When Schools Educate Children away from Christianity

A friend’s teenage son recently attended a high school excursion in the city. The day was focusing on empathy and learning skills to understand people who are different from ourselves. Sounds great! There we are discussions about homelessness and disabilities, which is great. Some of the day was about how to relate to LGBT people. It still sounds as though it may be useful. As part of the training, the presenter informed the kids that Christians are among the worst offenders in handing out bigotry. Christians are hateful people who cause all kinds of harm to LGBT people. Indeed, the school children were informed that parts of the Bible needs to be removed.

The boy spoke up in front of the class and explained that the trainer’s claims were untrue; that takes courage. One can imagine how his views were received. The poor kid went home having been essentially made to feel that he and his family were awful people on account of their Christian faith…and his entire class now know it!

Let’s leave aside the overdose of irony about an ‘empathy’ training event teaching kids that Christians are the worst and are bigots, and so are parts of the Bible, the claim is simply not true.

This presenter is simply repeating the popular lie which alleges disagreement equals hate. The correlation is both intellectually and morally insipid. Take Jesus for example. Jesus Christ disagreed with all manner of beliefs and behaviour (including sex outside marriage) and yet he is the most loving person ever to have lived. Indeed, it is his love that drives him to disprove ideas and actions that contradict God’s good purposes. Jesus even went to the cross and willingly gave his life for people who actively opposed him in every way imaginable. Activists, politicians and educators may repeat the mantra a thousand times, but disagreeing on important matters is not equivalent to bigotry and hatred. 

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

And notice the gall of the presenter, who in the name of tolerance and acceptance, felt confident to tell a class of school children about all those hateful Christians and their hateful Bible. According to the group’s website, this organisation teaches 1000s of school children every year; imagine what other messages they have pushed onto children.

In a reasonable world, one might assume that defaming a religion in front of school children would be unacceptable. Surely inclusion includes Christians? Imagine the public outcry if a school program taught that Islam was evil or that Jews held abhorrent beliefs? Common sense ought to lead parents to trust that schools will object and never use the program again. But in today’s world, schools will probably shy away from doing the right thing because the fear of being outed by activists is tangible and the very long and judgemental arm of the Government is also quite real. 

We put trust in our schools who in turn place a lot of responsibility on these outside groups to deliver material in a considered and constructive way. People may remember the incident at Parkdale Secondary College last year when another group, addressing similar issues, asked all the white heterosexual Christian boys to stand up, and then berated them and told the class that these boys were responsible for the ills of our society.

In this particular case, I believe the school is disappointed by what occurred, but that’s the problem, schools are often in the dark as to what these outside groups are teaching our children. 

Schools are unlikely to go as far as formally objecting to these program providers and desist in using their services; they can’t afford to make such a stand in this age of public outrage. To push back on program content is interpreted as questioning the new ideology and that’s an automatic red card. The school will be branded as phobic and relentlessly so. Let the reader understand, Christian kids will either become forced converts to the new ideology or they will be sacrificed at the altar of today’s gods.

What happened to my friend’s child is no longer unusual. Believing that men and women are men and women, and holding to the classical view of marriage is considered anathema, and reforming these social ‘delinquents’ has become the task of the State. Educating and pressuring them away from the Christian faith is fast becoming normalised in Victoria’s Education system.

What makes this particular incident more egregious is that the organisation in question is connected to a supposed Christian Church. It would be laughable if it were not so serious. Of course, such Churches have long abandoned the faith. They long ago sold their soul and dumped Christian beliefs for the sum of social acceptance and admiration. In one sense they are forced to do so because without the Gospel they have no reason to exist other than to become advocates for the latest moral trends.

Parents, know what your children are being taught. When your children attend special seminars and lessons with outside groups, do your homework and find out what’s going on. Ask the school in advance for information about what will be taught. Debrief with your children afterwards. Listen to their questions with lots of patience and love. Remind them that God’s ways are good and show them how to persist with kindness and grace when our schoolmates disagree.  Lest you think this is only an issue in Government schools, this is now widespread among private and independent schools.

When I was at school 30 years ago Christians were tolerated but thought to be stupid. Today, Christians are evil. It’s a different world!

This latest story reminds me that things are not getting easier. We don’t need to jump into the pit of apocalyptic excesses to realise that following Jesus is becoming harder. The front line is school as much as it is the university or the workplace. The pressure on our children to give up what they know to be true now forms part of their school education. This reinforces how important home life is and the role of parents to display, teach, love, and pray for our children. I am reminded of how vital church is, to be that safe place where children can explore the faith and learn to trust God and to be encouraged and equipped throughout the week. 

We might be tempted to respond by withdrawing or self isolating from all these influences and pressures. I understand the pull, and there are times when we must make changes for the sake of our kids’ wellbeing. My general encouragement is, equip your children to navigate this course for they will face it beyond school and long after they have left home. I also suspect our churches need to invest more heavily in discipling our parents so that they are better equipped for the task. And don’t give up praying for them.

Shane Warne and our own mortality

I think it is fair to say that the whole nation is in mourning. The cricket world is in shock. At the age of 52, Shane Warne is dead. This legitimate Aussie larrikin and cricket legend (and legend is no exaggerated term) died suddenly on Friday night, apparently from a heart attack. To his family and friends, we cannot understand your loss and grief, and yet we want to mourn with you. Australia has lost one of our greatest ever sportsmen, and yet you have lost a Dad, a mentor, a friend.

It seems as though everyone has a Warnie connection. Conversations are taking place across our streets as neighbours and mates talk about some special moment with Shane Warne or memories of a special ball they witnessed him bowl at the G one day. I never met him, even though we share the same backyard. His local cricket club is one my boys play matches against regularly. Warnie’s former school is literally a one minute drive down the road from my church. Like millions of Aussies, I spent many a day admiring his cricketing genius as we watched him on the television or at the MCG.

