Changing our Annual General Meetings

Dear friends,

As you know, we hold three Annual General Meetings every year – one for St Peter’s congregations including the Macarthur Indigenous Church, one for St Andrew’s and one for the whole Parish. At a recent meeting of Parish Council, we discussed the possibility of combining all three meetings into one. I am writing about this proposal to give you the opportunity to give us some feedback.

Our AGM’s are more than a meeting; they are shared opportunities to think, talk and pray. They are an opportunity for you to hear about ministry plans and vision, to ask questions and to become more involved in the decision making of our church. We elect officeholders, receive reports on ministry and provide time for feedback.

As a church we operate under one vision in multiple locations in a myriad of different ways. We have one combined staff who work together to proclaim the gospel to people throughout our region. We believe this is an effective strategy as different people will be reached by different approaches to ministry; if you only do one thing in one way you reach one sort of person! If you do many things in many different ways you reach may different sorts of people.

More and more we are working together across the Parish and breaking down the age-old barriers that have held us back from collaborative and effective ministry. Holding separate AGM’s retains this division and excludes people from hearing about, praying for and partnering with the complete collection of ministry activities in the Parish.

How would a combined AGM work?
We would meet together in one location and have staff reports, finance reports and reports from some individual ministries. We would vote as if we were at three individual meetings, allowing for St Andrew’s members to elect their wardens, St Peter’s members to elect wardens and parish council and for the whole meeting to elect Synod representatives and Parish Nominators. We would have questions and a time for prayer together. Our commitment is that the meeting would be run efficiently and not be long and boring – currently our three meetings go for a total of 150 minutes but there is significant duplication!

This is more than an opportunity for symbolic efficiency. This is really another opportunity for us to recognise structurally that we are in ministry together for the Glory of God in Campbelltown. We would be seeking to acknowledge that together we seek to be a growing Christian community devoted to maturing in Jesus for Glory of God.

So what now? We want to know your thoughts and questions. Parish Council is going to make a decision on this matter at our July meeting. Please put your comments in writing to me via email (nigel@campbelltownanglican.org) or letter.

Thanks for your partnership in the Gospel in Campbelltown.

In Christ
Nigel

Division in the Church!

Dear friends,

The Anglican Church remains in crisis and there appears to be little hope of recovering biblical fidelity in the worldwide church. Most recently, the biblically faithful Anglicans in New Zealand have acknowledged that the NZ Anglican Church has departed from the faith. Those aligned with the Scriptures have appointed a new Bishop to lead them. How should we think about this and what is the right thing to do? Let me make three observations.

First, there is nothing worse than division in the church.
Jesus prayed that there would be unity among us in John 17:20-21 – “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.” As the body tasked with taking the Gospel to the world, division is at best a distraction and at worst it causes destruction to our life and witness. Jesus prayed we would be united and we are not. We ought to take this seriously.

Second, there is nothing more normal than division in the church.
We must not romanticise the early church and spend time wishing we could get back there. Within 20 years of the ascension of Christ, division had arisen amidst the 12 disciples and Paul over the place of the Law of Moses in the Christian life. The big issues were whether non-Jewish Christians should be circumcised and obey food and other laws. Acts 15 details the sharp dispute and it is not the first or the last dispute we read of in the book of Acts. Of course, our doctrine of sin ought to tell us this is inevitable even if unpalatable. Sin will always cause division. This doesn’t mean we throw our hands in the air but it does mean we ought not be surprised when it happens in our midst.

Third, there is nothing more important than division in the church.
Paul speaks of division in Galatians 2:1-5 – “This matter arose because some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. 5 We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.” The preservation of the Gospel is ultimately important. Unity is not the greatest virtue – truth is. Jesus himself acknowledges that he did not come simply to unite people but rather to proclaim the Kingdom and be the truth (Mark 1:15, John 14:6). The Gospel must be preserved from generation to generation so that people may actually be saved. If people are ignoring the Bible, teaching untruths, promoting godlessness or seeking their own glory, we must at least consider dividing in order to preserve the Gospel. Nothing is more important than Gospel clarity.

