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This time our venue is very different. We find ourselves in New Zealand in the time of the slaughter - the slaughter of the faith. At this point, some mathematician who was in a post in the theological seminary had publicly denied the bodily resurrection. (In fact, I Corinthians 15:1-3 shows the thing put in the grave to be the one which rose, just as Luke 24 does, and in the former, the resurrection so defined is not only fundamental to the faith, but without it there IS no faith, Paul shows).
Pathetic oddities were uttered in an unruly Assembly, such as this: We do not want to be in heaven carting around a bad leg, and so on; as if the bodily resurrection, to be physical, had to be a buffoonery, not mortal putting on immortality, not corruptible putting on incorruption, but some sort of eternalisation of imperfection! Such is not Paul's teaching in I Corinthians, nor in Philippians, were the Ch.2:20-21 area shows God SUBDUING everything to Himself, 'transforming' our 'lowly body' to be 'conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself."
Presbytery had been approached with the Overture from our Session, seeking its affirmation of a bold statement rigorously condemning this foolishness from the seminary, and requiring a return to the Bible, the Westminster Confession statement on this topic and a non-negotiating stance. The vote failed by something like 21-20, so that the Clerk in particular was to announce that he would not vote FOR it, since although he had reached the "conclusion" that the body rose, yet he felt the uncompromising approach was not appropriate. One is tempted to refer to Acts 4:1-2, 7-12, 2:25-31, 4:19-20 to this utterance, from which it differs as darkness from light.
The situation was hot, the vexatiousness of the issue, daring to disturb the ecclesiastical peace was profound. Had not my charge two beautiful churches (yes, they had, admirable in architecture and beauty), and were we to debate and so forth, about something like - somebody's body ? One wife of an elder advised me that if she heard more of the bodily resurrection, she would... spit!
It was in this bracing and salubrious air that one was labouring.
Then one morning, a gentleman of a little age (elderly perhaps, not aged), with a cane walking stick which tended to add perhaps a sense of weight to his words, especially when they were uttered as he left the church door after the service, and looked back to address the Minister.
"You," he informed me, and anyone else who should be interested as the people filed out of the door to the outside sunshine, "you are an actor...!"
Now that in itself could possibly be construed as a recognition of talent. Admittedly in the setting it would not seem likely to be intended as a compliment: still, in the atmosphere in this area of a once fine church, hurtling headlong into an apostasy from which I should shortly have to dissociate myself, it was not too bad.
It was what followed that formed an excellent punch-line. "An actor," he said, " and an exceedingly poor one!"
Now to be a poor actor would be something one might find in the ministry to be not too intolerable. After all, one is not serving in order to demonstrate acting ability; stage repertoire is not a headline question when one is interviewed. It is to be acknowledged however, that if one not only IS an actor, but that being said, also an EXCEEDINGLY poor one, there can be little doubt of the negative direction of the comments.
This classic example of the older man's acting ability was not lost on me. The pause, shall we say weighty pause, between the advice of acting accomplishment, and the ensuing advice as to its extent, was delightfully apt and dramatic ...
What was less so was the fiasco of
those poor New Zealand islands abandoning the Presbyterian testimony, though
I had myself to dissent publicly and with a large testimony in writing to
their outrage and opprobrium in the Assembly of 1966 - but that is another matter: one which
merely served as a culmination from those in Melbourne, much earlier.