Down Syndrome, and the unwanted children

Two tweets appeared on my twitter feed this morning, juxtaposed to each other. At first I couldn’t believe the ignominious paradox, for both related to children with Down Syndrome: one was about letting kids be kids, and the other tells of a nation who is systematically killing off all such children.

 

The first tweet refers to an article in the Sydney Morning Herald written by Peter FitzSimons, in which he responds to a call to ban a boy with Down Syndrome from playing in a local soccer team. Why? Because, while soccer allows for 11 players on the pitch, Marc Reichler-Stillhard, plays as a 12th. No one has had any problem with him playing as an extra, until now. FitzSimons has written a beautiful account of this young boy and his local soccer club, including a sensible appeal to the Football association:

“It has been wonderful for Marc and his family, great for the Yamba team who love to play with him, and make sure he gets to kick the ball, and the opposing teams in the Clarence Valley have respected the situation, and Marc, not taking advantage of his position in the team.

So it’s all fun in the sun, yes, in a manner that would bring a tear to a glass eye, as the true spirit of community sport for kids is embraced? Yes, for nearly everyone.

Somewhere out there, however, last week, a complaint was made by just one of the opposing clubs that this was – wait for it – against the rules, asking North Coast Football to stop Marc playing as a 12th man.

NCF have upheld the complaint. Though they are OK to provide an exemption to him on grounds of age, they now insist that Yamba field only 11 players.

And so allow me please, a few words, NCF, and the club making the complaint.

I respectfully submit that you are making the wrong decision and should reconsider. This is kids’ sport. This is about fun, about inclusion, about humanity. It may or may not be that Marc’s inclusion affects the outcome of the game one way or another, but, who gives a flying frock?”

The second tweet concerns a story from Iceland. This tiny Island nation is determined to ‘eradicate’ Down Syndrome…by killing all unborn children who are discovered to have the condition.

CBS reporter interviewed an Icelandic mum with a Down Syndrome child. She said of her country, that ’three babies born with Down syndrome is “quite more than usual. Normally there are two, in the last few years.”

Following this story, Actor Patricia Heaton sent out this message, ‘Iceland isn’t actually eliminating Down Syndrome. They’re just killing everybody that has it. Big difference.’

In addition, here in Australia, a 4 Corners special report revealed on Monday that 9 out of 10 babies who are diagnosed with Down Syndrome are now aborted.

It is easy to see the jarring paradox of these two morning tweets.

We are confused. Are children human beings or not? Are unborn children fully human? Are some children, born or unborn, somehow lesser than others because they carry a medical condition? Is the inherent worth of some children expunged because they are likely to carry with them a disease or disability?

Since when does the vaginal canal transpose a Being from subhuman to fully human? Since when should we fight for the freedom of children to play, learn, and be loved, and yet pressure parents to have these children removed from the womb and have their life taken?

The very nature of loving community requires the unexpected and the difficult, and rather than eliminating those surprises, we alter our life expectations in order to to see their lives flourish.

Jesus once said, ‘Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’. Indeed, how great a love it is to sacrifice our hopes and plans for children who enter our lives.

These words may now be 3,000 years old, but they remain true today, even for individualist and narcissist societies that may cringe at their beauty:

“For you created my inmost being;

    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

    your works are wonderful,

    I know that full well.

My frame was not hidden from you

    when I was made in the secret place,

    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.” (Psalm 139:13-15)

Why David Marr is wrong about Religious Freedom

Qu’ils mangent de la brioche

David Marr had his very own Marie Antoinette moment yesterday, when he exuded incredible ignorance on the issue of religious toleration in Western society. 

It is of course incumbent upon same sex marriage advocates to tell us that ‘nothing will change’. Admitting otherwise  impacts their chances of seeing the Marriage Act redefined.

David Marr asks the question, “Whatever’s happened to free speech?”

What a great question to ask in light of a string of public outings this year: Coopers Beer and the Bible Society, Rev. Markham Campbell in Tasmania, Dr Steve Chavura of Macquarie University, and others.

None of these people or organisations were acting maliciously toward LGBTI communities. In the case of the Bible Society they were simply modelling a respectful conversation about marriage. Dr Chavura hadn’t said anything publicly about same sex marriage, but being associated with an organisation was reason enough for a kangaroo court.

