Month: October 2016

Halloween vs. Reformation Day: More in common than we thought?

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This spooky spider web could almost pass for Santa…[1]

October is a great time to laugh at the crisis of shopping centres, as they struggle to figure out whether they should be decked out for Halloween, or already setting up the Christmas decorations. The amusing thought occurred to me this afternoon about the usefulness of white, wispy “pillow fluff” decorations during this awkward change-over period: you can put toy spiders on it to produce a suitably “spooky” effect, before removing them to make it look more like snow as we head into November.

I suspect the visual blend of Halloween and Christmas earns the ire of some of my Christian brothers and sisters. For many of us, “never the twain should meet.” But there’s a more annoying commemorative overlap with Halloween that tends to see an important day largely overshadowed every year: even amongst those who have great cause to celebrate it.

October 31st is not only a day for celebrations of spookiness. It’s when many Protestant Christians mark the anniversary of the event that ignited the Reformation. And it’s actually no coincidence that “Reformation Day” & “Halloween” fall on the same date.

Halloween gets its name from “All hallows eve” – that is the night (eve) before All Hallows – or All Saints Day in the Catholic tradition. The folklore goes something like, all the evil spirits come out and wreak havoc just before the holy day when the Church is/was celebrating everyone she’s recognised as a saint throughout history. It’s a juxtaposition. Martin Luther likely nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenburg Church (the event that is seen by many as the spark that ignited the Reformation) on All Hallow’s Eve in 1517 precisely because he wanted them to be seen and read when churchgoers gathered to celebrate All Saint’s Day the following morning.

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 [2]
While for many Christians, a day celebrating the beginning of a world-changing theological and spiritual renewal movement and a day celebrating fear and ghastly otherworldliness couldn’t be further from each other in significance – they bear a strange commonality.

In a sense, Reformation Day is summed up in “After Darkness, Light”, while Halloween might be thought of as “Before light, darkness.”

Reformation Day reminds us that God graciously brought the light of His Word, Gospel and glory to millions of people, after a long spell of spiritual darkness lay over the world due to the Church being compromised. Countless people have since been “enlightened” by having the Bible in their own language, in their own home. A multitude have been “illuminated” by hearing the Gospel presented clearly: that they can have salvation in Christ alone, solely on the basis of God’s grace, received exclusively through faith. And God’s fame shines brighter today in many parts of the world as He accomplishes salvation for His own glory – that none may boast.

And the myth of Halloween – the idea that the powers of darkness are at their strongest immediately before giving way to a great celebration of holiness – may actually be more instructive for us than we’d typically think. Sometimes the powers of darkness and the human agents that happily do their bidding seem all-too-powerful from the perspective of Christians who are anxious about the apparent triumph of evil in the world, while we wait and wait for God to do something about it.

But despite how things may seem during our darkest patches, the Bible assures us that:

1) Christ has triumphed over every spiritual power of darkness and has conquered death itself (Col 2:15; Heb 2:14-15; 1 Pet 3:22)

2) This present age of sin, fallenness and death is being swallowed up by the new age of resurrection life in Christ (Rom 8; 1 Cor 15:54-55; 2 Cor 5:4; 2 Tim 1:10;)

3) Satan, the most powerful spiritual force of darkness has been defeated by Christ, but is in his “death throes” and thus still appears threatening and able to do damage as he thrashes about in the time he has left (Rev 12:12)

4) However dark the world seems to get and however much evil seems to prevail, Christ’s sudden return will utterly obliterate all wickedness and rebellious spirits (and people) forever. (2 Thess 1:5-10; 2 Pet 3:7; Jude 14-15; Rev 19-20)

Since I always tend to opt for the superior over the inferior, I would naturally commend the 499th anniversary of the Reformation as much more worthy of your celebration than Halloween. And yet it would seem that both observances of the 31st of October could serve to remind us that in God’s sovereign goodness, Light has (and will!) come after Darkness (post tenebras lux), even if much of our sojourn on earth is faced with darkness coming before the dawn.

 

[1] Mats_60 “Untitled” flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
[2] Uncredited: derived from https://lutheranarts.wordpress.com/2013/10/30/a-reformation-pumpkin-gallery/

Looking Forward, Looking Back: Brisbane and the Gospel 3 decades on (1987-2017)

No doubt churches across the city have begun discussing and planning out what 2017 will look like for their ministry. Well I picked up a very interesting study from the Brisbane School of Theology Library this afternoon, which considers the state of religion across Brisbane and suggests strategies for reaching people in each of the city’s many suburbs with the gospel…

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The problem is, Brisbane: Resistant or Neglected? was compiled almost 30 years ago – meaning that of course the statistics are outdated and many of the proposed strategies are of limited contemporary use. And yet reading through the study’s account of some of the suburbs provides a great insight into where things were at in the city 30 years ago – allowing for fruitful reflections on what has changed and what remains the same.

I wanted to provide a sample from the profile for St. Lucia (where I attend church).

