Biblical Critical Theory is launched

Last night in Melbourne, Christopher Watkin’s new book, Biblical Critical Theory: How the Bible’s Unfolding Story Makes Sense, was launched. There will be further launch events in Sydney, UK and the USA over the coming days.

The room at RTC (Reformed Theological College) was filled with many uni students, academics, pastors in attendance, and many others from various works of life. The food, wine, and conversations kept flowing late into the night (in the end I had to ask people to go home!). Each one of the 4 speeches last night was impressive and interesting, reflecting on the content of Chris’ writing (of course!) and the value this book may bring to the world of thought, university, church, and society.

The only downside of the evening was that we couldn’t get our hands on enough copies of the book. The first print was sold out even prior to its formal release date. People took a number and we swirled those little pieces of paper in a large bowl and then picked out numbers. 12 very excited persons (think of the atmosphere for a winning auction bid), then purchased a signed copy of Biblical Critical Theory.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. As a reviewer recently said of Biblical Critical Theory, all the hype really isn’t exaggerated, and each of the addresses last night, given by Dr Sarah Irving-Stonebroker, Mr Barney Zwartz, and Dr Andrew Moody, testified to this. I am hoping that these talks may become available on The Gospel Coalition Australia website in days to come.

Allow me to share what I said at the beginning of the evening and the prayer in which I closed the event.

“Good evening and welcome. On behalf of The Gospel Coalition Australia, it is wonderful to see you all this evening for this special event.

My name is Murray Campbell. I serve on the National Council and State committee for The Gospel Coalition and I serve as the Senior Pastor at Mentone Baptist church. It is a joy to call Chris a friend and brother. I’ve had the privilege to know Chris and Ali for the past 9 years and have followed his work and writing with great eagerness and interest and benefit.

We are here to launch Christopher Watkin’s new book, Biblical Critical Theory: How the Bible’s Unfolding Story Makes Sense

The author of the monumental work the City of God, Augustine, lived during the turbulent times of the Roman Empire crumbling.

Augustine wasn’t from the City of Rome, although he would visit during the course of his life. He was born in the small provincial North African town of Thagaste. He would later live in Carthage. Yet, Augustine’s influence reached Rome and throughout the Empire, and indeed even throughout the world today. 

Perhaps Yorkshire is a bit like Thagaste, and Melbourne is a modern-day Carthage.

Biblical Critical Theory: How the Bible’s Unfolding Story Makes Sense offers readers a comprehensive view of the world through the lens of the Bible. 

Chris’ writing is clear, irenic, and profound. Chris understands the complexity of both the Bible and our culture. The work is deeply biblical and culturally masterful.

Time will tell how important this work will become, but I suggest that this is a significant body of thought that we will do well to read slowly and carefully and consider with seriousness.

Tonight we have 3 guest speakers with us who are each going to give a short address speaking to the book. 

Dr Sarah Irving Stonebraker is a Senior Lecturer in Modern European History at the University of Western Sydney. 

Barney Zwartz is Senior Fellow at the Centre for Public Christianity and was the Religions Editor at the The Age for many years

Dr Andrew Moody is a Melbourne-based theologian and Editorial Director for The Gospel Coalition Australia. 

I’d like to invite Dr Christopher Watkin forward and hand over to him.”

“Our Father in heaven, we thank you for the mind and understanding you have given Chris. We thank you for this book written to help us understand your world and life in it. We pray that you will use Chris’ writing to give people confidence in the Bible, to see that it is a fountain of knowledge and wisdom and goodness, and a lens through which we can understand the world. 

May it be read widely and deeply and be part of that chain of Christian thought that echoes through the generations, to point people to your Son.

We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen

New South Wales Baptist motions should be welcomed warmly and not with frost

New South Wales and ACT Baptists are meeting tomorrow to discuss and decide an issue that denominations across the world are facing. There are a set of motions requiring churches and accredited pastors to affirm “Marriage is a covenant relationship ordained by God as a lifelong faithful union of one man and one woman. Sexual intimacy outside such a marriage relationship is incompatible with God’s intention for us as his people”.

The topic is broader than sexuality. In 2021 the NSW & ACT Assembly affirmed that both churches and accredited pastors be required to affirm the “basic doctrines, objects and values of the Association”

A detailed read of the motions can be found on John Sandeman’s blog.

Depending on the outcome of the Assembly meeting, Baptist Churches that don’t affirm these positions may be required to leave the association and pastors lose their accreditation. This is of course a significant subject and one where we pray Christians will speak and listen graciously and especially listen to and believe what God has spoken in the Bible. Affirming marriage should not be a controversial issue among churches, and it is a sad indictment on churches that there is any dispute or disagreement here. To believe that God designed marriage to be between one man and one woman and that all other sexual relationships are sinful is doing nothing more than believing what Jesus taught and what the Apostles affirmed. 

Sydney Baptist and Morling College lecturer, Mike Frost, has expressed disagreement with the move. He has written an article to presumably dissuade delegates from supporting the motions. While he is not saying that he supports same-sex marriage (I suspect he doesn’t), he argues that baptists can and should remain together even when we disagree over this issue. Frost’s position is problematic for several reasons. 

First, he makes an important category error. He puts same-sex marriage under the umbrella of ‘non-core issues’.  He uses the phrase repeatedly throughout his piece and he concludes with this sentence,

“But instead of rallying to fulfill these bold visions for Christian mission, we’re debating the ins and outs of how to expel a tiny number of churches that don’t agree with the majority on yet another non-core issue.”

Contrary to what Frost asserts, our understanding of sexual relations is a gospel issue. Our understanding of sexuality and marriage is connected to our view of Jesus, the Bible, the nature of sin and salvation, and more. Jesus was clear when he described sexual relations outside marriage between a man and a woman is porneia.

The Apostle Paul is also clear, 

“Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. 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.”

Jesus and Paul define homosexual relations as sinful and keeping people outside the Kingdom of God. I don’t see how Frost can declare that this is ‘yet another non-core issue’ when the Bible is pretty clear that it is.

In 1 Timothy Paul spells out as unambiguously as anywhere in the Bible how any sexual relations outside marriage contradict sound doctrine and the gospel,

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

Mike Frost telling his readers that this is a non-core issue, doesn’t stack up according to the Scriptures. These are not matters on which Christians can agree to disagree. This is a gospel matter. Where people cannot agree on the gospel, how can there be partnership and association?

Second, Mike Frost makes another category error. His heading proposes that requiring common assent to Baptist doctrine is, ‘Breaking up the family in pursuit of uniformity’. 

The suggestion of uniformity is misleading. This isn’t about uniformity, it is about standing together on clear and gospel issues.

No Baptist is asking for agreement on every dot and flick and iota. No Baptist is demanding a uniform position on eschatology or the gifts of the Spirit. No one is asking for uniformity in the style of church service. Frost’s own article provides several examples of where Baptists have agreed to disagree. In suggesting that same-sex marriage is on par with these other issues is a serious mistake. Again, if Jesus calls an activity sin and if Paul says an activity keeps a person outside the Kingdom of God, how can we partner with churches who teach this harmful idea?