The shock of Shane Warne’s unexpected death is doing more than creating conversations, The Age published this piece, “Warne’s untimely death a wake-up call for men in their 40s and 50s

Josh Gordon writes, “Shane Warne’s death from a suspected heart attack at the age of 52 has come as a wake-up call for middle aged-men across the country, many of whom took to WhatsApp groups Saturday morning to question their sense of mortality.”

Yes! Aussie men aren’t generally the most congenial visitors to the local GP, let alone verbalising their fears about mortality.  Visiting your local doctor for a check-up sounds like a pretty smart move. Now, I’m several years younger than Warnie and I’ve never smoked and never drunk the volume of alcohol that our famed Aussie cricketers are renowned for doing, but then again, avoiding such things is no guarantee of making a century. I mean, isn’t this the issue? None of us knows how long the innings will last. If Shane Warne’s passing has made you gasp in horror, talk to your GP. But let’s not stop with a stethoscope, blood pressure machine and cholesterol test. The question of our mortality goes well beyond what any doctor can observe and diagnose. 

The issue of human mortality is often laid hidden behind sterile rooms and hushed tones. When it comes to death, Aussies are not an upfront people. It’s not a subject for polite conversation. However, talk about death has become more urgent and real and public over the last two years. The COVID pandemic, especially in its earliest days, rushed forward the issue of mortality, entering people’s minds and even spoken on our lips. War in Ukraine is reminding us of the violent presence of death as does Afghanistan. And punctuating the thinly veiled pride and sense of masculine endurance is the sudden death of an Australian icon.

What are we to do with our mortality? How can we resolve this ignominious question? 

Death is the inevitable door that we long to avoid. For all our momentum in running away from the grave, we are all in fact heading along the same road: the great and the small,  the iconic and the average.

As a minister of a church, I have often spoken with people who are approaching death. There is always sadness for death is a great enemy, destroying life and ripping apart relationships. Rarely does anyone want the innings to end, perhaps ‘retire not out’ but no one wants to be bowled. Yet, we do not choose the day or manner of our dying, whether we are given time to assess our end or it comes suddenly and without warning. Ignoring the question will not fix it and save us. 

If it is time for middle-aged men to ‘wake up’ and get a check up, it is also wise and imperative that we find the ultimate answer to death. 

My Twitter feed has been filled with ‘RIP Shane Warne’ and ‘RIP Rodney Marsh’. When a person dies we often resort to this simple and hopeful phrase. I was reminded today of how the saying has been shortened.  The phrase was originally and purposefully longer: “Rest in peace and rise in glory”. This is a Christian idiom that harkens back to the early centuries AD and whose meaning is found in the Bible and rests in the person and work of Jesus. As the Scripture says, 

“Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” (Hebrews 10:27-28)

If this is indeed the time to evaluate our mortality, then may I suggest we need to go no further than the One who died and went to the grave, only to defeat death with resurrection life. You see, the answer is staring at us and has been for millennia. We have heard the words spoken at funerals, in school chapels and at church. These living and hope bringing words are found in every Gideon’s Bible and available to us on our smartphones. 

Young and old, men and women, cricket devotees and those who should be, if we are serious about answering the question of our own mortality, then believe the One who has gone ahead of us and conquered death for us, that it may not have the final word:

“When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

“Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:54-57)

Thinking Through Ukraine

A mother and daughter from my church are currently residing in Ukraine. Bombs have hit the city near where they are living. Thankfully, for now, they are safe. While internet connections have become unreliable, the mum has been able to send a message to one of our church members. For us at Mentone, as with many families across Australia, the events unfolding in Ukraine are more than just stories in the news.

I think it is fair to say that many people around the world are stunned by the audacity of President Putin’s actions, but we should not be surprised. I don’t believe these are the decisions of a madman but someone calculating with warranted confidence.  For more than a decade Russia has had military successes with incursions into Crimea, Georgia, Chechnya, and Syria. More than that, as the world looks at the West, they see moral decay and social disruption and division; no wonder they might conclude that they can act with impunity.  The insurmountable disaster of the withdrawal from Afghanistan won’t cause nations to tremble at the United States and her allies. Far from fear mongering or throwing around hubris, this is about understanding human nature:  Belief + power + opportunity can be a very dangerous mix.

The West has become the polar bear who with each new season finds it harder to uncover firm ground to stand on, and instead relies on jumping across tiny and shrinking blocks of floating ice. As we consciously and deliberately remove the very foundations upon which our societies formed and which a civil and healthy society requires,  we create a future that is less certain and less safe. While other nations are perhaps economically and militarily weaker, they have greater conviction and resolve.

Stan Grant writes,

“This is the sort of war the West does not know how to fight. It is not just about territory, or borders, or resources, or power. It is existential — it is about identity.” 

As far as I can see, the United States gives all the appearances of being supine. The United Nations is weak. NATO cuts their own hamstring. Russia is emboldened, and so will China and Iran. This war in Ukraine is only beginning and it is unlikely to end at her borders. Indeed, ominous days ahead.

As we watch the war unfold on the news, what should we do? 

First of all, humble ourselves before Almighty God and pray. 

We should follow the example of many Ukrainian Christians and pray. Prayer is not the helpless pleading of people to a blank sky, but the cries of people to God who remain Sovereign and good today, even in Ukraine. Naturally, many Westerners with their sense of intellectual smugness will laugh at such a notion. I dare them to voice their condescension toward the many Ukrainians who are praying in public space at the moment or the pastors who have led their families to safety and then returned to care for the people. 

Few of us have the influence to make foreign policy, introduce sanctions or to speak to global leaders, but we can pray to the God to whom all authorities will be held to account.

Second, it is right to feel anger. Most often our anger is wrong and sinful, but there are times when anger is not only justified but even required. When innocent blood is shed, when a human life is abused, and when a nation is invaded by another for the sake of greed and control, it is appropriate to sense and express indignation. President Putin is a despot with millions of Russian people living in fear and under his autocratic rule, and he has just invaded a Sovereign State and put at risk the lives of millions of people.

Third, remember, God will judge the wicked. 

As Christians, we know and believe God is love. God is a merciful Father who pours out grace upon human beings who pursue the most arrogant of ways. Christians affirm alongside the Apostle Paul, “ Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst”.

