Israel Folau decision may set a course for the future

Christians across Australia have been given a message, “don’t commit social blasphemy” and “be careful if you choose to use the Bible”.

After three days of deliberations, a three person panel has found Israel Folau guilty of a “high level breach” of Rugby Australia’s player code of conduct.  Not that the outcome was much in doubt, given that Rugby Australia and the Waratah’s had bypassed due process and instead announced to the nation that Folau’s contract was terminated and that he would never be selected again to play for his country or club. Last night’s verdict was little more than a formality.

 

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Whatever Izzy’s motives may have been for posting on social media, he has forced onto the national stage an issue that has been pulled and tugged and tested in quieter situations from the East Coast to the West; can a pure form of Christian beliefs be permitted in the public space?

What was his offence? It is believed that Israel Folau declined to sign a document in addition to the standard players’ contract, which would have placed greater restrictions on his use of social media. He did, however, sign his contract, which presumably includes a clause about adhering to the players Code of Conduct. He has been found guilty of a “high level breach” of the Rugby Code of Conduct. This breach hangs on a subjective interpretation of Part 2 Article 1.3, “Treat everyone equally, fairly and with dignity regardless of gender or gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, cultural or religious background, age or disability. Any form of bullying, harassment or discrimination has no place in Rugby.”  Interpretation of this clause depends on one’s a priori beliefs and moral framework, and in this case the panel have deemed that summarising 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 is a “high” form or harassment, even though the point of that passage is quite the opposite, and so too the meaning of Folau’s post.

Legal experts are expressing concerns over the handling of the issue. Professor Nicholas Aroney has interpreted the allegations against Folau with reference to International law. He explains that

“ [What] Folau has said is not an example of hate speech, and he should not lose his rugby career as a result.” Indeed, he reminds us of the broader framework in which Folau has posted comments, “In addition to repeatedly expressing his love and acceptance of all people, Folau has confessed to having committed many of the sins about which he now warns his readers. This makes it difficult to attribute any intention on his part to advocate hatred against these classes of people, for he numbers himself amongst them”

Setting aside legal questions (which I will certainly leave to those who legal expertise) what is clear is that Rugby Australia and the social commentators who’ve joined the scrum have defined ‘orthodox’ religion. Whether Rugby Australia realise it or not, they have taken a theological stand on Israel Folau and have determined to define what is and isn’t acceptable religious belief and speech. Remember, Folau was quoting the Bible and summarising basic Christian teaching.

Yes, as I and others have said a thousand times, Folau’s comments were not seasoned with grace and kindness. They appeared blunt and insensitive, much like a Rugby footballer. Was his manner lacking? Probably, yes. Were his words untrue to 2000 years of Christian belief? No.

Footballers have been forgiven for all manner of social and even criminal offences over the last few years; have we forgotten what some NRL and AFL players have been embroiled in the last few years. But Israel Folau isn’t to be forgiven.

And what of the teammates who have spoken out in support of Folau and have even agreed with his post? Surely Rugby Australia can’t afford to lose any more players before the World Cup? Is Folau to be a sacrificial lamb, served up to warn others of what might happen should they transgress again?

Let’s not be fools, Christians and non-Christians alike are praised for quoting the Bible when they squeeze it to fit with progressive social agendas. Kristina Keneally wasn’t removed from the Labor Party after quoting the Bible against Prime Minister Scott Morrison, and Peter FitzSimons hasn’t been sacked by Fairfax for repeatedly speaking of Jesus Christ? Why not? Because their speech falls into the rut of the cultural narrative, no matter how poor their handling of Christian texts may be.

Lest we conclude that this story will soon be forgotten as a blip on the cultural radar, Rugby Australia’s stance may well soon find legislative legs. The Australian Labor Party (as the Greens have already done) have announced that they are considering expanding “anti-discrimination legislation to shield gay and transgender ­people from harmful speech if elected, in a move that has alarmed lawyers and free-speech advocates.”

“When prejudice against LGBTIQ people contributes to harassment by the written or ­spoken word, such harassment causes actual harm, not simply mere offence, to people who have suffered discrimination and prejudice, and causes particular harm to young same-sex-attracted, gender-questioning or intersex people.

“Labor considers such harmful harassment is an unacceptable abuse of the responsibilities that come with freedom of speech and must be subject to effective sanctions. Labor will ensure that anti-discrimination law provides such effective sanction.”

Depending on how the language of ‘harm’ is understood, all manner of reasonable speech may be found on the wrong side of the law. For example, former rugby league player, Ian Roberts, last week alleged that comments like those of Israel Folau play a role in teenage kids committing suicide as they come to terms with their sexuality

“There are literally kids in the suburbs killing themselves — and I say that with the greatest sense of respect — I’m not implying that Israel’s responsible solely for that, please don’t take it that way.

“But it’s these types of comments and these off the cuff remarks, when you have young people and vulnerable people, kids in the suburbs who are dealing with their sexuality, confused, not knowing how to deal with it, these types of remarks can and do push people over the edge.”

If explaining the Christian view of sexuality is deemed to be a trigger for teenage suicide, we can anticipate further public outrage and potential legislation that will restrict and prohibit words that conform to and explain the Christian message. One might respond by pointing out that thousands of Christians are killed every year simply because they are Christian, therefore we must not limit or silence Christians freedom to speak their beliefs. If we are to be morally and logically consistent, Robert’s argument works in different directions. Leaving that aside, Roberts’ comments could be taken offensively by some Christians because we too are concerned for the wellbeing of teenagers. It is good to be reminded that these conversations are not merely academic or theoretical but they relate to real people who matte. We can thank Ian Roberts for this reminder.  No one wants teenagers despairing of their worth and believing they are unloved. I am reminded of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman, a woman who’s sexual past was complicated, to say the least. Jesus didn’t affirm or applaud her but he did love her and speak a powerful word of compassion and hope to her.

“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life….The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”… Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.” (John 4:13-14, 25-26)

In the midst of all the myriad of questions and issues relating to the Folau case, it is important to repeat an observation that was made last month: while Folau’s offending posts are in line with orthodox Christian teaching, he has on other occasions suggested a troubling view of the Trinity. He appears to advocate Oneness theology, which contradicts the Creeds and the very Scriptures themselves. This matters because it would be unwise to use Folau as a poster for Australian Christianity should he not subscribe to one of the most basic of Christian doctrines. It would be unwise and unChristian for Christians to pedestal Israel Folau while knowing he may well reject an even more foundational belief. As I suggested at the time, it may well be the case that Folau is like many Christians who are confused about and fuzzy on the Trinity. At the very least, this is a reminder as to why it is incumbent upon Pastors to teach the Bible clearly and faithfully in order to aid their congregations to understand such crucial doctrines.

