Tag Archives: John Shelby Spong

Five steps to destroy a Protestant Christian denomination

A case study in the Uniting Church in Australia (UCA)

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(UCA symbol courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

Retired Uniting Church minister, Rev Dr John K Williams, wrote an article for The Age newspaper in 2004 in which he mocked “old time religion,” warning “about the dangers of clinging to a religion that denies knowledge and outlaws doubt.”[1] His claim is that

an evangelist who preaches the “old time religion” is asking hearers to stake the living of their lives upon beliefs for which there is no evidence whatsoever and that fly against humankind’s painfully acquired knowledge of the world and of themselves. That is not simply, as we today are taught to say, a “big ask” but an outrageous ask.[2]

This is contrary to the fact the old time, evangelical religion continues to fill churches around the world, while Williams’ brand of liberal Christianity is emptying churches.

I’ve had personal discussions with evangelical Christians who attend Uniting Churches in Australia (UCA). I’ve preached in one of their churches and have worked alongside two evangelical Uniting Church ministers. I’m not a stranger to that denomination’s theology.

On the announcement that the UCA approved the marriage of same-sex couples by clergy of that denomination, people are leaving those churches because of that moral agenda. They have told me so.

The UCA’s website stated on 30 August 2018 it …

published an additional marriage liturgy that will allow same-gender couples to get married in Uniting Churches from Friday 21 September 2018.

The liturgy was approved by the Assembly Standing Committee which met in Sydney from 24-26 August.

The publication of the Uniting Church in Australia Additional Marriage Liturgy (2018) follows the decision by members of the Fifteenth Assembly in July to hold two equal and distinct statements of belief on marriage to honour the diversity of Christian belief among Uniting Church members.

President Dr Deidre Palmer has issued a Pastoral Letter to Church members, to reassure people about the additional liturgy.

“By using this liturgy, or the previously authorised marriage liturgies, Uniting Church authorised marriage celebrants will be acting properly within the rites of the Uniting Church in Australia,” said Dr Palmer.

“I reaffirm that the Assembly’s resolution on marriage allows you to hold one of two positions on marriage, as a member, Minister or Church Council. The Assembly made this decision acknowledging the faithfully held positions across the life of the Church.”

The Assembly decision allows ministers and celebrants in the Uniting Church the freedom to conduct or to refuse to conduct same-gender marriages (Additional Marriage Liturgy, 31 August 2018).

The Brisbane Sunday Mail reported this UCA position: ‘Marriage for Christians is the freely given consent and commitment in public and before God of two people to live together for life’.[1]

It is this decision that has some UCA members up in arms over the departure from biblical Christianity by the denomination and those who have spoken to me are seeking other denominations in which to worship.

This UCA decision has extended to homosexual ministers leading congregations:

It wasn’t a leap of faith but of location and denomination that resulted in the Reverend Ben Gilmour becoming one of the first openly gay ministers appointed to a major branch of the Christian church in Sydney.

Mr Gilmour, who served 10 years as an Anglican minister on the north coast, has joined the Reverend Nicole Fleming as gay ministers leading Uniting Church congregations (Mckenny 2018).

Even a UCA publication, acknowledged that its August 2018 decisions about homosexuality ‘have been accused of being “wishy-washy”, “an indecisive church”, “a syncretic church”, “a church that compromised” (Insights Magazine, 7 August 2018). But it gave this qualification: ‘If one looks at the world or any matter purely from a “black and white” lens or a “right or wrong” lens’.

Why some churches decline while others grow.

Girl On SlideSome Australian denominations are in rapid decline while others are growing. According to our calculations based on various surveys, between 1996 and 2006, the numbers attending on a typical Sunday in Australia declined in the following denominations:

-36% Presbyterians,

-31% Uniting Church,

-25% Lutheran,

-19% Catholic,

-12% Anglican, and

-1% Seventh-day Adventist.[3]

I currently attend a Presbyterian church and note that its pastoral care department leaves much to be desired. I’ve been in hospital 3 times this year, one for a period of 7 weeks and not one Presbyterian came to visit or offer pastoral care. Its TULIP theology may contribute to this coldness and lack of care. In Australia, the Presbyterians are going down the tube numerically, closely followed by the liberal Uniting Church.

The numbers attending the following denominations grew:

+88% Oriental Christian denominations,

+27% Pentecostal denominations,

+25% Brethren,

+11% Baptist, and

+3% Salvation Army.[4]

That’s a wishy-washy way of squirming out of the biblical treatment of homosexuals, liars, thieves and adulterers in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (NIV). God does not follow the worldly agenda of placing homosexuality as caused by genetics and there should be no attempt to change the ‘sexual orientation’. God places homosexuality as one of the examples of sinful behaviour for which there will be no entrance into the kingdom of God.

Are thieves, liars, adulterers, perpetrators of sexual immorality, idolaters, the greedy, drunkards, slanderers and swindlers black and white issues? Of course they are?

Why should ‘men who have sex with men’ be excluded from this list of ‘wrongdoers’ who will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9-11)? God’s decision is precise, black and white: Those who engage in homosexual sex will not be in God’s kingdom

Instead of opposing reparative therapy (conversion therapy), God states:

That is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Cor 6:11 NIV).

God changes homosexuals, thieves, murderers and adulterers through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ for salvation. I know a homosexual who has been changed from the inside out when the person was born again: ‘hat is what some of you were (homosexuals), but you were washed, justified and sanctified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

I don’t expect secularists to understand the change that Jesus brings. They won’t agree with it as long as they talk about the genetic cause of homosexuality and ‘sexual orientation’.

An encounter with Jesus changes the human heart – the inside of people: ‘Anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun’ (2 Cor 5:17 NLT).

If you don’t believe me, take a read of …

(image courtesy christianbook.com)

clip_image004The book’s description states:

‘For many years Jeanette was an active lesbian. When, as a result of her new-found faith, she realised the need to change her lifestyle, she could find little immediate help. this book is the result of her five-year walk away from lesbianism. Through it she wants to provide a practical tool which can guide others towards the Promised Land of freedom in Christ. Her careful and honest teaching will prove invaluable not only to Christians struggling with lesbianism, but also pastors, counselors and family members seeking greater understanding’.