We also believe that God will judge the nations by his Son. Neither the small nor the great are exempt. Ukraine’s UN representative, Sergiy Kyslytsya gave an astonishing speech yesterday, one that I suspect will enter the annals of history. Addressing the United Nations Security Council, Ambassador Kyslytsya spoke directly to the Chair, the Russian Ambassador, 

“There is no purgatory for war criminals, they go straight to hell.”

Purgatory does not exist, but hell certainly does. The world needs a judge who will put right the wrongs committed. As a result of human limitations and at times ignorance and even complicity, much evil escapes justice in the moment. One thing Jesus Christ promises is that the wicked will not escape his justice.

Fourth, we need a biblical anthropology. 

It is our failure to understand and believe human nature, that causes our disbelief in events such as the one unfolding in Ukraine. On this point allow me to give an extended quote from ‘Symphony From the Great War’, a little book that I wrote a couple of years ago, as it sums up the point at hand:

“The paradox of the human condition bewilders: such inexplicable worth and wonder and yet constant and repeated reproach. The height of creative prodigy with the ability to love and to show kindness, and yet in our DNA are also traits that stick like the mud of Flanders, and which no degree of education or scientific treatment can excise. At the best of times, we contain and suppress such things, and at the worst, we can explode into a public and violent confrontation. The First World War wasn’t human madness; it was calculated depravity. It was genius used in the employment of destruction. This was a betrayal of Divine duty. I am not suggesting that this war was fought without any degree of moral integrity, for should we not defend the vulnerable? When an emerging global war sends signals of an aggressor’s intent to its neighbours, to what point must we remain on the sideline and permit bullying and harassment? At what juncture do allies speak up as a buttress for justice but not support words with deeds? How much politicising is mere virtue signalling? 

“War creates no absolutely new situation: it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice.” (C.S. Lewis)


The temptation is to conclude that lessons have been learned and today we move forward with inevitable evolution. While the superficial has progressed enormously, that is, with scientific, medical, and technological breakthroughs, and with cultures building bridges and better understanding differences. And yet, we mustn’t make the error in thinking that today we are somehow better suited to the task of humanity. This is an anthropological fallacy of cosmic repercussions. The bloodletting has not subsided; it’s just that we exercise our barbarity with clinical precision or behind closed doors. We continue to postulate and protect all manner of ignominious attitudes and actions, but these are often sanctioned by popular demand and therefore excused. 

The world sees the doctrine of total depravity but cannot accept the veracity of this diagnosis of disease because doing so would seem to be leaving our children destitute, without hope for a better tomorrow. And yet surely wisdom causes us to look outside ourselves and beyond our institutions and authorities to find a cure for the disease that ails every past and future generation? 

It does not take a prophet to understand that the world will once again serve as the canvas for a gigantic bloodstain. There will be wars and rumours of wars. There will be small localised conflicts and globalisation will inevitably produce further large-scale violence, perhaps outweighing the experiences of the first two world wars. We may see and even learn from the past, but we project a fools’ paradise when we envision the human capacity to finally overcome evil. Religion is often no better a repose than the honest diatribes of Nietzsche and his philosophical descendants. Religion, ‘in the name of God’, is often complicit with death making and at times it is missing from the task of peacemaking, while other efforts are much like stacking sandbags against a flash flood: that is, hardly effective

Theologian Oliver O’ Donovan refers to the “nascent warrior culture” in the days of ancient Israel, some fourteen centuries before the coming of the Christ. This culture is perhaps no longer emerging in our world, but it is now long tried and tested among the nations. Does war intrude upon peace? Perhaps it is more accurate to say that war is interrupted by periods of relative peace and at times by ugly appeasement. Soon enough another ideologue and another authority tests the socio-political temperature and attempts to scale the ethereal stairs of Babel. 


The human predicament is perhaps a grotesque complement to the rising philosophical concerns of the late 19th Century. Karl Marx and Friedrich Nietzsche began dismantling the imago Dei with a new and devastating honesty. Far from discovering superior freedoms, they justified authoritarian systems of government and the mass sterilisation of ‘lesser’ human beings. To strip humanity of its origins is to leave us destitute and blind, but admitting this truth demands an epistemic and moral humility that few are willing to accept. Nietzsche was right, at least as far as 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.”

If optimism seems out of place and if pessimism is a crushing and untenable alternative, where does the future lie? The lush green cemeteries of the Western Front with their gleaming white headstones convey a respectful and yet somewhat misleading definition of war. This halcyon scene covers over a land that was torn open and exposed the capacity of man to destroy. Perhaps, as a concession, the dead have received a quiet bed until the end of time, but the serenity of this sight mustn’t be misconstrued in any way to deify war or to minimise the sheer horror that befell so many. In part, we want to learn and so avoid repeating history, and yet history shouts to us a message that we don’t wish to accept.

There is ancient wisdom that stands tall in the midst of time. There are words which demand closer inspection by those who are seeking to exegete the past and to consider an alternate tomorrow. Every step removed from this wisdom signals further hubris that we can ill afford, but epistemic humility and confession may well reorient the compass toward he who offers peace instead of war, life instead of death, and love instead of hate: 

“Why do the nations conspire

    and the peoples plot in vain?

The kings of the earth rise up

    and the rulers band together

    against the Lord and against his anointed, saying,

“Let us break their chains

    and throw off their shackles.”

The One enthroned in heaven laughs;

    the Lord scoffs at them.

He rebukes them in his anger

    and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,

“I have installed my king

    on Zion, my holy mountain.”

I will proclaim the Lord’s decree:

He said to me, “You are my son;

    today I have become your father.

Ask me,

    and I will make the nations your inheritance,

    the ends of the earth your possession.

You will break them with a rod of iron;

    you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”

Therefore, you kings, be wise;

    be warned, you rulers of the earth.

Serve the Lord with fear

    and celebrate his rule with trembling.

Kiss his son, or he will be angry

    and your way will lead to your destruction,

 for his wrath can flare up in a moment.

    Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

(Psalm 2)

Baptists, Creeds and Confessions

It’s time to set the record straight. Baptists are not anti-creedal. Or at least, they shouldn’t be. 

Perhaps you have heard Christians (most likely a baptist) assert, ‘no creed but Christ’ or ‘no creed but the Bible’. 

Both of these sayings sound appealing. Which Baptist is going to set up an authority on par with the Lord Jesus Christ? Who would argue that the Church has an authority equal to or greater than Holy Scripture? A desire to preserve the authority of Jesus Christ and the authority of Scripture is noble and right. The rightful Lord of the church is Jesus Christ and the Bible is God’s final, full and sufficient word. Unfortunately, despite their appeal, these creedal mantras present a false equivalence not intended by Creeds and Confessions, they fail to recognise that all Christians are creedal by definition, and they ignore the fact that historically many Baptists wrote and affirmed confessions of faith.

To begin with, throughout our 400 years Baptists have written and given ascent to many Confessions of faith. It is true that many have opposed written and formalised statements of faith, and many others welcomed such agreed formulations.

Even today some baptists are strident in their rejection of Creeds and Confessions. My understanding is that in Australia only one State Baptist Union includes a reference to the rejection of creeds or confessions. They do so, despite requiring all constituents to affirm a doctrinal basis. 

One of the earliest figures associated with the birth of baptists is John Smyth. In 1609, Smyth wrote a confession of faith, although he never published it. Some of Smyth’s ideas though became untenable for many Englishmen who had moved to Amsterdam with him. Smyth became a Mennonite and many of his followers eventually split with him and returned to England where they (under Thomas Helwys) established the first Baptist Church. Smyth was so concerned to avoid liturgy (which he believed stifled the work of the Spirit) that he did not permit the Bible to be read in the gathering. Either way, Smyth is hardly the baptist example par excellence

In 1611 Thomas Helwys wrote a declaration of faith for English Baptists living in Amsterdam. Since then,  no fewer than 50 Baptist Confessions of faith have been written, published and affirmed by various baptists across the centuries. Both the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689) and the New Hampshire Confession of Faith (1833/1853) remain in use today across many baptist networks. In other words, any blanket statement about baptists being anti-creedal cannot be sustained. The historical record demonstrates that Baptists are among the most prolific writers of confessions among all Christian denominations. And these do not include all the statements of faith and doctrinal bases that are in use today across baptist fellowships.

When baptists speak of creeds and confessions, the correct description ought to be, many baptists adhere to confessions and creeds while others do not, and at times, both groups live and serve together.

We have answered the question, are baptists anti-creedal. The next question is, should baptists be anti-creedal?

In 2004, Russell Moore made the observation,

“all Christians are, by definition, “creedalists.” After all, the Spirit tells us that the regenerate person must “confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead” (Rom 10:9 ESV). All Baptists are, by definition, “creedalists” since our name signifies that we share a belief about the meaning of baptism in identification with Christ. This is where the shell game hypocrisy of the “anti-creedal” Baptists is so disingenuous.”

Since the earliest days of the Church there has been a standard of belief, a statement of foundational truths required by churches. Even the New Testament gives us evidence of such statements. For example, 1 Corinthians 15:3-5

 “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.”

Laying behind the anti-creedal movement may be a concern to preserve the authority and sufficiency of Scripture and to uphold Christ’s authority. Far from undermining these, Creed and Confessions, if they’re doing their job, will articulate and support these fundamental elements of the Christian Church. More often, or at least in contemporary situations, the issue is admitting that there are crucial points of doctrine where baptists no longer agree and then having to face the question of what to do next. Confessions and Creeds require agreement and commonality, whereas ‘no creed by Christ or the Bible’ is sufficiently vague so as to include all manner of weird, wonderful and downright heterodox positions. Whereas Creeds and Confessions require settled teaching, there is another “baptist” value that pushes against this, namely that the Spirit of God has new truths to enlighten us. This particular “baptist” distinction is one that I’ll respond to on another occasion for it is as historically controversial as is the question of creeds. Hence the use of inverted commas.

Creeds and Confessions of faith have long played a significant role for churches in articulating faith and doctrine, and in the formation of partnerships and unions. They are not infallible documents as is Scripture, but they can serve as faithful witnesses to and summaries of the Apostolic faith and of teachings crucial to the Church. A church that disconnects itself from historic Christianity is likely to move away from the faith once for all delivered. Is it any wonder that baptists can reject the bodily resurrection of Christ and still remain in union? Should it surprise anyone that penal substitutionary atonement, while formally declared in the ABM doctrinal basis, can be thrown out by some as an abhorrent teaching and yet happily fellowship together?

Creeds and Confessions alike can serve churches in these 4 helpful ways:

First, they ground our churches in the historic faith. They remind us that we are not separate from or distinct from faithful churches who have gone before us over the millennia; we share the same apostolic faith.

Second, they serve as a buttress, helping to preserve a church’s theological convictions. They give churches a reference point for summarising foundational beliefs and distinctives. Somewhat ironic, for all the talk about not relying on confessions, many Baptists are right now rushing about drafting statements of belief in relation to sex, gender, and marriage.

Third, such statements serve to aid the memory and function as useful catechizing tools.

Fourth, they serve to unify the church. For example, when we recite the Apostles Creed at church, with one voice we are affirming the faith that we hold together.

The next time a baptist looks you in the eye and with confidence tells you, baptists have no creed but Christ, perhaps ask them, which baptists? And then, if conversation permits, explore with them the reasons behind their objections. 

Do I watch the Beijing Winter Olympics or not?

I’ll be honest, when it comes to the Beijing Winter Olympic Games I feel torn. In light of recent human abuses in China and the growing tensions over her intentions with Taiwan, and the wellbeing of tennis star Peng Shuai, several nations including Australia refused to send Government representatives to the games. I also have friends who have decided not to watch the Games as a form of protest. 

