I am writing to you as an “outsider,” but I felt compelled to write about some things I observed about the church in Australia. I write this hoping that no offense will be taken to my observations and thoughts. Instead, these concerns will lead to repentance and reformation among Christians in your country. I love the church in Australia, and I have always felt at home and delighted in her fellowship. I feel a strong kinship with Australian Christians; many of my closest friends are Australians.
Though I have concerns and criticisms, let me be clear: I am not approaching this as an indicting prosecutor seeking a conviction. Instead, I am a brother who loves Christ and the church and desires to see the Church reform. It is the hope of reformation that has led me to write this. It is a desire to see you and other Christians in Australia pursue holiness. It is a desire to see Aussie Christians furthered in their walk with Christ. It is a desire for the Glory of God and the purity of God’s people that is my chief aim. These criticisms will undoubtedly land close to home, but in the words of Proverbs 27:6 “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” So dear brother, please hear me out.
Where is the preaching of repentance in the church of Australia? When Christ entered the ministry, his first sermons are characterized in Matthew 4:17 as “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” The Westminster Shorter Catechism defines repentance in Q&A 87 as: “Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.”
I fear this full-orbed view of repentance is not preached in many Australian pulpits. It is further my concern that few Australian Christians understand what repentance is, much less what it looks like in their own lives. Christ also was urgent in His preaching; it seems that the church of Christ in Australia lacks this urgency concerning the Gospel. Back to repentance, though, to repent means one must turn from sin. There is a dreadful lack of preaching about sin. The law is not preached to show sin nor as a rule of life for the believer. Instead of sin, repentance, and Christ, the preaching in the Australian church is more like what Guy Mason told David Koch (to be clear, I have no desire to pick on Guy Mason, he did the best he could in a difficult situation) in that now infamous interview. That Jesus is about “life and love.” It is arguably accurate but unhelpfully vague and reeks of avoiding hard issues.
When Mason said that Jesus is about “life and love,” he was not entirely wrong. Yet, in the Australian church, I fear there is little preached about the type of life that Jesus expects His people to live- the life of holiness. Little is said of “be ye holy for I am holy” (Leviticus 19:2, 1 Peter 1:16); there is a lack of pressing Christians toward holiness. A want of concern for practical holiness in daily life. Further, the Christian life is a life of self-denial and of cross-bearing. Christ stated plainly in Matthew 16:24 that for any to come to Him, they must be willing to deny themselves and take up the cross.
I fear the life of denial, the life of suffering following the pattern of the Savior, is seldom preached or even grasped. To say Jesus is about “love” is true, but I hear little of the type of love Christ desires of His people. The command is to “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, mind, soul, and strength.” (Mattew 22:37) Or where Christ said in Matthew 10:37, “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” The Gospel is exclusive; Christ said that he, and he alone, is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). The holiness demanded by faith, the self-denial, and the exclusivity of the Gospel seem to feature low on the emphasis of Australian evangelical preaching.
I am afraid, dear brother, everything I have said thus far is but a symptom of the problem. The problem I see among Christians in Australia is worldliness. By worldliness, I am speaking of what we read in 1 John 2:15-17 “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever.”
John pointed out that to love the world means prioritizing earthly pleasure more than the Gospel. It is to be taken up with the here and now at the expense of the eternal. Worldliness in the church looks like Christians having their hearts set on the world and not on heaven. Christian conduct takes a terrible dive; there is no holiness. The church is run like a business with the incentive of profit instead of spiritual matters. But, brother, notice the condemnation of much of the church in John’s writing that if we love the world, the love of the Father is not in us.
James speaks of worldliness in another way in James 4:4 “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever, therefore, will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” The church in Australia acts like the world, thinks like the world, gives its children over to the world’s education, and desires its members to achieve success by worldly standards. The church in Australia is frankly so weak because many of its members are adulterers; they love not God but the World. It is like this in every Western nation. How desperately Christians need to be “other-worldly,” and how much the world’s thinking, attitudes, and ways need to come out of the church. Undoubtedly, the Lord has a controversy with the Australian church over its worldliness.
The Lord, by the mouth of Moses, threatened to scatter Israel among the nations if they did not obey the Lord’s commands and worshipped idols. (Deu. 4:26-27) In the New Testament, the Gospel is not confined to the boundaries of one nation, but rather it goes out to the whole earth. When the church begins to fall into worldliness, it is not scattered among the “nations” but reverts to its own nation. That is to say, when the church looks like the world, it is a sure sign that God is displeased with the church, and the church is under judgment. Brother, the church in Australia is full of the world.
