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|5th September, 1999|
Very few people in recorded history have the privilege of entering a new century, and fewer still, a new millennium. We have that privilege. Many will exploit that opportunity for commercial gain. Others will use the opportunity to consider those qualities of character and life-style we should possess. Over the past few months, I have been considering those personal qualities and Christian characteristics that we should take into the twenty-first century. Now in these last weeks before the year 2000, I want to consider those great trends that have influenced us in the past and which will continue into the Third Millennium. But first we consider our changing Australia.
1. ADMISSION OF OUR NATIONAL FAILURES.
It is refreshing that note that Australians are starting to recognize our failures of the past. A new mood recognizes that since the first Europeans, the Portuguese, came to our country in the mid-1500's on the west coast, we could have done better. We carried a lot of the bitterness, prejudice and racism of Europe to this country. We have been racist in our attitudes to indigenous people, Pacific Islanders and Asians particularly. Our attitudes to Aborigines is a cause of deep regret. Emeritus Professor of Australian Prehistory at ANU, D.J. Mulvaney believes the best estimate of Aboriginal population of Australia in 1788 when Europeans came to the East Coast of Australia, was 750,000 people. This number rapidly decreased mainly through the ravages of European diseases.
The worst diseases were smallpox, measles, chest ailments, venereal disease and alcoholism. Pacific Islanders were exploited as indentured Kanakas working on our cane-fields. The Asians were discriminated against through our White Australia policy. Post War European migrants were labeled Dagos and Wogs. The bitter sectarian attitudes between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland came here with Irish convicts and their English over-lords creating a divide still be heard in the rhetoric of the debate on whether we become a Republic.
But we are now admitting our national failures. We have just expressed our "deep and sincere regret that indigenous Australians suffered injustices under the practices of past generations, and for the hurt and trauma that many indigenous people continue to feel as a consequence of those practices," as Prime Minister Howard put it. The report into the "Stolen Generation" made us aware that our policies in the past fell far short of what an enlightened understanding today desires. The rewriting of our Constitution and its preamble has caused us to sort our values. We are making admission of our past national failure. That is a healthy experience for any nation. There seems to be an indication that we are maturing as a nation, and recognizing past failure is a sign of such. God promised: 2 Chron 7:14 "If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land."
2. CAN THE AUSTRALIAN CHURCH RESCUE US?
Our nation is facing a crisis. We live in a land of peace and prosperity, with sound, democratically elected governments, with growing accountability from those in positions of authority, and a high level of personal morality. Yet such is the rate of change and the decline in personal ethics, we are now facing a national moral crisis. Can religion give Australia new hope?
Traditionally the church has delivered that sense of national cohesion and reconciliation. But is the church capable of delivering it today? Some mainline churches are divided over lack of commitment to the Scriptures as the only revelation of God. Some churches are politically aligned and spokespersons speak to every issue along predictable ideological lines not supported by a majority of their members. The very organism that people should be able to turn to in confidence, is itself in crisis. These churches are showing signs of wear and tear and lack of direction. They adopt a religious pluralism that believes no one can be ever wrong and a post-modernism which declares everything is subjective, open to your own opinion. What is important is not the Bible, nor what Christians believe, but what is your story. One view is as good as any other. Everyone does what is right in his or her own eyes. That church attitude will never help Australia. For these Churches, Christianity has become a form not a force. Faith is a performance not a person. It is religion not a relationship. They minister by remote control, preach by memory. They have no fire, no fervour, no friendship with the living Jesus.
These churches spend their time on what Kennon Callahan calls "protecting their place on the face of the cliff." In mountain climbing, climbers can find themselves on the face of a cliff without a handhold or foothold ahead or behind. In that predicament many freeze. They cling for dear life. They fear any move could mean the abyss below. Many churches become frozen on the face of the cliff. They cannot find anything in their history that would save them. They cannot see anything hopeful. They became preoccupied with maintenance, membership, and money. That kind of church should die. It has no relevance to the needs of Australia as we enter the twentyfirst century.
