Appreciating Your Heritage
It probably goes without saying how good it was to see you over the Christmas break. Marie and I were delighted that you were free to join us for a meal on the Sunday after Christmas. Ben still talks about how he enjoyed playing baseball with you during the summer. I know he was tickled to see you. Thanks for looking out for our son.
You asked a good question at dinner that day, and I am still rolling it over in my mind. Why do we at Grace OPC sing the Gloria Patri after reading from the Psalter? Of course, the church near you at college puts the song after the Apostles' Creed. I was struck by that also when I went off to college, though my awareness stemmed from the novelty of singing the Gloria Patri at all. It was not in our Baptist hymnal at home.
I do wish the congregations in our denomination followed the same order of service. As you know, we do use the same creedal standards and follow the same rules for governing our churches in the OPC. But American Presbyterians have historically resisted a common form of worship. I think they have suffered for that, though others will disagree.
You are, James, at a different stage of life. You have almost reached the point where you make a host of decisions without the direct supervision of your mom and dad. You have to decide when to get up each day—I tried to schedule all of my classes after lunch, so I could put off that decision as long as possible. More seriously, you may also be deciding on a wife.
Even more serious is what you now face in choosing your faith. Of course, as a child of a Christian home, you haven't had the choices that others face. You were baptized, nurtured in the home and church, and catechized. Thankfully, you made a profession of faith along with others in your middle school Sunday school class. In a sense, you have already chosen your identity. But now that you're away from home and have more choices than before, will you carry on in the faith that has been nurtured in you by church and family? That is, as they used to say, the $64,000 question. (Perhaps that needs to be adjusted for inflation.)
Too often college uproots young people from their homes and communities. It certainly uprooted me. I entered college as a Baptist, and I graduated as an Orthodox Presbyterian. My parents were never comfortable with infant baptism. And my mother could get really wound up about original sin and freedom of the will. Sometimes dislocations can be good, as it was for me. Sometimes they can be bad, as it was for your cousin who started attending one of those Vineyard churches. Whatever happened to her anyway? I am glad that you are worshiping regularly at Covenant OPC and that some of your friends are going with you. Yes, it's okay that sometimes you go hoping to land an invitation to a home-cooked meal.
I hope to explain more in future letters, but you should know that the session here is concerned about where our college students go to church. A church might be evangelical, but that doesn't guarantee it is Reformed. Much can be said on behalf of evangelicalism—which is a word thrown around a lot these days. Too often the word evangelical is thought to signify a good expression of Protestant Christianity. That was certainly not my experience, even if some evangelicals are dear brothers and sisters in Christ. But the Reformed faith is special. I think J. Gresham Machen even said something like it is "grand." Our prayers are with you to persevere in the faith of your father and mother.
The Reformed faith is not just grand. In your case, it is also the faith of your fathers. I want to encourage you to fight the urge that many college students naturally feel to go their own way. Paul wrote to Timothy to remember "the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice." That is instruction that all covenant children need to ponder. Growing up in the way of your parents is biblical. Our hopes, prayers, and expectations are with you as the child of Arthur and Ann. I understand that might feel like a burden. The key is to see that, while constraining us, the spiritual legacy of our parents is also a great blessing. That is clearly the way Paul saw it.
So while enjoying your new freedoms—including, I hear, camping out in line all night to buy tickets to see Radiohead—don't grow weary of what is old and familiar. God has a way of making hand-me-downs fit us just right.
Editor's note: "Uncle Glen (Roberts)" is a pseudonym. Reprinted from New Horizons, January 2008.