Four times the church got weird… and was better for it

Four times the church got weird… and was better for it

It feels like the church gets weird every four or five hundred years, and it does the world of good. In fact, it could be argued that the church is at its best when it throws off its desire for acceptance and conventionality and launches into the strangest and most counter-cultural behavior. Here are four times when the church did exactly that, and history was changed.   1. The Hiberno-Scottish missionaries (Sixth Century) The Hiberno-Scottish missionaries were Gaelic monks from Ireland (in Latin Hibernia) and the western coast of modern-day Scotland, who re-Christianized Britain and Western Europe after the fall of Rome. You might have heard of a few of their leading lights: St Columba of Iona, St Aidan of Lindisfarne [pictured], St Columbanus of the Franks. They were wild people from a wild land, who harnessed their considerable passions and energies into Christian devotion. Rather than undergoing complete personality transplants, the Hiberno-Scots disciplined their passions without extinguishing them. They retained their sense of rowdiness and their love of wild, elemental places like the coastline of Scotland and northern England. They harnessed their love of drinking and singing and storytelling and directed it toward God. They practised hospitality, welcoming all comers. They were deeply shaped by their new-found triune faith and saw the Trinity not only as a doctrine but

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Stronger men? Let’s not dish up lazy male stereotypes in the name of Jesus

Stronger men? Let’s not dish up lazy male stereotypes in the name of Jesus

You might have seen the promo video for the Stronger Men’s Conference coming up on April 13-14 in Springfield, Missouri. It features commandos rappelling onto the stage, an MMA cage fight, monster trucks, and a guy firing semi-automatic pistols. In the video you can hear one of the speakers announcing that while the devil likes to make strong men weak, God loves to make weak men strong. There’s been quite a backlash to this promo and the whole premise that strong men are into all this stuff, as well as woodchopping, firestarting, and motorbikes (which feature in an earlier Stronger Men’s Conference promo). Leaving aside the concerns I have about a Christian men’s conference featuring gun play and violence, I have no problem with the fact that a lot of guys love monster trucks and starting bonfires. In the video, NFL players lob footballs into the crowd, and there’s a basketball player getting air, and a drum circle and jets of fire on stage. Cool. My concern (aside from the cage fight and the guns) is the assumption that all this epitomizes masculinity. That to be a strong man you have to be into all this. More than that, to be a godly strong man you should be into all this. I get that those Christian men who do like chopping

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Paying for the sins of our fathers

Paying for the sins of our fathers

Next time you read someone whining about the church being under attack from a heartless secular society, think of what’s happening in Bungwahl, New South Wales. You’ve probably never heard of Bungwahl. It’s one of those blink-and-you-miss-it hamlets on the mid-north coast. It’s not like one of those towns that had a hey-day but fell into ruin after the freeway detoured it. Bungwahl has never amounted to much. It was always just a dot along the road that hugs the edge of the Myall Lakes between Bulahdelah and Seal Rocks. In 1870 or thereabouts, a canny Scotsman named Alexander Croll established a sawmill in the area to service the shipbuilding industry of Port Stephens. He owned Croll & Sons, sawmillers, until his death in 1917 at the ripe old age of 82. Back in those days, wealthy Christian businessmen were inclined to build amenities for their community, especially when most of that community was in their employ. So Alexander Croll built a small church on the hill above the lake and in 1888 gifted it to the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle. It’s called St James Anglican Church and it’s nothing to look at really. Just a neat little weatherboard chapel but with sweeping views of Myall Lakes through the trees. In fact, none of us would ever have heard of

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The Shadow of the Fear-vangelicals

The Shadow of the Fear-vangelicals

In the conservative Australian state of Queensland it was recently decided to remove any reference to a person’s height or gender on their driver’s licence. That’s actually no big deal to those of us from other states where height and gender hasn’t been included on our licences. But among the ultra-conservative evangelicals in that state it was cause for moral outrage. One local morals crusader called it all a “cruel lie” and posted this anxiety-inducing click baity news headline: She wrote: “Truth no longer matters in Qld. Only YOUR truth. Which may or may not actually be truth. But everyone is expected to nod politely and go along with it.” The ensuing comments were really something to behold. “The reality-denying madness of the sexual revolutionaries is now at fever-pitch.” “Shocking to behold…” “…crazy…” “… godless lunacy.” “… the whole world has gone completely mad.” Did you get that? The whole world has gone completely mad because the only state in Australia to include height and gender on driver’s licences has decided to remove them. Other comments were Islamophobic: “So what do they put as ID for a muslim woman wearing a burqa?” And homophobic: “What is so hypocritical, is the push by the new state religion of ‘gayism’, to remove the relevance of a persons sex/gender in regards to marriage and

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“How long do we keep punishing him for?”

