Melbourne Baptist Church Hosts Same Sex Wedding

A story broke on DavidOuld.net this morning, naming a Baptist Church in Victoria which has recently opened its building to host a same sex wedding.

The focus on DavidOuld.net is of several ordained Anglican ministers from the Diocese of Melbourne who were present at the ceremony, and who appear to have formally participated during the service. It is not currently known who the official celebrant was, but presiding over a same sex marriage is a violation of the government marriage licence for both Anglican and Baptist clergy. Anglican and Baptist marriage celebrants can only conduct weddings according to the marriage rites of their said denomination.

According to the Baptist Marriage Rites, marriage is “the union between a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.”

My concern is the news that a Baptist Church in Melbourne has hosted this wedding, and it appears as though at least one ordained Baptist minister was involved. This doesn’t project a view of Victorian baptists that will adorn the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

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Community Church of St Mark belongs to the association of Churches that is the Baptist Union of Victoria. I cannot imagine that they would have received permission from the BUV to conduct a same sex wedding on their premises. Such permission is not however required as local churches have significant autonomy.

There is a question as to whether the Community Church of St Mark rented out their building to a third party or were  formally hosting and supporting the event? In one sense, that distinction is a matter of semantics, for either option is a clear promotion of same sex marriage. Footage of the wedding procession clearly shows the banner of St Mark’s being paraded, thus indicating at least some involvement by the Church. In addition, an ordained baptist minister was also present and part of the procession, and it appears that she was involved in a formal capacity.

Why does this matter?

It is important for baptists for at least these two reasons:

First, Community Church of St Mark have misrepresented what Baptists believe about marriage. They have welcomed teaching and have blessed a view of marriage that contravenes the clear doctrinal position of the Baptist Union of Victoria. In so doing, they are sending confusing messages to local communities as to what Baptist believe about marriage, and in so doing they are leading people astray from God’s good purposes. 

Second, Churches who are affiliated with the BUV are in relationship with each other. There is rightly a significant degree of autonomy given to each church, however an association is not arbitrary or meaningless. Without clear theological common ground that is affirmed and practiced, churches can’t work together. To what point can we share an identity together when that name is being misrepresented in such grievous ways?  The question is, should our Baptist Churches allege unity with another Church who has decided to act against Baptist doctrine? Is it appropriate to call Community Church of St Mark to repentance?

The issue of marriage is not unimportant or secondary in the Bible. Indeed, during last year’s plebiscite debate advocates made it clear that they believe it’s about human rights and amending one of the great social evils in our country. For Christians, our Scriptures define sexual relations outside of heterosexual marriage as porneia, it being alongside many other activities which prevent people from entering the Kingdom of God. The Apostle Paul includes homosexual activity as being “contrary to the sound doctrine  that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.” If the Bible defines this as a Gospel issue, then it is incumbent upon us to do so as well.

This morning’s news is incredibly sad but unsurprising. For some time there have been baptist clergy and churches agitating to redefine marriage and to be given permission to formally conduct same sex weddings. These numbers are small, only representing tiny fraction of the BUV, but they are persistent. We are being naive if we believe that this matter will eventually blow over and that these advocates will simply give up.

A precedent can easily become a pattern if we don’t speak up.

As it currently stands, Baptist marriage celebrants cannot conduct same sex weddings. The position for churches is however somewhat murky. The spirit of the law suggests that a Baptist Church should not facilitate a same sex marriage, either by renting out their building or by inviting a secular celebrant to preside. However, the strict letter of the law does not (to my knowledge), prohibit this practice. This ambiguity needs to be attended to and fixed in the near future.

 


Update (Monday 7pm): I can now confirm that the officiating celebrant was Rev James (Jim) Barr. Rev Barr was formerly the Senior Pastor at Collins St Baptist and at Canberra Baptist. He is now a Welsh Methodist credentialed minister, and thus no longer holds a baptist licence. It is however unclear how how substantive his role was in this service, given that Baptist and Anglican clergy were also participating. In other words, one question is answered, but the original concerns remain, and they are substantive concerns for Baptists and Anglicans alike.

Gehenna’s Dead

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Piled in unmarked graves,

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Filling Gehenna with what remains,

Of flesh and blood and marrow.

