Jesus : Church : Unity (cont)

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It is as if Jesus is praying, “When the surrounding community looks at the church, may they see something that they don’t see anywhere else – a deep level of love, support, encouragement, and acceptance, just like I have brought to the world. Then, when they see it, may they be drawn closer to me.”

A wonderful prayer no doubt, but it is easier said than done. The fact that Jesus prayed this prayer at all suggests such oneness can only come through God’s power in answer to Jesus’ prayer. In fact, the lack of unity among Christians throughout history, both between groups and within groups, easily proves the point. We should never assume Christian unity comes naturally or easily.Jn 17 v23

Since history also records times of great unity there is hope for unity in our time. Further, Jesus’ prayer, “May they be brought to complete unity,” suggests that unity is a process that takes time. So while we may be burdened by our lack of unity, we should nevertheless be encouraged that it is not goodwill itself that engenders unity, although it is no doubt helpful. Rather it comes in our oneness in Christ which comes from God in answer to prayer.

So when we join Jesus in his prayer our church life should begin to reflect a unity in faith, truth, power, and life. It is Jesus’ assumption that with the coming of unity that the world will begin to perceive the reality that he has been sent by God and is indeed the Lord of all.

Last week I began a series exploring the values we hold at Hobart Baptist Church. Values are important because commonly held values are a key to our unity and a foundation from which our mission and ministry flow.

Thus we are encouraged to “like-minded” and “one in spirit and purpose” (Phil.2:2), for when we are, the prayer that Jesus prayed begins to be realised.

Stephen L Baxter

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Is the Aussie Church Facing Challenges? Or Opportunities?

Karl Faase

Karl Faase

Last week Karl Faase, Australian Christian communicator, media presenter, and social commentator, was in Hobart speaking at Family Voice events. The former senior pastor of Gymea Baptist, is well informed about the challenges faced by the church in Australia today.

Faase suggested that the average Christian attending church regularly on a Sunday has lost confidence in what they believe. The sad result is an unwillingness, even an inability, to engage in conversations about Christianity during the week.

However, he encouraged Christians not to be silenced by the media’s caricature of the irrelevancy of Christianity, its heralding of the Church’s demise and its increasing hostility both. Rather, he said, it is time to regain hope in the gospel and boldness in our proclamation. “We need to move from fearful silence to positive engagement.”

Citing research by Olive Tree Media (his company) and McCrindle Research, Faase explained how Australians show significant “warmth” to Christianity contrary to what is commonly assumed. When asked, “What best describes your current beliefs and attitude towards Christianity?” 25%, who don’t consider themselves as Christians, are warm towards Christianity. This is on top of the 33% who described themselves as Christian (whether they are or not is another matter). What this shows is that nearly 60% of Australians have an open stance towards Christianity and are willing to talk about it.

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Church: There for us? OR There for others . . .

I think we sometimes forget God has entrusted us with the task of bringing the good news of his love, as demonstrated in Christ, to our local community – wherever it iswe are.

We can so easily be tempted and fall into the trap of believing the church exists only for us, and conveniently ignore God’s desires. In recent years here are Hobart Baptist where I am the Senior Pastor, we have reaffirmed we want to be a mission-oriented church and we are steadily moving more and more in that direction.

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For decades we sent missionaries overseas to various tribal groups

To be faithful to our task we not only need a renewed and refreshed understanding of the Gospel, we need to have an insightful understanding into Australian culture. Without it we repeat the mistakes of the past and fail to understand the changing nature of our community.

For decades we sent missionaries overseas to various tribal groups armed with the task of carefully and painstakingly exploring and documenting the cultural narratives and history of their people group with the aim of discovering how best to bring the Gospel to them.

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Boom to Bust: Church Life Cycles

Back in the 1960s, our Hobart Baptist church building was full to capacity and overflowing on a weekly basis. There are a number of people still attending the church who remember it packed every Sunday with around 400 people. An all-aged Sunday School met at Elizabeth College next door because there wasn’t enough room for everyone in the church building.

A lot has happened in the past 50-60 years, both in the community and the church, and those days have long since gone. Yet, there is no reason why it can’t happen again at some time in the not too distant future.

Hobart Baptist Church

Hobart Baptist Church is one of the original ‘tabernacles’ built in Tasmania, Australia with help from Spurgeon’s grandson

Today Hobart Baptist Church is made up over 250 people. Whether people attend the 10am service, the Karen language service, the Church With No Walls ministry or our communities of faith meeting in homes, we are a sizable number. There is no doubt God is at work amongst us and there a signs of growing and healthy church. There are many reasons to be very encouraged.

