Greenville Conference Celebrates Gospel Freedom

crowd-c“Trumpet Call: 500 Years of Gospel Freedom” served as the theme for the spring conference of Grenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (GPTS). About 375 people (including people from Nigeria, South Africa, and Canada) attended all or part of the lectures presented at Woodruff Road Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Simpsonville, SC, from March 14-16, 2017.

A chapel service on Tuesday morning concluded the Seminary’s annual open house for prospective students and initiated conference activities. Dr. Joseph A. Pipa, Jr., President of GPTS, preached from Romans 3:1-4 on “Whose Fault?”

Lectures began on Tuesday afternoon with Dr. Joel Beeke, President of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, MI, speaking on Sola Scriptura. Using Psalm 19:7ff and 2 Timothy 2:14ff as his texts, he first delineated doctrines that flow from Sola Scriptura. He then defined and clarified the sufficiency of Scripture, before bringing practical applications. He stated, “The heart of Sola Scriptura is that the Bible is sufficient for the faith and practice of the church.”

Dr. Robert Kolb, Professor Emeritus at Concordia Seminary and a widely-recognized expert on Luther, presented a lecture on “Luther’s Providential God.” He noted that while most people think of Luther’s primary emphasis as being on Christ, he also had a robust theology of God’s providence.

Pipa chapel
Dr. Pipa

Following a Question & Answer session, Dr. Pipa drew from Ephesians 2:1-10 to speak on Sola Gratia. His three points were the function of grace, the purpose of grace, and the fruit of grace. He said, “Salvation, from beginning to end, is of Jehovah, the triune God, that He might be glorified in His people.”

Dr. Kolb then enlightened listeners on “Luther’s Preaching on the Parables.” The key to understanding this biblical genre, he said, is to “recognize the Person telling the parable as the main point of it,” and that Christ provides the proper interpretation for each one.

On Wednesday, Pastor Cliff Blair, Redeemer Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Charlotte, NC, preached from John 6:26-71 on Solus Christus. He spoke movingly of Christ as the focus of the entire Scriptures, the holy One of God, who is the center of it all. He urged listeners, “Set your feet on this rock, eat this bread, drink this blood, taste eternal life now, and know that you will have it forever and ever.”

Pastor Carl Robbins, Woodruff Presbyterian Church, used James 2:14ff to address the topic of Sola Fide. He noted that Protestants tend to warn against legalism, but fail to recognize the danger of antinomianism. In a memorable introduction, he compared the two threats to ditches on the sides of a narrow country road.

L-R:  Drs. Pipa &, Whiting, Pastor Blair, Ryan Speck (moderator), Dr. Morales, Pastor Robbins, and Dr. Kolb

After another panel discussion, Dr. L. Michael Morales, Professor of Biblical Studies at GPTS, spoke on Soli Deo Gloria. Based on Matthew 4:1-11, he encouraged hearers to look to Jesus, who lived completely to the glory of God and glorified the Father through obedience to His Word.

Dr. Michael Whiting, author of Luther in English, led off Thursday’s lectures by exploring “Law as Friend and Foe in Luther’s Theology.” He noted that Luther’s famous paradox about believers being simul justus et peccator (both righteous and sinners) can guide our understanding of his paradoxical language regarding the law.

The last presentation by Dr. James E. McGoldrick, GPTS Professor of Church History, was about “Luther on Life without Dichotomy.” Based on 1 Peter 2:1-12, he spoke about Luther’s doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, which was in stark contrast to the prevailing dichotomy between clergy and laity. He stressed that a life of service is indispensible to the Christian life, saying, “True faith is always active in love.”

The conference concluded with a final Question & Answer session.

The above article by Glenda Mathes was one in the Reformation Conference Series and appeared on pages 10 & 11 of the May 31, 2017, issue of Christian Renewal.


Cheyenne Reformation Conference focuses on the future’s promise

Northwoods Presbyterian Church in Cheyenne, WY
Northwoods Presbyterian Church in Cheyenne, WY

Cheyenne, WY, may bring to mind its world-famous rodeo and Frontier Days that have attracted visitors for over 100 years, or perhaps the Warren Air Force Base, command center for the US Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles.

But the city is also the site of the annual Cheyenne Reformation Conference hosted for the last four years by Northwoods Presbyterian Church (PCA).

Conference organizer Dr. Alex Ramig explains its goal: “The conference focuses on bringing seminary quality teaching to Wyoming and is certainly unique in our state and possibly even in the entire Rocky Mountain, USA, region.”

