Tired and Trying Christians
Facing today’s Pressures
Amid the positive happenings and stories of our time about the church becoming more technology-savvy and contemporary, the Christian Research Association reports on church attendance projections. These projections show that from 2006 to 2026 all Christian denominations, with the exception of a few, will decline in numbers. Dr Hughes has said that over the past two decades churches have struggled to accommodate changes in society by trying to provide diverse forms of worship. Many Christian ministers and lay-people today are trying to faithfully serve in stressful situations.
As institutions decline or diversify, as finances and resources are reduced, as complexity and regulation increases, the structures and patterns that supported ministry in the past increasingly become liabilities that drain energy and stifle initiative. As a result those involved with the ministry of the church can become very tired, weary, depressed, even frantic, sweating it out every Sunday to keep “the show on the road.”
Some time ago Major Ian Thomas pointed out that as the church has learned to appropriate the death of Christ as redeemer, so it needs to appropriate the life of the risen Christ that empowers action.
Major Thomas recalled his own experience of being worn out, tired and discouraged. “When I decided to quit I thought God would be disappointed---in fact I found out He was overjoyed.” For Thomas it was a matter of rediscovering that God moves into our bankruptcy to make perfect His strength in our weakness. The rediscovery changed his life and ministry and he points out that it is not until we have jettisoned the last vestige of self-confidence, the sinfulness of what we are, our own inherent destitution, that we see the significance of Christ’s resurrection.
Encountering a Living Christ.
Instead of Easter Sunday being an academic exercise when we acknowledge the redemptive significance of the cross that pronounces our requital, (eg what Jesus did) we need to appropriate Jesus is now, that He is alive. “While what Jesus did because of what we have done is important, we need to see that what He is, is to take that place of what we are. That is the Gospel designed to restore us to our own humanity.”
“God cannot give us more than He has given us. When Christ comes to live in us, when we are restored to God by acknowledging Jesus death was for us and the Holy Spirit comes to indwell your human personality with the resurrection life of Jesus Christ, God gives us all He can afford. In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. When God gives us Christ, He gives you and me, with Him, embraced by Him, all things. There is not one single person who is converted who does not have dwelling within their humanity all the illimitable resources of deity but the tragedy is that we can sit on it and never know it is there.”
The Big Picture.
Paul writes in Ephesians 2.10, “For we are what Christ has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” “Jesus did not come to do his best for God, to do his best to redeem humanity some how. Every step he took, he took triumphantly, every word he spoke, thing he did, every decision he made was a Divine fulfilment of a plan agreed as between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in eternal ages of the past. It was simply that the Father—had the yielded humanity of Jesus in which to tell the story until he could cry triumphantly, “It is Finished,” and then the Father raised him from the dead and exalted him to his the right hand. That same Lord Jesus had his own programme to fulfil through you and me and all he is waiting for is for our humanity to be yielded to him today as his humanity was yielded to his Father. The moment we become available to Jesus Christ, to be who he is in action, we are caught up into that predetermined purpose for which we were first created, we have now been redeemed and we prove what is that good, perfect acceptable will of God.”(Rom12.2)
Living the Adventure Now
Thomas jolts us into rediscovering that we need to let the baggage go, it is not a matter of propping up the past, meeting the expectations of others or trying to prove ourselves.
We share a vital relationship with a risen Lord that allows Him to indwell our personalities and from there allows Him to express Himself in terms of our daily behaviour. The Lord Jesus who died for us also rose for us, rose to share his life with us. Every day can become a huge adventure of stepping out into his timeless plan. We may well say, “Lord we don’t know who you are going to talk to today, what we are going to bump into but it’s going to be our privilege to yield my humanity so you can be in me, where you please, doing what you want, how you want to do it and any time you like.”
“Jesus died that that we might be caught up into this adventure of proving daily that good and acceptable, perfect will of God. God himself working in us that which is well pleasing in his sight, being himself the very dynamic of all his demands, the cause of his own effects, the source of his own activity and the origin in us of his own image in action.”
That is the Christian life lived in the awareness of his risen presence now.
Adapted by Rev E. A. (Ted) Curnow Sourced from an address by Major W. Ian Thomas.
The Christian life fleshed out in the personal experience
of Bonney Haine, a forgiven person.
Discovering daily who God really is.
Discovering daily God’s love for me,
such mercy, forgiveness, amazingly free.
Discovering daily He does answer prayer.
Discovering daily what grace really means,
unmerited favour beyond all my dreams.
Discovering daily God speaking to me,
(He speaks through the Bible)
Once blind now I can see.
Discovering daily every day that I live,
that all that I need He freely will give.
Discovering daily Christ working through me,
accomplishing daily what never could be.
Discovering daily I can’t but He can,
thanking Him daily for my place in His plan.
Discovering daily how real life can be,
when living in Christ and He’s living in me.
Discovering daily a song in my heart with,
anticipation for each day to start.
Delighting and basking in love so divine,
secure in the knowledge,
that I’m His and He’s mine.
Besides mere contentment, excitement I see,
A daily adventure,
Christ alive and living in me.
Je suis Charlie - A sermon reflection
Lessons: Exodus 3: 13-15; Psalm 24: Romans 12:14-21; John 10:11-18
"God said to Moses, 'I am who I am ... the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob'" (Ex 3:14-15)
The atrocities being perpetrated by Islamic extremists across the world have shaken our confidence that disputes can be resolved by rational discussion. Conditioned to believe that Australian values of decency and tolerance are universal, we try to explain their actions by blaming religion, social isolation, economic hardship, Western imperialism or mental instability.
But the causes of this murderous evil lie deeper than we think. In our secular society, where belief in God is now treated as a private matter that mustn't intrude into the public arena, we can't understand the dismay of Muslims at the failure of Christians (also heirs of Abraham) to honour God's name (and speak up for Jesus) in every area of life. If we miss the fact that Islam believes that God is the reality of the world, whose will is to be obeyed, then we will be impotent to fully respond to this reign of terror.
We may huff and puff about destroying this 'extremist ideology' (as world leaders promise) and trumpet the right to freedom of expression (as the Je suis Charlie rallies call for). But, if, as a society, we continue to believe that 'God' is not the One with whom we have to reckon in all things, but is merely the projection of our private fears and needs, then we will be blind to the challenges being posed to secular values and Christian faith in Australia (and elsewhere).
Nothing that is said excuses the barbarity of the terrorists! They must be vigorously opposed by the international community! But their fanatical desire to restore the ancient Caliphate (which blossomed from the C6th to C16th) and honour Allah and his prophet Mohammed, can be understood historically. If you believe that Islam is the completion and purification of Judaism and Christianity, then it makes 'sense' to wage war on them.
We need to examine what it means for Muslims, Jews, Christians and secularists to believe in God. The three Abrahamic religions all believe in 'One God' who reveals himself as being unlike any other being. For Jews, the name of God, 'I am who I am,' is so holy that it can scarcely be said. For Christians the holiness of God is embodied in JC, who said 'I am the way, the truth and the life.' For Muslims Allah is the holiest name of all.
For all of them, blasphemy is the greatest of sins! 'You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain' and 'You shall have no other gods but me.'
In the secular West this doesn't make 'sense.' Religions that originate with Abraham are treated with scorn. It is easy to ridicule God/Allah when God is widely thought of, not as the awesome Creator and merciful Redeemer who calls us to newness of life, but as an 'imaginary friend' or a crutch for limping minds and timid wills. When Descartes (C17th French philosopher) said 'I think, therefore I am' he opened the way to think that 'who I am' is not determined by God ('I am who I am') but by what 'I think about God.'
Thus, in a multi-faith society that is proud of being tolerant of diverse beliefs about God, we are mystified and horrified by laws in some Islamic nations that set the death penalty for blasphemy against Allah and Mohammed.
The usual Western reaction against blasphemy laws and Jihadi violence is to argue for laws to uphold the right to 'freedom of expression' no matter how offensive. The catchcry 'Je suis Charlie' ('I am Charlie'), that followed the brutal slaying of journalists at Charlie Hebdo newspaper in Paris, is typical.
This is a necessary but inadequate response to such barbaric actions. The freedom to express opinions that are unpopular or thought to be wrong without fear of retribution is a vital part of a vibrant, open community.
But we shouldn't be too smug! Western societies, too, pass laws and create conditions that intimidate free speech. No-one is free to 'blaspheme' against 'sacred values' that pander to our self-indulgent life-styles or self-righteous causes. If you do, you will be called an 'extremist.' The hypocrisy of shouting 'I am Charlie' to defend the right to mock Islam (and other monotheistic faiths) shouldn't be missed. Those who offend believers in One God don't usually extend the same right to them!
It's not that the monotheistic faiths are united on God and faith. Far from it! But it would be a huge mistake if we were to treat the evil perpetrated by ISIS, Boko Haram et al as irrational, mentally unstable, the result of social isolation or totally foreign to Islam. There may be elements of delusion. Not all terrorists are committed Muslims. Many Muslims are appalled.
But the whole-hearted commitment to honour Allah and Mohammed and shape the whole of life by the teachings of the Qur'an is shared by all devout Muslims. All are aghast at the flippant attitude to blasphemy by citizens and the Church in Western nations. On TV last night a Muslim leader said that, unlike Christians and Jews, Muslims would not give-in to godless secularism.
Until Western societies and churches understand the absolute priority of God's will for Islamic faith and practice, we won't get to the heart of the problem that has surfaced in these barbaric attacks. Condemning them unequivocally, they should also act as a wake-up call.
A secular society that thinks it can mock the Christian faith (which has profoundly shaped public life and institutions), and treats religions as diverse forms of 'individual faith,' must ask whether, like Charlie Hebdo, freedom to mock God is a sufficient basis for a flourishing society that will last?
A Christian Church that has let its faith and life be marginalised, privatized and trivialised, must ask whether it still believes that 'the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof' (Ps 24:1). Do we have a vision of the KG that has transformed the world through Christ's crucified-and-risen love and brought hope by judging-in-mercy our self-indulgent and self-righteous behaviour ? Are we so convinced that Js is 'the way, the truth and the life' (Jn 14:6) that we are prepared to promote a 'culture of life' (JPII) and oppose shallow values that now shape public life and mock God's good purposes for all? ...
