As a Victorian, I pray that NSW will not follow our lead

As a Victorian, I am praying that NSW will not follow our lead.  This week NSW Parliamentarians have begun preparing to debate and pass legislation that will legalise abortion in NSW up until birth. This is a sickening idea, and it is incredibly sad to see the Premier State losing its way, even with some conservative MPs advocating for the legislation.

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I am all too aware of these debates, with my own State passing the most progressive abortion laws in the country over a decade ago. As a Pastor, I have seen the pain and guilt on women’s faces as they struggle with their past having had abortions. I have also seen women come to know the beautiful and powerful grace of a forgiving God.

In  2016, then member of the Victorian Legislative Council, Rachel Carling-Jenkins, presented a Bill hoping to overturn a 2008 law which legalised late-term abortions.

The law allows women in Victoria to have an abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy, right up until the time of birth. All that is required is for two doctors to give approval.

The Abortion Law Reform Act 2008 stipulates that late-term abortions are permissible so long as two medical practitioners “reasonably believe that the abortion is appropriate in all the circumstances”. “Circumstances” is defined as the medical practitioner having regard to

“(a) all relevant medical circumstances; and

(b) the woman’s current and future physical, psychological and social circumstances.”

The Bill was defeated 27 votes to 11.

At the time I did not engage in the conversation. Perhaps I was busy. Maybe I was focusing on other matters of importance. I remember a debate taking place in Parliament but to my shame, it wasn’t on my radar as it ought.

If there is one thing I have learned over the past few years is that evil doesn’t slow down its agenda simply because we are paying attention or not paying attention. No one can address every act of immorality and speak to every grave issue facing the world; we need an omnipotent and loving God. However, when we can speak, should we not give voice to those who cannot speak for themselves?

Societal shift on abortion has been swift. In the space of three years, we’ve witnessed the culture move from justifying abortion to celebrating abortion, from permitting the practice during the early weeks of pregnancy to licensing third-trimester abortions, even when these very same infants could survive and live outside the womb.

Understand, these laws are not about saving the life of the mother, for, in such rare and terrifying circumstances, the life of the mother is surely and already prioritised. The aim in those rare situations is not to kill the child but to save the life of the mother. This is far from where the abortion argument now finds itself. The newly adopted law in New York State, the proposed Bill in Virginia, and the current practice in Victoria where I live do not require the mother’s life to be at risk. The grounds are,  can she persuade a doctor (in Victoria the law requires 2 Drs) that she no longer wishes to keep the pregnancy. As the harrowing video reveals, this decision can be made as late as during labor.

According to the Victorian State Government’s health website, in 2016, 14.9% of all perinatal deaths in Victoria were accounted by abortions for “maternal psychosocial indications”. 40.32% of all late-term abortions (from 20 weeks) are for “psychosocial” reasons, meaning there is nothing wrong with the baby or physical health of the mother.  Please note, my understanding is that these numbers include terminations that occurred in hospitals and does not include abortions that take place in clinics.

If the pronouncements of these lawmakers aren’t enough to turn the stomach, Virginia Governor, Ralph Northam, made the suggestion earlier this year that the life of a newborn child can be legitimately ended if that is the wish of the mother and attending physician.

“If a mother is in labor…the infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians & mother”

This is not a slippery slope, this is the natural outworking of an ethic without God. This is the world of Peter Singer. 20 years ago many people sneered at some of Singer’s views and found them repugnant. Today, much of his thinking has become the norm in Western countries. His utilitarian thinking supports the killing of lesser human beings, those who are disabled and are considered less than fully functioning. Singer’s arguments supporting infanticide are now finding their way into mainstream politics and legislative agendas. Have we not learned from history? Are not past stories of the mass killing of innocence enough to steer us from ever going there again? The answer is, no. Our civilised and progressive societies are eager to venture into those dark hellish places once again.

What makes our society even more culpable than past societies is that we are committing the same sins but with greater knowledge and with greater ability. Modern knowledge reveals truths about how babies are formed in the womb, things that were once believed but could not be seen until the invention of ultrasounds. We can see the heartbeat of a baby in the earliest weeks. We can delight at a child’s fingers and toes growing at 6 weeks. We now know that babies can hear and respond to music by 16 weeks; the next Mozart is already learning to feel and marvel at the beauty of sound.

Medical advancements give us unparalleled ability to care for both mother and child, to even perform surgery on a baby while it is in the womb. When these little ones surprise us by coming into the world early we have the know-how to save the lives of these children as young as 22 weeks.

This is a grotesque reality in which we live: despite superior knowledge of human life in the womb and superior medical technology to save life, our commitment to destroying life has also increased.

I suspect some readers will respond with partial agreement; you dislike late-term abortions, but you don’t have a problem with ending a pregnancy during the first trimester. This is not an uncommon position to hold.

May I respond by asking you this question, at what point can we draw an absolute moral line? At what point can we justify the moral shift from being okay with killing the child to believing it is not okay?  Is the moral threshold when the baby begins to feel pain? Is it the moment cognitive awareness starts? Is it the week when their limbs have formed? Is it the moment the heart begins to beat? There is no ontological moment during a pregnancy at which we can argue, at this stage, it is okay to abort a child.

This needs to stop. Members of the NSW Parliament, please do not lead your State down this deadly and awful path.

I understand that this issue is very real and personal for many women in our society. I don’t want to ignore the pain and guilt thousands of women experience following an abortion. To them, I say, there is the hope of forgiveness and renewal for those who seek it.

How different is the answer that we find with the God of the Bible. The Bible insists that every human being, from the moment of conception, is precious and made in the image of God. Gender, age, health, mental faculties, physical appearance, do not detract from a person’s inestimable worth.

Jesus loved the unwanted. Throughout his three years of ministry, Jesus was known for befriending and caring for those whom society thought little and had often neglected. No one was too insignificant for him to take interest in and show love.

On one occasion we are told,

“A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”

Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy.” (Matthew 8:2-3)

Jesus didn’t stop there, the extent of love that God demonstrated was found on a Roman cross, where the Son of God sacrificed his life for the salvation of others.

“Surely he took up our pain

    and bore our suffering,

yet we considered him punished by God,

    stricken by him, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions,

    he was crushed for our iniquities;

the punishment that brought us peace was on him,

    and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:4-5)

Proposed Victorian Bill is likely to harm not help women

The State of Victoria wishes to be at the vanguard of the sexual devolution. Sadly, Victoria is already becoming an unsafe place for vulnerable children who struggle with gender dysphoria. Just as with the recent passing of euthanasia laws, concerns expressed by the medical fraternity were overlooked in favour of radical political and gender theorists from institutions such as Latrobe University.

