It’s a long haul from Sydney to Edinburgh and it gives one plenty time to reflect – as long as the turbulence does not get too great – even as I write the seatbelt signs have come on. I guess I shouldn’t have watched this video before I left!
Did I mention that I hate flying?! Although Business class does have its compensations! When I mentioned I flew Business Class (thanks to the generosity of our hosts) on the way out, it disappointed but did not surprise me that there was the usual scrooge who asked ‘could this money not have been given to the poor?”. Although I’m being a wee bit snarky, its actually a good question, to which I will return in a later blog, but suffice it to say just now that if it were not for Business Class I would not have been able to go to Australia – my current illness would have have prevented me. Without going into the gory details, the only negative side of a wonderful two weeks in Australia has been my ‘thorn in the flesh’ – literally. I have a drain in my side which continually leaks into a stoma bag. It was the only way that I could come out but because my body is reacting against having this foreign body in its midst, I have had fairly constant pain from the sores and warts it has been producing. However I am so thankful for it – because it has a) enabled us to come to Australia and b) keeps one prayerful! God’s grace has indeed been sufficient.
I won’t give a blow by blow account but this has been a very special trip. So many things to be thankful for and so many things to learn. There has been so much to encourage – both personally and in terms of the Kingdom. Whilst being aware of the dangers of an ‘outsider’ commenting, the following are some of the observations I would make about the church of Jesus Christ in Australia.
Australia is half way between the Southern US and Scotland – spiritually.
The Southern States of the US still have a basically Christian ethos and culture (although that is changing). Scotland has secularized quicker in the past decade than any other nation in history. We are the ultimate example of a post-Christian nation. Australia is midway between Scotland and the Southern US. In that sense it is like Northern Ireland. What that means is that there is still opportunity for the slide into regressive chaos (what our elites call ‘progress’) to be halted. The Church in Australia, like the Church in Northern Ireland, still has the resources – people, money and time – to prevent the deterioration that is occurring in Scotland and the rest of the UK.
The Australian Christian Lobby has the potential to be a real force for good –
- There is significant opposition to the Gospel and Christianity. The illiberalism of modern liberalism is almost as strong here as in the UK. Reading the Sydney Morning Herald is interesting – it is a well designed newspaper, but it is surprisingly thin and the standard of journalism doesn’t appear to be particularly high. And the opinions are monochrome. The Guardian in the UK has far more variety of views than you will get in the SMH. It is a newspaper which reflects the views and ethos of the liberal elites.
It was sad to see that Sydney City council for example demands that in order to use its buildings you have to sign a contract limiting what you can say. Some churches don’t put their services online because of fear of intimidation and prosecution. When I was speaking at the ACL dinner there was a protest going on at a meeting where Margaret Court was speaking. ‘Go to hell Margaret Court’ was one of the nicer chants emerging from the intelligentsia who were defending tolerance and diversity!
The Australian Christian Lobby dinner was one of the most encouraging things I have been at for some time. The ACL has a reputation amongst liberals for being far right homophobic, Islamaphobes (and any other phobe that they can suggest in order to prevent any discussion of anything they don’t agree with). Amongst some Christians the perception is that they are too focused on issues like Same Sex Marriage and are fighting a losing battle. But I was astonished to hear that they, and their allies had managed to defeat the Safe Schools programme in New South Wales. (The Safe Schools programme is the equivalent of our ‘Time for Inclusive Education”). I cannot imagine politicians in Scotland or in the wider UK having the courage, intelligence and nerve to stand up to the emotional bullying of the lobby groups who tell us that if we don’t sign up to their social indoctrination programme for children, we are promoting LGBT bullying. But in Australia they did – and they won. More about the ACL at a future date.
