On Monday, November 4th, Rev Gordon Moyes gave the following address in the NSW Parliament House before one hundred politicians, judges, church and community leaders.
Members of the Australian Parliament, the Federal Cabinet, the Senate and the NSW Parliament and Legislative Council were present and announced that Rev Moyes was to receive the National Leadership Award from the President of the Community Standards Association Dr Kevin Hulme.
This award is given annually to an Australian considered to have given the nation outstanding moral and ethical leadership.
It is always easy to consider the times in which we are living are evil times, and times of great moral crisis. Most generations have believed so. As Charles Dickens writes in "The Tale of Two Cities" "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way, in short, the period was like the present."
Both nation and church are facing a moral crisis. Christians look for a word from God in such situations, but prophets of God are rare. Today we have only a few people I would describe as prophets of God. One would be Sir Alan Walker the former Superintendent of Wesley Mission. When he spoke out boldly against the war in Vietnam, his was a lone voice and the community as a whole was outraged against him. The church bureaucracy hated his stance. The prophet is always uncomfortable for Church leaders.
Another would be Rev Fred Nile when he first warned about the consequences of the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. His was a lone voice, and some Mardi Gras participants created a huge likeness of his head on a platter that was pulled along by near-naked gay men in leather G-Strings!
The Church bureaucracy hated his stance, because they were harbouring closet gays and adulterous heterosexuals among their own staff. Leaders of the Uniting Church have never called homosexuals to repentance and new life in Christ, but instead affirmed them in their life-style.
A prophet makes life uncomfortable for church leaders. They ostracised Fred and did not identify with his cause at all. Both men were staff members at Wesley Mission, Sydney. If you read our history, Wesley Mission has been led by many bold leaders, who spoke the truth, defied the religious authorities when necessary, and who stood for righteous living, moral behaviour and obedience to the Word of God.
In putting Rev Fred Nile's head on a platter, the gay and lesbian group were acknowledging Fred's role as a prophet when not even his own church could see that. For the image of the head on a platter is that of one of the greatest prophets of all time. John the Baptist called people to cease from immoral behaviour and repent of their sins. Religious and political leaders contrived to get John, and through the sexual blackmail of a young woman over her step-father, John the Baptist was silenced by being beheaded and his head dished up on a platter.
This is the fate of prophets, for true prophets of God make us uncomfortable. Yet we need to hear the word of the prophet concerning the moral crisis within both nation and church.
1. THE MORAL CRISIS FACING OUR NATION.
We normally like to hear of political gossip, economic bad news, and the scandals concerning leaders. It is true that "Great people talk about ideas. Average people talk about things. Small people talk about people." Most of our day most of us talk about people and things because we are mostly small or average people. But community and church leaders are expected to be above average and so we talk about ideas that move people and nations.
What kind of a world will we face in the Third Millennium? We are fortunate that our own Dr Keith Suter in "Global Change" and "Global Agenda" has outlined brilliantly, the international changes that the world is experiencing.
He expands on such issues as removing the nuclear threat, the population crisis, the degradation of the earth's environment, bridging the gap between the industrial and third worlds, the growth of transnationals, the breakdown in public and private morality, the AIDS epidemic and drug problem, and an increasing rate of change.
We have seen the emergence of freemarket socialism, the privatisation of the welfare state, the rise of the Pacific-rim countries, and growing numbers of women in community leadership. In Australia we see social change.
1. The ageing of the babyboom generation and the flow on of the babybusters is changing the age of our work-force, and the demands upon pension and superannuation funds.
2. A new demand for products and services for the post-family formation stage of life including health care, professional services, leisure programs, insurance and retirement services and villages.
3. Family and quality of life issues are becoming dominant influences on social choices. The paedophilia inquiry and the Royal Commission into Corruption both disgust us and subtly eat away at our respect for the judiciary, the parliament, the church, the police and all community agencies we have trusted in the past. None of us can regain our lost innocence and trust we once had in the agencies of guardianship.
4. More women are entering the workforce earlier, for longer periods of time and for more hours per week directing pressure towards investment in child care and equality of outcomes in employment.
