Thursday, May 04, 2017

Selma

We wanted to see this in the cinema, but it wasn't mainstream enough for our local Odeon, so we had to wait until it was on the telly. A powerful film on the civil rights movement in 1960's America. At that time blacks in the Deep South were denied their constitutional right to vote by an obstructive voter registration system. The town of Selma was a case in point. British actor David Oyelowo plays Martin Luther King Jr. The civil rights leader masterminded peaceful protests in Selma with the aim of pressurising President L. B. Johnson into legislating to remove barriers to black people registering to vote. 

Fellow-Brit Tom Wilkinson plays the President. The clashes between MLK and LBJ are well done. The President explains that as a politician he has to be concerned about many things, while as an activist King is only focused on one thing. Johnson sympathises with the cause, but needs time. King wants urgent action. 

All the main parts are well acted, offering convincing portrayals of the characters involved. You'll wait in vain for Oyelowo's rendition of the 'I have a dream...' speech, as the King family denied the film makers the rights to make use of MLK's speeches. The sermons and speeches shown in the film have been cobbled together, but they seem to hit the right tone. 

Things turn nasty in Selma when black people attempt to stage a protest march from the town to Montgomery, the Alabama Sate capital. The road was blocked by police at the far side of the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The police charge the protesters, mercilessly beating unarmed men and women. A black man is shot in the clear up operation. King rallies people of all colours to the cause, especially inviting Christian Ministers to join a second march to Montgomery. 

King leads the marchers to within sight of the police line that once more blocked the road at the end of the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Rather than risking another confrontation, the preacher drops to his knees in prayer and then turns around, leading the protesters back into town. 

The act of preaching is rarely explored in Holywood movies, so it was interesting to hear the dialogue between two Ministers involved in the protest as they discussed King's actions. One of them complains that Dr. King had betrayed them. He called and they came, yet at the crucial moment he turned back. The other suggests that MLK's actions may have been instinctual, "like in preaching when you are just flying. You are not on your notes, not on memory, you're tapped into what's higher, what's true. God is guiding you....Maybe that's what happened to Dr. King on the bridge. He prayed, God answered, and he had the courage to do what God had said."  

On third attempt a protest march to Montgomery finally took place, winning much needed publicity for the cause. Publicity turned into political pressure and Johnson comes round in the end. His 'We will overcome' speech is a highlight of the film. The Voting Rights Acts was passed August 1965, paving the way for black votes without obstruction.

Like all films based on historical episodes this one doesn't let the facts get in the way of a good story. It's not a documentary after all, but the main message comes through clearly without it being too preachy (for a film about a preacher). All human beings are created equal. On that basis racism, whether  casual or institutional is a moral outrage and should be opposed by all people of good will. 

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Banner Ministers' Conference 2017 report

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There was something special about this year's Banner. Can't quite put my finger on it. Was it the new venue, Yarnfield Park Conference Centre, Staffs, rather than Leicester Uni? It proved a fine place for the conference, but it wasn't that. Was it waking up on the Tuesday morning to an unexpectedly snowy scene? That was great, but, no. The theme of the conference was 'The Living and Enduring Word'. There was a clear focus on Scripture as the Word of God and also on the One who lies at the heart of Scripture; Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. But the overarching theme doesn't in itself explain what made this a vintage Banner conference. Doctrine can be dry and deadly, even the high and holy doctrines of Scripture and Christology. 

In his second address on 'A Functional Doctrine of Scripture: the Living Word of God' Garry Williams urged us to consider whether the reason why some people have introduced elements of drama into their services was that our communication of the gospel is lacking in that dramatic element. Preachers mustn't play act their sermons, but we should know and feel something of the wonder of the truth we are proclaiming. The preaching of the Word should also equip our people to play their roles in the drama of redemption, not just stuff their minds with doctrine. Now we are getting there.

In his opening sermon Jeff Kingswood tried to explain what it was to be a 'Banner Man' in terms of Ezra 7:10: Ezra was a man who Loved the Word, Practiced the Word and Taught the Word. Helpful stuff. But as the conference showed, while we would all aspire to model ourselves upon Ezra, there is no such thing as an identikit 'Banner Man'. Each speaker had his own cast of thought, way of putting things and manner of delivery. That's the way it should be. 'Banner Men' aren't peas in a pod, but they share a common burden for a certain kind of preaching. A ministry that is rooted in Scripture and centred upon Christ in terms of content. And that is expositional, doctrinal, practical and experiential in style. It's about preaching the whole of Scripture's witness to the whole Christ to the whole man in the power of the Spirit.

Seeing and hearing that exemplified by speaker after speaker was what made this year's conference so special. Sinclair Ferguson led us through Philippians 3 in three sessions on 'Christ at the Centre' under the headings: 'Conversion to Christ', 'Communion with Christ' and 'Consolidation in Christ'. His expositions were full of exegetical insight, theological depth and were warmly experiential in tone. In his first address Garry Williams spoke on 'A Functional Doctrine of Scripture: the Literary Word of God', urging us to give careful attention to the details of Scripture in order to keep our preaching biblically grounded and fresh. David Johnston showed us how Hebrews provides us with 'A Paradigm for Preaching' and set before us 'The Word at Work' by the empowering presence of the Spirit in Nehemiah 8. Stephen Clark spoke on 'Christ's Witness to Scripture' and 'Scripture's Witness to Christ'. It was good to hear a couple of younger men preaching. Andy Young spoke helpfully on 'Marks of the Master's Ministry' from Luke 4:13-30. Ed Collier gave the closing sermon on the Parable of the Sower from Mark 4:1-20, emphasising that as we sow the seed of the Word there will be frustrations and fruit. 

On top of the organised programme of ministry sessions, there were opportunities to have fellowship with old friends and meet some new people too. On Wednesday evening we had our traditional Taffia meeting of Minister who are Welsh or have a Welsh connection. Geoff Thomas held court as usual. Sinclair Ferguson was the special guest. I bought Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification by Sinclair Ferguson from the bookshop. 

I haven't attempted to provide a breakdown of each address, as my friend Gary Brady has already done that and you can catch his live blogged reports here. Banner have posted videos of each message here. I left the conference with a renewed desire for deeper communion with Christ and a revived passion for preaching the Living and Enduring Word of God. If that makes me a 'Banner Man', so be it. 

Next year's Banner Ministers' Conference is due to take place on 23-26 April at Yarnfield Park.