Over the past week or so a controversy has flared up in the US over how identity politics should be interacted with within the Church and how it relates to the Gospel. After reading the prominent statements from both sides my fear is that this controversy has more heat to it than actual fire, and less willingness from people on both sides to interact with the other side and actually make progress on this issue.

With Mosaic Baptist church being a broad church in politics and theology this controversy has the possibility of doing damage to this community. In engaging with a controversy like this (though I am aware that my own responses of late have not been like this) my concern would be for the Christian virtues of charity, compassion and love to rule our discourse. Each of us is, as the Apostle Paul calls us to, trying to work out our faith in fear and trembling (Phil 2:12) and this issue can be a sore point.

It is important to draw attention to the truth of the image of God that though marred in the fall, has been redeemed in Christ and so if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation. (2 Cor 5:17) it is on the basis of this new creation that we then have the communion of the church no longer should there be the strife that comes from the fall, but the harmony that comes from being in Christ. In acknowledging that there have been horrendous things done in the past through the Church we neither nullify the possibility for this harmony to reign, nor should we seek to sow disharmony on the basis of those things. Christ through his call of the way of the Cross demands more from us, both from those that suffer and those that abound. To those that suffer we join him in his suffering that we too might attain the righteousness of Christ (Phil 3:8-9) to those that abound that we might offer the mercy of Christ, so that in turn when we might suffer receive relief from those that abound.

Anyone acquainted with my thoughts and writing on the matter of identity politics within Christianity would know that for me these discussions largely place one’s racial, ethnic, cultural, sexual identity above their identity in Christ, and that I believe that there is no room for this, whether you are in the perceived privileged majority, or within an oppressed minority, (what do I know though, I am a white “privileged” male🙃) we are all saved by those same wounds in hands and feet, our sins were all nailed to that tree, there is no racial, ethnic, cultural, or sexual differentiation in sin. And therefore there is no racial, ethnic, cultural, or sexual differentiation in salvation.

I firmly believe that the identitarian jostling that our culture is currently going through is inherently toxic and will sap the life out of those that participate in it, as an antidote to that I want to bring to mind what Paul said at the end of his letter to the Philippians. “Whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Phil 4:8-9)

The problems of Australian society and identity while not unique continue to hamper the Australian Church’s ability to have global-local conversations, and indeed conversations between the diaspora, Western and indigenous sectors of the Australian Church. The main problems facing the Church are those of identity, both on a corporate level and an individual level, and creation care. In examining the indigenous response to these issues care has been taken to approach the issue from a non-patronizing position. The main themes of everyone leading out of their expertise as a part of their community and keeping all alive are drawn out of the indigenous spiritualities as answers and applied to our own context through agreement with scripture.

1879 words

Comple Essay

One of the things I have been thinking about is leadership in the style of Christ. As I read through Treading Lightly I saw a similarity between Australian Aboriginal styles of leadership with what I believe that the New Testament holds up as the ideal.

In the West we have largely found ourselves gravitating towards a hierarchical mode of leadership, and this is seen both in the extremes of the Catholic Hierarchy right over to the Congregationalism of groups such as Baptists. However I do not believe that this is the ideal that the New Testament has in mind, and from places such as 1 Cor 12, and Eph 4: 4-12 I would assert that the vision of leadership within the New Testament Church should be one of all the members leading out of their strength and area of expertise for the building up of the Church, the proclamation of the Gospel and the Glory of God. Leadership then is not a matter of a particular group or groups holding onto leadership as a form of power over the congregation, but rather it is a relinquishment of leadership once we travel outside of the area of expertise of a certain individual, and a humble taking up of leadership once we enter into the expertise of another.

This vision of leadership is shared by the Nhunggabarra peoples as described in Treading Lightly ((pp111-114)) Their community being made up of people with well defined roles saw this play out. As those in the community hunted, gathered, taught and all the other actions of their information economy. The leaders were generally those who had the most experience or training in the particular activity. The church itself is an information based economy as our society as a whole is transitioning towards.

If the New Testament ideal of shared leadership has been documented as having worked for a community such as the Nhunggaburra then what stops us from heading towards this ideal. I think there are a few reasons, for instance there’s tradition and people not liking change, another would be that those with power often do not like to relinquish it. There are most likely other reasons and the reasons I have given may not even be the primary ones leadership theory in both the church and society at large are not my area of expertise. My focus is on interpretation and application of Scripture for the benefit of the people of God.