“St. Lucia

The home of Queensland University, St. Lucia’s population pyramid reflects student residents. 39% are in professional employment, while 7.5% make $26 000 per year. The university and golf course and club are unique to St. Lucia. This strongly rejuvenating suburb has a substantial Asian and Malaysian population. Strategy to reach students and these two ethnic groups should be carefully mapped out.

What Could be Done?

…The characteristic population decline has reversed, and is currently on the increase. The majority of these people are professional and have not declared a religion. The Asian population needs to be evangelized. Coordinating church outreach with campus ministries would strengthen the existing work here. Drugs and immorality are prevalent problems in such an area and need to be dealt with aggressively.

Older age groups are concentrated here, as well as young adults 20-29 years of age. Therefore effective evangelism strategies must include outreach to both of these predominant age groups. The housing stock of this area has been through more than one cycle of ownership. Single persons or childless couples occupy rental accommodation in old houses or multiple dwellings. The majority of residents are lower middle class…Evangelism strategies for young adults need to include the development of friendship and interest groups. From these, share groups may emerge in which the Gospel may be effectively presented.

Outreach to the elderly population may include yard and home maintenance, social activities and home visitation to build relationships. “Meals on Wheels” and home nursing care could provide vital inroads into the lives of the families. The elderly population in this area must not be neglected at the cost of outreach solely to the young. Evangelism strategies for young adults needs (sic) to include the development of friendship and interest groups. From these, share groups may emerge in which the Gospel may be effectively presented.”[2]

 

Significantly, many of the general observations here still ring true. The presence of the university means the age demographics and population of international students have remained a constant feature (though we can allow for shifts within broader categories over the decades). Then there’s what I nickname the “landed gentry” of the area – the (often elderly) non-student population whose families have owned houses in the area for some time – perhaps pre-dating the dominance of the university over the suburb. The suburb is still significantly irreligious. And while the assertion that “Drugs and immorality are prevalent problems in such an area and need to be dealt with aggressively”, may raise an eyebrow in 2016, the problem certainly remains real, even if one hesitates to speak of “aggressive” engagement with it.

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The University of Queensland dominates the suburb of St. Lucia [3]

My feeling, having been involved with churches in this suburb for the past 5 years is that the target groups for evangelistic engagement probably remain very similar 30 years on, but no one church is attempting to effectively reach them all.

The churches I’ve been involved with directly, more or less have the Asian demographic covered, and certainly attract a great number of university students. But there’s limited on-campus or residential community engagement and we gain most of our new members through (pre-existent or newly established) friendship connections; being seen by newcomers to the area who are passing by; word-of-mouth/reputation (eg; as a predominantly “Asian”, “Chinese” or “Singaporean/Malaysian” church or a solid evangelical church with expository preaching); and the internet.

Other churches in the area have greater campus involvement, including co-operation with para-church student ministries or running their own student outreach in the residential colleges. But I’m not aware of their strategies for reaching the wider, non-student and/or elderly community members – or how effective any such initiatives may be.

My suspicion is that the churches in the area which service and engage the most with the long-term residents and elderly population are those which we would not typically identify as evangelical in their theological outlook. These more traditional and long-established churches are reaching out to the older and equally established community members, but perhaps not with the good news of Jesus. Those of us of the evangelical persuasion should also not under-estimate the potential capacity of these churches to “out-outreach” us when it comes to migrant and minority communities in the area, through social programs, English classes and friendly community engagement.

Significantly, the study doesn’t mention anything about strategies for building relationships and gospel opportunities through local schools and community clubs and organisations. I know that some of the best engagement with the local St. Lucia community – from members of churches I’m reasonably acquainted with – has been through making the most of the opportunities that come from being a parent at a local school, or serving as a chaplain or volunteer RI teacher. English classes have also been a more recent innovation that allow great relationship building opportunities for international students and residents from diverse ethnic backgrounds, who may be lonely and isolated by their poor grasp of English.

Reflections

Looking at Brisbane: Resistant or Neglected provides us with food for thought:

I wonder what’s changed in the suburb where you live, work, study or minister over the past few decades?

What was the ministry outlook and evangelistic goals of your church when it began ministering in your area?

Are we addressing yesterday’s trends and issues? Or are we well-acquainted with the changing face of our communities and the contemporary challenges and needs in our area?

Is your church ministry team working hard to ensure your whole congregation is making the most of opportunities they have to advance the gospel in your local area?

Is there a group or subculture in your suburb that’s not actively being engaged with the gospel? What kind of ministry could be started to ensure they have the opportunity to connect with Jesus and His people?

Can we co-operate more effectively amongst evangelical churches to ensure we are reaching out to everyone with the gospel and not just one group or another?

These are questions that churches and their leaders must consider and re-visit from time to time to ensure we’re being faithful in the place God has placed us. More work can be done on ensuring there are local and city-wide strategies for reaching the maximal amount of people with the gospel. And I think a 2017 revision of Brisbane: Resistant or Neglected 30 years on would be a wonderful endeavour for someone to take up!  