Perhaps these atrocities are being used by God to shake the Western Church out of our lethargy? In the Bible, terrible events, in which God's goodness and love are violated, are sometimes the means by which the faithful have their eyes opened to reality, their wills strengthened to face conflict, and their hearts warmed to those whose lives have been shattered.
We are being prodded to ask different questions about the Church's future! It's not about how we can survive in a society that treats Christianity as a private religion to be kept out of public life, but how we can express the Christian vision of a world where God is honoured and human dignity upheld.
Although Islam and Christianity have fought terrible battles, we share a deep sense of dismay at how secular societies 'devalue' God's holy will and the hope that God will be honoured by all in the whole of life.
At the same time, the differences between us are great! Briefly:
- Blasphemy is condemned in the OT and 'taking the name of God in vain' is very serious in the NT. But the One accused of blasphemy against God's Holy Law actually embodies God's mercy. 'Father forgive them' (Lk 23:34); 'Love your enemies' (Mt 5:43-48); 'Do not repay evil for evil but overcome evil with good; Don't avenge yourselves but leave judgment to God (Rom 12:14ff).
- In Christianity, the Kingdom of God isn't identical with any earthly kingdom. It is present in, and challenges false values of, the world, but its fulfilment lies in a future that God will bring. The relation between Church and State, which involves separate functions and mutual criticism, is different from the theocratic State in Islam where religion and politics are completely one and obedience to Allah is to be enforced.
- By contrast, Js embodies the KG and calls the Church to bear witness to God's love before the political power-brokers of the day. They are speak the truth, resist evil, pray for their enemies, and look forward to the new heaven and new earth. They are not called to bring-in the KG by their actions.
- Ultimately, the crucifixion of Js separates the two visions! In Islam it is blasphemous to believe that a holy prophet, or God himself, should be humiliated. Christ's power is displayed in triumphant suffering love. In him there is no ground for Holy Jihad to kill the infidel; simply a call to costly love. The political zealot Judas betrayed Js; Peter was told to put away his sword!
- It follows that Christian teaching about sin and redemption recognises that the pursuit of holiness, like unholiness, can stand in the way of honouring God. Js accused the Pharisees of hypocrisy because they refused to welcome sinners as God does. And he poked fun at religious pretension. It helps to remember that we are flawed creatures called to believe in God and not to take ourselves too seriously.
Thank God for the humour of Dave Allen, Monty Python, Father Ted, The Vicar of Dibley etc who send-up our pious short-comings? As we laugh at ourselves, we should remember that there is a chasm between the kind of humour which is soul-searching and affectionate and satire that is vicious, demeaning and hedonistic!
Thankfully, there is a vision of reality not found in the pursuit of Holy Jihad (as in extreme forms of Islam) or in the right to freedom of expression (as in the extreme secularism of Charlie Hebdo). This vision might be glimpsed if we were to draw a cartoon which removed the self-righteous 'I' from 'Je Suis Charlie' so that it read 'Jesus, Charlie.' The vision of a truly human life willed by God is to be found in the One who laid down his life for all!
Rev Dr Max Champion is a member of the ACC National Council
A reflection on the Sydney Siege
Two days after the tragedy occured, I visited the site of the Lindt Cafe siege with a small bouquet of flowers to offer as a memorial. Walking up from the station onto the street, the images I'd seen on the news were a reality in front of me. This had happened, lives had been lost and our city had been affected by an act of terror. At the site of the cafe was a row of flowers placed in tribute but there seemed to be no space to add my own offering. My boyfriend and I were ushered by police officers across the road, where we were told there was a designated space to lay our flowers. As we walked through the crowd, I gained a clearer understanding of the extent to which our city, indeed our country, has been moved by these events. Before me was a sea of flowers, thousands of individual bouquets laid out - each one only a small token of respect but together forming a monument to the two people who had lost their lives and those who were left to remember the suffering.
I walked around this sea of flowers, taking my time to read the messages written by others. Although there was a unspoken sense of sadness among the people gathered, while reading these messages I also sensed a collective spirit of love, courage and togetherness. For the most part, the response to this tragic event has not been anger, bitterness or fear. The messages, from people from all walks of life, spoke words of condolence and sympathy and encouraged our community to respond to acts of terror by standing together in love. I only hope that these sentiments continue when the immediate shock of the events have passed. I also found many messages expressing deep gratitude and respect for those two that lost their lives saving others. Bible verses were used on more than one occasion. There's something planted deep within the soul of humankind that moves us so profoundly when we see acts of self-sacrifice, someone laying down their life for their friends. As I placed our little bouquet into the still-growing sea, I thanked God for the good he was bringing out of this evil. Since then, I've prayed many times that through these events people would search for Jesus, the perfect self-sacrificial Lamb, and that he would find them.
Bella Hibbard is a new columnist for ACCatalyst magazine.
Defending the Good: Christianity and the Roots of Religious Liberty
A Keynote address at the 2014 ACC Conference: Truth, Faith & Freedom in a Hostile World - Friday 12 Sept 2014
I am grateful to Peter Bentley and the Assembly of Confessing Congregations within the Uniting Church of Australia for their kind invitation to address you this morning. Of course, the person you should have been listening to now is Ms Chelsea Pietsch, the Executive Officer for Freedom 4 Faith. But she was not able to fly up to Sydney for this morning's session and so she invited me to speak in her place; and it is a great privilege for me to do so.
I've called my address Defending the Good: Christianity and the Roots of Religious Liberty. But before I get to that, let me just say a word or two by way of introduction about the Centre for Independent Studies where I work.
Founded in 1976 by its Executive Director, Greg Lindsay, the CIS is a think tank committed to promoting a classical, liberal conception of society and to advancing the cause of liberty in all aspects of Australian political, economic, and social life. Our philosophical orientation has been hugely inspired by thinkers such as Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek. Indeed it was Hayek himself who, in his 1949 work, The Intellectuals and Socialism, observed:
"Unless we can make the philosophic foundations of a free society once more a living intellectual issue, and its implementation a task which challenges the ingenuity and imagination of our liveliest minds, the prospects of freedom are indeed dark. But if we can regain that belief in the power of ideas which was the mark of liberalism at its best, the battle is not lost."
One of the aims of the CIS is to ensure that those philosophical foundations remain a living intellectual issue in Australia. Although we are a non-religious organisation, the CIS recognises the significant contribution that religion makes to a liberal society, not just in terms of the cohesiveness that religious communities promote but also through the spirit of volunteerism and community engagement that religion and religious communities help to promote.
And so it is that the CIS developed the Religion and the Free Society program to examine just those dimensions of liberal society. I came to this project very much from the point of view of a practitioner rather than as an academic specialist. I have been an Anglican Minister of Religion in full-time ministry since 1986, and before joining the CIS in early 2011 I had been Rector of a large church in the Sydney CBD.
The theme of this conference, Truth, Faith and Freedom in a Hostile World, is a reflection of the challenges faced by religious believers in an age when secularism is widely, if incorrectly, understood to stand for the exclusion of all religion from the common arena of life - the arena sometimes known as ‘the public square'. This push to exclude religion helps to explain some of the hostility with which believers increasingly need to contend.
In my address this morning, I want to do a number of things. First, I want to affirm what I see as the importance of religion for the flourishing of the whole human person. Second, I want to look more closely at the word ‘secular' and to test the cogency of its commonly understood meaning. And third, I want to argue that when religion is threatened by the pursuit of what passes for ‘tolerance', freedom is threatened, too.
Indeed, the key point I wish to make is that far from being hostile to religion, secularism, properly understood, actually has its roots in religion; and more specifically, in Christianity. As the intellectual historian, Larry Siedentop, and to whom I will be referring later, has remarked, "Secularism identifies the conditions in which authentic beliefs should be formed and defended." (1)
Far from feeling intimated by an aggressive hostility directed at religion, believers can draw confidence from knowing that freedoms such as freedom of religion actually have their roots in religious faith.
Indeed, that's the reason that I have called this paper Defending the Good: Christianity and the Roots of Religious Liberty.
Religion and Human Flourishing
Many had hoped - and even predicted - that religious belief would whither in the heat of twenty-first century scientific criticism, but this hope has proved to be unfounded. Of course, it is true that the development of science in the modern era demonstrated that much of what the churches had earlier claimed as ‘knowledge' turned out not to be knowledge at all. Some of those claims either turned out not to be true or to have been based on unreliable sources. But the rise of scientific method did give rise to a more pervasive mood of rejection.
As the philosopher Dallas Willard has remarked, "That mood became an intellectual and academic lifestyle and spread across the social landscape as an authority in its own right. It branded all...religious ‘knowledge' as mere illusion or superstition and all of the sources of such knowledge as unreliable or even delusory." (2)
And so it came to be that mathematics and the natural sciences were accorded the right to proclaim what was meaningful, reliable and true. The very idea of religious knowledge was almost a contradiction in terms.
Yet religion, with its concern for the primary questions of life and existence, has refused to go away. There are three factors, all quite closely linked, which help to account for the raised profile religion continues to enjoy in the early years of the 21st century.
First, we have seen the rapid spread of traditional, conservative expressions of religions, such as Christianity and Islam, in recent years that have claimed to be bastions of certainty in an uncertain world. Second, we are still seeing, and with a heightened awareness, the terrible consequences of religious zealotry in the early years of the twenty-first century. And finally, we see that these developments have been accompanied by a third factor: a greater readiness on the part of religious believers to assert, often aggressively, their right to the free expression of their beliefs.
Well, if we are to defend religion as a key component of human flourishing and well-being - in other words, as a public good - it will be helpful, at this point, to come to some understanding of what we mean by ‘religion'. It's a vague and elusive term, but the Australian Human Rights Commission has offered the following very workable definition:
"Religion can be taken to refer to an organised form of maintaining, promoting, celebrating and applying the consequences of engagement with what is taken to be ultimately defining, environing, totally beyond, totally other, and yet profoundly encountered within life. These activities are usually done by or in association with a group, an organisation and/or community." (3)
However, the component I would add to this definition is that religion can also be said to have its roots in the awareness of a supreme being. Let us say, then, that religion can be characterised by a belief in supernatural, transcendent agents and powers that makes demands of its adherents by imposing a standard of moral behaviour which sets criteria for conduct.
