The Hagia Sophia Marks History

The Hagia Sophia is one of the world’s most recognised and beautiful buildings. It is deservedly a Unesco World Heritage site.

I have yet to visit the truly extraordinary city of Istanbul and to walk inside this magnificent architecture along the narrows of the Bosphorus.  I have dreamed of wandering along its marble floors, admiring the mosaics and being entranced by the dome above. This Museum is no more.

Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has decided to change the Hagia Sophia. A Turkish Court has given the green light for annulling the Hagia Sophia’s status as a museum and to turning it once more into a Mosque. The Hagia Sophia has been a museum for nearly a century. Beforehand it was a Mosque. The Ottoman conquest of the city in 1453 saw the building converted from a church into a Mosque. Prior to the Ottoman invasion, the Hagia Sophia stood as a Christian Church for almost 1,000 years. 

President Erdogan has signalled that “Like all our mosques, the doors of Hagia Sophia will be wide open to locals and foreigners, Muslims and non-Muslims”. 

The first Muslim prayers will return to the Hagia Sophia on July 24th.

To be clear, I am not arguing against museums being transformed into mosques. There is another and more significant point to highlight about this historic decision. The return of the Hagia Sophia to a mosque illustrates the shifting cultural confidence around the world in 2020.

For 3,000 years Istanbul has stood at the world’s crossroads; it is where East meets West. For millennia this ancient city has witnessed civilisations rise and fall. While Turkey is no longer considered one of the world’s great powers, its geographical location remains significant. More so, the Hagia Sophia is symbolic of the global fault lines between East and West, and between Islam and cultural Christianity. 

Turkey is but one of a growing number of States who are observing a fractured, disillusioned, and weakened West. The United States, Europe, the United Kingdom, and even Australia, are pre occupied with internal culture wars that are quite literally tearing societies apart. Our politics is becoming increasingly divided and schismatic, our public figures are running fast to the extremities of left and right, and cancel culture is ready to devour any who cross the wrong line. What makes this venture more problematic is how the line continually moves. No one knows from one week to the next what the accept orthodoxy is, and yet everyone understands that stepping over this chalk line amounts to reputational suicide. In public discourse there exists little good will and common ground is rare to find. In the space of a few short years, western nations have dismantled their societies more successfully than two World Wars.

Unsurprisingly, this growing tribalism is creating disillusionment with mainstream politics, corporate identity games, and with the higher education sector. When we add a serious pandemic to the equation and the question of Climate Change, it is no wonder people are becoming anxious, depressed, and even despairing of hope itself. Internal fighting doesn’t build strong communities and resilient nations. But like the final days of Rome, the distraction and exhaustion gives others licence to take action.

There is an audible crescendoing confidence to despise Western culture. After all, when the West is itself setting fire to its past, this hardly discourages the rest of the world to embrace Western ideals. It is unlikely that China would be acting so confidently in Hong Kong had this not been the case. And for President Erdogan, the time is ripe for him to reinforce his Islamic credentials and to turn away from the fruits of Europe, which Turkey temporality found itself wanting to enjoy.

Of course, over here in the West the left will blame the right and the right will throw insults at the left. The reality is, in different ways both are responsible. When we pursue wealth at the cost of character, should we be surprised that people eventually object? When sexual identity becomes the primary definition of self worth, should we be shocked when the basic units of community are crushed?

20 years ago the United States was esteemed by most people around the world. Today, many of her own citizens despite her and want her institutions and constitution dismantled. Australia has not faired as negatively as our important ally, but we are not far behind. Our lackadaisical attitude and geographical remoteness has probably saved us from some of the sharpest barbs thus far, but these ‘qualities’ are no long term strategy for survival and prosperity.

I don’t think we can downplay the significance of President Erdogan’s decision.  History has turned on the changing Hagia Sophia and may well do so again.

It must be said though, lest we mess up Christian theology and witness, the church is not its building. The Church is the people, the body of Christ who are covenanted to one another and who congregate in the same space for mutual edification, discipleship, and love. A Church can just as successfully meet in a Cathedral as it can in a community hall or family lounge room. 

Gospel witness will not suffer as a result of returning this once church building back into a mosque. It does however serve as a reminder for churches to not take for granted the time we have to live and serve and to preach Jesus Christ as Lord.

For Christian Churches, whether in Turkey, Tulsa, Tottenham, or Templestowe, we must reform our ways, putting out trust in Christ and our hope in his Gospel. Churches desperately need Gospel conviction, clarity, and courage. This is not about slowing the rot in the West, but pointing people to the only certain hope there is. 

Churches are too often complicate in cultural syncretism and spiritual apostasy. When Churches find themselves too close to the halls of power, the temptation to accommodate is strong. Other churches are desperate to find their place and so will sacrifice almost anything for acceptance. 

The historian Tom Holland, who isn’t a Christian, has made this interesting observation about English churches (and the same could be said of Churches here in Australia),

“I see no point in bishops or preachers or Christian evangelists just recycling the kind of stuff you can get from any kind of soft left liberal because everyone is giving that…if they’ve got views on original sin I would be very interested to hear that”.

Whether it is claiming that President Trump is God’s ordained man or suggesting he is the antiChrist, whether it’s worshipping unfettered capitalism or preaching the gospel of  progressivism, too often Churches have sold their soul, betrayed Christ, and become the weakling and insipid shells that they are today. Much repentance is required. And praise God for the many churches who remain faithful in word and deed; they are precious to God and are wonderful outposts to eternal things.

Kingdoms come and go. Superpowers are made and they fade or are destroyed. It has always been the case. Buildings are created and they too eventually decay and crumble. According to Jesus Christ, the one entity that will last is his Church. 

“ I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (Matthew 16:18).

It is sad to see the Hagia Sophia morph once again. Knowing what this decision embodies mustn’t be missed. In all this, one thing is certain, 

“my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, 11 and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:10-11)

Was Jesus Perfect?

CNN’s Don Lemon yesterday interviewed New York State Governor, Andrew Cuomo. During the conversation on racism, statues, and slavery, Mr Lemon came out with this rather bold assertion about Jesus,

“But here’s the thing, Jesus Christ, if you believe — if that’s what you believe in, Jesus Christ, admittedly, was not perfect when he was here on this Earth.”

Mr Lemon was using Jesus as an example of why it’s wrong to ‘deify’ America’s founders. He continued,

“So why are we deifying the fathers of this country, many of whom owned slaves, and in the Constitution – the original one – they didn’t want — they put slavery in there, that slavery should be abolished because it was the way the king wanted.”

In other words, if Jesus wasn’t perfect why should Americans regard their founding fathers so highly? Leaving aside the strained parallel, I’d like to ask Don Lemon this straight forward question, can you show us how Jesus was ‘not perfect when he was here on earth’? Name one thing Jesus ever said or did that was faulty or was sinful?

