Reflections on the Bethlehem Conference: Part 2, Plenary Sessions

Recently, our Pastoral Staff attended The Bethlehem Conference for Pastors and Church Leaders in Minneapolis. The conference spanned two days, January 30 - February 1 and was made possible, thanks to the generosity of several families in this body.

John Piper preached the gospel in the opening plenary session on Monday evening, 30 January. Gospel Ambition was the conference theme, subtitled Advancing Gospel Glory Deep and Wide. Piper rightly observed that we can’t advance gospel glory without first being clear on what the gospel is. And we can’t be clear on what the gospel is without first being reminded of the reason for which God created the world. So, he began with Genesis 1:1 and went on to show that God created the world to magnify His glory, and that His glory is most magnified as fallen sinners receive the gospel of His sovereign grace by faith in Christ, and so experience, enjoy, and proclaim Him.

Mark Dever preached from Galatians 1:1-9 in plenary session number two. His central theme, stated from the start, was, “In order to continue to preach the gospel that saved you (the biblical gospel), you’re going to have to endure controversy.” He then walked us through a clear presentation of the gospel that can “deliver us from this present evil age” (Gal.1:4). “A church confused about the gospel is like a blind Uber-driver, like a forgetful historian, like a colorblind artist. (It) is not just worthless, it is dangerous, …a blocked emergency exit, … an elevator to hell.”

Thabiti Anyabwile spoke in plenary session three on Gospel Consistency: An Ambition to Keep Our Conduct In Step with the Truth of the Gospel (Gal.2:14). Gospel consistency requires that nothing is added to the cross as it regards the salvation and sanctification of all nations, and their full inclusion into the New Covenant community. God is impartial (cf. Jam.2:8-9)—we should be like God. Impartiality leads to mercy (cf. Jam.2:1-4; Luk.6:35-38). Partiality breaks fellowship, and it spreads through the church.

Zane Pratt, Associate Professor of Christian Missions at Southern Seminary (Louisville, KY) spoke on Gospel Breadth: An Ambition to Obey the Great Commission (Mat.28:16-20). He addressed two questions: “What is the mission of the church?” and “What gives us the right to do it?” Answers: our right to do Christian missions is established in the authority of Christ (18)—this trumps the authority of world governments; it even trumps personal safety. And second, the great commission is evangelism that results in lifelong disciple making and learning.

Piper spoke again in plenary session five. Gospel Worship was the title: Paul’s Holy Ambition for All the People’s to Praise Him—six propositions from Romans 15, which he persuasively asserted to be the best chapter on missions in all the Bible.

Jason Meyer, Pastor for Preaching and Vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church (Minneapolis, MN), spoke in the final plenary session, giving a biography of Martin Luther. At the heart of his message was a clarification of what stands at the heart of the Reformation. It was not merely the recovery of the doctrine of justification by faith alone, but a radical recovery of the loving heart of God, expressed throughout Scripture, but rarely as clearly as in Ephesians 2:4-6, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love which which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”

What a refreshing time we had. Thank you, Grace Church, for sending us.