The 2013 Cheyenne Reformation Conference, held on October 11 & 12, featured Dr. Cornel Venema speaking on “The Last Days: The Unfailing Promise of the Future.”

A Friday evening concert led off the conference. In Session 1, Dr. Venema spoke about “The ‘Signs of the Times’ and Christ’s Triumph,” showing how in the “Olivet discourse” of Matthew 24 Christ comprehensively describes what will occur during the time between His first and second advents.

Session 2 on Saturday morning, “The Millennium and Christ’s Triumph,” explored John’s extraordinary vision in Revelation 20 (which has been interpreted in different ways) about the reign of Christ and His gathering of the nations.

In Session 3, Dr. Venema used 1 Corinthians 15 to show Paul’s encouragement to the church with the truth of our “Resurrection Hope and Christ’s Triumph” over death.

Session 4 focused on “Promised Rest for Christ’s Church and Christ’s Triumph” by examining Paul’s instruction in 2 Thessalonians 1 regarding the certain promise of Christ’s return and rescue of His church.

The sessions were followed by a question and answer period, and Dr. Venema preached at the morning worship service of Northwoods Reformed Church on the subsequent Sunday.

Over 80 people attended the conference, most from Wyoming, but others from Colorado, Nebraska and Texas. Attendees indicated that the conference exceeded their expectations and they would recommend it to others.

“I received many informal comments of appreciation,” relates Dr. Ramig. “Especially noted was Dr. Venema’s scholarly knowledge, his ability to communicate effectively and his pastor’s heart.”

Pastor Bob Hemphill, Laramie Reformed Presbyterian Church (RPCNA), expressed his thankfulness to conference organizers: “By  God’s grace, you ran another excellent program from speaker to subject, to registration, to books, to food and to music. All was worthwhile, delightful and well-organized. It’s a great blessing to have this annual conference in our state.”

Previous conference speakers have included Dr. Scott Clark, Dr. Dennis Johnson, and Dr. Derek Thomas. The 2014 Cheyenne Reformation Conference is scheduled for October 24-25 with Dr. Joel Beeke.

Conference recordings are available here.

This article by Glenda Mathes appeared on page 13 of the November 13, 2013, issue of Christian Renewal.

OPC Reformation conference in Sheboygan

Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Sheboygan, WI, hosted its third annual Reformation conference on October 29, 2011. Rev. Alan D. Strange, Associate Professor of Church History, spoke at the Saturday conference and preached at the church’s Sunday worship services.

“The conference went extremely well,” wrote Pastor Brian De Jong (Grace OPC). “On Saturday morning around 75 people enjoyed two presentations by our brother…. On Sunday we had a very full house for both morning and evening worship.”

Using 1 Corinthians 1:10 as a springboard for his first lecture, Rev. Strange focused on the nature and necessity of confessing our faith. He surveyed the historical development of doctrine up to the Reformation, noting that the doctrine of the Holy Spirit was underdeveloped until the theology of John Calvin. He then examined the work of the Westminster Assembly of Divines, showing how it brought Calvin’s theology to its fullest confessional expression.

Beginning his second lecture with a look at 1 Timothy 1:12-17, Rev. Strange spoke about the life and legacy of J. Gresham Machen. He explained that Machen battled within himself during his time in Germany, eventually “coming to certainty by overcoming historicism” and “recognizing that the God who ruled the world could give us His infallible Word, a strong doctrine of providence forming the foundation of a strong doctrine of Scripture.” 

Sunday morning’s sermon, “The Reformation of Josiah,” was based on 2 Kings 22:1-23:3. Rev. Strange highlighted how the recovery of the law led to repentance and reformation.

“We need, in our time,” he said, “to recover God’s Word so that we might repent of our sins and enjoy further reformation.”

The evening sermon, “This Is Our Need,” was based on Daniel’s prayer in Daniel 9:1-19. 

“Daniel saw the need of his people, gaining a sight of Israel’s sin and seeing the need of a savior, enjoying a season of renewal,” said Rev. Strange. “Our need is to see our sin, our Savior, and to be restored in Christ.”

Pastor Brian De Jong (Grace OPC) related that many people responded to the conference with “very enthusiastic” comments. One couple, in particular, were challenged about their Bible reading habits and committed to making changes in that area. He also noted a high volume of lecture downloads through the church website. Recordings of the conference lectures and sermons are available at

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on page 31 of the December 29, 2011, issue of Christian Renewal.