 

Who are these nameless ones,

Whose time on earth so short?

What mountain of horror to see,

the scandalous unwanted dead.

 

No coffin or ceremony,

No words of solace spoken.

Though lingering in the deep,

Are perhaps doubts and disquiet,

Wonderings and hopes.

 

What cause,

What appeal,

What affliction has created this disturbance?

What necessity or hate has so consumed,

That life is deemed discretional?

 

Who would give their children to Molek,

Or present offerings to Eros and Aphrodite?

What god so insatiable must we appease,

To pull from womb ones so dear?

 

A public commotion shudders the earth,

Let us dance and celebrate;

Cheers reverberate through the streets;

We are free to kill.

We choose to kill.

Little ones, do not deny our liberty.

 

Jezebel, she is a jealous prophet;

Let us prove our dignity and worth.

For freedom sake,

Give us our rights.

We choose ourselves,

And we vote to forfeit others.

 

The altar of self is a bloody place.

The smell of burning corpses stiffens the air.

Winning is losing and the losers die.

Is this progress’ price,

Suffer the little children, and let them not come?

 

“Death has climbed in through our windows and has entered our fortresses;

it has removed the children.”

With approval we look on;

Humanity scorched, and losing soul.

 

Who will love these little ones, imago dei?

Who will remember them, their smiles and motions,

their cries and laughter,

that first word and step?

Who will celebrate their first birthday,

Hug them and say, ‘I love you’?

 

Who would give life to these unwanted,

to those disdained and sacrificed for Molek?

What name is given to these young lives,

Who are found amidst rubbish and refuse alike?

 

Greater Josiah has come.

He will love them.

He will welcome them home.

This greater Josiah;

A King upon a cross,

purify Gehenna,

redeem the dead,

forgive the transgressor.

Come Lord Jesus, come.

Should we speak of “Bible Believing Christians”?

“Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4)

 

Yesterday I was accused of making a “serious” category mistake in theology, namely to speak of “Bible believing Churches”. Geoff Thompson, who teaches Systematic Theology at the Uniting Church’s college here in Melbourne, wrote a respectful critique of my recent article on Bishop Michael Curry and his royal sermon.

The focus of Thompson’s piece was on a phrase I used, “Bible believing Church”. I was encouraging people who were struck by the wedding sermon to seek out a Bible believing and Jesus loving Church, as opposed to one that is not. Geoff Thompson has taken issue with my encouragement, saying,

“Christians are not called to ‘believe’ the Bible; they are called to acknowledge its authority, and to listen to it through the filter of the gospel proclaimed by Jesus. It is a serious category mistake to talk about ‘believing’ the Bible.”

I certainly agree with his statement about acknowledging the Bible’s authority and interpreting Scripture through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but those things do not denude the phrase, ‘Bible believing’, in fact, they accurately reflect part of what it means to be a Bible believing Christian.

Does Geoff Thompson have a case? To answer, I thought, well, what does the Bible say? Let’s take some examples,

“And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.” (1 Thessalonians 2:13)

“By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain”. (1 Corinthians 15:2)

“After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken”. (John 2:22)

“I look on the faithless with loathing, for they do not obey your word”. (Psalm 119:158)

“And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.” (Luke 1:20)

“And because of his words many more became believers”. (John 4:41)

“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24)

“Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.” (John 14:10)

“The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God”. (Acts 11:1)

It is clear from these verses (and many others could have been used) that God wants us to believe his word. Accepting and trusting the Bible (which is God’s word) not only pleases God, it is one of the ways God differentiates between his people and those who are not. Indeed, when his people reject his word, he calls them to repent and to return to the word. Receiving, believing, and obeying the word is one of the Bible’s ways of describing who is Christian.

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This word is from God and is about God, and especially his son Jesus Christ.  God’s call to believe his words, both Old and New Testaments, is never merely about intellectual assent, but is about understanding, trusting, desiring, and obeying. In fact, prior to our response the word, the word must firstly begin a work in us, as the book of Hebrews declares,

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

The word is not only God working in the human heart but it is God saving, creating, and ruling. More than that, as many of above Bible references explain, when Jesus, the Apostles, and the Prophets talk about believing the word, they don’t divide belief in the word and belief in God; to trust in the Scriptures is to believe God.