3. IS THERE ANY HOPE FOR OUR FUTURE?
A crisis abounds in nation and church. Where is an answer? Only commitment to Jesus Christ offers us hope. Jesus made the laws of Moses tougher and the standard of morality among His followers harder. He was marginalised because of His teachings and His close association with the poor, the rejected and the leprous, put Him offside with everyone from the Pharisees to the Romans. Yet Jesus Christ became, through the Cross and Resurrection, the Messiah of all. He will one day return to establish God's Kingdom and reign on earth as in heaven. Our only hope lies in committed Christians, obedient to the scriptures, who pray for the governments and witness to their faith, and who are willing to live under the authority of the Word of God. Will our nation continue to decline or can individuals find in Jesus Christ the deep answer?
I saw the film "BRASSED OFF". This is a Yorkshire term which expresses how people feel sometimes about the bureaucracies of governments and churches. The Yorkshire miners are brassed off with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher whose 1980's economic rationalist policy saw the closure of 184 coalmines. The coalmine in Dibley was being closed after 110 years and with it the Dibley Colliery Brass Band. The film is about a class struggle between the union and mine management, the impact that redundancy has on a working man's family and the loss of morale in the brass band which had hoped for years to play in the Royal Albert Hall.
There is a powerful moment when the bandmaster's son, Phil cannot take any more and breaks down while at church playing with some children. Phil's dad is dying. Phil is deeply in debt from the 1985 strike. His furniture has been repossessed. Phil's wife has left with his kids. He is trying to earn money playing a clown at a Roman Catholic Church's children's festival. Seeing the kids is just too much. Phil breaks down. He storms towards the door. He stops, still in his clown outfit, in front of a statue of Jesus. It is a typical statue, with Jesus having an open bleeding heart, thorns on his head, arms outstretched with nail wounds in his hands. Phil shouts at the statue: "What are you looking at? My job's gone. The pit's closed. My wife's left. The kids are gone. My furniture is repossessed. My dad is dying. And Margaret Bloody Thatcher is healthy and well and enjoying life! Where's the justice?" He slams the door. The camera pauses on the statue. Jesus stands with bleeding heart, arms outstretched with the nail holes in His hands and thorns upon His head.
Where's the justice? Pilate is washing His hands. Herod is eating roast. Caiaphas is robing. And Jesus, the best man to have ever lived is crucified! Where's the justice? There is no justice for the poor, coloured, disabled, indigenous, for many women, aged, unemployed, insignificant miners and carpenters. They are the marginalised people, pushed around, shoved to the rim of society, despised and rejected. Jesus stands patiently with arms outstretched. The crown of thorns, the bleeding heart, the nail-prints in the hands are evidence He also was despised and rejected of men. The marginalised Messiah identifies with them and makes sure that God's justice will prevail for all.
Christianity is not a way of life. It is not Western culture. It is not conformity to a standard of living. Christianity is a relationship with Jesus Christ who sends us as His ambassadors of reconciliation. We are facing a rapid deterioration of the Christian ethic. Jesus confronted the economic and political power structures of His day, out of His commitment to God. He died on a Cross, not because He dared to change hymn-numbers, but because He cared for the poor and was prepared to confront and change practices and policies of injustice. Chuck Colson said "What we do must flow from who we are. Christians must contend for biblically informed morality and justice in the halls of power. That is the balance that keeps our ethics and our activism in proper perspective. I urge you to hold tightly to your courage and your moral convictions during the stressful days ahead. This is no time to wimp out!"
God knew when He had rescued the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt and brought them into their own land, they would prosper. With prosperity there comes complacency. With complacency there comes a decline in personal ethics and morality. People will accept anything. In the name of tolerance all standards disappear. They forget their heritage and what made them a people.
God knew that. So when Israel entered the Promised Land, God reminded them: Deut 8:7-14 "The LORD your God is bringing you into a good land--a land with streams and pools of water, with springs flowing in the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills. When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God." How relevant is that to Australia today!
Australia is changing. Many of the changes causes us regret, but, thank God, we are learning to regret our past sins and failures! That is something we must take into the new Millennium. Before there can be any forgiveness and reconciliation, there must be confession of failure.
Charles Colson. Christianity Today Feb. 8, 1993, p.112.
Rev Dr Gordon Moyes
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