The last part – for the time being.
As I grew up, particularly in my teen years, I began to realise that Christians weren’t perfect and conflict was an inevitable part of church life. It became obvious that the words and actions of adults didn’t always match, and that motives were not always pure. One became aware of the cliques and groups – people with different attitudes, agendas or values.
In the early 1960s our church had a very conservative, very Dutch minister. In order to attend communion, which was held every three months, you needed to attend church twice a Sunday. My dad, also Dutch and stubborn, had refused to travel to Geelong twice a Sunday after his little church in Ocean Grove had been closed. “If they close my church, I am only going once!” So the scene was set for conflict. Every three months before communion my family would receive “huisbezoek” – a home visit by the elders and minister. I was allowed to attend the formalities: coffee, Bible reading and prayer. Then I was sent to my room. However I could still hear the “conversation” between my father and the minister clearly through the walls. Dad didn’t give in and neither did Dominee K.
As I stated earlier, Dominee K returned to Holland and we had a new minister who simply asked my dad, “Do you love the Lord?” To which my father replied, “Of course!” and so he was allowed to return to the communion table. And my father started going to church, twice on a Sunday!
The arrival of the Pentecostal movement had far more profound effects. The church became divided, some families split and there were married couples who lived in tension for decades to come, with the death of a partner greeted with relief rather than sorrow as it ended an unhealed past. The power of deeply held beliefs to unify is profound, but its power to divide is monumentally tragic.
Looking back, I can now see the attraction of the charismatic outbreak. There was a joy in God and worship, a recognition of the power of the Spirit and an overall enthusiasm for faith and outreach. At the time there were also excesses and extremism. But that was true of both sides. Both groups saw right on their side. I don’t want to enter into the theology of this division at this point but rather consider the attitudes that people held that didn’t reflect Christ. As a young person at the time I was bewildered. How could beliefs, people and values shift so quickly? On the other hand I was in a privileged position as the two key leaders on both sides of the debate had a profound impact on my life. They were both men who loved the Lord deeply. Their followers were not always that wise. Blacks were made blacker and whites whiter. I have come to reflect that we often justify our attitudes by hardening our positions. There are times when we may need to separate or part ways due to deep disagreements but this can still be done with grace and Christ-likeness. This is particularly true when the heart of the gospel is not compromised.
Over 45 years later, I now work in a school where fellow Christians from a wide variety of evangelical backgrounds respect each other’s differences and work together for the common good of Christ’s Kingdom and Christian education. These changes didn’t happen overnight. It took many, many years. I rejoice often that I have lived to see a day when the values of two men I respected dearly have come to coexist and empower the place where I work. More importantly, I believe because of this healthy co-operation, we can see Christ and His kingdom more clearly.
Hah! But that callow youth back in the late 1960s did not have clue of what God had in mind.