“How long do we keep punishing him for?”

Punishment is not for revenge, but to lessen crime and reform the criminal. ~ Elizabeth Fry, Quaker, and Prison Reformer   A lot of people won’t know who Matthew Lodge is, something Matthew Lodge is no doubt pleased about. A few years ago he committed a heinous act of violence against an innocent family in New York City. Now he just wants everyone to forget about it so he can move on with his life and his football career. First, you need to know that Matthew Lodge is a very big, imposing man. He stands 191 cm tall (6 ft, 3 in) and weighs 118 kg (260 lbs). He’s a professional rugby league football player in Australia and could have a promising career ahead of him. Except for what he did in the early hours of October 16, 2015. That night, Lodge approached a German tourist, Carolin Dekeyser on the streets of New York City and began physically harassing her. Terrified, Dekeyser started frantically pressing the doorbell of a nearby apartment complex. Lodge kept menacing her: “Do you think you’re going to die? This is the night you’re going to die.” Inside the building, a resident, Joseph Cartright heard the bell and went to see what the commotion was about. Finding Ms Dekeyser outside in a terrified state, he let

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To those who fast this Lent, don’t forget the freedom you’ve received

To those who fast this Lent, don’t forget the freedom you’ve received

It’s nearly Ash Wednesday, the traditional commencement of the Christian season of Lent, a time of fasting and repentance in readiness for Easter. I’m occasionally asked why not all Protestants observe Lenten fasts and I explain it’s basically about freedom from legalism. But it’s also about sausages. Yep, a lot of Protestants don’t observe Lent because of the humble wiener.   Way back in the sixteenth century, a dissident group of Swiss Christians were putting together a new translation of the Epistles of St Paul. The edition was being published by a very prominent citizen of Zurich, the printer, Christoph Froschauer. Printing was still a relatively new trade, and wildly popular, so Froschauer had become a wealthy businessman, prestigious and influential. He was also a Protestant, having been caught up in the liberation and excitement of the Reformation that had begun to sweep through Germany and was creeping into eastern Switzerland. Froschauer’s priest, the forceful and charismatic Ulrich Zwingli had brought the teachings of Martin Luther to Zurich, and he had seized upon the need to publish the New Testament in the vernacular, as well as distributing tracts and sermons to the citizens of the city. The priest and the printer became a formidable duo. Anyway, in the spring of 1522, as the first copies of the new edition of

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Should we prioritize Christians before helping others in greater need?

Should we prioritize Christians before helping others in greater need?

Should we be helping other Christians before we help non-Christians in greater need? This question came into even sharper focus recently when the Trump administration announced that its nominee to become director general of the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration (IOM) was Ken Isaacs. The IOM has an annual budget of over $1 billion and is tasked with providing secure, reliable, flexible and cost-effective services for those needing international migration assistance. Refugees, basically. So alarm bells started sounding for some when it was revealed that Ken Isaacs, currently the head of international relief for Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse, has made comments that in some cases Christians should receive preferential treatment when being resettled from hostile areas. These comments appear to have been made on social media, reflecting on the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, and were coupled with disparaging references to Islam as a violent religion. Mr Isaacs has since apologized for these remarks and said, “I pledge to hold myself to the highest standards of humanity, human dignity and equality if chosen to lead IOM.” Okay, give the guy his due. He has been committed to helping refugees and has a long history of assisting those who are suffering. But his remarks, though retracted, reveal an underlying belief within the Christian community that we should help Christians

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A Misplaced Habit: the slow death of the newsagent (and the church?)

A Misplaced Habit: the slow death of the newsagent (and the church?)

When I was a kid there were all sorts of shops that don’t exist today. And I don’t mean a few local stores went out of business. I mean those kinds of shops hardly exist any longer. Our town had a little local hardware shop and a plant nursery, both of which were gobbled up by a big box hardware store and garden center. The haberdashery store closed. So did the pinball parlour and the billiards hall. The local post office closed and moved into a tiny shop above a Chinese restaurant. I get it. Things change. I guess there were blacksmiths and coopers before my time. But there is still one last vestige of the 19th and 20th centuries holding on, although I think it’s days are numbered. I’m talking about the once ubiquitous newsagent’s shop. The newsagent’s shop is a particularly British thing. North America has its newsstands, but in Britain and Australia we had these stores that sold newspapers, magazines, cigarettes, snacks and sweets. They were usually dark because their windows were plastered with newspaper advertising. They doubled as the local stationers, the only shop where you could get your school supplies like pencils and pens, exercise books, cardboard, glue, and plastic for covering your textbooks. The newsagent’s was a place of fascination to children, a darkened room full

