible studies which Rev. McGeown led towards the end of the conference, which even discussed some issues pertaining both to the topic of Prof. Engelsma's public lecture in Limerick the following Thursday, and to his recent pamphlet, “The Gift of Assurance”.
On the morning of the Lord's Day, after everyone had arrived the previous day, Prof. Herman Hanko preached on II Corinthians 7:1. He powerfully and practically expounded the truth about our certain, yet difficult sanctification, especially in its relation to the unconditional covenant of God. The same afternoon, a colloquium on baptism was held, chaired by Prof. Hanko, and opened by Mr. Michael Kimmitt. The discussion focussed predominantly on children in the covenant of God, and the conditions for a valid baptism in lieu of the myriad of complicated experiences which have become commonplace in the professing church world of today. Prof. David Engelsma brought us the Word of God in the evening from John 10:34-36. He thoroughly explained how Scripture is utterly unbreakable, directing us to the absolutely certain foundation upon which all the speeches which would follow were to be built.
The first conference address was given by Prof. Engelsma under the title, “The Reformed World and Life View”. The speech explained how the Reformed believer sees the world, from its beginning to its end. A case was argued for the Antichrist to be an enemy of everything supernatural, and in this vein, the Reformed world-view was contrasted with that of atheistic materialism represented by the views of the infamous misotheist, Richard Dawkins. While the misdirected dreams of post-millennialism were denied and refuted, believers were exhorted to be in the world, yet living as spiritually separate people. This particular speech led to many eschatological questions afterwards, but always underpinned with the certain knowledge of the absolute reign of Christ over all of history and all things for the good of His people.
On Tuesday, there were two speeches; Prof. Hanko on the organic development of sin, and Prof. Engelsma on post-modernism. The development of sin was explained as man's progressively greater manifestation of his total depravity, as a acorn growing into a oak tree. This development was traced through Scripture's history, and through Scripture's teaching about the time until the end. The means that man now has to express his ungodliness are far greater than in the beginning, and we expect this to increase until the end, and we can see this illustrated all around us. A somewhat more complicated speech was heard in the evening, as Prof. Engelsma outlined the sheer absurdity, and yet deceptive power of post-modernism. Denying the authority of Scripture, ungodly men invent their own authorities, create their own world-views (attempting to take the place of the only Creator), in order to live as they please. Their authority becomes driven by their own experiences and lusts, and language is employed (or rather abused) in order to communicate their world-view, and dominate others by it. Whereas modernism gloried in individual “freedom” (i.e. freedom from the authority of God's Word), post-modernism is totalitarian, and will not tolerate the intolerant Christians!
These heavy, but very worthwhile topics were followed the next day with a special lecture from the Trinitarian Bible Society on God's preservation of the text of Scripture. Many had not heard this significant material previously, which explained the difference between the biblical and Reformed doctrine of the preservation of Scripture, and the false doctrine that was formulated by the likes of B.B. Warfield. These men began to teach that only the first manuscripts actually penned by the very writers of Scripture were infallible, and denied the authority of the copies – instead claiming that some hypothetical end result of new methods of textual criticism would reproduce the infallible text. This was in response to certain professing textual critics who denounced the received text, in favour of incorporating the vastly different Alexandrian manuscripts into the text of Scripture which had been in use for hundreds of years. John Owen was quoted mightily condemning these anomalous texts against those who had desired to corrupt Scripture in his time too.
"The Reformed Believer and Money” was the title of the fourth conference address, given by Prof. Hanko. The relationship of the things of this world with the elect, and with the reprobate was contrasted. All that is not consecrated unto the Lord is an accursed thing, and believers were exhorted to use all the good creation of God in the service of the kingdom of Christ. The error of asceticism was strongly condemned, as was all the abuse of God's creation. We must store treasures in heaven, not on earth, and we must live as pilgrims in this world, keeping only a loose grip on earthly possessions. In contrast, the wicked employ all the good things of God's creation in the service of sin, and the kingdom of Antichrist – therefore all their possessions are curses to them.
