The Dividing Church: When a Denomination Chooses Syncretism

“Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”

But the people said nothing.” (1 Kings 18:21)

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Last week the 15th Assembly of the Uniting Church of Australia adopted a motion to permit same-sex marriage for their churches.

According to reporting by Eternity newspaper,

“The vote means the church will provide a choice of marriage services. A new marriage rite will be written for “two persons” to marry, and will sit alongside the UCA’s existing marriage service for men and women. This is often described as a “Two integrities” solution which attempts to allow two beliefs about marriage to co-exist in the one church structure.”

In other words, the Uniting Church has embraced same-sex marriage, but it is willing to give each minister and church, freedom to choose whether they will conduct marriages along the classical definition of marriage or according to the newly adopted definition.

The deal is being packaged as a triumph for diversity, and a celebration of recognising the rights of people to marry whomever they wish. However, once we’ve stripped the rhetoric of its layer of spray paint, what’s left behind is good old-fashioned syncretism.

How is the Uniting Church’s embracing syncretism?

Syncretism is the practice of merging two or more religions (or ideologies) together, often with the pretense of preserving the purity of one or of both. Syncretism is frowned upon in the Bible because of who God is. When God revealed his law Exodus 20,

“You shall have no other gods before me.

 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.  You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me,  but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

The history of Israel in the Old Testament is replete with examples of syncretism. God likens syncretism to spiritual adultery.

“Has a nation ever changed its gods?

    (Yet they are not gods at all.)

But my people have exchanged their glorious God

    for worthless idols.

12 Be appalled at this, you heavens,

    and shudder with great horror,”

declares the Lord.

13 “My people have committed two sins:

They have forsaken me,

    the spring of living water,

and have dug their own cisterns,

    broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” (Jeremiah 2:11-13)

Of course, syncretism can take many forms. It may be that a Church identifies too closely with a particular political ideology, or takes on board practices from other religions. Jesus forced the issue when it came to wealth. He said,

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Luke 16:13)

The reasons behind Israel’s choice of marrying other religions with their own varied. Sometimes they were convinced that other gods were more real and vital. On occasion, they endorsed new religious beliefs for sake of securing political power and retaining their social standing. Most often, these alternate religions preached a moral latitude that gave permission for practices that the people to embrace. It is interesting to note how often syncretism was accompanied with revisionist views on sexuality.

One of the important questions is, how do we know that the Uniting Church’s decision is out of line with orthodox Christian teaching? We could turn to church history, where we will find no endorsement of such practices until the most recent of years. We could observe how the majority of Christian churches around the world today continue to uphold the classical view of marriage. We should especially turn to the Bible where we find a clear definition of marriage, and where all other sexual practices and relationships are defined as porneia. In fact, the Bible views these alternate arrangements with such gravity that they are described in terms of keeping people out of the kingdom of God and being against sound doctrine and opposing the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Vaughan Roberts is an Anglican Minister who has shared his own personal testimony of being same-sex attracted. In a recent interview at GACFON, Roberts noted,

“We cannot ‘agree to disagree’ on core convictions of the apostolic gospel, sexual sin is one of those.”

Archbishop Peter Jensen, speaking of the current troubles in the worldwide Anglican Communion, has suggested that what’s going on is the creation of new religion,

“What the liberal Americans did was to so breach the tradition – at a pretty vital point – that it has begun to create a new religion.”

By adopting two separate marriage definitions, the Uniting Church is saying that Christians can believe in both, and that we can practice both. The fact that an individual church can decide which version of marriage to adopt doesn’t retrieve the situation, for these two reasons: First, the denomination has clearly affirmed same-sex marriage as a moral good which Christians can embrace.  Second, the local Uniting Church, even should it hold to classical marriage, is nonetheless in union with other churches who no longer subscribe to orthodox Christianity. A question is, was the  Apostle Paul right when he suggested,

“For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?

Where to from here?

 

1. Anyone can fall

In the age when instant isn’t fast enough, no one wants to slow down like the NBN or be caught in the gridlock along Hoddle Street. When a new cultural wave hits our shores, we want the ride and we want to be among the first. One of the problems with the current swell is that it’s simultaneously popular and perilous. It sometimes feels as though the majority of Australian organisations and public voices are riding this latest wave of the sexual revolution, and it is hard to stand against it, and it’s even harder to pull out once you’ve been drawn in.