5. Education is taking longer but there is concern over the quality of education, training in specific skills with demand for greater creativity, innovation and productivity from employers.
6. The young link into global forms of communication. Instead of surfing the waves, they surf the 'net. Increased communication will mean greater isolation with people alone at the keyboard and in virtual reality amusements.
7. There is a declining proportion of people in each household who work full time outside the house, leading to a greater mobility of household members and a significant pressure on family ties.
8. There is an internationalisation of fashion, food preferences and leisure pursuits. Basketball replaces cricket. Tourism becomes our biggest industry. Trans-national corporations force a greater diversity of products and services and a shift from domestic trading patterns to transnational franchise retail provision. The McDonaldisation of the world continues!
9. The demand increases for better and quicker information access: TV, mobile phones, computers.
10.The Asia-Pacific growth rate determines the core preferences in trade, travel and tourism flows. The Australian society we grew up in, is rapidly changing. Those changes impinge upon everything we value. We have grown with the Queen for forty years and proud that Australia has a stable monarchist Government, but now talk of a Republic is on every hand. Many things will change: when I reach 100 years, who will send me the telegram?
Hugh Mackay in "Reinventing Australia" (A & R) says: "Australians in the last quarter of the 20th century have become a nation of pioneers; some heroically, some reluctantly, some painfully. We have been plunged into a period of unprecedented social, cultural, political, economic and technological change in which the Australian way of life is being radically redefined.
Everything from the roles of men and women, through marriage and family to the structure of the labour market, the party political process, the Constitution and the racial and cultural composition of our society is being questioned.
Whether we realise it or not, all Australians are becoming New Australians as we struggle partly to shape them to our own liking." (p6) Many Australians are coping badly with these social changes. They lash out at society. Some go berserk and shoot and hit and kill. Others lash out at their spouses or children or employees or the cat. "The problem is that, all over Australia, people feel themselves to be operating on a short fuse. Little things which might, in previous generations, have been quite easily tolerated and absorbed as part of the ups and downs of daily life, now seem to assume bigger proportions.
The general level of anxiety in the community is such that it only requires a small spark to ignite feelings of irritation, helplessness, frustration, anger or violence."
Many Australians are suffering from the Last Straw syndrome, a condition in which so much stress and anxiety is being experienced that even quite minor upsets can feel like one thing too many. Crankiness and irritability are the most obvious and widespread manifestations of the Last Straw syndrome. On the roads, at the bank or the supermarket, at work, on the sporting field, or in personal relationships, Australians are increasingly intolerant of minor stress because their emotional resources are depleted by the task of coping with major stress.
One of the sad symptoms of the level of anxiety in the Australian community emerged in The Mackay Report on The Australian Dream (1990): because Australians are so preoccupied with the problems of trying to cope with their present circumstances, they have temporarily abandoned any serious consideration of what the future might hold.
The Australian dream machine more or less ground to a halt at the beginning of the 1990s, because people had come to feel that survival was a real issue and that it was time to batten down the hatches rather than worry too much about setting a new course. That same report suggested that one of the things that most inhibits Australians' ability to dream of a better future is their fear that Australia is becoming a more violent society.
Whereas it was once regarded as characteristic of life in Australia that our cities and suburbs were safe at virtually any time of day or night, today's Australians believe that this is no longer true.
Parents report that they are uneasy about their children travelling alone on public transport, or even going to the beach with a group of other children. They resent the steps that they feel that they have to take to ensure their security and the security of their children.
Teenagers, too, frequently complain about the lengths to which they have to go to ensure their safety when they are travelling alone or in small groups - especially at night. Such anxieties are well justified by official statistics about the rising rate of crime in Australia. (p11-14)
Most of these changes came about because we wanted the promises they brought of a larger, more prosperous Australia. We wanted the benefit of change without realising that with every change there is a cost that has to be paid. "We wanted new divorce laws; women wanted to re-enter the workforce; we wanted the convenience of instant credit; we wanted to expand our population through migration; we wanted the rapid rise in our material standard of living that the 60'S promised. But, taken together, the scope and scale of the changes in the last quarter of the twentieth century have been too difficult for most of us to take in our stride. After all, these have not been years of trivial or incidental change; nor has this been a period in which Australians have had time to understand, absorb and adapt to one change before they moved on to confront the next.
