Israel Folau Charged with Social Blasphemy

Israel Folau is in trouble once again for espousing views that are in line with 2,000 years of orthodox Christianity. This is not the first time that he garnered the fury of the cultural watchdogs and has found himself reported to the governing authorities of Rugby Australia.

Yesterday, Folau posted 2 comments on Instagram which garnered immediate anger and disappointment, such that it is the subject of newspaper articles and television reporting today.

 

Israel Folau is one of the great rugby players that Australia has produced in the past 20 years. His reputation on the field has excited spectators, and off the field, he has defied cultural messaging and created national consternation: what to do with a national sporting star when he won’t conform to the moral narrative of today’s Australia?

Here are 5 thoughts:

1. Social media is a problematic medium.

I am increasingly convinced that social media is not a particularly constructive medium for conveying important messages. Pithy statements are too often misunderstood and taken out of context. On this occasion, the issue isn’t that people are misreading Folau, but that he hasn’t said enough. A photo on Instagram or a 240 character tweet often doesn’t suffice. I don’t offer an answer for resolving this perpetual problem with social media, but I am observing that it does exist, and it is a problem not only for people we agree with but also among those with whom we disagree.

Perhaps one forward step would be to ask for clarification; what do you mean by that tweet? Can you elaborate and tell me more so that I can understand where you are coming from?

2. Both content and manner matter

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone”. (Colossians 4:6)

“in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…” (1 Peter 3:15)

I am not about to lambast Israel Folau for not being as irenic as perhaps we might prefer. He certainly has more courage to speak Bible truths than do many of our Bishops and Christian leaders across the country.

What we say matters enormously. The content of our speech either reflects our deeply held beliefs or it betrays them. How we speak also communicates volumes to those who are listening. I don’t know Israel Folau nor his heart and motivation. I appreciate why some people might read his comments as coming from a frustrated or even angry man. Of course, he may well be expressing heartfelt concern and earnestness for his fellow Australians. If Israel reads this blog post, I would gently suggest that his comments could be improved if they reminded his followers of his own need and thankfulness for God’s mercy to him; Christians don’t want to give the impression that we are somehow morally or intellectually superior to anyone else. While quoting Galatians 5:19-21 Folau could also have mentioned some of the wonders and goodness that comes from knowing the transformative power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as Paul describes in Galatians 5. For example,

13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

The good news of Jesus Christ is salvation from hell and it is salvation to a new and better life. The Gospel is the greatest story ever told and it is one that can become my own as I accept God’s assessment of me and trust God’s answer for me.

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3. Don’t expect the culture to endorse the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

This shouldn’t surprise because it is, after all, the Bible’s own presentation of humanity. People don’t accept God on God’s terms. Instead, humanity has a very long history of showing intent to redefine and deconstruct God’s righteousness in order to justify their own moral proclivities. The Apostle Paul’s words remain true today,

“To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task?” (2 Corinthians 2:16)

The Christian message is both compelling and repellent, attractive and offensive. We should present the good news of Jesus Christ with clarity and kindness and with unction, and still, there will be people who object and are even angered. Remember the greatest Christian preacher and apologist of all time, Jesus Christ. No one spoke a more compelling story than Jesus and yet the social elite could not tolerate him, not least because he would not abide by the sexual ethics of the day.

The media are particularly upset by Folau including homosexuality in his list of sins. Had he limited his list to adultery, lying, and stealing, people might have laughed but we wouldn’t see the kind of reaction that we’re observing today. Folau’s heresy is that he doesn’t fully and without qualification, affirm LGBTIQ lifestyles. He contravened the moral law of the land and no one, not even a sporting great, is allowed to get away with such blasphemy.

The response in the media and by Rugby Australia’s need to have the matter investigated once again highlights our society’s view of Christianity. Effectively what Israel Folau has done is quote the Bible and summarise part of the Gospel message. Are we really at the stage in Australian society where Australians are to be publicly castigated for quoting the Bible? Are we prepared to enter that ominous space where nations like North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and China, already belong, namely to prohibit Bible verses and Christian messaging? Are beliefs consistent with 2000 years of Christian faith now to be defined as hate speech?

The reality is, the only version of Christianity our society is willing to accept is a Christianity that has all its edges cut and its heart and skeleton removed. The only acceptable Christianity is a dead Christianity, where Jesus is no longer Lord and where he doesn’t need to save because we are without sin. Jesus is nothing more than the candyman, handing out spiritual tips to people who haven’t yet grown up and realised that the world is without ultimate meaning and design.