 

[1] Kelly Hunter “Castlemaine Perkins Brewery” flickr/wikimedia CC BY 2.0

[2] Ralph W. Neighbour & Lorna Jenkins [eds.] No Room in the Inn…Brisbane: Resistant or Neglected (Brisbane: Touch International Ministries, 1987): pp. 268-269

[3] Bilious “University of Queensland Bus Station” CC BY 2.5 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_of_Queensland#/media/File:UQ_Bus_Station.jpg

Why should I get baptized?

In a previous post, I considered the question of “when” someone should get baptized. As a complementary piece, I want to consider here a few reasons “why” someone should get baptized. 

Unfortunately, some churches have a relatively low view of baptism and are quite blasé in the way they practice it. On the other hand, some churches who insist on doing it (and doing it “properly!“) often give lacklustre reasons for why Christians need to be baptized. A common one I have encountered is, “Christians get baptized in obedience to Jesus’ command to be baptized and follow His example of being baptized.” While this is certainly true, it lends to an impoverished view of baptism if mere obedience is the main or only reason given for the act.

So, based on my previous description of baptism as a symbol and declaration of the gospel of Jesus Christ, here are 4 reasons I would encourage any new believer (or unbaptized person who professes faith in Christ) to seek baptism.

#1 By getting baptized you are publicly declaring to the world that Jesus is Lord and that you’ve thrown your lot in with Him by trusting in Him for salvation. 

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” Romans 6:3-5, ESV

This is a powerful declaration to Christians and non-Christians alike – whether they witness your baptism personally, or hear about it afterwards. Baptism is actually a statement about your identity – about what the most significant thing in your life is. By going down into the water, you’re saying boldly that you’ve died with Christ – died to your sins, died to the world, and that all your hope for life is in the resurrection of Jesus you will share in for eternity.

We take other ceremonies that are closely associated with our identity very seriously – eg; graduation ceremony, wedding ceremony, citizenship ceremony. And yet, baptism is a much more fundamental statement about who we are. Because soon you won’t be a professional, a spouse or a citizen of your country. But if you’re united with Christ, what your baptism says about you will always be true. Throughout eternity, the reality of your union with Christ in His death and resurrection will endure, while the career you had, who you married and which flag you lived under will be comparatively minor historical details.

Getting baptized therefore serves as a powerful witness of these truths to those who already think this way about Jesus and life. It also issues a deep challenge to those who live for this world and will lose it all when it perishes.

#2 By getting baptized you are declaring to your new brothers and sisters in Christ that you have come to know Jesus just as they have and that you wish to identify with them God’s family.

“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:27-28, ESV

Saying “I want to get baptized” is saying “I am a ‘Jesus person'” and that you want to be identified publicly with Christ for the rest of your life, by visibly entering the community of His people. You are recognising that all those who were obedient disciples of Christ before you believed have identified with Him through the rite of baptism and now you wish to become one of them (even one with them) through your own clear declaration of union with Christ.
Just like our citizenship ceremonies are about saying “I wish to be called an Australian now and identify with those who already are”, baptism is a positive declaration of identity and identification with God’s people.

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#3 By baptizing you, your new church family is declaring to you that they recognise you as a believer in Jesus and welcome you into the Body of Christ and family of God. 

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20, ESV)

This is of course the other side of the coin to #2. Whoever is baptizing you (which, in all but extreme cases of geographical isolation ought to be your local church) is affirming your profession of faith in Christ and declaring to you: “You’re one of us now.” Again, to use the example of a citizenship ceremony – the point of the event is not merely to hear the new citizen declare their allegiance to their new country – it’s an opportunity for official representatives of their adopted/adoptive country to welcome them into the ranks of the nation.

Baptism is not about the church saying “We’re 100% sure that you’re a genuine Christian and that you’ll spend eternity with Christ” (that’s God’s jurisdiction and prerogative not ours). But it is about saying “We accept your profession of faith as credible and you give us no reason to doubt you’re one of us or reject you from our fellowship. Welcome to the family of God.”

#4 By getting baptized you are inviting God, through the Holy Spirit to declare to you that the things which baptism symbolizes are true of you.  

Baptism…now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.” 1 Peter 3:21-22, ESV

In the somewhat controversial NT passage above, Peter is not teaching that the ceremony of baptism “saves” us.
But he is teaching how it is connected to salvation and the Christian life. The water that washes us in baptism has no magical properties to affect us spiritually. But by being baptized – by acting out our profession of faith and declaring to all that we are united with Christ by faith – we are doing something that can do us immense spiritual good. We are appealing to God for a good conscience. That is to say, we are asking God to testify to us that we have actually been washed clean and spiritually renewed through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (see Titus 3:4-7). A good conscience means our guilt and shame in relation to God has been washed away by Jesus and that we can enjoy a loving relationship with God that leads to eternal life. I believe, partly based on my personal experience in being baptized, that our appeal to God for a good conscience is essentially us asking Him to declare to us that what our baptism represents is true.

