We still need the Reformation

Whoever follows me on twitter will win absolutely nothing, and to prove it, why not try it out today! My account is @MurrayJCampbell

In 2013, the Vatican announced that it would offer indulgences to those who followed Pope Francis on his twitter account. According to the CBS report, the Vatican Council was recognising how many young Catholics would be unable to attend the World Youth Conference in Brazil, and so Vatican kindly arranged for people to access the events on social media.

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Other indulgences have since been offered by the Vatican in an attempt to quicken the faithfuls time in purgatory and fast track the route to heaven. In 2015, Pope Francis announced that a Jubilee year of mercy would be accompanied with special plenary indulgences.

Purgatory is not a concept that is found in nor taught by the Bible, but has its origins in Medieval Catholicism. It is believed that once a person dies, instead of direct entry into heaven, they spend a period of time in an intermediate realm known as purgatory. The purpose of this place is to purify sinners and to punish all those sins that have not been forgiven in this life. Anyone caught committing a mortal sin will find themselves going directly to hell, but others have opportunity to pay for their sins by a duration in purgatory, a timeframe which depends on the number of and seriousness of those sins.

The practice of indulgences, another teaching which is not taught in the Bible, slowly came into being from the 16th Century, and became a catalyst for the Reformation. Roman Catholicism teaches that indulgences are a means by which people can receive remission for sins, and therefore reduce the time they would otherwise spend in purgatory. Indulgences take on multifarious forms, from saying a prayer, to completing a sacred pilgrimage, to helping the poor and now, by following Pope Francis on twitter. Specifically, you needed to follow the live feed of the Youth Conference via his twitter account, and doing so will alter your personal account before God and aid you to enter heaven more quickly.

Speaking to the offer of indulgences via twitter, Patrick Hornbeck (chair of the department of Theology at the University of Fordham in New York) suggested,

“This Pope has done a remarkable job of demonstrating how well aware he is of the way in which his younger audience, his younger followers, follow things and I think it totally makes sense that young Catholics would be much more likely to participate via social networking and social media rather than through traditional ways”.

While Protestants may readily repudiate these dangerous and untrue doctrines on indulgences and purgatory, we have our own ways of slipping into similar pathways. Anytime we emphasise an experience or ritual or activity as a means of convening assurance before God or of acquiring God’s favour, we have turned our backs on the only gift that justifies and reconciles.

The Bible is clear, no works, whether religious in nature or not, can aid in any way a person’s standing before God.In contrast to depending on misleading religious works to release of jail time in a place that does not exist, the good news of Jesus Christ is this,

“all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23-24)

“For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law” (Romans 3:28)

“If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness. Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 4:2-5)

The rise of Pope Francis has been taken as a positive sign by many Catholics, Protestants, and by many irreligious Westerners; his camaraderie with the common person is appealing, and his commentary on social issues at times suggests ground is slowly shifting in  the Vatican. Even I would agree with Pope Francis on some points of theology and ethics, and yet on this most crucial matter he is in error and by reinforcing the errors of Trent, he is directing millions of twitter followers not out of purgatory but into hell.

This isn’t rocket science, does anyone truly believe that saying a prayer or throwing a few dollars to a charity or listening to a Papal sermon can really wipe away years of transgressions and persuade God to change his posture toward us? What volume of ‘good deeds’ is suffice and of what duration should they be? This is chasing after the wind. There is no assurance and it requires the adherer to trust the words of priests who have invented these supposed means of grace. Instead, we ought to accept what God has spoken and what Jesus Christ has accomplished.

At a gathering of the Victorian Chapter of the Gospel Coalition today, Peter Jensen reminded those present that “faith is the instrumental means of salvation… faith can never be boasted of because faith always points to its object…Faith is the antithesis of all good works…Don’t turn faith into a work.”

So long as ecclesial authorities play games with the grace of God in Christ Jesus (whatever their denomination affiliation), and so deny people the sweetness and joy of knowing peace with God, the principle of semper reformanda remains a pressing agenda. My encouragement to my Catholic friends is, bypass this nonsense of indulgences  and return to the source, read the Bible for yourself and see what not only the Reformers discovered in the 16th Century but what Christians have understood and believed since the very beginnings of the Church, 

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

 

  

2 Musical Experiences from the USA

During a recent visit to the United States I managed to get a seat at the MET in New York for a performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni.  In case you’re unfamiliar with the MET, the Metropolitan Opera is one of the most famous opera companies in the world, and conducting the performance was Placido Domingo, one of the finest classical musicians of the past 50 years. One reviewer wrote that this particular cast was one of the best ever assembled for a performance of Don Giovanni. On top of all that, no one has ever composed more exquisite and sonorous music than Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Leaving aside the fact the Opera singers have the acting talent of an Australian soap opera, the music did not disappoint. There were a few stylistic and technical quibbles, but none to write home about. This was a rare opportunity to hear one the great musicians lead a superb cast in singing some of most sublime music ever heard on earth.