In addition, following the next Federal election, it will be no longer possible to win preselection in the Australian Labor Party unless you agree to same-sex marriage.

Earlier this year, Federal Shadow Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus, indicated that Labor is considering expanding section 18C, to include banning speech that same-sex marriage advocates find offensive. According to The Australian editor, Chris Merritt,

“Under Labor’s proposal, advocates of same-sex marriage would be empowered, for example, to take legal action under 18C-style laws if they felt offended or ­insulted by those who publicly ­defended the traditional definition of marriage. Those at risk would include priests, rabbis, imams and other religious leaders who publicly oppose same-sex marriage.”

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While criticising a recent article by journalist Paul Kelly, Marr alleges that,

“He seriously oversimplifies those conflicts but this is not the place to go into detail. Most are examples of citizens, governments and institutions fed up with church gay bashing. Equal marriage was a side issue.”

Marr doesn’t try to prove these ‘oversimplifications’, but immediately turns to the trusted ad homimen, those people must have been gay haters. Really?

Should the Marriage Act change, it automatically places people who affirm classical marriage on the wrong side of the law. It is inevitable that this will lead to all manner of anti-discrimination claims and litigations, maybe not straight away but they will come. How can one publicly teach that marriage is only between a man and a woman when the law says otherwise? How can one refuse their premises for a same-sex wedding? What will happen in our academic and educational institutions for anyone arguing for heterosexual only marriage? And let’s keep in mind, there are already individuals being threatened with legal action and with loss of employment, and the law hasn’t yet changed!

While David Marr would have his readers believe that Christians are only interested in self-preservation, the contrary is in fact true. Christians are concerned about freedoms for other groups. For example, when a local council recently refused the building of a Synagogue in Bondi, Christians leapt to support the local Jewish community.

Marr adds, “Calls for religious freedom are now rolling across the landscape, but they remain strangely vague. We never see a neat list of them.”

That’s not entirely true. Dean Smith’s Bill outlined potential protections. And earlier in the year, a Parliamentary Committee sought submissions in light of the exposure draft legislation from Brandis. Many groups, including the  Aussie think tank, Freedom for Faith, made submissions and these arguments are available for anyone to read.

It is true however that the Government is yet to release details of any potential marriage legislation, and it is imperative for them to do so quickly. How can the Australian public make up their minds when they are unable to read what is being proposed?

I am not arguing for special protections, but am simply making the point that the evidence is already here, and it is already being played out in Canada, the UK, and elsewhere; changing the marriage law will change society and it will impact religious freedoms for millions of Australians.

Having said this, I don’t for a moment want anyone to get the idea that the health of Christianity depends upon the graces of Government or society. On this point I offer partial agreement with David Marr: religious organisations do enjoy certain privileges in society, and we ought not assume them. Having said that, religious organisations have done enormous good for Australian society, such that without them we would be intellectually, socially, morally, economically, and spiritually poorer. And do we want Australia to be the kind of nation that interferes with peoples religious freedoms? History is littered with Governments that have tried to control religion; do we really want to follow their examples?

It is rather ironic that David Marr can so glibly speak about ‘privilege’ while sweeping the ashes of religious freedoms under the carpet. Reshaping marriage means reshaping society and society’s laws and expectations, and reshaping the contour of religious freedom and practice. David Marr can argue otherwise, but it is the logical flow on effect, and we are already seeing this in practice around the world.

With all this talk about religious freedom one may be forgiven for thinking that this is the chief reason why Christians are arguing against changing the Marriage Act. This is not the case. Christians believe that the Genesis paradigm for marriage is a creation mandate that is a good for all humanity, not only for Christians. Until very recent, almost everyone accepted this view of marriage and believed it was good for society,  but now we are aiming to persuade our fellow Aussies that it remains a good for society today. At the same time, it is imperative that we understand the kinds of changes that will issue from this watershed redefinition of marriage.

With a final swing of sarcasm, David Marr ponders the future: “Can’t their faith, they wonder, win a free debate? How will it survive bullying demands for protection and privileges? How will it survive the hatred in the air?”