See my discussion with former lesbian, Jeanette Howard: One woman’s journey out of lesbianism: An interview with Jeanette Howard.

The UCA has swallowed a secular agenda by accepting a worldly, politically correct position on homosexuality instead of the biblical teaching. It’s acceptance of theological liberalism takes it down the same track to devastation. See Step 4 below.

I raised 4 steps to destruction for any Christian church and this applies to the UCA. This is how it can happen:

Step 1: An ecumenical agenda

The basis of union of the UCA (text approved 1971) was ‘for the Congregational Union of Australia, the Methodist Church of Australasia and the Presbyterian Church of Australia, in fellowship with the whole Church Catholic’ was to form the Uniting Church in Australia.

Recalling the Ecumenical Councils of the early centuries, she looks forward to a time when the faith will be further elucidated, and the Church’s unity expressed, in similar Councils. She thankfully acknowledges that the uniting Churches were members of the World Council of Churches and other ecumenical bodies, and she will seek to maintain such membership (Basis of Union, Parts 1 and 2).[2]

1.1 What is ecumenism?

According to the Roman Catholic Church (RCC),

there is such a thing as authentic ecumenism – and it is essential for Christian unity. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Christ bestowed unity on His Church from the beginning. This unity, we believe, subsists in the Catholic Church as something she can never lose, and we hope that it will continue to increase until the end of time. Christ always gives His Church the gift of unity, but the Church must always pray and work to maintain, reinforce, and perfect the unity that Christ will for her. . . . The desire to recover the unity of all Christians is a gift of Christ and a call of the Holy Spirit” (n. 820) [Abbott 2018].

So, if a Protestant denomination has an ecumenical focus of unity to join with the RCC, that church teaches that unity ‘subsists in the Catholic Church’ and ‘she can never lose it’. It is unity according to RC doctrine and Papal authority.

That should send alarm bells ringing for any denomination that chooses to join with the RCC. Unity with only one position is an example of a kangaroo court in action.[3]

I was in a greater Brisbane hospital recently and was visited by two volunteer chaplains together. They emphasised they were ecumenical chaplains. However, not one of them read the Scriptures with me or prayed for my illness. If that’s an example of how ecumenicism works, I want nothing to do with it. The Gospel message was snuffed out, as were the needs for prayer and reading the Scriptures.

1.2 Why ecumenism destroys denominations!

This is what destroys ecumenical churches. They must bow the knee to Roman Catholicism because ecumenical unity, ‘we believe, subsists in the Catholic Church as something she can never lose’.

Ecumenism is on RCC terms. So, Protestant churches that pursue this kind of ecumenical union cannot be faithful to the Protestant tradition for which Martin Luther and others fought. It would mean differences with the RCC need to be glossed over for the sake of unity.

I’m thinking of differences such as: Salvation by faith in Jesus Christ alone; rejection of indulgences and the position of the priest as the mediator for forgiveness of sins[4]; belief in purgatory, praying for the dead, making the Roman Pope the head of the church, etc.

Since the Roman Catholic Church claims that it has the ‘true ability to interpret scripture and preserve the teachings of Christ’ and that is ‘only fully possible within the Catholic Church’, Protestant churches should leave any thought of ecumenical union in fantasyland.[5]

Pursuing ecumenical Christianity is like a rat enjoying rat poison. It’s the true path to destruction.

Watch ecumenical Christianity die or become a clone of Rome!

Step 2: Theological liberalism’s heretical poison

2.1 What is heresy?

In NT Greek, the term from which we get ‘heresy’ is hairesis. Bauer, Arndt & Gingrich’s Greek Lexicon (1957:23) states that hairesis means ‘sect, party, school’. It was used of the Sadduccees in Acts 5:17; of the Pharisees in Acts 15:5, of the Christians in Acts 24:5. It is used of a heretical sect or those with destructive opinions in 2 Peter 2:1 (‘destructive heresies’ ESV).

The research article on hairesis by Schlier (in Kittel 1964.1:182f) states that its ‘usage in Acts corresponds exactly to that of Josephus and the earlier Rabbis’ but the development of the Christian sense of heresy does not parallel this Rabbinic use.

When the NT ekklesia (church) came into being, there was no place for hairesis. They were opposed to each other. This author states that ‘the greater seriousness consists in the fact that hairesis affect the foundation of the church in doctrine (2 Pt. 2:1), and that they do so in such a fundamental way as to give rise to a new society alongside the ekklesia (Schlier 1964.1:183).

Surely that is what we see in the UCA today in Australia with its support of theological liberalism’s unbiblical doctrines (discussed below), and most recently endorsing homosexual marriages conducted by its clergy in its churches?

From the NT, heresy also is used to mean what Paul called strange doctrines, different doctrine, doctrines of demons, every wind of doctrine, etc. (1 Tim 1:3; 4:1; 6:3; Eph 4:14), as contrasted with sound doctrine, our doctrine, the doctrine conforming to godliness, the doctrine of God, etc. (1 Timothy 4:6; 6:1,3; 2 Tim 4:3; Titus 1:9; 2:1, 10).

Therefore, the UCA, in supporting same-sex marriage and the anti-supernaturalism of theological liberalism promotes heresy. This heretical poison will destroy the poison of any church or denomination.

Radio and TV commentator, Keith Suter, announced: “The Uniting Church is in a crisis. Its membership is in decline but the church bureaucrats ignore the signs of impending doom. For example, the publicity material often contains photographs of happy smiling young people – but a person visiting a Uniting Church congregation will find few such young people.”[5]

See also, ‘What is the definition of heresy?[6]

2.2 What is theological liberalism?

There is an evangelical wing of the UCA known as The Assembly of Confessing Congregations. Its explanation of liberalism in the denomination was that the debate on sexuality would not have arisen to the level that it has ‘without a prominent liberal theological presence in the key councils of the Assembly. Why has the UCA developed an overt liberal theological orientation and public presence, when its membership has been largely theologically conservative? . . .’ (Bentley 2004:1).