It is precisely because religion, as understood in this way, helps to give shape to the way we live our lives and pursue values and meaning that we can describe religion as a basic human good. As natural law theorist Robert George has remarked:
"The existential raising of religious questions... are all parts of the human good of religion - a good whose pursuit is an indispensable feature of the comprehensive flourishing of a human being." (4) In other words, religion is one of the many ingredients necessary for a good, fulfilling and meaningful life. Robert George goes on to argue that if we accept this understanding of religion, then respect for a person's well-being:
"...demands respect for his or her flourishing as a seeker of religious truth and as a man or woman who lives in line with his or her best judgement of what is true in spiritual matters. And that, in turn, requires respect for his or her liberty in the religious quest - the quest to understand religious truth and order one's life in line with it." (5)
Religious liberty is so central to human flourishing because unlike politics or culture, religion alone is ultimately concerned with the search for the truth concerning the divine (including whether or not there God exists) and the meaning of that truth for human action and choice. (6)
I think it is fair to say that the assertive religiosity I referred to earlier, often dogmatic and uncompromising in its nature though it can be, does contribute, in part, to the hostile environment in which religious believers today try to live out their faith. At the same time, in the West, advocates of secularism are hostile to the public manifestation of religion because they believe that religion and secularism are irreconcilable opponents.
The term ‘secular' can bear many meanings but essentially describes a political outlook which is neutral as to the existence or even relevance of a religious dimension in public affairs, but recognises the importance of religion to citizens. However, a more aggressive form of secularism, to which I am referring, is actively hostile to any manifestation or expression of religious belief in the public sphere.
As Rowan Williams put it in a lecture delivered at the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences in Rome in 2006, this form of hostile secularism "assumes that the public expression of specific convictions is automatically offensive to people of other (or no) conviction." (7) It's not hard to find examples of this popular misconception of secularism here in Australia. The Secular Party of Australia, for instance, on the home page of its web sites says this:
"As 21st century citizens, we want to challenge the power and privilege of religious institutions in Australia. As secular humanists, we want an end to religious interference in education, health, civil liberties and taxation. As champions of human rights, we want women, minorities and the LGBTI community to be free of discrimination and the dictates of archaic superstition."
Interference, superstition, discrimination - these are just a few of the charges commonly levelled at religious believers today, as you will know well enough. And they are charges coloured by an aggressive hostility to religion that actively seeks to establish unbelief as the norm for our society. And they go to show that the issue of freedom of religion is becoming increasingly pressing in our society.
But this is not just an issue for members of religious communities. I think that these threats to religious freedom raise concerns for all Australians, regardless of whether or not they profess any religious belief themselves, because they go to the heart of the relationship between truth, faith and freedom.
Christianity and the Genius of Individual Moral Agency
In his recent Annual Lecture on Religious Liberty delivered at Notre Dame University in Sydney, the Federal Attorney-General, Senator George Brandis, remarked that it is a mistake to hold that human rights and the liberal premises that underlie them are a product of the modern world alone. "The governing ethical principle which underlies our modern understanding of human rights," he said, "that is, the moral equality of every human person and his or her right to liberty which flows from that, has its origins in the gospels." (8)
In making this claim, the Attorney-General was citing an important new book by the political and intellectual historian, Larry Siedentop called Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism in which Siedentop argues that liberal thought is the offspring not of the Enlightenment but of Christianity. (9)
The kernel of Siedentop's argument is that the ancient, pre-Christian world had at its heart the assumption of natural inequality. The golden thread linking the Western liberal principles truth, faith and freedom is the principle of individual moral agency and the assumption of the inherent equality of all human beings.
Siedentop argues that this thread can be traced right back to the Gospels, to the writings of St Paul and his exposition of the ‘The Christ' to describe the presence of God in the world, and ultimately to the teachings of Jesus himself which proclaim the supreme moral fact about humans: we are all created in the image of God.
As Siedentop puts it: "Delving below all social divisions of labour, Paul finds, beneath the conventional terms that confer status and describe roles, a shared reality. That reality is the human capacity to think and choose, to will. That reality is our potential for understanding ourselves as autonomous agents, as truly the children of God." (10)
The genius of Christianity is that by investing every individual with the God-given capacity for individual moral agency, human beings are no longer to be defined by social location or status. Rather, life ‘in Christ' creates what Siedentop calls "a rightful domain for individual conscience and choice." (11) In the course of the Middle Ages canon lawyers and philosophers began to work out the elements of rights which needed to protect the notion of individual identity and agency.
In this way Siedentop builds his compelling argument that the foundation of modern Europe lay "in the long, difficult process of converting a moral clam [about the individual] into a social status [concerning individual agency and with rights to protect the free exercise of that identity]."
"It was pursuit of belief in the equality of souls that made the conversion possible. A commitment to individual liberty sprang from that. Combining the two values gave rise to the principle which more than any other has defined modern liberal thinking, the principle of ‘equal liberty'." (12)
While never side-stepping the church's shortcomings in upholding the ideal of individual liberty and freedom of conscience, Siedentop makes the bold and, I think, truthful claim that because of its central egalitarian moral insight about individual liberty, Christianity played such a decisive part in the development of the individual and the concept of individual liberty that it can be said to have changed the ground of human identity. (13)
This central insight is, in turn, the crux of ‘secularism', in the more neutral sense to which I referred at the outset: that is, the recognition of, and commitment to a sphere of conscience or belief in which each individual is free to make his or her own decisions.
In Siedentop's words, "It rests on the firm belief that to be human means being a rational and moral agent, a free chooser with responsibility for one's actions... It joins rights with duties to others." (14) In this sense, secularism identifies the appropriate ways in which authentic beliefs should be formed and defended.
The aggressive, hostile secularism of our own age has scrambled the proper relationship between liberty and faith, and in doing so has also distorted what should be a healthy relation between secularism and religion. These are themes I have addressed in a report I published recently at the CIS called The Forgotten Freedom: Threats to Religious Liberty in Australia and which, if you are interested, is available online at http://www.cis.org.au
The Tyranny of Tolerance?
At one time, the mark of the good citizen in the liberal state used to be the free and unselfconscious display of personal conviction about ideas and beliefs and morals. That kind of open manifestation of conviction has, however, given way to what can best be described as an ostentatious display of ‘open-mindedness' that attempts to appeal to the culturally fashionable values of tolerance and diversity.
This enthusiasm for managing diversity has its historical roots in the sincere desire to eliminate discrimination on the grounds of race or ethnicity which gave rise to the Racial Discrimination Act brought on to the statute book by the Whitlam Government in 1975. The Act was intended as a means of eradicating racism; however, its values have since set the tone for subsequent debates about equality, social inclusion, and tolerance.
Too often, tolerance is actually intolerant of traditional religious beliefs that are often ruled to be incompatible with the values of the secular state. The Australian scholar Samuel Gregg who is based at the Acton Institute in the USA has remarked that:
"Tolerance is no longer about creating the space for us to express our views about the nature of good and evil and its implications for law and public morality, or to live our lives in accordance with our religious beliefs. Instead, tolerance serves to banish the truth as the reference point against which all of us must test our ideas and beliefs." (15)
Although I think it is a pressing matter, the issue of religious freedom doesn't seem to generate much excitement these days. Controversy surrounding institutional responses to the sexual abuse of children, as well as a marked lack of sympathy for some points of view propounded by religious leaders on issues such as human sexuality and voluntary euthanasia, has helped push religion to the margins of public life.
Indeed, it is no longer widely considered appropriate at all for religion to be practised in the full glare of the social and cultural realm. For there, expressions of religious conviction and belief might jar with one another and conflict. Far better, many people now say, for religion to be confined to the private realm of the mind where it can be considered almost a hobby or taste preference with as little capacity to cause offence as an enthusiasm for astrology.
And indeed, just as formal participation in religious institutions in Australia is declining, so believers are under increasing pressure to demonstrate that religious faith is a positive rather than a negative feature of a liberal society.
The ethicist Oliver O'Donovan has observed: ‘Civil societies are necessarily tolerant to a degree, and intolerant to a degree; they punish what they cannot afford to tolerate [and] tolerate what they cannot afford to punish.' (16) Efforts to redefine the boundary between the necessary power of the state to coerce and the right of religious freedom are frequently in the news.
For example, when the High Court recently struck down the National School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare program as unconstitutional, it did so because the program was not authorised by a specific head of power under the Constitution. However, the challenge was motivated not by a concern to protect states' rights but by secular objections to the open involvement of religious groups in public schools. No surprises then that when the High Court handed down its decision it was widely celebrated as a victory for secularism.
Yet all citizens of a free society, whether or not they are Christians and whether or not they are religious believers, should have a strong commitment to upholding and defending religious liberty. "Religious freedom doesn't just concern our role as citizens in the public square," says Samuel Gregg. "Religious liberty also concerns our freedom to choose in numerous non-political aspects of our lives, ranging from whether we attend church on a given day of the week, to what we choose to purchase." (17)
What this also makes clear is that in any discussion of religious liberty, belief and practice must be understood as being inseparable: freedom to believe must surely be accompanied by the freedom to speak, to associate, and to order one's life in accordance with one's beliefs.
The right to religious liberty, therefore, is a fundamental right that confers upon the citizen of the liberal state the freedom to pursue their conception of the good life. If one accepts that religion is about the human pursuit of ultimate meaning and value, it is not hard to see that the erosion of religious liberty hinders the pursuit of a higher purpose that can contribute significantly to deep human fulfilment and satisfaction.
Of course, this pursuit will not necessarily be consensual. Those whose ways of life are guided by the search for ultimate meaning and a solemn obligation to live dutifully are highly likely to clash with the values of the secular state - which ever of the meanings we assign to the word ‘secular'. And in any diverse, modern Western society, wrangling about questions of ultimate meaning among adherents of different religions is certainly bound to cause offense to someone.
So when we talk about religious freedom, what we are essentially talking about is the extent to which the state should permit both the free expression of religious belief and the attendant wrangling about ultimate meaning and purpose. In the pithy words of Australian philosopher Russell Blackford, "Religious freedom is essentially a freedom from state persecution, not a guarantee of a religion's ongoing credibility or its success in the contest of rival ideas." (18)
I think Blackford has got it about right in this formulation, but the language he uses, which draws upon the idea of the state and of the overcoming of inequalities of social status, does make it sound as though religious liberty is essentially a modern notion, the creation, perhaps of the era of intellectual development we call the Enlightenment. Yet as I have argued, drawing upon the work of Larry Siedentop, secularism and equality have their roots not, as many suppose, in the Enlightenment, but rather in Christianity itself.
