Monday, October 17, 2016

Challenging tribal boundaries

I was curious to examine some history of delicensed Rev. Keith Mascord’s departure from the Anglican Diocese of Sydney.  The curiosity commenced when I heard Mascord on a ABC television panel where he identified that many graduates of Moore Theological College “stop thinking” when they leave the College’s doors.  I cannot fathom that any esteemed theological college would tacitly or explicitly impart upon their students any notion that thought stops at college.  I imagine instead the opposite – that a college would impart a strong desire for a life of enquiry and learning.

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“I now do see that we can nothing know” Faust at the end of his life

There are two mistakes one can make along the road to truth –
not going all the way, and not starting Buddha

It was in Mascord’s book ‘Faith Without Fear: Risky Choices Facing Contemporary Christians’, 2016 that I found a Mascord reference to “stop thinking”.  The reference is in a chapter that considers casualties of academia.  The casualties arise where professors dare push beyond their institution’s doctrinal positions. The institution turns on the professor and the professor is left to clutch to supporters from outside the institution. After considering some academic casualties, Mascord draws to the following comment on page 100 of the book:

“Challenging tribal boundaries is taboo.  As a result, people either stop thinking
or they become dishonest, both of which are inconsistent with scholarship and the pursuit of truth”.

Now, there is a lot to be said about that comment.  For instance, are the “tribal boundaries” of academic institutions static? How rapidly can the boundaries change? Is it dishonest to ascribe to a doctrinal position where one’s heart is not fully aligned? - that is, is the problem with the scholar not the doctrine?. 

Mascord worries me in his grab on “stop thinking”.  I fear it is like those atheists who purport to have thought beyond the Bible.  Such atheists are want to dismiss the Bible as full of fairy tales, and to dismiss Christians and God-fearing people as mindless zombies.  Mascord justifies his position by proposing that others have stopped thinking just as the atheists critique others for opting for fairy tales.  Where is Mascord’s interest in peer testing his ‘new word’ – an interest that would see the ‘new word’ robustly tested as prophesy (a process that occurs less publicly than through the publication of a book)?

“Stop thinking” seems too trite a take by Mascord.  A man does not merely “stop thinking” if he (robotically) sticks with the boundaries imparted upon him by college.  One can enjoy bountiful thinking within the wonderful boundaries of the doctrine.  One can build on work of scholars that have been before.  One can take a pastoral view and determine how to best translate the learning into meaningful action amongst members of the community.  One can think of how to best impart the teaching upon others.  One can affirm the Articles of Religion on which the boundaries are structured.  Pastor John Piper captured some of these notions in a wonderfully titled book “Think”.

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So, one can think within “tribal boundaries” without being in a state where thinking has stopped.


Note: all links good as at 17 October 2016

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Local church corruption quickly found after Mackay talk

An earlier blog post noted that Hugh Mackay, a leading social researcher, had determined that an intrinsic function of churches, characterised as “corruption”, was a prime reason for people to be repulsed from church.  Mackay suggested that people will largely ignore the corporate corruption of churches (e.g. the child sexual abuse that has been identified through the Royal Commission) until such time that they evidence localised church corruption.  Localised church corruption was considered to take many forms including abuse of standards of practice.
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Sadly, in a sermon earlier this month, I witnessed local church corruption.

In a sermon that otherwise offered a very sound exposition of verses in Acts, there was a flippant point where the preacher turned to identify part of the church building fabric.  I use "flippant" as it represent a turn from the eternal to the passing.

It represents a point in the sermon were I walked out of the church (the second time I had walked from a sermon at that church in the past two years) – principally as a result of abuse of the usual form of oration that we identify as a sermon.  The abuse is quite pronounced in that to make mention of a part of the building fabric is to politicise the sermon.  On reflection one has to ask whether the Biblical text, and sermon theme, were chosen such that the political message could be delivered (which is itself a form of corruption).

