A response to John Tait’s critique of Izzy’s use of the Bible

Like many other people, I reached peak Izzy some weeks ago. While Israel Folau isn’t making headlines every day now, different aspects of the story are still being discussed in the media.  The Sydney Morning Herald has today published an opinion piece which aims to shed light on Folau’s use of the Bible (or should that be misuse?). However, some of the arguments are misleading, even grossly incorrect, and therefore a response is required.

The author of the article,  John Tait, describes himself as, “an agnostic, lapsed Catholic, Master of Theology, former Charismatic Christian”. He feels a compulsion to bring truth and clarity to the question of Israel Folau and the Bible.  How successful is Tait?  Not so good. He gets a couple of things right,  and he fudges a few facts and he completely ignores the most obvious and relevant fact.

 

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John Tait opens by sending out a somewhat disparaging remark toward Australian theologians, “I have been waiting for a theologian or biblical scholar to come forward and address Folau’s misuse of scripture in his controversial post”. I can think of several Christian leaders who have offered commentary about Folau’s use of the Bible. Perhaps what Tait means is that he hasn’t yet found a theologian who entirely agrees with his exegesis.

He also asks why no one is investigating Folau’s Church. Perhaps he doesn’t remember those journalists who have been trolling the church’s facebook group and then cutting and pasting excerpts from Folau’s preaching. Tait attempts to offer a description, 

“All that I can gather is that he is a member of an evangelical congregation somewhere in Sydney’s north-western suburbs.”

Perhaps we should assume that Tait is using ‘evangelical’ in its original and positive sense, rather than the derogative way it is most often applied in the media today.

Bible Translations

First of all, when Tait dismisses the King James Version of the Bible, he is partially correct when he suggests that modern versions better reflect the original text. Textual criticism is an informed science which involves the study of early Bible manuscripts, and it is incredibly fruitful for Bible translating. Scholars conclude with great confidence that the Bible translations we have today are incredibly reliable and can be said to be true versions of the original. The King James Version is still considered by biblical experts as a faithful translation, even though there are few small places where it appears that the KJV translators made a wrong judgment call. If we take the example at hand, Galatians 5:9-11, the similarities between the KJV and newer translations are striking. The only notable difference is that the KJV includes murder in the list. This was done because some ancient manuscripts mention murder, while modern translations leave it out on account that the earliest and best manuscripts do not include it.

“19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery;20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (NIV)

“19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,21 envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” (KJV)

These are not Jesus’ words. So what?

Second, Tait says of Galatians 5:19-21, “They are not the words of Jesus. They are the words of Saint Paul”. So what? Tait seems to be implying that these bible verses are less ‘divine’ or less important because they are uttered by Paul and not by Jesus. That’s not how the Bible works. All Scripture is God-breathed, meaning that it is all authored by God whether those words are the Old Testament, the Gospels, or the New Testament letters. Indeed, Jesus himself identifies all of Scripture as being about him, and he directly gave the Apostles authority to speak and teach his Gospel to others. The Apostolic testimony is the reliable and Christ given word about Jesus to the Church and the world. Tait denigrating the place of Paul’s words is not a Christian explanation of how the Bible works or of how to read the Bible. Galatians 5:19-21 is as authoritative to Christians as is Matthew ch.5.

Nothing about hell

Third, the Kingdom of God is related to the theme of heaven and hell.

Taits argues,

“You will also notice that there is nothing in the passage from Galatians about these sinners going to hell. The early Christians were expecting the imminent arrival of the resurrected Jesus to usher in the Kingdom of God. To be part of that you needed to repent and believe. This was urgent business. They believed that the world as they knew it was coming to an end. Many evangelical Christians still cling on to the same vain hope.

…This expectation of the Kingdom of God has nothing to do with going to heaven or hell when you die. It is about the end of the world. The concept of ‘hell’ that Folau is talking about was developed later in church history.”

With an air of intellectual snobbery over those dumb and intellectually prosaic Christians, Tait can’t resist throwing out another snide remark, “Many evangelical Christians still cling on to the same vain hope”. We’ll let the keeper take that one while I instead respond to his argument about hell.