Critics of Christianity, or rather of the churches, remain unconvinced by this. Writing in The Guardian the other day, David Marr distilled his scepticism about what he described as the "argument being pushed energetically by the conservative think tanks of the nation":
"That the churches are owed a great debt for the liberty of the modern world. And the quid pro quo being demanded is fresh respect for what churches call religious liberty... But when the churches talk about religious liberty in peril these days they have only a couple of things on their minds: the freedom of the faiths to define marriage for everyone, and their freedom not to have homosexuals on the payroll." (19)
I admire David Marr but I don't think he is correct about this. Whilst the churches certainly have views about marriage, these views can be very different and do not coincide precisely. For instance, opinions in the Anglican Church, to which I belong, are divided with people both opposed to and supportive of changes to the Marriage Act. Nor are these views which the churches seek to impose on, as Marr puts it, "everyone".
Rather, the principle of religious liberty is being urged to protect the churches from having a new, secular meaning of marriage imposed upon them by the state. As for the punishment of homosexuals, if there is a threat to homosexual people in Australia it is now far more likely to come from Islam than from Christianity, although I think this is a point David Marr has yet to develop.
Religious liberty is important because when religion operates in a world of free choice, it will either flourish or fail. As such, freedom of religion needs to be protected not just for the benefit of religious believers but for the benefit of every member of society.
This is a point made by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge in their best-selling book God is Back. They argue that secularisation theorists were wrong to claim that modernity and religion are incompatible but right to warn of religion as a dangerous political force.
However, if religion is to flourish in a world of free choice, thereby allowing people to pursue lives reflecting their authentic judgements about the truth of spiritual matters, then an important challenge confronts the secular liberal state. The challenge is ‘to construct a constitutional regime that makes room for religion without sacrificing the fundamental principles of liberal pluralism.' (20)
Questions of religious value and fulfilment are important. We must strive to ensure that religious voices are neither silenced nor confined to the realm of the mind. And we must be vigilant in holding the state accountable for its responsibility to enshrine and uphold the right to religious liberty as fundamental human right.
The Reverend Peter Kurti is a Research Fellow co-ordinating the Religion and Civil Society program at the Centre for Independent Studies.
1. Larry Siedentop, Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism, (Penguin: London, 2014), 361
2. Dallas Willard, Personal Religion, Public Reality? Towards a Knowledge of Faith, (Hodder: London, 2009), 25
3. AHRCH (Australian Human Rights Commission), Freedom of Religion and Belief in 21st Century Australia (2011), 4
4. Robert P. George, Conscience and its Enemies, (Delaware: ISI Books, 2013), 119
5. Robert P. George, ibid., 119
6. Samuel Gregg, Tea Party Catholic, (New York, NY: Crossroad Publishing, 2013), 146
7. Rowan Williams, ‘Secularism, Faith and Freedom,' Lecture delivered at the Pontifical Acadamy of Social Sciences, Rome (23 November 2006)
8. George Brandis, Annual Lecture on Religious Liberty, (University of Notre Dame Australia, 20 August 2014) https://soundcloud.com/notredame-1/annual-lecture-on-religious-liberty-george-brandis
9. Larry Siedentop, ibid., 332
10. Larry Siedentop, ibid., 65
11. Larry Siedentop, ibid., 305
12. Larry Siedentop, ibid., 339
13. Larry Siedentop, ibid., 352
14. Larry Siedentop, ibid., 361
15. Samuel Gregg, Tea Party Catholic, (New York, NY: Crossroad Publishing, 2013), 140
16. Oliver O'Donovan, Church in Crisis: The Gay Controversy and the Anglican Communion, (Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2008), 36
17. Samuel Gregg, ‘Religious Freedom and Economic Liberty: Truly Indivisible', The American Spectator (5 August 2014)
18. Russell Blackford, Freedom of Religion and the Secular State (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), 191
19. David Marr, ‘George Brandis's religious liberty is really about the right to define marriage', (The Guardian, 1 September 2014)
20. John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, God is Back: How the Global Revival of Faith is Changing the World (New York: Penguin, 2009), 367
To speak, or not to speak up?
GEORGE GLANVILLE is determined not to stay silent
Recently I sat at the feet of Patrick Parkinson, Professor of Law at the University of Sydney, who spoke on the topic Religious Freedom in a Hostile World. Patrick is the founder of ‘Freedom 4 Faith'. He is an evangelical Christian.
Among other things, Patrick spoke of the expanding reach of anti-discrimination legislation, a gentle wave that has the capacity to become a tsunami.
The fundamental value behind this development is an unswerving commitment to human rights in general and individual rights in particular. It is an ideology that now claims the high moral ground.
With the demise of Christendom and the silencing, even ridicule, of Christian beliefs in the public square, religious arguments carry little or no weight.
With regard to the same-sex marriage debate, for example, individual rights and equality rights trump all other rights. Non-judgementalism in lifestyle choices has become a foundational moral value. In the name of tolerance, intolerance of alternative value systems is increasingly the accepted norm.
How do Christians committed to God's view of what is best for people respond to this seismic shift?
In his talk, Patrick made the following observations - In Australia, it appears that we are moving towards a monoculturalism dictated by the views of the majority (or the loudest, most influential voices - my comment) where eventually, there will be no concessions to faith-based groups (i.e. all exemptions will be removed as time goes on). However, we also have a history of respect for freedom of conscience on significant moral issues e.g., pacifism and trade union membership. We have a history of respect for basic human rights including freedom of religion and conscience, freedom of association, freedom to marry and have children and to choose the education that best suits etc. according to a person's religious and moral convictions. These rights need to be balanced with non-discrimination in a diverse, multicultural society such as ours otherwise so called tolerance and non-judgementalism become totalitarianism.
I'm quite impressed with Tim Wilson, Human Rights Commissioner appointed by the Abbott Government. He strongly asserts the importance of four foundational human rights - what he calls ‘the forgotten freedoms': freedom of association, freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of property. His is a Classical Liberal perspective - the role of human rights is to protect individuals from encroachment and abuse of power by governments. He is deeply committed to the rights of individuals and believes, for example, that the Government should keep out of the marriage issue. He supports civil unions rather than marriage for gays and is very concerned for the moral sensibilities of religious people on this issue. Tim Wilson himself is gay and has a gay partner.
You may have read Karl Faase's article in the Sept. 2014 edition of Eternity - A topic too hot to touch. He suggests three reasons why the church is largely silent on the issue of gay marriage: an over-emphasis on God's love, a fear of opposing a movement that is considered just by many well-meaning people and the fear of being unpopular. There may be another reason - we just don't care enough.
It seems to me that we should be praying and speaking up about gay marriage out of love for our neighbour, that is, for the sake of our society at large, for the sake of gay men and women, for the sake of adolescents exploring their sexual identity and for the sake of children. To elucidate however, would require another article.
The Australian Christian Lobby thanked the 42,000 people who signed their online submission to the Senate enquiry which has now recommended not to pass the Green's bill recognising overseas same-sex marriage.
This morning I signed another online submission to Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations in the hope of ensuring that modern slavery is prioritised in the Sustainable Development Goals under discussion at the U.N. right now. This submission is an initiative of Walk Free, a movement of people everywhere fighting to end one of the world's insidious evils - slavery, which particularly involves the abusive slavery of women and children.
There are many noble and urgent causes to keep a Christian busy. It is not always easy to choose let alone get involved. But pray, choose and get involved we must - for the Lord's sake and for our neighbours' sakes. In so doing, it is a wonderful privilege to be presented with so many timely opportunities to speak to people about the hope we have in the Lord Jesus - for now, for tomorrow and for all our tomorrows.
George Glanville is an ACC member and a former
Principal of Tyndale Christian School.
Inaugural Robert Iles Lecture
A TALE OF TWO CITIES
Understanding the Relationship between Christ and Culture
Professor of Theological Studies, Asbury Theological Seminary
This paper was delivered as the Inaugural Robert Iles Memorial Lecture 2012. I would like to thank the trustees for inviting me to deliver this lecture in honour of a man of God committed to the renewal of the church. I would also like to pay my respects to his family.
Charles Dickens has arguably the best-known opening lines of any novel in classical English literature:
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way-".
At one level the cities of which he speaks are London and Paris but as the story unfolds, and as even the opening lines show, there is a deeper meaning concerning two different realms of thought and life (wisdom/foolishness, belief/despair, heaven/the other place). The idea of contrasting, co-existing cities is also the theme of Augustine of Hippo's the fifth century Christian classic The City of God which deals with the way that the heavenly city of God relates to the earthly city of man. He addressed the question that I also want to address in this talk, concerning the way in which the church discerns and works with God in the world.
Augustine developed the language of the apostle Paul who argued that the things of this world are of little account compared with what is to come. We Christians live in this world "but our citizenship is in heaven" (Phil.3:20) and, consequently, questions continually arise as to the way in which Christians are to fulfill their responsibilities in this world. Christians can come to very different positions on a wide range of social matters. At the present there is before us the question of the appropriateness of the state funding chaplaincy services. Should the church expect the state to fund specifically religious people within state schools? And do the expectations placed on chaplains diminish their role as Christians? The state also puts an incredibly large amount of its welfare funding through Christian welfare bodies. Is this appropriate and what does it do to Christian witness in that context?
Nor are Christians united on other contentious matters such as abortion and euthanasia and even if they were sufficiently united to have a single point of view to what extent should there be an expectation that these standards should be required by law? How does one identify precisely when Christian morality should be supported by law? For a long time Australian law followed Christian principle and made adultery the basis for divorce. This was only eliminated by the Family Law Act in 1975. In some Christian countries adultery was itself actually illegal. I spend part of each year in the USA and I understand that there are still quite a number of states in the USA where adultery is, still technically, illegal! The penalty varies from a $10 fine in Maryland to a $500 fine or imprisonment for one year in South Carolina and a life sentence in Michigan! Needless to say, despite their presence on the statute books these are no longer applied. I doubt that many Christians in Australia would, today, seriously suggest that adultery should be a criminal offense. There is, naturally, a moral objection to it but also a recognition that the law is a very poor instrument for compelling people to be good. Similar issues arise with respect to same-sex marriage. Are objections to it general in nature or specifically Christian? And if they are Christian what role does the church have in seeking to have been implemented? Attitudes to these specific issues are connected with one's overall view of the relationship between the church and wider society and it is this broader question that I want to address in this lecture.
