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EFAC Australia

Essentials

The Gospel of the Kingdom
Jesus’ Revolutionary Message
David Seccombe
Whitefield Publications, 2016

Do we really need another book on the Gospel of the Kingdom of God? One would have thought the market is flooded. Many of us think we know Gospel back to front. Many of us think we are well aware of the foundations our faith and believe that to re-examine the basics of the Christian message is useful reminder but no more than that.

I defy anyone to maintain this widespread view after reading the latest book by David Seccombe.

In C.S. Lewis’ classic “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe” when the resurrected Aslan is asked what his rising from the dead means, Aslan replies, ‘It means that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is magic deeper still that she did not know.’ This book entitled “The Gospel of the Kingdom”, is about the deeper magic.

Every generation has its “isms” which stand opposed to Christ’s message and threaten to relegate Christianity to the history books. “Islamism” and big S Secularism worry us most today. The media tries desperately to convince us that Islam is a religion of peace. Most Muslims are peaceful; the religion itself proclaims peace upon the house of Islam, but in the “house of war” – well the name says it all. By big S Secularism I mean not the separation of church and state, but the attempt to create a world culture with God removed. These two “isms” are happy to see Christianity in decline, and sometime they appear to prevail. There are other problems, of course. The biggest challenges are apathy and revisionist versions of Christianity within our churches.

How Christians respond will depend in part on how threatened we feel. The Parable of the Weeds in Matthew 13 helps us see how Jesus felt about opposition.

The kingdom of heaven, he said, is like a man who sowed his field with good seed, but an enemy came at night and over-sowed the crop with weeds. You can imagine the dismay of the farmer and his servants when the plants appeared. The only thing for it was a mammoth weeding exercise. Anyone who has had any experience of gardening knows this is the best thing to do. So the farmer’s decision to do nothing is more than surprising: “Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.” It sounds like a lot of work for what is bound to be a very meager return. I think any farmer listening may have scratched his head and remembered that after all Jesus was trained as a carpenter!


St Hilary's
At any given time in the life of a local church it aims to reach the people in their community with the Good News about Jesus Christ.  In seeking to do so each local church must engage with people who are shaped and formed by the culture in which it exists.  As each generation of children within their community grows up they are shaped by the surrounding culture. And as this culture changes over time, the different cohorts of children are shaped in different ways creating distinctive generational groups.

Generation theory is not a new concept and there is still debate about how much it influences church styles and ministry approaches.  Do we keep doing the same things we have always done or do we adapt to the culture around us?  The ministry reality for most churches is a bit of both, we preach the same Gospel in different ways to differing generations.

So what are the key generations in our church?

  • Boomers - In the post WWII era the Baby Boomers grew society at such a fast pace because there were twice as many baby boomers as their parents.  The culture expanded to include this boom in population growth.  The first generation of dedicated youth ministers grew up to reach this generation.
  • Gen X - After the baby boom of the post war era, the population growth was more moderate through the 1970's and 1980's.  The next generation to come through society are known as Generation X or Gen X.  There were slightly less Gen X people than Boomers and they always felt they were in the shadow of the Boomers.  Many Gen X grew up in a church with a separate youth ministry which aimed to keep young people from dropping out of the church.
  • Generation Y or Millennials were those that graduated high school after 2000, in the new century.  This generation saw an expansion of communication technologies such as computers, mobile phones the creation of online social networking.  There are slightly more Gen Y than Boomers.
  • The current group of children growing up right now are sometimes referred to the iGeneration because of their use of iPads, iPhones and other technologies from birth.  This generation will grow up in a church that is no longer dominant in their culture.

Some churches seek to minister to one particular generation and do that really well.  They become experts at reaching this generation and attract people from this generation; they adapted ministry styles and programs to suit this new generation.  Other churches start with one generation and seek to add other generations in their focus over time.  Usually these churches keep stage of life programs but adapt it to each generation as the generations cycle through the church.

For example at St Hilary's Kew Reverend Peter Corney, one of Australia’s first youth ministers, targeted his ministry to Baby Boomers when they were young.  The style of ministry at St Hilary’s was adapted to engage this generation with programs to suit their style and tastes.  As Boomers grew out of the youth ministry and were replaced by Gen X, the church ministry team added programs to the ministry mix to reach both generations at the same time.  

