Culture

Rejecting Same Sex Marriage Isn’t Bigotry

Here in the country where I was born and raised (Australia) every citizen who is eligible to vote (who is on the electoral role) will be asked, via a voluntary postal vote, whether the definition of marriage should be changed.

Amongst other things the Marriage Act currently:

  • sets the marriageable age and allows the marriage of minors in certain circumstances
  • establishes the framework for marriage ceremonies. Parties can marry in public or private, provided there is an official celebrant and two witnesses to the declarations between the parties. Particular words are prescribed for marriages solemnised by civil celebrants which reflect the understanding of marriage in Australian law. Religions which have been recognised as requiring monogamy and permanency as promises of marriage are permitted to use their own ceremony.
  • establishes the framework of the regulation of authorised marriage celebrants (both religious and non-religious)
  • deals with issues of consent, void marriages and legitimacy of children
  • creates offences relating to bigamy, under-age marriages, and marriages not performed according to the required notice periods etc
  • defines marriage to mean ‘the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life

The change proposed is due to the last point and if it does occur then two persons of the same gender can be married and their marriage will be legally recognised.

From what I have observed from much of the writing and articles of those who are advocates of this change, there appears to be a prevailing paradigm that is being put forward, a paradigm that states:

Those who will vote ‘yes’ – who desire a change to the definition of marriage, will do so because:
1. They are tolerant.
2. They are loving.
3. They are accepting (of Gays & Lesbians).
4. They are informed

Those who will vote ‘no’ – who want the definition of marriage to remain unchanged, will do so because:
1. They are bigoted.
2. They are haters.
3. They are homophobic.
4. They are stuck in the past

The problem with this paradigm is that it does not even allow for the possibility that there are those who believe and uphold to the traditional view of marriage, who will vote ‘no’ who are
1. Not bigoted;
2. Not haters (of the LBGTI community);
3. Not homophobic.
4. Who are informed and not stuck in the past.

My encouragement to all Christians as they prayerfully vote is to remember that our Lord Jesus Christ is our model, and the Lord is very clear about what marriage is and what marriage is not. In the Gospel of St Matthew chapter 19:1-6, the Lord Jesus reinforces to his disciples that marriage originates with God, that the essence of marriage is in the union of a man and a woman. (See Mark 10:1-9 also).

Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, he went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. And large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (ESV)

It is also equally clear from the Gospels that our Lord Jesus Christ was not bigoted, loved all people, was not homophobic, nor stuck in the past.

Thus the affirmation of marriage being between a man and woman and the subsequent rejection of same sex marriage is not due to hatred, bigotry, ignorance or homophobia, but is consistent with the Holy Scriptures, with the Lord Jesus Christ and also includes acknowledgment that marriage as God defines it, is the best structure for society and for the procreation and raising of children in the secure nurturing wedlock of a mother and a father.

In the vote I will be voting “No” to Same Sex marriage for the above reasons and my humble counsel and encouragement to all Christians is to do the same, remembering that the Lord Jesus Christ is our model in both what we believe and how we conduct ourselves.

Evangelising Nominal Anglicans 

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I remember years ago hearing about two twenty something Anglican Christians who as part of their church’s outreach ministry visited homes in their parish in order to invite people to their up and coming Easter Services. On one occasion they encountered an elderly lady and when the pair introduced themselves and told her that they were from the local Anglican Church she responded saying:

“What? What church? Anglican? What sort of church is that? I am not interested in you Fang-dangle Anglicans or whatever you call it. I have my own church”.

When they asked her what church she belonged to, with pride in her voice and quick as a whip she said “I belong to the Church of England”.

Working hard to contain their laughter, the pair informed the lady that Church of England had changed their name to Anglican. “When did they do that?” She piped up? And so they told her, “1981”. Her response was one of shock “Well I don’t remember that! No one told me that”.