1. He is correct when saying that the Galatians passage does not mention hell (not explicitly anyway).

2. He is right in suggesting that we shouldn’t view the kingdom of God as a synonym for heaven and hell. He is however misleading readers into thinking that the two concepts are poles apart; that is not the case. Kingdom of God is a broader concept than heaven and hell, but it is one that includes the idea of eternity and of a new heaven and new earth. Even hell is not outside the rule of God, but it is a place of punishment in contrast to the place of life.

3. He is incorrect to insist there is no relationship between Kingdom of God and hell. Galatians 5:21 speaks directly of exclusion from the kingdom of God on account of living in unrepentant sin. What does it mean to be excluded from the Kingdom? Where do these people exist if they are not part of God’s Kingdom? Exclusion is not without location.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus speaks of the character of life among those who belong to God’s Kingdom, and he contrasts this with the character of those who are in danger of hell. Jesus depicts two very different lifestyles which represent two very different allegiances and domains, the Kingdom of Heaven and a place which Jesus calls hell. Folau speaking of hell is entirely consistent with the meaning of Galatians ch.5 and 1 Corinthians ch.6.

4. He is incorrect to say that Folau’s view of hell was developed later in church history. A quick survey of the Bible testifies against Tait’s theory. Jesus’ own words demonstrate that Tait is mistaken:

“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matt 10:28)

“And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.” (Matt 18:9)

The Bible describes heaven and hell as places created by and belonging to God, as much as this universe is made by the same God. Biblical authors may at times borrow language from other places to help readers understand what heaven and hell are about (of much greater influence on the New Testament is a heavy dependence on the Old Testament), but to imply that the Biblical teaching should be traced to another religious milieu is both unnecessary and counters the Scriptures themselves (i.e. Acts 17:16-31).

 

Is homosexuality absent?

Fourth, Tait’s most glaring sin is the fact that he completely overlooks 1 Corinthians 6 in relation to Folau’s mention of homosexuality. Tait wants us to believe that Folau has included homosexuality for ‘bias’ reasons, over and against what the Bible says.

“Note however, that Galatians 5:19-21 does not, in any translation, mention homosexuals. Folau and whoever wrote the original post have projected homosexuality into the promiscuous category. That is their bias.”

Tait is right to say  Galatians 5:19-21 doesn’t mention homosexuality, but the graphic displayed on Folau’s post isn’t summarising Galatians 5:19-21 but another Bible passage, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. In the 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 list, homosexuality is mentioned explicitly.

To be sure, the paraphrase is not entirely reflective of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, for atheists, are not mentioned by Paul here, while the greedy and revilers are in the biblical text and missing from the graphic. However, does this mean that the graphic misrepresents Bible messaging? Atheists may not be included in 1 Corinthians but they are referred to elsewhere in the Bible and I’m pretty sure no atheist wants to be included in the Kingdom of God; it would be kinda awkward for them!

If there is a due criticism, it is this, the post says ‘homosexuality’, rather than the more accurate ‘those who practice homosexuality’. It is not a sin to be same-sex attracted. Christians and Churches do not believe that men and women who are attracted to the same sex are condemned to hell.  Our churches have many wonderful men and women who love Jesus and accept the Bible’s teaching on sexuality and who are living whole and meaningful lives without entering into sexual relationships outside heterosexual marriage, even though they admit to having same-sex attraction. The text in Corinthians refers to those who practice or engage in homosexual activity, just as though two heterosexual people engage in a sexual relationship that is not within the covenant of marriage. The whys and meaning of all this is important, but the discussion point here concerns Tait’s indefensible omission regarding Folau’s use of 1 Corinthians 6 which explicitly mentions homosexuality.

 

We don’t require a Bible Scholar to comment on Folau’s use of the Bible, for the Scriptures are available for any and all to read. Perhaps we should read this book which has done more to shape human thinking and our culture than any other. Even from the standpoint of curiosity and wanting to understand Australian culture, we would do well to open the pages of the Bible, and in doing so we might be surprised by what we find. John Tait has made some attempt, but he has made numerous basic errors and one glaring omission which I still cannot fathom.

