Why it is becoming harder for Christians to gain a fair hearing in society

I think it’s helpful to learn and hear how others perceive Christians when we argue for religious freedom issues. It may be increasingly difficult for Christians to get a fair hearing, but there is value in us learning about the fears, concerns, and attitudes the unbelieving society is expressing.

A piece in Saturday’s The Age attempted to draw together several issues including the State Liberal leadership, proposed legislation targeting Christian Schools and the Conversion Practices Bill which passed earlier this year.

I know nothing about alleged promises made between Michael O’Brien and the ACL and these things are not my interest here.

As I read, I noticed that one of quotations came from me, although it wasn’t attributed to me (from The Age 5/12). I mentioned this to the reporter (who by the way has been doing excellent reporting on the pandemic in Victoria) as well as a brief summary of why Christians are rightly concerned by the  Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020 . I noted how Churches agreed with aspect of the Bill while explaining how other aspects are overreach and misguided. 

With the same degree of surprise as someone jumping into sea and expecting to get wet, the Twitter community bandied together to object to what I said. Their objections were telling. For instance,  one person used the issue of child sexual abuse in churches to argue Christians have no right to engage in conversation and dialogue,

“Christian faith had no right to use prayer institutions to groom, abuse, assault, persuade and then cover up child sexual abuse for decades either. Stay out of people’s sexual choices. You lot lost any moral right to have anything to do with persuading (bullying) people.”

While I disagree with how they conflate issues that are very separate, it’s worth listening to the comment. The harm caused by evil people who worked their way inside some churches is truly insidious. Though their abuse may have taken place many years ago, it will have an ongoing effect for many years to come, and possibly for generations. In the first place, the damage inflicted on victims of these crimes is both real and abhorrent. Second, the damage these actions has caused to the reputation of Christ and churches is real. We may say, as I have myself have pointed out, churches are overwhelmingly safe and that such behaviour contradicts every fibre of Christian faith. Indeed, the Bible warns us how people with evil intent will worm their way into churches and cause harm both by their words and by their actions. And of course, issues of sexual abuse are widespread throughout every part of society. Nonetheless, we need to understand how these sins and the manner in which some churches at times overlooked abuse, has understandably marred peoples’ view of Christianity.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Second, there are members of the community who genuinely believe Christians have no right to speak and practice our religion publicly. These voices range from the anonymous Twitter account through to high-profile social commentators and one can mount the case that this is becoming an adopted view inside the current Victorian government.

For example, a few responses to my tweet stated that Christians have no right to persuade anyone,

“In this context, those “offers” are unquestionably acts of psychological abuse, deliberately inflicted on vulnerable people. That you would defend this as your “right” is a damning indictment. Disgraceful. You’re not a victim, stop pretending otherwise.”

The problem is one of framing. I mentioned this issue last week in relation to the Victorian Attorney General’s announcement of forthcoming legislation that is targeting faith-based schools. Instead of supporting the rights of religious organisations to employ people who affirm their values, the Government, using it’s own theological priorities, is seeking to insert its own preferences onto faith-based schools and other organisations. 

Similarly, the Conversion Practices Act attempts to remove what are common sense and essential aspects of Christian faith; namely the freedom to persuade and to pray. The lead up to the debate on conversion practices was framed according to a narrow and at times misleading narrative. The Government told stories of so called Christian practices that are horrible (and these are horrible especially to Christian ears).  The problem was, these practices were either only ever practised by a small number of marginal religious groups many years ago, or never at all. Instead, what happened is that a straw man was built out of thousands of plastic straws and with a couple of strands a genuine hay. This  predominantly false presentation was used to justify making illegal activities that are not only congruent with 2000 years of Christian history, but also congruent with a civilised and pluralistic society that encourages persuasion and conversation and prayer. Does the government have any right to tell me who I can pray for and what I can pray for? It somewhat bemusing to hear ardent secularists approve of political means to step into the religious realm and legislate against prayer and conversation. In the name of equality, Victoria is again moving to diminish freedom and equality and tolerance. 

I have been saying for many years that society and sometimes churches have not always treated gay and lesbian neighbours in love and with the respect due them. Every Christian who is a born again Christian is aware of the fact that we only come to know God‘s wonderful forgiveness and the gift of reconciliation because of His undeserved grace and love towards us in Christ. This grace doesn’t motivate hatred toward others, but desires to see people doing well. Of course, the narrative that now controls much public discourse is that you cannot love another person and uphold the Christian view of marriage. It is said that one cannot hold to a Christian view of sexuality and truly want the best for others. The megaphone may be loud, constant, and popular, but it is no more true than those who claim the earth is flat or those who argue that the climate is not warming. 

One thing Christians in Victoria need to realise is that we no longer hold a place of respect or authority in our society. Of course, that is a generalisation, for there many Victorians (even among unbelievers) who still value the contributions of Christians and who believe in healthy pluralism. Nonetheless, we need to comes to terms with the fact that culture is shifting The answer isn’t for Christians to pine for yesterday. The answer isn’t to ‘reclaim’ our political or social position. These attempts not only usually fail, they often lead to further polarisation and to muddying the Christian message. There is a place to contest unfair laws and unjust governmental intrusion, but these avenues should be pursued by reasonable minds not by angry activists. Rather, Christians need to be doing what Christians have always done at their best and that is, humbly walk before God, and being persuaded by the Bible keep living out God’s good ways, and with patience, grace and clarity, keep speaking God’s good news, and keep loving our neighbours no matter who they happen to be. 

Australia, it’s time to lament

“How deserted lies the city,

    once so full of people!

How like a widow is she,

    who once was great among the nations!

She who was queen among the provinces

    has now become a slave”. (Lamentations 1:1)

Today, August 19th 2021, marks 200 days of lockdown in Melbourne since the pandemic began last year. Beginning March 30th 2020 there have been 200 days where 5 million residents have been forced to stay at home. Over these 18 months we have experienced weeks without lockdown, but those days have all been lived with tight restrictions. 

The streets of Melbourne are deserted. Schoolyards are empty, apart from the occasional gust of wind that moves the leaves from one end to the other. Office buildings have become catacombs. Football grounds are empty of competition and of children chasing the footy.

What lessons will we learn through this once in a 100-year pandemic? What truths will resurface now that so many of our habits have stalled and excesses moved into lockdown?

As the months move sketchily forward, Australians are eager for a day of celebration; a national day of festivities to announce the end of the pandemic. Many Aussies are also skeptical and wonder if this day will be pushed further and further back as Government directed expectations change. I’m certainly keen for the day to arrive when we are assured of no more lockdowns and when we reach 80% of the population fully vaccinated. However, if we fast forward to rejoicing we are bypassing important lessons that can be uncovered now.

I am not one to dismiss momentary distractions that serve to alleviate the pandemic symptoms that we’re all facing. Thank God for some of these helpful diversions. We are not however acting wisely if we use these to cover over the widening crevices that are appearing in our society and in our own souls. We have a moment, dare I suggest, a God-given moment, to reevaluate the big questions of life.