Given the context of union, the UCA was always destined to become more theologically liberal than the antecedent denominations because in the case

of Congregationalism and Presbyterianism the majority of the conservative ministers, and a good section of the more conservative members stayed out

of union. It is worth considering that there are important differences still today between Synods and Presbyteries. For example the different public positions and ethos of the synods of Queensland and Victoria reflect the different theological foundations, history, antecedent church background and elected leadership of the first decades,

It is worth noting that Victoria was the only state to have more Presbyterians enter union than Methodists. (Bentley: 2000, 1996).

Methodists had a more overt conservative theological orientation, reflecting their practical theology grounded in the holiness movement and active evangelism schools. States which had significantly more Methodists were naturally going to be more conservative Synods, unless they also had more overt liberal leadership, and in this case they would eventually become very polarised Synods (Bentley 2004:1).

One of the major critiques of theological liberalism was by J. Gresham Machen in 1923, Christianity & Liberalism. This is Machen’s (1923:2) understanding of what amounts to theological liberalism:

The present time [early 1920s] is a time of conflict; the great redemptive religion which has always been known as Christianity is battling against a totally diverse type of religious belief, which is only the more destructive of the Christian faith because it makes use of traditional Christian terminology. This modern non-redemptive religion is called “modernism” or “liberalism.” Both names are unsatisfactory; the latter in particular, is question-begging. The movement designated as “liberalism” is regarded as “liberal” only by its friends; to its opponents it seems to involve a narrow ignoring of many relevant facts. And indeed the movement is so varied in its manifestations that one may almost despair of finding any common name which will apply to all its forms. But manifold as are the forms in which the movement appears. the root of the movement is rooted in naturalism – that is, in the denial of any entrance of the creative power of God (as distinguished from the ordinary course of nature) in connection with the origin of Christianity (emphasis added).

Then Machen proceeded to see how this movement that is “rooted in naturalism” affected core Christian doctrines. He has chapters on the liberal infiltration in these areas of theology: the nature of doctrine, the nature of God and man (human beings), the nature of the Bible, the nature of Christ, the nature of salvation, and the nature of the church.

In this brief article, I don’t show the many faces of theological liberalism that have moved away from orthodox Christianity in their attacks on core Christian teaching.

Dr. Norman Geisler (2002:350f) in his chapter on ‘liberalism on the Bible’ demonstrates how the rise of modern anti-supernatural liberalism had its roots as far back as Thomas Hobbes and Benedict Spinoza in the 17th century. He lays bare how liberalism’s view of Scripture included:

  • An anti-supernatural basis of the liberal view of Scripture;
  • Cultural accommodation is necessary;
  • Negative criticism of Scripture;
  • The Bible is not the Word of God;
  • The Bible is fallible and errant;
  • The origin of Scripture is not by divine inspiration;
  • Sola Scriptura (the Bible is the only written and infallible authority for faith) is rejected;
  • The Bible contains contradictions, including scientific errors;
  • There is immorality in the OT;
  • Human reason is prominent in interpreting the Bible;
  • There is a strong emphasis on human experience.

While theological liberalism is broad in definition, it also can accommodate the postmodern, deconstruction, reader-response ideologies of the Jesus Seminar.

It is not only the UCA that is going down this theologically liberal path to destruction. See this example from liberal Anglicanism.

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(Gosford Anglican Church, photo courtesy Father Rod Bower)

Bower also supports the Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras:

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Photo: Father Rod Bower has vocally supported the LGBTI community. (Supplied to ABC News: Rod Bower)

Gosford Anglican Church, NSW, Australia is not part of the evangelical Anglican Sydney diocese. Instead, Rod Bower is ‘Archdeacon of the Central Coast in the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle’ (Schipp 2016).[7]

2.3 Why should it be called heretical?

The naturalistic, anti-supernatural manipulation of Scripture by theological liberalism is of great seriousness because it ‘consists in the fact that hairesis affect the foundation of the church in doctrine (2 Pt. 2:1), and that they do so in such a fundamental way as to give rise to a new society alongside the ekklesia (Schlier 1964.1:183).

Place biblical teaching on biblical authority (e.g. 2 Tim 3:16-17), the nature of God (Rom 1:18-20), and moral issues (1 Cor 6:9-11) alongside those of the UCA foundational doctrines and we find the crumbling faith of a denomination that has aborted biblical reality.

2.4 Examples of UCA liberalism

2.4.1 Rev David Kidd

At Easter time 1999, David Kidd wrote an article in The Bugle, Bundaberg, Qld, Australia, a local freebie newspaper that was titled, ‘The Resurrection of Jesus’ (Kidd 1999:19). I lived in Bundaberg at the time.  In it, he stated: ‘The resurrection of Jesus.[8] It’s impossible.  Even our brain dies after a few minutes of death.  It’s just not possible’.[9]

This is a characteristic example of what a person’s theological liberalism does to the Bible, by denying the supernatural and imposing a naturalistic, individualistic interpretation on the text. It is called eisegesis – imposing one’s own meaning on the text instead of allowing the text to speak for itself and for meaning to be obtained from the words of the text.

He did not get that view from the Bible. It was out of the mind and theological liberalism of David Kidd.[10]

See my article, Was Jesus’ Resurrection a Bodily Resurrection[11] where I refute Rev Kidd’s views.

2.4.2 Rev Dr Noel Preston

I read the article, “An Evening with John Shelby Spong,” in the Uniting Church of Queensland’s, Journey magazine, online (28 September 2007). Then, I read the positive letter towards Spong’s Christianity by Dr Noel Preston, ethicist, academic, social justice campaigner and retired Uniting Church minister. Preston’s applause was:

I was especially appreciative of the three commentaries on Bishop Spong’s public meeting in Brisbane.

