17/10/2021

Reading the Bible In Context
When I was in college, my friends and lecturers would sometimes joke that I was a ‘Contextual Christian’. The reason that they said this was that for nearly every discussion, essay or post that we did, I would raise the topic of historical and cultural context. For years now I have enjoyed learning about biblical history; I find it brings the world and characters of the Bible to life in my mind, I can understand the people and the messages of the Bible so much more clearly when I can understand the world that existed around them. I also like to understand the lens that we interpret the Bible through. I found an article this week that summarised and explained why historical context is so important, and I thought that it was worth sharing with all of you.
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Context is the way God gave us the Bible, one book at a time. The first readers of Mark could not flip over to Revelation to help them understand Mark; Revelation had not been written yet. The first readers of Galatians did not have a copy of the letter Paul wrote to Rome to help them understand it. These first readers did share some common information with the author outside the book they received.

We’ll call this shared information ‘background’: some knowledge of the culture, earlier biblical history, and so on. But they had, most importantly, the individual book of the Bible that was in front of them. Therefore we can be confident that the writers of the Bible included enough within each book of the Bible to help the readers understand that book of the Bible without referring to information they lacked. For that reason, context is the most important academic key to Bible interpretation.

Often popular ministers today quote various isolated verses they have memorized, even though this means that they will usually leave 99% of the Bible’s verses unpreached. One seemingly well-educated person told a Bible teacher that she thought the purpose of having a Bible was to look up the verses the minister quoted in church! But the Bible is not a collection of people’s favourite verses with a lot of blank space in between. Using verses out of context one could ‘prove’ almost anything about God or justify almost any kind of behaviour–as history testifies. People have misused the Bible to justify genocide, slavery, racism, child abuse… really any number of things that we would today agree is not what Christians are now called to do and be. But in the Bible God revealed Himself in His acts in history, through the inspired records of those acts and the inspired wisdom of His servants addressing specific situations. He took the imperfect world that people lived in and gave them guidance on doing better, being better within their times. We say that we live in a broken world today, but so did they.

People in our culture now value everything ‘instant’: from two-minute noodles to fast food to schemes like Afterpay and so forth. Similarly, we too often take short-cuts to understanding the Bible by quoting random verses or assuming that others who taught us have understood them correctly. When we do so, we fail to be diligent in seeking God’s Word (Proverbs 2:2-5; 4:7; 8:17; 2 Timothy 2:15).

One prominent minister in the U.S., Jim Bakker, was so busy with his ministry to millions of people that he did not make time to study Scripture carefully in context. He trusted that his friends whose teachings he helped promote surely had done so. Later, when his ministry collapsed, he spent many hours honestly searching the Scriptures and realized to his horror that on some points Jesus’ teachings, understood in context, meant the exact opposite of what he and his friends had been teaching! It is never safe to simply depend on what someone else claims that God says (1 Kings 13:15-26). Hear what others have to say, their understanding can help inform your own. We can learn from other people, but don’t just assume that their knowledge (or your own) is completely correct. Always keep learning. It’s okay to admit that you were wrong about something and change your mind because you have learned something new. It’s called growth. We do the best we can with the information we have.

I discovered this for myself when, as a young Christian, I began reading through the whole Bible, repeatedly. I was shocked to discover how much Scripture I had essentially ignored between the verses I had memorized, and how carefully the intervening text connected those verses. I had been missing so much, simply using the Bible to defend what I already believed! After one begins reading the Bible a book at a time, one quickly recognizes that verses isolated from their context nearly always mean something different when read in context.

We cannot, in fact, even pretend to make sense of most verses without reading their context. Isolating verses from their context without attempting to understand them, or to justify our pre-determined beliefs disrespects the authority of Scripture, because this method of interpretation cannot be consistently applied to the whole of Scripture. It picks verses that seem to make sense on their own, but most of the rest of the Bible is left over when it is done, incapable of being used the same way. Preaching and teaching the Bible the way it invites us to interpret it (in its original context), both explains the Bible accurately and provides our hearers a good example how they can learn the Bible better for themselves.

If we read any other book, we would not simply take an isolated statement in the middle of the book and ignore the surrounding statements that help us understand the reason for that statement. If we hand a storybook to a child already learning how to read, the child would probably start reading at the beginning. That people so often read the Bible out of context is not because it comes naturally to us, but because we have been taught to read books beginning to end, except when it comes to the books of the Bible. We read almost everything else as a whole, but with the most important text we’ll ever read, we think the parts that are quotable are the only parts that matter.

