Sadness, shock, anger, disappointment, frustration, and despair. Such feelings are not uncommon in our streets and suburbs. Of course, there is much for us to enjoy, and opportunities abound for most people across Melbourne, and yet more and more data suggest that a cavity exists in many lives and it is only growing with time.
In the extraordinary musical, Les Miserables, Fantine sings a song that haunts. The words tell her story. It is a story of lingering hope. It is a story of desperate hope that fades. It is a story that too many of our neighbours and friends resonate with, and perhaps even yourself.
I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high and life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I prayed that God would be forgiving
Then I was young and unafraid
And dreams were made and used and wasted
There was no ransom to be paid
No song unsung, no wine untasted
But the tigers come at night
With their voices soft as thunder
As they tear your hopes apart
And they turn your dreams to shame
And still I dream he’d come to me
That we would live the years together
But there are dreams that cannot be
And there are storms we cannot weather
I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I’m living
So different now from what it seemed
Now life has killed the dream, I dreamed
In our search for hope, we are often urged to look inside ourselves or to carry on and push through barriers. On other occasions, we are encouraged to hold onto relationships or careers as though these can secure contentment and peace. What happens when these things fall apart or fail? What happens when we reach all our goals, only to discover that they cannot fulfil the burden we placed upon them?
Easter really does give us the answer. Maybe that sounds a little too Christian for you; an unimaginative and prosaic offering. I don’t mean the long weekend or colourfully wrapped chocolate bunnies and eggs. I’m referring to the historic events that took place just outside Jerusalem about 2000 years ago. Even today, with all our latest gadgets and knowledge, the world hasn’t overcome the irresistible story of God who gave his life for hopeless and helpless people.
Over Easter, my church is exploring (as will churches across Melbourne) the good news story that never dies or fades or disappoints. On that cross, the darkest dark fell upon the Son of God in the place of a sinful world. On the Sunday morning, a light more brilliant than the dawning of the sun pierced history and continues to shed light on millions of lives across the world.
Our Bible text for Easter Sunday this year includes these breathtaking words from John’s Gospel,
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.” (John 3:16-21)
Notice, how God is described as recognising there is something not right in the world. Also, note how these verses assume God doesn’t agree with every want and desire and activity we pour our lives into; it’s as though we’re not the standard for righteousness. At the same time, there is a profound love spoken and expressed.
A lot of Aussies have given up on Church. Millions have discounted Christianity. When we’re being honest we can understand why this is sometimes the case, given the horrors uncovered in some church buildings and lives of clergy. At the same time, most churches aren’t playing games of pretension and hypocrisy, but they are filled with ordinary people who are convinced by the power and goodness of the God who has loved the world.
Many of our dreams cannot be and some ought not to be. But life cannot kill the greatest dream: God is forgiving. Jesus has paid the ransom.
Why not visit a church this Easter? Perhaps open a Bible and read the Easter story for yourself (Mark chs. 14-16; John chs. 18-21)*
* You can read the Bible online for free. https://www.biblegateway.com/ is one of many great websites that allow us to search and read any part of the Bible)
Check out this short video that explains how we’re returning to church at Mentone Baptist. It may be a little while before we are gathering as one congregation and doing everything that is so important to us, but this is a start.
Whether you’re a Christian or not, you’re very welcome to join us. If you don’t live near Mentone/Cheltenham and would like to find a church to visit, let me know and we’ll try to suggest one for you.
I’ve been asked by a number of pastors what Mentone‘s plan is for returning to church later this year. Our church elders recently put together a document and they’ve given me permission to share it here, in the hope that it may be of some value to others. I stress, it is important to read the entire document and not remove one statement from the context of others.
We have tried to convey the complexity of issues that lay before churches in Victoria. We are not suggesting that this is the only path forward for churches. We appreciate that churches will land on these issues in slightly different ways. This is Mentone Baptist’s direction and the theological framework that is underpinning our decisions. In light of the fact that the COVID-19 situation is fluid (and as we state in the document), some aspects of the plan may change in the event of new information and updates. We pray that the Lord grants ongoing wisdom and patience to the churches across our State as we navigate this difficult season.