The controversy over Israel Folau was not the first case and it is far from being the last. School children in Victoria are force-fed gender theories which are often unsupported by science and best medical practice, and many families have already felt pressured to leaving the public system and forced to pay the expense of independent schooling because of this Governmental pressure in Victoria. We can expect more corporations and organisations falling for the kinds of pressures that have been exposed by the Folau situation. Australia is moving toward introducing limitations on religious freedom that we see in parts of Europe and in Canada. We are heading closer toward the situation found in China, whereby Christians cannot join a political party and they cannot speak openly about Christianity and churches must be approved of by the State. This isn’t hyperbole, this is the natural progression of authoritarian secularism who will use the sexual revolution and identity politics to push all but their sanitised version of religion out of the public square.

A culturally palatable Christianity will entail deleting most Bible verses, any references to hell and to judgment, removing the core of the faith which is the atonement, and of course, we must let go of any teaching about marriage and sex and the roles of women and men. We will be left with a very tiny Bible and one that makes little sense, and one that has no power to give life and hope to this world.

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” That saying of Jesus will need to go. So too will Jesus’ introductory summary of his ministry, ““The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” Anything that challenges personal autonomy and freedom to define self realisation cannot be tolerated.

I have said it before, Christians need to start taking Jesus’ words seriously, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” We cannot afford to give up gentleness and compassion, grace and kindness, for these are indispensable attributes of the Gospel we claim to believe. We cannot respond to cultural shifts with hate but with enduring love because God has loved us. However, we have to accept the fact that loving others will not always be read as love because today’s secularist police will not permit views that transgress their narrow understanding of righteousness. Don’t give up on love, and don’t sacrifice truth and goodness for doing so means that we have also evacuated love from the picture.

If Christianity’s demise in Australia has been party due to Christianity’s seducement by the culture, then perhaps the clarifying disjunction between Church and culture will aid believers to regain Gospel convictions, compassion, and expectations. After all, it was communist China that created a moral and epistemic environment which catalyzed the explosion of Christianity and the conversion of 10s of millions of Chinese.  We may be disappointed by indicative direction Australian public life may be taking and the ramification this may have for our job security, education, and financial stability, but we are hopeful and joyful because Jesus Christ remains true and good today as ever. And by the grace of God, over time some our Aussie neighbours may come to realise that we are not against them but for them and have a message of hope that we alter their lives in the most satisfying and liberating fashion.

A season for pruning churches in Australia

Does God sometimes allow unbelievers to do the work Churches should be doing themselves?

God used Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians as a weapon of judgement against Judah, and God used Cyrus as an instrument to bring God’s people back to the land and to see the Temple rebuilt.

While we cannot say with certainty that any specific person or organisation has been handed the pruning shears by God (for the simple reason, God hasn’t told us), we do know from the Scriptures that God is concerned with cutting off dead branches, pruning lives branches, and bearing fruit in the lives of his disciples.

In John ch.15 Jesus uses one of his many analogies to describe his relationship with his people, namely that of the vine and branches.

Jesus says,

 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 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.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

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There is no doubt that churches have been entangled in many scandals over recent years. Clergy have been guilty of committing terrible abuses on children, while other ecclesial authorities have at times covered over these crimes. Popular preachers have been called out for marital unfaithfulness, embezzling money, acting like mini-dictators, and saying some really dumb and unwise things relating to an array of social and political issues.

Australia has a band of public figures and journalists who are always quick to castigate, shame, and then to investigate, all manner of evils perpetrated by Christians (and by people of various kinds of religious perspectives). This is no bad thing, for why should Christians be given a jail free pass, simply because they allege a diplomatic Jesus card?

At the same time, Churches and Christians are being increasingly condemned for believing and practising things that are in line with their Scriptures. Whereas abusing children is abhorrent and aberrant to the Christian faith, believing in heterosexual only marriage is consistent with biblical and historical Christianity, and yet many do not care for such moral distinctions.

Broader Australian culture has lost its cognitive awareness, rarely knowing what is and isn’t Christianity (and this blurring will only increase as Governments further squeeze out Christian education and religious freedoms); let’s return to the good old days of Pliny the Younger, who assumed the Lord’s Supper consisted of Christians eating the flesh and drinking the blood of fellow human beings! Weeds, plants, trees, and grass, all look the same, and the temptation to mow it all down is too great for some. This unfortunate and unsurprising trend toward religious ignorance is one reason why our society struggles to differentiate between the real sins in Churches and Churches who are properly exercising their faith.

Another problem is that in the world of today’s social media madness, the noise is at a crescendo, with people shouting and screaming at everything they don’t like, forgetting that not everything that they disagree with is necessarily wrong or harmful or evil. Religious and irreligious people are both guilty of the unsociable new norm, and it’s a worrying trend because when the volume reaches triple forte, it becomes near impossible to any worthwhile and important discourse.

Juxtaposed to these Metallica like screams is a deafly quiet that we find in some religious quarters. Rare moments of stillness can be of some value, but we should not confuse the appearance of saint-like silent meditation with spiritual authenticity; sometimes it’s nothing more than a magician’s trick to hide cowardice or complicity.

You see, at one level we can’t blame the culture, because it defines good and bad by its own standards, even if those moral lines keep moving around like a cat chasing a laser light. We are not expecting secular Australia to define moral goodness according to the Christian faith, because we understand, even as Jesus taught, that the two are not synonymous.

It’s not as though God’s righteousness is only true for the Church and is irrelevant to the outside world, for there is nothing in creation that escapes God’s good design and intent. The entire cosmos, including Governments, is subject to the rule of God, and yet they are in a state of rebellion, whereas the Church is meant to be a redeemed people, a city on the hill revealing the glory of Christ.

The greater responsibility lays with Churches and religious organisations, who have too often neglected the faith once for all delivered, and have instead adopted the moral and epistemological posture of the prevailing culture.

One of the persistent problems we have in Australia is with many Christian leaders failing in their responsibility. They have failed to stand for orthodox teaching. Instead of refuting bad and dangerous doctrines, these ideas are promoted and taught, or they give a silent endorsement. After all, can anyone really say that they know what the Bible says? Surely, only a puffed-up bigoted Pharisee would ever suggest that Biblical truth is clear and mandated? While far too many theologians and pastors have hired smoke machines to create ambiguity over pretty much every Christian doctrine, others have failed to act against bullies and abusers, perhaps through incompetence, more often, through neglect or not being willing to pay the cost.

The question is if Churches are unclear about discipleship and if Church leaders are failing to fulfill their ordained responsibilities, perhaps God will employ another to do that all-important work of pruning?

I understand why some Aussies look at our backyard, and conclude, religious and especially Christianity is waning. The culture has shifted, and every leaf and twig not conforming to the new pattern will be picked off for mulch. But that is to misunderstand what is happening. When a tree is pruned, it looks so bare and feeble that some might mistake it for being dead. That was certainly the reported diagnosis in the wake of last year’s national census, and with regular reminders about church closures and dipping church attendances. Is the Church dying? Is Christianity on the way out? Or is God in the process of cutting off dead branches and pruning those that bear fruit?

While many Australian Christians are concerned with happenings both inside Churches and in our surrounding communities, it would be wrong to respond with despair or hopelessness. It is a work of grace that God so loves his church that he attends to it: watering, feeding, and yes even pruning her. The vine is Jesus, and the branches are those who have been united with him. Remaining in Jesus is the only way to be fruitful, and remaining in Him is to remain in his word, namely to keep trusting and obeying his words. 