Another year goes by
Another turning of the circle
I find myself questioning
I find myself wondering

Where does true faith lie
Amongst the scattered ruins of Christendom
How long must we dredge through these desolate places
Wandering hither and thither
Till we come again
Face to face with the incarnate Messiah
That babe in madonna’s arms

Who came to bring wholeness to the world
Yet here we lie
In fractured ruins
Amongst broken and dry bones
The abomination of desolation made our once hopeful dreams
Into the cords and bindings holding us captive to death

Come O Spirit breathe,
Breathe once again on these dry bones
Come out of her O Israel
Let us not be captive to this world
But let us be captive to the heart and Kingdom of God

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
~ Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn “The Gulag Archipelago”

As I have reflected upon the nature of totalitarianism and evil this past year I have found that Solzhenitsyn has landed on the truth, and so pieces such as The Atlantic’s “Nazis Are Just Like You and Me, Except They’re Nazis” are completely missing the boat. The depths of human depravity pierce our being, and what gives us licence to such depravity is our dehumanisation of the other. Such we have seen clearly in recent times from the Australian government’s treatment of asylum seekers. If we are to defeat “evil” then we must start with ourselves. “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God” (1 Pet 4:17, cf. Matt 7:3-5) To meet the dehumanisation of Nazi ideology with the in vogue dehumanisation of Nazis will only give permission for evil to be committed against them and as was seen in Nazi Germany the question then becomes “How Jewish” (or in this case Nazi) “does one have to be for it to be justifiable to attack them?” and this is not a road we can or want to go down.

Welcome to the Kingdom! It is an incredibly strange phenomenon that we find ourselves in, for the past 1300 years the Church has been largely a European religion/phenomenon. This however is quickly and radically changing, and the Church in the West is now a minority in terms of Christian population, so the question I have is why? Why is it that our view of Christianity remains so centralized and focused on the West? The story of God stepping into 1st Century Judea as a marginal Jewish Rabbi and Carpenter isn’t intrinsically European, however often we as Europeans have made it so, but as our grip on the hegemony of what it means to be Christian loosens so too should we be willing to listen to majority voices. But even more radically as we look at Paul’s vision for the Church in Gal 3:28 and elsewhere as we come to God we are transformed so that as a whole in community we might image the God of the margins. This means that we should value not just the voices from outside our current locale who make up a majority of Christianity today, but also to the margins even in our own society where we find diaspora and indigenous voices, the voices of those who have been uprooted, of the sojourner so that we might properly become strangers and exiles in this world.

Over the past year as I have tried to navigate through the supercharged political millieu my political stance has solidified as even more extreme 😃 cause that’s not toxic at all 😝 I now class myself as a Christian Anarchist. Those that I have talked with already about this are confused by the terminology (and maybe I myself am as well…) to try and make clear both in my mind and for others what I mean I have a few marks of a Christian Anarchist that I am pursuing:
  1. Separation of Church and State and the destruction of Sacralism and Christendom. (including an avoidance of state-like multinational entities)
  2. Simplicity
  3. Nonviolent resistance to evil
In my attempts to pursue these things some will have noticed that I have tried to distance myself from the use of Facebook, Google, and other such websites. I am in the process of expanding how much I can do with my own website. I have turned back to my bicycle as my main form of transport. As part of what I feel is a consistent congruence with this outlook I am also seeking to reduce the amount of waste that as an individual I generate and especially the use of plastics. I have a plan laid out for a plastic free bathroom experience, and I am slowly getting towards the same for the kitchen. I made a decision that as part of my celebration of Christmas this year with my family I will use the Japanese fabric wrapping art of Furoshiki to avoid the mountains of paper that have one use. I am probably wildly inconsistent, but I ask that you have patience with my madness, and thank you for such already displayed over the previous year, thank you.

The opening notes shatter my reverie.
If this is living
If this is worship
Then what do I do in finding Christ at the bottom
The bottom of a stranger’s beer
In the eyes of a stoner in the gutter
Where is the rending of the heart for the broken world?
Where are our open eyes to call forth God’s Kingdom?
Where do we submit ourselves to join with Christ
In dying to bring Kingdom life into the world?

