Over the past few months, I have been considering those personal qualities and Christian characteristics that we should have in these first decades of the twenty-first century. But first we consider our changing Australia.
1. ADMISSION OF OUR NATIONAL FAILURES.
It is refreshing that note that Australians are starting to recognize our failures of the past. A new mood recognizes that since the first Europeans, the Portuguese, came to our country in the mid-1500’s on the west coast, we could have done better. We carried a lot of the bitterness, prejudice and racism of Europe to this country.
We have been racist in our attitudes to indigenous people, Pacific Islanders and Asians particularly. Our attitudes to Aborigines is a cause of deep regret. Emeritus Professor of Australian Prehistory at ANU, D.J. Mulvaney believes the best estimate of Aboriginal population of Australia in 1788 when Europeans came to the East Coast of Australia, was 750,000 people. This number rapidly decreased mainly through the ravages of European diseases.
The worst diseases were smallpox, measles, chest ailments, venereal disease and alcoholism. Pacific Islanders were exploited as indentured Kanakas working on our cane-fields.
The Asians were discriminated against through our White Australia policy. Post War European migrants were labeled Dagos and Wogs. The bitter sectarian attitudes between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland came here with Irish convicts and their English over-lords creating a divide still be heard in the rhetoric of the debate on whether we become a Republic.
But we are now admitting our national failures. We have just expressed our deep and sincere regret that indigenous Australians suffered injustices under the practices of past generations, and for the hurt and trauma that many indigenous people continue to feel as a consequence of those practices, as Prime Minister Howard put it.
The report into the Stolen Generation made us aware that our policies in the past fell far short of what an enlightened understanding today desires. The rewriting of our Constitution and its preamble has caused us to sort our values.
We are making admission of our past national failure. That is a healthy experience for any nation. There seems to be an indication that we are maturing as a nation, and recognizing past failure is a sign of such. God promised: 2 Chron 7:14 “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
2. CAN THE AUSTRALIAN CHURCH RESCUE US?
Our nation is facing a crisis. We live in a land of peace and prosperity, with sound, democrat-ically elected governments, with growing accountability from those in positions of authority, and a high level of personal morality. Yet such is the rate of change and the decline in personal ethics, we are now facing a national moral crisis. Can religion give Australia new hope?
Traditionally the church has delivered that sense of national cohesion and rec-on-ciliation. But is the church capable of deliv-ering it today? Some main-line churches are divided over lack of commit-ment to the Scriptures as the only revela-tion of God.
Their acceptance of immoral sexual standards among clergy without any expectation of change of behaviour is a denial of the discipline and beliefs of the church over centuries. That denial is a heavy price for being thought trendy.
Some chur-ch-es are politi-cally aligned and spok-es-persons speak to every issue along predict-able ideological lines not sup-ported by a majori-ty of their mem-bers. The very organism that people should be able to turn to in con-fidence, is itself in crisis.
These church-es are show-ing signs of wear and tear and lack of direction. They adopt a reli-gious plu-ral-ism that believes no one can be ever wrong and a post-modern-ism which de-clares every-thing is subjective, open to your own opinion. What is important is not the Bible, nor what Christians be-lieve, but what is your story. One view is as good as any other. Ever-yone does what is right in his or her own eyes. That church attitude will never help Australia.
For these Churches, Christianity has become a form not a force. Faith is a per-formance not a person. It is religion not a relationship. They minister by remote control, preach by memory. They have no fire, no fervour, no friendship with the living Jesus.
These churches spend their time on what Kenno-n Callahan calls “pro-tect-ing their place on the face of the cliff.” In mountain climbing, clim-b-ers can find them-selves on the face of a cliff without a handhold or foothold ahead or behind. In that pre-di-ca-ment many freeze. They cling for dear life. They fear any move could mean the abyss be-low. Many churches be-come fro-zen on the face of the cliff.
They cannot find any-thing in their history that would save them. They cannot see anything hope-ful. They be-came preoccu-pied with main-te-nance, mem-bership, and money. That kind of church should die. It has no relevance to the needs of Australia as we enter the twentyfirst century.
3. IS THERE ANY HOPE FOR OUR FUTURE?
A crisis abounds in nation and church. Where is an answer? Only commitment to Jesus Christ offers us hope. Jesus made the laws of Moses tougher and the stand-ard of morality among His follow-ers harder. He was marginalised because of His teach-ings and His close association with the poor, the rejected and the leprous, put Him offside with everyone from the Pharisees to the Romans.