This is a funny example of what I believe is an encounter with a nominal Anglican, that is withan individuals who identify as being Anglican but is for various reasons is disconnected from the church be it physically, relationally or doctrinally. Nominal Anglicans may believe in God, or they may not. They may be good living people. They may see the church as belonging to them even though they may rarely if ever attend. They may define being a Christian is being good to one’s neighbour, and say they are Christian, even though they don’t know or read the Scriptures and the Lord Jesus is more like a distant great Uncle than a close intimate friend. They may even attend church regularly but interpret committed Christian discipleship as extreme.

Judging by the latest census results[1] fifteen percent of the population identify as Anglicans, compared with percentage of Anglicans who are committed to being part of a Anglican faith community on Sundays, which implies that there are a large number of Nominal Anglicans.

But as interesting as it is to ponder the question of how many people there are in our diocese who identity as Anglicans yet never attend church, the more important and if may be so bold to say, urgent question that we do well to ask is this:

 How do we reach them with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ?

While I am absolutely no expert on reaching nominal Anglicans, here are some thoughts to that question:

  1. Keep preaching the whole Counsel of God – If you have a preaching ministry. Preach through the Bible, the OT, the NT, The Gospels, The Epistles. All of it. It will not only serve to ensure that your people don’t become nominal Anglicans, God has given us his promise that his Word will not return empty. If you don’t have a preaching ministry, encourage your minister to do this
  2. Keep preaching the Cross – We preach the Cross because it God’s power to save, we preach the cross because we should not assume that everyone in our parish is saved; we preach the cross because we don’t know whom may come to one of our services on any given Sunday. And we preach the cross because it will give your people confidence to invite their non-church going friends to come to church knowing that if they do come they will hear the life changing message of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus! Again, encourage your preachers do this if you do not have a preaching ministry.
  3. Don’t assume that all non church goers are rabid secularists or athiests – Yes, there are rabid secular athiests out there, but for every rabid secular atheist, you will meet people who identity themselves as Anglicans, (whether it be due to family history, a baptism, a funeral, a good experience with a previous minister or member of the Anglican Church), whom may believe in the God of the Bible and have a high regard for the Lord Jesus. Because of this, you have a point of connection.
  4. Don’t assume that your church does not have nominal Anglicans– while the majority of nominal Anglicans don’t attend church. Your parish will have nominal who dutiful attend, ranging from twice a year Easter and Christmas to monthly, and even weekly. Some may come out of duty, guilt, habit, or some may even come because they simply enjoy church and it is something that do out of habit. This is where morning tea and supper are so helpful (and important). These are wonderful opportunities to talk with nominal Anglicans about the Lord Jesus, about our faith and we are in church so we should not be shy to talk about our love for God, his Son, and/or how and why we were challenged or encouraged by the sermon, or moved by the taking Holy Communion. Nominal Anglicans don’t usually talk about such things, but your conversation with them could be the seed that God uses to germinate a saving faith in their heart.
  5. Connect without Compromise – Build bridges, our parish has a church fete which I believe is a great point of connection in our community. There are many opportunities in which we as God’s people can connect. There is of course the traditional means, Weddings and Funerals, and Baptisms (though this is a tricky one). There are also events such as  having services designed to invite those who identify as Anglicans, Come to Church Sunday Services, or Back to Church Sunday Services or a Welcome Back Sunday service. Perhaps some thinking out of the box is in order. I am working on starting something within our Op Shop called Op Chop where those who are in need can have a hair cut for $5 or $2 or $1. Even nominal Anglicans need a haircut!
  6. Don’t Hide Anglican Quirkiness – This may seem rather contentious, but there is the false theory out there that says we must make our services as appealing, as palatable and as ‘normal’ as possible in order to win the outsider. As if we are saying, “We promise this experience will be exactly what you’re used to.” If you were dating someone and your pitch to them was constantly that you were unfailingly average and totally a good fit for anyone! Your partner would never feel like you were a good fit for them specifically. And our denomination has some delightful quirks that not everyone will enjoy–but a sizable portion of the population will be able to connect with and even like and enjoy. And if we reveal those quirks boldly, well, that’s when people fall in love. Sure, some will walk but some won’t.
  7. Pray – This is the given, the non negotiable, yet so often is the one activity that we forget to do. Pray that God will enable us to build bridges with those who identify themselves as Anglicans, and that in his grace God will open their eyes to the truth that a true Anglican is one who loves and trusts in Jesus, and that they will cross the bridge.

