Banning Books in Hong Kong and more

“As a young person, to already have the courage to face the pitiless glare, to overcome the fear of death, and to regain respect for death – this is the task of this young generation. And thus you do well in this midnight hour to commit to the flames the evil spirit of the past. This is a strong, great and symbolic deed – a deed which should document the following for the world to know”.

The above words formed part of a speech which was aimed at calling people to a return to morality and social decency. This address given to university students was of course delivered by Joseph Goebbels directly before one of the most infamous book burning scenes in history.

During the rise of Nazism in the 1930s, purging the population of dissenting ideas was seen as an essential step. The Säuberung or cleansing included destroying religious and political texts that didn’t conform to the new normal. 

The destruction of books is as old as literature. Hate is a strong motivator, as is fear. To be honest, there are plenty of books that I believe are dangerous, and I’m happy to warn people about their messages. There is a vast difference though between informing people about a book’s content and removing those same volume’s from libraries and blowing their ashes into the wind. 

The Age is tonight reporting, 

“Books by prominent Hong Kong pro-democracy figures have become unavailable in the Chinese-ruled city’s public libraries, days after Beijing introduced sweeping national security legislation, according to online records and one activist.”

A search for books by young activist Joshua Wong or pro-democracy politician Tanya Chan on the public libraries website showed the books, including Unfree Speech, co-authored by Wong, either unavailable or under review.

“The national security law … imposes a mainland-style censorship regime upon this international financial city,” Wong tweeted on Saturday, adding his titles “are now prone to book censorship.”

…It is unclear how many books are under review. Two titles by Chinese Nobel Peace Prize-winning political dissident Liu Xiaobo were still available, according to the online”

This isn’t the first attempt by the Chinese Government to eradicate writings that don’t support the State’s unbending ideologies.

In 2018, the Government began work on a new version of the Bible, to ensure that the Bible affirms ‘socialism’ and doesn’t contain ideas that might subvert the Government. One can imagine how distorted the Holy Scriptures will become once this atheistic, militant, and totalitarian, regime has finished their rewriting project. In many regions of China it is already difficult to own and read a Bible, let alone teach this book in a semi-public setting. Preaching ‘Jesus is Lord’ is likely to end in arrest and possible imprisonment.  

without the permission of the authorities, you can’t organize a Bible study. And if you do get permission, you’d better hold it in a Party-approved religious venue, at a Party-approved time, with a Party-approved leader and using the new Party-approved Bible, which contains quotations from Confucius and, of course, Xi Jinping.”

Not even Christians are permitted to change the words of Scripture, let alone a Government who wishes to change and control its message.

“For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:18)

“All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.”  (1 Peter 1:24-25)

Let’s shine the camera on ourselves. 2020 is the year of cancelling. We might look at China with disgust and growing wariness of their geo-political agenda, but our own background is a growing mound of buried careers, reputations, and lives. We have long lost the will to disagree with other, even with passion. The mob demands destruction of any idea that is not representative of new morality and decency.

Let’s not forget, even the beautiful State of Victoria has faced the Government’s axe. In 2016, Christian programs were removed from State schools in light of many Christian ideas being deemed inappropriate. The same Government has recently reaffirmed its commitment to ban conversion practices (which under their current definition will probably include Christian teachings on sexuality. This includes normal Christian teaching and prayer that takes place in Churches). It would be silly to equate this situation with China, for the two are not the same. The point is simply, our own societies are not entirely blameless.

The Chinese Government is afraid of the Bible, and so are we. Perhaps we ought, for it is no small thing to contest the Sovereign God who made the universe and whose word says he will judge all the living and the dead.

Hong Kong libraries are beginning to experience what is commonplace in China and what religious groups have been forced to do for generations, hide their precious books under the bed because the bookshelf isn’t safe.

No society should take their literature for granted, especially the words that give eternal life.

Put away the matches, because as cancel culture is demonstrating, once it starts, it very easily burns out of control. Perhaps we, who want to preserve the freedom to read and teach our texts, ought to show a little humility toward those who prefer and magnify a different set of books. Let’s argue with words not by deleting them. 


Correction: I originally said ABC when it should have read The Age

No, Jehovah’s Witnesses are not Christian

Jehovah’s Witnesses have come into the media spotlight once again due to their reluctance to sign up to the National Redress Scheme.

The Scheme was introduced as a result of the findings from the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse.  The Royal Commission uncovered many hundreds of cases of child sexual abuse within the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the organisation’s complicity in covering up these cases. With the announcement of the National Redress Scheme, there was wide recognition among Christian Churches of its importance, and most denominations signed up quickly. According to last night’s report on Channel 10s The Project, the Jehovah’s Witnesses “will not join the scheme”.

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In the Federal Parliament,  Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said of institutions that are not joining the scheme is that they are “doubling down on the crimes and doubling down on the hurt”.

First of all, it is quite staggering to hear that a religious institution is refusing to join the scheme. I hope this changes before the cut off date of June 30th.

Second, I made the mistake of sending a tweet.  Twitter is designed for tweets and for twits, and I was one last night.

The Project repeatedly referred to Jehovah’s Witnesses as a Church. The word association is unhelpful and confusing because Jehovah’s Witnesses are not a Christian Church. They are a religious group but not a Christian Church, and the distinction matters.

