2018
A New Church Calendar (Part One)

Without a doubt the church’s calendar is in a mess. Different denominations celebrate the same festival but on different days—so the birth of Jesus is celebrated on either the 25th December or the 6th January. And, because of the development of different calendars over the centuries, Easter may be celebrated weeks apart.

In addition, some of the festivals (particularly the birth, and death and resurrection of Jesus) have been corrupted by the secular world. Indeed, Christmas is now more about Santa Claus, families, and holidays than the birth of Jesus Christ, and Easter is now more about chocolate and the Easter Bunny than the death and resurrection of our Lord.

As a consequence, it might well be considered that if the church is to regain a voice in the secular world, perhaps it needs to separate itself from the current secular celebrations, clear the slate, and start again. And if the church was to do that, I would suggest that we get back to basics.

Because in the Old Testament, one of the first things that God told Moses to do, was to institute three festivals for his people to celebrate: the Feasts of Passover/Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Tabernacles. At the time, they were all reminders of the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and their entry into the Promised Land.

Passover/Unleavened Bread, was to remind the people of the day God “passed over” the Israelites and saved the firstborn of Israel. It was also to remind them that the people left Egypt before they could leaven their bread. Weeks, was to remind the people of what was expected of them when they arrived in the Promised Land—with the need to give thanks for the first fruits of the land. And Tabernacles, was to remind the people of their accommodation—the tents they lived in—whilst they were there in the wilderness.

However, on top of that, God then added an additional layer of thought. He attached a harvest festival to each of the celebrations. He added the need to be thankful: for the first grain of barley each year, with Passover/Unleavened Bread; the end of the grain harvest, with Weeks; and the ingathering, celebrating all the produce that had been gathered, with Tabernacles.

Now for those familiar with the God of the Old Testament, it wasn’t unusual for God to put one layer of thought on top of another. As a consequence, it shouldn’t really be any surprise that he chose Passover (which was all about killing first born sons) for the death of his son, and Weeks (which was about new life in the Promised Land) for the giving of new life with his Spirit. And if God used two of the three festivals, it is not unreasonable to suggest that he may also have used the third.

After all, we don’t know when Jesus was born. December 25th was simply chosen as a means to eliminate a pagan festival. On the other hand, if Tabernacles is about living in tents, then that fits very neatly with the idea that Mary and Joseph had in finding suitable accommodation in Bethlehem.

Reshuffling the church’s year, then, so it recognises three different layers of meaning for each of the three festivals makes a lot of sense. And if the church’s year was to begin around September, we could begin with Tabernacles and the birth of Jesus. We could then celebrate Passover/Unleavened Bread, with the death and resurrection of Jesus. And we could then go on to celebrate Weeks (now more commonly referred to as Pentecost), for the gift of the Holy Spirit. All nice and neat.

To be continued …

Posted: 3rd January 2018
© 2018, Brian A Curtis
www.21stcenturybible.com.au

A New Church Calendar (Part Two)

Continued from Part One …

But God didn’t just institute three main festivals—Passover/Unleavened Bread, Weeks and Tabernacles—he gave Moses instructions for two others: The Feast of Trumpets and the Day of Atonement.

Now there is no biblical record stating the purpose of the Feast of Trumpets. Despite that, it has been linked with the beginning of the civil year. The Day of Atonement, however, was instituted to resolve deficiencies in the sacrificial system. Because a priest could hardly offer a perfect sacrifice on behalf of someone else, if he himself was a sinner.

The Day of Atonement, then, would make a very fitting festival to celebrate the Second Coming of Christ. Because even though we don’t know when the Second Coming will be, the theme of the festival would be about the culmination of everything that God has done to absolve the people from their sins, and to celebrate God’s people being made worthy to live in his presence.

Then, if the Feast of Tabernacles, with the Birth of Jesus, was used to mark the beginning of the Christian calendar, the Day of Atonement would be the appropriate festival to end it.

The church’s calendar would then look something this:

The Feast of Tabernacles, with the Birth of Jesus
The Feast of Passover/Unleavened Bread, with the Death and Resurrection of Jesus
The Feast of Pentecost, with the Gift of the Holy Spirit
The Day of Atonement, with the Second Coming of Christ

Now having said all that, the question remains, “How do we fix the dates?” After all, the Old Testament Hebrew calendar was based on a lunar year, that is not even used in Israel today. Tabernacles was to begin on the 15th day of the seventh month; Passover/Unleavened Bread on the 14th day of the first month; Pentecost seven weeks later; and Atonement on the 10th day of the seventh month.

Furthermore, most of the feasts were intended to begin and end with a Sabbath feast, and even the early Christian changed their weekly celebrations from the Sabbath to a Sunday.

Of course, the simplest way would be to use the current, and almost universally used (Gregorian) calendar. This would allow the festivals to be fixed in time and not to float all over the place, as is the current practice. So, for example, if Passover was fixed as the last Sunday in March (and there was a slight adjustment for the nearest Sundays), then the church’s calendar could look something like this:

2nd Sunday in September
The Feast of Tabernacles, with the Birth of Jesus

Last Sunday in March
The Feast of Passover/Unleavened Bread, with the Death and Resurrection of Jesus

2nd Sunday in May
The Feast of Weeks, with the Giving of the Holy Spirit

1st Sunday in September
The Day of Atonement, with the Second Coming of Christ

Now the advantages of adopting a calendar like this are numerous. If accepted by the church, it would regularise the Christian calendar. It would also distance the church from the current inappropriate meanings and celebrations that have become attached to both Christmas and Easter. It would put the church’s year into perspective, with its logical movement from birth to second coming. It would also raise the profile of the giving of the Holy Spirit and the Second Coming of Christ.

Now, obviously a radical concept like this is not likely to get instant (or even universal) approval. Despite that, at some stage, the church does need to address the problems associated with the current calendar.

The advantage of my suggestion, however, is that it reinstates the festivals that God was so keen for his people to celebrate. And, at the same time, it takes seriously the need to celebrate the birth, death, resurrection, and Second Coming of Christ, with the giving of the Holy Spirit. And in that sense, I hope. people will see it as a more biblical solution to the current dilemma.

Posted: 7th January 2018
© 2018, Brian A Curtis
www.21stcenturybible.com.au

Walking Advertisements

Some people might consider me a little bit odd. And they might be right. I tend think differently to many people. Indeed, I often have ideas and concepts floating around my head, which others might consider a little strange. And one of the things that’s been going around my head in recent times is the idea of people being walking advertisements.

After all, how many people these days walk around with clothing which has brand names or business logos on the outside, for everyone to see? How many people wear sportswear—even one’s team’s colours—with all the advertising and logos that are on them? And what-is-more, how many people wear them, even in the most inappropriate of situations?

Is it any wonder, then, that I have this image of people being walking advertisements?

But being walking advertisements is only part of the modern phenomenon. Our houses are living advertisements too. Indeed, everything electrical (TV’s, fridges, washing machines, computers, etc.,) proudly displays its name in our homes. But then so do the cars that we drive too.

And, on top of all of that, there are people who are so fanatical about a particular brand or logo (in terms of, cars, computers, mobile phones, etc.), that they wouldn’t consider supporting any other brand.

Now I might be a little bit odd. But it seems strange to me that people would want to walk around advertising products and businesses to the world. Because by doing so, they effectively display the things that they love on their sleeves.

And that’s sad really, because in the great scheme of things, it’s not companies or logos that we are supposed to display. They are simply man-made objects which are supposed to make life easier. No, it’s not businesses we are supposed to display or be proud of, it’s God we are supposed to advertise to the world. And yet our society doesn’t seem to work that way at all.

Indeed, by displaying the companies and logos on our person and in our homes, we effectively make them into our gods. They become the things which are important to us. And yet they are not gods, and they are not supposed to be important to us at all.

God is our God. He is the one who created us all. So if there was anyone that we should promote then it’s him. And yet, I wonder how many of us today would be prepared to replace the companies and logos on our hearts for wearing God on our sleeves?

Posted: 1st February 2018
© 2018, Brian A Curtis
www.21stcenturybible.com.au

Resetting the Church

When things go wrong with a computer programme, particularly one that has been updated, there is inevitably an option to reset the programme, to restore it back to the manufacturer’s original design. So, when there’s a bug, or when a programme has been developed beyond its usefulness, many people find the reset option to be very useful indeed. Me included.

As a consequence, I have often thought how useful it would be to have a reset button on other things too. And, for me, the church is one particular organisation for which I would like to have such a button. After all, since the first century AD, when the church was established, the church has changed considerably, and not always for the better.

Indeed, the church these days is involved in welfare programmes (to the public), hospitals, nursing homes, retirement villages, schools., etc. It has adopted practices, like the conduct of weddings, funerals, and the baptising of non-members. It has developed rituals. And it has changed Communion from being a meal into part of a worship service. And those are just the obvious things. But none of which were features of the New Testament church.

Now many of these practices may have been started with good intentions. But they haven’t always stayed that way. Indeed, some of them have already fulfilled their original purpose, others have gone beyond what was intended, and others have simply lost their way. And worse, many of them have now become obstacles to the church’s growth and mission.

So, if there was a reset button for the church, that could help get rid of the bugs and reset the church to its original purpose, I would willingly press it. The question is, though, how many others would be willing to press it with me?

Now some might say, “It’s already been done. That is exactly what happened at the reformation, in the sixteenth century. Someone pressed the reset button then.” But the problem is that it was only a partial reset—it took the church back to an earlier version. It certainly didn’t restore it to its New Testament foundations.

And therein lies the problem. Because the church is desperately in need of a reset button. And that button needs to be pressed. But not just to go back to a certain time—to a favourite thing that we love about times gone past. But all the way. Furthermore, it’s a button that we need to be continually pressing to keep the church on track. Because, whatever our motivation in starting new things, we need to keep away from the upgrades and additions that so easily lead our people astray.

Posted: 11th February 2018
© 2018, Brian A Curtis
www.21stcenturybible.com.au

Being Politically Incorrect

One of the features of modern life is the apparent need to be politically correct. Of course, it probably started with good reason—with the idea of not wishing to offend or disadvantage certain groups—but I wonder whether it has all gone a bit too far. After all, we seem to have got to the point where people so pussy-foot around each other, that they are frightened of saying anything.

Which is a problem. Because how can we deal with the issues that are hidden under the umbrella of being politically correct, if we cannot bring them out into the open?

Which is why, to a large extent, I think the whole thing has become a nonsense. And there are so many issues that are currently off the radar. Not least of which, in Australia, are:

Religious Beliefs. The need to accept that most religions are mutually exclusive. Indeed, most religions claim to be the only way for salvation—including Christianity. As a consequence, it is not possible for true believers in one religion to be totally comfortable living side-by-side with believers of another faith.

Ethnic Background. The need to acknowledge that there are inequalities in the way people are treated based on race. Indeed, indigenous people receive some welfare benefits over and above those of non-indigenous people in similar situations. And in the case of some welfare programmes, benefits are payable to those who identify themselves as indigenous regardless of their financial status.

The Disabled. The need to recognise that there are inequalities in the way disabled people are treated. Indeed, the blind receive advantages over and above those who are deaf or otherwise disabled.

Sexual Orientation. The need to recognise that society remains divided on the issue of same-sex relationships. Indeed, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics about 38% of the population voted “No” in a recent survey on Same-Sex Marriage. Which suggests that, legislation or not, it is going to be some time before there will be full acceptance of same-sex relationships in the community.

Now many of the issues in Australia fall under the banner of “positive discrimination.” And yet positive discrimination is a contradiction in terms. If one favours one group, it is always to the detriment of others. Discrimination is still discrimination. It’s just a “nice” way of saying it, to those who are favoured.

Being politically correct, then, may have started as a means to prevent offending or disadvantaging certain groups, but its practice conceals a lot of issues that need to be addressed. All the current practice does, is to ignore the underlying issues, and even maintain and institutionalise existing prejudices.

Now, of course, we should care for people, and we should treat people with dignity. But we shouldn’t pretend that concealing the issues under the banner of being “politically correct” really helps anyone. Because it doesn’t. All it does is hide or exaggerate the many problems that should be out in the open and need to be fixed.

Posted: 2nd March 2018
© 2018, Brian A Curtis
www.21stcenturybible.com.au

Yoga and the Martial Arts

The issue of whether Christians should practice Yoga and the Martial Arts has been a hot topic over a number of years. Not least of which, is because the practices have evolved from the beliefs and practices of other religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, etc.).

And the reason there has been much debate, is that even though many of the modern practices are adaptations of older religious practices, most, if not all, still include aspects of that past religious base. Indeed, the idea of some sort of creative life force, harmonising the body with the life forces of the universe, is still a common idea.

So, is it OK for a Christian to practice Yoga and the Martial Arts? Or is it something that all Christians should avoid? And just what should be the response of the Christian to the common response, “I only do the exercises?”

Well, to answer the questions we need to understand something of Christian beliefs. And there are at least three issues that we need to consider.

Firstly, Christians are supposed to believe in a creator—YHWH (Genesis 1:1). And we are supposed to believe that it is he who is the creator, sustainer (and redeemer) of the universe.

Secondly, Christians are not supposed to worship other gods, or copy their practices. Indeed, when God was leading the Israelites out of Egypt he told the people not to follow other gods (Exodus 20:3), and not to copy the practices of those who believed in other gods (Deuteronomy 12:29-31).

And, thirdly, Christians are not supposed to be stumbling blocks for others, no matter how liberated they may feel (1 Corinthians 8:9).

Now clearly, on those three principles, a Christian should avoid any belief or practice that is associated with other faiths, including Yoga and the Martial Arts, where such practices include religious teaching (overt or otherwise). But what about the argument “we only do the exercises”?

Well, there are two issues:

The first is, can the exercises be truly separated from their religious base? Because, if they are still dependent upon other religious beliefs, including the idea (implicit or otherwise) of a creative life force, then they are still in direct opposition to the idea of God being the creator and sustainer of the world.

And, secondly, even if they could be separated, do we understand why God told his people not to copy other people’s practices? Because, the clue for that, I believe, is in the passage from Deuteronomy, where God links the idea of people copying wrong practices, to them becoming “ensnared.”