I’m sure Mr Marr reads history and will know that Christianity often flourishes when the State or society derides it. Christians have nothing to fear. While Australia remains a pluralist society, we will seek to persuade people, as Christians have done so for millennia. We do so, being assured that our ultimate confidence is in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not in Australian law. The future of Christianity is not contingent upon any current or future legislation. No matter the socio-ethical landscape, we know God will continue his work through the Gospel and Churches will continue and people will become Christians. This of course includes implications for how Christians love and serve our gay and lesbian neighbours, whether the definition of marriage changes or not. I trust we are already making every effort to befriend and support them, and to show them the love of Christ. For we remember that we too, in all manner of ways, once defined morality and truth in ways to fit with personal inclinations, and in that moment God graciously revealed Christ to us.

Whatever position one takes on this national survey, whether to vote or not, to say yes or no, no one is served well when journalists whitewash the facts that don’t suit them. Indeed, one might ask David Marr, “Can’t your faith win a free debate?”

Is there persecution in Australia?

I don’t know if anyone has done the numbers, and I’m not old enough to know what Australian media was like before the mid1990s. I may be wrong, but my sense is that media is reporting more stories about Christians and Christianity than even 5 or 10 years ago. Many of the stories are negative (sometimes with good reason), while some are supportive of Christianity. There are stories and op-eds being written about Christianity and culture by Christians, and by agnostics, atheists, and Muslims; even sporting journalists are getting in on the act.

A good deal of what we read skews what Christians believe and practice, but why should we be surprised by that? Even some of the sympathetic journalism is unhelpful because it paints Christianity in ways other than through the lens of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

On the upside, all the flurry of Christian attention is opening all kinds of opportunities to have conversations with people. On the downside, I am noting how many Christians are running too quickly to the poles, and not sticking with Jesus and letting his word shape our words and actions. As soon as another story about Christianity hits the news, responses are often tailored more by notions of progressive or conservative identities, and that’s a problem. When Christians too readily identify with left or right issues, we often can’t admit that there’s any problem unless it’s on the ‘right’ foot. The myopia is made worse by the fact that everyone has their preferred sources for news. The ABC is a friend…or foe. Are we Murdoch readers or Fairfax subscribers? And which journalist best represents our socio-political proclivities?

Last week’s story about children evangelising in Queensland school grounds is a classic example of this ridiculous Christian ping pong. On the one hand some Christian leaders ran to Andrew Bolt’s side, while other’s waved the Education Minister’s statement as proof that the entire story was a beat up. Both were wrong. The prohibition is real enough, and the Minister’s denial, while welcome, does not resolve the issue. Neither, though, is the Queensland Government the anti-Christ, as some silly people were suggesting.

Another example of this inane and insane polarisation took place today when Andrew Bolt jumped on the story of a Hobart Presbyterian Minister, Campbell Markham, who’s been notified of complaints made against his teaching by an upset atheist. As soon as people began to share the story on social media, it’s as though the Red Sea parted, with some going to the right in praise of Bolt’s defence, and others moving left to distance themselves from the Herald Sun columnist and all those shallow allegations of persecution in Australia.

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We would be mistaken if we defer to Andrew Bolt as some pseudo-Bishop for Aussie Christianity. After all, he does tell us that he is not a Christian. We are also mistaken if we close our eyes and claim that there’s nothing to see, and that any suggestion of persecution is simply overreach and unhelpful hyperbole.

Let’s take a look at the Bible’s language of persecution. The Biblical words convey a broad sense of opposition. The primary word, dioko, means to pursue, chase, or drive away. The aim of persecution is to drive away the Gospel, Jesus, and those who follow him.

Persecution can take on many shapes and sizes.

Persecution can be intense and severe: you may be marked out in your community and lose privileges that others enjoy. You may lose your job, be imprisoned, be forced to flee and seek asylum in another country. You may be killed. This is the experience of many millions of our brothers and sisters today in different parts of the world.

On other occasions, the Bible gives examples of ‘softer’ persecution. For example, in the Beatitudes Jesus says,  “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you.”

We must be careful not to conflate our circumstances with those faced by many of our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world. Disagreement for example is not persecution.

