Saturday, December 13, 2008
God's mercies, like the rain, appears to come seasons. At times a flood, at others a drought. As Jesus said, the 'times and the seasons' belong to the Father.
I have attached here a copy of a small booklet which St Mary's produced recently to commemorate 150 years of Anglican worship in Caulfield. St Mary's has seen been some wonderfully wet seasons in the past - where the rain of God's Spirit was abundant indeed, and this little book seeks to honour that heritage.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother's womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
16 your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
It sat up and took notice, for this was the week leading to the final vote in the Victorian State Parliament on our new abortion law. This passage reflects on God's guiding hand and foreknowledge of the human person, and his or her destiny, while they are being formed in the womb. It is one of the clearest reflections in the Bible on the personhood of the unborn child.
There is of course, something quite hidden and secret about an unborn child. Not yet crying. Not yet needing to be held in arms, clothed, wrapped and fed. It's features are unseen.
What a painful debate this has been on abortion. On the one side the pro-choice advocates insist that the debate is about a woman's right to choose what happens with her body, without fear of criminal sanctions. On the other the pro-lifers insist that the debate is about the right of the unborn to live. Neither side grants any quarter to the other. In this end, in Victoria, the pro-choice position won the political struggle in an utter and complete rout. Now in our state abortion is legal without any reason needing to be given, as long as it is conducted by medical personel, and authorized by two doctors after 24 weeks gestation.
This is quite an extreme law. Some would say it is wonderfully progressive, an example to be emulated by other states. Others have visions of full-term babies dismembered in the womb, with no rights, not even to a pain-free death.
Why do we have this law? In 2006 the Labor Party debated their abortion policy at their annual state conference. Their policy had been: "Labor will amend section 65 of the Crimes Act to provide that no abortion be criminal when performed by a legally qualified medical practitioner at the request of the woman concerned." In other words, abortion on request, provided that it is done in a qualified medical way. So it was written, so it has come to pass.
One of the Labor politicians, Christine Campbell, opposed the law at the time, stating "Advancements in medical technology have resulted in babies surviving months before a full-term delivery. These premature babies are sentient. They feel pain and suffering and react to stimuli. This policy will allow abortion from conception to the time of full-term delivery, including partial-birth abortion." She called this 'abortion on demand.'
Was she right? Well, some say that 'on demand' is emotive language. Technically the Labor Party's wording was ' at the request' of the woman. The law as actually implemented goes further than decriminalizing abortion, and requires that any medico in Victoria who is approached by a woman seeking an abortion must refer her to someone who will not have a conscientious objection against doing it. So this is more than a request: it is one which must be obeyed. Requests which must be granted are reasonably called demands. Mirriam-Webster defines demand as asking 'with authority' or 'claiming something as a due'. That is the state of the matter in the state of Victoria. Women have the authority to ask for an abortion as their due. The Labor party promised it, the people of Victoria voted for it (by electing Labor). And they got what they asked for. Labor delivered on its promises.
One of the most interesting things about the debate has been its intensity, specifically the tendency to utterly reject the basis of the other side of the debate. Pro-lifers reject that a pregnant woman could choose. Pro-choicers reject that the unborn has any of the rights of a living person. This was illustrated in the parliamentarians' rejection of amendments to require the foetus to be anaesthetized for late-term abortions, even though the fact that it can feel pain was not disputed. In this state it is illegal to subject a pet to pain, but an unborn child cannot be granted any such compassion. The reason for this is surely not that the pro-choice advocates do not understand pain. Nor do they want to inflict it on the unborn. What they feel compelled by is the imperative to utterly deny the premise of their opponents, that the unborn have any humanity. It is necessary to insist on this, to maintain the pristine purity of denial of the humanity of the unborn, in order to arrive at the pinnacle of complete freedom of choice for the woman. This ethical stance to the unborn is shaped by political necessity: the imperative that women must have the right to choose what happens to their own bodies without being treated as criminals.
If it was a matter involving two independent adults, then the right of one to life would not impinge upon the body rights of the other For example, if I was dying of kidney failure, and there was only one person in the world whose kidney donation could save me, this other person could not be compelled to open their side and surrender their kidney in order to save my life.
In a sense the pro-choicers identify with the donor. It is the donor's choice that is sacrosanct, so they put the baby in my position, with my dud kidneys: 'Baby, it's tough you can't live without a womb, but you have no business imposing yourself on her. You can't infringe on her rights over her own body. She has a right to choose what happens to it, just as much as any organ donor would. And she doesn't want to provide her womb to you. As she will not sacrifice her bodily autonomy to you: you must be the sacrifice.'
How small a difference there is between killing a viable foetus in the womb, and doing the deed in the light of day. The difference is a few moments. But in the state of Victoria, one act would be a woman's right (as long as there is somewhere in the state a doctor to do the deed) whilst the other would be murder.
This distance between two procedures - abortion and infanticide - could be measured, empirically at least, in seconds. But under our law the moral difference is supposed to be vast - one is a right which all doctors must assist in providing, whilst the other is among the most heinous crimes we can imagine.
This ethical stretch will place great moral strains on medical workers, nurses, midwives and doctors. Some will, I am sure, avoid practising obstetrics and midwifery in our state.