In the second last speech, Prof. Engelsma spoke about what he called, “The Sexual Revolution”. The positive truth about the institution of marriage was first set forward, against the backdrop of a world that is rampant with divorce and remarriage, and a world which exerts great efforts to promote all manner of fornication, and eliminate any possible undesired consequences – and it will not stop at murder, even the murder of defenceless children still in the womb. Many developments have already been made to increase fornication vastly, not least of which is the abuse of the internet and all kinds of other media by the pornographic industry. The rise of homosexuality was also remarked on, especially with regard to its forceful agenda to enact legislation to outlaw those who stand for the biblical truth about marriage. Again the recurring theme was that as this wicked world manifests its wickedness more and more, the saints will also face an increasing intensity of persecution. Along with grave warnings to keep us from all the filth around us, the blessings of a Christian marriage were lauded. The august Christian virtue of modesty was spoken about in the question time afterwards. As the world progresses towards its end, we must take all the more special heed to cultivate this virtue.
The final lecture (by Prof. Hanko) dealt with the rise of Antichrist, and the development of a one-world government under Satan's man. Again this development was traced through biblical history to the present time in which we can various movements, philosophies, and organisations aiming for this goal. There was Babel, at which time God smote down the ungodly kingdom and scattered the tribes by the confusion of languages. God will not allow this one-world government to develop before the appointed time, because every one of His elect must first be brought to repentance. We can see typical pictures of this kingdom also in the Old Testament, most notably, Babylon. And a case was made for the contention that this present time may be in the little season and the end of the millennium (that symbolic number for the time between Christ's ascension and second coming), in which Satan is loosed, so that he may deceive the nations once more, to bring them into a one-world government under him. The role of the false church in this endeavour was brought to light, as the whore with a cup full of abominations, drunk with the blood of the saints. Yet when Antichrist has used her, she herself will be destroyed by the government of this Antichrist.
Much more than all this was said in these speeches, and Lord-willing, there will be a book published to contain it all, but these are included to give readers a taste of what the speeches and the BRF conference was like. And this is in the hope that they may purchase the book and benefit greatly from it, and also consider coming to the next BRF conference to be as edified and strengthened by it as I have been. The audio and videos of the conference speeches will also (DV) be available online from the British Reformed Fellowship website (www.britishreformedfellowship.org.uk), which is soon to be revamped.
The next BRF conference is being planned (DV) for Ireland, with the same gifted speakers, around the end of July and beginning of August as usual. The topic for the conference will be “Ye are My Witnesses”, concerning how a Christian must be a witness in whatever situation that God has appointed for us. If it pleases the Lord to grant the means to travel, do consider attending this spiritually enriching conference. It is a very great encouragement to spend the week with like-minded believers, mutually edifying one another – especially for those who come from nations in which the Reformed faith is scarcely to be found in these last days.
“Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding.” – Proverbs 3:13. We are exhorted in Scripture to grow in the knowledge and grace of Jesus Christ, and the BRF conference is an excellent aid to this growth in finding wisdom and understanding, so that we would love God more and eschew evil, as the world around us waxes worse and worse. This year's conference was a testament to the inestimable blessing of being granted the grace to take heed to the “more sure word of prophecy” (the Holy Scriptures), until the day dawns.
The 9th Biennial BRF Family Conference was held from August 5 to August 12, 2006. The venue this year was Cloverley Hall Conference Centre, located between Whitchurch and Market Drayton in the heart of the beautiful Shropshire countryside in western England. The Victorian building had originally been the servants’ quarters for the lord and lady of the manor, before becoming a Boarding School and now a conference centre.
Almost one hundred people attended the conference, and, like previous BRF conferences, this year’s was truly international. There were representatives from all parts of the UK, from the Netherlands, France, Brazil and the USA. The speakers were once again Prof. Herman C. Hanko, Professor Emeritus of the Protestant Reformed Churches of America, and Prof. David J. Engelsma, Professor of Dogmatics and Old Testament in the Protestant Reformed Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
The subject of the conference was "The Five Points of Calvinism," and the scene was set on the Lord’s Day with a fine sermon by Prof. Hanko on Ephesians 2: 8- 9. This text is what the Five Points are all about, and in that sense it was a good theme text for our conference. Also, by way of introduction, a special lecture on "The History of the Synod of Dordt" was given by Dr. Aza Goudriaan. Dr. Goudriaan, a student of the Erasmus University in Rotterdam, is researching the use of classical philosophy by the Arminians at and before the time of Dordt. We learned from this the Synod’s importance for the Reformed churches, not only in providing us with the Canons, but also in that it confirmed the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism.
