Going De-Calf

In our parish of St John’s each Monday after work I run a Reflection group. For the past two years we have been working through Bishop Thaddeus Barnum’s devotional book Real Identity.  Today’s devotion that we looked at was one that I believe is very applicable. Here it is below:

~

26 then Moses stood in the gate of the camp and said, “Who is on the Lord’s side? Come to me.”

And all the sons of Levi gathered around him. Exodus 32:26

It’s hard to break from culture.

Best to live for Christ with a little bit of culture. Or to live for culture with a little bit of Christ. The two meshed together like the golden calf in front of the altar.

And then party!

“And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play” (Ex.32:6). Just like today. A world at play. A church – well, for a lot of us anyway – also at play.

Pastors caught between both worlds because, God forbid, they challenge the freedom the culture now gives us. They’ll get instant pushback. Criticism for standing for the Bible at those points the Bible doesn’t stand for culture. They’ll be mocked for being insensitive. Uncaring. Without compassion. Judgmental. Worse if they call people to repent of sins the culture no longer sees as sin. That will make them feel like outcasts. Marginalised. Persecuted.

So we do church like we do half-time at a football game. Or intermission at the local bar when the band takes a break. We have our church services – doing what we do as Christians – and when we’re done, we go back to the game, back to the band, and rock.

A little bit of culture. A little bit of Christ.

She felt marginalised. Judged. Like the world around her has more compassion for her than Christians do.

She had been at church for about a year. Her husband started coming a few months later. The more they came, the more they liked it and decided to get involved. First with a ministry to the poor in the city on Saturday afternoons, then every other week to hang out with Christians at a nearby home.

It just fit. Everything about the church fit.

One night, in conversation, she said it so casually. Like it was no big deal.

A woman asked her how long she’d been married. Her face lit up with surprise. “O my gosh, no, we’re not married. We’ve lived together for about three years. We’ve talked about it some. But no, we’re not ready for that.”

“So how did you two meet?” the woman asked.

“In college. We dated for a while. Then after college, went our separate ways. Couple of years later, we met up and decided to try again. Give it some time. It’s been great for both of us”.

“I’m glad you found our church”, the woman responded. “We are too. He’s from the south. He’s got a strong Christian family. Grew up in the church from the day he was born. My family not so much. It really wasn’t a big thing for me until I got to college. But now, I wouldn’t dream of missing it and sometimes it feels like I’m dragging him here!”

She smiled, having no idea that two worlds clashed together into one.

There’s nothing worse than Moses.

He comes down from Mount Sinai and completely trashes the golden calf. No dialogue. No church politics. No year-long studies, massive position papers, well publicised conferences to listen to both sides of the issue and then adopt a well-crafted, deeply sensitive resolution of semi-daring compromise.

Party over.

“Who is on the Lord’s side? Come to me.”(Ex.32:26). He doesn’t care who feels marginalised. Unheard. Uncared for. He doesn’t care if the pastors and church leaders are divided over the issue. He doesn’t care if he’s stomped on people’s rights to freely express themselves.

He cares about the glory of God.

That it’s not about us first. It’s about Him first. And when it’s about Him first, it’s actually about us to. The best for us. The Lord wants the best for us. But He will never compromise His glory. Never.

You can have culture. You can have Christ.

But when the two come into conflict, you can’t have both. You have to choose.

The woman did it so well. She called her up, asked her to lunch, said she wanted to talk to her about something. Her new friend eagerly accepted the invite. She did it with love. Compassion and mercy. Kindness and grace.

“It’s hard to break from culture”, she said. “Especially our culture where sexual freedom permeates everything. But there comes a time when it’s right to follow Jesus Christ and do what He wants for our lives. And not just for us, but for our children after us.”

She loved her enough to tell her the truth. About marriage. About living together. About what it means to want His best for her, her future husband, and their family.

“Marriage belongs to God,” she said. “He takes the two and makes them one and when He does that, nothing can break it apart. But we have to do it His way and His way isn’t the way of the culture around us.”

Her friend listened. Smiled. Nodded at the appropriate times. But inside, anger was mounting. She felt judged. Wronged. Looked down on. Like she didn’t fit into the perfect Christian image of this woman from her church.

“Is this what the pastors think too?” she asked. And when she heard her say, “Yes”, she put her napkin on the table, stood up, and grabbed her purse.

