04 August 2013


None who know me will need to be told that I am intellectually arrogant.  It may be said that I am, at nearly 71 years of age, somewhat cooled down from what I was in 1990, at 48 - I hope so, at least.

By 1990 I had been a Christian for 20 years.  When I was converted I had practically no knowledge of the Christian faith; by 1990 I was quite knowledgeable - and strong in my beliefs.

And I had progressed from a very nominalist understanding of religion - roughly what is quite broadly the outlook of our times - to a realist understanding.  Specifically, I was beginning to come to understand that the Christian Sacraments really did something; that baptism was what made you a Christian (I was still pretty vague about how this might work).

And I was strongly of the belief (still am, for the matter of that) that the only qualification for receiving Communion was to be baptised, and not in a state of serious (I would not then have used the qualifier 'mortal') sin.  I was, in fact, a paedo-Communist.

But in our Reformed church, the right to receive Communion and the right to vote for officers in the church - indeed, all voting, including voting relating to financial matters - the two rights were resident in the same persons.  A Communicant member of the church was ipso facto a voting member.  It was clear that this view of who could receive Communion must exclude, not only baptised infants, but even young adults who had not yet made the promises connected with Communicant membership.  In my increasingly acrimonious arguments with our elders and pastor, I was told that Communicant membership was appropriate for those 'of marriageable age.'

Acrimony - bitter acrimony, at times - is the word for it.  I was very much an unsubmissive church member.  Matters came to a head when I wrote a letter to the members of Session (the elders, the pastor, and deacons - the church officers) speaking of the sin of barring my children from the Table of the Lord.

I must testify to their great self-restraint in responding.  The acrimony had, in fact, been all from my side.  They responded to my letter with a firm but peaceable statement to me that I could not myself be in a proper relationship to them and still take the position that I was accusing them of sin in the execution of their duties as rulers of the church.  They requested that I write a letter retracting my accusation.

I did.  I was in angry tears when writing it.  I wrote, nevertheless, that I did not intend to accuse any of them of sin.  They accepted that and welcomed me as though nothing had happened.

This was a real turning point in my own Christian life.  After the incident I reflected on the meaning of the whole business.  Did I, in fact, believe in church authority?  Was the whole idea of "those who have the rule over you" (Hebrews 13:17) merely a metaphor for "those with whom I agree?"

I concluded that church authority was real, was of God, and that, short of committing sin myself, I must submit to it.  Although neither they nor I knew it at the time, this was a major step towards my eventually becoming a Catholic.

My own new docility may have been apparent to them.  In any case, sometime in 1991 I was asked if I were willing to be ordained a deacon - to become, in fact, a member of Session.  I recall at the time pointing out that some of the more explicitly anti-Catholic statements in the form I was to sign I was unsure of.  I was reassured that I could not be held to anything that I did not see in Scripture.  I laughed, saying that was a loophole one could pretty well drive anything through - but I accepted.  I was ordained.

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