Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Personal Journey 3

A Day Late!

I must apologize for having said I would post yesterday and then not doing so. It really was one of those days! I turned up in Central Hong Kong for a meeting at 9.00am expecting it to last 30 minutes only for it to last 3 hours. And it was not a pleasant one at all. One of the most confrontational I have been too in a long time in fact! Fortunately, I wasn’t at the centre of the confrontation, but you do find yourself getting sucked in. This was unexpected. Then I had to have an emergency Dental appointment after damaging a tooth. That was unexpected too. After that, it was a case of trying to do all that was expected! The day closed with a Church Council meeting that, thankfully, was the exact opposite of confrontational.

So a day late, here is the next instalment in my account of my spiritual journey.

Personal Journey 3

Let me also, having acknowledged the problems that the Youth Fellowship must have caused for the clergy in particular, speak about some of the good things. We really did believe in what we were doing and were part of. We genuinely wanted to live a Christian life and do what God required of us. We read our Bibles, prayed and studied Christian books, and not just when people were watching! We discussed our faith and what we should believe for hours and hours. We got involved in our local church and took part in its activites, even when they seemed utterly irrelevant. We were passionately evengelistic and would do all we could to win people for Christ. In the summer, we would go away together and run a Holiday Club for children and combine this with Bible Study and prayer. We wanted to get it right.

Looking back there clearly was an element of youthful enthusiasm, but many of us from this Fellowship went on to full time Christian service so there must have been some depth to it. People may think we got it wrong. I certainly am in two minds about much of it myself, but we were sincere and our motives were true.

We were also very charismatic. This was when charismatic renewal was riding high. The Holy Spirit was being discovered by the churches again. Popular Christian books such as The Cross and the Switchblade, Run, Baby, Run, Chasing the Dragon, and Nine O’Clock in the Morning were suggesting that God could be experienced as well as believed in, and we wanted to share the experience.

There was a new emphasis on speaking in tongues, on the gifts of the Spirit, and spiritual experience, in general. St Andrew’s itself was very evangelical and Bible-believing, but it did not believe in or encourage the so-called spiritual gifts. In fact, it was actively opposed to them. This was a frustration to many of us as we knew that we needed teaching and help on their correct use.

So some of us started visiting a local Christian fellowship that was related to Devonshire Road, the House Church through which I made a Christian commitment. It was called the Longcroft. It was in the days when Norman Meeten was resident there. This was hardline House Church and completely committed to the spiritual gifts and their use. We used to go to a prayer meeting held there on a Monday night. Most of those who were there were much older than us, in some cases very much older. But they never patronised us and welcomed us with open arms.

We used to sing a lot mainly Charles Wesley hymns. We would share testimonies about what God was doing in our lives, speak in tongues, pray for healing, receive prophecy, and listen to sermons that often lasted for an hour and a half, but never seemed like it. There was much that was positive, but the theology was very negative towards traditional churches. In particular, it was deeply opposed to infant baptism. Baptism was for believers who knew what they were doing, not for babies who hadn’t a clue what was happening. This issue became something a battleground between the traditional churches on the one hand and House Churches on the other. It was invested with a symbolic significance, showing which side of the fence you were on.

I was more and more convinced of my own calling to the ministry. There were, however, a number of issues. Firstly, in seeking ordination, which direction should I go in? I was now attending an Anglican Church, while at the same time sharing many of the doubts of the House Churches about it. I did not believe in infant baptism, and so did not see how I could go into the ministry of a church which did. It is here that I must pay tribute to the then Rector, Bill Person. He befriended me and cared for me, even though he disagreed deeply with some of the things of which I was part. He was not impressed with the charismatic movement and believed firmly in infant batism. But although older, wiser, and infinitely more mature, he would debate with me, laugh with me, and take me seriously. He encouraged me to pursue ordination in the Church of England. At this stage, however, I certainly was not ready to commit to the Church of England!

Secondly, I needed to decide what I did after sixth form. I was clear in my mind that I should study theology. I felt then, as I feel now, that the Church needs clergy who have studied theology seriously, rather than having done a couple of years at theological college, or wherever, and then thinking that’s it. At first, I assumed I should go to University as this was what other people my age at my school did. Then I discovered London Bible College, now called London School of Theology. A change of name that irritates me every time I see it, but that’s not my business! London Bible College was inter-denominational and evangelical. To cut a long story short, I applied and was accepted. I also had offers from universities, but when the time came to decide there was never any doubt. London Bible College was about ministry and that was what I wanted to be about too.

I left for London in Autumn, 1974. I was a member of an Anglican Church, but with grave doubts about it, very charismatic, evangelical, influenced by a branch of the House Church movement, convinced that I was called to preach and teach, and genuinely eager to learn. It was the best decision I could have made, and, in the midst of many doubts and changes that were to lie ahead, I have never had cause to doubt going to LBC.

But more about that next time.

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