I have little personal view on the particular item of the church fabric and yet I know that it was discussed two years prior as part of a request to change the church building.  That request was denied.  In such circumstances, I find it detrimental to the church family that a preacher would perhaps derail sound diplomatic discussion of the future of the item of the church fabric - such discussion being ordinarily due the whole church family - by being so pronounced about that item during a sermon.  Perhaps, corruption was evident in railroading the congregation back again into a church fabric change management process?

Further, the chosen Acts text spoke to the wonderful intent of God to include all persons in the church, yet the flippant pointing to part of the church fabric was an adverse illustration.  It was an adverse illustration in that it was utilised in terms of exclusion of persons.  Approximately, 80% of the sermon was true to the theme of inclusion (and true to the Biblical text) and then the sermon turned to the illustration of exclusion.  I have since researched the history of the item of the church building fabric and have been delighted to comprehend that on sound reading one need not see any form of exclusion but instead the most wonderful example of inclusion.  The sermon could well have been completely true to inclusion and powerfully left all parishioners solidly understanding such theme.

I hope that Diocesan control ensures sound continuing professional education of its clergy such that the sermon format is not corrupted.  This would be appropriate after Diocesan consideration of sermon quality.

We should turn from corruption wherever we see it. 


Note 1: Some may say that I’m idolising sermons.  I’m not.  I’m instead calling for application of standards.  If a church hasn’t the discipline to deliver solidly on its main method of communication then it hardly stands credible for any other communication.  Further, I’m not idolising the item of church fabric – I truly do not hold to a personal position on the item.  Anyone wanting to criticising me of idolatry is then only left to criticise my interest in church family democracy – to that I’m very willing to be critiqued.

Note 2: By private message I will offer a link to the recording.

Note 3: all links good at 10 October 2016

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Smart Synod Sermon Sizing

This blog detected a motion that was to go before the Anglican Diocese of Sydney Synod.  The motion sought to limit sermons to twenty minutes.  I found this a strange consideration for Synod and suggested that the problem may not be with the listener but, in part also with the preacher.

The motion has now been heard.  An amendment was adopted.  Then, the amended motion failed to achieve a required majority.  The full text from the draft minutes is copied below.

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I'm enamoured with the amendment in its reference to "oratory skills ...  in accord with best practice".  Further, preachers are to approach preaching with sober judgement.  

The amended motion supports the idea that the listening audience's competence is only part factor of the quality of comprehension.  The amendment made the motion accord closer to the reality of the problem.

Nonetheless, I am glad the motion failed to gain support.

10.1 Restricting the length of sermons

Dr David Oakenfull moved –

"Synod notes that –

(a) research suggests that while listening to sermons most adults can focus for only 15-20 minutes before starting to lose attention, and
(b) while we may remember about 70% of what was presented in the first ten minutes of a twenty-minute sermon, we are unlikely to retain more than about 20% of what was presented in the last ten minutes.

Therefore to promote more effective teaching of God’s word, Synod urges ministers and other preachers to restrict the length of their sermons to twenty minutes or less."


The Rev Craig Roberts moved as an amendment to Dr Oakenfull’s motion –

‘In the final paragraph, omit the matter following "Synod urges" and insert instead –

(i) the Archbishop to confer with the Principal of Moore Theological College and the Director of Ministry Training and Development to ensure that the training of our diocesan ministers and preachers in oratory skills is in accord with best practice, and
(ii) ministers and other preachers to think of themselves and their preaching abilities with sober judgment (Romans 12:3-8).".’


Mr Roberts’ amendment to Dr Oakenfull’s motion was carried.