It is of little surprise that the Uniting Church is the first major denomination in Australia to take this decision,  and while most other denominations are unlikely to push ahead with redefining marriage for everyone, the idea of a “two integrities solution” may be seen as a viable option for other denominations who are trying to appease everyone. As I’ve already shown, it is no solution at all.

It is a challenging time for Christianity in Australia. Indeed, it is more grievous than last year’s events which led to the legalization of same-sex marriage in our country. It is one thing for society at large to make decisions relating to moral issues, but it is incumbent upon Churches to adhere to the theological and ethicals standards laid out by God in the Scriptures.

Churches always face tensions and temptations. None of us are beyond erring, should we take our eyes off the Lord Jesus. I pray that as the broader Christian Churches observe what has transpired in the Uniting Church, that we won’t respond with pride or with spiteful and unhelpful words, but humbly ask God to check our own hearts and desires, and ask him to keep us faithful to Christ.

2. This adds to Gospel confusion

The decision made by the Uniting Church of Australia doesn’t resolve confusion about Christianity; it makes it worse. It’s one of the ridiculous ideas that often dictates dying churches and denominations; they see their salvation from obscurity in becoming more like the culture.

The thing is, LGBT people matter so much, that we are failing to love them should we embrace same-sex marriage. It is not hatred that says, marriage is for a man and a woman, it is trusting God and believing that his ways are good.

Churches are 100% made up of men and women who in many ways have deconstructed God’s purposes and justified attitudes that are downright awful. Too many Churches, in trying to affirm classical marriage, have also tainted Gospel witness by exuding self-righteousness and demeaning their LGBT neighbours. Christianity is not, ‘we are better than you’, but that ‘we are like everyone else and in God’s grace he has gifted us now a better way’.

3. Be ready to welcome orphans from the Uniting Church

After Mount Carmel, Elijah felt overwhelmed by the experience and alone. God reminded him that he wasn’t the only remaining who was trusting Him, there were thousands more.
There are already Uniting Church members who are leaving their churches and looking for new churches to call home. Churches across the country need to welcome these brothers and sisters, to encourage them and care for them.

4. Pray

Above all, pray. Pray for the many Christians within the Uniting Church who have difficult conversations and decisions ahead of them. We can thank God for the faithfulness of those who have stood on the Gospel, in the face of what would have been a very difficult week. There are many important discussions to be had about the future of congregations who are choosing the Evangelical faith over the neo-Baalamism that has been introduced. We can pray that God fills them with wisdom and honours their faithfulness.

Baptists believe in Freedom of Association

Until Friday, I had never heard of Logan Robertson or Pillar Baptist Church in Queensland. Today, all Australia knows his name.

Logan Robertson and two other men have been charged with public nuisance offences following events that took place during the week at two Brisbane mosques. The incidents were ugly, offensive, and without warrant.

Mr Robertson is a New Zealand national who has already gained notoriety in his homeland for extreme religious views, including being subject to a police investigation regarding his public conduct. Prior to entering Australia a year ago, Robertson was cautioned about his behavior. Tonight he is in custody and will be shortly deported back to New Zealand.

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To begin with, along with Christians across the country, I wish to apologise to our Muslim Australians who were subjected to Robertson’s unruly conduct. People of any religion should be permitted to worship in freedom and without threat. We have seen other nasty incidents in recent months, usually with Christian churches and groups being targeted. On this occasion though,  the perpetrators were a group who purport to be Christian. We do not want Westboro or Münster type religious fanatics interfering with peoples religious freedoms, regardless of what their religion may be.

It is understandable that this story has made headline news across the country; this is a time when religious freedom is a topic of national conversation and we await the Government’s report on the Ruddock review. In the middle of these discussions, here is a ‘Christian’ minister intruding on a Muslim time of prayer and intimidating worshippers, including teenage boys.

Why does this matter? There are two issues here. First, there is the criminal charges and social ills that Robertson and others have allegedly engaged in. We should not intimidate other Australians by entering their worship spaces and interrupting religious services. Second, it is important to address this story, because just like the fake gynaecologist who was caught out and imprisoned in Melbourne this past week, a fake Baptist should also be called out because of the dangers in misrepresenting what Baptists, and Christians in general, believe.

While Logan Robertson self-identifies as a Baptist, as the media have rightly stated, he and his church have no affiliation with the Queensland Baptist Union and the Baptist Union of Australia. Indeed, there is little about Pillar Baptist Church that can be called Baptist.

