Did you know that over 600 verses in the Bible refer to heaven, more than 500 mention prayer, less than 500 relate to faith, around 50 speak of hell, yet there are more than 2,000 passages which talk about handling money?
So good stewardship is a major theme throughout the Bible.
A week ago at our quarterly church meeting, we made some important decisions that will affect the future mission and ministries of Hobart Baptist Church. One of them concerned the formation of a project team to explore how we can make our church more accessible to new people. This initiative came from a special assignment I gave a new family when they joined us earlier this year.
I asked them to document what it was like for a young family to enter into the life of Hobart Baptist Church for the first time.
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At the Tasmanian Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast last week I took the opportunity to give a short introduction to this annual event. I thought you might like to read a transcript of my speech titled, Christians the as many attendees were very encouraged by what I said:
Tasmanian Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast | August 19, 2015
As we gather in the name and spirit of Jesus of Nazareth, we do so in the midst of great cultural turmoil. Within our community are forces at work endeavouring to overturn century-old norms and practices around key moments in life – at birth, marriage, and death. I speak, of course, about abortion, same-sex marriage and euthanasia.
In that maelstrom of competing voices and visions of the future, many find the very notion of a ‘prayer’ breakfast somewhat strange, antiquated and even dangerous.
Despite the place Christianity has played in Australia’s history, and despite its ongoing contributions, to call oneself a Christian in Australia today invites responses of curiosity, condescension and cool dismissal. Christians are often painted as intolerant, naïve, superstitious, and even backward. It is not uncommon to hear Christians put down, not only in casual conversation, but across social and mainstream media.
This caricature, I suggest, is false. It falls a long way short of many Christians who join with others to care for millions of Australians in homeless shelters, refuges, aged care facilities, disability services, soup kitchens, detox facilities etc. The contrast between them and the Christianity portrayed is quite striking.
But why? Why such a contrast?
Today in Australia, across large sections of the media and most State run education institutions, the Church comes into its fair share of criticism, some of it quite dismissive, but often hostile and some abusive.
However this is nothing new. Things haven’t changed much since the First Fleet landed at Sydney Cove. Here, at Australia’s beginning, the church was represented by military chaplains such as Johnson and Marsden. Sadly they were estranged from convicts, who saw them as moral policemen; and shunned by the authorities as nuisances. From the beginning the church didn’t sit comfortably in the new colony.
In stark contrast, early America’s Christian leaders had a different position on the side of, not against, the general population. In Australia, rather than seeing the convicts as those who needed help, they were more often than not viewed as sinners who needed punishment.
When the authorities appointed the chaplains to act as Civil Magistrates, the already strained relationships were exacerbated. The association of chaplains with the imposition of authority, punishment and discipline became entrenched such that any compassion or care shown by the chaplains was lost in translation.
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In a series of messages on revival the great Welsh preacher-teacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones turned to the end of Mark 9.
Here Jesus comes off the mountain to find the disciples unsuccessfully trying to free a boy from a demon. After a quick rebuke, Jesus heals the boy and the disciples ask why they couldn’t do it. Jesus explains how this kind is only expelled by prayer. Lloyd-Jones suggested Jesus used this incident to teach his disciples a lesson: the ordinary, business-as-usual way of doing things, no longer worked. Different times calls for different measures.
Using the story as an allegory, Lloyd-Jones suggested the boy represents contemporary Western culture; the demon is its underlying assumptions, and the disciples are the church. His conclusion was that our past methods of evangelism, while perfectly good for their time, no longer worked in today’s world. The world had changed. The old methods no longer applied. We are dealing with a different, difficult ‘spirit’.
Although the Lloyd-Jones’ message was given in 1959, it is still relevant today.
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Malcolm Muggeridge once asked, how do you boil a frog? His answer was not to drop it into a pot of hot water, as it will immediately jump out. Rather, you place it in a pot of cool water and gradually raise the temperature. Then the frog will remain in the increasingly hot water and die without even noticing.
Some suggest this is a good illustration of the church across the Western world. The world we live in has gradually changed and we have been caught unaware, and now, the situation is quite perilous.
Across the media the church is often portrayed as irrelevant in contemporary Australian society. Christian views are seen as relics of a bygone era, out of step with the community and even downright dangerous to the future.