What method shall I adopt for this? Well both Paul and Augustine used the visual imagery of "cities"-of being resident in one city but a citizen of another-to explain their approach and I want to follow them in using visual images that can express particular approaches. But in recognition of the fact that there are a number of different possible approaches I shall utilise no less than eight different images that express different ways of conceiving of the church's role in society.
1. Aliens in a foreign land
2. Examples of an alternative community
3. Rulers in Christendom
4. Residents of two cities
5. Reformers of society
6. Workers in all spheres of life
7. Citizens of a pluralist culture
8. Friends of the world
Although the terminology is original the various approaches are all well-established positions. The primary purpose of the typology is to emphasise the way in which particular views on specific issues, such as those noted above, largely depend upon the overall approach a person adopts. One is not always forced into choosing a single option, some of the approaches are compatible, although others are not. Some people advocate for one approach alone, convinced that it is the most appropriate, either in principle or within a specific context. My view is that there is at least some biblical support for all of them, but also that some are more theologically sustainable and helpful than others and, finally, that contextual factors play an important role in determining the most helpful approach at any particular time. In this lecture it will be enough if it can be shown that each of them has something that can contribute to our understanding of the way Christians ought to live in relation to society. The aim, then, is to formulate eight principles that contribute positively to this.
1. Aliens in a foreign land
The oldest model of the relationship between church and society is that which sees Christians as aliens (in the sense of 'temporary resident') in a foreign land. This was the situation of the early church for the first few hundred years of its life. It came into existence as an unwanted religious movement that was opposed by Jews, and as a new and illegal sect that was restricted and persecuted by Romans. Christians lived with social alienation, legal discrimination, financial oppression and physical persecution. They were, to use images that people of the first century middle east were used to, as vulnerable as aliens in a foreign country and as susceptible to abuse as people held captive by a foreign army.
In this situation the writer to the Hebrews used the example of Abraham to encourage Christians. Abraham, he reminded them, obeyed God's call and left his home to travel through foreign territory to go to a place that he did not know, "by faith he made his home... like a stranger in a foreign land... he lived in tents... (but) was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God." [11:8]. And the point was that this is what Christians should do: despite the circumstances they should look forward to the heavenly city. As the apostle Paul reminded the Philippians, our true citizenship is not here, on earth, but "our citizenship is in heaven" (3:20).
We may apply this to today in two ways. Firstly, there is the situation of the church in many parts of the world today where Christians exist as minority groups in societies that discriminate, oppress and persecute them. This is a topic that is worthy of its own lecture, and also an issue that should constantly be to the fore of our attention. Christians in Afghanistan, Algeria, Cambodia, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Kosovo, Laos, Lebanon, Malaysia, Nigeria North Korea, Pakistan, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Tunisia, Turkey, Vietnam, Yemen and other countries are treated as unwanted aliens in a foreign country. We must remember the oppressed.
Secondly, within Australian society there are those who feel they exist as aliens in a society that is now controlled, socially at least, by non-Christian attitudes. These Christians regret the loss of influence; they see established moral patterns being lost, public religious symbols and institutions under threat; faith being mocked, regarded as dangerous and Christians alienated for holding to allegedly outmoded views on social institutions such as family and marriage. They regret what they perceive to be a loss of Christian influence. Of course, this is not a perception shared by all Christians. There are those who certainly feel the tension of being a Christian in a pluralist society but they believe that it is very appropriate to feel this way. That this the way it should be! Christians should be out of step with culture and there is something wrong if we are not. Christians should not expect the culture to be following Christian principles, Christ did not tell us that that is what would happen. No, the church was warned that there would be opposition, and, in a very fundamental sense it is not the task of Christians to make the culture Christian-there are, they argue, more important tasks than that! The primary lesson to be learnt here is well expressed in a well known passage from the second century epistle of Diognetus. This is obviously an apologetic piece, intended to present Christianity in the best possible light, but it nonetheless illustrates the motivating vision. Diognetus notes that Christians are not distinguished from others by country or language or the customs which they observe but by their method of life, "They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners... They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven." He then notes all the injustices that Christians face, "They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned... they are dishonoured... They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers... the world hates the Christians. " But his conclusion is not regret, annoyance or anger but rather he observes, that "God has assigned them this illustrious position, which it is unlawful for them to forsake." This position at the bottom of the social order, unloved and even oppressed, is not something to be hated, it is an "illustrious position" which has been assigned by God. This is the first of the lessons that are to be leant from these eight images of the relationship of church and society. It is not part of the Christian vocation to seek to climb the social ladder but to serve Christ and, as necessary, to share in his suffering.
2. Examples of an alternative community
Closely connected with the first model of being aliens in a foreign land is the imagery of Christians being an example of an alternative form of community. The emphasis here is not on changing society through direct action upon or within it, but by demonstrating in its own life the nature of a godly society. As Stanley Haeurwas says, "the primary social task of the church is to be itself". What the church is called to be is really no different to what the whole of society is called to be, but the problem is that society is simply not able to live as God's community because most people do not have faith. The first step then has to do with changing people's hearts, rather than the world and a most effective argument for this is for the church to demonstrate in its own life the implications of being Christian.
There are a number of variations of this approach (including evangelical anabaptism and post-liberal narrative theology) and there are different views on the degree of isolation from the community but all interpretations of this view see the church as a culture, a community in itself. This requires resisting the notion that there needs to be a close connection between church and state. Better to be separated. The church will not only be able to be a better church but society will benefit by having a clear example of an alternative way of life. The point is to let the church be the church. The church's job is not to "clean up society', nor to impose Christian laws on people who cannot live up to them because they do not have the Spirit, nor to take society's money in return for a muted, second-class ministry. No, let there be a separation, and let the church be the church.
3. Rulers in Christendom
The third vision for society involves the imagery of being rulers in Christendom and it refers to the situation where the church has taken on an official, established role in society to the point where the distinction between the two is almost non-existent. This idea is associated with the emperor Constantine (d. 337 AD) who made Christianity the official religion of the empire. It was also very influenced by the work of Eusebius of Caesarea (c.260-c.340 AD) who connected Hellenistic ideas of divine kingship with a Christian monotheism, which itself modeled a political autocracy with one supreme earthly emperor as the image or representative of God, chosen to protect the people. This created a symbiotic relationship with no sharp distinction between the individual and society or between the church and the state.
The term 'Christendom' is used extremely broadly. It encompasses the eastern version (Byzantinism) which extended, in various forms for a thousand years, and occurs in the west in John Calvin, many Puritans and in what became known as Erastianism, named after Thomas Erastus (1524-1583), a Swiss theologian who argued that the sins of Christians should be punished by the state. There are those today who want to reinvent Christendom, that is nations with overt, legal Christian control. In England there are proposals for the re-establishment of the Church of England as a state religion with real influence and in North America there is a theonomy movement and Christian Reconstructionism.
But when church and culture come together in this way the common good can be both helped and hindered. It certainly ought to provide opportunity for the values of the kingdom to permeate society and, despite the widespread (and justified) criticism of Christendom there is evidence of this happening. For example, one of the most important biblical principles that has influenced the world in which we live is the Christian concept of the inestimable value of each person. That is, the person as body and soul, created in the image of God and destined for redemption and life in glory. This creates the idea of the sanctity of human life, a doctrine which has for nearly two thousand years permeated the cultural values western society has inherited. And although it may be taken for granted in many quarters it is a doctrine which has the most profound implications for the way we live and treat one another, especially the weak and defenceless, whether a new-born baby, disabled or dying. Without this doctrine the world would be unrecognisable. It is not the case that a society or culture will naturally, or always treat human life with reverence or that each and every culture will protect the weak. It is by no means even certain that a culture which is profoundly influenced by Christian thought will in fact do that. But a culture that lacks that influence will be greatly diminished. The historian W.E.H.Lecky examined the influence the Christian doctrine of the person had on the way the western world treated people and said, ‘it was one of the most important services of Christianity... [it] asserted the sinfulness of all destruction of human life as a matter of amusement, or of simple convenience, and thereby formed a new standard higher than any which then existed in the world... it was produced by the Christian doctrine of the inestimable value of each immortal soul.'
It was this which ended gladiatorial battles, the exposure of unwanted infants and slavery. What had been taken for granted as a normal part of civilised life in a totalitarian empire was completely undercut by the Christian insistence on the value of every human being. It was the Christian doctrine of the person which led to the care of the dying in hospices. This was an innovation and, perhaps not surprisingly, those who were loved and cared for sometimes survived their illness. This lead to the development of hospitals where the aim is now to help people be healed rather than simply loved in their dying. The belief that everyone was valuable also led to a stress on education. Over time the rightness of all this was simply taken for granted to the point that it all seems self-evident and the idea that Christian faith is behind it seems to some to be a little boastful but the reality is that it was this new, Christian, understanding of God and the world that was influential for nearly a thousand years and ‘shaped the barbarian tribes of the western extension of Asia into a cultural entity that we call ‘Europe' - it was this way of thinking that shaped public discourse.'
Support for this claim comes from an unlikely place. Peter Singer agrees with Lecky that it has been Christianity that brought "the distinctively Christian idea of the sanctity of all human life" and has protected new born babies and others from untimely death in Western culture but, significantly, he does so as part of his own argument in favor of active euthanasia and optional infanticide (of any child up to the age of about 6 or 8 weeks). Singer argues "If these conclusions seem too shocking to take seriously, it may be worth remembering that our present absolute protection of the lives of infants is a distinctively Christian attitude rather than a universal ethical value." The doctrine of the sanctity of human life is a product of Christianity and therefore, argues Singer, can be disposed of. The contribution that Christian thought made to the world cannot be taken for granted and it may need to be reasserted for the sake of the common good.
The lesson to be learnt here then, is the possibility of the promulgation of distinctively Christian principles throughout society as a whole. This stands in contrast, but not necessarily in contradiction, to the view that the focus ought to fall upon the life of the church. However, as noted above, there are frequently noted problems associated with the idea of Christendom. When political power falls into the hands of the church then the church finds itself in a strange and unusual position. Our Lord's commands to love one another and to take the gospel to the world do not include the instruction to make sure that Christians are in control and have political power. Exercising democratic influence is a responsibility of citizenship. But power can corrupt. True faith is found in faithfulness rather than political influence.
