Sunday, December 09, 2007

Dissatisfied with Church?

Do you ever get dissatisfied with church? I'm not talking about the feelings of 'the church not meeting my needs.' That's inward looking. I'm talking about being dissatisfied with where you are at with God. You know there is more. You want to be more like him here and now. But how much time do we waste in learning how to know him more instead of being more like him?

Over the past 18 months I have studied many of the controversies of the church. From Montanism to modern word-faith preaching. Trinity to democracy. The sabbath, Calvinism, tongues, bible-only. It seems to me that man has an incredibly ingenious way of inventing new problems for himself. If there isn't an issue to argue over then we need to make one up to feel like we are achieving something.

Before I was married my leader in OM, Pradip Ayer, told me a wise truth: Major on the major issues and not the minor ones. It is a lesson that should be carried over to our Christian faith as well.

Ultimately we all belong to one family as we are all God's children.
Hebrews 2:11
Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.

However within that family there is room for expression.
Read 1 Corinthians 12:12-27

It makes me cry to think that there are people out there that think their part of the body, their spiritual family, their church or denomination, is the only true part of the body of Christ. Most of the controversies listed above have resulted in groups forming to condemn the other position and proclaim that their position is the only way. Their congregations then become an exclusive club convinced that only they hold the knowledge of truth and the penalty for leaving is leaving the assurance of salvation. I have seen this across the board in Brethern, Baptist, pentecostal, Anglican, third-wave, whatever. This insidious legalism based on the philosophies of man doesn't care for denominational labels - rather they are the underpinning of its lies.

God has made us one family, one body. Within that we will find those who have similar expressions of what it means to be part of the family - we cal these gatherings church. However our particular grouping should never become exclusive to the exclusion of other parts of the body.

We should never attempt to be the Holy Spirit in other peoples lives.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Abdicating Responsibility

I met with a group of pastors recently and discussed the implications of having a new government with a distinctly anti-discrimination agenda. This is what they have termed their Social Inclusion Agenda. For example, the new Minister for Climate Change, Penny Wong, is Australia's first openly gay minister as well as Australia's first Asian born minister. Part of this agenda is to present homosexuality as a natural alternative to be taught in sex-ed classes in all schools across the country.

I don't want to get bogged down in the issues of homosexuality. What I do want to focus on is a comment made by one of the pastors.

"Parents have handed to the schools their responsibility to teach their children morals and virtues. We hand over the children and we hand over the school fee's and say teach my children to grow up."

The question must be: Who is teaching your children what is right and what is wrong?
  • The teacher who lost their virginity aged 14 is not going to teach the need to keep yourself pure for your future spouse, because it condemns them.
  • The teacher who aborted a foetus so they could remain at work is not going to teach the right to life.
  • The teacher living in a de facto relationship is not going to teach about the sanctity of marriage.
As Christian parents we have the responsibility to model for our children and teach them what the Bible says, so they may learn to discern good from evil, right from wrong.

Another pastor told how his 13 year old daughter had come home telling how a girl in her class with an older boyfriend had been given condoms as a birthday present by her mother. If our children are not getting moral guidance from us then they will get it from others they trust - their friends and their teachers.

This abdication of responsibility is seen across society and is reflected in both government and Christian schools. The issue is not whether the government is attempting to legislate a particular morality but whether we as parents are actively teaching our children what God says is right and wrong. Not human rights but God's rights.

If we understand what Luther said when he described the two kingdoms - the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world - then we will have no choice but to accept responsibility for the moral upbringing of our children. We cannot ask those in the kingdom of the world to teach what is in the kingdom of God. We are in the kingdom of God let us therefore let us teach what we know is right. Let the world teach of the world and let us teach of God's ways.

Let me close with another quote from the pastor I started with.

"The gospel is offensive because it is absolute. Jesus said I am the way. Homosexuality is seen as a way but the message we share is the way. That is why it is so offensive to people."