Now clearly, as far as God was concerned, some things might start off seemingly harmless enough—even appropriate as part of their worship of him—but things have a habit of developing. Things don’t stay the same. And a practice that might seem harmless in the beginning, can so easily develop into something far more sinister and dangerous.

And I guess for me that has been proven from experience. Because I can always remember the man I met who practiced Karate, but who had lost interest in the physical exercises. He’d move on. Indeed, at the time that I met him, all he was interested in was what he openly identified as the religious beliefs behind the practice.

However, even putting that aside, there is one more complicating factor in the whole “I only do it for the exercises” debate. And that is the question of how the practices are promoted—and labelled. After all, I have seen many adverts for Yoga and for the different Martial Arts. But very few have detailed what they were actually promoting—the exercises, or the religious practices? Most of the time you wouldn’t know. Which is why when Yoga lessons were advertised as being taught in a particular Rectory it all sounded (to some) innocent enough. That is until it was discovered that what was being taught was Yoga steeped in Hindu belief.

Yoga and the Martial Arts tend to be called by their one or two-word name, regardless of whether they are “just exercises” or are overtly religious. Indeed, there is usually no distinction between the two. Which again, suggests God’s wisdom in prohibiting the pursuit of other religions and their practices.

So, for me, the idea that God is the creator and sustainer of life, that we are to have other gods, that we are to avoid practices associated with other faiths, and that we are not to be stumbling blocks to others, means there can only be one conclusion. And that is, that Christians should not be practicing either Yoga or any of the Martial Arts.

Having said that, I know many Christians do. But I wonder how much they are a stumbling block to themselves and others (inside and outside the faith), and what difference there would be in the church, if only they abstained.

Posted: 10th March 2018
© 2018, Brian A Curtis
www.21stcenturybible.com.au

A Reformer's Creed

I have often wondered what the Christian Church should look like today. Yes, over time, I’ve put on paper some of the things that have come to mind. But I’ve often wondered about the need for some sort of constitution, statement of purpose, or statement of faith, by which a church should be judged.

As a consequence, I have come up with the following. And because, today, there are so many expectations of what the church should be like, that are well beyond the teaching of the Bible, I have included what the church should not be about as well as what it should. So, here’s version one:

Statement of Faith

We believe in God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We believe that we are God’s created beings, and that we have all fallen short of God’s design and purpose. We believe that God’s son came to earth, to provide us with a solution to our sins. That he died, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven, and that one day he will come again to judge all mankind. We also believe that he has given us his Holy Spirit to teach, encourage, and empower us to share this good news throughout the world.

We believe that God created us to commune with him, and to associate with one another. For this purpose, he created the family unit, as the model for the community to which we belong. He created male and female to live together in relationship—in which children can be conceived and nurtured—to care for his creation and to take part in the building-up of the community.

We believe that the church is the people of God, and that we are to care for each other within the church. So, we believe that the value of any buildings or property that the church may own needs to be assessed on whether it meets current (or future) needs. We believe that the church should be a growing and developing body, and therefore bricks and mortar and any possessions should not be allowed to dictate the direction of the church.

We believe that the church’s primary focus is that of discipleship: telling others about God, the good news of Jesus Christ, and making disciples. And we believe that any social expectations and demands on the church (e.g. for weddings, funerals, social welfare, etc.) should not be allowed to divert the church from fulfilling its primary focus.

And we believe that the church needs to be self-funded—that it is to only collect and use money given by its members. It is to live within its means, and not to look to people or governments outside of it for funding. It is not to employ people whose beliefs are different to those of God’s church, neither is it to become beholden to others outside the church in any way.

This is what we believe. And by this we will assess our own beliefs and practices on a constant, if not annual, basis.

Posted: 19th May 2018
© 2018, Brian A Curtis
www.brianacurtis.com.au

ADVERTISMENT: A New Church

EXPRESSIONS OF INTEREST

Expressions of interest are requested to form a new church on Hobart’s eastern shore, on the following principles.

MAIN PRINCIPLES

1. That the church is to be God-centred, not man-centred;

2. That the church’s role is to make disciples, and teach people about Jesus and the Christian faith;

In doing so:

3. The church acknowledges that although many of the non-biblical practices of today’s church have developed over time, it doesn’t necessarily make them valid or relevant for today; and

4. That the church needs to avoid any distractions from its intended role—that is, to tell people about Jesus.

SPECIFIC PRINCIPLES

Specifically, the church is to acknowledge:

a) Property

1. That church buildings have their place. But that they need to be practical, for the use of the congregation, and not to be kept or maintained at the expense of the Gospel.

2. That buildings, property, etc are to be set apart for sacred purposes, and are not to be used for secular purposes.

b) Congregation

3. That the responsibility for leadership and ministry is to be shared by all members. And that no one person is to be expected to carry too heavy a load.

4. That to be faithful, it needs to use only resources given by the members of its congregation and those in the wider Christian Church. In this regard, it is not to accept any money, property etc., offered by those outside of the Christian Church.

5. That communion was originally intended to be celebrated as part of a fellowship meal. As a consequence, it is to promote the sharing of meals in which communion can properly take place.

c) Pastoral Issues

6. The need to promote a biblical view of marriage, unencumbered from any legal definition. As a consequence, it is to avoid involvement in conduct of wedding services.

7. The need to care for the elderly amongst its members. But it is not to be involved in the running of retirement and nursing homes for Christian and non-Christians alike.

8. The need to care for those who are bereaved amongst its members. But it is not to be involved as a church in the burial of the dead.

d) Outreach

9. That anyone (employed or volunteer) who represents the church (and Christ in the world), needs to a believing member of the congregation or the wider Christian Church. As a consequence, it will not employ any non-Christian under any circumstances.

10. That any involvement in social welfare programmes is to be by its members and funded within its own resources. It is not to apply to administer any programmes through organisations outside the Christian church or to apply for Government grants.

11. That whilst its role is to teach people about Jesus, it does not exist to give people an education based on secular academic criteria or promote academic excellence to the detriment of the Gospel.

12. The need to provide support for members with a medical condition. But not to run hospitals for Christians and non-Christians alike.

e) Other Faiths

13. The need to be able to distinguish between Christians and people who say they are Christians.

14. That it acknowledges that understanding other faiths and cultures is important. But only as a means to be able to tell people about Jesus.

15. That no property owned by the church is to be given, loaned, or hired out for any practices associated with any other religion.

Posted: 9th July 2018
© 2018, Brian A Curtis
www.brianacurtis.com.au

"You Protest Too Much"

I often think that I open myself to the accusation “That you protest too much.” After all, many of my blogs are worded in terms of the negative—about bad practices, the need to undo the mistakes of the past—particularly regarding the adopted practices of the church—and commenting on the many traps in life. And yet, from a biblical point of view, didn’t Jesus (and Paul) often talk in terms of the negative—that the spiritual life would be a battle, and that there would be many pitfalls to avoid?

Now, I don’t wish to equate myself with any of greats of the Bible. Not for one minute. But if we are sinners, as the Bible states, then isn’t that a negative in itself. And that means that we aren’t and can’t always be positive. However, we do need to try to move forward. And we can only do that if we acknowledge the negative, with a view to pursue the positive.

And, if that is true of us as individuals, it is also true of the church too. Because if we are sinners, that means that our churches are full of sinners too. As a consequence, we need to identify where both we and our churches have gone wrong, in order to pursue what is right.

So, is there a place for the negative? Can we protest too much? Well, the answer is probably “Yes” to both. But it’s what we do with the negative that’s important. Because, if we just wallow in it, then we achieve very little. But if we use the negative to pursue the positive, then surely that is a very useful exercise indeed.

Posted: 14th July 2018
© 2018, Brian A Curtis
www.brianacurtis.com.au

2017
Letting Go

At times, people can be pretty nasty to one another. People steal, abuse, defraud, lie, hate, etc., and many don’t care of the damage they do, or the destruction that surrounds them. Indeed, for most of us, life doesn’t run as smoothly as we might hope. So whereas Benjamin Franklin wrote, in 1789, “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes,” perhaps we could add in something about the way people treat each other too.

Now of course being horrible to one another is not always intended. Sometimes it is just a misunderstanding. Nevertheless, the question in is, “Should we allow the hurt that has been caused to wreck our lives, or should we learn to move on?”

Now I am not suggesting that we ignore the abuse, or whatever it is that we have faced. Far from it. But I am suggesting that we shouldn’t use that abuse to inflict more damage on ourselves than is absolutely necessary. After all, our abuser may be responsible for his/her actions. But it is up to us to whether we dig up the past, and keep opening old wounds, or whether we learn to move on.

Of course, that may be easier said than done. But the sad thing is that so many people today have not learned to move on. Furthermore, some people just don’t seem to want to. Some are continually dragging up the past; some are continually compounding the original problem that was caused by someone else. It’s like Lot’s wife, who looked back at Sodom, yearning for a life that was lost but was full of corruption.

Now some people hang on to their pain, because it’s all that they know. But as a consequence, one could easily ask, “Is their current situation the direct result of the abuse, or is it the consequence of being unwilling to let go?”

*****

Now there is very important biblical principle in regard to being a victim of someone else’s abuse, etc… And the principle relates to the need to forgive. Indeed the whole bible is about the need for forgiveness—the need for us to be forgiven by God, and the need for us to forgive others. Yet whilst the need for forgiveness is the crux of the gospel, so many people today have not sought forgiveness from God, and so many continue to refuse to forgive others.

So, despite the initial offence, many people are suffering more now because of the result of unforgiveness than they were for the original offence. The original offence may have lasted but a moment, but their failure to deal with it has resulted in a lifetime of suffering.

And that is probably one of the reasons why Jesus put such emphasis on the need for forgiveness. It is also probably why the Apostle Paul taught that we shouldn’t even let the sun go down on our anger.

Dragging the past along—the lack of forgiveness—tends to blow situations well out of proportion. Minor disputes become major ones; individual disputes become problems of families and nations. Indeed, it is easy for situations to escalate and get out of control. Which is why dealing with past, and moving on, is so important. And it is something that I’ve had to learn to do in my own life too.

Now for those who don’t know me, I have a very low tolerance for people who do the wrong thing. I have also had many disputes with a range of people and organisations for not doing what they promised, for doing the wrong thing, etc., etc… There have also been misunderstandings, family disputes etc. Yet, whilst I believe that bringing people to account is important, I also believe that a line has to be drawn somewhere. Because if it’s not, then I am the one who will suffer for the subsequent damage that is caused.

Of course, that sometimes means letting go, even letting others get away with things that they shouldn’t, etc… But I believe that is the price that sometimes needs to be paid. It’s certainly better than living a totally wrecked life, because of an inability to move on from a problem that someone else caused.

From a biblical point of view, then, forgiveness is the ideal. Nevertheless, the reality may not necessarily be so straight forward. Any attempt, if appropriate, to resolve a dispute with the original perpetrator may fall on death ears. But in that case, all we can do is to do our bit and be content with that, no matter how unsatisfactory the result. Because in the end, no whatever the other person does, we need to learn to move on.

Posted: 27th January 2017
© 2017, Brian A Curtis
www.21stcenturybible.com.au

The Abuse of Clergy

Some people reading this article may have come to it because they have been abused by a member of the clergy. And if you have been affected by such abuse, then I am sorry—there is no excuse for the abuse of anyone. I also recognise that covering up such abuse can make the situation worse than the abuse itself. However this article is not about the abuse by clergy. On the contrary, it is about how the clergy themselves are abused, and in a variety of ways.

Now I was ordained in 1983, and since then I have been physically threatened, verbally abused, confronted with women in various states of undress, stalked, etc. etc. But having said that, these are not the only kinds of abuse with which clergy are required to deal. Indeed, there are other forms of abuse which are far more common.

For instance, clergy housing has long been an issue. And some of the places I have been required to live in have been very sub-standard. Most have not been practical or even designed for what for what they needed to be used. And most have suffered from being poorly maintained and having insufficient heating. Indeed, even whilst some congregations have openly boasted about the wonderful state of their churches, the housing for their clergy may not have always been something about which they would have been willing to boast. And I have faced windows that won’t close, light switches hanging off the wall, etc. etc. Furthermore, anything “new” e.g. new curtains, has often meant someone else’s worn-out cast offs—but still considered “new” to the rectory.

Indeed, in my experience, it has not been unusual for members of a congregation to openly state that they would never live in such a place themselves. But that they felt that the clergy should feel privileged to be provided with such accommodation.

And in regards to payments … I am aware that many clergy have not always been paid their full entitlement, or on time. And that has been for a variety of reasons, including because there wasn’t any money, or the treasurer had other things to do. As a consequence, I am probably not alone in not receiving my stipend on the pay day before Christmas—leaving me wondering what I was possibly going to do.

Clergy abuse, then, is very real. And in one sense, the decision to retire was made so much easier because of it. Unfortunately, the abuse of clergy does not just relate to full-time active clergy, it relates to retired clergy too. Because even those retired ministers who like to help out, and make themselves available, are mistreated too. Indeed, even in churches where a minimum payment scale has been set, it is not unusual for preparation or travelling time to be ignored. I have faced many instances where people have not wanted to pay my full travelling costs, even though they were well of the distances that I needed to travel, when I was appointed for the particular task.

Now I have never sought to make a fortune in being a clergyman. On the contrary all I have wanted to do is to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. Having said that, I do believe that the people need to be responsible for the clergy that they employ. Unfortunately my hopes that people would do the right thing, in the various churches and denominations in which I have ministered, have usually been dashed. And if that is my experience, then I wonder how many times my story could be repeated across the churches and across the different denominations.

How people treat their clergy is a good measure of the health of the church. And I’m sad to say I think it is a telling indictment on the state of the church in Australia today.

Now if you’re reading this, you may be thinking that being a minister is not an easy job. And you would be quite right. Because there are many obstacles placed in a minister’s way from doing their job. Any minister worth their salt has gone into ministry because they want to share Jesus Christ, and the message of salvation to the world. But with the abuse and the subsequent fall out, that so often gets lost in the process.