A few days later I was in Washington DC, and it was during this stay in DC that I heard music that made the Metropolitan Opera almost sound trifle. I spent 3 weeks hiding away in an apartment on Capitol Hill, working on a writing project. I occasionally slipped outside to buy food and to visit an art gallery or museum, and folk at Capitol Hill Baptist Church (CHBC) were kind and generous, and constantly inviting me to various church events throughout the week (an offer very hard to refuse!). On Sundays though I wanted to be with God’s people, and at Capitol Hill Baptist everyone spends most of the day together; it was a great joy and time of personal refreshment.

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They love to sing at CHBC, as many as 10 hymns in the morning service and several more during the evening service. As someone who was once a professional musician, and once given an invitation to sing with the Melbourne Symphony, I have a particularly high view of what can and ought to be with music, and yet I can say that at over my time at CHBC I have rarely heard musical sounds that have given me more joy and encouragement, such that 10 hymns was not enough; a 1000 voices singing to God and each other with heart felt joy and delight.

The musical accompaniment was simple and bare –  an acoustic guitar and piano, and with 2-3 vocalists who were mic’d but only just enough so that they could lead the congregation through any unfamiliar passages and to keep time. The music is deliberately restrained, in order to elevate the role of the congregation sing, and hearing the people sing only encourages everyone to sing more.

I am not suggesting that this is how other churches should orchestrate music for church; I appreciate other genres of music in church and I have been part of congregations where the musical style is more contemporary, scored for a more full band, and musically more garnished, like a Mozart recitativo; such playing can encourage congregations to sing and be heard. However, in practice, the band and the way music is led from the front can inhibit and detract from congregational singing. Louder music isn’t always better. More professional music doesn’t equal improvement. More energetic (and charismatic) music leaders isn’t evidence of more godly or ‘successful’ music ministry. Not that such things are necessarily wrong, and I am proposing a false dichotomy between faithful music and professionalism, or congregational music and contemporary music, but if we cannot hear each other singing to praise God and to encourage each other with the truths of God, perhaps we should reconsider how we are doing music in church.

More important than how the music was arranged, it was clear that people believed what they were singing, and it was this belief in the words being sung that spawned such wonderful singing. Choose songs with superficial or bland lyrics, and we shouldn’t be surprised if the results follow suit. The words of every song were theologically rich and deep, and Gospel-centred, and chosen with care in order to assist the congregation prepare for and respond to God’s word. Unlike most churches today, there is no screen up front displaying the lyrics. Instead, everyone is given copies of the words and music in the bulletin on the way into church. Perhaps because I’m not used to paper anymore or maybe there is some didactic phenomena that I’m unaware of, but I found that in reading the word in front of me I was considering their meaning more carefully than when I follow words projected on a white screen.

The reason for sharing this experience is mostly because I loved the CHBC’s singing so much, and we should share stories and experiences that have encouraged us. At a time when so many negative and troubling news stories are coming out of Washington DC and Capitol Hill, just around the corner, in view of that famous dome, is a 1000 people, mostly 25 years old, whose voices are reaching heaven.

How are we encouraging our congregations to sing, not the band but the people to sing and be heard and encouraging one another with the truths of God and his Gospel?

“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.” (Colossians 3:16)

Matthew Merker is one of the Pastoral Assistants at CHBC and over the weeks we sang one of his hymns, ‘He will hold me fast’. I’m looking forward to introducing it to Mentone Baptist in the near future:

“When I fear my faith will fail

Christ will hold me fast

When the tempter would prevail

He will hold me fast

I could never keep my hold

Through life’s fearful path

For my love is often cold

He must hold me fast

Chorus:

He will hold me fast

He will hold me fast

For my Savior loves me so

He will hold me fast

Those He saves are His delight

Christ will hold me fast

Precious in His holy sight

He will hold me fast

He’ll not let my soul be lost

His promises shall last

Bought by Him at such a cost

He will hold me fast

CHORUS

For my life He bled and died

Christ will hold me fast

Justice has been satisfied

He will hold me fast

Raised with Him to endless life

He will hold me fast

Till our faith is turned to sight

When he comes at last

(Getty Music)

The Composition that is Manhattan

Manhattan overwhelms the visitor; there is so much to see, taste, and do, that it is impossible to gather up all the possible experiences in a short space of time.