Surely we can be thankful as dead Christendom is removed from the scene, and while the culture isn’t savvy enough to discern between real and fake Christianity, the season can also be used of God to refine and prepare. In other words, pruning may hurt, but it’s good, and it’s the necessary prelude to a bumper crop. 

 

The only good Christian politician…

The only good Christian politician is one who has the prefix non sitting at the front. Or, if they insist on believing in God, make sure it’s not the Christian God. Or, if that too fails, just make sure the god being worshiped is domesticated and progressive and doesn’t really believe what the Bible says.

It only took a few days, but elements of mainstream media have established their narrative for Australia’s new Prime Minister: Scott Morrison is one of those whacky Christians who believe in prayer and who hates gays and refugees. He’s dangerous because he isn’t following the script, the one that is being redrafted continuously by social progressives as they cherry pick scientific research and dismantle moral parameters that don’t fit with their already fixed social theories.

 

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Tony Wright, yesterday sent our bodies into spasmic motions of laughter as we read his classic tales of Christian mockery and parody, Scott Morrison’s Sermon on the Murray. Love: it’s for Australians.

“Love, exhorted Australia’s latest Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, pacing like an old-time tent preacher. Love!

“I love Australia,” he cried.

“Who loves Australia?” he demanded.

“Everyone,” he answered himself.

“We all love Australia. Of course we do.

“But do we love all Australians? That’s a different question, isn’t it?

“Do we love ALL Australians? We’ve got to.

“That’s what brings a country together. You love all Australians if you love Australia.”

Call it Scott Morrison’s Sermon on the Murray.

It turned out to be a stream of consciousness devoid of policy announcements, starting and finishing with pledges to uphold Menzies’ legacy, and heavy on folksy family tales, love and, yes, prayer.

In the midst of a long and dreadful drought, glory be, it rained in Albury on Thursday.

Morrison wasn’t about to let that go by without homage.

“It’s great to see it raining here in Albury today,” he said, roaming the stage with a hand-held microphone.

“I pray for that rain everywhere else around the country. And I do pray for that rain.

“And I’d encourage others who believe in the power of prayer to pray for that rain and to pray for our farmers. Please do that.”

And in case there were those in the audience who weren’t God-fearing, Morrison included them, too.

“And everyone else who doesn’t like to do that, you just say, ‘Good on you, guys. You go well’. Think good thoughts for them. Or whatever you do.”…

The room by then was fairly oozing the love. No one had the poor form to note out loud that Morrison’s love for everyone apparently stopped firmly at the coastline he once defended by Border Force, or that supporters of that other Mardi Gras might not share his happy sense of family, given his well-known thumbs down to equal marriage…

No. He’d come to give his Sermon on the Murray. Family and prayer and individualism.

Yes. And love. Lots of love. For everyone, so long as they’re Australian.”

 

Ok, I have to admit, the “Sermon on the Murray” line is kind of funny, but mainly because I spent some of my childhood in Albury Wodonga and my name is, well, Murray!

Like every Prime Minister before him, Scott Morrison is creating a narrative of his own, and he has chosen to be upfront about his Christian faith. Good on him. Why should he hide it? We’re not living in North Korea, are we? Or in an Islamic country?

I’m not suggesting that Christians should be beyond scrutiny. Christians serving in the public sphere should not be exempt from serious questions on relevant policy and views. Christian beliefs are not beyond the scope of impassioned dialogue and debate. Indeed, as we read the story of the Bible we discover countless examples of the Apostles inviting careful investigation. Equally so, the Christian life ought also to display the character of Christ,

 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matt 5:14-16)

Don’t misunderstand me, Scott Morrison is no Messiah. I assume that our new PM, like every other Christian, will sometimes get things wrong, and that means that some of his decisions won’t always best reflect the Christian worldview that he upholds. For instance, do I think the Government’s policy on Asylum Seekers best reflects a Christian view of refugees? No, I don’t.  I think it’s cruel and unnecessary. But are our atheistic secularist friends really wanting an Australian Prime Minister to adopt policies that are shaped by Christianity?

If a politician or public figure makes their religious convictions known, it is entirely appropriate for journalists to note hypocrisy and inconsistency. However, it’s clear that the derision toward Scott Morrison’s Christianity doesn’t stop there; let’s mock the PM’s belief in prayer. Why? The issue isn’t even the fact that Scott Morrison has called for prayer, but that he’s praying to the wrong kind of god. The God who is revealed in Jesus Christ and who authored the Bible doesn’t preach their ‘progressive’ gospel of sexual fluidity, abortion, and non-heterosexual marriage.

Many of the same political pundits who are critical of Morrison’s Christianity are very quick to praise the sloganeering of religious figures like Rod Bower. They can’t get enough of his tirades of abuse toward conservative politicians. The more heretical his signs, the louder the applause. Yes, Australia remains ardently religious, and even the irreligious can’t help themselves. They’ll keep mocking religion that doesn’t fit their agendas, and they will praise from the heights (or lows) of twitter any Aussie in a clerical collar who preaches their message.

Mocking the right type of Christian will win ‘likes’ on social media, and will ensure our parodies are published in the paper, but it is all rather dull and unoriginal. This kind of mud-slinging has been going on since, well, since the time of Jesus. The Roman soldiers had a riot of a time while they mocked Jesus, before crucifying him, and the religious elite joined in the fun as Jesus hung there on the cross.

My advice to Aussie Christians is, don’t get too upset by the latest round mocking Christianity. Didn’t Jesus have something to say about insults in the Sermon on the Mount?  After all, remember the strangest irony of all, our Churches are filled with once-upon-a-time mockers. Our congregations are made up of people who once didn’t believe in prayer but have now discovered pray is effective. Today’s Christians were often yesterday’s critics; we once argued how the Bible is an archaic and immoral book, but now we have become convinced that the words of Scripture are true and good. Anti-theists become theists and worshipers of Jesus Christ.

Here ends today’s Sermon by Murray!

#Metoo for unborn girls?

Today at Church we celebrated the birth of a little girl. The parents gave thanks to God for her, and we as a congregation prayed for them. It was a joyous occasion, because life is so precious and wonderful, and every new life is beautiful.

As I was preparing for the infant dedication service earlier this morning, I came across this upsetting article in today’s The Age,

“A phenomenon of “missing girls” could be afflicting Victoria, as a study of more than a million births suggests some parents could be aborting unborn female babies or undergoing embryo selection overseas in order to have a son.

If nature was left to take its course, it is expected that for every 100 girls born, about 105 boys will be brought into the world.

But in findings researchers say indicate “systematic discrimination against females starts in the womb”, mothers within some key migrant communities are recording sons at rates of 122 and 125 for every 100 daughters in later pregnancies.

Lead researcher Dr Kristina Edvardsson from Melbourne’s La Trobe University said it showed gender bias persisted in Victoria, despite laws banning people from choosing the sex of their child, other than for medical reasons.

