The Premier and an Archbishop and a Mediating Baptist

A war of words has broken out between the Victorian Government and the Roman Catholic Church. The Premier is bidding to outlaw the seal of the confessional while Catholic hierarchy is defending it as sacrosanct.

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First of all, I need to note an important correction to the Premier’s statement. Most ministers of most churches are required to report suspected child abuse, according to the rules of their own denomination. Indeed, mandatory reporting is practiced by Baptists across Victoria (and indeed, around the nation) and we want this to be the case. Even if it was not mandatory, we would still report suspected child abuse. It makes no sense not to do so.

The Confessional

Canon law states that”The sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason.”

Any priest who breaks the seal is automatically excommunicated from the church. Only the Pope can overturn this.

Melbourne Catholic Archbishop Peter Comensoli has come out and said that he would prefer to go to jail than break the seal of the confessional. While saying that he would encourage an offender to go to the police, he wouldn’t break the seal if they refused to do so.

At the moment I think both Archbishop Comensoli and Premier Daniel Andrews are missing the mark.

On the one hand, I commend Daniel Andrews for taking further action on this terrible issue. And yet his rhetoric about putting ‘children first’ rings a little hollow. There are those in the community who are concerned for all children and aggrieved by the fact that vulnerable children become hay in politicking. The Premier’s record demonstrates that he often puts ideology first. For example, he ensured that an amendment to the Abortion Law Reform Act was defeated, a step which would have protected children from late-term abortion. Also, the rebirth of the birth certificate bill puts children at risk. In 2016 he introduced an amendment to the Equal Opportunity Act which would have stripped religious organisations, schools, and churches, of their freedom to insist that employees adhere to the doctrinal and ethical convictions of their religious institution.

At the same time, the issue of child sexual abuse has exposed a theological flaw in Catholic dogma, as well as a moral one. The Confessional grew out of an inflated and unbiblical notion of the priesthood. One could enter into a long discussion here about the historical and theological premises the lay behind the seal of the confessional, but in short, this is not a practice encouraged by or mandated in the Bible. Indeed, it clearly conflicts with the teaching of the New Testament Church.

“For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus,” (1 Timothy 2:5).

No priest can absolve another person’s sins, let alone their own. We can certainly confess our own sins to those whom we have offended and to ask for their forgiveness. There is a place for corporate confession to God. But no priest can represent God and absolve another’s sin. We can listen to others and offer advice, but we cannot stand as Divine judge over a person and officiate Divine forgiveness or judgment. 

As a member of the community who is not Roman Catholic, one of the things that continues to concern me is how Archdiocese’s rhetoric continues to signal the wrong message; namely that they do not truly take child sexual abuse seriously. As a father of three children, this sickens me and makes me empathise with those who no longer trust religious institutions. I wish to say that the real Jesus is safe and good, and many churches are safe and wonderful places to investigate and come to terms with the greatest realities of life. But this immense positive is often lost in the face of due public scrutiny of institutions who have failed our children.

The Conscience and the Government

As I consider the debate, there are broader questions that should not be ignored. We mustn’t overlook for example these two further considerations: the conscience, and the role of Government. The conscience of individuals is important, even when we disagree with their religious views. The conscience is, of course, not God or infallible The Bible acknowledges that the conscience can be seared as with a hot iron (1 Timothy 4:2). However, we should be slow to stamp our own conscience on others.

We must also be wary of Government intrusion into religious practices. Do we really want Government dictating what are and are not valid religious convictions? I am not supporting the Roman Catholic Church’s position; I find it reprehensible. But neither do I believe it is right or healthy for the Government to interfere with a church’s traditional teaching. The issue is further complexed because Daniel Andrews is right in suggesting that religious leaders are not and should not be outside the law. In my view, both Mr Andrews and the Catholic Archbishop are throwing speech bombs at each other rather than working toward a solution.

A potential solution

Perhaps the most sensible solution that I have seen thus far comes from the words of a progressive Muslim, Waleed Aly. I don’t think it’s foolproof by any measure, but at least it is an offering in the right direction In 2018, writing for the New York Times, Aly rightly notes that a law, such as the one being proposed today, will fail because the consequences facing a priest who breaks the confessional are far greater than those imposed by the State. In addition, given the nature of the confessional, it is unlikely that those sealed revelations made by abusers will be uncovered by authorities.