The conference proper began on Tuesday morning with Prof. Hanko addressing us on "The History of Calvinism." In a grand sweep of the history of the New Testament church from Augustine to the present day, we saw how the doctrines of sovereign grace have only briefly held sway in the church. These doctrines have always been under attack, and the attack has come in various guises: the semi-pelagianism of Rome; the heresy of Bolsec in Calvin’s day; Arminianism; Amyrauldianism and the Marrowmen; and more recently common grace and the well-meant offer. The great issue for the church is always the sovereignty of God in salvation, and it’s on that front that we must do battle today!
The Five Points are usually set out in the familiar acrostic TULIP. However, our speakers dealt with them in line with the order of the Synod of Dordt. This meant we began with sovereign predestination. Prof. Engelsma stated the fundamental importance of the Five Points to the gospel. They are not incidental to salvation. They set out the only way men can be saved. Therefore, they must be preached, and not to preach them is not to preach the gospel. We then saw how the doctrine of sovereign predestination was fundamental to Calvin’s theology and that Reformed and Presbyterian churches have made it creedal. Predestination is not, however, only Calvin’s and the confessions’ teaching, it is also the teaching of Jesus. In John 6:37, Jesus taught that a certain number of individuals were given to Him in eternity. In love the Father gave these people to His Son with the purpose that they wouldn’t be cast out for their sins. A necessary implication of this text is that God rejects some men – they are not given to Jesus in eternity. This is the doctrine of reprobation, and to deny it is to deny also election. Prof. Engelsma also pointed out, crucially, that all Jesus’ work has its ground in election. Especially our coming to Him is due to election. We believe because we are elect: faith flows from election.
In subsequent addresses we saw how the Five Points depend on each other and that to deny one is to deny them all. A consistent theme throughout the speeches was how these doctrines comfort us. This theme was especially clear in the last speech – "Preservation of the Saints." Roman Catholics and Arminians live all their lives in the fear they may finally perish and be lost forever. This terrible fear is God’s judgment upon their false gospel. In contrast, God blesses the true gospel of sovereign grace with the glorious truth of preservation. Prof. Engelsma explained how grace is the basis of our perseverance. It is because God preserves us that we by faith actively persevere. We may and must have assurance of our perseverance. After all, Christ prayed for this in John 17:11. What a wonderful comfort to know that in spite of all our enemies, including our enemy within – our old nature – God keeps us to the end!
In keeping with the relaxed nature of the conference, we enjoyed several coach tours. On Monday one party went to Caernarfon Castle in North Wales. This is one of the most splendid castles in Britain and figures large in the history of Britain’s kings and queens. The other party went to Snowdonia (also in Wales), and the more energetic (and not necessarily younger!) hiked a good part of the way to the summit of Mount Snowdon. On Wednesday we enjoyed a day tour to the very old historic town of Chester. Chester started out as a Roman fort, and we were able to witness the continuing excavation of the ancient amphitheatre, the largest in Britain. Chester also provided another attraction of perennial fascination (for the females at least!), in that it boasts a wide variety of attractive shops.
Alongside the conference speeches, there were what might be called the "follow-ups." These, typically, were hosted by the younger people and continued well into the small hours! One of these sessions – due to the stimulus of Prof. Engelsma – discussed all seventeen articles of the Canons, Heads 3 and 4. It is very encouraging and refreshing to see Reformed youth giving themselves to such a study.
Alas, Saturday morning came all too soon. Many saints, especially from the British Isles, expressed their sorrow about having to return to their "wilderness wanderings" once again – many of them do not have sound Reformed churches to attend. Those of us who do learned to appreciate more deeply our blessings. Tentative proposals were made by the BRF Council to hold the next conference in Ireland.