 

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It is not only children who will suffer from these radical and non-scientific agendas but also women. I know of one situation where a young woman was forced to play football (AFL) against a male who identified as a female. She feared for her safety which is understandable given the physical difference between the average male and female. As a growing number of women are now indicating if the transgender agenda continues it is likely that women’s sport may cease to exist in a few years time. 

A story emerged from the United Kingdom this week concerning a group of less than impressed boys. In an age when we are recognising how big the issue of pornography is among boys, a not so smart teacher decided to take a group of school boys on an art exhibition to see ‘feminist art’. The boys weren’t so much exposed to art as they were to bare-breasted middle-aged women! In normal circumstances, authorities would be called and the adults charged with sex offences, but apparently, this is ok.

We live in astonishing times.

In their latest effort, the Victorian Government has decided that transgender women are being discriminated against under current laws. At the moment if anyone wishes to change the gender on their birth certificate, sex reassignment surgery is required. According to the Attorney General, Jill Hennessy,

“Everyone deserves to live their life as they choose, and that includes having a birth certificate that reflects their true identity.”

 The proposed legislation will eliminate the need for women to have vaginas and so forth, and men (sorry, women) with penises can be legally recognised as women. You can imagine the social problems that will arise from such a decision.

In a piece in the Weekend Australian, Ms Rayner, a former state and federal human rights commissioner and University of Melbourne philosopher Holly Lawford-Smith, express grave concerns over the Bill and are asking for it to be rejected.

“Sex should not be a matter of belief…If progressives want to disincentivise sex-reassignment surgery, they should protect gender expression, or gender identity, or trans status, separately — rather than trying to shoehorn it into sex.” Dr Lawford-Smith said.

They have likened the Bill to last week’s story coming out of Canada where a transgender woman is taking a woman to court for refusing to wax his testicles.  That’s right. Once again, in a normal world when a man demands a woman to touch his privates she is entitled to say no and to be protected by law, but in today’s Canada, he is the victim and she the perpetrator. Indeed, should the Victorian Bill be adopted, we can expect to see all manner of confusion and also litigation against religious groups who insist upon recognising biological gender rather than one’s self-assuming gender. Indeed, it is not only religious organisations that may find themselves in trouble with the law but also sporting clubs and schools and secular organsations. It is telling that Dr. Lawford-Smith, a self-identifying lesbian, is calling for the Bill to be rejected.

This isn’t about justice, this is about redefining the fundamental nature of women and men. It is the insane devolution of humanity at its most basic form. Biology no longer determines what is a man and what is a woman. Chromosomes, hormones, reproductive parts and sexual appendages now have no bearing on what constitutes male and female. The only factor that matters is how the self defines themselves. As Ben Sharipo astutely remarked last week, is female a set of stereotypes or is it biological? We are being told that it cannot be biological because a woman can have a penis just as men can give birth to children. Therefore,  femaleness must be definable by social stereotypes, a criteria of observable non-physical differences from males. But of course, the dilemma is that we are not permitted to suggest that men and women have any differences beyond the biological. So which is it, is a woman defined by biology or by stereotypes?

I write this as a leader in the Victorian community. I also understand that because I’m a Christian, my concerns will be automatically binned by some; I appreciate why.  Churches have lost almost all their moral impetus after facing scandal after scandal. The sexual sins uncovered inside some churches and religious organisations is beyond evil, if that is at all possible. And yet, how can one stand by and be silent in the face of such unhealthy legislation.

This is profoundly sad and harmful, both for Victorians wanting to change their gender and for people around them. I have had the opportunity to speak to the issue of gender dysphoria before, not as a medical expert, but as a community leader who values all people and who is deeply concerned about the radical and unscientific approach being adopted by our political leaders. Victorians struggling with gender dysphoria deserve our care and loving support, but as most clinical psychologists will explain, the majority of people wrestling with dysphoria will return to and be content with their biological sex. Those who continue to identify with the opposite gender need our affirmation of their dignity, but not a confirmation of their self-misconceptions. We don’t tell people with other disorders that their feelings are right and true. Do we agree with teenage girls suffering from eating disorders that they are overweight? It would be cruel to do so.

The sexual revolution knows no boundaries. It is one steep descent with nothing but jagged rocks at the bottom. From time to time, the next redefinition and social regression slows down because of hairpin corners (i.e. commonsense, scientific fact, or moral integrity), and then it’s off at speed again until the next hairpin. But what is left? There are few turns left on this destructive road. 

“There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.” (Proverbs 14:12)

I trust that common sense will prevail, but in Victoria, we have little hope of that. In the midst of growing mistakes, the good news of God offers hurting and confused Victorians are better hope than the misleading efforts of our moral deconstructionists. The years ahead are going to create such confusion about what it means to be human. We need an example to show people, we need a Saviour who is good enough and loves us enough to redeem and restore. Thank God there is one better than ourselves to whom we can point our fellow Victorians: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5)

 

(I made a small edit on July 29th)


New Victorian sex law a gender headache

by Bernad Lane

A law put up by Victoria’s Andrews government could expose women offering intimate services such as pubic waxing or underwear fitting to discrimination complaints if they reject trans women customers who still have penises, veteran human rights lawyer Moira Rayner has warned.

 

The new law would allow self-declared trans women, who possess a penis and have not undergone any sex-reassignment treatment, to change the sex that appears on their birth certificate, giving them access as women to equal opportunity protection.

Ms Rayner, a former state and federal human rights commissioner, said that, if enacted, the legislation could allow a Down Under version of Canada’s Jessica Yaniv case, in which a trans woman has lodged anti-discrimination complaints against 16 beauticians who did not want to handle her penis and testicles in order to grant her wish for a brazilian wax…

An Introduction to the Trinity

“In no other subject is error more dangerous, or inquiry more laborious, or the discovery of truth more profitable.” (Augustine)

 “The study is arduous, for we are dealing with matters too great for us, which we must bow in worship, recognising, our utter inadequacy.” (Calvin) 

 

The Trinity is the most complex subject anyone can study and consider, and it is also the most trepidatious because we are talking about God.

