How many christian denominations? Who cares? And why do they care?

Almost 6 years ago I posted on How many christian denominations worldwide. I had been asked this question by an internet friend (not a christian believer) who was tired of hearing unsupported claims.

It has become my most visited and most commented page, accounting for almost half the visitors to this site.

I can’t help wondering why the interest in such a subject.

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Who’s the boss? Leadership in the christian church

Did Jesus mean it to come to this?

You can read a lot about leadership, whether in companies and in the church. You can attend conferences, read books, check out websites about leadership. You can find lists of the essential characteristics of good leadership.

But what does Jesus say about leadership? How does it fit with what the leadership gurus tell us? And how does it match with what we see in our churches?

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Grasstree Gathering: surely it’s time for recognition, unity and respect?

Grasstree Gathering

Australia’s indigenous peoples form a small minority (2.8%) in the country they once had to themselves, and have suffered significantly since white colonisation (which can reasonably be seen as an invasion). About three quarters identify as christian.

They tend to be a spiritual people, but it can be difficult for them to meet with other indigenous christians, because of their small numbers and often remote locations. Grasstree Gathering was organised to offer this opportunity.

Grasstree was held in Sydney this past week. 85 indigenous christian leaders and potential leaders attended for several days, some leaving their remote community for the first time. Non-indigenous christians were invited to support the Gathering in several ways, including attending several of the events.

We were privileged to attend, and meet many of the delegates.

Symposium

A full day symposium was held to inform white Australians like me about indigenous culture and viewpoints.

Aboriginal christians see their indigenous spirituality as consistent with the christianity they now believe, and one theme of the symposium was correcting what they see as a wrong impression among non-indigenous christians that their traditional spirituality is pagan or worse. They believe, I think with some justification, that they have a lot to offer the white christian church.

They naturally feel they have in the past been unfairly invaded and mistreated, and since then displaced, marginalised and disrespected. They feel they are still often treated as second class citizens who have to change to adapt to white people’s ways that they often feel are not good. It is hard to argue against this, even though it hurts to admit that “my people” have perpetrated injustices and mistreatment.

Even more hurtful is the clear fact that many white Australians simply don’t care about the hurts aboriginal peoples have suffered, and still feel, often thinking they should “just get over it”. I was asked by one aboriginal leader why I think that there is so little empathy and support even from white christians, was the issue simply too political? I had to say I suspect it is laziness and lack of christian love – for if we care, we will have to do something about it.

The interesting, and sometimes surprising, thing is that the aboriginal christians bear so little malice. Their plea is simply that we non-indigneous christians walk with them. They ask us to be accomplices in making change, helping make a better Australia and a stronger church.

The symposium also addressed aboriginal history, writing, art and education. I learnt a lot, and made a few new friends.

Uncle Rex and his wife Ida, from remote Central Australia are interviewed by Steve Bevis (a white pastor and singer from the same area) about life, spirituality and art.

Artist Safina Stewart explains the genesis of one of her artworks.

Prayer gathering

At a previous Grasstree Gathering, Brooke Prentis, who organised this gathering, had a vision of a place she had never visited, where she foresaw aboriginal and non-aboriginal christians gathering together to pray for reconciliation. Almost two years ago, Brooke came to speak at our church, and we took her to Kurnell, where Captain Cook first had dealings with aboriginal people. There she saw the place she had seen in her vision, a significant location in Australian and aboriginal history.

Her vision came to fruition this week as a large group of indigenous and non-indigenous christians (as in the photo at top) came together to pray for unity and to symbolically express solidarity.

It was a deeply moving time for me.

Sand and ashes from places all over Australia were placed on the map of the 300 aboriginal nations, and mixed, to symbolise the unity in diversity of indigenous and non-indigenous christians across this land.

Safina explains the symbolism of the sand and ashes.

Celebration night

This was more of a fun night, as a range of indigenous artists performed song and dance.

An ad hoc singing group from North Queensland and Torres Strait.

Aboriginal artworks, one of which was presented to the school whose venue was used for the night.