I said, “BTW Jehovah’s Witnesses are not a church. They have nothing to do with Christianity & neither do they describe their communities as a church”.

What I said is accurate. Jehovah’s Witnesses call their communities ‘Kingdom Halls’ not Churches. It’s also true that they have nothing to do with Christianity. Responses came flooding in, correcting my ignorance of Christianity, with people declaring Jehovah’s Witnesses as Christian and as a church. 

Some people insisted upon the Christian credentials of Jehovah’s Witnesses, simply on the grounds that some Jehovah’s Witnesses now call themselves Christian. One person linked to a piece on the BBC as definitive proof that Jehovah’s Witnesses are a Christian Church. Do people even stop to think and realise that the BBC is a media outlet, not an academic institution let alone a school of theology? If I’m wanting medical advice I visit my GP, I don’t ask the BBC. If I’m wanting an expert opinion on Constitutional Law, I don’t google a television station, nor do I treat a quick Wikipedia search as Gospel truth.

As it happens, I am a Pastor of a Christian Church who holds a degree in theology and who writes regularly on theological matters. None of this necessarily makes me an expert (and I’m not an expert in cults), however, I have a fair understanding of what beliefs accord with Christianity and those which do not.

We are living in strange times when a basic point can be demonstrably proven, and yet washed over as an irrelevance. One person suggested that it doesn’t matter if Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t believe in the Trinity, they still qualify as Christian. That’s like saying you can be a vegan and enjoy eating steak every night. Another person admitted that Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t seem to have a high view of Jesus, but because they believe in ‘God’ they still count as Christian. Perhaps the word Christian is a little confusing! Based on this flimsy argument Muslims and Hindus are also Christian!

Twitter has become its very own version of the famed Monty Python Sketch, The Argument Clinic.

Both historically and theologically, Jehovah’s Witnesses is rightly considered a separate religion, which at most is an aberrant form of Christianity. Theologically, they belong to the category referred to in the Bible as ‘false teaching’. Why? Because they reject almost every core belief of the Bible regarding the person of God, the person of Jesus Christ, the resurrection, and the means by which people can be redeemed.

Christianity can be traced back to the person and work of Jesus Christ, some 2,000 years ago. The Bible details, as does Jesus himself, that Christianity is the fulfilment of God’s ancient promises that were written about in the Old Testament. In this way, Christianity is directly linked to Judaism. Christian Churches today base their teachings on these Scriptures and they worship this Jesus as God.

In contrast, Jehovah’s Witnesses came into existence in the late 19th Century, in the Pennsylvanian town of Allegheny. Their founder, Charles Taze Russell, began as a Seventh Day Adventist but he came to disagree with how Adventists were predicting the Second Coming of Christ. He claimed that Jesus had already returned in 1874 and would consummate his reign in 1914. From there, groups formed across America, and eventually internationally. There is something like 70,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Australia today. The Jehovah’s Witnesses is an American made religion. Their origins are not even directly connected with a Christian Church, but they jumped off from another American sect/cult.

To my knowledge, no Christian denomination, historically or present, has ever accepted Jehovah’s Witnesses as a legitimate and authentic Christian Church or denomination. Rather, they are rightly defined as a separate religion, if not a cult. In fact, until very recent, Jehovah’s Witnesses have been referred to as a cult, given the stern control the religion’s leaders have on their followers. This authoritarian and bullish control over people is well documented and this point was also noted last night’s segment on The Project.

Jehovah’s Witnesses adhere to almost no basic and essential Christian belief. In almost every area of Christian belief and thought, their views openly contradict the Bible and well established and historic Christian teaching. Their beliefs can no more be aligned with Christianity than calling an egg a type of fruit or, believing cows milk comes from the artichoke.

It’s not as though Jehovah’s Witnesses beliefs are locked away in some hidden vault and can’t be accessed for reading. It only requires a short visit to their own websites to discover how open Jehovah’s Witnesses are about rejecting basic Christian beliefs. In fact, I conclude that the only reason they ever use the term ‘Christian’ is in order to fool the public into thinking they are somehow a legitimate religion and not a cult. It’s like a Collingwood supporter trying to invite themselves into the Carlton coaching box, while wearing a Collingwood jumper, carrying their Collingwood membership card, and singing “Good Old Collingwood Forever”, as a duet with Eddy Maguire (apologies to Collingwood and Carlton fans alike)!

 

9 Beliefs that are inconsistent with Christianity

Here are 9 facts about Jehovah’s Witnesses that make this religion irreconcilable with Christianity:

1. The Bible used by Jehovah’s Witnesses (‘The New World’ translation) is a corrupted version that changes words and meaning of the Bible to fit with their beliefs. A classic example of this deliberate manipulation of the texts is John 1:1. The New World states that “the word was a god”. The actual text says, ‘the word was God”. The insertion of the indefinite particle completely changes the meaning of the verse, and indeed it changes the identity of Jesus (which is, of course, the intent).

To my knowledge, no reputable Bible scholar in the world accepts the ‘The New World’ translation as a legitimate and faithful rendering of the Bible.

2. They reject the Christian teaching that Jesus Christ is eternally God. Instead, they believe that Jesus is a created being and prior to being on earth Jesus was the archangel, Michael. Jesus is a lesser God to Jehovah, whereas the Bible teaches that Jesus is equally and fully God, as is God the Father and God the Holy Spirit.

