When DeWitt was asked, by Murray, if he believed in revival (I believe trying simply to engage him in the conversation), DeWitt simply said, after a brief pause, ‘Yes!’
Close to forty Associate Reformed Presbyterian ministers (along with a few Ruling Elders) gathered in the fellowship hall of the Reformation ARP Church in historic downtown Hendersonville, NC on Monday afternoon – preceding the pre-Synod Conference which was scheduled to begin that evening at nearby Bonclarken campground.
Former Moderator Steve Maye had learned that Rev. Iain Murray, the co-founder of The Banner of Truth and author of many books would be in the area during the week of the annual meeting of General Synod. He explained that he wanted to capitalize on his visit, so he asked him to be available to members of the Synod for a special event.
Steve also invited two other experienced churchmen in the region to join Mr. Murray a forum – Rick Phillips, senior minister at Second Presbyterian (PCA) in Greenville and Dr. Dick de Witt, a now retired pastor and former moderator of the ARP synod.
The purpose was simply for the seasoned pastors and authors to share some of their wisdom with the rest of us. There were no formal presentations but rather a time to ask these men questions about life and ministry. The plan was for about an hour and a half of the men simply fielding questions on their various and vast experiences leading Christian congregations and organizations
The first question was directed to Mr. Murray, asking him how he would survey the evangelical world in America at the present time. Murray allowed as how he worked hard to avoid that question about Britain and felt he was not well versed to give an extensive answer, but very quickly the other two men joined in.
They all agreed on several general areas of need, including lack of Biblical worship in many quarters and a lack of spiritual depth (and even some lack of spiritual birth) among those involved with extremely large evangelical churches as the two main issues.
From there on the remainder of the time was focused on the pastoral ministry, including issues such as expository (defined in this context as working through long passages, perhaps even books of the Bible) in preaching, the great need for visitation and pastoral care of church members, and – for the most part – how each of the speakers had been influenced by the mentors and others involved in discipling them in their early years.
Iain Murray, who had been discipled by Martin Lloyd Jones and Rick Phillips, who had been discipled by James Montgomery Boice in Philadelphia, focused many of their comments on what they had learned from those men. Dick DeWitt shared a good bit of what he had learned from his own father’s ministry, but also gave vignettes of what ministry was like in Grand Rapids MI, Patterson, NJ, and Columbia, SC where he had extensive ministries.
There was significant similarity in the responses of all three to the need for pastoral care/visitation and how difficult it is in our culture, yet how important it is to ministry. There was also agreement on the importance of the Sabbath and the need to return to morning and evening preaching.
However the issue of evangelistic preaching and revival brought out some differences. Murray led off, echoing the appeal of Lloyd-Jones for more recognition of the work of the Holy Spirit, and agreeing in part, Phillips pointed out great events of America’s past in revival. When DeWitt was asked, by Murray, if he believed in revival (I believe trying simply to engage him in the conversation, DeWitt simply said, after a brief pause, ‘Yes!’
But immediately the conversation turned to revivalism and the problems brought to the evangelical world in America as a result. They ended up agreeing that there, to their knowledge, no active preachers in Britain or America who had the special gift of the Holy Spirit to preach sermons that resulted in immediate (or at least soon) true conversions such as both nations had in past decades.
Many of the comments by the men in the forum were given as encouragement to the pastors – a large number of younger men – concerning the advantage of remaining in pastors for good lengths of time, for taking heed to organize their schedules such that they devoted sufficient time both to sermon preparation and prayer for their preaching.
The number of the personal anecdotes from their relationships with other preachers over the years was well worth the time taken out of the busy schedules for those who were able to attend. Of course, you had to be there to truly enjoy them!
Don K. Clements is a Teaching Elder in the PCA who serves as an Associate Evangelist with PEF, focusing on encouragement to smaller churches. He also serves as the voluntary News Editor of The Aqulia Report.