When I was baptized I had a great sense of spiritual assurance that I was a new creation and that the Holy Spirit truly had applied the work of Christ to my life and united me with Him through faith. The water didn’t do this – but going through baptism seemed to result in a powerful testimony to me from God that the promises of Jesus were really mine. It was as though God was saying, “As surely as you have gone down into the water, you have died with Jesus and your sins are washed away – your soul is clean. And as surely as you have come up from the water again, you have new life in Jesus through His resurrection and you will live eternally through His life.”

I’m not putting words in God’s mouth, this is merely me reflecting theologically (drawing heavily on the Scriptural account of what baptism means), in order to express a sense of what I felt and experienced that day. I can’t guarantee you’ll have exactly the same experience – but I’d still encourage you to approach baptism as an appeal to God: a means of assuring you that your conscience is good and you have been cleansed by Christ.

There is much more that could be said on the matter, but I hope these 4 reasons can serve as a motivator for those who are new believers thinking about baptism, or those who have professed Christ for some time without getting baptized, to make and receive these public declarations through baptism. May you bring glory to Christ not only through this public identification with the gospel, but seeking to live a life that reflects the amazing truth that you’re united with Him.

 

 

[1] Taylor McBride “Baptism” (CC BY-NC 2.0) flickr

When should I get baptized?

A couple of things have instigated this post:

1) Not so long ago I had a chat with some guys at church about baptism. They hadn’t been baptized yet, so we chatted about things like the thinking behind baptism; why they should consider it for themselves etc; So it got me thinking that some of these questions might be worth tackling for the potential benefit of a wider audience.

2) Over my years as a Christian and in gospel ministry I’ve encountered a number of people (some have been fairly close friends) who have professed Christ for a number of years – but have never undergone baptism. While I’m sure some of these brothers and sisters may have had better reasons than others – much of what I’ve encountered seems to boil down to a subjective feeling of “unreadiness” for baptism and/or an unclear or unhelpful idea about what baptism is and where it fits into the Christian life.

So I’m writing with potentially both sets of people in mind. When and why should anyone get baptized?

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What is baptism all about?

First things first, I probably ought to say something about the “what” of baptism. [Since I plan to cover my detailed thoughts on baptism in future posts, I’ll keep things brief here].

Baptism is a visible symbol of the gospel. Specifically, the immersion of a person in water, in the name of the Father, Son & Holy Spirit (Matt 28:19-20), depicts their union with Jesus Christ in His death (going down into the water) and resurrection (coming up out of the water) (see Romans 6). Baptism is also a statement of entry into the community of people that confess Jesus as Lord and trust Him for the forgiveness of sins. In summary, baptism is a visual, elemental declaration – first and foremost about Jesus – but also about the person being baptized and the community they’re identifying with through baptism.

When should I get baptized?

Short answer (stated positively): You should get baptized as soon as possible once a) you’re confident that you’ve become a Christian (through genuine repentance from sin and personal trust in Jesus as Saviour and Lord) &
b) your church is willing to baptize you based on what they’ve assessed to be your genuine profession of faith in Christ.

Short answer (stated negatively): If you know you’re a Christian and your church has been treating you as such for some time – you definitely shouldn’t be delaying getting baptized.

Explanation: In the early days of Christianity, baptism took place very soon after conversion and confession of faith in Christ (often immediately after, see Acts 2:41; 8:36-39; 9:18; 10:47-48). Why they did it so early on seems to be because baptism functioned as a visible symbol of conversion to Christianity and an entry marker into the church community. Baptized people were distinct from everyone else in the sense that they had identified with Jesus and the gospel in a very public way and the church had recognised and received them into her ranks.

While not everyone needs to be baptized the day, or day after, they profess faith in Christ – the faith and practice of the early church suggests earlier is better than later. I have no problems with churches taking the possibility of false conversions seriously and wanting to be duly accountable to God that the person they’re baptizing has become a genuine disciple of Jesus.** But in principle, I’d say it’s a credible profession of faith that forms the basis for baptizing someone and that neither a believer or church should be mucking around too much if that’s present.

If your church has a short baptism course that runs for a few weeks or a program for new believers to make sure every Christian is grounded in the essentials of the faith, there’s nothing wrong with that – and it has potential to be of great benefit to both the new Christian and the church community they’re joining.

But delaying baptism indefinitely, as though it is not a matter of importance, is an unhelpful practice. One which the New Testament would not commend.

I’ll have a follow-up post in a few days time, considering some motivations and incentives as to “why” someone should get baptized.

NOTES:

*I’ve deliberately left aside questions of infant baptism and “rebaptism”, as my concern and focus here is those who have never participated in anything they’d call a Christian baptism.

