The Disappearing Church?
- Written by: Chris Swann
I wonder what leaps to mind for you when you see the question “Is the church is disappearing?”
Perhaps it is the numerous financial, membership, and leadership challenges facing churches after a two year global pandemic. In fact, you may be experiencing such challenges personally, and I’d by no means underestimate the pain and difficulty of the prospect of this disappearance.
Alternatively, it may be the broader question of the disappearance of the church (heralding its possible reappearance) in the cultural moment in which we find ourselves in the post-Christian, secular West. Whether this disappearance is hailed as a missional opportunity, or something to be lamented and chafed against, all of us have had contact with the way the church and Christian faith seems to be increasingly squeezed towards the margins in Australian society. Here, too, the pandemic is significant, albeit as a revealer and accelerator of existing trends.
However, in this article I want to draw attention to a different disappearance—although one that is, once again, tied to the pandemic. Over the past two years I have noticed something curious. What I have noticed is that the church—and specifically the reality of the church—tends to disappear from the way we talk and think about Christian community by many within the church, including many of its leaders.
What Can We Say? A Response to Sexual Sin in Christian Leaders
- Written by: Peter Brain
I will never forget the opening lines of the veteran missionary Bishop Alfred Stanway; ‘the two biggest temptations for missionaries and ministers are sex and money’. It was 1965 at the CMS Summer School in Katoomba. I was 18, a Christian of 15 months and it was the day after my first Beach Mission. I was stunned by the opening line but greatly helped by his talk. Some 10 years later a different speaker on the same platform, Michael Griffiths, said the same thing as he expounded the 8 reasons for sexual purity from 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8. I was not stunned this time, but once again greatly helped and challenged to be faithful to God, my wife, our new family, God’s people and to my calling as a newly ordained pastor.
It took me a couple of weeks to get over the sadness and grief of Ravi Zachariah’s infidelity. I still find it painful to learn of the accusations and supporting reports from the investigations commissioned by RZIM. What do I do with his books which I have devoured and profited from? How do I pray for my Hindu dentist who so gladly accepted the copy of his last book, intrigued by its title, ‘The Logic of God’? How do I keep my anger from causing me to be self-righteous or, conversely, unfazed by his, and others, both high-profile and ordinary leaders’, duplicity? How do I help younger brothers and sisters who are deeply hurt, very much confused, even despairing? What do I, a happily married retired pastor, need to learn from this sad situation? Perhaps this article will help me and others who have similar feelings.
We must thank God for the godly examples he has given us who continue faithful in the sexual and other aspects of their lives and ministries. Whilst we want to avoid the sin of some, we take heart from the faithfulness of countless faithful ones whom God has granted to us [Philippians 3:17]. This will temper our despair and remind us of the need for constant vigilance in our own walk with the Lord [1 Timothy 4:16], the ease with which we can be tempted [1 Corinthians 10:11-13] and the wisdom of constant self-examination [2 Corinthians 13:5]. The truth: there but for the grace of God go I must be heeded, keeping us from pride and complacency. Richard Baxter’s warning: A holy calling will not save an unholy man, should likewise ring in our ears to keep us from presuming upon God’s grace.
- Written by: Mike Flynn
At Swinburne University in Melbourne, the School of Business is teaching servant leadership because evidence for the effectiveness of Jesus’ teaching on leadership has been building for decades. Harvard Business Review famously called it ‘Level five leadership’—a humble, eclectic, teachable and even wise form of leading that puts the goals of the corporation above the personality of the leader. There is nothing sentimental or ideologically skewed towards championing introversion here. This is business: this form of leadership is justified by the superior results it achieves.
But leadership is complex for us in Melbourne. We know that our city is obsessed with critiquing leaders; with looking for leaders and removing them. It is one of the ordinary goods we have anxiously made into an ultimate purpose as we seek the keys to a meaningful life on our own terms. We deeply believe that if we just get leadership right, all will be well.
But this is Australia where we practice a brutal form of egalitarianism. We cut down without mercy even the most beautiful and deserving of our tall poppies. We knock down those who might have excelled, given time, grace and opportunity. Then we complain wise people steer away from leadership in public, corporate, and church life—leaving weeds behind.
Paul’s letters to the Corinthians show us that these wrangles over leadership are not new. Different leaders had accumulated different factions within the church. People were lining up behind Paul, Cephas (Peter) and Apollos—and, by 2 Corinthians, possibly Titus. There were the Super Apostles who were abusing and misleading the young church.