The first time I visited Manhattan was with my  family and we spent 5 weeks here, living in an apartment on Greenwich St, in the Financial District. My current stay was a rapid 3 days, although I’ve managed to walk over 70kms through New York’s streets, avenues, and parks.

There is of course much more to New York City than the Borough of Manhattan, but this 21km Island is suffice to enthral a lifetime of imagination.

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Street where I’m staying

How might one describe this metropolis?

There is no singular way to describe Manhattan, with all of its tones and expressive pluralities. As I walk through this city different music seems to harmonise with its buildings and people, and I would find myself swapping from one composer to another, depending the mood in that neighbourhood.

For example, on the Upper West Side (where I was staying) the sounds is Verdi, on account of the Metropolitan Opera being a close walk down the street. In addition, my closest subway station opens out at Verdi Square on 72nd Street

Harlem: Prokofiev, because Harlem is vibrant, dynamic, and complex.

The Upper East Side is all elegance, class, and intellect, requiring nothing less J.S. Bach and Mozart.

Midtown resonates with the call of Gershwin – bold and brash. The opening cry of the clarinet in Rhapsody in Blue reminds me of sirens rushing through 42nd second.

Gramercy is Haydn, because Gramercy is respectable but particularly memorable, but with one exception, the beautiful Flat Iron building.

Hell’s Kitchen: John Cage’s aleotorism may sounds like a freeing concept, but in practice it’s hell.

Chelsea: Tchaikovsky, for his swirling romanticism on a grand scale and yet carrying persistent longing for fulfilment.

Greenwich Village: Schumann’s playfulness.

Tribeca: The extravagance of Mahler; although bigger and grander isn’t always better.

The Lower East Side carries with it the plot of Puccini’s La Boheme, filled with optimism and poverty, and the eagerness of young artists.

The Financial District is definitely Stravinsky, because the drubbing pace is constant and hectic.

Battery Park: Handel, because one can’t walk through this southern most region of Manhattan and not imagine the world of Great Britain in the mid 18th Century, just prior to the American Revolution.

Turkey, Anzac Day, and Disappearing Religious Freedom

While Australia prepares to once again remember the Gallipoli landings, the very same day, April 25th 1915, brought Mustafa Kemal Atatürk to national prominence in Turkey. As the Australians troops waded ashore and clambered up the bluffs overlooking what would become Anzac Cove, the few Turkish defenders were gradually pushed inland, until reinforcements arrived led by Mustafa Kemal.

“I am not ordering you to attack. I am ordering you to die.”

With this extraordinary command, Kemal prevented the Australians from advancing further, and the two sides began digging into the ancient soil for what would become 9 months of death and horror.

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Mustafa Kemal survived the war, entered politics, and in 1923 he closed the final chapter on the 600 year old Ottoman Empire, giving birth to a new and secular democracy.  It would be a misjudgment of history to ignore the social and religious tensions that Turkey has balanced over that century, especially when it comes to minority ethnic groups in the Eastern regions of the country, and yet Turkey has avoided much of the turmoil and bloodshed that almost every other Middle Eastern nation has experienced over the same period.

As Australia commemorates Anzac Day, Turkey is on the edge of democratic suicide, as her people vote on a referendum that will introduce sweeping changes to their constitution.

Since the failed coup d’état in July last year, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has tightened his control over the country. Many thousands of people have been imprisoned, journalists arrested, and Christian missionaries deported. Five months following the attempted coup, President Erdogan announced a referendum, proposing 18 changes to the nation’s constitution. In short, a yes vote (which appears to have won the day) will give the President new powers over judicial appointments, cabinet appointments, calling and dissolving Parliament, setting the nation’s budget, and all without need of Parliamentary approval. Opponents are concerned that genuine democratic freedoms are already slipping from the populace and should these constitutional amendments become law, Turkey will in effect become an autocratic state. Many people also fear that Turkey is transitioning from being a secular state with a Muslim majority, to an Islamic State with a non Muslim minority.

Prior to 1915, most Australians thought of Turkey as a far away land, filled with ancient history and splendour. From April 25th our history became enmeshed with theirs, and our blood mingled with their blood. Today, Turkey doesn’t feel so remote, and yet we may not automatically see the relevance of this week’s decision.