3. They reject the Trinity, that there is one God in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  

4. They reject the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Instead, they claim Jesus returned to his pre-existent spiritual state.

5. They don’t believe that the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. Rather the Holy Spirit is an impersonal force working for Jehovah.

6. Salvation is by good works, not by grace, and you can lose your salvation. Salvation is based upon adherence to religious practice, especially missionary success.

7. They don’t believe that hell is final and eternal. Rather everyone who goes there will come back and hell will be made redundant. Some people, though, are so evil that even hell is too good a place. They end up in a place called Gehenna (which they believe is different to hell).

8. They believe that God’s Kingdom came to earth in 1914 and the Battle of Armageddon has been predicted numerous times…although each date was predictably wrong!

9. Only 144,000 people will be saved (based on a misinterpretation of Revelation ch.7). This has caused consternation for the several million members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses around the world today. To accommodate the overflow of members, while only 144,000 members will be welcomed into heaven, others can now be sent back to earth for what’s being coined, a b-grade eternal reward!

A Challenge for Churches

What struck me last night is the ease in which people are prepared to call an organisation by a certain name, on the basis that they have heard someone else use that word in association with the group. In one sense this shouldn’t surprise because, in today’s Western Culture, self-identification has become the only plumb line for truth. If I identify as such, I am, and no one has the right to question the validity of my self-expression. If I say that I’m a Christian, I am regardless of what I believe or how I live. Such blind acceptance is notably ridiculous, and it’s also dangerous.

What about facts and reasons and looking at evidence? Part of the issue is that the average Aussie doesn’t know what Christians believe and so they are ill equipped to assess what beliefs are and are not Christian. This poses an enormous problem. The general population may hold certain assumptions about Christianity which are often completely disconnected from Christianity, or at best, are vaguely true. It shouldn’t surprise us therefore that we have such frail and diluted understandings of the faith.

This means Christian Churches have a responsibility and opportunity to be clear about what we believe and to provide useful teaching in the public square to aid our neighbours in coming to grips with these good and life changing truths. Instead of preferencing vague and sloppy theology in the name of connecting with people, we ought to be catechising our churches and referencing clarity and conviction in our presentations to the broad community.

What is Mentone Baptist Church doing to combat this community fuzziness toward Christianity? Apart from this blog which aims to present a Christian view of the world, we have almost finished writing a new course exploring the big questions of Christianity. It’s called ‘Making Sense of Christianity’. Anyone interested in joining the 4 week study can register by emailing pastor@mentonebaptist.com.au.

My initial frustration last night has turned to sadness.  It is insane that a religious institution is prepared to double down on the pain of victims to child sexual abuse, and it is terribly sad to once again hear that knowledge of Christianity is so nebulous in our society, that we can’t distinguish basic and logical truth from error.  Christian Churches have a lot of work to do. Are we ready for the task?

Nancy Pelosi repeats President Trump’s mistake with the Bible

“Better a poor but wise youth than an old but foolish king who no longer knows how to heed a warning”. (Ecclesiastes 4:13)

“Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him.” (Proverbs 26:14)

 

If President Trump acted with hubris and foolishness yesterday by standing in front of a church building and holding a Bible in his right hand, then someone should have told Nancy Pelosi not to repeat the mistake.

Nancy Pelosi is the serving Speaker of the United States House of Representative. She has responded to President Trump’s awful photo op by offering one of her own. During a press conference at the Capitol Building today, Nancy Pelosi held onto a Bible and spoke to the media. She had learned one lesson of what not to do from President Trump, she opened the Bible and read out loud what can be described as a loose paraphrase from Ecclesiastes ch.3

“There’s an appointed time for everything…A time for every event under heaven. … A time to heal, a time to embrace and a time to shun embracing..a time for peace…”

She might have continued and read what follows in that chapter, 

 And I saw something else under the sun:

In the place of judgment—wickedness was there,
in the place of justice—wickedness was there.

 I said to myself,

“God will bring into judgment
both the righteous and the wicked,
for there will be a time for every activity,
a time to judge every deed.”

 

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Nancy ‘the Bible teacher’ Pelosi may have offered at least a conciliatory tone but the grandstanding is nonetheless equally egregious. It was a silly game of oneupmanship, made using the word of God as the instrument of choice.

The fact that she opened the Bible and read a few verses holds her to a higher standard of responsibility. As the Scriptures says,

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror” (James 1:22-23)

I’m sure this press briefing will be received positively by many. The media hasn’t treated it with the same kind of disdain that has been expressed over President Trump’s efforts yesterday. Let the reader understand, the media isn’t interested in the word of God being rightly handled, and neither are partisan hacks. As followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, we ought to be.

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)

These words are not written for politicians, they are directed to pastors, and they are also applicable to Christians in general. Christians should not be fooled by either photo op. Mocking God is not a wise course of action, and we don’t want to find ourselves excusing or supporting these behaviours.  Pretending to hold Scripture in high regard while openly legislating against its teachings is known in the Bible as ‘hypocrisy’.

