I would like to draw your attention to a letter written to the editor and published in Adelaide newspaper, The Advertiser:

“Unfortunately, Tory Shepherd’s comment (“Straying from the flock”, The Advertiser, 23/6/09) will fall on deaf ears. Gullibility and irrationalism are institutionalised throughout the private school system and Australian society generally.

The Australian Government spends millions every year to ensure thousands of students are indoctrinated in Iron Age religious belief systems.

In religious homes, children are taught to defer to the approved authority, rather than think for themselves.

This indoctrination is reinforced in government-sponsored faith schools and churches.

At least for some generations to come, priests, pastors, gurus and clerics will continue to tap into the conditioned minds of unquestioning devotees, controlling, exploiting and directing them as they please.

Look at the deference and dollars wasted on the Pope’s visit to Australia.

As long as they pay homage to men as to gods, Australians generally will remain an ignorant and superstitious people.”

SHANE OSBORNE, Adelaide.

I know Shane Osborne – we get on at the same bus stop on the way to work in the mornings. He is an intelligent man and has many years’ experience in both Catholic and Protestant churches.

I posted this because I think we need to pay attention to criticism that is made of the church. I don’t mean to say that all criticism of the church is valid, but I would certainly say that some (if not many of it) is. The church is perfect in only one way – the head, Jesus Christ. Every other part of the body is made up of you and me. We are infinitely capable of doing amazing, loving things; but we are also fallible and can be bitterly selfish and judgmental.

First of all, I don’t believe that Jesus Christ is any of the things described in Shane’s letter. And to expand on this, I don’t believe that a church centred around Jesus Christ should be like this and draw this kind of critique.

In Shane’s experience the church is “controlling”, “directing”, “indoctrinating” and “irrational”. He is not a passing critic – he has been involved in church and has had these experiences. Right or wrong is no question here, perception is reality and if the church has made someone feel like this, then there’s a lot of answering to be done. Jesus Christ never made anyone feel like this – He was a model of love, non-judgment and complete acceptance. Jesus loves. Full stop. No conditions.

I don’t want to spend this time going into all the valid and invalid points made by Shane and the short-comings of many institutional churches (of which I feel there are many). What I would like people to do is to step back and think about how they and their churches have shown the love of Jesus Christ. The fact is that many churches have alienated people, judged them and pushed them away. This shouldn’t happen. Jesus loved all without condition and if you don’t do the same then you should remove the “Christ” from “Christian” when people ask what religion you follow.

I’ll finish up by saying that many of the prophets from God were routinely ignored, abused and finally martyred for their convictions. I’m not sure that Shane Osborne is a prophet of the Lord, but I feel that we would ignore him at our peril.

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It has been a while since I have posted on my blog – unfortunately illness has slowed me down. I have had a lot of sinus problems that has been causing me a bit of grief, but am feeling much better now. If you have a spare 15 seconds, your prayer for my health would be most welcome 🙂

What I have been doing lately is reading. I  just read Frank Viola’s (Author of the popular “Pagan Christianity”) book, “Reimagining Church”(my reading list). I think it’s a brilliant book and presents a very ‘radical’ view (but perhaps only relatively radical) on how Viola thinks the Church should operate. The book is very challenging to those who are currently in a ‘traditional’ church structure, as is clear from these key points that I drew out of the book:

  • An outsider should enter a Church meeting and not be able to identify a specific ‘leader’.
  • The existence of Church ‘denominations’ is tantamount to heresy.
  • There is no basis for paid clergy (or clergy at all, for that matter) and their presence actually inhibits the spiritual development and ministry of the ‘laity’.
  • Christians get too hung-up on petty differences and if you really embrace only what is fundamental to being a Christian (i.e. the bare minimum), then we should be more embracing of other people who seemingly hold very different beliefs, yet still proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.
  • Having ‘covering’ over a ministry is through the Lord Jesus Christ alone. A ministry is not legitimised simply because it is under the ‘covering’ of a denomination or a spiritual guru (like a senior pastor). Likewise, a small house church (such as I belong to) needs only the covering of the Lord Jesus Christ and not an earthly church institution or spiritual elder.
  • The church is not a democracy, but decisions should be made on the basis of consensus. Elders are very important for providing guidance and persuasion to less mature brothers and sisters, but they do not ‘run’ the Church.

These are just a few points which really struck me when going through the book, but I recommend you read it because there is a lot more in there that may speak to you.

