A plea for more modesty

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I don’t go out of my way to talk to people on trains. It just happens.

I was taking the S6 home last night because I missed the much faster S7, even though I ran, pretty fast too for a man of my, uh, maturity and position in the community.

But there she was – I recognized her from the evening service – and so I asked where she was from.

She had been visiting my church and had even introduced herself at the point in the service when we ask visitors to introduce themselves. She spoke English, as everyone at my church does, but I noticed that it was with a distinctive and (for me) unrecognizable accent.

She told me she was from Siberia and had been living in Switzerland for 20 years. I asked how she came to be at my church, and I then heard the story of her life. I don’t think of myself as an especially good listener, but I can ask open-ended questions like a champ.

I learned, among other things, that she had been baptized as a child, but that “it didn’t mean anything because I wasn’t aware of what was happening.” Then, a few years ago, she was baptized again, and this time it meant something because she began to explore her new faith – much to the chagrin of her mostly Muslim family. And then, a couple of months ago, she was baptized yet again – this time in a Pentecostal church and with full immersion, “just like scripture teaches us to do it.”

It was that last comment that caught my attention. I wasn’t napping before that, but when she made a strong assertion about what scripture teaches, in an area of theology where there have been centuries of debate and disagreement, I sat up and was – okay, I’ll admit it – irritated.

Here was a young Christian telling me – first – that my own baptism “didn’t mean anything.” (Try telling that to my parents who presented me as an infant with as much hope and pride and belief as any parents have ever had.) And then she told me what scripture teaches regarding the proper administration of baptism, which is not the way I ordinarily do it.

I resisted the temptation to say, “What seminary did you get your theological degree from?” Instead I thanked her – profusely – for sharing with me the deeply moving story of her spiritual journey. I told her that I hoped to see her again.

But today I’m thinking, “Why is it that young Christians presume to know so much about their faith, so much in fact that they feel confident enough to teach – and sometimes rebuke – others?”

She’s not the first, unfortunately. It happens a great deal.

And what am I supposed to say? How about “you know, actually, there’s a long history of debate on that particular point, and while you’re welcome to your point of view, you should know that not every Christian believes exactly as you do”?

I suppose this post, more than anything, is an appeal for some greater modesty about what we believe. Faith by its very nature seems to lead us to speak about it boldly, but I wonder if followers of Christ shouldn’t resist the temptation to set other followers straight, or at least until they have achieved some seasoning, some experience, some maturity.

Sometimes our boldness is arrogant and rude.

(Photo: It has nothing to do with the content of my post, but I couldn’t wait any longer to use it.)

About Doug

I have been a writer ever since fifth grade when I won second prize in a “prose and poetry” contest. I am also a Presbyterian pastor, and for several years toward the end of my career I lived and worked in Zürich, Switzerland. I am now retired and live just north of Holland, Michigan, along the lake.

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