I am certainly interested to hear how Mr Lemon will substantiate his allegation.

When I define Jesus through my own fallible lens, I might assume that Jesus made mistakes. After all, if Jesus is just like me he must have made a bucket full or errors and transgressions. But here lies the problem. Jesus is simultaneously like us and he is unlike us.

Jesus is like us in that he is fully human. He ate, slept, and went to the toilet, he worked and knew tiredness, he expressed happiness and humour, and he experienced great suffering. He died.

Jesus is unlike us in two important ways.

First of all, Jesus is also fully God. His miracles, words, compassion, and forgiveness served to reveal his identity, power, and purpose as God the Son.

He is described in Colossians as the One who created all things and who has Divine power and authority to uphold the universe, 

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:15-17)

Mr Lemon may not believe or accept the biblical testimony, which might explain his bizarre comment. However, all the different strains of evidence, come to the same conclusion:

“We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.” (1 John 5:20)

while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13)

Second, as a human Jesus is what we are not, without sin. He is the sinless one who always did what was right and good, and always said what was true and loving, and always acted in purity and affection.

The testimony of Jesus friends and enemies alike is that he never did any wrong. At his trial, the judge announced Jesus to be innocent and yet sentenced him to death in order to appease the mob and the social censures of the day.

The testimony of the Scriptures insist upon Jesus’ moral and spiritual perfection, 

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). 

This faultless living doesn’t suggest he was an artificial person. The book of Hebrews testifies to something far more necessary and extraordinary, 

“In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. 11 Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters

14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 16 For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. 17 For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Hebrews 2:10-18)

It is the fact that Jesus experienced the traumas of this world, and was tempted but resisted, that he can empathise with us. Here is a God with understanding. That he remained faithful to his character and purpose also proves Jesus was qualified to serve as Saviour. Jesus not only sympathises but he saves.

Don Lemon did highlight a stark and odious sin that was present among some of America’s Founding Fathers; slavery. The reality is, every human institution is going to have its limitations and frailties, even the very best. Governments, political systems, and every of social entity can do good and serve the betterment of communities, but they are not meant to reign as our saviour. Only one who is perfect can take on that role. Only one demonstrated the necessary qualities, and only one was able and willing to lay down his life on the cross, to take on the sins of the world.

Thank God Jesus was perfect, when he was on the earth. Thank God he remains perfect, the one true and sufficient Saviour that our hurting world needs.

A Message to Australia from Victoria

Australia, 

We are one of you.

Your border wall.

Is way too tall.

It will hurt us all.

 

 

You need Victoria,

For we’re your cornea.

The eye through which we see,

The vision of who we can be.

Like a ninja warrior.

 

 

You need Melbourne,

The most liveable and oh so believable.

A city of mythical,

Unpredictable, equiviocal and so very apolitical.

Life. 

Culture.

Single Origin.

Virus.

 

 

Are we so unforgivable?

Look, we are so miserable,

For doing the unthinkable.

I guess it was predictable,

Like a habitual criminal.

 

 

The wall.

The divide.

We will find a way. 

We’ll parachute, fly, or drive a highway.

We’ll dig a tunnel,

As our stern rebuttal

For locking us away.

 

 

Who will roast your beans?

Play your football,

Paint your art, 

Swim the Yarra, 

Walk the G,

And colour the streets with Graffiti?

 

 

We don’t want out,

Like a funky Brussel Sprout.

We know you want in,

For we’re your West Berlin.

Tear down that wall,

Tear down that wall,

Tear down that wall,

And join the masked ball.

Banning Books in Hong Kong and more

“As a young person, to already have the courage to face the pitiless glare, to overcome the fear of death, and to regain respect for death – this is the task of this young generation. And thus you do well in this midnight hour to commit to the flames the evil spirit of the past. This is a strong, great and symbolic deed – a deed which should document the following for the world to know”.

The above words formed part of a speech which was aimed at calling people to a return to morality and social decency. This address given to university students was of course delivered by Joseph Goebbels directly before one of the most infamous book burning scenes in history.

During the rise of Nazism in the 1930s, purging the population of dissenting ideas was seen as an essential step. The Säuberung or cleansing included destroying religious and political texts that didn’t conform to the new normal. 

The destruction of books is as old as literature. Hate is a strong motivator, as is fear. To be honest, there are plenty of books that I believe are dangerous, and I’m happy to warn people about their messages. There is a vast difference though between informing people about a book’s content and removing those same volume’s from libraries and blowing their ashes into the wind. 

The Age is tonight reporting, 

“Books by prominent Hong Kong pro-democracy figures have become unavailable in the Chinese-ruled city’s public libraries, days after Beijing introduced sweeping national security legislation, according to online records and one activist.”

A search for books by young activist Joshua Wong or pro-democracy politician Tanya Chan on the public libraries website showed the books, including Unfree Speech, co-authored by Wong, either unavailable or under review.

“The national security law … imposes a mainland-style censorship regime upon this international financial city,” Wong tweeted on Saturday, adding his titles “are now prone to book censorship.”

…It is unclear how many books are under review. Two titles by Chinese Nobel Peace Prize-winning political dissident Liu Xiaobo were still available, according to the online”

This isn’t the first attempt by the Chinese Government to eradicate writings that don’t support the State’s unbending ideologies.

In 2018, the Government began work on a new version of the Bible, to ensure that the Bible affirms ‘socialism’ and doesn’t contain ideas that might subvert the Government. One can imagine how distorted the Holy Scriptures will become once this atheistic, militant, and totalitarian, regime has finished their rewriting project. In many regions of China it is already difficult to own and read a Bible, let alone teach this book in a semi-public setting. Preaching ‘Jesus is Lord’ is likely to end in arrest and possible imprisonment.  

without the permission of the authorities, you can’t organize a Bible study. And if you do get permission, you’d better hold it in a Party-approved religious venue, at a Party-approved time, with a Party-approved leader and using the new Party-approved Bible, which contains quotations from Confucius and, of course, Xi Jinping.”

Not even Christians are permitted to change the words of Scripture, let alone a Government who wishes to change and control its message.

“For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:18)

“All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.”  (1 Peter 1:24-25)

Let’s shine the camera on ourselves. 2020 is the year of cancelling. We might look at China with disgust and growing wariness of their geo-political agenda, but our own background is a growing mound of buried careers, reputations, and lives. We have long lost the will to disagree with other, even with passion. The mob demands destruction of any idea that is not representative of new morality and decency.

Let’s not forget, even the beautiful State of Victoria has faced the Government’s axe. In 2016, Christian programs were removed from State schools in light of many Christian ideas being deemed inappropriate. The same Government has recently reaffirmed its commitment to ban conversion practices (which under their current definition will probably include Christian teachings on sexuality. This includes normal Christian teaching and prayer that takes place in Churches). It would be silly to equate this situation with China, for the two are not the same. The point is simply, our own societies are not entirely blameless.