We would do well to remember that the tide of history has often set its course from this land where East and West intertwine. For six centuries prior to the Dardenelles campaign of 1915, the Ottoman Empire ruled over much of the Middle East and North Africa, serving as both a thorn and flower to Europe. For nearly a thousand years before the Ottomans, the grand Byzantine Empire flourished, a child of the Christianised Roman Empire. This clash between East and West is an ancient one, with Alexander the Great defeating Darius across Turkey, first at Grancius and then at Issus. A thousand years earlier, the shores of Turkey were the setting of Homeric poems and the tales of Troy.

As the sun sets over the Bospherus, we would be mistaken to think that Turkey’s situation is an isolated one, for all over the world we are seeing the expulsion of pluralist societies in favour of authoritarian secularism and religious monocronism. Both are absolutist and exclusivist, with the latter however showing transparency about their religious commitments and the former hiding them behind thin sheets of quasi intellectual and moral neutrality.

Jonathan Leeman is right when he asserts, “secular liberalism isn’t neutral, it steps into the public space with a ‘covert religion’, perhaps even as liberal authoritarianism. it depends on beliefs without conclusive evidence.”

At the beginning of the year I began using the phrase authoritarian secularism, as a way of making distinction between true secularism and what we now see being practiced in Australia.  When our nation adopted the language of secular, as in Section 116 of the Constitution, the intent was that the State would not create or be controlled by any given religious persuasion. Today, the language has been hijacked by popularists who allege religion has no place in the public square, whether in politics or education and even in the workplace. Such a position is not derivative of constitutional law or of reason, but the sheer and persistent belief in unbelief.

My own state of Victoria is the sharp edge of progressive politics in Australia, and it is so because authoritarian secularism has substantial sway culturally.

What is happening is this: society has begun limiting free speech in order to push out beliefs that don’t fit the current cultural milieu, and the intent is to fill that space with the agenda of the sexual revolution. What is true of Victoria is true for most other parts of Australia, and is happening across much of the Western world. The tensions are not ours alone, but with no greater zeal in Australia than what we are witnessing in Victoria.

Christians are among those feeling these cultural shifts acutely because the movement is away from cultural Christian. This is not to be confused with Gospel Christianity for the two are not synonymous. Neither, however are they impervious of the other.

It is not as though the current Victorian Government is entirely anti-religion; rather, it wants a sanitised religion and for it remain outside public discourse. In other words, progressive politics wants religion controlled. There is clear evidence of this intent, as demonstrated, for example, by the proposed amendment to the Equal Opportunity Act last year. The ‘inherent requirement test’ would have required all religious organisations, including churches, to justify before a Government organised tribunal, reasons why it is necessary for employees to subscribe to the particular religious beliefs of the organisation. In other words, a Church could be held to account for refusing employment to a Hindu, and a Mosque find itself on the wrong side should they refuse employment to a Christian. Thankfully, the Bill was unsuccessful in the Legislative Council, being defeated by a single vote!

A pluralist society, which Australia is, only continues so long as those in authority allow alternative views to be expressed publicly. The fact is that a State Government, and a number of mainstream political parties across the nation, are not only questioning freedom of religious practice, but have begun issuing policies to quell views and practices that don’t conform to the new morality.

To the surprise of many, the global movement in the early 21st Century is not away from religion to irreligion or from faith to reason, but away from philosophical pluralism to both religious and secular authoritarianism.  We are a long way from where things could lead, but we are no longer standing from the sideline and pontificating the possibilities. As Sherlock Holmes would say, ‘the game is afoot’. This should be of concern to global communities, not because pluralism is god, and not because we are moral and spiritual relativists, but because we believe that the State should not dictate religious belief.

As a Christian, I believe in persuasion not coercion. I believe in religious freedom for all, for if not for all it is not freedom at all. It is true though, Christianity can function and flourish in the midst of even ignominious regimes, because the Christian hope does not ultimately depend upon particular political structures, constitutions, and dictates. Our hope rests in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. This victory-over-death hope gives us freedom to submit to a harsh Government, and freedom to dissent when they do wrong to a neighbour.

The people of Turkey are in my prayers this week. As we take note of this history turning land, we should not be ignorant of our own proclivities. Religious freedom is being contained and controlled from Canada to Cairo, and from Russia to Riyadh, and similar intent is now being verbalised politically and socially on our own shores.  I am not arguing for freedom of religion as some ultimate axiom, but as scaffolding on which a healthy society may grow, by enabling debate and disagreement, and the contest of ideas.