As a result of criticising President Trump yesterday, I received some pushback, which is unsurprising in our fractious world. As Christians we must understand that the standard for Christian faith is not allegiance to any given political party, it is the Lordship of Jesus Christ. This is a real danger for Christians living in a polarised and politically partisan society. Of course we all hold political preferences, and I appreciate the real ideological difference between Republicans and Democrats; these things matter,  but they should never supersede our allegiance to Christ.

Criticising the wrongful actions of one political leader does not mean an endorsement of another; that is a logical fallacy. If we cannot hold people in public office to account even when they represent our political party,  and call out their abuse of God’s word, then perhaps we need to ask ourselves what kind of Christianity we are believing.

The footage of President Trump was poor and should not be defended by Christians. There was no calling the nation to open this word and to live by it. There was no humility. Today’s footage of Nancy Pelosi similarly speaks to political expediency.

Caesar is not infallible and neither is Brutus. I would love to see both Pelosi and Trump reading and meditating upon this precious word that truly gives peace, life, and hope to all who receive it. It is truly insane when the very word of life is being held in the hand and yet rejected. I encourage my American brothers and sister in Christ to pray for their leaders, as the Scriptures urge us to.

Let me finish with the words of a pastoral colleague who is serving in a church in Virginia. He summarises the issue well:

“Beware of those who use God’s Name for political gain.

Jesus is neither a Republican or Democrat.

His Kingdom is not of this world.

“God’s name is blasphemed…b/c of you.” Romans 2:24

In the past 24 hours, 3 leading political figures have presented themselves as representing Jesus without giving evidence of knowing Him.

Our church would welcome each as guests & we’d share the Gospel w/ them but I’m grieved when people confuse people about what it means to know Jesus.

To be clear: Christians can vote for candidates who are not Christian. We often will.

But beware of forming your opinion of Jesus based on the lives of those who use Jesus to further their own anti-Jesus ambitions.”

An Australian watching America this week

“He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight”. (Ps 72:14)

“Blessed are the peacemakers,

    for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)

 

Australians live many thousands of kms from the shores of the United States, but we are watching a compelling and disturbing drama unfold. It is difficult to look on and not feel a wave of strong emotions.

I am writing as an outsider and conscious of that fact. I have twice visited the USA, and have made many friends during those stays. I have visited some of the great cities that are now facing upheaval. Only yesterday I saw footage of the street where I lived for a month in Washington DC, as vehicles and trucks of the National Guard drove through carrying soldiers to a hot spot. Across the road from the Capitol Building, I have sat in a restaurant and enjoyed lunch with a brother in Christ. He is an African American and a member of the Church where I attended while in DC. As we broke bread together, we chatted and I listened to his thoughts about racial tensions in the United States. We have remained friends on Facebook. As I see him and other friends posting on Facebook this week, I am reminded to pray for them.

Many Images coming out of America

There are many images being shown across the world from Minneapolis to Washington DC, from Atlanta to Los Angeles. We are hearing multiple narratives told by media, politicians, and by the general public. The problem in weighing up all this information is that much of it is conflicting, some of it is unverifiable, and a lot is infused with different political and ideological agendas.

The fact is, leaving aside exchanges with friends, the noise of social media gives little place for nuance and calm. Public opinion sadly feeds off anger and loud rhetoric. Twitter is hardly known as a platform for peacemaking.

One week ago a man was murdered on the streets of Minneapolis. George Floyd was killed by a police officer who used excessive and brutal force. Floyd’s cry, “I can’t breathe”, was ignored by all four police officers present at the scene. It is difficult to watch the video and hold back from shouting at the officers to let him go. It is horrifying to watch. George Floyd’s death was so unnecessary; it was an act of evil.

Since the murder of George Floyd on May 25th, many cities in America have erupted in social turmoil.

I am hearing that many African-Americans are fearful, angry, and hurting. Many are not on the streets protesting, but the sting of May 25th is very real. Others are protesting, quietly or loudly, fervently with purpose.

There are many peaceful protesters. There are also violent rioters and looters. I suspect some are lashing out in anger and fear, not knowing how else to respond. It is also clear that George Floyd’s murder is being exploited by criminal elements, including ANTIFA. It is only right for police to prevent these people from destroying property and harming human life, and to arrest them when they do.

There are members of the media doing their job impartially and in a considered manner, while others agitate the situation by throwing flammable words on television and in the news. It’s not only American media, but Aussie reporting of American stories is often blinkered and biased.

We have witnessed politicians and community leaders speak with passion and reason, and we have also heard politicians from across the spectrum use the situation to push their own drum. The political grandstanding and ideological manipulating of some is disgusting and is so counter productive.  There is already blood on the ground, without piling on rhetorical mud and manure from self interested people wanting to win votes or to buy more viewers.

Obviously, I am not an American, nor am I a person of colour, but we do share our humanity. I feel grief and anger for those who are mistreated on account of their race. Pain runs deep and the past is not quickly healed. How can one watch images of African Americans crying in the streets and shaking with fear…it should not be. All human beings are God’s image-bearers. All are wonderfully made by God and deserve to be treated with dignity and great value.

Amidst the footage that shows escalating violence, there are also many beautiful images to be found: a policeman embracing a young African American boy who is trembling, a police chief removing his riot gear and joining a crowd of protestors in solidarity with them. People need to see these stories of peacemaking in order to help change the narrative that is dominating the news. How can we encourage peace and progress if our newsfeeds are cluttered with violent scenes and with angry commentators hurling abuse at political opponents? Of course, we need to recognise the ugly and the evil, but we must also display the good.