Indeed some kind of abuse is often seen as fair game. Some people want to pay as little as possible, and they certainly don’t want to spend money on a house they wouldn’t live in themselves. The end result, of course, is that many clergy give up—anything for a quiet life. And so the message of the gospel gets lost, and the church continues on its downward spiral.

Abuse is a terrible thing. And yet the abuse of the clergy is probably far more widespread than many would imagine.

So what is the solution? Well, as a church we need to have a change of heart. We need to learn to care for our ministers. So if members of the congregation would not live in a house provided for the minister, then isn’t the solution that more appropriate accommodation should be found? And if members of the congregation object to being short-changed and cheated themselves, then surely they should make sure that their minister is not short-change or cheated either.

Now not every decision that a minister makes will be welcomed by all; some may not suit everyone personally. And that is particularly so in a multi-centred parish, where the interests of one church conflict with the needs of the other churches within the parish. As a consequence it is not unusual for powerful individuals to hold sway, and on occasion formal complaints about a minister lodged. However, there is no excuse for that kind of un-Christian behaviour. And there is no excuse for treating any member of the clergy as dirt.

Indeed, the clergy need to be cared for and treated with respect—not least of all so they can do their job. They need to be treated in accordance with the demands of the Gospel.

There is no excuse, then, for the abuse of clergy within the church. And yet it so frequently occurs. In one sense it is an indication of how fallen we have become. But, in the context of the church’s response to other kinds of abuse, it is also an indication of how far the church has yet to go.

Posted: 9th February 2017
© 2017, Brian A Curtis
www.21stcenturybible.com.au

What Am I Singing?

Have you ever walked around the house, singing away, and suddenly wondered what it was that you’d been singing? I have. Because every now and again the words of a song can come to life, and it’s like I’d never understood them before. Only then do I realise what it was that I was singing.

Of course, the problem with me, is that I’ve never really been interested in the words themselves—only the overall sound of the music. As a consequence, I’ve always preferred to immerse myself in the multiple layers of my favourite music, without too much concern for the precise meaning of the lyrics.

Nevertheless, the reality is that writers of music, often have something in mind when they write the music and the lyrics. And sometimes that meaning is explicit, and other times it is not that clear. Therefore, it can take a while for the meaning to filter through.

Singing your favourite songs, then, or even singing along to a catchy tune, can be a bit of a worry. Particularly at those times when you pull yourself up, and wonder about the meaning behind it all.

Of course, one of the solutions is that we could stop singing altogether. But then isn’t singing one of the gifts that God has given us? Another solution would be to sing only Christian music.

But herein lies another dilemma. Because if you study the words to some of the hymns, choruses, etc., you could equally pull yourself up and say, “What is it that I am singing?”

Indeed, there have been several times in recent years that I have simply stopped singing in church. And the reason? Because the words seem to be at odds with the Christian faith. Where the sentiments in the songs came from, I don’t know, but they certainly didn’t gel with my understanding of the Bible. Therefore, I’ve often found myself wondering, “Who picked these songs?” But then I’ve remembered the old trap for picking hymns—picking the tunes that people know or can easily sing, rather the words that are set to the tune.

Singing songs, then—secular or religious—can be a very precarious thing to do. And it certainly raises the need to be aware of, “What exactly are we listening to?” when we watch the television, listen to the radio, and put on a CD. But we also need to keep an eye on the music that we sing in church. Otherwise someday we will catch ourselves singing a favourite hymn or chorus, in church or at home, and ask ourselves, “What it is that we’ve been singing?”

Posted: 16th April 2017
© 2017, Brian A Curtis
www.21stcenturybible.com.au

Three Things I Hate

Is the term “hate” too strong? As Christian’s, aren’t we supposed to love our fellow believers, and love our enemies too? Indeed, the Bible has many references to the concept of love. But, equally, the Bible has many references to the concept of hate too.

For example, the Bible implicitly describes things that God hates in the various laws he has provided—in the things he has told his followers not to do. However, it is also explicit in mentioning the things that he hates, like robbery (Isaiah 61:8) and divorce (Malachi 2:16). In addition, the Bible explicitly states that believers are to hate wickedness (Psalm 45:7), evil (Psalm 97:10; Proverbs 8:13; Amos 5:15; Romans 12:9), and what is false (Proverbs 13:5). Furthermore, according to Ecclesiastes, for believers, there is a not only a time to love, but a time to hate too (Ecclesiastes 3:8).

So, is “hate” too strong, for a Christian? I don’t think so. But we do need to keep the concepts of “love” and “hate” in balance.

Having said, we need to remember, that what we might call “evil” is not necessarily what God calls “evil”. Indeed, in the Bible we are reminded, time after time, that the term “evil” describes what people do in putting put a wedge between themselves and God. Hence the book of Kings is very good at describing the kings of Israel and Judah in terms of whether they were good at restoring faith in God, or whether they allowed or encouraged people to worship other gods. They either did “good” in the eyes of God, or they did “evil”.

The things that we should “hate” then, are the things that create a wedge or a barrier between us and God, and between us and the world as God created it to be.

So, what is it that I “hate”?

Well, the first thing I hate, is when people do not show God his due. And an example of that can be seen in the attitudes of people who claim to believe in God. After all, many people say they believe, but they do so on their own terms. God is redefined into something that people are comfortable with. And invariably who he is, is watered down to the mediocre, so that sin is not taken seriously either.

And examples of that can be seen in society. For example, the well-worn phrase “The true meaning of Christmas … (or Easter), is often used to describe happy, family times, rather than the birth (or death) of the Messiah. And the term “The ultimate sacrifice,” used in terms of soldiers who died in war, allows little room for comparison with the crucifixion of Jesus Christ—which was something he did voluntarily, as an act of obedience to the Father.

Yes, it is very easy to remake God in own image, and our society today seem to be a master at it. And, yet, that is not the God of the Bible. The God of the Bible takes seriously the concepts of who he is, and who we are. It also takes seriously the concept of sin—the things that separates the people from himself. Furthermore, it takes seriously the pains that God has gone to, to bridge the gap, to allow his creation to be considered worthy to live with him in eternity. As a consequence, any denigration of who he is, denies the reality of God, and denies the reality of sin.

So, whilst the Bible describes the lengths that God has gone to, so that people can enjoy fulfilling, and eternal relationships with him, many people today treat him as though none of that matters. Indeed, that only they know what’s best for them.

The second thing I hate, is when people are more concerned about themselves than the health of the community. Now that might seem a rough thing to say, yet we live in a society which is very “me” orientated.

So, for example, we hear expressions like, “I want …”, “I deserve …”, and “What’s in it for me?” And the “me” society is very evident in the way advertising is targeted, and how election campaigns are run. Indeed, follow everything that is thrown at you from the television (which is simply a reflection of our society), and you have our selfish, self-centred community in a nutshell. Yes, of course, there are some bright lights in the community, but generally people seem more concerned about their own welfare than on the well-being of others.

And if that’s true of the community then it’s also true of our churches too. Indeed, our churches suffer from people who come when they feel like it, or come for what they can get out of it, rather than for what they can contribute to the life of the faith community.

And yet, the idea of the individual being more important than the community is not the model that God has given us. Indeed, in the Ten Commandments and in the numerous laws in the Old Testament God’s focus is on what is needed for a healthy, faithful community. So, juggling his rules, and tossing out the bits we don’t like, means that we are effectively reinventing God’s idea of community.

There are reasons why God provided certain rules for a healthy community. And even though some may think they know better, or some may think “What’s the harm, I’m not hurting anyone,” we corrupt God’s plan when we change them. Messing with God’s laws will only end in the destruction of the community. Yes, it might be a long slow process, but the community will fail none-the-less.

And the third thing I hate, is the fact that when you disagree with someone these days, you are at risk of being labelled a “hater.” Indeed “hate speech” has become a rather common and unfortunate term given to people who disagree with the way society is headed.

Now obviously, some people are inflicted with the language of hate—and that’s sad. But that doesn’t mean that everyone who disagrees with modern trends has a phobia, or hates certain people. On the contrary, the Christian view should be an expression of the godly standards we have inherited. It should not be seen as a hateful attack on an individual or a group. But unfortunately, that is the way contrary beliefs are often seen.

In a kind of irony, the attack on Christian beliefs on the structures of the family and the community often borders on bullying—the very thing our society say needs to be removed from our society. And yet, the way our politicians behave to one another, and that way our sportsmen play, suggests that bullying is very well-entrenched at all levels of our society. And there seems no intention of resolving that any time soon.

People have learnt that you if you shout and scream you have a greater chance of being heard. Therefore, the term “hate speech” is often heard to be used against those with a contrary view, in order for people to get their own way.

Now all three things that I’ve mentioned fit into the category of putting a wedge between people and God. Reinventing God effectively denies who is, and denies the reality of sin. Reinventing the family and community structures denies the structures that God set up for a healthy community. And bullying people who are trying to uphold godly principles, is an attack against God and his sense of community. And all three things meet the criteria of things to “hate” described in the pages of the Bible.

So, should Christian’s “hate”? Yes, they should. But they should only hate those things that attack who God is, the reality of sin, and what is needed to be build a healthy community. There needs to be a balance between “love” and “hate.” And getting that balance right is something that we need God’s help with, in order to get it right.

Posted: 9th May 2017
© 2017, Brian A Curtis
www.21stcenturybible.com.au

Lack of Trust

One of the features of current world politics, is the issue of lack of trust. The Americans, don’t trust the North Koreans, and the North Koreans certainly don’t trust the Americans. But then, why should they? After all, the Americans are very vocal in their concerns about the nuclear ambitions of North Korea, particularly in regard to them acquiring nuclear weapons. However, the Americans have shown no indication of any preparedness to dispose of their own.

Now does that sound fair, or even a reasonable basis to start talks? Or does that sound like the Americans wanting to maintain an advantage over the North Koreans?

Of course, it’s not just the Americans who don’t trust the North Koreans. There are many other countries who have expressed similar concerns. On the other hand, it’s not just the North Koreans who don’t trust the Americans. Because many other countries have a deep lack of trust in the Americans too.

And with attitudes like that, shouldn’t be surprised that this world is littered with a history of tensions, wars and conflicts, many of which began from a lack of trust. It’s what humans are good at. And that same lack of trust is just as evident within nations, and even within our family units.

People don’t always do the right thing. People don’t always care for one another. And our modern preference for putting ourselves first—my needs, my wants—before the needs of others, certainly doesn’t help. But, then, even if we able to find someone in whom we can trust, at some stage we would invariably be disappointed. To have peace in the world there has be trust. But how can that ever truly be, with the emphasis on putting ourselves first?

So, trust is something that we all need to exude. But it is something that we cannot do. We all make mistakes. We all let people down. So, if we can’t do it, who can?

Well, I believe there is a solution. Because Christians believe that there is one man in whom we can trust, who will be faithful to us, and will never let us down. And that is Jesus.

Now Jesus knew how important trust was. Which is why he said to his disciples, “Trust in God; trust also in me” (John 14:1b). He then backed it up by dying on the cross, so that his faithful followers could enjoy eternal life.

The problem for us, though, is that not everyone is willing to trust God. Indeed, the majority have rejected God—or at least the God as he has revealed himself. They have also rejected Jesus.
So, the one possible solution to that lack of trust, has been rejected on the belief that we can do everything ourselves. The problem is, we can’t do it ourselves, and that’s why we need God.

So, the solution to the various issues that occur in our families, in our communities, within our countries, and outside our borders … Well, there isn’t another one. And so, we will simply go on not trusting, being divided and involving ourselves in conflict. Yes, it may be North Korea this time, but inevitably it will be some other country in a few years’ time.

In the meantime, does America have any reason to trust North Korea? No! But North Korea has no reason to trust in America either.

Posted: 8th July 2017
© 2017, Brian A Curtis
www.21stcenturybible.com.au

Religious Intolerance

The call for tolerance and understanding, in western countries, has become increasingly vocal in recent years. And it has been realised, in part, through challenging people’s thinking, and through legislation. As a consequence, as a society, we are constantly being encouraged to move away from the prejudices based on ethnic, sexual, religious and political views, to embrace a more “inclusive,” “caring,” and “enlightened” attitude.

Now from a secular point of view that can all sound very “reasonable.” Indeed, many “sound” and “persuasive” arguments have been put forward. And there are aspects of the various debates which have needed to be said. Unfortunately, some of the arguments clash head-on with the very basics of religious belief. And not just the beliefs of Islam, Hinduism, etc.

For example, most religions are exclusive; they have no tolerance for other beliefs. Even Christianity teaches there is only one way to God; there is only one way for salvation. Because at the very core of Christian belief is the teaching of Jesus being the only way to God. And that no one can get to God except through him (John 14:6).

At the very basic level of Christian belief, then, is the understanding that there is only one genuine religion. And that all other religions are false—which simply lead people away from God. In Christianity, there is no room for other beliefs. Christians are called to neither accept them or embrace them. And that is despite whatever is legislated or society teaches.

Furthermore, for those of Judeo-Christian traditions, the Old Testament provides specific guidelines of the expectations of YHWH God. Indeed, God specifically said that was no room for other gods; that people were called to be faithful to him, and that it was his justice that needed to prevail. Furthermore, the Old Testament demonstrates the importance that God placed on keeping his rules. Because it illustrates the extraordinary lengths that he was prepared to go to, to keep his people from straying from the path.

If we want to get an idea of what a true Christian community should look like, then, we need go no further than the principles that YHWH gave on Mount Sinai and beyond. And if we lived in a truly Christian country, we would need to apply those principles in our community. We would need to remove all other religions from the land; we would need to reject all other religious practices of any sort. And, furthermore, we would need to stick to the guidelines that he has provided for a healthy community, and not go about tinkering with his rules.

As can easily be seen, then, there is a great gulf between religious beliefs (of which Christianity is just one example) and the hopes and the expectations of a secular society. And, of course, if we lived in a true Christian country, or a true Muslim country, etc., things would be a lot simpler. The laws or society’s attitudes would reflect their particular religious views.

But we don’t live in such an environment. Indeed, even in Australia, where historically it has been claimed to have been a “Christian country,” nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, the structure of society in Australia has always been far removed from true Christian values. And even the values that were held in high esteem have, over the years, been twisted and largely forgotten.