NSW is removing Safe Schools. Could Victoria follow?

It was announced today that the NSW Government is scrapping the controversial school curriculum, Safe Schools. From July, not only is the Federal Government stopping its funding of Safe Schools, but the NSW Education Department will introduce an alternative program. The content of this new program is yet to be released, but early indications suggest that it will be a broader and more inclusive program, and one that does not depend on the now debunked gender theory.

Safe Schools is presented as an anti-bullying curriculum, and is designed to teach children acceptance of other children who are different to them. The emphasis however is on sexuality, and teaching a flawed view of sexuality and encouraging young children to explore these alternative sexualities for themselves.

Safe schools was originally an opt-in program, but it is now compulsory in all secondary schools across Victoria. Many primary schools have also signed up.

One of the chief authors of Safe Schools, Roz Ward, defined the curriculum’s intent as follows: 

“Programs like the Safe Schools Coalition are making some difference but we’re still a long way from liberation,’’ she said. “Marxism offers the hope and the strategy needed to create a world where human sexuality, gender and how we relate to our bodies can blossom in extraordinarily new and amazing ways that we can only try to imagine today.”

It would be wrong to suggest everyone who supports the program views Safe Schools as does Roz Ward, but it is telling that one of the chief architects has admitted that Safe Schools is less about anti-bullying, and is designed to educate and influence a new generation of children to the values of marxism and to its accompanying sexual ideology.

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One year ago, the Federal Government made numerous changes to the curriculum, following widespread concerns regarding the appropriateness of material and the promotion of third party websites whose content could not be approved.

The Victorian Education Minister responded by saying,  Canberra was caving in to the bigots, and announced Victoria would not implement any of the amendments.

At the start of this year, the NSW Government introduced even more overhauls, including that gender fluid theory could no longer be taught in schools.

Only Victoria has made Safe Schools compulsory for schools. Each school can decide how much of the curriculum they wish to use, but the material to be used must be that which is set by the education department. This makes sense, except that Safe Schools is, to quote Professor Patrick Parkinson from the University of Sydney, ‘dubious’, ‘misleading’, and ‘containing exaggerated claims’.

Concerns over Safe Schools has received some bipartisan support in NSW, with Labour MP, Greg Donnolly saying,

“Politicians in one state do not generally take kindly to colleagues in another state giving them advice. There can be exceptions but the unwritten rule is that if you stick your head out and give advice across the border, you are likely to get it knocked-off. With that said, let me now give some advice to my Labor colleagues in Victoria.

The Safe Schools program that the Victorian Government is imposing on public schools in that state is political poison. While it may be just starting to show up in focus groups and other polling activities undertaken by the Labor Party, do not underestimate its malignancy. When it fully manifests, it will be like a fully laden freight train that you will not be able to stop.

The problem for the Premier and the Minister for Education is that the Safe Schools program from the get-go was never about anti-bullying. It was about inculcating into school children hard edged sexuality and gender ideologies. The same ideologies that are examined and debated when undertaking Gender Studies units at university. The same units that such students elect to do by choice; no compulsion or requirement. Not only are these ideologies being presented to school children as a matter of fact i.e. sexuality and gender are not to be understood in any other way, but parents are being kept completely in the dark about what is being presented to their children and by who.”

As it stands, there are children in Victorian schools currently transitioning on account of what is being taught, despite best medical practice stating that most children with gender dysphoria will grow out of it by adulthood and will happily conform to their birth gender. Many Victorian families are being pressured because they cannot subscribe to the curriculum, and feeling  pushed out of the public system. Children who believe heterosexuality is normative are labelled  as sexist, and the program is built to reframe their thinking until they believe that all sexual preferences and practices are legitimate human expression, and perhaps they might wish to explore these for themselves.

Being a Victorian, I understand our reluctance to listen to our northern neighbours. After all, has anything good ever come out of Sydney? I totally get why Victorians build rhetorical walls to keep out this colony of convicts. Listening to a New South Welshman may sound like a Banshee singing Justin Bieber, but on this occasion we Victorians are fools to ignore such sage advice.

Mr Andrews and Mr Merlino, as a Victorian and parent of 3 children, I strongly urge you to re-examine your position on Safe Schools, and the unscientific and harmful gender theories now being forced upon our children. It’s ok to once in a while  redress mistakes and poor policy; humility is in fact a virtue that we value in our political leaders.  In winding back ‘Safe Schools’ and aspects of the ‘Respectful Relationships’ program, we do not have to wind back the clock on caring for children who may be working through issues of their own sexuality. We want to see them safe and flourishing, and this is achievable without having to promote ideology that is demonstrably skewed and unsuitable for the classroom.