As with all Christians, Baptist beliefs and practices are shaped by the Bible. What Christian Churches share in common is far greater than any differences. For example, while Baptists don’t baptise infants as do Anglicans and Presbyterians, and our church governance differs, otherwise,  we share the same beliefs that have been taught and lived out for 2000 years.

I have read the Doctrinal Statement of Pillar Baptist Church, and it does not resemble any Baptist confession that I have ever read before, and it includes some very strange ideas indeed.

Most Baptist Churches in Australia belong to the Baptist Union of Australia, and so they are in formal association with one another. There are also independent Baptist churches, and these vary in their beliefs and practices. Independence does not alone denote what a church is like, but as with every church (including those belonging to a traditional denomination), we ought to examine their doctrine and life closely. At the very least, when a Church states that it “reject[s] the teaching of the universal church” and does not associate with other Christian groups, that ought to raise serious questions.

Not only does Robertson’s Church have a doctrinal statement that doesn’t fit with historic Baptist faith, and not only are they unrelated to any formal Baptist association, it is clear that Logan Robertson has abrogated two important Baptist principles, namely that of freedom of conscience and freedom of association. While these principles are not owned by Baptists, they are closely aligned with Baptist thinking through the Centuries. Freedom of thought and freedom of association found clear expression among Baptists in the 17th Century, at a time when religious freedom didn’t exist but was often controlled by the crown, by Parliament, and by establishment churches. Baptists were often oppressed and even imprisoned for holding these beliefs. The author of Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan, was twice imprisoned because he believed in and practiced freedom of religious association.

These two principles are not saying that Baptists agree with other religions or that we think that these religions are intellectually coherent, spiritually healthy, and morally good. Baptists are not theological and moral relativists. It does, however, mean that we believe Christianity is accepted through persuasion not by coercion, by gracious explanation and not by galling intimidation. Freedom of belief is not about privileging  one religious group over another, but positively guaranteeing that all Australians can speak and live their beliefs without harassment. Neither the State nor individuals in the community should resort to browbeating in order to change another person’s mind on an issue. We cannot create a healthy society by thuggery, whether it is noisy secularists forcing out Christians from the public square or religious fanatics spitting out their dogma in our faces.

Australia needs honest conversations about the big questions of life. We need these discussions happening in public spaces and in private meetings, and yet sadly, people like Logan Robertson caste a shadow on our optimism, and authoritarian secularists are throwing even darker clouds over the social and religious freedoms that we have long enjoyed in this country.

It is easy to say that Logan Robertson’s behaviour is unAustralian, but I’m not sure if I want to indict my New Zealand friends on this occasion! Robertson’s ideas and behaviour are certainly anti-Baptist, and therefore they have caused confusion over the beauty and goodness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When Jesus met people with whom he held profound disagreement, he loved them and he went to a cross to die that they might come to know and enjoy God forever. That is how Australians can tell a Christian, not that we agree with your beliefs, but that we love you and above everything we desire for you to know the Lord Jesus Christ, not to force him upon you, but with grace and fervour, with openness and humility, to explain the reason for the hope with have in Him.

What Senator David Leyonhjelm’s words teach us about ourselves

Like most Australians, I was disgusted by what Senator David Leyonhjelm said to Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and to television interviewer, Angela Bishop.

His remarks are vile and sexist and unbecoming of one who represents the Australian people in Parliament.

During a discussion on women’s safety inside the Upper House Chamber, Senator Leyonhjelm told Senator Hanson-Young to “stop shagging men”.

Over on Twitter, Senator Leyonhjelm responded to Angela Bishop’s criticism of him by calling her “a bigoted b#tch”.

Senator Leyonhjelm remains unapologetic, and offered this defense on ABC news radio yesterday,

“It is a normal Australian behavior”

“I am a normal Australian, I am elected by normal Australians, normal Australians call people bitches, bastards, shut up, various things of that nature.

“I don’t discriminate between men and women.”

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I don’t know whether Senator Leyonhjelm truly believes his own defense, but let’s suppose he does. For argument sake, let’s assume Senator Leyonhjelm believes that he ought to speak to women in the same manner as he does with men. Is this not the kind of equality we are hoping to attain as a society? Should men and women not speak to each other in undifferentiating ways? Aussie blokes are known for their colourful language. I’m not agreeing with this cultural ‘norm’, but swearing and deriding each other long been a sign of social acceptance…and also of insult (discerning the difference isn’t always straightforward!). If men and women are identical and should be treated equally, should we not use the Aussie vocabulary tool bag for men and women alike?

