It seems that with the rise in numbers of young, broadly-reformed Christians and pastors in recent years, there has also been a large increase in the seeming importance of conferences. Here you have people who love theology, love good preaching, love fellowship across denominational lines, and love the overall experience of getting away and being blessed through deep study of the word for a few days.
What could be wrong with that? Right?
Many of the dangers of conferences (celebrity-ism, seeking life in emotional highs, finding identity in being a ‘conference person’, etc.) have been well-chronicled already. I’ve considered those potential pitfalls, and seen the danger in them. But yet, I’ve still remained largely in favour of conferences.
But recently I’ve been thinking about another problem with conferences — one that is in large part bound up with the celebrity-pastor and church-by-podcast Christian culture of 21st century North American evangelicalism.
The problem is bound up with our ecclesiology (our theology of the church):
Unchecked, conferences can both reflect bad ecclesiology and lead to still worse ecclesiology.
A Leave It to the Experts Mentality
Our culture is a culture of experts. Multiple post-secondary and even graduate degrees are required for just about everything. Specialists, rather than generalists rule the day. If we are not careful, our broader church culture will reflect the same thinking. The voice of the local pastor is drowned out by the thunderous boom of the voice amplified to thousands of conference attendees and broadcast live across the web to many more.
There are few things that grieve the heart of a parent more than watching the children they love quarrel with each other. When your children are fighting, it doesn’t even really matter (in one sense) who is right and who is wrong. Just the fact that they are quarelling is enough to make the whole situation seem like a loss.
By way of contrast, there is very little that pleases the heart of a parent more than when their children agree with one another and even help one another. Honestly, even if our girls are just nice to each other, it thrills me.
And I know the same is true of God the Father’s heart:
Behold, how good and pleasant it is
when brothers dwell in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down on the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down on the collar of his robes!
It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the Lord has commanded the blessing,
life forevermore. (Psalm 133.1-3)
The heart of our Father longs for his children to get along. And our hearts, like the hearts of little children, long to please our Father. So if we put these things together, we come up with a very simple, practical way for you to please your Father’s heart today.
Are you ready for it?
Be nice to other Christians.
Simple, right? Just be nice. Think nice thoughts about them. Speak nicely to them (including blog posts and comments). Do something nice for one of them. It will bless them, it will give you joy, and you know what? It will even please the heart of your Father who loves you both.
There are certainly lots of curious things that happen in sections of Old Testament narrative. But one of the more curious realities of the Moses narrative, to me, is the fact that Moses is not allowed to go into the Promised Land. It’s not the fact that he’s forbidden that seems curious, but the fact that he seems repeatedly to blame his sin on the people of Israel (see Deut. 4.21-22 for example).
On this, D.A. Carson writes:
Of the many lessons that spring from this historical recital, one relatively minor point — painful to Moses and important for us — quietly emerges. Moses repeatedly reminds the people that he himself will not be permitted to enter the land. He is referring to the time he struck the rock instead of speaking to it (Num. 20). But now he points out, truthfully, that his sin and punishment took place, he says, “because of you” (Deut. 1:37; Deut. 3:23-27; Deut. 4:21-22). Of course, Moses was responsible for his own action. But he would not have been tempted had the people been godly. Their persistent unbelief and whining wore him down. (For the Love of God, vol. 1. Read the full entry here.)
In other words, the persistent sin of the people of Israel had finally provoked the meekest of all men on the earth (Num 12.3) to sin. And now he was paying for it, ‘because of [them].’
Do you see what happened? When they persisted in unbelief, rebellion, and sin, it discouraged and disheartened even the most faithful. Holiness and the battle against sin, for the people of Israel, was something essentially communal. However one person acted effected others.