Genuine Christian unity is both theological and spiritual,  and the two belong together. Paul writes to the Ephesians, 

“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all…14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ”

Unity requires speaking truth in love and standing against teaching that is false and dangerous. It is because Christian unity is so precious, that remaining in that which unites is of such importance

I have argued elsewhere that baptists historically have written and affirmed doctrinal statements and positions when the need arose. There is a popular view today among Baptists that we are anti-creedal and that we don’t want or need statements of faith in order to join together. The saying, ‘no creed but Christ’ may sound appealing, but it’s neither historically true nor wise.

Throughout 400 years of Baptist history, various baptist fellowships have written confessions and statements of doctrine and required assent to them. One of the little-known facts about baptists is that we have more doctrinal statements than probably every other protestant denomination! The desire among NSW baptist churches to stand on the Christian view of marriage (and more) isn’t less than baptist, it is in keeping with many baptists historically (including those in Australia).

Third, Frost speaks of a bold vision for mission, but how can there be a shared mission when churches (or pastors) don’t share the same message? 

Mission is about telling people the good news of Jesus Christ, but if two churches believe two different gospels, how we can partner together?

For instance, Baptist pastors and churches who support same-sex marriage do not accept that repentance is required, rather these relationships should be celebrated by churches. How can two churches go on mission together when one says repentance is necessary and the other says it is not?

Our neighbours and communities don’t need churches that play the lyrebird and mimic back to them their own moral and spiritual proclivities. The gospel of Jesus Christ is far more compelling, subverting and beautiful.

I recall an observation made last year by British historian Tom Holland, 

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

Affirming basic Christian beliefs will serve both our churches well, and our local communities. Anything else is a pathway to a brittle skeletal institutionalism and an irrelevance to the Kingdom God is building.

While it’s great to hear Mike Frost advocating mission, he’s sticking a cork in the breech here. How can shared mission take place when there isn’t agreement on the gospel and what it means to repent and what it means to be saved? Indeed how can there be partnership in any meaningful way when the very thing that unites Christians is disputed and even denied by some?

While Frost wants everyone to keep singing together, the reality is those baptists who advocate same-sex marriage are singing a different song, with different lyrics and melody. Their position not only contradicts the formal position on marriage, some are actively seeking to change this established position. The point is, these Baptists are unlikely to be satisfied until such time the denomination has changed to Australia’s latest views on sexuality and gender. After all, if they are serious about this being a justice and gospel issue, as I have often heard, how can they rest until the baptist view accepts same-sex weddings and marriages?

The notion that we can and will all live together in a joyful forward movement mission is somewhat disingenuous, given the ambition of some baptists is to change core baptist convictions. 

I’m praying for tomorrow’s meeting. Of course, it is difficult. If our churches are not able to have these important conversations and if we are not prepared to affirm the very things for which Christ died, then what are we about? God honours the faithfulness of his people. It may not win us popularity votes or praise in ecclesial halls, but there is something remarkably simple and attractive and good about faithfulness and sticking with what God says.

The people who often suffer most through these conversations are same-sex attracted Christians who believe in Jesus and are living faithful and celibate lives for the sake of the Kingdom. To have churches teaching that they need not repent and should instead live out their desires is a great and terrible disservice to these brothers and sisters. Should we not support and encourage them in godliness by affirming the same Gospel together?

I trust other State Unions may look on at what is transpiring in NSW and take courage to also stand and make these clear affirmations and positions for the sake of the Gospel around Australia. 

What does the Bible say about Church & State?

One of the important topics today is understanding church and state. I gave this sermon recently at my home church, Mentone Baptist Church.

The sermon explains why hardline secularism is problematic and so is Christian nationalism. The Bible doesn’t lead us in either direction but provides a better and dynamic relationship between church and state whether the two don’t fuse together and neither do they ignore each other.

The Queen is dead; Elizabeth lives

“Precious in the sight of the Lord

    is the death of his faithful servants.” (Psalm 116:15)

The Queen is dead. God save the King

I went to sleep last night having heard the breaking news that the Queen’s family were rushing to Balmoral and with Doctors concerned for her. I woke at 3:35am and checked my Twitter feed, and I watched the world hear the announcement that the Queen has died. This is one of those rare moments in life that one doesn’t forget. I spoke with my children this morning and told them, this is a history defining day.

With her death, there is a tangible sense of loss and grief. I am sad today. I never had the privilege of knowing her or meeting her. I once saw her for a few seconds in Australia as she drove by, and yet like many millions around the world, we sense that the world is a poorer place today with her passing. 

Like most people, I have known only one monarch during my life and so it is hard to fathom a world without Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. She was our head of State. Her image is printed on all Australian currency. Her name was never far from the news. The Queen of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth became a grandmother figure to leaders across the globe, giving stability and assurance to a rapidly changing and uncertain world. 

Queen Elizabeth II ascended the throne during the post-war years, and she reigned through the revolutionary 60s, the rise of pop culture, man on the moon, the fall of the Soviet Union, the creation of the internet,  9/11, the smartphone, Brexit, and countless crises and peaks. Her Majesty served her country and the Commonwealth with unparalleled grace, repose, sincerity and love. The Queen had the remarkable fortitude to stand above the heat of political maneuverings and culture wars. Even through family tragedies and sadness, our Queen did not flinch from her promise to love and serve her people. 

In part due to her long reign, and much because of her dignity and servant nature, Queen Elizabeth stands as perhaps the most important world figure of the last 70 years. Her first Prime Minister was Winston Churchill, arguably the most important man of the first half of the 20th Century. It does not require much argument to see Her Majesty as the most emblematic and esteemed leader of the second half of the 20th Century and over these first decades of the 21st Century.

It is right to pause today and give thanks to God for her life. It is appropriate to take time to consider her passing and to mourn. The reason is not that her life has more value than any other. Thousands of people have died across the world today and Queen Elizabeth is but one of those lives. However, her position as our monarch, and the integrity and honour in which she has conducted her role, leaves not only an impression on the pages of history but perhaps brings a close to one of the final chapters of history.

Her reign oversaw the greatest momentum in human technological and economic advancement that history has ever witnessed, and the world through globalisation became much smaller. In recent times, especially over the last 5 years, we have begun to watch a disintegration of global homogeny and there is an infection eating our culture and splintering communities and families alike. While we have never been closer in proximity, waves of ideology is attacking the very notion of human identity and defying the imago dei, and nationalist ideals are rekindling and creating a world that is less safe for our children. The pieces are moving quickly and any notion of Francis Fukuyama’s vision is proven to be little more than hubris and misplaced self-belief. 

I will pray for the Queen’s family today, and pray for King Charles III. The Scriptures command Christians, “petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness”, and so that is what I will do.  

The greatest contribution offered to the world by Queen Elizabeth was her faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, in whom she believed and placed her ultimate hope. At Easter 2020, Her Majesty spoke of the resurrection of Jesus,

“The discovery of the risen Christ on the first Easter Day gave his followers new hope and fresh purpose… As dark as death can be – particularly for those suffering with grief – light and life are greater.”

Last year in her annual Christmas speech, the Queen shared her trust in the Lord Jesus. She said,

“Jesus teachings have been the bedrock of my faith”.

And she concluded by pointing us to her hope,

“His birth marked a new beginning. As the carol says: The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight”

A monarch who bows the knee to Jesus as Lord encapsulates the posture and foresight to rule and be an example for people to follow. 

The Queen is dead. Elizabeth lives.