**I’d say this is a good idea, proportionally to how much nominal Christianity has been an issue in the culture a church is operating in. If there have been historical, social benefits associated with outward affiliation with Christianity, it probably pays to have a method of instruction and examination of the person’s understanding of the faith before baptizing them. If there is little or no social advantage (or immediate risk of persecution) connected to Christianity in a society, I see no problem with immediate baptism upon profession of faith, as per the New Testament.

Picture Credit

[1] Wilderness Kev Baptism (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) flickr

 

How the Nationals saved Marriage (and Turnbull saved himself)

We know it’s now almost certain that the bill relating to the plebiscite on same-sex “marriage” will not make it through Federal Parliament and therefore no public vote on the issue will be held any time soon. If we’re to believe news reports, no definitive parliamentary vote is likely to take place in the near future either.

While senior Liberals are blaming Labor for torpedoing any hope of “marriage equality” and Labor is blaming Malcolm Turnbull for backing a “dangerous” plebiscite – I think there’s one political force that deserves “credit” for delaying the redefinition of marriage and one political figure that really stands to benefit from it.

The media has focused too much on the conservative faction in the Liberal party when it comes to issues like SSM, such as Senators Eric Abetz and Cory Bernardi and Howard/Abbott minister Kevin Andrews (and of course Tony Abbott). We’ve been told that it’s these cultural-conservative-crusading, Abbott-backers who are kicking up a stink within the party and holding the government to ransom.

To some extent, this is true, but it  fails to grapple with the fact that some of the most influential opponents of same-sex marriage and strategic supporters of a plebiscite are people who were instrumental in establishing the Coalition’s policy on the issue, but never exercised a vote in the Abbott-Turnbull leadership contest. I’m talking of course about the National Party, led by Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce.

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Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce [1]

Astute followers of Australian politics would know by now that it’s far too simplistic to say that Turnbull stuck with the plebiscite policy against his will because of conservative MPs within his party that he owes his leadership to.
While Turnbull certainly needed the support of socially conservative Liberals who oppose SSM, in order to successfully topple Abbott – his ascendancy was in fact a brutal wounding of the conservative faction in the Coalition and his “moderate” supporters probably could have agitated for his preferred “free-vote” option more strongly than they did.

The problem was that the toppling of Abbott required a fresh Coalition agreement with the National Party – which although remaining officially secret, very obviously contained a memorandum of understanding about retaining Abbott’s policy concerning the plebiscite. It was the Nationals – probably moreso than their conservative cousins in the Liberal party – who made Turnbull drink from this bitter chalice. They got no say in whether he replaced Abbott as PM, but they had an enormous say as to the terms in which he would be enabled to govern.

By forcing the government to stick with this policy – even when it appeared doomed to  parliamentary failure, the Nationals appear to have pulled off an even better solution to the issue than a last-resort public vote. Once the plebiscite bill is defeated in the Senate, the Government will legitimately be able to let the issue drop for the term of the current parliament. This means no SSM unless and until an ALP victory at the 2019 election (which would still need the right Senate composition to get pushed through).

Nationals MPs Andrew Broad and George Christiansen have sent strong messages to Turnbull & Co. about any flirtations he might be having with the idea of switching to a parliamentary free vote. Broad intimated that he might withdraw support from the government over such a move, while Christiansen clearly indicated the plebiscite policy was part of the Coalition agreement.

While Deputy PM, Barnaby Joyce has reportedly chastised Broad over his comments, it is hard to see this as anything but political theatre – a backbencher taking one for the team. Joyce doesn’t want SSM and as he’s indicated in recent days, he’s very happy to see the government agenda move onto a range of matters he considers to be much more important for national development. By being seen to exercise authority and discipline over the parliamentary party and pulling an outspoken MP “into line”, while giving very strong public shows of loyalty to Turnbull, Joyce is able to maximise the power of the Nationals in this situation while others are blamed for the state of affairs.

So if you believe traditional marriage is something that should be protected, preserved and promoted, you should probably thank the one political party to do something serious about halting it’s redefinition for the forseeable future. I had lost a lot of faith in the Nationals over the years, as they seemed to increasingly become the lapdogs and lackeys of powerful Liberal governments. But under Joyce, they have shone at a critical junction in our nation’s social history and achieved a significant victory (however temporary), while the Liberal, Labor and Greens, along with others, were ready to abandon the meaning of marriage.

The strange thing in all of this is that it benefits Malcolm Turnbull and shores up his leadership security. While some view the PM as hamstrung on an issue he himself would like to see change on – and doomed to lose either government or the Liberal leadership if he makes a wrong step – his opponents now face a similar dilemma. If they get rid of Turnbull they’ll almost inevitably bring about SSM in Australia.

Should the conservative Liberals seek to reinstate Abbott or create a movement behind another potential leader (Bishop or Morrison), they risk handing Labor government (with or without an election). Turnbull would almost certainly resign upon losing the leadership and bring about a by-election in Wentworth, which would not necessarily see a Liberal candidate elected. The Coalition would struggle to govern in the circumstances and would probably need to call an early election, which on current polling they’d lose.