Statement by the Elders of Mentone Baptist Church regarding the return to church and vaccines
We realise that the topic of vaccine mandates and church is a contentious issue, with strongly held opinions in the community and including among Christians. The Elders have sought advice, discussed at length, and prayed over our position. Here is what we think.
We outline 5 principles in this document which together serve to frame the position we are taking in relation to church and vaccines. As you will see, forming a view is not a matter of using one Bible verse or singling out one issue. Rather, there are multiple issues and many theological strands that together help us formulate the conclusions we have arrived at. Also, it is not the case that we prioritise one of these convictions over the others, but that we hold all 5 together.
We appreciate that each church will be required to carefully consider these issues and some may arrive at slightly different conclusions. We are not pretending that the subject is easy and neither are we claiming to have infallible insight. We are nonetheless persuaded that the direction we have settled on is wise and godly. We also understand that if the rules change we may need to reassess the decisions we have made. As men who love the Lord Jesus and uphold the authority of Scripture and are committed to the health and future of Mentone Baptist Church, we commit this plan to you.
1. We believe the in-person gathering of the church is essential
We believe that Church is an essential service, both for the spiritual and social wellbeing of Christians and for the spiritual and social health of society.
People are not disembodied beings. We are physical creatures who require physical presence and social interaction. We are also more than flesh and blood. We are mental and spiritual beings, who depend on more than food and sleep for life. It was Jesus who famously said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?”
Churches provide one of the few remaining places where people can meet and share the joys and sorrows of life, and where supportive relationships are created. Zoom, Youtube, and social media are a blessing but they are no substitute for real and personal meeting. Indeed, church by definition is the physical gathering of Christians, meeting to worship God and to encourage one another.
The Scriptures exhort believers to meet regularly and not to give up this practice,
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25).
Without diminishing the Biblical principle of in-person gathering, it is worth pointing out lessons from history. In times of plague and emergency, Churches were adaptable and took reasonable measures for the common good. For example, when the Spanish Flu struck North America in 1918, churches closed for several months. In the 16th Century, while there was little understanding about the way disease spread, Christian leaders including Martin Luther and John Calvin adapted their ministry practices during outbreaks of the plague.
In a letter Martin Luther wrote,
“Others sin on the right hand. They are much too rash and reckless, tempting God and disregarding everything which might counteract death and the plague. They disdain the use of medicines; they do not avoid places and persons infected by the plague, but lightheartedly make sport of it and wish to prove how independent they are. They say that it is God’s punishment; if he wants to protect them he can do so without medicines or our carefulness. This is not trusting God but tempting him. God has created medicines and provided us with intelligence to guard and take good care of the body so that we can live in good health.”
“If in the Old Testament God himself ordered lepers to be banished from the community and compelled to live outside the city to prevent contamination (Leviticus 13–14), we must do the same with this dangerous pestilence so that anyone who becomes infected will stay away from other persons, or allow himself to be taken away and given speedy help with medicine.”
Restraints on freedom to gather for public worship must be reasonable and temporary. We believe that current limitations on church gatherings qualify as reasonable and short term, although we are concerned about the increasing toll this is taking on peoples’ mental, social, and spiritual wellbeing. Subsequently, we accept there is an argument for reevaluating the current restrictions imposed on Melbournians. When we believe the Government is acting unfairly and unreasonably toward Churches, we will ask for correction.
2. We believe we have a duty of care toward others
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)
“Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.” (1 Corinthians 8:9)
We want church to be safe for everyone and we want everyone to have opportunity to hear the Gospel and for all God’s people to gather as Church. Among these goals are competing tensions and we need wisdom for navigating these.
The Elders accept the broad consensus in the medical community that the COVID-19 vaccines are overwhelmingly safe and effective and we encourage people to be vaccinated. This is a way we can show consideration toward others. While we encourage people to be vaccinated, we also understand that a few cannot for medical reasons and others may express concerns. It is important for us to love those who have come to different conclusions.
