I don’t like football – the AFL type. Don’t follow it. Don’t watch it. Don’t bet on it. Don’t talk about it on Monday morning in the office (which would basically be a one way conversation).Fit men in tight shorts? If I want to see that I can go to the gym. Which I don’t want to see, I might add.
Couldn’t tell you who is second on the ladder (I know Hawthorn is top, they’re always top). And the last Saturday of September – aka Grand Final Day – is a fantastic stress-free day to go clothes shopping. Could hardly name a player other than the obvious ones such as Nick Fyfe and Nat Nickanui .
I worked briefly as a radio journalist in my youth and part of my job was covering the AFL. There’s nothing quite as intimidating as being a 60kg Gothic 22 year old standing holding a microphone in a post-match change room interviewing a muscle-bound Gary Ablett Snr and behemoth six foot eleven ruck man Simon Madden, completely in the buff (they were in the buff not I). I hardly knew where to look. I knew where not to look.
So it would be weird if I didn’t follow football, didn’t care for it, but when asked in a survey what my perspective on football was, was to answer “I have football values.”
It would be a lie for a start. And, if the survey was determining the buy-in among the community for AFL, it would be misleading. Hey, they could find a whole swathe of suburbs of people such as I, people who tick the box “Football Values” and then, armed with such confidence, build a stadium near us that no one ends up going to. That lies empty, while everyone goes to something far more interesting on a Sunday.
Which brings me to church. Or more to the point, the upcoming census night in which there is a concerted push by some organisations to make us seem more godly a nation than we actually are.
So we get this for instance:
I find this dispiriting. At this critical time we need good info on the actual gospel buy-in to in our culture.
We want to know who says “Jesus is Lord, and means it. Instead we get this, the last vestige of Christendom. Besides I’ve done enough door-to-door spirituality chats to realise that the term “Christian values” is indeed a rubbery one. It means everything and nothing at the same time.
I firmly believe that if a person neglects to meet with God’s people in a gathering, if they have no allegiance to, or love for, the local body, there’s a good chance they aren’t Christian or they won’t stay Christian. But hey, don’t take my word for that, the New Testament letters assume that God’s people will meet together and if they are not truly God’s people they won’t.
The prime Christian value – indeed the one that makes sense of all of the others is “Jesus is Lord”.
Imagine in the Roman Empire a bunch of people ticking the box that they affirmed the lifestyle of the local Jesus community. But they never turned up. Never identified with those people.
Instead, like everyone else they dutifully headed down to the local shrine, put a pinch of incense on the alter and declared “Caesar is Lord.” Wouldn’t have made sense then. Doesn’t make sense now.
This campaign is gilding the lily at best, and hiding the cancer at worst. It is taking the idea of Imago Dei, the reality of being created in God’s image, and “sexing” it up, making it sound like new creation- people recreated in the image of Christ with all of the possibilities that entails.
It lulls us into a false sense of security. What is considered regular church attendance for Christians is now about once every three weeks. This campaign scoops up the never-attendees at the very time the buy-in from those who actually do attend is at a critical stage!
Worse still, it shows no true gospel love for morally upright, but lost people. People who need to be born again if they are ever to even see the kingdom of God, but would scowl at you should you suggest that.
People deluded by the notion that they can never attend; never call Jesus “Lord”; never exhibit concern for the body of Christ; never open His Word; never delight in Christ; never put their hope in him; never reject their unrighteous deeds OR repudiate the saving worth of their righteous deeds, yet still – should there be a God and should He be the Christian one – be recognised and accepted by Him on the Last Day. Because that’s what the average “Christian values “person believes, right?
Only one census counts and unless God writes “Christ’s” against your name on that census, you’re deluding yourself. Why should fearful Christians, determined to paint a rosier picture of the Christian state of our nation than that which exists, encourage lost people in such a tragic delusion?
Time to gird our loins as God’s people in Australia and face the reality of just where we are as a nation.