Last year I proposed a series of life topics where the pandemic may impact. Among the suggestions was a question mark over the sexual revolution. Would COVID-19 cause the sexual revolution to slow down? At the time I wasn’t sure. What we have seen over the last 18 months is that moral progressivism hasn’t taken a back seat to the pandemic. Its course is deliberate and continues to drive through our culture in first gear. Far from applying brakes, the sexolution has navigated the roundabouts and traffic lights of this pandemic with great skill, ensuring that legislations continue unabated.

Victoria is the State that adopted legislation that may imprison Christians for speaking to or praying with a person about sexuality or gender.

On the one hand, our society speaks against the mistreatment of women, while on the other hand, Victoria is decriminalising sex work, as though this is a great emancipation moment.

In life there is time for play and pleasure. There is a time for rejoicing and celebration. There is also a time for mourning.

Last week a national campaign was given a megaphone in our newspapers. The aim was to increase unbelief in God just as Aussies participated in Census 2021. Dropping God  became a national talking point, when instead we should be bowing  our knees before our Maker and asking for his mercy. 

Despite the mantra of “of all being in this together”,  what  we are witnessing is an awful lot of boasting, selfishness, political chest-beating and growing civil restlessness.  The phrase “this is not a time for politics” has lost all meaning, that is, if it ever had any substance to start with. Far from being an empty phrase, it is sharpened into a political weapon for striking opponents and causing further division.

This hubris is shared by the left and right and everywhere in the middle. Imagine how much more unified and together we will be if this pandemic continues into 2022?! 

Part of the problem is how our Aussie psyche demands happiness without repentance. We want success without humility. We want prosperity without generosity. What if the Australian dream is faulty? What if we are cheating ourselves of a better life because of a wrong posture we’ve assumed?

We are not very good at learning from history. For example, in the 6th Century BC the city of Jerusalem was laid waste. The population had progressed, or so they believed. They had moved on from many of their traditions and old ways of thinking.  They didn’t remove belief in God as such, but they did manufacture new gods to support the sexual and economic policies they wanted normalised. And they deconstructed all those Scriptures  that didn’t offer unwavering support to their new life pursuits. 

As Jerusalem lay in ruins, the book of Lamentations was written. Lamentations is one of the most forgotten books of the Bible. Given the subject mater, one understands why.  But perhaps our extraordinary situation requires us to open this difficult book. It is a distressing book to read given the account it retells of what went wrong and of the severe suffering that was left behind. The author of Lamentations speaks of people mocking those in distress and hardening their resolve against God. This expansive lament is honest in its recognition of human sin, the rightness of God, the despair accompanying the suffering, and the single source of hope:

Do we concur with these sentiment?

“The Lord is righteous,

    yet I rebelled against his command. (1:18)

Can we speak words like these?

I remember my affliction and my wandering,

    the bitterness and the gall.

I well remember them,

    and my soul is downcast within me.

Yet this I call to mind

    and therefore I have hope:

Let him sit alone in silence,

    for the Lord has laid it on him.

Let him bury his face in the dust—

    there may yet be hope. (Lamentations 3:19-21, 29)

Can we conclude,

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,

    for his compassions never fail.

They are new every morning;

    great is your faithfulness.

I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;

    therefore I will wait for him.” (3:22-24)

Understand, the Lamenter didn’t arrive at the place of hope without first lamenting his condition. Again, this is one of our regularly failings as Aussies. Instead of blaming God or excluding God, the writes takes responsibility. It is this requisite for humility that we have become accustomed to avoiding. Instead of learning, it appears that we Aussies prefer to hold onto this hubris, and that does not bode well for the future. 

Learn from author of Lamentations. And listen to the book of James, 

“Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”  (James 5:9-10)

It must be said lest anyone reads into my words a meaning that’s not there: we cannot equate particular suffering with particular sin. God has not spoken a word about COVID 19. That means we should treat with extreme caution anyone who makes such assertions. We can however say that suffering in general is a sign of a world that’s cursed and fallen, and that these pains can serve as a loud call to understand our mortality and our need for a Saviour of Divine nature.

Neither does finding purpose in trials diminish s the very real suffering attached to plagues and other trials.  The Apostle Peter could simultaneously speak of finding joy and suffering grief in the same event, 

“In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials” (1 Peter 1:6).

Above all, remember Jesus who endured all manner of hardship, which not only characterises him as the understanding God, but this served for Him to our substitute . He is the Son of God who need never suffer and yet in love chose that path for us.

“He was despised and rejected by mankind,
    a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain
    and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
    stricken by him, and afflicted.”
(Isaiah 53:3-4)

Instead of discrediting this length period of pandemic, we could slow down a little and ponder the very questions we spend so much of life trying to avoid. You see, trials scratch away the surface and expose our deepest longings and fears and dreams. They also serve to teach us how we should not take for granted the many things we enjoy in life. Too often, our habit is to mistranslate our copious freedoms and pleasures and turn them into rights and demands as as though God owes us anything.

Charles Spurgeon was a man who was more than familiar with suffering. He offers this astute observation “Trials teach us what we are; they dig up the soil, and let us see what we are made of.” 

What are we learning about ourselves during COVID-19?

John Donne is one of the great poets of the English language. Donne lived through one of the many plagues that struck Europe over the centuries.  Like so many living in the 17th Century, John Donne was familiar tragedy. 5 of his children died before the age of 10 and his wife died at a young age. As the city of London was again ravaged by disease, John Donne fell ill.  He survived, but during each of the 23 days of sickness he wrote a meditation. Meditation 17 is the most famous. for these 2 lines,

“no man is an island” 

and 

“ask not for whom the bell tolls, for it tolls for thee.”

Each day the church bells of London rung out to announce the most recent deaths of Londoners. As Donne lay in his sick bed, not knowing whether it would become his death bed, he could hear the bells toll. He was not oblivious to this daily public cry, but rather in the sound he heard a gracious reminder.

“No man hath affliction enough, that is not matured and ripened by it, and made fit for God by that affliction…Tribulation is treasure in the nature of it, but it is not current money in the use of it, except we get nearer and nearer our home, heaven, by it.  Another may be sick too, and sick to death, and this affliction may lie in his bowels, as gold in a mine, and be of no use to him; but this bell that tells me of his affliction, digs out, and applies that gold to me: if by this consideration of another’s danger, I take mine own into contemplation, and so secure myself, by making my recourse to my God, who is our only security.”

As we all look forward to the day when mass restrictions are behind us and when some semblance of normalcy returns, let’s not push aside the treasure found in this moment, the treasure grasped by John Donne and millions beside. 

Eddie Betts emotional plea against racism

My wife & I just watched the interview Eddie Betts gave on Fox Sports about the latest examples of racism in the AFL.

I remember my daughter doing a school assignment on her favourite football player when she was 10. She chose Eddie Betts.