We also don’t want to do anything that will discredit the Gospel and unnecessarily cause anyone to think ill of Christ and his Church. At a time where Christianity has lost social credibility through important issues such as abuse, are our actions adorning the Gospel or confusing the Gospel or conflating the Gospel with other worldviews and political agendas? Serving the wellbeing of our community and city is an important way of demonstrating the love of Christ.
3. We believe obeying the Government is a matter of godliness
“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.” (Romans 13:1-5)
“Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, 2 to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.” (Titus 3:1-2)
The two exceptions to this principle of obedience are 1. where Government policy directly violates Holy Scripture, and 2. where a Government mandate is manifestly unjust.
4. We believe the conscience has an important although not supreme role in determining what is right and good
We are mindful of the conscience and believe we should tread cautiously before acting against ones conscience. However, the conscience is not infallible. We mustn’t assume that strong feelings equal right feelings. We mustn’t assume that an issue must be primary or essential because people hold strong views or feel strongly about it. As Jonathan Leeman says (Political Church: The Local Assembly as Embassy of Christ’s Rule: 2016),
“Christians no doubt possess a duty to be faithful to their consciences, yet I would argue that they possess a higher duty to be right. After all, consciences in the Bible can be misguided and must be instructed.”
There is a mistaken view of the conscience that has taken hold in some quarters, and that is, the conscience should never be violated and thus whatever I think about public health measures should only be enforceable where I agree with those measures. Jonathan Leeman is once again helpful,
“First, government is very much in the business of binding whole persons, including their consciences. […] God established governments in Genesis 9 precisely because humanity’s consciences had become unbound. A person might be conscientiously convicted that a nation’s immigration laws are unfair, but he or she is still obligated to obey them, even while simultaneously working to change them. His or her conscientious objection is no measure of the law’s legitimacy. An act of disobedience by the Christian can only be justified by demonstrating that the law is not just or right, not simply that one has a conscientious objection to it.”
“Luther’s celebrated parry against usurpatious princes and priests, “To go against conscience is neither right nor safe,” makes for good Protestant sermon fodder, but a theology of authority and submission is a bit more complex. God does in fact authorize various individuals and institutions to place burdens on the conscience. When a parent instructs a child to go to bed, the child should feel conscience bound to obey. So with a prince and subject or an elder and church member in their areas of jurisdiction.”
Professor Patrick Parkinson (Academic Law Dean at the University of Queensland and Chair of Freedom for Faith) explains why the argument from conscience is not always legitimate,
“If I object to taking a vaccine because I am worried about side-effects, or because I am concerned that it is insufficiently tested, I am not objecting on moral or conscientious grounds. I am making a decision based upon my assessment of the risks versus the benefits to myself on medical grounds. We should not fool ourselves into thinking that such a judgment is a religious one. The Bible gives us no guidance whatsoever on the medical efficacy or benefit of a new vaccine. A religious person who has an objection to a vaccine does not have a religious objection by reason only of the fact that he or she happens to be religious.
‘A religious person who has a non-religious objection to vaccination is absolutely entitled to refuse a violation of his or her bodily integrity; but this does not mean that governments and employers are not justified in imposing restrictions to protect others, so long as the restrictions are reasonable.”
In other words, we believe that coercing the conscience is fraught with problems, however not every argument against taking the COVID-19 vaccines can be attributed to the conscience.
5. We believe keeping the unity of the body of Christ is of paramount importance
“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:3)
“I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.” (1 Corinthians 1:10)
“My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ” (Colossians 2:2).
At Mentone Baptist Church we will not divide the church with endless controversies (Titus 3:9-11) and/or over disputable matters. Christians who repeatedly introduce topics to the Christian community which are both divisive and of tertiary importance (such as the debates around covid), and refuse to stop doing so are guilty of dividing the church. People are free to have these discussions in their own time with others who wish to participate. But it is inappropriate to hash these discussions out in Bible study chat groups or church zoom meetings.
We will not treat with antipathy those who cannot be vaccinated or those who hold reasonable grounds for not getting vaccinated. We want to show grace and peace toward all.