Jeremy Taylor; author of the 17th century spiritual classic, "Holy Living, Holy Dying". ministered during the time of the English Civil War when both state and church suffered greatly and were terribly tested as to what their roles were. He saw the church adopt tactics involving the use of wealth, great power and military force. "when religion puts on armour" he said, "then the gospel is lost.. a lack of worldly power is not a mark of God's displeasure. Indeed, if the brethren can show the marks of persecution, then they need not be troubled... the marks of the Lord Jesus and the character of a Christian and good religion are prayers, worship and life without power... The things of this world are good to be used when they maybe had... but they are not of the Constitution of the Church."
4. Residents of Two Cities
The alliance that the church made with the Roman empire initially appeared to be a great blessing because it brought to an end the persecution of the church, but when, a century later, the barbarians were at the gates of Rome then a nominally Christian empire was, morally and militarily, in imminent danger of collapse. Consequently, Augustine found in necessary to write to Christians wondering whether this was a punishment for turning away from pagan gods to Christianity. In The City of God he wrote about the way that Christians are residents of two cities and, he argued, they should be concerned with spiritual matters rather than earthly politics. He therefore offers little in the way of advice about involvement in political life but he does establish some fundamental principles: that God cannot be ignored in society; that a clear distinction between the spiritual and the temporal is essential and that they can neither be merged nor completely separated. There is, for example, the peace that this world enjoys as well as the true peace of God. Christians must recognise the significance of both, while, naturally, seeing God's peace as more fundamental.
"Even this people has a peace of its own which is not to be lightly esteemed, though, indeed, it shall not in the end enjoy it, because it makes no good use of it before the end. But it is our interest that it enjoy this peace meanwhile in this life; for as long as the two cities are commingled, we also enjoy the peace of Babylon. For from Babylon the people of God is so freed that it meanwhile sojourns in its company. And therefore the apostle also admonished the Church to pray for kings and those in authority, assigning as the reason, "that we may live a quiet and tranquil life in all godliness and love." And the prophet Jeremiah, when predicting the captivity that was to befall the ancient people of God, and giving them the divine command to go obediently to Babylonia, and thus serve their God, counselled them also to pray for Babylonia, saying, "In the peace thereof shall you have peace," Jeremiah 29:7 - the temporal peace which the good and the wicked together enjoy.
Some use the work of Augustine to argue for the need for a secular realm within society where religious views are not automatically preferenced, while others argue that although Augustine does not want a theocracy, nor can he envisage a place without God and that it would be anachronistic to turn Augustine into a modern liberal arguing for a modern secular society. Nonetheless, even on this view there are certainly elements of his thinking that can be used in a theological defense of a secular, pluralist state.
5. Reformers of society
The Reformation brought with it elements of a new form of relationship between church and society with Christians being reformers of the world. There were elements of the Reformation which tended towards a continuation of theocratic social control (including using scripture to provide detailed basis for laws, establishing official churches and supporting Christian principles by military means) but there were other aspects of Reformation principles (including the role of individual conscience and the concept of Christian freedom) which led to an understanding of a more dynamic relationship between church and society, one neither as fixed as Christendom nor as divided as the two kingdoms. It argues that God's will is for all, but it is combined with a recognition that many aspects of Christian life need to be taken voluntarily rather than by legislation or force. But it may well disrupt the status quo. As Catherine Booth (1829-1890), co-founder of the Salvation Army observed "there is no improving the future without disturbing the present." It is the church, rather than the state that is to bring about change in the world through example, persuasion and active involvement. This is a strong, biblical, effective approach to the transformation of society. It relies on demonstrating the practical value of biblical principles. This is the lesson from this model: the importance of biblical principles being lived out and applied in society.
One of the greatest challenges for pastors today is to take and apply theological principles beyond the four walls of the church. Often it is assumed that important themes like baptism, grace, covenant, freedom, forgiveness, love and worship only relate to what we do within the life of the church. At least that is what one might assume from many sermons. And yet, if we consider it properly, the principles which control the practice of worship, the use of gifts, the life of the community, and even the sacraments of baptism and Lord's Supper have profound implications for the life of the world.
Baptism, for example, is rarely understood as having broad public implications or a radical social agenda. It is usually understood as a personal commitment of faith, the sign of spiritual union with Christ and the point of entry into the life of the church. But when the apostle Paul gave his teaching on the meaning of baptism for the Galatians, which he does in ch 3, he did not just discuss these personal, spiritual implications. In verse 26 he talks about how the Galatians were children of God through faith, and, as such (v.27) they were baptised into Christ, and clothed themselves with Christ and therefore the implications of this are (in v.28) that there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus". In this he was addressing three pairs of relationships which ‘cover in embryonic fashion all the essential relationships of humanity, and so need to be seen as having racial, cultural and sexual implications.'
He was addressing the profound social implications of three fundamental sets of human relationships which extend beyond the limits of the church. Galatians 3:28 has been referred to as ‘the Magna Carta of Humanity' a fundamental statement of equality before God, and a kind of constitutional statement which sets a foundation for the way life is to be lived. Christ came to redeem the whole world, not merely individuals from within it. He came to inaugurate a new kingdom and to transform relationships as well as enter into union with each believer. As long as we continue to understand salvation individualistically then people will have a deep suspicion of what should be an equally essential social dimension to God's salvation of the world. The fact is that what begins with the mystical ends with the political.
In the Roman empire of the first century slavery was not thought of as immoral and it is reckoned that a majority of people were actually slaves. Paul's claim that in Christ there is neither slave nor free was, therefore a radical statement which challenged prevailing moral attitudes, although it was, no doubt, popular among slaves! It was a revolutionary step to suggest that the lowest of the low in social terms could become a son or daughter of God! There were profound political and social dimensions to what he said.
Paul also spoke about there being ‘neither Jew nor Gentile' and consequently any distinction between them became irrelevant in matters relating to salvation; any actual separation of Jew and Gentile in the church had to end. Christian Jews could no longer regard themselves as superior in any way or require Gentiles to embrace Jewish law. The implications of this began within the life of the church but they did not stop there -as we see in Acts 6 there was to be no discrimination in charity given to Jewish and Greek widows. And believers could not remove discrimination and bias in terms of ministry within the church and then walk out and continue either the kind of political oppression that Gentile Romans exercised over the Jews or the religious disdain that Jews had for Gentiles! For Christian believers that was impossible.
What are the implications of this for today? What divisions would Paul address today?We have our identity as Australian or New Zealander or whatever, as well as ethnic and racial heritages-and often we are proud of them. But if these national or geographic distinctions mean that we treat people morally differently, and if they encourage us to feel and behave less responsibly towards people in other places than we do towards those in our own then something has gone very wrong and we need to listen to Paul, James and the other apostles. Should moral distinctions be made on the basis of geographic boundaries? Of course not, but the truth is that we do treat people morally differently according to geography and nationality. This occurs whenever there is an acceptance of poverty, sickness or suffering in other countries which would not be accepted in our own.
This moral dichotomy between ‘us' and ‘them' came home to me very sharply some years ago when I became aware that the clearly stated fundamental Australian government aid and development policy objective was (as stated at that time) that "Australian overseas aid is given in order to advance Australia's national interests"! And this was the headline declaration of the whole program. I suppose I had naïvely assumed that the primary purpose of overseas aid was to relieve poverty and deal with injustice! Well, it was-in part. But the framers of this policy had, with surprising honesty, detailed what many governments in fact do-give aid on the basis of self-interest. This principle had practical ramifications that conflicted with other, very genuine intentions to do good. A program conflicted between help for the poorest and supporting Australian interests had the potential for prioritising aid to counties strategically useful to Australia and it could also mean preventing companies in recipient countries from implementing aid programs in order to give preference to Australian suppliers who could profit from it. It also diverted money into pseudo-aid programs primarily aimed at preventing terrorists using other counties to attack Australia (itself a noble cause, except that it took money from the budget set aside for aiding the poorest people in other countries).
In 1970 most developed countries agreed to move towards putting 0.7% of Gross Domestic Product towards development aid. In over 40 years only a handful countries have achieved that. Australia currently commits 0.34%. A moral dualism exists when we treat people in other countries differently than people in our own country and we accept situations overseas that we would not tolerate here. Note that my main point is not to debate overseas development aid but to ask whether our national borders have become moral boundaries, and whether biblical principles have anything to do with removing them.
6. Workers in all spheres of life
The model is represented by Dutch journalist, theologian, politician and Prime Minister, Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) wrote various works on politics and faith and developed the notion of "sphere sovereignty". Kuyper famously said, ‘No single piece of our mental world is to be hermetically sealed off from the rest, and there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: "Mine!"' Christians are to be workers in all spheres of life.
There are at least two aspects of Kuyper's view that have relevance for us today. The first is that I think that many people today are feeling the frustration of an extremely hierarchical political structure. Decisions are made at the highest levels; debate within a party is stifled by cabinet solidarity; party-room rules; and factional decisions. As Barry Jones, Malcolm Fraser and Lindsay Tanner have all said in recent times, the political environment at the moment works to stifle real thinking and debate.
I have, of late, been writing to politicians about one particular matter concerning the way that the law now treats certain migrants. Very briefly, the issue relates to people, like me, who came to Australia as child migrants 30 or 40 years ago and who have lived here ever since. But, unlike me, some of these people have fallen foul of the law, been sent to jail and then on finishing their sentences they have deported from Australia to countries where they have not lived since, for example, they were four years old and where they may not speak the language! All this despite having, in the intervening years grown up perceiving themselves to be Australian, having, the right to vote, an obligation to pay taxes, being subject to conscription in order to fight and possibly die for Australia, and having wives and Australian-born children. Now, knowing that all this is perfectly legal my communications to to local members of different parties and the federal minister responsible have focused upon asking them whether they think that this is a moral action. Let me tell you, after having numerous communications with two local members and the minister involved, that getting an answer to that question is exceptionally difficult. Indeed, getting any answer is difficult. The closest I have come so far is, "I respect the minister's decision" (which could mean "I think he's probably wrong but I can't publicly criticise him." I am reminded of the words of W.S.Gilbert in the musical HMS Pinafore in which Sir Joseph Porter explains how someone (in his case so obviously incompetent) could become Minister for the Navy.