 

[1] http://stat.data.abs.gov.au/Index.aspx?DataSetCode=ABS_CENSUS2011_B14

which says that 3, 679, 907 people identify themselves as Anglicans.

 

Cultural Blindness

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Have a look at this image…have a good look…what do you see? Do you see a number? If someone said to me “Joshua, I will give you 50K if you can tell me what number is in this image”, I would have to randomly guess a number in the hope that I was correct. No matter how hard I have looked at this image, no matter how much I will myself to see a number, I cannot see it. Even people tell me what number is there, I still cannot see it. I have a form of colour blindness where my colour vision is shifted towards the red end of the spectrum resulting in a reduction in sensitivity to the green area of the spectrum. In other words, I cannot see green very well. The problem is not the wiring of my brain (though some may think otherwise), but it is do with my eyes themselves, I will not bore you with details, except to say that my eyes are missing certain receptors so that my eyes cannot pick up certain waves in the colour spectrum. So distinguishing yellow from light green is difficult, pink from grey and blue from purple is difficult, but in every day life everything seems normal (except for buying bananas that are ripe). The thing about being colour blind is that in every day life I am not aware of it.

But there is another type of blindness that all of us are susceptible to acquiring, not colour blindness but cultural blindness. It is the inability to detect the currents, morés, and values of our culture, the inability to discern them in light of God’s Word and the inability to see if they are influencing us.

Recently in our parish we have just finished a series in Judges and this was really brought home to me with the example of a Judge named Jephthah. Jephthah is one of those OT figures whom is not that well known I suspect. He is not one of those OT figures that is likely to be used in a ‘Kid’s Spot’ in church (like Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Solomon). In case the name does not ring a bell for you, his tragic account can be found in Judges 10:6 – 12:7.

At first Jephthah seems like ‘a good guy’. When we are introduced to him, God’s nation of Israel is in a real mess. They had displayed a cascade of failures, morally and spiritually. Verse 6 of Judges 6 shows us how this is the case:

[6] The people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth, the gods of Syria, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites, and the gods of the Philistines. And they forsook the LORD and did not serve him. (ESV)

They not only have done evil in the eyes of the Lord and committed spiritual adultery, they have done it multiple times at the same time. They are have really done evil, not only is now Baal, but also the Ashtoreths, (which is the summary way of saying the male and female Canaanite gods)the gods of Aram, Sidon, Moab, the gods of Ammonites and the gods of the Philistines. So they had taken on every ‘god’ of every nation that surrounds them. They served every false god that surrounded them rather than Yahweh. Their failures are presented here, one on top of the other. They have gone from bad to worse. (The fact they would spiritually go to bed witih the god of Aram is perverse since Aram was a nation that God used to punish them back in chapter 3. God raised up Othniel to save Israel from Aram, now generations later they are now worshipping the fake god of Aram).

Israel had sunk so low. Look again at the last sentence of v.7

AND THEY FORSOOK THE LORD AND DID NOT SERVE HIM

The verb ‘forsook’ is a word we don’t really use. It is past tense of the verb forsake, and we don’t really use that word much. For example if a person gives us Maccas, it would be a rare thing for them to announce “I forsook Maccas”, (though this would certainly be to their advantage!). It means to renounce, or abandon, to desert, to leave, to quit. When it came to Israel being God’s people, living in God’s place, living under God’s rule, Israel said to God as a nation “I quit”! “I’m done” It is like the husband or wife saying to their faithful spouse who has loved them “I am leaving”.

Israel’s rebellion is massive and God responds in kind and hands them over to two nations, the Philistines and the Ammonites. But our of sheer outrageous grace God sends a deliverer,  a man named Jephthah.