 

An Image

There is one image that has taken hold of the story today, and it is of President Trump standing outside St John’s Church in Lafayette Square, holding up a Bible in his right hand. The previous night rioters had set fire to the building. Today it was used as a symbol of Presidential fight back.

As a Christian and as a pastor of a church I am less than pleased to see the Bible being used in this way. I trust many more Christian leaders will speak up about this Presidential stunt.

 

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The Rector of St John’s and the Bishop of Washington have both expressed anger and dismay at President Trump using the outside facade of St John’s and him holding a Bible.

Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington said of the uninvited visitor,

“I am outraged…And I just want the world to know, that we in the diocese of Washington, following Jesus and his way of love … we distance ourselves from the incendiary language of this President. We follow someone who lived a life of nonviolence and sacrificial love”

I think it’s wrong for the President to stand outside and use a church building without the express permission of its clergy. What’s worse is him holding up God’s word for a political photo-op. Keep in mind, President Trump is not the first American leader to misuse God’s word in public office and he won’t be the last. But this calculated image is foolish. It is foolish because few people are convinced the President takes the Bible seriously, let alone reads, believes and practices what the Bible says. It’s also foolish because the Bible isn’t a book to fool around with.

As the writer to the Hebrews says,

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

By this word God saves and he judges. By this word, God mocks rulers and the nations, and he speaks comfort and peace to those who humble themselves. It is this word that alone declares all people are made in the image of God and are therefore equal in his sight. It is this word that declares Jesus Christ is Lord and that all people are accountable to Him for how we live. It is this word that speaks of God who loves us profoundly, such that his only Son laid down his life for sinners. Indeed, the very Bible President Trump held in his hand with that defiant face, is the word that says,

“Therefore, you kings, be wise;
be warned, you rulers of the earth.

11 Serve the Lord with fear
and celebrate his rule with trembling.

12 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.” (Ps 2:10-12)

A friend of mine noted the irony of this chosen site for politico-religious vanity. Outside St John’s, the cameras took photos of a President who does not believe the Scriptures nor does he practice what they teach. Inside St John’s Church, there are clergy who also do not believe or practice the Scriptures. St John’s Church and the presiding bishop of Washington are known for their errant views about Christianity. Both inside and out, they treat the Bible with disdain.

The most profound irony is that this Bible, when opened and read and considered, offers truth that sets people free. It offers life to those who believe. It brings forgiveness to those who repent. It lifts up and gives hope to those who are hurting. If people are serious about racial reconciliation and the healing of political and social wounds, don’t copy the President and avoid listening to clerics who similarly misuse the Bible. Rather, open it and hear the word that changed the world and can also change us. Here is sound advice from Jesus, 

“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. (John 5:24)

 

 


I’ve posted a Part 2, in light of Nancy Pelosi’s own Bible photo op

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Bible Translations

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

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

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

These are not Jesus’ words. So what?

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

Nothing about hell

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

Taits argues,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Is homosexuality absent?

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Planting Churches or Gardens?

“For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Peter 1:23)

I have noticed there has been a growth in the gardening industry of late. Christians are planting roots into local communities by beginning community gardens and teaching horticultural skills. Churches and Christian organisations are making substantial financial commitments into establishing these beds of vegetation. In fact, no fewer than 3 Pastors have asked me about this phenomenon over the past month.

Such ventures sound like a great idea. They can encourage people to think creatively about sustainable food, they may foster relationships among local people, and impart practical skills. But should we call these activities mission? Should we understand these program as growing God’s Kingdom?

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Starting a community garden could well be an expression of Christlike love and may exhibit some of the qualities of God’s Kingdom to our neighbourhood. These activities may articulate an interest in our neighbours and an intent to serve our communities. They may create relationships from which we will share the Gospel and see local churches growing. However, at least in some instances, the soil isn’t producing a harvest for God’s Kingdom because Christians are planting with stones, not seeds. The problem lies when these activities are pursued in the place of evangelism and when we develop these ministries instead of cultivating the local church.

We mustn’t neglect peoples’ material needs. God’s love for us in Christ Jesus should be displayed in every aspect of our lives, and yet the Bible gives a clear vision for what God’s mission is about and the Bible gives the Church clear mandates for how this mission is to be fulfilled.

There is a substantial theological argument supporting the thesis that mission should be understood as evangelism: speaking, explaining, proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Whether we understand the biblical categories of mission to be speaking exclusively or primarily about evangelism, the imperative to preach Christ crucified, to call for repentance and faith in Christ, and seeing (new) Christians joining a local church is at the core of God’s purposes in the world.

If Jesus promised, “I will build my church”, why would Christians decline from joining in this task, or suggest that it is optional?

If Jesus calls on people to repent and believe the good news, how can we conclude that this is no longer central to our task?

The Great Commission places intentional Gospel telling front and center,

“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

The book of Acts is a record of the Gospel being preached, men and women being saved, and Churches being planted.