I grew so rich that I was sent
By a pocket borough into Parliament
I always voted at my party's call
And I never thought of thinking for myself at all
I thought so little, they rewarded me
By making me the Ruler of the Queen's Navy
I do not wish to be overly cynical, and I am certainly not equating any members of parliament with Sir Joseph (I actually do have respect for members of parliament) but I believe that Gilbert does point towards the way our systems can prevent independent thought. In contrast, what is good about Kuyper's view is the way that he avoids any vertical or hierarchical view of the structure of society in which government dominates . He stresses the need for a more horizontal concept which reduces the overall role of the state and enhances the role of people in the various spheres of life (arts, education, trade, business etc) to determine their own structures and controls according their particular needs.
A second valuable aspect of Kuyper's approach is the way that he argues for for Christian involvement in every sphere of life. It has a distinctive approach to the way society should operate and links Christian with non-Christians in the pursuit of the common good on the basis of principles of life that are built into society. The contemporary church does not, by and large, do a good job of empowering people in their Monday to Saturday roles. The church today needs a theology of everyday life. The gap between Sunday and Monday has to be addressed. Many Christians feel that their work lives are marginalised from their church life when, in fact, going into the workplace ought to be a calling and an act of mission. Our work is a vocation, a calling from God in which we ought to commend God to the world through our integrity, industry, honesty and quality of work. The workplace is where many Christians spend one third of their waking hours. What does it mean for their understanding of faith if work concerns are not a part of worship, a topic of reflection from the pulpit, a focus of attention in study groups or a subject of prayer or a part of pastoral care? Why do we commission Sunday school teachers, pastors and youth leaders but not builders, plumbers, businessmen and state school teachers? Do only the former group have a commission? Are only some Christians called to serve God?
Yes, the principle that we might derive from Kuyper is the positive value of seeing Christians as workers in every sphere of life, a view that stresses the value of every area and of the contribution of every person.
7. Citizens of a secular culture
The next approach may be referred to as "new Christendom". It is a modified form of the Christendom approach, but one that recognises the problems of Christian rule. Nonetheless, it does not want society to forget the contribution that Christianity makes to society, not merely in regard to ethical principles that will lead to the common good but particularly in regard to the principles that underpin the kind of free, secular, pluralist society that exists in the west. It is a mistake to think (as according to a common but mistaken view of secularism) that a free, secular, society in which all people are respected and all points of view are taken into consideration emerges by eliminating religion from the public arena. This is the opposite of the truth. Historically, it is demonstrable that one of the greatest influences on this form of society, a secular one, is Christian theology. It has been Christian principles that have contributed in a major way towards the framework for tolerance and the notion of a "secular" democracy where all views are permitted.
The problem is that so many people mis-understand what it means to be a secular society. So many assume that it means that the public arena is to be kept clear of any religious matter. But "secular" does not mean "no religion", it simply means that no one religion or worldview (including atheism) is automatically preferenced. All can have their say. It is necessary to challenge the hard, prejudiced secularism that wants the the complete removal of faith from the public arena, and to reaffirm the legitimacy of a genuine secularity that allows faith to engage non-faith and other faiths on shared ground without seeking to dominate it. It is essential that a civil society be able to seek consensus and to identify differences between world-views.
This freedom that a secular, pluralist society offers is grounded in the gospel. If there are any ‘human rights' in the world at all there is none greater than the right to be able hear the gospel and to be able to respond to it and receive the salvation which God offers. This universal right to the gospel for all people is really the fundamental right to liberty for all people. It is the foundation for all religious, philosophical and political liberties because the gospel of grace implies a liberty to accept or reject the truth and, by implication, the right to reject it and choose to follow another ‘gospel' or another system of belief or philosophy. The ‘right' to the gospel is connected to the right to believe something else. And in this regard the most influential force in the development of free, western society is the New Testament. Its availability in the Reformation period, at the time that modern society was developing, was critical. Although the mainline Reformers themselves did not practice much toleration towards those with different beliefs the teaching of the New Testament gradually gained influence, especially through the work of Anabaptists, Puritans and Baptists, who all claim a significant role in the development of toleration (though it would be anachronistic to assume that they all embraced a modern form of generosity). As historian A.G Dickens argues, the real hero in the development of religious toleration is no individual or movement but the New Testament itself. At a time when the scriptures were more widely available it must have occurred to many "that Christ and his Apostles nowhere envisaged or advocated the winning of human hearts through juridical persecution or physical duress."
This view argues that it must be recognized that the Christian faith has formed contemporary western society and that just as it is foolish to climb up a ladder onto a roof and then to kick away the ladder and pretend you got up there without one, so it is foolish to ignore the origin of the principles that have formed our society today. This is a lesson that the imagery of "citizens in a secular culture" offers to us.
8. Friends of the world
This is an image that draws on two important sources. One is the classic description of society and the common good that is found in Graeco-Roman philosophy where the public dimension of friendship with its focus upon self-knowledge and moral transformation was a major theme. For Cicero the whole of society is dependent upon friendship ("if the mutual love of friends were to be removed from the world, there is no single house, no single state that would go on existing" Plutarch saw friendship as ethically and politically vital to society, and Aristotle devoted two out of ten books in the Nicomachean Ethics to friendship because it was the relationship on which democratic society depended. He argues that the exercise of justice is dependent upon pre-existing social relationships like friendship. He argued that "friendship seems to hold states together, and lawgivers care more for it than for justice." His writing has been foundational for Western society and yet one of the main points in his classic description of virtue and the common good is underplayed today.
The second major source, of course, is scripture which encourages us to be friends with the world. I have deliberately chosen to express it as friends "of the world" in order to challenge the more common notion that Christians are perhaps too keep away from "the world". Worldliness, or the wrong sort of focus upon the world is, indeed, inappropriate but we need to recall that if there was one significant name by which the Lord Jesus was known by the people to whom he primarily ministered it was that he was "the friend of sinners" and the incontrovertible fact is that if we are friends with Jesus then we must be friends with his friends! Friendship, by its very nature, coincides happily with other roles. It is not everything, but it is an attitude that should permeate everything we do.
Jesus was widely known for his association with those who were socially outcast. Indeed, the teachers of the law could not comprehend this and demanded to know of his disciples, "Why does he eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?" (Mark 2:16; Luke 5:30; 15:2). It was considered such unusual behavior for a man of God that he probably became more well-known as "the friend of sinners and tax collectors" (Matt 11:19; Luke 7:34) than as a prophet or a teacher. Jesus did not merely treat the sinners, the unclean and the outcast as objects of mercy and compassion, he treated them as human beings, as real people and even as friends, and in the eyes of his enemies this was the worst sin of all! Ultimately, Jesus was not condemned so much for being an unorthodox teacher or social activist as much as for being a friend to sinners. It was this that they found most offensive. Perhaps it would have been easier for the scribes and Pharisees to understand his manner of dealing with sinners if he had related to them, to use an anachronistic term, in a purely "professional capacity".
The Pharisees also came into contact with poor and outcast people and would sometimes have related to them with charity and kindness for they were teachers and leaders who knew what the law said and they sought zealously to obey it. They were religiously committed people and it is wrong to assume that they never engaged in any kind or charitable deeds. Indeed, they are not condemned by Jesus for a complete absence of such actions or because they were the worst of all people, but because they considered themselves among the best and relied on their actions to save them. Although Pharisees could abuse the law the real problem that led to their condemnation by Jesus was not that they were more sinful than anyone else, but their refusal to understand the nature of grace. The real problem for them-and also potentially for us-was not sin but self-righteousness and the failure to understand grace. They could have understood a ministry that offered the services of education, liturgy, counsel or charity, but they could not understand the grace of friendship.
There are other examples of the way that friendship changes social relationships in a way that the law cannot. The apostle Paul has been criticized by some for apparently conforming to the acceptance of slavery which existed in his day. And it is true that he called for no change to the law which controlled it. He did not, for instance, when he wrote to Philemon, a believer in Colossae, about one of his slaves, Onesimus, who had apparently run away, demand that Philemon release Onesimus.
All he did was make reference to his own friendship with Philemon and then indicate that Onesimus, as a new believer, was also a friend and therefore that Philemon ought to consider consider the implications of their friendship in Christ for they way that they treat each other. This friendship in Christ over-rode all other roles and relationships and called for equality rather than slavery. In short, friendship is an important expression of Christian love for the world. At the very least, irrespective of what other model is adopted, we ought to be the kind of radical friend that Jesus was.
The value of the various approaches
At this point we are coming close to the end of our survey and it is perhaps time to makes general observations about the lessons that there are to be learned. One of the obvious conditions of our present world is continuous, ongoing change, and it is unlikely that there will be any change to that in the near future. Consequently, there are many, many social, cultural, ethical and political issues that Christians need to engage with, and one's ability to make good decisions will be enhanced by an understanding that goes beyond that of individual issues and recognizes the underlying philosophical and theological issues involved in the engagement of church and culture.
Indeed, many disagreements even among Christians about the best way to deal with specific issues will be helped by an awareness of the various frameworks that people utilize. Someone who believes that the best way of expressing discipleship is by the church being somewhat separated from society and living as an example of an alternative community needs to understand the perspective of someone who believes that the church needs a higher level of integration with society that is aimed to actually reforming it. Without that mutual understanding one person is engagement is seen as compromise while the others separation is seen as capitulation.
Understanding and having a consistent approach to engagement also makes it possible to deal more effectively with those challenges that come from different worldviews, including the hard secularist opposition to religious involvement in social issues and the alternative religious perspectives that challenges the cultural implications of the gospel.
A greater understanding of these various approaches will also help Christians deal appropriately with what is sometimes perceived as a loss of influence and guide an appropriate response, which may not mean being worried about it!
Some of these positions are closely related and compatible, others are less so but there is something to learn from each of them. It is good to see the way the biblical principles relate to them and it is important to understand that they need to be applied contextually. That is, there is no avoiding the hard work of considering what is appropriate for the conditions in our own culture today. The answer of another era simply may not be what is needed now. We would do well to remember all eight of these images:
1. Aliens in a foreign land - remembering our "illustrious position"
2. Examples of an alternative community - the church as a model community
3. Rulers in Christendom - with Christian values permeating society
4. Residents of two cities - keeping the distinction between church and culture
5. Reformers of society - allowing Scripture to speak to the world
6. Workers in all spheres of life - the value of every sphere and every person
7. Citizens of a pluralist culture - recognising Christian underpinnings to society
8. Friends of the world - radical friendship that transforms lives
Bag of All Sorts 1
"Church on the Mezzanine Floor."-from maintenance to mission in a time of transition.