Sightseeing day

The day after the gathering concluded, we led about 30 of the delegates on a sightseeing day around Sydney city and harbour. It was a great opportunity to make some new friends.

On the ferry.

The group after lunch at Watsons Bay.

Reflections

Grasstree 2018 was a great blessing to us. We learnt, shared a small part of the journey, made new friends and gained a new status as “accomplices” in bringing indigenous and non-indigenous christians together. I don’t see this as my main mission in life, but I think christian love demands that I respond as best I can.

Aboriginal people have much to offer the Australian church – for example their humour, their sense of community, their laid-back nature, their spirituality and their focus on the essentials of following Jesus.

I hope many Australian christians are willing to journey with them, learn from them, support them and make a better Australia.

Did Jesus mean it to come to this?

More than two billion people in the world today identify as followers of Jesus. This includes a fair percentage of inhabitants of the USA, currently the world’s most powerful nation, its most influential via film, TV, social media and popular music, and home of some of the world’s richest people.

My country, Australia, still has a significant christian presence (maybe 10%), and you’ll find followers of Jesus in every first world country, as well as all over the rest of the world.

It is a long way from rural Galilee, a small backwater of the ancient Roman Empire, to some of the richest and busiest cities in the world. How have the teachings of Jesus survived the journey?

I wonder if Jesus came back whether he would be surprised and pleased at how his followers are doing? Or not?

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Patriarchy, headship and equality

It hasn’t always been comfortable being a man during these #metoo days. Men we might have thought could be trusted have been accused, and often admitted to, all manner of unacceptable, sexually predatory and abusive behaviour, mostly against women.

For me, it became most pointed when this last weekend I read a long article in the Sydney Morning Herald, The Great Sexual Reckoning by David Leser.

We christians surely need to listen, take notice, and act in whatever way we believe is necessary and appropriate.

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Looking ahead: 12 lessons for churches in 2018

Predictions are a dime a dozen, and predictions about the church in the western world can be awfully generalised. Nevertheless, I found some predictions and warnings by Carey Nieuwhof were worth considering.

The predictions clearly relate to the North American church (Carey is Canadian), so a few probably won’t apply to countries like Australia and Great Britain where the church has long been a minority culture, but I’m sure you’ll find a few that are relevant to you. Carey has presented some of his observations as negatives (i.e. things NOT to believe), but I have re-worded them as positive truths to make them all consistent.

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When churches lose sight of their core

Child sexual abuse is a terrible crime and rightly loathed by most people. And churches have, tragically, been home to some of the worst offenders.

The Australian Government set up a Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse almost 5 years ago. (A Royal Commission is a judicial process that has wide powers, and less restrictions than a court of law.) After more than 70,000 calls, emails, letters and interviews, the Commission has delivered its final report and recommendations.

The revelations coming out of the Commission are heart-breaking and its findings raise many issues. This post is just a few thoughts in response. (All quotes below are taken from the Executive Summary of the Commission’s report.)

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Learning from our mistakes as the world changes around us

Christianity began as a minority group within Judaism and within the Roman Empire. But from the time Constantine made it acceptable, christianity became the dominant religion, and Christendom was generally the dominant social force, in Europe and colonies in Africa, the Americas and the Pacific. Christianity was often the state religion, most people were nominally christian, and churches had significant influence.

Until now.

For a couple of decades now, thoughtful christians have been warning that the age of Christendom and of privilege was over. And we are starting to see that more clearly.

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500 years later – a new reformation

This post is a revised version of my 2014 post The new Reformation.

Martin Luther with iPhone

Martin Luther is examined for heresy.

500 years ago, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the Wittenberg church door, and, it is often said, began the Protestant Reformation.

40 years ago I came to the conclusion that the church in the western world was, in the next few decades, going to go through changes as significant as the Reformation. I felt we had moved away from the truth in several important areas – inward looking and hierarchical churches with structures that hinder rather than help the mission of Jesus, dead orthodoxy in many christians’ lives (including me), and failing to heed Jesus’ teachings on non-violence, acceptance and the perils of wealth – and God surely wouldn’t allow this to continue unchecked.

I think we are now in the middle of this new reformation, and here are some of the signs I see.

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