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Aussie Election: a response

One of my favourite blogs is written by my brother in Singapore. If you want an intellectual critique on the politics and culture of south east Asia, in particular Singapore, then this is one of the best. In response to a post of his about the just completed Aussie election (which can be found here) I wrote the following response:

To an extent I think you are correct however 2 important things to note are:
1. In Western Australia the liberals won 10 compared to 4 for Labour with 1 seat remaining undecided (SWAN which is 50.01% to Labour as I write this). WA is the powerhouse of the Australian economy and the region where the benefits of macroeconomic growth has been best felt. Additionally it is where the AWA's (WorkChoice) were best utilised as the Mining Companies has to negotiate favourable terms to keep running. This flowed on to other industries so that in the NW school cleaners, who are on AWA's, can earn more than the teachers who are on EBA's negotiated by the Unions.

2. This was not an issues based election. There were no defining issues that separated the parties. Some will note climate change as an issue but didn't try to understand the Liberal policy which was very similar to Labour if you take out signing Kyoto. Some might say the IR laws was the defining difference however again the Labour policy has shifted so far from it's pro-union roots it is closer to former Liberal policy than not. The election was won by taking the emphasis away from the party and onto the individual. Australians are weary of Howard/Costello more than they are of the Liberal party policies. For this reason the Labour party ran a presidential style election campaign where the focus was on Kevin Rudd and not the Labour party. The advertisments were always a comparison of the two leaders - young and fresh versus old and stale. That this election was the "Me too" election bears out this fact. "Me too" on policy but "Look at me" on personality. People were weary of Howard/Costello and the only way to change was to change government. With the opposition saying, "We'll keep doing what they were doing," it made the decision easy for a lot of people. The proof will be in the coming months as we will see if the Labour party really has moved to a centrist position or whether it was simply using Rudd as the acceptable face of a still union dominated party.

You talk about the same fate befalling the former BJP dominated Indian government. I wrote about this at the time and noted that the economic upswing certainly improved the lives of many people, but the majority of Indians were still not middle or upper class. They were/are rural villagers or urban slum dwellers. They could see the impact of the upswing around them (fashion, increase in cars, increase in costs, etc) but they have not experienced it. They are the majority voters. In Australia's case most people are better off than they have every been at any time in the past. Unemployment is down, interest rates are still relatively low, people are living longer and generally get bored more quickly than ever before. It will be interesting to see how long Rudd's sheen lasts. I wish him well.

NB:AWA - Australian Workplace Agreement (individual); EBA - Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (collective)

Monday, November 26, 2007

Democracy - Should Christians Support it?

As the latest Australian election dims into the distance and the electorate celebrate the end of a largely uninteresting and dirty campaign from both sides of politics, I reflected on an email received last week from a good friend who is a Muslim leader in Melbourne:

With their bag of dirty tricks, the Liberals have really upset me this time and I feel compelled to add my bit!

Jackie Kelly is saying this matter is all a big joke and is blown out of proportion! A joke! Someone in Liberal chain of command must have commissioned the design, authorised funds to print and directed the distribution of this 'unauthorised' pamphlet. Why would volunteers be directed to distribute the brochure, using up valuable time in the last days before the election, for a joke?

I've had a gut full Liberal lies, deceit, and disdain for justice. Lies about unsanctioned war in Iraq and WMDs, children overboard scandal, GST, AWB, treatment of refugees with indignity & the Pacific Solution, arrogant treatment of Aborigines, ramming through laws without effective judicial review, apathy about climate crisis and environment, contempt for worker's rights, peddling fear, sly deals on uranium, etc, etc. These sins must be dealt with!

When voting, I urge people to have justice, truth and a global view in mind. Don't vote Liberal! (or National or for Pauline and the like).

On the spur of the moment, without much thought, I shot off a reply in which I said:

Assalamu Alaikum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuhu

The question is not whether Liberal or Labour are lying - they both are and I won't be voting for either - the question is whether God is being given glory or not. Ultimately that is the only question that is necessary in anybody's life.

As I see it there are no major parties which are glorifying God - Liberal, Labour, National, Green, Democrat, etc etc. The worst sin of Israel was to ask God for a King - thereby supplanting Him from His rightful place as King over them and replacing Him with a man. In many ways we do no better in propagating democracy around the world. Man empowering man to make decisions reserved for God.

We live in times reminiscent of the last days of the Judges of Israel where "everyone did what was right in his own eyes." Judges 17:6; 21:25 The democracy we promote is responsible for the indoctrination of humanism into our society. Don't just not vote Liberal - don't vote for any party that does not glorify God.