“I can find a church that’s not so rigid as yours,” she said in disgust.

And she did.

With a little bit of culture. And a little bit of Christ.

~

When I reflect on Bishop Thad’s devotion, I was reminded with sadness that we have Anglican bishops in Australia who feel that the Bible is antiquated, outdates and even wrong about the moral issues of our times; that we have Anglican bishops who are caught between two worlds and try to have it both ways.

Bishop Thad writes:

You can have culture. You can have Christ. But when the two come into conflict, you can’t have both. You have to choose. 

The Israelites could not have Yahweh and the Golden-calf. Neither can Anglican bishops, neither can anyone who professes faith in the Lord Jesusw Christ.

 

Engaging with the Media – a worthwhile endeavour

Recently I decided to enter the foray of letter writing due to an article that was written in The Australian Magazine, which is in the Saturday edition of the Australian Newspaper in response to Nikki Gemmell’s latest contribution to The Weekend Australian, “Why the Anglican church must evolve or die”. (Sorry – link is via subscription)

The thrust of her article was aimed at the Anglican Archbishop of the Sydney Diocese, Glenn Davies (& Anglicans like him), who believe what the Bible and the Lord Jesus teaches about marriage – that it is between a man and a woman. However, according to Gemmell, the church needs to become like the world if it wants to survive and thrive; specifically,  it needs to get on board with the pansexual zeitgeist of the modern western age.

Gemmell writes:

“the majority of Australians do support same-sex marriage. It feels like the archbishop is damaging his church and Jesus’s teachings of tolerance, gentleness and inclusivity. “

“The church has been on the wrong side of public opinion recently on abortion as well as same-sex marriage. It’s slowly killing itself by refusing to open its heart to others.”

So in response to her article, I wrote the following:

Ms Gemmell in her article Archbishop You have Lost me, writes, “the Bible as we know is open to interpretation – pick and choose at your will”. To read the Bible in this way is to make the reader the author. There is a significant difference between interpreting the Bible and understanding the Bible.
Understanding the Bible requires a person to listen to what God has said and submit to His authority. When we seek to understand, understanding submits our reason, tradition and contemporary circumstances to God’s Word. When we seek to interpret, interpreting submits God’s word to our reason, traditions and contemporary circumstances. Archbishop Davies is simply issuing a clarion call to fellow Anglican Bishops to do the former instead of the latter, which is what they promised at their ordination.  
 
 It does not matter if the church is on the wrong side of public opinion. If there had been opinion polls in Jesus day, the results would have been disastrous. People wanted him dead the moment he was born, he was accused of being a blasphemer, demonic, promoting sin, a law -breaker. Jesus said things that made people hate him, made people want to kill him, made followers leave him, and compelled close friends to deny and betray him, and he was crucified on a Roman Cross.
The Lord Jesus also said that to his followers
18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you (John 15:18-19)
The message of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ will never be cool or popular to our world, the Lord Jesus was none of those things.  If the church did what Ms Gemmell suggested, and mirrored the world, the church would be indistinguishable from the world and in essence have nothing to offer.
Although only what is underlined above made it to print, it made it to print. Thus to have the Christian world view published in a culture that increasingly cares nothing for such a world-view I hope serves as encouragement to more of God’s people that engaging with the secular media is still a worthwhile endeavour.

 

 

Book Review – Walking Through Twilight: A Wife’s Illness—A Philosopher’s Lament

Rage, misery, sorrow, distress, suffering, lamention. These are not the sorts of experiences that one would think would engender confidence in the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ nor even deem it attractive to the skeptic. Yet these are the experiences that well-known Christian apologist experiences when his wife goes through the cruel horrors of dementia.

What is clear from Groothius’ experience is that no-one is immune from the ravages of living in creation that has turned against itself, of living in a world that is chaotically sinful and sinfully chaotic . As Groothius himself writes:

“Dementia…can be eerie. When creation turns against itself at is highest level, the incremental and insidious chaos can rattle the most stable soul”[1].

We were all made for the Garden, yet we all live on the other side of Genesis 3. We all live outside the Garden now.  This is primary issue that Groothius’s book raises, in fact, this issue is the backdrop of his entire book.

The Scriptures are very clear as to why we are the way we are, why the world is the way it is and it is equally clear that the way we are and the way the world is not what was originally intended.