The Chinese Government is afraid of the Bible, and so are we. Perhaps we ought, for it is no small thing to contest the Sovereign God who made the universe and whose word says he will judge all the living and the dead.

Hong Kong libraries are beginning to experience what is commonplace in China and what religious groups have been forced to do for generations, hide their precious books under the bed because the bookshelf isn’t safe.

No society should take their literature for granted, especially the words that give eternal life.

Put away the matches, because as cancel culture is demonstrating, once it starts, it very easily burns out of control. Perhaps we, who want to preserve the freedom to read and teach our texts, ought to show a little humility toward those who prefer and magnify a different set of books. Let’s argue with words not by deleting them. 


Correction: I originally said ABC when it should have read The Age

Can 2020 get any worse?

Can 2020 get any worse? Of course, no one yet knows the answer to this question, but an announcement made by the Prime Minister today is certainly ominous. The ABC headlined the news with “If Morrison’s defence strategy sounds like war talk, that’s because it is

There hasn’t been a year like it since the 1940s.

In Australia, we started the year with the worse bushfire season on record and with much talk about Climate Change. These were soon laid aside as the reality of COVID-19 became a worldwide pandemic. This virus soon created another plague, that of economic uncertainty, the staggering accumulation of rapid national debt, and a million jobs gone. No one knows when this pandemic will end and what the final toll will be, the human, social, and economic costs.

As the country begins to loosen restrictions, Victoria has experienced a sudden surge in COVID-19 cases, with Premier Andrews forced to shut down 10 postcodes in Melbourne. Other State Premiers have warned their people to stay away from Victoria and borders are being closed to keep Victorians away.

One month ago, in response to the shocking murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, protests erupted across the United States, and even here in Australia. While much progress has been made since the days of old when the White Australia policy was in place, and since the horrific treatment toward Indigenous Australians when they were excluded from citizenship, when families were ripped apart, and the silent screams of aborigines who were massacred throughout the 19th Century. Much work toward reconciliation has taken place, but we have been reminded that racism has not been fully defeated. These stories continue to make the news each day.

silhouette of fireman holding hose

Photo by Denniz Futalan on Pexels.com

Somewhat caught behind these news items, but still present and making news, is each new chapter of the rapidly changing sexual revolution. In particular, the transgender movement which is requiring total allegiance and the automatic cancelling of anyone daring to question their dogma.

Today, July 1st marks the halfway point of this unforgettable year. On this day our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, made a major announcement regarding an issue that is still not receiving the public attention that it requires. The PM gave a rare and important address regarding the Defence of the country. Last week he informed Australians about a significant cyber attack on Government departments and Australian businesses by a foreign State. He has increased funding for cyber defence by $100s millions. Today he announced  a$270 billion investment for our military, including long-range missiles. This is a direct response to the growing geopolitical threat posed by China.

I’m not surprised. For some time, Defence experts have been warning the Government of the growing danger of Communist China. A defence white paper was given to the Prime Minister of the time, Malcolm Turnbull, outlining strategic necessities for Australian defence against China. Peter Jennings, who is the Executive Director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in Canberra, has repeated warnings about Australia’s lacking defensive capabilities and unpreparedness for a China who is hungry for power.

Several weeks ago I wrote a piece detailing 6 ways the world may change as a result of COVID-19. My third point was about China. It’s worth revisiting some of the details. I suggested,

“China’s role in covering up the true extent of the Corona Virus and their influence over the World Health Organisation (WHO) is far from the worst of it. 1 million Uyghurs remain locked away in ‘education’ camps in northwestern China, Christian Churches are continually oppressed and Christians arrested, and there is China’s growing interference in Hong Kong and their military expansion in the South China Sea.”

Since then, China’s Communist Government has taken further measures to take control of Hong Kong.

Niall Ferguson is the Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. In December of 2019, he argued that a new Cold War had begun

“Something [else] changed in 2019. What had started out as a trade war — a tit for tat over tariffs while the two sides argued about the American trade deficit and Chinese intellectual property theft — rapidly metamorphosed into a cluster of other conflicts.

In short order, the United States and China found themselves engaged in a technology war over the global dominance of the Chinese company Huawei in 5G network telecommunications and an ideological confrontation in response to the abuses of Uighur Muslim minorities in China’s Xinjiang region, as well as a classic superpower competition for primacy in science and technology. The threat also loomed of a currency war over the exchange rate for the Chinese yuan, which the People’s Bank of China has allowed to weaken against the dollar…”

The Prime Minister’s announcement today will probably send shivers down the spine of many Aussies and create an audible backlash from others; I think the decision is a sensible one. This significant increase in defence spending doesn’t heighten the dangers around the Indo-Pacific, rather it highlights the already alarming situation. The reality is, we are not witnessing the awakening of a sleeping giant panda, but a dragon.” 

“For the most part, Australia has, alongside many countries, tried to benefit from and also feed a China hungry for economic and political expansion.

You don’t placate a bully, you stand up to them”.

When history books are written in 50 years time, of the myriad of issues faced this year, it probably won’t be the bushfires or race protests or transgenderism, or even the pandemic that will feature; the story will be China.

If a new cold war hasn’t already descended, it should be clear by the falling autumn leaves and the dropping temperature that winter is coming. These next few years will be pivotal in determining how cold or how hot this economic and geopolitical standoff will become.

As we enter the second half of this strangest of years, I’m praying that Australians will wake up and understand that what we assumed was normal and secure isn’t so certain and reliable. We need to anchor life and hope in something better than the health and prosperity that we’ve been gorging on for so many decades.

“Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?” (Matthew 6:25) 

At the same time, as a Christian, I’m comforted by the words of Jesus,

 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains. (Matthew 24:6-7)

These words don’t diminish the existential realisation of such events. But God is not surprised. For 2,000 years Jesus’ words have been accessible but not always believed, read but not always grasped. We should not be alarmed or surprised by events that take hold of people, nations, and the natural world. We can be appalled and grieve these sharp reminders of a world that is cursed and cannot redeem itself. Alarmism, however, isn’t befitting for the one who trusts in a God who is Sovereign.

What we are experiencing in 2020 is a massive doss of what millions of people around the world regularly experience, and what many past generations have also lived through. What is new, is perhaps the legion of major issues now facing us and perhaps also the lack of political and social will to deal with some of them.

Jesus adds, during this eschatological season, the Church has a mission and it remains unchanged,

“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (v.14)

The hope of the nations is this Gospel of Jesus Christ, the one who died and was raised to life. I wonder, do our churches still believe this? No Government or superpower has a weapon of such power in their arsenal, such that the dead can be raised to eternal life. Churches, be clear about the Gospel. Be committed to preaching this Gospel, because nothing else can save us from hell to come.

Should the Church of England remove its images of Jesus?

