BAPTIST CHURCH HOPE
Kenneth R. Guindon, former Baptist missionary to France
The Baptists are a mighty people. They number about 28 million in the United States and 33 million in the world. They have strong convictions and are very missionary-minded. Although about 85% are found in the United States, they are active in at least 125 countries (See Albert W. Wardin, Jr., Baptist Atlas, Broadman Press, 1980, p. 48. This is an excellent source book for understanding the history of the numerous Baptist groups.)
I love the Baptist people. I love them for all that they have done for me. I love them for the things that we love in common: God, the Bible, the family, the church as a divine institution and a place for worship of our Creator, and not least of all, their emphasis on good moral living.
I can't think of a more fitting introduction to this article about my experience as a Baptist minister and missionary during the years 1974-1986. I learned so much from the Baptists. I learned to grow in the love of God, of his Son and in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. During my association with the Baptists, I learned how to study the Bible, how to apply its counsel and admonition to my life. I learned how to teach it to my children and to others through sermons and through personal visits in homes. I learned how to give a public testimony of my faith, both in the streets and before large congregations of different denominations as well as to student bodies such as Los Angeles Baptist College (Newhall) and Biola in Southern California.
I performed many marriages and funerals. I learned how to rejoice with the joyful and how to console the sorrowful. I was a visitation pastor for a very large Baptist congregation in southern California and I spent much time with the sick and the dying before leaving for mission work in France. I learned how to turn people's thoughts upwards, towards a God who cares and loves us. I learned most of all how to be faithful to the Word of God, to not fear men but to stand up for my convictions.
This final point will need some explanation because of my background and my consuming desire and quest for truth. After 16 years of floundering in the darkness in the Jehovah's Witnesses, ... as Baptists would say, "I turned my life over to the Lord Jesus Christ." This was in January 1973 and it is still a moment of great importance to me. I finally realized I had a Savior who as God Almighty loved me enough to die for me on the cross. The Jehovah's Witnesses had made me lose faith in that when they got me out of the Catholic Church in which I was brought up! Following up on what we learned from Scripture, we broke fellowship with the Witnesses' organization. The price was high. No one likes to lose his best friends and a good reputation.
In 1973, I was looking for a Church that practiced what I thought the Bible taught. I had learned in the Jehovah's Witnesses that I was to prove every idea by being able to show a Bible verse for it. It seemed to me then (in 1973), that the Baptists were the people who adhered the closest to the Book.
They just read it as it reads and believed what they read. A Baptist friend in El Cajon when discussing Genesis, said to me about a year ago: "Why can't people just accept and believe what it says, God created man and that's it. Why do they instead have to have so many theories?"
Because of my intense desire to give my life more completely to God and to his service, I accepted a call to the ministry in 1974 and was ordained in 1975 by the First Baptist Church of Van Nuys, California (membership then about 10,000). At the same time, I furthered my education by taking courses as an off-campus student with Talbot Theological Seminary and Los Angeles Baptist College. In March of 1978 we left the States to serve as missionaries in France. A long period of trial, learning and growth would be ours. From a happy time of effective ministry in California, we would come to experience a time of trial and difficulty. Still, the difficulties would prove beneficial for us. They would cause my wife and I to depend more upon the Lord and to seek out wisdom from above (James 1:5, 17-18).
The first difficult lesson we had to learn was concerning missions and missionaries... and we wouldn't learn all we needed to know from our first experience. We left the States to work in cooperation with an interdenominational fellowship called the "The Capernway Missionary Fellowship of Torchbearers" (headquarters in England). We loved the teaching of the founder, Major Ian Thomas and his emphasis on living a Christ-centered life. He taught us to look to the Savior to do for and through us what we could never do on our own. That was great! We also made this choice because we didn't want to be locked into a narrow denominational mission.
The first problem that arose was this, as Baptist missionaries and with many Baptist people and churches supporting us, we really wouldn't be doing a Baptist work. We would be working to build some sort of interdenominational fellowship in Biarritz, France (called "The Bible Center").
This is when and where our first difficulties began. I couldn't help but ask myself an important question. What were we baptizing people into, a church or a fellowship? Some of these had already been baptized as Catholics or Anglicans. In fact, one youth worker and member of our team was a Quaker and she had never been baptized and didn't see the need for it. Her group didn't practice baptism. One member was a Presbyterian and another an Anglican. Some of us believed in the eternal security of the believer ("once saved always saved") and others didn't.