Should Victoria introduce laws permitting doctor assisted suicide?

Who can live and not see death,  or who can escape the power of the grave? (Psalm 89)

Pastors are one of the few professions who travel with people from birth through to death. It is a privilege to minister to people who are facing their final weeks and days. Sometimes it is a brief period of illness, other times it is an elongated time of suffering. I have known people in their final days who were keen, not to die, but to see their suffering come to an end and to see their hope in Jesus Christ realised. It is an extraordinary privilege to sit beside a person who in approaching death is joyful and at peace. I have also witnessed people wrestling with their own mortality and doubts of what lies beyond death. A pastor’s care in such circumstances also extends to a spouse, to children and friends. Indeed, for many pastors, these relationships are not merely ‘professional’, for those whom we serve are much loved, and they are our friends and family.

Several members of my family work in the medical field, including my wife who worked as a nurse for 10 years, spending much of that time caring for patients with terminal and chronic illnesses. On more than a few occasions she would come home after a shift in tears, having witnessed a patient die.

I wanted to begin by mentioning the above contexts because it would be wrong to assume I am writing from a distance. Indeed, I appreciate that there are many personal stories, from people who hold to various views on euthanasia, and while these stories are all important, stories alone are not suffice for creating law.

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If there is common ground to be found in the debate on euthanasia, albeit a rather morbid commonality, it is agreement that death is a terrible reality in the human experience.

It is no small thing for the State to legalise killing another human being

It is of paramount importance that we recognise that the State exists not only to protect life but to enable human flourishing. Similarly, our health system exists to save human life and to bring healing of body and mind. Introducing law that permits taking a human life is no small thing.

Physician assisted suicide not only contravenes the very purpose of our health system, it would require medical professionals to discard both the Hippocratic oath and the Declaration of Geneva.  Such a law would introduce to society the morality of taking human life, legislating that our society condones the killing of another human being. Again, this is no small and insignificant line in the sand.

Dr Michael Bird recently made the astute observation that Victoria could potentially have two hotlines: one for suicide prevention, and the other, suicide permission. The conflict is clear for everyone to  see.

Palliative Care as a better option

I am not unsympathetic toward those who wish to end their lives; I hate human suffering and long for the day when it will desist forever.  I do not however believe that euthanasia is either morally right, nor is it the only option available for terminally ill Victorians. We have been led to believe that the only choices available are either ongoing treatment or euthanasia, but there is a third option, and one that avoids unnecessarily prolonging a patient’s life and avoids actively killing them, palliative care.

Palliative care is designed to provide the greatest possible comfort for patients, without undue intervention and causing protracted suffering.

Dr Megan Best is a senior lecturer at the University of Sydney Medical Faculty and works as a palliative care physician in Sydney. In a recent article Dr Best has argued that a better way forward is to provide adequate resources for palliative care. She says,

“While services such as palliative care and hospice can do much to relieve the distress dying people experience, many still do not have access to it. We must do better.”

It is a travesty that many Victorians cannot currently access proper care that they deserve and need at such an urgent time.

Similarly, Dr. Ian Haines is a medical oncologist, and he believes, 

“Like Andrew Denton and others who have observed unbearable suffering in loved ones and the terrible failures of modern medicine in the past, I had once believed that euthanasia was the only humane solution.

I no longer believe that.

The experiences of countless patients and families should be the inspiration for continuing to improve palliative care, for general introduction of advanced care plans and not for euthanasia with its openness to misuse.”

In other words, our Government would do better to invest properly into palliative care, providing the kind of support patients and their families need at such a time.

Unsafe safeguards

The model of euthanasia being considered in Victoria is that which is currently practiced in Oregon, USA. The process involves a Doctor prescribing a lethal capsule to a patient who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness that will lead to death within six months.

In a report recently published by the Health Department in Oregon, are a series of startling revelations regarding doctor assisted suicide in Oregon: First, 49% of patients state as a major reason for taking their own life, the belief that they are being a burden to their family. Second, once the doctor has prescribed the capsule containing secobarbital or pentobarbital, there is no guaranteed follow up in patient’s home where most are said to take their life, with no safeguards to ensure only the patient can consume the lethal dose. Third, patients with non-terminal illnesses have been given access to these lethal drugs and taken their own life.