It also highly reduces the likelihood of any breakaway conservative party, under a figure like Cory Bernardi. If the government was torn apart by a split, it could lead to a Labor government, which would seek to legislate SSM within 100 days of taking office.

So while Turnbull still needs to perform (frankly, better than he has been so far) to keep the job – he’s a lot safer if he lets this issue die down. It puts to rest one of the things that made him untrustworthy in the eyes of many conservatives and it makes the alternative of an ALP government that implements SSM, all the more unthinkable.

If you’ve struggled to imagine a political scenario where Turnbull, the Nationals and the conservative Liberals all manage to win, while the organised Left of Australian politics loses – this may just be it. The Nationals saved marriage, Turnbull saved himself. At least for now…

[1] Bidgee “Barnaby Joyce…” CC BY-SA 3.0 wikimedia

 

 

6 things Jesus said about homosexuality (pt. 2)

In part one, we looked at several things Jesus did say, which have implications for questions about sexuality and marriage (homosexuality in particular). In this piece, we continue with 3 more. 

4. The Law: Jesus took the Law given by YHWH in the Old Testament very seriously. Consider:

Do not think that I have come to destroy the law or the prophets. I have not come to destroy them but to fulfill them. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one tiny letter or one stroke of a letter will pass away from the law until all takes place. Therefore whoever abolishes one of the least of these commandments and teaches people to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever keeps them and teaches them, this person will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-19).

3370859327_ca39731af9_z                        [1]

Christians for centuries have needed to wrestle with the fact that Jesus’ fulfillment of the Law included Him upholding or reinforcing many of the precepts and principles that were already familiar to the Jews of His day – while also revolutionising the way people related to YHWH and recasting our framework for ethical living in numerous ways.

In what is perhaps the key Old Testament text on YHWH’s boundaries for human sexuality, Leviticus 18, we find the command: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” (18:22). It’s right there, nestled amongst commands forbidding incest, adultery and even bestiality. When God spoke to His people concerning acceptable, sexual behaviour He forbade men engaging in sexual acts with men (as though it were the same as the sexual norm: a man sleeping with a woman).

According to Jesus’ statement above in Matthew 5, He didn’t come to abolish or destroy Leviticus 18. Its outline of what is sexually unacceptable still stands as a good and true command of God. In fulfilling the Law, it is possible that Jesus may have recast the way we understand this prohibition against homosexual sex – but if He didn’t, it remains legitimate to think of the act as an abomination in the sight of God.

In this case, Jesus’ silence on homosexuality works against those who attempt to use it as an argument in their favour. His ‘failure’ to speak specifically and directly about homosexual sex – in a manner that would lead his followers to view it in a new light – strongly suggests that He allowed the force of the Law’s condemnation of it to stand.

Significantly, when Jesus goes on in Matthew 5 to engage with the Old Testament Law which He came to fulfill, and deals with issues of sexuality and marriage – He recasts them in a more comprehensive (dare I say stricter) way than the original law. For example the commandment “You shall not commit adultery” is recast to include not only sleeping with another man’s wife – but sexually fantasizing about any woman other than one’s spouse.
Likewise, Jesus tightens the legitimate grounds for divorce so that they only cover cases of “sexual immorality” by a guilty spouse.

Jesus does not tighten or extend the prohibition against homosexual sex (although condemning homosexual lust would be a completely legitimate application of His extension of the seventh commandment against adultery), but He does not mitigate it either. It remains an abomination within the framework of His Jewish sexual ethic, based on the foundation of God’s law.

In fact, there’s every reason to believe that Leviticus 18 is the biblical background that informs Jesus’ use of porneia as a catch-all phrase for sexual immorality (which we discussed in part 1). When a first-century Jew heard “sexual immorality”, their minds would have gone to the sexual prohibitions in this well-known passage of the Law.

Therefore, Jesus didn’t need to use a “special” word to condemn homosexual sex in particular, because His hearers would have already  known that it was included in the term He did use. Much the same as “(all kinds of) theft” could refer to a range of specific acts that all involve the unlawful acquisition of someone’s property or resources.

5. Sodom & Gomorrah: Jesus very readily employs the example of God’s condemnation and utter destruction of these two ancient cities by the Dead Sea as an illustration of how great God’s judgement will be upon those who reject His disciples’ preaching of the gospel.

And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgement for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town. (Matthew 10:14-15, ESV)

John Martin's terrifying rendition of the destruction of Sodom & Gomorrah
John Martin’s terrifying rendition of the destruction of Sodom & Gomorrah

Sodom and Gomorrah function as one of the most severe displays of divine wrath in the Old Testament. But what were they judged for? While there have been numerous, recent attempts to suggest they were condemned for other sins like pride or inhospitality, the weight of the Genesis 19 account points towards their aggressive homosexual desire for the two (angelic) visitors to their city. Certainly that was how Jews and Christians understood the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in the first century – we see this clearly in the writings of Peter (one of Jesus’ closest followers) and Jude (Jesus’ younger brother)  [see Jude vv.6-7; 2 Peter 2:6-10].