I do not dissent from the impressions reported and share with Bruce Johnson a measure of disappointment that the address I heard from Jack Spong was short on the detail of “a new approach” to theology, though I have great admiration for the positive impact the Bishop has had on behalf of Christian faith throughout a courageous ministry lasting decades.

Your editorial on the subject mused over what it is that causes such a reaction by many to the 78 year old Bishop.

I suspect its intensity has something to do with his determination to profess his allegiance to Jesus Christ despite challenging certain questionable beliefs, moral codes and institutional norms which have been dubiously confused with the essence of the Gospel.

Perhaps his detractors might opine: “If he could just stop pretending to be a disciple it would be easier to tolerate him!”

This is not an unusual story.

As some of your readers would recognise, attempts to be prophetic from within a religious tradition often bring forth a vehement reaction.

Didn’t it happen to Jesus of Nazareth?[6]

See my response to Noel Preston at: ‘Spong’s deadly Christianity.

The Uniting Church sponsored this Spong meeting. That tells a great deal about the unorthodox theology of this denomination. See my expose of Spong’s theology:

clip_image010The Gospel Distortion: A reply to John Shelby Spong

clip_image010[1]Spong promotes salvation viruses called ‘offensive’ and ‘anathema’

clip_image010[2]Spong’s swan song – at last!

clip_image010[4]John Shelby Spong and the Churches of Christ (Victoria, Australia)

clip_image010[4]https://journeyonline.com.au/opinion/marriage-equality-opinon-piece-by-rev-dr-noel-preston-am/

2.4.3 Fourteen Holey Bible arguments against Margaret Court

In my article by this title, I show the rot in the UCA through the teaching of Dr Robyn J Whitaker at Trinity College, Melbourne. She challenged Margaret Court’s views on homosexuality and ‘marriage equality’. See my response at the above link (2 June 2017, ABC News, Brisbane Qld).

Here is an example of …

Hole 1: It starts with Whitaker’s title that the Bible is not meant to be understood as literally as Margaret Court reads it.

Then she does exactly what she told Margaret not to do. She literally accepts the fact that there are 66 books in the Bible; Abraham fathered children with his concubine as well as his wife.

Her literal interpretation continued: She accepted that David and Solomon had entire palaces full of wives and concubines and that polygamy was common.  Slaves were used for concubines. There was no hint in her article that these were supposed to be interpreted metaphorically or symbolically.

Whitaker made self-defeating statements with her examples. She failed to meet her own standard of the Bible being read too literally. The article cannot live up to the criteria she set in the title.

So her self-refuting statements are of necessity false. She violated the law of non-contradiction. This states that A- and non-A cannot be true at the same time and in the same sense. This promoted a contradiction when she accused Margaret Court of reading the Bible “that literally” when she did exactly the same with her own reading of the Bible.

Does Whitaker consider the former Etihad Stadium, Melbourne, should have had a name change between 2009-2018? It was sponsored by Etihad Airways, the national airline of the Islamic country, the United Arab Emirates (UAE). It is now known as Docklands’ Stadium.

Was she an advocate to change name of Etihad Stadium during its sponsorship of the stadium?

What is the Islamic view on homosexuality? The Muslim commentary on the Quran, Hadith, states in al-Tirmidhi, Sunan 1:152: [Muhammad said] “Whoever is found conducting himself in the manner of the people of Lot, kill the doer and the receiver”. Another statement from the Hadith is: “Narrated Abdullah ibn Abbas: The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: If you find anyone doing as Lot’s people did, kill the one who does it, and the one to whom it is done’ (Sunan Abu Dawud 38:4447).

Thus, Islam requires capital punishment for both the perpetrator and recipient of what the people of Sodom did.

2.5 Upheaval in the camp

Surely this new situation should send a clear message to UCA liberal leadership. The message is in these articles:

Step 3: Ashamed of the Bible and its literal interpretation

3.1 The Gospel redefined

It shouldn’t take much insight to realise John K Williams “old time religion” is really evangelical, Bible-believing, Gospel Christianity. It’s the core of that which proclaims Christ as the only way of salvation. It treats the Bible as theopneustos (God-breathed).

Step 4:    Worldly morality

4.1    Sucked in by the homosexual agenda

‘From Friday, September 21, the Uniting Church (UCA) will be the first of the three major Australian Christian denominations to endorse same-sex marriage, and thus the first to offer gay and lesbian Christians the option of a church ceremony’ (Whitaker 2018).

However, gay ministers of churches are acceptable in the UCA:

When Australia returned an overwhelming “yes” vote in the same-sex marriage survey, a somewhat unexpected thing happened.

The Paddington Uniting Church in Sydney was bombarded with requests from gay couples to get married in the church.

For its resident minister Ben Gilmour — a gay man himself — it was affirmation that religion and same-sex attraction did not have to be at odds (Reddie 2017).

Back in 2011, The Sydney Morning Herald reported Rev. Ben Gilmour’s move from 10 years as an Anglican minister on the north coast. Rev. Nicole Fleming was a gay minister leading Uniting Church congregations (Mckenny 2011).

Here there is a definite breach of church polity or protocol in homosexuals leading congregations without the endorsement of the Synod or Presbytery. I would call it unethical, sexual practice.

Step 5:   Exceptions can’t save the denomination

5.1    The path the Uniting Church treads to destruction

See the article, ‘Liberal churches in decline while orthodox ones grow, says study of Protestants in Canada‘. It would take a blind Freddy to miss the trend. Evangelical churches what proclaim the Gospel grow and liberal churches that deny the authority of Scripture and its content head towards the church bread basket.

