Few churches in the URCNA have hosted 16 consecutive annual conferences, but the Reformed Bible Church of West Sayville, NY, sponsored its sixteenth annual Bible conference on October 1-2, 2011. As the conference speaker, Rev. Mark Vander Hart, Associate Professor of Old Testament Studies at Mid-America Reformed Seminary, explored the person and work of the Holy Spirit.
Nancy Almodovar, a member of the church who comes from a strong Pentecostal background, was “thrilled” to hear the subject of this year’s conference. Having been told for most of her life that other church affiliations were “dead” because they didn’t have the Holy Spirit, Nancy keenly anticipated finally learning “a “biblical perspective” on the Spirit. “Needless to say,” she says, “I was not disappointed.”
Rev. Vander Hart delivered three lectures on Saturday, October 10. In the first session, he surveyed the work of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament era. Beginning with the work of the Spirit in creation, he went on to show how God gave power and wisdom to Bezalel, the builder of the Tabernacle, how the Spirit came upon several judges, and how the Spirit communicated God’s Word through the prophets.
“Far from the teaching I’d grown up with,”Nancy says, “I soon learned that the Holy Spirit was very active in the Old Testament and that God’s people were as much reliant upon the Third Person of the Trinity as we believers are today.”
Nancy was particularly impressed with Rev. Vander Hart’s comparisons between the depictions of the Spirit in the Tabernacle and the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost.
“This I had never heard before and Rev. Vander Hart opened up these passages of Scripture to me like never before,” she says. “As a former Pentecostal, it made me question why my former teachers never made this connection regarding the beautiful fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies at Pentecost.”
In his second lecture, Rev. Vander Hart focused on the historical development of the church’s confession regarding the Holy Spirit. This session explored questions such as: Is the Spirit the “same substance” as the Father? How does the Holy Spirit relate to the Father and the Son? Rev. Vander Hart also surveyed how some of the Reformation’s confessions have referenced the person and work of the Holy Spirit in the administration of Christ’s redemption.
“One remark took me by complete surprise: Calvin was called the ‘Theologian of the Holy Spirit,’” relates Nancy. “I was taught that the Reformers didn’t have the Holy Spirit; they were too ‘theological’ in their approach and it wasn’t till the ‘Latter Rain’ in the early 1900s that God restored His Spirit to His Church. Rev. Vander Hart continued on with more eye-opening statements and challenges such as, ‘Count how many times the Holy Spirit is mentioned in the Heidelberg.’ I took up the challenge and realized that much of what I had been taught about the work and Person of the Holy Spirit was indeed skewed.”
The final session drew attention to the work of the Spirit in the life of the church, which is the Body of Christ. It focused on the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5) in the various members of the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12).
About 30-35 people attended the Saturday sessions, with some attendees coming from northern New Jersey and New York City.
“What I love about these Bible conferences is not only the quality of the speakers, but also how knowledgeable and considerate they are in taking time to talk with the attendees,”Nancyconcluded. “Having learned so much more about the Holy Spirit than I ever learned in the Pentecostal/charismatic tradition made my appreciation for these conferences just grow by leaps and bounds.”
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on page 11 of the December 7, 2011 issue of Christian Renewal.