Saturday, October 24, 2009

The 2009 Bolton Conference

Remembering the Reformation

On Friday and Saturday October 23-24, 2009 over 300 people from around New England gathered for the Annual “Bolton Conference” at Pleasant Street Christian Reformed Church in Whitinsville, MA. The conference theme was appropriately “John Calvin: Reformer and the Reformation of the Church” as this year marked the 500th anniversary of the birth of the French Pastor and Theologian. The speakers were Ligon Duncan and Mark Johnston. Pastor Duncan is the Senior Minister at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, MS as well as President of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals and Adjunct Professor at Reformed Theological Seminary. Mark Johnston came to us all the way from London, England where he is the Minister of Grove Chapel, a historic Calvinistic Independent Church in London. Both men are also accomplished authors of numerous books and articles.

The conference consisted of six sessions divided evenly between these two men, as well as a question and answer period. Ligon Duncan spoke on Calvin the Reformer, Calvin and the Christian Life, and Calvin’s Doctrine of Justification. In speaking on the doctrine of Justification he made reference to Calvin’s commentary on Romans 3:21 in which Paul says “But now the righteousness apart from the law is revealed…even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ.” Man’s greatest problem is his guilt before a holy God. Good works are utterly incapable of delivering man from this massive debt of sin. Thus, says Calvin, “Men’s consciences will never be at peace until they rest on the mercy of God alone.” “Read Calvin’s commentary on Romans 3:21-28” said Pastor Duncan, “it is pure gold.”

Mr. Johnston spoke on the topics of how the Reformation, and particularly John Calvin, addressed the three issues of “Piety, Worship, and Missions.” I was personally the most struck by the boldness with which the issue of “worship” was addressed. He pointed out that when Calvin handled the question of “why the Reformation was necessary” he put the doctrine of salvation as the second most important reason. The first reason he gives is the “mode in which God is truly worshipped.” “We can do nothing but err” said Mr. Johnston in quoting the Genevan Reformer, “when guided by anything in worship other than the Word.” He expressed great sorrow that we live in a day when, in the public worship of God, we are often “caught up with the music and atmosphere, but not caught up with God.”

I am sincerely grateful for the passion and faithfulness to Scripture that both of these men brought to the conference this year. Many thanks are due to the men of the New England Reformed Fellowship (NERF) for organizing this blessed event, and to Pleasant Street CRC for hosting it. Thanks also belong to the many whose labors and efforts went in behind the scenes to make everything run so smoothly. The book table provided by Westminster Discount Book Service was, as always, a great opportunity to obtain some soul-enriching reading material at a significant discount. Recordings were made of all sessions and are available from The Sanders Christian Foundation at (978) 468-3003 or

Other quotes (I apologize for always not catching the source) from these men, from Calvin, or from other authors that were especially memorable were:

There is a God we want and there is the God who is. They are not the same. And true piety begins by embracing the God who truly is.”

True worship can only flow from knowing God rightly

Where worship is sincerely offered, Christ will be seen as King

Our worship must be controlled by the gospel

I have made a heap of all my bad works…and all my good works too. And I have fled them both and run to Jesus Christ” –David Dickson, Puritan

By piety I mean that union of reverence and love to God which the knowledge of His benefits inspires” –John Calvin, Institutes Book I, chapter 2, section 1

If men knew what was in my heart I wouldn’t have 4 friends left in all of Scotland” –Thomas Boston

I’m not the man I want to be. I’m not the man I ought to be. I’m not the man I will be. But by the grace of God I am what I am. And thanks be to God that I am NOT the man I USED to be!”

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