In short, the Bible does talk about believing the Bible and it does so in a very positive and necessary way. To speak of Bible believing Christians and Churches is one way of talking about men and women who accept the Bible as God’s authoritative, true and good word, and who now commune with God by his Spirit through his word about his Son. 

Wouldn’t it be odd for someone to respond, “Oh that’s not Murray, that’s just his words…I believe in Murray, but not his words.”

Yes, there is a question of ontology, but nonetheless, we don’t divorce a person from their words. What does the Apostle Paul say to Timothy?

“14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

Far from being a category error, “Bible believing Church” is a phrase which accurately reflects the Bible’s own presentation of the relationship between God, His word, and his Church. It doesn’t say everything, and neither is it intended to. Like any Christian idiom, it can be misappropriated, but that doesn’t mean it’s theologically wrong or misleading. Yes, it is possible for someone to believe the Bible is true or useful without having personal faith in Jesus Christ; our society is filled with such people. But is this what we mean when referring to Bible believing Christians and Churches? The only people I know who might talk about being Bible believing are those who have a living faith in Jesus Christ. If anything, it could be used, not adjectively, but as another way of describing a Christian.

The real question is, why do some Christian scholars want to discourage this identity marker?  Why is it the case that when God can define his people as those who believe his word, there are Christians telling us that it’s wrong to describe ourselves as Bible believing? Geoff Thompson explains, it’s because he doesn’t agree with my interpretation of the Bible. No doubt, the task of interpreting the Bible is incredibly important but that doesn’t mean it’s “seriously” wrong to talk about “Bible believing Churches”.

He argued, “When a church presents itself as ‘Bible-believing’, it is often a fairly blunt proxy for legitimating its interpretations of the Bible without acknowledging that they are interpretations.”

While that can be the case, it doesn’t have to be, and normally it is not. Thompson’s argument is more red herring rather than substantive.

On the other hand, when it comes to hermeneutics, the opposite can be true, “when a church wants to teach and practice revisionist morality, they often present the Bible as having many and varied meanings and we should accept validity in all interpretations.” Indeed, some are honest enough to admit that they no longer believe in certain parts of the Bible. 

I don’t know Geoff Thompson or the hermeneutical grid he uses to interpret the Bible, and how broad his theological canvas is in accepting divergent interpretations, so I won’t offer speculation. My purpose here is not to delve into those questions (as important as they are), but it is to correct the alleged correction, that it is wrong to speak of “Bible believing Churches”. Do we not want our Churches believing the Scriptures? I certainly pray so.

Bishop Curry and his Royal Sermon

“Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.” (John 14:23-24)

 

Michael Curry’s royal wedding sermon has been the hot topic of conversation over the last 2 days. Newspapers, television shows, and social media are alight with opinions over the bishop and his sermon.

I have heard people speak favourably of the preacher because of his energy and enthusiasm.

Some people are admiring Michael Curry because in their opinion, he has broken with royal convention and stuck it up at English tradition.

There were voices praising how this is a sign of dismantling white privilege and power.

Others were warmed by Curry’s message of love

Other again, were annoyed because he spoke too long.

Some people, including Christians, thought he preached an amazing Gospel sermon, while others have criticised Curry’s message for being Gospel absent, perhaps even implying an alternate gospel.

In other words, there are many very different reasons why people responded positively and negatively to this wedding sermon.

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My reaction? I was partly pleasantly surprised, and also profoundly concerned.

Did Michael Curry say some things that were true and helpful? Yes. Did he speak too long? For a wedding, probably yes, but every preacher know that temptation. Was it positive to see an African American preaching at a royal wedding? Absolutely. Maybe in the future we’ll see a Chinese or Persian Pastors preaching the Gospel at such an auspicious occasion. Did the bishop say anything unhelpful or untrue? The answer is, yes.

One Anglican Minister made this astute observation,

“Here’s the biggest problem I have with it: The Archbishop has made our love of others the driving force of the renewal of the world.

“Dr. King was right: “We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love.

And when we discover that, we will be able to make of this old world a new world. Love is the only way.”

According to Archbp Curry, Jesus dies to save us, but it’s *our love* of the other, including in marriage, that ultimately renews creation.”

If this is the case, then there is a significant theological problem with the message.