Rather, it has been a period in which Australians have been swept along on the tide of relentless change. We have had to get used to the idea of discontinuity; we have been forced to reinvent the Australian way of life on the run." Put it any way you like the 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 due to the influence of Christians in public life, a high level of personal morality.
Yet such is the rate of change and the decline in the personal standards of many, we are now facing a national moral crisis.
2. THE MORAL CRISIS FACING THE CHURCH.
The very organism within the nation that people should be able to turn to in confidence is itself in crisis. The mainline churches are showing signs of wear and tear, and self-imposed lacerations and hypocrisy.
The National Gallery of Victoria this month closed the exhibition by American photographer Andres Serrano following attacks by angry Roman Catholics on one exhibit. This picture, now nine years old, was torn into pieces by angry US Senators in the US Senate eight years ago. It is used in exhibitions by Serrano to attract attention to himself. He is currently in Australia to launch his new exhibition of sex pictures entitled "A History of Sex".
His previous exhibitions have been designed to shock with pictures made using blood and semen, and images from a mortuary. He said "First and foremost I try to get people's attention." What has worked for him is a picture of a crucifix representing Christ lying in a pool of his own urine, called "Piss Christ".
Serrano upsets believers who are soft targets. He does not have the courage to portray Moses in urine or Muhammad in pigs' blood, or Hindus eating cows, or lesbians as paedophiles. Instead he offends Christians who will not retaliate violently. If he wants controversy why not emulate Salman Rushdie?
But no - he decided merely to "piss Christ". This expression is offensive and I would not use it, except it has become common among many today. It has become popular to piss Christ among media people. Television producers have tried to cash in on the public's demand to know more about Jesus.
ABC-TV is currently screening a series criticising our belief "Jesus: The God". Recently SBSTV presented a TV series "Jesus: the Evidence" that failed to produce any. The ABC-TV presented Dr Barbara Theiring in "The Riddle of the Dead Sea Scrolls" that untangled no riddles.
Film makers, in films like the "Last Temptation of Christ", "Jesus Montreal", "Jesus Christ Superstar" and many others criticise and demean Christian beliefs. Journalists like Robert Maclin in "The Secret Life of Jesus" sensationalised aspects of history for commercial gain.
A. N. Wilson, the British author concludes Jesus was not a carpenter, and not the Son of God. Jesus was crucified to prevent a political uprising. There was no resurrection as his followers stole His body away.
Sadly many theologians also piss Christ. The way they abuse the scriptural record and denigrate Christ is no better than that of the artist. Dr Barbara Theiring claims Jesus was conceived while Mary was engaged to be married and so He was illegitimate. Jesus survived a bungled execution. His loyal followers helped Him escape and He spent the rest of His life in hiding. She claims Jesus married twice, fathered three children and died about 70 years of age, probably in Rome. Bishop John Shelby Spong makes similar offensive claims.
Yet when I suggested to him he was similar to Dr Barbara Theiring, he reacted strongly saying he had no wish to be associated with her.
The 75 scholars in The Jesus Seminar decided 82% of the sayings of Jesus were not spoken by Him; He did not walk on water, turn water into wine, or feed the hungry with loaves and fish. They say Jesus did no miracles, did not raise Lazarus, and did not rise from the dead. Instead dogs ate his body. Their main concern seems to be to sell books, to make controversy and to gain publicity through day-time Talk shows on television.
There is no scholarly purpose. For if their purpose was to extend our knowledge they would submit their work to peer review by significant theologians. They would publish in scholarly theological journals and seek feedback and the insights of scholars.
But no! They head for the press and the media with their claims without consultation with the world of scholarship.
Theological Colleges that teach their books without proper scholarly critique and Biblical examination are as bad as the artist who portrays a urine soaked Jesus. Church leaders piss Christ when they defy His moral standards and defiantly and proudly boast their homosexuality and immorality.