“the royal commission reported on testimony from several priests who said, in the words of one, that a priest hearing confessions “has always been required to have at least ‘moral certitude’ of the penitent’s contrition and purpose of amendment before granting absolution.”

Accordingly, the commission’s said that “a priest can defer granting absolution until the act of satisfaction” has been carried out. For example, the report says, a confessed abuser would not be forgiven by a priest unless he reports himself to the police. Several priests told the commission that this is exactly what priests hearing confession should do.

This approach is far more likely to curtail reoffending than any attempt to compromise the institution of the confessional. It certainly addresses the commission’s finding that the easy availability of absolution contributes to reoffending. It would increase the likelihood that abusers will go to the authorities since it is the only way they can receive forgiveness.

And since keeping the state out of the confession booth wouldn’t require priests to commit an excommunicable offense, it is far more likely to be applied than a law that extends mandatory reporting into the confessional booth.”

Waleed Aly has offered an alternative, which may work. This position will remain distasteful for many Christians because it upholds a practice that undermines the sole and sufficient mediatorial work of Jesus Christ. This is an unnecessary tradition and one that gives false assurances to those who make use of the confessional. The confessional remains a box in which a man presumes the role of God. At yet, could Aly’s proposal allow conscience to be preserved and hold back undue Governmental interference into religious doctrinal matters?

I am calling on the Melbourne Archdiocese to re-evaluate their unsound and unethical practice of confessional seal. And I call on the Government to work harder to provide a workable and important solution to protect our children. Indeed, much good has come from this evil in recent years and I pray that we continue on this road.

Growing Concerns over treatment for children

Self-identifying genderism is perhaps not so free. The Australian has published a series of articles that should concern parents across the nation, especially those living in Victoria.

Last week Cricket Australia announced that men can now play for women’s teams, so long as their testosterone levels remain below 10 nanomoles per litre continuously for 12 months or more

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Last week the NSW Legislative Assembly passed legislation that not only decriminalises abortion but will permit late-term abortion and gender-selective abortion. The latter proves the idiocy under which our society now governs the definition of sex and gender. We are being told that a penis and vagina is no indication of what constitutes male and female, and neither can xy or xx chromosomes. And yet, a woman is being given the legal right to terminate a pregnancy based on the biological assumption that the baby is a girl or boy. The Spectator last week published a telling cartoon in which a baby girl in the womb is crying out to the doctor who is about to kill her, ‘Stop, I identify as a boy’.

This week the Victorian Parliament is debating legislation which will allow boys and girls to change the gender on their birth certificates without needing sex reassignment surgery. A person does not even require a signed letter from a medical practitioner or psychologist as evidence that the person believes they are a gender that differs from their biological sex.

There is a dangerous shift taking place in our culture, one where children are victims to unscientific social engineering. As a Father with 3 children, this movement toward initiating hormonal therapy and sex reassignment surgery on children is staggering in its myopic vision and ethical bullying.

According to a report in The Australian, since 2014, 2415 children have been referred for medical gender treatment in Australia. There has been a 41% increase in cases in Victoria, which coincides with the introduction of the Safe Schools program, and with Dr Roz Ward and others encouraging gender transition inside local schools across the State.

Bernard Lane explains,

“Girls as young as nine are ­believed to be put on “puberty blocker” drugs, and boys from about 11.”

The article also notes growing concerns amongst paediatricians. Professor Whitehall said, “Who gave ethics approval for this treatment (at children’s hospitals) when it lacks any scientific basis and therefore is an experiment?…We should give the psychiatry and psychology a full run before we start castrating children.”

Of course, ideology always influences political and societal thinking, and the medical fraternity is not immune to this. Most doctors have integrity and only give advice to patients based on best knowledge and practice, but neither are they free from social pressures being applied by ideologues who are intent on cutting away all residue of the biological and traditional understanding of men and women and the social structures upon which we build communities. Bernard Lane notes that in the United Kingdom, lobbying from transgender groups is “contaminating clinical decisions”. Also, doctors in Australia are afraid to speak out on the issue because of the possibility of professional ostracisation and job loss.

