We lived in a village in south-western Ontario for 12 years. The United Church Manse was right across the street from our home. Several ministers and their families came and went during that time. We exchanged a few pleasantries, but never really got to know them.
One couple was different. The husband had been raised in Québec as a Roman Catholic, but had undergone a spiritual crisis in his younger years and had switched to the only other church in his area, which was the United Church of Canada. We felt that he had truly had a new birth experience and we enjoyed visiting with him and his family. Our daughter babysat his children on occasion; one summer they sent their children to the Vacation Bible School of our church.
Some members of our congregation were interested in learning French, so I asked if he would be willing to try and teach French to a bunch of Mennonites. He agreed and we got together once a week all through one winter to be exposed to a little French. Many were complete beginners, others already had some knowledge of French. He even taught us a few hymns.
Being Mennonites, there had to be a lengthy coffee break in the middle of each evening with lots of time for visiting. He told me later that those evenings had been the high point of the whole winter for him.
During one visit he had some questions about church discipline. Then he told me that he wished that the United Church could tell people that “this is what we believe, and if you don’t believe it you have no right to be a member.” During another visit he told me that he believed there were nine real Christians in his congregation. He didn’t give names, but by then I had lived long enough in the community to have an idea who he might be thinking of. There were a few elderly people whose lives seemed to speak of an inner grace and one young couple who had recently been converted (and left the United Church a couple years later).
That minister moved on to another community, then died suddenly of a heart attack a number of years ago. Thinking back of that time, and of times before that when we had been “church shopping,” I remember congregations of one denomination or another where we fellowshipped for a time. In each place we found many fine people with good intentions, but only a few that we could feel truly knew God.
Which leads to a sobering question: Does my life, my conduct, my attitude and relationship with others convey that I am walking in fellowship with God, by the leading of the Holy Spirit? It is a fine thing to have a love of the truth and a keen nose for all that is false in others, but a critical, fault-finding attitude is no help to them. If someone is looking for a person with whom they could share their struggles and questions about life and faith, would I be a likely candidate?
In short, if someone was searching for a real Christian, would I be a suspect?