Was it a success? Yes, of course! How could a week devoted to the truth of Jehovah God be anything else?
Impressions of the British Reformed Fellowship Family Holiday Conference High Leigh, Hertfordshire, 13-20 August 2004
by Dr Malcolm A H McCausland
This year’s BRF Conference brought together nearly 100 people of all ages (from under 3 months to 84 years) from the UK, Canada, France, the Netherlands, the Ukraine and the USA. The principal speakers - the Rev. Professor David Engelsma, Professor of Dogmatics and Old Testament in the Protestant Reformed Seminary, Grandville, Michigan and the Rev. Professor Herman Hanko, Emeritus Professor of Church History and New Testament in the same institution - brought a wealth of pastoral and academic experience to bear on doctrinal and practical aspects of keeping God’s Covenant in the Church, in marriage, in the home, in the family, and in the world.
The conference addresses formed the core of a varied programme comprising daily worship, outings, recreation, question-and-answer sessions, group discussions, and innumerable informal conversations with friends old and new. The two coach trips (one to Cambridge, the other to London) centered on aspects of our Reformed heritage. The prime focus of the London outing was a visit to Westminster Abbey, the venue of the Westminster Assembly. Those who participated had been well prepared on the preceding evening by an imaginatively presented address on The Westminster Assembly and its Catechisms by Mr. Chad Van Dixhoorn, Research Fellow at the University of Cambridge and licentiate in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Towards the end of the Conference the children had an opportunity to display their knowledge of the Heidelberg and Westminster Catechisms and their ability to sing psalms from memory. (The Songs of Zion, in metrical form, were a recurrent feature of the entire Conference - especially welcome to those who were weary of exclusive hymnody.) There was also a special group discussion on the Covenant and evangelism. The entire programme was nicely balanced and the organisation excellent. Those who have visited the High Leigh Conference Centre will not need to be reminded of the excellent food, friendly service, comfortable accommodation and delightful surroundings.
One of the objectives of the British Reformed Fellowship is to provide advice, information and support to Reformed Christians who are living and working in isolation. The extent of this problem was impressed on me in one-to-one conversations, mostly with people whom I had not met before, and reinforced by an unscheduled informal session entirely devoted to the subject. The plight of isolated Reformed believers in our once-Christian country was poignantly expressed in an appreciative email from a lady for whom this was the first BRF Conference: “I had been totally isolated, unable to find a church that was faithful to my Reformed convictions. I knew that God must have his faithful remnant in Britain, and had been asking Him where they might be found. I would have been grateful to meet just one believer. Two would have been a luxury - and here [at the Conference] was the most magnificent group of God-loving people I could ever ask for! Sinful me had the privilege and joy of fellowship with all of you delightful children of our gracious Lord.”
Much more could be said if space permitted; just three lasting impressions must suffice.
- The clarity, practicality, warmth, wit, and uncompromising orthodoxy of the addresses. This participant, for one, came away convinced of the relevance of covenant theology to virtually every aspect of the believer’s life.
- The gaiety and outright hilarity of the young people - and their doctrinal literacy, manifested in enthusiastic coffee-table discussions and penetrating questions to our learned speakers.
- These young people would regularly gather for psalmsinging late into the evening, along with those of us older folk who had the requisite stamina. Where in the world outside (or indeed in the contemporary visible Church) would one find so felicitous a combination of knowledge, seriousness and joy? What a powerful rebuttal of popular myths about miserable, hard-faced Calvinists!
- The participation and involvement of the children, according to their capacity - a reflection of the commitment of Reformed believers to the Covenant status of their children in the Church of Christ.
This was the most edifying Christian conference that I have ever had the privilege to attend. If you feel that you’ve missed something, you can order a complete set of the tapes of the seven main addresses and the Lord’s day services for a mere £12. E-mail email@example.com or write to Mr. Sean Courtney, 78 Millfield Ballymena, BT43 6PD. (The tapes won’t re-create the conference atmosphere, but they’ll at least convey the quality of the teaching.) Plan not to miss the next BRF family conference, this time on the Five Points of Calvinism, to be held in Wales in the summer of 2006, D.V.