Churches need to be more like the world?

I’ve just read Nikki Gemmell’s latest contribution to The Weekend Australian, “Why the Anglican church must evolve or die”. At first, I assumed this must be satire, for the essence of her argument is that for Churches to succeed they need to become more like majority culture!

“the majority of Australians do support same-sex marriage. It feels like the archbishop is damaging his church and Jesus’s teachings of tolerance, gentleness and inclusivity. “

“The church has been on the wrong side of public opinion recently on abortion as well as same-sex marriage. It’s slowly killing itself by refusing to open its heart to others.”

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Without question, Gemmell’s call to the Anglican Church sounds almost identical to what Jesus says, in a dysutopian Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy kind of way.

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first” (John 15:18)

“If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” (John 15:19)

“When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8)

“What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Mark 8:36)

It’s almost as though Jesus is saying the precise opposite of Nikki Gemmell. Jesus doesn’t think the world is always the best measure for what is good and true. Indeed, it’s pretty obvious that Jesus is telling us that the world’s understanding of life is frequently at odds with God.

The wonderful paradox that is Christianity is that while the world’s beliefs oppose those of God in his word, and while God stands in judgment over a world that subverts his creational purposes, God still loves. “For God so loved the world”. This love is not a sign of moral alignment with our culture, far from it.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil”. (John 3:16-19)

To be like Jesus isn’t to support same-sex marriage, abortion,  and a myriad of other popular moral messaging, but it does involve loving those who are different and to desire their good despite vehement disagreement.

Gemmell’s offering is such a silly argument. Only the majority are ever naive enough to believe that majority equals right. Majority opinion or minority opinion doesn’t establish a position as right or wrong, just popular or unpopular. In addition, being in opposition to majority opinion doesn’t make one’s own position any more correct. It could be the case that both groups are advocating stupid ideas. What makes Christian belief, well, Christian, is that it conforms to the Christian Bible, as rightly understood through the lens of Jesus Christ. In the case of Glenn Davies’ recent comments to Anglican Bishops, they may be uncomfortable and even sound intolerant, but Jesus and the Apostles also used pretty strong language toward leaders who attempted to subvert his Church with erring ideas. That’s the point, the Sydney Anglican Archbishop was calling out fellow bishops who have abandoned Christian doctrine in favour of popular culture.

Not only does Gemmell equate Church success with supporting what the majority of Australians believe, but she also makes another blunder by lumping everything she doesn’t like about Churches under the same umbrella of ‘bigotry’.  This is poor theology and it is misleading sociology. For example, the Sydney Anglican Diocese believes strongly in mandatory reporting, whereas the Catholic Church does not support it.  However, the former is an expression of Christian concern that arises from biblical principles, the latter is the result of longstanding tradition but not Biblical principles. Apples and Pineapples may share the same name but they are hardly the same fruit. As an Anglican, Gemmell should know better.

To be sure, Christians sometimes espouse Christianity with a distasteful tone. That is disappointing and dishonours the good news that is our message.

Nikki, Gemmell is correct about one point, and that is when she notes how Australians are confused about Churches and Christianity.

“The public image: a riven and confused church that doesn’t quite know what it stands for but is pushing people away in the process. Not only members of the congregation but non-churchgoing parents with children in Anglican schools.”

Yes, there is confusion. The average Aussie is confused because there are Churches leaders taking her advice and diluting the Christian message with the dominant moral posturing of Aussies. They are confused because there are ‘Christians’ redefining Jesus into their own image in order to support all manner of popular sexual revisionism. The answer, however, isn’t for Churches to give up Biblical Christianity and to adopt more of society’s moral inclinations. We need our Churches to be more biblical, not less. We need our Churches to be more like the Lord Jesus, not less.  For what have we offer Australian society if all we are doing is preaching the society’s values back to itself? Could it not be the case, that Christian Churches are convinced that God’s design for human life is better and more satisfying than some of the alternatives that have currently captured the imagination of pop culture?

To quote one famous Anglican Bishop, who facing the unpopularity of 16th Century England, stood firm and found himself in a public firestorm, “Be of good comfort, and play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.” 

The major problem with Gemmell’s presentation is that she equates Christian gentleness and tolerance with agreement of current cultural norms. For Gemmell, to be the Church of Jesus Christ is to say yes to what the majority of Australian want in regard to sexuality and abortion. What a puerile thing to say.