Being ardent Carlton supporters we were sad when Eddie moved to Adelaide and excited when he returned home to the mighty blues. 

However we are not excited by persistent stories of racism in the AFL that reach the news. No doubt there are many more examples that don’t reach the ears of the media. 

As we listened to Eddie Betts speak we were impressed by his graciousness and we heard the pain in his voice. He shared how he and his mother and father have been dealing with racism all their lives.

“It’s tiring. It hurts. It’s draining. It really hurts to be honest…”

“It’s been hard and I reckon I just need everyone to really go on a journey to start educating, to start those conversations.

It is difficult to listen to the interview without being moved by Eddie’s story.

The reason for typing these few words is because hear Eddie and I have a small voice in which I can say something publicly.

Firstly, I want to communicate to Eddie Betts and to other Indigenous footballers, you are right in not accepting racism. We want to stand with you in saying no to racism.

While I have never experienced racism, I know my wife’s family have; they were subjected to the White Australia Policy amongst other things. In my church are people who come from all kinds of ethnic backgrounds; beautiful people, some who have experienced racism because of the colour of their skin or cultural background.

Second, as a Christian leader in Melbourne (who also follows the footy), I believe we ground the dignity of human beings in something substantial,  something sublime, and yes, even of Divine intention. You see, racist slurs and behaviour is an egregious attack on God and his purposes. Let me explain.

The God whom I know and worship is the God who made the heavens and earth, and who made all humanity in his image.

It was out of this theological conviction that Martin Luther King cried, 

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.”

The Bible begins with this extraordinary notion that every human being bears the image of God and therefore has inherent dignity and worth. No race is greater or lesser than another; all have His print on us. 

The Bible has more to say. The creator God sent his only Son, Jesus Christ, into the world because humanity was bent on throwing away the dignity of the imago dei. Humanity’s actions have resulted in the belittling of human life in a thousand different ways, including the abhorrent belief of racial inferiority.

This Jesus who was crucified and raised, and he now holds a message of redemption and reconciliation for the nations. 

The Bible’s story ends with a vision of a new creation where God is at the centre and his world is filled with people from nation and language,

“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.” (Revelation 7:9)

I realise churches sometimes fail, but more often they do offer a little glimpse into this heavenly future. I thank God, that despite our own worts, Mentone Baptist is a community with people who come from all over world. This multi ethnic community is amazingly dynamic in unity and love.

Going back to Eddie Betts testimony on television, how can we despise or belittle an image bearer of God? How can we insult people for whom Christ died? How can we fight against the Divine plan to reconcile peoples from across the world in Christ? 

Jesus once said this, 

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

The Bible also encourages us to ‘mourn with those who mourn’. So, while most of us may not understand what it’s like to be in Eddie Bett’s shoes, we can still stand beside him, and ask how we can help shoulder this burden. We can check our own hearts and we can speak up whenever we hear someone disparage another on account of their ethnicity.

The contentious Census question: Religion

Tuesday August 10th is Australia’s favourite night of the year. Every person will be in their house, flat, unit or caravan. Studiously we will open laptops or take out a pen and the journey will begin: Census 2021. Although, like myself you may be one of the millions who’ve jumped the gun and completed the form in advance.

Our local atheistic allies have been campaigning hard as though the Census is an election of some kind. The conversion plan is overtly evangelistic and with promises of life ending in nothingness to all who join them. In advance of victory,  I can almost hear their voices warming up to sing another rendition of ‘Imagine’. 

Monica Dux, writing for the Sydney Morning Herald, tries to sway lapsed Catholics by reminding them of all the things they mustn’t like about Catholicism. She claims, 

“In the upcoming census, religious affiliation is a category that will be closely watched, in part because participation in organised religion has declined so sharply, to the point that, in the 2016 census, the fastest growing belief was non-belief.”

Not so fast! ‘No religion’ is not a synonym for ‘non-belief’. ‘No religion’ is simply a junk draw for unbelievers, undecideds, spiritualists, and independents alike.

My advice is simple, just be honest. 

Perhaps for Census 2026 we can add another box, “uptight atheist”.

There is however a major flaw with the question on religion. No, I’m not referring to the top of the page preference that’s given to ‘no religion’. The error is this, Christianity doesn’t appear as an option.

Instead, Anglican, Baptist and Presbyterian, appear alongside Islam and Buddhism and Hinduism as though they are all different religions. As a friend noted, Pentecostalism doesn’t appear at all, even though there are more Pentecostal Christians in Australia than most of the denominations specified. 

I’m all for learning about the breakdown of how many Aussies identify with all the different Christian denominations; that’s useful information for a pastor such as myself. But Baptists are not a different religion to Anglican or Presbyterian or the Uniting Church (well, there is case that this last one should be separated). 

Let me illustrate,

It’s like the census asking this question, what sport do you play? Then the options given are the following;

Carlton

Hawthorn

Swimming

Tennis

Collingwood

Golf

Cycling

St Kilda

It’s stupid! Carlton isn’t a sport, it’s a club that plays the same sport as Hawthorn, Collingwood and St Kilda. It may be a legitimate question to find out who supports which AFL club, but that’s not the same question as ‘what sport do you play?’. 

Will our Census counters combine the numbers from across the Christian denominations? If so, will they include or exclude in those numbers cult like groups such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons?

Before sociologists explain to us why Australia is no longer a Christian nation (by the way, the answer is, we never were and we are not meant to be), it’s kinda important to know how the solicited answers shape the question being asked.  It’s also worth pointing out that in the last census only 60% of Australians answered the question on religion. So, just like a plebiscite, the answers have some value, but what the other 40% think and what Australian genuinely believe about religion remain a Census mystery. 

The Census provides useful and interesting information about the people who make up our nation. The data provides Governments, Councils, and community organisations a window into the people around us. We learn interesting facts about how old we are and how much income we earn and what languages we speak at home. 

The Australia Bureau of Statistics explains why there is a question on religion, 

“A person’s religion is asked as part of a suite of questions on cultural diversity and has been collected since the first national Census in 1911. This is the only optional question on the Census. Information gathered is used by religious organisations and government agencies to plan service delivery and encompass religious practices within community services, such as education, hospitals and aged care facilities.”

This information also becomes political hay and ammunition agitating for future Government funding and policy making. One thing the Census is not, and that is a measure of the spiritual health and intelligence of our country.

There is merit in knowing how people formally identify with different faith groups. Indeed, the fact that this question remains is quite telling. However, I’m more interested in knowing how many Aussies are in fact attending and actively belonging to a Christian Church and what are their beliefs and struggles and joys. I’m interested in learning why other Aussies have dropped out of church and /or why they no longer believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I’m interested in learning about what is it about other religions that appeals to people. These questions are for more interesting and beneficial. 

