The Inward Drift

Slowly, subtly, and almost unnoticed it happens to the best of churches. It is detectable in churches in the Bible; it is found in churches across Australia.

Missional-Church-2

Jesus called his disciples to go and make disciples. We are all called to be missionaries.

Quietly we drift away from our core calling. Rather than focusing outwardly into the world of the lost, the lonely and the broken, we gaze inwardly at each other. Rather than caring and praying for those who don’t know Jesus, we spend our time and money caring for ourselves. Church members and church buildings become our focus.

Jesus called his disciples to go and make disciples. We are all called to be missionaries. Wherever we live or work or go to school that is the focus of our mission. For those of us who live in Australia, that means being a missionary right here.

Here in Tasmania, and within the denomination of which I am a part, regaining a healthy mission focus in our churches is the heart of Tasmanian Baptists’ desire to be a “mission shaped movement”.

It’s not as easy as it might sound. Once a church has become inwardly focused, there is a tendency to cling to the traditional ways of doing things and change becomes difficult, sometimes seemingly impossible. Quite often the process of refocusing a church outwardly, and bringing mission to its heart, is a very painful process. The tension between adopting new strategies for mission and maintaining . . .
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Leaving the 19th . . . and into the 21st Century

It was many decades after the founding of Hobart that the Hobart Baptist Church building, or Tabernacle as it has often been known, was completed. That was early in 1889 after nearly a decade of feverish activity. When pioneer pastor, Irish born Rev. Robert McCullough arrived in 1883 after a stint in Longford, the church began meeting in the Exhibition Building, where City Hall now stands in Macquarie Street.

HBC Building

“On 5 October 1887 a foundation stone for the new neo-classical building was laid. The final cost was about $4,500,000 in today’s money”

After being thrown out of the Exhibition Building in 1884, the church erected a temporary structure of rough timber, ragged tarpaulins and corrugated iron on the spot where our “Tabernacle” stands. Work on a second building, our current hall, began in 1884 behind the temporary structure. Then on 5 October 1887 a foundation stone for the new neo-classical building was laid. The final cost was about $4,500,000 in today’s money.

Situated on the fringe of Hobart’s CBD, the stately “Tabernacle” modelled on a similar building in Stockport, England, has stood the test of time. It has lived through highs and lows and times when the congregation filled it to capacity. Today the ministry and mission of Hobart Baptist Church continues thanks to the courage, foresight, and perseverance of those early pioneers and those who have served over the years.

The building still possesses a certain grandeur and stands proud despite the challenges faced by the church across Australia and in Hobart. Each day many walk or drive past the building without realising it is the hub of a vibrant, diverse church community of over 250 people. It’s hard to imagine that from the outside. The building is in need of an upgrade to enable the church to meet the ministry and mission needs of today’s world.

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Value-able Decisions

It’s been suggested one of the most important things you do in life is decide what’s important in life – who you are and what you do. It is as true for followers of Jesus as it is for anyone. As we choose to embrace the values of the Kingdom of God our lives change forever. In fact, so radical is the resulting transformation that Jesus described it as a re-birth.

Grassy plains

“Although some values develop quickly, others take years, perhaps decades, to develop”

Following Jesus is like starting life all over again. It is seeing everything in life from a totally new perspective. It changes our priorities and what’s important in our lives. These new values come from our relationship with Jesus Christ, by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and through our reading of the Bible. Although some values develop quickly, others take years, perhaps decades, to develop.

Churches have values too. Along with our beliefs, there are the guiding principles to the way we live life together. No matter the breadth of our diversity, our individual expertise, our backgrounds or our culture, the church operates on a set of values that determine the way we relate to each other and the world around us. Sometimes we are not be aware what our values are, however a good look at the choices we make and the way we live will reveal them.

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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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Christians: The new non-believers

At the Tasmanian Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast last week I had the opportunity to provide a short introduction to this annual event. I thought you might like to read a transcript of my speech as many attendees were very encouraged by what I said:

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.

Outback Cross

“Despite the place Christianity has played in Australia’s history . . . to call oneself a Christian in Australia today invites responses of curiosity, condescension and cool dismissal.”

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, naive, 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 quite 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?

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Brave New World (for Christians, anyway)

Barney Zwartz

Barney Zwartz

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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Our Challenge: to be IN it, but not OF it

Crowd

“The question of how the church relates to the surrounding culture . . . was ever before them”

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 >>>

God’s Hidden Presence

On the morning of his resurrection Jesus walked through the near-empty garden unnoticed.
Well almost
.

The_Garden_Tomb_2008

The Garden Tomb in Jerusalem where some scholars say Jesus was buried. Click the image for more info

Had he not asked Mary Magdalene why she was crying he would have remained hidden. Then even as she answered Jesus’ question she didn’t recognise him. That is until he called her by name, then the recognition came. (John 20:11-18)

There is a mystery about the presence of God. In Matthew’s gospel when he relates the story of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God,” implying that if one is not pure in heart then God may be hidden from view. Although the Bible makes clear that God is present everywhere and in everything is God’s presence (for instance Psalm 139:7-12), the darkness of our heart distorts our perception.

St Ephrem

St Ephrem

The 4th Century theologian St. Ephrem the Syrian expressed it neatly in the following verse . . .

Lord, your symbols are everywhere,
Yet you are hidden from everywhere.
Though your symbol is on high,
Yet height does not perceive that you are;
Though your symbol is in the depth,
It does not comprehend who you are;
Though your symbol is in the sea,
You are hidden from the sea;
Though your symbol is on dry land,
It is not aware what you are.
Blessed is the Hidden One shining out!

St. Ephrem uses the word “symbol” in its ancient meaning >>>

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Map It!

The_Mercator_Map[1]

“Maps have proven to be one of the clearest forms of communication ever”

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.

Martin Robinson

Robinson says, “It is necessary for the church to rethink its stance entirely”

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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Australia Day: Love-Respect-Tension

A couple of weeks ago we commemorated Australia Day – a day to celebrate all that it means to be Australian. From barbeques to beach cricket, in community and family events, from community awards to the new immigrants, the nation takes a day off thankful for such a wonderful country.Australia Day 2015

For some it is just another excuse for a day off work, for others it is less than a celebration. The date, January 26, marks the anniversary of the 1788 arrival of the British ships of the First Fleet at Port Jackson, New South Wales. There are descendants of those who lived in this land before their arrival for who find this day difficult.

While the arrival of the First Fleet heralded the beginning of modern Australia, for many of the original inhabitants it signalled the end of a way of life. It brought with it suffering, disease and increased death rates thus making January 26 more a day of mourning than celebration, and more about invasion than foundation.

It is not hard to see why some feel this way. Read More >>>