This will also place a burden on our collective conscience which I don't believe we will easily be able to bear. It will create an ethical pressure which will demand resolution. There will be pressure to eliminate the huge moral difference between the two O-so-similar procedures. Either we back down on late term abortions, or we extend the freedom to terminate life to apply to those who have already been born. Some philosophers argue that infanticide is defensible on the same grounds that abortion is defensible.
When I was a trainee pastor, I spend some time working in a maternity hospital. I heard there from another carer of women who abort their late-term babies, and then want a funeral, photos, foot-prints, the whole deal. I can completely understand this. I'm sure that when the Cathaginians sacrified their children (including miscarried foetuses, the archeological evidence tells us), the lost babies were grieved. We too will grieve our missing children.
Surely it is a great folly we have committed, to place such an unbearable pressure upon our consciences, through this collective act of sacrifice.
Saturday, October 4, 2008
I am very deeply concerned about this law. If it is passed, unborn babies will have no rights at all under law, and abortion providers will be able to perform abortions with no effective constraints right up until 40 weeks gestation.
This new law allows abortions for any reason up to 24 weeks. No consultation with a doctor is required: a nurse or pharmacist can supply or administer a drug to cause abortion without reference to a doctor.
After 24 weeks, all that is necessary is that two doctors agree that the abortion is appropriate in all the circumstances. These two doctors could be employees or owners of the abortion provider business (and thus recipients of the fees generated by the abortion). Under the Evidence Act 1958, it will not be possible to test the beliefs of these two consenting doctors because of doctor-patient privilege. This means that there could be no evidence by which proceedings for professional misconduct could be brought. This in effect means we will have abortion on demand up to 40 weeks gestation. There is a Victorian doctor who has gone on record as saying that he is willing to perform late abortions for socio-economic reasons. Many commentators have pointed out that this law appears as if it was written by the abortion-provider industry.
The law compels a nurse or pharmacist employed by a hospital or day-procedure centre, if directed in writing by a doctor, to administer or supply a drug to case an abortion, right up to 40 weeks gestation.
It also requires doctors, nurses, pharmacists and psychologists who have a conscientious objection to abortion, to refer a women requesting an abortion to another practitioner who the practitioner knows does not have a conscientious objection to abortion. Failure to refer could result in a charge of professional misconduct, resulting in loss of employment or even deregistration
The law does not impose any constraints on the method of late-term abortion: some techniques for terminating a late-to-full-term baby’s life and removing its body from the uterus are shockingly inhuman, such as the ‘partial-birth method’.
I watched the Grand Final between Hawthorn and Geelong, and was conscious of the thousands missing at the event: these are the potential players and spectators who were not present because their life was taken away before birth. Hundreds of thousands of our children have gone missing. When Jesus said ‘Let the little children come to me’ he expressed compassion for the weak and the vulnerable, who were seeking his blessing. From the earliest times, Christians were known for their opposition to infanticide and abortion. During the Roman Empire they use to rescue babies abandoned on rubbish heaps.
One of the reasons I oppose this law is due to my experience of working as a trainee chaplain in a women’s hospital. Australian mothers and fathers generally regard late-term foetuses as their children. When they are born prematurely and die, they are grieved, named, held in their mother’s arms, and funerals are conducted for them. For this law to treat the unborn as having no rights or identity goes against decades of pastoral experience caring for women and babies, and it goes against ethical common sense.
There are many ethical complexities associated with abortion, yet we have apparently swung so far towards making ‘choice’ an idol that we are willing sacrifice our children to this monster through an amazingly brutal law.
Further Resources and Action Points
I can commend Archbishop Hart’s pastoral letter, at: http://www.cam.org.au/abortion/pastoral-letter-and-day-of-intercession.html
There are also useful resources at:
‘Matt’ is a business man who is protesting the law on the steps of parliament every day until the matter is resolved in Parliament. Why not drop by during the day and encourage him.
A double-sided information sheet from FamilyVoice is at the back of the church, with contact details of Legistlative Council members – please consider writing to them this week.
Sunday October 6 is a Day of Prayer on this issue. There is a prayer event from 1.45 to 2.45 pm on the steps of Parliament House. Please consider attending. One politician said ‘Unless I see 10,000 or more Christians on the steps of Parliament, then I'm not listening, because they obviously don't care.’
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Mrs Andrea Coote
Mr David Davis
Mr John Lenders
Ms Susan Pennicuik
Mr Evan Thornley
Dear Mrs Shardey and Members for Southern Metropolitan Region,
As a resident of Caulfield and pastor of a local church, I am writing to express my great concern over the proposed changes to the way abortions will be conducted in Victoria.
Abortion is not simply a medical procedure like any other procedure: it is a life and death decision after conception has already taken place. Consequently, abortion can be one of the more distressing experiences which women can experience. It can be an extremely painful decision to terminate the life of one's own child, and in my years of pastoral experience, including a period working as a pastoral carer in a maternity hospital, I have observed that the emotional pain of abortions are deep and can endure for many years.
Many thousands of abortions are performed in Victoria each year, and only a tiny proportion of these are due to rape, incest or risk to the life of the mother. I believe just about everyone in the community - except the commercial abortion providers - would agree that the number of abortions is too high.
It is deeply distressing that the proposed changes to abortion laws in Victoria will make it easier for medical practitioners to sign off on abortions, without ensuring that the woman receives adequate support, such as counseling or provision of information to ensure 'informed consent' and that she understands the options available to her.