 

Does it matter how we speak of God? *

 Does it matter how we conceive of God? Does it matter whether we think of God as Trinity or not? Can we agree to disagree?

For argument sake, let us take a snapshot of Mentone’s Associate Pastor, Mike Veith.

Mike is a particular person, with a certain appearance (although the length of hair varies considerably) and select characteristics. Mike has particular abilities, likes, and dislikes. For example, Mike is married to Camille and they have two daughters. Prior to the pastoral ministry, Mike studied to be an Engineer. He mistakingly supports the Melbourne Football Club and he also enjoys playing soccer. 

How do you think Mike would feel if we began talking about him and to him in ways that ignored what is real about him. For instance, instead of calling him Mike, we refer to him as Sigmund because we think Sigmund is a better name for him. And instead of acknowledging Mike, sorry Sigmund, to be the really nice bloke that he is, we talk about him as though he was a sadistic rugby-loving thug with the intelligence of a two-year-old infant. On his birthday we give him a container of Duplo and a plastic boat for the bathtub, alongside a DVD showing the highlights of the 1987 Rugby World Cup. Worse still, what if you decided to build a statue of Mike out of used cereal boxes and talk to it instead of the real Mike? Apart from the weirdness, if you persisted with such shenanigans for a period of years Mike, who is extraordinarily patient, would eventually respond in ways that remain to be witnessed!

 The point is, Mike Veith has a name and a personality with particular traits and strengths. I can’t call him anything I like, and I can’t attribute false characteristics to him. To misrepresent someone is one of the worst things we can do to a person. It is terrible. It is hurtful. It breaks relationships. It is slander. If we misrepresent a person’s character in a court of law you will find yourself in a great deal of trouble. Misrepresent your boss at work and you’ll be looking for a new job. Treat your wife with such insane behaviour and we’ll hold you down while your wife takes out the cricket bat!  

We are hurt when someone misrepresents us or twists the truth about us. We want to be represented fairly and with dignity. How much more, therefore, must we be careful how we think of God and speak of God. 

The doctrine of the Trinity is almost certainly the most important doctrine there is. We are speaking of matters too great to fully comprehend; to understand fully God would be to have a mind equal to God. Nonetheless, God has spoken in ways to help us know him truly, and so we turn to his word, the Bible.

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Does the Bible teach that God is Trinity?

 

In a search on biblegateway.com we will not find the word Trinity in any Bible translation. Trinity is not a Bible word. The word was first coined in the 2nd century AD by Tertullian, one of the early Church Fathers. Trinity means tri-unity (three in one), indicating that God is three persons in one: one God in three persons. Trinity may not be a Bible word but it is a Biblical concept. Some Christians are very wary about using words that are not found in the Bible, but we all do it – inerrancy and complementarian are two common examples. Extra-Biblical terminology can be helpful so long as the language is carefully defined and understood, and doesn’t move us beyond the logic of Scripture.

 What is the Scriptural support for God being Trinity? The weight of Biblical evidence for the Trinity is significantly greater than what I am about to outline, but what I have included should be sufficient to prove that Christians rightly believe in One God who is three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Trinity in the Old Testament

Let’s begin with the Old Testament. The doctrine of the Trinity is not fully revealed and explained until the New Testament, but we need to appreciate that the God of the New Testament is the God of the Old Testament. We are not Marcionites. Marcion was a second-century heretic who preached that the God of the Old Testament is different from the God of the New Testament, different not only in character but also being. The New Testament writers rejected such an idea and so did Jesus who referred to himself as the I AM, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. One implication of this is that when we read God’s name in the Old Testament, LORD (note the upper case lettering) we should refrain from thinking that it is only referring only to God the Father, as though the Son and Spirit are not included.  

The Old Testament insistently and consistently teaches that God is one:

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.”(Deuteronomy 6:4)

In Mark 12:29 Jesus himself quotes this verse in Mark 12:29, thus affirming that there is only one God. 

“There is no one like you, LORD, and there is no God but you, as we have heard with our own ears.” (1 Chronicles 17:20)

Not only is God one, there is only one God. The Scriptures don’t portray the God of Israel as one of many different gods existing in the ancient world. There were many gods, but they were all fake; human creations serving human desires.

 “This is what the LORD says— 

   Israel’s King and Redeemer, the LORD Almighty: 

I am the first and I am the last; 

   apart from me there is no God. 

7 Who then is like me? Let him proclaim it. 

   Let him declare and lay out before me 

what has happened since I established my ancient people, 

   and what is yet to come— 

   yes, let them foretell what will come. 

8 Do not tremble, do not be afraid. 

   Did I not proclaim this and foretell it long ago? 

You are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me? 

   No, there is no other Rock; I know not one.” (Isaiah 44:6-8)

 God being one is declared page after page in the Old Testament, but there are also hints that God is Trinitarian, by which we mean He is not a monad, but three in one.

In Isaiah 6:8 the prophet meets with God in the temple and God asks,” ‘whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ “ When asking the question, ‘who will go for us?’ God is speaking to himself. Who is the “us”, a royal we? Or is it referring to God being three persons?

 Genesis ch.1 is incredibly helpful for aiding our understanding of the Trinity. It speaks about both the singularity of God and the plurality of God:

   “ 26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

 27 So God created mankind in his own image, 

   in the image of God he created them; 

   male and female he created them.”

 God’s being one is clear. ‘God said’ (verse 26). and ‘God created’ (verse 27). It is not gods (plural), it is God (singular). And yet this one God says, ‘let us make mankind in our image’. The most likely explanation of the ‘us’ is the Trinity.  Men and women are made in the image of God, his own image, and yet God says, let us. What we discover here is that there is plurality in unity. Earlier parts of Genesis ch1 add weight to this view that the Trinity is being portrayed – when God makes the universe he does so through his Word and in the presence of the Spirit. When we come to the New Testament we discover that God the Son is called ‘the word’ and the Spirit is God the Holy Spirit. 

  

Trinity in the New Testament 

 As with the Old Testament, the New Testament affirms that there is one God:

 ‘since there is only one God’ (Romans 3:30)

‘there is one God’ (1 Timothy 2:5) 

What does come to the fore in the New Testament is a much greater clarity given to the tri of the tri-unity, due to the Sovereign purposes of God to reveal and establish the new covenant.

The Gospel of Matthew begins and ends his account of Jesus’ earthly ministry with a theology of the Trinity.