Let me be clear, I believe Senator Leyonhjelm’s comments are indefensible and that he should apologise without reservation. It is entirely appropriate for Senator Hanson-Young to call him out and to expect an apology. Indeed, Senator Hanson-Young has revealed that this is only the latest in what is a culture of bile-like rhetoric which is thrown around the corridors of Canberra. I doubt if many of us are surprised, but surely it is entirely right for Senator Hanson-Young, and for all of us, to expect better from our political representatives.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, has spoken up, saying,

“That type of language has no place in Parliament, it shouldn’t have a place in any workplace…Respect for women in particular is one of the highest priorities that we should be focused on.”

His emphasis, “respect for women in particular”, is worth noting. Why do Senator Leyonhjelm’s derogatory comments jar? Because we know it’s wrong, it’s always wrong, and as Prime Minister Turnbull states, it is particularly wrong when a man speaks to a woman in such a way. A man can get away with calling another bloke a ‘b#stard’, but it is entirely different when a man refers to a woman as a ‘b#tch’. This is not about social conventions, but an inherent-born-with understanding that men should not belittle and abuse women by their words or actions. We know it’s wrong. Boys were raised to respect girls and to treat them well, not because there’s some masculine superiority complex at play, but because it is how men should behave. Boys might fight each other, but you never hit a girl. Boys might open a door and walk through it first, but most women appreciate the man who stops and opens the door for them first. 

While Senator Leyonhjelm’s obscenity is receiving widespread condemnation, this same Australian culture has, however, embraced other language that is designed to denigrate and silence other Australians. For example, last year’s marriage debate witnessed people slandering gay and lesbian Australians and also slandering heterosexual Australians. The former was rightly called out, but the latter was often supported by and even used by our political representatives and media personalities to popular adulation. Another body of language has recently come into common usage, which aims to deride white males, because apparently if you are white and male you represent everything that is wrong with society. The point is, our problem is much deeper than simple misogyny. 

Whether we like it or not, Senator Leyonhjelm has revealed something ugly about Australian society, and it is more complex than gender equality. We have taught ourselves to treat men and women without distinction and we have encouraged a culture of vulgarity. We often praise the outspoken disparager. We believe in freedom of expression, where obscenity is even called artful and humorous. Let’s pile a hundred naked men and women on a supermarket roof in Prahran, take a photo, and call it art. Listen to the Shakespearen-like lyrics of Beyonce and other pop musicians that we download in the millions. Walk into any Melbourne comedy club and find an act that’s not going to resort to jokes about peoples’ private parts and sexual proclivities! The jokes don’t even need to be funny, just say a dirty word and the audience will laugh.

How different is the verbal posture presented by the Apostle Paul,

“No foul language is to come from your mouth, but only what is good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29)

Of course, Paul is writing to Christians here, and so this a word that we Christians must take seriously. It’s also pretty good advice for everyone. Instead of following the Australian way, which loves to kick the pedestal out from others, perhaps we need to introduce the language of honour and respect. Maybe we should be teaching young boys to respect girls. Maybe we should be doing more to tackle the problem of pornography.  Maybe we shouldn’t demonise gender differences but acknowledge them as a common good. And maybe self-control is not so detrimental to our health, but considering our words before speaking them is important for healthy relationships.

While there is a great deal of public anger this week, it doesn’t suffice to shame men like Senator Leyonhjelm, or to call for resignations, or to argue that we need more education. Jesus reveals an uncomfortable truth about ourselves,

“what comes out of the mouth comes from the heart, and this defiles a man. (Matt 15:18)

Our words are revealing, communicating to others what is going on in our hearts. We speak what we think, and we verbalise the deep-seated attitudes that we hold. It is interesting to note that Jesus spoke these words in the context of a conversation regarding the family unit, and how children and parents relate to each other (Matt 15:8-16). Jesus continues,

 For from within, out of people’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immoralities, thefts, murders, 22 adulteries, greed, evil actions, deceit, promiscuity, stinginess, blasphemy, pride, and foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within and defile a person.”

