Responding to Secular Politics

The LAST thing Australia, and its Christian residents, needs:

“Martyn Iles, the ACL’s (Australian Christian Lobby’s) new managing director… wants to transform it into a US-style conservative activist group”

Full Article

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We now have a week before our Federal election and Scott Morrison our Pentecostal Prime Minister seems to be running a one man team, with the majority of his ministry in hiding (apart from several who deserted his sinking ship by retiring from politics). All he can offer is billions of $$$ tax cuts, more than $80 billion going to the wealthy, but he has given no plan for how he will pay for those cuts.

Of course, he will be the political darling of the Australian Christian community, in particular the Hillsong types (he belongs to a Hillsong-like church in south east Sydney)

I have been following discussion about the election campaign in the media, and one regular comment I frequently see relates to the incongruity of Morrison’s (alleged) lying with his professed Christianity.
While anti-Christian rhetoric can be expected in a secular society, Morrison’s example is drawing increasing expressions of (non-rabid) distaste from less hostile commenters.
Are the accusations of lying valid? Let me say that I find him less than straight forward with the truth.

Politicians and politics can offer no long-term answers to a country or the world – but unfortunately our response to them can affect the image of Christianity (and the gospel) they see.

While both major sides of Australian politics are far from perfect, running up to this election I find it blatantly clear that one side is far more interested in (and currently capable of) effective, stable government, and the other (Morrison’s party)  is a total mess with no policies, beyond giving massive tax cuts to the wealthy.
Their only other offering is a scare campaign: that says things will only get worse under the other lot.

Scott Morrison seems to have forgotten Jesus’ words about being unable to serve two masters, that we can’t serve both God and money. His emphasis is always primarily on “the economy” and not on the people affected by “the economy”. Basically, his message is that if he takes care of the economy, the economy will take care of the people. As if the economy is a benevolent cognisant entity needing to be placated.
Especially ignored are those who have not benefitted from the prosperity allegedly being enjoyed by the nation due to the claimed current strong “economy”. It is clear that IF the strong economy exists (and is to be continued) it bypasses most, although not the already prosperous.

The group mentioned in the article linked at the top of the page are focused on issues of moral behaviour but they avoid a significant moral, political  failing – of not addressing the poverty experienced by an increasing number, while others receive and hoard more than they can ever use.

In my view, secular politics is not a tool that Christians can manipulate in an attempt to legislate morality. It often (inevitably) takes immoral directions, reflecting the secular, increasingly immoral society that it represents.
But it is something that has the potential to be used to make sure no one needs to be homeless or go hungry through no fault of their own.

While a perfect outcome is “pie in the sky” – Jesus said the poor will always be with us – I think from a Christian point of view, steps to aid the poor are more in line with Jesus than steps to further enrich the wealthy in the hope that they will share that wealth.

A commonly used quote to criticise welfare is “If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat” – but the use of that phrase is rarely turned the other way to recognise its valid application to the idle rich who prosper from the work of others.

So what approach can Christians take while acknowledging the limits of secular democracy?
Make choices that reflect the character of Jesus within the secular society we temporarily inhabit.
Look at the kind of people Jesus ministered among and treat them as HE would treat them.
If political options can realistically help us along that path, we should make the most of them.

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Decline of Evangelicalism

A very interesting and astute article.
Thank you to Chris for bringing it to my attention, and thank you to Gloria for getting me to check my email spam file – where for some reason, Chris’s email had been dumped by my email account.

This article reflects MUCH more than a perception of the degrading of Billy Graham’s legacy. It is a reflection of the increasingly sorry state of “evangelical Christianity” as a whole.

 

Billy Graham Built a Movement. Now His Son Is Dismantling It.
If you want to understand the evangelical decline in the United States, look no further than the transition from Billy to Franklin Graham.

By STEPHEN PROTHERO

During World War II era, European churches were hurt badly by the affiliation of Christianity with right-wing political movements. During the 1940s and 1950s, the United States persisted in its religiosity as European countries secularized. In fact, the Americans witnessed a powerful religious revival after the war, thanks in part to Billy Graham.

That revival is over. Religion is now declining in the United States, and evangelicalism with it. In fact, over the last decade, the portion of white evangelical Protestants in the United States declined from 23 percent to 17 percent.

