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The Final Stone – A Response in Defence of Bishop Rod Chiswell – AP

Last weekend the Australian published a deeply disturbing piece about an Anglican bishop and a revolt against him from one small church in his diocese.  It was one of the worst hatchet jobs I have seen.  I wrote a response which was published on Australian Presbyterian.  You can read the published piece here – which was slightly edited.    The original is posted below…

The Final Stone

Last weekend’s The Australian Magazine had a great anti-Church story cleverly entitled The First Stone. It had everything – good writing, beautiful photographs, human drama, emotion, an evil bishop and the age-old story of loving human’s vs the judgemental church. I say ‘great’ not because I liked it but rather because it is a great example of how the Father of lies undermines the truth in his guise as an angel of light.

Greg Bearup, the author, gave us a one-sided narrative of a beautiful romance spoiled by a bible believing bishop. The first page set the scene up nicely – two lonely male church goers both called Peter, who met through an online dating had a civil ‘marriage’ in Feb 2020 at CoffS Harbour. They both attended the small Anglican church of St Mary’s in Armidale. Until ‘on a chilly April morning this year’, the new chilly bishop of Armidale, Rod Chiswell preached a sermon which warned about opposition to the Gospel, the danger of false teachers and how he expected faithful churches to be persecuted for adhering to Scriptural teaching about issues such as gender fluidity and homosexuality.

After this sermon, the two Peters were called into a series of meetings with church officials – the accounts of which differ. The bishop says that they were not asked to leave the Church, but that they would have to end their ‘marriage’. This caused civil war within the church. The management committee resigned. ‘Attendance has plummeted’, and a prominent Sydney silk has been retained to challenge the bishop.

Can they just get out of People’s bedrooms?

The rest of the article is taken up with giving the opinions of some in the congregation – (“Can they just get out of people’s bedrooms? The Christian teaching is about loving and caring – not condemning’ etc) and an analysis of the current political/religious situation in Australia. As regards the latter, warning is given that this case is an example of ‘the Americanisation of the religious right’ in Australia, the danger of the upcoming religious discrimination laws, and a further reminder that all right-thinking people support same sex marriage and homosexuality. “God has moved on. I hope the churches can catch up”. We end by being reminded that the Bishop and his followers are obsessed with rules and regulations, whereas as the two Peters and all their supporters are just people of love, graciousness and faith.

It’s a damning indictment. How should biblical Christians respond to this rock thrown at us? Some will just shrug their shoulders and turn away. Others will be outraged and perhaps react personally and angrily. Many of us are just sad at the misrepresentation and the caricature of the Christian position given through the article. Personally I felt depressed about it and sorry for many of those involved, including the two men and the Bishop – who is on a hiding to nothing.

This kind of accusatory article is almost unanswerable. Responding to it is as difficult as responding to the question – why are you so proud? Anything you say will be taken as de facto proof of the accusation. If you do not accept the fundamental presuppositions of the story, then you are obviously one of the bad guys. But for the sake of the truth, for the love of people and for the glory of God, we cannot just allow this kind of accusation to go unanswered. Our friends, neighbours, families, workmates, and church members will read this – and most will just accept the narrative. It is after all ‘unloving’ to question anyone’s personal story (unless they happen to belong to an ‘unapproved’ group)!

How to Respond?

Once you get over the emotional reaction to the story (oh, how horrible), read it again, and then think – you can soon come to see the major flaws in the arguments. For the sake of brevity let me just mention a few.

The narrator (the journalist) does not understand what either the church is – or the Gospel. In the story it is portrayed as a kind of public social club which exists for the personal comfort and benefit of those who attend. But the Church is the pillar and foundation of the truth. It exists to proclaim that truth and to call together all who follow Jesus Christ. Christ himself gave far stronger warnings about false teachers that Bishop Chiswell ever could! Maybe the narrator and some of the congregation think that Jesus was unChristlike?

Whilst it may not have been the wisest thing to include remarks about homosexuality in your first sermon (unlike the journalist I am not in a position to judge, although I tend to admire someone who is prepared to deal with the elephants in the room), it turns out that Bishop Chiswell’s sermon was somewhat prophetic. In it he quoted the US Catholic Cardinal, Francis George, “I expect to die in my bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.” Given the article’s description of the Bishop and his actions, and the call to the mob and the implied threat of the State- I suspect that the only victim of this story will be Bishop Chiswell – and any bible believing Christians who dare to speak up for what Jesus taught.