Jesus appears to not only hold to the fact that these cities were destroyed – His words seem to suggest they will yet face God’s intense wrath at the final judgement. Thus it’s no comfort to anyone that Jesus doesn’t mention homosexual sex specifically, when He forecasts eternal judgement for two cities that were chiefly known for it.

6. Paul: [Ok, this one is the trickiest, but bear with me…]

Jesus appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus and commissioned Him to be His messenger to the non-Jewish peoples of the Mediterranean. This is the best biographical explanation for Paul’s turn-around from persecuting Christians to embracing their faith and propagating it more than probably anyone else in the First Century. Jesus really spoke to Paul.

6800520620_552fbe6fd3_bSaul (later known as Paul the Apostle) meets Jesus en route to Damascus to persecute Christians [3]

And Paul heard Jesus say the following words to him: “…because for this reason I have appeared to you, to appoint you a servant and witness both to the things in which you saw me and to the things in which I will appear to you, rescuing you from the people and from the Gentiles to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a share among those who are sanctified by faith in me.‘” Acts 26:16-18.

Because Paul really did see Jesus, what Jesus said to Paul during that encounter has relevance to Jesus’ teaching concerning homosexuality. Because Paul – speaking as Jesus’ handpicked representative to share the gospel with the Gentiles – condemns homosexual behaviour very clearly.

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done(Romans 1:26-28)

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine… (1 Timothy 1:8-10)

Because Jesus essentially says, “Paul will speak for me”, we could say that Jesus’ most direct statements about homosexuality, genuinely come through one of the spokesmen He appointed.

Part of Paul’s ministry of seeing people turned from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God and receiving forgiveness of sins was to call them to repentance for their sexual immorality: including the homosexual variety. Without this, they could never have their share among those who are sanctified by faith in Jesus – the very thing He sought by commissioning Paul to be His apostle.

If Paul doesn’t speak as an authentic representative of Jesus, Christians have much bigger problems than whatever issues people might take with our understanding of sexuality. But if he is, advocates of homosexuality and “same-sex marriage” would do well to take note of what Paul said on this issue, on behalf of Jesus Himself.

Summary

So if you encounter this shallow claim that Jesus was silent on homosexuality, here’s what you might want to remember and respond with…

1. Jesus affirmed a biblical perspective on Creation, which emphasised humanity being made by God as sexually complementary creatures: “male and female.”

2. Jesus advanced an understanding of marriage based on the above premise.
Marriage, for Jesus, is foundationally based on a heterosexual union: it doesn’t leave any room for a homosexual (per)version of marriage.

3. Jesus condemned “sexually immoral” behaviour. This includes any expression of sexuality that deviates from the above pattern of sexual intercourse within a marriage relationship. Thus Jesus opposed homosexual sex.

4. Jesus said He didn’t come to destroy or abolish the Law. He gives no indication that “lying with a man as one would with a woman” (i.e. homosexual intercourse) is no longer to be considered abominable (as per Leviticus 18).
In fact, His use of porneia (see #3) would have been understood by the Jews in line with these perimeter for human sexuality.

5. Jesus refers negatively to the two cities, Sodom and Gomorrah, which were famously condemned for their exhibition of homosexual lasciviousness. He upholds the fact they were judged by God and seems to anticipate further judgement of their sins at the end of time.

6. Jesus commissions Paul to be His representative and messenger to the non-Jewish world. Paul speaks for Jesus, when he explicitly condemns homosexual behaviour as ungodly and deserving of God’s wrath, while instructing Christians from a Greco-Roman background.

Other articles like this one

https://gotquestions.org/Jesus-homosexuality.html [Got Questions?]

https://carm.org/did-jesus-talk-about-homosexuality [Christian Apologetics Research Ministries]

http://www.tms.edu/preachersandpreaching/jesus-never-address-homosexuality/ [Master’s Seminary]

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2015/04/06/did-jesus-talk-about-homosexuality/ [Scot McKnight]

Picture Credits

[1] Lawrie Cate “Torah” flickr (CC BY 2.0)

[2] John Martin “Sodom and Gomorrah” Public Domain

[3] Sabdiasep Mercado “The Conversion of Saul circa 1986” flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

6 things Jesus said about homosexuality (pt. 1)

Straight to the point, here they are:

1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6. Plenty of things that have definite relevance to any claims about human sexuality (but which are conveniently ignored by shallow interlocutors who seem to think “One punch can kill” is an effective debating ethos, rather than an anti-violence campaign slogan).

That’s right, Jesus said nothing about homosexuality, except for a bunch of stuff He did say that have fairly clear implications when it comes to various approaches to sexuality.