Politics has never been far from the Olympic Games. In 1968, two American sprinters took a stand against racism on the dais. The 1972 Games was marred by a terrorist attack against Jewish athletes. Nations boycotted the 1980 and 1984 Games due to the Cold War. Games in the 21st Century have been increasingly influenced by cultural movements. And of course, there is the infamous 1936 Berlin Games.

 

I saw a few ‘highlights’ from the Opening Ceremony and was floored by the reuse of John Lennon’s insipid song, Imagine. Leaving aside the fact that one must have very little imagination for trotting out this dribble again, but did others notice the palpable hypocrisy of having those words resound around the Bird’s Nest?

“You may say I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

I hope someday you’ll join us

And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions

I wonder if you can

No need for greed or hunger

A brotherhood of man

Imagine all the people

Sharing all the world”

One might ask, but what of the Uyghur people? What of the treatment of Christians? What of the military threats facing Taiwan? Hong Kong? Perhaps the CCP read ‘join us’ and ‘the world will be as one,’ and assumed Lennon was talking about the Communist utopian dream!

After all,  Imagine is a fitting anthem for the Chinese Communist Party. The song is explicitly anti-religion, anti-pluralism, anti-God, and near nihilist in its agenda. 

Leaving aside the bizarrely befitting opening ceremony song, I’ve been trying to figure out whether I watch the games or not. To be honest, I’ve been feeling pretty blah about a number of the recent Olympic Games. Indeed, what is one to do about the Soccer World Cup hosted by Qatar later in the year?

I understand why a lot of people aren’t turning on the television to watch the Games. Why do we want to encourage in any way, a regime that stands in opposition to the values of liberal democracy? Why we would we wish to promote in any way, a Government that is actively stifling social and religious freedoms. No doubt, some in the CCP might turn and ask, well what about your own backyard Australia? Yes, indeed. 

While part of me wants to protest the Games by not watching, another part of me enjoys sport and I like watching the Olympic Games, both Summer of Winter. After all, some of these winter sports are pretty specular, from downhill skiing to bobsledding and aerial snowboarding. And don’t I want to support the Aussies competing? I suspect I’m not the only one facing the dilemma, do I do what I enjoy doing or do I hold to my principles? Do I stand by the belief that the CCP is a dangerous Government who should not be given support and praise (as these Winter Olympics are most assuredly doing) or do I cave in and submit to the Aussie primal urge for sport?

Maybe can I do both?  I can voice my objections with a swift statement on Twitter and then quietly turn on the tv in the background! Who would ever know?

In the case of the Winter Olympics, as with many sporting events, the answer isn’t always straightforward; there is some grey. For example, the Olympics isn’t solely about China: we want to see our fellow Australians compete and succeed, there is something noble in admiring human athletic brilliance. Again, in this conversation we may reflect and ask, is our own Aussie backyard pure as snow? 

The dilemma isn’t new. This Beijing impasse reminds me of that most ancient of battles, where we acknowledge God who is right and yet we decide to go our own way. Even today, we look at the life of Jesus and read his words, and yet the power of doing our own thing most often wins the day. We may be convinced by the moral norms presented in the Bible, but then the pull to satisfy personal desires and preferences leads us to explain away such Christian principles. We are proficient compromisers; revising, excusing, and justifying all manner of behaviours despite what we might ascend to formally.

Such paradoxes, tensions and even hypocrisies are noted in the Bible. For example, in the book of Roans the Apostle Paul notes this spiritual and moral disjunction that we all suffer. The assessment is fair as it is bleak. For him, it is autobiographical.

“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?

The prospects of surviving this hypocritical life are zero. The way to resolve the problem isn’t today’s ‘gospel’: just be true to ourselves. After all, is not the Chinese leadership being true to their own values and desires? Is Putin not being faithful to an old Russian dream?

In the same letter, Paul furthers the discord that many of us are subconsciously aware of. 

“We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? “

The story could end like this, in a spectacular fall that makes downhill skiing look like a novice’s act. But it doesn’t. Paul, who authored these words, was both a legal and religious expert. He was a fervent advocate for his national identity and he openly opposed a new minority group that had appeared on the scene; Christians. This same man later admitted that the greater conflict wasn’t the one taking place externally in the geopolitical scene, but the one facing his own heart.  The sun may be out, but what can warm this heart of ice? I suspect that as readers soak in his reflection, we may well recognise the anx and conflict that we also experience inside our own consciences. 

Then comes this life giving, relieving and redeeming word,

“Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

If you happen to be like me and feel conflicted over watching the Olympic Games, why not dig a little deeper. Sitting behind the world stage of ideological clashes are human lives whose hearts are in conflict with someone far greater than ourselves.  Why do we do what we ought not do?  

One of the greatest movements in the last 50 years took place in China. I don’t mean Communism and I’m not referring to China’s massive economic growth. I am speaking of 10s of millions of Chinese men and women who, despite the CCP’s active opposition, have found the answer to the conflict human heart. The solution is God’s gift of his Son, Jesus Christ. 

Maybe Australia does need to take a look at China, a deeper look behind geopolitics and into the way in which a people who lost all freedoms have in fact found the greatest freedom, namely Christ.

Men and Women in Romans 16: a portrait for today

Over the past 10 years, I have noticed a significant and growing volume of books, articles and posts talking about men and women. The broader culture is not only debating questions that relate to the equality of the sexes but even the most basic of questions: what is a man and what is a woman? Sadly, many people no longer know the answer, or at least, out of fear they no longer feel safe to give an answer. 

Churches have something positive and wonderful to contribute to this conversation. For example, the book of Genesis takes us back to the very beginning and to humanity’s essential nature.

“So God created mankind in his own image,

    in the image of God he created them;

    male and female he created them”.

While Genesis sets the foundations, it is Jesus Christ who redeems sinful men and women and does so not by eradicating sex and gender but through restoration. This redemption does more than return us to Eden, but points us to the ultimate realisation of humanity, to be known by Christ and found in him. For the Christian, our truest and deepest identity lies in our adoption to sonship, 

“In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves” (Ephesians 1:4-6).