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Advent – you might be doing it wrong

Advent – you might be doing it wrong

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” – Inigo Montoya   In recent years, even the most non-liturgical branches of the church, those who usually recoil against anything that even smacks of ritualism, have discovered the Christian season of Advent. But typical of someone a bit late to the party, many of them seem to have missed the memo on what it actually means. Contrary to all the Baptist and evangelical websites proclaiming that Advent is all about “getting ready for Christmas”, the season has a far richer meaning, one usually entirely overlooked by low churches. The word itself is derived from the Latin word adventus, which means “coming,” but the coming that we celebrate during Advent isn’t just Jesus’ first arrival as the babe of Bethlehem. Advent is the time to also focus on Jesus’ second coming. Advent is a four-week season, usually beginning on the last Sunday in November (this year it begins on Dec 3) and ending on Christmas Eve, where we celebrate the revelation of God in Christ, through whom all of creation might be reconciled to God. The First Advent of Christ inaugurates that reconciliation, a process in which we now participate. And the Second Advent signals its consummation, something we anticipate. Participation and anticipation are

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Nonviolence is our Strength: bringing justice and power together

Nonviolence is our Strength: bringing justice and power together

Justice and power must be brought together, so that whatever is just may be powerful, and whatever is powerful may be just. ~ Pascal   This week I participated in another nonviolent direct action (NvDA) to highlight my government’s mistreatment of hundreds of asylum seekers under their jurisdiction. Along with several other Christian leaders, I chained myself to the gates of the Prime Minister’s Sydney residence and refused to leave when instructed to by Australian federal police. We were eventually cut free by Police Search & Rescue and arrested for trespass. It wasn’t the first time I’d been arrested for such an action, and inevitably my decision to participate in it has attracted criticism from some Christians who believe it is wrong to disobey our political and legal authorities. But nonviolent direct action is, in my opinion, an entirely Christian act. NvDA refers to any method of protest, resistance, or intervention without physical violence in which the members of the nonviolent group do, or refuse to do, certain things. Other names for it are people power, civil resistance, satyagraha, nonviolent resistance, pacifica militancia, positive action, and more. When Christians undertake an NvDA we are rejecting the use of physical violence to fight injustice because we know that violence cannot be overcome by more violence.   As followers of the Prince

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Doing what we should have always been doing

Doing what we should have always been doing

When Danica Roem became the first transgender person elected to a state legislature in Virginia last month, there was outrage from some sectors of the American church. One affronted church leader tweeted, “Christian parents, the nation’s first transgender elected official enters American history tonight. What are you doing to prepare your children for that?” In response, bestselling author and University of Houston professor, Brené Brown tweeted:   We’re doing what we should have always been doing: loving God and loving others. But are we? Is that what we’ve been doing, because if it isn’t, I suggest the church should get back to it. In my homeland of Australia, we recently had a national survey on the question as to whether same-sex marriage should be legalized by the parliament. There was a hard-fought campaign waged on both sides of that debate. It wasn’t always very pretty or edifying. In the end, the Yes vote romped it in – 61.6% to 38.4%.  For some perspective, if a federal election was won by that margin it would be the most comprehensive landslide in Australia’s history. As a result, many church leaders are asking a similar question to the one we began with here: what are we doing to prepare ourselves for being the church in the new era of Australian society in which

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A sign pointing to God

A sign pointing to God

In his best-known book, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Nobel laureate, Gabriel Garcia Marquez tells of an isolated jungle village called Macondo in which the entire population has become infected with insomnia and associated amnesia. To avoid forgetting important things, the inhabitants begin labeling everything. One of the first signs they erect reads, “God exists”. But the main protagonist José Arcadio Buendía begins to dread what will happen when the Macondans have even forgotten how to read. He sets to work trying to make a daguerreotype (photograph) of God, to prove His existence and help everyone not to forget Him. I fear we live in a similar time. Our culture is in danger of forgetting that God exists.   But God’s intention was that the church would be the sign that would help people never to forget. This is why some people talk about the church being “the hope of the world.” Technically, the church isn’t the hope of the world – Christ is (Col.1:27). But the church is the sign, the last hope for a world suffering from spiritual amnesia, saying “God exists.” Sadly, while José Arcadio Buendía’s fear was that his village would forget how to read, ours might be that our neighbors can read only too well. When they look at the contemporary church, instead of reading “God

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