This is a letter I sent a couple of years ago in response to an email inquiry through our church’s website. I have changed the name of the person I was responding to. I did not hear back from this person, and do not know whether their questions were for research or for their own sake. But as this is a gospel message, I thought I would share it.
I received your list of questions, and I am glad to give an answer. Thank you for including me in your search. Since I don’t know you, I can only assume that you are searching for the truth by investigating the answers of different churches. If so, I understand why you would feel a little confused about the different answers you have heard. I certainly do not want to add to that confusion.
Can we know the truth? Some scientists (ironically) claim that there is no absolute truth – and they are quite absolute about that. They insist that we cannot know the truth, and are troubled by those who claim to know it. I sometimes wonder if those who insist that the truth cannot be known have ever considered the self-contradiction in that claim. If the truth cannot be known, is that the truth? And if so, how can we know that?
This year’s Word of Truth Conference was a tremendous week of teaching, preaching, and companionship. Pastor Kent Brandenburg hosts the conference every year at his church. He places a premium on God’s Word and insists that the preaching at this conference be expository. As a result, his conference is not your standard fair of emotionally overwrought sermons sprinkled with a dusting of Scripture. Pastor Brandenburg always challenges me to think in terms of Scripture, and to bring my own doctrine and practice in line with God’s Word. The Conference and the fellowship at the conference were a special blessing, but three things in particular blessed me this year.
Bethel Baptist Church of El Sobrante is a wonderful, Christ-honoring church. The church really loves God’s Word. The people demonstrate their love for Christ and each other many times over. The conversations center on the Word, and long after the service ends, the people gather and enjoy what they heard together. The conversations often branch out into discussions and applications beyond the sermon itself. It is always a refreshment and delight to be part of this conference, and the joy of the church is contagious.
Apart from the conference, my son and I dropped in at the church on a random Wednesday night, and we found the same thing to be true then. This is a church that loves the Word, loves the Savior, and loves each other.
This year, Pastor James Bronsveld taught two powerful lessons on Biblical repentance. I urge you to listen to these lessons as they go beyond the normal presentation. In the first discussion, Pastor Bronsveld explained repentance in terms of the second Psalm, “Why do the heathen rage.” He defined repentance as a change of mind from rage against God to sorrow for my rage against God. In the second discussion, Pastor Bronsveld answered a claim made in this article by Dr. Rick Flanders (here) about repentance in the Old Testament. Notice especially this claim, made by Dr. Flanders:
Most Old Testament references to men repenting speak of revival, not salvation, and cannot be used properly to illustrate salvation repentance.
Pastor Bronsveld did an excellent job explaining the difference between the old covenant and the new, and then he showed that Old Testament repentance is still repentance. The clincher came in the book of Jonah and the repentance of Ninevah. I won’t steal his thunder. You really need to watch these sessions.
The second lesson on repentance in the OT is available as well.
Pastor Brandenburg also taught a great lesson on the sinner’s prayer. Actually, he kept promising all week that he was going to “do” the sinner’s prayer. But he never did. I was disappointed, because I wanted to see him do it…
Joking aside, he gave an unforgettable illustration of the problem for those who reject the sinner’s prayer altogether. He stood at the front with his back to the audience, and he said, “God wants me to turn; I need to turn,” and then he started to turn and said, “Oh, but that’s a work.” You will need to watch the video to get a full appreciation – since you weren’t there. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to locate the video. Hopefully it will be up soon. You can monitor the YouTube channel here. Faith and repentance are the gift of God, and so the “sinner’s prayer,” when it is prayed, is a part of that gift. When we trust the Lord, we cry out to Him and we come to Him.
Pastor Dave Sutton also taught an excellent message on the Deity of Christ and the necessity of that doctrine to the Gospel.
I am always sharpened by discussions with Pastors Brandenburg and Sutton, and this year I had the joy of meeting two other faithful preachers: James Bronsveld and Chris Teale. Pastor Bronsveld, who I discussed earlier, pastors in Toronto, Canada. Pastor Teale is planting a church in Carson City, Nevada, sent out from Mid-Coast Baptist Church in Brunswick, Maine, Pastor Bobby Mitchell. Pastor Teale is an excellent and straightforward preacher, and he preached two tremendous messages on preaching the gospel. Both his messages are available on YouTube.
You will be challenged to make the gospel the focus rather than your powers of speech or illustration. Pastor Teale knows what he is talking about – he has gone to a place where few have gone to preach the gospel, and he is seeing slow but steady progress. His sermons are amazingly short – I say that because he says so much in them. I lack his gift of brevity.
Overall, we had a wonderful time together in the Word, “breaking bread” at the various meals provided by the church, and sharpening each other. I am grateful for the opportunity to attend, and I want to encourage all who read to consider taking a few days in early November next year to be a part of this conference.