Friday, October 22, 2010

From Baptist to Presbyterian

knox When I arrived here in Scotland, I was a doubting Baptist (that's doubting about being a Baptist, not about being a Christian) and had been such for many a long year.  Soon after arriving, I read several things that brought my doubts to a head and satisfied my questions about paedobaptism.  Perhaps one of the most helpful was Marcel’s classic work, The Biblical Doctrine of Infant Baptism.  Since then, my studies at HTC have brought even greater conviction regarding the ecclesiology of the historical Reformed Church. 

The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the Gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation. WCF 25.2

For the first time I can truly say and appreciate: ‘I believe in the holy, catholic church.’  It is actually a return to my own theological roots – my mother’s family were Presbyterians, or as they would have preferred it, Calvinistic Methodists.  Of course, back in Wales, evangelicalism has largely abandoned the stance of the Reformers, which was also the position of the Fathers of the Awakening (Jones, Williams, Harris, Rowland) and of Calvinistic Methodism (Elias, Charles).  The Associating Evangelical Churches of Wales arose from the Evangelical Movement of Wales, then a mix of Baptists, Congregationalists and Presbyterians united by their evangelical stance.  However, it is now almost exclusively baptistic.  I cannot really explain this shift, except perhaps to posit that the pressure for unity around what is defined as ‘the gospel’ has gradually persuaded former Presbyterians to remain silent about their convictions about the nature of the church.  This has meant that, untaught about these things, the default position of the hearers has become baptistic.  This shift followed the flight of some evangelicals from the denominations; my own move from independency to a denomination highlights to me just how detrimental to unity the move to independency has been in Wales.  The Presbyterian Church of Wales (to which my mother’s family belonged), although facing serious decline, still has over 30,000 members in over 700 congregations.

Anyway, I now live in Scotland – one of the seats of the Reformation and of Presbyterianism.  So there’s no looking at you askance when you say you’ve baptised your children!  As I’ve written before, John Franke described visiting Edinburgh as the Presbyterian equivalent of a pilgrimage to Mecca!  Students come to both HTC and to the Free Church College from Presbyterian denominations around the world to suckle at the breast of the Mother Church (!), returning to serve in far-flung regions.  That sense of the world-wide Presbyterian family is important.

I count it a joy and privilege to have served as an elder in the South Uist and Benbecula congregation of the Free Church of Scotland during my undergraduate studies.  This denomination has close links to other denominations around the world, sister churches in India, Peru and South Africa, and has its own congregations in other lands (England(!) and North America).  I’ve met so many people within the Free Church (both ministers and laypeople) for whom I hold a deep respect and who have had a deep and lasting influence upon me.  I’ve come to share in the rich heritage, the stories, the theology.  The congregation here in South Uist has been a joy from day one.  It’s small, but it’s alive!  To see folk come to faith in Jesus, to see folk grow in wisdom and the knowledge of God, to worship together – this is what it’s about.  The opportunity to minister to these folk as an elder continues to be a privilege.  And it is very useful to me to live as part of a community where most folk are Roman Catholic, with the opportunity to experience Roman Catholic piety and religion and to learn more about our shared common ground and our essential differences.  My prayer is for continued reformation in all Churches and denominations, so that God might be glorified and the lost might find life through faith in Jesus Christ.