A decade ago when Gen Y moved into the children's and youth ministry, St Hilary's had to expand its ministry to cater for Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y.  Now that a new generation of children comes into our children's ministry our church aims to minister to Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y and the iGeneration.   Currently we are exploring how we will add the next generation of toddlers, Gen Alpha, into our ministry mix as well.
More generally, any local church that attracts a particular generation through children's ministry or youth ministry can develop ministry styles in one of three ways:

  1. Cohort focused - These churches do well by attracting a targeted generation and travel through life with this same cohort of people or the same generation.  If a church keeps developing programs for the people they have, who are all from within one generation then the church will become dated and loose touch with successive generations.
  2. Age group focused - These churches focus on a stage of life and keep focusing on the same stage of life.  So a church with a strong youth ministry may stay focused on youth ministry even though some members graduate to the young adult phase.  These churches welcome other people to stay but they don't offer particular programs to every generation.  People will be attracted to these churches if they are in the targeted stage of life but tend to leave once they reach a new stage of life.
  3. Intergenerational - thirdly a church can aim to be multigenerational.  Rather than going after one specific generation or one specific stage of life they seek to offer ministry to all generations through all stages of life.  Whilst some churches say that they are multigenerational this style of ministry is much more complex than being stage of life focused.  It requires every generation to adapt to the times rather than staying fixed on how things have always been done before.

Ministry to one generation can be hard enough but catering to four generations at once?  This task of being a multigenerational church is what many churches want to do but it is the most difficult path.  Many churches say they are multi generational but they just want young people to join the way they have been doing church for decades.

The challenge for our church at St Hilary's is to realise that we aren’t just a Boomer church even though Boomers were once the key targeted age group. Again, just because we once had a strong youth ministry in the past doesn’t mean that St Hilary's is just a Gen Y church. Currently at St Hilary's we are seeking to minister to five generations at once; each generation with their own styles and needs.  This is not the easiest path forward but it is the path that we feel God has called us to.  With God’s help we hope that we can pull it off.

Reverend Mark McDonald
St Hilary’s Kew.

Why an unrealistic view of human nature undermines democracy and human flourishing.

"Never underestimate the power of self-interest." Paul Keating 1

In 1944 not long before the Allies final victory over German fascism and the demonic forces unleashed by the Nazis in WW2 the Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr 2 wrote his memorable book “The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness”. It is a spirited defence of democracy and a reminder of its dependence on an honest and realistic view of human nature. This view Niebuhr maintained was underpinned by the Christian understanding of reality and its view of human nature. In his introduction he says that the political philosophy on which his defence of democracy rests is “informed by the belief that a Christian view of human nature is more adequate for the development of a democratic society than either the optimism with which democracy has become historically associated or the moral cynicism which leads to the abuse of power and which inclines human communities to tyrannical strategies for solutions to situations of social decay.” 3The tyrannical strategies he had in mind of course were those of Nazi fascism and Soviet communism.

Introduction

My experience as a church goer across various Bible-believing denominations is that the default understanding of the Lord’s Supper is Zwinglian. The central agent in the divine-human encounter at the Supper is the believer who acts by faith to personalise his or her relationship with God. In these appropriationist models of salvation stress is laid on receiving what Christ has done for us. There is a focus on knowing the benefits of Christ  rather than abiding in our present union with the Lord. It seems many Evangelicals have so elevated the audible word above the “visible word” of the sacrament (Augustine) they could abandon Communion altogether without feeling substantial loss. My theological father in rejecting approaches which stress the efforts of personal piety in favour of a much more elevated spirituality has long been John Calvin (Institutes 4.14 and 17 especially). Calvin directs our attention to how the Spirit of the ascended heavenly Lord instructs us through the very materiality of the sacramental elements that our salvation is fully complete in Christ (cf. Col 2:9-10). The liturgical exhortation “Lift up your hearts” (Origen) is a provocation to realise by faith through the action of the Supper that we are “seated with Christ in the heavenly places” (Eph 2:6).  As such we participate in the communion of the Father with the humanity of Jesus in heaven through the ministry of the Spirit. A recovery of the glorious heavenly dimensions of our union with Christ in the context of the Lord’s Supper holds promise to reactivate in our midst the eschatological tension essential to New Testament discipleship.

For some, the Healing Service at St Andrew’s Cathedral is somewhat of an anomaly for the Anglican Diocese of Sydney – some have even suggested a novelty. But for those coming for prayer, theological debate and Diocesan traditions are the furthest things in their mind. They seek God’s divine healing.

The Cathedral’s weekly program has a diversity unlike many other churches. 1662 Book of Common Prayer holy communion and evensong robed Services sit beside the liturgy free evening church where it’s not uncommon to see the preacher in shorts (even the Dean). Yet time and time again when talking to visitors to our Cathedral who have done their homework visiting our Cathedral web site, they share the same question: “I noticed you have a Healing Service... what happens there?”