“For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” (1 Thess 4:14)

Queen Elizabeth ascended to the throne during a time of dawning hope and mounting optimism following half a century of global bloodshed. She leaves the earth with the light of hope in human determination growing dim over the world, but the light she saw in God’s gospel of grace remains bright and clear and now our Queen is meeting the King of Kings and enjoying his presence forevemore.

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,

    you may now dismiss your servant in peace.

For my eyes have seen your salvation,

     which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:

a light for revelation to the Gentiles,

    and the glory of your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32)

GAFCON leading the way

A game of AFL is taking place on a local oval when a small group jump the fence and start kicking a round ball along the ground. The game stops. Players approach the group and ask them to desist. 

They retort, ‘we’re also playing football.

The players answer, ‘no, you’re playing a different game. Different ball, different shaped ground, different goals….if you’re interested, you can join us but first of all, get rid of the soccer ball’.

The group insist, ‘no, we are playing football. We can all play together at the same time.”

In trying to point out the obvious, someone again speaks up, ‘hang on, look…the balls are a different shape. The goals are different. You’re wanting a completely different sport.’

Ignoring the self-evident, the group gaslight the footy plays and again insist, 

“We’re going to use this ground. Let’s talk about it. Let’s arrange a series of meetings to sort it out. After all, what we share in common is far greater than our differences.”

In the meantime, the match has been severely disrupted, the umpires feel bullied, and with each new sentence uttered by the small group of soccer players, they encroach further onto the oval and begin handing out Man U jumpers to everyone.

A significant announcement was made this week, one which may change the Church landscape in Australia. The decision is not so much about changing the game but is confirming that we will not change the game. GAFCON is responding to what is a tireless intrusion onto Christian Churches by certain bishops and leaders who are trying to change the Gospel beyond recognition. They are not playing the same game as Christians Churches, but something quite different. 

Bishop Richard Condie, has explained the situation well, 

“You know as well as I do that there is an emergency…When some of our bishops have failed to affirm basic biblical teachings [on marriage and sexual ethics] at the recent General Synod – when 12 of our bishops failed to uphold what Christians have taught for millennia – you know there is an emergency.”

“The issue for us is the authority of the Bible.”

He’s right. And let’s not fall for the red herring, “GAFCON are obsessed with sex and sexuality”, as one person put it yesterday. Not at all. It is the errant bishops who keep pushing and insisting churches allow and change their doctrines and practices on sex and marriage. GAFCON is rightly observing how these aberrant views impact and are ultimately shaped by a distorted theology of the Bible and the Gospel.

Marriage may be the presenting issue, but it is about so much more. There is an irreconcilable view of the Bible, of the cross, of the nature of sin and salvation, and the list continues. It shouldn’t surprise us to learn that ecclesial leaders who reject the Bible’s teaching on sexuality often don’t believe in other crucial doctrines including the atonement and the resurrection.

As we turn to Jesus, we find the superlative includer. Jesus shows kindness and mercy toward those who for 100 reasons sit outside the Kingdom of God.  The very definition of a Christian is someone who did not belong and now by grace alone is welcomed by God. The same Jesus insisted on the biblical teaching on marriage and human sexuality. Jesus describes any sexual activity outside marriage between a man and a woman as ‘immoral. Today’s faithless bishops are pretty much saying,  Jesus is wrong.

The Bible is clear, our moral practitioning is connected to other essential Christian beliefs about God and about sin and salvation and more.

“Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. 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 6:9-11)

“ We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10 for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine 11 that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.” (1 Timothy 1:9-11)

Churches that adopt the anthropological positions of popular culture are not serving their community well or God. They are giving people a message without hope and without grace. They are like an old English General sipping his brandy from a grand chateau while sending a carrier pigeon to the front line and telling the soldiers in the trenches, ‘there is peace. You are safe. All is well’. 

Even as hundreds of Australian Anglicans meet in Canberra this week, I’ve heard some Anglican voices crying out, ‘peace, peace…what we need to do is keep dialoguing and living together’.

This reminds me of Bishop Curry and his famed sermon of ‘love’ at Meghan and Prince Harry’s wedding in 2018. Behind the scenes, this preacher of love was seizing church properties and dragging leaders before disciplinary hearings. For what crime of the church? These pastors and churches continued to teach the orthodox position on marriage rather than capitulating to the culture. 

Conversations and meetings and forums and synods have met for years, and sadly little progress made. What are Christian Churches meant to do when bishops and coaches insist on changing the very game?

GAFCON is choosing faithfulness to God over allegiance to broken institutions.

The Sydney Morning Herald has published a fair report on the story, although there was this one unfortunate line,

“The Diocese of the Southern Cross was formally launched in Canberra on Sunday. The first service was led by a rebel minister who resigned from the liberal Brisbane Archdiocese because he “cannot go along with same-sex blessings”.

Rebel isn’t the right word to describe Rev Peter Palmer. He has given up a steady stipend and is now driving a bus to put bread on the table. His congregation has lost their church’s property. Far from being a ‘rebel minister’, Palmer is a Christian minister who has chosen to remain faithful to Jesus while his Diocesan bishops have chosen faithlessness to both the Gospel and the churches under their care. 

As news of this week’s GAFCON announcement circulates, I am not hearing cheers and laughter over the decision to introduce a new Anglican Diocese in Australia, but tears and lament at seeing ecclesial leaders persisting with errant teachings and destroying churches under their care. And there is love for God and the deep desire for the Gospel to go out to Australians.

Christ’s Church is holy to God. The Gospel is too vital for Christians to play ball with those who are maligning it.  People (both inside and outside churches) are too important and misleading them with errant teachings doesn’t help anyone.

This issue isn’t limited to the Anglican Communion. There are other Christian denominations in Australia facing similar trouble. Eventually, we must decide, who will we follow. Will we obey the Lord of the Church, Jesus Christ, or will we play the role of the chameleon and keep changing the gospel according to the whims of the culture?

Should Church-run hospitals be forced to perform abortions?

Preface: please read the entire piece & not just one or two snippets. The whole argument matters, not just a quote or two. thank you

———————————–

I’m beginning to think that when some people read ‘1984’ and ‘A Brave New World’, their impression is, what a great idea. Let’s model our society on ‘Oceania’ or ‘World State’!

There is a certain predictability about our political and social overlords: Christianity is bad, science is a subject in the Arts faculty, and conscience is only free for those who follow the right agenda. 

In its latest iteration, Victorian Legislative Council member, Fiona Patten, from the Sex Party (sorry, it’s now called ‘Reason’ Party) is tabling legislation that will force Church-based hospitals and health institutions to perform abortions. Patten’s Bill threatens these hospitals with losing their public funding if they refuse patient requests for abortion. 

Before I respond to Patten’s reasoning, I want to admit that abortion isn’t a topic I like to write about. I appreciate how this is a very real and sensitive and emotionally charged issue for many people. Despite angry messages that I receive from certain quarters, the reality is, women carry tremendous guilt and pain from having an abortion, even many years later. ‘Celebrate your abortion’ may be a thing right now, but behind the slogans, many women struggle. The way to find forgiveness and freedom from the past isn’t to redefine a wrongful act as good, as our political representatives feel necessary today, but to take the harder and better road that Jesus outlines: admit our terrible decisions and turn to God who is big enough and willing to wipe away every spot of guilt. Churches and religious organisations remain communities who gladly help where there is a difficult pregnancy, and who also gladly welcome people who carry heavy burdens. Churches are not communities of the moral oppressors, but of those who found a loving and forgiving God. I encourage readers to ignore the caricatures of Christianity that we read about in the media and instead check out the real thing for ourselves.