The one comment that I did share on social media Saturday night, wasn’t about the sermon or about Michael Curry’s ethnicity or personality, but one glaring point that was being overlooked. As someone who has the joy of marrying couples, I found it ironic, and sad, that the invited preacher doesn’t believe in the definition of marriage that was articulated in the wedding ceremony. I can’t imagine a church inviting someone to preach at a wedding service who doesn’t accept the understanding of marriage being declared, and who is also known publicly for their errant views.

The view of marriage that was read out loud at the start of service comes from the Anglican book of common prayer, and it is a beautiful expression, theologically rich and Biblically sound. The wording is so clear and helpful, that many other Christian denominations use the language themselves. As another friend noted, ‘it almost makes one want to be Anglican!’

Yes, it is great to see people talking about love and especially God’s love. We should pray that it will cause people to seek out a Bible believing and Jesus loving Church, and even to open a Bible for themselves to discover this extraordinary God who loves so much that he sent his only son into the world to atone for our sin. We cannot however ignore the fact, that despite his proclamations of love,  Michael Curry is partly responsible for leading an entire Christian denomination away from the Bible, and in so doing, is fracturing the Anglican Communion worldwide.

Michael Curry has not shied away from his belief in same sex marriage. He has publicly acknowledged that his views are out of sync with conservative Anglicans, and he has insisted that his American churches would not be returning to an orthodox view of marriage.

Many leaders in the Anglican Communion, including from Australia and especially from Africa and Asia, have explained their considerable concerns over Bishop Curry’s teaching and how it is causing harm both within the American Episcopal Denomination and Anglicans globally. The problem is most poignant for thousands of Anglicans in America who love God and his word, but who now face losing their church property and financial security, should they not conform to the newly fashioned views on marriage. Indeed, this is already happening.

My understanding is that in 2017, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, agreed to the wishes of the International Primates, and so sanctions were imposed on the American Episcopal Church, whose presiding bishop is Michael Curry.

The decision made by the American Episcopal Church is not insignificant; our view on marriage has important corollaries including how we understand the cross, sin, the Bible, ethics, and many other matters. This is unsurprising given the connection the Apostle Paul made between sex, sound doctrine, and the Gospel (1 Timothy 1:9-11). Relevant to the running theme of love, it is worth grappling with Paul’s logic in 1 Timothy ch.1 and how love is integrally tied to what is taught.  Love is not without definition and intent, but promotes truth.

As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith.The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.

We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10 for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine 11 that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.”

This matters because both love and truth matter, and to deny one is to reject the other. Without God’s truth, what remains is a sentimental religiosity, powerless to change and save. 

When it comes to weddings, couples are of course free to ask for someone outside the local church to marry them or to preach at their wedding. The presiding clergy however have the right and the responsibility to say yes or no to that request. Given the present suspension over the American Churches, which the Archbishop of Canterbury had agreed to follow, it is difficult to fathom how this decision came about. No doubt, there were many closed door conversations and internal pressures, but at the end of the day, was the decision so impossible to make?

The sheer volume of excitement over Michael Curry should at least make us ask the question, why is the media and the public so enamoured by his message? Is it because the message of love is universal and it hit the right spot? Is it because his message of love was broad that most people found nothing offensive about it? Maybe, a bit of both.  Perhaps I’m a little skeptical, but I think Jesus was also skeptical about the world loving him and his Gospel.

Will the decision to invite Michael Curry help heal deeps wounds within the Anglican Communion, or further alienate evangelical congregations  and confirm to them that her leaders lack the courage to stand on their own doctrinal positions?

These are very difficult times for Anglicans worldwide, especially for our brothers and sisters who live and serve in Dioceses that are moving away from the Gospel. Is it helpful for the rest of us to be praising a preacher who is leading his denomination away from Scripture, and in so doing, straining and even dividing the Communion?

We can be grateful for things said that were true, but let’s be slow to join the Michael Curry facebook fan club. The issues at stake here are far greater than a wedding sermon. The excitement and enthusiasm will soon disappear from news headlines, but the word of God remains, and I reckon it’s better for us to keeping believing God and not getting swept away by a few moments in Windsor.