Many contradictions some readers claim to find in the Bible arise simply from ignoring the context of the passages they cite, jumping from one text to another without taking the time to first understand each text on its own terms. To develop an example offered above, when Paul says that a person is justified by faith without works (Romans 3:28), his context makes it clear that he defines faith as something more than passive assent to a viewpoint; he defines it as a conviction that Christ is our salvation, a conviction on which one actively stakes one’s life (Romans 1:5). James declares that one cannot be justified by faith without works (James 2:14)—because he uses the word “faith” to mean mere assent that something is true (2:19), he demands that such assent be actively demonstrated by obedience to show that it is genuine (2:18). In other words, James and Paul use the word “faith” differently, but do not contradict one another on the level of meaning. If we ignore context and merely connect different verses on the basis of similar wording, we will come up with contradictions in the Bible that the original writers would never have imagined.
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So, a fun activity for you this week. Try to read the Bible without going in and assuming what it means from what you have learned. If a verse doesn’t make sense, don’t just skip it until you find a nice quotable one. Do some research, try to find out if you’re missing something that could help you understand. And if you think you understand it well, research the verses you think you know, find out about the world that they were written in. You will find that your understanding of the Bible may not only deepen, but maybe even change.

Introduction, conclusion and edits by: Lauren Mead
Sourced from: Dr. Craig Keener, The importance of context in Bible study, viewed 15 October 2021,
https://craigkeener.com/the-importance-of-context-in-bible-study/

10/10/2021

Christianity and the Environment
If you didn’t already know, I’m an environmentalist. I don’t pretend that I’m perfect at this, or that it’s something that everyone is passionate about. I don’t judge people for forming different opinions of these things to me, or think that my behaviour is inherently better than others. When people hear that I believe in a cause, I often find that a lot of varying assumptions can be made about what that means. Or they think because I believe in one thing, it is mutually exclusive to other beliefs. I once told someone that I was a vegetarian, and they looked at me and said, ‘But I thought you said you were a Christian?’

It got me thinking that maybe it would be fun to write about how a belief such as this can stem from Christianity. The Bible can be interpreted in many ways, but as Christians our worldview is largely shaped by our interpretation, and the teachings of our church and the Christians around us.

Since just about the beginning, human beings existence has been intricately entwined with the environment. If you’ve read through the creation story, you will have read through this passage:

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”… God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so. (Genesis 1:26+28-30)

This passage is, you will find, fundamental to most Christians who are also passionate about the environment. I see caring for the world around me – people, animals, nature – as an expression of my faith. In this passage, some translations use the word ‘responsibility’ in place of the concepts of authority and ruling over. In some ways, this word provides a more nuanced understanding of the relationship we have with the environment. We have been given the ability and authority to use the earth, to eat food from it and live in it, produce other goods. But we have also been given the responsibility to take care of it, to not act in ways that will do it harm.

I’m not saying that this is easy. I’ll be the first to admit that I could do more. Has anyone ever tried to buy spinach not contained in single use plastic? It’s hard to find and inexplicably twice the price, something that both time and money mean that I just can’t justify. And we’re in a global pandemic… having single use items is incredibly useful, as we don’t need to worry about whether items have been sterilised properly before use.

What I do believe in is making positive changes where possible. For me, I choose one thing each month that seems doable for my household, and make a small change that either has a positive impact or reduces the negative impact. Some of the easiest changes I have made include: 
– switching to biodegradable/recycled plastic bin liners
– choosing an ethical supplier of eggs (as opposed to buying the cheapest caged eggs).- using reusable silicon zip lock bags and plate covers (instead of disposable cling wrap)
– using washable bamboo cleaning cloths for my dishes and other cleaning (these cloths are white, and I can clean up after spilling tomato based pasta sauce and the colour rinses out completely, they look so much better than the blue cloths and they can just be thrown in with other laundry)
– using home-made or tablet cleaning products (so many recipes for home made cleaners online, or there are now versions of traditional cleaning products that come as a tablet that you dissolve in water in a re-usable container. It saves the transport of larger heavier bottles and single-use plastic containers)
– changing toothbrushes to bamboo or biodegradable corn-starch toothbrush (I don’t like the feel of the bamboo for a toothbrush, but they make ones that feel like plastic but are instead made of corn-starch, and Woolworths even now sells them!)
– which toilet paper, tissues and paper towels we buy (made from recycled materials/bamboo, which grows faster and can be produced more sustainably);

When we made each of these changes, it was odd at first, washing re-usable silicon rather than just throwing the cling wrap away. But eventually it became normal. And not all the changes have worked… reusable paper-towels (more like a thin absorbent cloth you can throw in the wash) are great in theory, and I’m sure that they work for food spills. But not so much for cleaning up after cats…

What started me thinking about this was an email that I got this week. I subscribe to a newsletter that sends out positive things that have happened in environmental news, and I read about Victoria’s ban on helium balloon releases and the ‘Blow Bubbles, Not Balloons!’ campaign (if you would like to read this article, please click here). Despite the environmental impact of releasing balloons, it’s not something that I had known about before. Because of this, I thought that I would share a little bit about what I have learned about and changed in the past two years, and how my faith was the starting point for this journey.