That the majority of Australians still tick the Christian box in our Census is but a historical memory. The process of change, in areas such as science, technology, bureaucracy and the media, has pushed Christian ideas and ideals to the margins. Less than 10% of the population are ‘regular’ church goers (where regular means at least once a month), which leaves the vast majority of the 60% who nominate Christianity as their religion amongst those who regard the church as irrelevant.
In response it is not surprising to find that the Church is often tempted to respond by striving all the harder to be relevant. We see it throughout the churches, in our worship, in our literature and in our architecture.
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Ten days ago nine members of the Supreme Court in the USA, in a 5-4 ruling, declared same-sex “marriage” law across America. The result is that same-sex marriage can no longer be banned by any of the States. This new state of affairs was resolved by a small panel of seven men and two women. Many see this as a severe blow to democracy given that the people were not given a choice in the matter.
Although their decision does not change the biblical view of marriage, nor the view of millions of Christians across America, it nevertheless has significant implications for those who continue to hold the alternative, more traditional view. The result continues the marginalisation of Christians in the Western world.
The repercussions have already hit us. The calls for Australia to follow suit are growing louder and more strident. It seems only a matter of time before we fall into line. Then we, along with our American brothers and sisters, will need to work out our Christian response.
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There are many implications for Christians in the increasingly secular and Christophobic Australian culture. The decline in comprehensive, considered and constructive religious reporting in our media is but one of those.
In accepting the Ridley Marketplace Institute and ETHOS Faith and Work Awards earlier this year, recently retired Age journalist, Barney Zwartz, lamented that the time is fast approaching when religion “will mostly be ignored in the news columns… and that will accelerate wider society’s dissociation and ignorance.”
In many ways his insights reflect an ignorance already at work in our community. Most Australians think of Christianity as outmoded and irrelevant to modern society, yet despite this 60% of them still tick the “Christian” box on Census night. Strangely they are willing to criticise Christianity while at the same time continue to label themselves Christian.
Such an ironic contradiction illustrates just how ignorant Australians are of what it means to be a Christian and to follow Christ.
The typical stereotyping of Christianity as a white, male, European, English speaking religion also adds to the misunderstanding. The reality is quite different.
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Throughout the centuries Christians have constantly wrestled with what it means to live as Christ’s followers in societies and communities that are morally and culturally challenging to their faith.
Even at the beginning, when small, fledgling churches were first established across the Roman world, Christians were surrounded by a pagan culture filled with mystery cults, mysticism, philosophical debate and speculation. The New Testament is full of letters to these churches, letters aimed at helping these Christian communities navigate how they are to follow Christ each in their particular context. The question of how the church relates to the surrounding culture and how the surrounding culture affects the church was ever before them.
These questions remain with us today. In our (post) modern culture we are surrounded with tsunami-like changes spanning across a wide range of religious, secular and scientific thought. Our faith is constantly being challenged and we are prompted to wonder just how we are to live in and relate to the culture in which we live.
Historically the church’s response has swung between two extremes: on the one hand capitulation/accommodation and on the other, separation. Neither of them is biblical. Read on >>>
Last Saturday, along with millions of others across Australia and NZ, Hobart Baptist Church commemorated the Anzac Day Centenary holding our own service of remembrance.
Our unique focus was to honour those associated with Hobart Baptist Church who paid the ultimate sacrifice. Their names are listed memorial plaques hanging in our main building. Continue reading “ANZAC Day – A Unique Moment for Aussies”
Across countries, cultures and time, maps have proven to be one of the clearest forms of communication ever developed. They are most efficient and effective when it comes to recording, storing and transferring information, even when complex ideas need to be passed on, with simplicity accuracy and readability.
Maps take many forms. We are most familiar with geographic maps that locate mountains, valleys, rivers, lakes, and so on, in spatial relationship. We use them to locate our current position so we can plan where we want to go, and how to get there.
Maps are also used to communicate information in such areas as population, economic, and weather patterns. We also have tools such as mind maps, cognitive maps and conversational maps. They too are aids for navigation whether the terrain is geographic, demographic or psychographic.
It is also helpful to picture history as a map. History is never a re-creation of past events but a tool to understand the past in ways that help us recognise who we are, where we are and where we might be headed.
Nearly 20 years ago Martin Robinson, previously director of Mission and Theology at the Bible Society in Britain and now principal at Springdale College, wrote in his book To Win the West, “It is necessary for the church to rethink its stance entirely and to become a missionary church within the West.”
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