 

 

 

For a slightly different but helpful take on the sermon, read Michael Jensen’s piece in the SMH

Victorian Government aims to outlaw Gay Conversion Therapy

Last year a journalist from the ABC phoned me, to ask about gay conversion therapy. I must have been a poor interviewee because they didn’t run a story at that time.

The questions were easy to answer, I asked him explain what he meant by gay conversion therapy. He wasn’t very sure, but he did share a few anecdotes, to which I responded,

“that sounds awful…I don’t know anyone who practices this and so I couldn’t even tell you who to speak to about it…I wouldn’t want anyone subject to this kind of counselling and I don’t know anyone who has been.”

I don’t know how widespread this practice is, but it was easy to agree that the stories shared with me were disappointing and an awful experience for those who went through those programs. There is however, a  now very real possibility that Victoria will erroneously conflate those extreme views with normal and historic Christian beliefs about sexuality. 

There is a massive difference between offering someone shock therapy or performing a supposed exorcism, and reading the Bible with someone and them concluding that they no longer wish to identify as same sex attracted or transgender. But will the Victorian Government make this vital distinction. There are certainly prominent social voices who would not care whether there is a difference or not, anything other than complete allegiance to the current sexual narrative must be followed.

The Age has published a series of articles this year on this issue and the result is that the Victorian Government is planning to take action. In today’s edition, reporter Farrah Tomazin writes, 

Rogue religious leaders and health practitioners who claim that homosexuality can be “fixed” could end up being prosecuted as the Andrews government orders an unprecedented inquiry into gay conversion therapy.

Health Minister Jill Hennessy has asked Victoria’s Health Complaints Commissioner to conduct a broad-ranging investigation, and has not ruled out tougher laws to crack down on those attempting to change or suppress a person’s sexuality or gender identity.

The inquiry will capture registered or unregistered counsellors, clinicians who treat homosexuality as a disorder, and anyone purporting to convert LGBTI people through therapeutic means.

But significantly, it will also seek information on a more insidious trend: faith-based ministries and church figures who disguise their work as “spiritual guidance”.

“We have zero tolerance for anyone purporting to ‘convert’ gay people through any medical or therapeutic means,” Ms Hennessy told The Age.”

 

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I want to respond to Farrah Tomazin’s piece and to the comments being made by our Health Minister, Jill Hennessy.

First, because I am a Christian, I do not support gay conversion therapy, as defined in terms of using pseudo-scientific and unbiblical spiritual methods to change a person’s sexuality.

Second, in the Bible God calls Christians to sexual purity; this does not necessarily mean there will be a change in sexual orientation. The fact is, in becoming Christian many gay and lesbian people will not become heterosexual. When people become Christians, there is however always a change in life. What point is there in becoming a follower of Jesus Christ if nothing changes? In beginning the Christian life, there are newly found desires for sanctification. Let me repeat, this does not imply that people cease to struggle with aspects of their past, including sexual orientation, but it does mean that they now want to be godly in their sexuality. According to the Bible, sanctification includes affirming that sexual practices remain within the loving, exclusive, mutual consenting, covenant of marriage between a man and a woman.

You see, the Bible may not state that a person’s sexual orientation will change, but it is does teach conversion. Christianity by definition is a conversion religion, where human beings made in the image of God, shift from looking for freedom in the myth of post-enlightenment moral relativism, and instead discovering the greatest freedom in the person of Jesus Christ.

Third, I know people who are committed and godly Christians, and who continue to experience same-sex attraction. They are convinced that their greater and more satisfying identity is in Jesus Christ, and that living a celibate lifestyle is positive and good.

Fourth, it is an indisputable fact that some people do change sexual orientation. I appreciate that this evidence doesn’t fit with the current sexual narrative and it’s become socially and politically taboo to even mention it, but I don’t believe in ignoring research and personal stories, even if they contradict popular attitudes. For example, the majority of children who experience gender dysphoria will grow out of it by adulthood and will happily identifying with their biological sex. There are also many gay and lesbian people who have found their affections changing and have become heterosexual.  Let me reiterate, this does not mean that there is some proven or absolute way to reconfigure a person’s sexuality, but it is empirically false and socially irresponsible to deny that some people do experience a change of affections and self identification.