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Churches: Does Yours Speak Aussie? (Cont)

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While the church has one Lord, it is very diverse. It worships its Lord in many languages, styles and forms that reflect the many different cultural and ethnic communities in which it is found. The church has an amazing ability to adapt to local conditions in which it ministers where the experiences, attitudes, and reflections of the community impact on the way it worships. This adaptability is perhaps one of its greatest strengths.Australia

However, when it comes to the Australian church, many ask whether our churches have ever properly adapted to the unique Aussie culture and landscape and whether or not we speak with an Australian accent.

A quick look at our history reveals the majority of our forms and styles of church are imports from other countries, whether Europe or America. Initially, English and European convicts and settlers brought their churches to Australia. Since WWII the church has been influenced by America, much like the rest of our culture. Whether it be from our worship expressions, our songs and hymns, and our architecture the impression remains that the church in Australia speaks a foreign language wrapped in imported forms.

What would it mean if our churches spoke with an ‘Aussie accent’? What would it mean if we explored expressions of worship that are more akin to being Australian? What if our songs and architecture reflected something of the things Australians value such as irregularity and informality, or reflected our landscape of wide-open and rugged beauty? What would it mean for us to be much more sensitive to Australian culture and its effects on how people see God, Jesus and the church? What can we learn about sowing the gospel in Australian soil?

As we look at our cities, and the place of the church within them, we can easily move to despair. However, as we remember God’s love for each person we should be encouraged that God is still as work and hasn’t given up. Across Hobart and the rest of Australia there are many who, in a uniquely Aussie way, still search for meaning and purpose.

May God grant us grace, courage, wisdom and inspiration as we continue to pray and work at being his witnesses in our homes, schools, business, community groups and churches.

Stephen L Baxter
Senior Pastor
Hobart Baptist Church

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Facing Change as a City Church

The building Hobart Baptist Church meets in is just on the fringe of CBD of Hobart. It is a stately stone building modelled on Baptist Tabernacle in Stockport, England, and is uniquely located on the main road linking Hobart and North Hobart.

Hobart Baptist Church

Hobart Baptist Church is one of the original ‘tabernacles’ built in Tasmania with help from Spurgeon’s grandson

As a city church the congregation is drawn from across Hobart and across many nationalities. It is the oldest remaining Baptist church in Hobart with links back to the first Baptist church established in 1835.

At various times through its history the congregation has struggled to fit into the building, and at other times it has felt quite empty. Today, the church is made up of three congregations numbering nearly 250 people.

As a church we are on a journey . . .

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Facing Change as a City Church (Cont)

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As a church we are on a journey. We know we live in a “post-Christian” culture but we are still learning how to be church and how to do church in this changing world. For some of us it is not an easy journey, but nevertheless, as a church we are committed to taking that journey.

One of the questions we face is,

“How do we change without abandoning our heritage and our well tested theology and practice?”

As a church we are still working out what in contemporary culture  should be affirmed and incorporated into church life, and what should be rejected; what of our heritage needs to be kept, what should be discarded.

Young Choir Members Singing

“We have all been involved in debates
around the type of music we should use”

For example, like many churches over the past few decades, we face questions around different forms of music. The Bible doesn’t speak of any standards we should follow with regard to things like beat, volume, melody or tempo. There are some references to tunes to play with particular Psalms, but these were lost many centuries ago.

We have all been involved in debates around the type of music we should use, but these debates are not about what the Bible says about music, for is says very little, but they are debates around how we read the culture we live in. In fact, in this debate, most of us have almost identical doctrines. It is not our doctrines that are the issue but our tastes in music. At Hobart we are endeavouring to find a mix that is open to contemporary expressions without losing our past.

It is the same when it comes to working out what in the contemporary culture we should affirm. Not surprisingly we find differing opinions across Baptist churches. Some have a negative view of popular culture seeing it as shallow and inappropriate for worship; others see it more positively and feel free to adapt their worship accordingly. These differing views will result in different ministry expressions, different methods, and different programs.

Here at Hobart Baptist Church we are still on a journey. We have made changes but there is still more to go. Our vision for the development of  our buildings and the opening of Fairground Café are evidence of our commitment to meeting the challenges we face creatively and proactively.

May God continue to grant us, and also you, the grace to travel this journey – and may he enable us to be the church he calls us to be in our city in the 21 Century.

Stephen L Baxter

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Many Cultures – One Church

Childhood Girls

We are a church with many nationalities represented

As Hobart becomes more and more multicultural city we shouldn’t be surprised to see significant changes in many churches as they too become multicultural. It’s been our experience here at Hobart Baptist Church; we also are on a journey becoming more and more a multicultural church.