As the Apostle Paul explains to the Romans,

“If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”” (Romans 10:9-15)

We repeatedly discover that the Church is God’s given means through which he will display his purposes to the world,

“His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Eph 3:11-13)

I suspect the shift that we are seeing from evangelism to community work and from church to community results from several factors. For example:

  1. Planting a garden is more socially accepted than planting a church. The former is easier when it comes to gaining council approval, local funding, and people warm to the idea.
  2.  We look for immediate results. Church planting is a long term, patient work with no guarantees of immediate fruit whereas a garden bed or community program is tangible.
  3. Poor teaching on ecclesiology has resulted in breeding unhealthy churches and therefore a lack of confidence in churches.
  4. Cultural pressures have diminished our view of God and removed the Bible’s portrait of sinful humanity.  Another problem is how too many Christian no longer believe in sin and in a God who judges nor believe that personal repentance and faith in Jesus Christ is necessary.
  5. Confidence in God’s word has taken a beating through the exegetical and hermeneutical minefields laid down by Christian liberalism, who keep telling us that the Bible can’t surely mean what it says.

I attended a denominational workshop several years ago where the speaker was encouraging attendees to think about mission. It soon became apparent that his shtick was, “mission today depends on finding ‘new and innovative methods’”, and that verbal proclamation wasn’t one of them. When I asked a question about evangelism, the response given was, “I guess one might think about that as an option”. In other words, evangelism was not a necessary component for participating in God’s mission. At the very least this demonstrates a deficient theology of the Gospel.

If the biblical pattern is to preach the Gospel and plant Churches, why push these tasks to the periphery and instead focus on gardening or cafes or teaching life skills to kids? Again, I’m not dismissing these activities; I think they can wonderful ways to serve others and to show people God’s love. They may well serve as part of what we do as Christians, but let’s not pretend it is mission, unless we are also using these ministries to create conversations about Christ or as a jumping off point to begin a Christianity Explored course or reading the Bible 1-1.

As Ed Stetzer famously quipped, “feed the poor and if necessary use food!” Of course, he was responding the famous saying that is falsely attributed to Francis of Assisi, “preaching the Gospel, and if necessary use words”.

I suspect mission has joined the growing list of words that are becoming meaningless due to the loose ways Christians have been applying it. A 1000 people might sit in a room and mention mission and everyone will shout, ‘Amen’. The problem is, we’ve either defined mission so broadly as to make the term redundant or because of reluctance to deem any activity as not conforming to God’s mission, we avoid defining it all together.

My contention is this: if we view mission without Gospel proclamation and without view to building Christ’s Church, we have strayed a long way from the vision God has revealed in his word. Even worse, these ministries cease to be good works and become stumbling blocks to the Gospel.

For the third time, I am not saying that it’s a mistake for Churches or Christians to create ministries in their communities that provide services or helps. I say if it’s a constructive way to love neighbours in your area, go for it. May we not give up on doing good works and loving our neighbours in all manner of ways, but let us not blur our vision of what God’s Kingdom is about by taking our eyes off God’s word and believing what God has spoken about his mission in the world.

In the parable of the sower, the Lord Jesus tells us the secret of the Kingdom,

“The farmer sows the word… Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”

Surely we can trust God to produce a great harvest, even in this age of skepticism in which we find ourselves today. Our role in mission is to obediently plant His seed (the Gospel) and to keep asking the Lord of the harvest to make it grow, for the good and salvation of people and for glory of Christ.

By all means, plant potatoes, peas, carrots, and pumpkin seed but please don’t neglect the seed that is the word of God, the only word that gives life to sinners.

Beer, Bible, and a Baptist?

Ok, let me clear my glass from the outset, I don’t drink beer. And no, it has nothing to do with being a Baptist. To my episcopalian skeptics I will retort by pointing out that for some years we had a group of  ‘underground’ beer brewers at our Church!

Leaving my personal drinking preferences aside, connecting the Bible and beer isn’t that novel an approach. After all, according to Martin Luther the Reformers held a Bible in one hand and a beer in the other,

“I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing.  And then, while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my Philip and my Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that never a prince or emperor did such damage to it.  I did nothing.  The Word did it all.”

In what is possibly a first though, the Bible Society has joined arms with Coopers Brewery, with Coopers tagging 10,000 cartons of their light beer with a Bible verse, and with links to the Bible Society’s 200th anniversary. While Coopers may or may not benefit financially from this partnership is, I suspect, beside the point. One Aussie company is celebrating our nation’s oldest continuing organisation. There is nothing new about this; Aussie companies have noted and branded all kinds of Australian symbols and celebrations over the years, and this is just another…until one checks their twitter feed!

As part of the Bible Society’s anniversary, they have produced a series of short videos featuring Aussies discussing current topics. The first video was released this week with Federal MPs Tim Wilson and Andrew Hastie talking about same-sex marriage. Unlike the Bible versed cartons, Coopers Brewery has not sponsored the videos.

Yes, the video is light hearted

Yes, it’s promoting the Bible. Is that so wrong?

Yes, it is staged, but that doesn’t make the two politicians any less genuine with their comments. I don’t know Andrew Hastie, but I have met Tim Wilson, and I found him to be a decent Aussie bloke, who is clear about what he believes and who is also willing to let others express their views.

I’m sure a lot of Aussies will appreciate the video for what it is, a nonchalant signal that Australians can still sit down and talk about real issues, without name calling and speaking down to the other. However, it was clear from my Sunday afternoon twitter feed that not everyone is so happy.