Of course, this then leads to the question, “How do people of faith live in a secular society?” Well the problem is that people of faith live under two sets of rules: the rules of the society under which they live, and the rules of the god under which the serve. But if people are to be true to the god and their faith, the rules of their god must take priority. And that was certainly what Jesus tried to teach his disciples when presented with a Roman coin (Matthew 22:21).

At the heart of the issue of much religious intolerance, then, is the problem of the exclusive nature of religion. It is the priority of God over the secular. And for Christians it is the priority of applying God’s laws and principles for a healthy relationship with him, and for the building up of a healthy community.

Yes, trying to teach people, and passing legislation, may make things “legal,” in a secular sense, but it will not necessarily change things in the eyes of a believer. Because no matter what society teaches, or what legislation is passed, there will invariably be aspects that will not be acceptable to people of religious faiths (Christian or otherwise). And simply pretending that tolerance is possible in all circumstances, is simply to ignore the obvious.

But in regard to Christianity, it’s not necessarily that Christians’ don’t care. They do. It’s just that their focus is on people having a healthy relationship with their creator, and for the building up of healthy God-centred communities. And that requires them to apply God’s principles, when society’s laws and attitudes conflict.

Posted: 26th August 2017
© 2017, Brian A Curtis
www.21stcenturybible.com.au

Seven Principles for a Healthy Church

1. The church needs to be God-centred. It needs to avoid competing distractions, even on the periphery—no idols, no images, no other gods, and no alternative ways of thinking. It needs to be focused on who God states that he is, not on who we would like him to be. [Common issues: other beliefs, practices associated with other beliefs, secularism, etc.]2. The church needs to be Biblically based. It needs to take seriously the principles God provided for healthy living, for both a healthy relationship with him, and for a healthy community. [Common issues: tradition, re-jigged theology, personal preferences, etc.]3. The church needs to be a place for teaching and growing. It needs to teach its members what it means to be disciples of Jesus Christ. It needs to provide clear and accurate teaching, and provide the resources that people need to grow. It also needs to encourage people to be fruitful and active members of the church community. [Common issues: lethargy, lack of focus, poor teaching, lack of acceptance, etc.]4. The church needs to be inwardly caring, and supporting. It needs to provide pastoral care and support for all its members, regardless of age, sex, state of health, etc. It needs to prioritise caring for those within the church, over any need to care for those outside it. [Common issues: lack of compassion, misdirected focus, etc.]5. The church needs to be outward looking. It needs to be constantly seeking opportunities to share the faith with others. It needs to embrace an attitude of welcoming, so that others may have the opportunity to respond to the message of salvation. [Common issues: Naval gazing, lack of focus, wanting things to stay the same, etc.]6. The church needs to distinguish between the sacred and the profane.

a). It needs to uphold the principle of separation of church and state. It needs to recognise that a close relationship with the state, inevitably results in a diminished voice in matters of theology and ethics. It also diminishes the effectiveness in sharing the Gospel. [Common issues: entanglement in activities controlled by government (welfare programmes, schools, nursing homes, hospitals, etc.), the licensing of marriage celebrants, etc.]b). It needs to avoid problems associated with complying with the expectations of those outside the church. It needs to focus on its God-given duties, and not on the expectations and wants of a secular society. [Common issues: the conducting of weddings and funerals, the ownership and use of church buildings, etc.]c). It needs to be financially self-supporting. It needs to trust in God, and not seek financial support from those outside the church—as these inevitably come with strings attached. [Common issues: giving God his due, loss of control, loss of the gospel, etc.]7. The church needs to be a light to the community. It needs to be a place which attracts people to it by its very nature, because of the example of its Spirit-filled members. [Common issues: being true to God’s design, reflecting God’s values, not conforming to the expectations of those outside the church, etc.]Posted: 13th October 2017
© 2017, Brian A Curtis
www.21stcenturybible.com.au

Is There Life After Death?

I often wonder what people think will happen to them once they have died.

Now, of course, there are a variety of possible scenarios. The simplest is that there is no God, no afterlife, and consequently no judgement day. In which case death isn’t an issue—death is simply the end. Similarly, if there is a God, but there is neither an afterlife or judgement day, then that isn’t an issue either. But what if there is a God, and there is an afterlife, and there is a judgement day? What then?

Well, for those who believe in God, and who have made the necessary preparations, it isn’t really a problem. But what about those who don’t believe? How will they cope with being faced with the very thing they have denied?

After all, not believing in something, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist or won’t happen. And changing who God is, into something with which we are more comfortable, will not help at this point either. Because at the point of death, if there is a God, we will be faced with God as he really is, not on who we have made him out to be.

So, what do people think will happen to them when they die? Well, I know where I’m going. I am going to be with my Lord. But where other people think they are going, remains a mystery to me. Because I don’t think many people have considered this matter very seriously at all.

Now of course, the life after death issue, isn’t just an issue of what will happen later. It also has consequences for today. After all, a person who believes in God has purpose, they have meaning in life. They have a pathway which leads them into the next world. But for those who don’t believe … well, some don’t have any purpose at all. And others …? Well it’s not that some don’t have any purpose. Because many people do. It’s just not the same purpose, or as comprehensive a purpose, as those who have faith.

So, if there is a God, and there is a judgement day and if there is life after death, then there is a real point to believing in God, and living by his rules, now. But if none of those things are true, then any purpose may be helpful in this world, but that is as far as it can go.

In a sense, the life after death issue is a bit of a gamble. “Do I believe, or do I not believe?”

If Christians are wrong in believing that there is a God, an afterlife, and a judgement day, then the worst-case scenario is that they are wrong about the afterlife, but they may still have been helped, in some way, by their beliefs in the here and now. However, if Christian’s are right, then anyone who does not believe in the Christian God will be totally unprepared for next. And the consequences for them will be catastrophic.

Now neither Christian nor non-Christian can provide definitive proof of the existence or non-existence of God, the afterlife or judgment day. That is why we are called to have faith. However, the Christian would claim that the evidence for God is all around. Yet, despite this, only a minority of people in this country (Australia) and around the world, meet the criteria of believing in God (as he has revealed himself), and being a Christian (as defined in the Bible).

So, what do people think will happen to them when they die? Well that’s up to each individual to know whether they believe or are prepared in anyway. However, my concern is that the issue of life after death is largely ignored, and put off for the future, for the more immediate issue of simply living for today.

Posted: 4th November 2017
© 2017, Brian A Curtis
www.21stcenturybible.com.au

Escaping Life

Suicide prevention is a hot topic in the news today. And whilst it is terribly sad that some get so low they feel that they have to take the ultimate escape, ending one’s life permanently is not the only way people try to escape life. Indeed, escaping life is far more common than many people might like to admit.

Some people try to escape by overeating. Others drink excessive quantities of alcohol, or smoke. Some look for their highs in more risky ways—through living as a thrill seeker, or experimenting with illicit drugs. And others try to escape life by re-interpreting the world around them, to make it into something more palatable.

Now, if you add up all these different elements, you end up with a lot of people trying to escape life, in one way or another.

But what exactly is it that people are trying to escape from? And why can’t people be content with the world as it is?

Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to either of these questions—people’s reasons for escape are varied and complex. But if there is a God who created us to have a relationship with him, and if there is a God who created the world for us live in, then it’s probably not just the world that people are trying to escape from, but God himself.

And that raises the question, “What is it about God that people find unacceptable?” And, “What is it about his world that people feel that they need to escape?”

Now complicating the issue further, is that mankind has a history of turning away from God or remaking him in their own image. In addition, the world that God created has been corrupted by mankind, to become the world that we know today. So, if people are trying to escape from God and his creation, is it really God and his creation that people are running from? Or is it the distorted image of God and the world that we have corrupted that have become the real problems?

And I say that, because I find a relationship with God, as he has revealed himself, and an understanding of his world, as he created it, to be the very things that I live for. Indeed, they give me real meaning and purpose in life, and a reason to strive deeper in my relationship with God. Yes, there are times when I feel down, and, yes, there are times when things might seem too much. But, as a general rule, I don’t need that external stimuli; I don’t need to escape from life. Indeed, the excitement and thrills that other people seek, I find in my very satisfying relationship with my creator.

The difference is, of course, that I don’t want to escape from God’s world at all. And my “buzz” doesn’t harm me either. I want to embrace my maker and his creation, and I want to engage in the thrill of living my life with God, as he intended it to be.

Now does that mean that I have something that others don’t? Well, probably “yes.” But is it something that others want? That is the vexed question. Because many people today don’t seem to want to live their life with God, as he has revealed himself, at all.

Is it any wonder, then, that people seek to escape the world, as God created it, with all the problems that that entails. And is it any wonder, that any solution (counselling or otherwise) provided for those who are down, which ignores God and his creation, is no real solution to their problem at all.

Posted: 9th December 2017
© 2017, Brian A Curtis
www.21stcenturybible.com.au

2016
Individualism vs the Common Good
Whatever our view of the world, it is hard to dispute the fact that our culture today is very different from that of the past. In particular we seem to have lost much of the concept of community, and replaced it with a model based around the individual. Indeed we seem to have become obsessed with the idea of what’s best for us as individuals, and how we can maintain and uphold our own individual rights.

Of course there has never been a time when some individuals haven’t promoted their own wants and desires above the needs of the community. But in the 21st century this has become much more pronounced. As a consequence, we live in a society which seems to be constantly telling us what we need to do as individuals to be ahead of the game, and what we need to do in order for our personal rights to be upheld. Furthermore the “What’s in it for me?” attitude is actively encouraged. So for example at election time, there is a distinct element of “sweeteners” – things to our own personal advantage – if only we would vote in a particular way.

In many ways the phrases “I want this,” “I deserve that,” and “What’s in it for me?” have become the catchphrases of the society to which we belong – where the emphasis is on the individual, not on the community. And that is in striking contrast with the kind of community in which God intended us to live.

Indeed, from a biblical perspective, what God intended was that we should live together, helping one another out. He provided a system with two common beliefs. Firstly, that God should be the central focus of the community (Commandments 1-4); and, secondly, that everyone should be actively involved in promoting the health and welfare of the community (Commandments 5-10). The idea was that we are to be involved and committed to the worship of God, and encouraging and building up others in the faith, whilst actively pursuing unity within the community, and making it possible for weaker members to participate in as full a way as possible.

In other words God’s society was (and is) not about “What I want” or “What I deserve” or “What my rights are”. But it is about everyone coming together, and helping and encouraging one another. The two systems couldn’t be more different.

So for example, God’s idea of society involves the need for the community to uphold the sanctity of life. (And from God’s perspective life begins at (or before) conception.) Whereas our society (depending upon the jurisdiction) allows for the termination of the unborn, the freezing of fertilised eggs, embryonic stem cell research, and euthanasia.

From God’s perspective the family unit (man, woman and offspring) is the basic structure of a healthy community. Yet our society seems quite happy to flaunt God’s standards, by promoting a more casual view of sexual relationships, and challenging the basic premise of the family unit.

The reason for the differences, of course, is that our society does not have, or want, God as its central focus. People are uncomfortable living by God’s standards. So much so that they have not only needed to reinvent him, but remodel his design too. But what that has done is to create a society that is godless, and splintered. We have forgotten that God gave his laws and his principles for living for a reason, and that we need God’s laws and principles in order to have those healthy relationships that we need so much.

When a problem is discovered, today, it is often said that we have the intelligence, ability, and wisdom to fix it. But if we can’t put God first, and live together as God intended, how can that be true? If we can’t get the basics right, then all we do is to compound the problem, not solve it. Indeed pretending that we know better does not solve anything.

Without God we lose the sanctity of life. Without God we lose the family unit. Without God we lose the community on which we need to depend. And without God all we are left with is the delusion that we can fix anything.

To fix the problems of the world our society needs to make a fundamental shift. It needs to move away from the “I” and become a “We” society. And it needs to put God first, not us. That doesn’t mean that we should lose all of our individual differences, but it does mean that we should use all the gifts and talents that he has given each of us for the common good.

The principles for a healthy community cannot be tampered with, without dire consequences. We need the one’s God set out. We need to get our relationship with him sorted out, so that we can begin to live in a healthy community. Get God’s principles right (and none of us are perfect), and we will then begin to know and understand what life is truly all about.

Posted: 24th January 2016
© 2016, Brian A Curtis
www.21stcenturybible.com.au

My Kind of Church
I am a retired Anglican clergyman. As a consequence I was able one Sunday, in February 2016, to visit a church of a different denomination. However, as I was leaving I was asked, “Do you only normally go to an Anglican Church because you are an ordained Anglican clergyman?” It was an unusual question—not one that I have been used to being asked. But the question hit a nerve, not least of all because I have asked myself that question many times.

Now I am someone who has sat in many different churches. I have also conducted and participated in services in churches of other denominations. And in many ways I feel that I don’t really fit into the Anglican Church at all. But then, I have often asked myself, “Where would I fit in?” After all, I may feel more comfortable in some churches than in others, but the reality is that none of the churches that I have ever been to, or have associated myself with, have ever met the criteria that I look for in a church.

As a consequence I replied to the question with the only true answer I could give. And it was not because of denominational loyalty, but rather, “Because I believe that is where God wants me to be.”

The sad thing, for me, about the question, was to be reminded of how uncomfortable I am (and I am sure many others are) about the state of the church universal. After all, it is supposed to be God’s church, and I should fit in. But I don’t. So with this in mind, I thought I needed to put down on paper some of the basic aspects of the kind of church that I would like to belong to. And using the formula of the Ten Commandments this is what I came up with:

Principle 1: True Loyalty—A church that has its focus 100% on the living God. A congregation that puts God before family, friends or any other distractions. A church where the people are wholehearted in their beliefs, and where God always comes first.

Principle 2: True Worship—A church which gives God his true worth. One which is centred around God, and not the balance sheet. One that is based on God’s message, not on the things we like. One where the buildings and aids to worship have little value in comparison to the worship of God.

Principle 3: Reverence for YHWH—A church which reveres God’s name. One in which the people provide 100% of the income, and where fundraising outside of the community of faith has no place. One that does not muddy the waters by trying to meet the expectations of people outside of the church.