Heterosexual immorality is no different from homosexual immorality and some churches have plenty of examples. The issue is failure to be obedient to the Scriptures, to live disciplined lives, and to honour holiness in living. Religious pluralists piss Christ.
The modern philosophies that challenge our Christian faith are secular humanism, the New Age Movement, Post Modernism and religious pluralism. The New Age religion is like a piece of religious velcro dragged across the cultures of the world picking up pieces of theological fluff.
Religious pluralism determines how the church's agencies for mission and evangelism operate and despite their names, a theology of religious pluralism means mission is subverted and evangelism is ignored. Religious pluralism is accepting all religions as true. We are kindly, tolerant people who want all people to live in peace and harmony. We abhor the religious fighting in Northern Ireland and between Serbs and Croats, between Muslims and Christians, Jews and Arabs. We are tolerant and look for a wideness in God's mercy. Tolerance is a key virtue of the post-modernist outlook.
But the end result of their innocent sounding words about tolerance, acceptance of all beliefs as equal, faith journey and personal story is a chilling rejection of truth, morality and other people.
How shall we respond to competing religions? Christians should be the first to show people of other religions respect and courtesy. We respect the beliefs and convictions of others, understand their customs on food, dress, social etiquette and religious observances and must seek equity and justice for them as for any other citizen.
We can never seek to impose our faith, and when the church has, it is been wrong and unscriptural. But we should also say Christianity has the final truth. That is not politically correct, for pluralists believe that truth is a social construction of our cultural tradition.
They say there is no objective truth, merely what works for us. Therefore we must not try to convert anybody as they have a truth that works for them. To change them is intolerance. Further, religious pluralists deny all personal transcendencies, including personal rights, reason and objective truth.
They say you are no more than the product of your society. Instead of object truth, all that matters is your "story" and your "faith journey".
These terms are precious to religious pluralists and were mentioned frequently at the Perth UC Assembly. There is no right or wrong, there is only what you feel. There is no objective truth revealed in the Bible. There is only what you understand is good for yourself. All beliefs are equally valid for the person who believes them. That is why some Church leaders can be defiantly immoral.
Give away a revealed faith and objective truth and you are able to believe and behave as you like. We need to respond with intellectual vigour, be willing to use Scripture and speak of our personal knowledge of Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. Christianity is not a way of life. It is not Western culture. It is not conformity to a standard of living called "Christian behaviour". Christianity is a relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.
That is why the person who holds the Bible is authoritative, the Truth is in Jesus, and behaviour must conform to Christian principles is regarded as the great enemy. For we challenge this definition of tolerance and this understanding that truth is merely a social construction.
Religious pluralism believes that no-one can be ever wrong. The outworkings of this are chilling. Ask the Jewish survivors of the holocaust! Furthermore, religious pluralists are also anti-intellectual. For if there is nothing objectively false there is no point in the search for truth. This attitude inhibits any true dialogue about human rights and spiritual understanding.
Why have some Christians so changed that they attack the faith? How can they believe in Christian truth if they say there is no universal truth?
They are part of a shift from the theological modernism of the 1920s to the 1960's to a theological post-modernism of the 80's and 90's. What do these new attitudes mean to the ordinary person? In this post-modern generation everything is subjective, open to your own opinion.
Everything is pluralistic. There is no such thing as revealed truth as in the Bible. All beliefs are of equal value. What is important is not the Bible, nor what Christians believe, but what is your story. One view is as good as any other. There are no moral absolutes. No behaviour is good or bad, none right or wrong. Everyone does what is right in his or her own eyes.
Post modernists declare it is useless to look for meaning and purpose in life. All that is, is your feelings of this moment. History is unimportant. Your story is more significant. Moral behaviour is simply doing what feels right to you. Scientific truth is old-fashioned and not to be trusted as betraying us.
"The X-files" is the world's most popular TV program. It declares the paranormal and superstitious are as valid as the scientific. In the post-modern world all that counts is how you feel and what you experience. If you want to experience life more then it is normal and OK to use mind-altering drugs or involve yourself with different sexual partners.