Does she not realise from history that Churches who align with the values of majority culture are those most likely to witness decline? While Churches who believe, teach, and practice good old fashioned Christianity are more likely to experience growth. It is a demonstrable fact of history that people have been persuaded by the truth and goodness of Jesus Christ because Churches have stood out as distinct from the surrounding culture.

I’m still not convinced that Nikki Gemmell’s piece isn’t satire. If it is,  I’m just slow to see the humour, then I apologise for my sluggishness; it is Saturday morning after all.

Kanye West’s new music language

Apart from those who’ve been culturally cryogenized throughout 2019, you’ve probably heard the rumours about Kanye West’s conversion to Christianity. Following a series of stops and starts, his newest album is now released, with the unambiguous title, Jesus is King. If it is anything to go by, the rumours seem to be true.

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The album consists of 11 songs which repeat a before and after picture of Kanye West’s life, with the dividing line being the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

West opens up about past decisions and struggles and the effect it’s had on people around him,

A lot of damaged souls, I done damaged those

And in my arrogance, took a camera pose

Without any of the cultural subtleties that we’ve come to expect from public religious figures, Kanye switches on the spot light and points it directly at the person of Jesus.

I bow down to the King upon the throne

My life is His, I’m no longer my own

Shai Linne tweeted out today how Jesus is King,

“exposes the notion of hiding Jesus to reach the culture for the foolish philosophy that it is. It also exposes hearts like mine- tempted to grow complacent & lack the zeal we once had as new converts, before we had all our theological i’s dotted and t’s crossed.”

So true. Where Christians so often feel like they’re as wanted as a possum in a Melbourne suburban street, Kanye West has blown open the roof. At a time when Christians have convinced themselves to tiptoe around the topic of Jesus, Kanye West has walked into the room and announced Jesus is King. For this reason, the album is a breath of fresh air. It’s like a warm weather front has hit the town to dethaw hearts that have been frozen with fear by the surrounding culture. 

It’ll be obvious to anyone who knows me, even a little, that rap is hardly my music of choice (and neither is Kenny G!). Ask me about Bach, Mozart, and Rachmaninoff and we can have a conversation. Ask me about ‘Christian’ music, and I’ll most likely roll my eyes down the corridor. Ask me about rap, and I’ll have to turn to my son for help. I know the name Kanye West. I have some vague awareness of his mega-stardom in pop culture, but like many things circa 2000, I defer to my kids to point out who is what in the world of pop music.

That means I had better leave the critical evaluation of the music to others. Maybe Jesus is King will be praised or perhaps it’ll be thrown into a box tagged ‘musical heresy’; I don’t know. I have asked my drummer playing son for his thoughts about his album, for he sees something in this musical genre that has clearly evaded my imagination.

What I do love about this album is that even though the musical style is foreign to me, I sure understand the lyrics. Isn’t a Gospel truth that the Gospel both transcends culture and language and that it can also speak into any culture with precision and power?  The musical language may not be in my lane, but the theological language is familiar and exciting and encouraging.

Pontius Pilate once asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Contemplating an answer, and despite declaring Jesus to be innocent of any wrongdoing, Pilate then proceeded to have Jesus crucified. In that rejection, God revealed the answer, yes Jesus is the King and he is the saving King. Ever since that day, generations have asked the same question, Is Jesus the King, often asking and hoping that the answer is no. Through a musical language that is understandable to millions, Kanye West is declaring that the answer is yes. I hope and pray that these songs will reach a generation of Aussies and Americans, and encourage them to consider this great and momentous question.