When abortion rates go up after these laws are brought in, the community will not consider that the Government has acted honestly in assuring the electorate that their intention was not to increase the abortion rate.
I am particularly concerned that abortion clinics - which exist solely to perform abortions, for profit - will only give token attention to counselling and equipping women to give their informed consent. The new laws will make this situation worse, by lowering the bar of consent for abortions (to varying degrees in the three options). The financial interest of such clinics in the termination of the unborn makes them the least suitable group to take responsibility for signing off on the procedure, especially in the case of late-term abortions.
I strongly believe that it is necessary to retain the concept of risk of harm to the mother, and if this is removed in some cases (such as in the first two trimesters) then it would be disastrous to remove this principle up to full gestation.
In the case of late-term abortions, I am particularly concerned for health professionals, who spend great efforts in some cases to save the lives of the unborn, and to nurse premature babies to life and health, and at the same time are asked to terminate the lives of other unborn children who are equally viable as living human beings. At 9am they may be operating in utero to save one life, and at 10am terminating another life by dismembering or 'euthanasing' a late-term, viable foetus, also in utero. It is, I believe, cruel and inhuman to encourage a system where medical professionals are both killers and saviours of the lives of the unborn, especially if we remove existing ethical protections for them in this work - such as ethics panels to assist in making these onerous decisions.
I believe that many people in the community consider that once a foetus reaches the later stages of development, they are no longer simply a part of the body of the woman, but are regarded as a living human being and a future child with individual characteristics - albeit legally not a person and still dependent upon their mother whilst in the womb. The practices, widely encouraged by hospitals, that mothers of still-born infants would name their child, hold a funeral service for him or her, retain images or impressions of the footprints or hand prints of their deceased, and cuddle the baby's body - all to assist with their grieving - are clear evidence of this perception. These practices have been introduced based on long experience with caring for the trauma of parental grief. If anything this grief can be more conflicted and complicated when it is the woman who has made a choice for termination.
In the light of such community understandings and practices surrounding the death of the unborn - which the Law Reform Commission's report took no account of - I am deeply concerned about the idea that late-term abortions might be solely at the discretion of pregnant woman, even if assisted in this decision by one or two doctors. Women need more support that this, and there is more at stake than the woman's right to choose about what happens to their bodies.
I remain deeply sceptical and concerned about the proposed changes, and ask the government not to accept changes which reduce abortion to simply a woman's choice, without regard for the rights and dignity of the unborn, or for the deeply troubling ethical issues associated with the practice of aborting late-term foetuses. I also reject the idea that we as a community should be taking steps which will make abortions more frequent, and grant less respect and dignity to life of the unborn.
Vicar, St Mary's Caulfield
Friday, August 15, 2008
The climate gurus say that we are now in a ‘neutral’ weather pattern, and another La Niña could develop in 2009, which would bring back the drought.
Over the past twelve years, Melbourne’s water supply has been dropping by about 5% a year. There have been two years when our water supply dropped 20% in a single year (1997, 2006). For this year our water inflows seem to be a pattern similar to 1999 and 2002, the years when the water supplies dropped by 10%. On the other hand, there has only been one year in the past twelve with an increase of more than 5%.
If we don't get above average falls in the next three months, and are unfortunate enough to have another year in 2009 like 1997 0r 2006, Melbourne’s water supplies could drop down to 10% by Christmas 2009. I suppose that at that point, the water in our reservoirs will just be mud.
I am no expert on long-term weather trends, but just based on recent years, there would seem to be at least a one-in-five chance that Melbourne will have no water at all in two years’ time. On the other hand an increase in reservoir supplies of even 10% seems a very remote possibility indeed.
In any case, within five or so years we will have run out of water, based on recent patterns. BUT the good news is, Victoria is planning a water desalination plant, which will produce 150 billion litres a year. This is due to start construction in 2009, with water on tap by January 2012. Still, questions abound. Will it be finished on time? Will there be any water left in our dams when it starts up? Will 150 billion litres be enough? This water is supposed to supply parts of Gippsland, Philip Island and Geelong, as well as Melbourne If, say, 100 billion litres comes to Melbourne, that is only 6% of total reservoir capacity, which is about what we have been short each year on average. So even with this extra water, it might take us a hundred years to fill up the reservoirs again! We would also still be highly vulnerable to a sequence of dry years. We can look forward to decades of water shortages.
Then there is the cost factor. Once the desalination plant is built, the main running cost is electricity. The price of power will definitely go up, as oil prices spiral upwards and the government implements a carbon tax. Although the Victorian Government has promised that the cost of water will no more than double after the desalination plant comes on stream, it seems more likely that cost increases will be much greater than this.
There are some ‘known unknowns’ here. Perhaps our decade of drought will be broken, and we will have a decade of rain, and all will be fine for a few more decades. On the other hand, perhaps power costs will shoot up, water consumption will rise, the drought will worsen, and we’ll be trucking in water from the Northern Territory or dragging in icebergs from the Atlantic! No doubt our planners are hoping for wet years ahead.
Prayer seems a very wise policy. And a water tank.