The fact that there is a significant rise in gender transitioning where Safe Schools is most prevalent, raises questions. Is there a correlation?

Also writing in The Australian, Jennifer Oriel today has further justified concerns. She begins,

“castrating children” is the phrase used by pediatrics profess John Whitehall to describe unscientific experimentation on youth in the name of transgenderism.”

At the very least, these revelations should cause us to pause and investigate the claims being made.

In the normal state of affairs, the kind of psychological and physical intrusion being thrust upon these kids would amount to abuse. They are crying out for help, but not short term and potentially devastating manipulation of their bodies. This is also likely to cause long term harm to children, not least because most gender dysphoria children will want to identify with the birth sex by the time they reach adulthood.

In raising the subject we must not cast dispersions onto these children or onto transgender people. As I have said on many occasions, all people have inherent dignity and worth, and we are to love and care for them no matter their sex and gender. That does not, however, indicate that every social decision is healthy and good. This doesn’t entail that every choice made by an individual is right or beneficial. However, those responsible for pushing this new wave of gender ideology ought to be held to account. Those who have jumped on board legislations that will inevitably harm children, have a duty to pause further amendments to the law. Instead, the wellbeing of our children demands that the concerns of medical experts are heard and steps are taken to investigate what is now taking place in our schools and in some clinics.

 


Here’s one example of a recent article with a psychologist expressing concerns  – https://t.co/JDW3s4Bt8d?amp=1

NSW loses its moral impetus

It was only a few months ago that the public was shocked by words and sights coming from the United States. New York City lit up the night sky in the colour pink to celebrate the passing of abortion laws.

Virginia Governor, Ralph Northam, made the suggestion 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”

Similar words and images are now home in New South Wales.

In an attempt to curb the cruellest edges of legislation that will decriminalise abortion in that State, several amendments were presented and voted down. One of these amendments asked that babies who are born alive following a botched abortion (as can happen) must be given due medical attention. The majority of MPs voted against the amendment, arguing that a living boy or girl can be killed or left to die outside the womb. This is legalised infanticide.

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Tweet by David Ould

As the extreme abortion laws were passed in the New South Wales Parliament House last night, the Sydney Morning Herald ran with the headline, “Cheers and Applause as lower house votes to decriminalise abortion in NSW”.

Assuming the Bill will also pass the Legislative Council, will the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge be lit in the colour pink? Will Macquarie street be filled celebrations? Last night’s laudable triumphs in the halls of Parliament suggests that this may indeed occur. It is one thing to vote to take innocent human life,  but it is unnecessary and gross to celebrate it.

As a Victorian, living in a State that already has such ignominious laws, I weep for my NSW friends today.

Australia in 2019 has become a strange and disturbing land in some respects. For example, logic rarely wins debates in our culture. Scientific facts are unlikely to move a person’ position. What is obvious can no longer be stated as such. The most basic observable units of reality are contested. If the acknowledged humanity of a person does not suffice for offering protection and rights, we have indeed walked off the precipice without a rope. What is true no longer matters and what is good is an unwelcome obstacle to personal choice: I have become god and there is no other. This rampant individualism comes at a cost, and the cost today will be the lives of 10,000s of young children, many who will be aborted because they are girls or because they may suffer some kind of physical or mental disability.

In many of life’s unimportant measures (food, sport, and everything else) Victoria runs ahead of NSW. But when it came to those all-important ethical subjects, NSW often stood tall when Victoria turned south. Sadly, NSW has now followed Victoria and the other Australian States in losing its moral authority. Indeed, many Churches have already overturned their moral voice because of deep-seated sins. How can a society speak of defending life and humanity when we are bent on destroying the youngest and most vulnerable of lives? Our voice has become shard, an empty and hypocritical shrill.

I am not suggesting that there are women who aren’t in heart-wrenching circumstances. Not for a second am I whitewashing real and difficult situations that face some women when falling pregnant. A loving society would gather around them and support them. In Victoria there are many churches who would open their arms to help these women; I have seen this with my own eyes. There are organisations, such as the amazing The Babes Project who assist pregnant women who are struggling to decide whether to keep their child or not. Governments could invest in such positive community agencies rather than turning to the awful alternatives.

