The National Royal Commission into Abuse...
For what it is worth, I am in favour of the Royal Commission into Abuse, announced by Prime Minister Gillard this week. I am in favour of their powers to reach into church affairs as well. Last week in this blog I spoke of the church-state divide from the perspective of the church, that as the Church of Jesus we have one Lord – the same Lord who appoints the government authorities and asks us to submit to them under Him. The Royal Commission is an example of where I believe all churches need to respect that authority and submit to our government, opening our doors, books, records – whatever – for examination. Why? 2 obvious reasons for starters:
(a) We are in the light.
In the letter of 1 John, the apostle speaks about believers being brought into fellowship with the Father and the Son (1:1-4), because of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ (2:1-2). He illustrates this fellowship with the Father with the concept that we have moved from darkness into light (1:5-2:2). He even goes so far as to say that those who are in Christ walk like Jesus did (2:6). As Jesus was pure and blameless, those that are with Him ought to be as well. Being in the light means that we are exposed – rightly so – for our deeds are not hidden from God, and nor should they be from anyone else.
(b) Abuse is sin. We want no part of it.
There is no “thou shall not abuse” proof-text verse in the bible – but the fruit of sin has all the requisite framework for any kind of abuse: “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.” (Gal 5:19). In short, sin is condemned by Jesus and abuse clearly falls into sin. As a gathering of God’s people, the Church of Jesus needs to oppose sin in all its forms, expose it, confess it, correcting the situation that produced it, and depending on the sin, paying the social consequences of the sin.
... And the Catholic Church
This is where the Roman Catholic Church has been called into the spotlight. The Catholic church has as part of its doctrine that things that are confessed to a priest in a confessional setting are unexaminable to outside parties. Our current Federal Law in Australia respects this doctrine and things confessed to a priest are unable to be used as evidence, and priests are allowed to refuse to give evidence in a court of law about things revealed in that setting. As Cardinal George Pell said in the press conference on Tuesday, ''The seal of confession is inviolable''.
(a) A Quick Background
This doctrine comes out of a passage in Matthew 16:16-20, where Jesus responds to Peter declaring that He is the Christ, the Son of the living God. He says “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven”. The Roman Catholic church understands this verse to mean that Jesus has appointed Peter in particular to a role now seen as the role of the Pope. And the binding/loosing authority given him and the church was the power of Jesus to work in this world. To summarise:
Rock = Peter
Church = Roman Catholic Church
Keys = Authority of God on earth.
In short, the Roman Catholic church understands that Jesus works in this world through the church, and so when the church declares a person forgiven, therefore they are. The “confessional box” then becomes a powerful vehicle for people seeking to receive the forgiveness of God – and the priest that they confess to has the authority of God to remove a person’s sin.
(b) A Correction
But I believe that this is a false reading of the passage. I have spoken on this passage and you can listen to my sermon on it here. A far more satisfying understanding is that the ‘rock’ is the gospel – the good news of Jesus, and it is the message of Jesus crucified and risen that will build His church (and bring people into the light). The keys given to Peter were given to all the Apostles to teach, so that people would come to trust in Jesus as Lord. That message has been written down in the Bible so that in 2012, we benefit from the same teaching. The binding/loosing is the work of the gospel in binding people to Christ and destroying sin in their lives. In summary:
Rock = Gospel
Church = Believers all over the world, who trust in Jesus
Keys = Apostolic authority to preach, bringing people to Jesus
All this makes sense of passages like 1Timothy 5:5, which says: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”. When we confess sin, it goes straight to Jesus, not via a priest or minister (that includes me) or even a ‘saint’.
(c) What this means for the Royal Commission into abuse
Right thinking on this passage, I believe, means that there is no biblical framework for an inviolable seal of confession. It means that there should not be any special protection in the law for things confessed in that situation. I believe that there should not be anything which could not be exposed when delving into the way the Roman Catholic Church (as with any ‘organisation’) deals with abuse. Put more specifically: Where priests learn about abuse of any form, they ought to be obliged to report it. This is for the safety and protection of the victims, the exposure of perpetrators and ultimately because God is the Judge who hates sin.
From a Christian perspective: let the light shine in. Into the Anglican church, like anyone else. And let there be purity that honours Jesus in all our dealings.
Comments and replies to email@example.com.
Footnote: Just so you know, Stefan, Alex, Jarrod and myself are all mandatory reporters which means that our jobs demand we report any claims of abuse. Our children’s and youth leaders are trained and expected to report anything to their leaders, unless the allegation involves the leader. The Diocese has set up help to make sure that every claim is handled appropriately and there is accountability.
The National Royal Commission into Abuse...
Politics and Church
In the light of President Obama’s re-election yesterday, and with much being made of his liberal Christianity (and Mitt Romney’s Mormonism), here are some thoughts to consider about the how the church-state relationship might look like in our country and in our area.
