Note: It was my privilege to present an opening "Orientation" to the 2023 Keach Conference, the annual ministry and theology conference hosted by the Reformed Baptist Fellowship of Virginia (RBF-VA) and held last Saturday (9.30.23) in Warrenton:
Dear friends in Christ,
Let me extend a warm welcome to you to the 2023 annual meeting of the Keach Conference. I extend this greeting on behalf of the steering committee of the Reformed Baptist Fellowship of Virginia.
This is now the 22nd consecutive fall (or autumn for our UK guests) in which we have had a meeting like this one, devoted to Biblical teaching and Christian fellowship among confessional Reformed Baptists in the Commonwealth of Virginia, having first met in 2002 in Virginia Beach. And, yes, we even met in person in 2020 at the height of the Covid pandemic.
Our meeting has changed over the years. It started out as a small gathering of pastors only and used to be called the Evangelical Forum.
In 2010, in our ninth consecutive annual meeting, reflecting our desire to be identified with historic confessional Particular Baptists, we officially changed the name of this gathering to the Keach Conference, in honor of Benjamin Keach (1640-1704), a diligent pastor and an original signer of our confession.
In a recent text group conversation among those on the steering committee, we entertained other possible names (tongue-in-cheek) for the Conference. These included:
“Together for Keach”
“The Keach Coalition”
“The Banner of Keach”
And, in homage to the Acts 29 Network, “Baptists 1690.”
For now, however, we determined it was best that we stick with the name Keach Conference. Stay tuned for any future updates and developments.
In 2007, in our sixth consecutive annual meeting, we began a series through the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith (1677, 1689), devoting each annual gathering to a consecutive consideration of one of its 32 chapters.
This is the fourth time since we started that journey through the confession that we have been blessed to hold our annual meeting here in Warrenton, hosted by the brethren at Covenant RBC.
In 2011, when we met here our theme was chapter 5 “Of Divine Providence” and our speakers were Dr. Joel Beeke of Puritan Reformed Seminary and Pastor Malcolm Watts from Emmanuel Evangelical Church in Salisbury, England.
In 2014, when we met here again our theme was chapter 8 “Of Christ the Mediator” and our speakers were Pastor Jim Savastio of the Reformed BC of Louisville, Kentucky and Pastor Earl Blackburn of Heritage Baptist Church of Shreveport, Louisiana.
In 2017, when we met here yet again our theme was chapter 26 “Of the Church” and our speaker was Pastor Poh Boon Sing of the Damansara RBC in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia (going out of order that year based on the expertise of our speaker).
And this year, in 2023, meeting again in Warrenton, Lord willing, we will continue this series by examining chapter 16 “Of Good Works.” And we will have the privilege of listening to two faithful ministers of God’s Word, Ben Scofield of the West Suffolk Reformed Baptist Church, Suffolk, Virginia and Geoffrey Thomas, retired pastor after over 50 years of service at the Alfred Place Baptist Church in Aberystwyth, Wales. As Pastor Thomas put it in his recent autobiography, reflecting on his retirement, “I never had a call to another church. Alfred Place was stuck with me!” (In the Shadow of the Rock, 322).
I might note that though this is Pastor Thomas’s first visit with us at the Keach Conference, we have already, in fact, in God’s Providence, benefited from his ministry in that our 2009 speaker, the respected Presbyterian pastor and scholar Derek Thomas (no family relation), was converted while a university student, attending Alfred Place, and sitting under Geoff Thomas’s preaching.
Back to our topic “Of Good Works,” for we Calvinists most of our Bibles fall almost on their own from constant turning to Ephesians 2:
8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.
But today we are reminded that we must also proceed to v. 10, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”
Calvin himself in his Institutes wrote about the duplex gratia, or “double grace” of salvation including both justification and sanctification (3.11.1).
Alister McGrath in his biography of Calvin suggested that this emphasis manifested itself as a distinctive component of Reformed theology and practical piety, shaping everything from assurance of salvation to the Protestant work ethic and the rise of capitalism. McGrath says of Calvin’s thought,
God’s grace was an unconditional gift, prior to and independent of any human work or merit. Nevertheless, grace possessed a transformational dimension, an ability to work within its recipient. To receive grace was to be renewed by grace… Good works were seen as the outward and visible sign of the presence and activity of grace within the believer (A Life of John Calvin, 239).
There is much indeed in this chapter worthy of thoughtful and prayerful consideration.
By taking on chapter 16, this will mark the halfway point through the series. At this rate, God willing, we will finish just 16 short years from now in 2039.
We trust that by God’s grace we will profit from the teaching and fellowship today. Let me close with another brief quotation from Pastor Thomas’ autobiography as he reflected on his student days at Westminster Seminary while he was sitting under the teaching of perhaps the most esteemed Protestant seminary faculty ever assembled (from John Murray to Cornelius Van Til). Thomas writes:
Seminaries are a lot like conferences. The messages or lectures are the bonus, while the people who teach, to whom you have personal access, and particularly the men with whom you study and eat and pray and talk and argue and correspond with for the rest of your life are the abiding momentum of your consecration and service (147).
Let us find here today just a bit more momentum for our ongoing consecration and service to the Lord Jesus Christ!