I hope that some of you will consider if there are things that you could change to have a more positive impact on the environment. Change can be annoying at first, but eventually it becomes part of normal life – like when single use bags were removed from stores. With so many issues it can be hard to know how to help or where to start. But it’s not too difficult to spot ways that we can make choices that are good for the earth that we were given.

Author: Lauren Mead

03/10/2021

Hi Church,

As you may know, Pastor Roelof has been away on leave this week, and he has given me the opportunity to write this section of The Pulse. So I wanted to take this chance to write about something I have been thinking about recently… forgiveness.

It’s a topic that comes up regularly at church. At this point I think we all know that God forgives us, and we are called to forgive others. Both are concepts that I have struggled with at times, but neither is what I want to write about right now. I want to talk about forgiving yourself.

You see, when someone does something that hurts me, I have no trouble believing that I should forgive them. It can take me time to get to that point, to move through the hurt and forgive, but I can usually get there within a reasonable amount of time.

And when I do something wrong, I know that God forgives me. And more often than not, when I have hurt someone else and apologised, they have accepted the apology.

But this is where I get stuck. I replay over and over what I have done, what I should have done differently. If I forget something, I tell myself that I should have written it down, set an alarm, done something to make sure that I remember. If I say something that hurts someone, I replay what I said over and over, wondering why I couldn’t have phrased it differently, or held back words said in the heat of the moment.

Even things that don’t make sense… I struggle to call people, because I worry that I will interrupt something important, or take up their time. I worry that this action is a misstep, and so I avoid it. It’s an ironic problem to have given the work I do, but irrational though it may be, it’s in my head.

The thing is, I don’t hold other people to the same standard that I hold myself. It’s good that I know that others won’t be perfect and don’t expect them to be. It’s good that I can forgive them. What isn’t good is that I don’t give myself the same courtesy… really, I don’t allow myself the same grace.

Possibly one of the most well known verses (after John 3:16 and Jeremiah 29:11) would be Matthew 22:37-39:
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’

You will often hear variations of ‘love your neighbour’. The part that gets left out is the ending… ‘as yourself.’ I think that Jesus said it this way for a reason. Loving yourself matters.

It isn’t good, healthy or helpful to anyone for me to expect perfection of myself, and then punish myself when I fall short of an impossible standard. If God loves me enough to extend grace to me, should I not honour that by allowing myself to be imperfect, make mistakes, and have that be okay?

I don’t have some quick fix on how to cope with this. It’s something that I’ve been aware of for years, and have to continuously work at. It’s a problem more some days than others. What helps most times is stepping back. If this happened the other way around, if the person I hurt hurt me, would I be able to forgive and move on? Or if this happened to another person, what would be a reasonable course of action?

By taking myself out of the equation, it helps me see perspective. Don’t get me wrong, I can still get caught in a loop of blame and guilt over any mistake, big or small. But taking a step back and slowing down can help.

So, what I would like to say is ultimately this. Love yourself as you would your neighbour. 

Bye for now…
Lauren

26/09/21

Vaccine Passports And The Coercing Of Conscience: What Should Christians Think? (Part 2)

In this series, I aim to frame this discussion biblically so that Christians can make sense of the issue and respond well.
And so, here are four further points that help us understand the fraught issue of vaccine passports, conscience, and religious liberty:

1. The Key Question: When Might Governments Have a Compelling Reason for Restricting Religious Liberty?
In the previous post, we saw that the God-given role of Government is to:
i. Be a servant for the good of the people firstly by upholding law and order (Rom 13:1-6) and
ii. Not to coerce religious conscience, except where that conscience leads to actions that compromise law and order (e.g. the ISIS believer attacking a supermarket).
 
Thus, there may be good, God-given reasons for restricting some religious liberties. In other words, religious liberty isn’t absolute. This applies even to Christians: governments may have legitimate reasons for restricting our liberties.
So, for example, churches are restricted by Government in terms of who they can employ to teach children and youth in church. In NSW, the government has mandated that no one convicted of certain crimes (e.g., paedophilia) is allowed to lead your church’s Sunday school class, no matter how gifted and godly they may now be.
Of course, I’ve yet to hear even the most libertarian minded Christians complain about this restriction. After all, it seems like a reasonable restriction. But such laws do impact a church’s ability to carry out its mission.
Thus, the key issue is not ‘Government must never restrict religious liberty,’ but rather, ‘when is it acceptable for the Government to restrict religious liberty?’
N.b. This balance is codified in international law pertaining to religious liberty, in the  UN’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights—to which Australia is a signatory:
Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others. (ICCPR, Article 18.3)
While government restrictions on the employment of paedophiles in the church are deemed acceptable, what about restrictions not related to law and order? In particular, the use of vaccine passports? Is restricting a church’s ability to welcome Christians based on their vaccination status ever acceptable?
To answer this question, we need to take other factors into account:

2. Government (Arguably) Has a Compelling Interest To Protect The Health and Safety Of Its People (And in times of emergency, it could mean restricting religious liberty).
As we’ve seen in Romans 13, Government does have a role in upholding law and order (e.g. Rom 13:4). And why has God authorised Government to maintain law and order? Because they are God’s servants ‘for our good’ (Rom 13:4).
And thus, it’s not unreasonable for Government to do good to its people by helping protect their health and safety. Whether through road rules, medical regulations, or health and safety laws. Or by providing medical assistance via hospitals and other health care.
 
At this point, however, we’ve moved away from the Biblical text of Romans 13 and are in disputable territory (see Rom 14).
But such laws, regulations and provisions seem to be a reasonable outworking of Government working for the good of its people. In principle at least, it doesn’t seem to be Government over-reach (remembering, however, this is disputable territory).
Thus, in principle, there is (humanly speaking) a compelling government interest in protecting the health and safety of its population.
And this compelling health and safety interest has for many decades now placed some restrictions on churches religious liberty:

· Government restricts churches in the type of building they can gather in. For example, building and fire safety codes authorise how many people can meet in church buildings;

· Noise regulations restrict when churches can meet.

As far as I can tell, there has been very little pushback from Christians to these restrictions.
Now in times of crisis, such as a COVID pandemic, a government’s compelling interest could (and arguably should) be to protect the public hospital system from being swamped with COVID patients. If the hospitals were to be over-run—such as has occurred in other places (think Italy, New York, etc.)—other patients (both COVID and non-COVID) would have to be turned away.
The overwhelming of the hospital system would cause direct harm to thousands.
 
A responsible government that works for the good of its people would not want to see such a bad thing happen for the sake of the wider community and so could be justified in taking steps to prevent that from happening.
Even when it means restricting liberties: including religious freedoms. Masks. Social distancing. And, as we’ve seen over the last 18 months, lockdowns.
Whether such restrictions are justified and how far such restrictions can go is, Biblically speaking, a disputable matter: the Bible doesn’t give a direct answer to this. And so, Christians of good faith should give each other space to discuss and disagree on this matter.
But by and large, most Christians and Churches voluntarily accepted the need for such restrictions (albeit begrudgingly). Most agreed lockdowns were and are necessary for the public good (even as we’re concerned about their long term impact).
Of course, while governments may have a compelling interest in protecting the population’s health in principle, it’s not clear-cut what this may look like in particular. Does a compelling interest in people’s health and safety mean vaccine passports?

3. Vaccine Passports Could Be A Necessary Way for Government To Protect The Health and Safety of Its People
Again, we’ve moved away from the Biblical text and are on highly disputed grounds.
 
Thus, we should tread carefully, not putting words into God’s mouth.  There is no place for binding Christian conscience on issues where the Scripture is silent.
Yes, we can have an opinion informed by Biblical principles. But we mustn’t condemn other views as sinful before God because they don’t align with our opinion (c.f. Rom 14). Different Christians will come to different conclusions about these issues.
Personally,  I think it’s reasonable for Government to have a compelling public interest in protecting the viability of the State’s hospital system from COVID overwhelm (due to the dire consequences this would lead to for thousands of people) even when such restrictions include vaccine passports.
With that said, however, I think a good Scriptural principle (combined with a sober reading of human history) is that governments should be required to demonstrate compelling reasons for restricting people’s liberties (religious or otherwise). They should be able to show they have followed the least restrictive path to getting that outcome.[1]
Thus,  when it comes to vaccine passports, the onus should be on governments to show they are necessary (not just ‘nice to have’) for the sake of public health and that they are are going to be introduced in the least restrictive way possible.
Here are some possibilities of what this might look like:

· Mandated vaccine passports for those entering our country (e.g. analogous to ordinary passports);

· Vaccine passports for those working with vulnerable groups of people (e.g. in the aged care sector or with Indigenous health);

· Mandatory vaccine passports as a temporary measure to allow for easing of lockdown restrictions before we hit 80% double vaccinated (currently the NSW government’s position—although it’s uncertain whether VP’s are to be temporary).

· As soon as practicable, unvaccinated people are given other testing options (e.g. rapid antigen testing) to allow them entry into all public areas.