Some of us had been baptized by immersion and others by sprinkling or pouring. How were we going to be able to insist upon a baptized church membership, that is to say, admitting to membership in the church only those who had been properly baptized by immersion in water. Remember, baptism by immersion is one of the doctrines that distinguishes Baptists from other groups. This is where their name comes from.
Some in the fellowship, and the visitors also, expected to share in the communion service. During the absence of the "head man," an ordained Baptist minister, I told the people during my sermon that it was right that they want to participate in the communion service, but they should also realize that baptism is before communion and that it is by baptism that we enter into the church. Therefore, if someone hasn't been "properly" baptized, he or she should refrain from coming to the communion table. Well, when the senior pastor got back, he heard about it and didn't like it. I had offended some of his long-time friends, and they were good givers too.
There were other Protestant churches in Biarritz (Plymouth Brethern, Pentecostal and Anglican). A couple of kilometers away, in Bayonne, there was the Reformed Church (known in the U.S. as the Presbyterian Church) and then there was an English Baptist pastor struggling to start a church. So there we were, all these churches and groups competing with one another for members! Of course these new converts would have to come mostly from the Catholic population.
That was okay though. Catholics were fair game. We didn't believe they were saved. That's why we had been sent to France, a so-called Catholic country. No, a saved Catholic would really be a rare item. It could be possible by God's infinite grace, but, it would be wrong for a Catholic who really trusted Christ for his salvation to remain in the Catholic Church because of its "idolatry" and false doctrines. That is what my wife and I believed, and the reason why we went to France: to evangelize Catholics and to build true New Testament churches, churches founded upon Christ the Rock and according to the Bible!
I only stayed six months with this work in Biarritz. Several things had been bothering me and I was looking and praying for a "sign" from the Lord as to what I should do. The summer was the big time for evangelism. We received a number of summer workers from other countries, the weather was good and the town was full of tourists. Biarritz is a tourist spot in the southwestern corner of France and there are nice beaches all the way to the Spanish border.
It was decided to conclude our summer campaign with a communion service. When I heard about it I was in doubt about the correctness of such a step, but our pastor wanted to emphasize the oneness of the "Body" and our fellowship with Christ. So there we were: Lutherans, Anglicans, Reformed, Quakers, etc., all gathered in the meeting place. I was feeling very edgy and wondering whether I should participate or not. As I was praying about it, the pastor interrupted my train of thought, saying he knew of a case during the war when the navy chaplain didn't have any grape juice for the communion service and so he told the sailors that because it was "only" a symbol, he would use orange juice.
Next our pastor explained that the grape juice had been drunk the night before by the male worker who lived in the building.
Discovering this just before the church service started, he decided that he had an emergency on his hands, like the chaplain on board ship. So he gave us the navy story and told us that we would have apple juice for communion. We should remember that this was going to symbolize the blood of Christ. At this point, I got my "sign". I told Monique, my wife, "Let's get out of here." We got up and left.
Later, in the evening I called the Center and spoke with the pastor. He asked me why I left during the morning service. After explaining to him what I had felt, he told me that I had no reason to be upset. The group finally ended up using wine because a visiting French Baptist, upon hearing what I had heard, went out to his car and got a bottle of wine he had there. So the pastor was obliged to use wine which he would normally have avoided since he was a Baptist from America. Secondly, he told me that "my problem" was that I was too sensitive about this since I had been raised a Catholic and I was taking this too sacramentally.
I want the reader to know that I have not shared this experience out of a desire to hurt anyone. I only want to illustrate some of the problems that can arise for a Baptist missionary on the field. The Baptist missionary just doesn't have a universal code book, like a book of canon law. Some missionary organizations have a field manual for their missionaries, but many missionaries are independents, working solely under the supervision of their home church, while others may be employed by interdenominational fellowships.
After separating from this work, I decided to fellowship with the Brethern group in Biarritz. I really did enjoy the people, their ways and the humility and love they manifested for the Lord. The year in the Biarritz-Bayonne area also gave me an opportunity to examine carefully my beliefs. I began a practice of daily Bible reading and study that would last from two to three hours. I studied many things about the church and its history. I would continue this practice for many years.
