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EFAC Australia

Essentials

James is an Anglican minister in Sydney. He has been in full-time ministry for 15 years and is currently a Senior Assistant Minister at Christ Church Anglican, St Ives.

There comes a day in each parent’s life when the little hand that has instinctually sought yours no longer arrives in your outstretched palm. It’s a sad but vital moment, when a growing child no longer needs your immediate guidance, protection and presence to make their way in the world. It’s a vital moment, because our kids need to grow independent if they are to mature into adulthood. It’s also sad, because the intimate path you made together, hand in hand, now becomes a series of byways with occasional common intersections. In many ways, the maturing of a Christian into whole-hearted discipleship moves in the opposite direction. Having come from outright rebellion and alienation from God in our sin, we now, by grace, journey into ever-deepening dependence on Christ. We need his guidance, protection and presence more and more. We learn to put our hand up and into the Father’s hand each day, becoming increasingly child-like as he conforms us to the image of his Son. (Rom 8:29)

As we consider the minister or any Christian at prayer, I find this image helpful. Clasped hands could equate to so much in the Christian life, but the particular intimacy and common motion equates beautifully with prayer—as does the tension between independence and dependence at the heart of our experience as adult believers. The world trains us to make our own way and sin fools us into thinking we are at the centre of that world. The gospel shatters that lie and the Spirit drives us to God our Father—but the journey into prayerful dependence is uneven and often slow. In my experience, what should be an ‘intimate path’ is too often a series of ‘byways’ with occasional meetings with the Lord! This is not just unfortunate, it’s dangerous—especially if we are charged with discipling God’s people and seeking the lost.

Bible Study Groups, Gospel Groups, Growth Groups, Life Groups, Cell Groups—call them what you will, they have proved to be a powerful part of what it means to belong to a church for many people, for many years. Here are three personal accounts of what it has meant to belong to small groups based around Bible discussion and prayer.

JosieMurrayJOSIE MURRAY, WA

Crossing the country on my own to embark on new and challenging work in a place where I knew next to no-one and had never been, I was sure I wanted to be a part of a growth group. I had no idea then how established I would become in this group, or just how important this growth group would be to me. That was 6 years ago. I joined up to a mixed night-time group that met weekly, and I relished the familiarity of faces and format that welcomed me. I noticed that these were the people that were becoming my ‘family’ here: people not chosen by me, but given to me, to know more closely, for me to love and care for, and who loved and cared for me.

The emphasis in the group, it seemed to me, was a love for God’s Word, honouring Jesus as Lord, and a commitment to each other. This would be a place to grow.

Lampada alicui trado

My pompous Latin heading indicates that I am, this issue, passing on the torch of the Essentials editorship-in-chief to others and leaving the Essentials editorial team. In God’s providence I have recently accumulated two new ministry roles, and after six years’ involvement with the Essentials editorial team, I took this as a cue to resign from this rewarding, but involving, responsibility.

I have used a pretentious Latin heading, not only because I think Latin should be more widely known, but also because Latin lends an appropriate sense of gravitas (more Latin) and tradition (from Latin trado; hand over, bequeath) to the activity of producing Essentials. EFAC represents Anglicans who are formed by, and love, the reformed and evangelical character of the Anglican Church. We are convinced that the faith of the disciples of Jesus Christ is well preserved and articulated in that reformed and evangelical understanding of the gospel, of the Christian life and of the church and her ministry, and we want to encourage one another in it and commend it to others. Essentials plays a part in that mission, and I hope that it has done so by returning consistently to the things which unite and animate us: the gospel of the grace of God in Christ, the Scriptures, evangelism, the life and ministry of the local church, prayer, Bible study groups, training new ministers, mission, addressing the issues of the age in the light of the eternal truth of God, and celebrating those who have gone before us, inspired and mentored us. I also hope that Essentials continues to be read and appreciated across Australia, and addresses the concerns, circumstances and labours of EFAC members in a positive, irenic, creative and thoughtful way.

I have tried to put together this summer issue in a way that showcases these perennial evangelical emphases. Small group Bible studies, prayer, training new clergy here and abroad, reflecting on the Scriptures, music in church, and more besides, all receive attention here. I trust these articles are not simply one more tired repetition of well-worn themes, but are fresh, current, encouraging reminders of what we are convinced will honour Christ and serve his people well. Essentials is, from here, in the capable hands of my fellow editors Gavin Perkins and Mark Juers. God willing, there will be new names joining them to carry the torch. As always, we encourage you to be in touch to let us know what you have appreciated, or what you’d like to see treated in these pages.

BEN UNDERWOOD

 

What will the church be known for in 2020? This is the question that I’ve kept coming back to time and time again over the last few months. Will we be known for suddenly unleashing a bandwidth surge of low budget worship services onto the internet like a great wave every Sunday? Will we be known for watching on helplessly as society and the economy crumbles, all our normal strategies for practical support hamstrung by physical distancing? Will we be known for losing half of our young people who didn’t like the way we “pivoted”? Perhaps there is even a longer and sadder thread that we will only become aware of as hidden stories slowly start to surface. Or perhaps we will look back at 2020 and retell a story of greater fruitfulness and missional creativity! I certainly hope we are known for our love and unity in Christ.

God is good for you: A defence of Christianity in troubled times
GREG SHERIDAN
ALLEN AND UNWIN, 2018

Christianity in Australia is in crisis. Greg Sheridan is a committed Catholic layman deeply concerned about Christianity’s demise and wanting to offer hope. A journalist by trade and writing on international affairs for The Australian he has a handle on the state of Christianity across the West as well as insights into other faiths.

Sheridan moves deftly between popular culture and academic engagement to understand what has been happening in Australian society. He charts the increasingly negative way Christians have been portrayed in films and television through recent decades. He is not afraid to tackle key theological issues—he critiques the New Atheism from an orthodox Christian position, he explores the issue of eternal judgement and its attendant questions, he sets out a Christian apologetic for evil and suffering and the sins of Christians, he offers a defence of the Old Testament as inspired literature and worth a read. As well, he puts the case for Christianity producing the progress of Western Civilisation. This chapter title says it all, “What did we ever get from Christianity—apart from the idea of the individual, human rights, feminism, liberalism, modernity, social justice and secular politics?”

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