6.    Conclusion

Cover of ACCatalyst magazine

Assembly of Confessing Congregations (Evangelical), Uniting Church)

Where is the UCA heading? This youngish (age 35) UCA minister from Gerringong Uniting Church NSW, spoke at the Sutherland Uniting Church, Sutherland NSW. He outlined the stark reality of the doom of the UCA:

Liberal, pluralist, humanist spirituality is everywhere – so if you’re a young-adult Christian, you have made a decision to reject that ethos and to embrace Jesus as the way the truth and the life. If you want self-affirming liberalism, you can get it anywhere today. Why would we want it in our church? If you are chasing a vague spiritualism you don’t go [to] church to get it. The church is on a hiding to nothing by trying to present itself as a place where people can pursue this sort of spirituality.

Appealing to the liberal, humanist spirituality market might attract some curious interest in the short term, but it won’t stick – it won’t change lives like the saving grace that Jesus alone offers. The reality is that church is the last place people will want to go for liberal, airy-fairy spirituality.

If the church wants to connect with young adults in the 21st century, it needs to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, pure and simple. The reality at universities is that any liberal presence is dwarfed by the evangelical student unions.

What will appeal to my generation in the long run, what will stand the test of time, is to present this timeless truth.

The Pentecostals know it, the Sydney Anglicans know it, the Baptists know it, and look at them go.

They know what they believe and they offer certainty & hope & life in Jesus’ name.

. . . and their seminaries are packed to the rafters.

Which brings me to my next point. . . .

WE ARE SHUNNING THE UNITING CHURCH

Unfortunately, although my generation of disciples are (sic) overwhelmingly evangelical, they are not sticking around in the Uniting Church.

Two of my mates who I grew up with [me] at Galston graduated from Moore [Anglican College, Sydney] last year and are now in ministry in the Anglican Church.

They made a conscious decision several years ago that they could not remain in the Uniting Church given how far it has become adrift from its theological moorings.

Others of my peers from Galston are in lay leadership roles in Baptist and Pentecostal churches.

My generation, via either a conscious decision to leave or simply via finding a faith home elsewhere are shunning the Uniting Church.

With each Assembly a fresh haemorrhaging of our people occurs. And it’s the young families that seem to have let their feet do the talking.

Why, they ask, should we put up with this rubbish when there are other Biblically-based, Christ-centred, Spirit-filled churches down the road?

When I was discerning my call and sharing it with friends and family, one of them came right out and told me straight up: “Whatever you do, don’t stay with the Uniting Church.” The problem we face is that the Uniting Church’s reputation as a ‘liberal’ church, (though we know it’s not really the case among most members of our church), it does tend to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.We are attracting like moths to a flame every disenchanted Anglican and Pentecostal with an axe to grind.

UTC [United Theological College] bears witness to this.

In defence of UTC, I must say that I am thankful for my time there in that it helped me to know what I believed and why, and that all the staff there (despite an undoubted liberal bias) are well meaning and hard working.

But when you hear candidates saying thing[s] like “Hillsong has a conference???” you start to worry.

When the culture of your theological college leans so heavily towards a theological, social and political liberalism, it will undoubtedly deter the younger generation of leader[s] (who as we have heard is fairly evangelical). It will have an impact on who chooses to attend and consequently who is in leadership in the church (Chapman 2009).

7. Works consulted

Abbott, M C 2018. What Is “Ecumenism”? Catholic Online. Available at: https://www.catholic.org/featured/headline.php?ID=635 (Accessed 5 September 2018).

Bauer, W; Arndt, W F; & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature.[7] Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House).

Bentley, P 2004. Liberalism, sexuality and the future of the Uniting Church. The Assembly of Confessing Congregations (online), July. Available at: http://www.confessingcongregations.com/uploads/Liberalism_Sexuality_and_the_Future_of_the_Uniting_Church_by_Peter_Bentley.pdf (Accessed 7 September 2018).

Chapman, P 2009. Confessions of a Gen-X Evangelical. Assembly of Confessing Congregations (online), 18 April. Available at: http://www.confessingcongregations.com/states/confessions-of-a-gen-x-evangelical/ (Accessed 7 September 2018).

Geisler, N 2002. Systematic Theology (vol. 1). Minneapolis, Minnesota: BethanyHouse.

Kidd, D. 1999, Bundaberg Uniting Church, “The Resurrection of Jesus,” The Bugle (Bundaberg), 19 March.

Mckenny, L 2011. The Sydney Morning Herald, “Gay ministers show a Uniting front to lead congregations,” 22 August. Available at: https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/gay-ministers-show-a-uniting-front-to-lead-congregations-20110821-1j4rf.html (Accessed 28 August 2020).

Mckenny, L 2018. The Sydney Morning Herald (online). Gay ministers show a Uniting front to lead congregations. 22 August. Available at: https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/gay-ministers-show-a-uniting-front-to-lead-congregations-20110821-1j4rf.html (Accessed 5 August 2018).

Reddie, M 2017. ABC News, Brisbane (online). Paddington Uniting Church in Sydney bombarded with same-sex wedding bookings — but there’s a catch, 8 December. Available at: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-12-08/same-sex-marriage-church-bombarded-with-requests-for-ceremonies/9239004 (Accessed 28 August 2020).

Schlier, H 1964. In G Kittel (ed), Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (vol 1), tr. by G W Bromiley, 182-185. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Schipp, D 2016. ‘A bloody man should do the right thing and go to church’. news.com.au (online), 25 September. Available at: https://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/real-life/good-news/a-bloody-man-should-do-the-right-thing-and-go-to-church/news-story/1f02dea749c651482891a2adb500c8ca (Accessed 6 September 2018).

Whitaker, R 2018. The Conversation (online). After a long struggle, the Uniting Church becomes the first to offer same-sex marriage, 17 September. Available at: https://theconversation.com/after-a-long-struggle-the-uniting-church-becomes-the-first-to-offer-same-sex-marriage-102842 (Accessed 28 August 2020).

