People have always sought after God. As the prophet in the Old testament, Job cried 23:3 "If only I knew where to find him; if only I could go to his dwelling!" When God came the first Christmas, seeking to find us like a shepherd seeking a lost sheep, wise men understood and came seeking the baby Jesus. Matt 2:2,8 "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him." King Herod also wanted to find Jesus. "Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him."
Both were on a quest to find Jesus: the wise men wanted to worship Him, and Herod wanted to destroy Him. Nothing has changed. Today wise men and women seek after Jesus that they might worship Him. Others want to use their resources of power, position and scholarship that they might destroy Him. The battle within The Uniting Church at the national Assembly in Perth this week has centred on some ministers declaring they are homosexuals, including Rev Dorothy McRae-McMahon who is a paid administrator in the Assembly offices. The issue is not one of sexuality, but whether the Uniting Church believes the Bible and its teachings and standards are relevant and authoritative today.
The issue is an attempt to remove from Jesus His call for people to be holy. It is an attempt to muzzle Him when He says to the woman caught in sexual infidelity and immorality: "Go and sin no more." Jn 11:7 It is part of a wider push by liberal theologians to diminish the Bible as the relevant and authoritative source and guide for Christians.
As part of this world wide trend to diminish Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour is the theological movement known as The Third Quest for the Historical Jesus. These scholars attempt to see behind the New Testament portraits of Jesus and the traditions of the church to discover the true identity and message of Jesus. The quest, which began over 200 years ago, is described well by Traves Brawer.
The First Quest for the historical Jesus began in 1778 when Harman Rammers, a German professor argued there was a difference between the real Jesus and the portrait of Him in the Gospels. The disciples wrote their own views about Jesus. He thought Jesus reaffirmed Judaism and had no intention of starting a new religion. Jesus was a failed political messiah, but after His death the disciples preserved Jesus' movement by stealing His body and proclaiming His resurrection.
German scholars attempted to explain away the supernatural elements found in the Gospels. David Friedrich Strauss, wrote "The Life of Jesus Critically Examined". He denied all supernatural elements in the Bible. He labelled much of the Gospels as myth. The most famous scholar of this time was Dr Albert Schweitzer, whose 1906 book "The Quest of the Historical Jesus" argued the scholars had been writing lives of Jesus that mirrored their own values. Schweitzer said Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet who sacrificed Himself to bring in the Kingdom of God. He said the Quest was not possible because the Gospels do not contain biographical information. Hence the view that the historical Jesus could be found behind the Gospels was lost, and the First Quest was brought to an end.
The Second Quest began with scholars believing it was impossible to disentangle the Jesus of Faith from the historical Jesus. Many scholars like Rudolf Bultmann felt the quest was theologically illegitimate because Christianity is based upon faith in Christ rather than the historical person of Jesus. He felt we cannot get behind the faith of the authors of the Gospels and therefore we can know almost nothing about the life of Jesus because the earliest available sources mention very little.
But following World War II, scholars began investigating the way in which each Gospel writer pieced together his book from various written and oral sources. They tried to reconstruct the original message of Jesus and compare this with the preaching of the early church. C.H.Dodd, in his book, "The Apostolic Preaching and Its Developments" reaffirmed the basic Gospel.
The Third Quest attracted media attention during the 1990's. These scholars use archaeological, historical, and textual sources of the first century and apply insights from sociology and anthropology to try to re-create Jesus. The Third Quest emphasises the Jewishness of Jesus and early Judaism. The Third Quest became prominent due to the Jesus Seminar, a self-appointed group of scholars which used voting by coloured beads to indicate what they thought were the authentic sayings of Jesus. They say Jesus did not believe he was God, and that what we believe about Jesus was made up by his followers later; that the commandments He gives are conditioned by the culture of His day and are not authoritative for us today. This attitude to scripture and to Jesus Christ effects us today.
It is the same attitude to the Bible and the teachings of Jesus driving the gay and lesbian lobby in the Uniting Church today. The reason why I have been examining these views over the past months, is because these views are the theological basis for changes dividing our denomination. The drive to change our standards from those of the Bible is a very aggressive one. It is found in our Assembly and Synod offices. This approach, with the silent acquiescence of other officers of the church, diminishes the authority of the Bible as a rule for life and a guide for personal holiness; re-makes Jesus to conform with our pattern of life; remodels Jesus in our image; imposes our thoughts upon the Bible to decide what we want to accept or reject; and turns completely from our traditional stance of holiness in living, repentance from sin, and growing more like Christ to a life where anything goes.
We reject the idea that a leader of our church can live in sexual immorality and at the same time be applauded by the Assembly for good character! Whatever happened to the call for repentance? There is wide-spread agreement about what the Bible says on issues like homosexuality, same-sex marriages, acceptance of adulterous ministers and so on. So those wanting to change do so by undermining the Bible's authority. They argue that the Bible is culturally conditioned, influenced by its time and lack of knowledge and needs to be re-written in the light of modern opinion. The overwhelming viewpoint of Christians in all denominations is that the Bible judges us, not we it. The real issue is: does the Bible determine the way we believe and act? Or does the way we believe and act determine what parts of the Bible we will accept?
