Q&A with Rev William Anderson: Too many Churches have got mixed, wishy-washy messages
In conversation with Rev William Anderson
Rev William Anderson (65) is a retired bank manager who studied at the Church of Ireland Theological College in Dublin, after which he was ordained into the non-stipendiary ministry. He served for seven-and-a-half years in the joint parishes of Tullanisken and Clonoe, outside Dungannon. Married to Betty, with whom he has three grown-up children, he retired in June this year, and was appointed Sovereign Grand Master of the Royal Black Institution .
Q. How and when did you come to faith?
A. I came to faith as young man, having experienced faith healing by a Church of Ireland rector. However, I drifted a little during my teenage years, returning to faith in my early thirties during a mission, again in a Church of Ireland parish church.
Q. Does this faith play a real part in your daily life, or is it just for Sundays?
A. Faith is a vital component of my everyday life, and it has a direct influence in all that I do on a daily basis.
Q. Have you ever had a crisis of faith, or a gnawing doubt about your faith?
A. Of course. One would not be human if, at times, one did not face a crisis of faith. I found this particularly at times in my pastoral ministry. However, these crises of faith can be great learning moments, teaching us to depend upon God, not our own understanding.
Q. Have you ever been angry with God? If so, why?
A. I certainly have been angry, but not at God, because He is perfect in all his ways and we are imperfect. People make me angry at times.
Q. Do you ever get criticised for your faith, and are you able to live with that criticism?
A. Of course I have been criticised for my faith, especially after, perhaps, a world disaster, when you get the comment, "Some God that you believe in if he lets that sort of thing happen". I can live with that comment, because it shows a complete lack of understanding of who God is and His role in this world in which we live.
Q. Tell us about your role as Sovereign Grand Master?
A. This means that in effect I am the CEO. I have an executive role, dealing with vision and strategy. I examine what we have done in the past, what we are doing now and how we can do things better in the future. There's lots of other things to look after including our charitable work. It's not for nothing that I was a project manager in a leading bank for 15 years.
Everyone gets criticised and I am aware of the criticisms of the Loyal Orders. Usually this criticism comes from people who do not know or understand what we are doing, and I wish they would talk to us first before they criticise us.
Q. Your career, spanning the bank and the Church, has meant working in the fields of money and religion. Did you ever feel any sense of conflict?
A. The connection between faith and money is something you could discuss all day but there is a good summary in the New Testament which states 'You cannot serve God and Mammon.
Q. Are you ever ashamed of your own Church, or denomination?
A. Many times, I feel terribly let down by my church denomination, the Church of Ireland. For example, on the 500th anniversary of Luther and the start of the Reformation. This was an ideal opportunity for the Church to celebrate its roots and depth of understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Instead, we had a damp squib, with much of the emphasis on ecumenism, rather than on thankfulness. It should have been a time of great celebration, but for me it was far too low-key.
Q. Are you afraid to die, or can you look beyond death?
A. Death holds no fear for me, because I know the one who has died and risen again, thereby overcoming death. I trust Him entirely with my death, because He knows the way.
Q. Are you worried about hellfire?
A. I am not personally worried about hellfire, because Christ has promised to deliver me, as a believer in His Resurrection. What does worry me is the number of people who have made no preparation for their death and are, therefore, going to experience hellfire, not for a little while, but for eternity.
Q. Do you believe in a resurrection. If so, what will it be like?
A. Of course I believe in the resurrection. Paul teaches us that, on that last day, when the trumpet of the Lord shall sound and time shall be no more, the dead will rise first and then those that are alive will be caught up with Christ. They will be given a new, spiritual body. The old physical body will have decayed in the grave, or been left behind on Earth. This new body will require no food, no rest. It is hard for us to comprehend with our finite minds, but we are dealing with an infinite God, as the hymn writer reminds us, for whom a thousand years are like an evening gone.
Q. What do you think about people of other denominations and other faiths?
A. There is only one way to God. Jesus tells us in John 14 verse 6, in response to a statement from Thomas, that He (Jesus) is the way and truth and the life and that no one comes unto the Father except through Him. That, along with God's free grace, evidenced by the death of Christ on the Cross, must be the central belief of any denomination which calls itself Christian. Other faiths and those of no faith may encourage people to live wonderful, peaceful lives, but unless they know Christ as their personal Saviour at their death, heaven does not await their soul.
Q. Would you be comfortable in stepping out from your own faith and trying to learn something from other people?
A. I need to learn more from Christ. People are fickle and can be blown all over the place. My eternal destiny does not depend on my understanding of others, but on my relationship with Jesus Christ.
Q. Do you think that the Churches here are fulfilling their mission?
A. In short, no. The Church is failing to clearly demonstrate to many people today the core central message of the Christian Gospel. They are failing in their lack of clear direction as to the biblical standards God expects from His people. They have simply given way to popularism. Some Churches are better than others, but there are too many of them wishy-washy with mixed messages. What people need is a clear lead.
Q. Why are people turning their back on organised religion?
A. Religion will always let people down, but God doesn't. He is the same yesterday, today and for ever. With faith in a God who knows us better than we know ourselves, we will never be disappointed. As the psalmist says, "My cup overflows". God will never disappoint; religion will always disappoint.
Q. Has religion helped, or hindered, the people of Northern Ireland?
A. Of course religion has let down the people of Northern Ireland. We must remember that we live in a fallen world, where the Devil seeks those whom he may devour. Therefore, if we turn our backs on God, if our faith in Him is greatly diminished, and if we allow secularism to have its way, then, yes, we in Northern Ireland, just like people in any other part of the world, will be greatly hindered. God cannot bless a people who have turned away from Him. That is the lesson we learn from the Children of Israel.