The biggest shame about Izzy’s post is that he didn’t say more and point his followers to  verse 11 of Corinthians ch.6 and to the contrast Paul makes in Galatians 5:22-23. While the Bible is deeply concerned about what is wrong in the world, the wonder of Christianity is that God sees us and yet lovingly offers an alternative, one that we don’t deserve.

“9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-11)

“22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:22-24)

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

The Uniting Church of Victoria/Tasmania votes to use Euthanasia

The Uniting Church has been chasing after the culture ever since its creation in 1977. While there are evangelical churches and ministers within Australia’s 3rd largest Protestant denomination, they are relatively few, and these have been engaging in formal discussions to review their association within the denomination. If the final nail in the coffin hadn’t already been laid, surely it has after today’s proceedings.

Today, the Uniting Church (Synod of Victoria and Tasmania), voted in support of motions to allow euthanasia in their agencies.

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In a statement released on their website we read,

“Key points from the resolution included:

There was a range of faithful Christian responses to voluntary assisted dying.

Exploring, accessing and conscientiously objecting to voluntary assisted dying were all within the range of faithful Christian responses to the Victorian Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017.

To give permission within Victoria to UCA institutions (Uniting Vic.Tas and Uniting AgeWell) and the UCA-affiliated hospital group Epworth HealthCare to make voluntary assisted dying allowable within the context of their facilities and services for their patients, clients and residents.

Moderator Rev Denise Liersch said afterwards: “The decision was made after a long period of careful consideration, discussion, and prayer.

“As followers of Jesus, we affirm that all human life is precious and has God-given dignity.

“We believe allowing voluntary assisted dying in our agencies, under the constraints of the legislation, is consistent with this belief.

“The Synod will prepare pastoral responses and resources that reflect the Synod’s decision.

“The Synod acknowledged that exploring, accessing, and conscientiously objecting to voluntary assisted dying was within the range of faithful Christian responses to the Victorian Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017.

“As outlined in the legislation, any individual in our agencies or Church members may act in accordance with their own conscience in this matter.

“I was impressed with the way in which the Synod members grappled with this issue openly, honestly and faithfully with its theological and practical implications.”

 

Let’s get our heads around the moderator’s assertion, “in the name of Jesus…voluntary assisted dying in our agencies, under the constraints of the legislation, is consistent with this belief”.

‘In the name of Jesus’, we support the killing of terminally ill human beings?! What a disgrace to attach Christ’s name to such an ignominious and evil practice. 

It doesn’t matter how much they couch the decision in terms of careful discussions or extended times of prayer and thought, or listening to ‘expert’ panels, a wrong decision is still a wrong decision. This is not the first controversial decision to be made by the Uniting Church. In 2018 the Uniting Church (Synod of Victoria and Tasmania) adopted same-sex marriage. With an unsurprising congruity, a denomination known for its ‘liberal theology’ is quickly falling into line with mainstream positions on many social issues, including calling for the decriminalisation of illicit drugs, and vocal support of abortion among some of its leaders, including the Victorian Synod’s bioethics committee. The very trajectory designed to make their churches more inclusive is, in fact, making them redundant. Why become Christian and join a Church if Christianity simply mirrors the worldview I already hold? According to the 2016 Census, the Uniting Church is one of the fastest declining denominations in the country, losing around 22% members since 2011 (almost 200,000 people). There is little doubt that the direction will continue.

The Uniting Church has already littered the landscape with graves where there were once churches, and now they are giving consent for their health agencies to sanction euthanasia. It is one thing for a Government to legalise euthanasia, but for an association of Christian churches to stand together and vote in favour of their own agencies to allow this practice? And then have the audacity to attach the name of Jesus to this?

As I pastor I am not immune to the terrible suffering people experience, including among some who have a terminal illness. As a member of the community, I’m not blind to awful suffering experienced by friends and family. No one wants people suffering, and yet there is a line we ought not to cross, namely sanctioning the killing of human beings because they are ill. Hundreds of medical professionals urged the Victorian Parliament not to accept this legislation, but instead provide proper funding to palliative care. Sadly their concerns and appeals were ignored. 