Think of worship: Sermons are light, fluffy, and often full of references to sinful movies. Everything is so casual – the Holy Scriptures are preached with jokes and lightheartedness. Much of the music in the church is geared toward emotional highs and sounds like rock or pop. In most churches in the West, it doesn’t feel like Christians are worshipping the Holy, Triune God, who is Almighty. It feels like an exercise in feel-good self-help therapy with catchy music. Perhaps, the world would not mock Christians so readily if we took our faith seriously and did not look so laughable to them. The church can never succeed in looking like the world. The church will never grow or increase by trying to be like the world. The world is always better at being the world than the church. When the church becomes seemingly indiscernible from the world, that is apostasy- an abandonment of the faith.
The prophet Haggai captured the malaise that Australian Christians are under well. Haggai prophesied to Israel after the remnant returned to the land from the Babylonian captivity. Upon returning to Palestine, they began to rebuild the temple. Eventually, their enemies opposed the rebuilding of the temple, and ultimately, a royal decree put a stop to the project (Ezra 4:23-24). Though several other motives aside from persecution contributed to the lack of rebuilding. There was worldliness and laziness. That is where Haggai comes in and challenges the church. They were living comfortable lives while the temple was in disrepair.
Haggai stated, “Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your cieled houses, and this house lie waste?” (Haggai 1:4). The idea of cieled houses refers to panelling a luxury. Haggai is rebuking them for pursuing worldly gain. At the same time, the place of worship, the temple- where God dwelled among His people, was desolate. The reality was they lost sight of something many Christians and churches in our day have lost sight of. That is the need and privilege of God’s presence. In Haggai 1:5 and again in verse 7, the remnant is called to consider their ways. Brother, that is what you must do, consider your ways, and that is what the church in Australia must do, consider her ways. She must consider how she relates to society and the events of the world around her.
Recently, the resignation of Andrew Thorburn altered many Christians to the fact that their views are unpopular and even despised in modern society. It seems that before this, sadly, many Christians were unaware of the divergence between biblical beliefs and the world. This was the proverbial “canary in the coal mine” for many, but it could be too little too late. The reason that Thorburn’s saga attracted so much attention is that it involved “footy.” Coupled with the fact it is in vogue for the media and societal elites to bully Christians. The terrifying part about what happened to Andrew Thorburn is that the march of the enemies of Christ across all institutions of society is nearly complete when someone can be sacked over their church association.
Truthfully, the Thorburn matter should be the most minor concern to Australian Christians. For example, in the Northern Territory, legislation is being debated that would prevent Christian schools from being distinctly Christian. The legislation would avert Christian schools from hiring based on faith and lifestyle. That is to say, if one is not a Christian, that cannot exclude them from teaching in a Christian school. Or if one lives a lifestyle that does not comport with what the Bible teaches, they cannot use that as a reason not to hire or fire them. This sort of legislation is designed to attack and undercut the church. To subvert the teaching of the Christian religion. Yet, Australian Christians don’t seem to be too alarmed. The proposals of similar laws elsewhere in Australia don’t seem to ring any other massive alarm bells.
Brother, I fear the “she’ll be right” attitude of Australian Christians will lead to your demise. I could list other examples, such as a law proposed in Tasmania which may even affect what pastors say in the pulpit. Still, the point is this: the church in Australia isn’t influencing the culture in any way that leads to righteousness. The Australian church’s attempts to be like the world have done just that, made the church like the world- sins and all. The result is that there are few faithful Christian voices in the civil arena. A consistent public Christian witness in Australia gets you as much flack from the church as it does from unbelievers.
Yet, in all of this, I fear that political engagement will do the church little good. I am not saying that Christians should not witness for God’s truth- they should. Further positively, I am saying that Christians must oppose laws that will hurt the church and lead society to sin. This is simply part of a consistent Christian witness. On the other hand, I once heard a statistic about some 5 million Evangelical Christians in Australia. Let’s assume this statistic is accurate; if it is, it shows a significant problem. There are approximately 25 million people in Australia. That means that Evangelicals are roughly 20% of the population. Though they seemingly exert little influence in society. This demonstrates the flaw lies on the part of the church. There are 5 million worldly and untaught Christians in Australia, and the church shows little interest in fixing that fact.
In Numbers 22, Balak, king of Moab, feared the coming of the Israelites. They already had terrific success against other kings. So Balak hired a prophet to curse the Israelites. The Israelites, though, just like today’s church, were the “Apple of God’s eye.” (Deu 32:10). So Balak’s hired prophet Balaam could not curse God’s people. No earthly prophet of old nor any modern secular humanist of today has any power to curse or condemn God’s people. Balaam though he tried on several occasions to curse, could only bless God’s people. Balaam, though, had another idea. He could teach the Moabites how to tempt Israel to sin. In Numbers chapters 22-24, try as he might, Balaam could not speak ill of Israel.