“But no one else dared to join them, even though all the people had high regard for them”
I find myself agreeing with your point about the need to attend church. Its ridiculous to say you are a Christian, but you don’t go to church. If you are a Christian, you are part of ‘The Church’ and you will not ‘give up meeting together as some have done”.
This census issue has come up all over the place. But it is not the first time Christians, while on the margins, are called to be salt and light. To be those who while some may be afraid to join, are still held in high regard.
In regard to much of your tone here Stephen I find myself wanting to sing ‘Amazing Grace” and be thankful I come under Gods judgement, not yours.
I genuinely agree with much of what you say Mark, but note a certain passive aggressive tone to your comments (on a regular basis). Grace is amazing. But to be honest you would probably prefer to come under my judgement wouldn’t you? Mine would be less exacting! After all I’m probably going to let you off or give you a break or see things from your “only human” perspective, because I am not righteous, holy and unable to stand sin, like God. I know that’s not how you’re talking about yourself – but it genuinely is sobering that people will stand before him on the last day armed only with the protection of their own righteousness – Christian values – and not the alien righteousness of Christ given to them. If that’s not front and central to your message, it may be warm, it may be kind, but it won’t be grace.
Hi Mark, I share your sentiments to some extent, in that I am usually nodding my head to Stephen’s comments, that I find insightful, and usually encouraging, but I too pick up on a tone in Stephen’s comments that I have struggled to articulate in my mind.
Perhaps “judgemental” is a word I might have considered to describe Stephen’s tone here and there, though I feel that he is also inclined to lecture a bit when commenting on issues clearly don’t sit well with his theology.
Having said this, it is perfectly in our human nature to do this, and as an inveterate advice giver, I am very prone to lecture others when I feel they have it wrong. This doesn’t necessarily make me right and I frequently regret I did not give the recipients a little more grace.
One thing is certain I feel, Stephen has certainly lectured you here for your comment.
I understand your point but a huge problem lies in ones definition of “church”.
It appears that, like most people, your personal definition is of a organisation meeting in a building each Sunday. I would ask that you look. more deeply into the Bible (and maybe read a few good book on the subject – say, some off Frank Viola’s for starters) and see what the FIRST church looked like (not to be confused with the latter ‘organised’ version).
Ultimately, no matter your prefferance of chrisitan fellowship, “Church” does (and should) mean God’s PEOPLE… You do NOT have to attend a service or be apart of a corporate “church” to be a Christian or even to fellowship regularly with other Christians. So please just be mindful that of making judgements on others hearts based on their regular attendance/non-attendance of a “church” service.
I do not disagree that communing with other Christians is important BUT that is NOT only done in the format of a (faulty) religious system but rather in meeting with other PEOPLE!! 🙂
Well if Jesus had assumed that it would be a non-faulty religious system he would not have left it in the hands of humans. The whole point of the NT is that the church IS faulty because we are faulty and that in spite of all that God calls us to gather around King Jesus and to do so “all the more as we see the day approaching”. Church does mean God’s people, but God is a gathering God and calls us to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”. Ironically having a high view of human sin gives us the safety valve to keep doing that week in week out, day in day out without being disappointed by each others’ (and our own) failures
A refreshing read, thank you.
I just imagined a new caption for the family photo above. Tell me if you think it works: “We aren’t married. But we have married values.”
I agree that having “christian values” (whatever that might be seems to have a very broad definition depending on who you speak to) does not = being a a follower of the Christ.
At the same time though, going to a gathering of people who claim to be followers of the Christ does not make someone a follower of the Christ.
The more churchy generations in the past history of Australia strongly demonstrated (part of the reason for the massive disillusionment with church groups by most people born after 1970 now…whether or not they are followers of the Christ) in recent decades that many churchy group attenders are not true followers of the Christ of the bible, and in some horrendous cases used churchy groups for horrendous crimes which attract universal disdain by people of a wide variety of values.
