Why the Church’s Greatest Threat Is From Within

“How many sheep are outside, how many wolves within!”

I’ll never forget a Moore College lecture by Dr. Paul Barnett, the former Anglican Bishop of North Sydney. At one particular point, while teaching on the epistle of 1 Peter, Dr. Barnett paused and pensively quipped, “You know, in my forty-odd years of ministry, I’ve experienced far more opposition from those within the church, than from those on the outside”. As St. Augustine once wrote in his commentary on John’s Gospel:

“How many sheep are outside, how many wolves within!”

Just recently, the Moderator-General of the Presbyterian Church, the Rev. Dr. Peter Barnes, issue an official statement in response to the “gay conversion therapy” legislation which was passed in Victoria. Dr. Barnes didn’t do this on his own but in proper consultation with the national Church and Nation Committee. The statement was both wise and courageous, being comprised of two main points in regards to application:

(a) The apostle considered himself innocent of the blood of all because he proclaimed the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:26-27). We are obliged before God to preach all that He has revealed to us, whether law or gospel, and to do so in a spirit of love and truth.

(b) There is nothing unique in such legislation. When King Darius exceeded his God-given authority, Daniel did ‘as he had done previously’ (Dan.6:10).

In my opinion, this was an ‘inspired’ response for the following couple of reasons:

First, my observation is that evangelical protestants in Australia hate being told what to do by church leaders. Maybe it’s a cultural expression of the infamous ‘tall-poppy syndrome’, or maybe it’s just an inherent distrust with institutional authority. But as soon as someone in denomination leadership starts instructing—or even simply exhorting—their fellow Gospel workers what course of action to take, then some loose cannon (pun intended, my Anglican brethren will immediately understand) counters with a proposal presenting with a more nuanced and enlightened point of view.

The language which the Church and Nation Committee of the Presbyterian Church of Australia—and expressed through our current Moderator General—decided to use though, was to remind all of their clergy of their pastoral obligation before Christ. That as integral part of the ordination vows is to “preach the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:26-27). This is even more pertinent than some might realise, since the apostle Paul is also alluding back to Ezekiel 3:16-21, and the watchman’s responsibility to call on people to repent of their sin.

If you think I’m being hyperbolic, then just imagine if someone like Dr. Barnes had requested—and I use that word advisedly—for all Presbyterian teaching elders to preach on 1 Corinthians 6:9-11? Those same woke pastors who previously publicly condemned Israel Folau for his lack of exegetical nuance in re-posting said meme on Instagram, would have also been the loudest in opposing as such a suggestion. The irony is not lost, is it?

The second reason why this ecclesiastic encyclical is so helpful is because the out situation today almost exactly mirrors the historical events recorded in Daniel 6. By the way, even they in America have started to see where things are heading and are using our cultural moment as a warning of what’s ahead. See the following piece, Prohibiting Prayer in Australia, by none other than Carl Truman in First Things.

Actually, the situation created by Daniel Andrews is even more tyrannical than that of ancient near eastern king, Darius the Mede. Darius was manipulated into issuing a ‘no-prayer’ decree for a period of only thirty days. The Daniel Andrews legislation has the practical effect of being never again!

But what was Daniel’s response? Well, before being turned into potential cat food—and we all know how that turned out—Daniel went straight home, opened his bedroom window, and proceeded to pray three times per day (see Dan. 6:10). That’s a timeless example of bold and courageous faith, just like was the life and witness of John Bunyan:

However, by far the most insidious response has been from those who have sided with LGBTIQ people in their condemnation of Christians. Especially those who have previously tried—albeit imperfectly—to assist those struggling with sexual lust in whatever its form. In their self-righteous denunciation of their fellow believers, these politically progressive pastors are feeding the very animal which will ultimately devour them. For as Winston Churchill once observed about totalitarian ideologies they all have the same thing in common:

Dictators ride to and fro upon tigers from which they dare not dismount. And the tigers are getting hungry.

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