These concepts are unique to Christianity and for centuries they have provided essential ingredients for societal understanding of and valuing people. It is no wonder that as our culture distances itself from these truths we find growing confusion about the nature of manhood and womanhood. We have not only removed the theological underpinning for human nature but also biology and scientific fact. Trying to speak of men and women is becoming like a game of pin the tail of the donkey, except that not only are we disallowed from using our eyes, they’ve taken away the donkey altogether!

As much as passages like Genesis ch.1 and Ephesians ch.5 deserve repeated study, in this post I want to draw attention to Romans ch.16. My purpose isn’t to dig in and exegete every detail and name mentioned in this grand kaleidoscope, but hopefully, I can present a portrait that is faithful to the Apostle’s telling that is helpful for churches as we consider the roles of men and women in our churches, and therefore how our churches can faithfully execute God’s intention for the church to be “a pillar and foundation of the truth”.

As with all Christian doctrine, we are required to take in all of the Bible and to observe the Bible’s internal story line and logic ( ie, creation, fall, redemption, and consummation).  I’m preaching through 1 Timothy this term at church, and so there will be a few weeks where we look at men and women and their roles in the church and home. As I prepare I have also revisited Romans chapter 16 and it is on this passage of Scripture, that I wish to make a few observations here.

Romans chapter 16 provides us with a different sort of explanation to what we find in some other parts of the New Testament. It’s not different in that it contradicts other NT passages, but rather, the contrast is one of style. Romans ch.16 is not one of the didactic passages which directly outline a theology of men and women.  It is not a narrative like John’s retelling of Jesus engaging with the Samaritan woman. Romans chapter 16 is a list of names. It is a series of greetings that form the closing part of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. This isn’t the only occasion where Paul’s letters contain such lists, it is however the longest.

Romans 16 isn’t foremost about men and women, it’s about the Apostle Paul commending his ministry team to the church in Rome. It is a team that consists of many people from all kinds of walks of life. Among the number are many men and many women. In other words, the inclusion of women is a beautiful albeit secondary consideration in Paul’s mind. Perhaps for that reason, this natural spilling out of affection for his coworkers reveals the internal workings of the Apostle’s team dynamics. 

Romans 16 does a stunning job in describing the rich layers of contributors in Gospel work that was headed up by Paul. It is a snapshot taken in time that depicts the dynamic advance of the Gospel across the Mediterranean.

There is Phoebe, 

“a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me.”

Priscilla and Aquila are a married couple who’ve partnered with Paul for years and in various places.

There is Epenetus, a close friend of Paul’s and the first Christian convert in Asia.

Some people are named without any mention of what their ministry role is, but they are known to Paul with affection.

One of the lessons this surely presses home for churches (and for para-church organisations) is an Apostolic appreciation for the breadth of Christian service and which involves men and women. It is however a misstep to conclude from this chapter that there is no delineation in the church between how men and women serve. To be sure, there is much overlap and there is also some distinction.

My friend and brother in Christ, Mike Bird, recently posted some thoughts on Romans 16. Michael is a considered theologian armed with a writing style akin to a firecracker ignited indoors. Mike created a little stir when he comment on how Romans 16 led him to an egalitarian view of men and women in the church.

“For me, it was reading Romans 16, noting all the women that Paul mentions, seeing what he describes them doing, that brought me to the egalitarian position’. 

I remain unconvinced. Romans 16 is an exciting and encouraging passage that shows us the size of Paul’s ministry team and the affection he has for each of them. Far from contravening instructions regarding Pastor/Elders and the task of preaching/teaching to the Sunday assembly, it fit perfectly within those boundaries.

Phoebe is a Deacon. in the New Testament, Deacons are faithful servants set aside by the local church to oversee the practical administration of needs. Deacons are distinct from Elders/Pastors (cf Philippians 1:1l 1 Timothy 3), the latter who are set aside to oversee the local church, primarily through the task of preaching and teaching.

Priscilla and Aquila are a couple renowned for their hospitality. They opened their home to Paul when he visited Corinth. They later accompanied Paul on his missionary journey to Ephesus. While living in Ephesus they welcomed Apollos to stay with them and they “explained to him the way of God more adequately”.  In Romans 16 they are again mentioned for their hospitality, they are hosting a church in their home. 

Junia (who is coupled with Andronicus in v.7) is a somewhat enigmatic figure. There is some debate as to whether the name represents a man or a woman for it can refer to either. Most scholars lean toward the view that Junia is a woman (for various reasons that I won’t delve into here, but I concur). The next question is whether the Greek phrase should be read as ‘known by the Apostles” or “known among the Apostles”. The grammar works both ways. In other words, are Andronicus and Junia two people with a good reputation among the Apostles or are they two Apostles? New Testament scholars are divided and where they land often depends on what prior commitment they hold regarding gender roles in the church. There is one further piece of information that is important in Junia’s profile: the word Apostle has more than one meaning in the New Testament. There are the 12 Apostles, who hold a unique office in the early church. Their authority is unique and non replicable, and so it is only right to discount that possibility from Junia. Sometimes apostle is used as a small ‘a’ apostle and denotes a messenger (2 Cor. 8:23; Phil. 2:25), and this is a plausible reading of Andronicus and Junia. Messengers are vital players in advancing the Gospel but to assume compatibility with the office of Apostle and or with Church Elders is requiring more than the text provides. 

 Romans 16 is a tapestry that sits comfortably within a classical understanding of men and women in the church. One might even say, Romans 16 is precisely what an authentic complementarian should expect to find: men and women serving alongside each other in a variety of ways, and none of which overturn patterns of leadership and gender roles that are taught throughout the New Testament. 