Fifth, I am concerned about how our culture is increasingly marginalising people who are conscious of their sexual orientation but do not wish to express or live it out. This is one of the key flaws with the Safe Schools curriculum; there is no freedom offered to children to say no to their feelings. The emphasis is on instruction children to be who they currently think they are, and to celebrate and express it. I have found no pastoral empathy in the material that encourages children to think in alternate ways

It is hypocritical for us to defend the rights of LGBT people who want to express their lifestyle and to condemn those who do not wish to follow their orientation. You can’t claim to believe in gender fluidity and then disallow entire part of the population, simply because the don’t fit inside the current subscribed spectrum; it is intellectually dishonest and morally absurd.

Sixthly, there should be concerns as to how far the Victorian Government will proceed in drafting legislation to outlaw conversion therapies. If the reporting in The Age is correct, it may become illegal for churches to teach (whether from the pulpit or in private counselling) what the Bible says about sexuality.

Without due consideration and careful definition (ie what is conversion?), it is not beyond the realm of plausibility that legislation will ban Christians from teaching the Bible’s ethics on sexuality. Sadly this is not new, for back in 2016 the current Government sought to hamstring religious toleration in Victoria with a proposed amendment to the Equal Opportunity Act.

It seems to me that there are voices on both spectrums who are ignoring science and the Bible. We might assume that both of these groups have good intentions, but whether it is political progressive with their latest interpretation of the sexual revolution, or a few crazy Pentecostals pursuing unhelpful ideas, both are making mistakes that will cause undue harm to real people.

If the Government intends to ban gay conversion therapy, consistency would have them also prohibit therapies that are aimed at changing the gender of children. In light of the research which indicates most children with gender dysphoria naturally reorienting over time, it is appalling to know of schools who are denying young children’s biological sex, and are putting them in counselling to begin transitioning them to the opposite sex. This not only includes outside dress and appearance, but hormonal therapy and eventually there is the possibility of surgery. What is even more staggering is that schools can commence some of these steps without the permission of and even knowledge parents.

To outlaw gay conversion therapies and not ban gender reassignment treatment and therapy among our youth would be sheer hypocrisy. Equally so, it is egregious to conflate fringe excessive programs with mainstream and historic Christian beliefs about sexuality, and to prohibit the freedom to articulate and persuade others with these beliefs.

I share concerns over some of the alleged practices that are contained in these so-called conversion therapies. The well-being of gay and lesbian Victorians is important, but recent political history and the current reporting in the media does not give us much hope that any drafted legislation will be fair and reasonable. There is reason to believe that these laws could negatively impact many Victorians who are wrestling with their sexuality (as is already happening through Safe Schools), and that legislation will effectively diminish religious freedoms in this wonderful State of Victoria. Indeed when the Government interferes with the teachings of Churches, all Victorians, from across religions and of none, should be troubled and asking our political representatives serious questions.

Indonesian Church attacks: some reflections

Surabaya

At approximately 10:30am, during the Sunday service at Mentone Baptist Church, three churches in Indonesia were attacked. While our children were heading out for Sunday School and the adults opening their Bibles for a second Scripture reading, suicide bombers entered 3 churches in the city of Surabaya. 11 people have died, with another 40 people injured.

As shocking as this news is, it is sadly not an unusual story for Christians in Indonesia. The persecution of Christians has been commonplace for many years in certain Indonesians provinces: in East Kalimantan, Aceh, and the city of Medan, just to name a few.

Not only in Indonesia, but similar horrific events are happening around the world on an almost weekly basis. Churches are attacked in Egypt, Nigeria, China, Pakistan, and many other parts of the world. The reality is, for millions of Christians in the world today, belonging to a Church and even attending a Church service, comes with an awareness that the cost may be great.

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Source: ABC news

Abusing our religious freedom

As I’ve reflected upon the juxtaposition between Mentone and what happened inside those Indonesian Churches, I remembered one of the verses that I preached on today,

“Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.” (Acts 9:31)

This verse follows the conversion of the Apostle Paul. Previous to becoming a Christian, Paul was a renowned persecutor of Churches, killing Christians and imprisoning others. After a period of persecution, came a time of peace for these new church being planted across Judea and Samaria.

In the New Testament we learn that there can be seasons when there is relative societal peace and tolerance of Christianity, and there are also times of acute and dreadful opposition. In the book of Acts, we discover that Churches can grow and flourish in both situations.