That was my gut instinct reaction to what was written but it started me thinking more and more about democracy and how it actually fits in with faith and God's plans.

Let me state 2 things up front:

1. I find nothing Biblical about democracy. That is not to say that it is anti-biblical, just that democracy itself is not found in the Bible. Monarchies, oligarchies, timarchies and theocracy are all found in the bible but not democracy.

2. As I wrote in my reply I will reiterate here - Israel's great sin was to ask God to replace himself with a man King. Man wanted to rule himself. Without getting into a debate about the separation of church and state I believe there are parallels here.

Looking specifically at the word democracy it has it's origins in the Greek word demokratia (δημοκρατία) which means 'rule by the people' (demos - people (many) and kratos – rule/power). Whilst many look to the Greek city-states in 5BC as the birthplace of direct democracy, forms of democracy date back to the Sumerian's (Mesopotamia) and ancient Indus valley civilisations where the panchayat model of democracy continue to operate today at a village level. So the word 'democracy' affirms the rule of man and the origins of democracy, which ever place you credit it to, are in an idolatrous culture.

The various forms of democracy as we know it today began evolving through the rise of democratic parliaments in England and Scotland in the early 13th century. However it was the during the Renaissance that democracy came to be both the embodiment of and evangelist for humanism. Prior to the Renaissance religion had been the dominant force for over one thousand years. The humanist philosophers of the Renaissance era looked for secular principals on which to organise society and found democracy in the ancient Greek literature. Since this time democracy has been associated with the progression of human rights.

Let me pause here and reflect on what democracy was and has become. It was a form of rule developed by man apart from God to legitimise his authority over himself. It has developed to become the propagation tool of humanism through the rallying cry of human rights. Whilst I do not deny the need for and legitimacy of universal human rights, I do not believe the basis of those rights can be found in the minds of men. Above and beyond the rights of man are the rights of God. However man continues to do as he has done since the time of Adam and sets himself up as the authority on life, the universe and everything. Human rule is not wrong 'per se' but when human rule tries to extend into the authority of God it becomes idolatrous. Anything that is considered a higher authority than God is idolatrous.

Given the origins and current understanding of democracy, two questions are raised in my mind concerning Christians and our relation to democracy.

1. Should Christians be supporting the ideology and propagation of democracy?

2. Is there any place in modern church governance for democracy?

In regards to the former, I think most Christians in the west have been so acculturated by humanistic democracy that no thought is given to it's legitimacy. Since the beginning of the 20th Century democracy has been seen as the desirable alternative to, at various stages facism, communism, monarchies, and more recently Islamic theocracy. An us or them mentality has arisen where the least worst option has become the accepted form of civilisation.

We certainly see evidence of the rise of humanistic philosophy within the Christian community. Faith has become about what God has done for me, rather than how God's undeserved grace towards me glorifies himself. Church has become about whether or not I felt touched by God or whether God spoke to me through the message, rather than simply coming together to celebrate his greatness and give him glory. It is no wonder then that we see democracy as being the means for everyone to have the freedom to say to God – bless me.

But is there a better alternative that we, immersed in our humanistic mindsets, have become blinded to?

With regards to the place of democracy within church governance we find the congregational model of polity is closest in form to democracy. This form of polity though is acknowledged even by it's proponents as not having it's roots in scripture. It was developed as a reaction against the corruption of the prevailing polity of the time – the episcopal polity. So even within Christendom the rise of democratic church governance did not come about through God's word. Rather it was a human invention.

Of the models of church governance found in the New Testament, none of them are democratic in ideology. However if you hold a cessationist position on the gifts of the Holy Spirit then you will by very definition deny the model of church governance put forth in scripture and seek to replace it with one of mans own design.

I have only scratched the philosophical and theological surface here and another day will delve deeper into this.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Don't get too excited

So tell me! I have just imported all my past blogs from one of my other blog sites to here so don't get too excited thinking I've suddenly had a major typing incident. I don't tend to post too often but when I do I write a lot. I'm almost finished a blog entry about why democracy is not something Christians should promote and hopefully will get that up on Sun or Mon. In the meantime read on.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

back at it again

must be about time to revive this blog - tomorrow