“As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”’ (Matthew 3:16-17)

At Jesus’ baptism Matthew makes the point that each member of the Godhead was present and participating: God the Father is speaking from heaven, Jesus is on earth and is identified by God as his ‘Son whom I love’, the Spirit of God is also present appearing a dove and affirming the Divinity of Christ. Each is described as being God, that is being God in their essence. There is no suggestion here, or anywhere else, of any member of the Trinity being less Divine or inferior to any of the others. The voice from heaven is God and is distinct from the Son, and the Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son. All three are described as God, and yet they are distinct persons.

 At the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus commissions his disciples saying, ‘“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”’ (Matthew 28:18-20)

 

One God in three persons

Notice that we are told, ‘in the name’. Matthew did not write ‘in the names, plural, but ‘name’ singular – in other words, there is one God, and yet this one God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This point is most important: Jesus understands that there is one God, and yet God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. By insisting that One God is Father, Son and Spirit, Jesus has not suggested that these three are emanations of the one, as though sometimes God is Father, sometimes God is son, and sometimes God is Spirit (like an individual who dresses up in the three different ways – sometimes he has his work clothes on, sometimes he has his footy gear on, and other times we stays in his PJs). The belief that God shows himself in three different ways is called modalism, and it is a heresy. In trying to protect the oneness of God we fuse the persons of the Godhead together such that they lose their distinctiveness. 

 You may have heard some people try to explain the Trinity with the analogy of water: water is one substance, but it can appear as a solid (ice), as a liquid, and as a gas (steam) – don’t use it. It’s modalism. I know what it’s trying to do but it doesn’t work because the God of the Bible is not one God in three forms but he is simultaneously one God and three distinct persons, each person being fully and equally God. The three-leaf clover analogy is equally misleading, failing to do justice to the three persons of the Trinity, making God sound like a tri-polar God than the Triune God.

 The Father is God – eternally, fully, and distinct from the Son and Spirit. While not common, the OT does occasionally refer to God as Father. Come the New Testament, God the Father is revealed and worshiped on almost every page. For example, Jesus spoke frequently of God the Father, and most of Paul’s letters begin with the twin blessing of grace and peace from God the Father.

The Son is God – eternally and fully. One of the more common titles attributed to Jesus is Lord. This name, Lord, is used of Jesus in a way similar to the way that Lord is used in the OT and in the OT Lord is God’s most holy name. The NT attributes God’s name to Jesus.

In addition, Jesus understood himself to be God. Jesus took for himself the holy self-appointed name of God, I AM. And we know that the religious establishment in Jesus’ day got so miffed by Jesus’ insistence that they killed him. 

 Following Jesus’ resurrection, Thomas exclaimed of Jesus, ‘my Lord and my God.’ (John 20:28)

The Holy Spirit is God – eternally and fully. He is sometimes referred to as the Spirit of God, and the Spirit of Christ, as well as some other variations. If our knowledge was limited to these references we might be forgiven for thinking that the Bible is not referring to a person distinct from the Father and the Son but simply the spiritual aspect of the Father and the Son, just like when the Bible speaks about the human spirit. But Scripture insists that the Holy Spirit is not only fully God, he is distinct from the Father and the Son.

“then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? 4 Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”’ (Acts 5)

 “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:17-18)

 The Holy Spirit is a person: he can be grieved, he convicts, he speaks, he intercedes, he explains to the Father what we are thinking. The Holy Spirit is God. 

From eternity and always God is, and God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Three persons who are each fully God, equal in substance, equal in status, but distinct. They have the same being but they are different persons. They are one in purpose, but they have different roles. It is this perfect community, where each person does their role in perfect love. The Son obeys the Father, the Father glorifies the Son. The Spirit is sent by the Father and the Son to do their work.

 Christians are right to defend belief in one true God, but we must take care that in guarding God’s oneness we avoid negating the three persons of the Godhead. It is both, together, always. It is as though the Bible’s teaching on this topic follows a narrow path with a dangerous precipice on either side – modalism and tritheism. 

Let’s synthesize this material into four basic propositions about God, the wording which I have borrowed from the ESV Study Bible:

1. There is one and only one true and living God.

2. This one God eternally exists in three persons—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

3. These three persons are completely equal in attributes, each with the same divine nature.

4. While each person is fully and completely God, the persons are not identical.

 

Is this hard to fully grasp? Yes, and that’s ok because we are speaking about God. We cannot expect to understand everything about God because God is greater than ourselves. There is mystery here. I am tempted to provide an analogy to help explain some of the things we’ve been talking about but the reality is, God is without analogy: he is unique, he is other, and the only way we can know him is for him to make himself known and for God on his own terms, to reveal what he chooses. As we grow as Christians, so long as we stick with Scripture, our understanding of the Trinity will grow and we will be able to put more pieces of the puzzle together, but we’ll only finish the puzzle in heaven. Again, that’s ok. 

What does believing in a Triune God mean for us today?

 

I want to finish with sharing some of the implications that come with the doctrine of the Trinity 

i. Knowing this God. The only true God is the Trinitarian God. To not believe this God, is to reject God and to believe a false God. That’s how important this is. 

 Trinity is a Christian doctrine: We are not like Muslims who believe in a monad (one God without three persons). We are not Hindu’s who believe in thousands of gods. We are not Mormons who separate the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit into separate beings. We are not Jehovah’s Witnesses who believe Jesus is an inferior god to the Father and who believe the Holy Spirit is not a person. We are not Unitarians who reject that God is Trinity and we are not Oneness Pentecostals (cf TD Jakes) who are modalists, believing that the One God manifests himself in three different ways (thus rejecting that God is 3 persons). We are not religious feminist deconstructionists who call God Mother. How dare we address God in ways that he has not permitted in Holy Scripture. It matters how we address God, because he is God. The God we know and serve and love is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He is not mother, or angel, or cow, or star or the tree trunk in my backyard. The Trinity is the Christian God and there is no other God. 

ii. This doctrine affects worship. By worship I mean the whole of life. True worship of God involves acknowledging God as he is. In our lives of response to the Gospel we need to acknowledge that God is Father, Son, and Spirit, and rightly acknowledge their being and work amongst us. At Mentone Baptist we do not want to reduce God-talk to God or even to Jesus. We talk about all three members of the Godhead. We teach on all three, and we desire to give to each the weighting that Scripture gives them.

iii. Atonement is made possible. For our sins to be atoned God required someone without sin to bear our sins in our place. The problem is, we are all sinners. No one is without sin, except God. God is also the offended party and the judge. Only the Trinitarian God could become both the subject of salvation and the object, to be both judge and the saviour, to receive the punishment and give it. Only God the Trinity could save us.