Because make no mistake. That is the choice. We can have the Gospel according to the Jesus made in the image of self-styled progressives – or we can have the Gospel of the Jesus who really is – the one revealed in the Bible. We can’t have both. It is not surprising nor alarming that those who reject Christ, also reject his teachings – however, what is alarming in the subtext of this article, is the implication that the media and the State get to tell the Church what our message should be. Or else…

The Church has to Catch up?

Another subtext in this is that if we don’t catch up with God the church will decline. Francis Sullivan ‘a prominent Catholic’ tells us that God has apparently moved on. I wonder if the Pope and the Catholic Church which still, at least officially, hold to Catholic doctrine – are as aware of this as Mr Sullivan claims to be. It is almost a modern-day miracle that God has apparently now caught up with our progressives and is fully on board with their agenda. Doubtless, Jesus should be thankful for their insights and corrections.

Forgive the somewhat cynical tone -but I blame Elijah who had no problem in mocking the unreality and absence of Baal from his prophets. Secular progressives who don’t believe and don’t go to church are quick to tell us that unless we catch up with them the Church will die. The amazing thing is that anyone in the Church goes along with this demonstrably false agenda. This is seen clearly in the article itself. We are told that the attendance has plummeted – from ‘about 40 regulars’ to 17. This was hardly a growing dynamic church. Experience all over the world has shown that churches which water down or reject the teaching of Jesus, decline. Quelle surprise!

The anonymous (such courage of conviction!) liberal Anglican who warned that this is an example of the ‘Americanisation of the religious right in Australia’ was ironically demonstrating his own point. American church politics has come to Australia (and has far too much influence). The American liberal model is to take on board every liberal policy in the general society and then accuse anyone who dares to disagree with them as being ‘the religious right’ – even if you are a socialist.

Fudging the Issue

One member of the congregation, Thomas Fudge, a Professor of Medieval History at the University of New England told the journalist; “I made the point to the Dean that there’s no place for the Church in the bedrooms of the parish”. That’s an interesting and somewhat unChristlike position. Would the professor say that there is no place for the church in the bedroom of the man who regularly beats his wife there? Before people start shouting about comparing SSM with domestic abuse let me point out that I am doing no such thing. The Professor is stating a general principle. If it applies in one case it applies in all. Furthermore, Jesus is deeply interested in how we behave in our bedrooms – as well as our kitchens, living rooms and workplaces. Real Christianity is not just reserved for a building that we call ‘the church’ and where we meet with some of our pals on a Sunday morning for a short service to tell us all how wonderful we are and how the world needs to be more like us. In fact, I have even worse news for the Professor – Jesus is not just concerned with how we behave externally but what goes on in our minds and hearts. If we profess to be His followers then we will not conform to the pattern of this world, but instead, we will be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:1-2).

The Professor also adds that the bishop is ‘obsessed about the divorced, the masturbators, the unwed, the gluttonous, the greedy, the slothful, the envious..”. This seems a somewhat sweeping judgemental statement. I have a suspicion that Bishop Chiswell is concerned about all sins, and about all sinners seeking salvation in Christ. If he singled out homosexuals for special treatment, he would indeed be wrong – but there is no evidence that that is the case at all.

Professor Fudge tells us that “as a historian of Christianity, what I can tell you is that the Church has long been obsessed with homosexuality. “ I would love to see his sources for that. As a historian of Christianity, I rarely come across the subject in the church fathers, the medieval period, the reformers, the Puritans etc – and I read them every day! The trouble is that the Professor understands neither his bible nor his church history (perhaps as a Professor of Medieval history he should begin with Aquinas – who mentions homosexuality a little, but shows no sign of any obsession with it in his voluminous writings).

The truth is that it is our society, not the church, that is obsessed with homosexuality (and now gender issues). That’s why we have ‘pride month’, rainbow flags at work and endless media, indoctrination of children and re-education of adults. Professor Fudge and his allies can choose to follow the sexual ethics of contemporary society if they wish. What they are not at liberty to do is claim with any degree of rationality, that these are also the sexual ethics of Jesus. A basic law of logic is that A, cannot also be non A.

Who is the most Christlike?

The title of the article is meant to be a clever play on Jesus’s words to those who were about to stone the woman at the well for adultery. Let him (or her) who is without sin cast the first stone. But they conveniently forget that Jesus told her ‘go, and sin no more’. Which is ironically exactly what Bishop Criswell told the two Peters. And for that he can expect a whole barrage of rocks from the cultural elites in our society who love nothing more than rules and regulations (theirs!) and are quick to condemn any who dare to question or differ.