We must also be careful not to minimise real threats that have been  made again some Christians in Australia. To argue that there is no persecution is ignorant and even callous.  Sure, persecution in Australia is unusual, but it’s not unknown. Indeed, more than a few members of my church have been subjected to bullying by parents and by spouses because they have chosen to follow Jesus. This includes disownment and disinheritance, should they persist in being baptised and joining a local church.

Across Bass Strait, Campbell Markham and David Gee are the latest Tasmanian preachers to have formal complaints made against them for their Bible teaching. Being brought before a State’s Anti-Discrimination Commissioner, because someone took offence at your preaching, is a form of thlipsis.

Just because there is no tsunami doesn’t mean that the tide isn’t changing, and neither does the changing tide mean that there’s a gigantic wave about hit the shore.

At Mentone Baptist we are currently preaching through Romans ch.12-16, and our text yesterday was 12:14-21. No matter the direction of the tide, it is a posture to have continually define our response,

“9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;

    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.

In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Queensland Education Department is afraid of Jesus?

In the school playground, children talk about everything and anything: what they watch on television, who is eating what for lunch, their favourite sporting players and what bands they’re listening too, and what they’re hoping to do on the weekend. But if the Queensland Education Department have their way, the one topic children will not be allowed to speak about is Jesus.

In our click bait media culture, it is sometimes hard to discern real stories from the dubious, but sure enough, this story is legitimate.

The Queensland Education Department have undertaken to inform schools that children are not to discuss Christianity outside formal Religious Instruction classes.

To quote from the Departmental report that has been given to schools,

“While not explicitly prohibited by the EGPA or EGPR, nor referenced in the RI policy statement, the Department expects schools to take appropriate action if aware that students participating in RI are evangelising to students who do not  participate in their RI class, given this could adversely affect the school’s ability to provide a safe, supportive and inclusive environment for all students.”

What is extraordinary about this memorandum is that the Department admits that this prohibition falls outside the parameters of any formal policy and guidelines, but they are nevertheless insisting schools take action.

Evangelism is defined by the Department as “preaching or advocating a cause or religion with the object of making converts to Christianity”.

The problem with their definition of evangelism is that in effectively prohibits any conversation that involves God, Jesus, and Church. Inviting a friend to a Christmas service might be interpreted as evangelism. Sharing what you learned about God could be taken as evangelism. It is only natural for children to talk about and share things that are important to them and that they enjoy; for many children this includes belief in Jesus and being part of a church.

Is the education department really wanting to squash children’s freedom to talk about issues beyond homework, sport, music, and latest i-pad apps?

Is inviting a friend to a church event really going to undermine pluralism and respect? Is a group of student engaging in the big questions of life so unacceptable?

 

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Associate Professor of Law, Neil Foster, has written an important response to this QLD report, pointing out that it fails several important tests. It is worth taking the time to read. In summary, he notes that,

1. This “expectation” is not supported by legislation

2. This “expectation” is probably illegal as discriminatory

3. The “expectation” is illegal as contradicting the head legislation

4. The “expectation” undermines free speech of pupils

5. The “expectation” undermines religious freedom for pupils

 

These points alone amount to checkmate, but there is more.

First, the prohibition fails the test of what is sensible.

Remembering what it’s like to be a child at school, and having 3 children at school, I can imagine the kinds of conversations that will happening today. During lunch there will be 10 year old students inviting their friends to the movies this weekend: Do you want to come with me and watch the new Transformers  movie or Planet of the Apes film? Watching age inappropriate movies is fine, but Church is too dangerous. Birthday cards will be handed out, but please avoid Christmas cards. Have a giggle over dirty jokes, but let’s be clear, no one can mention the Bible.

I realise Queensland is the sunny state, but one can have too much sun. This Departmental imposition really is as silly as it sounds, and it will in fact achieve the opposite of their intention, which is to ‘provide a safe, supportive and inclusive environment for all students.’ 

In recent years we have laughed at schools who have banned balls from the  playground, because they are a threat to children’s safety. Now, we have to remove Jesus talk because it will undermine social cohesion in schools?  Do we really not trust that our kids can have reasonable conversations about religion? It is all the more ironic, because the very principles that these bureaucrats  want to see in school, that of respect and inclusion, are based on Christian beliefs?