 “how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Heb. 9:14).

 iv. All Christian theology is shaped by the Trinity. For example, we saw that earlier that the Father, Son and Spirit were involved in creation. The Apostle Paul tells us that the world was made by Christ and for Christ. The doctrine of revelation is also Trinitarian – the Father speaks words which are about his Son who is the word become flesh, and this Scripture is breathed out by his Spirit. Also, the Spirit points us to the Son through whom we know the Father.

The doctrine of salvation. Salvation is the Father’s, he predestined us before the beginning to be adopted as his Son through Jesus, God’s Son, whom the Father sent into the world to atone for our sins, and the Spirit brings to us the benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection by uniting us to him and regenerating us.

All Christian theology is shaped by the Trinity. That’s why we have 3 point sermons!

 

v. We discover the meaning of life.

The Trinity evidences that life is not about us, it is about others. That is how the Trinity works. The Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father, the Son obeys the Father and the Spirit does the work of the Father and the Son. 

God is love. It is only a Trinitarian God who can love. If God is irreducibly mono, a monad, like he is in Islam, he cannot be inherently loving. To love there must be someone to love. I’m not a husband unless I’m married, I’m not a father unless I have a child, I’m not a friend unless I have a friend. And if God’s love is dependent on us, then he is less than self-fulfilled. God is love is only true because in eternity he is Trinity, 3 persons living in perfect loving communion.  

And we are made in God’s image, to love as he loves, what that reveals is that point of life is to love God and to love others. Life is about God and others. So we organise life around, not filling myself up, but giving to glorify God and to serve others.

vi. The existence of unity and diversity. In a class at Moore College Graeme Goldsworthy once told us, students, that the greatest quandary for philosophers is this, how can there be both unity and diversity? How can we account the oneness and plurality?

 The best explanation we have is the Trinitarian God.

Our universe consists of almost infinite diversity – different elements, different planets, temperatures, climates, continents and islands, diverse flora and fauna, different peoples, languages, cultures, families, vocations, food, hobbies, ideologies. We live in an awe-inspiring diverse cosmos. And yet there is incredible unity; it is a uni-verse. There are basic molecular building blocks that make all life possible. Human beings may live in different places and have diverse cultures and languages, and yet we share a great commonality, we are all human.

 It is the great philosophical question, diversity and unity – can there be both? How can diversity derive from oneness, and vice versa. We ought to consider the Triune God. The Bible shouts at us that the heavens and the earth declare the glory of God. Just as a painting bears the marks of its painter, so does the universe. We look at the universe and see tremendous diversity and unity. How can these two seemingly polar categories co-exist?  The Christian doctrine of God as Trinity is the most substantive philosophical answer there is.

  

‘May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.’ (2 Corinthians 13:14)

 

 

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*I owe much to Robert Letham’s volume, The Holy Trinity 

This article was first put together for my congregation at Mentone Baptist Church back in 2015

Seven Statements about the Israel Folau Church revelations

An exclusive report has been published in today’s Sydney Morning Herald, providing ‘new’ information about Israel Folau and his church, suggesting their theology is extreme and out of touch with mainstream Christianity. The article seems to be aimed further pushing wedges between Israel Folau and those who have been supporting him (which is partly odd given there are many non-Christians supporting him)

 

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1. We mustn’t ignore credible information, even if it may be uncomfortable. Should it be accurate, Christians will be concerned.

2. Some of the reported information is yet to be confirmed. Given much of the SMH reporting on Israel Folau, it is unsurprising that readers receive this new article with some suspicion. An example would be John Tait’s attempt to deconstruct Folau’s use of the Bible in the offending post, Did Israel Folau actually misquote the Bible? Hell, yes (read my response to this inaccurate piece here  ).

3. Some of the information isn’t new and hasn’t been hidden by Christians. For example, Folau’s view on the Trinity. On April 11th, 2019 I wrote,

“More important, someone has brought to my attention that Folau seems, at the very least, to be confused by the Christian teaching of the Trinity. His comments on the Trinity that have been shared with me are troubling, to say the least. This doesn’t negate the 5 points made in this post, but it may cause us to reevaluate Folau’s understanding of Christianity.  I suspect that many Christians, in explaining God, fall into one Trinitarian heresy or another, simply because they haven’t been taught the Scriptures well. Perhaps he needs a Christian brother to get alongside him and disciple him with a Bible in hand (don’t we all?). The doctrine of the Trinity, however, is too important, too central to the Christian faith, for us to ignore.”

4. Most Protestant Christians have serious concerns over some key Roman Catholic doctrines and many Christians also share concerns over the teaching and practices at Hillsong. There is nothing exceptional in this

5. Orthodox Christian doctrine matters more to Christians than politics and law.

6. Current Christian advocacy for religious freedom has not only been about Christians but about sustaining a positive social pluralism in Australia for all Australians.

7. Even if Israel Folau’s theology is heterodox, that does not diminish the issue of his wrongful sacking by Rugby Australia. Should only mainstream Christianity be protected by commonsense and law?

 


I will add an eighth: two things can be true at the same time: Folau’s post was close to the mark (in terms of reflecting classical Christian teaching) and his views on the Trinity and some other matters is wide of the mark (not reflecting classical Christian teaching). The latter doesn’t preclude the former from being accurate.

A response to John Tait’s critique of Izzy’s use of the Bible

Like many other people, I reached peak Izzy some weeks ago. While Israel Folau isn’t making headlines every day now, different aspects of the story are still being discussed in the media.  The Sydney Morning Herald has today published an opinion piece which aims to shed light on Folau’s use of the Bible (or should that be misuse?). However, some of the arguments are misleading, even grossly incorrect, and therefore a response is required.

The author of the article,  John Tait, describes himself as, “an agnostic, lapsed Catholic, Master of Theology, former Charismatic Christian”. He feels a compulsion to bring truth and clarity to the question of Israel Folau and the Bible.  How successful is Tait?  Not so good. He gets a couple of things right,  and he fudges a few facts and he completely ignores the most obvious and relevant fact.