History is littered with iconoclasts, from the Babylonians to the Romans, from Henry VIII to the Puritans, from ISIS and now to Justin Welby. 

It wasn’t so many years ago that Christians faced ridicule for decrying art and film that depicted Jesus Christ in mocking ways. Netflix’s, ‘The First Temptation of Christ’ came out only one year ago. I was only a kid at the time, but Melbournians still remember the controversial ‘Piss Christ’ that hung in the National Gallery of Victoria.

Christians were scorned for their protests and narrow-minded bigotry toward popular expressions of human thought and creativity. Expressions of Jesus and of God are more than permissible, they are lauded no matter how grotesque and inaccurate they are.

How quickly the culture turns.

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The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has just announced that the Church of England will reconsider hundreds of statues and portraits that portray Jesus Christ, Mary, and other Biblical figures. The reason for this break with centuries of tradition?  They are too white. The Archbishop’s statement is a direct response to the Black Lives Matter Movement that is sweeping around the world. Statues around the world are toppling faster than in a game of 10 pin bowling.

To be clear, racism is real and there are legitimate concerns relating to how people of different ethnicities are treated. In Australia, racism is not as widespread as some would have us believe and it is more commonplace than many others appreciate. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to read Shai Linne’s story that was recently published by The Gospel Coalition. There is also an important conversation to be had in Australia about our ignorance of indigenous history.

I think there is a valid argument for removing statues of people who were involved in the slave trade or were slave owners. It’s also important to note here in Australia, while there are voices calling for monuments to go and for names to change, some indigenous leaders are arguing that these concrete and marble edifices should remain.

Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt has spoken against the removal of statues,

“I don’t believe removing statues contributes positively to this conversation”.

“These statues should remain as a reminder of a point in time in our lives – even when detrimental. They serve as prompts to encourage people to talk about history.”

“As Indigenous Australians we have sought to have the true history of this nation told so that it reflects both Indigenous and non-Indigenous perspectives and history.”

While some of the targeted statues represent person directly involved in slavery, other historical monuments been vandalised have either distant connections with slavery and at times, none. 

In America, General Ulysses Grant may have led the Union army to victory over the Confederacy but that’s not enough for saving from the spray paint, rope, and hammer. Rioters even defaced a statue of Matthias Baldwin, a figure involved in the abolitionist movement!

In the United Kingdom, the famed statue of Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn was last week defaced, despite the fact that he lived 400 years before the infamous slave trade.

The University of Liverpool is now considering renaming Gladstone Hall, not because the former Prime Minister was involved in slavery but because his father owned slaves.

It’s not only public edifices that are facing demise; the prophetic title, ’Gone with the Wind’ has come to pass, shows on Netflix are being removed, the children’s cartoon, ’Paw Control’ is in trouble for depicting police through the positive prism of a friendly dog. Another Australian beer (‘Colonial’), has found itself being removed from bottle shops. And perhaps with a note of irony, one of the world’s most progress leaning newspapers, ‘The Guardian’, is also facing the shredding machine because of its connections with slavery in the 19th Century. The Guardian’s founder, John Edward Taylor, was a slave owner and during the American Civil War, the paper opposed Abraham Lincoln and the Union.

History, including our Australian history, is a complex mix of the good and the evil, the noble and the ignominious. Past generations were either blind to or supportive of sins in their day, as will future generations look upon us with horror at some of the practices we have embraced. Understanding history requires humility, not hubris. Appreciating the pain experienced by people in our communities requires patient listening and wise reflection.

Others are making the point, rather than destroying history, is it not better to relocate genuinely offensive sculptures to a more appropriate setting, perhaps a Museum?

What about Churches? Many a Puritan in heaven is probably saying right now, “well, we did tell you”.

Many church artefacts have historical significance, and some have artistic and cultural importance. I may be an iconoclast, but I’m not a Philistine! Even Baptists can appreciate art and history. I love visiting Westminster Abbey and soaking up history and listening to exquisite music. Unfortunately, it’s not good theology that has finally caught up with the Church of England but woke culture that is forcing the arm of this now largely derelict institution. What a sad indictment on a church who ignored centuries of preachers and pastors calling for reforms. I’m not saying that we should ignore cultural shifts when they come knocking, but churches should not succumb to mob rule. This is what has led to today’s confrontation on the doorstep of Canterbury.

It’s not all bad. Indeed, there is merit in reevaluating the presence and prominence of many church figurines and works of art. After all, Christianity is a religion of the word. We worship a God who cannot be seen, not a God who is represented by the artist’s brushstroke or chisel.

If there is to be repentance about Christian iconography, it should be less about a particular cultural expression of Jesus Christ, and more about the fact that our religious forebears thought it a great idea to depict Jesus at all.

As the Church of England evaluates the objects and art that adorns her beautiful buildings, I hope they realise that this won’t be an easy fix. Justin Welby is mistaken if he believes that removing a few statues of an Anglo- Saxon Jesus will appease the broader narrative that is taking hold of the West. Cultural vigilantes either don’t know how far to go or they are fully cognizant of their intentions, which in some cases seems to be the dismantling of western culture. Addressing racism is, as far as Christians are concerned, a Gospel issue. Agitating for the complete destruction of our history and of Western values is quite another story.

I can foresee the situation where there will be very little left in Westminster Abbey and many an English Cathedral. Once all the sinners will have their names scratched out and their memorials removed, what will the glorious buildings have to offer?

Western civilisation has always been a faulty tower; it is, after all, built by sinful human hands and imaginations. At the same time, there is much good to be found and these are goods that have come about because of Christianity. The imago dei and therefore equality of all people, secularism and religious freedom, the scientific revolution, the music of J.S. Bach and Mendelssohn, the art of Rembrandt and Van Gogh, hospitals, universities and orphanages, are all flowers born out the Christian worldview. This is certainly a vast improvement on the alternatives that are built without reference to Christianity (cf. North Korea, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia).

However, we never conflate the Kingdom of God with the West, that is a tragic mistake which needs to be repented of in parts of even Australian Church thinking.  Part of the dynamism of the Church is her ability to make a home across cultures. Language is no barrier. National borders are not an inhibitor. The Church is not the Church of Germany or England, Africa or Asia; it is the Church belonging to Jesus Christ. 

So what are we to make of Anglo-Saxon versions of Jesus Christ? It shouldn’t need saying but just in case, Jesus wasn’t Scandinavian. He wasn’t an Englishman or an Italian. Neither is Jesus American or Australian. Jesus was Jewish, as was Mary and the first disciples. If anything Jesus was more brown than white, and he had dark hair and he was circumcised. This Narazene, however, came into the world for his own people and for the nations.  This Jesus born in Bethlehem, who is the eternal God, is the Lord over the nations.

“Great and marvelous are your deeds,

    Lord God Almighty.

Just and true are your ways,

    King of the nations.

Who will not fear you, Lord,

    and bring glory to your name?