Second, the QLD Education Department wrongly assumes that non-God talk in the playground is somehow morally and spiritual neutral, as though children can chat about any topic in a theologically neutral way. This is not true secularism, it’s imposed atheism. It is anti-pluralism. If the only permitted discourse is void of language deferring to God and religion, then what we will have is exclusive and intolerant atheism. Is that the kind of school environment we want for our children?

As I was reading about this story this morning, my mind turned to the book of Acts in the Bible and to chapter 4 where the city’s leadership arrested Peter and John for talking about Jesus with people. They warned the disciples, ‘do not speak or teach in the name Jesus’. Peter and John replied, ‘we can’t help it’.  One can only assume that these education officials haven’t ready a Bible nor studied history, because demanding that people stop talking about Jesus usually has the opposite affect.

I trust that sane heads will prevail and that the Queensland Education Department will retract this injunction.

 

 


Update:

The QLD Education Minister has released a statement this afternoon denying there’s any ban on students sharing their faith with other students. Ms Jones said, ‘No one is telling a child what they can and can’t say in the playground.”

This is welcome news. However it doesn’t explain the Department’s report which she accepted, a report which urges schools not to permit God-talk by students outside of Scripture Classes. This report falls under the official policy section of the Education Department, titled, ‘Religious instruction policy statement’.

On this page there is a section marked ‘Reviews’ which is introduced with this statement,

“The purpose of the reviews is to provide guidance to state schools as to whether the program complies with departmental policies, procedures and applicable law.”

This ban is official guidance for schools.

In other words, the Minister’s statement is at odds with her own Department’s position. 

We encourage Ms Jones to follow through with today’s positive announcement and ensure that those statements about evangelism are removed altogether.

Regeneration Church, a Church in and for Monash

It was a great joy to visit Regeneration Church last night for their first ever public service. It was exciting to see a packed building, and encouraging to see the Regeneration team in action for the first time.

If you live in/around Clayton, why not visit one Sunday?

 

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I was invited to offer a word of exhortation to the new church. Below is a copy of my remarks:

“200,000 people live in the City of Monash. They are made in the image of God, important to God, and needing Jesus.

The Great Commission is Jesus sending his disciples to the nations in order to preach the Gospel and to make disciples. In line with this mission, Mentone Baptist Church has sent the Regeneration team to area of Monash, a place where the nations have come.

Understand that being part of a new church may be the hardest venture, the most joyful venture, and the more important venture, of your lives. Indeed, today marks the beginning of a new Gospel work that, we pray, will bear fruit lasting into eternity.

Most residents in this area won’t know of Regeneration Church and many won’t care, and some people will become interested and join. Understand, whatever the reception, God loves his church, Jesus will build his Church, and she is marvellous in his eyes.

While we at Mentone Baptist we will miss all of you, we are not so much saddened to see you go, as we are excited to partner with you in this new work. Indeed, Melbourne needs hundreds more Gospel-centred Churches. New Churches have begun in Box Hill, Northcote, Officer, Footscray, and elsewhere. And yet we are yet to penetrate the first layer of skin in Melbourne.

As Paul reminded the Corinthians, may I impress on you,

“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.”

Understand our role, it is to plant and water. Regeneration Church: Do the work of evangelism, preaching, teaching, loving and caring, serving. And trust God to grow his church. Trust him, depend on him, ask him.

Mentone will keep you in our prayers, and we are keen to continually support you in other ways. I’m  also looking forward to preaching here a couple of times this year.

May God richly bless this work, to grow a Church glorifying his Son.”

How can Christian denominations practice healthy unity and diversity?

The nature of unity and diversity within Christianity has captivated churches, denominations, and Christian organisations for centuries. Unity and diversity can at times seem like polar opposites, as though we must choose between them. They can however co-exist, and in the Gospel we find that they ought.

What does this 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 through Port Phillip Bay, and 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?

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The Bible affirms unity

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is God’s chosen means to reconcile sinful human beings to God. The Gospel isn’t an indefinable feeling or idea, it 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.

Through this Gospel God brings about two new relationships: we are united to God (Eph 2:13, 16-18), and we are united to each other (2:14-15, 20).