The Sydney Anglicans and other Biblical Christians need to keep going –
Unlike most Western Anglicans I love the Sydney Anglicans. Over the years they have given a fine example of how Biblical Christians can not only stand up and strengthen what remains, but also impact and change a whole culture. The Sydney Anglicans are one of the reasons why Sydney is a much more ‘Christian’ influenced city than Melbourne. Of course they have their problems and it may be that they
have passed their peak – but I hope not. The Church needs them to keep going, stand strong and continue to be salt and light as they shine like stars in the midst of a crooked and depraved generation. In this sense I am very impressed with Katoomba Christian Convention who had the foresight, courage and ability to start their Onward conference looking at ‘truth and tolerance’. I hope that the rest of the Australian church sees what a gift they have been given in this organization and realize how essential this new conference is.
The Australian Church has a real opportunity to be a force for mission in the whole of Asia.
Australia is part of an area known as Australasia – the name itself is indicative of the fact that although Australia is very much part of the Western world – it is also increasing Asian. You notice waking thought Sydney how few Africans there are, and how many Chinese and to a lesser extent Indians. The Chinese in particular are a growing and more powerful grouping within Australian culture. I loved preaching at Gracepoint Chinese Presbyterian Church and also speaking to some Chinese pastors at the ACL dinner. The Australian Church could use its resources and energies to be a real help to the wider church in Asia. If the Lord could use a small nation like Scotland to help evangelise the world, then he can use Australia
Unless the Australian Church reaches beyond its own adherents, it will die –
Successful churches run the danger of thinking they have made up and slowing up. Declining churches can get into the mentality of managing decline. Australia is not a Christian nation. The tide is towards atheistic materialism, Islam and New Age. The church cannot be maintained by just seeking to keep its own adherents. We
have to reach beyond our borders. A fine example of that kind of work is that of the City Bible Forums. I had the privilege of speaking at an outreach in a restaurant organized by the Melbourne CBF and its inimitable leader Robert Martin. They have a programme on a popular city radio station, which also happens to be Christian. I love the way that they are seeking to reach people through work and media. In this latter respect they are very like Solas. In fact I found so many parallels that I am convinced that the Solas magazine is made for Australia. We are going to look at the possibilities of publishing there.
The Christian Church is the biggest family in the world!
We are a truly international, multi-ethnic, globalized body. I preached in a Chinese Presbyterian church, shared a platform with a Sri Lankan former Buddhist who is now Dean of Sydney cathedral, had a good laugh with some New Zealand Maoris at the Onward conference and rejoiced in meeting a Brazilian couple now working in Sydney who are members of London City Presbyterian Church (the Free Church in London)! Others may talk about variety, diversity and equality – the Church of Jesus Christ has it! There I was a Scottish Presbyterian preaching in an Anglican church in Sydney, and the praise was being led by a former UCCF relay worker from Dundee!
Family is such a blessing –
The reason I went to Australia was for the Onward conference organized by KCC, but the added bonus/incentive was of course being, together with Annabel, able to see our daughter Becky, son-in-law Pete and granddaughter Isla. The Apostle John writes – “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” That is my joy too. Becky, Pete and Isla are doing really well. The Lord has blessed them as a family and I am greatly encouraged by them. I guess all grandparents say this but my granddaughter is an absolute joy – interested and interesting. Full of character. I know that sometimes in the church we can fall into the idolatry of family, a danger which we need to be wary of; and I know that we need to be concerned for those who are not married, don’t have children or grandchildren or have horrendous family experiences; but there is also a danger that we forget what a great gift the Lord has provided for us when he provides the family.
Just before we left Sydney I heard that my friend and co-founder of Solas, Gordon Wilson, had died. We had talked over the past few weeks of what was important for Scotland and what his legacy would be. His great concern and desire was for us to set up a family project – to help and promote the Christian teaching about the family. May God grant that we would be able to do so…
Now that the turbulence has kicked in again…its time for me to sign off and see if I can sleep and wake up in Abu Dhabi….I will try to do a series of blogs about some of these issues, not just for the surprisingly many readers of this blog in Australia, but also because there are parallels and lessons for all of us in the wider world-wide church. But meanwhile I am profoundly thankful for the mercy and grace that has allowed myself and Annabel to have this special couple of weeks.