This is State sanctioned suicide which has now become Church approved suicide. When Churches decide that handing out lethal pills to patients is in accord with the Christian faith, it is clear that they have long deserted the faith and are now following a very different religion to the one taught in the Scriptures. The fruit of today’s decision may lead to the deaths of vulnerable people who are using Uniting Church health facilities. It is hard to grasp how such fruit can ever be equated with the work of the Holy Spirit or with a Christian Church. The careful use of doublespeak, i.e. giving employees freedom of conscience on this issue, does not remove the force of the Synod’s decision. The same tactic was employed in last year’s marriage debate. 

No doubt there will be Christians within the Uniting Church of Victoria/Tasmania who are tonight grieving this decision. These brothers and sisters need our prayers as they discern what to do.  Many other Christians share their grief tonight and we ask for God’s mercy. 

 

 


Update July 15: A few people have responded to the article, saying that the Uniting Church has not accepted euthanasia, but rather VAD (voluntary assisted dying). First of all, euthanasia is the big umbrella term, with VAD being one form of euthanasia. Second, voluntary assisted dying is a disingenuous term that seeks to cover the reality, which is, it is voluntary assisted suicide. I believe it is important for churches to have integrity and to name things accurately.

Help Australians to understand the Bible

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

Miranda Devine writes,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Castle, “Yes it would have.” 

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Bible in the Victorian Parliamentary Library

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus documented a similar issue in his day,

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

My advice to Christians is this:

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

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

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

Let’s not waste the season God gives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That day is today.

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

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Here are 3 suggestions.

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

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

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

Second, let us love

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

Third, let us speak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The world’s best food is found in Menton(e)

Mentone has been awarded one of the world’s most prestigious culinary titles, “the world’s best restaurant.” This highly charged competition creates a stir every year as judges tour the world, noting the restaurants that offered them the finest dining experiences. Restaurants and Chefs rise to global attention, while others are shunned. Taste buds, noses, and eyes survey plates, tables, and venues, looking for originality, composition, and that good old subjective sense of ‘wow’.

In the recent award ceremony held in Singapore, the world’s best restaurant for 2019 has been given to Mentone! Yes, we are on the map! Global recognition has finally reached this beachside area.

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Ok, the award is for Mentone France, not Mentone in Melbourne. And in Mentone, they drop the final e, making it Menton. There does exist a close relationship between two towns for Mentone is named after Menton; just that one knows how to spell this English name and the other doesn’t!

The Menton restaurant that has been awarded this prestigious title is Mirazur.

Mirazur is described in the following way:

What makes it special: Unrivalled views of the French Riviera, three levels of cascading vegetable gardens churning out the sweetest produce and a team of outrageously talented cooks and front-of-house staff combine to make Mirazur the ultimate restaurant experience. Mauro Colagreco’s unique cuisine is inspired by the sea, the mountains and the restaurant’s own gardens, including Menton’s emblematic citrus fruits.”

I like to eat delicious food. I appreciate fine food. Susan and I once enjoyed a meal at last year’s “world’s best restaurant”, years before it was recognised as such.

It would be pretty cool if Mirazur had opened its doors in the Mentone of the south. We could do with a few locations for foodies. Mentone may not be a choice suburb for fine dining, but we do have a food experience of another kind, and I reckon it is even better. In contrast to this restaurant that sounds truly quite amazing, Mentone (Baptist Church) is serving up a very different meal. This meal costs a huge price and yet it is free. It is deeply satisfying and yet we are welcomed to eat and drink some more. It is intense in flavour and yet delicate on the palate. It is beautiful to behold and yet it is not pretentious.

At Mentone, we don’t expend all our energy on the packaging. No one is photographing what we serve. The building in which we meet looks as though it belongs to a vintage garage sale. The people are quite ordinary in appearance. The website doesn’t have the habit of making viewers drool at the sight of artistically plated courses. The meal, however, is worth everything.