Finally, after six months we left for another town in the Pyrenees to see what we could get started on our own. Of course my reading and questioning continued. These meditations, mulling things over, led me to seek fellowship with a strong, fundamentalist mission called Baptist Mid-Missions. Through fellowship with other Baptist missionaries, I had realized that I was really a Baptist's Baptist after all. I believed we had the best explanation for everything and the best form of church government.
We believed in the fundamentals, we wanted to take a strong stand against ecclesiastical compromise and to be separate from sin and ecumenical ties. We wanted to be aggressive in missions work and in building Baptist churches. This led Monique and I to seek to work under the authority of a strong Baptist mission.
But at the same time my studies were continuing. I felt the need for workers to work together, to live together in order to strengthen and build one another up. (Horrors, kind of like the Catholics, I told someone.) Working in isolation as we did for about eight years was not good. We suffered a lot from a lack of fellowship because we worked in a rural region in the south of France. Our region was agricultural and the people were very traditional in their culture and Catholic faith. Even if they didn't practice that much, they considered themselves Catholics and were wary of the "sects", Protestant groups.
We tried everything. We got groups to come help. We passed out tracts in the streets, we set up a stand in the market place. We opened up a store-front church in town and put the Bible in the window. We announced our meetings in the papers: Bible studies, movies, special speakers. We even organized a big public exposition on the Bible and invited the town's personalities (population 11,000). Truly the results were discouraging.
I had a few opportunities to visit a Benedictine monastery called Notre-Dame de Belloc, not far from Bayonne. Many of the monks there are Basque. The region is very green and peaceful with beautiful trees. The hills are dotted with sheep and the monks make a delicious cheese from their milk. As you know their motto is Ora et labora, prayer and work. Well, I was naive enough to think I was evangelizing these monks. I got to show them a couple of Billy Graham films on the pretext of ecumenism. I was working on one of them who is today, one of my best friends. I asked him to give me his testimony. After explaining to me his experience about God and how he entered the monastery (he had been trained as a doctor), I drew my conclusion about such a person. I told him that the difference between him and me was that while he hoped to go to heaven, I knew that I was going to heaven. I had my faith completely (100%) founded upon the Savior, Jesus; whereas, he seemed to be hoping in Christ plus a lot of other things such as the Church and the sacraments!
Two things really marked me during my visits to the monastery: the quiet assurance in the historicalness of their tradition and the beauty of the liturgy. It spoke to my heart, to my memory, reminding me of my upbringing in the Catholic Church.
I remembered our hymns both in Latin and in English. I had read all of Philip Schaff's History of the Christian Church and many other works on Church History. I longed for a "tradition," something anchored in time. I didn't like the idea of a multitude of churches, each pastor with his own idea, following his denomination's Confession of Faith. I didn't believe God was the author of confusion (1 Cor. 14:33)!
As time went on I sought out ordination a second time. I was rebaptized and ordained again by another Baptist Church in Arkansas. You can't get any more fundamentalist nor separate than this type of church. My questions on eschatology and Church History were growing. I even began rechecking commentaries on particular passages in the New Testament on baptism. It seemed from a simple reading of the Greek text that baptism might just actually do something. It might not just be "only a symbol of one's desire to follow Jesus." During 1985 and 1986 I was really searching and investigating. During this time, we were living in Perpignan, near the Spanish border at the other end of the Pyrenees.
In the Fall of 1986, I made three retreats in the Benedictine monastery in the Basque country. I cannot tell that story here, but will relate, that in my heart, after only the first visit I came back to my Church, the Church that Jesus founded, the Roman Catholic Church, the Church into which I was baptized in November 1939. I thank God for that. Yes I had really hoped and believed that I had found the true Church with the Baptists. It was hard to leave them because they are fine people. I love what they love. But I love the truth more than anything else. And He who is the TRUTH, the Way and the Life, I love Him most of all. I had made up my mind a long time ago, in January 1973, that I would follow Jesus from then on, wherever he would lead me. And so, we had to move on, or was it back?
As I write these lines, this morning's mail has just brought us a card from our bishop in France, Monseigneur Jean Chabbert who received all of my family into the Catholic Church in September 1987. And one of those he baptized, my son, Daniel, is studying for the priesthood in Salamanca, Spain. "Praise God from whom all blessings flow," (Title of a hymn that Baptists sing).
Our Baptist hope (Christ) has become a Catholic hope.
This article appeared in "This Rock" (published by Catholic Answers, San Diego, CA. tel. 619-541-1131) with a few modifications in the February 1994 issue.