Saturday, July 12, 2008
Despite the media’s focus on the issue of the ordination of practicing gay clergy and bishops (in the USA and Canada) the GAFCON movement states that its main focus is on two key challenges a) to continue to reach unevangelised peoples with the gospel, planting churches among them and b) to ‘restore authentic Christianity to compromised churches.’ The second challenge arises from a conviction that secularism and pluralism have enfeebled and weakened the church in the most developed nations.
The Anglican movement is diocesan in structure. The Communion is an association of dioceses (defined geographical regions), each of which is led by a bishop. The movement is essentially not hierarchical above the diocesan level. Although there are ‘primates’, who are senior bishops associated with a grouping of dioceses, the whole movement relies for its unity, not on conformity with top-down commands, but on sustaining a theological and pastoral consensus between diocesan bishops and their communities. The key instruments of this consensus have for centuries been the Bible, the English Book of Common Prayer, the ‘Thirty Nine Articles’ and the Ordinal, which contain the job descriptions for bishops, priests and deacons. The Lambeth meeting of bishops once every ten years at Canterbury England, hosted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, is another important mechanism for keeping the whole thing together.
In recent decades Anglican the will to remain in unity has become increasingly strained. Whilst the Christian church in general – including the Anglican movement – has been expanding rapidly in the developing world, there has been a spiritual free-fall in the West. This has meant that English-speaking Christians have become a minority of the world-wide Anglican communion. There are a greater number of active Anglicans in Nigeria than in the whole of the English-speaking world put together. There has also been a growing awareness among the Anglicans of the developing world – the majority – that Anglicans in the economically developed nations have lost their way. More than this, Christians in the developing world believe that there is an urgent need for the West to be re-evangelised. They are not alone in having this concern. I share here three experiences.
I remember in 1985 visiting the cathedral of St John the Divine in New York, where shrines had been erected around the sanctuary dedicated to various religions, such as Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism. It was extremely distressing to see that this magnificent building, built and dedicated for the worship of the Triune God, had been turned into a temple for a multiplicity of gods and goddesses in this way.
In 1985 I spent a year living in Leiden, Holland, where one of the most magnificent churches, the Pieterskirk, had been handed over to the city for a token sum, simply because there were no more worshippers and the church could no longer maintain the building. This is a historic church: indeed it was from there that the pilgrims departed to the New World. The Pieterskirk is now used as a marketplace, an art gallery, and an event space for various community events. As I stood in that empty building, I could almost hear the angels weeping.
On New Year’s Eve at the end of 1978 I attended Cologne Cathedral for Sunday morning worship. There had been a heavy snow fall the night before, and I made my way across the Rhine to the cathedral for the service. Inside that imposing building, which could seat thousands, was a tiny congregation – perhaps a dozen people. I seemed to be the only person under 60 years of age. As I was listening to the sermon – which happened to be about the need for more young people in the church – one of the ushers came up to me and, seeing me praying, thought I had sought out the cathedral as a place to sleep. He roughly ordered me to leave the building. Saddened, I got up and walked out into the sunny snow-white morning, with people all around me cheerfully shovelling snow. The contrast between the dying church, lamenting the loss of its generations while quietly expelling them, and the vital friendly atmosphere out on the streets had a deep impact upon me.
The reality that the Western churches have lost their way –not only the Anglicans – is simply that: a reality. This is not the same for world-wide Christianity, which is as dynamic as ever. Spiritual decline is above all a disease of the Western churches. For the Anglican communion this has caused particular difficulties, as the wealthier, older minority by and large have less confidence and spiritual vitality than the majority of Anglicans in the developing world. The West, and specifically the English church, no longer has the spiritual vitality, the credibility or the proven fruitfulness to provide leadership to the rest of the Anglican world.
Historically, the Anglican movement grew out of the Church of England. By convention the Archbishop of Canterbury has continued to host the global gathering of Anglican bishops. Tensions developed when the Episcopalian church in Canada and the USA (the north American Anglicans) went out on a limb and acted against Lambeth resolutions to began ordaining practicing gay clergy and bishops, and even solemnizing gay unions. For many Anglican Leaders, Anglican movement’s slow response to the theological divergence of the north Americans has been deeply disappointing. They regret the fact that Canterbury continues to invite the north Americans to Lambeth, despite their renegade actions.
Whilst the issues of gay bishops and blessing gay unions has been a trigger point, the theological concerns are much deeper than the issue of sexuality. Many north American Anglicans had for their own part become disillusioned with their Dioceses and their bishops, and have separated themselves from the Episcopalian church. Congregations all across north America have sought Episcopal oversight from African bishops, and are establishing an emerging alternative Anglican community in the US and Canada.
GAFCON represents a conservative response by the global Anglican church to these changed and changing circumstances. There is a belief, expressed in the GAFCON resolution, that ‘we are a global Communion with a colonial structure’, referring to the fact that the Archbishop of Canterbury remains host to the Lambeth meetings, despite the growing spiritual self-marginalisation of Anglican churches in economically developed nations. This is increasingly seen as an anomaly, as leadership from a position of manifest weakness.
The GAFCON declaration invited Anglicans throughout the world to affirm their theological roots, and to join together in giving a clear witness to Christ throughout the world. It rejects what it calls the ‘false gospel’ of the spiritually struggling West, specifically focussing on two issues, i) the loss of confidence that Christ is the only way to God amidst growing spiritual pluralism, and ii) shifting moral boundaries for expressing human sexuality.