Principle 4: Holy Time—A church that takes seriously the need to meet regularly, and on other occasions, and discourages a less than 100% commitment to God and the community of believers. A church that does not encourage activities that compete with the need to meet together and worship God as a community.

Principle 5: Family Responsibilities—A church that encourages the Christian community as a whole. A church that teaches, builds up, encourages, and supports the members of the family of believers.

Principle 6: The Sanctity of Life—A church that recognises the importance of life, from conception, and takes a stand against anything that devalues life. Furthermore, a church that actively supports its poorer members.

Principle 7: The Sanctity of Marriage—A church that acknowledges the basic family unit—father, mother, children—and encourages fidelity in marriage amongst its members.

Principle 8: Respect for Other People’s Property—A church that practices the right of its members to own possessions. Particularly the need for families to own enough to support themselves.

Principle 9: Justice—A church that practices fairness and justice. A church that upholds the rights of others.

Principle 10: Right Thinking—A church that looks at the world through God’s eyes, and not from the perspective of individuals or even the community in which they live.

Now in one sense what I am looking, even yearning, for is a church that doesn’t exist. Because what I have listed are ideals to be sought for, rather than what I could possibly expect. Unfortunately, I have never found a church that even remotely aspires to the kind of challenge provided by these ten principles. And in that lies the real problem. Because the kind of church that I have described is surely the kind of church to which we should all aspire, no matter what denomination we belong to.

So am I an Anglican? Do I fit into the Anglican church? Well the answer to both questions is probably not. But then I’m not sure that I will ever truly fit in, no matter where I will be. But that may not be because of the original principles on which the various denominations are based. Rather it may well be because of what the churches have become. And sometimes that seems a long way away from the principles that God laid out for his people so long ago.

Posted: 5th March 2016
© 2016, Brian A Curtis
www.21stcenturybible.com.au

No Safe Haven for Believers
One of the most common news stories in our bulletins and newspapers these days is regarding the mass migration of people searching for a new home. Indeed there’s a lot in the press about the plight of refugees, and the lengths that some will go to, to find a safe haven.

Of course not all the publicity is good—most of it is bad. And that isn’t helped by people who are seen to be “queue jumpers,” by economic migrants pretending to be refugees, and by people keen to make money from the misfortune of others.
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Whichever way you read the news, the world is in a sorry state. And the cause … Well there are so many reasons. But at the heart of the matter is usually greed for wealth and power, or intolerance for the unalike—whether in terms of religious beliefs, ethnic background, colour, sex, or whatever.

Now some might suggest that the simple solution is for matters to be resolved in the country of origin. Or, failing that, for other countries to welcome people in with open arms. But are either of these solutions realistic? And is the provision of an environment where people can be physically safe all that is required?

After all, there is more to life than just being physically safe. True sanctuary needs to involve other kinds of security too.

The problem for those with hard held religious beliefs, though, is that there may be no such thing as a safe haven. Because even western countries which may appear to meet the physical safety criterion cannot necessarily provide the spiritual security that religious people need.

Indeed, using the Christian faith as an example, Christians would have to be one of the largest groups who face persecution in the world. So if you were to take a map of the world, and colour in the countries where Christians are persecuted, you would probably include all countries where the predominant religion is Islam, Judaism, and Hinduism. You would also colour in many other countries where other religions are dominant. Your map would then show huge blocks where Christians are persecuted and not welcome. But then colour in those countries which at one time or another have claimed to be “Christian”, but where the Christian principles have been eroded, and there wouldn’t be any countries left at all.

Even in the west, a refugee might find an immediate safe haven from the physical abuse they are fleeing, but the constant shift of western societies away from Christian or other religious principles means that their religious beliefs will still remain under attack.

Indeed, the current pressure on western governments to review the definition of marriage, not only undermines the family unit, but attacks the beliefs of practicing Christians, Muslims and Jews alike. The emphasis on the nuclear family over the extended family, the emphasis away from the rights of the unborn baby (through abortion, remedies for infertility, or medical reasons), and even the emphasis on a welfare society—taking the responsibilities away from the extended family—all serve to attack the family unit on which all three religions have a solid base. Indeed the idea that democracy is the superior form of government is in itself an attack on the beliefs of practicing Christians, Jews and Muslims.

As a consequence the west may offer physical sanctuary in the short term, but it cannot solve the longer term issue of providing a sanctuary which is safe from spiritual attack. Indeed, far from solving the problem, accepting religious refugees within the context of a secular society may actually make their situation much much worse.

Of course, one of the problems that Christians face in western societies is the accommodation of new ideas by the secular world. And the adoption of the concept of “positive discrimination,” to help those less fortunate, is one such idea. It is an idea which on the surface can be seen to be very positive. Unfortunately emphasising one group for special treatment is usually at the detriment of another. As a consequence, in order to accommodate some of the beliefs and practices of other religious groups, the beliefs and practices of Christians may be considered fair game.

Now persecution does not necessarily have to be overt. And yet that is where the current focus lies. With the emphasis on solving the immediate problem what is often forgotten or ignored are the more subtle things that eat away at people’s beliefs. And that may create a situation, in the longer term, far more damaging, and have greater impact, than the current problem of the mass exodus from places like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

In many ways western society tries to be seen to embrace other beliefs and cultures. Indeed it may advocate “freedom of religion” but it doesn’t seem to understand the complications that living in a secular society really brings.

So where do refugees go? Well for those who want to live a secular existence they may well fit in to countries offering them sanctuary—both in the short term and the long. But what about people of faith? Where do they go? Because even if they find physical sanctuary now, what is the long term solution?

Of course from a Christian perspective there is only one solution. That is for everyone in the world to have faith in Jesus Christ. Unfortunately that is probably not a realistic expectation. And indeed the world seems to be headed in the opposite direction.

For example, in the past the Christian church may have enjoyed a privileged position in many parts of the world, but that is no longer the case. And the situation is not likely to improve. But then that’s not really surprising. After all both Jesus and Paul talked about Christians having to live in two worlds at the same time—this hostile world and the next.

We shouldn’t be surprised then to find that there are no safe havens for anyone with spiritual beliefs anywhere in the world. And that is particularly true for Christians. Indeed the only safe haven for Christians today remains in the context of a faith in Jesus Christ.

Posted: 30th May 2016
© 2016, Brian A Curtis
www.21stcenturybible.com.au

A Clash of Cultures
It is not news that we live in troubled times. Nor is it news that our headlines are constantly bombarded with reports of “hate” crimes and “terrorism.” Indeed our news is full of terrorist acts—either in their planning or in the events themselves. It is also full of “hate” stories involving ethnic differences, religious intolerance, and sexual orientation.

But what seems extraordinary to me, is that when a story is reported, it invariably includes a lot of head shaking, and denial. Indeed people are constantly seen scratching their heads trying to understand why.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t wish to uphold what is happening in our world in any way. But if there are to be solutions, then we need to identify what the problems are. And simply shaking our heads, pretending not to understand, is not going to help solve the issues at all.

And yet, for the most part, the answer seems very clear. Some are symptoms of greed, envy, or frustration. Whilst others are simply a clash of cultures, which some people are willing to exploit.

From a Christian point of view, they are also an indication that we are all sinners. And that we are not only out of touch with God, but that we are out of touch with the principles he provided for living. Indeed despite calls for “tolerance” and “understanding,” we are faced with dilemmas, for which there can be no man-made resolution.

For example, Christian values require a society based around God and the community. And yet in the west we live in a culture that has shifted some distance away from those values. Our modern experience is in living in a more godless and individualistic society—a society based around “what’s in it for me” and “I can do what I like.” And this contrasts considerably with the biblical values which revolve around what is needed for a community to be heathy and thriving.

As a consequence there is a clash of values between people of faith, and those who have little time for God. And the Christian church is not alone in this dilemma. Indeed Judaism and Islam share many of the same tensions.

But it’s not that Christian’s don’t care. Indeed they do. But given the choice between following God’s way and following man’s ways, there is no room for compromise. Because tolerance—accepting other people’s values—is one thing that God warned his people to avoid. And why? Because it would harm the believer’s relationship with their Creator.

Calls for “tolerance” from the secular world, then, can be seen as an attack on religious values. And pride marches, and “in your face” attitudes and responses do not help either. Indeed all they do is to aggravate the existing divisions.

With diametrically opposed beliefs, then, there can be no win-win scenario. Furthermore, pointing the finger of blame at a single perpetrator often misses the point. Extremists may wish to exploit differences for their own purposes, but so-called “hate” crimes and “terrorism” are often a symptom of a much bigger problem. And shaking one’s head in ignorance or denial will do nothing to help the situation.

We shouldn’t be surprised, then, when tensions between faith and western culture blow up. But it isn’t necessarily as simple as “hatred” or “terrorism.” Indeed it may well be a sign of the jealous love of the faithful in trying to uphold God’s standards—even if at times it comes out in a very inappropriate way.

Posted: 21st June 2016
© 2016, Brian A Curtis
www.21stcenturybible.com.au

Bad Language
One of the features of modern life is the constant use of bad language. In busy city streets it can be a rare occasion when swear words or profanities are not heard. On television, the use of cursing and vulgar language, particularly in comedies and films, is also quite common place. Indeed, it appears that the inclusion of such language is a necessary ploy, in order to engage the intended audience.

Of course in most cases the use of such language is unnecessary. It simply demonstrates an ignorance of language (English or otherwise). It also adds nothing to the act or scene. On the contrary, it detracts from the message that is being portrayed. It also means that the message is lost on the audience that have chosen to switch off, rather than listen to something that is rude and offensive.

Now one of the features of bad language is the constant misuse of words that describe the things that should be held sacred in life. And most commonly these relate to either our creator or to our intimate relationships. As a consequence offensive language often relates to God or sex. Hence the terms God, Jesus, Lord, and Christ, are just some of the terms that are often misused.

Complicating the issue further, however, is that over the centuries language has changed. And a term that was coined several centuries ago may have lost its original meaning. Hence the terms Jeez (Jesus), Lordy (Lord), Gee (Jesus), Gawd Blimey (God blind me), Goddam (God damn), Good grief (Good God), and Crikey (Christ).

Now, of course, on that basis one could easily ask, “Are only the first group of misused words offensive? And are the ones that have apparently lost their meaning, now OK? Or Are both groups equally as bad?” To which our answer should be based around the words of God himself. “You are not to use the name of YHWH your God in a worthless manner. YHWH will punish anyone who uses his name in this way”? (Exodus 20:7; Deuteronomy 5:11)

So is one group any better than the other? Or do both groups equally put God in a bad light?

Well it seems to me that the lost or forgotten profanities denigrate God, just as much as the more blatant ones. They all abuse the name of God, and they are all used in such negative contexts. As a consequence the answer must be that none of them are right. On the contrary we are to respect and uphold God’s name.

Which is why I believe that the appropriate action to offending TV programmes, is to switch them off. And if enough people did that—indeed if all Christians did that—then I’m sure that the programmers would soon get the message.

Having said that, however, I am amazed at the frequency of use of the more obscure, and forgotten, profanities, even by those who are offended by the more blatant bad language. Indeed they are used so often, that hardly anyone blinks an eye.

Posted: 13th July 2016
© 2016, Brian A Curtis
www.21stcenturybible.com.au

Unravelling Epiphany, Advent and Christmas
We live in a world that is constantly changing and evolving, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worst. Of course the most obvious change these days is technology—where one thing is constantly being replaced by another. But change also occurs in other ways, particularly in some of the things we hold dear. And the church is not immune to those changes. After all, Christmas these days has become a major festival. But as little as two hundred years ago it wasn’t celebrated much at all.

The question today, though, is: Do we want to accept and adopt all the changes? Or do we want to hang on (or even revert back) to the things that we might consider valuable?

Now in the church, there used to be an important day in the calendar which was considered far more important than Christmas—Epiphany, celebrated on the sixth of January each year. But it is a day that for many, these days, comes and goes largely forgotten. But Epiphany has been celebrated since at least the third century AD, and had as its original theme: the revelation of God to the world in Jesus Christ.

The theme was based on the story of the baptism of Jesus—the story of Jesus revealing himself to the world as he began his earthly ministry. And with the introduction of Advent, which at its peak was a six week period of reflection and preparation for baptism, Epiphany marked the final day of the festival. Indeed it was at Epiphany that those who had prepared for baptism during Advent would be baptised, having proved that they were genuine in their beliefs and that they were ready for the Second Coming and Judgment Day.

Epiphany, then, was a very important festival in the life of the church. Indeed the church’s calendar was based around the three important festivals of Easter, Pentecost and Epiphany.

Unfortunately, with the adoption in the fourth century of the celebration of the birth of Jesus, Epiphany and Advent became confused with Christmas. And in the Western Church, Advent was shrunk to four weeks, and became a time of preparation for Christmas. Meanwhile Epiphany became confused with the visit of the wise men.

When we consider the world in a constant state of change, then, even the church has not been immune. Consequently Epiphany has lost its original meaning, and today is hardly considered an important festival at all.

But should that be? Because up to the third century the early church’s emphasis was on the work and ministry of Jesus, and the establishment of the church. Consequently Epiphany celebrated the beginning of Jesus’s ministry, Easter celebrated his death and resurrection, and Pentecost celebrated the promised ‘another counsellor’ and the establishment of God’s church. In other words, the early church was not interested in making a major celebration of the nativity at all.

Of course, Matthew has written down the story from Joseph’s perspective, and Luke has recorded Mary’s. But it was only because of the need to rid Roman Society of the worship of the sun God, around the twenty-fifth of December, that the birth of Jesus was added to the calendar at all. And that should suggest to us that the motivation for adding the celebration of the birth of Jesus to the Christian calendar was not thought through properly as it should have been. Indeed, the emphasis on Jesus’s adult life and the life and the work of God’s church has suffered.as a result.

Of course, in order to return the calendar back to its original balance, there is a need to reject what Epiphany has become, wind back the clock to a time before the introduction of Christmas, and restore Epiphany to its former glory. But this would then restore Epiphany to its original meaning: recalling Jesus’s first recorded adult public appearance, with his baptism by John. The emphasis then would be restored to the event that triggered off the commencement of Jesus’s ministry, with all his teaching, miracles, and the calling of his disciples. In other words it would restore the model of ministry on which we should shape much of our lives.

