by Tom Cadman
When John Tucker invited me to contribute an article in the Carey Alumni and Friends Newsletter, my immediate reaction was refusal. Having been involved with Baptist ministry for a significant part of my life I felt a kinship with Jonathon Swift, Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, Dublin, and famed author of Gulliver’s Travels, who satirically presaged his death in a poem entitled, “On the Death of Dr Swift.”
Poor gentleman, he droops apace, you plainly find it in his face:
That old Vertigo in his head, will never leave him till he’s dead:
Besides his memory decays, he recollects not what he says…
Plyes you with stories o’er and o’er. He told them fifty times before.
Sharing Swift’s satirical concern, and against my better judgment, I have set about answering John’s request for an article from a Carey graduate.
The Christian faith expressed through Baptist faith and life is part of my DNA. From earliest childhood days in the Colombo Street Baptist Church, through teenage years at the Opawa Baptist Church, ministry training at the Baptist Theological College (now Carey) and into the wider family of our Baptist Churches and the Church at large, the Good News of Jesus Christ has fashioned, shaped, challenged and broadened my approach to life and faith.
Following participation in Compulsory Military Training (CMT) at the beginning of 1952, a requirement of every 18-year-old, and at the beginning of 1953, I made two far reaching life decisions. The first followed increasing involvement in the Baptist Bible Class movement along with guidance and encouragement from our Minister at Opawa, Dr Bob Thompson. I sought acceptance for ministry training in the NZ Baptist College in Auckland.
The other life changing decision was falling in love with Evelyn, who, from then until now, has shared my journey.
Entering “The Baptist College” in 1954 involved participation in a monastic male institution presided over by the Principal, E. (Ted) Roberts-Thomson. It was an experience, in many ways both adequate and inadequate. What it did do was provide a strong sense of Christian community, not only during the four years of training involved, but on into future ministry throughout New Zealand, overseas and wherever ministry took us. A more detailed look at those communal years is contained in Martin Sutherland and Lawrie Guy’s history of Carey, An Unfolding Story.
Since those days, preaching and teaching the Good News and how it affects the way we live and think has been expressed in a host of differing ways and settings. I am privileged to have shared in propagating the Good News through Baptist congregational life at Brooklyn, Napier, Wellington Central, Flinders Street, Adelaide and Milford. From those supportive congregational bases, opportunities in writing, broadcasting, ecumenical, denominational and community participation and leadership, plus significant study opportunities overseas, have served to fashion, re-shape, expand and even alter how I see what lies at the heart of the Gospel and the part the Church plays in making such Good News known.
When, as a young man, I began to take seriously God’s call to share in the ministry of the Gospel, I had convictions about everything. With the passage of time many of those so-called convictions have changed, dissipated or seem irrelevant. What remains?
Among the many literary sources shaping my understanding of the Good News is Professor Sir Herbert Butterfield’s Christianity and History.Originally a series of lectures at Cambridge University and then shared as Radio talks on the Third Programme of the BBC, Butterfield ranges widely over issues raised by Christianity and history. He concludes with some words that could well sit alongside many passages of the New Testament.
I have nothing to say at the finish except that if one wants a permanent Rock in life and goes deep enough for it, it is difficult for historical events to shake it. There are times when we can never meet the future with sufficient elasticity of mind, especially if we are locked in the contemporary systems of thought. We can do worse than remember a principle which both gives us a firm Rock and leaves us the maximum elasticity for our minds. The principle: Hold to Christ, and for the rest be totally uncommitted.
If we need New Testament backing for that Rock, as Butterfield calls it, it is found in The Letter to the Hebrews written to a struggling Christian community in danger of drifting from the anchor of the Gospel:
Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses we must throw off every encumbrance and the sin that too readily restricts us and run with resolution the race which lies ahead, our eyes fixed on Jesus on whom faith depends from start to finish.
That is the Good News for a world of turbulence, immersed in materialistic secularism as is Western society in general and our own society in particular. There is a firm Rock on which our life and world can be built. That Rock is Jesus Christ on whom faith depends from start to finish.
The current task of Christian mission is much harder than it’s ever been in my lifetime. It will usually take much longer to till the ground before seed can take root. Christian witness and apologetics need to take place in the context of relationships and friendships because it takes time to gain credibility as a Christian witness and to help someone understand our message.
Whatever shape or form the Christian church in New Zealand takes in the 21st century it seems imperative that the communities which comprise it are able to affirm together the earliest of Creeds, “Jesus is Lord,” hang loose to a lot of stuff we consider important, learn to love one another, inclusively, graciously, humbly, whilst demonstrating “in deed and word” the reality of the Good News we profess.
There’s a lot of foundation to be laid before getting a hearing for the Gospel or before it may be understood clearly. A secular society doesn’t answer the fundamental needs of humankind. Sooner or later we individuals want to be able to make sense of our lives. Christianity does make sense of reality and answers the most fundamental questions and needs we have, whilst recognising that ultimately, none of us can ever comprehend, fully explain or even demonstrate “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.”
Author: Thomas (Tom) Cadman graduated from the NZ Baptist Theological College (now Carey Baptist College) in 1957. He spent many years pastoring at various Baptist churches and served on the Board of Carey Baptist College. Tom and his wife Evelyn are now retired.