Distorting the Christian message doesn’t help anyone

I am tired of people misusing Christianity for all kinds or political and moral messaging. Whether it’s intellectual know-it-alls who explain away all the bits of the Bible that doesn’t fit with contemporary moral proclivities or those who get sucked in by crazy conspiracies and then justify them from loopy readings of the Bible. Indeed, some of this isn’t’ just odd, it is downright dangerous and blasphemous. 

Take for example, this sign that was waving about during an anti lockdown protest yesterday,

“The blood of Christ is my vaccine.”

I do hope people realise that Christians don’t support or agree with this banner that was displayed at an anti-lockdown protest yesterday in Australia. I suppose a few Christians might like the banner, but that doesn’t make it true or helpful.

This is a difficult year

I will address this appalling sign shortly, but first of all I want to say that I understand how many people are frustrated and fed up and hurting during the COVID-19 pandemic. I doubt if there are many Australians who don’t feel at the very least one of those emotions right now. I have seen many struggling Aussies over the last 19 months and I know it’s hard. No one wants to be in the situation that we’re currently experiencing.

I’m not arguing here for or against lockdowns. Neither am I advocating for or against other measures taken during the pandemic. It’s not that I don’t have opinions about such things but that I’m aware of the fact that I’m not a medical professional and these are complex matters and I don’t have to shoulder responsibility for millions of people. It may well be the case that we won’t know what the right course of action was for several years to come. Uncertainties and confusion have often been compounded by the unnecessary politicisation of the pandemic and the at times enflaming journalism by some members of the media (as opposed to the great reporting that’s been done by many other journalists). 

When it comes to protests my view is that it’s unwise to protest right now (that was my position last year as well), yes even selfish. At the same time we can be concerned by any Government who stifles peoples’ right to protest, even when we disagree with their point of view. Two things can be right at the same time. The higher biblical ethic however isn’t to push for my rights, it is to love the other.

The Bible doesn’t support conspiracies

I digress, my concern here is the so called Christian messaging present in these protests. If you are someone who claims to follow Jesus Christ, before making any decision first ask, am I faithfully promoting the good news of Jesus Christ? Another question I should ask is, am I loving my neighbour by joining in this unlawful and untimely rally? While I am sure there were a few well-meaning Christians protesting yesterday, that is no excuse for screwing up the beautiful Christian message by twisting it with anti-VAX nonsense. 

There is a difference between someone who declines vaccination as a result of carefully thought out reasoning and one who is saying no because they’re believe speculative hearsay and conspiracy theories. For me, I’m convinced taking the vaccine is sensible and it’s is foremost about loving others and putting their health above my own (I’ve had my first round of Pfizer). 

The Bible itself is not anti medicine anymore than the Bible isn’t anti-science. The Apostle Paul once says to a young Timothy, I hear that you’re unwell, take medicine. On many occasions when the Bible records people who are hungry, the answer was to provide food so that they may eat. When people were tired they slept. We are physical beings for God has made a physical world, not just a psychological and spiritual world. He has made a world in such that we can understand its mechanics and make advancements in technology and science and medicine. 

The Bible talks about people who advocate and believe wonky ideas and calls on churches to guard against them For example, n the First Pastoral Epistle the Apostle Paul famously calls out conspiracy theories and demonstrated why they have no place in the Christian community. He wrote, 

As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longeror to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith.The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk.They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm. (1 Timothy 1:3-7)

Scholars can’t be certain about the precise content of these myths and genealogies. However, later in 1 Timothy (ch.4), Paul talks about people who were advocating distorted views of marriage, food, and other everyday norms. The Apostle is adamant, 

“Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron”

Indeed, Paul argues that such abuse of Christian doctrine is harmful to people physical and spiritual wellbeing” (1 Timothy 4).

The meaning of the blood of Jesus

When people mix the Christian message with speculative theories we find absurd statements such as the banner which many journos are enjoying sharing around on social media, “The blood of Christ is my vaccine”.

What an awful slogan. This kind of misrepresentation is as detrimental to the Christian message as was the false teachers whom Paul spoke against.

Just in case someone is wondering, the blood of Jesus does not have physical properties that will so how mingle with our cardiovascular system to fight and destroy viral infection. Such medieval thinking is superstition not Christian. 

However, I will never ridicule the idea of the ‘blood of Christ’. This idea of Christ’s blood is a crucial and central aspect of Christian belief. Without this blood there is no Christianity. 

I get it, the very thought of blood isn’t attractive to our modern sensibilities. The theological significance of blood may not be as familiar to us as it is in other cultures. Blood is graphic. If we find the notion of spilled blood uncomfortable and even gross, we have come some way to understand the significance of blood in Biblical teaching and practice.  The shedding of blood goes a long way to demonstrate the true horror of human sinfulness and the extraordinary length God went to bring atonement and deliver reconciliation. 

Blood is used in many different ways in the Bible, but most of the time it signifies death. Blood is often used in a technical sense to refer to sacrificial death. In the first place blood speaks of sacrifices conducted in the Old Testament, and these are preparing for and pointing to the truly efficacious sacrifice that atones for human sin; the death of Jesus Christ.

”For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors,but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. (1 Peter 1:18-20)

“remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,” (Ephesians 2:18-20)

Let me explain it this way, while the biblical language of blood may be unusual for many of us, we do understand the concept of sacrifice. The notion of someone laying down their life in order to save another is a common theme in literature and film. In real life, such events are often mentioned on the news for they are rare and wonderful examples of love.

Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance has these words engraved in the interior of the building, “Greater love hath no man”. 

While these words aptly describe the sacrifice of our war dead, these are in fact words spoken by Jesus. These words speak of the greatest sacrifice we can make for the sake of another, and the point to the ultimate sacrifice; the cross.

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

When a protester distorts the Christian message and attaches it do something like the anti-vac movement, people will understandably mock her. Sadly, they may also go away with the wrong view of Christ and of Christianity. I’m thankful that most Christians have more sense, and hopefully better theology. For the rest of Australia, please don’t judge the truly sublime message of Jesus Christ by a few dreadful banners. Instead, find a Christian church, open a Bible, and discover the good news of Jesus for yourself.

Tokyo Olympics Imagine the wrong song

I enjoy the Olympics. I’m not one these anti-sport types or anti-cultural wowsers. There’s no doubt that my family and I will be watching the Aussies over the next couple of weeks. We expect to see some amazing athleticism and competition, and we’ll be cheering on as proud Aussies. There are plenty of non Aussies that I’m keen to see compete as well. And ‘yay’ to Tokyo! I’m happy for the people of Tokyo. Despite the trauma and uncertainty of the past 18 months the game have begun; well done!

There was much to enjoy and amaze in what was a scaled down opening ceremony. The cauldron is spectacular. And yes, mask wearing athletes waving to a near empty stadium is kind of weird but welcome to 2021. I also assumed there would be some element at the Games that’ll make us cringe. On this occasion, the irksome bit was in fact the contribution made by Australia’s very own Keith Urban. Or rather, Urban shared the honours with a Legend named John and two other singers who each represented a different continent.

