Reflections on The Gospel Coalition Canada National Conference, Part 2
Two weeks ago, alongside Pastor Clint and Christel Humfrey and our Deacon Oly Ratzlaff, I was blessed to be able to attend The Gospel Coalition Canada’s inaugural National Conference in Mississauga, Ontario. The three days of the conference were a whirlwind indeed, and I could probably write pages on what I learned and how I was encouraged, convicted, and exhorted! In last week’s article I started highlighting a few key things that I hope will be a blessing to our church, and this week I want to continue doing that by sharing some important insights from the teaching and preaching sessions themselves.
The Need for National Fellowship and Cooperation
While I already mentioned that one of the great blessings of TGC Canada was the opportunity to catch up with brothers and sisters from across the country, I think it’s worth stressing that this blessing is not mere sentimentality. We Christians in Alberta are members, not only of our own church, but of Christ’s own body (Eph. 5:30), and thus members of the one universal church of Jesus Christ, the household of God (Eph. 2:19). That means we are members of one another (Eph. 4:25).
Think about that! Calvary Grace Church members are, in a real and spiritual sense, members of believers in New Brunswick, and British Columbia, and Ontario. So when, for instance, Yanick Ethier stood up and delivered the SOLA (Quebec region) report to the conference and asked us to pray for a new generation of pastors, that became our need and burden to bear—and, really, our privilege and our obligation. Their need for 300 new pastors in the coming years is our need, too, and our problem to bring to the Lord in prayer and, if God grants us the means somehow, to help solve. Seeing (albeit from a distance in the hallway!) one former Calvary Grace intern, Josh Stauffer, at TGC Canada reminded me that here is one Western Canadian already serving in a French-speaking church in that region—might God raise up more here to follow him there?
Knowing what our brothers and sisters are facing in other parts of the country isn’t merely an opportunity to be “up to speed” on current events, like news junkies. It’s a divine privilege to be made aware of real needs and be given the opportunity to help bring them to the Throne of Grace. And it’s a privilege to be able to share some of our own needs with them in turn—for we here in Calgary are no more self-sufficient than any of our fellow Canadians are, and we need their prayers, and support, and help.
The Need for Gospel Perspective and Reformation
Unity, whether in a local church or across a whole nation, is fragile. It cannot be taken for granted and it must constantly be guarded and cultivated. In the plenary sessions, we were repeatedly exhorted and convicted of the need not to despair, not to look away from Christ, and to be guarding our holiness and our doctrine, the foundations of our unity and fellowship.
Against the temptation to despair, John Neufeld pointed out that “the church is not in decline in Canada. What we are witnessing is the cataclysmic collapse of the mainline churches, leaving Catholics and evangelicals.” The removing of the “lampstands” of the liberal church in Canada can only be a good thing for the Gospel.
Don Carson reminded us not to think too highly of ourselves or too little of Christ: “a recurrent theme in Mark’s Gospel is the inadequacy of the disciples. Service to Jesus is constant awareness of the inadequacy of the servant, and constant awareness of the adequacy of the Saviour.” While I think it’s true we Canadians tend to have a national cultural inferiority complex, the solution is not to overcompensate—as many Canadians do—by bragging ourselves up. Canadian Christians are just as helpless and in need of God’s grace as any other nationality, and we would do well to remember that.
For me, perhaps the message that affected me most deeply was probably Paul Carter’s second sermon, where he made the point that we all as Canadian Christians need to get serious about sin, that “we don’t have to choose between being serious about orthodoxy and being serious about holiness.” He pointed out that “the gap between the morality and values of our culture and the holiness of the church is only going to widen in coming years. And this gap is a GOOD thing…. The public holiness of God’s people is going to become a VERY compelling argument.” Yes, it’s true that our society hates Christian morality, and increasingly will be seeking to silence our preaching. But as the darkness grows stronger, the light of the truth we are proclaiming will be more noticeable than ever—if, that is, it is seen not only in our words and writings but in the undeniable power of the Spirit as it changes our own lives. The point of being a “Reformed” church is not to be merely a church that has somehow attained perfection in doctrine (as if that were possible this side of heaven; after all, we “see in a mirror dimly”—1 Cor. 13:12). Rather, it is to be an ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda—a “church reformed, always reforming,” and that not only in doctrine but in practice.
I can’t think of a better forum for such a message than a gathering of Christians from across a whole country. After all, the reformation we seek, even in our own church, is not ultimately for our own benefit but for the blessing of others. Let’s not take the truths we preach for granted, brothers and sisters. Let us rather be constantly seeking to apply them more consistently in every area of our lives—and that not merely for ourselves, but for the sake of our brothers and sisters across Canada and around the world. And all that ultimately to the glory of God the Father. Amen.