So what does it mean to be a multicultural church?  Obviously, it means we are a church with many nationalities represented. Our church is made up of people from quite a number of European nations, and . . .

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Many Cultures – One Church (cont)

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. . .  and  Asian nations too, giving us quite a diversity of races.

But being multicultural is more than just having a number of different nationalities represented; it is also about working together as one. This calls for a conscious effort in breaking down walls that divide, working to bridge the language and culture barriers, and to have genuine love and acceptance for each other. It is about building unity in the midst of our diversity of nation, race, language, culture, and background.

Unity is at the heart of the gospel. Jesus died not only died for people of all nations equally he also prayed for unity and that his followers “be one… so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17: 21). Such unity is more than a dominant culture being gracious enough to include minority ethnic groups; it is a unity that values cultural diversity in all dimensions of church life.

Cultural diversity

Perhaps our greatest hurdle is our attachment to our own culture in the face of our diversity

I’m sure that for many of us becoming a multicultural church is both a delight but also a challenge for us no matter what our nationality. It is quite encouraging to see how we take time and effort to care for each other across our different nationalities. What is more, for every act of care we see there is just as much going on that is not seen. All of this is critical for the ongoing health and growth of the church.

No matter what our nationality, perhaps our greatest hurdle is our attachment to our own culture in the face of our diversity. We have different worship styles, different decision-making processes, different approaches to hygiene, different ways of playing (especially with children and young people) and we could go on. Whether we are Anglo, Karen, Dutch, Filipino, Chin, Finish of some other origin, to live in unity we  have to accept our differences,  move out of our comfort zones, put aside our negative judgement of each other’s’ cultures and commit to be God’s people above all else.

Yesterday morning our speaker was Joel Ortiz who is no stranger to us.  Joel Ortiz was born in the Philippines where he was both a Bible College principal and a pastor in a large church. He is currently leading a church plant here in Hobart called Mabuhay Christ Homes and as part of his 2020Vision role is helping us in our journey of becoming the church God wants us to be.

It is exciting to see what God is doing here at Hobart Baptist Church, and an encouragement to observe our care for each other. Let us continue to pray that God will grant us grace and love as we work at being God’s people together.

Stephen L Baxter

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The People – The Church

We use the word “church” in so many different ways that sometimes it becomes quite confusing.  When we say we are “going to church” we could mean we are meeting with others to worship God, or that we are just going to the building. Sometimes we use the word church to mean a denomination, and other times we use it to mean the wider body of Christ of which all believers are part. 

Sadly, none of these ways of using the word are from the Bible. In the New Testament the word we translate “church” is ekklesia, which means a public gathering, assembly or meeting. Never throughout the New Testament does ekklesia refer to a building; it only always refers to people.

Chinese House Church

A chinese house church meets

Nevertheless buildings are important. While many churches exist without a building, they can serve a useful function. For Hobart Baptist our buildings help us go about the ministry God has called us to. What is more, did you know that our buildings are used seven days a week? Many other groups find our buildings helpful too.

From time to time, for many reasons, churches need to develop their buildings. These may include the buildings being too big or too small, they could be falling down or crumbling, or often they are wrongly designed for today’s church or community needs.

Hobart Baptist Church

Hobart Baptist Church is one of the original ‘tabernacles’ built in Tasmania with help from Spurgeon’s grandson

Hobart Baptist Church is in the middle of a process of dreaming about how we might develop and use our buildings to help us in our ministry both now and in the future. When we began the journey nearly two years ago we were just looking at upgrading the kitchen and having meeting rooms with appropriate technology, but since then the vision has grown and we are now in serious discussions with the owners of neighbouring properties about how we might do something quite large together.

The church has appointed a taskforce to work with the interested parties to work out what is possible. We are aware that any development needs to reflect and to speak of what the church stands for, what it wants to promote and how it can best be used in response to contemporary and future needs. So all our dreaming and discussion has taken place within the context of the mission of the church and our place in neighbourhood in mind.

Everyone the taskforce talks to is very excited with our vision and are keen to see the vision realised. However, the Taskforce is very mindful that despite this truly amazing opportunity, “the church” is not a building, no matter how beautiful, spacious or practical it might be. The building only exists to serve God’s people who are the church, and it is important for us to constantly remember this.

“The building only exists to serve God’s people who are the church, and it is important for us to constantly remember this.”

That, however, doesn’t take away the reality that the Taskforce is at a very important stage in our discussions and we as a congregation are praying earnestly. A full update will be given at our church meeting in April, but in the meantime we will be praying that God will oversee the process and that a shared understanding on how to proceed will be approved by all the respective parties.

We are looking forward to all that happens as Hobart Baptist Church charts its course into the future, with our great God at the helm.

Stephen L Baxter