“We believe that some women may be terminating pregnancies after discovering they are expecting a girl and in other cases are travelling overseas to access non-medical sex selection services through assisted reproduction,” she said.

Analysing almost 1.2 million births between 1999 and 2015, the study found while the overall ratio of male and female babies born across Victoria was as expected (at close to 105 to 100), there were notable exceptions.

There is now widespread global access to ultrasound technology to determine the sex of a baby, and Australian parents can find out their baby’s gender from within 10 weeks with a newly-available blood test.

“The Indian government has estimated that two million girls go “missing” from its population each year due to sex selective abortion and other forms of discrimination that lead to premature death.”

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The report is disturbing; it’s more than disturbing, it is utterly evil. Let’s be clear, we are talking about the conscious decision to kill little girls because they are girls.

One wonders, how quick will our fourth wave feminists be to speak against this phenomenon? The only children who are more likely to face abortion are children diagnosed with mental and physical disabilities, such as Down Syndrome. Even this year, we have seen that their right to live has been drowned out by placards and tweets about the ‘right to choose’, as though the value of human life depends on what we want it to be.

Why should killing on the basis of gender matter more than choosing an abortion for other biological or sociological reasons? It shouldn’t, but this article nonetheless reveals a terrible trend in our society that needs addressing.

I appreciate that sometimes, some of the people crying “pro life” are obnoxious, and even crass and hurtful, but these are few and hardly representative of the average Australian who does not support abortion. Surely it is possible, and indeed desirable to view every human being with dignity and inherent worth, but sadly the evidence suggests that we believe otherwise.

For example, #metoo has captured the fury and passion of millions of women and men all over the world. The outrage has much justification, for women are often mistreated, abused, or simply undervalued. However, like other agitations for social change, #metoo is selective in the injustices that they wish to advocate. I’m not talking about fighting any and every cause of injustice in the world, but one that is surely consonant with the fight for women’s equality. Where are the #metoo for unborn girls and unborn children with disabilities? Where is the wave of feminists marching the streets for the millions of girls who will never grow up and go to school and finds careers, and experience love and joy?

Perhaps, this is one reason why the rhetoric of these hashtag movements lack cogency and long-term positive change. They are not fighting for all women, but only some women.

The birth of Christianity contested the Roman practice of abortion and infanticide. Christians welcomed and loved little ones who were neglected and left on the hills to die from exposure; by far, the majority of these children were girls. They did this against the grain of popular culture, and often at great personal cost, and yet over time the good could not be denied. Aisha Dow’s article is simply unveiling another grotesque step in the dehumanising project that is becoming all too common in Australian culture.

Is there a correlation between a society that leaves Christianity behind, and a society that dehumanises others? There will be historians and sociologists better equipped than me to answer that question. But to me, evidence suggests that there is a connection. Even as science reveals more and more wonder about human life in the earliest stages of pregnancy,  many couples are using this modern technology to determine the sex of the child and therefore to abort those who don’t match their expectations. “Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:22).

Protests and social media outrage may win momentary ‘likes’, but it’s not enough, and to often these movements are hijacked by unhelpful groups. We need a better vision, a more beautiful and glorious vision to capture the minds and hearts of Australians.

Jesus once said, ‘Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’. What an incredible way to consider people around us. Imagine, the betterment of society if we took Jesus’ words to heart! Indeed, how great is the love that sacrifices our hopes and plans for children who enter our lives unplanned. The very nature of a loving community is that it requires the unexpected and difficult, and rather than eliminating those surprises, we alter our life expectations in order to see their lives flourish. Perhaps instead of #metoo, we should be suggesting, #themtoo. 

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM REVIEW SUBMISSION

The Religious Freedom Review was commissioned by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in November 2017. Below is a copy of my submission.

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I am writing this submission as a father of 3 children, as a Minister of a Church, and as one who has the privilege to regularly counsel people in the broader community, including members of both State and Federal Parliaments. I wish to communicate not only my personal observations, but also some of the concerns that are being shared with me in relation cultural shifts in Australia that are leading to reduced religious freedom.

Intent to curb religious freedoms

These concerns are not ethereal and without warrant.  There is a growing sway of social commentators, politicians, and civic leaders who are demonstrating intent to reduce religious freedoms in our nation.

For example,

Auberry Perry, in The Age (Sept. 3, 2017),

“This survey offers us a conscious opportunity to make a firm stand in support of a secular government and to reject discrimination or favouritism based on religion. It’s our opportunity to say that religion has no part in the shaping of our laws. A vote against same-sex marriage is a vote for religious bias and discrimination in our legislation, our public schools, our healthcare, and ultimately, in the foundation of our social structure.”

Mauvre Marsden wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald (Oct 4, 2017),

“Yes, marriage is not the final frontier. Yes, we want safe schools. Yes, gay conversion therapy is child abuse. Yes, we want transgender kids’ agency to be respected and supported – regardless of what their parents want. Yes.”

Jane Caro recently published an article for The Saturday Paper (December 23, 2017), in which she argued a case for defunding religious schools.

“We believe that if publicly subsidised schools – and other religious organisations – wish to discriminate against others, they should have to advertise both whom they discriminate against and why – prominently – in all promotional material, prospectuses, websites and job ads. One of the costs of discrimination is that it narrows the field of available talent and anyone considering using the services of such a school ought to be fully informed about that.

Another way of making the statutory right to discriminate fairer for everyone is to remove the blanket exemption and require authorities wishing to discriminate to appeal for an exemption in specific cases. As private school providers claim they rarely resort to exercising their freedom to discriminate, this would seem the most sensible way forward. It might be reasonable to seek to apply religious selection criteria to those who will be giving religious instruction, but why would a mathematics or physics teacher, or a rowing master, or a cleaner or groundskeeper need to be selected on such a basis?

Why should public funds be provided for those staffing positions that require religious discrimination? Surely it would be reasonable for the costs of these positions to be met by the faith community itself, specifically the church and the parents?”

Recently, a group of notable Australian academics and journalists launched the National Secular Lobby, a group whose purpose is to remove religious beliefs from playing any role in Australian political life. While they refer to, “not allowing religious doctrine to influence our national laws”, their agenda is clearly broader.

Their list of ambitions includes,

• remove tax exemptions to “for-profit” Church businesses, their non-charitable properties, investments, and assets.

• remove prayers, religious icons and rituals from all “secular” public institutions, including all tiers of governments.

• remove single-faith religious instruction from schools; promote and teach “philosophical ethics” and “critical thinking”.

• abolish the National School Chaplaincy Program and replace chaplains with experienced professional counsellors.

• select Rationalists for boards/panels, based on “ethics”, not Church leaders who claim to be society’s “moral voice”.

The National Secular Lobby has posited a definition of secularism that is historically incorrect. The secularism which shaped Australian history and is expressed in our constitution never meant that politics and public life should be free of religious ideas, but rather it ensured that the State is not controlled by any single religious denomination. As Dr Michael Bird notes in the 2016 article, Whose Religion? Which Secularism? Australia Has a Serious Religious Literacy Problem, the parameters of secularism have been redefined, “no longer as the freedom of the individual in religion, but as the scrubbing of religion from all public spheres.”