Returning to a bigger picture. Here are some takeaways from reading Roman 15:

  1. Paul is thankful for his ministry team. How can we express thanksgiving for many people who serve in the multitude of ways that together glorify God and see the Gospel advancing?
  2. Gospel coworkers are doing many different works. Let’s honour not only public and formal ministry, but also the informal and personal that occurs in homes and lives every day.
  3. Paul‘s team consists of many men and women. Solo leadership is a disaster area. If Paul needed a big team, so do we all. We are working together and every member of the church is an essential worker.
  4. Romans 16 fits precisely with what we expect to find with a classical understanding of men and women and their roles.
  5. A challenge for complementation churches is to see that women, as well as men, are being encouraged and equipped for ministry. Invite men and women to training programs. At Mentone we have had and are open to women doing a full-time apprenticeships. At our lay leader training events about 50% of attendees are women. 
  6. If women are not pastors or doing the Sunday preaching, ensure they are fully immersed into other areas of church life and are rightly visible and honoured in the Sunday gathering. 
  7. Pastors need to find ways for listening to and engaging with the ideas and concerns of those who are not part of the Eldership (women, other men, youth, elderly, etc).

We live at a time where the world at large is struggling to know how to identify and relate to one another and to understand the most basic of existential and ontological questions. By no means am I saying this is the final answer, I am simply offering a small contribution here by pointing to a great Bible text. I do believe the Bible gives us the answer. The Bible paints a magnificent picture and it is one that is to be displayed in and by the local church. That’s why we mustn’t give up on difficult conversations about men and women and it’s why we must also pursue these conversations with grace and kindness. Too often churches have fallen and failed, either by understating gender or by overstating gender. It is not only gender confusion that is creating issues in every sphere of life, but the wicked issue of abuse has all too readily appeared among the people of God. It must not be. If your church is harbouring misogyny then it needs to be repented of before Christ snuffs out the candle. 

We all can and must learn from the example given to us throughout Scripture including the exciting and attractive panorama that is Romans 16. As Tom Schreiner reminded us recently, 

“Every argument for every perspective should send us back to the biblical witness. The word of God still pierces our darkness and can reshape how we think and live. The Bible can and should still be heard, believed, and followed—even though we are all fallible and culturally situated.”

A thought provoking lecture by Dr Chris Watkin

‘Developing a biblical critical theory’, a lecture by Dr Chris Watkin, given for the Reformed Theological Seminary New York City campus Spring 2021.

Have a listen and engage with Chris’ careful presentation of what it might look like to develop a biblical critical theory.

Boxing Day: the hardest Sunday of the year?

The hardest Sunday of the year for organising church is the first Sunday following Christmas Day. As it happens, this year the Sunday falls only one day after Christmas,  Boxing Day.

Boxing day in Melbourne is huge.  For Melbourne Boxing Day means cricket at the MCG and shopping sales at Chadstone and eating lots of delicious post-Christmas food. I love all those things and later on our family will be participating in each of those activities today. But as Melbourne awakes from its Christmas slumber and drinks enough coffee to get the body going, something else is happening around Melbourne today. Gathering in small groups across hundreds of locations there is something taking place that is of even greater significance and will do more to accomplish the direction of 2022 than everything else Melbournians will be doing and enjoying this Boxing Day.

For most of us at Mentone Baptist, holidays have started and the majority of our congregation are already away interstate visiting family whom we have not been able to see for almost 2 years; that’s important. Others at Mentone have returned for church, only 24 hours since we last met.

Despite meeting in smaller numbers than usual (and yet counting many thousands across Melbourne), men and women are praising God and remembering God’s good news about his son and we are committing to God in prayer the year that has been and the year that is about to start.

Such praise,  we are told in the Bible is like a pleasing aroma to God and which reaches heaven and is accepted by him. The voracious sounds of the MCG cricket crowd today is nothing compared to the praises of God‘s people.

And the prayers we pray to our Father in heaven may be of such consequence that lives will be changed and the very fabric of society can move. After all, God heard the pleas of his people in the Old Testament and answered them by sending the saviour of the world. The kaleidoscope of history is pitted with God answering prayer and fulfilling all his promises. There is nothing in all the world, no event, no pandemic,  no government that can outbid or outlast what God will accomplish through his Son.

To the many and the few who are this morning meeting as church, be encouraged. We are probably feeling tired this morning and we’re looking forward to Melbourne’s Boxing Day allures (as am I).  Also be encouraged, that as you meet for those precious minutes as a church today, this praise and prayer is of infinite worth and pleases God. And we can trust that God will use these petitions to accomplish his purposes in 2022.

A Christmas Acrostic

What is Christmas about? What does Jesus have to do with Christmas? How relevant today is the story of Jesus’ birth? Here’s a brief explanation via a short acrostic.

C

Christ came into the world: Christ means God’s anointed ruler. He is given authority by God to reign over a Kingdom that will never end, and he rules with justice and righteousness. He can always be counted on for doing what is right and good. 

H

Holy Spirit: Mary’s pregnancy was miraculous. While the circumstances of Jesus’ birth demonstrate his humanity, other particulars observe how this child is also God the Son. There are unique features surrounding Jesus which point to God’s special involvement. “His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:18).

R

Redeemer: God’s Son came into the world on a rescue mission. Jesus wasn’t born because everything is okay, but because everything is not okay. And yet God loves us despite our multitude of failings and sins. That’s an idea worth thinking about it!  “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)

I

Incarnation: God didn’t ignore the human condition. Jesus didn’t pretend to be a person. The one who enjoyed eternal communion with the Father took on human flesh. “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” (John 1:14).

It is because Jesus is God that he has the character necessary and power required to overcome sin and death. It is because Jesus is man, he could serve as our substitute and saviour. Today, this same Jesus lives embodied in his resurrection body, acting as our mediator in heaven and guaranteeing our resurrection from the dead. It is not putting it too lightly when the Bible says that Jesus is the hope of the world.

S

Scripture: The events of Jesus’ birth are more than history. They were promised by God in the Scriptures (Bible) over many centuries. Christ’s coming into the world was the long awaited event God’s people yearned to see. 

T

Travel: Jesus’ journey didn’t begin or end with the manger in Bethlehem. Jesus didn’t remain a forever baby, stuck inside Christmas cards or in portraits hanging in art galleries. Christmas is necessary preparation for Easter. The Son journeyed from heaven to earth, from Bethlehem to Nazareth, then to Jerusalem and the cross, the tomb and to life, ascension and heaven.

