October 7, 2022

The Dust Will Settle – Before the Next Round

Am I using a boxing analogy?

Yes, but I’ve been saying it’s Babylon all along, and not Athens.

If anyone thinks that is not the case, then Kochie’s interview of City on a Hill’s Guy Mason on the Sunrise show yesterday morning – and I use the term “interview” advisedly -, didn”t sound much like a “Let’s all rush to the Aeropagus to hear what you have to say” kinda thing. No. It sounds more like a “Fall down when we blow the cultural horn, lyre and zither” kinda thing.

Guy was gracious. And Kochie? Well he was “coshy”. Came up behind Guy with a sock full of pennies and whacked him over the head. It was disgraceful. But it was Sunrise, an ironically very dark place when it comes to anything but adversarial “gotcha” TV.

Sunrise by the way, is sponsored by Qatar Tourism. Ah Qatar, that bastion of freedom and liberty of thought for all sorts of people. Just this year Sunrise advertised its partnership with this world renowned country of diversity and inclusion thus:

As an emerging destination, Qatar offers new and undiscovered experiences for every type of traveller to enjoy. With world-class accommodation, awe-inspiring architecture, breath taking scenery and a myriad of cultural delights, the country offers the best of the Middle East, all in one place.

And the worst of the Middle East, if you really want to do your research. Here’s a link to Amnesty’s report on Qatar. Here’s just one quote from it:

Sodomy” or same-sex sexual conduct between men remained an offence under the Penal Code, punishable by up to seven years’ imprisonment. Article 296 states that “leading, instigating or seducing a male in any way to commit sodomy or dissipation” and “inducing or seducing a male or a female in any way to commit illegal or immoral actions” is a crime.

Hope Kochie enjoys his free stays. Odds on his hotel will have been built partly by slave and underpaid labour.

But I digress. Yes the dust will settle. Everyone will retire to their corners, sit on the stool, and wait for the bell for the next round. Because if the last two years is any indication, there is another round coming. And then one after that. And one after that. It clearly feels like a slugfest.

At least with a slugfest there are limited rounds. And a referee. But what happens when there isn’t? What happens when it feel feels like that time I was out at Scarborough Beach in Perth and foolishly went in deep with my mate who is a strong swimmer. Wave after monstrous wave came through and I was barely keeping my head above the last one when the next one came. You’re gonna drown if you keep having to do that, aren’t you?

And Guy and his team have to go back to ministering week in, week out to their congregations as they have done up until now, only with a whole lot less energy, and feeling a whole lot more emotionally wrung out. And praise God for his empowering of his people. When we are weak He is strong. Except a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it cannot produce fruit. There’s a whole list of “death to life” images there. Let’s see what God will do through City on a Hill through all of this. Crucifixion leading to resurrection does seem to be part of the blueprint.

But it won’t mean that things will get easier. In fact the key takeaway for me is that the outing of Andrew Thorburn from a top role is going to be a template for what happens further down the food-chain. I’ve read reports that indicate it’s only because it was a high level role in an organisation that is publicly committed to diversity and inclusion that he paid that price.

Maybe. But more likely it simply gives everyone further down the corporate food-chain the same ideas. It’s not as if I don’t get contacted already by people struggling with these issues in their workplace. The impunity with which Essendon managed to do this, and the pile-on from everyone from the state Premier down to the Twitter twits will simply embolden others. That’s the way it’s going to be.

It’s interesting how this constantly plays out in sport. I guess it’s the high foot traffic thing. Where’s one place we all gather? It’s around the gold image in the middle of a big paddock. Easier to get to the masses that way. And atone for our sins in which every sporting code, especially footy, has historically been a hotbed of unreconstructed, boorish masculinity taken to a level of pride that would make the actual Pride festival look fairly docile. Sports-washing at its finest.

And which church is next? Which person? Who knows. We didn’t pick Manly Sea Eagles. We didn’t pick Andrew Thorburn.

We did pick that those mainline denominations that have rolled over on the Sexular Age would constantly find ways not to back any argument that what happened might be wrong. These are the voices given not only airtime, but the right to answer a question without being rudely interrupted.

Not that we should be shocked by that. If your main message simply confirms what the culture already thinks, the culture is more than happy to give you airtime. Just don’t expect the culture to flock to your churches on Sunday morning to hear you espouse what they can already believe without having to go to the bother of attending. There’s an inverse proportion between the spiritual and demographic vitality of a church and the oxygen it is given by the media in these cases. City on a Hill’s problem going forward won’t be how to get people through the doors. Its problem will be how to open doors to venues that will be shut to them.

In the midst of all this God is sovereign. We have not, as those in the book of Hebrews had not, resisted to the point of shedding our blood. Not sure that is going to happen any time soon. But hey, why assume that can’t happen at some time?

But all of this refining process – and it is a refining process – is to be carried out in the midst of a joy that is supernatural. When the apostles left the council in Acts 5, they left rejoicing that they were considered worthy of suffering for the Name. They didn’t leave with their tails between their legs. And what did they do? They did exactly the opposite of what the cultural gatekeepers in Jerusalem warned them against:

 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.

The point of public scorn in a Western modern setting is to shut you down. To make you ashamed so that you self-censor. Now I am coming to the place that we should be careful what we put online, especially for the sake of our congregations. We need to stop outsourcing our bravery to our congregants going to work tomorrow. Preaching God’s Word is to be done primarily in a gathered context. Online is a distant second in terms of long-term and local effectiveness. Perhaps best to leave it to conference talks.

But do you think that Guy and co at City on a Hill are going to sit around the table Monday morning and say:

“I guess we should stop preaching the whole counsel of God. I guess we should go easy on the Lordship of Christ over all of our lives. I guess we should take the advice of the post-orthodox churches in Melbourne and be affirming not merely welcoming. I guess we should take our cues from the Victorian Premier whose hatred of orthodox Christianity is matched only by his political cunning in stirring the pot.”

Nope. They’re going to do what the apostles went out from the council doing, rejoicing (well if they’re feeling too bruised this weekend from the bout to even crack a smile, they will get there eventually!) and not ceasing to teach and preach that the Christ is Jesus. And whether they can do it in the theatre or the pub, or whether they end up getting confined to “house to house”, that’s what they will do.

Cos that’s what Christians do. And they do it winsomely. And they do it knowing that the public square is increasingly hostile, yet even then still seek to serve it in myriad ways. All of this is in line with the application of God’s call in Jeremiah for the Jews to seek the good of the city they were exiled in. And they’ll continue to live such lives among the pagans that questions start to be raised.

Yes it feels like round two of a never ending bout. Yes it does feel like a dark moment for orthodox biblical Christianity in Australia. Yes it does feel like the tide has gone out. But tides come back in. And it always seems that in God’s economy that while it is still dark, that’s the point that light comes. You see the sun did rise and the Son did rise. And that puts that other Sunrise in the shade.

Would we have it any other way? I think we should still call out the hypocrisy and hatred of the culture that parades as inclusivity and diversity. There are people skilled and gifted to do that. But let’s ensure that we do so as churches who have the confidence that God is sovereign, and that his divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness, not just for this round, but the next round and the next round, until the final bell rings.

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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