However, there should be a much higher threshold for mandating vaccine passports for areas that burden people’s ability to live a normal life (e.g. public transport, shopping centres, churches).
Again, to labour the point, this is not a clear-cut Scriptural issue. It’s disputable.
Other Christians are free to disagree with me:  some more conservative brothers argue that vaccine passports cross a dangerous line when it comes to personal freedoms. Others are happy with the concept of vaccine passports, as long as they’re managed in the least restrictive way possible (e.g. they don’t prevent people from participating in essential activities).

4. What About non-biblical Conscience Objections to Vaccine Passports?
When it comes to non-religious objections to vaccine passports, we can make the following points:

· Conscience—whether religious or otherwise—is never ‘inviolate’. That is, God authorises Government to violate religious conscience in some instances (law and order is a clear cut case), but arguably in other cases deemed necessary for the common good (e.g. lockdown restrictions/vaccine passports for the protection of the vulnerable in the community). Thus, Christians should not argue from the Bible that ‘all government restrictions against a person’s conscience are always bad.’

· By way of Biblical principle, historical wisdom, and international law, Government should demonstrate that those restrictions are necessary,  and are done in the least restrictive way possible.

Thus, a reasonable outcome is that a government comes to the difficult conclusion that it is necessary to protect public health through vaccine passports. In that case, it should seek to accommodate people’s conscientious objections as much as possible (e.g. by not forcing them to get vaccinated, providing other means of testing if possible). And yet, it will probably mean that the unvaccinated will have to bear the burden of restrictions, for the sake of the wider community.
It’s not a perfect solution, because we don’t live in a perfect world. In the words of Christian Legal expert Patrick Parkinson:
A religious person who has a non-religious objection to vaccination is absolutely entitled to refuse a violation of his or her bodily integrity; but this does not mean that governments and employers are not justified in imposing restrictions to protect others, so long as the restrictions are reasonable.
He concludes:
These are difficult times, and difficult judgments have to be made, respecting people’s right to consent or refuse consent to a medical intervention while doing what is necessary to protect others.
 As Parkinson points out, ‘difficult judgements have to be made.’
That’s the world we live in.



Sourced from: Akos Balogh, Vaccine Passports And The Coercing Of Concience: What Should Christians Think? (1/2), viewed 16 September 2021
https://au.thegospelcoalition.org/article/vaccine-passports-and-the-coercing-of-conscience-what-should-christians-think-1-2/

19/09/21

Vaccine Passports And The Coercing Of Conscience: What Should Christians Think? (Part 1)

Vaccine Passports are increasingly controversial among some Christians.

The recent ‘Ezekiel Declaration’ has garnered almost 3000 signatures from church leaders across Australia. It argues people should not be pressured to obtain a vaccine passport—partly because of conscience:

[C]onscience should never be coerced.  The conscience is one of the innermost expressions that animates an individual, and that allows them to worship God as well as obey a legitimate governing authority … We would therefore ask that the Government not coerce the conscience of many Australians through the use of a ‘vaccine passport.’

In other words, people shouldn’t be pressured by Government (through the threat of various consequences) to do something that might go against their conscience.

This view of conscience raises several questions:

· Should ‘conscience never be coerced’ by Government, as stated by the Ezekiel Declaration?

· Or is there another way to understand conscience and the Biblical role of Government?

· And what might this mean for vaccine passports?

Here are some considerations:

1. Governments are Put here by God, but not to coerce Religious Beliefs

According to Romans 13, God is the One who appoints Governments to their role (Rom 13:1-2).

Gentile Governments have no mandate to coerce religious belief or practice.

And what is the role of Government? In stark contrast to the Government of Old Testament Israel, gentile Governments have no mandate to coerce religious belief or practice. Neither Romans 13 nor any other passage on Government in the New Testament, gives Government that authorisation. On the contrary, the gospel must only be spread via the uncoerced appeal to people’s conscience (c.f. 2 Cor 4:2).

Furthermore, other passages show that Government is not to restrict belief in God (e.g. 1 Tim 2:1-4), but to allow Christians to live a ‘peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way’.

And so, Government should not coerce your conscience when it comes to your religious beliefs.

(Hence the reason why religious freedom for all—not just Christians—is a Biblical mandate: theocracy is unbiblical, as is any law that unnecessarily penalises religious belief and practice).

But does that mean that Government is not to coerce any conscience, as Ezekiel Declaration declares?


2. Government Is Authorised by God to ‘Coerce the Conscience’ of Wrongdoers

Governments should not coerce religious conscience regarding what people believe (or don’t believe) about God. But Government is mandated to coerce conscience when it comes to unjust (religious and non-religious) behaviour.

That is, Government has been authorised by God to ‘bear the sword’, to be ‘an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer’ (Rom 13:4), regardless of what their conscience might say.