Yet Jesus Christ be-came, through the Cross and Resur-rec-tion, the Messiah of all. He will one day return to estab-lish God’s Kingdom and reign on earth as in heaven. Our only hope lies in commit-ted Christians, obedient to the scriptures, who pray for the gov-ernments and wit-ness to their faith, and who are willing to live under the authori-ty of the Word of God. Will our nation con-tinue to decline or can individuals find in Jesus Christ the deep answer?
The “Great South Land of the Holy Spirit” this week became the meeting place for the President of the most powerful nation on earth at the beginning of the twenty-first century, and the President of the nation which will be the most powerful nation on earth at the end of the twenty-first century. President George W Bush and President Hu Jintao flew into Canberra to address both Houses of Parliament in joint sittings. I was there.
I sat in a reserved section for twelve people who had been invited by Mr Howard to meet Mr Bush personally to discuss issues on their minds. The twelve were an impressive group of Australian leaders. I was honoured to go to the Cabinet Room and to meet and discuss issues I thought were important with the President. Issues like Iraq, free trade, international relations, Australian prisoners in American prisons and agricultural subsidies were on the agenda.
When President Bush heard I was from Wesley Mission, he offered that he was a Methodist and attended a Methodist Church. I told him I knew that and many other things about his spiritual life. I encouraged the President to push through his reforms involving “faith-based initiatives”. He replied that the legislation on faith-based initiatives was the most important on his domestic agenda and he was determined to use state funds to help churches and synagogues run social programs meeting community needs.
I informed him I had been reading a publishers preview copy of a new book “The Faith of George W. Bush” (Pan/Charisma) by Stephen Mansfield. He asked me how it had treated his faith. I told him and the First Lady that the author and his team of researchers had uncovered some fascinating and little-known information about Bush’s conversion, his sense of divine calling and how faith helped him overcome his drinking habit.
I guess I was the only person on his overseas visit that talked to the President about his drinking habits! But people are interested in the President’s faith. They also have a lot of questions that need to be answered. He knew about the book.
I told him this book, due to be released on November 11, includes the fact that Bush first heard the call to run for president during a sermon by the Rev. Mark Craig at Highland Park United Methodist Church in Dallas. Craig described Moses’ reluctance to lead God’s people, and Bush’s mother, Barbara, turned to him and said, “He was talking to you.”
The First Lady Laura, immediately informed me that was true. I mentioned that before Bush announced his candidacy, he invited Texas Evangelist James Robison to meet with him for prayer. That was also true.
George Bush is a close friend of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, also a committed Christian. The two have shared Scripture and prayed together. George W. Bush has attempted to apply faith to presidential leadership.
He asked me what I felt the book would do to his standing among Christians and I replied, much to his and the First Lady’s delight, that it would help him get re-elected next year. I stressed the need for more openness in his commitment to Christ.
Christianity is not a way of life. It is not Western culture. It is not conformity to a standard of living. Christianity is a rela-tionship with Jesus Christ who sends us as His ambassadors of reconciliation. We are facing a rapid deterioration of the Christian ethic. Jesus confronted the economic and political power structures of His day, out of His commitment to God.
He died on a Cross, not be-cause He dared to change hymn-numbers, but be-cause He cared for the poor and was prepared to confront and change practices and policies of injust-ice.
Chuck Colson said “What we do must flow from who we are. Christians must contend for biblically informed morali-ty and justice in the halls of power. That is the balance that keeps our ethics and our activism in proper perspective. I urge you to hold tightly to your courage and your moral convictions during the stressful days ahead. This is no time to wimp out!”
God knew when He had rescued the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt and brought them into their own land, they would prosper. With prosperity there comes complacency. With complacency there comes a decline in personal ethics and morality. People will accept anything. In the name of tolerance all standards disappear. They forget their heritage and what made them a people.
God knew that. So when Israel entered the Promised Land, God reminded them: Deut 8:7-14 “The LORD your God is bringing you into a good land–a land with streams and pools of water, with springs flowing in the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills. When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you.
Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day.
Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God.”
How relevant is that to Australia today!
Australia is changing. Many of the changes causes us regret, but, thank God, we are learning to regret our past sins and failures! Now let us commit ourselves to a few future with committed Christians making the legislation for the future of our land.
Charles Colson. Christianity Today Feb. 8, 1993, p.112.