The intent of this new version of secularism is clear: it is not ideologically neutral, but is driven to control religious and public life and policy, and to remove those religious beliefs that won’t conform to their socialist leaning and atheistic worldview.

Examples of hampering religious expression and freedom in Australia

There is clear intent to reduce and even remove religious freedom from Australia. The problem is not limited to vocalised intent, but there are already substantive examples showing up across our society, especially in the State of Victoria. I wish to highlight examples that I have been personally involved with and/or have addressed elsewhere in a public forum.

In the area of public education:

Over the last three years many Victorian families have been forced to reconsider public education, and indeed, have felt obliged to remove their children because of a swathe of anti-religious policies introduced by the Daniel Andrews Government. Many families have come to me for counsel, and as a parent with 3 children I am sympathetic to their concerns

In 2015, the Daniel Andrews Government issued a ban on religious education classes in schools, except under very strict conditions which most schools are not in a position to provide. These weekly opt-in classes have been valued by hundreds of schools and thousands of families, for generations now. My children’s local primary school had a consistent high intake and enthusiastically encouraged the program to continue every year. They are no longer able to offer these classes. The Government then issued a curriculum to replace SRI classes: Respectful Relationships. This new curriculum is compulsory and does not teach religion, but is designed to teach gender fluid theory to children, and to encourage them to explore sexuality. [1]

Not only has the State Government removed a once cherished option to study religion in school, children are forced to participate in (and indeed to affirm) programs that at times contradict deeply held religious convictions and morality. This is resulting in many families believing that they can no longer send their children to public schools. This often comes at a tremendous cost to families, and sometimes parents don’t have the option of enrolling their children into a Christian or private school.

In the area of employment:

One of the more ardent attempts to remove religious freedoms came in 2016, when the Victorian Government proposed an amendment to the Equal Opportunity Act. This shift would have given the Government greater authority over religious organisations, including churches, schools, and charities. In effect, religious organisations would have had to demonstrate to a Government appointed tribunal, why their employees must adhere to the religious values of their Church or school. While this Bill failed at the final hurdle (by a single vote in the Victorian Legislative Council), it is revealing that a Government in our nation had the audacity and believed it had sufficient public support, to act against religious freedom.

Diversity, freedom of association, and freedom of religion, are key characteristics of our liberal democracy. Throughout our history Governments have valued the contributions of religious organisations, indeed society would be the lesser without them, and yet Governments have also understood a demarcation between the State and religious institutions. The proposed Equal Opportunity Amendment (Religious Exceptions) Bill 2016 crossed that line.

Firstly, why did the legislation target religious groups? The amendment to the Equal Opportunity Act would not have impacted any social or political groups, only religious ones. As it stands, political parties, sporting clubs, and other interest groups have freedom to appoint persons who subscribe to the views and goals of those organisations. This is only common sense. It is therefore reasonable to ask, what was the motivation behind the Government focusing on religious organisations, and not others?

The scope of the legislation was not limited to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, but extended to “differing religious beliefs”. In other words, the Government would have had the power to stop a church or religious organisation from rejecting applicants on the basis of them adhering to a different religion.

Secondly, the inherent requirement test assumed that Government has the right to intrude on religious organisations, and influence whom they employ. This test was a clear abrogation of one of Australia’s most basic ideals, that the State will not interfere with the beliefs and practices of religious organisations.

Premier Daniel Andrews stated at the time, “Religious bodies or schools will be required to demonstrate a necessary connection between their religious beliefs and the requirements of a specific role.” This move however counters the very notion of a pluralist society, and would have set up the situation whereby a Government could impose its narrow secularist agenda onto groups who did not share their ethical and religious viewpoint.

Thirdly, the test assumed that the Government, and any tribunal set up by the Government, would have had the expertise and knowledge to interpret the theological framework underpinning these organisations.

Again, Mr Andrews has said,

“The defence will be limited to circumstances where religious beliefs are an inherent requirement of a job, and an employee or job applicant does not meet the requirement because of a specific personal attribute.”

But who is to say when and where religious beliefs are an inherent requirement of a job?

The legislation assumed that some jobs in a church (or mosque or religious school) can be considered religious and others not. This may be the case in some instances, but is the Government really in a position to decide what is inherent and what is not?

It is important to understand that this assumption is not ethically or theologically neutral; it requires a body, set up by the Government, to interpret and impose their understanding of Islam, Judaism, or Christianity onto these various organisations. For example, in Christian thinking, the roles of gardener, administrator, and teacher are not separated into religious and non-religious work, for all are expressions of service to God. 

As it happens, many of these organisations do employ persons who don’t subscribe to the particular religious principles of the institution; that is their freedom to do so. Surely though, school boards, charities, and churches are in the best position to understand the values and needs of their organisation?

In the end, it comes down to these questions:

Is it the role of Government to interfere with the beliefs and practices of religious organisations?

Is it wise or fair to force religious organisations to employ persons who do not share their values and beliefs?

In the area of societal conversation:

In my view, the Coopers Beer saga symbolises the shift against religious toleration in Australia.The initial scene looked innocent enough; the Bible Society sponsored a video conversation between two Government MPs, Tim Wilson and Andrew Hastie. The two men sat down over a Coopers beer and enjoyed a civil conversation about marriage. Within minutes pubs across the nation were boycotting Coopers, and tirades of abuse hit social media. So incensed were non-beer drinkers and craft-beer drinkers across the nation, that they bought bottles of Coopers beer only to smash them in alleys across the nation until Cooper’s management fell obliged to jump and join the fight for same-sex marriage.

Another iconic Australian brand, the Carlton Football Club, recognised that among football supporters there are diverse views and so they decided not to take sides during the marriage campaign. They were vilified in the media and by social media for not publicly taking a stand in support of marriage change.

The implications are clear: There is public backlash, and even financial loss for those who will not openly affirm the current and popular philosophic views of sexuality.

Concluding Reflections

The law, as well as restraining behaviour, operates also to change public attitudes. With the revised Marriage Act, future laws and interpretations of these laws, and future social norms will all be defined by this wording. The two examples that I cited above are not exceptional but are becoming the norm.  It is important to note that these examples took place before changing the Marriage Act. What are we to expect now that the law has altered? While clergy have been given an exemption in relation to the weddings the choose to conduct, student clubs on university campuses, and employees in companies are nervous and are already being bullied into abandoning religious beliefs that have been long held.

At the time when the Federal Parliament was deliberating the Dean Smith Marriage Bill, Former Deputy Prime Minister, John Anderson, wrote,

“West Australian Liberal senator Dean Smith’s bill guarantees only “the right of clergy and religious institutions” to decline participation in same-sex marriage services and celebrations. There is by omission no recognition of the likelihood of damage to the freedom of conscience for ordinary citizens and their businesses. Smith and many of his colleagues seem unmoved by the encroachments on freedom of speech and conscience already demonstrated in Australia.

Smith’s exemptions approach arguably does more harm than good, for it assumes freedom of conscience is of worth only to professional religionists and not to all Australians. This weakens even further the standing of this important democratic right and makes it an easy target for those who would lobby to erase this exemption and similar exemptions that may remain in state legislation.”