The most significant structural change established by GAFCON is a new Primates’ Council which essentially is a new oversight body for Anglicans who wish to identify with this movement.
The Archbishop of Canterbury’s response to these developments has been brief. No doubt he is waiting for the Anglican bishops to engage these issues at Lambeth. He was unhappy at the implication that those outside the GAFCON movement are promoting a different gospel. He was concerned about the emerging complexities of competing jurisdictions. He rejected the idea of a self-appointed council of Primates, which he felt could not achieve legitimacy. He felt that the GAFCON people should be focussing on renewing the existing structures, not setting up an alternative. He was unhappy about the label of ‘colonialism’, suggesting that the way forward was to forge a community of equals, not a ‘reversal’ of power, effectively marginalizing the Western churches in the communion.
There seems to be more than a whiff of denial in Rowan Williams’ responses. When he writes that the ‘absolute imperative of evangelism’ and the ‘uniqueness of Christ as Lord and God’ are ‘not in dispute’ in the ‘common life of the Communion’, what does he make of the statement on his own turf, just a month earlier by the newly appointed English Bishop for Urban Life and Faith, Stephen Lowe, rejecting a call from Bishop Nazir-Ali to share the gospel with Muslims? Bishop Lowe had stated that ‘This demand for the evangelisation of people of other faiths contributes nothing to our communities.’ Such double-speak seems incomprehensible. The imperative for evangelism IS in dispute in the Church of England, among the Archbishop of Canterbury’s fellow bishops.
I can understand how it would deeply pain and offend fellow Christians for it to be implied that their witness was false, and they were promoting a false gospel. Rejecting people of sincere Christian faith simply because they do not belong to one’s own brand of Christianity is repugnant. As Bishop NT Wright put it ‘GAFCON leaders can’t have intended to imply … that they are really the only ones who believe all this.’ One can see how Rowan Williams could have found the GAFCON rhetoric disturbing. But what is also disturbing is his apparent lack of acknowledgment that confidence in the uniqueness of Christ, and the imperative of evangelism ARE waning in the West, and that this is an issue of genuine concern to Anglicans throughout the world. Bishop Spong's public retreat from doctrines he swore to uphold in his consecration is not an isolated phenomenon.
Whilst Williams is understandably troubled about how church discipline can be achieved in the emerging environment of competing jurisdictions, he does not acknowledge that it is the failure of church discipline in relation to the US and Canadian churches’ innovations – flying in the face of the Lambeth bishops’ agreed position – that has helped lead the Anglican communion into its current difficulties.
Rowan Williams’ call to the GAFCON Anglicans is to ‘wait for us’ – in other words to allow due process to proceed, and to work for renewal from within existing structures. The question however is whether the waiting has already been too long, and whether the Archbishop of Canterbury and other Western bishops will willing to pay the price to rescue the existing structures.
For the time being at least, it does not seem that these global developments will impact in any significant way upon the Diocese of Melbourne. Much depends upon our Episcopal leadership in the future. One of the real risks for us is that conservatively minded Anglicans will focus their energies in the GAFCON network, and withdraw from active participation in Diocesan and national Anglican structures. This could help bring on the very problem which GAFCON is trying to address.
Certainly, if we were faced with the extreme theological and pastoral issues of the American Episcopalians, many Anglican leaders and congregations in Australia would be seeking alternative episcopal oversight. However we are nowhere near that situation at the present time, and I hope and pray we will never come to that point.
In the mean time, let us pray both for unity and passion for the gospel to flourish in God’s church. I remain committed to the theological foundations of the Anglican tradition, but watchful as to the road we will find ourselves travelling on. Above all, I agree with Archbishop Keith Rayner, former Diocesan Bishop of Melbourne, that it is necessary to be a Christian first, and an Anglican second. Ultimately it is our faith and union with Christ which keeps us together, not institutional structures or traditional denominational identity. These are good and worthy of preserving as long as they can serve godly purposes.
Let us also pray for the Anglican bishops, gathering in Lambeth, and also for those who are not in attendance, that the Spirit of Christ will move them in wisdom and courage to care for and build up God’s church.
Monday, April 21, 2008
Delivered on Sunday, April 20, 2008, at the Caulfield Grammar School Founders’ Day Service, held in St Paul’s Cathedral, Melbourne.
Two thousand years ago, Jesus gave a commission to eleven disciples. Today you have heard his words read out in the Mandarin language – it is known as the ‘Great Commission’ – and from this small beginning the Christian church was established. Today hundreds of millions of people around the world have been baptised in obedience to Christ’s words.
I would to take you to another commissioning event, not the founding of Caulield Grammar School in April 1881, but to another event which took place five years earlier, on a Monday evening, August 27, 1876. A young school teacher was being farewelled from St Mary’s vicarage in Caulfield. His name was Joseph Henry Davies, but people just called him Henry. He was about to set sail for India, to join his sister there in missionary service.
Why was he going? Well for one thing the need was very great. Reports had been coming to Caulfield of hundreds of Indians becoming Christians. They needed care and instruction. And Henry was concerned for them. As he explained that night: ‘… when I turn my thoughts to the Saviour’s love, and the deep need … the desire is strong within me to go and tell them of the love of Jesus.’