My answer is simple: we gather together to ask God to heal us. We respond to God’s mercy in prayer. We take comfort in God’s sovereignty in all things. And we rejoice in the knowledge of God’s love displayed in Jesus’ atoning death for us.

The Healing Service has for close to sixty years gathered every Wednesday night in the Cathedral at 6pm to pray for the needs of all those who come. And they all come. Homeless and rich. Doctors and accountants. Lawyers and civil servants. Teachers and nurses. Retirees and unemployed.

On my first visit, I was expecting to see a line of people in wheelchairs. Instead I saw people who looked like me. People impacted by sin. The litany of needs brought to God include depression, addiction, loneliness, sickness, anxiety, unemployment, disease, pain, grief, fear and guilt. People ask for prayer for themselves and loved ones.

To most who are used to a modern church service, the Healing Service is not un-similar to the usual Sydney Anglican Church in the burbs. That is to say, Scripture is read followed be a sermon based on the passage. Songs are sung. There is a little liturgy (confession and absolution). Supper follows the conclusion. Regrettably, there is even announcements (they always take too long). But significantly, there is a significant time allotted to personal prayer.

Towards the end of the Service, personal prayer is offered. In particular, prayer for healing. Our prayer team respond to people who put their hands in the air, by sitting beside our guests, asking what we may pray for, placing a hand on their shoulder and then asking God for healing.

Prayer for healing may be for physical, spiritual, emotional or relational needs. We make it clear, it is not a time of counselling or to hear confession. Our prayer team are not expert Christians or professional prayers. They themselves have been recipients of prayer at the Healing Service.

Visually, to see thirty hands go into the air, and then the same number of Christians moving amongst the pews to sit beside people is an amazing sight. Christians praying in twos and threes is an amazing physical sign of our dependence on God that we should be used to seeing.

The Healing Service seeks to be a safe place for people to receive a listening ear and believing prayer. As a Church and leaders of this ministry we are acutely aware of the excesses of healing ministries and their reputational damage to the gospel. Interesting for those seeking prayer, this is often the least of their concerns. But it is always in our thoughts. We assume a fragility in all who attend. Our team members abide by a code of conduct (renewed annually). Our practice compliments our Cathedral and Diocese.

We are unashamed in teaching that our most profound healing is spiritual. The forgiveness of our sins by the death of Jesus is our primary focus. We are overjoyed as a community when people come into the Cathedral for prayer and leave in a relationship with Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. People become Christians at the Wednesday Healing Service. When Phillip Jensen became Dean of the Cathedral, he noted publicly the incredible number of people who had become Christians through this ministry. C.S. Lewis spoke aptly when he said “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

We are not embarrassed when God does not answer our prayers in the way we ask. We entrust ourselves to him. He is God. He is Sovereign. Nothing is impossible for God. We ask for greater trust. We ask that in all things, his name may be glorified. We delight in shared experiences of pain and healing. Yet we are still left with questions, disappointments and grief as people on this side or Jesus’ return.

The Archbishop of Sydney, Glenn Davies, in his Presidential Address in 2016 said “Prayer is one of God’s gifts of grace, which is essential for all our ministry, as it reminds us of our complete dependence upon God for how we live—or whether we live. Such miracles of healing are a fresh reminder of God’s love for us and of his desire that we continue to live for him and through him for his glory alone.”

We thank God for the privileges afforded to us in this ministry in the centre of Sydney that is neither anomaly nor novelty – but sits at the heart of the mission of the Church. Pointing people to a dependant relationship with God’s son and the privilege to ask God to heal.

This important question was raised by Rory Shiner in his thoughtful review of Allan Blanch’s biography of Sir Marcus Loane (Essentials Spring 2016). I tread warily as I seek to offer some thoughts on this important issue which has occupied my own thinking over the last decade or so.

My own assessment of statesmen like Marcus Loane (MLL), Leon Morris (LLM) and John Stott(JRWS) is that whilst they may have been unique in extraordinary gifts and iron discipline they were not alone in terms of their personal piety and godliness. As one who attended a typical Sydney evangelical parish from Sunday School in 1954, youth group in the 1960’s and converted in late 1964 (Loane was at Moore and then Bishop and Archbishop during this time till his retirement in 1981) I recall a deep piety among our clergy and lay leaders which mirrored that of MLL, LLM and JRWS. It was standard fare to have a quiet time which included Bible reading and prayer. Church was primarily a time of worship which included teaching and training within the context of warm hearted and caring fellowship. Within a week or so after my coming to Christ I was encouraged by one of the laymen of our parish “to try to read the bible every day and expect God to speak to you.”

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