Personal Journey 6: Committing to the Church of England
If what I wrote about in my last post in this series seemed very theoretical, let me assure you that for me it most certainly was not. It resulted in a major change of direction. One small change was that I felt able to enjoy things that previously I would have regarded as worldly and wrong. More significantly, I found myself moving away from the House Church movement. I came to regard the traditional churches in a more positive light, or should I say that I came to see that no church is perfect and that God can work anywhere. I still very much regarded myself as an evangelical, but was far more comfortable in an evangelical Anglican Church than I had been.
This paved the way for me to think more seriously about ordination in the Church of England. As I have said, infant baptism was a big stumbling block because whatever else priests in the Church of England may have to do, they have to baptize babies. Indeed, quite a few clergy left the C of E because they could not, in all conscience, continue to baptize babies.
This is even more of an issue than it might seem because very often in Anglican Churches people come to have their babies baptized having no prior involvement in the Church and without any evidence of a Christian commitment. The rules do not allow you to refuse to baptize. Some clergy have tried to delay it, or create hoops for people to jump through. This, however, has only served to annoy and hurt those who come for baptism. The problem is that the Church for centuries has said that everyone has a right to have their child baptized by virtue of the fact they live in the parish. Refusing baptism or putting obstacles in the way can sound as if the Church is rejecting people and, more seriously, rejecting the baby. This affects people at a very fundamental level and theological arguments just don’t work!
Anyway, this was to be an issue for the future, the issue now was infant baptism, in principle. Again it was the study of the subject with Tony Lane that led me to conclude that infant baptism could be justified. Tony himself would take a different point of view, but I was persuaded by the arguments and, not least, by the fact that the vast majority of Christians believed in it. Majorities are not always right, but you have to be careful to guard against arrogance here, that is, not to be too quick to think that you are right and everyone else is wrong! I felt that at the very least that it was a valid option for Christians and that as a clergyman I would be representing the Church and not simply my own opinion.
Having overcome this major stumbling-block, I was confirmed as an Anglican on March 20, 1977 at St Andrew’s. I left LBC having decided that my commitment was now not only to individual Anglican churches, like St Andrew’s, but also to the broader Anglican Church. This did not mean I was happy with everything that I saw in the Church of England, far from it. Nevertheless, I felt that it was within this church that I ought to seek ordination and exercise my ministry. That was going to have to wait, though, because in those days the C of E was encouraging people not to go straight from college or university into the ministry, but to get secular work experience first. So after I completed my degree at LBC, I decided to stay on in London working and living near LBC.
It was at this time that I made a commitment to theological study and began thinking seriously about how I could pursue postgraduate study. My theological study so far had been so important to me, and I was absolutely convinced of its importance, not only for myself, but also for the wider Church. I was just not ready to stop studying. I had done reasonably well in my degree and there certainly was no academic reason why I shouldn’t continue. There was, of course, a financial one. I just couldn’t afford a full-time postgraduate course. Looking back, I dearly wish that I had been able to continue full-time theological study, then or after a short break. With what I know now, I think that maybe ways could have been found.
Instead, I went to work for a company selling televisions.