25 September, 2022

Throwback Thursday: Ordained by a Grandmother’s Prayer (1978)

by | 10 February, 2022

Dr. James B. North, who died earlier this week, taught history in Restoration Movement colleges for decades, so it seems fitting to share one of his articles for this week’s “Throwback Thursday” feature. Going back to 1978, Dr. North explained his decision—or, as he explained it, his “nondecision”—to enter the ministry.

_ _ _

A seminary professor tells how he was

Ordained—By a Grandmother’s Prayer

May 14, 1978; p. 15;
By James B. North

The training of a preacher begins with his grandparents.” That was the comment made by a Bible college professor of mine when he was commenting on 2 Timothy 1:5. At the time that comment didn’t mean a whole lot to me. But since then, because of what I later learned about my grandmother, that statement has come to have great significance.

My paternal grandmother died when I was only five months old. I understand she was delighted to see that I had auburn hair as an infant, because her hair was the same color when she was but a sprig of a girl. And her maiden name was given to me as a middle name. But because she died when I was so young, I never knew her, and was unaware of any other connection between us except hair, name, and genealogy.

A devout woman—Much later, when I was a young man, I learned more of this devout woman. She was a faithful church organist for decades. She taught a women’s Sunday-school class for years. Others have told me that it was a common occurrence to walk past grandmother’s house and see her on the front porch reading her Bible.

One of the most vivid stories told to me about grandmother concerns an incident with one of my uncles. In the small town where my grandparents lived, a pool hall had been set up. I used to think the words of the song from The Music Man were amusing—“You got trouble, my friends, right here in River City. It begins with a P, and it rhymes with T, and it stands for Pool.” But this incident has helped me to understand that the song may be an accurate picture of how some people felt about it early in the century.

Grandmother was walking down the sidewalk one day—on the opposite side of the street from the pool hall, mind you!—when she saw her son, aged fifteen, walk out of the hall. She said nothing at the time, but when he arrived home later, she stripped him to the waist, tied him to his bed face down, and she then took his belt and beat him. Now, I certainly do not condone this form of discipline, and I know that it would give a modern psychologist nightmares. But my grandmother got the message across! Such establishments were not to be frequented by members of her family!

The passage in 2 Timothy mentioned earlier is Paul’s statement: “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you” (Revised Standard Version). That concept of faith’s being passed on through the generations also applied to me. Grandmother saw to it that her children were in church. My dad’s life reflected the Christian values his mother had instilled in him from the very beginning. He remained active in church, even when he went off to the big city. He met my mother there, and their married life continued in the same religious commitment. For decades they were active, either in youth groups, Sunday school functions, choirs, VBS, or sundry special activities.

And the same faith was passed on from father to me. Not only did I grow up in church, I was almost born in church—literally. For prior to my birth, my parents were live-in janitors for the church they attended, living in an apartment in the rear of the building. From my earliest memories on, I cannot remember a time when church attendance was not a regular part of our Sunday schedule.

An early decision—I cannot remember when I first decided to enter the ministry, to become a preacher. It seems the decision has always been with me. I do remember that I had already decided on this life vocation while I was still in the primary grades. I remember it being a settled issue even then—but how much earlier the decision was made, I simply do not know. In fact, it always seemed so much the natural thing to do. I’m not sure that I ever decided upon it—I just did it as a matter of course. I never wrestled with the decision—any more than an acorn struggles with the decision to become an oak tree. I never seriously considered any other alternative.

As a result, immediately after high school graduation, I enrolled in Bible college. I began to do some preaching during my Sophomore year when I served as a youth minister. In my Junior year I began preaching regularly for a small church. Again, it was never much a question. Instead, it just seemed to be the natural progression. And ever since, my life has been committed to the ministry. And even though my life is now spent in a form different from the preaching ministry, it is still committed to the ministry.

That’s why I was so overawed when an aunt told me something about ten years ago that came as a complete surprise. I hadn’t seen Aunt Peg for years. I was in Florida for a brief while, so I dropped in to see her and chat for a few hours. While there she mentioned that, before I was born, my grandmother told her one day, “Peg, I’ve dedicated Charlotte’s baby to the Lord.”

As it turned out, that was the last time I ever saw Aunt Peg. She died about a year and a half later. If she had not told that little incident to me, no one would have ever known about it. For when I got back home and related it to my parents, it was a complete surprise to them. Grandmother had told Peg, but had said nothing about it to my parents.

A unique influence—The implications of that revelation to me are awesome. I had grown up, committed to the ministry, yet without ever knowingly having made a decision to enter the ministry. Can it be that the decision was already made for me by my grandmother even before I was born? It is also significant that my parents never knew of my grandmother’s prayer of dedication. Therefore, there was no way in which they could have purposefully influenced my choices, in an attempt to help grandmother’s wish come true. In fact, I do not recall either of my parents ever overtly influencing my decision for the ministry (or should I say, my “nondecision” for the ministry).

I mentioned in the beginning my Bible college professor’s comment that the training of a preacher begins with his grandparents. It was years later that I learned of my grandmother’s dedicatory prayer. You can see why that statement means so much more to me now!

That is why I want to conclude with a special word of encouragement to all parents and grandparents: You will probably never know how much influence for good you have on the lives of your children and grandchildren. James 5:16 says, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man (or a grandmother?) availeth much.” Who knows how much power there may be in the prayer of a grandmother who dedicates a yet unborn grandchild to the Lord’s work?

Mr. North is Professor of Church History at Cincinnati Christian Seminary, Cincinnati, Ohio.

Christian Standard

Contact us at cs@christianstandardmedia.com

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