Only the Gospel saves. And if we lose it, we lose everything.

In Christ,
Nigel

The Privilege of Prayer

Dear Friends,

There has been a lot to pray for this week! We have prayed for 4 new Christians in our midst who have just devoted their lives to Christ! We have prayed for church members who have just discovered illnesses and are coming to grips with their future. We have prayed for Scripture teachers and students in our public schools who hear the Bible taught each week. We have prayed for our youth leaders as they deal with the complexities of Gen Z. We have prayed for numerous others in need…. and that’s just the beginning.

I have always been encouraged by Philippians 4:6-7: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

We pray to an awesome and merciful heavenly Father don’t we! But have you stopped to ponder that reality recently? For if we overlook the reality that God is our Father, we will overlook the grace that enables prayer. So we need to be reminded periodically that the privilege of speaking with God so intimately was not even given to the greatest of the Old Testament saints. The Jewish people would never have called God Father – they considered it too familiar as Jesus found out. In John 5:18 we read that the Jewish people try to kill Jesus for calling God his Father.

But this is the privilege that is ours as Christians. On Jesus’ lips it seems appropriate, but on ours, we must realise that it is an amazing and unexpected blessing. That the incomparable, sovereign God, creator of the universe, sustainer of life and judge of all, can be approached by feeble creatures like us as Father – it’s an amazing privilege. But ‘Father’ expresses more than our privileged approach.

We can approach God as Father because he approached us first. In Christ he has sought us out and through faith in Jesus, brought us to himself and made us into his children. He is our heavenly Father, and we are his sons through faith in Christ.

Many people struggle to pray. Perhaps that is you. We hope that our sermon on 2 Samuel 7:18-29 helped you. But there are lots of reasons for prayerlessness – theological, personal, laziness, disappointment with God. We would love to help you to learn pray. Start by asking your Growth Group leader for some direction. Many people find that having a system is helpful too. Perhaps the easiest thing to do is open the Psalms – a book of prayers.

Remember – faith talks. Prayer – give it a go.

In Christ
Nigel

Bible vs the World: Part 7

Dear friends,

This is the final piece in a series in which I want to explain why some Christian people are abandoning the authority of the Bible and why you shouldn’t.

We have come to the point where we can confidently say that the Bible is God’s Word and that he has given it to us that we might know Him and know life. But when you open its pages, the Bible is not always easy to understand. So what is the key? How can we understand the Bible?

The key to understanding any piece of writing is to know what it is about. Emma by Jane Austen is about love, romance and youthfulness at the dawn of the 19th Century. Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe is about Aboriginal life in Australia before the arrival of Europeans. Knowing this information helps you understand and interpret the words you read.

Sadly, when many people open the Bible they not only deny the authorship of God but dive in looking for rules amidst a disjunctive collection of ancient literature; and so we come full circle to the Anglican world where many have missed the central figure of the Bible and its cohesive story.

To put it simply, if you want to understand the Bible, you just need to know this – it is all about Jesus Christ. This is the testimony of Jesus himself. On one occasion he rebukes the Pharisees for being people of the Bible but missing the main point:

“You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” ‭‭John‬ ‭5:39-40‬

After his resurrection he finds some disciples walking along the Emmaus Road and Luke recalls:

“He said to them, ‘How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken!’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” Luke‬ ‭24:25, 27‬

The Bible is one story and it is all about Jesus. From beginning to end, the whole story is focused on the events of the cross. The Old Testament sets up the crisis for why the cross is needed. The New Testament tell us what happened and how it matters. Genesis 1-2 tell us God’s plan for humanity. Revelation 21-22 promise us that God’s plan is on the way.

Understanding the Bible can be difficult but when you know it is all about Jesus the whole message is unlocked. This, accompanied by the reality that it is the Word of God, does make reading the Bible critically important for your life and your future. The King revealed within is the eternal King of the universe and he wants you to come and follow him. Listen up!

In Christ,
Nigel

Bible vs the World: Part 6

Dear friends,

This is the sixth piece in a series in which I want to explain why some Christian people are abandoning the authority of the Bible and why you shouldn’t.