The passing of the abortion Bill in the Lower House will create some big winners in NSW and many losers:

The big losers:

– 10,000s of young children every year

– Children with disability

– Young girls

– Mothers

– Fathers

– Society who will never see the contributions of these little ones whose lives are cut short.

The big winners:

– Men who don’t want the responsibility of caring for their children

– Abortion Providers

 

Before anyone retorts, but you’re a man, you shouldn’t have a voice on this women’s issue, let’s remember that the Bill’s chief architect is also a man, Alex Greenwich. Why hasn’t he been told to keep his nose out of women’s affairs? The reason is obvious, he supports the decriminalisation of abortion, that’s why? Men have a role to play in the making of babies, and most women believe that men have a responsibility in raising children; I agree. Of the children who are aborted, thousands are little boys. It is surely incumbent upon men to speak for women’s health and dignity as well as the health and dignity of the unborn.

In the days of Ancient Rome Christians found and took in unwanted babies who were left on hillsides to die of exposure. In 18th Century England, Christian groups opened orphanages to care for children whose parents couldn’t support them. Churches can once again open our eyes to needs in our communities and find ways to support and love women who are facing an unwanted or difficult pregnancy. How can we put away the platitudes and open up our hearts to them? Society has lost its way, but the imperative remains for us to live like the Lord Jesus. How can we sacrifice and present a better way forward, for the good of women, the life of children, and the health of our society?

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)

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)

Help Australians to understand the Bible

It has been reported today that Raelene Castle, the Chief Executive Officer of Rugby Australia, would still have sacked Israel Folau had he only posted Bible verses stated in the hearing against Israel Folau that she would have sacked him, even if the only thing he did was to post

Miranda Devine writes,

“Raelene ­Castle effectively damned the Bible as hate speech in astonishing unreported testimony at Israel Folau’s code of conduct hearing in May.

She declared it is the Bible itself which is offensive when she testified before a panel of three judges who went on to find Folau guilty of a “high level breach” for posting a biblical quote calling on “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters” to repent or face hell.

Castle told panel chairman John West, QC, that some biblical passages are unacceptable, and that even if Folau had posted a photocopy of a Bible page, he still would have been sacked.

West asked Castle: “What if Mr Folau had photocopied passages from the Bible and simply posted that on his ­social media pages, would that have caused a problem for you?”

Castle replied: “I think it depends on which ones — which pages he photocopied.”

West asked: “If he’d photocopied the passages that are referred to in the posts would that have caused a problem for you?”

Castle, “Yes it would have.” 

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Bible in the Victorian Parliamentary Library

The Bible itself is apparently offensive and to be defined as hate speech.  Today’s revelations are not the first instance of throwing the Bible onto the bonfire of popular opinion. Gregory Callaghan suggested in The Age yesterday that,

“If we continued to take every biblical injunction seriously, slavery, the subjugation of women, stoning, cutting off hands, and being barred from wearing clothes woven of two kinds of fabric would be still in force.”

We have an issue in Australia with widespread biblical illiteracy and ignorance. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy that shouldn’t surprise anyone, given the deliberate fashion in which we have turned our backs on Christianity over a period of decades.  Some people fear what they do not understand and others dislike what they do understand and cannot accept.

Is the Bible really to be considered hate speech? Are we really at the place in Australian society where quoting the Bible can be used as material evidence against an individual?

This isn’t the first in history where the broad society has misunderstood and misrepresented what Christians believe. This is an ancient problem.  Remember the good old days in the Roman Empire? Pliny the Younger, the Roman Governor of Bithynia et Pontus, assumed that the Christian practice of the Lord’s Supper consisted of Christians eating the flesh and drinking the blood of fellow human beings. He also believed that all that Christian talk about brothers and sisters involved some sexual appetite for incest. What happened to the Christians in Bithynia? Filled with a fountain of misinformation and insisting that they also adhere to the cult of the Emperor, he began to have them systematically imprisoned and executed.