Together they performed a virtual rendition of John Lennon’s Imagine. Really? Yep. We couldn’t think of something more imaginative to captivate the audience? Even a few lines from Puccini would have given us a better dose of goose bumps than Lennon’s dreary Imagine. Despite Lennon’s best efforts to produce a mediocre song,  Imagine has become something of a global anthem for times of trouble and bizarrely even at Christmas time.

But let’s stop for a moment and use our brains. Think about the lyrics. Forget about the ho-hum melodic line. Leave aside the earnest yodelling of Keith Urban, the swaying arms of a choir and the army of drones circling above to create a unified world. Truth ain’t measured by a spectacularly scripted show!

Imagine is hardly good news. It’s a pop song designed to imagine life without ultimate meaning and hope. Despite its claim, it doesn’t bring people together for it erases any story that’s bigger than ourselves and strong enough to heal the unreconcilable. It’s the perfect anthem for our neighbourhood nihilists, not for a hurting world.

At a time when the world in the thralls of a pandemic, facing enormous financial debt, geopolitical threats of warlike imminence, and the fracturing of western civilisation, Imagine is not the song we need to hear. What does this imaginary song offer us?

Imagine there is no ultimate meaning, purpose or goal toward which our lives are headed.

Imagine there is no overarching design and no inherent significance. 

Imagine if our lives were reduced to the pot luck outcome of billions of years of impersonal atoms and molecules running around hitting and missing, making and destroying.

Imagine a world where the reality of conscience and moral choice has no grounding in a purpose beyond that of group survival in the evolutionary race to the top.

Imagine human affections are ultimately an illusion, a cruel joke orchestrated by the impersonal rules pf physics.

Imagine all the people living for today, for tomorrow is the end.

Imagine’s meaning isn’t so great, is it?

In contrast to Lennon’s nihilist proclamation, people want to know that there is hope beyond a crisis and that there is hope when faced with mortality. Times of economic uncertainty can drive people to the kinds of selfish and greedy hoarding of supplies that we have been witnessing. A health crisis can lead to further fragmentation in societies. Indeed, the longer this crisis continues the more likely we are going to witness the breaking of social cohesion. And yet as these economic, social and health pressures tighten, it is all the more necessary for people to hear news of hope.

There is little consolation to a gravely ill person that not only is death imminent, but that it is ultimately meaningless. This atheistic ethic doesn’t do much to help grieving families who have just witnessed a loved one being ripped from their lives. To quote one friend, Imagine is “tone deaf”.

We want there to be a heaven, a better world with a better life. We want the cessation of sorrow and suffering, but Imagine cannot offer any such promise. 

At the same time, hell is also a necessity, for we do not want to live in a world where evil wins or where injustice prevails. While we should be thankful for our judicial system, it is not full proof and many terrible deeds are never prosecuted. People need to know that in death the wicked do not escape justice. Imagining there is no hell would be a form of hell its self.

John Lennon’s song collapses in on its own irrationality. He imagines ‘living life in peace’, and there being no “greed or hunger”, but such talk demands a form and purpose; atheism and naturalism cannot provide such a definition. 

The COVID-19 crisis is a voracious reminder of the fragility of life and the uncertainty of building society on credit. Hedonism is vanity. Pushing against greed and social disharmony suggests meaning, but meaning is disqualified in a God absent universe. As Solomon the wise wrote in the book of Ecclesiastes, 

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”

    says the Teacher.

“Utterly meaningless!

    Everything is meaningless.”

Nietzsche was right, at least as far his logic is concerned, that “the masses blink and say ‘We are all equal – Man is but man, before God – we are equal.’ Before God! But now this God has died.” A contemporary of Nietsche, Anatole France retorted without regret,

“It is almost impossible systematically to constitute a natural moral law. Nature has no principles. She furnishes us with no reason to believe that human life is to be respected. Nature, in her indifference, makes no distinction between good and evil.”

What if there is heaven and hell? What if God exists? 

Everything must change. What we think and say has greater import. How we live and how we treat others has far more consequence. 

What if the God who exists is the God of the Bible: who is Sovereign, and altogether righteous and loving, just and kind? 

What if Jesus Christ is the perfect image of God, the One who as John testifies, 

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

These words are far more sustainable and substantial than the sentiment of living in a world without Divine structure. A Biblical view of the world both assesses its beauty and its horror, the worth and the uncertainty. These Scriptures bring us to the most astonishing words, ones that counter John Lennon’s pipe dream with concrete hope, 

 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

Men, Anger, and Gender Differences

One of the few heresies today is to suggest that there are many if any differences between men and women. We are even at the point where some are arguing gender is so fluid that categories like men and women are becoming superfluous. I suspect however that few will find offence with a hypothesis that submits that anger is a more aggressive issue among men than for women.

The reason for mentioning this is because I’ve come across research that supports a biblical proposition. The Bible presents many positive differences between men and women but on this occasion I’m thinking of a negative example.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I’m about to start preaching through Paul’s first letter to Timothy at Mentone Baptist. The Epistle is filled with encouragements and instruction for churches, which together provide directives for how a church is to conduct herself. As Paul says to Timothy, this conduct matters because God’s household is “church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth”. 

Despite the positive and constructive way the Apostle outlines life for a local church, some parts of the letter have created significant controversy; not least are the sections that discuss  the roles of men and women in the church. I’ll preaching through the entire letter, including ch.2, but for now I want to share an interesting article that I recently came across which may help us further understand what Paul means in 2:8, 

“Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing”

Verse 8 is an instruction given by God to men in the church. What follows in vv.9-15 are  instructions given to women in the church.

Paul introduces verse 8 (and the following verses, 9-15, for they form a coherent section) with the strong conjunction, ‘therefore’. Paul is tying this application with what he has written previously in verses 1-7.  The connection  between vv.1-7 and v.8 is not only the subject of prayer, it is also ‘godliness and holiness’. Similarly, godliness and holiness is the concern of vv.9-15.  The Apostle is concerned with godly behaviour in the church as it pleases God and because it functions as a Gospel witness to outsiders. That godliness is on view in v.8 is confirmed by the way Paul contrasts hands used in prayer and hands used in anger. 

Why does Paul’s teaching on men here focus on ‘anger’? Surely anger isn’t a male only attribute?

1 Timothy 2:8 seems to support the idea that anger is a greater issue among men than it is for women. In a paragraph where Paul is making distinctions between men and women in the church, it is observable to Paul that a proclivity toward anger is one characteristic that sufficiently differentiates men from women. It’s not the only distinctive attribute but it is one. 

It’s not that women don’t experience anger. Of course women can be angry, for good reasons as well as for sinful reasons. Is there however something in Paul’s statement that rings true? For example, we know that most cases of domestic violence are perpetrated by men. We also know that most violent crimes are committed by men. Do men and women process anger in different ways? It’s not only such extreme forms of anger.