Here are some examples:

· Suppose your neighbour becomes radicalised through online ISIS propaganda to believe it is his solemn duty to attack the local shopping centre. In that case, Government has a right to restrict the free exercise of his conscience by outlawing and punishing such behaviour.

· Suppose your Marxist colleague conscientiously objects to paying taxes ‘to an imperialist capitalist government that oppresses vulnerable minorities.’ In that case, the Government is still free to coerce their conscience by demanding they pay tax regardless (cf. Rom 13:6).

That’s the way God designed Governments.

What about Vaccine Passports? Should Government be free to coerce conscience when it comes to vaccination and vaccine passports?

Before we can answer that question, there are some more things to consider:



3. Vaccination and Vaccine Passports Should not be a Religious Freedom Issue for Christians as Individuals

To make vaccination and vaccine passports a clear-cut religious freedom issue, a religious group must demonstrate that their religious texts/tradition compels them to reject vaccination/vaccine passports.

A religious group must demonstrate that their religious texts/tradition compels them to reject vaccination/vaccine passports.

What about church-going, Bible-believing Christians here in Australia? Could we make a case that the Bible compels us to see vaccination or vaccine passports as a sin?

Again, the burden is on any church to make that claim, but historically almost none have. As Southern Baptist author Russell Moore points out:

Someone who is part of, for instance, a religious tradition that eschews all medical treatment, along with any other shots or inoculations, could make a credible claim to religious liberty. [But] there are very few such groups.

The Bible makes no clear cut ‘straight line’ argument from any specific text that vaccination or vaccine passports are wrong. There is no apostolic, ‘once for all delivered to the saints’ Biblical view on these issues.

Instead, it’s a disputable ‘jagged line’ issue, over which Christians are free to disagree with each other based on their conscience (see Romans 14).

Thus, Pastors and Christian leaders must be careful not to imply that their view on these issues is the Biblical view, to which their congregations must be bound. According to the Bible, it’s not a sin to get vaccinated or have a vaccine passport, or vice-versa.

Of course, there may be all sorts of reasons why Bible-believing Christians are uncomfortable with getting vaccinated or having a vaccine passport as individuals. But an appeal to religious freedom shouldn’t be one of them.

4. In the Absence of Direct Teaching from The Bible, Christians Can Still Bring Biblical (And Other) Principles To Bear On These Disputable Issues

When there is no direct God-given mandate on particular matters, the Bible may still speak to such issues indirectly.

Thus, there may well be grounds to criticise government policy on vaccine passports and vaccinations, such as their impact on other people and wider society (e.g. if a vaccine passport prevents people from buying essentials etc.).

We might also bring other non-biblical principles to bear on the issue (e.g. medical knowledge, law, historical wisdom etc.).

But again, Biblically speaking, our conclusions will be disputable (Rom 14)—even though the different principles that inform our view be clear from Scripture. Thus, in the absence of a direct word from the Bible, we should be reticent to baptise our conclusion as the Biblical view—as if we were an apostle handing down doctrine once for all time.

When it comes to churches, however, mandatory vaccine passports may pose a more direct challenge to Biblical teaching …

5. Mandatory Vaccine Passports May Be a Religious Freedom Issue for Churches

While Scripture has no prohibition on Christians getting vaccinated or owning a vaccine passport, a government mandate for Churches to only allow the vaccinated prevents churches from operating in a Scriptural way, where all Christians are to gather (Heb 10:25), not just the vaccinated.

The question then becomes whether this is a necessary and justifiable burden (such as building fire regulations or noise curfews, for example). Or whether it’s an unnecessary government imposition (such as the Victorian anti-conversion laws).

And so, when it comes to religious freedom, this is where the conversation needs to focus. That conversation will also help inform how we might think about conscience rights.

And we’ll explore that more in the upcoming post.

Sourced from: Akos Balogh, Vaccine Passports And The Coercing Of Concience: What Should Christians Think? (1/2), viewed 16 September 2021
https://au.thegospelcoalition.org/article/vaccine-passports-and-the-coercing-of-conscience-what-should-christians-think-1-2/

12/09/2021

 Dear Church Family,
 
Over the past while we have all noticed that church attendance is down. You have noticed this when someone who have been even semi-regular have not been seen for months now. You have also noticed this if you are a treasurer or on any church board or council, or have attended a congregational meeting where finances and drop in giving have been discussed.
 
Thank you Covid! Or is it really Covid?
 
As you already know, long before Covid, it was already difficult to get people to attend weekend church services. Travel, sports, weekend away, the well reported slow death of cultural Christianity and a growing indifference and increased mobility meant that for most churches, or worshiping communities, attendance was flat or already declining.
 