The Corinthian correspondence has become my meditation this year. I am admittedly somewhat fascinated by it. In what appears to be at least his second letter (that is 1 Corinthians, cf 5:9) to the church Paul is concerned to correct the spirit of division found there in the pervasive one-upmanship and elitism that has infiltrated from the surrounding Corinthian culture. However as we move on to the second epistle we have remaining to us we find that this attempt has not been well received. Instead we see clearly that this letter of correction has bitterly hurt the church. In the midst of their hurt certain persons have united the church against him!

As we see in 2 Corinthians as Paul struggles to deal with this betrayal and continued elitism he pours his heart out for the Corinthian church in gospel focused cruciform love. 2 Corinthians is one of the most emotionally stirring missives of the New Testament, here is Paul deeply grieved and grieving for the object of his and Christ’s affection is so close to deserting him, and even deserting Christ. Hard accusations have come against Paul and his ministry through the deception of these so called Super-Apostles (11:5) who are now using the grief surrounding the corrective pain of 1 Corinthians to wield against Paul as a sharp weapon that cuts deeper than any other weapon could.

Yet here in the words that Paul writes to the Corinthian Church are a deep and consciously Christian, crossformed vision of joy through, in and underneath the sacrament of suffering. A vision of suffering and joy that arouses in us a call to embrace both on this side of eternity, not just as a discipline, but as a missional framework to reach out to those like and unlike us.

I want to make a brief sketch of this vision of joy in suffering. In his opening blessing of God Paul wants to frame the rest of his letter, indeed even the previous letter, and his ministry as a whole, he writes, “[God] comforts us in all our affliction,” it’s not a simple thing that God does this, why should he do this? Some theologies would suggest that we are sinners and that any affliction that we face is for discipline, to punish us for our sins. But this is not the purpose that God has in mind here according to Paul, “so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction.” Whatever affliction through which we pass is forming us so that we can bring the Gospel with its healing, grace, love, and life to the burdens, aches, and pains of the Other. This is why elsewhere Paul says that “For your sake,” that is Christ and His Father’s, “we are being killed all the day long, we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered. Indeed in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” These things which come against, Paul goes on to say are, no matter the origin nothing compared with the love of Christ which holds us.

If God’s ministry of comfort through our suffering finds its “yes” in the person and work of Jesus Christ as we then move to embody and enflesh this Godly “yes” to the Other then we need to join the Christ-work of the Cross. The wonderful Cross which bids us to come and die, that place where we find ourselves crucified in the Messiah, and walking away as new people bearing forth the Resurrection life that he breathes into these dry bones.

And this exactly is what Paul goes on to say and call out of us. “As we share abundantly in Christ’s suffering, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.”

I have made too light of this suffering of ours, Paul is stronger again. These sufferings are not merely ours apart from Christ. They are not merely found in Christ. Not merely found to be usable for the alleviation of the Other’s suffering. Paul is adamant, these sufferings are Christ’s sufferings. We are to go through them with the expectation not just that we will find Christ in the midst of them but that just as he promised to be our strong yokefellow Christ is our cosufferer, we through the sufferings we have are crucified with Christ that we might bleed out his love and life for the sake of the Other. The sufferings that we go through are not and cannot be separated from Christ’s.

As we become the possession of the suffering servant we suffer with him, dying daily the death of the Cross that the life of the Resurrection might too be made manifest in our lives and the lives of those to whom we minister. So then there is no vain hope in the ministry that we bear, the trials and suffering we need live out, they form us and call us forward, broken heart in hand that the Gospel of Jesus Christ on full display in the wreckage of our lives in hope, that maybe just one other might taste the resurrection life. That they might taste and see that, yes, God is Good!

Shall we do theology in the safety of our Armchairs, or in the coal mines of Wigan Pier? Last time I read a Theology that purported to be a Theology on Wigan Pier it was merely an Armchair Theology with bones thrown to the Pierites, a neatened, tidied up Wigan Pier with the smells of working class spiritualities swept under the rug, there is a reality a necessity that we don’t often grasp hold of if we’re well to do, and yet because we’ve dotted our t’s and crossed our i’s it seems perfectly natural to us that we will inherit the Kingdom of God. This has been some thoughts of an Armchair Theologian confronted by some of the realities of Pierite Spiritualities.