In 2018, The Conversation published an article on differences between men and women. The focus was on ‘happiness’ and how men and women experience happiness in different ways. The article also speaks of the converse, 

“Gender differences in depression are well established and studies have found that biological, psychological and social factors contribute to the disparity.” 

I note that despite all the talk about how cultural influences inform and determine behaviours research suggests that social factors lack the explanatory power for defining how men and women experience the highs and lows of life in distinctive ways. There is more going on.

I think of 1 Thessalonians where Paul speaks of masculine traits and feminine traits, not because they are mutually exclusive but because there are observable differences between the two genders. The fact that these analogies make sense to us living in 21st Century suggests the meaning is not fixed to those living in Thessaloniki in 50-51AD. It’s also worth highlighting that these metaphors are used positively and with affection.

“But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.” (1 Thess. 2:7–8).

“For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory” (1 Thess. 2:11–12).

Back to 1 Timothy. As I read the piece in The Conversation, my eyes were drawn to the section on anger. According to the piece, research demonstrates that men and women express anger differently. 

“Psychologically it seems men and women differ in the way they process and express emotions. With the exception of anger, women experience emotions more intensely and share their emotions more openly with others.”

“However within these studies lies a significant blind spot, which is that women often do feel anger as intensely as men, but do not express it openly as it is not viewed as socially acceptable.

When men feel angry they are more likely to vocalise it and direct it at others, whereas women are more likely to internalise and direct the anger at themselves. Women ruminate rather than speak out. And this is where women’s vulnerability to stress and depression lies.”

This makes sense of Paul’s observation about men raising hands in anger. It’s not that 1 Timothy 2:8 is valid because of what researchers are learning, but rather we shouldn’t be surprised to find that reality matches what Scripture teaches and affirms.

In any discourse about men and women it is unhelpful to overstate differences. What we share, namely our humanity and the imago dei and union with Christ is of staggering beauty and importance. Without losing or diminishing any of those things and more, it is also unwise to downplay or ignore the simple fact that there are also differences. As The Conversation explains, these differences extend beyond social influences, and neither can they fully explained by physiology such as muscle and bone density, and sexual organs. There are psychological and personality differences. 1 Timothy 2:8 seems be to a Scriptural acknowledgment of such differentiation. Indeed, I would argue differences also exist for theological reasons, but that’s a topic for another ocassion.

At a time when we are hearing so many stories about men mistreating women, even within churches, 1 Timothy 2:8 is a timely verse (not that the verse is specifically aimed at men’s behaviour toward women but it surely includes such). It’s also an example of how Paul’s ecclesiastical paradigm in 1 Timothy isn’t limited to First Century Ephesus but how the God’s ways remains poignant and powerful today.

As our society recognises harmful versions of masculinity, it’s good to be reminded that God is also in opposition. God does not condone sinful anger, and neither should the church. The Apostle mentions anger because despite its prevalence among men, it is out of place in God’s household. The answer though isn’t simply to cease a certain behaviour or attitude, it is to replace it with one that is better and is good. It’s a picture of repentance. Paul instructs men, instead of using hands in anger, men ought to lift their hands in prayer. In other words, men should use their bodies for godliness not sinfulness, and they should focus their attention on God who brings peace rather than igniting disputes. 

For men who are aware of anger issues in their life, reach out for help. If you’re part of a church, talk to your pastor. For women who are living with an angry man, please reach out for help.

In addition, here are some further services:


1800 Respect National Helpline: 1800 737 732


Safe Steps Crisis Line (Vic): 1800 015 188


Men’s Referral Service: 1300 766 491


Mensline: 1300 789 978


Lifeline (24-hour Crisis Line): 131 114

Bishop of Liverpool calls churches to become more like the world

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)

The Anglican Bishop of Liverpool (UK) has come up with a strategy to turn around the frailing Church of England. What insight is he offering? What move is he announcing? Imitate Christ? Preach the Gospel? Persevere in prayer? Paul Bayes’ message is none of the above. In what sounds like a defiant ‘no’ to Romans 12:2, the Bishop of Liverpool wants churches to become more like the world! 

In a speech last week, the Bishop of Liverpool, Paul Bayes, called for “gender-neutral marriage canon”. He notes that “world beyond the church” has found the church’s teaching and practice of marriage is  “offensive, oppressive and hypocritical”. [1]

There is a certain ‘duh’ that’s appropriate here. Societies often regard certain Christian teachings as offensive; it comes with the territory. I’m pretty sure Jesus said something about not expecting or looking for adulation from the culture at large,

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

The Bishop’s logic is simple, the outside world doesn’t approve of Christian teaching (especially on marriage and sexuality), therefore we must change in order to the win the approval of the world. That’s like saying to Americans, I can see you don’t like cricket, so we’ll put away the bat and instead take up baseball. Or to change the analogy, it’s like submitting to anti-vaxxers: we sense your fury about taking a COVID vaccine, so to avoid offending you we will throw out every last vial. 

In case we are left in any doubt, Paul Bayes gives churches an example to follow. Following Jesus sounds like a great idea to me, but no, this clergyman is telling Churches to become more like the English soccer team (apologies, ‘football’!). I’m not convinced that footballers are the paragons of virtue we ought to be emulating, but according to this Bishop they are our exemplars.

“Look at our football team, kneeling in the face of the boos of the sleepwalkers so as to advocate for justice. The world beyond the church has set the moral agenda, and those who kneel with our footballers, or who see no difference between attending the marriage of their gay or their straight friends or work colleagues, find the community of faith to be wanting and indeed increasingly offensive. Nowhere is that more true than in the area of human sexuality”.

Be more like England! I assume the Bishop might add…and be less like Hungary. For those following Euro 2020, Hungary is portrayed as the bad guys at the moment due to the way their Government is pushing back on the popular sexuality narrative that has captured the West. The current European football championship has led to arguments over stadiums lighting up in rainbow colours and all manner of virtue signalling. 

The reality is, churches shouldn’t look like England or Hungary. The Church is called not to be a synonym for the world nor its antonym. Rather, the New Testament vision is of a redeemed community communicating by both life and teaching God’s revealed truth in the Gospel of Jesus. For instance, 1 Timothy 3:14-15 explains, 

“Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” 

Far from emulating the world, the Apostle’s descriptor of the church is that it’s like a new building set apart from all others in the city. In contrast to the Temples in Ephesus (the city where Timothy was living), the Church is distinct for two reasons: one, the foundation (it’s built on God’s truth), and second, its life (the church upholds God’s truth in both life and teaching). George Knight comments on these verses, “the living God has established his church to be the embodiment of his truth.”

What makes Christianity distinct and enthralling, shocking and appealing, is that it does not sit comfortably in any given culture. Genuine Christianity doesn’t feel like England and it doesn’t look like Hungary. For this reason, there is always a sense in which we (Christians) never truly fit and are at home in the places we live, work, and play.

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

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

Holland is not a Christian but he understands the lunacy of ecclesiastical leaders sacrificing Christian beliefs at the expense of pursuing favourable opinion polls. Didn’t Jesus say, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot”?