For you alone are holy.

All nations will come

    and worship before you,

for your righteous acts have been revealed.” (Revelation 15)

This King of the nations theme is first indicated in the covenantal promises to Abraham. Further details are revealed as the Old Testament progresses. With the birth of Jesus Christ, the Kingly theme finds fulfilment: He is the Saviour of the world. He is the one whose Gospel goes to the nations. It is his Gospel that has Divine power to save both Jew and Gentile.

The real and living Jesus, as opposed to the artist’s imagination, was born of a particular ethnicity and he transcends ethnicity. In this sense, there can be an argument for representing Jesus as white, or as brown or black or yellow. He is the Jewish Messiah who will bring healing to the nations. As the Apostle Paul explains in his letter to the Colossians,  In Christ,

“there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” (Colossians 3:11)

Here lies the good news message that brings death to racism. On this, I do believe Justin Welby and myself are in agreement.

It is not Western civilisation that will ultimately win, no more than it will be Persian, Chinese, Ethiopian, or Greek. Jesus both supersedes culture and he will transform culture. Indeed, despite being profoundly indebted to this Christian message, Anglo-Saxon societies are gradually moving away toward atheistic secularism and even toward old fashion paganism and panentheism. It is across Africa and China, in Brazil and Iran that Christianity is growing at tremendous rates. In this single message of forgiveness and love, people of all colours are finding home and hope.

My advice is, let’s give up trying to make Jesus’ out of concrete, stone, and paint. Let objects of historical or artistic value be taken to a museum. A Church is no place for icons, lest of course Westminster and Canterbury qualify as museums rather than places for Christian worship. Instead, let’s speak the message of Christ in the languages of the world that everyone might hear of the true King who reconciles sinners, dismantles racism, and creates unending peace.

Here’s a vision worth preaching,

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2)

No, Jehovah’s Witnesses are not Christian

Jehovah’s Witnesses have come into the media spotlight once again due to their reluctance to sign up to the National Redress Scheme.

The Scheme was introduced as a result of the findings from the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse.  The Royal Commission uncovered many hundreds of cases of child sexual abuse within the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the organisation’s complicity in covering up these cases. With the announcement of the National Redress Scheme, there was wide recognition among Christian Churches of its importance, and most denominations signed up quickly. According to last night’s report on Channel 10s The Project, the Jehovah’s Witnesses “will not join the scheme”.

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In the Federal Parliament,  Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said of institutions that are not joining the scheme is that they are “doubling down on the crimes and doubling down on the hurt”.

First of all, it is quite staggering to hear that a religious institution is refusing to join the scheme. I hope this changes before the cut off date of June 30th.

Second, I made the mistake of sending a tweet.  Twitter is designed for tweets and for twits, and I was one last night.

The Project repeatedly referred to Jehovah’s Witnesses as a Church. The word association is unhelpful and confusing because Jehovah’s Witnesses are not a Christian Church. They are a religious group but not a Christian Church, and the distinction matters.

I said, “BTW Jehovah’s Witnesses are not a church. They have nothing to do with Christianity & neither do they describe their communities as a church”.

What I said is accurate. Jehovah’s Witnesses call their communities ‘Kingdom Halls’ not Churches. It’s also true that they have nothing to do with Christianity. Responses came flooding in, correcting my ignorance of Christianity, with people declaring Jehovah’s Witnesses as Christian and as a church. 

Some people insisted upon the Christian credentials of Jehovah’s Witnesses, simply on the grounds that some Jehovah’s Witnesses now call themselves Christian. One person linked to a piece on the BBC as definitive proof that Jehovah’s Witnesses are a Christian Church. Do people even stop to think and realise that the BBC is a media outlet, not an academic institution let alone a school of theology? If I’m wanting medical advice I visit my GP, I don’t ask the BBC. If I’m wanting an expert opinion on Constitutional Law, I don’t google a television station, nor do I treat a quick Wikipedia search as Gospel truth.

As it happens, I am a Pastor of a Christian Church who holds a degree in theology and who writes regularly on theological matters. None of this necessarily makes me an expert (and I’m not an expert in cults), however, I have a fair understanding of what beliefs accord with Christianity and those which do not.

We are living in strange times when a basic point can be demonstrably proven, and yet washed over as an irrelevance. One person suggested that it doesn’t matter if Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t believe in the Trinity, they still qualify as Christian. That’s like saying you can be a vegan and enjoy eating steak every night. Another person admitted that Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t seem to have a high view of Jesus, but because they believe in ‘God’ they still count as Christian. Perhaps the word Christian is a little confusing! Based on this flimsy argument Muslims and Hindus are also Christian!

Twitter has become its very own version of the famed Monty Python Sketch, The Argument Clinic.

Both historically and theologically, Jehovah’s Witnesses is rightly considered a separate religion, which at most is an aberrant form of Christianity. Theologically, they belong to the category referred to in the Bible as ‘false teaching’. Why? Because they reject almost every core belief of the Bible regarding the person of God, the person of Jesus Christ, the resurrection, and the means by which people can be redeemed.

Christianity can be traced back to the person and work of Jesus Christ, some 2,000 years ago. The Bible details, as does Jesus himself, that Christianity is the fulfilment of God’s ancient promises that were written about in the Old Testament. In this way, Christianity is directly linked to Judaism. Christian Churches today base their teachings on these Scriptures and they worship this Jesus as God.

In contrast, Jehovah’s Witnesses came into existence in the late 19th Century, in the Pennsylvanian town of Allegheny. Their founder, Charles Taze Russell, began as a Seventh Day Adventist but he came to disagree with how Adventists were predicting the Second Coming of Christ. He claimed that Jesus had already returned in 1874 and would consummate his reign in 1914. From there, groups formed across America, and eventually internationally. There is something like 70,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Australia today. The Jehovah’s Witnesses is an American made religion. Their origins are not even directly connected with a Christian Church, but they jumped off from another American sect/cult.

To my knowledge, no Christian denomination, historically or present, has ever accepted Jehovah’s Witnesses as a legitimate and authentic Christian Church or denomination. Rather, they are rightly defined as a separate religion, if not a cult. In fact, until very recent, Jehovah’s Witnesses have been referred to as a cult, given the stern control the religion’s leaders have on their followers. This authoritarian and bullish control over people is well documented and this point was also noted last night’s segment on The Project.

Jehovah’s Witnesses adhere to almost no basic and essential Christian belief. In almost every area of Christian belief and thought, their views openly contradict the Bible and well established and historic Christian teaching. Their beliefs can no more be aligned with Christianity than calling an egg a type of fruit or, believing cows milk comes from the artichoke.