1. The church should never align itself to political party. The evangelical-Republican party link is well established in the United States. And perhaps there is a link between Christian and the right of politics here in Australia. But no political party owns the Kingdom of Jesus. So it doesn’t make sense for the church to blanketly align themselves with a political subject. If we did, we’d lose our distinctiveness as a witness of Jesus. The church derives its character and security in the resurrection of Jesus and nowhere else, and therefore we retain our identity irrespective of how, or by whom, we are governed. The church informs the world (not vice-versa). We advocate for good government in this world in this age, whether it is Liberal, Labor, Green, Christian Democrat or Independent.
2. Can I be a member of a political party? Yes – by all means, but as Christians, we want to remember the place of government in this world. God doesn’t rule his Kingdom through the governments of this world. Nor does he rely on the human political process to bring about His Will on earth. Governments are there to promote the good of society – to provide protection and justice. Christians should feel free to be a part of the Liberal party and the Labor party, and the Greens and the Christian Democrats – we want people to raise the debates and contribute to the discussion in society. We want people to be involved in the political process. And we want these parties to be raising up candidates of character. So we need Christians involved. But political party membership is subservient to our membership in the Kingdom of Jesus. There will be times when official policies will conflict with what we know Jesus desires in this world. And we will need wisdom to know how to proceed and at the extreme, when to leave. For we remember that all political wrangling will come to a finish when Jesus returns. So we don’t want to make our lives about politics. Politics can become an idol as much as anything else.
3. Can the church ever disagree with our leaders? Yes, but it must be with humility and submission. Daniel provided a good example of this: King Nebuchadnezzar told Daniel and his friends to bow down and worship a gold idol of himself. As a believer and a God-fearer, Daniel said ‘no’ because he knew it went against what God desired. But notice the way he went about saying no:
"O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
He still respects Nebuchadnezzar’s authority; he submits to the government’s punishment, and he keeps pointing to God’s greater authority. Our church should do the same. The government has been set up by God, so we should never forget that. But when it goes too far, the church is a witness to the limitations of the government’s authority. We are part of a greater kingdom, and no government can ever take that away.
But let me say we don’t find delight in opposing government – in fact the church should be doing everything to win them over for Jesus. There was an example I heard of involving a church in Nepal. The Government there was highly suspicious of the establishment of this church and what they were talking about in their meetings. The government believed that the church was subtly plotting an uprising against their rule. So the pastor went to the local authorities and told them that their church would be amongst their biggest supporters. He explained that even if the government were to persecute them, they would never retaliate and that from then on they could be trusted to support the government. The pastor even refused a trip to speak in Australia because it of how it would appear. That is an example of a church winning over the state with love isn’t it?
Fortunately, in Australia, we don’t have that kind of problem (but let’s not take it for granted). We have legal means of protesting poor decisions of the government. And into our constitution is built the possibility of a peaceful overthrow of the government every 3 years.
4. We want our church to build relationships with our political leaders. A lot of people wait until there is a problem before we speak to our politicians. But we want our church family to have an open communication with our government. Lobby groups will come into their offices with demands all the time. They are there to get what they can out of a politician. The Christian Church under Jesus is not a lobby group. We are for the good of Caringbah, and so, on many issues, we can be of great help and support to our government. We can be sharing what we see. Talking about possible solutions. Talking about upcoming votes in parliament. Wouldn’t it be awesome if our political representative came to St Phils for advice or perspective? When our government knows that we are for them and here to help them then even when we disagree our witness for Jesus will be strong.
5. Prayer for our political representatives. Mark Speakman and Scott Morrison have been placed in their position in a process superintended by God. They are not there by accident. And we need to recognise that their job is very difficult and very tiring. We need to be praying for them for energy, wisdom and strength to fight the right battles and promote the good of society in the Shire and in Australia.
As always, comments, thoughts and responses can be sent to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Three Videos that Explain the Gospel
Here are three videos from around the internet that explain the story of Jesus. Could they be useful to pass on? (Just click the video to play)The first is from the Billy Graham Evangelism Association, called "Gospel Graffiti": Dare2Share, called "Life in 6 Words: GOSPEL": The last is a bit more intellectual, and could possibly serve as teaching tool for someone who wants to dig deeper into the Christian faith. This one is called "The Story of God, the World and You". Feel free to let me know what you think, or suggest others you have seen, email@example.com. YBIC, Andrew
A three minute reflection on who you are because of Jesus
Here’s a quotation from a man who knows what it means to be a work in progress for God. John Newton (1725-1807) author of the famous hymn, Amazing Grace – former slave trader turned gospel preacher spoke these words in a sermon on 1 Corinthians 15:10:
“1. I am not what I ought to be. Ah! how imperfect and deficient.
2. Not what I might be, considering my privileges and opportunities.
3. Not what I wish to be. God, who knows my heart, knows I wish to be like him.
4. I am not what I hope to be; ere long to drop this clay tabernacle, to be like him and see him as He is.
5. Not what I once was, a child of sin, and slave of the devil.
Though not all these,
not what I ought to be,
not what I might be,
not what I wish or hope to be, and
not what I once was,
I think I can truly say with the apostle, “By the grace of God I am what I am.””
—John Newton Letters of John Newton (http://www.wtsbooks.com/product-exec/product_id/5154)
Indeed. Thank you Lord.