The most significant development in American religion in recent years is the shocking rise of the religiously unaffiliated (otherwise known as “nones”), who now account for roughly one quarter of all Americans. This increasing distance from religious institutions is accompanied by increasing distance from religious beliefs and practices. Today 27 percent of Americans describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious” and another 18 percent as “neither religious nor spiritual.” There are many reasons for this decline in religious believing and belonging. But the most important in my view is the increasing identification of the Christian churches with right-wing politics, [my emphasis in bold – Onesimus]

https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/02/24/billy-graham-evangelical-decline-franklin-graham-217077

A Gift and a Promise

A gift and a promise.

For whom are they intended?

upended bible

Article from Sydney Morning Herald 26 Feb 2019

Highlighted parts of the article:

God’s sacrifice of Jesus to express his love on Earth was the favourite Bible passage of many Christians. But that is changing, as messages of hope and prosperity on social media find greater resonance with the younger generation.

“Whereas once John 3:16 was the ‘poster boy text of the 20th century, the latest star is Jeremiah 29:11”

The passage which reads: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life,” has been eclipsed in the UK by the offer of hope and prosperity in Jeremiah 29:11.

It reads: “For I know the plans I have for you” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 is also the favourite in nine other countries including Canada and Australia.

“Millennials have drastically changed how they approach the Bible’s teachings… We find that Millennials tend to share therapeutic messages – it’s far more about their own identity”

A disturbing example of the way scripture can be adopted and misapplied when context is thrown out.

A section of scripture declaring God’s sacrificial act of love for the world, that made salvation available to ALL who believe, has been pushed aside to favour a verse declaring a promise to a select and specific group of people, NOT just any individuals who choose to claim the promise.

That newly favoured text from Jeremiah is being personally appropriated by people who are not addressed in the context of that verse.

The promise “to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” is not a universal promise.
It was a promise in a prophetic context addressed to a people who had survived slaughter and destruction, who had been taken captive by an invading army, and exiled from their homeland.

It is a promise to THOSE people, that their exile would last 70 years, and then they as a people – not necessarily all individuals – would be returned to their land.

This is what the Lord says: ‘When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfil my good promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.’ (Jeremiah 29)

While that return did occur as promised, the complete fulfilment of the prophesied promise, is still to come, when Israel as a whole recognises their Messiah, and He returns to rule over the earth from Jerusalem.

The 70 year exile to Babylon referred to in Jeremiah preceded the promise being so casually adopted and misappropriated today. The promise was not made to those who hadn’t suffered significant cost.

So, what is wiser? To claim a promise not intended as an individual promise to me?

Or to focus on the importance of God’s gift to the world, a gift anyone can receive through belief, trust, faith in Jesus?

And which promise is it wiser to proclaim to the world?

God’s Not Dead

not deadI haven’t been impressed by a lot of Christian films.
Sometimes the theology within the story can be dodgy, as can the acting. However I recently enjoyed these three.

The first of the “trilogy” has Josh, a young student forced to defend his belief in God to his philosophy class, when he refuses to give in to the lecturer’s demand that they all sign a statement declaring that God is dead.

By doing so, the lecturer claims the class can leave aside vain discussion of religious thought and move straight on to the “valid” aspects of philosophical ideas.

Facing opposition from friends and family, Josh takes on the challenge despite the likelihood, no matter how strong a case he makes, that he will be failed for that course, undermining the desired direction of his education.

not dead 2The second film has a couple of overlapping characters from the first film giving a continuity between the two.

This time a high school teacher finds herself in court because she quoted Jesus when answering a student’s question in history class; despite the fact that the questioner brought up Jesus in a discussion of Ghandi and Martin Luther King.

For some reason the student’s parents see the court case as a means of advancing their daughter’s educational future, if only through the financial gain they hope to receive as compensation.

The student herself is appalled by her parent’s choice, but due to her age is prevented from having a say in the matter.

Within this film, several real life Christian experts are called upon to give evidence regarding the historical facts of Jesus’ existence, as well as the validity and reliability of the gospel accounts as reliable historical documents.

After watching this film, viewers need to wait until the end of the credits where a post-credit scene sets up the story of the third film.

not dead lightDuring the third installment of the series, on-going character Pastor Dave, finds himself at odds with the law when the ongoing survival of his church building is threatened.