Has God really spoken into our world? The writers of the Old Testament and their New Testament counterparts would answer with a resounding yes! God has spoken and continues to speak through his written Word. Last week we saw how the Old Testament believers understood this; they were confident that as they read the Scriptures they were listening to the very voice of God! The New Testament writers not only echo this but see their own words in the same way. Theologians call this “inspiration”.

From Judaism, Christianity inherited the conception of the divine inspiration of the Holy Scripture. Whenever Jesus and His apostles quote the Old Testament, it is clear that they regarded it as the Word of God. They subsequently envisaged the whole Bible as God’s Word; as being breathed out by God or inspired. Not that the authors are human typewriters and not that the authors are inspiring people but that in the Bible we have God’s words through human authors being breathed out. When you read the Bible you are reading the breathed out Word of God.

Of course, this whole reality truly culminates and focuses on Jesus, who is the Word (John 1:1-2, Hebrews 1:1-2). He is the Word and his incarnate form gives a model for thinking about the bible (just as Jesus is God and man, so the Bible is the Word of God and words of man), and he himself gives authority for believing in the concept of inspiration because Jesus believes it. Jesus himself received and endorsed the authority of the OT, regarding it as the very Word of God with ongoing application (Luke 4:1-13).

As we keep reading the New Testament we find that the Apostles endorsed Jesus words and the Gospels as God’s Word (1 Tim 5:18) and they identified their own writings as inspired Scripture (2 Cor 2:17; 1 Thess 2:13; 2 Peter 3:16).

Friends, can you see that we can confidently say: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  (‭‭2 Timothy‬ ‭3:16-17‬)

Now this is immensely important. For if the words in the Bible are God’s words, who are we to ignore, change, or repudiate such words. It is God’s Word. And he is the King. And he spoke it. And he breathed it. And he gave it. So you might know him and know life.

Of course, that does not make it easy to understand and there are bits in there that are just weird! But more on that next week as we draw our series to a close.

In Christ
Nigel

Bible vs the World: Part 5

Dear friends,

This is the fifth piece in a series in which I want to explain why some Christian people are abandoning the authority of the Bible and why you shouldn’t.

I remember door knocking once and a man said to me that he would believe in God if God came and spoke to him right now. He was after a tangible and physical experience of God and nothing else would suffice. Many Christian people hanker after the same and some even believe that as 21st Century Christians we are ripped off because God does not speak to us audibly and appear physically as he did in the OT.

I understand the feeling but it rests on the mistaken belief that God predominantly revealed himself physically and audibly to his people. Certainly, God did speak to Abraham and Moses and Samuel and the prophets but the ordinary, normal experience of God for the Israelites was through the written word.  

The law was given to Moses and this Word of God was passed on either verbally or in written form. This was God’s expectation of Moses as he says in Exodus 21:1. From the beginning it was God’s plan to have his Word captured in human words for all to hear through human authors. This is what theologians call inspiration. Human authors write the divine Word.

It is God himself who commands that his word be written down and that it become the authoritative guide and criterion of judgement for his people. In fact, God himself is the first to present his word in written form (Exodus 31:18). In these written words God confronts his people, challenging them and comforting them as directly and effectively as when he spoke to Moses in the cloud. They are not merely a record of God’s self-revelation—they are that revelation. What is more, their divine authority and reliability is in no way diminished by the fact that God used very human writers in the process. God does not bypass the mind or personality of each writer, for those things too are his creation. Through the work of his Spirit, God enables them to write his word, not just their own (2 Peter 1:20-21).

So Moses wrote in Deuteronomy 30:9-10: The Lord will again delight in you and make you prosperous, just as he delighted in your ancestors, 10 if you obey the Lord your God and keep his commands and decrees that are written in this Book of the Law and turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

The Book of the Law was more or less the first 5 books of our Bible and from the beginning that was treated as the very Word of God. In fact all of the OT writings were to be carefully recorded so they could be consulted, memorised, transmitted to children in the community, practiced and obeyed.

Where other nations carried with them visible forms of God, Israel had the word of God. And they had it in a book. Can you see that your experience of the voice and character of God is actually the same as those who have gone before!