The meal is in the message, and the message is about a person. It is God’s loving message about his Son, Jesus Christ. The message is one that engages the mind and moves the heart and feeds the soul.

Jesus said,

“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35)

Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” (John 6:27)

““Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)

This meal is regularly available to anyone who wants to visit Mentone, and indeed many of the other Churches around Melbourne that love Jesus. Churches are not interested in awards, community recognition, or popular adulations (or at least we ought not). We have been invited to eat at the grandest table, not because we are rich or famous or because we have the right contacts in the culinary world, but on account of a loving God who hates spiritual destitution and dereliction.

To the poor, to the hurting, to the hungry goes this invitation. A table filled not with egos but with gratitude, not with critics intent on deconstructing the slightest fault, but hearts and stomachs filled with unspeakable delight and joy.

I love good food. For one reason or another, I’ve had the opportunity to sit down at a table of some of the world’s great restaurants. These are memorable experiences, for which as a Christian I can acknowledge the creative genius of men and women and enjoy the astonishing tastes and smells of God’s creation. The best of food is like viewing a Picasso or Pollock, only that you get to eat it. But these delectable delights are momentary and passing compared to the food that God offers in Jesus Christ. In fact, heaven is described as a banquet, the supersize table where forever God’s family are welcomed to enjoy him and one another and a feast without ending. You see, Christianity doesn’t starve the intellect, the body, or the soul, the Christ of the Bible stimulates the senses and amazes us with the deepest satisfaction.

To those who can afford to eat out and enjoy the world’s best restaurants, there is better food available for your body and your soul. Why live for that which ends up in the toilet when we can eat food that gives eternal life?

To the majority who can never afford to pay for such a luxurious food experience, God offers food that will never spoil or perish, and that one day will make Kings and Chefs envious for that they passed it up in favour of a short-lived morsel.

Netball Australia sets the right tone for civil disagreement

The Israel Folau saga is reaching new levels of the ridiculous. It now seems as though it’s an enormous issue for Maria Folau to support her husband publicly.

Maria Folau is a star of International netball, representing New Zealand and playing for the Adelaide Thunderbirds.

What did she say that was so terrible and controversial?

She wrote a single word on her Instagram account, “Support”, along with reposting her husband’s statement where he explained why he was pursuing legal action and how people could support the costs, should they wish to do so.

 

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Netball Australia and Netball S.A succumbed to public pressure (or in this case, I think they preempted the coming tsunami) and released a statement in support of Maria Folau. They made it clear that they were not agreeing with Israel Folau’s views, but also that Maria had not breached any rules.

It is important to quote the following statement in full.

Statement by CEO of Netball South Australia – Ms. Bronwyn Klei

First and foremost, I want to be very clear that Netball South Australia is fiercely determined to provide an inclusive environment that allows anyone to participate in the great game of netball regardless of gender, religious belief, age, race or sexual orientation.

We also believe in fairness and perspective.

Like millions of other people across Australia, Maria Folau uses her personal social media platform to share her life and beliefs with her family, friends, and fans. This week, she shared her husband’s controversial Go-Fund-Me post.

While Netball SA in no way endorses the reposting, we do not believe Maria has contravened our social media policy.

Maria is a key member of the Thunderbirds. Not only has she provided great strength and leadership on court, she attends and works with netballing clinics, spends a lot of time with fans, engages with local communities and passionately encourages young kids with their netball dreams. We continue to support her as we support all our players.

To the thousands of people that play netball across South Australia every week:

Netball SA is not endorsing Maria’s repost.

Netball SA is committed to diversity and inclusion.

Netball SA and the Adelaide Thunderbirds support and encourage everyone wanting to play this great game.

And finally, we want to get out on that court today, play a great game of netball and win this game.

Media requests and further information please contact Grays Public Relations:

Cathy McHugh
0412 515 819
cathy@grayspr.com.au

 

My daughter plays netball.  I for one appreciate this public statement. Australian netball has acted wisely and impartially, taking what only a few years ago would have been considered a sensible and reasonable course. But of course, we no longer live in such a culture.

