[Six Maranatha folks attended The Gospel Coalition's biennial conference. Here are some thoughts they'd like to share on their experience. Three will start this post with two or three more following up next week]
So this past Sunday, we drove 700+ miles for 12 hours through the night to Indianapolis, where some 8,500 folks gathered to celebrate and commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. And as the conference themed "No Other Gospel: Reformation 500 and Beyond" kicked off Monday with Pastor John Piper "batting" leadoff, my friend Steve Martinez texted me, "Catching the livestream now!"
So why did we travel hundreds of miles to catch it live when we could've simply live-streamed it?! I asked myself this very valid question upon receiving Steve's text...
Here are three of my reasons:
1. It was an epic event with world-class pastors/teachers/scholars like Anyabwile, Carson, Guthrie, Keller, Piper, and Um leading plenaries and breakout seminars. And if those names mean nothing to you, just know the Gospel was preached powerfully and clearly. So while we learned much about Reformation history and heroes (Beza, Bucer, Calvin, Farel, Luther, Zwingli, and others), we worshiped God─the One who spurred this great movement back to the solas of our biblical faith. Led by Matt Boswell and Sandra McCracken, we sang Christ-centered hymns & songs and prayed with Christians from many "tribes, languages, peoples, and nations" as all 50 states and 57 countries, and a boatload of denominations were represented. It was encouraging to discover that the majority of attendees were under the age of 39 (57%) and about 1/3 were of the female persuasion. It was supremely glorious and this 46 year old-fogy did not feel one bit outta place amongst the hip bearded and plaided millennials that surrounded him.
2. Twenty-five hours in a minivan isn't how I prefer to spend most my days, but the deeper, more intimate conversations and fellowship (and silliness) that often takes place on such treks is invaluable for team-building and unity. We were able to bond with Eric Yang, our "newest" staff member and youth director extraordinaire, who had the distinct privilege of sharing a hotel room with a guy who snores rather obnoxiously. But we also had two sisters join us for the conference, Grace Mark and Ruth Pham. And boy, was it really nice to spend some time with Ruth and see her hubby, Irvin, who dropped her off at our rendezvous in Parsippany. We're praying Phams...hint hint.
3. Our faith is a biblical faith...one that has been revealed to us by Almighty God who has spoken to us through his perfect Word (sola scriptura). But ours is surely also an historical faith: God commissioned his only Son, Jesus the Word incarnate, into the time and space He created. God's plan from before time began was to fulfill his redemptive plan by sending Jesus to be born of a virgin, live a majestically pristine life, suffer and die an ignominious and substitutionary death, and then be gloriously resurrected for the justification of rebel sinners: "But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons" (Galatians 4:4-5). We believe Reformation history to be a crucial moment of history when God chose to use men and women devoted to the solas to bring his Church back to him. Semper Reformanda...we are always reforming by his Spirit.
For these reasons and more, #TGC17 was a conference to remember!
Attending TGC ‘17 was a blast or otherwise helpful in all sorts of ways (fellowship, food, car games). I’ll highlight how the conference’s teaching was helpful: it reminded me that the simple gospel truths we speak, love, and live by at Maranatha are truths we’ve inherited from the Reformation, and that the Reformation faith is a biblical faith.
Here’s what I mean: we can summarize the Reformation as a departure from the Roman Catholic Church in two large ways. First, it departed from Rome on the question of what the authority for Christian faith and practice is─what’s called the “formal principle of theology.” Rome elevated the Pope, the Church, and tradition to the same level of authority as the Bible. The Reformers revolted and said that Scripture alone has divine authority. Second, the Reformers departed from Rome on the content of Christian faith and practice─the “material principle” of theology, or what the gospel is. They recovered from Scripture the truths that we are justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, and not by any works of the law (including sacrament), and this is all for the glory of God alone, so we can’t boast in anything we’ve done. By faith alone, sinners are justified, and find heaven’s gates opened to them.
What TGC 2017 did was demonstrate how these two revolutionary recoveries of the Reformation─biblical authority, and justification by faith─are actually straight from Scripture; they connect to the two largest themes of Galatians! The talks on Galatians 1-2 demonstrated the authority of Paul’s gospel, those on 3-4 explained how justification is by faith alone, and 5-6 showed how this affects how we live. I recommend them all, but I found the talks on chapters 1, 2, and 5 especially helpful.
The Gospel Coalition National Conference is a well-oiled machine that runs excellently - huge venue, beautiful displays, world-class teachers and scholars, excellent music, and helpful resources galore. But one of the most meaningful aspects of the conference is the special time to worship corporately and connect with other brothers and sisters (some known and many unknown). You simply cannot get from a livestream. There is something overwhelming and movingly beautiful about 8,000 people belting out “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” It points us forward to that great Day.
More than the corporate time together a conference of this size allows for sweet get togethers. This past week I was able to meet-up with some dear friends from the past─some from seminary and some not. We were able to catch up on life, pray for one another, and just simply chat face to face. A conference of this magnitude also affords the opportunity to meet new people and learn about new ministries. Whether meeting long time friends or perfect strangers, through the fellowship of the saints at #TGC17 we had a front row seat to see how God is at work all around us in powerful, exciting ways! There is too much to share in this brief space, but what is clear from this week (as it was for Martin Luther and the reformers) God is still on the move. Christ is busy building His Church and is still using ordinary saints along the way to do extraordinary works. Soli Deo gloria!
The conference is so well-oiled that videos from the expository plenaries are up! Click here if you're interested in 5.5 hours of God-Centered exposition of Galatians.