 

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John Tait opens by sending out a somewhat disparaging remark toward Australian theologians, “I have been waiting for a theologian or biblical scholar to come forward and address Folau’s misuse of scripture in his controversial post”. I can think of several Christian leaders who have offered commentary about Folau’s use of the Bible. Perhaps what Tait means is that he hasn’t yet found a theologian who entirely agrees with his exegesis.

He also asks why no one is investigating Folau’s Church. Perhaps he doesn’t remember those journalists who have been trolling the church’s facebook group and then cutting and pasting excerpts from Folau’s preaching. Tait attempts to offer a description, 

“All that I can gather is that he is a member of an evangelical congregation somewhere in Sydney’s north-western suburbs.”

Perhaps we should assume that Tait is using ‘evangelical’ in its original and positive sense, rather than the derogative way it is most often applied in the media today.

Bible Translations

First of all, when Tait dismisses the King James Version of the Bible, he is partially correct when he suggests that modern versions better reflect the original text. Textual criticism is an informed science which involves the study of early Bible manuscripts, and it is incredibly fruitful for Bible translating. Scholars conclude with great confidence that the Bible translations we have today are incredibly reliable and can be said to be true versions of the original. The King James Version is still considered by biblical experts as a faithful translation, even though there are few small places where it appears that the KJV translators made a wrong judgment call. If we take the example at hand, Galatians 5:9-11, the similarities between the KJV and newer translations are striking. The only notable difference is that the KJV includes murder in the list. This was done because some ancient manuscripts mention murder, while modern translations leave it out on account that the earliest and best manuscripts do not include it.

“19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery;20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (NIV)

“19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,21 envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” (KJV)

These are not Jesus’ words. So what?

Second, Tait says of Galatians 5:19-21, “They are not the words of Jesus. They are the words of Saint Paul”. So what? Tait seems to be implying that these bible verses are less ‘divine’ or less important because they are uttered by Paul and not by Jesus. That’s not how the Bible works. All Scripture is God-breathed, meaning that it is all authored by God whether those words are the Old Testament, the Gospels, or the New Testament letters. Indeed, Jesus himself identifies all of Scripture as being about him, and he directly gave the Apostles authority to speak and teach his Gospel to others. The Apostolic testimony is the reliable and Christ given word about Jesus to the Church and the world. Tait denigrating the place of Paul’s words is not a Christian explanation of how the Bible works or of how to read the Bible. Galatians 5:19-21 is as authoritative to Christians as is Matthew ch.5.

Nothing about hell

Third, the Kingdom of God is related to the theme of heaven and hell.

Taits argues,

“You will also notice that there is nothing in the passage from Galatians about these sinners going to hell. The early Christians were expecting the imminent arrival of the resurrected Jesus to usher in the Kingdom of God. To be part of that you needed to repent and believe. This was urgent business. They believed that the world as they knew it was coming to an end. Many evangelical Christians still cling on to the same vain hope.

…This expectation of the Kingdom of God has nothing to do with going to heaven or hell when you die. It is about the end of the world. The concept of ‘hell’ that Folau is talking about was developed later in church history.”

With an air of intellectual snobbery over those dumb and intellectually prosaic Christians, Tait can’t resist throwing out another snide remark, “Many evangelical Christians still cling on to the same vain hope”. We’ll let the keeper take that one while I instead respond to his argument about hell.

1. He is correct when saying that the Galatians passage does not mention hell (not explicitly anyway).

2. He is right in suggesting that we shouldn’t view the kingdom of God as a synonym for heaven and hell. He is however misleading readers into thinking that the two concepts are poles apart; that is not the case. Kingdom of God is a broader concept than heaven and hell, but it is one that includes the idea of eternity and of a new heaven and new earth. Even hell is not outside the rule of God, but it is a place of punishment in contrast to the place of life.

3. He is incorrect to insist there is no relationship between Kingdom of God and hell. Galatians 5:21 speaks directly of exclusion from the kingdom of God on account of living in unrepentant sin. What does it mean to be excluded from the Kingdom? Where do these people exist if they are not part of God’s Kingdom? Exclusion is not without location.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus speaks of the character of life among those who belong to God’s Kingdom, and he contrasts this with the character of those who are in danger of hell. Jesus depicts two very different lifestyles which represent two very different allegiances and domains, the Kingdom of Heaven and a place which Jesus calls hell. Folau speaking of hell is entirely consistent with the meaning of Galatians ch.5 and 1 Corinthians ch.6.

4. He is incorrect to say that Folau’s view of hell was developed later in church history. A quick survey of the Bible testifies against Tait’s theory. Jesus’ own words demonstrate that Tait is mistaken:

“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matt 10:28)

“And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.” (Matt 18:9)

The Bible describes heaven and hell as places created by and belonging to God, as much as this universe is made by the same God. Biblical authors may at times borrow language from other places to help readers understand what heaven and hell are about (of much greater influence on the New Testament is a heavy dependence on the Old Testament), but to imply that the Biblical teaching should be traced to another religious milieu is both unnecessary and counters the Scriptures themselves (i.e. Acts 17:16-31).

 

Is homosexuality absent?

Fourth, Tait’s most glaring sin is the fact that he completely overlooks 1 Corinthians 6 in relation to Folau’s mention of homosexuality. Tait wants us to believe that Folau has included homosexuality for ‘bias’ reasons, over and against what the Bible says.

“Note however, that Galatians 5:19-21 does not, in any translation, mention homosexuals. Folau and whoever wrote the original post have projected homosexuality into the promiscuous category. That is their bias.”

Tait is right to say  Galatians 5:19-21 doesn’t mention homosexuality, but the graphic displayed on Folau’s post isn’t summarising Galatians 5:19-21 but another Bible passage, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. In the 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 list, homosexuality is mentioned explicitly.

To be sure, the paraphrase is not entirely reflective of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, for atheists, are not mentioned by Paul here, while the greedy and revilers are in the biblical text and missing from the graphic. However, does this mean that the graphic misrepresents Bible messaging? Atheists may not be included in 1 Corinthians but they are referred to elsewhere in the Bible and I’m pretty sure no atheist wants to be included in the Kingdom of God; it would be kinda awkward for them!