Dr Oakenfull’s motion, as amended, was put but was not carried with 233 votes for and 241 votes against the motion.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Amusing Ourselves to Death

The most incredible thing about the Anglican Diocese of Sydney motion to limit sermons to twenty minutes is that there is an antecedent. 
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The key theme of Amusing Ourselves to Death, a book published in 1985 about media ecology, by Neil Postman, is that television format will come to persuade all other communication formats.  Postman argued that television essentially packaged everything as entertainment – even the nightly news bulletin with its opening pieces about war/famine/petulance and its happy ending of a new panda born at the local zoo.  Postman argued that the thirty minute span of most programs would drag people’s attention spans downward to match.  In this way, television makes us like goldfish.
Of course, thirty minutes of television is rarely thirty minutes of content, as identified in the lyrics to this song:
Endless joy and endless laughter,
Folks living happily ever after.
All you need to make you wise
Is twenty-three minutes (plus advertisements).

Read more: Matilda London Cast - Telly Lyrics | MetroLyrics

I’m not comfortable packaging the delivery of God’s word to a timed format – that’s too worldly.  It stinks as if it is a response to Postman’s prophesy.  The motion is peculiar in that the Anglican Diocese of Sydney model operates such that local ministers are best to preach in response to their knowledge of their local flock (thus favouring individual minister assessment of sermon length).
I want my preachers to be moved by the Spirit to orate as needed to conclude the delivery of the Word.  A quality forty-five minute podcast of a sermon by Pastor John Piper or Pastor John Macarthur is a genuine delight.  Indeed, I even want preaching to post its own battle response against the goldfish-like attention spans that the world has thrust upon us.  And, I certainly do not want my preachers to have any time for television as the Bible tells them all they need to know of the World.
As implied by the title of Postman’s book, do not allow factors of sermon length or format result in death.

Note 1: all links good as at 11 October 2016
Note 2: from another perspective perhaps the problem is not with the audience, but with the preacher.  After all, the preacher need be mindful of the famous Mark Twain quote: "I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead."
Note 3: I am very pleased that another blog writer referred, via this link.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Attention spans of goldfish

An interesting motion before the Anglican Diocese of Sydney synod.  It potentially results in shorter services.  I'll be taking a stopwatch to future services!
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"Anglican Church of Australia Diocese of Sydney3rd Session of the 50th Synod Business Paper: Monday 10 October 2016, Restricting the length of sermons; Synod notes that – (a) research suggests that while listening to sermons most adults can focus for only 15-20 minutes before starting to lose attention, and (b) while we may remember about 70% of what was presented in the first ten minutes of a twenty-minute sermon, we are unlikely to retain more than about 20% of what was presented in the last ten minutes. Therefore to promote more effective teaching of God’s word, Synod urges ministers and other preachers to restrict the length of their sermons to twenty minutes or less. (Dr David Oakenfull)"

We are all sheeplishly too distracted!


Sunday, October 9, 2016

Response to "The Ever Shrinking Case Against Same-Sex Marriage"

In an article published on an ABC Religion and Ethics webpage The Ever Shrinking Case against Same-Sex Marriage, Rev Dr Keith Mascord of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney the author refers to "maximally-strong arguments [that Christians once had at their disposal] against same-sex marriage".  As the arguments are critical to the overall article, I thought that an analysis of the arguments was worthwhile.
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Mascord's been in the news lately.  See this link.


Following a heading "Contemptuous arguments against same-sex marriage", Mascord's argument in the article follows a popularist path.  In order he identifies:

- Quotations of four credible theologians - all of which frame Biblical sound quotations that identify lusts against nature as sin (possibly all led by an understanding of Romans 1).
- To then, conjecture from these quotes that i) the church found it intolerable for the church to open the institution of marriage to homosexuals, and that in turn the church applied its intolerance by criminalising and pathologising homosexuals (in context Mascord is effectively accusing the church of exercising hatred).
- Such that the church owes a long overdue apology to homosexual persons.

- Then, Mascord frames a popularist appeal.
- He proposes that Christians can no longer accept that people are homosexual as a result of a rash of reasons.  The reasons are arguably incomplete or inaccurate across current Christian considerations ("not because they chose to be gay, or because they hate God, or because they have given in to detestable passions").
- To which end, Mascord's recognises that homosexual persons have remarkable gifts and much to offer to Australian society.  And popularly, that Christians all know homosexual persons within their broader family set.