We will affirm the Gospel together and that we are one in Christ Jesus. We will encourage each other with this Gospel and not allow other matters to distract or destroy the fellowship we enjoy together in Christ.
We encourage anyone who has concerns to speak with one of the Elders. We encourage anyone who has concerns about vaccines to speak with their GP.
Mentone’s roadmap for returning to Church:
The Victorian Government has announced the roadmap to recovery. We understand that the pathway is subject to unforeseen changing circumstances, but nonetheless it is useful to have this clarity.
Our 5 governing principles are each important but as the Victorian plan indicates, putting these into practice is not always straightforward. We maintain the essential nature of the public gathering of church, our duty of care toward others (both inside and outside the church), the need to obey Government, the role of conscience, and God’s command to maintain the unity of the Church.
In light of these 5 principles, our goal is to return to a single service and with everyone meeting in the same room (auditorium) as soon as possible. We recognise that this aim will come about in stages over a period of time. For the sake of public witness and public health we should exercise patience and grace.
Below are key dates and the Church activities that can recommence as per Government guidelines:
Victorian Government Roadmap” ‘Place of worship’
From October 26
Growth Groups and prayer meetings can recommence outdoors (on church property). If there are persons in a Growth Group who are unvaccinated, we encourage the entire group to continue meeting online rather than divide the group. Youth Group may restart, with the discretion of leaders.
If fully vaccinated, with medical exemption, and u16: Meetings must be outside, DQ4, 50 cap. Unknown vaccination status: any meeting is capped at 20, is outdoors, DQ4.
From November 5th
In addition to the above, and depending on latest health advice, we intend to return to in-person gatherings on Nov. 7th. If meeting indoors we will need to meet over 2 services. For those unable to attend we will provide online access.
Fully vaccinated: Indoors DQ4 and 150 cap, outdoors DQ2 500 cap. Or, Unknown vaccination status: any meeting is capped at 20, is outdoors, DQ4.
From November 19
Note: all dates are indicative and may change
The Government rules currently require proof of vaccination for entry into a place of worship to operate with appropriate numbers. As such, those who are unvaccinated (apart from those with a medical exemption and underage children) will be excluded from indoor and main gatherings in the short term.
We have concerns about this. As Sydney’s Anglican Archbishop Kanishka Raffel has said,
“Churches have a responsibility to minister to all, regardless of immunisation status…We want everybody to be safe at church, but we also want to make sure we minister to everybody.”
Hence, we will comply with Government restrictions so long as they are reasonable, fair and temporary. For both stages of reopening (October 26th and November 5th), the Victorian Government is mandating double vaccination for people wanting to attend any events, restaurants, and churches. Therefore, this is not discrimination against Churches. In fact, whereas other public events and spaces are not permitted to include unvaccinated people at all, the Government have made provision for unvaccinated people to gather for a religious service, so long as it is outdoors and with a maximum of 20 persons. We are not comfortable in keeping anyone from our main gatherings, even for a limited period of time, but the rules do indicate that the Government is accommodating religious Victorians.
Many of us may disagree with aspects of the Government’s plan or share concerns, but that is not sufficient reason to disobey. Once the vaccination rates hits the required target on or around November 19th, we anticipate that Australia’s National Plan will remove the barriers between vaccinated and unvaccinated people. If this is the situation, we are prepared to endure 2 weeks of this less than ideal situation. To signal our unity in Christ, for Sundays Nov 7 and 14, we will refrain from the Lord’s Supper. In addition, rather than speaking of church we will use the language of ‘public gathering’.
We believe it is incumbent upon both the Federal and State Governments to confirm with adequate time the date when unvaccinated Victorians can mingle unhindered with vaccinated Victorians. If it becomes clear that these arrangements are going to extend beyond November 19th, we will appeal to the proper authorities and we will discuss with the church what the wise and godly course of action will be.