 

4. Society wants to control religious speech

The word on the street today is less about Israel Folau holding his beliefs or not everyone is saying that he shouldn’t have freedom to speak his views. The message being proclaimed by commentators including Peter FitzSimons is  that Folau’s contract must be terminated,

“His contract will be suspended or terminated on the grounds of having breached either rugby’s social media policy or his contract.

Rugby Australia simply has no choice.”

In other words, you have the freedom to speak but should your words fail the test of modern secularist orthodoxy, your words will cost you.

The headline in today’s Fairfax newspapers is telling,

“Until Folau repents, Australia has no choice but to let him go”.

This is only the latest of a growing number of examples of Aussie Christians facing job loss and financial cost for choosing Jesus. There is no tolerance, no accepting of religious opinion that deviates from the proscribed agenda. There is only space for the dogmatic preaching of conformity to the storyline of authoritarian secularists.

 

5. Jesus was serious when he spoke about taking up a cross and following him

Notice the deathly silence from Christian leaders once again, as we squirm with the uncomfortable knowledge that we agree with Izzy even if we would say things a little differently. This is another awkward day for Aussie Christians because one of our own has let the cat out of the bag, and if we’re being honest, we’d prefer if he hadn’t. I wonder, what does this say about us?

At the time when Israel Folau was the subject of similar controversy last year, I wrote

“As a nation we are struggling to cope with societal pluralism. Sexuality has now been defined in such strong terms, that alternative views, as reasonable and loving as they may be expressed, are now perceived as evil and unacceptable. It’s reached the point that sporting codes are now making theological commentary, and assuming a position on hell. Unfolding before us is another test for Australian society. Are we serious about religious freedoms and freedom of speech, or does the rhetoric only apply when beliefs fall into line with the new sexual morality? Do we accept that millions of Australians don’t subscribe to the now popular view on marriage and sexuality, and that these Australians have a right to express their opinions? While politicians and company CEOS and sporting organisations wrangle over a position on religious freedom, it is even more important for Australian Christians to be thinking through these issues. What do we really believe? How can we best communicated what we believe? What are prepared to lose for the sake of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord?”

Even though Folau’s sporting future remains uncertain, his testimony presents a challenge to the rest of us Aussies who profess faith in Jesus Christ. Would we be prepared to walk away from job security? Would we be willing to give up a lucrative income? Are we ready to embrace public abuse?

Our Bible text for this Sunday at Mentone Baptist Church is Matthew 16:13-28. Following Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, Jesus began to explain that he must suffer and die. When Peter rebuffed Jesus for suggesting such a crazy idea, Jesus then explained,

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.”

Do we love our sport more than we love Jesus? Is our pursuit for social acceptance more important to us than loving our neighbours as Christ has loved us? 

When Jesus spoke about taking up a cross and giving up the world’s offerings, he wasn’t speaking rhetorically. Perhaps it is time for Christians in Australia to begin pondering his words and examine our own hearts and ambitions.

 


Update: Rugby Australia have announced that they are terminating their contract with Israel Folau (April 11th, 6:30pm)

 


Update April 14th

It’s important to relay important information when it comes to light so that I’m not misrepresenting the facts

  • Rugby Australia remain intent to sack Folau, however, the argument is being made by legal experts that this may not be possible as RA haven’t followed their own code of conduct when it comes to disciplining players
  • More important, someone has brought to my attention that Folau seems, at the very least, to be confused by the Christian teaching of the Trinity. His comments on the Trinity that have been shared with me are troubling, to say the least. This doesn’t negate the 5 points made in this post, but it may cause us to reevaluate Folau’s understanding of Christianity.  I suspect that many Christians, in explaining God, fall into one Trinitarian heresy or another, simply because they haven’t been taught the Scriptures well. Perhaps he needs a Christian brother to get alongside him and disciple him with a Bible in hand (don’t we all?). The doctrine of the Trinity, however, is too important, too central to the Christian faith, for us to ignore.
  • A few voices are now suggesting that Folau made a verbal agreement with Rugby Australia not to post such comments again on social media (I don’t know whether this is accurate or not). If that is true, then he has acted dishonestly and it is appropriate for Rugby Australia to sanction him. It also remains the case that it is inappropriate for RA to make such religious demands of its players, especially given there are examples where other players have publicly commented on similar issues, albeit for a different point of view to Izzy. 

