Ted Christensen was born on 6 January 1915. His early life lacked the advantages of a Christian upbringing; it appears that his childhood was devoid of the religious principles that children of Christian families take so much for granted and, sadly, often undervalue. In Ted Christensen’s case we cannot even say that he undervalued the truth. It was a plain fact that he was not taught the truth. He did not have the benefit of learning the Shorter Catechism and portions of Scripture by heart. He did not have the privilege of family worship in his parental home, neither did he have the advantage of being taught to pray or of seeing his parents at prayer. For him there were no pleas made at the throne of grace in terms of the covenant promise of Genesis 17:7. The whole prospect appeared spiritually bleak.
It is little wonder then that he grew up with a worldly bent of mind. In all likelihood we would never have heard of him if he had not married Inabell, the daughter of the late Mr Donald Beaton, whose obituary appeared in the Free Presbyterian Magazine for August 1948. This connection, of course, brought him closer to the truth, but he continued in his folly. When his wife would go on the Lord’s Day to the services in her parental home, Ted maintained a determined aloofness from them. By the mid 1950s the Christensen family had moved to Auckland. Our friend was then taken up with the football world. This affected him so much that a few years later he purchased tickets to follow the All Blacks on a tour of South Africa.
It was then, however, that the light of truth was about to dawn on his mind. A visiting deputy of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland had come to New Zealand and was making arrangements to visit Auckland. Inabell asked her husband if the Rev William MacLean could come and stay with them, as he was to supply in Auckland for some time. After a little time Ted evidently answered that he had no objection to the proposal as long as the minister would not interfere with him. The arrangements were made and Mr MacLean arrived in Auckland to stay with the Christensen family. The newly-arrived guest was not long in the home when refreshments were to be served. The scriptural phrase that Mr MacLean used in his prayer was the confession of Asaph: “I was as a beast before Thee” (Ps 73:22). That day was the beginning of better days for our friend. Following the simple petitions offered up by Mr MacLean, he evidently felt himself as a beast in the sight of God.
The days of worldliness were now over and he began to redeem the time. The Bible, the Free Presbyterian magazines and other edifying literature became his favourite reading material. The service of Satan had to make way for the service of God. His ardent desire to attend the means of grace became obvious. His heart was open for the truth both in public and in private. As several families descended from Donald Beaton were living in Auckland, the prospect appeared favourable for the establishment of a Free Presbyterian congregation in the largest city in New Zealand. And, as Mr MacLean was concerned that a public witness should commence in Auckland, he encouraged this. Besides these families, some others, both of Scottish and Dutch extraction, identified themselves with the witness of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland. Ted and Inabell threw themselves wholeheartedly into this work.
Our friend was endowed with a good measure of intelligence, and by the grace of God he learned fast. God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, had shined in his heart, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. He was anxious that others would also come to experience this blessing.
In April 1963 Mr Christensen appeared before the Kirk Session in Gisborne seeking admission to the Lord’s Table for the first time. As his life, walk and conversation had been consistent since his conversion in 1959, the Session admitted him to membership. This was the beginning of the Auckland congregation’s consolidation. As funds had satisfactorily increased, thought was now given to erecting a church building. Until now the congregation had met in a house in which some rooms had been converted into a meeting place. It was decided to sell the house and to build a church on the vacant section at 45 Church Sreet, Otahuhu.
Our friend proved he had a true attachment to the cause of Christ over many years of usefulness. When the church was approaching completion, the Kirk Session decided to elect office bearers, and Ted was amongst the first elders to be elected to office in the fledgling congregation. He was ordained on 19 March 1966. Two years later he had the joy of seeing the first pastor settled in the congregation, the Rev D M MacLeod, who arrived in Auckland in September 1968. The ten years from 1968 to 1978 were marked by growth in the congregation. But the sudden illness and lamented death of the minister put the burden of the public services on the elders, although there were periods of supply by deputies. The consequence was that Ted was often required to conduct the services, for which he was well-suited, except that he had difficulty in pronouncing unfamiliar words. This obstacle he would in the beginning overcome by substituting the problem word by two shorter ones.
He was an exceptionally lively man in conversation and this continued right into his old age. His mind was continually exercised about spiritual realities so that it was never a waste of time to visit him. There was always some portion of the truth about which he had been meditating and which became the focus of an edifying conversation. When visiting him once about four years ago at Autumn Lodge, where his wife was being nursed, he mentioned how he had never read Psalm 23 so much as in the previous six weeks. What a depth there is, he remarked, in these words “I’ll not want”! Soon after this, his wife had to be transferred to another nursing home providing hospital care as she had lost, not only the power to think, but also the ability to walk. At that time he got much comfort from a remark made by his brother-in-law with reference to Inabell’s condition. Donald Beaton said that though a believer might go stark mad, God will never leave or forsake His people. This nursing home, Elmwood, is where Ted himself eventually got a room and was able to spend some time each day visiting his wife in the hospital section. What grieved him in those circumstances was the evident lack of religion. Yet he found it particularly encouraging to find a note left on his dresser one day with the following words anonymously printed on it: “One Christian in an enemy camp is a majority. Amen.” Later he discovered that it was the work of one of the nurses.
The last few weeks he was quite distressed as a result of the ailment from which he was suffering. He continually desired to be taken from this earthly scene to be with the Lord, which is far better. This desire was granted on 2 June 2002, the Sabbath of the Auckland communion. When I saw him the previous day, he appeared to be in a coma and I was not surprised to get a call from his son advising me of his passing from this earthly scene, to be, we believe, for ever with the Lord. To his sons Ron and Edward we extend our sincere sympathy. Inabell his widow is virtually unaware of the world around her and all its concerns, and it is good that she made her peace with God many years ago, when she was relatively young, and we are therefore persuaded that, though her flesh and heart fail, God will never fail her (Ps 73:26).
(Rev) J A T van Dorp