In Ephesians ch. 4, Paul stresses the importance of and joy of Christian unity. The focus is on life in the local church, but this teaching can extend beyond the parameters of the local gathering of believers. It is important not to conflate everything that is a church with what a Christian organisation is and does, or with what a denomination is and does. Denominations are not a church, rather they are a group of churches (and with other organisations thrown into the mix). Christian denominations are organisations which exist to serve Churches of shared theological convictions. They may provide a network of Gospel relationships, an institution for training clergy, mission training and strategy, and organisations that help with social care. In denominations such as Anglicanism, there also exists formal hierarchical oversight, with bishops appointed to shepherd groups of churches. While they are not a church, the theological principles given by Paul are useful and wise. After all, what should be the unifying factor for denominations if not the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

Paul outlines that we don’t ultimately establish Christian unity, for that work belongs to Christ through his shed blood on the cross, and by the Spirit of God. He unites us firstly to God, and through him to one another (Eph 2:11-22). At the same time though, Paul insists that we need to work hard at maintaining this unity and growing this unity. Growing unity is expressed through works of service, love, speaking the truth in love, and Christian maturity.

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 propensity to divide. The unity that God is on about is a commitment grounded in common assent to the Gospel; it is both relational and doctrinal (i.e. 1 Tim 4:16). Returning to Ephesians ch4, we learn that there two ingredients necessary for authentic unity to grow and mature: love and truth (both are found in Christ). Such dynamic growth stems from the ministry of the word. 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. The Apostle even warns that when truth is absent or hidden or misused, the effect upon 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 2:11-22 beautifully 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.

“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” (Eph 2:14-22)

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.

It is also the case 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 which reference a breadth of views (i.e the weaker brother in Romans 13), but this is Paul recognising a situation rather than esteeming such divergence. Here are some thoughts about about theological diversity:

i. The closer the working relationship, the more important it is to be on the same page theologically. This is one of the reasons why we have denominations. Interestingly though, the unifying factor for denominations is often their ecclesiology, rather than other areas of theology. Given the nature of denominations, it makes sense that there is a shared view of church, however is this enough to keep a Christian denomination growing in unity?

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 an ignited love for God, it is normal for them to have many questions and to 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. Christians have historically disagreed over matters such as church governance, baptism, Charismatic gifts and eschatology, but over many other matters any disagreement has been rightly deemed heterodox.

iv. The Bible does not include issues of sexuality among those disputable matters:

           “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.” (1 Timothy 1:8-11)

“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)

These two passages are important to this discussion for several reasons including, sound doctrine is integrally connected to the Gospel, and sinful acts contradict sound doctrine. 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, accepting diverse opinion on that matter would be 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 our blind spots, which is one reason why it’s so important to together humbly return again and again and again to God’s word for correction and direction.

In recent days there have been a series of public letters being circulated by various Australian Bishops, and they are wrestling with this issue of unity and diversity. It is not only the Anglican Communion who are struggling with this, for there are many Christian denominations, both globally and locally, who are trying to come to terms with significant theological and moral disputes. How we respond depends in part on what the issue is, and the nature of the relationship with those among whom there is (dis)agreement.

For fours years my wife and I lived in the now capital of Aussie ‘no religion’, Erskineville, in Sydney. Our home was an old terrace, in one of the famous narrow one way streets that navigate the suburb. We loved where we lived, and spent four very happy years there. Toward the end of our time however, we discovered termites eating away at the walls and underneath the house. The first sign was a gaping hole appearing at the bottom of the staircase. A number of options were apparent to us, but the one we quickly discounted was doing nothing and leave things as they were.

What happens when there’s a crack in the building? What if you notice a friend’s house being eaten away by termites? If you are in a position to assist, don’t you help? Don’t you ask, what can we do to assist?

In Ezekiel 13:9-11, God speaks of a “flimsy wall” that Israel’s leaders were building. Upon completion they would whitewash the wall in an attempt to hide its poor construction. We can dress it up with colourful paint, and Banksy can make a night time appearance and create a new work of art. But the rain will eventually wash off the paint and the wind will tear down the wall.

None of this is new; there have always been white ants undermining churches and Gospel unity. The one thing we cannot afford to do is throw a new coat of paint on the wall and pretend all is well. True Gospel unity and diversity is stunning, but when our structures begin to protect the teaching of termites, it’s time we reevaluate the build.