Post-Covid, as churches reopened, and we’ve certainly noticed this, it seems like that attendance that was on a slow decline has now fallen off a cliff.
 
It would be easy to diagnose the current low reopening attendance numbers as a “medical precaution” or merely a “medical issue”…but what if the problem runs much deeper than that?
 
Research (pre-Covid) have already shown that church attendance is well in decline and has been over that past 20 years or so. The LCA’s reports this much as well. The current “church attendance crisis” is not medical, it is cultural. “Medical” would be nice, it would be easy, it would be a “comfortable scapegoat”…but there is something deeper going on, and it has for decades now.
 
After all, crisis is not an “inventor” it is an “accelerator”. The arrival of Covid did not “invent a new” issue it merely “accelerated the already known” issue.
 
As much as we may want to ignore it, argue against it, pretending this is not the case…the reality is that the trend has been there, the end point might just have moved forward a couple of decades. And it is important for us to handle this knowing that “denial” is not a strategy. Simply denying what we hate will not get our church to a place we will love.
 
So, as a church community, we can do one of two things…we can:
 
1) “Romanticise” or “Wish-dream” that “once everything is over (and we have no idea when this will be) everything will be back to ‘normal’”, or,
2) Ask ourselves honestly “what is going on?” and “what can we do now?”.
 
Now, I don’t know about you, but I am not willing to sit, and to be really blunt, roll the dice, and hope things “return”. Return to what exactly? A slow decline as we worry more about our comfort and the gaps in our roster?
 
Are you tired of “just waiting”? Are you tired of just “hoping things would improve a little” whilst not being so optismistic?
 
Then let us go experience the joy and hope that God has waiting for us as we live out our purpose as the Ipswich Lutheran Church. Let us be the proactive, Spirit-driven, hope-giving, gospel-motivated and joy-experiencing community we have been made and called to be and go meet people wherever they are at instead of waiting.
 
Let us be the church for all its worth, taking hope to everyone everywhere and receiving the joy that comes through that.
 
You are all loved and appreciated.
 
In His Service,
Pastor Roelof

05/09/2021

Psalm 121:1-4
I lift up my eyes to the mountains
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—
    he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.


You are hiking…there’s a big mountain in front of you…what’s your thoughts?

  • Obstacle?
  • Difficult to overcome?
  • Steep, need help?
  • Scared will fall or get crushed?

Think about the phrase, “someone watching you, and they never slumber nor sleep”…what comes to mind?

  • Pays attention to your life?
  • Sees everything?
  • Nothing gets passed them?

Sometimes, as we carry on with our daily living, life seems to throw a mountain in our way. This could be ill health news, negative work news, sad family news, or maybe just a situation which seems unfamiliar and, at least for the moment, without the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.

This is the exact situation and opportunity to allow Psalm 121 to speak into your situation and give you the courage and hope you need for the next moment, the next day, the next week, and whichever period of time until you see “the light at the end of the tunnel”. And the encouragement and hope from Psalm 121 is this:

Yes, there’s a mountain…but there’s a maker of heaven and earth, who is bigger than your mountain. He made everything and everything above and everything below, in fact, everything that is seen and is unseen…and He made you!

Even more to the point, He made you out of love and to love and for love. And, furthermore, what you, His beloved, are going through are not going unnoticed by God.

God is paying attention to your life and while “the mountain” is getting sorted, He sends family and friends to surround us and care for us until that day you can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

God cares about you, and what you’re going through is not unnoticed and will work out for your good.

In His Service,

Pastor Roelof

29/08/2021

Anxious Times?

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” – Jeremiah 31:8

Hi Church Family,

Growing up in South Africa is certainly an interesting experience. Of course, you don’t think much of it then because you’re accustomed to it, but you certainly notice a lot about life in hindsight. I remember when we went on holidays, and when we came back, because it wasn’t the safest place in the world, Dad would always get out of the car, lock the doors, and go through the house first to make sure it was safe for us. He would then come get us and walk in with us, and when we were safely inside he would unload the car.
 
I notice a similar thing with my five year-old at night. She is a little tentative about the dark so I tend to go in first, turn the light on, then I come get her and we walk in together.
 
And so it is also with God. Whatever stage of your journey or season of life you find yourself, do not be afraid of what is ahead, God goes before you. And whatever circumstances come along or whenever difficult situations arise, do not be discouraged, God is with you.
 
If you are at work then the our current situation means uncertainty about “will I be able to go to work, will I have to do what I can from home, or will I be stood down?” If something in your life has changed significantly because of the pandemic, you’re probably in a stage of transition, wondering what is to come. Should you try to get back as close as possible to what things used to be? Or is it better to embrace the changes and try to find what is next? If you are a parent then you are dealing with thoughts of “prep for home learning” in the back of your mind which might, or not, happen any day. All of us, but particularly those with health issues, are fatigued with weighing whether or not to go out once lockdowns are lifted. 
 