Why is this a problem? Because 4.83 million Australians have said that they do not support same sex marriage. Millions of Australians potentially face loss of income, employment, and facing tribunals for adhering to a view that will no longer be supported by the law.

Along with many fellow Australians, I am asking:

Will Australians be guaranteed freedom to continue teaching and explaining the classical view of marriage and sexuality, not only in a Church but also in public places including universities?

Will religious schools maintain freedom to teach and affirm the classical view of marriage?

Will our children in State schools have liberty to express, without bullying, a Christian view of marriage? Will parents have freedom to opt-out children from lessons that advocate views of marriage and sexuality that contravene their religious convictions?

The concept of a free exchange of ideas, and the notion of respecting others whilst disagreeing with them has helped cultivate the freedoms and prosperity we enjoy today as a nation. This successful pluralism relies upon a Christian worldview. It is not irreligion that brought religious pluralism to our shores, but the Christian view that we ought to love our neighbours, and that authentic belief in God comes about through persuasion not coercion. It is a sad reality that influential elements of society are deliberately turning us from these ideals. It is because of this fractured pluralism that we need to now carefully consider how we might encourage and make certain that freedom of religious expression, speech, and practice may continue, and remain a hallmark of Australian society.

 

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[1] – It is worth noting that this theory of sexuality can no longer be taught in NSW schools. Another program, Safe Schools, continues to be taught in Victoria and is compulsory, with the Government  ignoring the recommended changes introduced by the Federal Government. This curriculum is being abandoned altogether in some other States due to its extreme ideological and unscientific content.

Penal Substitution is good news

The salvation of men and women from the penal consequences and power of sin through the perfect obedience of the Lord Jesus Christ, His atoning death, His resurrection from the dead, His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and His unchanging priesthood. (Article 5 of the Australian Baptist Union Doctrinal Statement)

 

Scott Higgins is offering Australian Christians an alternative Gospel to the one deeply held and preached by evangelicals.

In a recent blog post titled, Now this is really good news! Reframing the Gospel, he suggests

“The gospel of Jesus paying the penalty for our sin may have resonated powerfully in mediaeval times through to enormous upheaval in thinking, values and attitudes that emerged in Western society in the 1960s. In our era it has lost resonance.”

Higgins doesn’t settle for the view that the concept of penal substitution is no longer powerful and relevant, he wants us to believe that it is not of the Gospel taught by Jesus and by the Apostles, rather PSA belongs to a formulation created by the medieval church.

He writes,

“Walk into any evangelical church today and this is not what you are likely to hear when people declare the “good news”. You’re much more likely to hear that God is a loving but holy king who is deeply distressed at our refusal to worship him, and who is bound by the demands of justice to punish all human beings for their wrongdoing. So grievous is our offence that that God will condemn us to live eternally in hell, a place so void of goodness, so utterly and excruciatingly painful, it is beyond our worst nightmares. Yet because loves us, God has found a way out of this terrible destiny. God became incarnate in Jesus Christ and took the penalty we deserved, meaning all of who choose to follow Jesus will be considered as if we had never sinned and will be welcomed into heaven.

I suspect that there is a lot more mediaeval in the articulation of the gospel we proclaim today then we would like to admit. Go back to the preaching of the apostles in the book of Acts and you will not hear the gospel described this way. The emphasis is placed firmly on the resurrection as a sign that God had done something extraordinary in the world and that all people should follow Jesus. Was the notion that Christ paid the penalty for our sin part of the follow-on teaching that people received after they converted? Maybe. Maybe not.”

 

There are more than a few problems with Higgins presentation. Here are 4:

Firstly, Higgins hides history

Higgins’ suggestion that an emphasis on penal substitution relies on medieval theology and not the New Testament cannot be sustained.

A thousand years before medieval Europe, the Early Church Fathers taught and affirmed the necessity and centrality of penal substitutionary atonement. Here are just 3 example quotes:

“If, the, the Father of all wished His Christ for the whole human family to take upon Him the curses of all, knowing that, after He has been crucified and was dead, He would raise him up, why do you argue about Him, who submitted to suffer these things according to the Father’s will, as if he were accursed, and do not rather bewail yourselves?” (Justin Martyr)

“Thus, taking a body like our own, because all our bodies were liable to the corruption of death, He surrendered His body to death instead of all, and offered it to the Father. This He did out of sheer love for us, so that in His death all might die, and the law of death thereby be abolished because, having fulfilled in His body that for which it was appointed, it was thereafter voided of its power for men. This He did that He might turn again to incorruption men who had turned back to corruption, and make them alive through death by the appropriation of His body and by .the grace of His resurrection. Thus He would make death to disappear from them as utterly as straw from fire.” (Athanasius)

“But as Christ endured death as man, and for man; so also, Son of God as He was, ever living in His own righteousness, but dying for our offences, He submitted as man, and for man, to bear the curse which accompanies death.  And as He died in the flesh which He took in bearing our punishment, so also, while ever blessed in His own righteousness, He was cursed for our offences, in the death which He suffered in bearing our punishment.  And these words “every one” are intended to check the ignorant officiousness which would deny the reference of the curse to Christ, and so, because the curse goes along with death, would lead to the denial of the true death of Christ.” (Augustine)

Not only did the early church affirm and explain PSA, so did Christian theologians throughout the early and high middle ages, the Reformers, and Evangelicals from the 18th through to 21st Centuries.

Second, does the Bible teach penal substitution?

Higgins casts aspersions on the idea that either Jesus or the Apostles necessarily believed and taught the doctrine of penal substitution. To use his own words, “Maybe. Maybe not”.

Readers are left wondering, if he believes in PSA why does he want readers left to doubt?

It of course doesn’t require a Bachelor of Theology to know that both Jesus and the Apostles readily affirmed different facets to the atonement, including penal substitution. For example, the Gospel writers interpreted the significance of Jesus’ death in terms of the Old Testament, chief among them was the Passover, Yom Kippur, and the Servant of Isaiah 53. In all 3 cases one who is innocent dies in the place of the guilty in order to satisfy Divine wrath.

All four Gospels either explicitly quote or implicitly reference the Servant Song (Isaiah 53) more often than any other OT passage. R.T France is correct when he talks about Jesus‘ repeated self-identification with the servant of Isaiah 53. Thus, the entire trajectory of Jesus’ earthly ministry as recorded in Scripture is an embodiment of the suffering servant who’s life culminated in a cross and death, before climaxing in a resurrection:

“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

Indeed, Jesus described his coming death in these terms,

“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins”. (26:28)

1 Corinthians ch.15 is the one of the Bible’s most wonderful explorations of the nature of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and of its significance. The Apostle begins the chapter by outlining the Gospel.

“Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

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

Paul makes it clear that the Gospel he received and preached, is the Gospel the Corinthians received and believed, and is the Gospel which saves. This Gospel contains primary (or essential) elements, which includes the person of Jesus Christ, the testimony of the Scriptures, the bodily resurrection of Christ, and his substitutionary death. The preposition used by Paul here, huper, denotes substitution; Christ died on our behalf/in our place for of our sins.