The first President of the Uniting Church Rev Dr Davis McCaughey, recently Governor of Victoria, lamented the Uniting Church's "false egalitarianism which has little respect for, or belief in, the author-ity of scripture...". The Uniting Church has allowed its structures to become the refuge for whose who would change the church's response to the Bible. Consequently the bureaucracy has grown out of touch with its membership. Many, unable to sustain a ministry in parishes under the scrutiny of the membership, have taken positions within the organisations of the church. Their fellow church officials are cowardly silent. Here they set the agenda of the church ahead of local membership. Of the 261 voting members of the Assembly, 143 represented the church's bureaucracy not local parishes.
But The Uniting Church is united at the level of membership in local parishes. The response to the Interim Report on Sexuality shows that the membership of the Uniting Church overwhelmingly does not accept the gay lobby agenda. The response was so overwhelming that the Standing Committee of the Assembly chose to release only its own assessment of the responses from churches and members to give the best spin on the figures. Significant research was hidden from church members and the media by the Standing Committee deciding not to release an independent report on the response received from the 8000 respondents. That report apparently reveals a very united church with the leadership having lost touch entirely. We call for the public release of that survey. Apparently 91% of churches and members responding did not approve of homosexual practise or homosexual leadership within The Uniting Church. Release the report!
We must make the people who work within the bureaucracy of the church more accountable to local parishes who fund their activities. This Uniting Church has failed to provide the vision for the growth of the church. For six years the mission of the church has been stalled with its obsession with sex. The decision of the Assembly that such issues and people should be referred to unending rounds of further discussion will result in the death of a church by a thousand cuts.
Parishes, hardpressed for funds for service to the community and for ministry have also to fund this bureaucracy. For the local parish is the only place within the church where new members are made, finance is provided and community service is given. In business terms, The Uniting Church In Australia is being killed by unnecessary overheads.
The recent National Church Life Survey indicates the gay lobby is welcome within the membership of the Church but not in leadership. The Uniting Church is too united for them. The UCA is a main-stream denomination. The issues that have been debated in Perth are not acceptable to the other denominations such as the Anglican, Catholic, Orthodox, Presbyterian, Baptist, Churches of Christ, Salvation Army, Pentecostal and so on. The future for those who cannot accept a Christian understanding of the authority of the scripture lies only in one of the pretend churches established by the gay and lesbian lobby. The Uniting Church should get on with worshipping God, proclaiming the Gospel, teaching the faith, caring for the needy and serving the poor. We are to be a church of moral conviction not a church of moral compromise.
These people speak of a new Jesus, but He is a pale imitation of the real One. Their Jesus is re-created in their image. Their Jesus is not bothered by their continual sin. They remove His calls to repent of sin and to lead a holy lifestyle. They do not want to know a Jesus who came preaching saying: Mk 1:15 "The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!" They ignore His challenge to deny self and to take up a cross and follow Him. They rule out His words to an immoral woman: John 8:11 "Go now and leave your life of sin." Their Jesus is not the Christ of the New Testament. Their Bible is not the Bible which we know. Their faith is low-cal., homogenised, one size suits all, read into it what you like, comfortable. There is no cross, only a cappuccino!
What then shall we do? We can intellectually outthink them. We can stand firm in our beliefs. We can uphold the scriptures as the Word of God. We can oppose their view-point until they change or leave. The Uniting Church was built upon a Biblical basis. Our Basis of Union clearly upholds the Word of God as authoritative. Those who try to erode it, do not belong. Tell your local Uniting Church minister that you will take no more of it. Give your offerings to Uniting Church ministries that uphold the Bible. If the Synod or Assembly harbours such people, remove your investments, mark your offerings "For Local Purposes Only" and everytime you receive a Synod or Assembly offering envelope, return it with a letter inside. Take the initiative. This is the church of those who love the Lord and seek to serve Him. Stay within it and bring it back to the standards of the Bible and to the faith we once affirmed in common in Jesus as both Saviour and Lord.
REFERENCES USED IN THIS SERMON:
MEETING JESUS AGAIN FOR THE FIRST TIME M J Borg Harper, 1994
THE HISTORICAL JESUS John Dominic Crossan Harper, 1991
JESUS:A REVOLUTIONARY BIOGRAPHY J D Crossan, Harper, 1994
HONEST TO JESUS, Robert Funk, Harper, 1996
THE FIVE GOSPELS, R Funk, R W Hoover, Macmillan, 1993
THE REAL JESUS, Luke Timothy Johnson, Harper, 1996
THE LOST GOSPEL. THE BOOK OF Q. Burton L Mack, Harper, 1993
THE JESUS QUEST Ben Witherington Ill, IVP, 1995
JESUS: AN HISTORIAN'S REVIEW OF THE GOSPELS, M Grant S & S 1995
GOSPEL TRUTH. Russell Shorto, Hodder, 1997.
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