If there is a due criticism, it is this, the post says ‘homosexuality’, rather than the more accurate ‘those who practice homosexuality’. It is not a sin to be same-sex attracted. Christians and Churches do not believe that men and women who are attracted to the same sex are condemned to hell.  Our churches have many wonderful men and women who love Jesus and accept the Bible’s teaching on sexuality and who are living whole and meaningful lives without entering into sexual relationships outside heterosexual marriage, even though they admit to having same-sex attraction. The text in Corinthians refers to those who practice or engage in homosexual activity, just as though two heterosexual people engage in a sexual relationship that is not within the covenant of marriage. The whys and meaning of all this is important, but the discussion point here concerns Tait’s indefensible omission regarding Folau’s use of 1 Corinthians 6 which explicitly mentions homosexuality.

 

We don’t require a Bible Scholar to comment on Folau’s use of the Bible, for the Scriptures are available for any and all to read. Perhaps we should read this book which has done more to shape human thinking and our culture than any other. Even from the standpoint of curiosity and wanting to understand Australian culture, we would do well to open the pages of the Bible, and in doing so we might be surprised by what we find. John Tait has made some attempt, but he has made numerous basic errors and one glaring omission which I still cannot fathom.

The biggest shame about Izzy’s post is that he didn’t say more and point his followers to  verse 11 of Corinthians ch.6 and to the contrast Paul makes in Galatians 5:22-23. While the Bible is deeply concerned about what is wrong in the world, the wonder of Christianity is that God sees us and yet lovingly offers an alternative, one that we don’t deserve.

“9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-11)

“22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:22-24)

The Unity and Diversity Paradox

Is it a rabbit or is it a duck?

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The nature of unity and diversity within Christianity has captivated and confused churches, denominations and Christian organisations for centuries. Unity and diversity can sometimes seem like polar opposites, and yet they can co-exist and in the Gospel we find that they do. However, what does the unity/diversity paradox look like in a Christian Church? What does it mean to be united? How diverse should we be and diverse in what?
Navigating the waters of unity and diversity can be trickier than piloting a supertanker up Port Phillip Bay, but it’s made even harder if we ignore the navigation system that is provided for ships to follow. For that reason, we must turn to the Bible and ask what does the Bible teach us about unity and diversity in the Christian Church?

The Bible affirms unity

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is God’s instrument that brings humanity to God. The Gospel isn’t an indefinable feeling or idea; the Gospel is a message that has concrete meaning and significance. The Gospel is God’s good news about Jesus Christ, his atoning death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead. At the heart of this message is God’s gracious gift of justification that we receive through faith in Christ.
We discover that through this Gospel of Jesus Christ, God has made two relationships possible: we are united to God (Eph 2:13, 16-18) and we are united to each other (2:14-15, 20). Christian unity begins and continues through faith in this Gospel.
In Ephesians chapter 4 the Apostle Paul stresses the importance of and joy of Christian unity. He is focusing on the local church, but nonetheless, Paul’s theology extends beyond the parameters of the local gathering of believers. We do not establish Christian unity, that work belongs alone to Christ through his shed blood on the cross and by the Spirit of God who unites us firstly to God in Christ, and through him to one another (Eph 2:11-22). Yet Paul insists that we need to work hard at maintaining this unity and growing this unity. Growing unity will be expressed through works of service, love, speaking the truth in love, and Christian maturity (which necessarily includes theological maturity, not diversity). It is interesting to note that this increasing sense of unity grows out of the ministry of the word (4:11).
There is sometimes a false dichotomy introduced between relationship and doctrine as though unity is found by being in relationship with one another, as opposed to doctrine which has the propensity to divide. However, unity is a commitment grounded in common assent to the Gospel; it is both relational and doctrinal (i.e. 1 Tim 4:16). Two ingredients are necessary for authentic unity to grow and mature: love and truth (both are found in and come from Christ). In Ephesians 4 Paul describes this dynamic growth as stemming from the ministry of the word of God. As the word of God rules the Church, her people are equipped for works of service and the outcome is maturity, strengthening, speaking the truth in love, and growth. Interestingly, when truth is absent or hidden, the effect on the church is devastating,
“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming” (4:14).

The Bible affirms diversity

Ephesians ch.2 wonderfully describes the power of the Gospel to break down the barrier between Jew and Gentile; by the shed blood of Christ, the two people become one.
Gospel unity is not uniformity. There is a type of diversity that is to be welcomed and even desired. In the Gospel, God draws together men & women, young and old, people from every race and language, and from different cultures. Such demographic diversity reflects God’s purposes in the world.
Within the local church, there is also a diversity of gifts given by God, and there are many different opportunities to serve the body and to love the local community.
A further reality is that no single church can reach every person from every culture and place. Thus a diversity of churches in different places and with various cultural expressions is natural and laudable.
What about theological diversity? To my knowledge nowhere does the New Testament encourage or endorse a diversity of theological persuasions. There a couple of places that suggest that this may occur (ie the weaker brother in Romans 13) but it is a recognition of a situation rather than being something desired. There are, however, many examples where the Bible condemns theological diversity and proponents of those teachings are spoken of in the most severe manner.
Theological diversity is a reality, but it is not a desirable one and at times it requires churches to respond. I want to make note of the following examples of theological diversity:
i. This is one significant reason for the existence of denominations.
ii. A different standard exists for leaders than for congregation members (cf 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus 1:5-16; James 3:1). While new Christians have a newly found love for God, it is normal for them to have many questions and lack discernment over many theological matters (cf.1 Timothy 3:6). Leaders, however, are rightly expected to hold deeply to the faith and to be disciplined when they err.
iii. While there are no unimportant doctrines, Christians have historically believed that some doctrines are more central than others. Even in the New Testament, we have a suggestion that certain beliefs are primary. Paul, for example, outlines in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 matters of ‘primary importance’. Christians have historically disagreed over matters like church governance, baptism, Charismatic gifts and eschatology, but over many other matters, any disagreement has been rightly deemed heterodox.
iv. Important to contemporary debates is 1 Timothy 1:8-11:
           “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, 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 that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.”
This passage is relevant to our discussion on unity and diversity for several reasons: sound doctrine is integrally connected to the Gospel, and we learn that sinful acts also contradict sound doctrine. There is no room for redefining sins as good and accepting them as Christians practices. If the Bible teaches that a particular act is sinful and keeps people from God’s Kingdom and is a reason for God to reveal his wrath, then there can be no doubt that to accept diversity of opinion here is to deny unity in the Gospel