Notes


[1] John K Williams, “It’s not good enough for us,” The Age, 19 January 2004, accessed 29 July 2021, https://www.theage.com.au/national/its-not-good-enough-for-us-20040119-gdx50q.html.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Philip Hughes, Christian Research Association, “Why some churches grow while others decline,” accessed 29 July 2021, https://cra.org.au/why-some-churches-decline-while-others-grow/.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Keith Suter, “Future of the Uniting Church,” On Line Opinion, 16 April 2019, accessed 29 July 2021, https://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=20257.

[6] In “Letters,” Journey, November 2007, p. 15. Journey is published by the Uniting Church in Australia, Queensland Synod. This is available online at: http://www.journeyonline.com.au/download.php?pdfId=65 (Accessed 21 November 2013). However, on 1 December 2015 it was no longer available online.

Notes:


[1] Sunday Mail 2018. ‘Uniting Church allows gay marriage’, 15 July, p. 27. news.com.au reported on this decision on 14 July at: https://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/gay-marriage/uniting-church-of-australia-consents-to-samesex-marriages-at-its-premise/news-story/df0834aee9852fc1a473e2dc90564ed9 (Accessed 6 September 2018).

[2] Available at: https://assembly.uca.org.au/images/stories/HistDocs/basisofunion1971.pdf (Accessed 7 September 2018).

[3] A kangaroo court is ‘any tribunal in which judgment is rendered arbitrarily or unfairly’ (Collins English Dictionary 2018. s.v. kangaroo court).

[4] This article states: ‘True ability to interpret scripture and preserve the teachings of Christ are only fully possible within the Catholic Church. This is evidenced by the wide array of Protestantism, which hold a large amount of conflicting teachings…. Although much truth exists in other Christian religions, the only infallible truth lies within the Bible and the Traditions of the Catholic Church. If Christ had not established a teaching, living, apostolic church then how could we properly understand the doctrines of the Bible?’

[5] Ibid.

[6] Available at: https://www.gotquestions.org/heresy-definition.html (Accessed 6 September 2018).

[7] For training of the clergy in the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle ‘The Bishop has approved Trinity Theological College [Melbourne] as the main provider of ordination education for people preparing for service in stipendiary, self-supporting and local mission and ministry’ (The Anglican Church n. d. Studying theology [online]). Available at: http://newcastleanglican.org.au/mission-ministries/studying-theology-2/. (Accessed 6 September 2018).Trinity Theological College, Melbourne, has an ‘open and rigorous spirit envisioned by [its] ‘large and liberal education’. It ‘still thrives in a mostly non-resident community committed to ecumenical endeavour and Anglican comprehensiveness…. An Anglican organisation, the Trinity College Theological School engages with students from different religious traditions; it is a place where diverse beliefs and opinions are valued and respected’ (Trinity College Theological School: 2018 Handbook. Available at: https://www.trinity.unimelb.edu.au/getmedia/61cdcc77-afb3-4b89-abdb-8293e208bd0a/Handbook-2018-vn-2.aspx. Accessed 6 September 2018). So, the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle (and so the Gosford Anglican Church) embraces the training of a theologically liberal college. The evangelical Anglican college in Melbourne is Ridley College, which also is associated with the University of Melbourne. See: https://www.ridley.edu.au/partner-with-us/history/ (Accessed 6 September 2018).

[8] ‘The Resurrection of Jesus’ was the title of the article and the first sentence began with, ‘It’s impossible.  Even our brain dies . . . ,’ so I was left to conclude that the article’s title was the introduction to the first sentence.

[9] The original article had closing inverted commas here, but there were no introductory inverted commas.

[10] The Mackay The Courier-Mail reported in 2012 that Rev David Kidd was a ‘Uniting Church pastor who has spent the past 18 years in Mackay’ and stood as a candidate for the Mackay Regional Council’. See David Kidd, 12 April. Available at: https://www.dailymercury.com.au/news/david-kidd-local-election-2012/1350543/ (Accessed 7 September 2018). This website confirmed Rev David Kidd retired from the UCA in 2012: https://www.dailymercury.com.au/news/david-kidd-local-election-2012/1350543/ (Accessed 7 September 2018).

[11] Available at: https://truthchallenge.one/blog/2018/07/10/was-jesus-resurrection-a-bodily-resurrection/ (Accessed 12 December 2018).

Copyright © 2021 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 29 July 2021

Controversies from conception to crucifixion

The Annunciation by Murillo, 1655–1660, Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg

(courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer Gear PhD

It is predictable that controversies will be experienced at many levels of society. In Queensland, the State government sacked the ‘entire scandal-plagued Ipswich council after fraud charges’. Similar action was taken when ‘Logan City Council [was] sacked by Queensland’s Local Government Minister Stirling Hinchliffe’.

Remember the controversies surrounding the sacking of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam on 11 November 1975 by Governor-General Sir John Kerr?

Cameron Bancroft caught ball-tampering. Image courtesy SportsRush (24 March 2018).

 

Could anyone forget the Australian cricket team’s ball-tampering controversy in the Newlands Test, South Africa in 2018?

A very different controversy

This one involved a scandalous conception, a rejection of the child’s adult occupation by his ethnic leaders, and some contemporary church leaders perpetrating these dissensions. The baby born had an aim for life that was out of this world.

This virgin woman, Mary, in first century Israel was betrothed (engaged) to be married to Joseph, of David’s family line, when the angel Gabriel came to her with an outrageous announcement:

Greetings! The Lord is with you; you are very special to him…. You will become pregnant and have a baby boy. You will name him Jesus. He will be great. People will call him the Son of the Most High God, and the Lord God will make him king like his ancestor David. He will rule over the people of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end (Luke 1:28, 31-33).

Mary was pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit. She became so confused she asked the angel how this could happen to a virgin. The angel’s answer was that the Spirit’s power would make sure the baby born would be holy and called the Son of God. The angel also announced her relative Elizabeth was pregnant in her old age (with John the Baptist). The assurance was that God can do anything (Luke 1:35-37).

The controversies of the conception passages regarding Jesus surround: (1) The ministry of angels, and (2) How God could cause a virgin to conceive a child without sexual intercourse?