- To cement the popular appeal, Mascord then makes narrow scriptural reference to two Leviticus verses.  Mascord subtly dismisses the verses as ancient by referring to them as from the "Hebrew Bible". 


I stopped reading the article at the point of the quotation of the Leviticus verses. 

There are oodles of cultural Marxists or libertarians propping up pro-same sex positions without me caring to listen to a member of clergy adding to their voice.  Mascord is perhaps guilty of a phenomenon that Don Carson observed.  Carson proposed that many people seek to master the Bible rather than being mastered by it.  Mascord has spoken on Romans 1 in a way that proposes the author Paul did not know what we know today (current man being fulfilled with scientific knowledge).  Isn't Mascord - as a function of his license - due to hold the Bible inerrant, complete and to hold to a thorough understanding that Paul's writings were divinely inspired?  Has Mascord benefitted from the same experience that Paul had in receiving a marvellous insight into heaven (2 Corinthians 12)? 

Does Mascord understand that when God abandons a nation he gives the nation over to pornography, sexual immorality and all kinds of degradation?  If Mascord is prophesying a 'new word' on homosexually, has he sought to convey a suitable panel of peers so that his prophesy may be tested?

I hope that Mascord appreciates that he drew a long bow in his article in turning from the quotations of theologians to the comment: "The idea that a society should open up one of its most treasured institutions [marriage] to people who are inherently evil and whose passions come straight from hell is unthinkable for those who draw on what has been almost universal Christian teaching, teaching which led to homosexuality being criminalised and, more recently, pathologised as a mental illness or correctable defect."  The theologians he quoted (with the most recent ageing to the sixteenth century) would never once have thought marriage was due homosexuals.  Their quotes are to be read as sound to Biblical interpretation rather than as being in any direct or indirect reference to the relatively current notion of broadening of the definition of marriage.

I hope that Mascord appreciates that the Leviticus verses that he identifies as being in the "Hebrew Bible" are also in the "Christian Bible".

What upsets me most is that a Mascord - a Moore Theological College educated, and Anglican Diocese of Sydney Minister, plays his hand at narrowing an argument towards a popularist viewpoint and in so doing disregards sound holistic Biblical exposition by pointing to select Biblical verses.  Mascord is arguably well aware that it serves the pro-same sex marriage lobbyists to scoff at the Leviticus verses without offering them contextual meaning across the whole of the Biblical canon.  Paul, for instance, in the Corithinans letter identifies how all Christians were bought for a price such that they should wish to serve God with their bodies through natural sexual relations:

"Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;  you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies."  1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NIV

Mascord advocates to a politicked heading: "Contemptuous arguments against same-sex marriage".  Is that in itself contemptuous?


Note 1: all links current as at 9 October 2016

Note 2: Mascord does not currently hold a license from the Anglican Diocese of Sydney.

Note 3: The Anglican Diocese of Sydney's churches once had a magazine made broadly available to his pewsitters that once published an articles that spurned the notion of pewsitters consuming web based sermons.  In this post I have linked both a Mascord sermon from Holy Trinity Dulwich Hill of December 2012 and a Pastor John Macarthur sermon from October 2012.  I'll leave you to determine which of these two sermons the people of Dulwich Hill would have been better to listen to.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

"Hypocrisy" spoils Weetbix

The clergy of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney chewed longer on their Weetbix this morning as they mulled over an article in the Sydney Morning Herald that contained a journalist's view of their church:

"Either way, we have a moral institution that punishes public advocates for tolerance and fairness more harshly than those who enact discrimination and abuse. As Jesus accused the Pharisees, "you strain out a gnat but swallow a camel."
When the Anglican church can’t follow its own code, Elizabeth Farrelly, Sydney Morning Herald, 8 October 2016.

That's Matthew 23:24 that's being quoted.