During the course of that same evening, the Reverend HB Macartney, vicar of St Mary’s, read out to Henry a solemn charge, commissioning him for the challenging task which lay ahead. In sending this young man out, Macartney noted that he would be sorely missed, in Caulfield, for he was, in Macartney’s words: ‘both by nature and grace peculiarly qualified to preach the Word, and to attract multitudes to the cross of Christ’.
Without a doubt, Davies had been very active in Melbourne: a preacher at St Mary’s local mission chapel, an active member of the YMCA, a university student in Parkville, and teacher at Toorak College. Yet, for all this, Henry Davies was still a teenager. On the eve of sailing for India, he was only nineteen.
It is hard for us to imagine today the courage of this young man. Henry was going out with what was diplomatically referred to as ‘no fixed salary’. In other words he had nothing to live on. All he had in his pocket was faith, and the love of God.
But, as Henry told the gathered crowd, he had been wanting to be a missionary for six years, since the age of thirteen. He was more than ready!
The past can have a strange way of influencing the present. I have in recent years spent many hours investigating St Mary’s history the church, where I have the privilege to serve today. Among other things, I inquired into the land titles, and the covenants attached to them.
A covenant on land is a set of conditions on the use of the land in the future. One of our parcels of land has a covenant which states that the land must be used for a church or a parsonage. Nothing else is will do.
Over the years I have come to see that it is not just land which can have covenants attached. And not all covenants are legal: some are spiritual. I am convinced that there are spiritual covenants attached to institutions, to families and even to nations.
In the case of a school, like Caulfield Grammar, you could think of the spiritual covenant which shapes its destiny in terms of the prayers of the founder. Today we stand upon and are shaped by the founder’s prayers and intentions. This is a serious and important matter. I know that God is faithful, and listens to people when they pray. I have no doubt that Caulfield Grammar school is shaped by the vision that was poured into it so long ago by its founder.
Of course the school’s founder is our Henry Davies – the young missionary to India. What sort of prayers would he have offered to God in founding this great school? What were his values, the things he ate, slept and dreamed for?
Davies was formed and shaped as a young Christians at St Mary’s Caulfield during a most fascinating and exciting period in its history. There is no doubt that it impacted him deeply. I wish to focus on three values of that time and place, which influenced him.
• First and foremost was Henry Davies’ Evangelical Christian Faith.
• Another core value was Ecumenism – this was a conviction that Christians could and should work together in unity across denominational lines.
• A third was Globalism – Davies was a person of the whole world, a pioneer missionary to India and later to Korea. His vision included Australia, but it was much larger than it.
We have already seen that the young Davies had evangelical convictions. He had a passion to take the love Christ to the world.
But why do I say Ecumenism? We often think of Australia’s past as plagued by sectarianism. Not so Caulfield in the 1870’s. One day, while I was rummaging through boxes of old papers and books in the hall, I found the proceedings of Australia’s first ecumenical Christian convention, held at St Mary’s church in 1874.
What was remarkable about the conference proceedings is that no denominational details are recorded for any of the speakers. It just wasn’t important which church they came from, and now, over 130 years later, you can’t tell who came from which church. Out of that meeting, important cooperative ventures were started, including the founding of the YWCA here in Melbourne.
It seems that the Davies’ children, Henry and his brothers and sisters, were attending those early conferences at St Mary’s. It was at the second, in 1875, that Henry’s sister Sarah received her call to go to India.
This spirit of unity at the conferences was the same one Davies had when he was about to set sail for India. He said on that auspicious evening in the vicarage:
‘I have met and worked with all denominations, speaking in Presbyterian, Wesleyan and Congregational churches. And … I am fully persuaded that the Lord’s people can harmoniously work together to a far greater extent than they have heretofore done’.Davies, it is true, was formed and shaped as a teenager at St Mary’s – a Church of England parish – and was sent out to India by Anglicans. But he was later to go out to Korea as Australia’s first missionary to that nation, sent out, not by the Anglicans, but by the Presbyterian church. Although Davies died from pneumonia soon after arriving in Korea, he is credited with being one of the founders of the Presbyterian church there. Inspired by his example, six young Presbyterian men from Victoria followed soon after to continue his work.
I mention these things to make clear that Davies was no sectarian. One year he was founding what was to become a significant Anglican school in Australia. Eight years later he was helping to found a new national Presbyterian church in Korea.
Such was the breadth of his vision and his spirit of Christian love.
Davies’ globalism was another key to the meaning of his life. In this he was also the product of his environment. In the 1870’s and 80’s, the people who gathered in the Caulfield area had come from all over the world. One hundred and thirty years ago, St Mary’s was a church in a paddock surrounded by gum trees. Yet it had a vision to reach the world.
One of the senior members of St Mary’s congregation during Davies’ time in Caulfield was Sir George Stephen. He was a committed Sunday School teacher, and most likely he taught Henry in his class for young men.
I first came across Sir George’s name when investigating titles. It was he who gave the first parcel of land to the church, and attached a covenant to the land for this very purpose. But, as I was to discover, there was more to Sir George than this.
Born in the West Indies, and raised on both sides of the Atlantic, Sir George was a global Christian if ever there was one. He happened to be the nephew of William Wilberforce, recently celebrated in the film Amazing Grace. Just as his uncle William had fought for the abolition of the slave trade, so Sir George had battled for the full abolition of slavery itself in the British Empire. In his he was successful in 1833, due to a highly innovative nation-wide political campaign.