Liz Ellis, a former Australian netball Captain, responded,

“Yeah nah not good enough. How about this: There is no room for homophobia in our game. Anyone who is seen to support or endorse homophobia is not welcome.”

We are left wondering, what would Liz Ellis like to see happen? Does she believe that Maria Folau should be sanctioned or suspended? Does Ellis expect Netball Australia and the Adelaide Thunderbirds to publicly denounce Maria Folau for supporting her husband? Is this what family members should expect in the future?

Once again, a lot hangs on the interpretation of Israel Folau’s original comments. Liz Ellis is among those who assume it is ‘homophobia’. Let the reader understand, under this assumed language (that is by the way never defined or articulated), the Bible itself and Christianity would need to be defined as ‘homophobic’, for Israel Folau was simply paraphrasing parts of the Bible. Indeed, thousands of sermons in normal Christian churches throughout Australia would fall under this category every month, even though none of the preachers or congregations are fearful of or hateful toward people who identify as homosexual. Indeed, they welcome and are close friends with people who identify across the sexuality spectrum. Sometimes we forget, Churches are not communities for the self-righteous but for sinners, as Jesus himself put it.

Indeed, in the moral blitzkrieg that’s sweeping Australia, the Apostle Paul would find himself tarred and feathered. John the Baptist? We know what happened to him when he challenged the marriage of Herod! And Jesus? I can already hear the Aussie crowd yelling out, “Crucify him, crucify him”.

That’s the problem. There used to be an ethical category called loving disagreement which was employed regularly by Jesus Christ, the Apostles and by most Christians ever since (granted that Christians have sometimes failed in this regard).  This was about presenting an alternate position not because you thought less of another person or because you carried a dislike for them, and neither was the problem one of ignorance. Rather, out of concern that they were exercising a lifestyle that you believe is harmful or disadvantageous to their spiritual or social wellbeing. Indeed this ethical framework can still be found in use today in some quarters of society, for example among friends or with parents explaining to a child that their choices are not particularly good or helpful.

Loving disagreement has largely been bullied out of the public square, but others have at least wanted to hold onto civil disagreement, but even this is too much for the authoritarian secularists who wish to use sexuality as a weapon against religious thought and speech.

Liz Ellis’ comment, which has been retweeted and quoted thousands of times since Sunday afternoon, reinforces the narrow but now mainstream view that only certain religious beliefs should be freely expressed in the public space. Such beliefs are no longer defined by religious institutions or by a sacred book, but by self-appointed moral elitists who insist that all society conforms to the rigid sexual ethic that they have created. This is somewhat problematic because their grid is constantly changing and being redefined according to how many letters need adding, and even then we are now discovering that L and T have turned in on each other. Lesbians are now finding themselves being chewed and spat out of organisations because they find problematic men who identify as women. One of tennis’ all-time great players, Martina Navratilova, was sacked earlier in the year from her role as ambassador to an LGBT group for raising concerns about this issue.

Netball Australia has suggested a return to the centre, to at least try and resurrect the notion of civil disagreement. Well done to netball for exposing Rugby Australia’s overreach and for modeling to Australians are sensible and reasonable course. It reminds of the stance the Carlton Football Club took during the marriage plebiscite. They issued a statement in which they said,

“As a Club, we respect that this is about personal choice, and as such don’t intend to campaign on the issue, but we do strongly reinforce our Club’s absolute commitment to equality – and a community that is free from any form of discrimination.”

The response was instant and vitriolic.

It will be interesting to see what further backlash will come upon Netball in Australia because of the stance they have made. We may well hope that their example will encourage other sporting codes and organisations to also stand for fairness and neutrality, but one suspects a whistle has already been purchased from Sportsmart and self-appointed referees are about to blow that whistle and shout that there’s been a court violation and send Netball into the magistrate’s office for re-education.

 

 


June 26: Liz Ellis has written a piece for Fairfax in which she clarifies her tweet & so it’s only fair to include a link here – https://www.theage.com.au/sport/netball/super-netball-and-thunderbirds-missed-a-chance-with-folau-statement-20190625-p52112.html