Viola uses many biblical references to support his opinions, and after talking to a friend who is also reading the book, perhaps he over-justifies his position. Sometimes it seems that what we argue about God and the Church should be justified and precisely supported through biblical insight. I have a problem with this process, because as good at the Bible is, it is a poor substitute for the communion and indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The Bible need not be contradicted, but I believe that we can receive much deeper and fuller revelation of the nature of God and the Church, through the Holy Spirit. Of course, this needs to be done with others, so that the words of the Holy Spirit can resonate between believers – we are not capable of receiving God’s full revelation as individuals but as a Church the fullness of Jesus Christ is possible.

Another related point that I have been thinking about lately is on the Holy Spirit leading the Church. I was brought up with the teaching that Jesus Christ is the heard of the Church, and leads us through the direction of the Holy Spirit. Yet, it seem that key individuals such as senior pastors are leading the Church. I think we need to put aside the rhetoric and actually let the Holy Spirit lead the Church. The fullness of Jesus Christ cannot be revealed through one person (or even a leadership team), but it is revealed through the whole body of believers. So unless we give opportunity for the quietest and most unassuming people in our congregations to impact the Church, when the Holy Spirit moves them to, we are not experiencing the fullness of Jesus Christ.

Many of Frank Viola’s points and opinions resonate well with the spirit within me, what about you? Whether you have read the book or not, let me know your thoughts.

A mate of mine recently sent me this video on the recent passing of anti-gay marriage laws in California. I don’t beleive that homosexuality should be condoned by the Church, but showing love for others is something that the Church should be doing a lot more of.

This is a passionate plea from Keith Olberman (MSNBC Host), is for people to embrace love and I find it heartening that it was broadcast on television in the US. It is genuinely worth watching the complete video:

What is your endgame?

October 23, 2008

What is you endgame? What is it that you set out to achieve in life?

Australian (and generally Western) secular culture has a very clear endgame. That is, what people ultimately want to get out of life. Hundreds of years have ingrained a philosophy or ‘gospel’ of what the average Westerner should set out to do in their life and this frames what is seen as a ‘successful’ life. There are certain things that people take for granted as being milestones and goals that are expected to be achieved in their lives.

Let me suggest, in no particular order, some key milestones in the gospel of the ‘Australian way of life’:

  1. Receive an education sufficient to grant you access to 2.
  2. Get a job that meets your personal need for a sense of worth and financial ability to live ‘comfortably’
  3. Have friends
  4. Have surplus cash for hobbies and interests
  5. Own a car
  6. Get married
  7. Buy a house
  8. Have children
  9. Retire and enjoy the ending time of your life in comfort

This is the classic gospel of the average Australian and we more-or-less take this for granted. This is not to mean that we will all achieve this, but it is expected that we aim for these things and it is socially acceptable to achieve these things.

Have you ever questioned these things? Is the attainment of these things something that you take for granted? Are these goals so much a part of our Western culture that we don’t even consider that God may be calling us to something else? Do you seek God’s guidance about all these things to ensure that it is His will that we pursue them?

The beauty (or pitfall) of all the things described in the list above is that they are reasonable and seemingly honourable goals. We can look at them and see that they are not bad or inherently sinful and therefore wanting them and achieving them is okay… or is it?

Let me suggest some corresponding milestones and goals:

  1. Commit yourself to the lifelong instruction of the Holy Spirit
  2. Live by faith without financial reward through employment
  3. Have friends (I can’t think of a good counter to this!)
  4. Contribute your surplus cash to people who are in need
  5. Catch the bus wherever you go
  6. Commit to a life of being single
  7. Live in a community of people where everything is shared
  8. Adopt a child that has no family
  9. Work hard up until your last breath

What is the difference between the first list and the second list? Not much, really. They are just two different approaches to how you may live your life. Neither is a greater calling than the other. Neither is even more difficult than the other. Not receiving regular financial reward from employment is tough, but so is committing yourself to a lifetime of hefty mortgage repayments. Likewise, having your own home allows you rest and privacy, whereas living in a community gives you close and immediate support from the people living around you.

I like to think that my endgame is “the will of God”. This means actively consulting God and receiving His guidance in every area of our lives, rather than simply defaulting to the gospel of Western culture, outlined in the first list above. God may call us to list 1 or He may call us to list 2. God’s will for our lives may be a mix ‘n’ match of both lists. There is no right or wrong in either of these lists. Right is doing God’s will and wrong is doing anything else.

I want to encourage you all to seek the will of God in every area of your lives, particularly those that are ingrained in our culture, because these are the hardest to question. I have been asking these questions myself and am very challenged by what I feel God is calling me to. I’m not sure if it is list 1, list 2 or a mix of both. I like to think that I am open to everything. God seeks a willing heart; which is an action-oriented commitment. It is not inherently difficult to do God’s will (because he enables us to do it!), but it may mean breaking some norms of Western culture and taking some risks.

Make “God’s will” your endgame.