Calgary conference: “Ingredients for Reformation Today”

A Reformation conference hosted by Bethel URC in Calgary, AB, on October 28-29, 2011, explored intriguing topics under the theme: “Reformation Then and Now: Ingredients for Reformation Today.”

Dr. J. Mark Beach, Professor of Ministerial and Doctrinal Studies at Mid-America Reformed Seminary, spoke about the need for modern believers to overcome tendencies toward works religion and distortions of grace.

His Friday evening lecture, “Learning the Way of Grace (Not Works),” began by showing that the Protestant Reformation was primarily about salvation by grace alone.

“It is easy, however,” said Dr. Beach, “to unlearn this truth in the rough-and-tumble of life, to fall into a ‘works religion’ without realizing it, and to suffer under the oppression of our own human-fashioned Christianity.”

By examining the biblical characters of Naaman (2 Kings 5) and the rich young ruler (Mark 10), Dr. Beach explored how to relearn the way of grace.

“By relearning salvation by grace alone,” he said, “the church is on its way to reformation afresh.”

Continuing with the theme of “Ingredients for Reformation Today,” Dr. Beach’s Saturday lectures focused on two common distortions of grace he labeled “Jonah Christianity” and “Elder Brother Christianity.”

Dr. Beach addressed the first distortion of divine grace by looking at the book of Jonah, demonstrating how to recognize and overcome loveless Christianity.

“Grace that is reluctant grace is no grace at all,” he said. “We must recapture that blessedness of God’s loving grace that seeks us out and finds us so that we love as He does, and so that we celebrate the gospel that keeps us, carries us, and brings us home. In overcoming distortions of grace, we shall experience the reformation of the church in our own time.”

Dr. Beach demonstrated that the second distortion of divine grace, “Elder Brother Christianity,” corrupts the gospel and undermines the church’s witness to the world.

Using the Parable of the Prodigal Son from Luke 15, Dr. Beach unmasked the ways in which the modern church falls into a twisted version of Christianity that is judgmental, unkind, denunciatory, and ungracious to the lost.

“This attitude bespeaks our own lost state, should we succumb to it,” he said. In order for the church to be re-formed in our time, it is vital that we hold before us the “love of God in Christ Jesus that welcomes sinners home and joins the celebration, with the angels in heaven, over the healing of the lost.” 

About 75 people attended the conference. The Calgary Protestant Male Choir and an organ/trumpet musical intermezzo contributed to Friday evening’s celebration. Inheritance Publications offered a selection of Reformed books and music during the conference.

Dr. Beach continued with the Reformation Day theme as he preached at Bethel URC on Sunday, October 30.

Following the evening service, one woman told Dr. Beach that his addresses and sermons were like “a giant hug from God.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 30-31 of the December 28, 2011, issue of Christian Renewal.

Ripon’s Reformation Conference

When Rev. Kevin Efflandt took up the minister’s mantle at Zion United Reformed Church in Ripon, CA, the council determined to work toward hosting an annual Reformation conference.

The purpose of the conference, he says, is “not only for the edification of our own people but also to bring the truths of the Reformation to people in our community. There seems to be a renewed interest in the doctrines of grace, and so we wanted to ‘strike while the iron is hot’ in a sense.”

Zion URC’s first annual Reformation conference was held on Saturday, November 5, 2011, and featured speaker Dr. W. Robert Godfrey, President of Westminster Seminary California. He addressed the theme of “Confessing the Faith: The 450th Anniversary of the Belgic Confession of Faith.”

Dr. Godfrey’s three lectures were on: Confessing the Word of Christ, Confessing the Work of Christ, and Confessing the Church of Christ.

“There was also a question and answer session,” says Rev. Efflandt. “Westminster Seminary California operated a book table, displaying and selling a number of Dr. Godfrey’s books. We also gave away dozens of CDs of White Horse Inn broadcasts.”

Approximately 180 people attended the conference, which was promoted through an event page on Facebook, flyers sent to area churches, and via a radio spot played in conjunction with Zion’s weekly sponsorship of the White Horse Inn broadcast.

“Attendance far exceeded our expectations and attendees came from a variety of churches and places,” says Rev. Efflandt. “We had a number of our own people at the conference, but we also had people from the Bay Area, southern California, as well as the immediate area around Ripon.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 14-15 of the December 7, 2011 issue of Christian Renewal.