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.


An open door in Uganda


Robbins family - 2015People often say that God doesn’t close a door without opening another, and we frequently see it happen. More rarely the newly-opened door requires stepping over the threshold into a different country. But that huge step of faith for the David and Rashel Robbins family is actually the fulfillment of their lifelong dreams.

Even as children, each of them had longed to serve God in foreign missions, a shared desire that drew them together when they met. God seemed to close that door, instead calling the couple to Huntington, WV, where David planted Trinity Presbyterian Church for the OPC. But late in 2014, the supervising session questioned the viability of the mission work. The elders encouraged David to seek another call before it became necessary to close the effort. While that door was easing shut, no others appeared to open.

“We still had a longing to share Christ with the world,” David says, “but began to wonder if this was not God’s plan for us. We recommitted our desires to the Lord, and then—in a moment completely unforeseen and unanticipated by us—we were asked whether we would be interested in serving the Lord in Uganda.”

That foreign missions possibility came to light at the March 2015 presbytery meeting. David and Rashel visited the Karamoja field in August and were interviewed by the OPC’s Foreign Missions Committee in September. The Committee issued a call to him, which was processed by his presbytery, and he was installed as a missionary to Uganda on October 30. The door to his pastoral work at Trinity Presbyterian Church closed at the end of October.

David says, “Our prayerful ‘yes’ has consistently met with the Lord’s confirmation, and now we eagerly look forward to getting to the field.”

The family, which includes three young children, anticipates arriving in Uganda in February of 2016. They will live in a house located in one of three adjoining missionary compounds, which currently house around 20 people. Rashel’s younger sister, who has lived with them for several years, will remain in the States to attend college.

Karamoja is the eastern region of Uganda, about 2-7 hours (depending on travel conditions) from Mbale, where Eric and Diana Tuininga serve, and 7-13 hours from the capital city of Kampala and nearby Entebbe on the shores of Lake Victoria.

The area is considered high risk, due to cattle raids. Although that criminal activity has decreased in recent years, petty theft and violence (leading to martial law) are common. Residents must be take precautions against natural threats like malaria, scorpions, and poisonous snakes.

The Orthodox Presbyterian Uganda Mission (OPUM) has been working in the Karamoja area for 15 years, establishing an indigenous church and performing works of mercy. Other OPUM efforts include literature production, literacy training, medical care and health instruction at a clinic, vocational training, well drilling, and a working farm.

In January, the Robbins family will undergo a month of instruction at Mission Training International in Colorado. Then they will fly to Entebbe prior to making the long drive to the northeast.

Rev. Robbins, a 2005 graduate of Mid-America Reformed Seminary, plans to assist Pastor Dave Okken with planting a church in Nakaale. His work will include caring for the mission, reaching out to the community, and discipling future church leaders.

The family appreciates prayer as they walk in faith through this open door.

“We’re thrilled that the Lord has seen fit to give us this long-held desire of our hearts, and pray that he will enable us to serve him for his glory,” Rev. Robbins says. “That Christ would claim the people of this very dark place for his own is our great desire. Though we understand that this will not be an easy calling, if he is glorified, we will rejoice.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared in the February 3, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal. For updates on the work, see the family’s blog myganda.