Our problem in Australia is that we don’t believe Jesus. We ’re unconvinced by his analysis, and that many of these heart attitudes are wrong. Jesus said, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the sight of others, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly admired by people is revolting in God’s sight” (Luke 16:15). It’s true, we often justify our loves and actions and use all manner of social slogans to protect ourselves, and yet our social engineering projects are building communities that are deeply fractured and tearing. We are becoming proficient at identifying social ills,  but we are falling far short of adequate solutions. We need to ask ourselves some hard questions about our hearts, not of the girl or guy next to us, but our own hearts. But are willing to acknowledge what we discover? Without a gracious and merciful God, the Proverb will be true,

“At the end of your life, you will lament when your physical body has been consumed, and you will say, “How I hated discipline, and how my heart despised correction. (Proverbs 5:11-12)

Ashpenaz’s Children: ALP National Platform to separate children from parents

“In you they have treated father and mother with contempt” (Ezekiel 22:7a)

“How the precious children of Zion, once worth their weight in gold, are now considered as pots of clay, the work of a potter’s hands!” (Lamentations 4:2)

Like many people watching from Australia, it has been distressing to see footage of children being separated from their parents along the United States’s border with Mexico. The Trump administration’s ploy to discourage undocumented migration is cruel and immoral. The policy may have been put in place by an earlier administration, but President Trump has made it clear that he is using these children to discourage illegal migration into the United States.

Russell Moore (President, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention) is one of many signing a public letter to the Government, saying, “The traumatic effects of this separation on these young children, which could be devastating and long-lasting, are of utmost concern.”

While we in Australia look on with disgust at this violation of the family unit, the Australian Labor Party (ALP) have announced their national platform, which includes a policy to remove children from a new wave of ‘disgraced’ parents.

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According to policy initiatives that are to be presented and adopted at this year’s ALP national conference, parents who don’t support their child’s wish to transition to another gender, are guilty of abusing their children and therefore will subject to a new range of laws.

“LGBTI Conversion Therapy

Labor accepts the scientific evidence that claims by those purporting to change people’s sexual orientation or gender identity are both false and harmful and does not accept that such claims should continue to be made or, worse, be acted upon. Those who make these claims prey upon those vulnerable to the anti-LGBTI prejudices of the circles in which they or their families move.

Current laws regulating false and misleading conduct in trade or commerce, or professional misconduct in the health professions, are inadequate to deal with perpetrators who can evade health regulation by not being registered, and evade consumer protection laws by claiming to be conducting religious activities.

Labor will:

  • Ensure, in cooperation with the States and Territories, that adequate laws and systems are put in place to ensure the protection of children, adolescents and others from the false claims and psychological harms of so-called “ex-gay” therapies
  • Ensure that child protection authorities acknowledge attempts to “cure” Same-Sex Attracted or Gender Questioning children and young people as serious psychological abuse; and
  • Acknowledge these harms, when suffered within the family, as domestic violence against the child.”

(Chapter 8, pp 236-7)

“Labor opposes the practice of so-called conversion and reparative therapies on LGBTIQ+ people and seek to criminalise these practices.”

(ALP 48th National Conference (Consultation Draft 2018), chapter 8, p.205)

 

Child abuse is a very real and very terrible evil in our society. It is incumbent upon us to guard our children against such ignominious harm. But what are the facts here? Is this domestic violence?

In 2016, Prof Patrick Parkinson published an important evaluation of the Safe Schools program. In this research paper Prof Parkinson noted that contrary to Safe Schools, which claims that 4% of the population is transgender, research suggests that the real number is about 0.35%. This number encompasses a broad definition of transgenderism, based on surveys rather than proper diagnosis by medical professionals. Prof Parkinson then cites The American Psychiatric Association which estimates the rates of gender identity disorder for natal adult males to be at 0.005% to 0.014%, and for natal females, from 0.002% to 0.003%.

The numbers of children who identify as gay or lesbian is significantly higher, but percentage remains relatively small, somewhere between 2-4% of the population. It needs to be said that because these numbers of small, doesn’t diminish the importance of these kids, and of their need for love and support; no child is insignificant.