But if we do that, where does that leave the wise men? After all, learned men, specialising in astrology, probably from Babylonia (or modern day Iraq), is an important part of the nativity story. And their gifts are nothing to be sneezed at either: i.e. gold—a symbol of ultimate value fit for a king; frankincense—an expensive perfume burned in worship and on important social occasions fit for a deity; and myrrh—a luxurious cosmetic fragrance associated with suffering and death. Indeed they are gifts of the affluent; gifts suitable for a king. But we have to remember that the story of the wise men is just one story, in a book of important stories. And it is neither possible, nor sensible, to have days to celebrate them all.

Indeed, the wisdom of the early church was to choose two or three events for special celebration—events which were pivotal in helping people on their spiritual journeys. As a consequence they chose Epiphany, with the celebration of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry; Easter, with the celebration of his death and resurrection; and Pentecost, with the celebration of the gift of the promised ‘another counsellor,’ and the establishment of God’s church. Lent and Advent were then added as times of reflection and preparation for baptism, leading up to either Easter or Epiphany.

The current emphasis in the church on the birth of Jesus, then, I believe, is a mistake. But it is a mistake that began in the fourth century AD, in an attempt to wipe out the worship of the sun. The sad thing is that we are now living with the consequences.

Now, of course, we can choose to accept what has happened, and continue to celebrate Christmas on the twenty-fifth of December, or we can restore the calendar to what was originally intended. And if we do the latter, yes it means eliminating the celebration of Christmas—at least in its current position. But it also means restoring Advent to its earlier six week period, with its emphasis on the Second Coming and Judgement Day. To me this is the best option.

But what about those who would like to continue to celebrate the birth of the Messiah? Well I suggest that a (minor) celebration of the nativity could still be included in the church’s calendar. But perhaps it could be in September—away from the Advent/Epiphany period—at a time when many experts tell us is more likely to have been Jesus’s actual birthday.

Posted: 16th October 2016
© 2016, Brian A Curtis
www.21stcenturybible.com.au

Psalm: A Message from God
Listen, my creation; hear, my people.
In days of old I gave my people commandments; instructions to help them on their way.
They were not laws that would save them; they were not even rules they could keep.
But they were principles to keep them healthy; goals to keep them on track.

But did they keep them? No, they didn’t.
Did they try? No, they found better things to do.
Indeed, they turned away from me; they found other gods to follow.
They abandoned me, the one God who created and cared for them.

So I sent my son to save them, and to save you.
He was born, and lived; he faced life with all its hardships and pain.
He felt the same pressures, the same happiness and sadness.
Then he paid the penalty for their sake; he died for your sins.

But despite that, my people, what has happened?
People are saved by faith, not by law—and that is how it should be.
But the laws I gave to my people were a guide on how to live.
There were principles for healthy living, and a healthy community.

So, what is it you don’t understand, my people?
Is there something you really don’t know?
I’ve given you rules on what I expect; principles for everyday living.
So why do you ignore the things that I say?

I asked you to place me first, but you ignore me.
You don’t meet as I asked; you prefer to go your own way.
You find other things to do; other distractions to follow.
You see worship as optional; not necessary at all.

I gave you guidance on building a community, but you ignore it.
I gave your rules about relationships, but again you go your own way.
Your world is disintegrating around you; you have lost any sense of community.
Your laws have replaced mine, and they are no help to you at all.

And so, my people; so, my church,
where are you? I don’t recognise you at all.
Is it any wonder that your churches are closing, and your world is falling part.
What more can I say? When you abandon me look what happens.

But as for me, I am still here; I am still ready to listen.
So turn to me, and let me take my part.
I will wrap you in my wings; I will take you where you need to go.
So turn to me, my people; have faith in me, my creation.

Posted: 24th October 2016
© 2016, Brian A Curtis
www.21stcenturybible.com.au

The Marriage Act versus a Biblical View of Marriage
In February 2015 I wrote an article called “Is the Marriage Act Worth Saving?” Its basic thrust was that regardless of the same-sex marriage debate, the Marriage Act, in Australia at least, did not meet biblical standards. And if that was the case, why was the church being so protective of the act? Indeed, why was the church participating in the execution of the Marriage Act at all? At the time I had it in mind to do a comparison of the positions (that should be) held by the State and the Church. So now I hope to make explicit the differences between the two.

Of course, the first major difference is that the State requires certain paperwork and an approved ceremony of some description before a couple can be considered “married.” The bible, however, makes no such requirement. Indeed, the bible tells us that marriage is a gift from God for all mankind, and provides no comment whatsoever on the need for a ceremony—it only comments on the (typically) prior celebrations.

The second major difference is that the State limits marriage to a union between one man and one woman. But again the Bible makes no such limitation. Yes, the bible agrees that marriage is between a male and a female, but it doesn’t limit the number of spouses to one. Polygamy is excluded under the Marriage Act, and in western societies is not commonly practiced. However, the Bible does not exclude any such relationships. Indeed it provides some regulations regarding the practice.

And the third major difference between the Marriage Act and the Bible is in regard to prohibited relationships. In the case of the Marriage Act there is only a short list of prohibited relationships. It excludes relationships between ancestors and descendants, and brothers and sisters. Similarly it excludes relationships with adopted children, which for the purpose of the act are considered to have the same relationship as those more naturally born. But that is as far as the exclusions go.

In contrast, the Bible’s list of excluded relationships is far more detailed. Yes it includes relationships between parents and children, and brothers and sisters. In other words it picks up the same blood relationships as excluded by the Marriage Act. But then it goes further to include any family relative. Furthermore it excludes certain non-blood relationships, like father’s wife (who is not your mother), aunt by marriage, daughter-in-law, sister-in-law, and wife’s sister.

Of course one could easily ask, “Why is there such a difference in the list of prohibited relationships? Why does the State principally exclude immediate blood-relationships, yet the bible’s list is much more comprehensive?” Well, the answer depends on your understanding of the purpose of the lists. The Marriage Act has as its primary focus blood-relationships. As a consequence it suggests that the main focus of society is to avoid the problems associated with in-breeding. On the other hand, the Bible’s lists tend to suggest a greater concern for the functioning of families. And that is confirmed by the fact that the biblical rules were given by God within the context of laws intended to maintain a healthy community.

When it comes to the Church and marriage, then, there are many questions that the church needs to ask regarding its involvement with the State concerning the Marriage Act. After all:

1. Should the church be limiting marriage to only those people who have made verbal commitments to each other in a ceremony approved by the State?
2. Should the church be rejecting those who choose to live in polygamous relationships? And
3. Should the church be limiting its understanding of marriage—to exclude blood relatives only—so that it misses God’s concern about healthy families and healthy communities?

Now the answers to those three questions should be: No, No, and No. But in which case, the question still stands: “Why is the church participating in the execution of the Marriage Act? And why is the church seen to be defending the current act, rather than actively pointing to its deficiencies?”

Furthermore, if the church is turning a blind eye (or giving tacit approval) to some of God’s excluded relationships, then how can it be expected to be taken seriously when it chooses to uphold others? Indeed the whole situation leaves the church open to accusations of hypocrisy.

At the heart of the matter, then, is that God has given us principles for healthy families, and healthy communities. Now some of us might not understand the reasoning behind God’s rules. Others might like to change the rules to suit ourselves. Nevertheless if God is to be taken seriously, then we need to accept that he may well know things that we don’t. And as a consequence, it’s not what you or I want that’s important, it’s what God wants that counts. Indeed, deviate from God’s path, and we leave ourselves open to dire consequences. But stick to God’s plans, and we have the recipe for a healthy community.

So where does this leave the church? Well many churches are waiting to see what happens in the same-sex marriage debate, before considering any action in regards to the Marriage Act. However it seems to me that there is no need to wait. In a sense, the same-sex debate is irrelevant to how the church should be thinking in terms of the Marriage Act.

Because if the current Marriage Act falls well short of God’s standards—which it does—the church should be speaking out about the current act, not supporting or defending it. Indeed any church that is participating in the execution of the Marriage Act, should be abandoning their practice right now. They should not be waiting until the State decides one way or another on the same-sex marriage debate.

References:
For excluded relationships see: Exodus 22:16-17, 19, Leviticus 18:6-23; 20:10-21; Deuteronomy 22:30
For the Marriage Act see: Marriage Act 1961, including amendments up to Act No. 61, 2016

Posted: 29th October 2016
© 2016, Brian A Curtis
www.21stcenturybible.com.au

Syncretism and the Christian Faith
Syncretism, the amalgamation of different beliefs, is something that has occurred throughout history. Now in some ways it is a very understandable practice, particularly when there are aspects of other beliefs which can seem so attractive. But because of that, the Israelites were warned against it. Indeed, as they were preparing to enter the Promised Land, God was quite specific—his people were not to adopt the gods of the people of Canaan, and they were not to engage in their religious practices.

Now you don’t have to be a genius to understand God’s warning. Adopting other gods is tantamount to replacing the creator. Furthermore, adopting their practices has the effect of diminishing God, reducing him down to our level. But what happened was that the Israelites did both. Some adopted other gods in their lives, whilst others engaged in the practices of the Canaanites.

Even in the early pages of the Bible, then, there are stories and illustrations of syncretism. There are stories of people who abandoned their faith in God, for the pursuit of the worship of idols. And there are stories of people who incorporated the beliefs and practices of others, whilst maintaining some sort of faith in the living God. The consequent result was a disaster. It was a disaster for the people, and it was a disaster for God. And it was one that God needed to respond to.

Unfortunately for us, syncretism is not just a problem that is described in the pages of the Bible. It is a problem that over the centuries the church has had to face too. Indeed even today in Africa, and elsewhere in the world, Christianity has been blended with animistic and ancestral beliefs. But even in the western world the Christian faith has been mixed with all sorts of other beliefs and practices—some of which are obvious, and others which are more subtle.

For example, the mental, physical and spiritual practices of Yoga, and the Martial Arts, are very much tied up in other religions. And yet many Christians practice them. Astrology, séances, etc., are also practiced by members of our congregations, and yet they are denounced in the pages of the Old Testament. Even Halloween, which is becoming more popularised today, has as its base some very questionable pagan roots.

So, sadly, Syncretism is alive and well and very much part of our churches today. Indeed, many of the practices I’ve mentioned have gained deep roots in the life of some members. Church people practice Yoga, they read their stars, and churches hire out their halls for all sorts of incompatible practices. So much so, that in order to de-syncretise the faith, there will need to be a major cultural shift in the church today. But hopefully that shift will be based on a review of biblical principles, an honest appraisal of current practices and beliefs, and a genuine commitment to restoring Christian beliefs and practices to those prescribed by God.

Yes, we may need to abandon some of the things that we love. And, yes, we may need to be ruthless. But we need to decide whether we are for God or against him. We will also need to decide whether we are committed to God, as he describes himself, or whether we are content to continue to adjust him, to make him more comfortable with every-day thinking.

Posted: 24th November 2016
© 2016, Brian A Curtis
www.21stcenturybible.com.au

Advice to a Struggling Church
My ministry as a clergyman has principally been in declining multi-centred parishes. Declining, because of a continual history of digging the heels in, rather than being willing to be led by God; and multi-centred, because of the need to maintain some sort of ministry presence.

The main features of the parishes that I have been involved with, have been: rural, having several churches some distance apart, and each being poorly attended. Indeed it has not been unusual on a Sunday to conduct three or (sometimes) four services in different locations, travel two hundred kilometres, and see a total of twenty to thirty people.

Of course, ministry under those circumstances is largely designed to fail, because all the minister can do is to maintain the status quo. However, I have always worked on the basis that no matter how dire the circumstances, God can do great things. So when I was given an opportunity to give some advice to another struggling church, recently, I was in a good position to do so.

Now they weren’t quite at the stage that I’ve just described, but they were well on the way. The parish, of which they were a part, had been placed under review. And I’m sure they were looking for someone else to solve all their problems. As a consequence, I said to them:

Firstly, the only people who can solve the problems in this church are you. Not the committee of management, but you.

Secondly, if you want to stop the downward spiral, you will need to accept God’s help (and that will undoubtedly involve abandoning some of the things you love);

Thirdly, as you think of the future, remember that you are not the only church in this parish, and that you need at all times to consider the needs of the other congregation; and

Fourthly, when you provide care for the members of the parish, particularly remember the Rector, and his family.

Having been a Rector myself, I am well aware that it is a most difficult, lonely and unappreciated job. Clergy have to make decisions that are not always popular. As a consequence Clergymen and clergywomen are not normal members of the congregation. They cannot be your friends in the same way as other members of the congregation.

Of course, how well the message was received, only time will tell. But as someone who has constantly found themselves trying to pick up the pieces of churches who have continued the downward spiral to self-destruction, I can only hope.

Posted: 26th December 2016
© 2016, Brian A Curtis
www.21stcenturybible.com.au

2015
Is the Marriage Act Worth Saving?
In recent years, there has been much debate over the Australian Marriage Act. In particular, to whether the definition of marriage should be extended to include same-sex relationships. What has intrigued me in the debate, however, is not so much the issue of same-sex marriage. But rather that much of the debate in Christian circles has assumed the acceptance, and defence, of the status quo.

As a consequence one could easily conclude that the Marriage Act is consistent with a Christian theology of marriage. And that there is no problem with Christian clergy continuing to act as representatives of the State, in the conduct of wedding services.

But is the Marriage Act consistent with Christian theology?

Well, from an Old Testament perspective, we are told of the universal gift of marriage by God (Genesis 2:24). And at its very simplest, marriage is the coming together of two people (a man and a woman), consecrated by sexual union. Indeed, at that stage, no other requirements or limitations were required by God.

It shouldn’t surprise us, then, that in the case of Isaac, when the servant arrived home with his future wife, Isaac “took” Rebekah into his mother’s tent and “she became his wife” (Genesis 24:67). In other words by mutual agreement, they consecrated their decision to live in a permanent marriage relationship.

Of course, this example makes nonsense of the historical ideas of “living-in-sin”, the need for marriage ceremonies, the regulating of ceremonies, and even the idea of “de-facto” relationships. Marriage is simply God’s gift of a permanent intimate relationship between a man and a woman. And it exceeds any requirement that mankind would wish to impose on it, whether for legal or cultural reasons.