Religion ought not be limited to one religion and certainly not to a religion that has commandments, restrictions and sins. You need several religions to choose which bits you like. You need not bother with the bits that are uncomfortable. That's post-modernism. Post-modernism believes Christendom is ended.
A Generation X'er asked me what Bishop John Shelby Spong says about the Kingdom of God. My bet was that he would totally ignore it. I checked hundreds of references in seven books by Bishop Spong. There is not one reference. Post-modernists are not concerned with God's Kingdom. Christians are committed to evangelising the world and spreading the Gospel. Post-modernists think that totally irrelevant. If everyone's religious views are equally valid, what is the point of trying to change them? If there is no set pattern of beliefs and no Good News, what is there to proclaim? If one set of religious writings, The Bible, is no more significant than any other, why bother?
One characteristic of post-modernism is arrogance. Post-modernists believe we are the pinnacle of world history. The world has never seen better. Post-modernists are convinced they know best. Hence a group at the Uniting Church Assembly in Perth, know God's will better than other Church members.
The written views representing 50,000 members can be discounted. As Stephen Webb wrote in "Insights": "Most of the Church had not read, seen and heard and understood what those in Perth knew." The implied assertion is that ordinary church members cannot make decisions based upon what the Bible says. This leads to asserting the church is not democratic with the implication that only elected representatives interpret God's will.
Post-modernists do not believe in history, so they have never learnt that the arrogant elite who claim to be the only ones who know and interpret God's will, usually don't and can't! The people who claim to be in the power structures with God on their side are inevitably oppressors.
Like the SS Guards on the Concentration Camp gates, whose belt buckles declared "Gott Mit Uns", they are an arrogant elite. The concept of the "Priesthood of all Believers" needs to be revived in our church.
Another characteristic is rejecting objective facts in favour of subjective feelings. It is how you perceive things that is important. Your values and judgements outrank anything else. So your experience and story are equal with anything known by anyone else. Everything is relative and pluralistic.
Another characteristic is a rejection of meaning and purpose in life. That view is just another opinion. There is no meaning to life other than what you feel. Humans are constantly changing, so you can never really know yourself, your personal life, family, sexuality, or your morality. Another characteristic is there is no objective truth such as we proclaim in Christianity.
Instead you select bits from various religions and to make your own religious pie. Another characteristic is that favourite values become absolute.
For example gender equality cannot be questioned. So a German protestant Church has approved the Women's Ministry erasing the name of Jesus Christ from their records as the name Jesus implies male dominance. Another favourite is tolerance. Every belief requires equal recognition. No-one ridicules Islamic beliefs or draws cartoons of Mohammed. Yet they lampoon the Virgin Mary in Adelaide's Festival right now, but no other religion.
Another favourite is accepting any sexual behaviour. If you question a church leader's immorality as being inconsistent with the Bible, then you are castigated as being fundamentalist, moralist, judgemental and having no right to question such behaviour.
This intolerance to Christianity is unbelievable. Ask these questions about post modernism: "If everyone's religious views are equally valid, what is the point of trying to change them? If there is no set pattern of beliefs, no Good News, what is there to proclaim? If one set of religious writings, The Bible, is no more significant than any other, why bother?"
Now you understand why post-modernists do not accept Jesus Christ is the only way to God; are not enthusiastic about evangelising for personal salvation; do not proclaim the Gospel of redemption through the Cross, and do not uphold the Bible's authority on matters like homosexuality and personal morality.
This explains the defiance over immorality and adultery among church leaders, and why there is a moral crisis within some main-line denominations. Craig Bailey, Chairperson of S A's branch of EMU (Evangelical Members of the Uniting Church), writes of post-modernist philosophy which he observed among Christians at the recent Uniting Church Perth Assembly: "We went with our objective approach.
We prepared for a discussion about truth. We took well thought-out Biblical material, facts about the homosexual lifestyle and the Assembly analysis of the 8000 Interim Report responses. We expected a reasoned discussion about the Bible, about truth, about God's call on our lives. What we got was the post-modern "spectator sport". Winners in this "sport" are players who tell the best "story". Losers, are those who dare critique anyone's sexual behaviour.