We recognise that these arrangements are less than ideal; it is the nature of a pandemic. We are very conscious of the fact that while the majority of people agree to being vaccinated, we understand that others have concerns. We are also aware that we have a duty of care toward those who are unable to be vaccinated for medical reasons and we want to be able to confirm with visitors that we are a safe space for them. Each member is important to the whole body and we do not want to live in an environment where some are excluded. Again, we encourage people to be vaccinated if not for their own wellbeing, then doing so out of love for others. The Elders are happy to address any moral or theological concerns, but we ask that you speak to your GP for any medically related issues.
Brothers and sisters, let’s “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace”. (Ephesians 4:3)
The local high school in my suburb made the news yesterday. I have friends with children at this school and know many families with children attending Parkdale Secondary College.
Several Victorian schools have made headlines this year as students engage in inappropriate and even abusive behaviour. On this occasion, it wasn’t the students who did anything wrong, rather they were subjected to a demeaning and abusive tirade.
A youth worker from the local city council was invited to give a presentation as part of a ‘diversity and inclusion’ program. According to eyewitness accounts, year 11 boys were “ordered to stand up in class”. What followed was anything but diverse and inclusive.
The Herald Sun reports that the boys were then “slammed by a council youth worker for being white, male and Christian “oppressors”.
“If the students were “ if they were “white”, “male” and “Christian”, they were made to stand and face public humiliation as this youth worker “ told them they were responsible for being “privileged” and “oppressors”.”
A 16 year old students spoke to the Herald Sun,
“It was so messed up, we thought for a moment it was a joke, but then we realised it wasn’t and we were so upset and angry by it all,” the 16-year-old said.
“She basically said straight, white, Christian males were oppressors and they held all the power and privilege in society.”
She said the male students had felt “ashamed” and “targeted” during the presentation.
“We were shocked but it was quite difficult to say anything because she was also talking about LGBTQI+ and if you spoke out against that you feared you’d be called homophobic,” she said.”
Students were understandably shaken by this unjustifiable shaming by an individual who knows nothing about the personal lives of these boys. Parents are understandably angered. Thankfully the school is also disappointed and has complained to Kingston city council. Also pleasing is how Kingston Council has apologised and began an investigation. Kingston City Council chief executive, Tim Tamlin, said,
“It is never council’s intention to enter into identity politics … we are carefully reviewing the youth services program and will take measures to ensure this can never happen again.”
Well done to both the school and the Council for these positive responses.
On this occasion, the intolerant attitudes attached to identity politics were met with rebuke. This is often no longer the case as academic institutions and workplaces assume these ideologies and compel faculty members and employees to subscribe without question. The kind of thinking presented to these school students is now flowing mainstream in our culture This story at Parkdale secondary College further highlights how this ideology is no longer kept inside the shadows of a lecturer’s study or limited to the next Netflix series; there is a confidence in these self appointed truth-tellers to publicly shame students in school. Again, these boys were not judged guilty for doing any wrong, but simply on account of their skin colour, their gender, and their potential affiliation with the Christian religion.
It’s hard to overlook the fact that in Victoria a person can face imprisonment if they pray or speak with someone about sexuality in line with Christian beliefs, but school children can be subjected to racial or gender abuse by a council employee. Again, thankfully this school has spoken up but how many other schools are teaching this nonsense? We know that this is not the only school to have this situation; boys at a Warrnambool school faced a similar attack only a couple of weeks ago. I look forward to the Victorian Education Minister responding to the incident.
We don’t fix one problem by introducing another
There are real issues of gender based abuse in our society and issues of racism. we have been reminded of these around the country this year. Burying our heads in the sand is not going to help anyone. However replacing one problematic attitude with another is no solution. Destroying one culture by introducing one that is worse will not benefit our children. The rules of wokeology are unscientific and immoral. Propagating this kind of harmful teaching will not solve the issues society is wrestling with, it will only produce a new wave of trouble and end with moral and social disillusionment. Let the reader understand, this is the very design and goal of today’s social educators. I’m sure many people jump on board some of these ideas because of attractive rhetoric and out of desire to make a better society, but words have meaning and purpose. Let us be clear, authors of today’s anthropological story have quite adamant ambitions: the eradication of Christianity, the removal of the family unit, and the disintegration of gender is the aim. In 2017, Roz Ward, a chief architect of safe schools , admitted the underlying political agenda but the government of the time chose to ignore the confession. Doubters should read Carl Truman’s latest volume, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution.