One Melbourne politician and LBGTI advocate tweeted, ‘Nothing ‘civil’ about homophobia, and that’s what opposition to LGBTI equality is. Boycott @coopersbrewery’

Christine Milne is calling for Aussies to boycott Coopers! It’s okay Christine, I never have.

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Apparently we should never buy Coopers beer again, and the video reeks of homophobia. I’m not quite sure how that works given that Tim is openly gay and an advocate changing the marriage act.

It is sad to see how our society has reached the point where notable public figures have self-determined that civil discourse is no longer permissible unless it conforms with their particular brand of secular humanism.

I am not sure whether peoples grievance is over the fact that the Bible Society is behind the campaign or because two politicians have dared demonstrate a courteous disagreement about marriage. Either way, this short video breaks the narrative that social progressives would have the public believe, and for them, this is unforgivable. 

When society no longer permits the dissenting voice, as reasonable and gracious as that voice may be, we have abandoned any true sense of the phrase ‘liberal democracy’, and we have entered a very dark and dangerous pathway to authoritarianism. I do hope that we can see the light and steer away from such a direction.

I am reminded of when Christianity first arose in Jerusalem and then spread to neighbouring regions, and eventually throughout the Roman Empire. The Acts of the Apostles records how the apostles and first Christians won over people with persuasion and reason, with impassioned argument and kindness. There may or may not have been a beer in hand, but there was often a Bible, and that is ok. Should we hide the reasons for our beliefs and values? Is not owning up to them a more honest and ultimately more productive approach to public discourse and dialogue? And who knows, maybe next time we’ll drink coffee instead!

Australia’s Oldest Organisation Turning 200 years old

This weekend, Australia’s longest continuing organisation is celebrating it’s 200th anniversary. Few institutions survive 200 years, let alone continue to flourish after such time. The organisation which is reaching this rare milestone is not a bank or a theatre company, nor a business or school; it is the Bible Society of Australia.

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I suspect that if this were any other type of organisation, the coverage would be wide across our news and television. Let’s admit it, a 200 year anniversary doesn’t happen very often in Australian history.

The Bible Society had started in England some years earlier, with the purpose of distributing copies of the Bible to military servicemen, and later to Welsh speaking Britains who could not read an English translation of the Scriptures.

It was Governor Macquarie who in March 1817 encouraged the birth of the Bible Society of Australia.

The aims of the Bible Society have changed little in its 200 years. They exist to bring the Bible to Australians, whether in English or  by translating the Scriptures into many other languages so that people can read the word of God for themselves. They also support many translations projects across the world.

According to McCrindle research, approximately 45% of Australians now own a Bible (and that percentage shrinks to 32% for Gen Y), although Bible websites are visited by Australians in huge numbers, one site alone has over 50 million visits a year by Aussies. 

The Bible remains the most read book throughout the world, and has been translated into more languages than any other book. Despite a smaller number of Australians owning and reading the Bible, it remains enormously influential across our culture, including in politics, law, and the arts. And while some Australians have put is aside, many thousands of new Australians are keen to read this most astonishing book. Like the foundations of a building, or the innumerable kms of pipes that traverse underneath our streets, both are unseen and yet we depend on them every day, so to  the Bible has provided a bedrock with out which our society would be considerably weaker and less certain.

Think about it…the Bible is, to use its own description, the words of God, the very breathed out words of the living God for us. The Bible is the words of God, about God, and for us so that we might know him, and understand the world and even ourselves.

“The law of the Lord is perfect,

    refreshing the soul.

The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,

    making wise the simple.

The precepts of the Lord are right,

    giving joy to the heart.

The commands of the Lord are radiant,

    giving light to the eyes.

The fear of the Lord is pure,

    enduring forever.

The decrees of the Lord are firm,

    and all of them are righteous.

They are more precious than gold,

    than much pure gold;

they are sweeter than honey,

    than honey from the honeycomb.

By them your servant is warned;

    in keeping them there is great reward.” (Psalm 19:7-11)

The Bible is without parallel in human thinking in regards to its view of God and design for humanity. It portraits God in ways that make the Sistine Chapel appear like a cistern, it penetrates the human psyche more deeply than a hydraulic drill piercing deep into ancient bedrock. It is more glorious than the music of J.S Bach and more comforting than the closest friend. It is more honest, more confounding, more rational, more mysterious than any other text we will read in our short lives. And yes, it chiefly tells us the story of redemption, of the God-man Jesus Christ, who has accomplished the impossible for us.

In a season when many Aussies are less inclined to consider God, I love the Bible Society’s anniversary slogan, Here for Good. Perhaps it sounds a little presumptuous, but 200 years isn’t a bad beginning, and for a book that has been changing the world for centuries longer, might I suggest that the presumption lies with those skeptics who would wish us to close the Bible once and for all, or to lock it up in a Museum’s glass case with the nation’s relics. The problem is, the Bible is a living book and it will continue to transform future generations of Australians, long after every other book has been forgotten.

This weekend there are formal celebrations taking place around the nation, but people are welcome to drop in to a church near them. If you live around Mentone/ Cheltenham, we’d love you to join us this Sunday at 10am, as we open the Bible together and hear of wonderful thing from God.