Bishop Chiswell is standing up for the love of Jesus, in the midst of a culture which talks about love, but doesn’t know what it is. He is seeking the best for all humanity, whilst that same culture professes to be ‘humanist’ but has difficulty in defining what a human is. I hope that all Christians will pray for him, support him and encourage him. Let’s not join in with the mob, or even turn the other way.

The article is a great example of the Orwellian use of the word love- in the name of love it stirs up hatred. It is a hit piece on a decent man, seeking to denigrate, mock and intimidate. In this at least Bishop Chiswell is following in the steps of his Lord. I would rather stand with Bishop Chiswell on The Rock, than throw stones with the self-righteous mob.

PS.  The thought also struck me that the first Christian martyr, Stephen, was also stoned to death – for preaching a sermon the authorities did not like.

PPS.  And another aspect is this.  Look at the photos in the article.  On the one hand, we have a photographer sent to take nice glossy photos showing how loving everyone else is…on the other you get a screengrab of YouTube for the Bishop showing him in darkness!

             

Why did they not use the official photo from the Armidale diocese? It’s easy enough to get!   These things are deliberate….

PS.  I’ve just had a look at the sermon that the article mentions.   It’s about as mild as you can get – faithful, warm and biblical.  Ironically it includes the warning that church leaders are going to have to expect persecution from the press!

How to be a Progressive, Affirming, Accepting, Welcoming… and BIBLICAL church

A.S.K 33 – Sex and Same Sex Marriage

The Tiger Who Came to Tea and the Opera House that’s all at Sea – AP

 

 

 

 

 

21 comments

  1. Once again, a piece which is insightful and biblical. Thank you David for challenging Greg Bearup’s article in The Australian. May God grant all of us who love Jesus and trust the Bible, to be courageous and to support each other like this.

  2. Hi David, according to the following verses of our Lord this comes as no surprise, the other thing, is what you alluded to, the gospel, the Bible, is not progressive but conservative to it’s core.
    “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. This is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecute me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me………..But this is to fulfil what is written in their Law: They hated me without reason.” (Jn.15.18-27)

    1. John, you said, “the gospel, the Bible, is not progressive but conservative to it’s core.”
      Which gospel? Which Bible?

  3. “In it he quoted the US Catholic Cardinal, Francis George, “I expect to die in my bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.”“

    That quotation, from that quarter, turns my stomach – for no body should be slower to put on airs of martyrdom, than high-ranking Catholic clergy: given events since 2002.; events which, nearly 20 years later, are still coming to light.

    I wish that appalling quotation were not part of the article, because some opposition to, and hatred of, Churches, is all too well-deserved, given the truly unforgivable things some of them have done. It is deplorable, given what some of them have done, that there are no Catholic bishops in prison at present. Only the minnows go there – the big fish, never.

    The depravities of far too many clergy can hardly avoid colouring & biassing reactions to those clergy who are not. I think that is one of the evil fruits of the evil actions of the predators & their clerical protectors: the evil deeds of these “princes of Sodom” (Isaiah 1 would do splendidly as a denunciation of more than one Church) bring discredit upon innocent and faithful shepherds who are maligned for seeking to do what is right.

  4. Thanks David. Bishop Rod is my bishop.

    I wrote to the Australian magazine the day the article was published. Here is my response:

    Mr Sanders is correct when he states: “…the Christian faith is all about love and graciousness” (“The Parish Uprising, October 9-10) or as I would put it; “Come as you are”.

    For all sinners (which is everybody), whether they identity as straight or as LGBTQI+ are invited to come as they are. The Lord Jesus Christ invites all sinners, sinners who are broken, afraid, shame-filled, sad, fearful, anxious, empty or angry invited to come to him as they are. This invitation from the Lord Jesus Christ is the most beautiful invitation this world has ever known! We don’t come to him on the mend, we don’t come to him with anything to bring except our sinful selves. This invitation changed my life as a young teenager growing up in a non-churched home.

    However, to sum up the Lord Jesus’ invitation as “come as you are” is a half-truth, and therefore to present this as the whole truth is an un-truth. The Lord Jesus’ invitation is offered to all, we do come as we are, but we cannot stay as we are. For the Christian faith is not merely “Come as you are” but also “go as the Lord Jesus Christ says”. The Christian faith is all about love and graciousness” but it is also all about repentance and following the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and we can only follow Christ on his terms, not ours. We cannot “come as we are and stay as we are”

    1. Great response, Joshua!

      Did The Australian publish the letter?

