Dedicated to the devotional, exegetical and philosophical study of theological paradox in Conservative, Thoroughly Biblical, Historically Orthodox, Essentially Reformed theology . . . to the glory of God alone!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Five Solas of the Reformation Conference

You've probably heard about the anti-Calvinistic John 3:16 Conference. Recently a very different conference was held in South Georgia, and I was blessed to be a part of it. Here's how it happened . . .
My family recently started attending a different church. For about 3 years, we were part of a wonderful group of churches known as Sovereign Grace Ministries. However, the Sovereign Grace church in our area is a long distance from where we live. Although the doctrine and core values are a nearly perfect match for us, we felt a nudge from the Lord to get connected with a church closer to our home. As a result, we recently joined ourselves to Lakeside Community Church, a small but vibrant Evangelical Free church. I could say many things about the blessings we have received in this body of believers, but I want to share about the church retreat that took place this past weekend.

We gathered at Honey Creek Retreat Center in Waverly, Georgia - not far from where the John 3:16 Conference was held last year. Our guest speaker was Rick Bourque, pastor of East Side Community Church in Jacksonville, Florida. Rick has made a devoted study of the Reformation, Reformed theology, and Church History. He taught four great sessions on the 5 Solas of the Reformation:
SOLA SCRIPTURA - By the Word of God Alone
SOLA GRATIA - By Grace Alone
SOLA FIDE - Through Faith Alone
SOLUS CHRISTUS - In Christ Alone
SOLI DEO GLORIA - For the Glory of God Alone

Each session included teaching from the book of Romans, an explanation of one or two of the Solas, and a historical portrait of a person who embodied the doctrine. The historical figures were Martin Luther (Sola Scriptura), John Calvin (Sola Gratia & Sola Fide), John Owen (Solus Christus), and Jonathan Edwards (Soli Deo Gloria). All of this was encouraging, faith-building, and challenging.
We spent one evening singing hymns and learning the stories behind them. What came out clearly through the historical portraits and all of the hymn stories was this: God reveals His glory through our sufferings. John Owen had 11 children, ten of whom died in early childhood. The other child lived into her late teens, and then she too died. Owen's sparkling theological works were written in the midst of these tragedies, and this man who taught us what it means to "mortify sin" knew death up close. Jonathan Edwards wrote some of his best works after he was kicked out of his church and placed in an out-of-the-way pastorate. Calvin wrote the Institutes while he was being hunted down by the French government. Martin Luther translated the Bible into German while hiding from Catholic persecutors who were intent on killing him. And the lives of the hymn writers were similar: death, tragedy, poverty, pain, sickness. Every suffering led to to a greater glorification of the God who sustained them through it.
We also heard the testimony of retired Missionary, Al Larson, who attends Lakeside with his wife. Many years ago, they were part of a group of missionaries who were captured by rebels while serving in the Congo. After watching many of his friends and co-workers die at the hands of the rebels, Al managed to lead several prisoners to safety in a daring escape. Afterwards, he led a group of Cuban mercenaries to a house where the women and children were being held, and assisted in their rescue. Some years ago, all of this was recounted in a book called "Out of the Jaws of the Lion," by H. Dowdy. Missiologists believe that the sufferings of these missionaries planted the seeds for a revival that has come to the Congo in more recent years. The political instability and persecution continue, but God's glory shines in the darkness. I am grateful that my children can hear these firsthand accounts of God's faithfulness.

The photos in this post were taken at the retreat. Whether in the skies or in the fields, in the streams or in the trees, in our joys or in our sorrows - God paints a beautiful picture, revealing His exalted glory.


  1. Have you seen the recent blogs about SGM and C.J. Mahaney. They show another side.

    Hope this helps.

  2. anti-Calvinistic John 3:16 Conference??? Did you write about it?

  3. anti-Calvinistic John 3:16 Conference??? Did you write about it?

  4. Steve,

    Over the last 10+ years, I have been been in two churches that were heavily influenced by Sovereign Grace Ministries, and I have been a member of two actual Sovereign Grace Churches.

    I have been aware of some of the critical sites for quite awhile. Two years ago I spent some time reading through the complaints and criticisms on one of the blogs you mentioned, and I found myself immediately puzzled by some questions:

    1. Why haven't I seen anything remotely like this in my experience with Sovereign Grace Ministries? Why have I found only a thoroughly Biblical doctrine and practice guided by a humble, Gospel-centered approach?

    2. Why are people spending this much time and energy attacking what seems very obviously to be a work of the Holy Spirit in an organization that is admittedly flawed because human beings are involved - as ALL churches are?

    Here are my answers to these questions:

    1. Some people dislike Reformed theology and therefore attack Sovereign Grace Ministries (one of your blogs almost states this directly).

    2. Some people are unfamiliar with Biblical practices of church discipline, and they view these matters from a man-centered, Americanized perspective that simply won't submit to any authority God has established.

    3. Some people have been genuinely hurt by the imperfect shepherds who lead the church. This will be true of any denomination or church body on earth. In the case of Sovereign Grace Ministries, some people have chosen to viciously attack rather than forgive.

    My experience in Sovereign Grace Ministries has been one of utter blessedness, strong edification, grace abounding, mercy displayed, Biblical truth practiced and God glorified. I recommend Sovereign Grace without reservation. But as with any church, I would call on every person to be a Berean and test all that is said and done by the infallible standard of the Word of God. If someone disagrees strongly after such an examination, he should move on and get into a church he likes - and leave it to God to judge His own house.

    On the other hand, our critics do us a service by forcing us to re-examine our practices and make necessary changes. Every leader I've met in Sovereign Grace has welcomed the opportunity to change and grow, openly admitted a proneness to steer off course, and humbly asked for accountability and guidance.

    Steve, I hope you will find the grace to move on, stop attacking, and point the spotlight toward Christ.

    Derek Ashton

  5. Natasa,

    The J316 Conference was held in Woodstock, Georgia in November 2008. There is some video of James White commenting on the conference here:

    I didn't write anything on it, but many others have. I view the conference as a reaction from Southern Baptist leaders who do not agree with the recent Calvinistic trends in their denomination. Men like Al Mohler have created a stir by calling Southern Baptists back to their Reformed and Biblical roots. Unfortunately, as the largest denomination in America, many in their ranks have fallen under the influence of our culture and embraced a more distinctively American theology that exalts human freedom above God's sovereignty.


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