By the time he comes on the scene, Israel is so desperate, that they have no choice but to turn to this warrior who had a very dodgy parentage, who was hanging out with losers due to being driven out by his own family. To cut a long story short (though it is worth reading), Jephthah gives the oppressing King a theology lesson and a history lesson then goes out to fight him.

Again, this Jephthah seems like a good guy. He lays out the truth. In v.29 we read that the Spirit of Yahweh (or the Lord) is upon him and off to fight the Ammorites he goes! But in his zeal, he sows the seed that will blossom into the tree of tragedy. And this is what i suspect he is remembered for. Look with me at 11:30-31:

[30] And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD and said, “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, [31] then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.”

It begs the question:

Why would Jephthah, an Israelite make such a vow? And even more tragic, after God grants him the victory, which (very important to remember) God was going to anyway).

The reason…

CULTURAL BLINDNESS.

Jephthah was blind to the cruelty of the pagan cultures around him. He was blind to the evil practice of human sacrifice to gods. He was also blind to the prevailing cultural view of how one approaches the real and living God. Jephthah has imbibed the view that for God to act in a way that was beneficial or favourable, one needed to offer a sacrifice to Him. Thus the greater the sacrifice, the greater the favour. The culture around viewed human sacrifice as the ultimate sacrifice.

The consequences of his cultural blindness are tragic and horrifying!

It was a foolish vow that if fulfilled would have tragic results.

34 Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah. And behold, his daughter came out to meet him with tambourines and with dances. She was his only child; besides her he had neither son nor daughter.

We want to step back in time and go there and say to him. Don’t do it. Confess your foolishness to God, break your stupid vow, save your daughter’s life. Your vow is useless, it was won’t sway God, he was always going to grant you victory and save Israel.(See 10:16 and 11:29; God had already decided to save Israel, for he could not bear to see Israel suffer. And in v.29, God’s Spirit was upon him). But he goes through with the sacrifice.

His blindspot was massive, and it had massive and fatal consequences.

And herein liesi the challenge for us, we all have blind spots. The tragic example of this not so well known Judge serves to highlight to us that we as God’s people should never underestimate the effect that our culture has on us. And that by and large our culture can and does have a bigger effect on us than the Bible. Our blinds spots can be really difficult to remove…why? Because they are blind spots, we cannot see them. But the Scriptures; God’s Word – and the Holy Spirit (together) they serve as a lens and a scalpel. They enable us identifies those (what I call) cultural and personal cataracts, and remove them.. Over the years God has shown me many blind spots that needed to be removed. They can come in all shapes and sizes, where we take on and imbibe certain cultural traits, morés, and ethics… that our culture deems normal…yet God’s Word deems sinful. It could be external behaviours or internal attitudes or a real unhealthy cocktail of both.

cataractsNow of course we would all say “Amen”! We would all say “Obviously”. But we are people of our time and place and we don’t always see our culture objectively, we don’t always see our culture through the lens of Scripture, we should, but we don’t always do it. Just as cataracts block sight, cultural cataracts block our spiritual sight, blinding us to the truth of God’s Word, and to how we are living our lives in light of it.

Jephthah had God’s Word, he had God’s Law, God had shown him that He was the true and living God and was not like the pagan ‘gods’ around Israel. Yet Jephthah was blind. He could not see how the prevailing pagan worldview around him, he could not discern his culture in light of how God had revealed himself. He was just like the other pagan kings around him.He was blind to the truth of God’s Word.

There is a term that was coined by the Protestant Reformers and the term is

SEMPER REFORMANDA

And it means ‘Always Reforming’. The Reformers used this term because they rightly believed that the church should always be reforming its doctrine and practices in light of Scripture. Here is the challenge. This term applies also at the individual level. Are you, am I, are we Semper Reformanda? Are we constantly being reformed by the Spirit of God, through the Word of God? If we are not, then our spiritual vision will diminish and over time we will have no vision at all.  God’s Word is the lens and the scalpel, God’s Word identifies and cuts out tt those cultural cataracts, God the Holy Spirit is the surgeon, how is your vision? Do you have 20/20 vision? Or do you require radical surgery?