Thirdly, Higgins unnecessarily pits cosmic and social renewal against personal redemption.

He bemoans evangelicals talking about personal accountability before a Holy God and personal salvation through Jesus Christ, and instead wants us focusing on God defeating the powerful, the wealthy and other structures who trample on the poor and on the environment. Why do we need to choose between the two? Is not the love of money an expression of personal sin before God? Is not using power to crush the weak a demonstration of personal guilt and of need for atonement?

The Gospel of Christ offers a redemption that is individual, corporate and cosmic. We find all three in Colossians 1:15-23.

“15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

“21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.”

There is peace is for the individual who has been justified through faith in Christ (Romans 5:1). God does not redeem individuals to remain isolated and separated, for peace is inherently about relationships. In the first and primary place it is relationship with God, but God is also making peace between people, and this on view in Colossians. The cross has a established a corporate peace, known as the Church.

This peace issued through the cross will have a reconciling effect on all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven. Colossians 1:20 is a challenging verse, and it is difficult to conceive how this promised cosmic renewal will appear. Paul can not  be arguing that somehow every single person will be justified and brought into heavenly citizenship and that even the cosmos might somehow attain salvation; Paul was no universalist. The Scriptures make clear that the wrath of God is no empty phrase and that hell is a real place which will hold those things that have been exposed by the light and not saved to the light.

Of Colossians 1:20, F.F Bruce explains, “ultimate reconciliation involves peace. This does not imply “that every human being, irrespective…of his attitude to God, will at last enjoy celestial bliss. “When Paul speak here of reconciliation in the widest scale, he includes in it what we should call pacification”. By pacification, he is referring  to realities submitting against their will to a power they cannot resist. We must appreciate however that such Divine power is never used as an unjust and abusive sword, but always with precision against evil, not “because God is hard but because he is good”.

Murray Harris writes, “The whole universe has been restored to its God ordained destiny”. Peace is not the inclusion of all things into a state of salvific bliss but the right ordering of all things, which focuses on a great salvation but which also includes judgment.

“The point is not that the stars and planets have sinned and need atonement as human beings do. But rather, the sin of human beings has led to a twisting of the whole universe that only redemption of human sin can set right.” (John Frame)

 

Fourthly, Higgins suggests a view of God that is problematic.

While he doesn’t want to say it unequivocally, it appears as though his gripe with PSA is that it conflicts with his view of God and that God could ever exercise violence.

“God was refusing to play by the rules of violence and power. God’s reign would not be achieved through the triumph of violence. God would absorb every vindictive blow, every greedy grasp for power, every hateful curse and meet it with love and forgiveness. Incredibly, Jesus’s prayer was “Father forgive them”.

The problem is not so much what Higgins says in these couple of sentences, but what he insinuates by connecting them with his condemnation of Christians preaching about PSA. While again being careful to avoid open denial, he is sketching a view of God where a violent action like penal substitution is unbefitting the God who opposes violence and power. This is another example of Higgins creating a false dichotomy and fudging the biblical presentation of the cross.  As the Gospels show us, Jesus’ extraordinary words of kindness and love from the cross were accompanied with these other words, ““Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).”

On the cross the Father turned his face away. This was not an accident. God was not passive. The crucifixion was not merely the act of evil persons, for God had willed and planned that his Son would willingly go to the cross, to take the punishment of sinners,

“This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23)

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At a stretch, one might read Scott’s argument as an attempt to restore an aspect of Christ’s work that is sometimes overlooked. If he is simply saying, “don’t forget about the cosmic and social implications of the cross and resurrection”, that is useful. However, he seems to be saying more than this. He’s trying to remove from Gospel presentations talk about penal substitution. According to Higgins, PSA has no power to convict and covert contemporary Australians, and it’s probably not a bible idea anyway!

I have elsewhere summarised the 4 basic positions toward the doctrine of penal substitution and I think it is worthwhile repeating them here:

4 Basic positions on penal substition

First, there are those who deny PSA. There are two basic groups of people who fall under this category: those who reject the idea that PSA is affirmed in the New Testament, and those who believe it is taught but have decided to reject that part of the Bible. There are of course further subgroups, those who have issue with concept of substitution and those who only discredit the adjective penal.

Second, those who accept the Bible’s teaching on PSA, believing it is necessary but dismissing the notion that it is central.

Third, those who accept the Bible’s teaching on PSA and who believe it is central, but who believe that other aspects of the atonement have been downplayed and need to rediscovered and given proper emphasis. To explore other dimensions of the atonement at length is not too deny PSA, but it is restoring the beauty of these facets that are sometimes hidden. Of course, there is also more to the ministry of Christ than the atonement: there is his pre-incarnate work, his incarnation, life, resurrection, ascension, reign, intercession, return and Kingly judgement.

Fourth, those who accept the Bible’s teaching on PSA but downplay other aspects of the atonement.

It is difficult to see how the first position is tenable within Christian orthodoxy, for PSA is intricately tied to too many Christian doctrines. Rejecting PSA is often preceded by a changed doctrine of God. It is worth noting that those who deny penal substitution in one hand are often redefining sin on the other hand. Scott is not the only Australian Baptist who throws mud at PSA while arguing for godly sexual relationships outside of heterosexual marriage. Perhaps we should not be surprised though, that those who don’t believe what God says about sin also don’t accept God’s answer to sin.

The second position is problematic because the Bible does view PSA as critical and foundational. There are many Gospel presentations found in Scripture that do not explicitly speak of either substitution or penal, but of course no Gospel outline ever says everything. And yet, there is a clear weightedness given to substitutionary nature of Jesus’ death which appeases the righteous wrath of a righteous God.

The fourth position is understandable when ministering in a context where PSA is being attacked, however in defending the truth of one doctrine we must be careful not to neglect other important biblical notions of the cross.

The fourth position can end up becoming a reduced gospel. If we only ever preach on the penal aspect of the cross, we will be missing out on the full wonder of the atonement, and we will also be guilty of executing Scripture poorly. If we never speak about PSA then we are guilty of misrepresenting God’s message, and if we neglect those other facets then we are starving our churches and cutting bridges with people where we should be building them. As I mentioned before, if this Higgins’ point then he has something worth saying, but if that is so, why not say it? 

My question to Scott Higgins is, in which of these 4 positions do you fit?  Do you believe Jesus death on the cross includes propitiation?

Aspects of the Gospel may not be popular in Australia right now but that is no reason to minimise them, or worse, to deny them. I’m not saying it’s easy. Then again, did Jesus ever say that evangelism would be easy? What Australian Christians need is to take even greater care to understand the Gospel as revealed in Scripture and to explain with clarity and earnestness this good news of God to our neighbours. It is the failure of Churches to do this, and a lack of imagination to trust God’s Gospel that will make Churches ineffective and irrelevant to Australia in 2018.

