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A Great Shock

In this parish painful disillusionment awaited me. It became uncomfortably obvious that a vast difference existed between conditions here and those of the New Testament Church. In Zululand I had pleaded the excuse: ‘these are only Natives who do not yet know the Christian life.’ I could console myself with that argument no longer. When, on Saturdays I perforce had to turn my secretly much dreaded Bible, I could deceive myself no longer.

Scripture speaks of a kind of life very different from that which we were living. I could not pass in the searching light of the Bible – and knew it. Neither could my family for that matter – nor the church committee, nor the church members.

Once, when reading the text prescribed for Sunday, I was struck with terror by the realisation that I could never have continued in the presence of the Jesus we read of in the New Testament. The eyes of this Man would have been unbearable to me. I flatly rejected the Sermon on the Mount, however, as being an ideal quite impossible to reach. But it began to dawn on me that this Man, this Jesus of Nazareth, would, even as a man, condemn my life as a parson.

I now started to criticise severely the sins of the church members. Sharply, and in no uncertain terms I attacked them from the pulpit, but only from the pulpit. And yet, at the same time my conscience pricked me – nearly as sharply. There was a growing realisation that I had no right to censure the lives of others while my own life was neither loving nor unselfish. The more painful this goading became the sharper I became. But I soon realised, as I had done in my childhood days: ‘If Holy Scripture is in any way the revelation of God, then I am lost.’ I saw clearly that neither the ‘ecclesiastical office,’ nor infant baptism, nor confirmation and Holy Communion could alter that fact.

In conversations and especially at the regular mission conferences this unuttered question became more urgent and occupied a central place in my thought: ‘Can I, here on earth, live in accordance with the life prescribed in Scripture?’ Could my life be such that I would be able to live joyfully and peacefully in the presence of Jesus Christ were He here visibly among us?’ Everything in me yearned for an answer to this question. But no-one, probably, thought of showing me the way. However, what did happen was that I came under strong suspicion of no longer being a truly staunch Lutheran. Although I had expected real spiritual help from some of the men, I had to turn away again and again, disappointed and disillusioned. This was interpreted as instability.