Banning ‘Conversion’ Therapy, what does it mean?

Media outlets have renewed a campaign to outlaw gay conversion therapy (GCT). The Age published an article on the weekend with the title, Churches, LGBTI Christians urge crackdown on ‘conversion’ therapy.

The headline is somewhat misleading, for according to the SOCE website (the group who are asking the Federal Government to ban GCT), only four churches have signed their statement along with 3-4 church ministers. No doubt there other supportive Churches, but nothing like the groundswell of ecclesial enthusiasm that the newspaper implies.

If The Age had asked Christian leaders and Churches from across the country, I suspect that they would find partial agreement with the folk at SOCE Survivors, and also significant disagreement.

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To begin with, testimonies of gay conversion therapies are disturbing. Far from being ‘normal,’ these practices belong to fringe religious groups, finding little or no support amongst mainstream Christian Churches and theology. As a Christian, I do not support or agree with gay conversion therapy, as defined in terms of using pseudo-scientific and unbiblical spiritual methods to change a person’s sexuality. I feel for those who have undergone these traumatic experiences, wishing that they had not, and praying that they will find true and lasting recovery and peace.

The conversation is important because the health and life of LGBTIQ Australians matters enormously. They are not pawns to be played in political games, but human beings made in the image of God, and who ought to be treated with dignity. This, however, does not mean that every sexual preference and activity is morally good and beneficial, and neither does it mean that people who choose celibacy are somehow less complete or fulfilled as human beings.

It is interesting to learn that the SOCE Survivors statement makes the repeated observation that most organisations who once practiced GCT have now folded or no longer use such programs. If this is the case, then why are LGBTIQ groups and two political parties campaigning to have gay conversion therapy banned by Governments? If the aim is to inform the public of these formerly used and egregious methods, that’s fine, and yet their stated goals extend far beyond this. Why is there a concerted campaign to make illegal, practices that are no longer employed? As one reads further into the document, a picture emerges that their primary focus is no longer with GCT  but with any ideology that does not fully support LGBTIQ identity and lifestyles.

The statement argues that “many expressions of SOCE exist at the micro level, making them difficult to recognise, quantify, and regulate. The underlying ideology is firmly embedded in the everyday life of many faith communities as a collection of messages, beliefs and practices.”

According to their document, the key to this ideology is the erroneous and harmful belief (in their opinion) that “heterosexuality is the intended order”. Among these unacceptable practices are sermons that “talk about and reinforce traditional gender roles and ‘living as men and women of God”.

How broad is the net of unacceptable teaching and practice in faith communities? It certainly feels sufficiently broad to include the majority of Churches and Christian organisations. That’s part of the problem with the SOCE website, and also with the reporting in the newspaper, their descriptions of gay conversion therapy are vague, so much so that depending on how one reads in between the blurry lines, preaching a sermon on Genesis chs.1-3 or Romans 1:18-32 could fall foul of the authorities.

Definitions matter. The meaning of words and phrases is essential, lest we import a wrong sense or create confusion by speaking across each other. At the same time though, ambiguity and breadth are also proven rhetorical devices that gently and unassumingly push the envelope open even further.

In the Bible, God calls Christians to sexual purity. This does not necessarily mean there will be a change in sexual orientation. Some men and woman find their sexual desires and identity change with time, and to argue otherwise is to ignore the weight of personal testimonies. Indeed, researchers have demonstrated that the majority of children who experience gender dysphoria will grow out of it by adulthood and will happily identifying with their biological sex. However, the fact is, when becoming a Christian, many gay and lesbian people will not become heterosexual.

The Bible may not state that a person’s sexual orientation will change, but it does teach conversion. Christianity by definition is a conversion religion, where human beings made in the image of God, shift from looking for freedom in the myth of post-enlightenment moral relativism, and instead discovering the greatest freedom in the person of Jesus Christ. Let me repeat, I am not suggesting that people cease to struggle with aspects of their past, including sexual orientation, but it does mean that they now want to be godly in their sexuality. According to the Bible, this sanctification includes affirming that sex belongs to the loving, exclusive, mutually consenting, covenant of marriage between a man and a woman.