Having said that, Fiona Patten explains her legislation, 

“Publicly funded hospitals and other health institutions have no right to refuse these legally enshrined rights that a woman has control over her body and reproductive health.”

“Religion is a blessing to many amid the mysteries and vagaries of existence, but imposed religious faith has no place in the public health system.”

According to The Guardian

“Patten said institutions should not be able to claim “conscientious objection” and that the bill would ensure public hospitals were not able to prevent a doctor from performing legal abortion procedures.”

First of all, let the reader understand, Fiona Patten does not believe in the separation of Church and State. She thinks that the State ought to control religion. The State of Victoria has witnessed the slow erosion of this healthy distinction (and partnership) in recent years, including the State removing freedom from religious institutions to employ people on the basis of their religious convictions, and banning certain prayers and conversations with fellow Victorians. Patten believes that the State should force religious health providers to perform acts of killing unborn children, an action that deliberately cuts against sound religious convictions. 

Patten regularly campaigns to have any vestige of Christianity removed from the public square (ie think the Lord’s Prayer in Parliament*) and she regularly promotes legislation that will bring down State sanctioned secular ideology onto religious organisations. This is but the latest manifestation of a growing trend.

This is dangerous political overreach. 

Second, does Fiona Patten appreciate that her threat will only further harm our health system, a healthy system that is already overburdened and not coping? Is throwing rocks at vital and overworked hospitals going to help the sick and injured? Removing public funding from these hospitals won’t save lives and relieve the mounting pressures and massive backlog of important surgeries. 

Instead of threatening religion-based hospitals, perhaps our political representatives should ask, how can we be helping?

Third, in the grand tradition of doublespeak, Fiona Patten obscures the reality of abortion by ignoring the life of the child and speaking of a woman’s right. Few activists admit today that the child in the womb is anything less than a human being. Science and technology simply won’t allow the ‘clump of cells’ myth to continue. We can see the little human inside the mother’s womb growing. Even at 16 weeks, we now know that babies are thinking and feeling. They respond to sound and to music. Their cognitive faculties, creative faculties, and listening and communication skills are far more advanced than was once believed. 

“I am reminded of the words spoken by one excited mum, ‘As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy” (Luke 1:44).

A society that claims a right to destroy such life is a society that has lost sight of its humanity and its obligations to the most vulnerable. But not content with abortion taking place in public and some private medical centres, move is afoot to force religious medical providers to perform this unconscionable act.

The prophet Isaiah said, 

“Woe to those who call evil good

    and good evil,

who put darkness for light

    and light for darkness,

who put bitter for sweet

    and sweet for bitter.”

I suspect Fiona Patten’s Bill will fail to win sufficient support in Parliament. I could be wrong, but I don’t think the majority of Victorians would think her reasoning is reasonable. Nonetheless, let the reader understand that she doesn’t represent a marginal cultural perspective but rather she belongs to the vanguard of cultural change. We shouldn’t be surprised to see, as we have on other issues, that ‘try, try, again’ will eventually see hardline authoritarian secularism succeed.

I wonder, does Fiona Patten believe that the State should have the power to coerce her to act against her conscience? As we’ve seen with the Manly 7 and a growing list of examples, the argument for conscience moves in only one direction, and that’s not a song and dance routine that I want to follow. 

What do other Victorians think? Should doctors and nurses be compelled to take human life?

What a crazy, sinful, grief giving world we live in. 

The insatiable blackhole of today’s groupthink requires a response that our political and culture wars can’t handle. Facts, figures and commonsense rarely belong to the debates of today, and even more rare is the nuance and grace that we desperately need. In our thinking, we need to dig deeper.

Of course, Christians aren’t going to cave into Patten’s threats and start killing babies. What an absurdity! Without giving an inch to this grim ideological pressure, I caution against responding with anger or with spite. Rather, follow the example of Jesus. At the beginning of what we now called the Passion week, Jesus stood over Jerusalem, and he wept. Jesus said,

“If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.”  He then entered the city, resolved to lay down his life for those who wanted to take his. 

—————

  • Christians recognise there are valid reasons for keeping the Lord’s Prayer in Parliament and for removing the Lord’s Prayer from Parliament.

Peter FitzSimons doesn’t understand the Manly 7

The NRL is the latest promoter of inclusion to exclude people of faith. On Monday the Manly Sea Eagles unveiled their newest jersey, with the gay pride colours splashed across the front. 

I have little interest in the game of Rugby League, although I did live through the scrummage of Sydney for 4 years. When it comes to preferencing football codes, for me NRL ranks some below quidditch (sorry, I meant, quad ball!). Having said that, stories like the one coming out of Manly this week are happening across Australia in schools and workplaces, as well as in sports. This is simply the latest high-profile example of what is now going on in many pockets of societal life, work, and play. I regularly hear stories of children being urged and manipulated into wearing coloured ribbons and supporting organisations, and workplaces forcing special days and causes onto staff.

The 7 Manly players informed the club that they cannot wear the rainbow jersey on account of their religious beliefs. This isn’t a decision that they or any players should be forced to make. After all, the fact that Muslims, Christians, marrieds, singles, gays and others can already wear the normal jumper is a sign of inclusion. But we are no longer living in that world.  Professional sport now comes attached to all kinds of amendments and attachments. 

The public reaction has been mixed, and the media have jumped all over it. Manly’s coach, Des Hasler, was put in the unenviable position of facing the media yesterday. I thought he did a sterling job given the circumstances. On behalf of the club, he apologised to everyone and recognised that the club had handled the issue poorly (apparently no club official thought it worthwhile to first talk to players about the jersey idea and see if it would cause anyone offence). The club (whether they wish to or not) will go ahead with the new jumper for this weekend’s game and the 7 players will sit out the game.

Like a well-regulated bowel motion, Peter FitzSimons leapt to his usual tricks. Within minutes of the story breaking, he swung his rhetorical axe and called for the 7 players to leave Manly. 

“The short answer for all seven should be: “No probs, and good luck with your new club!”

Yesterday, he continued, writing an opinion piece for the SMH. Even before the game starts, Fitz blew his whistle to call out anyone who might disagree with him, 

“o many points, so little time. So little space, so many space cadets.’ You have been named!”

That’s good to know. Fitz views dissenters as intellectually feeble and cognitively inept. He’s smart enough to know that such insults will win praise among his followers, but it achieves little in encouraging serious dialogue.

Fitz not only detests Christianity, he doesn’t get it. 

What the hell is wrong with you blokes that you don’t get it? You are prepared to trash the entire Manly season on this issue alone? In a world where rugby league has led the sporting fraternity in making change, in making it clear that the game really is for all races, all genders, all sexualities, all religions you want to make a stand for …”

Let’s be clear, it is the football club that made the decision and assumed players would have no issue wearing the different jumper. I’m sure the 7 players love the game and their club and are desperate to play, but what Fitz fails to realise is that there is a higher code than football. For Christians, all of life is about Jesus and wanting to represent him well. If we are forced to make a decision between Jesus and football, the answer is kind of obvious. 