Now it didn’t take long for some sort of celebration to become part of the marriage process. And in Jacob’s case a community celebration preceded his intended union with Rachel (Genesis 29:21-30). However no details of any actual ceremony were recorded. Indeed, throughout the bible there are many references to wedding celebrations, but it is strangely silent on any actual wedding ceremony.

We could easily conclude, then, that throughout the bible, there is a history of the growth of celebrations around the act of marriage. But no indication of any wedding ceremony itself. Indeed, a celebration may have simply been followed by the more private act of marriage itself. If this is true, then it would fit neatly with the experiences of Ignatius later in the first century AD. Because he knew much about the engagement of a couple (which could include pledges, rings, dowries, veils, the joining of hands and the kiss). However, he too remained remarkably silent on any actual wedding ceremony itself.

Of course, the basic theology of marriage is not the only thing that conflicts with the current marriage act. There is also the issue of who can marry who. Indeed, the description of prohibited relationships in the Marriage Act is very different to those detailed under the Law of Moses. As a consequence the Marriage Act allows for marriage relationships prohibited by God’s law, and it prohibits marriage relationships deemed acceptable by God’s law. As a consequence, the Marriage Act is clearly in conflict with the Judeo-Christian tradition.

One such example of that clash is the concept of polygamy – the marriage of a man to two or more wives. It is a practice not unknown in Australia, and indeed is part of the culture of many migrants to Australia, particularly from Africa and the Middle East. And the practice of Levirate Marriage can be a very important part of some people’s religious beliefs and practices. And yet, despite the practice being acceptable under the Law of Moses, it is currently a prosecutable offence under Australian law.

Now I have often heard it said, “But that was in Old Testament days. In New Testament times things were quite different”. And yet whilst monogamy had become more of the norm in New Testament times, polygamy was not unheard of. Indeed Paul’s only stated objection to polygamy was in the context of church leadership. He was a confirmed bachelor himself, and was very strong on the need to remain single (1 Corinthians 7:1, 32). As a consequence his concern was that multiple wives would be too big a distraction for a leader in the church (1 Timothy 3:2, 12; Titus 1:6).

The list of prohibited relationships in the Marriage Act, then, reflect modern cultural values. And those values are very different to the values described in the pages of the Bible, irrespective of the same-sex marriage debate.

So the question remains: Should the church continue to defend the Marriage Act? Should it be complicit in maintaining an act that fails to meet God’s standards of marriage? Well, I believe the answer is no. And not only on theological grounds, but also on pastoral grounds too.

After all, as God’s church, we are supposed to reflect God’s values. And we are supposed to care for, promote, and support people based on God’s values – regardless of any inherited cultural beliefs or practices, whether they are enshrined in legislation or not.

The implication, of course, is that the church will need to withdraw its involvement in any marriage ceremony conducted under the current Australian Marriage Act. An action which, no doubt, will cause much pain. But a necessary one, if the church is to be true to God, and true to itself.

Posted: 15th February 2015
© 2015, Brian A Curtis
www.21stcenturybible.com.au

Fundraising and the Christian Church
One of the features of modern church life is the dependence on some sort of fundraising. Undoubtedly it started off in a small way, as a way to bridge a minor gap between income and expenditure. But over the years, for many churches, it has become a major source of income, for which they depend upon for their survival.

Now, no doubt, some might consider fundraising an essential part of church life, as a way of keeping in touch with the non-churched. But is fundraising – that is, asking people outside of the church to contribute towards a church’s income – a legitimate practice for the Christian church? And, indeed, does fundraising come at a cost to the Christian church?

Well I’m going to suggest that it is not a legitimate practice, and that the practice does more harm than good. And to support my argument, I would like to refer to three stories in particular from the Old Testament which speak to the issues involved.

The first story is the story of Abram’s encounter with the king of Sodom. (Genesis 14:18-23) Because after having rescued his Nephew, Lot, from the kings from the north, Abram returned to the King’s Valley not only with Lot, but with an amount of booty as well. Now the king of Sodom, even though he had no legitimate claim to the booty, laid claim on it. And in response, Abram relinquished any claim, lest he be considered indebted to the king in any way. In other words, Abram quite clearly understood the problem of being beholden to others. And was prepared to relinquish his claim to the booty, rather than let that happen.

The second story takes us to Mount Sinai (Leviticus 27:30-33). For there God gave his chosen people a law regarding tithing. The idea was that one-tenth of a person’s income was to be given to God, and that that tenth was then to be used for God’s work. However, importantly, the law was only given to “the congregation of Israel”. In other words it was specifically for God’s people, who at the time were all those whom God had rescued from Egypt: i.e. the members of the 12 tribes of Israel, plus and foreigners who had come with them but who were part of the congregation. In other words the system that God provided to maintain his work in the worshipping community, was to be fully funded by the worshipping community. Indeed there was no provision for any contribution outside of the people of faith.

And for the third story, I’d like to refer to King David. Because after having authorised a census, he needed to make his peace with God. So he sought a site to build God’s Temple (2 Samuel 24:18-25). In his discussions to purchase the threshing floor, however, the owner offered it to him free of charge, with as much wood, and as many animals as he needed (which must have been a very tempting offer). However, David knew well that if his gift to God of the Temple site was to be worth anything, then he needed to pay full price. He also realised that using a gift that have been given by someone else would not be acceptable to God.

Now in these three stories alone, then, we can identify certain principles regarding giving to God. And I believe that the church today needs to apply those principles when it is tempted to “fill the gap” with fundraising. And for me the two obvious principles are as follows:

The first principle is that, like Israel, the church is intended to be distinct from the outside world. As a consequence putting itself in a position where it can be beholden to others, should clearly not be an option. Indeed how can the church be totally dependent and reliant on God, and how can its message remain totally unadulterated by the world, if it puts itself in a position of influence by others?

Secondly, God has already provided the means for which the church can be maintained, and even grow. As a consequence the quality of the giving within the church, is a reflection of the quality of the relationship between the faithful and God. Poor giving, then, may be a sign that the faithful are not being as faithful as they should be. Indeed lack of finances may well reflect that the faith has been watered down, to make God far more affordable. As a consequence fundraising does not solve the problem. But with increasing dependence may make the situation increasingly worse.

Now with those two principles enshrined in the Old Testament, we could easily ask: what does the church think it is doing in accepting other people’s money? After all, there is a common belief amongst the unchurched that they can do their bit for the church without a biblical faith, and without belonging to an actual church. And fundraising encourages that attitude. Some even conclude that they can earn salvation by their financial contributions; that God will honour what they have given. Now that is not what the church should be teaching, even though that may be what the church is encouraging.

The problem of fundraising then is, yes, it helps with the survival of the church, but survival at what cost? Fundraising, isn’t a fix to the problem, and in many cases simply slows the decline of a congregation. It does nothing to help spread a gospel of faith; but it does encourage a gospel of works.

Instead of fundraising, the church should be looking at a different, more spiritual, approach. Now Malachi, faced the same problem: the “faithful” just weren’t giving. But he didn’t encourage others to give. Instead he encouraged the faithful to stop robbing God, and to recommit their lives to God, including with their finances (Malachi 3:6-10).

Now many Christians today consider that tithing is old hat, because Christians are not living under the old law. And there’s an element of truth in that. But lest anyone think that that leaves Christians off the hook in regard to giving, then they would be quite wrong. Because in the story of Jesus at the Temple treasury (Mark 12:41-44), Jesus watched people as they brought their tithes and offerings to God. As a consequence he was able to commend the poor widow for her sacrificial giving, whilst others simply put in their affordable 10%.

Fundraising, getting others to contribute to the church, then, is a noose around the church’s neck. It doesn’t solve the problem of giving. On the contrary it makes things much worse.

My hope is that someday enough people will realise the seriousness of the problem of fundraising, and, with God’s help, provide enough impetus to return the church to God’s control, using the resources that he has given his chosen people.

Posted: 31st March 2015
© 2015, Brian A Curtis
www.21stcenturybible.com.au

The Use and Abuse of Consecrated Buildings
One of the things that saddens me greatly in the Christian church, is the use of its consecrated buildings for purposes other than for which they were intended. Television programmes like the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow are periodically filmed in the Cathedrals around Britain. Elsewhere, it is not unusual to hear of the church’s consecrated buildings being used for a variety of other non-religious events, including: secular concerts, organ recitals, plays, floral festivals, etc. etc. In addition the use of consecrated buildings for multi-faith services is not unheard of. As a consequence, you could easily wonder why such buildings have been set apart for God at all.

After all, the Old Testament describes God as being holy (Leviticus 19:2). It also details his instruction to the Israelites to build him a Tabernacle (Exodus 25:8); and to consecrate it to him (Exodus 30:26ff). And what that meant was that the structure was to be used for only the purpose that YHWH intended, and for no other purpose. As a consequence straying from the very precise instructions that YHWH gave, resulted in some very serious consequences, as Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, found out when they offered a different incense to what was prescribed (Leviticus 10:1-3).

From the outset, then, we have an example of what it means for a structure to be consecrated to YHWH, and the importance of being true to its intended purpose. And this theme is demonstrated time and time again throughout the books of Kings and Chronicles, when the Temple was either neglected, or used for the worship of other gods.

If God is holy then, and a building is consecrated to God, then that building becomes holy too. And that includes all of our churches that have been consecrated to God. Furthermore, the Old Testament is very strong on the need of the faithful to keep the vows they have made quite freely and without compunction to God (Deuteronomy 23:21-23). Which surely is the case in regards to all of our consecrated buildings.

Now in the Old Testament, God was concerned not only that the Tabernacle/Temple was holy, but that those using it should be holy too. As a consequence he provided instructions to help those using the structures to be acceptable to him. Indeed YHWH only allowed members of the worshipping community to come before him. And that is probably why by New Testament times, in Herod’s Temple, that an outer court had been added – The Court of the Gentiles. Even so, there were strict warnings about Gentiles entering further into the Temple complex.

Now, as can be easily seen, there is a marked difference between the practices of Biblical times(old and New) and the practices of today. Indeed, it seems that today “consecration” has taken on a whole new meaning. So what’s going on? How can we reconcile the differences?

Well it would be easy to say the differences are because Christians now live under a new covenant, whereas the Hebrews lived under the old. But it’s not that simple. Because If we have accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as our saviour, and want to learn more about God, then we would be totally negligent if we didn’t use the wealth of material waiting for our use in the Old Testament. And if we learn what God is like from the Old Testament, then shouldn’t that affect our attitudes and behaviour to him today?

So what are we doing when we use our consecrated buildings for other purposes – secular or inter-faith? Well I believe that we are dishonouring God. We are lowering God, who is supposed to be holy, into the realms of the secular. Even at times putting him on the same level of (so-called) other gods. In doing so, we are effectively turning our backs on our commitment to God, and saying that consecrating things to God is meaningless.

It’s not rocket science to know what God thinks about the misuse of buildings consecrated to him. It’s also not rocket science to know God thinks about not keeping our vows. As a consequence it is mystery why we let it happen.

So, if we know how God thinks, and we still use our buildings for other purposes, then why do we do it?

Well I think there may be a tendency to rationalise the use of our buildings, in terms of inter-faith understanding, outreach to the community or even fundraising for God. Further, consecrating a building may also give us a warm fuzzy feeling. However, I wonder how much we think about what we are intending to use the building for, before we actually consecrate it.

Of course the solution to the problem is simple. We could (and should) restrict the use of buildings to the purpose to which they were consecrated. Or we could deconsecrate our buildings, so that we can continue to use the buildings in the way that we like to have them used. The choice is ours. But if we do the latter, what does that say about our relationship with our creator?

Posted: 21st April 2015
© 2015, Brian A Curtis
www.21stcenturybible.com.au

Restoring Meaning in Christian Baptism
Introduction
Over the years the theology and practice of Christian Baptism has been furiously debated. It has even been the cause of much division within the church. As a consequence, over time, as the church has changed and developed to meet more contemporary demands, it has needed to revisit old ground. It has needed to see whether the church remains true to its mission.

As a consequence, with so many different opinions and practices evident today, I believe that now is the time to revisit the subject once again. Because we need to ask ourselves. ‘Is what we are doing right? Does our theology and practice still meet the demands that Jesus imposed upon his disciples?’

Four Layers to Christian Baptism
To begin this review, I believe that we need to look back at the beginnings of Christian Baptism. And to simplify things I am going to suggest that Christian Baptism is the result of four distinct layers of theology.

Firstly, it has its origins in the Old Testament acts of purification, i.e. the need to be ritually clean before God. Therefore the idea of being clean before God is an important aspect of the practice of baptism. Secondly, by New Testament times, the Jewish practice of proselyte baptism, as a way to initiate non-Jews into the Jewish faith, had become common practice. Therefore the idea of someone being initiated into the membership of the church is also an important issue. Thirdly, the baptism of John (the baptiser) was primarily an ethical act. It asked people to prepare themselves for the coming of the kingdom of God. It involved a commitment to turn away from sinful worldly ways, and a determination to follow God’s ways. As a consequence the turning away from sin is also an important element. And fourthly, and the element that makes it ‘Christian’ Baptism, is the need for a commitment to Christ and his church. To acknowledge that Jesus sacrificed himself, in order that we might be saved from eternal death, with all the repercussions that go with it.

A Test to Prove ‘Genuine’
In other words, for Baptism to be ‘genuine’ it needs to include all four elements. Likewise, I believe, that any candidate for baptism needs to show that they are ‘genuine’ too.

After all, it is no secret that in the Old Testament God took a dim view of people who mouthed the right words, but whose heart wasn’t in it. Further, both Jewish proselyte baptism and John’s baptism of repentance demanded a genuine response. So when Jesus commanded his disciples to go and baptise, we shouldn’t be surprised that he his command was based on people becoming disciples first. Indeed Christian Baptism was intended as the natural response to discipleship. As a consequence, it should not be unrealistic, even today, to expect to see proof of discipleship before baptism takes place. Because only in the context of discipleship is baptism given its proper meaning. It should be a response to a change that has already occurred, spiritually, within a person’s life.

