It’s not that I think I said anything wrong. I just left out a major plank of what Evangelicalism means, which is that as Evangelicals we preach for a result. But without that, we just have a series of propositions.
Of course, it is important that those propositions are true. Paul writes that God wants all people to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:4). And Jesus himself said the truth would set us free. We mustn’t fall into the trap of false modesty which says that because we don’t know the whole truth about God we cannot claim to know anything to be true. That’s a bit like saying, ‘Because we don’t know everything, scientific research cannot really be claimed to have shown us anything.’
But if we don’t apply the truth, it won’t do us any good.
I can claim first-hand experience of this. Back in 1966, I attended the Billy Graham rallies in London. (I went as part of a whole coach of boys from our Grammar school, organized by our RE master —imagine that happening today!) In those days I was a regular churchgoer and server at my local Anglo-Catholic church (St Luke’s, Charlton). But I was curious to know what happened to those who ‘went forward’ at Billy Graham rallies, so when the call came to ‘Get up out of your seats,’ I did.
I still remember very clearly being taken through the gospel basics by my counsellor. At the end, he encouraged me to make John 3:16 my own: ‘For God so loved John that he gave his only begotten Son, that if John should believe in him, John should not perish but have everlasting life.’
What’s more, I believed it was true! In due time, my copy of Billy Graham’s book arrived, as did my Bible reading programme, and I would say I lasted about six weeks.
Interestingly, one of the clergy at church said the Billy Graham organization had contacted him to say I’d gone forward, and asked me why I’d done it. I replied that I’d wanted to find out what happened. And that was it —the matter was never raised again, as if I’d been forgiven for doing something slightly impolite!
It was five years later, in 1971, that I said the prayer of commitment in Journey into Life and never looked back. That day in August is when I would say I truly ‘became a Christian’.
So what was the difference? Basically, in 1966 I understood what the gospel said, but I didn’t understand what the gospel meant. That is what dear Fr X should have picked up on! He should have realized instantly: here is a young man who wants to know more. And he should have left no stone unturned until he was sure I'd found what I was looking for. Fortunately for me, no lasting harm resulted from the fact that he didn’t.
By 1971, however, thanks to knowing Christian Union friends at University, I realized that being a Christian was an all-or-nothing matter. What impressed me was that for them, God was everything, whereas for me, God was an accessory —someone to be there when I needed him, not the other way round.
Gradually I came to realize that if I believed in God, then I had to let God be God of my life. I couldn’t just let him rule the trees, the winds, the planets and a few other things. He had to rule me, personally. And, in those heady days around 1969, I knew that meant no sex outside marriage —which was a deal I wasn’t quite ready to do. (If that sounds odd, try reading the Confessions of St Augustine, and you’ll see it was a bit of an issue for him, too, back in the 4th century ad. It certainly had a way for both of us of focussing the mind on what was at stake.)
So when I sat down to ‘pray the prayer’, I knew this was crunch time, and I had faced what it meant for me —I would let God have his way with me, whatever. I would not just accept Jesus as my Saviour (something which had always seemed to me a good idea), I would serve him as my Lord.
And so my fourth element of Evangelicalism is this:
Evangelicals believe in a gospel ... 4. Acknowledging Christ as Saviour and accepting Christ as Lord.
I hope that covers it, but if anyone else can offer a happier form of words, I’d be open to advice.
Revd John P Richardson
28 September 2007