As most of the world knows by now, 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. The Reformation is often known as the greatest event in the history of Christ’s church since the birth of the church at Pentecost (Acts 2). During the Reformation, sine qua non doctrines of the Christian faith were rediscovered consequent of the Word of God being unleashed. One of those was the doctrine of justification. Martin Luther rightly remarked that justification by faith alone in Christ alone is the article by which the church stands or falls. It is the glorious truth that by faith alone in Jesus Christ, sinners are declared to possess the righteous standing of Christ before God for eternity. Necessarily so, our generation of the church has experienced a heightened interest in Reformation doctrine. Many have experienced a reformation of their own as they dive into these biblical truths.
But justification was not the only doctrine needing rediscovering during the Reformation. Among others, John Calvin spilled much ink on justification’s fruit—sanctification. On the relationship between the two, Calvin wrote:
Although we may distinguish them, Christ contains both of them inseparably in himself. Do you wish, then, to attain righteousness in Christ? You must first possess Christ; but you cannot possess him without being made partaker in his sanctification, because he cannot be divided into pieces (1 Cor 1:13).
Calvin observed that saving union with Christ will always result in sanctification. The justified will never remain unsanctified. To underemphasize sanctification, as Calvin wrote, would be to tear Christ in two. Thus, the consequences of an underdeveloped understanding of sanctification are not insignificant.
Many have observed that our church generation needs growth therein. There’s a sense in which we have marinated in chapters three through five of Romans, but only dipped into chapter six. We’ve feasted on chapters one and two of Colossians, but perhaps only tasted chapters three and four. But we have further to go in the “How shall we then live?” We need to quote Romans 8:29 as often as we do v. 28. The “good” for which all things work in the called is, of course, sanctification. My generation has done well in mining out the wonders of justification, but with some exceptions, the rich caverns of sanctification remain somewhat unexplored.
Experienced and proven men have observed likewise. And they are acting to lead us into these caverns. This year’s Ekklesia Conference is exactly that. The theme of this September’s conference is, “Sanctification by Faith.” Over the weekend of September 15-17, speakers will take us deeper into the issue of saving grace, demonstrating that justifying grace is also transforming grace. When we receive the grace of justification, we will experience the grace towards sanctification. All who have received forgiveness from sin’s penalty will experience progressive freedom from sin’s power.
The Ekklesia Conference
If you are not familiar with the conference, it is hosted by Grace Immanuel Bible Church in Jupiter, Florida. Pastor Jerry Wragg and the leadership team at GIBC are in their eighth year of hosting Ekklesia. I love the event because it is a rare combination of rich theological and implicational teaching within the warm fellowship of a mature local church.
Nine sessions will explore issues—all related to sanctification—such as the role of feelings and faith, the importance of the law, and the power of grace.
Besides the topics and fellowship, what excites me about this conference is the speakers. All eight are involved in the daily grind of pastoral ministry. None are speaking from un-tested confines. When it comes to a critical topic like sanctification, that matters. The speakers include: Jerry Wragg, Matt Waymeyer, Phil Johnson, Paul Shirley, Smedly Yates, Paul Lamey, Jon Anderson, and Rick Holland.
On top of that, I love this conference because the GIBC family adopts you as their own for the week. The force of volunteers from the church membership treat you as family. From the fellowship, bookstore, music, food, and sincere love, conference attendees experience the servant-care of a mature church and will leave refreshed. (Register here.)
Church Leadership Conference: Courageous Churchmen
Ekklesia is not the only conference hosted by GIBC that week. The leadership team of Grace Immanuel Bible Church is doing a great service to the church again. For the second year, they will hold a conference geared towards church leaders, immediately preceding Ekklesia. Last year it was only considered a pre-conference. But because of the importance, they have beefed it up into a conference of its own.
Last year’s event walked us through the complexities of conflict resolution. This year’s topic covers the how-to of building a culture of discipleship in the local church. From September 13-15, seasoned church leaders will walk attendees through transitioning their churches from the place where discipleship is a rare feature, performed by a few, to a more normal feature, built into the culture of the church. Sessions will cover how to kill a rich discipleship culture, how to grow it, and what to do when efforts to do so fail. Each session will be followed by a panel discussion, giving attendees an opportunity to interact with fellow pastors. On Thursday night Pastor Todd Murray will present “Singing Scripture: A Concert Featuring God’s Holy Words Set to Music.”
I attended this last year with a chunk of our leadership team, both elders and elders-in-training, and plan to do the same this year. Courageous Churchmen is very affordable at $40 ($75 for both conferences). And the prawn and filet dinner alone to kick it off was worth the price of the conference last year.
If your church leaders and leaders-in-training need a time of equipping and sharpening, the Courageous Churchmen conference will do the trick. Last year, our team made it a leadership retreat and sprinkled some south Florida bonding time in by goofing off in the ocean, taking a chartered fishing trip, and gorging on mahi sandwiches.
The Ekklesia and Courageous Churchmen Conference will be live-streamed (with the exception of the Courageous Churchmen panel discussions) if you can’t make it. But as a church member, a new Christian, or a leader, if you need some quality training and encouragement this year, you should consider attending. (Register here.)
Eric Davis is the pastor of Cornerstone Church in Jackson Hole, WY. He and his team planted the church in 2008. Leslie is his wife of 14 years and mother of their three children.