In Christ
Nigel

Bible vs the World: Part 4

Dear friends,

This is the fourth piece in a series in which I want to explain why some Christian people are abandoning the authority of the Bible and why you shouldn’t.

What is the Bible? You can actually answer that question in a myriad of ways can’t you! It’s a book. It’s a religious book. It’s a collection of books. It’s the books of the church. It’s a book about God. It’s a book about Jesus. It’s a fairy story. It’s a lie.

It’s an age old question and one that has become more and more central to the life of the church in the 20th and 21st century. What I mean is that there are a variety of different versions of Christianity doing the rounds today that have departed from the mainstream and you can distinguish them based on their view of the Bible.

Mormons say the Bible is good but there is another book that’s better. The Roman Catholic Church says the Bible is good but not enough. Modern Liberal Christianity says the Bible was a good starting point for understanding but we must also listen to everything else.

The list could go on and we ought to note that the battle for the Bible has been going on for centuries but has become clearer in the last 50 years with the implications playing out in the church. As an example, I think it is fair to say that as a Christian your view on homosexuality and whether you support gay marriage will be defined by your view of the Bible and you can tell what someone’s view of the Bible is by their view on such things.

Ultimately, I am leading us to this question: who thought the Bible up, breathed it out and wrote it down and why?

For Christians through the ages, and certainly since the reformation, the evidence of the Bible itself gives ample reason to claim that the Bible came from, was spoken, by God. Indeed, the teaching of the church has been that the Bible was given, not sought and not invented. God was not at the mercy of human whims, but rather in and through the personalities of human authors, God spoke and God still speaks. So when we talk about the authority of the Bible, what is being asserted is that it has divine and human authorship so that we trust it as the Word of God in human speech.

Where does this idea come from? The clearest articulation is 2 Timothy 3:16-17:
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
‭‭But it also comes from the mouth of Jesus for whenever he quoted the Old Testament it is clear that he understood that he was speaking the very Word of God.

More next week!

In Christ
Nigel

Bible vs the World: Part 3

Dear friends,

This is the third piece in a series in which I want to explain why some Christian people are abandoning the authority of the Bible and why you shouldn’t.

How do you make decisions? Last week we looked at the way tradition, reason, experience and feelings impact the way the think and behave. We all make decisions based on a combination of those things with one of them usually dominating. But is that the best way? How should Christians make decisions? What authority should we lean on and submit to?

Were we to rely on tradition, reason, experience and feelings even in combination to make all the decisions we need to make, the chance we would get it right more often than not is pretty slim.

But with the Word of God, with the Bible, we have something better than all four when it comes down to deciding what to do and how to think. We have a revelation from God, who made the world and knows how it works at its best. We have a Word from God about how he has designed us and how we should respond to him and each other. So, for everyone, the Bible ought to be the first place we should go when it comes to working out stuff about God and life. In there God speaks!!

We should let the Bible have the final say on what we do and what we think even if that is different from what we’ve always done (tradition), even if it is different to what seems right to us (reason and logic); even if it is different to what I have seen work (experience) or doesn’t feel right (feelings).

What you will find is that the Bible corrects traditions, informs reason, and interprets experiences and feelings.

So when you need to work something out or know something, as Christian people today, we do as Christian people have always done and we turn to the Bible first to see what is the right thing to believe and do and we allow the Bible to have the final say about what to believe and how to behave even if tradition, reason, experience and our feelings would suggest otherwise.

As you read the Bible, you may not always be comfortable with what you find. But the problem is not with the Bible. The problem is with you (&me)!

Now you will note that I have made some pretty mighty assertions in this article and we’re going to move on to evaluate them. Can we really say the Bible is the authoritative Word of God and is it really still true? More on that next week!

In Christ,
Nigel

Bible vs the World: Part 2

Dear friends,

Have you been sucked into the philosophy of the day that the only real and good authority is in the individual? This is the second piece in a series in which I want to explain why some Christian people are abandoning the authority of the Bible and why you shouldn’t.

