Saturday, April 4, 2015

Evangelism as it was

My father was bought up in a conventionally nominal Christian home. He rarely spoke of it but did tell me that he attended a Methodist Sunday School as a child. In his later years, after my mother died, he joined a small Uniting Church congregation, and provided the music for it, playing the clarinet. That, and his last student, kept him happily involved in music, to his delight.

While we were children, dad came along to church with us when we attended my mother’s family church at Epping [the name reduced to an abbreviation on its current website). My grandfather had been one of the founding deacons (based on photographs of him and others at the site of the church’s building construction and family lore--so, could be wrong, of course).

The style of pulpit evangelism at this church, and most similar ones through the sixties and seventies was what I call the harangue! I can’t blame anyone for this, so am not casting aspersions in mentioning Harold Long as the earnest haranguer-in-chief at Epping. Dad resentfully often felt himself to be the ‘target’ of such sermons, having married one of the daughters of a well known family in that community but not being of that community. It wasn’t until the gentler respectful approach of the Uniting Church did he come to express his belief with any comfort.

I can remember also feeling the pressure of the harangue, but came to be sceptical of it after successive speakers over the years had claimed that the Spirit was moving in the congregation, and those who were being prompted would march to the front of the congregation to declare their conversion. The rarity of the sought reaction nurtured my scepticism as to their mystical knowledge.

It was unfortunate that I came across the harrangue at Burwood Baptist Church, about 25 years ago (apart from this it was a very warm and welcoming group of people although a little stuck in the 60s). The husband of one of the mainstay members was not in the church, and this attracted imploring, arm-twisting prayer for his conversion, as though God has to be wrangled into action!

Happily, evangelism now is more engaging and respectful than it was then, and less apt to misread the Scriptures and church history in its methods.

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