Letter from Australia 111 – Why Have We Returned to Australia?
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am writing this on the plane as we return to Sydney at the end of what has been a month that we did not expect. I smiled at the person who wrote saying that they hoped we had had a restful and relaxing time and were returning refreshed and renewed! I think I am an emotional and physical wreck! Having covid – the lingering effects of which are still with both myself and Annabel, being able to grieve at my father’s graveside; seeing our granddaughter for the first time and the rest of her family; meeting our daughter and her husband for the first time as a married couple; visiting Annabel’s brother and wife; being back in St Peters for the first time since we left; meeting up with close friends; the hospitality of our hosts; the beauty of the country; and cramming all of our intended 4 weeks into two – was both exhilarating and exhausting. We return with much to be thankful for.
But why return at all? Before we left, I was asked ‘why don’t you go back to Scotland?’; this month I have been asked why you don’t come back to Scotland?”. These are legitimate questions and ones we have wrestled with.
The simple answer as to why we don’t return just now is that no one has asked us to. At the moment there is nothing to return to. I feel that the Free Church is getting on fine on the path it has chosen and certainly doesn’t need me. I am delighted with the progress that both St Peters and Solas are making.
When I say there is nothing to return to – I am speaking only in the sense of work and calling. The hardest thing about leaving is family. The best bit about this past month has been seeing our children, grandchildren, mother, brothers and sisters. “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John:4). Of course, we have family in Australia as well – and so the pull is both ways. I am left in awe of missionaries in the 19th century who left home and did not have modern means of transport, or communication, nor modern medicine. There is of course a sense in which, whenever we say farewell to someone, we can never be certain we will see them again – but there are different degrees of that. I’m also not talking about lifestyles, cultures or which is the better place to live. Scotland and Australia both have advantages and disadvantages. But what we are talking about is calling and ministry.
In terms of Scotland itself my heart is heavy. It is such a beautiful country – with a great history, fine people and wonderful culture. But it was so sad to witness how it has deteriorated. There is so much evidence of that – take for example the transport system. The railways have just been taken into public ownership by the Scottish government – and it is not going well. We were so thankful to have a car, because relying on the trains was a risky business. The primary downturn is spiritual. As Scotland rejects its Christian heritage, this impacts education, law, politics, healthcare and much more. It was depressing and embarrassing to watch a collapsing Church of Scotland accelerate its demise by rejecting the Word of God even more. Thomas Manton and Ian Hamilton on Why the Church of Scotland Went Wrong
A Civilisation Moment
I am certain that we are in the midst of a ‘civilisation moment’ in the Western world. By that I mean a key time when the whole ethos and zeitgeist changes. As happened for example at the time of Augustine, when the Roman Empire was collapsing, or at the time for the Reformation. At least in terms of the Western world what is going on just now falls into that category. Many Christians don’t like to hear this – they think it is catastrophising and apocalyptic. In the biblical sense of the latter word – I think it is. Which is why I have been preparing a series of short meditations on the Apocalypse – the book of Revelation.
Scotland is sadly leading the way downwards – along with some of the US, Canada, New Zealand and Ireland. You just need to watch the BBC to get this. Despite having some excellent dramas, documentaries and news programmes, overall, the BBC has become insufferably woke. It’s progressive agenda comes from its personnel largely being recruited from the elite schools and universities, and the corrosive influence of American progressive culture, coming out of Harvard, Yale and Berkeley. Whatever obsesses the US progressives (and their reactionary conservatives) this month – will dominate Scottish politics and culture the next. Which is why one week I heard another programme advocating the legalisation of cannabis, the transgender issue was every day, we are all commanded to like women’s sport as much as men’s, everything is about racism and our national ideology seems to be sexual perversity. It is so tiring having this endless preaching and woke doctrine placement in every drama, documentary and discussion programme. It’s as though Romans 1:18-32 is the script they are following!