M

Manger: Jesus was born in the most humble of circumstances. His first bed was an animal’s feeding trough. God doesn’t ignore the baseline,  the poor or suffering. When he entered the world, he identified with those who have little. 

“Who, being in very nature God,

    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

rather, he made himself nothing

    by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,

    being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,

    he humbled himself

    by becoming obedient to death—

        even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5-8)

A

Adoration: The angels praised God, the Shepherds worshipped the infant, and the Magi brought him precious gifts.  This same Jesus is deserving of all honour and glory because of who he is and because of what he has accomplished for us. It’s right to sing songs about and to this Jesus, and it is proper for us to live all of life for him. Who else died for sin? Who else can forgive sins? Who else can gift us eternal life? 

S

Shepherds. Among the first to hear the good news of Jesus’ birth were ordinary people, even social outcasts. This reminds us how God’s good news isn’t for society’s elite but for those without a voice. Christianity is not a gospel validating self-sufficiency but revealing human anx and God’s efficacy. To quote Jesus, ‘I’ve not come for the healthy but for the sick’.

Photo by Somchai Kongkamsri on Pexels.com

If these facts about Jesus’ birth intrigue you, perhaps you’d like to open a Bible and read the Bible for yourself. Might I suggest starting in Luke’s Gospel, as it jumps straight into the story of Jesus, including the famous Christmas narrative. You may also like to visit a church over Christmas or in the new year. If you live around Mentone or Cheltenham (or in the Bayside area of Melbourne), you’re very welcome to visit us at Mentone Baptist Church.

UK Pastors write letter to the Government explaining they will choose God

Victoria is not the only jurisdiction in the world to introduce laws prohibiting conversion practices. While Victoria’s The Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Act remains the most extreme, both in the breadth of what is banned and in the criminal sanctions that are threatened,  other Australian State and several countries have or are in the process of banning elements of Christian practice and belief. 

The United Kingdom is introducing legislation to ban so-called conversion practices.  More than 2500 pastors have signed a letter to the Government, explaining their position,

“It should not be a criminal offence for us to instruct our children that God made them male and female, in his image, and has reserved sex for the marriage of one man and one woman. Yet this seems to be the likely outcome of the proposed legislation,” they write.

“We therefore very much hope (and pray) that these proposals will be dropped in their current form. We have no desire to become criminals and place a high value on submitting to and supporting our government.

“Yet we think it important you are aware that if it were to come about that the loving, compassionate exercise of orthodox Christian ministry, including the teaching of the Christian understanding of sex and marriage, is effectively made a criminal offence, we would with deep sadness continue to do our duty to God in this matter.”

These are not words of bigotry. These are not malevolent attitudes toward fellow human beings who don’t identify with their biological sex or as heterosexual. These are reasonable convictions accompanied by love of neighbour. Indeed, the views articulated in the letter remain normal and orthodox in Christian churches around the world today (including Melbourne). The classical view of sex and marriage was even broadly held in civil society until just a few short years ago. But of course, the socio-political landscape has changed dramatically and it will continue to do so.

No doubt there are many faithful pastors who haven’t signed the letter. While others are weighing up the right course of action. I cannot of course speak for many who have signed. Among the signatories though are friends of mine. Indeed, some signatories are same-sex attracted. These are men and women who love God and are convinced by God’s good Gospel about his Son. 

They are not malicious troublemakers or intolerant social miscreants. These are thoughtful people who are convinced by the teaching of Scripture, the very same Scriptures from which our society gleans the belief that all men and women are equal and that all life has value. 

Perhaps I should clarify for those who are reading and are unsure about Christian motives behind objecting to these laws;. Christians seek good laws to govern society. Christians desire good for all citizens, and not just for those who agree with us. But introducing bad legislation for the sake of keeping up with today’s cultural controllers isn’t beneficial for anyone. Where people are mistreated on account of their gender and sexuality, we all call it out. The problem with these laws however isn’t just that they are an affront to religious freedom, but that they will also harm the very people the laws are designed to protect. 

I’m sure there are more than a few Church leaders in the United Kingdom who are happily following Demas and have no issue with this Governmental intrusion and oversight. But that kind of fallacious living is myopic in the extreme. For those who choose Christ and care for their congregations by teaching the full counsel of God, Christian ministry will become more difficult in the United Kingdom as it is here in Victoria, Australia. There may be short term pain and trouble (and let’s not pretend,  this pain and trouble will impact lives in significant ways), but to those who persist in faithfulness, there is eternal gain.

I am encouraged by the stand these Christian ministers are taking. No doubt, the decision to sign their names wasn’t done lightly. It takes courage to take this kind of public stand, knowing that signing your name may well cause attention and trouble for you and knowing it may indeed lead to accusations and slander, and even criminal charges. 

To my brothers and sisters in the United Kingdom,  may you be encouraged and strengthened. As Paul writes to Timothy, “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.”

Governments and societies are important but they are not infallible. Sometimes popular ethics makes huge mistakes. Remember, Jesus found himself on the wrong side of popular opinion and on the wrong side of the courts. The Apostle Paul often found himself on the wrong side of the dominant culture, whether it was Jerusalem or Ephesus or Philadelphia. Christianity has often played this unwanted role in the last 2,000 years of history. It’s just that our cultural moment is unusual. In parts of the world like Australia and the UK we have reaped the rich gains of the Christian message, but we are now slowly turning our backs in pursuit of a life without God. 

During one of the many occasions when Paul was imprisoned he wrote a letter to a young Timothy and encouraged him not to give up. Paul didn’t suggest altering the message, he didn’t argue for cultural domination or appropriation, nor did he resort to embittered speech toward those who had him put away.  Paul did confront judges and legal counsel when he thought it wise, but he could not betray the God who saved him nor the people around him. After all, he had experienced Divine mercy, he who self-identified as the worst of sinners. How could he not seek good for others too?

From his prison cell, Paul wrote a letter to encourage Timothy. He said to Timothy, join me in being enthralled by what lays in store, 

“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 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. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”

Let us not give up trusting and obeying God. Let us not give up loving others.