Paul wonders if the Corinthians are crazy. Why make idols out of leaders? “Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptised in the name of Paul?” (1 Corinthians 1:13). His point is that leaders in the church are not saviours, they are farmers.
Interview with Kanishka Raffel
- Written by: Gavin Perkins
Archbishop of Sydney Kanishka Raffel is interviewed by Gavin Perkins
- Can you tell our readers a little bit about your own spiritual journey? What did you find compelling about Jesus when you first encountered him in John’s gospel?
I was saved by the Lord after reading John’s Gospel when I was a University student. I was surprised by the transparent historicity of the Gospel. As I encountered Jesus in its pages, I was struck by the vibrancy and vitality of his humanity. He was not a disembodied ‘voice’ of religious wisdom – he was a real person engaged in relationships with friends, enemies, the needy, the powerful and the powerless. John uses the expression ‘at this, the people were divided..’ on more than one occasion and in the Lord’s kindness, he challenged me with this phrase. I began to ask myself a simple question – ‘Why was I opposed to Jesus?’ When I could offer no good reason, I yielded my life to the Lord.
- As you look out on the worldwide church, particularly the Anglican communion, what signs of life and progress fill you with hope for the future?
I am deeply humbled by the courageous and joyful commitment to church planting and evangelism that is evident in the Anglican Churches of the Global South - in Africa, Asia and South America. I’m struck that in Anglican churches in the majority world there is a great confidence in the gospel, a great submission to the Lordship of Jesus that produces glad obedience and creative and ambitious ministry, and a deep reliance on prayer. All this, often in contexts of poverty, poor infrastructure and corrupt government, or where Christianity is a minority religion.
- And as you look out, what gives you cause for concern?
In the majority world, there is the challenge of avoiding moralism on the one hand and prosperity teaching on the other. In the West, the challenges are arguably greater. Western churches are collapsing as they reject the authority, sufficiency and trustworthiness of God’s Word in a misguided attempt to accommodate themselves to the dominant Western secular paradigm. This is a fatal error because it mistakenly treats late modern Western secularism as a benign host when in fact, our cultural moment is shaped by agendas that are anti-empirical (prioritising the subjective over the objective), anti-social (prioritising the individual at the expense of social groups including the family) and absolutist (brooking no opposition or diversity of opinion or practice).
A Christ-like Leader, a Biblical Scholar and a Radical Visionary
- Written by: David Claydon
At the St Paul's Cathedral Thanksgiving Service for the life of John R.W. Stott held on 13 January 2012, an insert with the service sheet suggested that John will be remembered 'as an outstanding biblical preacher … as a strategic leader of the worldwide evangelical movement, as a prolific writer, and as a model of Christlikeness and personal friendship.'
These personal, God-given gifts were a linking factor in bringing together John Stott and Billy Graham. They came together in 1955 when Dr Graham was invited to lead a mission at Cambridge University and John Stott assisted him. In the years that followed their friendship grew and they expressed to each other the need strongly to promote the most important task for all Christians, namely to be involved in the evangelisation of the world. Their discussions led them to conceive of an International Congress of Church leaders from around the world to meet together and consider how they could all be involved in world evangelisation. Billy Graham's staff team worked on a Congress program and it was considered that the way forward would be to have a Covenant which expresses the most important biblical principles agreed to by those committed to Christ's calling to take the gospel to the world (cf Matt 28:18-20 and Acts 1:8, 11).
John Stott the Controversialist
- Written by: Stephen Hale
Alan Nichols with Stephen Hale
During John Stott’s long and remarkable global ministry, he often weighed into the great theological controversies of his day. It would be unfair to suggest he was a controversialist, yet it would also be true to say he was unafraid of controversy.
This flowed out of his overall teaching, preaching, writing and speaking ministry. He was committed to engaging with the Word of God as well as the issues of his day. As he put it in his classic book, I Believe in Preaching (1982 and still in print), ‘the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.’ Stott had a high commitment to seeking to unpack the scriptures but also to the application of the scriptures.
In my conversation with Alan Nichols he reflected on Stott’s approach and impact. In the course of Alan’s long ecclesiastical career he was involved in the communications team at the Lausanne Congress in 1974 as well as many other global and local EFAC gatherings. Alan had the privilege of seeing John Stott in action both up front and behind the scenes. This article is a series of reflections drawn from Stott’s books, his public engagements and the impact these made in particular on social justice, women’s ministry and simple lifestyle.