No matter how hard the world tries, it cannot curse God’s people. Yet Balaam succeeded in tempting the Israelites and enticing them to sin. We read of this temptation, the giving into it, and God’s sending a plague upon Israel because of it in Numbers 25:1-9. We read later in Numbers 31:16 that it was Balaam’s design to tempt Israel to sin. Balaam knew God’s discipline would deal with His people if they sinned. The world has no power over God’s people until they provoke God through their sins. Then suddenly, the enemies of the church become the rod with which God disciplines His church.
Another example of this is in Joshua 7 with the sin of Achan. Joshua 7 opens with Israelite men going to battle against Ai. Ai is not a formidable obstacle, so they went with not an entire army but only about 3,000 men (Joshua 7:2-3). Though Ai seemed to be nothing in terms of resistance, the Israelites were thoroughly repelled. Joshua sought the Lord, and the Lord revealed that Israel had sinned (Joshua 7:11). The sin, of course, was Achan taking loot from Jericho, which the Lord forbade anyone from doing. (Joshua 6:18) This sin within the camp of Israel cost Israel a needed victory in conquering the promised land. There is a principle here that the church in Australia must learn. The principle is that judgments are brought on God’s people because of their sins. Balaam had no power over Israel, but if he could make them sin, their advance would be stopped because God would judge His people. The men of Ai would never have rebuffed the Israelites had Achan not taken from Jericho. Sin among God’s people gives the world and the devil victory over the church.
The Australian church’s troubles in society are, I fear, dear brother, in a considerable measure a result of your own sins. The world has no power over you, but when you sin, God will use the world to discipline you. It is for this reason that the church in Australia must repent. Christians must begin to take holiness seriously, and there must be a turning in the church to the Lord. Until this happens, I fear there will be no political victories, and the church’s enemies will continue to triumph. The church will not be able to witness and will not see conversions until repentance. Brother, let me say I am not saying we should not participate politically. I am not saying abandon the public square or abandon a public and political witness. Those things are Christian duties. I doubt there will be much of a change in the nation until the church gets serious about holiness, repentance, and witnessing the truth of Christ.
Brother, as I conclude, let me encourage you. The church in Australia indeed has large problems. Those problems are no worse than the church’s problems elsewhere in the West, including in my native United States. Several issues have been touched upon, and it would be amiss if no concluding encouragement was offered. So here it is:
1. Look after your own soul. “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12), make it a point to examine yourself (2 Corinthians 13:5), and gauge your Christian walk. If repentance is lacking in the church with God’s help, make sure you are repentant. Prayerfully search out your ways (Psalm 19:12), and make sure you are following Christ and that you have made a clean break from sin.
2. The Lord Jesus in Matthew 4:4 aptly stated to the Devil that “man shall not live by bread alone,” but rather man must live by God’s Word. I hope that you are reading God’s word, studying it, and finding delight in it (Psalm 1:2). Ensure that you are reading the word and profiting from it. Strive also to be reading good Christian books and study the Word of God in more in-depth ways. Also, make much of public worship and the sermons you hear. Strive to profit from the preached word.
3. Pray, among the most important things that can be done in desperate times. Paul has told the Lord’s People to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). You must be in constant prayer for the Lord’s Blessing, constantly seeking the Lord’s face. Much prayer must be offered for the church and the nation. Remember, though, that “he effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” James 5:16b. Remember to pray for the church, for church leaders, and for the nation.
4. Be a leader in your home. Many Christian families do not successfully pass on their faith to their children, and many men fail at leading their wives and kids. So, brother, I plead with you to lead your family. There is much which could be said about this but remember Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 6:7 “And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” Implement family worship where you read the Bible and explain it to your family. Pray with your family. Make sure your children are receiving a Christian education, and make sure that you are teaching your children the basic doctrines of the Christian faith.
5. Talk with others. “Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name.” (Malachi 3:16) Speak with your brothers and sisters about the things of the Lord. Humbly introduce to your pastor and church officers how much you like to hear themes like repentance and the cost of discipleship in sermons. Encourage your brothers and sisters to have a nearer walk with Christ.
6. Make sure the Lord is your portion in this life. David said in Psalm 142:5, “Thou art my refuge and my portion in the land of the living.” In this life, may the Lord be your delight, and may you live for God’s glory. See your portion of earthly goods as coming from His hand, and do not be entangled with this world. Set your heart on heaven (Colossians 3:1), and live for Christ.
Brother, thank you for your patience in bearing with me through this letter. I pray that these things will be of some profit to you.