Sir George, was already an old man by the time Henry Davies went to India in 1876, but, like the young Davies, he had a global vision. He had fought for the liberation of millions of the world's citizens from the bitter curse of slavery. And he had won!
It was among people such as these that Henry Davies grew to manhood.
The words of the Great Commission of Jesus, which you have heard read out from Matthew’s gospel, are inscribed in gold letters above the arch of St Marys church. They say:
“All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.And so they did. Some were young men like Davies, but many of the early missionaries who went out were women, like his sisters Sarah who went before him to India, and Mary, who was with him in Korea. That generation achieved great things.
Go ye therefore and teach all nations.”
I believe in spiritual destiny. I believe in the purposes of God, reaching down through history. In believe in spiritual covenants which influence our children and our children's children. Caulfield Grammar's founding was remarkable in its spiritual roots. It was a world-changing spiritual covenant which birthed it. That covenant has been established in prayer, and it cannot be changed.
And today, how the world has changed! If you fly into Seoul, the capital of South Korea, at night, you will see the night sky lit up by a galaxy of neon crosses, raised over the chuches and houses of the city. For South Korea is now 40% Christian. And Henry Davies, the founder of Caulfield Grammar School, is remembered in that nation as one of the founders of the Korean church. His example has led the way for millions of Koreans to follow Christ.
Today the Korean Presbyterian church is the largest in the world, and there are over ten thousand Korean missionaries scattered around the globe You are as likely to meet a Korean missionary in Kazakhstan or Ghana, Moscow or Kathmandu.
Students of Caulfield Grammar School, you have an amazing legacy in the life of your founder.
Let us now return to the proceedings of that farewell to Henry Davies, as he departed from Caulfield for India. Henry was going, as he told the gathered crowd, with but one regret, that he had done so little for God in, Australia, which he called ‘my own country’.
Yet, the Reverend Macartney prophetically announced, “We will expect that you will exercise no ordinary influence over the young men of Australia.” And also “You may return to us some day from India, to bless thousands,” So it was to be, for just five years later – and still not yet 25 years of age – Davies founded Caulfield Grammar School.
Caulfield Grammar is a place where thousands of young lives have indeed been blessed. The young Henry Davies’ did indeed exert ‘no ordinary influence’.
May God continue to bring great blessing to this school as it fulfils the prophetic, world-changing vision of the man who founded it, on the 25th of April, one hundred and twenty seven years ago this Friday.
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
“The church should reawaken its hunger for beauty at every level. This is essential and urgent. It is central to Christian living that we should celebrate the goodness of creation, ponder its present brokenness, and, insofar as we can, celebrate in advance the healing of the world, the new creation itself. Art, music, literature, dance, theater, and many other expressions of human delight and wisdom, can all be explored in new ways... The arts are not the pretty but irrelevant bits around the border of reality. They are highways into the center of a reality which cannot be glimpsed, let alone grasped, any other way. The present world is good, but broken and in any case incomplete; art of all kinds enables us to understand that paradox in its many dimensions. But the present world is designed for something which has not yet happened. It is like a violin waiting to be played: beautiful to look at, graceful to hold - yet if you’d never heard one in the hands of a musician, you wouldnÆt believe the new dimensions of beauty yet to be revealed. From Simply Christian.”
Thursday, March 27, 2008
We have had a wonderful journey through Holy Week at St Mary's in these recent days. I count it a privilege to have been a part of it. How beautiful to celebrate a meal together on Thursday night, modelled on the Passover, remembering the Last Supper of our Lord. Then on Friday morning we traveled through a beautiful and deeply moving narrative centering on the cross of Christ, with drama, dance, procession, music and readings from the scriptures. Sharing in Hot Cross Buns after the service—traditional Good Friday fare—drew us into a precious time of fellowship. Friday evening’s Tenebrae service embraced us in a moving reading of John’s Gospel, as the sun set and the darkness of dusk fell over the city, bringing Good Friday to a close. Then on Easter day, the magnificent floral cross declared God’s gift of exuberant irrepressible life. How lovely also to hear the rebuilt organ pumping out the Messiah’s praises for the first time!
The Good News declares that the renewal of the world has begun in Jesus Christ. This Easter we have been celebrating the full majesty and power of the King breaking into and renewing this world. The Resurrection demonstrates the intention and power of God to redeem and renew his world. The book of Genesis describes the creation of a good world: again and again it is said ‘it was good’. Part of the goodness of this world is the gift of beauty. This is why, in the Christian faith, it is right and good for us to celebrate every beautiful thing in this world. God did not place us in a dull, drab and ugly world. He made it beautiful and wonderful. The use of flowers on Easter Day, and all the expressions of dance, drama and music which we been touched by in recent days—these express confidence that God is redeeming his creation. As part of this redemption, he is releasing the arts, for there is no good and beautiful thing which does not have a place in his new world.
It has indeed been a blessing that so many people with creative gifts have gathered in St Mary’s congregation. What a delight to see the Lord releasing these gifts into his service during Holy Week and Easter.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
While I was in New Zealand recently I familiarized myself with the characteristics of the Kauri pine. The Kauri is one of the great trees of New Zealand.