Angels were created as, the host, ‘Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them’ (Genesis 2:1). There will be resistance to the notion of angels by those who oppose God’s description of the universe that includes the unseen ministry of these beings. Hebrews 12:22 states there are ‘myriads of angels’ – an innumerable number.

What is the job description of unseen angels? This is not from One Magic Christmas. The biblical view is that ‘all angels are spirits who serve. God sends them to serve those who will receive salvation’ (Hebrews 1:14).

Conception controversy

Imagine a first century woman engaged (betrothed) to be married and she became pregnant without intercourse. Also, this pregnancy was not announced about a woman who would give birth in a comfortable house or in a maternity ward of a local hospital. The son of God would be born to a humble woman in a Bethlehem cow shed that was nothing like an Australian dairy farm milking shed. After birth, he was placed in ‘a box where cattle are fed’ (Luke 2:7).

What does it take to understand and believe in the virgin birth of Christ? Protestant theologian, Wayne Grudem’s, assessment was: “Certainly such a miracle is not too hard for the God who created the universe and everything in it — anyone who affirms that a virgin birth is ‘impossible’ is just confessing his [ or her] own unbelief in the God of the Bible” (1994:532).

Retired Episcopalian, theologically liberal bishop, John Shelby Spong, called ‘an aging maverick’, gave an example of Grudem’s appraisal:

There was no biologically literal virgin birth, no miraculous overcoming of barrenness in the birth of John the Baptist, no angel Gabriel who appeared to Zechariah or to Mary, no deaf muteness, no angelic chorus that peopled the heavens to announce Jesus’ birth to hillside shepherds, no journey to Bethlehem, no presentation or purification in Jerusalem, and no childhood temple story….

All that can be stated definitely is that the echoes of the status of illegitimacy appear to be far stronger in the text than the suggestion that Jesus was Mary’s child by Joseph (Spong 1992:157-158).

Spong_Lecture_DM_01.croppedJohn Shelby Spong 2018 (courtesy The Chautauqua Daily)

That is speculation, a la Spong! Out of the mind of Spong, he produced what Grudem explained — a confession of Spong’s unbelief in the God of the Bible (and the universe). He confirmed this when he wrote, ‘No recognized New Testament scholar, Catholic or Protestant, would today seriously defend the historicity of these [birth] narratives [in the Gospels]’ (Spong 1992:44-45). 

Really? It’s too bad Spong didn’t give an even-handed approach to the historicity of New Testament material and recognition of scholars outside of his liberal theological brand.  Even in Spong’s own generation today, an eminent scholar and professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary, Dr.Craig Blomberg (1987) provided verification of The Historical Reliability of the Gospels. I’m confident Spong would reject his scholarship because he is an evangelical.

Image result for photo Craig BlombergBlomberg (1987:255), while acknowledging his was “‘a ‘minority report’ among biblical scholars worldwide”, endorsed the historical veracity of the Gospels:

The gospels may be accepted as trustworthy accounts of what Jesus did and said. One cannot hope to prove the accuracy of every detail on purely historical grounds alone; there is simply not enough data available for that.  But as investigation proceeds, the evidence becomes sufficient for one to declare that what can be checked is accurate, so that it is entirely proper to believe that what cannot be checked is probably accurate as well.  Other conclusions, widespread though they are, seem not to stem from even-handed historical analysis but from religious or philosophical prejudice….

It has been argued here that the gospels must be subjected to the same type of historical scrutiny given to other writings of antiquity but that they can stand up to such scrutiny admirably (1987:254-255)

This affirms C S Lewis’s explanation: ‘One must keep on pointing out that Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of no importance, and, if true, of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important’ (1970:51).

Extraordinary controversy

If we thought the virgin conception was controversial, it is multiplied many times over when discussing God’s prophetic statement of the nature of that conception and birth. Yes, God can, did and does prophesy events. This happened with the virgin conception. In the Old Testament (OT), prophecy referred to a prophet who received divine revelations, as with Moses and Elijah.

I walked into my local pharmacy to deliver scripts a few days ago when I noticed decorations at the entrance, ‘Joy to the World. I commended the pharmacist for supporting the celebration of the birth of Jesus rather than Santa. What has that to do with predictions?

The prophetic controversies

OT Scriptures have created heated discussions over the centuries relating to Jesus’ birth. One of the most prominent is from:

Isaiah 7:14

The controversies are seen in the comparison of two eminent, contemporary Bible translations, the ESVA and the NRSVA:

Flower8‘Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel’ (ESVA).

Flower8‘Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel’ (NRSVA).

There is a Christmas world of a difference between these two translations. Was this prophesied child, who would be called, Immanuel, born to a ‘young woman’ or ‘a virgin’? The difference has considerable implications. If she were a young woman, it does not guarantee that she was a virgin.

What are the problems with the prophetic passage from Isa. 7:14, which is quoted in Matthew 1:22-23 that has caused so much angst among Bible translators and commentators?

1folder There are two different ways to translate the Hebrew almah – virgin or young woman.

2folder ‘Almah’ does not actually indicate virginity. Don’t jump to conclusions about my statement, as there are other ramifications.

3folder The Matt. 1:22-25 passage is clear from the context that Mary was a virgin: ‘Joseph did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And he named him Jesus’ (v. 25).

4folder ‘Almah’ is not precisely equivalent to virgin or young woman. Congruent with many OT passages, many prefer the translation, ‘young woman of marriageable age’. Most, but not all, OT references to ‘almah’ indicate a virgin (Carson 1984:77).

5folder In about 250 BC, the Hebrews completed the translation of the Hebrew OT into Greek, known as the Septuagint (LXX). The translators, for the Hebrew almah, used the Greek word, parthenos, which is used in Matt. 1:23 and Luke 1:27 for Mary the ‘virgin’. However the LXX translation is about 300 years earlier than the gospel writings. Had the meaning, therefore, changed during these three centuries? An additional OT problem is:

Genesis 34:4 indicates that Dinah is a parthenos (LXX). However, the previous verse affirms that she is not a virgin. Why, then, would one want to translate parthenos in Matthew and Luke as virgin instead of young woman? Virgin is the preferred translation in the Gospels because ‘the overwhelming majority of the occurrences of “parthenos” in both biblical and profane Greek require the rendering ‘virgin’” (Carson 1984:78).