As soon as Christians begin talking about truth, some readers will pushback with suggestions of narrow-mindedness and archaic bigotry. That’s not how Christian truth works. The truth Paul is affirming mustn’t be misaligned with power plays, abrasiveness, and hatred, for doing so tarnishes the truth. Truth’s companion is love and truth’s context is grace. Anyone building pillars of truth without the essential ingredients of love and grace, is building a structure that’s certain to fall down.

For example, in the same letter Paul urges Timothy to confront false teaching and he explains how “the goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”

Paul can both speak of behaviours that contradict sound doctrine and the Gospel, and he can speak of God’s great love for law breakers, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.” 

In calling for a church of the world, the Archbishop of Liverpool fails to mention this crucial point: churches that stick with the Bible and who hold onto the Christian view of marriage, do in fact love and accept people from across backgrounds and persuasions. It is this distinct community that is so appealing for those who are weighed down with guilt and sense of helplessness. The Church isn’t a heterosexual club, it’s the community of men and women who have found God’s grace and mercy in Jesus Christ and who are now learning to find their truest identity and contentment in Him. This truth is not oppressive, it is freeing. It’s not life destroying, it’s life building. I am among the first to recognise that churches don’t always do this well, but often they do, and the more churches are enthralled by the Gospel of Christ, the more wonderfully they display the character of God and the beauty of his good news. 

As Jesus says, “love one another and the world will know that you are my disciples”.

The Bishop of Liverpool is essentially calling for churches to dismantle 1 Timothy 3:14-16. Such betrayal by a church leader does not encourage Christians who are seeking to follow Christ in the world, it confuses them and causes them to doubt what God’s good purposes. Neither will this kind of revisionism help people outside to become Christians; it only gives further reason to view Christianity as an irrelevance. 

There are churches who’ve capitulated and become servants of today’ cultural Kings. Other churches understand what’s at stake and are standing on this firm foundation. Again, others are hoping they can remain on the fence and they’re hoping no one ever asks them what they truly believe. 

The future doesn’t lie with camouflaging the Biblical vision of marriage and sexuality, nor in taking the advice from the Bishop of Liverpool. Churches, we need to become less like the world, whether it’s the world of England or Hungary, and let’s become more like the Lord Jesus. 

———————————————–

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jun/26/church-of-england-should-recognise-same-sex-marriage-says-bishop

Howzat? Ollie Robinson is given out!

Another public figure has found themselves given the finger by today’s moral umpires. 

Ollie Robinson is, or rather was, England’s newest Test cricketer. The 27 year old fast bowler made his international Test debut during the week against New Zealand. Despite a promising match with the ball, Robinson was caught out. In fact, he is now suspended from all international cricket until a disciplinary investigation has been completed.

It wasn’t Robinson’s on field performance that led to this very public humiliation, but a series of tweets that he posted as a teenager back in 2012/13. I’ve read Robinson’s tweets and they’re not great. They are inappropriate, tasteless, and at times crude. Despite issuing an apology, the England and Wales Cricket Board, have cancelled his next Test appearance and his future in cricket is now far from certain. 

Ollie Robinson is the latest of what is becoming a very crowded space of people who have had their careers and even lives ruined because of past transgressions on social media. 

Do I think his sins deserve suspension? No. I think an apology was appropriate and hopefully he will learn and grow, but should stupid words from childhood serve as cause to lose his place in the nation’s cricket team? The England and Wales Cricket Board certainly believe so, and I suspect the same would occur in many sporting codes today.

In our culture’s obsession with finding hidden skeletons, there is little nuance or attempt to understand. If you break the rules, you’re damned to hell. This is problematic for several reasons. First of all, these rules are constantly moving about like Warnie bowling to Gatting. One moment you’re safe and the next the rules have shifted and you’re stumped! There is no scale for measuring wrongdoing. A person who misspeaks someone’s preferred pronoun can as easily lose their job as someone who bullies a colleague. A Christian may pray with a person and find themselves facing a prison term that’s longer than a real criminal who inflicts bodily harm on another. Another issue is that the rules we’re all meant to follow are often made by the mob and with authorities bowing before whoever is appealing the loudest.

For a few recalcitrants, there is a way out of hades; sure, you’ll lose your soul but you just might be allowed to return to your sport or place of work. All you have to do is fully endorse and join groupthink. Just carry around around your Twitter handle a placard of shame, and then nod and repeat everything that our culture’s new bishops tell us to say, think, and feel.

In the case of Ollie Robinson, did he make comments that were bordering on sexist and racist? Yes. Was he a teenager at the time? Yes. Was it malicious? I doubt it. Foolish? Certainly. I also suspect that if the trolls and governing authorities dig deep enough, every single player in the English team will find themselves suspended for one transgression or another. And let’s not forget the Aussies either! 

We all have done dumb things in our past and said things that we’ve later regretted. We are masters at stuffing up, and with maturity we realise our hopeless inability to erase the past. As the Bible reminds us, “you may be sure that your sin will find you out.” (Numbers 32:23)

As a society we are moving well beyond anything the Bible envisages. We are creating a hyper moralistic, self righteous, and legalistic culture where there is easy rage, much finger pointing and very little forgiveness.

Where is the forgiveness? Do we even believe in forgiveness any longer? I don’t mean for us personally, but offering forgiveness to others. 

We are living in strange times. I remember a time not so long ago when Christians were portrayed as hyper moralistic and judgemental. Christians were supposedly the crowd who went around condemning every moral failing and sinful shift in society. Sure there is a touch of truth in that. More so, Christians are known for experiencing Divine forgiveness and forgiving others. The whole fabric of the Christian faith is about knowing the forgiveness of a loving and holy God and how this good news transforms our lives. 

There are still moments when I’m horrified at the thought that God knows my entire past; every sinful deed and thought. Of course, God’s measurement for right and wrong isn’t defined by the latest social theory or groupthink, it’s shaped by his unchanging character and purposes. However, my distress finds great comfort through knowing the Lord Jesus died for all my transgressions. The God who sees my true failings has in love offered forgiveness and reconciliation.

The thing is, as societies like the UK and Australia turn our backs on the Christian faith it shouldn’t surprise us that we are becoming less tolerant and more fractious. It really is the Gospel of Jesus Christ alone that can hold together justice and mercy, righteousness and forgiveness.

The England and Wales Cricket Board are simply echoing the cries of a failing society that is bent of bowling bouncers and little else. We are seeing lots of shots being pulled in anger, but surely we are desperate to find grace and mercy. If we are not going find forgiveness in our decaying culture, then perhaps we can revisit those communities that are founded upon Divine forgiveness and who are learning to live in the light of the goodness.

I hope to see Ollie Robinson playing in the upcoming Ashes series…and watching the Aussies make lots of runs!