We have a very large one at the front of our property (on the right as you come in the driveway). It seems ours is just coming out of its ‘juvenile’ phase, even though it is already the tallest thing on the site! After 100 years, the tree probably has another 900 or so years of life ahead of it, and will expand century by century to be 2-3 metres diameter at the base. The lower trunk will lose all its branches, and a huge crown will expand at the top coming to dominate the site, from 20 metres up in the air (see photo - a Kauri pine in New Zealand). This is already taking place, as the tree is losing its conical shape and thinning out the lower branches.
It really amazes me, the capacity for vision of someone who would plant a tree like that. Jesus several times compared the Kingdom of God to a tree. A single tree can be host to a huge community of wild-life, with birds and animals finding rest and protection in its cover. Do you think about what the seeds you sow in Jesus’ garden might turn into, even years after you are long gone? We know that some seedlings do not survive — as Jesus'parable of the Sower explains — but others have a vast impact in their season. Jesus compared faith to a tiny seed: small in size, but huge in impact for God.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
I've been looking around, and can confidently declare that wanting to be awesome has become an epidemic. It is highly contagious. The blogosphere is full of the confessions of addicts:
'Please help, I desire to be awesome and unfortunatley I am already light years ahead of all my professors.'
You have to feel sorry for the poor guy. Here's another:
'I have an intense desire to be awesome at everything I do. I'm finance major who likes to read books on leadership and just about anything else.'
There are also pages of advice out there in the ether on how to be awesome. One expert suggests fireworks: 'Irresponsible use of pyrotechnics is clinically indistinguishable from being awesome.'
Wikihow - a site I never knew existed - explains how to create your own clique at school by manipulating the desire of others to be awesome: 'Do you want to be in that clique but don't know how to get your friends to commit? Heres how to subtly make your friends want to be awesome...'
In the Christian faith, people interested in the prophetic and the miraculous can succumb to this epidemic big time. The goal of seeking prophecies, healings or other signs of God's grace can end up being reduced to the pursuit of personal awesomeness. Other more ordinary souls, who at the start simply want to lead some people to Jesus, or to become good preachers can end up in this trap. It becomes not enough to lead a healthy church, or to teach faithfully, they long to be an AWESOME leader, or an AWESOME teacher.
It's a very bad deal. A very unawesome dead end to get into.
The scriptures have a simple, ugly word for this 'wanting-to-be-awesome' condition. It is pride. And the fruit of pride is complete and utter unawesomeness - fallen people embarrassing themselves before a holy, righteous and ... totally awesome God.
There is a lot in the Bible about awesomeness, but the truth which undoes the lie of this condition is that Only God is Awesome. He is the Awesome One. Our goal should never to be awesome, because all the awesomeness is totally, only and forever His. If someone does not believe this to the depth of their being, then the entangling desire to be awesome can overtake them and bog them down in spiritual irrelevancy.
Homily on Meditation on the Economy of the Lord
Hold him in your arms like Mary his mother. Enter with the Magi and offer your gifts. Proclaim his birth with the shepherds. Proclaim his praise with the angels. Carry him in your arms like Simeon the Elder. Take him with Joseph down to Egypt. When he goes to play with little children steal up to him and kiss him. Inhale the sweet savour of his body, the body that gives life to every body.
Follow the early years of his childhood in all its stages, for this infuses his love into your soul. Cleave to him: your mortal body will be scented with the spice of the life in his immortal body. Sit with him in the temple and listen to the words coming from his mouth while the astonished teachers listen. When he asks, when he answers, listen and marvel at his wisdom. Stand there at the Jordan and greet him with John. Wonder at his humility when you see him bow his head to John to be baptized.
Go out with him to the desert and ascend the mount. Sit there at his feet in silence with the wild beasts that sought the company of their Lord. Stand up there with him to lean how to fight the good fight against your enemies. Stand at the well with the Samaritan woman to learn worship in spirit and truth. Roll the stone from the tomb of Lazarus to know the resurrection from the dead. Stand with the multitude, take your share of the five loaves and know the blessings of prayer. Go, wake him up who is asleep at the stern of your boat when the waves beat into it. Weep with Mary, wash his feet with your tears to hear his words of comfort. Lay your head on his breast with John, hear his heart throbbing with love to the world. Take for yourself a morsel of the bread he blessed during supper to be one with his body and confirmed in him forever.
Rise, do not keep your feet away that he may wash them from the impurity of sin. Go out with him to the Mount of Olives. Learn from him how to bend your knees and pray until the sweat pours down. Rise, meet your cursers and crucifiers, surrender your hands to the bonds, do not keep your face away from the slapping and spitting. Strip your back to be lashed. Rise, my friend, do not fall to the ground, bear your cross, for it is time for departure. Stretch your arms with him and do not keep your feet from the nails. Taste with him the bitterness of gall.
Rise early while it is still dark. Go to his tomb to see the glorious resurrection. Sit in the upper room and wait for his coming while the doors are closed. Open your ears to hear the words of peace from his mouth. Make haste and go to a lonely place. Bow your head to receive the last blessing before he ascends.
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
My notes can be found here.
A group of Yale scholars have written a response.
My reflections on the Yale Response can be found here.
I hope these may be of assistance to Christians.