Twelve articles on moving into mission mode by Gil Cann.
"Many Christians in our churches are confused and bewildered by the fast cultural changes of our times. Gil places Christian mission in the real world. In an easy to understand, gentle way, he explains why things are so different and how to get on with being Christ's Church. I strongly encourage Church Councils to seriously consider engaging Gil for a Seminar in their church soon." Rev E.A. Curnow
"One of Gil's great strengths is that he is both conservative and radical. People can engage with radical ideas more easily when they trust the proponent. With Gil they know they are on sure ground. Holding faithfully to the story of God's revelation-- must coexist and be worked out in the life and mission of the Church." Tom Slater. National Director Australian Evangelical Alliance.2005.
- A Special Journey through the Parables -
David is a Uniting Church layperson and an experienced longshoreman who lives in the Channel District, Tasmania. Under the Lord's direction David is developing a camping/learning experience based on the John 21 story of the disciples fishing and encountering Jesus. David believes we learn best by doing. A holiday in Tasmania with Bible reflection, ideal for a small group, mixed with the fun of boat building and drag netting looks like being a very different but special ministry.
Enquiries are welcome. David Heard, Email Address :firstname.lastname@example.org
"The Radical Disciple": by John Stott
Looking for good Bible study, discussion material that if you are honest will stir you on???
Eight deeply challenging characteristics of discipleship commonly neglected but that must be taken seriously. Others have described the series as, "faithfully biblical, engaging, challenging and profoundly moving." "As one of John Stott's last publications I can say it was one of the best group study books I have shared in for ages." Ted C.
"Christianity's Dangerous Idea": by Alister McGrath What is a Protestant?
How has its meaning shifted over time? Every person needs to read the three parts of this book. "Origination". McGrath surveys its roots from the Reformation and its evolution into many parts in the 19th and 20th century. "Manifestation" deals with distinctive Protestant beliefs. How Protestantism shaped Western culture. "Transformation," The expansion south, rise of Pentecostalism and the future. McGrath concludes, "Under the scrutiny of the Scriptures, believers will change and alter their ideas and walk away from the safety and comfort of their traditions rather than compromise their biblically informed consciences,"
People's Table and Worship.
Pastoral and Devotional resources from the Reverend Ted (E.A.) Curnow member of the ACC Cranbourne Cluster (Victoria).
Preaching After Christendom
ACC Council member and Wesley Institute lecturer Rev Dr Peter Davis spoke about preaching after Christendom at the 2012 ACC conference (Adelaide September 15). His Powerpoint overview is attached here (slide show read-only).
In considering the context, Peter asks the question 'How can preachers best communicate in a world like this?' He also outlined some of the reasons given for the Crisis in Preaching.
1. The Emergence of Postmodernity
Some people locate the source of crisis within culture impact of postmodernism has raised significant challenges for preachers.
2. Distrust of Words
Profound distrust of human speech within the wider culture at the same time as humanity is bombarded with diverse forms of communication there is a deep mistrust of words. Talk is commonly perceived as being cheap.
Words are also associated in people's experience with parochial morality on the one hand and the fast-talking television preacher on the other. People are sceptical of both. How can anyone regard words as a means of grace in a world like this?
3. Overemphasis on the Personality of the Preacher
A focus on the person of the preacher, in particular an over-emphasis on the personality of the preacher has led to an overemphasis on the preacher's part in preaching and a devaluing of God's activity in human speech.
4. Too Cognitive
Our Western tendency is to communicate cognitively rather than in forms that are creative and holistic.
5. The 'Hearer' has Changed
If the late 19th and early 20th century focussed on the personality of the preacher, the last 50 years have seen a turn to the listener - the measure of a ‘good' sermon now resides with the hearer not with the preacher or in the academy.
6. New Technology
The communications revolution changed the way congregations hear and process sermons in past five decades from print culture to an electronic culture. People process information in largely visual ways. in Contemporary communication, with its computer-based technologies, is shaped by the convergence of multiple media forms (visual, audio and print). It relies on the ability of people to quickly and affordably produce their own multimedia communications and the ability of contemporary hearers to rapidly process information and respond to multiple stimuli concurrently. Preachers frequently feel under-resourced and inadequately trained to communicate in a highly competitive environment.
7. Ambiguous Place of God
In what way can the preacher speak an authentic word? Is the sermon simply an act of human speech or can we speak of preaching as divine speech as well? Alan Walker said that: ‘preaching is not just speaking or lecturing, but daring to proclaim a message in the name and with the authority of Jesus Christ.'
But the idea that human beings might express the mind of God in their own speech appears both audacious and worrisome - today for many it seems presumptuous to argue that preaching is part of God's action in history.
8. Biblical Interpretation
Some people believe that insufficient consideration is given to the Bible, focussing instead on the needs and problems of human situations. The last five decades have seen an enormous amount of work on new theories of preaching: for example the work of Fred Craddock, David Buttrick & Eugene Lowry to name just a few. It's been exciting time with much change exploring new models and alternative approaches.
Marriage - a statement from the ACC
Marriage - A Statement from the Assembly of Confessing Congregations (within the Uniting Church in Australia)
Marriage is not an exclusively Christian concept. As a human experience between a man and a woman it is witnessed in all countries, and in all faiths. Nevertheless, there are many features that are common throughout time and culture. Here we speak of Christian marriage which is understood as "a gift of God and a means of grace. In the life-long union of marriage we can know the joy of God, in whose image we are made, male and female. ... Husband and wife, in giving themselves to each other in love, reflect the love of Christ for his Church." ... (‘Declaration of Purpose', Marriage Order of Service, The Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia, Sydney, 2005)
This Christian understanding of marriage has several features. These are:
1. Marriage is a central part of God's wonderful creation
Jesus pointed to the foundation of marriage as being in God's creation of humankind: male and female in his own image (Genesis 1:27, Matthew 19:3-5). As part of God's creation, marriage was provided then and now for mutual comfort, love and support. It also provides the fundamental basis for society and good order.
2. Marriage is between a man and a woman
In the most basic sense of our being (ontology) a man and a woman provide the only complementary basis for a marriage. Simply put, a woman and a man are made to fit together, and by their union are bonded together and can receive the blessing of children born from their mutual sexual love.
3. Marriage is a public acknowledgement of the love and commitment of a woman and a man to each other
Marriage involves a public ceremony. The couple's mutual decision to marry each other leads to the two being joined together with and before God and witnessed by family and friends. There is a public acknowledgement of the relationship.
4. Marriage is meant to be life-long
This life-long covenant is a gift from God, whose love is unending. God has eternally covenanted himself to the people called into a relationship with him, and married couples are called to model that love and life-giving forgiveness (Hosea, Ephesians 5).
5. Marriage is monogamous
Sexual love in marriage is a glorious and holy gift. It is not meant to be devalued by casualness before a marriage, or adultery after the bonds are created. Sexual love strengthens and unites the covenant union of the couple as they express the full complementarity of their man-woman relationship (Genesis 2:23-25, 1 Corinthians 7:3-5).
6. Marriage involves an openness to children
Children are a blessing from God, and families provide the basis of our society. As God provides for his children, parents provide for their children and should model the strength, love, generosity and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 7:9-12). Marriage enables children to live and grow up together with their mother and father in a secure covenant family.
In all, the marriage of a man and a woman, together with the family it enables, is a holy expression of the image and glory of God. In the marriage of a man and a woman the Old Testament sees a reflection of the covenant relationship between God and his people, and the New Testament sees the splendour of the union of Christ and his Church.
Approved at the ACC National Council meeting 16 May 2011
Seek a Creative Outreach Gift
When it comes to understanding spiritual gifts we often turn to the New Testament and focus on pastoral issues surrounding the controversial gifts that were misused or misunderstood. However when we consider the multiple gifts mentioned and those not mentioned in passages like Romans12:5-8, 1Corinthians12:8-10, 1Corinthians14:26f, and Ephesians.4:11 it is clear that the activity of Jesus extends to the whole range of human experience. A spiritual gift has been described as, "a natural endowment set free by the Holy Spirit to blossom forth glorifying Christ and building up his church."
Today amid rapid cultural and social change we need to prayerfully ask God to grant and heighten the gift of creativity, an ability to dream and think outside the box, to extend beyond the normal range of our thinking. In this way we can respond to change, honour God and advancing the Kingdom in our time.
Plan Christmas Now
In the June 2012 ACCatalyst, "Fixing Christmas" article Ian Clarkson exhorts us to act now and plan Civic sponsored decorations for next Christmas, to approach Councils, Shopping Centre Managements to encourage a decoration that stirs thinking, a gentle, confident contribution that includes Christ.
National Day of Thanksgiving
In every May since 2004, 1600 communities, and 5000 Churches have participated in a special Sunday called National Day of Thanksgiving. (This year the Penguin Uniting Church Tasmania took part) The concept encourages churches to invite representatives of the community to join them in order to give thanks to God for service organizations, ambulance, police, fire and emergency services. In this positive way Christians offer respect and encouragement to those who serve others and often run short of encouragement. Special resources are available. See their website.
The Regal Standard
During the period of the 2012 Atheist Convention held in Melbourne, Dennis Prince produced THE REGAL STANDARD, an easy-to-read "story newspaper" for mass distribution that basically said, "God is great and we honour Him". The project was a humble venture presented with guidelines and creative ideas for distribution.
Campus Crusade( Australia)
After prayer and special funding through Partnership Ministries USA, Campus Crusade launched an evangelistic web site. Within 48 hours they had 2 million responses. We may be a little sceptical! However as a result they had 26,000 E mails from people wanting to engage in a conversation about Christ.
The Real Easter Egg
Each year millions of Easter Eggs are made from non-Fairtrade chocolate. In the UK a Fairtrade Easter Egg is the only egg in a box that explains Easter and gives money to charity. Churches and many schools joined a campaign by placing tens of thousands of mail orders that were delivered by Tradecraft. See their website.
Faith and Action
This list of examples could be extended into thousands of ways that God is stirring his people to address the challenge of change in our time. Perhaps there is a coming local or national event that you could align with. Perhaps you could partner with another church, a school, service group, real estate agent, children's play group, men's shed.
Why not gather a group of faithful believing Christian friends and ask God, by his Creative, Life Giving Spirit to release a flow of creative ways that you can engage the world and declare that God's Kingdom is among us.
Rev EA (Ted) Curnow July 2012