Men who are responsible for the conference platform have a unique responsibility. This article from an esteemed elder gives us insight.
The burden of convening a conference is shared in a special way by the overseers in the assembly as they are concerned with the potential spiritual benefits which can accrue from such an effort. The whole assembly becomes involved, and thankfully, there are those dear brethren and sisters who cheerfully expend themselves in the services they provide for the physical comfort and well-being of the Lord’s people at our conferences. I would like to express some of the concerns and burdens I have and share with my brethren in convening our conference.
Since a conference as we know it is not specifically provided for in the scriptures, we must be sure that we are guided by scriptural principles in all we do. The following scriptures and examples provide a clear set of principles to encourage us to convene conferences today.
1, Old Testament Examples
Deut. 31:11-13, Neh 8:1-10. Moses gave instruction for the Feast of Tabernacles in the year of release, that all Israel should gather to hear the law being read to them. It specifically mentions that the children should be included on those occasions that they might learn to fear the Lord. This truth was recovered in the days of Ezra when the people were gathered together to hear the Word of God being read, and they found that they should dwell in booths in the feast of the seventh month (Neh 8:14). It was truly a day of recovery and revival, since it had not been done since the days of Joshua (v 17). Isaiah indicates that this will be practiced in the millennium (Isa 54:13).
2, New Testament Examples
The Epistle to the Romans is very significantly addressed to “all that be in Rome,” because we learn from chapter 16 that there was more than one assembly in the city, and the epistle was to be read by each one.
Similarly, Galatians was addressed to the “churches of Galatia,” because more than one community was involved. The practice of circulating letters among different assemblies is evident from Col 4:16, where the Colossians were told to exchange letters with the assembly in Laodicea.
Perhaps the most helpful example is found in Revelation chapters two and three. The autonomy of each local assembly, and their accountability to the Lord alone is plain, but the message is to all seven with the repeated injunction, “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”
A conference then, provides a
forum where the Word of God can be taught to representatives from many assemblies over a wide region. Perhaps this has contributed to the maintenance of truth and practice among assemblies all over the world.
The examples cited also provide some guidance as to the format of conferences. The emphasis is on expounding the Word of God. Ezra, Nehemiah, and the Levites taught the people (Neh 8:9). “They read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading” (Neh 8:8). The subject matter in the epistles mentioned, range from foundational gospel and church truths, to addressing specific problems arising in certain areas. The broad scope of the Word of God then can be realized as it is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16).
It would be well if we followed the rule of 1 Cor 14:3, “He that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, exhortation, and comfort.” Exhortation and encouragement are much more effective when based upon doctrine as is clearly the rule in Paul’s epistles.
The Ministry of the Word -Liberty within Bounds
1 Cor 14:29, “Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge.” This verse would suggest a controlled environment where the prophets are able to speak freely as they are led by the Spirit of God. At the same time, the safeguard is given as to the content of their message, for the other prophets are to listen discriminately and “prove all things”(1 Thess 5:21). The wisdom of this principle has been proven time and again at conferences where concepts have been introduced contrary to sound doctrine, and godly men have been able to give corrective ministry to counteract them.
“Let these also first be proved, and let them minister, being found blameless” (1 Tim 3:10). The quality and character of all ministry given is ultimately the responsibility of the oversight of an assembly, and no one should presume to speak without their approval. The responsibilities of the oversight might be summarized as follows:
1, To approve profitable ministers (1 Tim 3:10). They must make every effort to assure that those who speak are sound in doctrine and clean in life, and that their doctrine is according to godliness (1 Tim 6:3).
2, To encourage profitable ministers (Phil:2:19,20). Paul had such high regard for the values held by Timothy, that he encouraged him to visit the Philippians, knowing that he had them in his heart.
3, To ensure liberty to speak (1 Cor 16:10, 11). It is well known that Timothy was perhaps a little timid, and needed encouragement to speak, and might be reluctant to speak boldly. Paul encourages an atmosphere where he would be “without fear” among them.
4. To ensure liberty of subjects (1 Cor 14:29). While the content of the ministry was to be judged, there is no suggestion that the subject matter should be controlled in any way. Acts 20:23, 21:11 clearly suggest that sometimes the Spirit of God has a unique message to convey to the saints in a wide circle of assemblies, and a conference provides a wonderful opportunity for such a message to be given by a plurality of ministers of the Word.
These scriptural principles are still valid, and are being challenged and set aside for various reasons in many places, but we thank God for assemblies who still seek to honor the Lord, and make room for the whole Word of God to be freely ministered at our conferences.