It’s not as though Jehovah’s Witnesses beliefs are locked away in some hidden vault and can’t be accessed for reading. It only requires a short visit to their own websites to discover how open Jehovah’s Witnesses are about rejecting basic Christian beliefs. In fact, I conclude that the only reason they ever use the term ‘Christian’ is in order to fool the public into thinking they are somehow a legitimate religion and not a cult. It’s like a Collingwood supporter trying to invite themselves into the Carlton coaching box, while wearing a Collingwood jumper, carrying their Collingwood membership card, and singing “Good Old Collingwood Forever”, as a duet with Eddy Maguire (apologies to Collingwood and Carlton fans alike)!

 

9 Beliefs that are inconsistent with Christianity

Here are 9 facts about Jehovah’s Witnesses that make this religion irreconcilable with Christianity:

1. The Bible used by Jehovah’s Witnesses (‘The New World’ translation) is a corrupted version that changes words and meaning of the Bible to fit with their beliefs. A classic example of this deliberate manipulation of the texts is John 1:1. The New World states that “the word was a god”. The actual text says, ‘the word was God”. The insertion of the indefinite particle completely changes the meaning of the verse, and indeed it changes the identity of Jesus (which is, of course, the intent).

To my knowledge, no reputable Bible scholar in the world accepts the ‘The New World’ translation as a legitimate and faithful rendering of the Bible.

2. They reject the Christian teaching that Jesus Christ is eternally God. Instead, they believe that Jesus is a created being and prior to being on earth Jesus was the archangel, Michael. Jesus is a lesser God to Jehovah, whereas the Bible teaches that Jesus is equally and fully God, as is God the Father and God the Holy Spirit.

3. They reject the Trinity, that there is one God in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  

4. They reject the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Instead, they claim Jesus returned to his pre-existent spiritual state.

5. They don’t believe that the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. Rather the Holy Spirit is an impersonal force working for Jehovah.

6. Salvation is by good works, not by grace, and you can lose your salvation. Salvation is based upon adherence to religious practice, especially missionary success.

7. They don’t believe that hell is final and eternal. Rather everyone who goes there will come back and hell will be made redundant. Some people, though, are so evil that even hell is too good a place. They end up in a place called Gehenna (which they believe is different to hell).

8. They believe that God’s Kingdom came to earth in 1914 and the Battle of Armageddon has been predicted numerous times…although each date was predictably wrong!

9. Only 144,000 people will be saved (based on a misinterpretation of Revelation ch.7). This has caused consternation for the several million members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses around the world today. To accommodate the overflow of members, while only 144,000 members will be welcomed into heaven, others can now be sent back to earth for what’s being coined, a b-grade eternal reward!

A Challenge for Churches

What struck me last night is the ease in which people are prepared to call an organisation by a certain name, on the basis that they have heard someone else use that word in association with the group. In one sense this shouldn’t surprise because, in today’s Western Culture, self-identification has become the only plumb line for truth. If I identify as such, I am, and no one has the right to question the validity of my self-expression. If I say that I’m a Christian, I am regardless of what I believe or how I live. Such blind acceptance is notably ridiculous, and it’s also dangerous.

What about facts and reasons and looking at evidence? Part of the issue is that the average Aussie doesn’t know what Christians believe and so they are ill equipped to assess what beliefs are and are not Christian. This poses an enormous problem. The general population may hold certain assumptions about Christianity which are often completely disconnected from Christianity, or at best, are vaguely true. It shouldn’t surprise us therefore that we have such frail and diluted understandings of the faith.

This means Christian Churches have a responsibility and opportunity to be clear about what we believe and to provide useful teaching in the public square to aid our neighbours in coming to grips with these good and life changing truths. Instead of preferencing vague and sloppy theology in the name of connecting with people, we ought to be catechising our churches and referencing clarity and conviction in our presentations to the broad community.

What is Mentone Baptist Church doing to combat this community fuzziness toward Christianity? Apart from this blog which aims to present a Christian view of the world, we have almost finished writing a new course exploring the big questions of Christianity. It’s called ‘Making Sense of Christianity’. Anyone interested in joining the 4 week study can register by emailing pastor@mentonebaptist.com.au.

My initial frustration last night has turned to sadness.  It is insane that a religious institution is prepared to double down on the pain of victims to child sexual abuse, and it is terribly sad to once again hear that knowledge of Christianity is so nebulous in our society, that we can’t distinguish basic and logical truth from error.  Christian Churches have a lot of work to do. Are we ready for the task?

Making Sense of Christianity

A new course exploring Christianity is coming to Melbourne.

‘Making Sense of Christianity’ is written by a Melbournian and for Melbournians. In each episode, Murray explores some of the big questions of life:

1. God and the universe

2. Humanity, Sin, and death

3. Jesus Christ

4. Christians and the Church

For further details and to register, please email pastor@mentonebaptist.com.au

 

The Search for Christian Authenticity

I first came across Gregorian Chants when I was 18 years of age. I was studying first year music at university. Straight away I became entranced by the sounds of these monastic choirs. I similarly appreciate the Cantatas of J.S Bach. Although composed 300 years ago, these are beautiful sonnets to God. It is one thing to listen to the Cantatas on my Spotify playlist, but it is quite another experience to sit in a cathedral and hear a choir and orchestra sing in front of you.

At the same time, I wouldn’t want my local church using these musical forms during our Sunday services, for a variety of both theological and pragmatic reasons. For starters, we don’t speak or understand either Latin or German; if we can’t understand the words we shouldn’t sing them.

 

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Photo by Shvets Anna on Pexels.com

The ABC has published a revealing article this weekend, noting a surge of young adults turning away from contemporary churches and toward more traditional church.

“Gregorian chants, renaissance choral music and incense wafting from a metallic censer.

In an era when Kanye West runs gospel-inspired services, and megachurches, like Hillsong, release chart-topping hits, these ancient Christian traditions are, unexpectedly, having a moment.

And they’re not just resonating with older generations, either.

Younger people are flocking to late-night Latin Mass — at least they were pre-COVID — and embracing Christian orthodoxy in online spaces.

So says Tara Isabella Burton, America-based author of the forthcoming book Strange Rites and a member of the self-proclaimed “Weird Christian” movement.

The allure of Weird Christianity goes beyond an espousal of the Bible. Burton says the otherworldly nature of religious rituals are also appealing to the young and disillusioned.

“There’s a sense of enchantment that often comes with the pageantry,” says Burton, who attends St Ignatius of Antioch in New York City, part of the Episcopalian or Anglo-Catholic tradition.

“It’s that sense that this is a sacred place and not just another thing you do in your week, the same way you might go to a SoulCycle class or you might go out to dinner with friends.”

I have witnessed first hand a few young adults who are thinking this way. They believe older equals authentic, and tradition indicates genuine Christianity. The logic is,  if we can work our way back to the past we somehow become more like the early churches and therefore we are having a genuine Christian experience. The way to be really close to God is to embrace the old. This phenomenon isn’t only about embracing the old, it is about turning off the new. There are millennials seeing through popular Christianity with its accommodation of mainstream culture and its compromise on Christian teachings that don’t suit a consumer audience. 