The building is currently on part of a school campus, having in the past being associated with the school, originally built on church land, which was ultimately sold to the educational institution.

A tragic act of vandalism sets up circumstances to enable the school board of to demand the church be demolished so they can make use of the cleared land.

Pastor Dave has been a familiar character across this series of films, usually a minor role, in this one he takes prominence as his faith is challenged. He is faced with choices that will determine how his faith will be lived and demonstrated to those around him.

Each of the films has a different approach to a common theme: to what extent is Christian faith being opposed by an increasingly antagonistic secular culture.

While the films themselves are fictional representations, the situations portrayed are inspired by real life cases where Christians found themselves in courts having their right to believe and practice their faith opposed. In the credits of the first two films, lists of more than twenty (I lost count after that) actual cases are provided.

I had only one or two small quibbles with content of the films, but those minor objections probably reflect the reality of Christian expression (religious clichés, the constant citing of bible verses in everyday conversation), so those issues are more about the way Christians often speak or act than with the films themselves.

Across the films the Christian band The Newsboys make appearances of various lengths and importance. In the first one they have a more dominant role in the story, and of course, the film’s titles come from one of  their songs.

Overall the three films were entertaining, informative and challenging, and they have made me aware of some potentially interesting resources to follow up from some of the writers who played themselves within the films. So far I’ve tracked down two books I’m looking forward to reading in the next week or two.

mmmcold case

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus is the testimony of former Muslim, Nabeel Qureshi.

I’d come across Qureshi several times over the past year or two, mainly seeing that he had some YouTube videos. For some reason I didn’t pay any attention to him or his videos when I was looking for testimonies of Muslims turning the Jesus.

seeking findingThe book is excellent. It covers his early life growing up as a Muslim, his attempts to prove the truth of Islam to a Christian friend, and then how his own studies led him to consider the truth of Jesus.

He faced a difficult struggle before he could finally turn away from his life-long religion to embrace and accept the gospel, but God was patient and revealed Himself to Qureshi, over time.

I don’t think I’ve come across anyone else’s testimony in which they spent years of diligently searching and studying everything they could to try to find the truth.
While he started out trying to prove the Islamic  “truth” he’d been raised to believe, ultimately his desire for THE truth led him to recognise Jesus.

But there is so much more within the book than just one man’s experience.

While it may not have been intended, I found the book showed how many Christians aren’t very different to Muslims regarding the reason they believe.

It seems that Muslim belief tends to be passed on from authority figures instead of being gained from a personal interaction with their “scriptures”.
I’d suggest that most professing Christians do exactly the same thing – relying entirely on the teachings of others instead of seeking, finding and understanding the certainty of truth for themselves. If we follow that approach how can we be sure that our beliefs are any more valid than those of the Muslim, the Buddhist, the atheist or anyone else?

Qureshi’s early experiences of Christians tended to show that their knowledge of the basics of what they believed (and why) was mostly lacking, and thereby hindering their ability to communicate the gospel.

Sadly in September 2017 Qureshi died after a struggle with stomach cancer. The edition of his book that I’ve been reading has some additional chapters in which his wife and his friends remember his legacy.

One of those friends says this about Nabeel, something that addresses the issue of loving the truth enough to seek it (Him) out:

Proverbs 1:7 says “fools despise wisdom and instruction” but Nabeel loved both, even when they challenged his long-held beliefs. Like any of us, he didn’t enjoy finding out he was wrong, but he was not willing to blindly perpetuate hand-me-down ideas. He had to know that what he believed, what he built his life on, was based on reality, not speculation or tradition.

 

 

Fleeing ISIS, Finding Jesus (2)

fleeing finding.jpgIn my previous post about this book I mentioned my initial disappointment when it didn’t seem to fulfill my expectations regarding testimonies of Muslims coming to faith in Jesus.

Then I recognised that “finding Jesus” wasn’t only applicable to new converts fleeing their old religious affiliation, but it also applied to professing followers of Jesus who would find a deeper relationship with Him when they faced unimaginable adversity.

My initial expectation was eventually fulfilled, but the hoped for evidence of Muslims finding the truth of Christ was often closely related to existing believers finding that deeper faith, as the security of their past was stripped away.

