Thursday, November 23, 2006

Personal Journey 4

I do hope that this isn’t getting too boring and introspective. It’s certainly taking longer than originally intended, perhaps because I can’t resist the temptation to comment as I go. Next week, in order to add some balance, I will also begin a series of blogs for Advent.

I hope to post the next in this series on Saturday.

Personal Journey 4

I remember my first day at LBC. I was happy there from the moment I arrived. I had hated school from the moment I started at primary school and never enjoyed a moment of it. The only good thing about it was the holidays. I have all my ministry been involved in education, I just hope that this involvement may have gone even a little way to making school a bit happier for others than it was for me. But the pendulum swung when I got to LBC.

The people were not perfect, of course, but they were kind, sincere, committed, and diverse. I was, in fact, one of the youngest as a school leaver. Others had had jobs before, were married and had children. Not all, but some. A significant number were from overseas. This created an international feel to the place.

The church backgrounds were equally diverse. At the time, evangelicals were still suspicious of Anglicans and Anglican evangelicals were embarrassed at being Anglican. The common excuse was to say that the Church of England was the ‘best boat to fish from’. For readers not familiar with the Church of England, I perhaps need to explain this.

In England (only in England in the UK, this is important) the C of E is the established Church. In times past, it was assumed that to be English was to be a member of the C of E and this is still enshrined in law. The country is divided into parishes and everyone in the parish has a right to the services of the parish church. The philosophy is to provide pastoral care ‘from the cradle to the grave’, that is, through baptisms, confirmation, weddings, and funerals. Although, as England has become increasingly secular, fewer people avail themselves of these services, many still do, many who are not remotely religious.

This causes some problems for scrupulous clergy who strongly suspect that their clients don’t mean what they are saying. Some clergy refuse to honour their commitments under the parish system; other s honour them and complain. It needs to remembered, however, that the system brings in a lot of money. The Church is paid for its services. The Church of England does not provide this service for free. Later in ministry, having escaped from the confines of England, it used to be my boast that I never charged a fee, but that’s for a later blog!

The argument of evangelicals was that this system gave opportunities for evangelism that did not exist for evangelicals in other churches. It is an argument. I will comment on it later!

Anyway, obviously evangelicals in other denominations were somewhat dismissive of this argument, feeling that evangelicals in the C of E had sold out. There was a very famous argument in 1966 between John Stott (Anglican) and Martin Lloyd-Jones (NOT!) over this. Folk at LBC were at the time more in the Lloyd-Jones camp, but not intolerantly so. In fact, the way LBC welcomed anyone who loved the Lord was really impressive.

I loved the lectures. Being able to spend so much time thinking about theology was heaven to me. I know it is not to others and was not to all there, but it was to me. Strangely, 3 of the 4 lecturers who had the greatest impact on me are still there. I wish I was too! Tony Lane taught church history in a way that made it live and helped you see why it mattered. Max Turner and Douglas de Lacey taught New Testament and gave me a love of academic Biblical study that has never left me, and Derek Tidball showed faith in me that has always stayed with me. This is not for the moment to suggest that the other tutors weren’t special, they were. But these were the four who influenced me most and whose words I still value when I can get them!

Each lecturer had both a Christian commitment and a commitment to thinking seriously about the faith, a commitment that came out of a real relationship with and love of the Lord. Over 30 years later, I believe more and more that we need to rescue theology from the pagans who have taken it over in the universities. Moslems rightly would not accept their holy book, the Qur’an, being taught to them by infidels nor should we allow ours to be. I do not mean that we cannot learn from the secular arts and sciences – of course we can, but the Bible is our book, and we should be the ones teaching it.

During the first year, I continued to attend the Youth Fellowship when I went home for holidays. To all appearances, things were continuing much the same, but the seeds were being sown in my life and thinking that were to change completely both the way I saw the Christian life and also the direction of my ministry.

Things were to come to a head in my second year at LBC.

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