While God forgives, its pretty hard for people to be forgiven if they are not accepting of the forgiveness from the true Christ.
Gathering with other Christians occurs online, in sporting groups,and other mutual interest groups. There are even church groups that are 100% online.
Economic demands requires many families (and both parents) to work 7 days a week to survive. Sports events are regularly organised for every sunday morning of the year. Sunday morning races are often replaced by sunday morning long runs. My wife regularly works 8am-5pm on Saturday and 11am-5pm on Sunday. Its income we need to survive. We also have moved locations 3 times this year (and we are one of the blessed ones who have avoided itinerant place of no fixed address (unlike Jesus of Nazareth who kept moving locations presumably?) .How can we commit to a location or a group with any certainty? Then there is night shifts, those who work in emergency services or the forces, or hospitals. Church groups is no longer recognised as a legitimate reason to not be at work these days. When your choice is go to a church group or pay the rent, guess which choice we have to choose.
So how have these wise church groups responded? The majority persist with 0930am groups. They also demand/expect a large financial commitment to the group, and not much is offered in return. Once a month is a good effort for many in the current setup. Once a fortnight is exceptional. For many going to a church group is completely unrealistic. Then there is the issue of young children. Some of the larger groups have excellent childminding or sunday school groups,but they are usually the ones that don’t meet in the evening. The smaller groups struggle to get a decent venue and meet in local halls, or building share.Enterprising efforts,but hardly something that is great for a young family.
True followers of the Christ don’t have to go to a churchy group to be true Christians.
However true followers of the Christ do want to work together with other true Christians.
When the church groups get more realistic expectations and adjust to the current environment (or change it if that is going to happen in the near future) ,they will be sought after by spiritually hungry and thirsty people, many of whom are true followers of the Christ.
Other issues include the plethora of doctrinal issues, the scarring from factional fights, the unfair often culturally driven incorrect pharisee like expectations, and holier-than-thou type attitudes that dominate in many such groups, or in some cases the other extreme of the overly permissive anything goes attitudes of such groups, where “loving each other” (whatever that might mean), dominates to the point where sin does not exist,and hating sin therefore cannot exist so the true god is each other.
Hardly followers of the Christ if they don’t worship the Christ even if they claim to be a church group.
A lot of groups are not just faulty they are so broken they are almost useless.
Some have lost their saltiness so much their only destination is to get thrown out into the rubbish dump of history.
Then there is the ever changing names of church groups. There used to be Catholics, Anglicans, Baptists, Uniting Church, Presybeterians and a few weird pentecostal charismatic cultish type groups, with lots of names that kept changing so not only did you not know what they believed (and they can’t be easily sued) unless you study their mission statement for hours (and even then you are not sure),but they keep moving where they meet,and changing their leaders, and beliefs. These days most of the groups seem to be the latter, although some of the mainstream denominations still manage to carry on, albeit in fear of being sued all the time.
A lot of true Christ followers are a bit battle weary from and wary of committing to church groups with all the potential issues.
On creation/evolution, marriage, employment, drugs, and relevance/roles of true Christians in an increasingly pagan and decadent western society many groups have lost their way, preferring to concentrate on churchy unimportant traditions, being more “spirit filled” (whatever that is), or looking for the people who have the most time and money to give to the church group.
Is it surprising that even the true Christ followers who are juggling several young children with 2-4 jobs, parkrun or kids sport and a long run or race or kids sport or work on a sunday, while struggling to pay the rent, and are likely to have to move house several times (if not more) a decade, find church groups to be a low priority that is in the too hard basket most weeks.
Does this mean they are no longer followers of the Christ?
Could it be that church groups need a radical overhaul of their methods, practices, expectations, and meeting times, if they are to perform the functions that the early church groups did now in stormy times in a way that is available to many true Christians who would like to work together with true Christians but struggle to see a viable way to do so regularly?