Does believing and teaching the above, and encouraging Christians to practice the above, push me outside the moral parameters of SOCE? Keeping in mind that none of the above views are new or novel, for they sit perfectly within orthodox Christian teaching and practice. Nonetheless, should this standard Christian view be considered wrong and harmful, and to be scrutinised by the authorities?

Anything other than the full affirmation of lgbtiq individuals as fully equal (including in the church, with a move toward correcting the poorly translated words currently classed as “homosexual” in the bible) is really unacceptable.”

While the SOCE Survivors document is vague at points, a spokesperson from SOCE has this week responded to a friend of mine who was also seeking clarification from them. The spokesperson said,

“The conversion therapy movement is very broad. Eg. theologically driven celibacy of lgbtiq people, prayer ministry, sermons that veer into exgay ideology leading to harm. They all need firm interventions. The survivors who wrote the statement are very keen to keep the definition broad. Anything other than the full affirmation of lgbtiq individuals as fully equal (including in the church, with a move toward correcting the poorly translated words currently classed as “homosexual” in the bible) is really unacceptable.”

The SOCE representative also asked,

“Would people who attend this group be encouraged to avoid being in a long-term committed same-sex relationship on theological or psychological grounds?”

When my friend suggested, ‘yes’, he was then informed that,

“I would say this group falls under the umbrella of the ex-gay movement. As you can see from the statement, the ex-gay movement has been viewed through many lenses over the years – from conversion therapy, to ex-gay programs that are less about therapy and more about solidarity. Regardless, such a group goes against the latest biblical scholarship, as well as a significant body of research detailing the harm caused by attempts to suppress or change a person’s orientation or gender affirmation on religious grounds. Thanks.”

There you have it. The agenda is wider than banning rare and harmful practices, but includes ministry and preaching that encourages the classical Biblical understanding of sexual holiness and human identity.

One might choose to ignore this most recent reporting of the issue, believing it’s another example of Christian philistinism. However, SOCE’s agenda is being adopted by two of the nation’s major political parties (ALP and the Greens), and the current Victorian State Government is also considering legislating on the issue. In other words, there is a strong possibility that these views will be shaped into legislation in the not too distant future, and could be used to against Christian Churches across Australia (and especially in Victoria). In case we assume there will be no severe implications from such legislation, as one example, the ALP platform speaks of removing children from parents who fail to affirm children in their self-assigned gender and sexuality, referring to this as child abuse.

Rather than chasing the culture down the rabbit hole of fluffy and imprecise language, Churches need theological and pastoral precision. This is a time for Christians to repudiate unsound, unbiblical, and harmful practices that have been used in the past, albeit by marginal and whacky groups. This is a time to repent of resentment toward LGBTIQ Australians and to ask for forgiveness where we have wronged them. This is also a time to embrace God’s good ways that are revealed in the Scriptures.

The future of Christianity does not depend on Governmental or societal approval, but it does hinge on whether Churches will “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people.” Christianity didn’t survive and flourish in the Roman Empire because they allowed the sexual norms of the day to define the Church, or because they played dodge-the-bullet with broad and vague language, but because they believed and lived the freedom that was brought about by Jesus Christ. Clarity in an age of confusion; that is what is required of Christians today: humble clarity and gracious conviction that God’s purposes are good and true.

When you are insulted

Did Turnbull Malcolm speak too soon?

As the Dean Smith Bill was about to be receive its final reading in Parliament yesterday afternoon, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull proclaimed,

“Australia has done it. What a day for love, for equality, for respect.”

It’s attractive rhetoric, and perhaps Mr Turnbull really believes what he said, or maybe he’s just hoping for the best. Whatever is the case, Australia hasn’t disappointed because soon after he spoke these words, trending across Australia on twitter was hashtag Lyle. Even out doing many hashtags dedicated to celebrating yesterday’s decision, thousands of people are sending offensive tweets to Lyle Shelton, using all kind of base language in order to offend. Telling a fellow human being to eat excrement, in my opinion, is shameful. It doesn’t matter whether you agree with Shelton’s views or not, it is simply disgusting.

For those who may not be aware, Lyle Shelton is the Managing Director of ACL (Australian Christian Lobby), and he took a key role in the national campaign to uphold the classical view of marriage in Australia.

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No doubt Lyle Shelton is a controversial figure. Not every Christian would agree with everything he says or how he has said it, but his view of marriage is certainly in keeping with the Christian understanding. More than that, he is respectful and gracious when interacting with people, even those who send him verbal parcels of expletives and insult.