There is something astute about this revelation. The historian Tom Holland, who isn’t a Christian, has made a similar observation although about English Bishops,

“I see no point in bishops or preachers or Christian evangelists just recycling the kind of stuff you can get from any kind of soft left liberal because everyone is giving that…if they’ve got views on original sin I would be very interested to hear that”.

Like giving Coke away to kids, the caffeine and sugar in some of the trending churches is addictive, but it leaves you hungry and needing to pay a visit to the Dentist. It’s one thing to recognise a weakness in one presentation of church, but jumping from one unhelpful extreme to another is not the answer.

It is a truism that churches focusing on contemporary production can be theologically shallow and even spiritually misleading. At the same time, many traditional churches give similar attention to production quality and can also be doctrinally unorthodox.

Reverend Dries, of Christ Church St Laurence in Sydney, advocates for an ‘older’ style of church. He highlights (perhaps unwittingly) a crucial flaw in what these young people are wanting in a church.

“It’s not theatre, but there’s certainly an element of drama,” he says, pointing to the candles, incense and elaborate liturgical wear that feature in services.

“We sing music here that goes back to the Middle Ages — Gregorian chants — and renaissance choral music, so we rely on young people, who are very involved in those things.”

Reverend Dries believes that Anglo-Catholicism has an “element of mystery about it” that can be missing from everyday life or other religious practices.

“Some of our young people come from a more evangelical tradition, which is sort of word-based and very long sermons or improvised prayers,” he explains.

“I think for some people … there sometimes comes a point where they can’t deal with words anymore, and there’s this genuine desire to enter into silence, mystery, music and ritual.”

One of the issues here is that Christianity is a word based religion. Jesus is the Word made flesh. Jesus reveals God. The written word of God reveals God. God is not found in the silence but in his word. The Bible itself calls on churches to make the ministry of the word central to its life.

devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.” ( 1 Timothy 4:13)

“Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.” (2 Timothy 4:2)

Also, the separation of music from word ministry is a false dichotomy. According to the New Testament, music is a part of the ministry of the word, not separate from it. If you believe a certain musical style connects you to God in a more authentic experience, and the preaching of the word does not, then it’s not Christianity you are holding onto but a form of neo-gnosticism.

“Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” (Colossians 3:16)

As I read the piece on the ABC and have spoken with several young people wrestling with these issues, the question is, are we looking for a religious experience or are we worshipping God? Are we determining the efficacy of the experience by what appeals to our senses or by what God has spoken in his word?

Of course, no single style of church fits all, but a 19th or 13th century version of doing church is no more Christian than is the church who adopts the latest pop genres. This may sound strange to some readers who belong to evangelical churches but the point needs stating: You can be a truly orthodox Christian without being a member of the orthodox church. You can be a truly catholic Christian without joining Rome. In fact, believing older is closer to the original is a dangerous misnomer. Assuming that tradition equates to a more full version of Christianity can lean toward gnosticism and to a disconnecting from the head (Col 2:19).

And if one is to join one of these historical denominations, which version of older is more authentic? Do we choose Greek Orthodox or Russian Orthodox or Ethiopian Orthodox or Roman Catholic? And among each of these options which type of orthodox or Catholicism will we choose, for there are many and varied branches belonging to each of these tribes?

For hundreds of years churches never sang Gregorian Chants,  the clergy didn’t wear vestments and there were no high altars or gothic structures. Incense and candles were used in Old Testament cultic services but they didn’t feature in the earliest churches, and there is certainly no instruction for their use in the New Testament. What these millennials assume is authentic church is, in fact, a product of the slow development of medieval Christianity.

I am encouraged to hear that there are many young adults recognising a superficiality in some contemporary expressions of Christian Church. They are right to resist the consumer menu that is found in these places that worship ‘trend’. It is, however, a mistake to conclude that older is necessarily better.

There is one exception to this, the old which is The Tradition, the Scriptures.

  • Is the Bible read, taught faithfully, and believed among the Church? Is the whole counsel of God explained?
  • Is prayer to God the Father a regular part of church life?
  • Is the focus on Jesus Christ and glorifying God, or is the attention given to me?
  • Is the object of spiritual experience faith in Christ or does it depend on some extra biblical human tradition, whether that tradition is brand new or a 1000 years old?
  • Are the ordinances (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper) faithfully administered?
  • Does the Church practice believers’ membership and are the members growing in unity, maturity, and love?
  • Are visitors, Christian and unbeliever alike, welcomed and befriended, and encouraged to know the Gospel?

Looking for an authentic experience of God is a worthwhile pursuit. Indeed, is it not the highest and most rewarding of goals? This is however only successful when we encounter the Christ of Scripture, who is the living, reigning, saving, and judging, God over all things.

At Mentone Baptist, we are currently preaching through Paul’s letter to the Colossians. The central idea in this letter is sufficiency and supremacy of Jesus Christ. Paul is at pains to remind the Church that they have believed the real Gospel, but now they need to remain in this Gospel. Why? Paul notes that there are always other ideas and practices that become attractive and popular, but they are not necessarily of God.

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.” (Colossians 2:6-8)

I am not arguing that all older styled churches adhere to such ‘human traditions’ any more than I’m suggesting all contemporary churches are somehow more faithful. The answer is of course, both and neither! However, Paul’s appeal is incredibly important. We ought to assess what is taught and what is practised according to the measure God has given us, namely the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Too often, when I’ve heard someone say that they want to become Orthodox or Catholic, it’s because they are convinced that those traditions somehow lead to a more full or experientially complete encounter with God. Such think not only insults the people of God who constitute the local church that you’re leaving, but it is also an assault on Christ who is the head of the church. Again, I’m not arguing against all tradition here, but I am repudiating the idea that older means closer proximity to God and to being a real church.

The principles of church that I’ve listed above will find free expression in various cultures and times, and that is part of the curious success of Christianity. This faith can be known and experienced across time and places. There is no single style of church, both the cathedral and the home church can be equal and real expressions of the body of Christ. The megachurch and the small community church can likewise be equal representations of Christ’s church.

My encouragement to churches is, be biblical and keep things simple. We can learn from history without replicating it in the present. We can discard old fashions and do meaningful church while avoiding the unhealthy proclivity toward individual consumerism. One of the wonderful things about Christianity is its cultural adaptability. The one Gospel can be faithfully transmitted across cultures and time. While the Bible is clear about what constitutes a church and while the Bible prescribes which elements are necessary for church, the in-practice reality of these things is not dependent upon a single expression.

I don’t want my church looking like either Hillsong or the Catholic Cathedral. We are not required to reject the past in order to reach the future, and neither am I bound to take on and use every latest whim that captures our culture’s attention. If the church is constantly reaching into God’s word and letting the rule Christ govern us, we will continue in being faithful, knowing the fulness of God, and communicating the Gospel in ways that are understandable and attractive to the community around.