The author is taking some liberty with the word 'tolerance'- at least in terms of how that word is employed doctrinally - yet clearly there is an accusation of hypocrisy.

The delicensing of a Sydney Anglican clergy - discussed earlier in the same article - is a sound thing.  A church needs to set and exercise disciplinary and dismissal rules.  As best I can tell from other articles and from a television appearance of the delicensed clergy, the delicensing seems to have been exercised with soundness of communication and with effort to preserve relationships.  Indeed, if I understand things clearly the delicensing is not holistic, but instead partial - the clergy member largely holds the core Christian beliefs. 

Should not a secular newspaper be applauding the church for exercising its disciplinary/dismissal muscle?  After all, doesn't the same paper subtly bray for dismissal of non-performing company CEOs or on-the-nose politicians.


Note 1: links good 8 October 2016

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Slipping back on individuality

“Through the call of Jesus men become individuals….
Every man is called separately and must follow alone.
But men are frightened of solitude, and they try to protect
themselves from it by merging themselves into the society
of their fellow-men and in their material environment.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship


A component of the quote has turned in my mind:

“merging themselves into the society of their fellow-men”

Bonhoeffer presents a logical progression that can be presented in sequence like this:

Man mingled with fellow-men, merged into mass >
Man called by Jesus >
Man answers call >
Man becomes individual.

It is a good and fine sequence.  However, my mind races to think of what occurs to man once he settles into a church.  Picking up the sequence at the last point we potentially have:

Man becomes individual >
Man mingles with fellow Christian men, merges into mass >
Man suffers detriment to God-given individuality >
Man is indistinguishable from mass. 

Do church going men seek to merge or blend in with other men at church to the loss of their individuality?  Do they do this because it offers the comfort of the mass that they left from? Do they instead hold to their individuality and stand firm for the gospel?  These are questions I continue to ask.  Certainly they are to be discerning within the church (Thessalonians 5:21-22 and this linked article).

While I am thinking this through I do note that Bonhoeffer’s history was one of opposition to his Lutheran Brethren who had, through silence, accepted so many negative social changes in Germany – where else were their individual voices?   

"Bonhoeffer knew that a church that did not stand
with the Jews was not the church of Jesus Christ
 and to evangelize people into a church that was not
 the church of Jesus Christ was foolishness and heresy"

I also note that a whole team must have been behind a belief that lapsing is not sin.  Why did a clerical or administrative individual not arise within the office to challenge that belief?


Note: all links good 11 June 2016, reviewed 3 March 2017

Monday, October 3, 2016

History of stain-glass window

I came across a most glorious stained-glass window in an urban Anglican church north of Jugiong. It was a pleasure to observe such masterful artwork. A parishioner of the church kindly offered me a history of the window.

