The 2013 Bolton Conference

The Bolton Conference has come and gone once again. This year’s conference themes were entitled ‘The Christian’s Confession and Living as Christ’s Church.’ As usual, it was a wonderful time of teaching, preaching, praise and fellowship with the many believers who attended. I have to say, the messages this year were especially helpful in terms of what they were intended to address.

The two conference speakers this year were Dr. Carl Trueman and Rev. Thabiti Anyabwile. Each was assigned his message respective to the order of the conference theme. The Bolton Conference marks one year since I began this blog, with the first post being an introduction, and the second bearing the title ‘The Bolton Conference’ posted on 10-30-2012.

Another early post after the conference was entitled ‘Christian Church Conferences.’ The purpose of this article was to lament what I see as the modern day decline of the church, while the average Christian conference at the same time, fails to address it. I am happy to report that at this year’s conference this did not happen. The conference themes this year were exactly what I had in mind when I wrote the article, in that they addressed a number of serious problems in the church. I am grateful to the Lord for it.

The speakers were both pedo and credo Baptists respectively. Both these speakers focused on the decline of confessional Christianity, while defending the relevance of it from Scripture. The fact that the speakers subscribe to different confessions of faith did not hinder them in the least from sounding forth a unified defense of confessional Christianity. In fact, each speaker’s message perfectly dovetailed the other, according to their respective themes, underscoring the value of them to our current problem of anti-confessionalism.

Dr. Trueman’s theme on confessionalism was decidedly more academic. It was also practical, as he showed not only the biblical rational for having a church confession, but the real life advantages to it as well. Two things in particular were mentioned in regard to this. First, a confession of faith establishes a standard by which Christian membership can thrive. Not only does a confession define what orthodoxy is in terms of identifying Christian faith, but it provides a brief compendium of theology by which Christian growth and maturity are aided.

In our modern day mind set of ecumenical religion, unity is the end all of principles to most. Doctrine is seen as that which divides, while love, as it is so called, is that which unites many Christians of differing opinions together. Dr. Trueman rightly pointed out that an orthodox confessional standard only separates the true from the false. Creeds operate as a natural consequence of Bible study which God has providentially used in the past, and does use in the present, to guard the church from heresy.

And while confessional standards limit those who are accepted into a particular church membership, it does not exclude recognition of other churches and their ministries. The Bolton conference is the perfect example of this. Dr. Trueman pointed out there is a difference between error in a secondary matter, and one that is essential to Christian faith, such as a right view of the Trinity and the nature of Christ. Men who differ on their view of baptism are welcome to fill the pulpit of each others churches even if they would not be accepted into each other into church membership.

There is one more benefit that a confession of faith offers a church. This is the limitation it places on the ministry concerning its teaching and discipline. Heretics and tyrants are prevented by a confessional standard from imposing their opinions on the church, where it differs from Scripture.

Rev. Anyabwile delivered his messages on Christian living in sermonic form. Because of this, these messages were decidedly practical, yet, they did not fail to emphasize the doctrinal character of the Christian faith. Rev. Anyabwile developed his theme based upon the concept of biblical love as it relates to Christ, the Christian and the world.

Here is where the modern view of confessions, or, the lack thereof, goes so far adrift. It fails to apprehend that love, which is something inherently of God, is also something definable. It is not an experience devoid of doctrine as Rev. Anyabwile so ably demonstrated through his messages. He preached that the law of love we are commanded to keep, is first of all, something we are deficient in from a moral standpoint. It can only be understood in the gospel of God’s free grace, through Jesus Christ. Jesus has kept the law, and it is His righteous life and obedience unto death, imputed to us in justification that fulfills this principle. We can only love Christ because of God’s grace.

Any teaching that focuses exclusively on the measure of our love to Christ, in a purely subjective way, fails to apprehend the objective nature of the gospel. It therefore, must fall miserably short of the ideal put forth by Jesus to the lawyer in Matthew 22:34-40, when He was asked, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” (Verse 36).

Second, Rev. Anyabwile showed that the love of Christ we as Christians are to have for one another, must be expressed in clear demonstrations of Christian service. Most notably, he emphasized the need for Christian hospitality among the saints. Getting to know the brethren on a personal level is the starting point of being able to minister to them. Christian confession is therefore, something that is not simply academic in nature, but real and living if it is expressed according to true faith.

Which brings us to the third and final part of Rev. Anyabwile’s theme, which was Christian love for our neighbor. True love which is derived from Christ in the gospel, earnestly gives itself over to the task of testifying to the world. The duty of evangelism the Christian has requires a certain amount of personal risk. What if we are not well received by those whom we evangelize? And what if rejection costs us something, maybe to the point of losing our life? These are the questions and obstacles to living the Christian life we must face. Nothing short of the love of God in Christ which motivated Him is sufficient for this. Christian love is far from being a spirit of tolerance as the world thinks, for it is holy and Christo-centric, therefore, it must be doctrinal and confessional.

Video of the 2013 Bolton Conference can be seen on the New England Reformed Fellowship website found at http://www.newenglandreformedfellowship.org.

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