Thank God that we don’t live in one of the many countries that still practice this kind of punishment on Christians (and other minorities). What is new today is that the West (including Australia) has had centuries of Christian teaching, access to the Bible, and freedom to read, study and explore the meaning of the Scriptures. We are not living in first century Rome. At yet basic Bible knowledge and grasping that the  Bible is to be understood in light of the person and work of Jesus Christ escapes the attention of many.

We have a Bible comprehension problem. Churches are not always helpful on this front, as many sell their soul for an esteemed role in the marketplace and for public congratulations. How can outsiders understand the Bible if Christian preachers carry a pair of scissors in their pocket, and cutting out any teaching that contravenes society’s dogma?  If Churches are not reading and teaching the Bible faithfully how can we expect anyone else to be getting it right?

Jesus documented a similar issue in his day,

“Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet:

“Lord, who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

 For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere:

“He has blinded their eyes
and hardened their hearts,
so they can neither see with their eyes,
nor understand with their hearts,
nor turn—and I would heal them.”

 Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.

 Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not openly acknowledge their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved human praise more than praise from God.” (John 12)

 

My advice to Christians is this:

  1. Make sure that the public reading and preaching of the Bible is front and centre at all your Church services. Why wouldn’t it be?
  2. Make the reading and teaching of the Bible foundational to all your Church ministries. If it’s not, why not?
  3. Find ways to help your broader community engage with the Bible. Ask your friends, have they ever read the Bible and would they be interested to do so with you? Could you start up a group for interested people in a local school or community hall? Show people how to read and interpret the Bible. Share with people why the Bible informs and it transforms for good.

Raelene Castle has launched into a world familiar to many people of faith who have escaped oppressive nations, but this is unusual for Australia. To call out in a formal disciplinary tribunal that the Bible amounts to hate speech is extraordinary. This is an extraordinary step in the latest of a series of ridiculous cultural malpractice. Don’t be fooled,  she will find substantial support among our cultural elites. But is she on to something? Does the Bible never disagree with our moral inclinations? Do the Scriptures never cause discomfort? While the Bible is never hate speech, it is a dangerous book. Entire nations have changed on account of the Bible. Cultures have shifted toward enlightenment and progress on account of the Bible. Fairer societies have been built, slavery outlawed, fair working conditions for the poor, homes for orphans and the elderly, and in fact, much of the fruit we enjoy today finds its roots in ideas stemming from Biblical revelation.

“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)

Let’s not waste the season God gives

On Saturday, Greg Clarke (former CEO of the Bible Society, Australia) sent out the following tweet,

“I remember as a young Christian at University in the 80s when we felt we would have to work really hard in Australia to ‘keep the rumour of God alive’. At the moment, it’s wall to wall God stuff.”

Greg Clarke is right. I’m not aged well enough to remember university in the 1980s but we don’t have to peer so far. Even looking back a few short years, I remember Christians being frustrated and saddened by the fact that God was absent from most conversations and seemed to be rarely on people’s agendas. It was as though the culture was erasing God for the public conscience, and it was only a small number of persistent believers who could jump-start God into the conversation.

Australia is experiencing are the most unusual season at the moment. For three months social media has been filled with conversations about religion and God and Christianity, and every day there is more reporting and more opinion pieces published about Christianity. Who would have guessed that the topic of hell would become an election issue? For a nation that is supposedly post-Christian and secular, we are engaging in a significant national conversation where God features.

To be sure, some of the conversations are less than edifying. Not all, but some reporting is little more than crude and unoriginal Christian bashing. Some of the commentary that is passing for Christianity is nothing of the sort. There are also atheists defending Christians. Even Professor Peter Singer, who preaches some of the most repugnant ideas that can be heard anywhere in the world today, last week wrote a constructive and reasoned article in support of Israel Folau. Other remarks come from well-meaning Christians, who are nonetheless being unhelpful and take conversations down misguided paths. There is also much anger being vented from various quarters and doubling down on caricatures of different people and ideas.

