Saturday, September 19, 2009

Visit to the Protestant Reformed churches in Michigan!

It's just been about a week since I've been back in Ireland - and I have been hard at work! I recently visited the United States of America for the first time, and for two weeks. We spent two wonderful weeks with the saints in the Protestant Reformed churches in Michigan! There are so many aspects of this time that bring me great delight when I consider their memory. I'd like to record a few here - what I love about the Protestant Reformed churches and what in particular I loved in the time that we spent there. We met a lot of people, but I won't go into all those details.

"After 500 Years: John Calvin for Reformed Churches Today" - how much did I enjoy this conference? In many ways. First, of course, the speeches and lectures themselves, all of which will be available on the conference DVD which can be ordered now from the website. Each lecture was superb - but I admit that I enjoyed Prof. Engelsma's on "Calvin's Doctrine of the Covenant" the most. I hear that a lot of the speakers had much more material than they were able to squeeze into the time frame - so I hope that if a written format is released, this material will be available.

Rev. Chris Connors spoke with great insight on "Calvin's Doctrine of Predestination", exhorting us over and over - "thus far, and no further!" Should we draw back from the confession and proclamation of God's glory in unconditional election and reprobation, we are guilty of unbelief - yet should we attempt to go beyond what has been revealed to us in God's counsel by vain speculation - we are guilty of idolatry, crafting a false god of our own making. I had an opportunity to speak with Rev. Connors on a few occasions also, for which I am very thankful.

Rev. Stewart, endearingly referred to as "the Irish Bulldog", spoke of "Calvin's Doctrine of Justification", how any justification with which we cannot consider the Judgment Day "with singular delight" is not the justification revealed in the Gospel of Christ. We are greatly indebted to God's work through the frail, sickly, compassionate Reformer. Prof. Gritters reminded us at length of the example set for Reformed ministers in John Calvin, on how rarely God grants such gifts to His church, and what difference it would make if any today could come close to emulating the life and work of Calvin.

The other masterful lectures dealt with Calvin's struggle for church discipline by Prof. Cammenga, as church reformer by Prof. Dykstra, and as expositor and preacher by Rev. Keys. There was a lot that could be learnt from each of these. I was inspired to purchase a number of books while I was there - though I'll leave that discussion for more specific book reviews.

I greatly appreciated all the Protestant Reformed people that I was given the privilege of meeting at the conference too. They are certainly a "peculiar people"! Peculiar especially for their great kindness and love for the truth. Time would fail me to tell of all the wonderful virtues and treasures of God's glory I found among these people. Sure, they have their sins too, and certainly we only have the small beginnings of obedience, but those glimmers of pure light are enough to blind such people as myself who live amongst such deep darkness. These delightful and beautiful virtues are the fruit of true Spirit-filled preaching of the whole counsel of God in the lives of God's people. Of this I have no doubt.

Oh, and they were yet so quick to point to their faults! How often we heard the lament, "We are so ungrateful for what God has given us!" And how often they would tell us how we had encouraged them! What a glorious God we have that such earthen vessels as ourselves could yet be employed by the hand of our gracious Father for our mutual edification. Yet I am still quite certain that we were the more encouraged party.

Needless to say, we were so loaded with invitations to dinner, that our friend Martyn was soon to be employed as a full-time secretary to organise our busy social calendar. For two weeks we learnt the rules of "Dutch bingo", and experienced exquisite culinary delights (some more so than others, I am constrained to concede). But all this faded into nothing compared to the precious fellowship we were constantly greeted with. I miss everyone terribly, and I hope that God may grant to us that we could meet again soon. We made sure to give plenty of invitations to the British Reformed Fellowship Conference in Wales next year.

Perhaps the most shocking was how in the homes of these Reformed believers we could see a glorious manifestation of God's covenant with us and our children, maintained from generation to generation of them that fear Him. Seeing the beauty of this doctrine put in practice by the grace of God, serves to demonstrate how much we must detest the error of the Anabaptists for the sake of God's glory and love for His church for which Christ died, lambs as well as sheep.

There is much more that I could write – we were granted many more precious memories that could be shared. But for now I'll leave this here, and perhaps I relate more at another time. Hold your breath for episode two of our American escapades! Coming soon, with accounts of highly lauded seminary classes, and much more!

Sam W.

UPDATE: I've been informed by a certain PR gentleman that I have portrayed the PR folk in too favourable a light. This is quite possible, since he knows them far more intimately than I. But speaking of my experiences, and those particular people I met, I consider my representation faithful and accurate. I could have chosen to be more critical and tried to highlight their sins, but I am quite confident that they already have plenty of people around them to do this for them everyday. I feel the efforts of my criticism would be better employed elsewhere first - and of course first of all at myself.

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