Australia is Changing and Churches are unprepared

Note from today (December 7):

During the course of today, several MPs have offered amendments to the Parliament in order to ensure that religious freedoms and freedom of conscience will continue without threat, once the Marriage Act changes to legalise same sex marriage. As in the Senate, every single motion has failed to win sufficient support in the House of Representatives. No one is surprised by this. What has surprise me was when the member of Canning, Andrew Hastie, sought to table correspondence from religious leaders across the country and was denied. He was not even permitted to table the concerns from many of the nation’s most respected religious leaders.

The constant response to proposed amendments has been, fears of limiting religious freedoms are “baseless”, and they have ironically insisted upon this while the choir sitting in the public gallery have all day applauded and cheered when any MP has suggested religious freedom will be reduced.

One thing we can guarantee once the law passes, a point that I raised a couple of weeks ago, “As soon as the Marriage Act is reworded, future laws and interpretations of these laws, and future social norms will all be defined by this wording. This raises important questions for millions of Australians who with good conscience, do not support the corollary of expectations that will ensue throughout many parts of Australian culture.”

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Since I was a child, Governments have promised to deliver a high speed train, to service Melbourne to Sydney. Last night, the Senate in Canberra began to deliver. The sexual revolution was offered a free upgrade which will ensure that it can accelerate toward its unaccommodating vision for Australia.

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Social progressives have declared their agenda for many years now, but other progressives felt the need to either downplay or ignore their voices, at least in public. Their dream for Australia seemed too bold, too audacious, too big to swallow all at once. 

The Australian public was reassured that same-sex marriage had nothing to do with freedom of religion, although social commentators and even politicians, dedicated an awful lots of words to insist that opponents of same-sex marriage are all haters and need to be silenced. Indeed, within minutes of the marriage survey results being announced, Fairfax had published an article calling for Parliament to ignore the of religious freedoms,

“So let’s not be hoodwinked into changing the law to pander to bogus religious freedom lobbyists.”

Even prior to the marriage survey’s announcement, there was a chorus of public voices explaining how the debate on marriage was connected to religion, and that marriage is the instrument of choice to erase religion from public life altogether.

Mauvre Marsden, in the Sydney Morning Herald (Oct 4),

“Yes, marriage is not the final frontier. Yes, we want safe schools. Yes, gay conversion therapy is child abuse. Yes, we want transgender kids’ agency to be respected and supported – regardless of what their parents want. Yes.”

Auberry Perry in The Age (Sept 3),

“This survey offers us a conscious opportunity to make a firm stand in support of a secular government and to reject discrimination or favouritism based on religion. It’s our opportunity to say that religion has no part in the shaping of our laws. A vote against same-sex marriage is a vote for religious bias and discrimination in our legislation, our public schools, our healthcare, and ultimately, in the foundation of our social structure.”

We should not forget, that only last year the Victorian Government attempted to pass legislation that would have taken freedom from religious organisations in hiring staff who subscribe with their values. By values, the Government was targeting beliefs that didn’t fall into line with the sexual revolution. It was, as Dr Michael Bird explained at the time, an example of Secularized Erastianism, a philosophy which asserts that the State shapes and controls religious belief and practice. Is this the direction Australia wants to head?

Remember all the assurances given to Australians during the same-sex marriage campaign, of how very little will change? Only a couple of weeks ago, the Prime Minister assured the nation that,

“I just want to reassure Australians that as strongly as I believe in the right of same-sex couples to marry, as strongly as I believe in that, even more strongly, if you like, do I believe in religious freedom…”

Last night in Canberra, we were given assurances that much will change. So what was decided in the Senate last night? In short, there will be no safety net for any person or organisation who oppose same sex marriage, except for clergy when it comes to performing weddings and perhaps also for official ‘church’ buildings (although, the ABC is reporting that religious institutions will not be able to refuse to hire out church halls for same-sex weddings).

Stephen McAlpine gives this helpful summary of the main points thus far (based on reporting from The Australian):

  • Protect Civil Celebrants refusing to marry gay couples
  • Create two definitions of marriage – one as between a man and a woman and the other as between two people
  • protect “relevant beliefs’ around marriage
  • prevent governments and agencies from taking action against people with a traditional view of marriage
  • Allow parents to remove their children from classes if they believe material taught is inconsistent with their view of marriage

McAlpine is spot on,

“I totally get points one, two…I didn’t expect anything different on those, and can’t really see an argument around them.  But to refuse protection around “relevant beliefs” about marriage?  That opens the door to all sorts of activism, and it will cost religious groups dearly.

But it’s that idea that the Parliament does not see fit to protect people with a traditional view of marriage from having action taken against them by governments and other agencies that is particularly unfortunate.  You can hear the knives sharpening already, can’t you?”

The prophets of the sexual revolution don’t appear so crazy this morning; they were right and they’ve won the social and political battle. This debate was never about equality, but always about social conformity with the new sexual milieu. There are certainly Australians who still believe that all this is solely about equality and human rights, but they are pawns being played for a much bigger game.

Social pluralism is on the way out, and adherence to the new gods of sexuality is obligatory. Pluralism in Australian could only continue so long as those in authority encouraged alternative views to be expressed publicly, without fear of litigation or threats of violence. The Senate has taken the next step to ensure that such freedoms will decline. This should concern all Australians, not because pluralism is god, and not because we are moral and spiritual relativists, but because we believe a healthy society requires its citizens to argue and persuade, and to allow others to make up their minds.

It’s not too late for the Parliament to deliver sensible legislation, but slowing down the train will be interpreted as a betrayal, and will likely have you thrown off. I’m not suggesting that Parliament puts on the brakes in relation to changing the Marriage Act. I’ve stated elsewhere that Parliament should not unnecessarily delay this process. However, it is incongruous to not fully address, the broader issues which are in fact the main issues.

It is important to remind ourselves that the future of the Gospel in Australia doesn’t ultimately need political assurances from the Government, for it is too good and too true. Charles Spurgeon was right when he said,

“The Word of God is like a lion. You don’t have to defend a lion. Unchain it and it will defend itself.”

The Parliament is however, setting up the scene whereby being a Christian will carry more cost than it has in the past. It is time for Aussie Christians to take  their cross from under the bed, give it a good dusting, and start following Jesus.

Those who identify as progressive of course have nothing to fear from any legislation, because they eagerly jumped on board and abandoned the Gospel 6 stations ago. It doesn’t matter that their churches are dying,  they are happy to pay the price for a seat in business class.

I also suspect that many more Christians will go on pretending as though nothing has changed, until such time that they too have their convictions forced out of them and are then left vulnerable, having their dreams of a prosperous life derailed. When will we wake up and realise Jesus was telling us the truth all along?

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy,[your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6)

The notions of liberal democracy and social liberalism lost some shape last night, and before this journey is over, we will have a nation that is less tolerant and less free. Christianity will survive because it is not defined by these terms, but we can no longer afford a cost free faith. Christians though are not the only ones who are likely to pay; eventually we will see people wanting to get off the train, and churches need to be there and ready to minister to the injured and hurting.

Are we ready?

 

 

 


An earlier report had suggest that Defence Chaplains were not given exemption. That was incorrect and have since made the correction here