Let me leave you with these great lyrics from the song God is,

Everything that I felt, praise theLord

Worship Christ with the best of your portions

I know I won’t forget all He’s done

He’s the strength in this race that I run

Every time I look up, I see God’s faithfulness

And it shows just how much He is miraculous

I can’t keep it to myself, I can’t sit here and be still

Everybody, I will tell ’til the whole world is healed

King of Kings, Lord of Lords, all the things He has in store

From the rich to the poor, all are welcome through the door

You won’t ever be the same when you call on Jesus’ name

Listen to the words I’m sayin’, Jesus saved me, now I’m sane

And I know, I know God is the force that picked me up

I know Christ is the fountain that filled my cup

I know God is alive, yeah

He has opened up my vision

Giving me a revelation

This ain’t ’bout a damn religion

Jesus brought a revolution

All the captives are forgiven

Time to break down all the prisons

Every man, every woman

There is freedom from addiction

Jesus, You have my soul

Sunday Service on a roll

All my idols, let ’em go

All the demons, let ’em know

This a mission, not a show

This is my eternal soul

This my kids, this the crib

This my wife, this my life

This my God-given right

Thank you, Jesus, won the fight

The power of forgiveness

Amber Guyger is a former Dallas police officer who has been found guilty of murdering Botham Jean. The case became a national story because of the circumstances surrounding the crime, which included allegations of racism. Guyger is white and was a police officer; Botham Jean was an African American. Guyger shot and killed him in his own home—alleging that she had mistakenly entered the wrong apartment and thought he was a burglar.

Guyger has been sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. Many people outside the courtroom have decried the sentence, insisting that it is far too lenient. Inside the courtroom, another voice was heard, from the brother of Botham Jean, Brandt. He gave a statement where he forgave Amber Guyger and explained that he did not wish her any harm. He instead encouraged her to look to Christ. Brandt Jean looked at Guyger and told her that he loved her. He then asked the Judge if he could approach Guyger and give her a hug.

It is worth taking 4 minutes to watch and listen to Brandt Jean’s words. The weeping in the courtroom is palpable, with even the Judge wiping tears from her eyes.

According to CNN, shortly afterwards the Judge, Tammy Kemp, handed Guyger a Bible to take with her, saying,

“You can have mine. I have three or four more at home,” the judge said. “This is the one I use every day. This is your job for the next month. It says right here. John 3:16. And this is where you start. ‘For God so loved the world…'”

Out of evil and tremendous sadness has come an extraordinary act of grace and kindness. Brandt Jean’s actions in that courtroom represent the heart of the Christian message, which is about undeserved forgiveness and reconciliation.

The Gospel of Luke records while Jesus hung on the cross, he cried out, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

The Apostles’ echoed his words in their own:

In him, we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace. (Ephesians 1:7)

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:7)

Christianity is often portrayed as being foolish, stupid and even evil.  In our wisdom, we have decided that we no longer require the teaching and habits of the Christian faith. Many of our cultural spokespeople are trying to banish Christian thinking from the public square, as if it were a virus that needed to be contained or inoculated-against. Certainly, some Christians give Christianity a bad wrap. Sometimes Christians forget what the Gospel of Jesus Christ is about. But what a timely reminder Brandt Jean gives both Christians and non-Christians of real Christianity.

The first Christians also knew about this tendency to forgetfulness. Paul once wrote:

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. (1Tim 1:15)

Our world doesn’t need to hear less of this Divine forgiveness. In this age of constant rage and anger and malice, the message offered by Brandt to the woman who murdered his brother is both extraordinary and subversive and offers us a healing antidote.

The Psalmist captured the human condition well when he pleaded with God,

“If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,

    Lord, who could stand?

But with you there is forgiveness,

    so that we can, with reverence, serve you.” (Psalm 130)

I thank God for Divine forgiveness, and for the beautiful and powerful way in which Brandt Jean has today given this ancient Gospel renewed clarity and pertinence.

 

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Further extraordinary and beautiful scenes: here is the video of Judge tammy Kemp embracing Amber Guyger following the trial and giving her own Bible for Guyger to keep. 

NSW loses its moral impetus

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

Virginia Governor, Ralph Northam, made the suggestion that the life of a newborn child can be legitimately ended if that is the wish of the mother and attending physician.

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

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

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

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Tweet by David Ould

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The big losers:

– 10,000s of young children every year

– Children with disability

– Young girls

– Mothers

– Fathers

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

The big winners:

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

– Abortion Providers

 

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

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

Proposed Victorian Bill is likely to harm not help women

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

 

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

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

We live in astonishing times.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

(I made a small edit on July 29th)


New Victorian sex law a gender headache

by Bernad Lane

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

 

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

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

Seven Statements about the Israel Folau Church revelations

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

The Unity and Diversity Paradox

Is it a rabbit or is it a duck?

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

The Bible affirms unity

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

The Bible affirms diversity

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

Solving the unity/diversity tension

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