Could it be that improving attendance rates at the group is secondary to the group working together? Could it be that if the focus is on working together, then attendance options would be more flexible, and for various reasons attendance might then rise, even if it never reaches the weekly without fail normsof the 1950’s?…
Hope there is something helpful there for some of the churchy groups in my thoughts, because the Church will persist even while the groups often fail.
Now I better get some sleep because my wife is working tomorrow and I have the 3 kids to look after. Then on Sunday we might relax at the Avon Descent for an hour or so (if we don’t sleep in after all the 5am wakeups and midnight bedtimes on the other 6 days), (after I do a long run in the early hours) before she goes back to work at 11am, I might take the kids to one of those fun days at the Avon Descent, but not too long while looking after the 1 year old, then perhaps if I knew where to find a church group that meets at 7pm we could get to that…but I don’t so its too hard to know where to start…Might be easier to just watch the AFL derby between the Eagles and the Dockers or the Rio Olympics on TV… I have to be at work the next day and the kids have to be at school.
The last time I had annual leave was 2004?
Sounds like meeting with anyone else or doing anything else, other than meeting with the people of God and gathering around his means of grace are much more attractive to you. A bit like marrying a wife and buying a cow was more important to those whom the king invited to a feast.
Wow. Interesting arguments, but way to trash an amazing opportunity for Aussies to pause and reflect on what they believe and insist instead that if they haven’t attended Church recently they’re “out”.
Jesus had some interesting things to say to those in His time who tried to draw such firm lines between the elect and the heathens. Tends to be an at best unfruitful, and at worst anti-gospel exercise.
Could it be that some of those you’ve just suggested don’t qualify to identify as Christian might actually be at the big banquet?
Biblical precedent and the teaching of Jesus himself would strongly suggest a resounding “Yes”.
Really? That’s trashing Aussies who haven’t been to church recently? The very point of the census when you simply tick “religion – Christian” is that people don’t reflect on that at all. The point of the banquet feast is hardly the place to turn to for your position either. It’s the point of people who have all of the “values” of God that give them a moral framework that looks nice, but they reject Jesus as Lord. And probably fits the description of the morally upright good people who bridle at the idea that Jesus invites the spiritually hungry to a feast – those whose lives don’t match the settled, moral, upright framework of the disinterested and who have sated their hunger with just about everything else.
Thanks Stephen, these had been my thoughts also. I find the census religion question divisive of Christianity anyway – assuming that Christian denominational variations equate to different religions, although the denominations of other religions (e.g. Sufi, Sunni and Shi’ite Islam) are not listed. However, it’s far better that Australian Christians know that we are a minority and reignite our commitment to reaching the vast numbers of lost, than be lulled into the false belief that our neighbour has ‘Christian values’ and doesn’t need to hear the Truth.
Yes, it is somewhat hypocritical of Christians to resort to having clearly secular people identify with their cause for the purpose of inflating the percentage of Christians in the community.
On the whole I agree with the thrust of your comments, and see the fudging of the Census as a purely political endeavour to seek some leverage on matters Christians see as important ( a seat at the table as you might put it).
Personally I can live with the reality that about .005% of Australians can declare themselves genuine Bible believers and live their lives accordingly. Let God worry about the numbers and in any case, He’s not expecting lots of people in Heaven if we accept Matt. 7:14 as any measure.
Whilst many Christians have a rosy view of the future (viewing Australia as “the great south land of the Holy Spirit” for example) they perhaps mistakenly see a “stacked” Census number as somehow evidence that we really are a Christian country (and feel comfortable about this), when we clearly are a very secular country, by and large.
I’m not so sure that any failing to meet the advice in Heb 10:25 is, in and by itself, a measure of one’s spirituality or faith. Just as, conversely, you could never claim that all your regular attending flock are spiritual and faithful adherents.
Even the Devil himself attends church on Sundays Bro!
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