Wilhelm Reich may have written, The Sexual Revolution in 1936, but Trueman explains Reich’s influence on today’s culture,
“Reich also believes that the state must be used to coerce families and, where necessary, actively punish those who dissent from the sexual liberation being proposed. In short, the state has the right to intervene in family matters because the family is potentially the primary opponent of political liberation through its cultivation and policing of traditional sexual codes. … What is significant in Reich’s comment is not so much the principle of state intervention to stop abuse but the underlying definition of abuse with which he is operating. It is a psychological one, specifically one rooted in a highly sexualized psychology. … The importance of Reich’s point here can scarcely be overestimated. It has had a decisive influence on Western political thought, most obviously for the Left but, as it connects to the rise of a psychological conception of victimhood, for Western society in general. When oppression comes to be thought of as primarily psychological, then victimhood becomes a potentially much broader—and much more subjective—category. This affects everything…”
Trueman then explores how,
“The sexual education of the child is simply of too much social and political consequence to be left to the parents. After all, it is the parents as those in authority who actually constitute the problem. The family as traditionally understood needs to be dismantled.”
Attitudes and ideas deriding boys and heterosexuality and Christianity are not in their infancy in Victorian schools. Much of this is already present and taught. For example, Safe Schools and Healthy Relationships are now part of the curriculum in every Government school and many private schools. These programs describe heterosexuality in negative ways. To assume heterosexuality is considered a form of sexism and bigotry. Our children are taught to doubt their biological bodies and encouraged to experiment sexually. Despite the volume of material on offer, almost none discuss marriage. Where marriage does appear, it is usually held up as a negative illustration. Safe schools has been deemed so dangerous that the Federal Government banned the material a few years ago, although the State of Victoria responded with loud enthusiasm.
What is new is the unabashed confidence among some who are now teaching our children.
Parents, talk to your your school
Parents, ask questions to your school about what your children are being taught and told on important social issues. You may discover that even the schools are unaware of the some of the content being fed to students.
Parents, take responsibility as the primary carers and educators of your children. As a father of two boys and a girl, I understand the pressures, failures and struggles like other parents. Let’s not however rescind our roles and hand them over to schools and to the Government. I’m not saying schools have no role to play but they are not meant to be our children’s father and mother.
“Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction
and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.
They are a garland to grace your head
and a chain to adorn your neck.” (Proverbs 1:8-9)
“Start children off on the way they should go,
and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)
An alternative vision of inclusion
Down the road from Parkdale Secondary School is Mentone Baptist Church, where I serve as a pastor. While no church is perfect for we are all a work in progress, we do experience a very real glimpse of what it means to a multiethnic and multigenerational community where people find love and community and identity in God. We don’t ignore or condone the sins of our society. We ourselves don’t pretend to be without fault. We confess our own sinfulness and look to Jesus Christ who graciously forgives and atones for all our wrongdoing. Instead of standing in shame, we stand together on Sundays to worship God and celebrate who we are in Christ Jesus: men and women, married and single, young and old, white, yellow and brown, professionals and tradies, together finding friendship and enjoying God.
The answer to sexism, abuse, racism, and a host of other evils is not current progressive and neither is it old school conservatism. It is found in local churches like Mentone Baptist (and countless others around Melbourne). It is ironic and even predictable, that the very idea that these local high school students were told is oppressive is in fact God’s freeing vision of reconciliation, healing, and dignity for every human being: namely the person and work of Jesus Christ.
A mural has appeared in Melbourne’s famous Hosier Lane. I’m not sure whether it’s commemorating or celebrating the egging of Senator Fraser Anning, but it’s there and no doubt it’ll gain national if not international attention by tomorrow morning.
It was only last night that I realised that this incident took place just up the road from where I live and from where my church is located. Frankly, I felt sickened that in my neighbourhood an event took place which is being described as an extreme right-wing political meeting.