Joining a Church in some parts of the world is potentially life threatening. On the other hand, attending Church in Australia is easy. We wake up on Sunday mornings, perhaps following a sleep in. We eat breakfast, get dressed, and drive down the road to a local church. There’s a good chance that we’re running late, and have already missed the first 10 minutes, but the temptation to spend those extra minutes at home is hard to fight against.

Making it to Sunday Church is easy in Australia, and yet how many of us find it hard, if not a burden? No one is going to enter our buildings and blow themselves up. The Government isn’t going to arrest congregation. And yet, so many of us Aussie Christians struggle to attend Church weekly. The situation has become so dire that once a month is now considered regular attendance! Imagine only eating one meal a month with your family and arguing that it is ‘regular family time’! Picture an employee informing their colleagues that turning up for 1 in 4 meetings was suffice and a demonstration of real commitment!

Of course belonging to a local church can’t be reduced to Sunday attendance, but it is the primary and central gathering of God’s people to whom you have covenanted. We meet to encourage others, just as they are meeting in order to love and grow us in Christ.

Making it to Church regularly should be easy. Unlike millions of Christians in other parts of globe, we have the freedom to meet, and we have the means: we can walk, we can drive, we can take public transport. And yet, we find it so hard. We don’t need the threat of bombs to keep us away from Church, the allure of the beach or of a coffee shop is more than equal to the task.

I once tried to calculate how many “ordinary” Sundays were in the calendar year. To begin with, there are summer holidays which take out about 6 Sundays, and then another 3 Sundays for each of the Autumn, Winter, and Spring school breaks. On top of that, in between there’s a highway of long weekends with public holidays attached to them, and we mustn’t forget Mothers Day and Fathers Day. I also assume, that like myself, other people catch winter colds and flues, and so that might mean we miss another 1-2 Sundays. If we have children, we can strike out a few more weeks with sore throats, head colds, and bouts of diarrhoea.

It is so easy to attend Church in Australia, and yet we find it so difficult. Australian society offers so much, promising our children every dream, offering us every heart desire. How hard it is to saying to our kids, we can’t play footy on Sundays because we have Church. We work so hard to climb ladders and create success and to pay extravagant mortgages, that we find ourselves with little energy for much else. We need the fishing trip and the late Sunday brunch, because we’ve exhausted ourselves in trying to drag heaven onto earth. I wonder, are we not worshiping God with his people on Sundays because we are no longer worshiping Him with our lives from Monday to Saturday?

Instead of using freedom of religion to minimise effort and commitment, should we not maximise the time we have? Are we so arrogant as to presume that freedom of religion will continue forever in Australia?

There are of course legitimate reasons for missing Church on a Sunday morning. Churches (and Pastors) should be understanding of members who are simple unable to attend every week, because of poor physical or mental health, because kids are sick or that long awaited annual vacation has come around. There are professions where workers are rostered for Sundays; after all, we can’t run hospitals or police or trains without people.

Make Church a habit

I was speaking with one of my church’s members recently. He and family are going through a difficult time, and so when they arrived late one Sunday, I said to him that I would understand if they couldn’t make it to Church on occasion. He responded with this gracious and rather memorable rebuke,

“Murray, of course we come to Church every week; it’s what we do.”

By this, he didn’t mean that Church attendance was a ritual or tired tradition. Rather, it was a helpful habit. Going to bed on Saturdays, they already knew what they were doing the next morning, because as a couple they had already settled in their hearts and decided made with their minds, Church matters. It wasn’t always easy, but they didn’t have to make the choice each Sunday because the decision was settled and the habit formed.

Consider Church a Joy

Tonight, as I pray for Indonesia and for Mentone, I want to cherish the local church and to make the most of the freedoms we have to meet each week, and even more.

May be I should be thinking, what temporary offerings can even begin to compare to the wonder of knowing God and to be part of the Church that Jesus has promised to build? Would I settle for playing football on the X-box if an AFL team called me to join their side? And yet we easily sacrifice Church, for small moments that will soon be forgotten.

According to Hebrews, a sign that our hope is directed in the right place, is that we are fight against the temptation to diminish Church. Those who draw near to God, are those who not give up on one another.

22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10)