The 2007 Protestant Reformation Conference: August 28-30
The PRS met once again at Regents Park College, Oxford for their annual conference. The college is situated centrally in what must be one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. The staff made all their guests most comfortable and the fellowship was deep and sweet indeed. As usual at such a conference, the conversations which took place quite equalled the lectures in benefit and depth. This year’s topic was ‘Secularism and the Christian Faith: A Study of the Growth of Secularism and its Consequences for the Church and Society’, not the easiest subject for the speakers.
Under the excellent Chairmanship of the Rev. B.G. Felce, the sessions commenced with the Rev. Dr. Edgar Dowse speaking on ‘The Enlightenment’. Brother Dowse celebrated his ninety-seventh birthday at the conference and he is second to none for his enormous Biblical acumen, wit, oratory and energy of delivery. Starting at the Restitution, Brother Dowse traced the development of the age of reason through Matthew Tindal, John Toland and Thomas Wolston, commenting on Bishop Butler’s opposition to this school. He then dealt with the French Revolution, German Rationalism and the more modern ‘demythologising’ school pioneered by Bultmann, discussing ideas of natural piety which were poor substitutes for faith in God. Comparing the glorious testimony of Scripture to the sceptical speculations of the rationalists, Dowse concluded that there is no honest alternative to the power of Christ demonstrated through his incarnation and resurrection.
After dinner, Dr. Roger Beckwith continued with a second session on The Bible and Higher Criticism, showing why human reason cannot be made the measure of all things. Dr Beckwith spoke of how Essays and Reviews published in 1860, shook Britain by introducing Liberalism and destructive Higher Critical theories, but its message was penned by men whose strength did not lay in source and text critical studies and was condemned by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Church of England Synod. Nevertheless, Essays and Reviews sold 22,000 copies in two years, which was more than Darwin’s Origin sold in twenty years. However, many complained that the national church ought not to proscribe doctrinal belief and the Bible was subject to individual scrutiny. The cry went up that Moses had never existed but one of equal powers must have done his work. Such ‘rationalism’ brought scholarship nowhere. Dr. Beckwith showed how Biblical prophesy cannot be dated after the events as Liberal theology supposes. Many prophesies extend beyond even the late dates given them by Liberal critics. His conclusion was that archaeological evidence overwhelmingly supports the Biblical accounts. The day’s sessions were closed by Evening Prayer.
After Morning Prayers next day, Dr Robert Law, a scientist and theologian, gave a fine message on Darwinism. His arguments were stunning in their clarity and logic. Dr. Law showed how it is futile to question the accuracy of Genesis by using post-creation, so-called natural laws as creation occurred with God using laws relevant to that creative period which was finished before the seventh day. Thus we would not expect the laws governing the upkeep of creation to be the ones used in the creation process which were not needed afterwards. Dr. Law also showed how Darwin did not commit himself fully to evolution and natural selection but to sheer naturalism. We were presented with amusing Kipling-like ‘Just-So Stories’ concerning how the giraffe got his neck which in their ‘scientific evolutionary form’ appear miraculous, not to mention far-fetched, yet evolutionists tell us that it is the creationists who believe unscientifically in fairy-stories. Explaining that evolution had nothing to do with facts but pre-suppositions, Dr Law gave the Grand Canyon as an example. Though the signs might indicate that much water has quickly dug out much land, evolutionists say a little water passed through over millions of years. Dinosaurs were obviously quickly covered by deposits but their fossil remains stand in strata, starting at their feet and finishing over their heads which would have taken billions of years whilst the dead dinosaur stood up stiffly and did not rot. Dr. Law wanted to know why intelligent design is banned from the science of biology but not archaeology. He concluded that arguing about data with evolutionists is a waste of time. We must confront them with the creator. Darwin on naturalism was a speculative philosopher but men such as Mendelson on genetics were scientific researchers who showed up the folly of Darwinism.
The fourth session featured Dr. E.M. Culbertson on Marxism, tracing its development from the German Revolution of 1848 and the emphasis placed thereafter on the working class man. Marx, born into a Jewish family who had adopted Christianity for social and political reasons was compared with Engels, the offspring of committed pietists. Both wished to develop a new morality which was not bourgeoisie but which proved the down-fall of the Communism it established. Communism was unable to create a Heaven on earth rather than the Heaven after earth which they denounced. Marxism became a religion which was an opium for the people but failed to provide a solution to man’s main problem, his own sinful nature. Indeed, Marxism strove to alienate the people from Christ, thus preventing them from obtaining a solution for their primary needs.
After tea, we were given a rousing sermon by D. K. Phillips of the Church Society who retraced much of the area covered by the sessions. After dinner there was a question and answer time which centred mainly on evolution. Evening Prayers included the Reformed Litany.
My own Thursday morning contribution was on ‘The Capitulation of the Church to Secularism’. Most of my points had been covered, so I concentrated more on giving a historical overview of the capitulation in the Reformed churches, starting with the beginning of the leprosy, as William Cowper puts it, in the Church itself. I then traced the development of secularism in the Reformed churches from the publication of Rutherford’s Lex Rex and the ensuing emphasis on the laws of nature and natural rights and the teaching that the voice of the people was the voice of God. From this basic error I traced the downgrading of politics, literature, entertainment and religion, showing how these topics dominated much of our so-called Reformed churches. My solution was to rediscover lost Biblical paths, returning to the preaching, praise and prayer of the New Testament in our worship and to regain Biblical teaching on the stewardship of man in creation.
The seventh and final session was led by Dr. David Samuel who spoke on ‘The Effects of Secularism on Society Today’. Dr. Samuel also emphasised the destructive impact of the Enlightenment especially in the years after the Second World War which saw the rapid growth of secular humanism. The speaker described what he called the ‘collective amnesia’ of the times with its determination to forget and obliterate our Christian past as a nation and society. This was traced in education; the reasons for low birth-rate in Britain; the state of marriage; social addictions such as drinking, gambling, the willingness to go into debt; and the insensibility shown for the need to combat crime. Dr Samuel feared that we were not merely at the crossroads but well down the road to destruction. The complacency that democracy brings cannot ensure that extremism does not triumph. Or only hope is a return to the teaching and values of the Bible and make a concerted effort to have people voted in who realise that ‘righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people’. The speaker’s prayer was that the leaders of the nation, in church and state, would call for a time of national humiliation and repentance.
It was certainly good to be at the conference and to see how people from quite different backgrounds were being called by Christ to stop the rot in our present so-called civilisation.