In our age where we are supposedly sensitive toward the consciences of others, does FitzSimons really believe these players should act against faith and conscience?

It was Jesus who said,

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”

Fitz not only fails to appreciate the nature of Christian discipleship, he also misrepresents the rainbow banner.

“That is all that Manly wearing the rainbow jersey is saying. To put it in terms that might resonate, “We are all God’s little creatures, and we come in all shapes and sizes, all colours, all sexualities, so isn’t it all just wonderful!””

Wearing the jumper isn’t about solidarity, it represents conformity. Wearing the colours is very much about promoting what Stephen McAlpine famously calls, ‘our sexular age’. He says,

“the Pride story is a good news story itself. It’s an alternate gospel.”

Mcalpine is right. The pride story is a story of self salvation. Redemption is all about self realisation. Rather than the Bible’s story of us needing divine salvation from sin in ourselves, today’s culture says that I define my own value system and it’s the job of God and everyone else to affirm me. 

As pop icon Taylor Swift proclaimed during a recent speech,

“I know it can be really overwhelming figuring out who to be, and when. Who you are now and how to act in order to get where you want to go. I have some good news: it’s totally up to you. I also have some terrifying news: it’s totally up to you.”

That’s today’s gospel: Be your authentic self. 

The thing about the pride gospel is that it’s not satisfied with individuals arriving at their own decision, everybody else has to join the chorus, and not singing along just proves you’re a hateful awful, repressive social recalcitrant. 

In the real world, I can think of same sex attracted people who’d refuse to wear the rainbow colours. There are gays and lesbians who don’t wish to promote the LGBTIQ+ movement, and who for various reasons could not in clear conscience support Manly’s decision. Of course, they won’t stick their heads over the parapet, and I don’t blame them. Why should they share their views, only to have Peter FitzSimons call them bigots?

The rainbow message doesn’t represent inclusion, it’s about capitulation. It represents doing away with traditional sexual ethics and embracing a new and unforgiving ‘truth’.  Does anyone remember the Coopers’ beer incident from 2016? Two politicians sat down over a Coopers beer to talk about same-sex marriage. Tim Wilson spoke in support of changing the law and Andrew Hastie spoke against. It was a civil conversation about an important issue, and yet within hours pubs around the country were destroying their supply of Coopers beer and the company was pressured into apologising and to wave every rainbow flag they could get their hands on. 

Today’s message isn’t to hum along to ‘let it be’, it is forced conversion. The Manly story is a perfect example of this. The players were given no choice other than to wear the pride colours, regardless of their personal convictions.

This isn’t just a problem for professional sportsmen and sportswomen, the pressure is real in workplaces, universities and schools across the country. HR Departments pressure employees to fall into line with the latest version of the coloured flag. School is a difficult environment for children who are convinced by Christian, Jewish or Muslim views of sexuality, marriage and family.

Peter FitzSimons continues his game plan by weirdly mounting what reads like a backhanded racist attack,

“You are mostly from the wonderful Islander community, one that is beloved in the football community and wider still. Nevertheless, there really are shocking bigots who have attacked that community through nothing other than their own bigotry. How do you not get that your actions disgust most, but please many of the very same bigots who judge people on their race?”

Is he seriously suggesting to these Islanders didn’t arrive at their Christian beliefs through their own careful investigations and deliberations, but somewhere they are victims of bigots (presumably white colonial Christian missionaries)? I suspect a retraction is in order. 

A number of people have already alerted Fitz to his inconsistent views. Instead of acknowledging his mistake, he doubles down and insults people for recognising the hypocrisy in his position.

For example, a young muslim woman stood for her beliefs earlier this year and refused to wear the rainbow colours on her AFLW jersey. She said,

 “As the first Australian Muslim woman in the AFLW, I have a responsibility to represent my faith and my community,

In Fitz’s mind she receives a free pass because,

“she is already progressive enough to break down the barriers to be the first Islamic woman to play in the AFLW – and to have played in the Pride round last year, albeit without personally wearing the jersey.”

Both cases are pretty much identical, and yet Fitz blows the whistle at one and not the other. Why? Because it’s okay for a white Aussie bloke to blow his trumpet against male Christians. But a Muslim woman isn’t an acceptable target. In other words, because she is a Muslim woman we can forgive her, but these 7 Christian men are beyond our grace.  In contrast to Fitz’s double standards, a more consistent view is to say that both have reasonable cause not to wear the pride jumper and they should not be compelled to do so.

I remember at the time of of the marriage plebiscite, Lisa Wilkinson was among the voices promising that same sex marriage won’t change anything. 

“What happened in Ireland, and Great Britain, most of continental Europe, most of the Americas, New Zealand, Canada and all the rest?

Again.

Nothing.”

Jane Gilmour assured Aussies, 

“The people advocating for marriage equality in Australia are not attempting to impose their beliefs on to any church, they are simply objecting to churches imposing their definition of marriage onto the rest of us.”

Australia’s new Attorney General, Mark Dreyfus, spoke at a Freedom for Faith Conference in 2016, saying, 

“I challenge people here to demonstrate that changing the Marriage Act will lead to negative changes in religious freedom.”

I don’t think anyone really believed Wilkinson and others at the time. After all, other social commentators gladly preached a message of social change, 

For example,

Auberry Perry, in The Age (Sept. 3, 2017),

“This survey offers us a conscious opportunity to make a firm stand in support of a secular government and to reject discrimination or favouritism based on religion. It’s our opportunity to say that religion has no part in the shaping of our laws. A vote against same-sex marriage is a vote for religious bias and discrimination in our legislation, our public schools, our healthcare, and ultimately, in the foundation of our social structure.”

Mauvre Marsden wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald (Oct 4, 2017),

“Yes, marriage is not the final frontier. Yes, we want safe schools. Yes, gay conversion therapy is child abuse. Yes, we want transgender kids’ agency to be respected and supported – regardless of what their parents want. Yes.”

We’re no longer living in Athens and we’re no longer invited to speak at the Areopagus. This is imperial Rome where sacrifice to the gods is made compulsory for every citizen. I can hear Fitz saying, ‘you can believe in your Christian God at home or in the private setting of your church, but out here you are obliged to follow our gods.’ 

In the space of a few years we have seen hundreds of organisations and corporations guilted into signing up the latest iterations of the sexular age. After all, no one wants to be called a bigot, especially as the insult is usually untrue. Public statements and policies can barely keep up with the changing rules that are determined by our moral overloads. The changes have real implications for real people. In Victoria, religious organisations have lost the freedom to employ people on the basis of the association’s beliefs. Again in Victoria, some religious conversations and prayers are now illegal. The Christian view of marriage and human sexuality is described by Victorian Education Department materials as phobic. Across Australia, businesses, clubs, and schools feel the pressure to embrace all the latest (and ever changing) sexologies. 

I’m not hankering for the supposed good old days and neither am I bemoaning today, this is about recognising the space in which we now live.

Let’s be honest, when the boss at work or school principal hands out the rainbow flags and pin, the answer for Christians is clear. However, when you’re being tackled, it’s normal to feel the pressure. It’s not easy to stand up to a group assault. After all, won’t life be easier if we slip on the jumper? We’re not being asked to make a public comment, not yet anyway. And it’s just for 1 day in the year…until next year.