Also, the Bible Society is giving away free Bibles to anyone interested. If you’re visiting Mentone we are also very happy to give you a free Bible.

Why I value expository preaching

Yesterday while enjoying a final day of annual leave, as a family we visited another church in Melbourne, which we enjoyed. The preacher took us to Colossians 1:15-29, exhorting us from Scripture to avoid domesticating Jesus and instead capturing a vision of this Lord of creation and Lord of the Church. It was a hot day and the building didn’t have any air conditioning. Did I mention, it was hot?! The poor kids did well, although they let out the occasional groan, as a reminder to Dad and Mum that they were feeling the heat. That aside, it was a joy to hear the Bible being opened, and the truth of Jesus Christ being affirmed and expounded.

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One of the highest and most humbling opportunities I have as a Christian minister is to preach God’s word. Preaching is an exciting yet fearful task. It brings immense pleasure and yet requires great earnestness.

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians,

“We have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.”

According to Paul, the aim of preaching is not to mystify people or to promote a personality or to gain profit, rather it is to ‘set forth the truth plainly’.

In one of the most famous charges ever given to a pastor, Paul says to his apprentice, Timothy,

“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.” (2 Timothy 4:2-3)

This is such a helpful passage for understanding the work of the preacher:

  • We’re told what to do: preach.
  • We are told what to preach: the word.
  • We are given a context for preaching: all the time is the season for preaching. 
  • We are given a set of aims in preaching: to correct, rebuke and encourage those listening.
  • We are given instruction as to the manner in which we preach: with great patience and careful instruction.
  • We are not however given a method. Having said this, I believe the Bible comes closer to methodology than we at first realise, for the content and aim of the sermon must surely drive the method. Not for a moment am I suggesting that there is only one way to preach. There are several valid styles of preaching including topical, doctrinal and narrative. Even among expository preachers we discover slightly different approaches: Dick Lucas, Don Carson, Tim Keller and Phillip Jensen are all well known for their expository preaching and yet no two are alike in their preaching. 

Broadly speaking, all preaching ought to be expository preaching, in the sense that the content of our sermons must come from the Bible. The authoritative, true and sufficient word that God has given to us is the Bible, and as 2 Timothy 4:2 reminds us, it is a God given mandate that our message be this word.

Evangelistic, topical and doctrinal sermons all can and ought to be exposition of Scripture. By this I don’t mean the verse by verse exegesis and application of consecutive passages, but that the point of the sermon must be grounded in and shaped by the word of God. In fact, a sermon may pool together several different Bible passages and yet teach them in such a way that they are being explained and applied correctly.

More specifically, expository preaching is an approach where the preacher takes a self-contained portion of the Bible (usually a book, which is subsequently divided into its constituent sections and then systematically preached over a number of weeks or months). He then explains and applies that passage according to the natural parameters set by the text, which includes genre of writing, the original audience, place in salvation history, its theme and tone. This may take the form of a careful verse by verse exposition, or it may cover several chapters in a single sermon with the preacher teaching and applying the main points that are contained within it.

While this method for preaching is not dictated in Scripture, it is the approach to preaching that I have found most helpful as I seek to be faithful to 2 Corinthians 4:2 and 2 Timothy 4:2.  Here are 8 reasons:

  1. Expository preaching shows that the authority lies in the word not in the preacher
  2. It helps ensure that it is God through his word who is setting the agenda, and not the preacher or the congregation or issues around us.
  3. Expository preaching helps me to be clear in my preaching. There is a structure and message in the text. My role isn’t to create a message, but rather the passage gives me the parameters.
  4. I want to be faithful to the whole counsel of God. All Scripture is God-breathed and is for our benefit, so we should aim to eventually preach through the entire Bible (one very long term project!).
  5. I want the church to value the whole Bible. Scripture is an incredibly rich book and I want people to explore all of it.
  6. Far from creating dull or irrelevant preaching, expository preaching keeps me interested and challenged in my preaching, and it pushes my congregation There are 66 different books in the Bible written at different times in history by different authors, in more than 12 different genres, exploring hundreds of themes. The literary diversity of the Bible also helps the congregation to sustain interest in the preaching.
  7. It helps the church to follow the preaching from week to week as they can read ahead.
  8. It is harder for the preacher to ignore difficult and unpopular topics.

In a season where confidence in God’s word is diminishing as people read the Bible less, and the Bible is less frequently read and preached in Church, expository preaching offers a significant antidote.

There is more to preaching than method, and admittedly, there are potential dangers in preaching expositorily, but they have more to do with the preacher than the method: i.e. a lack of training, limited experience, or a preacher who takes short-cuts in their preparation. If I am aiming for my preaching to be faithful, clear, interesting, and compelling to the hearer, then expository preaching will serve me well.

The preacher’s task is immense: heaven and hell are the outcomes, life or death are on offer. Surely it is wise to pursue an approach that will help our preaching to be as faithful and clear as can be.

Answers to Difficult Questions

This Sunday at Mentone Baptist Church we are beginning a 3 week apologetic series, examining 3 hot topics:

1. Should Christians object to same-sex marriage? (April 3rd)

2. What is a Christian response to refugees? (April 10th)

3. Is the a reason for suffering (April 17)

Everyone is welcome to join us. Following each service there will be a QandA session to explore in further detail questions relating to these topics

ApologeticsforWeb