In Genesis 1 and 2, we read that what God created the world in six days, and it was very good. It was perfect, in its seasons and its functions; all that lived within it lived perfectly within the world. The created world was perfect. So no magma displacement, no tsunamis, no crop failures, no droughts, no floods, no disease, no death. Our first parents, Adam and Eve, were in a perfect relationship with God, they were in a perfect relationship with each other, and in a perfect relationship with the creation. God established a perfect created order, is one of vocation, permission and prohibition.And it was given for the good of Adam and Eve, for the good of all future human beings, and would lead to blessing[2]. No chaos. No creation turning against itself.

But the fall in Genesis 3 changed, or rather distorted the order, and with that distortion what was born chaos, and with it, came the ultimate consequence, death. Not instant death, but death via the process of dying, the process of a plethora of disease. The body of human persons will do what it was never meant to do, return to the ground from whence it came[3].

This is the curse that unites all humanity, the militant atheist, to the sceptical agnostic, to the Christian apologist. For the latter, yes, he was redeemed, right with God, adopted by grace, yet in this life there was no removal of the physical curse of death nor its process. He and his wife are outside the garden. His book in many ways is a longing and a lament for what was lost, but also an acceptance.

Groothius writes: “I prayed and faster. We sought out those gifted in healing and spiritual deliverance. We read all the books on healing and laboured to implement their admonitions. Yet futility stalked us relentlessly”[4]. In his book Groothius comes to the realisation that although we should “fight against the evils of this world since they flow from the fall…there is no virtue in prolonging defeat. He appropriate points to Qoheleth in Ecclesiastes. There is a time for everything. Quoting Ecc. 3:1-6 he points out the fact that the Qoheleth is “not a nihilist, rather, he is realist[5]”. For the reader, what is highlighted is that the Christian faith is raw, existential, timely and “in –time” and part of living in time is that we have a God who is transcendent yet immanent and is sovereign over our time[6]. The challenge for a Christian apologist of the theological depth and acumen of Groothius is the acknowledgment that God knows what he does not know, and that included God’s timing. His knowledge of God, of the truth of God does not cancel out his emotional wrestling with God[7], nor his rage against God. Yet he comes to the conclusion that when it comes to following God, “there is no other alternative”. God is omniscient, we are not[8].  The Apostle Paul writes:

For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1 Cor. 13:9-12)

Groothius, it is clear from his work, vocation and academic credentials has a deep well in which to draw answers, the right answers to difficult questions, answers that are profound and what one would hope for from an apologist, philosopher and ethicist. But until the face to face comes, Groothius, like the rest of redeemed humanity have to live in that now/not yet tension, of living by faith and Groothius does us a great service in pointing us to the most seminal moment in life outside the Garden – pointing to the one who made the Garden, the one who was nailed to a cross, who died and was buried and three days later rose again, the one who is coming back to lift the curse. In a sense, take his people back to the Garden, only a garden that is better than the first. . Which Groothius writes “are my only hope in life”. What great hope it is. A Groothius writes, “When I look at Becky’s face, happy or sad, I see what has been taken away, and I see what no earthly cure can touch. But I know that God’s favor has not been taken away from this child, that her awareness and intelligence will be restored. But we are still walking through twilight and into a night when no one can work. And God is working still”[9].  He certainly is.

Footnotes:

[1] Chapter 4, p.31

[2] God created human beings to work, they were given a vocation, (Gen 2:15), to work the Garden of Eden and keep it (to care for it). They were given permission – they have absolute freedom, and the example given of this freedom is in regards to food. Gen 2:16. “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden…BUT…and here is the third part of that order, prohibition…but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat.

That is the order.

[3] Groothius writes profoundly, “God is before all, he transcends us as Creator, he brought forth nature and humanity to dwell in him – but as dust…By command we exist; by command we return to dust. At some point all of us lose our youth and sense the dustiness of ourselves”. Chapter 9, p.70.

[4] Chapter 5, p.33.

[5] Ibid.

[6] In chapter 7, Groothius helpfully writes about time and about the importance of knowing the signs of the times – see pp.54-55.

[7] See Chapter 6, 41-44.

[8] “Even though mortals can known many things about God’s existence, and nature from the Bible, rational intuition, and sound reasoning, much that we would like to know is obscured from us…we know in part, God knows in full. (Chapter 6, p.48).

[9] Chapter 9, Moses and Our Sadness, p. 78