“For me as a believer, life is even better now than it was before ISIS. There are new opportunities and open doors to speak out loud about Jesus, to talk about Islam. A lot of Muslims are questioning who is God, and you only need to look on the Internet to see so many Muslims saying ‘if that’s God, I don’t want Him anymore.'”

Through the upheaval caused by the brutaility of ISIS and the resulting flight of those in their path, previously insular groups were brought together with a common plight.

…one of the themes that has come out of this displacement is the fact that Christian, Muslim, and Yazidi communities are no longer living in enclaves, isolated from the villages around them.

The brutality of ISIS forced everone to leave their homes and engage with people they had previously avoided…

How easy it is to sit here in the “west” and choose to read a book about Muslims coming to faith in Jesus in the Middle East, being turned against the religion of their birth by the evils they see in ISIS and other extremist groups who claim to embody Islam; as well as the stories of Muslims being pointed towards the truth of Jesus through dreams and visions.
Testimonies like that are encouraging, a joy to read and hear.

What isn’t so easy is taking the time to consider the other part of the story – the part about perecuted Christians, about followers of Jesus losing everything they had, being driven from their homes by the very same ISIS.

And yet those Christians, stripped of material security, play an important part in the aspect of the story we find so encouraging. If we REALLY consider the changes experienced by those believers, and if we considered their experience in light of scripture, and what Jesus said about those who follow Him; we ought to see how closely they fit the biblical descriptions, and how we in the west don’t.

If we could take a step back and dispationately compare the two vastly different Christian experiences which would we see as the most authentically and effectively lived, Christian witness?

“I look at the west and wonder if Satan uses our affluence to limit the growth of the church. I wonder whether his tactic for keeping God out is by providing comfort, by giving so many riches and so much wealth that people feel like they don’t need God.”

“When real persecution happens, you’re not afforded that. You have to call on God multiple times a day. Can you imagine what it does to your faith when you don’t know where the next meal is coming from or if you’re an Iraqi that’s lost a million dollars and two homes and a couple of cars and are sitting in a tent freezing in winter? Maybe that’ll be the first time in your life that you find yourself really calling out to God.”

Most of us here in the west won’t face the loss and tragedy being experienced elswehere, where  evil forces like ISIS, or their inevitable successors, express hatred through killing, stealing and destroying on a massive scale.

But we ought to meditate on the question of our own response if we did have to experience what so many have already faced elsewhere in the world. Would we be able (or willing) to trust God if those things we’d considered to be His blessings were torn away from us?

One thing that makes me think we in the prosperous West might find it difficult to summon up that willingness is the evidence of how even Western “believers” have responded to the plight of those who have been through the experience of losing home, possessions and family through the violence of others elsewhere in the world.

As they flee from the violence, seeking sanctuary in the west, they have ben rejected, shut out, pushed away in fear. Our fear. Fear of the disruption and cost that so many needy refugees would create to our comforatble, established lives.

Towards the end of the book the authors quote an interview related to their topic.

“I think there’s a lot of Christians who, rather than go and fulfill the Great Commission, they said, ‘I think I’ll stay home and pray for the Great Commission.’ And God said, ‘I want you to be part of it, so I’m going to bring the Great Commission to you'”

David Garrison

What has been the reaction of many when God brings the Great Commission to us?

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Faithfulness and Disowning

If we disown him,
he will also disown us;
if we are faithless,
he remains faithful,
for he cannot disown himself

(2 Tim 2)

The proponents of “Once Saved Always Saved” like to use part of the above section of scripture to support their view.
They overlook the bit about disowning and highlight the part about God’s faithfulness.

They must read this as if it means faithlessness on our part towards Him doesn’t matter because He will remain faithful towards us regardless.

But that interpretation is undermined by the preceding statements about disowning, and the reality that the latter part of the quote is about God’s faithfulness to HIMSELF (clue is in “he cannot disown himself”).

So no matter how much He desires to see everyone saved, He cannot grant salvation if doing so compromises the righteous aspect His character.

People always prefer to recognise God as love – but aren’t as keen to balance that with His righteousness.
The tension between those two parts of His character is the reason why God’s love for the world was expressed in the giving of His Son and NOT in the giving of salvation without the sacrifice of His Son.

God’s righteousness made it necessary for His love to be costly to HIM.