Both Dr Megan Best and Dr Ian Haines, are among numerous medical professionals who believe the introduction of euthanasia will leads to abuses and even to amendments and extensions down the track.

Dr Best explains,

‘It upsets healthcare providers when their patients are distressed. Don’t tempt them. You can’t rely on the rules. It is not possible to write a law that can’t be abused. That’s why euthanasia bills get defeated in parliament. Because, even though we ache for those who are suffering and desire to die, we feel responsible to protect the vulnerable who would be at risk of dying under the legislation if it were to pass. Surely the worth of a society lies in how it treats those who can’t care for themselves.’

Does this not at least raise questions in our minds, if not grave concern? If medical professionals working in palliative care are already communicating that the rules will be broken, we ought to take notice.

And for to those who allege slippery slopes are mythical, have they not looked to Northern Europe, and seen how euthanasia laws are now regularly broken and expanded, to include killing children, killing people with mental illness and dementia and even gender dysphoria?

Behind the debates on many ethical issues including euthanasia, is what is known as utilitarian thinking, most notably advocated by Professor Peter Singer. Utilitarian ethics ditches belief in the inherent value of every human life, and instead determines moral good by what the greater number of persons believe will maximise their happiness. In other words, for example, killing unborn children is a moral good when the mother believes the child will not add to her own happiness. This is one of the chief reasons why the number of children with Downs Syndrome has decreased significantly in Western societies, because the vast majority are now killed in the womb.

There are Parliamentary members across the spectrum who are expressing support of a Bill legalising assisted suicide, and similarly across the parties are members who disagree and are concerned. We have all heard heartfelt stories being told from different viewpoints, but we must judge what is right. There is an overarching principle with which the State of Victoria must decide, is it the role and right of Government to introduce law that permits the killing of human life? If so, what promises will be given that no further legislative changes will be made in the future?

When society cuts our humanity away from the imago dei, we  always slide down a path toward dehumanisation. Bringing the two together again requires humility, and more. It requires the loving actions of God to restore and heal this broken image. Is this not the wonder of the Easter event?

If the moral compass of our State is utilitarian ethics, which certainly appears to be the case, then further expansion of euthanasia laws is almost inevitable, as is happening across  many countries who’ve already taken the pledge to kill. Indeed, I have already been informed, on sound advice, that the Bill shortly to be presented to the Victorian Parliament will be in the first place be a conservative pro-euthanasia Bill, but the intent will be to extend it 3 to 5 years down the track.

When we begin defining the value of human life by the kind of utilitarianism pursued by Peter Singer and others, we should not be surprised to find ourselves in a few short years permitting and even pressuring the expungement of all manner of people whom society deems a burden. I realise all this sounds rather Stalinesque and outrageously impossible; we would never traverse such dreadful ground. But look to Belgium and the Netherlands, and consider how our own society has already deemed moral, killing unborn children, and possibly now, those who are at the end of their days.

Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea

    or walked in the recesses of the deep?

 Have the gates of death been shown to you?

    Have you seen the gates of the deepest darkness?

 Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth?

    Tell me, if you know all this.” (Job 38:16-18)

Are we prepared to cross the line, or instead, can we do better by providing improved and greater resources in palliative care?

The Coptic Church bombings, the Aussie Easter, and the Christian Hope

Yesterday morning we awoke to news of two Coptic Churches in Egypt that had been attacked by members of Islamic State, leaving more than 40 people including children dead, and many dozens injured.

There are groups prepared to take the lives of innocent people, self-acclaimed martyrs. They are of course nothing more than nefarious murderers following their view distorted of God. Martyrdom however is not an abhorrent idea in every circumstance. Martyrdom is the giving of one’s life to the idea that most captivates our hearts, usually with a religious connotation. There are, for examples martyrs who die for their faith in God, not through committing violence but for living in response to the love of God. In this case, the Coptic Churches in Tanta and Alexandria are now stained with the blood of 47 dead who had gathered to worship and praise the Son of God. It was Palm Sunday, the day Christians remember the Lord Jesus entering Jerusalem, his own city, where he would in a few short days be put on trial and crucified. It was the 26th attack of Coptic Christians this year.

egypt-coptic-church-bombing

Christian Post

These stories are no longer unusual occurrences, and only very few of these attacks make the news in Australia. From Turkey to Pakistan, from Egypt to North Korea, and Nigeria to Burma, literally millions of Christians face the prospect of social exclusion, imprisonment, and sometimes death.