To argue that there is no issue of religious freedom in Australia is to close your eyes and ears to the growing number of cases that are being disclosed in many areas of Australian life, from sport to business and to education. Sure, as human beings we are sometimes guilty of exaggerating the socio-political climate; we are not living in the Soviet Union and this isn’t 1984. But neither is the culture static and neutral. I find it ironic that the voices most ardently insisting that there is no agenda to limit religious freedoms, are those lauding Rugby Australia for sacking Israel Folau and those urging for Christians Schools to lose their funding if they don’t subscribe to the sexual revolution, and on and on the list continues. Religious freedom is one of the pivotal tests of this generation. Without it we lose the capacity to be a truly pluralistic society. This topic should matter to all Australians, whether we are Christian or Jewish or Hindu or atheist. Do we really want to live in a State where corporate business dictates religious doctrine and where Government defines theological values? I have detailed this case on other occasions, my aim here is to underline another matter that is even more close to my heart.

As I read and agreed with Greg’s tweet, I thought a little more and my attention turned to 2 Corinthians chapters 5 and 6 (which I am currently preaching through at Mentone). For example, in 6:2 God defines the age in which we are living. He does not say that this is a post-Christian or post-modern or post or pre anything age. Rather, the announcement is,

“I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.”

Not was, not might be, and not maybe one future day, but today. The epoch of history in which we live is the day of salvation. That’s exciting!

Is the current Australian discourse on religion a final gasp before we venture into a new and intolerant and irrational era of religious restrictions, or will common sense prevail? We don’t know yet. What interests me is the fact that talk about God and Christ and the Bible is filling newspapers paragraphs and trending on social media every day at the moment. Have not Christians been praying for opportunities to give the reason for the hope we have? Do we not ask God for conversations where introducing Jesus is a natural progression?

That day is today.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we can let this season slip past our attention, or we can engage in loving and useful ways.

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Here are 3 suggestions.

First, we can pray. Let us pray often, repeatedly, fervently for God to make known his Gospel love, just as he has shown us great mercy and kindness. Pray for our fellow Australians, regardless of their worldview and moral inclinations. If we are praying for them, we will have no time or desire to be spiteful or demeaning toward them.

We have the opportunity to break the cultural narrative and show Christ-like love to those who are vulnerable.  At Church this morning we prayed,

“Father in Heaven, help us to uphold your holiness and goodness. In an age of sexual confusion teach us clarity and to trust that your ways are good. May we present your Gospel with love and gentleness, patience and care. May Mentone Baptist Church be a safe place for people to investigate Christianity, to be welcomed and encouraged.”

Second, let us love

Be the best of friend, the most loyal work colleague, the gentle and helpful student, and be a kind voice on social media. Offer hospitality and ask permission to share the message that has changed our own lives.

Third, let us speak

In 2 Corinthian 5:11-18, the Apostle Paul employs 3 verbs to describe his intent in evangelising: persuasion, compulsion, and regard.

 “Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. 12 We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. 13 If we are “out of our mind,” as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”

First, Christian evangelism is not compulsion, it is clear and passionate persuasion, presenting the facts of Jesus Christ and leaving it for people to make their decision. Second, it is not bigotry or ignorance motivating Christian evangelism but love; we don’t want anyone missing out on the astonishing benefits that come from knowing Jesus Christ. As one reads through the above portion of the Bible we don’t see any picture of oppression or forced faith, but freedom that surpasses any temporary offerings. Third, we ought to regard people not through the grid of any current cultural paradigm but through the sense of God’s good news about Jesus. This means we may not affirm every belief, idea, and action but we fight for the dignity of every person.

When it comes to the art of persuasion most often this is best done away from sharing thoughts and articles of social media, but instead taking an interest in the lives of people around us, listening to the dreams and fears of work colleagues and friends, and sharing how we believe Jesus is the ultimate answer.

In my opinion, the most unhelpful and loudest critics that I’ve heard during the Folau controversy are not from gay and lesbian Australians, but from comfortable and secure North Shore Sydneysiders who take virtue signaling to a new level. I have also heard about other social media interactions that hurt and insult people, and where gay and lesbians feel denigrated. Christians need to stand alongside gay and lesbian Aussies against such vitriol. A case in point is Israel Folau today speaking against those who have abused Magda Szubanski online for her sharing an opinion about the Rugby player.

This is no time to be sticking our heads in Bondi’s sand or holidaying in New Zealand. The whole nation is talking about Christianity. If God is right, and “now is the time of salvation”, let us be praying and loving and speaking.