If you (Christian) haven’t already sorted out your convictions, now’s the time to do so. Understand your ultimate allegiance and prepare your answer. 

I thank God for the Manly 7.  Anyone thinking that because they are well paid professional footballers, their stance is an easy one, think again. Sometimes a high profile makes the fall harder. 

And I feel for Fitz. He mocks and disdains the message that he clearly does not understand. It’s the message that means everything to these Manly players, even more than playing rugby league. Their decision may impact their future in the game (time will tell), but I suspect they understand that choosing to wear that jumper would bring an even greater cost. 

What’s even more problematic than the position forced on the Manly 7, is how the public conversation is forced into a false dichotomy: either you fully support gay players and wear the colours or you are a hateful bigot. This is a false binary. No matter how often Peter FitzSimons and your HR department preach it, it remains untrue.

The life of Jesus Christ shows how he often disagreed with peoples’ thoughts, words and actions. Does his disagreement represent fear and hatred? Or is it love that drives him to say ‘no’ to us? The central message of Christianity is that God disproves of our many of our desires and decisions, and yet his love led the Lord Jesus to the cross. Christians can’t wave the rainbow flag but we can and do love our gay and lesbian friends.  We enjoy playing sport alongside you and eating meals and going to concerts. There is something good and sensical, although sadly it’s becoming rare, when we can say, I disagree with you but I am nonetheless committed to your good.  I think you’ve made a mistake, but I remain your friend.

————————-

Steve McAlpine helpfully explains the difference between the pride colours and wearing a jumper with club sponsors in this piece – https://stephenmcalpine.com/manly-in-babylon/?fbclid=IwAR29Az8ICNVJf_VcXSUwINDxnwTZBekk53gnkMUFHYcHGfkL1VT4as1JntM

“I’m not an idiot”

“I’m not an idiot”, so said Michael Jensen in an interview with Peter FitzSimons for Sunday’s Sydney Morning Herald

FitzSimons opening barrage on Jensen was to portray Christianity in his typically parodic manner, as though Christians are a bunch of uneducated, antiscientific, and annoying cluster of flies. Hence, Michael’s initial response. Although to be fair, apart from the opening line to Jensen,  the article is pretty decent and Fitz does a good job in questioning both Fiona Patton and Michael Jensen. His topics were the Lord’s Prayer and churches’ tax exemption status. 

For those who don’t know of Fiona Patten, she is a member of the Legislative Council in the Victorian Parliament. Her party, Reason Party, was formally called the Sex Party. Unsurprisingly, Patten is a passionate advocate for progressive sex ideology. Michael Jensen on the other hand is Senior Pastor at St Mark’s Darling Point in Sydney and holds a PhD from Oxford University.

On the topic of the Lord’s prayer, Michael Jensen is typically Christian as he sees both pros and cons with Parliament reciting the Lord’s Prayer. On the issue of tax exemption rules, Jensen explains,

“the first thing to say is that Jesus told us to pay taxes and churches should too, on [straight-out businesses they run]. But churches as places of worship come under the charity law as a community group and for the purposes of taxation don’t have special privileges that other community groups don’t have. So sports, for example, don’t pay tax because they are a community group, as are trade unions, things like Men’s Shed, the CWA and indeed political parties. So this is not a special provision just for churches. And when it comes to churches, the view is that money put in the plate has already been taxed – it is people’s after-tax dollars – and so doesn’t need to be further taxed, just as when people donate to community groups.”

“Tax law needs supervision, needs compliance and needs data to be administered properly. Most of the long-established churches like ours have an accumulated wealth, particularly through property, because of our longevity in Australia – and most of our buildings are held in a trust to support the purposes for which the organisation exists, which is not for making profit. So we’re not remotely a business in that sense.”

Jensen is correct. I acknowledge that I’m biased, but it does not require a PhD from Oxford to realise that Jensen’s explanation is reasoned and grounded in what actually happens in churches across Australia and how their financial paradigm fits comfortably within the ACNC (Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission). Of course, where churches engage in business enterprises they rightly follow the law and pay their taxes. If and when there are examples of churches failing to comply, it is appropriate for authorities to investigate. 

Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

Fiona Patten holds a very different view from Michael Jensen. In this interview, she offers a clear explanation as to why she believes churches should be taxed: she doesn’t like them. 

“If you are talking about religious charities, providing shelter for the homeless, food for the hungry – what we in society consider real charity – I absolutely think those genuine charities should be tax-exempt, and I totally support that. But the problem is the tax exemption the law provides for “the advancement of religion”. That used to be regarded as being for the public benefit but fewer people than ever think that. And why should you get a tax break for promoting a superstition?”

First of all, what Patten describes as ‘real charity’ is in error. The ACNC includes all kinds of organisations, including, community sporting clubs, unions, political parties, Rotary and Lions, and more. Is Fiona Patten suggesting that all these should have their tax exemption rescinded because they are not involved in giving food to the hungry?

If you look at Patten’s words, her position is hardly an argument, but it is a reason of sorts. She doesn’t like religion, therefore churches should lose their tax exemption status. Now, there are many charitable organisations that I don’t particularly like or attach much value to.  I don’t enjoy swimming or basketball, but should these sporting clubs lose their not-for-profit status because I personally don’t receive benefit? Can I not admit what is true, and that is, that other people find value in these community organisations even if I don’t? But of course, this is the issue: Christianity is not only viewed as irrelevant, but it is also immoral and dangerous. Or at least, that’s the narrative being preached around the country from university campuses to school classrooms and newspaper opinion pieces. 

In this interview, Michael Jensen is simply stating facts, as the Federal Minister for Charities, Andrew Leigh, confirmed. And yet, social media yesterday turned on industrial-sized heaters, blowing angry and distasteful commentary.

John Dickson said, 

“The Fitz article is good. The responses demonstrate a key point in our debate about taxing churches as businesses. Those who oppose church tax exemptions do so (almost invariable) because they despise – ‘bigoted’ ‘stupid’ ‘paedophilic’ ‘nonsense’ ‘fairytale’ – religion!”

A few hours later John tweeted further,

“The level of anti-religion argument in this country is very poor. It is emotion and distaste all the way down. Bring back the old atheists, I say!”

Over at the land of twits I offered a simple affirmation of Michael Jensen’s answers, and it didn’t take long for Fitz’s followers to unload. It’s not as though people offered rebuttal as such, it was more akin to pointing a flamethrower at anyone standing with Jensen.

For example, 

“I just read this, all nonsense. You talk about dependence on God, which one, Thor, Odin? Get this nonsense out of our govt.”

“What rubbish”

“What benefits did christianity bring again? Ignorant belief in imaginary gods used as an excuse for control of others, forced unwilling pregnancies on women, looked away from paedophilia & domestic violence, great examples of man’s evil though.”

“Seriously, can’t you do better than that?

“Let’s reverse it – You just love religion. That’s the only real reason you have for defending tax breaks for religion. 

See how facile that is?”

And then this doozy for a happily married man of 22+ years…

“You virgin Murray!”

I can receive a lot worse than these contributions, but the examples I’ve cited are nonetheless telling. These comments and countless more like them simply rehash Patten’s view: ‘I don’t like religion, therefore we should remove their tax exemption.’