I've edited the history so as to ensure anonymity of the church. I offer the edited history to allow readers to observe that some incredible amount of thought has gone into the design of the window.
Shalom, Ozhamada
The XYZ Window History
                             The stained glass and hand etched leadlight window, which is housed in a light box, has been part of the fabric our [CHURCH_NAME] since the church completion in 1966.
The window is by a significant glass artist, Mr. [REDACTED] and etcher, Mr. [REDACTED] and is a representation of Jesus with children and the words “suffer little Children to come unto me”.
While the window might not be to everyone’s taste,  it is a reflection of it’s time and features Jesus as the central figure holding an infant; a standing schoolgirl in a school uniform which reflects local schools holding a bible; a standing Asian child and an African child who is kneeling before Jesus with an outstretched arm handing Him flowers, (Lily of the field, Luke 12:27-32). Jesus looks directly at the African child and has his arm around the Asian child.
          This is in no way a racist depiction as has been suggested. That comment is Political Correctness gone to extremes. The design actually represents the areas of [XYZ] Ministry past and present. Permission and approval for the design was secured from [A_HOUSE_IN] London, [XYZ] World Headquarters and [DIOCESE_NAME] before the commission was undertaken.
          [XYZ] is a world wide organisation, Christ centred and prayer-based, of over four million members involved in all aspects of supporting marriage and family life with the living Gospel and has, since 1876, been active in UK, Africa, Asia, North Asia, India, North America, South American and Australian & Pacific. [XYZ]’s focus has been on the needs of children particularly in AIDs care & concern, literacy and education.
          Mrs. [REDACTED], wife of the Rector in 1966, when the new church of [CHURCH_NAME] was built and President of [XYZ] [SUBURB] & [SUBURB] initiated the idea of a stained glass window which was commissioned by funds raised by local [XYZ] Members between the years of 1960 and 1965 before the [CHURCH_NAME] was built so that the window could be installed as a gift to the new church on its completion.
           [XYZ] [SUBURB] Members later paid for the moving of the [XYZ] Window in 1999 and funded the building of the new cabinet and light box to enable it to moved to its current position on the western wall to the front of the church which was considered a way of balancing the light and colour of the churches’ second stain glass window, the [CHURCH_NAME] Window, installed on the eastern wall / window of the church.
          The brass plaques on The [XYZ] window refer to [XYZ] and Mrs. [REDACTED] who was a longtime member of [XYZ] [SUBURB] and outstanding educator responsible for the setting up of Primary curriculums and the Children’s Television Council as well as holding positions on Sydney, Australian and International Boards and Executives. She was active in [XYZ] and as a Thanksgiving before her death her family contributed funds towards the cost of the new functioning light box for the [XYZ] window in 1999.
          The [CHURCH_NAME] stained glass window, on the eastern wall, was the gift of the family of Mrs. [REDACTED] another woman of faith who with insights gained from life of service, was actively involved with [XYZ] in [SUBURB] and as a member serving on Sydney, Australian and International Boards. She lived the Titus model and was concerned her whole life with family wellbeing in modern times.
Since 1935 [XYZ] has been active in [SUBURB], with faithful, prayerful women committed to Jesus Christ and serving where God has placed them.
This history is a brief and true report of the funding, design and installation of the [XYZ] Window and can be checked in the Parish Council and Diocesan Minutes.

The church stained-glass window

First do no harm

A recent blog post celebrated the publication of a letter in the Anglican Diocese of Sydney  monthly magazine Southern Cross.

Correspondence directed to the author of an article on transgenderism is yet to be met with a response.  I believe that harm could arise from the article.

Can anyone answer this correspondence?  Are we happy that such dilemmas could arise in our churches?


I refer the following text “Don’t have rigid gender stereotypes, especially for children” (hereinafter “advice”).

I now ask that you consider a case example - being one not dissimilar to one that I have tackled.  I ask you only whether the church can possibly do harm by following your advice:

- ABC is a single parent
- XYZ is ABC’s teen child
- ABC has noticed that XYZ is showing signs of being uncertain as to sexuality
- ABC decides that attending church may help XYZ.  At church, ABC expects that there will be role models of XYZ’z biological gender.  At church, ABC expects that these roles models will assist ABC’s efforts to assert to XYZ that XYZ should maintain a pattern in fitting with gender of birth.
- XYZ meets a number of parishioners and becomes fondly acquainted with QRS (a person of same birth gender)
- QRS, having read the advice in September SC, gives XYZ the message that XYZ need not be rigid in belief of sexuality
- XYZ pursues a transgender lifestyle
- ABC is absolutely devastated and never turns to the church again.


Sunday, October 2, 2016

What access standards do our churches need?

I find it peculiar that the Anglican Diocese of Sydney would allow its monthly magazine to broadcast the notion of entertaining transgender persons to the point of installing "gender neutral bathroom options" when churches arguably do not meet some existing standards.

When I first shared my concern with a pewsitter from another Anglican Diocese of Sydney parish I suggested that I could find twelve Sydney Anglican churches that did not meet disability access standards on an afternoon's drive.  My fellow responded with "I reckon you'd have trouble finding twelve that did!"