There is always the temptation to whittle the authority of the Bible down and it is not just because of the philosophy of the day of course. It could just be that our sinful hearts are not that keen on what the Bible says, or not that keen on being different to the crowd or not that keen on doing life differently to what our families have always done.

You can tell where you stand on the authority of the Bible by thinking about the way you make decisions. Analysing your decision making will tell you what is really in authority over your life. There a variety of influences on our decision making, but they can be grouped into 4:

Traditions – You decide to think or behave in a certain way because people you know and trust have always done it that way or believed that thing. (E.

g. You put the Vegemite in the fridge because your parents did!)

Logic/Reason – You decide to think or behave in a certain way because you have used the brain God gave you to work it out by gathering information making a choice. You might consult someone but in the end, you will decide using the brain and evidence you have. (E.g. you look at Vegemite and you note it is a yeast extract and because your yeast is kept in the fridge Vegemite goes in the fridge!)

Experience – You decide to think or behave in a certain way because of the experiences you have had in life. The pathway to truth is through lived experiences and you do what works. (E.g. you went to a friends house and they pulled the Vegemite out of the fridge and you thought it tasted awesome and therefore it goes in the fridge!)

Feelings – You decide to think or behave in a certain way because it feels right and thinking or doing things in that way made you feel happy or at peace. (E.g. the cylindrical shape of Vegemite just felt right in the cupboard so it goes in the cupboard!)

Now I hope you can see that no one really operates in one way to the exclusion of all others – but for most people, one pathway tends to dominate all the others. Which is it for you?

I hope you can see that there are problems with relying on any one of those as ultimate authority.
Tradition tends to pass down mistakes of the past.
Reason relies on our finite and damaged minds.
Experiences are open to interpretation and changeable from person to person.
Feelings change all the time based on health, weather, sleep, relationships and even the consumption of cheese on pizza!

Is there a better way? Let’s see next week!

In Christ
Nigel

Bible vs the World: Part 1

Dear friends,

Theologians and philosophers alike have noted that our liberal western education system (that has dominated educational thinking since WW2) aims to produce independence in young people so they will define themselves independently of others, autonomously deal with themselves and assume authority over themselves. In short, the education we have built, supported and put our children into is intrinsically encouraging them not to sit under authority, but to assume authority.

The 19th Century philosopher John Stuart Mill is often labelled as the father of this thinking. He believed that power is only rightly exercised over someone to prevent harm to others and the individual is sovereign over their own body and mind.

The fruit of all this is two things:
1.  the moral progressive chant that “if it’s not hurting anyone it’s OK”; and
2.  the death of God.

It ought not be surprising to us that the authority of the Bible is so severely challenged and even dismissed out of hand in this age. We have taught our world that the individual is authority and no other authority is necessary or warranted. In the world, God is dead.

So, when the Bible speaks of homosexuality as a distortion of human sexuality, people will say
“You Christians should stop messing with other people’s lives. Their behaviour is not hurting you so don’t make a fuss!

And, when the Bible speaks of life as sacred and therefore abortion as a tragic mistake, people will say and chant, “Get your rosaries off my ovaries” and “No woman can call herself free if she does not control her own body”.

Real people, with real feelings and real emotions and real problems and real families make these statements so we ought not demonise or dismiss them. What we ought to do is speak to them gently and kindly of the good life that flows from the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

For to me, the resurrection is the proclamation that Jesus exists and we matter. If there is a God then of course there is a higher authority and it goes without saying that we ought to conform to his mind for he has made us and our world. he is the author of life and nature and we ought to conform to his will as he knows what is best, being the source of our life, and our creator.

And this brings us to the start of this newsletter series. For centuries, Christians have believed there is an authority over us and that this authority reveals himself and his love for us in the Bible – the inerrant, inspired Word of God. Christians have believed that what the Bible teaches, God teaches and that naturally this ought to have absolute authority over all of God’s creation…. including…. us.

But these beliefs are being challenged. The authority of the Bible is at the heart of fractures in the Anglican Church and at the heart of your eternal destiny. If we don’t get this right, we lose everything.

In Christ
Nigel