Killing Christians is an act of evil futility because God’s love for his people cannot be broken. Death is not to be scoffed at, for it separates us from family and friends. Death is the great divider, and yet God has overcome it by the events of that first Easter.

In an extraordinary moment recorded in the Scriptures, John the disciple is given a glimpse of the reality of heaven, and there he is shown those who have suffered and died in their love for Christ:

These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.  Therefore,

“they are before the throne of God

    and serve him day and night in his temple;

and he who sits on the throne

    will shelter them with his presence.

‘Never again will they hunger;

    never again will they thirst.

The sun will not beat down on them,’

    nor any scorching heat.

For the Lamb at the center of the throne

    will be their shepherd;

‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’

    ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’” (Revelation 7)

My prayer this week for my Coptic brothers and sisters is that they, in the midst of unspeakable grief, might know this promise of the certainty of God’s love in Christ.

Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;

    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:34-39)

The Apostle Paul who wrote these words was not immune to religious zealots chasing after him and wanting his death. Tradition has it that Paul, following an imprisonment in Rome, was one of the multitude of Christians who were put to death during Nero’s reign of terror.

While Egypt, Syria, and a hundred other places are scrubbing the blood from their floors, Aussie homes are vacuuming little scraps of metallic paper used to wrap easter eggs. To the majority of Australians Easter is now little more than a festival of chocolate and a 4 day long-weekend. It is an excuse for a camping trip, perhaps with a little religion sprinkled into the mix. Of course, both the chocolate and the weekend are pretty irrelevant (enjoyable but inconsequential), but the historic events that formed Good Friday to Easter Sunday are not.

Many Western societies are turning our backs on Christianity, to our spiritual, moral, and intellectual detriment. After centuries of economic, political, technological and military progress we have gained the world, but lost our souls.

It is true that Christians like we in Australia, are sometimes known for beating up the persecution drum. We mustn’t overstate the case of our own experiences: it’s not a broken leg, it’s a mild sprain. It’s not a heart attack, it’s indigestion. It’s not nothing, but neither is it what many Christians around the world are experiencing. The absence of physical violence doesn’t mean however that we are not witnessing significant cultural and theological shifts; it may be not Islamic terrorism, it is post-Christian authoritarian secularism, and these changes are not inconsequential for those who are and will be affected. For example,

  • we no longer have free speech, but costly speech. If you speak up in the public square it will come at a cost
  • Many Christian families are feeling pressured to take their children out of public schools.
  • In the work place employees may be forced to subscribe to particular views on marriage and sexuality.
  • workers may be forced to choose between employment or association with the Christian organisation of which they are members.
  • Businesses that support a biblical view of marriage will suffer financial loss, and be targeted for abuse.

It is not only the mass killing of Christians that has captured international attention this the past week, a few days earlier almost 100 Syrians were killed in a chemical attack, by their own Government. The New York Times reported the story of a Father who buried his wife and two young children, whose had their lives suffocated. There are no words to describe the distressing photographs which show this man embracing his dead children.

The world needs Divine retribution and Divine forgiveness. But how can we have both? Justice and mercy, judgement and grace? In all the history of the world, and among all the ideas and actions of this world, it is the event of Easter that promises the impossible.

To understand the world in which we live, we need a hermeneutic grid that is trustworthy and good; the cross of Jesus Christ is that interpretation. The cross reveals human depravation and hope more than any event in history, and the cross also reveals the character and purpose of God like no other.

Easter has become many things to many different people, but one thing it is not, and that is, trivial. While we in the West play games with fluffy bunnies, egg hunts, and another long weekend, the world is bleeding. The real Easter does not offer banal or token offerings to confirm of individualistic pursuits, but instead reveals God who ‘so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life’ (John 3:16).

God showed love not by changing a few coloured light bulbs on a national monument or by trending a hashtag on twitter; the depth of this love of God was the substitutionary death of his only Son. God came into his own, the incarnation. He paid the penalty for human insurrection, the cross. He triumphed over the grave, thus vindicating his claim of Divinity and the efficacy of his salvific power, the resurrection.

The extent of this love of God is for the world. John 3:16 does not suggest a universal salvation, for the text makes clear that faith in Jesus is necessary and rejecting Jesus Christ results in judgement. Nonetheless, in Christ, God has expressed extraordinary love for the world. He is not of or for the West, he is not English speaking or the God of the middle class, his concern is global. The Bible describes this God in ways unparalleled in any religion and in ways more tangible, and with a good news message that is changing hearts and lives in every nation on earth.