The New Religion
The progressive movement is like a religious sect. It has its fundamentalist doctrines – it’s priests and its own inquisition to deal with every blasphemy. It also indoctrinates children through schools, using fear and fantasy as its primary weapons. In this regard the leadership, and many of the people in Scotland, have exchanged the values and beauty of Christianity, for these values of this Brave New World. It is chilling to watch this in practice. For example, after the elections last week I lamented the fact that Dundee was now to be governed by a majority SNP council. Someone stated that things were much better since the SNP had been in power. I pointed out that education, healthcare, poverty had all got worse – and that the city was the drugs death capital of Europe. But none of that mattered. My correspondent still wanted to insist that everything was better – it MUST be better. After all Nicola is leading us into a green and pleasant future. Yet we now have a woman first minister who says she defends women’s rights, but cannot tell us what a woman is!
In the game of identity politics, so wonderfully satirised in this video by the Australian comedian, Neel Kolhatkar,
I’m pretty well at the bottom of the pile. I’m a white, middle-aged, Christian, hetrosexual, Scottish male. As Billy Connolly observes – that makes me responsible for pretty well everything bad in the world!
So why not stay and challenge this? There are several reasons – one of which is that I have been doing that for 30 years – and the old saying ‘a prophet is without honour in his own land’ is true! And another is a sense of inadequacy and weakness. Besides I think I have a different calling. Although we would love to return to Scotland at some point in the not too distant future – however ““Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” (Proverbs 19:21).
If anything, these past couple of years have taught us it is the relevance of James 4:13-17 “Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.”14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. a15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. 17 If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.”
So why return to Australia?
Because there is a work to be done and I have been asked. It’s as simple as that. I came to Sydney to try out some ideas on evangelism – and how we communicate the Gospel of Christ in a post-Christian culture. I never thought it would be easy, but several factors have combined to make it even more difficult than I had anticipated. For example, covid and the reaction to covid, have not helped. However, in my new role with ENC (Evangelism and New Churches) I am looking forward to developing the ASK project and establishing an evangelistic ministry which aids and helps churches in reaching out. We will be using video, podcasts, media, speaking events, youth work, conferences, consultations, training – and whatever else we can. Some of the things we try may not work; others we pray, will. But the desire and longing is just simply to communicate Christ.
If this is a ‘civilisation moment’ – then it provides both threats and opportunities for the Church in Australia. The collapse of any civilisation, leads to all kinds of confusion, questioning and open doors. In the post-modern free marketplace of ideas, we have the best product! Nothing beats the beauty, joy and forgiveness of Christ! The Church in Australia is well resourced, and has some tremendous congregations, leaders and people; but it must not become like the Laodicean church – “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing. ‘a but you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” (Revelation 3:17). If any minister dared preach like Christ does here, then I’m certain they would face a barrage of criticism for being too negative, non-affirming, discouraging and unChristlike! We are sometimes very quick to bemoan the sins in the culture – as though we are surprised that non-Christians behave like non-Christians; and we can even discern the faults in other churches; but we struggle to see the beam in our own eye!
The Church in Australia can bury its head in the sand, refuse to see our own ingrained sin, seek to maintain what it has in the midst of a declining culture, circle the wagons, or fight amongst ourselves for the scraps that will remain. Or we can seize the day – strengthen what remains and is about to die (Revelation 3:2), repent and seek real renewal, reformation and revival – and pour our hearts into reaching a lost and lonely nation.
For me Sydney is like Philadelphia – “These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.8 I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” (Revelation 3:7-8).
The answer to the question as to why we are coming back is because there is an open door. For how long we do not know. I can’t tell the future. It could shut, and a door could open elsewhere. And again, bearing in mind James 4, none of us can say what we are going to do in this year or that. We just have to do the good we can now, and obey our present calling. Instead of ‘eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we could die’ – our motto must be , ‘pray, serve and be joyful, for tomorrow the Lord may take us home”.
Meanwhile, wherever you are, I ask simply that you join us in this work, through prayer. I will be starting up a monthly private prayer letter – if you wish to receive it, please e-mail me (email@example.com). My request is the same as Paul’s to the Colossians.
“And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should” (Colossians 4:3-4)
See you next week,
Yours in Christ
- Do pray for this conference on Saturday – and if you are in NSW – feel free to come along – https://www.newchurches.org.au/events/
Letter from Australia 110 – Drowning, Surfing and the Future of Christian Conference Centres