By Bob Wilkin
Over the course of ten years, our annual conference had been growing dramatically. Our first conference had 35 attendees. In 2006, our 11thconference, we had 350, a tenfold increase.
One year later, at the 2007 annual GES conference, we had 160 attendees. In the ten years since then our attendance has ranged from 160 to 200. We’ve not approached those large numbers again.
That conference shows dramatically that doctrine matters. A lot. Zane Hodges and Bob Bryant gave messages that year in which they argued from Scripture that assurance is of the essence of saving faith. In layman’s terms, they showed that until someone believes the promise of everlasting life or the equivalent (justification that can’t be lost, an everlasting relationship with God, a guaranteed home in heaven), he is not yet born again.
That did not go over well with many of the conferees. We had a plenary Q & A time where conferees could ask questions of any of the speakers.
The issue of assurance and salvation dominated the questions and comments. I asked for a show of hands of those who were convinced that they were born again before they believed they were secure. Those with hands up were about the same number as those with hands down.
(We did not get into a discussion of how a person who had not been sure that he was eternally secure could later determine that he was eternally secure at the time when he thought he was not.)
Frankly, I was surprised. I had no idea that we had a large number of conferees who believed that that the eternality of the promise is not an essential truth. They thought that assurance was a discipleship issue, not an evangelistic issue.
Some of the people who stopped going to the GES conference starting going to another Free Grace conference each year. I’ve been to that conference quite a few times. I go every year that I can. While we have some significant doctrinal differences, we also have some very significant doctrinal agreements.
I regret that many stopped coming to our conference. But I do not regret our stand on the issue of assurance. If our view of assurance separates us from other Free Grace people, then we must bear that pain. It would be wrong to modify our teaching on assurance (or anything else) to draw a larger crowd. After all, the assurance issue in 2006 was a test for which we will give an account at the Judgment Seat of Christ.