THE REFORM CONFERENCE:
BY NIGEL ATKINSON
THE REFORM CONFERENCE has begun to occupy a firm place in the calendars of convinced doctrinal evangelicals and this year saw no exception. Indeed, after the recent considered proclamations of the Rt Revs Holloway and Rawcliffe and the publication of Something to Celebrate it was noticeable the Reform has begun to attract an increasing number of evangelicals who, some mere six months ago, would not have touched Reform with a disinfected barge pole. It is inevitable that as the church continues to abandon her doctrinal moorings and become increasingly eccentric in both her doctrine, morals and practice that many more evangelicals will rally to Reform's banner and so she will begin to prove herself an even greater thorn in the side of the liberal evangelical establishment than she has been up to now.
But one has to wonder why it is that Reform is still relatively small. Notwithstanding the fact that Westminster Central hall was packed to the gunwales it is plain for all to see that Reform has no say on the episcopal Bench and that the vast majority of evangelicals would consider Reform to be "unhelpful". Indeed the only Episcopal present came in the form of the Re Rev. Frank Reteif of the Church of England in South Africa who, in a moving interview, not only spoke of the trials of a biblical ministry but also showed us what bishops could be. But the Conference did not convene under the title "The Heart of the Matter" for nothing and in the opening address Dr Peter Jensen, Principal of Moore Theological College, Sydney spelt out the reason for the demise of evangelical orthodoxy. Quoting from the recent Churchman editorial by Dr Gerald Bray, Dr Jensen pointed to the lack of doctrinal conviction that vitiates the spiritual energy of so many within the Church of England. The slogan "experience unites, doctrine divides" seems itself to have become a doctrinal shibboleth; so much so that evangelicals have lost the ability to contend for the truth that lies at the heart of reality itself because it lies at the heart of Scripture.
This theme, once established, became the basis of the talks by Dr Packer and the ethicist David Field. Dr Packer spoke from the wealth of his theological knowledge and from his experience of the Anglican Church in Canada and Mr Field gave a telling exposition of homosexuality in the Bible; admirably demonstrating St Paul's doctrinal handling of a delicate and sensitive moral issue.
The conference concluded on a high note and one thing is certain. Reform is going from strength to strength. Her numbers are increasing and with an ever tightening grasp on the doctrinal issues her force for good within the Church is incalculable. After all it was Martin Luther who pointed out that many had complained of the abuses in the late medieval Roman Church. But the Reformation only began to have an impact once Luther began to attack the doctrinal laxity that gave rise to those abuses. If Reform can do the same she will have lived up to her name.
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