Since the reigning value of modern culture is not truth but tolerance, anyone who takes a stand disapproving of another's behaviour is bound to lose. The Assembly debate was never a battle for Biblical truth. Statistics were irrelevant. Those who referred to the majority of responses to the Interim Report on Sexuality were openly ridiculed. At best, we felt we were on hostile ground. At worst, we view the Assembly as an exercise in emotional manipulation by those who choose to use the church structures as a means of pursuing their liberal agenda.
Our denomination has been hijacked by those who reject an informed, Biblical position on matters of life and faith. They have rejected it in favour of a liberal ideology that relentlessly extols universalism at the expense of truth; experience at the expense of revelation; and humanism and subjectivism at the expense of Biblical standards."
Jesus spoke the truth, but people are not comforted by the truth. They prefer to be affirmed in their lies. Jesus is a radical social reformer with a new ethic of behaviour. He calls people to mould the world about them, not be moulded by it.
Sadly, the church today is more moulded by the values and standards of the world, than the world is effected by the values and standards of the church. We are called to be thermostats, determining the temperature of our environment. Yet many church leaders are merely thermometers, going up or down with every change of temperature. Holiness of living is always important.
The prophets spoke out against religious leaders who lived impure lives of sexual immorality, and who did not proclaim God's word through to the community. The religious bureaucrats wanted to hush Amos up. They did not want the boat to be rocked. They did not want their own immorality brought to light.
But Amos would not be shut up! The prophets words were recorded and valued because they were a great moral challenge to the nation. We today need priests of God who will pray and intercede for the people. We needs pastors of God who will comfort and care for the believers. But we also need prophets of God who will speak out God's word bravely, who will call the immoral to repentance and the nation and the church back to God and His word.
Priests we respect. Pastors we love. But prophets are too uncomfortable!
People do not like their kind of message. For example, when we have pointed out that all the statistics about Uniting Church membership, attendances, and finances are all in decline, and that the church is heading on the same course as the Titanic, the response has been: "Don't say that - it is disloyal. It doesn't matter, it is only the older people dying off.
Someone else has new figures and the rate of decline doesn't look so bad." People do not want to hear the Emperor has no clothes. Among the hundreds of letters, faxes, E-mails we have received during this current crisis within The Uniting Church, some have tried to defend the status quo. Some have been from ministers. The younger ones seem to want to keep on the right side of the bureaucrats, and the older cannot believe anything is wrong.
But of those opposed to our position of proclaiming the need for a new morality, a new vision among the leadership, and a new commitment to the authority of the Bible, not one has made one suggestion of what should be done to correct immorality, to halt the decline or to bring newness into the church!
The future of the church is certain, but the status quo wont take us there! From the bureaucrats, the only response has been - not to change their positions, privileges and immorality, but simply to develop strategies and dirty tricks to get rid of the critic! Jeremiah would understand! Those who dismember Jesus, cut Him down theologically, re-make Jesus in their image, deny He was raised from the dead by the power of God, simply piss Christ! We say to them who are as bereft of spiritual life and hope as the grieving women on the day of the resurrection: Lk 24:5 "Why do you look for the living among the dead?"
They approach the Gospels as secular humanists accommodating society's trends, scoffing at the holy lifestyle of believers because basically they have rejected the Bible as God's Word. They say Scripture is valuable, but not authoritative. They do not accept the accuracy of the scriptures. They reject the supernatural, the miraculous, and what Jesus did upon the Cross. They want a human Jesus without His divine nature. They are simply the second century gnostics in twentieth century clothes. They will never find the friendship of Jesus.
The reason why many believers become upset with these artists, TV programmers, journalists and theologians is that Jesus Christ whom they insult, is a living friend. For these others, Christianity has become a form not a force. For them 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.
The greatest experience is to know the friendship of the living Lord Jesus. A moral crisis abounds in nation and church. Only people of integrity and Christian commitment will make a difference.
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