6folder To deal honestly with Isaiah 7:14, we need to examine Isaiah 7:1-9:7 as a unit. In context there is a double fulfillment in Isaiah’s day, with God’s judgement against Judah and Ephraim by the Assyrian armies. The second fulfillment is the coming of the promised Immanuel (God with us) to the virgin Mary.

Controversies from religious leaders in Jesus’ lifetime

These are only three examples of the religious who objected to Jesus’ actions.

Image result for clipart Hebrew signJesus’ actions caused anger among the Jewish religious leaders. Jesus and healed a demon-possessed man and the crowds questioned if he was the Messiah: ‘But when the Pharisees heard about the miracle, they said, “No wonder he can cast out demons. He gets his power from Satan, the prince of demons.” Jesus knew their thoughts and replied, “Any kingdom divided by civil war is doomed. A town or family splintered by feuding will fall apart’ (Matt 212:24-25 NLT).

Don Stewart commented:

The miracle was undeniable, for the man was blind and mute as well as demon-possessed. Rather than believe Jesus to be the Messiah, these religious rulers attributed Jesus’ power to the devil. Thus their “official” explanation was that Jesus’ power came from Satan. This was another cause for which they wanted Him dead (Why did the religious leaders want to kill Jesus?)

Image result for clipart Hebrew signThe Jewish religious leaders had corrupted the observance of the Sabbath. Jesus asked his critics, ‘“Does the law permit good deeds on the Sabbath, or is it a day for doing evil? Is this a day to save life or to destroy it?” But they wouldn’t answer him. He looked around at them angrily and was deeply saddened by their hard hearts. Then he said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” So the man held out his hand, and it was restored!’ (Mark 3:4-5 NLT).

Jesus’ enemies were in the synagogue and wanted to see if they could accuse him of doing work on the Sabbath. There was a man with a deformed hand there. The man was healed and ‘At once the Pharisees went away and met with the supporters of Herod to plot how to kill Jesus’ (Mark 3:6 NLT). These religious leaders were persuaded that these actions demonstrated Jesus was not a genuine Messiah because such a person would not violate the Jewish Law this way.

What did Jesus’ enemies now decide to do? ‘At once the Pharisees went away and met with the supporters of Herod to plot how to kill Jesus’ (Mark 3:6 NLT).

Wherever Jesus went he did much good through his many works, including miracles. However, there were many who opposed him

Image result for clipart Hebrew signOne more example what happened as the time for Jesus’ death approached. Who killed Jesus? This question has been asked over and over for the last 2,000 years. Two groups of people were involved:

  • According to Matt 26:57-67 (NLT), the Jewish leaders called for Jesus’ death. Matt 27:20-26, 31-44 confirms the Jews called for Jesus’ death.
  • However, Matt 27:27-38 states the Romans committed the physical act of capital punishment by crucifixion of Jesus.

This was done so that Romans 5:8 (NLT) could be accomplished, ‘But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners’.

What’s the big deal for Aussies at Christmas 2019?

Doubters are out there in droves among ordinary people and scholars. Who wants to be associated with a mob of literalists like me, who allegedly concoct a story about a miraculous birth and have perpetrated it for thousands of years?

John Dominic Crossan (1994:17), fellow of the infamous Jesus Seminar, deconstructed the meaning of the virgin birth. This was his reasoning:

The prophecy in Isaiah [7:14] says nothing whatsoever about a virginal conception. It speaks in Hebrew of an almah, a virgin just married but not yet pregnant with her first child. In the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures the term almah was translated as parthenos, which in that context meant exactly the same thing — namely a newly married virgin (emphasis in original).

If it doesn’t refer to the virgin birth, to what does it refer? Crossan stated:

I understand the virginal conception of Jesus to be a confessional statement about Jesus’ status and not a biological statement about Mary’s body. It is later faith in Jesus as an adult retrojected mythologically onto Jesus as an infant…. He is not necessarily the firstborn child of Joseph and Mary. He could just as easily be their youngest (1994:23).

Crossan’s theology is radically removed from that of biblical Christianity. He vanquishes anything that reads like a literal interpretation. However, I wouldn’t dare read his many publications (which I’ve read) the way he interprets the Bible. Christianity is in freefall in the writings of Dom Crossan.

The truth of the Christ child matters because the one who came as a sinless baby (not impregnated by sinful Joseph) was here to live and to shed his life’s blood to provide cleansing for sin. Remember he was a Jew who followed the Jewish law for forgiveness of sin – shedding of blood.

The Jesus’ difference

One born through sexual intercourse between a sinful man and a sinful woman produced sinful offspring. Jesus Christ ‘didn’t have any sin. But God made him become sin for us. So we can be made right with God because of what Christ has done for us’ (2 Cor 5:21).

The Bible expressly declares that Jesus was sinless. As a high priest he is able to intercede with God on behalf of people because ‘he is holy, pure and without blame. He isn’t like other people. He does not sin. He is lifted high above the heavens’ (Hebrews 7:26).

At the birth of Jesus, Mary was assured by the angel, ‘The holy one that is born will be called the Son of God’. ‘Holy’ means to be separate and cut off from all that is sinful. God, the Son, cannot tolerate sin but he came to earth as a baby who grew into an adult and was crucified for the sins of the world.

Why should that interest us in Australia for Christmas 2019? Why should the Santa and the reindeer be replaced by a manger scene at Christmas? He brought ‘Joy to the World’ if people are open to receive it.

For Christmas we again celebrate, ‘Oh Holy Night’.

 

Copyright © 2019 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 28 December 2019.

Image result for clip art nativity lines Mantle clip art christmas mantle with nativity scene image

 

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