Dangers to Christianity are coming from left and right and inside

“They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted—twice dead.” (Jude 12b)

When I learnt to walk across the road as a young child, like all parents, mine taught me to look both right and left. It’s one thing to look right, but what if there’s a truck hurtling down the road from my left? Or, I might notice the truck to my left and be oblivious to the SUV that’s roaring toward me on my right. In this current season threats to Christian orthodoxy and life are coming to us from the left and the right.

‘Everyone did as they saw fit’ has become the Christian mantra for today. But of course, the book of Judges wasn’t offering us an invitation to change the Christian message, it was the stark assessment of God’s people who hard hardened their hearts.

Take for example, Christian Nationalism. This is a dangerous and anti-Christian movement. Christian nationalism has found many expressions in history, and many of us probably assumed that with the close of the 20th Century, such appalling abuse of the Gospel would have ceased. Sadly, that is not the case. Christian Nationalism attempts to fuse the Christian message and hope with the political and cultural ambitions of a particular nation or people group. In the end, the Gospel becomes a tool of nationalism, serving not to proclaim the Lordship of Christ to the nations but to preserve a way of life draped in Stars and Stripes (or whichever country it happens to be). 

The rise of Christian Nationalism has produced a new product which is now being marketed across the USA. A ‘new’ Bible was been launched: the God Bless the USA Bible. What makes this edition blasphemous is not changes made to the actual words of Scripture (I’m not aware of any such alterations), but the name given to the Bible and the compendium that is added.  The name, God Bless the USA Bible is a dead give away; it is unequivocally nationalist is meaning and tone. The Stars and Stripes motif that covers the book is another indicator that something is seriously wrong. There’s more, when the book is opened not only can you read God’s Holy Word, but included is a handwritten chorus to God Bless The USA , The US Constitution, The Bill of Rights, The Declaration of Independence, and The Pledge of Allegiance. 

This publication is blasphemous and offensive to Christians across the world. I hope you also find this troubling and problematic. This abduction is an attack on the message, nature and sufficiency of Scripture. Indeed, it is an assault on the Gospel of Jesus Christ which does not belong to any single nation or culture. It’s interesting to observe that while friends on the left may see the follow of this attempt to nationalise the Bible, they too are guilty of similar offense. So much of the discourse surrounding ‘redeeming society’ and ‘saving the world’ has the effect of minimising things like conversion and the central purpose of the Church, and instead encourages things like cultural engagement through social and political means.

If the Bible you use cannot cross borders without losing its significance, then you should probably change the Bible you are reading. Indeed, the God Bless the USA Bible is proving divisive even within the United States

In another story, a bishop from the Lutheran denomination in the United States has announced that they are changing the teaching of the Nicean Council so that it conforms to transgender ideology. The Nicene Creed is one the most important documents written in the history of the Church, and it remains foundational in explaining and summarising essential Christian doctrines to this day. Many of our churches probably recite the Nicene Creed (if not, perhaps we should).

The new elected bishop, Megan Rohrer, identifies as transgender. This alone should ring alarm bells for a Christian Church, but sadly adherence to the latest versions of the sexual revolution is often deemed more important than fidelity to Scripture. 

She announced, 

“The first council of Nicaea’s first action was to try to limit the leadership roles of trans pastors and bishops.  I’m grateful the Lutherans of the @sps_elca are beginning to dismantle this and some of the the other hurdles BIPOC and LGBTQ pastor’s encounter.”

In other words, Christian teaching that doesn’t fit with personal identity or agenda needs either revising or removal.  

You may be familiar with old saying, ‘the stinking rich’. The stench from those wealthy people buried beneath ecclesiastical buildings is nothing compared to the smell of dying people listening to the putrescine odour expiring from the mouths of these ‘progressive’ preachers. But of course, these things are not only happening across the Pacific Ocean, but such thinking and attitudes are taking shape here among Christian denominations in Australia. These conversations are difficult and we want to be mindful of individuals who are genuinely struggling with their sexuality and gender; the Gospel is a big enough stumbling block without us making more. However, I take it that when Jude urged his readers to “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people,” he really meant it. Too often, I suspect we’ve replaced Jude’s urging with a screwed up sloganing of Judge’s assessment.

The examples that I’ve mentioned are but two of what is becoming a crowded space. Here’s are some further examples, 

The State of Victoria has banned Bible conversations and prayers on a range of anthropological topics (ie. sex and gender).

The Chinese Communist Government published their own version of the Bible which has removed all the bits that might be interpreted as unfavourable toward the State.

I remember the former principal of Whitley College giving an address in 2016 where he bemoaned the language of God as Father. To know and call God Father is the greatest of privileges and graces. This is the Divine invitation made possible through Jesus Christ. Indeed, Jesus teaches us to pray, ‘Our Father’. Instead, this baptist academic encouraged his listeners to use feminine pronouns for God. He asserted, 

“We have gone backwards on gender inclusive language in many of our official events. These elements include a resurgence of emphasis on God as Father, without any balancing awareness of other ways of naming God.”

His point was not that we cannot speak of God as Father, but that such language is biased and ‘narrow’. This was an exercise for justifying a feminist critique of Christianity and criticising what he saw as a return to normal and biblical speech about God.

When our language of God sounds like it’s inspired by the Shack or Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, the alarm is ringing and someone needs turn off the microphone. Instead, too often we quietly let these thoughts simmer away without correction,  which of course means that they later on become part of the vocabulary in our churches.

Attacks on biblical orthodoxy are wide and coming from many different directions. Despite their differences they do share this in common: they cast doubt on and even deny the truthfulness, goodness, and sufficiency of Scripture. They find God revealed in Scripture as objectionable and needing to be recast in the image of their particular inclinations and agendas.

If your church takes a lackadaisical approach to theology, don’t be surprised when all manner of weird and whacky ideas jump out from the pulpit. We need our eyes and ears alert to influences and ideas coming from all directions, whether it’s left or right. It seems pretty clear that the Apostle Paul didn’t want Timothy to be caught napping, 

“Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (2 Tim 4:1-4)

This task is important for all believers, and especially it is a responsibility given to entrusted in overseeing the local Church. Paul said to the Ephesian Elders, 

“Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.” (Acts 20:28-31)

That’s serious advice. At the end of the day however, the foremost issue isn’t left or right, it’s internal. Maybe you are higher up on the holy scale than me, but I reckon we have a propensity to latch onto new ideas because they validate a priori affections which are lurking around inside us.  We need to guard our pulpits, doctrinal statement and leadership qualifications, but we must also tend to the heart.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23)

Such careful evaluation requires a posture of humility, a confidence in Scripture, and also the gentle and loving community of the local church. 

“Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” (Col 3:16)

This internal examination requires us to soak our lives with the Gospel and as Colossians 3:16 explains, this is only made more beneficial when done in community,  with the church together teaching and admonishing. 

Let’s be watchful of what’s coming toward us from left and right, and above all, let us be mindful of the dangers that arise from our own hearts.


The original version included a reference to the Bible Society which was incorrect and I have subsequently corrected it