“For the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily  in Christ, 10 and you have been filled by Him, who is the head over every ruler and authority. (Colossians 2:9-10)

JK Rowling, Cancel Culture, and the Gradual Demise of the West

Real life dementors are swooping around JK Rowling and they’re coming for you too.

JK Rowling has found herself caught up in cancel culture. Both JK Rowling and Harry Potter are currently trending on Twitter. There are 100,000s comments and memes expressing outrage. Indeed many of these tweets are themselves outrageous and even abusive. 

What did JK Rowling say to invoke such anger? She dared challenge the culture’s narrative.

“If sex isn’t real, there’s no same-sex attraction. If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased. I know and love trans people, but erasing the concept of sex removes the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives. It isn’t hate to speak the truth.”

Let’s be clear, JK Rowling hasn’t said anything controversial. She has simply noted an established fact: a scientific, biological, and sociological fact. Indeed, sex is one of the few self evident truths that has been universally accepted in all human history and across cultures, that is, until the last few years. In today’s Western world, to affirm that women are women and that men are men is to speak heresy. To suggest sex is real is paramount to signing your own incarceration to Azkaban.

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Our societies have been occupied by other important issues of late, especially the COVID-19 pandemic and now racism. The response to JK Rowling is a reminder however that even a pandemic and racism don’t diminish the fervour of those following the latest chapter in the sexual revolution. Again note, we are talking about half a million comments stemming from a simple statement affirming that women are women. This shows us how nothing is to excuse, distract, or dilute, full and unquestioned adherence to the sexual milieu.

While our attention has been necessarily elsewhere, the Victorian Government is still planning to introduce legislation this year that may well prohibit classical Christian teaching on sex and gender. Also, over the past few days, The Australian has published two important articles exposing the wrongful conflation of autism with gender dysphoria. Girls with autism are being misdiagnosed with gender dysphoria and are undergoing treatment to change their gender.

“Professor Attwood, a psychologist based in Brisbane and author of the guide known globally as the “Asperger’s bible”, said unhurried and thoughtful gender change could be a success but he worried about a crash back into depression if trans status was embraced with impulsive and unrealistic hopes of a fix for autism“Once they’ve changed gender, they still have autism and when (gender) transition doesn’t solve their problems they think, Oh no, that was the only option I had, what’s the point of life?,” he told The Australian.

“One of the characteristics of autism is what we call a one-track mind, and sometimes the issue of gender dysphoria (discomfort with one’s body) and changing gender becomes a special interest with a phenomenal knowledge and determination.”

Not even medicine is immune to popular social theory. Our culture’s inability to affirm basic scientific and social truth exposes a growing distrust of authority and a preference to determine moral goodness by personal inclinations. This has the negative effect of harming children and creating greater social disharmony.

As today’s example with JK Rowling demonstrates, hardline secularists preach a message of tolerance that is soaked in hateful speech. They call for justice and acceptance while demeaning everyone around them and demanding their silence. Secularist sermons are as religious as the most ardent fundamentalist. They are as confident as the Titanic sailing from the shores of England and will prove to be as successful.  Except, in this case, the new moral arbiters are not waiting for the iceberg to hit, they are already busy throwing overboard anyone and everyone who questions the decided course, which is to hit the iceberg. That is the agenda. We are not witnessing the rebirth of Western culture as much as we are signalling its gradual demolition.

The project of relativising truth was all along about breaking down society in order to introduce a new and authoritarian truth. This new order exists without reason and grace and it insists on our total allegiance. Gender theory serves as the flagship for the new orthodoxy. The fact that this theory keeps bending and changing every few months is ignored by the most vocal evangelists. Whatever its latest iteration, unwavering conformity is demanded.

Paul Kelly has offered this insightful analysis of the fracturing of Western culture. He says,

“The progressive mantra is that Western liberalism is immoral with its tolerance of colonialism, invasion, racism, inequality, climate cowardice, sexism and patriarchy. While Australians are pragmatic and responsive to sensible changes in the liberal status quo, progressivism demands a new moral order that unnerves and divides the community. It is about power. It sees every issue in terms of a victim class and an oppressor class. It is more interested in power than solutions. It demands people change their values to fit its moral impositions and it is disgusted by how liberalism has tolerated so many reactionary views…”

“…American writer Yuval Levin argued in his 2016 book, The Fractured Republic, that culture was being re-engineered. It was now what the individual preferred it to be. Once your guiding star becomes your own self-expression then, as Levin says, we “recoil from any demands that we conform to the requirements of some external moral standard — a set of rules that keeps ‘me’ from being ‘the real me’, ‘true to myself’ ”.

Such rules were to be discarded. Indeed, they were to be mocked, with the Christian religion top of the list. Such individual empowerment leads to defiance of moral instructions handed down by church, state or nearly any authority. Those defying the authority are applauded because being “true to yourself” is seen as the ultimate morality.”

Jesus declares that the “truth sets us free”. Yet, we see our society abandoning truth on many fronts; not only Christian truths but also universal knowledge. We see it with our attitudes toward the unborn, we see it when society denigrates other races, and it’s evident in our whitewashing of sex and gender. The situation is made more complex because past generations have not always offered a better discourse. Examples abound of where Western culture has previously suppressed self evident moral truth in the name of other ideologies, but this is no justification for repeating the sin of Adam today.

As Paul Kelly suggests in his article, Western societies like Australia are likely to become more fragmented and tribal. One of the byproducts of this is that as we grow weaker, we become more vulnerable. The sun is slowly setting on the West, less because of emerging powers like Communist China, but because like Rome we have chosen to destroy ourselves. At times we highlight genuine issues and then weaponise them to knock each other out. Agreement is often aloof and kindness even more distant. It is telling that as a society we can no longer agree on what a woman is and what a man is.

That there are individuals who believe they are born in the wrong body cannot be denied. That most children who wrestle with this disjuncture find the issue resolved as they grow into adulthood is also a fact. That some individuals continue to struggle with their gender identity does not mean we dismiss biological facts, but it does require us to find suitable ways to love and support them. Indeed, while Christian ethics is largely dismissed by today’s cultural elites, it is the Bible belief that all people are made in the image of God that teaches us that all people matter. We do not leave those aside those who are crying for help, rather we come alongside them.

The West is in trouble. As a Christian, my primary focus is not on keeping the West. However, to say none of it matters is simply naive. With all its flaws and failures, Western civilisation has given the world liberties and life that have not grown elsewhere. Again, the very notion of human equality and dignity depends on Judeo-Christian teaching.  If the West is to be saved, we need to rediscover the very doctrines upon which it was built, and indeed the very same teachings that are now flourishing in many other parts of the world; name Christianity. This exercise, however, requires humility and even repentance. At the moment, there is little appetite for either.