TGC president Don Carson and TGC Council member Bryan Chapell joined Evangelium 21 (E21) from May 24 to 26 for its eighth main conference in Hamburg, Germany. About 800 attendees came to praise, pray, and fellowship with likeminded believers from all over German-speaking Europe, and to learn more about the conference theme: Christus im Mittelpunkt (Christ in the Center).
The plenary sessions from Carson and Chapell addressed how preaching Christ and his grace in all of Scripture should affect our churches and Christian lives. For the other sessions, E21 leaders Christian Wegert, Kai Soltau, Matthias Lohmann, and Martin Reakes-Williams exposited Mark 8:22–9:13 to unfold what it means to know Christ, live for Christ, follow Christ, and hear Christ. There were also several fantastic seminars on offer this year on themes like “Christ-Centered Family,” “Blogging for the Gospel,” and “Vocation as Calling? Following Christ in the Workplace.”
Here are four takeaways from a few of the sessions.
1. God’s Grace Changes Everything
Christians must speak about sin and its effects, Carson exhorted. “We must first understand the consequences of sin before we can see Christ’s work on the cross as spectacularly good news.” The failure of humanity to follow God’s will is a common thread throughout the entire Bible, but so is the redeeming grace of Christ. In his love he conquered evil at its deepest root through his substitutionary sacrifice for sinners at the cross. Just think: Christ paid the price for your disobedience so you could be free from its bondage and punishment! This is what good news sounds like. “Whoever has a low view of sin,” Carson said, “will also have a low view of the cross.”
2. Costs of Discipleship
Matthias Lohmann, chairman and founder of E21, challenged attendees not to minimize the costs of following Christ: “In the world, any risk or side effect is reduced to fine print. I fear we Christians often do the same in our evangelism.” Jesus did not conceal the reality of risk, pain, and suffering in the Christian life. “Discipleship means,” Lohmann explained, “you no longer follow your own agenda but rather Christ’s. And if the case may be, to the point of death.”
Lohmann illustrated the cost of discipleship in the life of the missionary Jim Elliot, who was martyred on the mission field. As Elliot understood it, the foundation for true discipleship in our evangelism is not moralism but grace. The reward of Christ’s grace and love far outweighs any momentary suffering in this life. As Elliot famously put it, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
3. Don’t Preach Law without Grace
“Everything we do is a response to what God in Christ already did for us,” Chapell stressed. It is a human reflex to define ourselves according to our own performance and achievements. The Bible emphasizes however that no one can earn God’s love through his or her own deeds.
We must never preach God’s commands without God’s grace.
This is why pastors and evangelizers must never preach God’s commands without God’s grace. This moralizing form of preaching will only lead to “dead imperatives,” since it foregrounds human striving and forgets that change in life is impossible without God’s grace. “Why do we preach the gospel of God in all of Scripture?” Chapell asked. “Because we love to see what happens to God’s people when they encounter his grace again and again.”
4. God Is Growing Evangelium 21
By God’s grace, the ministry of Evangelium 21 is growing. The leadership wishes to strengthen regional conferences to support local church networks (the south region meets in Munich, the east region in Leipzig, the west in Bonn, and the Swiss region in Basel). In part to support this step, the main conference in Hamburg will now take place every two years instead of annually.
Over the past few years E21 has released several new resources, including a songbook, Martin Luther’s Lectures on Romans 1515/16, the New City Catechism, the Nashville Statement, and more. In cooperation with Moore College in Sydney, Australia, E21 is helping to release a new online Bible course in German called “Bibel für alle” (“Bible for everyone”). E21 continues to host and develop the Spurgeon Conference on Preaching and the Josia Youth Conference, and it recently established a network called Ezer21 to facilitate fellowship and theological equipping for women.
In order to carry out these developments and expand its work for the equipping of ministers and churches, E21 is adding staff members. Please pray with us that God would bless these new steps and use E21 to build up his people and their gospel witness in German-speaking Europe. The work of E21 entirely depends on donations, so please also pray with us for financial provision to carry out the ministry.