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A picture of Jesus saying nothing about homosexuality… [1]

I’m sure you’ve encountered some variation of the above list by now (unspoilt by my #6 of course). The numbering varies, or sometimes the claim is just made outright (eg; “Jesus never said anything about homosexuality, therefore…), but the substance of the assertion is the same. Because Jesus either didn’t have an Aramaic or Greek synonym for “gay” in His vocabulary, or did but chose never to use it in His extensive teaching ministry – we’re to believe that homosexuality can’t have been a big deal in His eyes.

The problem is that the biblical evidence suggests that Jesus was not only well aware of the existence of homosexual sex, but He was in fact against it. That He chose not to name it exclusively on any number of occasions (or that, perhaps, the Gospel writers simply did not include what He did teach on this issue for unknown reasons), was probably largely to do with the demographic make-up of His usual audience. Or perhaps it has something to do with “queer” sexualities not being viewed as “special” then in the manner they are now (instead they were just one of several ways a person could conduct their sexual urges in rebellion to God). But more on those points later.

Here are six things Jesus said that really have an awful lot to say when applied to questions surrounding homosexuality. [Most of these points have been made by others at different times, but I’m seeking here to collate them in a way that presents a clear picture on the issue. I’ll include links to several similar articles at the end of part 2].

1. Sexuality: Jesus spoke of human sexuality in terms of exclusively binary sex/gender categories: “Have you not read that the One who created them from the beginning made them male and female…” (Matt 19:4, LEB).

In context, Jesus is responding to marital relationships between men and women. He begins His answer with the above statement of complementary sexuality. God’s original creation involved a male human and a female human, with complementary sexual organs, capable of being joined together to bring about pleasure and procreation.

book_of_genesis_chapter_2-10_bible_illustrations_by_sweet_media
Jesus saw significance in Adam and Eve as male and female [2]

While the old “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” slogan is trite (and guilty of attempting the same throwaway-line debating tactics I’m criticising here), the point behind the poor framing is valid. Jesus had no theological notion of humans of the same sex being created to enjoy each other’s bodies in a sexual way. He approached all questions of sexuality and marriage from the starting point of Man and Woman being specially created by God as sexually distinct from one another.

2. Marriage: Jesus’ teaching on marriage and sexual union naturally flowed on from this framework. “And [Jesus] answered and said, “Have you not read that the one who created them from the beginning made them male and female and said, ‘On account of this a man will leave his father and his mother and will be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, man must not separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6).

Jesus moves from his opening statement of binary human sexuality to a consequential picture of human marriage and sexual union. Marriage and sex (which are properly inseparable in Jesus’ mind, teaching and social/religious context) take place when an adult male leaves the familial arrangement founded by his parents (the very sexual/marital relationship that resulted in his own existence) and enters into his own, new, familial and sexual relationship with a woman. When the man and woman are “joined together” in matrimony as husband and wife, their social identities become inseparably linked and their bodies come to share in a oneness as a result of natural, sexual intercourse.

2607861005_9c667a9ef6_b                                                      Marriage between Man and Woman [3]

It’s at this point that Jesus’ silence on homosexuality should trouble LGBTetc; advocates, rather than buoy them. Because the manner in which Jesus has framed human marriage and sexuality makes the idea of male-male sex or female-female marriage a completely foreign concept. Jesus need not go through every possible example of what wouldn’t constitute a legitimate marriage or sexual relationship, as He has stated very clearly (using Creation as His theological foundation) what the genuine article looks like and it doesn’t leave room for innovation or clever redefinition.

3. “Sexual immorality”: Jesus spoke disapprovingly of porneia, which is a catch-all Greek term for immoral sexual practices, i.e. those which do not conform to the moral standards of what is held to constitute legitimate sexuality by the speaker/author.  “For from the heart come evil plans, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, abusive speech.” Matt 15:19

I’ve already attempted to show above (and will continue to do so in the next post), that homosexual intercourse was very much beyond the pale of Jesus’ binary understanding of human sexuality and complementary, heterosexual view of marriage. For Jesus, sexual immorality was any expression of sexuality that deviated from the picture of male-female marital intimacy we’ve seen described already.

While Christian(ish) and non-Christian proponents of gay and lesbian relationships have long sought to emphasise the similarity between committed, loving, homosexual couples and monogamous heterosexual relationships – this is not a relevant objection at this point, as Jesus seems to place the sexual complementarity as the foundational element of marriage – not monogamous exclusivity (this goes a-ways toward explaining the higher level of biblical tolerance for polygamy – as an albeit far-less-than-ideal arrangement in the Old Testament – than homosexual relationships. But that’s one for another day!).

There are three more things Jesus said that help us grasp His “position” on homosexual sex, but they’ll have to wait until part 2.

[1] Carl Bloch, “Sermon on the Mount” Public Domain.

[2] Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing “Book of Genesis Chapter 2” wikimedia CC BY-SA 3.0

[3] Peter Kenjerski “Wedding” flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)