This national pronouncement of love and respect isn’t only being directed toward Lyle Shelton, but it has been a sad the trend throughout much of the debate on same sex marriage. Gay and Lesbian Australians have have been subjected to awful mud slinging, and many supporters of classical marriage have had all manner of insult and assault aimed at them. The difference between the two is that the latter has often found public and media support. Remember when Bill Shorten and other Federal members equating opponents of same sex marriage with haters and bigots?

Remember when comedian and Fairfax columnist, Benjamin Law, threatened to sexually assault Government MP, Andrew Hastie? Apparently, it’s not only ok, but it’s funny to make a joke about raping a politician. More humour from Mr Law last night,

“Now I am become Lyle, the eater of shit”

Even before the vote was taken on Thursday, throughout the day’s proceedings, the public gallery in Parliament continually interrupted MPs who dared suggest that Australia is likely to see a reduction of religious freedoms in light of changing the Marriage Act.  It was impossible not to see the irony, while fellow MPs referred to concerns over religious freedoms as “baseless”, the choir sitting in the public gallery repeatedly applauded and cheered in triumph when any MP suggested religious freedom would be reduced.

No doubt there have been many people from across the opinion divide who have expressed their views respectfully and who have been quick to speak against those who are hateful. Maybe I’m wrong, but I suspect that our Prime Minister’s words are already destitute. A truly pluralist and tolerant society is able to handle rigorous debate and can avoid jumping into the sewer. Last night and again today, thousands of Australians can’t contain their eagerness to take scoop down and start throwing it at high profiled defenders of classical marriage.

It’s not nice, it’s awful, but should we be surprised? Didn’t Jesus tell us in advance that this would happen? The final vestiges of our Christian culture have up til now served as padding against some of the slings and arrows of social outrage. Yesterday’s Parliamentary “victory” has been interpreted by thousands as justification to knock down those who didn’t support the cause. I suspect that for some, they’re simply letting off steam following months of anger and frustration, although I’m not sure that a justified reason.

While this was unfolding, I was preparing my sermon for Church this Sunday. At Mentone Baptist we are looking at Matthew ch.10. While the context of that passage is mission, and Jesus instructing his disciples how to go about mission and what to expect when they are sent into surrounding towns, it’s hard not to notice some relevance.

Jesus is forewarning his disciples that not everyone is going to welcome them and welcome their message. In fact, at times it’s going to be incredibly hard. People will turn on you, insult you, and even take you to court.

Jesus says, “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves (Matt 10:16). The combination of both qualities is essential: shrewdness without innocence can lead to deceitfulness and unkind methodology, and innocence without shrewdness can lead to naivety or to a foolish bravado. In other words, don’t be stupid and don’t be sinful. Don’t respond to trouble in kind.

While many Australians are today celebrating, many others are today disappointed and saddened by how easily our Parliamentary representatives dismissed the genuine concerns about religious liberties, don’t leap onto social media and say something stupid and sinful. Stop, think, and read these verses:

“8 Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. 10 For,

“Whoever would love life
and see good days
must keep their tongue from evil
and their lips from deceitful speech”. (1 Peter 8:10)

Australia’s Pharisees

John Dickson has this afternoon written a helpful response to Julia Baird’s column, “Same-sex marriage result was a defeat for only one type of Christianity – and a triumph for the grassroots sitting in church pews”.

He has corrected important mistakes made by Baird about the nature of grace and the love of Christ. For instance, while the current secular definition of love insists upon agreement, the love God displayed toward in Christ Jesus is premised on the fact that God does not agree with us.

John also challenged Baird’s unsubstantiated claim, that the majority of people in the pews support same sex marriage. With great certainty, Baird proclaimed,

“Who speaks for God?”

The answer according to Julia Baird is, the silent majority in Church pews who support same sex marriage.

“It was… a defeat for a certain brand of public, conservative Christianity, one that has focused on sexuality, morality and traditional views of men and women…

And a triumph for the grassroots, those in the pews who – as polls repeatedly showed – quietly tolerated but did not share the views of their church leaders.”

In addition to the evidence John has produced, is research conducted by NCLS in 2016. This data is more substantive than the few straw polls that have elsewhere been conducted, for the simple reason, NCLS was asking the question to people in Churches, as opposed to the general population.  Other polling failed to differentiate between nominal Christians & practicing Christians. NCLS is at least polling people who are attending Church (the demographic that Baird alleges  are in majority supportive of same sex marriage). NCLS data reveals:

73% of church attenders did not support same sex marriage

14% were unsure, 

13% were in favour.