But here’s the thing, as ‘scary’ as some of those thoughts might be, ultimately, do not be afraid, do not be anxious, God has walked before you, you are safe. God is also walking with you, you are not alone. We can trust this because God has shown this to be true to the extremes of life, to the point of death. He goes before us even in death so that he can walk with us in life.
 
In His Service,
Pastor Roelof
 
God, thank you that you know go before us, that you keep us safe. Thank you that you are with us, that we are never alone. Help us all to trust in you so that we can experience the love, joy and peace that only comes by believing in you. In Jesus’, name, Amen. 

22/08/2021

Restore, repair, rebuild.

When we hear or read these words, we often associate them with hope for what is to come. When we sense this hope, it is so easy to minimise or dismiss the circumstances that came before.

You see, the prefix ‘re-‘  is used to indicate one of two things; either something occurring again, or something going back to its previous form. For this to happen, things usually have to fall apart first.

When you know the outcome of the story, it is oh-so easy to gloss over this part. We remind ourselves first of the happy ending so that the complication doesn’t feel so terrifying.

We often do this with the Bible. We know that Jesus was resurrected, so we don’t empathise with the fear Peter would have felt when denying Jesus. Or when the people of Israel questioned God and Moses when an army was chasing them after fleeing Egypt. With our 20/20 hindsight we decide that we would act differently, that we would do better if faced with the same circumstances. When time and culture separate us from these people, it’s easy to think that we would do better. After all, we do have the comfort of knowing the outcome. 

What we don’t have the outcome to is our own stories, the interweaving of stories that is occurring around us every day. We don’t know the exact outcome of every circumstance. We react to what is around us because we don’t know what path the story will take.

When you’re living through the part of the story where things fall apart, crumble, or just seem to disappear, more often than not if is terrifying. But there is more to the story. And while we may not know just what the ending is, or how we will get there, we know who is with us.

It may sound like a cliché, but in the middle of everything seeming to unravel, it can be easy to forget. To think only of the mountain before you, and forget all of the hills that have come before. It doesn’t change what you’re facing, but it does provide some perspective. While we can’t look forward and know the answers, we can look back. We have precedents to remind us of what happens after everything falls apart.

Restore, repair, rebuild.

Author: Lauren Mead

15/08/2021

Dear Church Family,

There I have, many a time, heard people communicate, in various ways, that they seem to “know about God” but want to really “know Him”. That they have grown up learning about all the wonderful things God has done but somehow feel a need to “delve deeper” into their faith and their God.
 
I want to encourage you through the words of someone else. Faithful faith-filled child of God, husband, father, pastor and friend Adam Ramsey in his book Truth on Fire writes the following:
 
Perhaps you sense a disconnect between your thinking about God and your experience of God? A gap between the life of your mind
and a life of your heart?
 
Maybe you’re a part of a church (or denomination) that emphasises solid Bible teaching and the life of the ‘mind’. You’ve experienced a number of wonderful Bible-study groups
and maybe even discussed systematic theology with friends, but there’s a gnawing sense that something is still missing – and incompleteness. The teaching is meaty and solid,
so why does your Christianity feel dry? You can articulate biblical answers and you love the truth of them. But it is truth  like a treasured photo of a father who lives far away,
when what you really long for is one of his hugs.
 
Deep down you wish you could have a greater experience of the God that you have learned so much about. Is it wrong to want more? The simple answer to that question is: no.
One of the great tragedies of this present generation of Christians has been the divorce between theological and experiential Christianity. On one side you have churches committed
to theological accuracy, knowing the word of God, and holding a high view of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. We’ll call this team “The Thinkers”.
 
“The Thinkers” often view the others (or “The Feelers”) as thoughtless, and “The Feelers” often disregard “The Thinkers” as lifeless. And more often than not, both are completely right.
 
What if we didn’t have to choose between an intelligent faith and a passionate one? After all, a sharp mind with a cold heart is just as big of a fail as a heart radically on fire about
nonsense.
 
The life of the mind and the life of the heart shouldn’t really need to be ‘reconciled’, because they were always meant to be friends. God intends for us to pursue a Christianity that
is radically committed to theological clarity in a way that does not diminish the life of the heart but actually intensifies it.
 
 
If you have learnt about God you entire life and want to experience Him more…if you want not only to know the guy in the photo, but feel His hug…then pursue it with all you have.
If you have felt overwhelmed by God’s goodness and love and long to know Him more deeply…then pursue it with all you have.
 
This, all of this, is our journey together…let’s go about it with all we have.
 
In His Service,
Pastor Roelof