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Reforming the church

National | Four years after Cambridge, the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals soldiers on, but James Boice is very ill

Issue: "Dumpsters or hospitals?," June 24, 2000

In April, 1996, 110 conservative, mainly Reformed, Christian leaders gathered near Harvard College, founded 360 years before as a school to train pastors ("God and Man at Cambridge," May 11/18, 1996). Harvard long ago had departed from Christianity, but the leaders, with urging from Philadelphia pastor James Montgomery Boice, expressed concern that evangelicalism was also heading down a slippery slope.

The diverse group of Presbyterians, Christian Reformed, Missouri Synod Lutherans, Southern Baptists, independents, and others produced a three-page Cambridge Declaration. It warned, in part, that "Therapeutic technique, marketing strategies, and the beat of the entertainment world often have far more to say about what the church wants, how it functions, and what it offers, than does the Word of God."

Evangelicalism, it continued, focuses more on self than on God. It urged a "return to the historic Christian faith" expressed in the principles spelled out by Martin Luther and John Calvin: Scripture Alone, Christ Alone, Grace Alone, Faith Alone, and to God Alone Be Glory.

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Following that conference several ministries merged to form a new version of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, until then a sort of evangelical think-tank. ACE now publishes a variety of materials such as Modern Reformation magazine, holds seminars and conferences (the next is "The Power of Gospel Preaching" in Orlando, Fla., this October), and sponsors 50 "Reformation Societies" across the country. Mr. Boice, who became president of ACE, told WORLD in April that these societies are groups of "young men who say, 'We have had it with the superficial churches of our time. We want something solid, something grounded in the robust theology of the Bible and the Protestant Reformation, something that is worth giving one's life to.'"

Has ACE had an impact on American evangelicalism? Mr. Boice paused. "No, I don't think so," he said. "Evangelicals are more interested in being healthy, wealthy, and enjoying life in the suburbs."

But, Mr. Boice added, "I think we overestimate what God will do in one year and underestimate what he will do in 20." The Reformation took three generations, as J.I. Packer has noted, with pioneers like John Knox followed by those who built sound churches, from which sprang the great productive age of the Puritans. That last generation produced the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, and other documents that have shaped Christianity.

Mr. Boice considers the modern Reformed pioneers to be scholars like John Gerstner, Francis Schaeffer, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and others. "I think we're in the second generation, the stage of laying the groundwork for a new Reformation," said Mr. Boice. "Today's young pastors may well be the ones to accomplish under God the reformation for which many in my generation have dreamed, prayed, and worked hard."

Mr. Boice should also be listed among the pioneers. He became senior pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia in 1968 and in 1969 became the teacher of radio's Bible Study Hour (and more recently, the God's Word Today broadcast as well). He wrote or contributed to nearly 50 books, including Foundations of the Christian Faith, Living by the Book, and exegetical commentaries on Genesis, Psalms, Acts, and Romans. In 1997 he was a founding member of, and chaired, the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy. He also wrote of church and society relationships, noting in one of his books, Two Cities, Two Loves, that Christians are citizens of both the kingdom of this world and the kingdom of heaven, with responsibilities in each. He urged Christians to "participate in secular life rather than merely shoot from the sidelines at secular people."

Mr. Boice was diagnosed with cancer this spring. He and his family recently decided to suspend treatment. At the middle of last week he continued to receive hospice care and the constant attention of his family at home.

The General Assembly of Mr. Boice's denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America, meeting in Tampa this week, planned to sing some of Mr. Boice's hymns, including this verse from "Perseverance": "We face death for God each day; What can pluck us from His way? Let God's people ever say, 'Nothing.' Hallelujah!"

Les Sillars
Les Sillars

Les directs the journalism program at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Va., and is the editor of WORLD's Mailbag section.

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