It’s a sad state of affairs but this is the calibre of what’s becoming normalised public scrutiny and debate today. Rather than weighing on facts and reason and listening carefully to the other, debate is shut down by the loudest mob. They don’t need to rely on evidence or rationality,  pushing people into silence is effective. And it’s proving effective because Christianity is no longer seen as stupid, it is an evil that requires intervention. Of course, Christianity and evil are diametrically opposed,  but this is not how Aussies are taught to view Christianity any longer. 

Yes, Christians are at times obnoxious and give off an unpleasant smell. More often, Australians assume to be true what they hear repeated often enough and they believe what they are taught, and what we are taught is that Christianity is bad for you. Hillsong was used as an example by both Patten and people on social media. Hillsong is a popular target, and for some reason, but 99.9% of churches are not Hillsong, and judging the whole on the basis of that single example is superficial at best, and fallacious at worst. 

It’s important for Christians to come to terms with how the fabric of education and belief has shifted in Western countries like Australia. The Christian message, and therefore Churches, is a social toxin that requires social, political, and even legal action to minimise its spread. It is therefore only natural for people to believe churches don’t deserve their tax exemption status. After all, if Christianity is bad for you, why should the Government provide tax exemptions?

There are people who are hurt by religion. There are people who hate religion, by which they usually mean Christianity. There are many people who simply do not understand Christianity. Michael Jensen has served us well.

Yesterday’s pushback on Jensen reminds me how Churches have more work to do to correct these misnomers about churches and money, and most importantly about the nature and purpose of the local church. Of course, churches can preach and live as faithfully to Jesus as possible and still face wild outrage and bitterness, but let’s not be too quick to throw out all opposition into the basket named, ‘hatred’.  One of the trends we are seeing is growing ignorance of what Christianity is about and for that, we can hardly blame the average Aussie. To be sure,  our cultural elites must take some responsibility as they distort Christianity in the ploy to remove her influence from society. Churches shoulder greater responsibility for the confusion that exists in our broader society. Why? Gospel clarity and conviction and teaching and life are often missing from our churches. The beauty and power of the Christian message is often defused by poorly trained pastors or through religious Benedict Arnolds.

I happen to agree with Fiona Patten in that some religions are little more than superstition, but others are not. Christianity is necessarily and integrally grounded in history and reality. The claims of Jesus Christ are consequential because they are rooted in real events and real people and for a real world. Far from superstition, Christianity provides the very ideas that have converged to build the very best of Australian society and the building blocks necessary for democratic liberalism and social pluralism: the equality and dignity of all human beings, the art of persuasion not coercion, belief in the rule of law, and so on. 

Christians have a better story. It’s not a story that Christians are somehow better than others (for we are not), but a living example that shows how crucified and now living Christ is better. The Federal Minister for Charities, Andrew Leigh, is an atheist and yet recognises the ways in which belief in God and joining a religious community changes peoples lives for the better, creating greater generosity and servanthood and helping out for the good of others (cf Leigh’s interview with John Dickson).  

While fewer Australians are formally identifying with religion, the fact is that the advancement of religion remains hugely important to millions of Australians. More so, at a time when Australia is experiencing less social cohesion and staggering levels of loneliness and people living without hope, there is an argument for churches having an even greater role and responsibility in bringing people together. Removing the tax status of churches is not only irrational, but Australian society will also be worse off. Churches are communities where people come and share life together and find the answers to life’s greatest questions. These are communities where people enormous amount of time and energy to loving others and sacrificially giving. These are voluntary associations where people gather to learn and discover the greatest message the world has ever known. Yes, it requires money for the upkeep of buildings and utilities and ministries. The social capital for broader Australian society is huge, and dare I say it, the implications are of eternal nature.

Disagree with Christianity by all means. Let us listen and argue well and disagree well, but removing churches’ tax exemptions will achieve little more than shooting ourselves in the head and expecting a good outcome to follow.

What are church pastors up to right now?

I’m going on leave today and beginning the first family holiday in 3 1/2 years. Before I sit beside the swimming pool and eat lots of satay, I thought I would update a list that I scribbled down late last year which mentions some of the tasks and responsibilities pastors have had to carry during the pandemic. 

You’ll notice a couple of items have now been successfully crossed off the list, however, there are others that have been added. 

Pastoring a church is a tremendous privilege and joy, and it’s not always an easy task. Indeed there are reasons why many pastors burn out after the first few years and many don’t make it beyond 10 years in the ministry. The COVID pandemic has bowled a googley at all of us, no matter our religious views, job, and life situation. Pastors are not immune from the daily stresses, troubles, and temptations that we all face. If there is a difference, there is an expectation that pastors will continue to work with a smile on the face, that they will accept all comments made to their face and behind their back, and push through whatever the cost. 

Many pastors have shared with me how they are going; some were treading water late last year, and some now feel as though they’re sinking. This isn’t because our task is necessarily harder than others , but for this one simple reason, we are just like everyone else. It’s because of one such conversation that I first wrote down and share this list, hoping to an open window and let people see inside and gain a snapshot of the kinds of issues and responsibilities confronting pastors in Melbourne churches at the moment (in no particular order). Additions to last year’s list are written in bold and those items that are now resolved are crossed out:

  • We are trying to pastor people who have undergone all manner of trials and hardships over the past 2 years.
  • Trying to love and pastor people who are wrestling with all manner of non pandemic related difficulties.
  • Recognising that everyone is tired, run down, and desperate for a holiday, pastors don’t want to burden their congregations with what are often routine tasks, so they agree to shoulder a little more. Rather than 2022 seeing things returning to normal, we are finding that people are even less able to serve in regular ways, as COVID continues and many people struggle with flu and colds.
  • Every week somewhere between 30%-50% of the congregation is away with COVID, flu or colds. The capacity to run services, Sunday school and more is challenging and it’s often impossible to find last minute volunteers to fill in gaps for those who are sick or away.
  • Reminder our people of the mission field and gearing everyone for evangelism.
  • Organising financial aid, meals, and other helps for members who are struggling.
  • Encouraging and equipping team leaders and filling in for them when they need a break.
  • Overseeing COVID Safe plans.
  • Planning the regathering of our churches after months without any in person gatherings, and doing so under tight and changing Government directives.
  • While many people are about to wind down for the year and planning to go away and take off time, the pastor’s workload is increasing.
  • We are counselling those who are nervous about returning to church, including those who are immuno-compromised and those who are fearful of becoming a COVID close contact and being forced into isolation (again).
  • We are counselling those who remain unvaccinated and who are feeling hard done by as a result of Government rules.
  • Navigating 50 different expectations and demands on what returning to church ought to look like.
  • Navigating 50 different expectations and demands on what church should look like in 2022
  • Advocating the Government for the unvaccinated to be free to return to church while also encouraging people to be vaccinated and knowing the responsibility to protect the vulnerable.
  • Working to uphold the unity of the Spirit through the bonds of peace when society has become fragmented and angry and these influences capture hearts inside the church.  
  • Urging people to remain gospel centred rather than allow political issues and allegiances to dominate and divide.
  • Writing and preaching sermons every week.
  • Organising church services.
  • Leading Bible study groups.
  • Training leaders.
  • Meeting with leadership teams.
  • Keeping an eye on ever unstable finances.
  • Having late nights away from the family because of another meeting or crisis.
  • Processing Victoria’s new Conversion and Suppression Practices laws that target Christians, Writing articles and letters to raise awareness, appealing to the Government to overturn these unjust laws, and preparing our churches for laws that are a genuine threat to Christian freedom, belief, and practice. 
  • Reading, understanding and responding to legislation amending the Equal Opportunity Act which will further limit religious freedom in Victoria.
  • Spending time in prayer for the people under our care, and for our community and the world around us.
  • Fast tracking the reading of books and articles that’s required to understand the theological doozys that regularly arise in our preaching and in our pastoral care.
  • Christmas. Did someone say we’re having Christmas Carol services and Christmas Day services? 
  • Planning for 2022. Who knows what that will mean!
  • Planning the second half of 2022, and realising how uncertain our plans can be
  • Welcoming visitors (and praise God for people who are checking out Church).
  • Rejoicing with those who are rejoicing and mourning with those who mourn, correcting the wayward, and grieving those who depart. 
  • Burying the dead, visiting the sick, marrying couples, sitting with those with marriages falling apart. 
  • Loving our families and giving them the love, time and attention they need and deserve.

