(This article appeared in Clarion, vol. 6, no. 5, March 10, 2017.)
On January 12th-14th our seminary (CRTS) hosted its seventh annual conference. Fittingly, the topic for this quincentenary (500th) anniversary was the Great Reformation. On October 31st of this year we will commemorate how the Lord, 500 years ago, began to bring his church out of a long Babylonian captivity. The conference did not disappoint.
In this little article I will not give a summary of the speeches since the interested person can watch video recordings of them on the seminary web page at www.canadianreformedseminary.ca. Rather, I will give some broad and general information about the conference, my impressions as a participant, and some further reflections.
The two-day conference had a modest international flavour. Not only did some of the 150 participants come from five Canadian provinces—BC, Alberta, Manitoba, Quebec, and Ontario—but there was also representation from a smattering of other countries—Australia, Brazil, and New York state. Catching up with old friends and making new ones is always a great side benefit of such a conference. It was well run: the online registration and payment were easy to navigate and the time allowances for the speeches and workshops were well managed—perhaps to the chagrin of some presenters. Almost everything was right on time. The catering was top notch and the singing, led by gifted organists and pianist, was transcendent.
The speeches themselves were interesting and informative. The conference did not focus only on Martin Luther and John Calvin but, in addition to these better known men, we also got to hear about Ulrich Zwingli and Guillaume Farel.
Two of the speeches were open to the public and at both times the large Ebenezer Church auditorium was comfortably filled. Ebenezer Church seems to have become the “home”of the annual CRTS conference, and we appreciate its comfort and roominess. In addition to the more important things we learned in the first speech was a new “why did the chicken cross the road?” joke, but to hear it you will need to listen to Dr. Van Raalte's speech.
All the speeches and workshops in one way or another addressed the theme of how the Great Reformation is still relevant for us and of how we are the richer because of it.
We have been made the richer by it because it turned us back to the five solas (“alones”) of our salvation: By scripture alone, by grace alone, by faith alone, by Christ alone, and all glory to God alone. These are five foundational biblical principles central to the doctrine of salvation. Each sola represents a fundamental teaching of the Bible undermined by the Roman Catholic Church (RCC). The RCC, and especially its head, the Pope, had usurped the throne of Christ in both the church and the world. The Pope plagued the church and society with corruption and abuse. The Pope and the ecclesiastical hierarchy had led the church away from the essential and original teaching of Christ, the prophets, and the apostles, especially with regards to how people can be forgiven of their sins by the death, resurrection, and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ, and of how they can receive eternal life with God. The Reformation re-oriented Christianity back on the original message of the Old and New Testaments.
We are rich because of the Reformation, and the conference stopped and explored each of the five solas.
The Reformation is relevant to us, for several reasons.
First, we always need to be reminded that salvation is by Christ alone, by faith alone, by grace alone, through scripture alone, and that we, as forgiven people, need to live to the glory of God alone. Thanks be to God and all praise to him alone that there are yet countless churches and pulpits where the true gospel is still proclaimed. At the same time we know that there are many places in the world, and even in our own countries, where the preaching is being overshadowed by false doctrines and the candlestick is, in my judgment, being removed. We need to remember the five solas.
Second, the cults are as active as they have always been. The cults teach a false view of our Lord Jesus Christ, usually denying his deity. They teach that salvation is by faith plus human effort, and so deny the biblical preaching of faith alone and grace alone. The cults add their own human documents to scripture. The cults deny God the glory that only he merits. The cults deny each of the five solas, and so the Reformation and the true preaching it revived is as relevant as ever.
Third, the Reformation is relevant because there are those who leave the Reformed faith and embrace the Roman Catholic. There are websites where one can read the writings of former Reformed pastors, seminarians, elders, and church members, who turned away from the Reformed faith and embraced Catholicism. For this reason, too, the Reformation and knowledge of its message are relevant.
Also during the first evening “Celebrate 1517 in 2017” was unveiled. This is a joint initiative of CRTS and the Teachers College (CCRTC), a project meant to help us celebrate throughout the year the faithfulness of God in granting reformation. This initiative has made its own splash in this magazine, so nothing more needs to be said about it here.
We thank everyone who contributed to the CRTS conference. We look forward to celebrating throughout the year of our Lord 2017 the great thing that God did 500 years ago. We are the beneficiaries of the labours and faithfulness of countless who went before us. Let us with them, and together with the church of all ages, say, Soli Deo Gloria!
The evening public lectures:
- Dr. Ted Van Raalte, professor of Ecclesiology at CRTS, “By Grace Alone: How and Why the Reformation Occurred.”
- Dr. Chad Van Dixhoorn, OPC minister and professor of Historical Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS) in Washington, DC, “Luther on Solo Christo: The absolute sufficiency of the Saviour for sinners.”
Day time speeches:
- Rev. Bill Boekestein, pastor of Immanuel Fellowship Church (URCNA), Kalamazoo, Mich, “Zwingli on Sola Scriptura: The clarity and certainty of Scripture.”
- Dr. Jason Van Vliet, professor of Dogmatics at CRTS, “Calvin on Sola Fide: Justified only by an assured faith?”
- Dr. Jason Zuidema, elder in the ERQ in Repentigny, PQ, and executive director of the North American Maritime Ministry Association, “Stealing God's Glory: Farel, Calvin, and the Importance of Scriptural Perspective.”
- Brs. Boekestein, Van Dixhoorn, Zuidema, and Van Vliet addressed the question: “Navigating Change in the Church in a Bold but Balanced Way: What Can the Reformers Teach us?”
- Mr. Martin Jongsma, music teacher and member of the Royal Canadian College of Organists.
- Rev. Bram de Graaf, missionary working in Maceio, Brazil sent out by Cornerstone Church in Hamilton.
- Dr. Ted Van Raalte.
- Dr. Chad Van Dixhoorn.
- How the Reformation Helps us in Worship and Psalm Singing.
- How the Reformation Helps us in Prayer and Spiritual Life.
- How the Reformation Helps us in Church Planting and Mission.
- How the Reformation Helps us in Politics, Church, and State