The Practise of Baptism
Now since New Testament times, the way baptism has been practised has varied. Most notable are the two extremes: the first, because of persecution; and the second, through neglect of history.

Because during a time of great persecution, the church faced destruction from people who tried to infiltrate the church, and destroy it from within. So the church instituted a rigorous period of preparation to sort out those who were genuine, from those who weren’t. This involved a lengthy period of teaching, fasting, and examination. And only those who at the end of the examination had proven themselves to be sincere were baptised.

In contrast is the practice that churches, like the Anglican Church, have inherited today. Because whilst the church may have begun on good solid theological grounds, over time the practice, at least, has been watered down to the point where little proof of discipleship is required. Indeed it can seem to many that is has become little more than a superstitious practice – an insurance against a baby dying and missing out on heaven – which includes a “christening” or naming ceremony.

The Practice of Infant Baptism
Now it has to be said, that although there are no direct references to the baptism of children in the bible, there are references to whole families being baptised (which would have included servants and children). In addition, Jesus’ instruction were clear; he wanted children to have free access to him (Luke 18:16). It is no coincidence, then, that the practice of the early church quickly recognised the need to baptise whole families (including the babies of new disciples). What the New testament doesn’t do, however, is provide any detail of what happened next – when new children came along.

Now obviously, young children (or even babies), are not necessarily able to understand the meaning or the commitments made at baptism. As a consequence, in many churches it became the practice that parents and sponsors (godparents) were required to make the commitments on the child’s behalf. It was also the expectation that when the child was able to make a commitment for themselves, they would make their own public confession of faith.

The practice of infant baptism, then, should reflect the important spiritual truth, that faith begins with what God does for us, not with what we do for God. Nevertheless it should still occur within the context of discipleship. It should only be carried out once the parents have shown that they are genuine disciples of Christ, and active members of his church.

Conclusion
Of course, when we don’t get it right, when we lose or add elements to its meaning, we demean the sacrament of baptism. And that is particularly so when we make discipleship no longer a requirement. And that to me demeans our own baptism, as well as being a slap in the face for God.
After all there was a reason why God wanted people to be ‘genuine’ in their practices in the Old Testament. And that was because being less than genuine reflected badly upon him. And the advent of the New Testament, and the post-New Testament era has done nothing to change that.

As a consequence we need to get it right. We need to look at our theology and practices, and restore the meaning back into Christian Baptism. We owe that to our God, and we need to be consistent in our beliefs and practices.

Posted: 23rd June 2015
© 2015, Brian A Curtis
www.21stcenturybible.com.au

A 21st Century Reformation
I have become increasingly conscious of the gulf between the church as described in the pages of the Bible, and the church as I see it today. The church as recorded in Acts 2:42-47 was vibrant, and alive. The people engrossed themselves in God’s word; they understood the concept of community. As a consequence, God was able to bless them, and the church grew. In contrast, today, the church seems to have lost that spark, and it seems to portray little understanding of the biblical concept of covenant community. So it is, perhaps, not surprising that much of the church in the western world is in decline.

Of course, one of the problems for the church today is that it lives in an increasingly godless and individualistic society. God’s principles for living are increasingly set aside, and the rights of the individual are often emphasised to the detriment of the community. But complicating that has been the church’s willingness over the years to immerse itself in western culture, so that, for many, the church has become indistinguishable from the society in which it lives.

My belief, then, is that the church is in a mess – and it’s in a mess of its own making. And we should not be surprised that the message of the Gospel, and the godly way to live, is not getting through.

Now this is not the first time that the church has got it wrong. Over the years the church has got off track many times before. Indeed in the sixteenth century there were a lot of questionable practices and teachings that needed to be addressed.

The question for us today, then, is can we identify the questionable practices and teachings of our own? And if we can, have we got the courage, with God’s help, to deal with them?

Of course identifying problems is one thing, working out how to fix them is another thing altogether. So what do we do? Well I believe that we need to get back to basics. With so many things that we do being very different to the practices of the New Testament, we need to come up with some sort of gauge; we need to be able to assess the authenticity of the things that we do.

In 1517 Luther identified some problems with the church. He then nailed his Ninety-Five Thesis to the Wittenberg Church door. So maybe we should come up with a statement of our own, by which we can gauge the things that we do. And if we did that, and using the passage from Acts 2, we might come up with a series of principles that we can nail to our church doors too. For example:

1. Devoting ourselves to teaching
2. Spending time with one another
3. Sharing meals with each other
4. Praying together
5. Having the expectation of miraculous signs
6. Sharing everything in common, as there is the need
7. Praising God

We might also need to include principles from other passages in the Bible, like in Matthew 28:19-20:

8. Sharing the faith outside of the faith community

Of course getting the principles together is only just the start. We would then need to gauge everything we do by them. We would also need to be willing to start, keep, change or even abandon certain practices, depending upon how they fitted the criteria.

So, for example, if the church has an emphasis on meeting the expectations of the outside community, to the detriment of the mission of the church, then that is something that would need to be addressed. If the church has an emphasis on running government funded welfare programmes, whilst ignoring the needs of the church community, then that too would need to be reassessed. After all, these programmes may make us feel good inside, we may even convince ourselves that they are part of the mission of the church, but even the early church was more concerned about building up the church community than those outside it. It is no coincidence that when the seven deacons were appointed (Acts 6:1-7), that the deacons were appointed to care for those inside the church, not for those outside.

Now I don’t want anyone to get me wrong here. It’s not that we shouldn’t care for those outside the church. We should. However if we get the church right, then everything else will follow. But it doesn’t work the other way around. Indeed, having worked in welfare, for both the government and a Christian Church agency, I know only too well that many members of the public see the church’s role in society as simply another non-government not-for-profit organisation – an organisation they go to for government welfare programmes. And they see little or no connection with the Christian faith as described in the pages of the Bible.

Now I think that’s rather sad. It’s also indicative of how much the church has lost the plot.

For me, a reformation of the church in the 21st Century is a must. There is simply no other option. Because having become aware of the failings of the church, we have the responsibility, with God’s help, to get it back on track. Of course, the process of reform could be a very positive and uplifting experience, but it could also be very painful too. Luther and the other reformers of the sixteenth century did not find reforming the church from within an easy exercise at all. Indeed many were rejected by the church. But shooting the messenger instead of dealing with the message didn’t solve the problem then, and it won’t solve it now.

As members of God’s church, I believe it is incumbent upon all of us to make sure that God’s church remains on the straight and narrow at all times. So when it veers off, we need to try to get it back on track. My hope is that we can recognise that we have a real problem and, with God’s help, are willing to give it a try.

Posted: 9th August 2015
© 2015, Brian A Curtis
www.21stcenturybible.com.au

The Refugee Dilemma
“Once upon a time there was a God, and he looked lovingly down upon his creation. The problem was that most of them wanted nothing to do with him. Try as he may the majority remained content to live their lives independent from their creator.

“But God loved his creation, and there were a few who were faithful to him. But God knew that if they stayed mixed with the others, then their numbers would quickly dwindle. There was much at stake, and he wanted to protect them from the influences of others. So he came up with a plan to separate the faithful from the others. That way the faithful would be less easily lead astray; and that way the faithful could become a beacon to the rest of the world.

“So with plan of action in hand, he began to carry it out. With the help of the faithful he began to clear a space for his faithful to live in. Unfortunately, before they were even finished, the faithful came under the influence of those they were supposed to replace. As a consequence the plan was never fully realised, and God had to come up with another plan to save his faithful.”

One of the strange things I’ve found today is that representatives of the church often speak out on issues, without considering all the theological issues involved. Indeed in regards to the refugee crisis, the leaders have been being quite vocal in terms of the need for compassion for the refugees, but very quiet when it comes to how the growing influence of other beliefs will affect God’s faithful.

The story of God’s covenant people in the Old Testament represents a different side of the story, to that which is currently being advocated by Christian leaders. It describes the lengths that a compassionate God was prepared to go to protect his people. And on that basis a theology of separateness and distinctiveness should also be part of the debate. It shouldn’t be totally ignored.

Now in one sense we live in a secular society, and therefore God’s laws are not seen by the majority to apply. Nevertheless church leaders need to realise that when they speak out, they need to represent all of God’s values, not just some of them – and certainly not only the popular, or more acceptable ones upheld in our society.

Posted: 18th September 2015
© 2015, Brian A Curtis
www.21stcenturybible.com.au

Models of Ministry
The decline of the western church in the 21st Century (spiritually, numerically and financially), has forced many to review the models of ministry on which our churches are based. So, for example, a church which may have employed a minister or pastor to lead the people, may now be forced to consider a different model in order to keep the doors open.

In the Anglican Church in Tasmania, one of the features in rural communities has been the adoption of a model of ordaining local people to act as non-stipendiary clergy. But, whilst in some cases, this approach has helped stem the decline, there is little evidence to suggest that the change has actually helped our churches grow.

But perhaps that’s not surprising. New models of ministry are often hampered by the restraints of a church’s traditions. As a consequence, fiddling at the edges is hardly likely to produce any great result. Indeed, it may make the situation worse.

It would seem to me that the solution to the problem is to not just tinker with a model within the restraints of a denomination or tradition, but rather to go back to basics – to put aside tradition, and look at the problem from a Biblical perspective. And if our struggling churches did that, I would expect them to look very different.

Now one of the things about the structure of the early church was that it varied from place to place depending upon the need. In general, there were overseers, elders and deacons, but the model of ministry was not necessarily the same in every place. Furthermore the kind of ministry that was provided tended to be focused on the local congregation, rather than on the wants and expectations of the wider community.

So, for example, when the Apostles had a conflict between needing time for teaching, and providing pastoral care to widows, they appointed seven deacons to look after the widows within the church (Acts 6:1-7). They adapted a structure to meet the local need, and maintained as a priority the needs of the local church community.

And if those principles were applied to the modern church, we could well have different styles of ministry practiced in each of our congregations. A very different scenario than is practiced or maintained in many of our churches today.

For any review of ministry to be worthwhile, then, any traditions or denominational baggage needs to be set aside, and the situation looked at anew.

As a consequence it may be helpful for churches to consider the following two questions:

1. What kind of ministry within a congregation is required?
Current thinking often seems to assume ministry is required to lead worship services, to administer communion, to provide pastoral care, to conduct weddings, funerals, baptism, etc. etc. Yet not all of those may be appropriate to every congregation. Indeed weddings and funerals may well represent the expectations of the wider community, rather than the needs of the people of faith.

2. How do we appoint our leaders?
Now this might seem an odd question. Except that one of the problems associated with giving someone a title (through ordination, or whatever), is that there may be expectations that go with a title, that go beyond the reason for them being commissioned As a consequence, it may be better to license people for particular functions.

Now I can hear the outcry already. We’re Anglicans! We’re Baptists! We’re Catholics! etc. etc. But surely the point is that this is God’s church that is in decline, and it is incumbent upon as Christians to be actively involved in the growth of his church. We are supposed to be Christians who believe in a God that looks after our needs (not necessarily our wants).

Church growth will only happen if God is at the centre of our enterprise. And things only go wrong when we leave God out of the loop, and put tradition first.

Posted: 29th October 2015
© 2015, Brian A Curtis
www.21stcenturybible.com.au

Making God in our Own Image
Over the centuries there has been an increasing move away from orthodox biblical teaching. The idea that we are sinners, that God is beyond our ability to comprehend, and that the church was given by God for our well-being, have grown increasingly unpopular. Instead the idea that God is such a loving god, that it doesn’t matter what we do, and that the church is an optional extra, has become widespread.

Indeed in the 19th Century a number of new so-called Christian religions rose up as a consequence of the rejection of sin, and with the idea of making God understandable (e.g. Mormons (1820), Christian Science (1866), Jehovah’s Witnesses (1879), etc. etc.). However, this only reflected what was happening in the “Christian” world at large.

The reality today is that by-and-large people are not comfortable with the idea of being sinners, they do not want to believe in a God that is beyond their comprehension, and the church is irrelevant. People may not think that they are perfect, but a majority do not consider sin in terms of alienation from God at all. Unfortunately, in doing so, they have effectively reduced God to being equal with themselves – making God in their own image.

Now there is a lot of fuss these days about the threat of Islam – and I don’t want to understate that. But surely the issue of nominalism is a far greater problem for the Christian church in western countries. After all, in Australia, at the last census in 2011 61.1% of all people identified themselves as Christian, whilst only 2.2% considered themselves Muslims1. Furthermore, according to McCrindle Research, less than 1 in 7 people who identify themselves as Christian actually go to church2.

This effectively means that 52.88% of the population (who call themselves Christians) either have no real understanding of what Christianity is, or have rejected the church as being irrelevant. And that is on top of the 38.9% of the population who do not identify with the Christian faith at all.

Now the numbers of people who attend church regularly are a lot less than those suggested in McCrindle’s research figures. Nevertheless the figures suggest that the majority of those who call themselves Christians do not accept the orthodox view of sin, cannot accept a God who is beyond understanding, and have rejected God’s church. And to me that is a far greater problem than the problem of Islam.

Now you could ask the question, “What’s at stake? What difference does it make?” But if we were to accept the biblical view that God is a jealous God, that he takes sin seriously, and that he gave us the church for a purpose, then it doesn’t take much to see that making God in our own image is a real problem. Indeed reject any of the three issues raised, and you effectively reject God.

Furthermore, the problem of denying sin and re-modelling God to suit is that it creates a sense of false security. Now some people might find it helpful to deny reality, but what happens then? Creating an illusion doesn’t change reality. Rejecting the idea of Judgment Day, doesn’t mean that it won’t happen. And therein lies the problem.

Indeed add the 52.88% who call themselves Christians, with the 38.9% of all people who do not associate themselves with the Christian faith at all, and you have 91.78% of the population who either deny God’s existence, or have made God in their own image. And that is a serious problem that the church needs to be addressing.

Sources:
1Australian Bureau of Statistics, Religious Affiliations, 2011 Census
2McCrindle Research, Church Attendance in Australia, Thursday, March 28, 2013

Posted: 27th November 2015
© 2015, Brian A Curtis
www.21stcenturybible.com.au

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