Solving the unity/diversity tension

When it comes to applying this tension to actual relationships we should be aware of our own natural preferences, which may be to emphasise unity over diversity or diversity over unity. We all have blind spots, which is why we need to humbly return again and again to God’s word for correction and direction.
True Gospel unity and diversity is stunning; the alternatives shouldn’t be entertained. When God says something “is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God,” we must listen and obey. It is not enough for us to say that we agree with Paul, for if we then proceed to claim unity with someone who denies Paul we become complicit with them against Scripture; we have decided against Scripture that it is right to partner with persons (or groups) that hold views contrary to the Gospel. If the Gospel of Jesus is the thing that unites us and it is rejected, then what is it that unites?
I began with this article with a maritime metaphor and I want to conclude with a building metaphor from Ezekiel. In Ezekiel 13:9-11 God speaks of a “flimsy wall” being built and of the builders whitewashing the wall in order to hide its poor construction. When Christians attempt to build an organisation without strong foundations and firm doctrinal convictions we end up with a flimsy wall. We can dress it up with colourful paint and make it look attractive, and we can draw smiley faces around it, but the rain will eventually wash off the paint and the wind will tear it down.
We have established that the Gospel brings both unity and diversity, but both are given parameters by Scripture. The proper beginning point is a clearly articulated and defended exposition of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Diversity of age, culture, race, etc flows out of the singular Gospel. In other words, the unity/diversity paradox that Churches and many Christian organisations face will only be resolved when we believe and practice the unity and diversity that is found in Christ, as explained by the Scriptures.
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This is an updated version of an article posted at mentonebaptist.com.au from 2013

The Uniting Church of Victoria/Tasmania votes to use Euthanasia

The Uniting Church has been chasing after the culture ever since its creation in 1977. While there are evangelical churches and ministers within Australia’s 3rd largest Protestant denomination, they are relatively few, and these have been engaging in formal discussions to review their association within the denomination. If the final nail in the coffin hadn’t already been laid, surely it has after today’s proceedings.

Today, the Uniting Church (Synod of Victoria and Tasmania), voted in support of motions to allow euthanasia in their agencies.

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In a statement released on their website we read,

“Key points from the resolution included:

There was a range of faithful Christian responses to voluntary assisted dying.

Exploring, accessing and conscientiously objecting to voluntary assisted dying were all within the range of faithful Christian responses to the Victorian Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017.

To give permission within Victoria to UCA institutions (Uniting Vic.Tas and Uniting AgeWell) and the UCA-affiliated hospital group Epworth HealthCare to make voluntary assisted dying allowable within the context of their facilities and services for their patients, clients and residents.

Moderator Rev Denise Liersch said afterwards: “The decision was made after a long period of careful consideration, discussion, and prayer.

“As followers of Jesus, we affirm that all human life is precious and has God-given dignity.

“We believe allowing voluntary assisted dying in our agencies, under the constraints of the legislation, is consistent with this belief.

“The Synod will prepare pastoral responses and resources that reflect the Synod’s decision.

“The Synod acknowledged that exploring, accessing, and conscientiously objecting to voluntary assisted dying was within the range of faithful Christian responses to the Victorian Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017.

“As outlined in the legislation, any individual in our agencies or Church members may act in accordance with their own conscience in this matter.

“I was impressed with the way in which the Synod members grappled with this issue openly, honestly and faithfully with its theological and practical implications.”

 

Let’s get our heads around the moderator’s assertion, “in the name of Jesus…voluntary assisted dying in our agencies, under the constraints of the legislation, is consistent with this belief”.

‘In the name of Jesus’, we support the killing of terminally ill human beings?! What a disgrace to attach Christ’s name to such an ignominious and evil practice. 

It doesn’t matter how much they couch the decision in terms of careful discussions or extended times of prayer and thought, or listening to ‘expert’ panels, a wrong decision is still a wrong decision. This is not the first controversial decision to be made by the Uniting Church. In 2018 the Uniting Church (Synod of Victoria and Tasmania) adopted same-sex marriage. With an unsurprising congruity, a denomination known for its ‘liberal theology’ is quickly falling into line with mainstream positions on many social issues, including calling for the decriminalisation of illicit drugs, and vocal support of abortion among some of its leaders, including the Victorian Synod’s bioethics committee. The very trajectory designed to make their churches more inclusive is, in fact, making them redundant. Why become Christian and join a Church if Christianity simply mirrors the worldview I already hold? According to the 2016 Census, the Uniting Church is one of the fastest declining denominations in the country, losing around 22% members since 2011 (almost 200,000 people). There is little doubt that the direction will continue.

The Uniting Church has already littered the landscape with graves where there were once churches, and now they are giving consent for their health agencies to sanction euthanasia. It is one thing for a Government to legalise euthanasia, but for an association of Christian churches to stand together and vote in favour of their own agencies to allow this practice? And then have the audacity to attach the name of Jesus to this?

As I pastor I am not immune to the terrible suffering people experience, including among some who have a terminal illness. As a member of the community, I’m not blind to awful suffering experienced by friends and family. No one wants people suffering, and yet there is a line we ought not to cross, namely sanctioning the killing of human beings because they are ill. Hundreds of medical professionals urged the Victorian Parliament not to accept this legislation, but instead provide proper funding to palliative care. Sadly their concerns and appeals were ignored. 

This is State sanctioned suicide which has now become Church approved suicide. When Churches decide that handing out lethal pills to patients is in accord with the Christian faith, it is clear that they have long deserted the faith and are now following a very different religion to the one taught in the Scriptures. The fruit of today’s decision may lead to the deaths of vulnerable people who are using Uniting Church health facilities. It is hard to grasp how such fruit can ever be equated with the work of the Holy Spirit or with a Christian Church. The careful use of doublespeak, i.e. giving employees freedom of conscience on this issue, does not remove the force of the Synod’s decision. The same tactic was employed in last year’s marriage debate. 

No doubt there will be Christians within the Uniting Church of Victoria/Tasmania who are tonight grieving this decision. These brothers and sisters need our prayers as they discern what to do.  Many other Christians share their grief tonight and we ask for God’s mercy. 

 

 


Update July 15: A few people have responded to the article, saying that the Uniting Church has not accepted euthanasia, but rather VAD (voluntary assisted dying). First of all, euthanasia is the big umbrella term, with VAD being one form of euthanasia. Second, voluntary assisted dying is a disingenuous term that seeks to cover the reality, which is, it is voluntary assisted suicide. I believe it is important for churches to have integrity and to name things accurately.