In the most recent edition of The Atlantic, Jesse Singal has written a thorough piece, exploring the complexities of treating children with gender dysphoria, cautioning against preempting treatments,

“the World Professional Association for Transgender Health…states that while some teenagers should go on hormones, that decision should be made with deliberation: “Before any physical interventions are considered for adolescents, extensive exploration of psychological, family, and social issues should be undertaken.” The American Psychological Association’s guidelines sound a similar note, explaining the benefits of hormones but also noting that “adolescents can become intensely focused on their immediate desires.” It goes on: “This intense focus on immediate needs may create challenges in assuring that adolescents are cognitively and emotionally able to make life-altering decisions…But some clinicians are moving toward a faster process. And other resources, including those produced by major LGBTQ organizations, place the emphasis on acceptance rather than inquiry. The Human Rights Campaign’s “Transgender Children & Youth: Understanding the Basics” web page, for example, encourages parents to seek the guidance of a gender specialist. It also asserts that “being transgender is not a phase, and trying to dismiss it as such can be harmful during a time when your child most needs support and validation.”

“Ignoring the diversity of these experiences and focusing only on those who were effectively “born in the wrong body” could cause harm. That is the argument of a small but vocal group of men and women who have transitioned, only to return to their assigned sex.”

Prof Patrick Parkinson makes the important point,

“One reason for great caution about what we teach children is that gender dysphoria may be transitory.”

There is a growing volume of research that is exploring the relationship between age and gender dysphoria. Depending on the study, evidence shows that somewhere between 80-98% of children will no longer experience gender dysphoria after puberty. That is a staggering indictment on the claims being made by the ALP. Even if we ignore the data from the highest end of the spectrum and only accept the most conservative percentile (80%), this still indicates that the overwhelming majority of children will return to identifying with their biological sex by the time they reach adulthood. For argument sake, let’s manipulate the data even further and assume that the conservative 80% is an exaggeration and that the real number of children recovering from gender dysphoria is half that number; that is still 4 out of every 10 children who have gender dysphoria. But according to the ALP, producing such evidence is simply to “prey upon those vulnerable to the anti-LGBTI prejudices of the circles in which they or their families move.”

While the ALP’s National Platform refers to “accepting the scientific evidence”, they cite zero studies, and they fail to account for many academic articles that have been published in recent years which either contradict or at the very least, nuance the position which the ALP is claiming as Gospel fact.

Some LGBTIQ Australians will experience a change of orientation and of gender identity, especially in the case of children with gender dysphoria who later come to affirm their biological sex. This is a simple statement of fact, not an affirmation for certain gay conversion therapies that have been reported in the media in recent months. Because I am a Christian, I do not support gay conversion therapy, as defined in terms of using pseudo-scientific and unbiblical methods to change a person’s sexuality. There is, however, a massive difference between offering shock therapy or performing a supposed exorcism, and reading the Bible with someone and them concluding that they no longer wish to identify as same-sex attracted or transgender. It is disturbing to see the ALP platform insist upon a zero-sum game, whereby everyone who doesn’t fully subscribe to the new gender agenda, is called names and will be accused of abuse.

What of the child or adult who no longer wishes to identify as LGBTIQ? What if an individual, while having LGBTIQ affections, does not wish to be identified as such? What of men and women who have undergone sex change surgery and have since detransitioned? The point is obvious and yet the ALP policy has no room to accept the reality that there are LGBTIQ people who do change and cease to identify as transgender, gay or lesbian.

The ALP platform is more troubling, for they are moving to criminalise therapies/ministries that fail to affirm people in their self-assigned gender and sexuality, and they are moving to accuse parents of domestic violence for not supporting children into transition.

How dare an Australian political party throw around the language of abuse and threaten to taken children from their parents; it is immoral and unspeakable, and it insults victims of real child abuse.

It is a sad irony, that on the one hand, voices calling for a ban on LGBTIQ conversion therapies, are at the same time, promoting sex changes for children. So, children are free to change one way, but not another?

At best, the ALP’s position on LBGTIQ issues is an attempt to show compassion toward vulnerable children, but it is a platform built on unstable and dangerous ideology.

As a parent, I know that not everything a child feels and wants is in their best interest, and chances are, they will change their mind by next week. Parents can discern the difference between a child’s fad and a deeper issue and. Parents love their children and want to see them safe and healthy and flourishing in life. This is not about bullying people into gender stereotypes or funneling children into strange and potentially harmful practices. This isn’t about parents patiently and lovingly caring for children who are struggling with their sexual identity; the ALP platform is about conformity to a new pattern for sexuality, and about using the weight of the law to force religious groups and parents to sign up to the sexual revolution.

I understand that some people may read this as an anti-ALP and perhaps pro-conservative article; that is not my agenda. As a Christian minister, I am not defined by such socio-political parameters. My concern is for children and for parents, who will face the onslaught of this irrational and dangerous ideologue, should the ALP platform gain traction. I am also concerned by these political attempts to place traditional Christian teaching on the wrong side of the law.