These are some of the things pastors are working on right now. As I hope you can see, these things are rarely quick, easy or unimportant. Most of these activities demand an intellectual, emotional, and psychological gravitas that overwhelms pastors at the best of times, let alone in the time and place we currently find ourselves.  This isn’t a cry for help or asking for a slap on the back. This is just a little message to share what pastors are up to at the moment. To our churches, we love you and we’re there for you in the good times and the bad. But understand, we are also tired and the emotional fuel tank is running pretty low.

We get tired and grumpy and worn out. The words, actions, and attitudes of others impact us too. We love the people whom God has committed under our care, but there is only Saviour and we’re not him!

I am incredibly thankful for the saints at Mentone who despite their own tiredness and troubles, are persevering and together we are running the race. 

And that’s how it’s meant to work. This isn’t about pumping up pastors with pride but as each member lovingly serves the other, pastors are better able to give and serve as we ought. And indeed, as pastors do their work well, the congregation is released to ministry and to grow together. This is why when one of my own congregation asks how they can be praying for me, I often ask them to pray for the church: let us keep loving one another and serving each other with patience and grace. Everyone wins and God is glorified and the Gospel is seen for what it is: stunning and beautiful and good.

The Apostle Paul put it like this, 

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:2-3)

“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:” (Philippians 2:1-5)

And pastors, let’s remember we are not superman, batman or whoever the current superhero is meant to be. And we are certainly not the world’s Saviour.

  • Be content in not doing everything. 
  • Keep things as simple and straightforward as you can. 
  • Be willing to say no to people
  • Be understanding that many people’s capacity for serving is reduced at the moment
  • Take regular breaks.
  • Make sure you take proper annual leave over the summer; otherwise you may not survive 2022. 
  • Do something fun. 
  • Refresh yourself daily in God’s word and in prayer
  • Share and be accountable to a small group of peers (including inside the church)

“And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 10:1-3)

How this Christian is responding to the Federal Election

“The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.” (2 Corinthians 10:4)

Australia has a new Prime Minister and a new Federal Government.

Millions of Australians are happy and excited by what may come about as the result of Saturday’s Federal election. Millions of other Australians are disappointed and even angry and concerned by the political shift. A large number of more Australians, probably in the millions also, are despondent with politics in general. Christians will also be found across this political spectrum. Christians may or may not be less favourably disposed toward the new Government. It is certainly the case that no Government will fully align with or be supportive of every issue that is concerns Christians. Indeed, we should not expect this to be the case, for it is the church that is God’s centrepiece, not a human Government, and hope is found in Christ, not in any political system or party. Theonomy is a dangerous and anti-Christian notion, as much as hardline secularism opposes healthy pluralism and democracy. 

I am not intending to dig into my own political preferences, nor to offer here any sociological insights into what the election may or may not mean for Australia’s future. Such analysis is outside the scope of my interest here. The point I wish to make is a simple one. The observation ought to be an uncontroversial one, but knowing how polarised and tribal our communities are becoming, I think it is worth reminding ourselves of a basic Biblical imperative.

Regardless of how one may feel about the election result and who your local MP is or isn’t, there is a Scripture that remains compulsory for all Christians. And it is this,

“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

I was reminded of this timeless word by Justin Moffatt, the Senior Minister at Church Hill in Sydney. He said,

“One of the things I like about the prayers in the Anglican Prayer Book is that we always pray for the government of the day, and we pray the same thing no matter who governs.

It moves effortlessly from one to the next, as though the problem of the world isn’t government, and the hope of the world were found elsewhere.”

Whatever our reaction to the election, Justin is right. This Christian imperative doesn’t necessarily legitimise or remove how we are feeling about the election outcome, but it ought to remind us of the bigger picture and it rightly reorients us to what is eternal and ultimately important. There ought to be a certain constancy, evenness, and repetition that is evident in our churches as we note the changing political landscape. 

Because we have the habit of assuming that we live in the worst of times (or the best) it’s good to remember the plasticity of that view. The Apostle Paul wrote his words at a time when the Roman Empire was expanding and where there was no political freedom and where opposition to Christianity was emboldened. This was not an easy time to confess Jesus is Lord and to belong to a local church. One of the Emperors during Paul’s ministry was Nero! Nonetheless, the Apostle commands the church in Ephesus to pray for those in authority. 

The duty of Christians around Australia has not changed. And yes, the language of duty is appropriate. There is a new Prime Minister in the new Government and with that will come all kinds of policies and decisions impacting the economic and social landscape of the country. Anthony Albanese and his team are taking the helm following a very difficult season in our nation’s country and I suspect the more difficult place ahead, especially in regard to the question of China. 

Prayer like 1 Timothy 2:1-4 can circumvent Christians from overly aligning with any single political movement, and over eschatologising hope in political agendas, rather than in the Gospel of Christ and God’s mission into the world. 

It is very easy to be swept up in the political narratives that are preached around the country. As Christians, we need to resist these (or at the very least, temper them) by instead reminding each other of the lordship of Christ and the purposes of God that are found in the gospel. I am not suggesting that followers of Jesus ignore the political process and not participate; not at all. We, as with all citizens, have the opportunity and responsibility to serve the common good of our nation, and this includes political discourse. ‘Love your neighbour’ remains a word for us today. However, the prayer in 1 Timothy 2 frees us from both the jubilation and the despair that accompanies political change. 

Of course, with any change of government, there will always be questions about the good and bad in changing policy and direction. Neither am I suggesting that Christians shouldn’t engage with these issues and offer advice and opinion. When choosing to do so, we must however be clear about God’s mission and his character and not be dragged into compromising the gospel for the sake of political expediency. A new government may bring about significant change and re-ordering of social policy and moral direction; it’s naive to suggest otherwise. Nonetheless, as the Apostle Paul reminds Timothy in Ephesus, we know and pray to God who is sovereign over all things including governments and the nations. Our responsibility and opportunity as Christians remain the same: commit to God in prayer those in authority.

The duty of Christians in Australia has not changed. Pray for the new government and our political representatives. Live quiet and peaceful lives with all holiness. Keep the Gospel front and centre in both our hearts and lives and words, because God longs for people to be reconciled to him and come to a knowledge of the truth. Let us not allow our emotions and words to inhibit, disguise, or confuse this good news of God in Jesus Christ.