      (I have a feeling that I might already know the answer to my question, but I’m still going to ask my question. )

      1. I tried to post a comment an hour or so ago which I clearly attributed to you (David Robertson) as author; it was the Orwellian paragraph, and to which I appended ‘I heartily agree’ and this was rejected.

        Apologies for lifting your words (acknowledged as such) in order to comment; it’s just that you articulated my thoughts and concerns so clearly.

        Needless to say, I’m praying for the Bishop. Incidentally there will be a meeting at St Mary’s on 31/10 to elect a representative to Parish Council. We may pray for a godly, Christian person to be raised up.

        FYI, St Peter’s YT account contains a sermon given on February 28 wherein John Stott is quoted on the screen. I believe this quote is the source of the ‘men of immoral character and conduct’ quote which Bearup references.

  5. A beautiful rainbow was spread across the highlands God’s rainbow His promise thank you David keep up the good work. I pray for Bishop Chiswell and his wife that they stand strong on God’s word and not be bullied into conforming .

  6. So grateful for your response to the Australian article David, and for the thoughtful letters and comments by others. We are likely entering a period of sustained persecution in the evangelical Church in Australia. Careful thought, gracious responses and bold faith are needed more than ever. Thank you.

  7. What was offensive in this sermon? I think there are Christians who struggle with same sex attraction, addiction to drugs, alcoholism, lust, anger management and a range of other issues (maybe the whole lot of us struggle with a lot of issues!). I think Anglican evangelicals, including me, have sometimes concentrated far too much on questions of sexuality. Abortion seems to undermine our Apostle’s Creed faith more than same sex attraction, though. Abortion is a direct attack on human dignity, the decalogue and the dignity which the incarnation gives human flesh. The incarnation maybe reinforces the Genesis description of Man’s (Humankind’s) status. I just cannot see anything remotely offensive in this sermon. After years of attending British or Irish Anglican services, I would say the sincerity and quality of the speaker really shine through here. Many preachers can put a person to sleep after 10-15 minutes. This sermon is half an hour and I was awake at the end of it.

    1. The Australian mentions April 25 ‘the cold, chilly morning’ as the delivery date of ‘the’ sermon to the St Mary’s congregation however it doesn’t appear to have been recorded that particular day so we don’t actually know whether Rod Chiswell altered it for the occasion. It seems fairly clear that what we have recorded at St Peter’s is surely the basis due to content and the John Stott quote.

      It’d be instructive to know if and to what extent the sermon was altered or added to on the latter date and to line this up with the angry, defiant and oppositional reaction from many at St Mary’s to what was said. In its current form it seems the St Mary’s congregants simply don’t like or agree with what the Bible says nor its claim to authority over our lives.

      I’m astonished that the previous bishop had not dealt with the situation to hand but also with th the pride that seems rampant at St.Mary’s; “it’s our church”, “what he did is unforgivable in my book”. Were the clergy preaching the Bible there? Was there prayer and humility? It just seems extraordinary in an evangelical church that people would not have heard and understood the gospel.

  8. my reply to the Magazine;
    Loving regardless of consequences

    The “First Stone” article in the Weekend Australian was a living example of Christian misunderstanding, and Anglican congregational ignorance.
    “ We all just want a church that is there to build us up in life.”, is the view of those who worship a “servant God”.
    As long as God accepts anyone regardless, then He doesn’t matter and it’s all about what I want.
    The church is not “obsessed” with homosexuality – it is obsessed with saving souls.
    “Can’t they just get out of people’s bedrooms?”- covers paedophilia, and incest, and immorality – so where is the line drawn with that breathtaking philosophy?
    When challenged, Christ stated that he had not come to change the Law, but reinforce it.
    Jesus stated that He would not change one jot or tittle in the Old Testament.
    God has not “moved on” – Christ was there from before creation, – and He said “Heaven and Earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away”
    As an Anglican, I have never heard an Anglican sermon on either Hell (about which Jesus spoke more than anyone in the Bible) or Revelation – which is avoided like the plague.
    If any Christian truly thinks that Christ is some weak, feminised, God who just loves without recourse to judgement for sin, may I recommend Revelation 20 and 21.
    Incidentally the story of “let those who cast the first stone”, ended with “go forth and sin no more”.
    John Vickers

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