Churches need to appreciate that without due consideration and careful definition, the ALP’s platform can be used to constrain Christian teaching on sexuality, from the pulpit through to pastoral counselling.

Parents need to appreciate the gravity of the situation being outlined. For example, say a son comes home from school and announces that he feels like his true identity is as a girl. If the child returns to school and mentions to his teacher that mum and dad are not convinced and are reluctant to buy him dresses, the school may be obliged to report a case of child abuse.

I urge members of the Australian Labor Party to speak up and to vote against these dangerous and unnecessary measures. I also encourage members of the public to contact their local State and Federal Labor members and to share your concerns with them.

Melbourne Baptist Church Hosts Same Sex Wedding

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why does this matter?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

Indonesian Church attacks: some reflections

Surabaya

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

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

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

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Source: ABC news

Abusing our religious freedom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make Church a habit

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

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

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

Consider Church a Joy

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

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

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

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

Richard Condie’s Positive Steps to help victims of child abuse

I want to commend the steps taken by Tasmania’s Anglican Bishop, Richard Condie, to redress the issue of child sexual abuse.

According to this evening’s ABC report,

“Tasmania’s Anglican Diocese is proposing to sell more than 120 properties, including churches, halls, houses and vacant land, to fund redress for survivors of child sexual abuse.

The church said it would need to sell just under half of its Tasmanian properties to cover an estimated $8 million of liability in additional payments to survivors.

It has been lobbying for the State Government to sign up to the National Redress Scheme for survivors, due to start on July 1 as a result of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

The Tasmanian Diocese also agreed to increase the payment cap for its own Pastoral Support and Assistance Scheme from $75,000 to $150,000 per claim.

Previous claimants will be entitled to have their claims reassessed, which may result in extra payments.

The figure of $8 million is based on advice that 150 survivors may be eligible to receive the average payment of $78,000 under the national scheme, or a similar figure from the church’s own scheme.”

“Survivors will not be able to claim from both schemes but, unlike the national scheme, the Tasmanian Anglican scheme is open to non-Australian citizens, those with a criminal conviction or people who were abused as adults.”

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Christian denominations and organisations have been rightly rebuked for the evil acts of child abuse that have been carried out by clergy and employees over many decades.  The abomination is not only the fact that the lives of young children have been devoured by demonic men, but that some groups covered up the crimes, or through inadequate training others did not respond to the cries of victims as they needed.

In part due to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, Australians are more aware of the depth and breadth of the issue, and positive moves are now being taken to ensure children are safe and that Churches and other groups are better informed as to how to deal with reports of abuse. It still saddens me that the Royal Commission was ever required, but we should thankful for the tireless work of those who organised and participated. It is also encouraging to see many organisations being quick to follow the report’s recommendations, and it is disturbing to hear of others who are slow to practice repentance.

The damage created by decades of abuse will remain with us for decades to come. Thousands of Australians have been personally scarred, and their families too. Confidence in many institutions, including Churches, has been understandably broken. Churches have given Australians reason to doubt the authenticity of the Gospel, and to disbelieve the witness of Churches. This should never have been the case, for the name of Jesus Christ is good and holy, and without a single spot of unrighteousness, and followers of Jesus are called to be like their Lord and show others how good He is. Yet men from hell came and covered themselves in white robes and stole innocence. God is just and their evil behaviour will be recompensed in full, but  we are being naive if we believe that Aussies will quickly forgive or forget. We should not forget, we must repent.

I am reminded of the Law in the Old Testament. The Pentateuch may have fallen out of favour in our culture, like an out of date carton of milk, but perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to pass judgment. Yes, the Mosaic law sours when it’s misapplied, but the law is more useful and essential than we might be willing to admit. In reading the law we learn two profound truths: Justice is paramount, and mercy is desperately needed.

“Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits.” (Exodus 23:6)

“Do not pervert justice or show partiality.” (Deuteronomy 6:19)

I thank God for Richard Condie’s leadership in practicing public and genuine repentance. He has not minimised the sins of past generations, and he is willing to go beyond recommendations in order to offer compensation to victims.

“When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers” (Proverbs 21:15).

Let justice be done. My prayer is that others will follow the example of the Tasmanian Anglican Diocese (and that of the Sydney Anglican Diocese who have also made welcoming steps forward).