Having said that, even if the majority of people in our pews support same sex marriage, does that make it the voice of God, as Baird purports? Of course not. Christianity is defined by Jesus Christ in the Scripture, not by ecclesial consensus or popular vote. It’s one of the great dangers when we turn to popularism rather than biblical truth for our theological and moral convictions.

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In this post I wish to add to the conversation, a comment about Julia Baird’s use of the word, Pharisee. In her article she compares Christians who don’t support same sex marriage with Pharisees, whereas those who truly speak for God are the masses inside the nation’s churches who are letting out a great  “Amen” to same sex marriage.

Name calling is a particularly unhelpful by-product of the current social climate, and even we Christians are sometimes guilty of joining in.  It is easy to call a group of Christians, Pharisee, but is it the right label? Or as Stephen McAlpine asked yesterday, is this the new Godwin’s Law?

Everyone knows the name of the most famous group of bad guys in the story on Jesus, the Pharisees. But who were the Pharisees, and has Julia Baird got it right? I reckon she is mostly wrong and little bit right.

Pharisees were a class of social and political elites who greatly influenced and controlled much of Jewish society in the century before Christ and into first century A.D. Very few Pharisees belonged to the priesthood (they were not clergy), although they held considerable religious sway. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, their influence eventually diminished due to a series of sharp disagreements between themselves and the official Jewish clergy in the First Century.

Pharisees are most remembered for their opposition to the ministry and mission of Jesus Christ. In the historical records we learn of the Pharisees’ persistent harassment of Jesus, protesting his preaching, criticising his good deeds, condemning his beliefs, and plotting his downfall. They didn’t stop at expressing disagreement, but resorted to all the tactics available at their disposal in order to have Jesus silenced.

We need to keep in mind that while the name Pharisee is today a pejorative term, this was not the case at the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry; they were greatly esteemed and respected in local communities, and having the ear of the ruling authorities of the day. The New Testament reveals another side to the Pharisees, namely their intolerance toward those in society who didn’t live up to their standards. They couldn’t stomach Jesus’ commitment to the poor and outcast.

It is also important to understand that the problem with Pharisees was not that they held God’s law and righteousness too highly, but that they were self-righteous. They took pride in their self-perceived ability to follow the Mosaic law, and given that they were governed by pride, they managed to find loop holes and extensions to the law in order to satiate their wants. They added hundreds of stipulations that had no grounding in the Jewish Scriptures. For example, whereas the law commanded fasting once a year, on the day of atonement, Pharisees fasted twice a week. This new social norm was not followed by Jesus and he was criticised for not adhering to it.

Important to the topic at hand, it was not Jesus who taught a progressive view of marriage, it was the Pharisees. Jesus consistently and repeatedly affirmed the Genesis paradigm for marriage (which continues to be held by Christians today). Pharisees, on the other hand, had deconstructed and reframed marriage in order to justify their sexual proclivities, and they challenged Jesus for not supporting their progressive views. So, if we are wanting to follow Jesus (accepting his view of marriage and to love and show grace), it is paramount that we resist the current modelling in many Western cultures.

By the way, I am not suggesting that there are no Pharisees within Australian Churches, either among clergy or congregation. Of course there are, but the insult kinda falls flat when the word is misappropriated. Nevertheless, there is something in Baird’s criticism that is worth being reminded of, and to humbly check before God – while Pharisaism is incompatible with the Lord Jesus and therefore with Christianity, are there not occasions when we dip into self-righteousness and are tempted to measure others by our own standards? 

The root of self-justification is unbelief and pride, and pride inherently sets the self against others, belittling those who don’t meet your standard and envying those who out do you. Self-Justification in all its guises is ugly and self-defeating, which is perhaps why Jesus dedicates so many words to exposing the Pharisees.

We are not presenting a truthful or attractive Gospel if we parade the streets of Melbourne in saintly masks and garb; self-righteousness doesn’t fool anyone. And yet, a Christianity that modulates with the changing currents of the culture, is almost certainly one that has drifted from the anchor that is the Gospel. It is no wonder that progressive theology in Australia always leads to declining churches, moral confusion, and the praise of society. If our version of Christianity consistently reflects popular sexual ethics, might I suggest that there is something amiss with our understanding of Christianity. Our nation and our churches don’t need any more Pharisees, whether appear as social conservatives or social progressives. Australia needs Christians who walk with grace and conviction, love and faithfulness, not exuding self confidence and avoiding cultural-pleasing.

“Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” (Jn 15:4).

 


Julia has since attempted to qualify her article on social media, explaining that she is not calling all conservatives, Pharisees.  In response to John’s article, she said, “NB: I wasn’t calling parish priests or conservatives Pharisees! I was referring to church leaders w. skewed priorities.”

This qualification however doesn’t diminish the charge she makes in the original piece.

 

 

 

 

Does Australian Christianity need a Nashville Statement?

Today, The Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood (CBMW) announced the Nashville Statement, a manifesto designed to bring clarity to the Christian view of human sexuality.

Evangelical leaders from across the USA and the UK are signatories, with many more names being added, from across churches and different denominations. They share in common a belief in the truth and goodness of God’s word and the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They are also expressing concern over  the culture’s reconstruction of sexuality, and are calling Churches back to the Bible and to trust God’s purposes.

The Preamble states,

“Evangelical Christians at the dawn of the twenty-first century find themselves living in a period of historic transition. As Western culture has become increasingly post-Christian, it has embarked upon a massive revision of what it means to be a human being. By and large the spirit of our age no longer discerns or delights in the beauty of God’s design for human life. Many deny that God created human beings for his glory, and that his good purposes for us include our personal and physical design as male and female. It is common to think that human identity as male and female is not part of God’s beautiful plan, but is, rather, an expression of an individual’s autonomous preferences. The pathway to full and lasting joy through God’s good design for his creatures is thus replaced by the path of shortsighted alternatives that, sooner or later, ruin human life and dishonor God.

This secular spirit of our age presents a great challenge to the Christian church. Will the church of the Lord Jesus Christ lose her biblical conviction, clarity, and courage, and blend into the spirit of the age? Or will she hold fast to the word of life, draw courage from Jesus, and unashamedly proclaim his way as the way of life? Will she maintain her clear, counter-cultural witness to a world that seems bent on ruin?

We are persuaded that faithfulness in our generation means declaring once again the true story of the world and of our place in it—particularly as male and female. Christian Scripture teaches that there is but one God who alone is Creator and Lord of all. To him alone, every person owes glad-hearted thanksgiving, heart-felt praise, and total allegiance. This is the path not only of glorifying God, but of knowing ourselves. To forget our Creator is to forget who we are, for he made us for himself. And we cannot know ourselves truly without truly knowing him who made us. We did not make ourselves. We are not our own. Our true identity, as male and female persons, is given by God. It is not only foolish, but hopeless, to try to make ourselves what God did not create us to be.

We believe that God’s design for his creation and his way of salvation serve to bring him the greatest glory and bring us the greatest good. God’s good plan provides us with the greatest freedom. Jesus said he came that we might have life and have it in overflowing measure. He is for us and not against us. Therefore, in the hope of serving Christ’s church and witnessing publicly to the good purposes of God for human sexuality revealed in Christian Scripture, we offer the following affirmations and denials.”

 

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In recent days we have seen a number of Christian leaders in Australia reject the Bible’s teaching on marriage and sexuality, and doing so with the intent of persuading the public, both Christian and non Christian, that God supports sexual unions that are not within covenant union of marriage between a man and a woman. One can understand why so many Australians and even Australian Christians are confused on these issues when recognised Bible teachers come out with their hermeneutical trickery. Other Christians feel unable to speak to these issues, not because they lack conviction, but out of fear of being ostracised.

It is the case that almost every major Christian denomination in the country has a formal position on marriage, one that reflects the Bible’s presentation. However, these are often unaccompanied with adequate theological and pastoral reflection, and they don’t speak to other matters of sexuality.

In our current climate, could we do with our own Nashville Statement? How could it be helpful for Churches? Obviously we would need to change the name to something more Aussie: perhaps Bourke or Newcastle, or Frankston! Which of the 14 articles would need recalibration for our context, if any?

There may be reasonable objections to putting together a nation wide Christian oracle, and it would be helpful to hear and consider these. One thing though has become increasingly clear in recent weeks, and that this is not a season for Aussie Christians to become unclear about or lacking confidence in God’s good purposes, and in the beauty of the Gospel.