One Man’s Opinion of the Conference
I believe the single most helpful thing that occurred at the conference was the fellowship that occurred among the brethren. Many commented about this to me. Even though there were many differing doctrinal opinions, almost everyone found much upon which they could agree.
I believe the second greatest benefit was to the teens and children. Many of the teenagers attend services with zero or only a few people their age. Most of them want to accept much of their parents’ Bible teaching, but the future can seem so bleak to them when it seems like they are "the only one." They were encouraged by the fellowship and to see that there were others in similar situations. The doctrinal differences that may have separated parents, bothered the young people much lessif at all. They know they shared the common goals of living by the general moral teaching of the Bible, keeping the Sabbath, and other basics.
The third benefit at the conference was people learning to interact with others where they do not agree on everything, and there is no one there to render an instant decision on questions. (In traditional church organizations, people, who entered into doctrinal debates, could always "ask the minister" to settle it if they could not agree.) While some people may label this difference of opinion "confusion," it is vital in teaching people to use the Scripture and Holy Spirit to make decisions for themselves.
We are far from being perfect in this process. Some people had great difficulty sitting still during customs or teachings they were not familiar with. Some speakers are not yet used to taking questions after they talk. I believe some speakers are not as used to substantiating their teachings from the Bible as they should be.
We must admit that the information given out before the conference did not adequately demonstrate the diversity of thought that was presented. Servants’ News will attempt to do a better job in the future. On the other hand, there were no restrictions placed on the speakersthey could cover any subject that they believe was edifying. Brethren then need to learn to determine which speakers they would like to hear again and which they would not. If we do not want to have a human telling us which teachers we will listen to, then we must be responsible to sift out the best teachers from a variety. We do not all learn equally well from the same teacher. We are not all ready to learn the same thing at the same time. In future conferences, brethren should have a better idea of who will help them the most.
Finally, I believe there was much good information presented at the conference. Some information was presented from a traditional Christian perspectivethe emphasis was on the power and work of Jesus. Other presentations were from a Jewish perspectivethe emphasis on the 613 commands and deep meanings found in the Scripture. Personally, I learned new things, was inspired sometimes, agreed with much, but disagreed with some. Given all of the above, I would go back to a similar conference next year.
It is important to realize that you can learn useful information from a speaker, even though you may not agree with all the speaker’s conclusions. For example, if you heard the message, Jesus the Pharisee, you may have learned for the first time that in most of the debates Jesus had against Pharisees, he was usually disputing the teachings of the School of Shammai and agreeing with Hillel. That may be useful, even though you do not think Jesus was a Pharisee. You may use a concordance to look up "study," "teach", "taught," and other related words and find scriptures like these: "Now about the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and taught. And the Jews marveled, saying, ‘How does this Man know letters, having never studied?’ Jesus answered them and said, ‘My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me’ (John 7:14-16). You may form your own conclusion from the points mentioned above, you may go on to do more study in the area, or you may conclude that it is an less relevant point not needing your study right now. This is just one example of many points made at the conference where listeners may need to make decisions on what they will believe and do.
While not perfect, we feel this conference is a good starting place for people to learn in a non-hierarchical environment. Mitchell Smith is tentatively planning another conference for next year. We hope that people who were there and those who were not will seek the Eternal’s guidance and decide whether or not to come back next year. If people keep coming in sufficient numbers, then the conference will probably continue. If they do not, maybe some other, more specifically focused conference will emerge. The history in both Old and New Testaments is not particularly smooth: nations came and went, congregations formed and broke up, persecutions arose, people fled, etc.
Our Savior, said "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35). I felt a lot of love at the conferenceeven between people of differing backgrounds. I also felt a certain amount of suspicion and distrust. I felt that some may have come to the conference primarily to gather followers for their special interest. For me, the good far outweighed the bad. The need to share with others and learn from others is very great for largely isolated people that have been part of institutionalized religion for too long.
In the long term, there may be some danger that such conferences could become a place to discuss more and more obscure theology that relates less and less to practical life. This would be a mistake. I believe that the Bible gives us several "commissions" or things to do and that we should not ignore any of them. We need a balance between learning "every word that proceeds from the mouth of God", learning to live by His Word, learning to discern teachings that are not His Word, and teaching His Word to others. We are much better off attending conferences like this one, even if we sometimes stumble and fall, than we are staying at home and never learning to "walk" at all.
Norman S. Edwards
Return to the December Index