Photograph V.T Rudd
The egging was a 17-year-old boy’s response to Senator Anning’s comments about Friday’s terrorist attack in Christchurch, where 50 Muslims were murdered as they prayed in two separate Mosques. Senator Anning suggested,
“The real cause of bloodshed on New Zealand streets today is the immigration program which allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate to New Zealand… The entire religion of Islam is simply the violent ideology of a sixth century despot masquerading as a religious leader.”
He then had the audacity to misread and misapply the Bible as a proof text. Dr Andrew Moody has written a helpful article which explains what Jesus is saying, as opposed to the message Anning is communicating.
I find Senator Anning’s comments morally repugnant. As an Australian, I wish we would be more welcoming of refugees. I spoke to someone over the weekend who works among some of the poorest and more oppressed peoples in the Middle East. They reminded me of the continued needs that thousands of Christians, Muslims, and Yazidis have, who are looking for a new home, a place that is safe and where they can raise their families without bloodshed. Also, as a Christian who is serving in a church literally down the road from Moorabbin, I find Anning’s use of Jesus’ words repellent.
Like many Australians, I understand why a 17 year old boy might be tempted to ‘egg’ the Senator when the opportunity arose. If I was 17 years old and the supermarket was close by, I might also be tempted to do likewise, but surely we don’t correct one wrong by making another, even if it a relatively harmless egg.
What has been equally sad in the midst of a grief that so many New Zealanders are experiencing this week, is to see politicians, journalists and social commentators throwing their own rhetorical eggs at each other, lobbing insults from left to right and from right to left. If tragedies like Christchurch are unable to bring communities closer together, we have drifted into an unseemly place in our society. It has reached levels where I prefer not to check my twitter feed, and where reading the opinion pages leaves one feeling more disillusioned and disappointed. I don’t think it’s because we have forgotten how to speak civilly and how to show respect by carefully listening to each other, it’s that we don’t want to, and when people do try they are often shouted down with a torrent of verbal insults. The aim of the day is to win the argument by shouting louder and making oneself appear more morally outraged than others.
A few minutes drive south from Moorabbin along Nepean Hwy and with a left hand turn into Mentone, there is a sign which has been displaying its message for 50 years. Thousands of cars drive past this sign every day, although I suspect most people take little notice; it certainly won’t gain the attention that the mural will receive. I understand why. However, the message does grab the attention of some people. At Church yesterday, a man shared his testimony before the congregation and explained how he was driving past Mentone Baptist Church a few years ago and the message on this sign stood out to him and left him wondering about his own life. He eventually started to attend the Church and he became a Christian, his life turned dramatically, and yesterday he and another young guy at Mentone were baptised down at Parkdale Beach.
The message he saw reads, “Jesus Saves”. It is simple and beautiful, its meaning is ancient and yet also current, it both repels and compels, it creates questions and gives an answer. The message is very different from the mural on Hosier Lane that is imprinting the Moorabbin incident onto the city landscape. In a couple of years time only a few people will remember the egging and by then the mural will have been painted over many times. But the good news message of Jesus Christ will still be here, not because there’s anything special about the sign at Mentone Baptist, but because He is that good. It is a message that not only stands against racism but all manner of thinking and living that deposes goodness and truth and life. It is a message that not only signals fault but speaks of an extraordinary and undeserving redemption.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
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.
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 tothe 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,
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 toits 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.
On the way to 100 million reads! (hyperbole intended)
It’s one year since I began this blog. Blogging is a work in progress; not unlike learning to the play piano. You have to practice regularly, and as you do one discovers that there is yet more improvement to be had.
From the vault, here are the 10 most read articles that I’ve written thus far (I’m not including pieces published in the media and other sites). A couple from the previous blog have snuck in as they continue to be read.
This list shouldn’t be confused as being synonymous with the most significant articles from the blog, but those which have attracted the highest readership.
Also interesting is how social issues dominate the list, rather than posts which focused on theological and church matters. I suspect this is due to the fact that ethical questions have broader interest than issues facing a Christian denomination, amongst others things.