My Christian faith

David Stewart facing right with me on his right facing away standing in a swimming pool
Baptism by Revd David Stewart

I decided to become a Christian when I was sixteen. I was at Mount Hermon School, Darjeeling, among people of many different faiths and I had had numerous conversations about religion with fellow students, in particular with my room-mate, Humayun Aktar Kamal, who went on the work for the Pakistani diplomatic service and then become an Ambassador for Bangladesh.

I had come to the conclusion that it was impossible to prove that a particular set of beliefs was the ‘one true way’ and that, in the manner of Socrates, one had to take a particular statement and follow it to its logical conclusion to discover whether it led to a fatal inconsistency.

I had also become fascinated by the person of Jesus and whether he was who he said he was. So I concluded that the only way to proceed was to believe that he is who he says he is and see where that led. Over my lifetime, I have never encountered a fatal inconsistency between believing that Jesus is who he says he is and I have had many experiences which tend to support his claim.

Taking that leap of faith was consistent with the Baptist tradition within which I had been brought up and so I asked for believer's baptism. This took place in Mount Hermon School swimming pool.

However, living in Serampore College as a child had brought me into contact with Christians from a wide range of denominations as well as the Belgian Catholic priest who was based in the town. So I have rarely felt uncomfortable sharing in the devotions of other denominations even though I might disagree about the theology that underpins some of the things they do.

This meant that, when I was at The Queen's College, Oxford, and found that there was open communion, I chose to join the fellowship there rather than any of the Baptist fellowships in the city. I gained greatly in my faith during this period, not least because of the open discussion fostered by David Jenkins, the chaplain, between people with different theological backgrounds which enabled me to clarify the bases of my faith. David also enabled me to realise that there are only a small number of beliefs, relating to who Jesus is, what he did for us and why he did it that are central to a Christian faith. For the most part the things which distinguish Christians theologically are not central to the reason why God sent his Son to die for us.

I have valued other fellowships of which I have been a part, notably West Worthing Baptist Church, Swallownest Baptist Church and Elim Pentecostal Church, and found them essential to my growth as a Christian but most of the development of my faith has been down to the people I have met and the experiences I had had and my attempts to relate those experiences to my Christian faith. I found when we did a survey at church recently that most of the things which many Christians see as having contributed to their spiritual growth had had little or no impact on mine.

Nonetheless, my faith has been tested through the difficulties I have sometimes had in my relationships and, for a long period, I found it difficult to understand why God was letting certain things happen to me which I found difficult to cope with. In the end, I got the answer in a very unexpected way but one which made clear why I had had to go through the difficult period in order to understand how better to help others in similar difficulties.

I have always prayed and studied the bible, having been fortunate to study ancient Greek and thus having a headstart in reading the New Testament in Greek as well as a greater understanding than most Christians of the social context in which the events in the New Testament were unfolding. But I have learned most from those practising Christians who have just lived the Christian life without making a great fuss of it, or even holding any formal positions within the church, and from my encounters with people, Christian and non-Christian, throughout my life who have, in a wide variety of ways, taught me what it means to be a Christian — sometimes when I have not properly understood it myself.

I was also fortunate in having a father with whom I could discuss theological issues and who, from time to time, shared with me some of the difficult situations with which he had had to cope as a Christian.

The PDF resources on this page illustrate various aspects of my Christian life. The first three are testimonies to parts of my Christian experience. ‘The Word of God’ is the text of the 2013 Report of Conversations between the Baptist World Alliance and the Catholic Church. The remainder are examples of papers I have written to answer questions from fellow Christians. Other aspects of my Christian life are illustrated on the Science and faith page.