Letters to the editor – February 2017

Core beliefs

The feature article ‘Core Beliefs’ in the December issue of Crosslight makes for disturbing reading.

Is the self-styled ‘Confessing Church’ within our tolerant, inclusive Uniting Church, merely a group of like-minded Christians with leanings toward literal interpretation of scripture, or does this group intend to become a militant (and divisive) faction?

Assembly President Stuart McMillan is right to caution against haste in decision-making with regard to same sex marriage. Because marriage is a secular institution, discussion must include the enlightened views not only of church men and women, but also of secular men and women of wisdom and goodwill throughout the community at large. Conversation must be deep and full of insight and compassion. If the secular world is to learn from the church, the church must also learn from the secular world.

I found the pseudo-scientific comments of Rod James to be unhelpful. Shouldn’t we be leaving comment on the biological and psychological analysis of sexuality and gender identity to specialists in these fields? And shouldn’t we be reserving any statement on these highly complex matters until there is widespread consensus on research findings? For many of us in the church, our first concern will be for those few teenagers and their parents struggling with despair and guilt over emergent feelings of sexuality and gender identity condemned by many as abnormal. Such people will be more likely to turn to a caring, inclusive church than a judgmental one.

To simply exist in our modern secular world of revolutionary and often dangerous ideas is to be faced with great uncertainty. We might choose to stand against that uncertainty by retreat into ancient, revered creeds and doctrines, and the concrete, literal interpretation of scripture, thereby creating a refuge of religious security in life. Or we may simply attempt to discover the mind of Christ for ourselves as we translate his Gospel encounters with Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, the fishermen, the Pharisees, Roman officials, the ill and the outcasts into our own real life experiences. However we might choose to live out our faith, it will always live in tension with doubt and uncertainty.

Jesus is not only ‘Lamb of God’ as the Confessing Church website affirms, he is also the Way, Truth, Life, Door of the sheepfold, Bread of Life, True Vine, Resurrection, Gracious Friend, Wise Counsellor, Suffering Servant, God with Us, Comforter, Saviour, Wounded Healer, Prince of Peace, (and more names besides). He is our friend and companion as we encounter the challenges of a risky, uncertain, and often hostile world.
May our Uniting Church never be divided by factionalism in a world desperately needing our clear, hope-filled message.

Rev Ian Johnston
Mornington, VIC

Regarding the recent ACC conference in Tasmania and their concerns about gay marriage and ministry – can they not see that their stance is a negative message to youth trying to find their identity in the world and society?

Sadly there must be numerous gay adults who were growing up in Christian homes and churches while secretly suffering all alone from confusion, fear and rejection because they had no-one to seek for help. I hope this does not occur as often now but suspect it may. Many walked away from the church and sometimes their family as well.

Too often the church’s teaching has been an emphasis on sin and God’s judgment on the sinner, due to a literal interpretation of the Bible written over 2000 years ago with social mores and scientific knowledge vastly different from today.

New Testament scholars inform us that we cannot be certain that Jesus actually said every word written in the Gospels. How can we say today that we must follow them?

However, we can communicate the Bible’s constant assurance of God’s love for each of us, a message that surely the world needs to hear urgently again in these times of war, hatred and greed.

Stern, judgmental leaders have lost young people. Do we have the courage to ask the reason?

We need more caring leaders, whether gay or straight, for all are God’s children.

Judith Faulds,
Glenroy, VIC

Promotion of sin?

I wish to respond to the letter appearing in the December 2016 issue of Crosslight submitted by Mark Leonard from Westbury, Tasmania. I have to say that I agree with the views expressed.

Any church which ignores the plain teaching of the Word brings havoc on itself, those in the pews and those outside looking on in a lukewarm way.
The church should follow the teaching and guidelines as found in the Bible and not deviate just to be inclusive to accommodate everyone’s lifestyle. Yes, take a caring interest in the person but have nothing to do with the activity of homosexuality.

For the Uniting Church to grow and become relevant in order to reach many unsaved souls I believe that it should:

Preach evangelical sermons, and follow up with living out the truth.
Have a greater emphasis on visitation and interest in people amongst other things to present a clear gospel message.
Do away with collars, sashes and robes.
Simply follow the two ordinances (a) Communion, a time of remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice for believers, all drink together and (b) baptism, for believers only, by immersion, every evangelical church and most cults believe in this and follow as part of their membership requirements.
Have passionate home groups open to all, prayer and Bible study to be normal in all fellowships.
Preach and teach the good news of the second coming.
Be certain in our teaching and make it plain that on death our soul will either go to heaven for eternity or go to Hades to await the great white throne of judgment where our soul will be consigned to hell for eternity.

The Uniting Church could be an important instrument of believers bridging the gap in bringing many unsaved people into a certain faith. Will it do so, or will it wither and die?

Garry Andrews
via email

It is true that the Bible condemns homosexuality. For instance Leviticus 20:13 “And if a man lieth with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, the both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them.” If Mark Leonard is so keen on following the Bible teaching does he advocate the death penalty for a homosexual act?

A few verses further on Leviticus 20:18 has it “And if a man lie with a woman during her sickness; he hath discovered her fountain; and she hath uncovered the fountain of her blood; and both of them shall be cut off from among the people”.

The Bible then also says that it is a sin for a married couple to have sex while the wife is menstruating. Has Mark Leonard ever spoken out against this practice?

Vernon Terrill
Footscray, VIC

The Transfiguration

The Church recently celebrated the Transfiguration or Transformation of our Lord, one of the five milestones in his ministry. In Luke 9:28-36 we read the story of the disciples seeing Jesus on the mountain top, transformed and clothed in a brilliant light, surrounded by the Old Testament figures of Moses and Elijah, symbolic of the law and prophets. Joseph Robinson puts those events, with its present day application, into poetic form in his hymn ‘How good, Lord, to be here!’ [TIS 234]

What does Jesus’ Transfiguration or Transformation say to us in 2017?

The third verse of the well-loved hymn ‘Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord’ [TIS 315] runs:
In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
with a glory in his bosom which transfigures you and me;
as he died to make men holy, let us live to make men free,
while God is marching on.

What struck me forcefully is the poet’s reflection on the effect which the Transfiguration had on the believer. She is not so concerned with the transformation of Christ, but the continuing transformation of us, by his glory. Julia Ward Howe was, of course, writing about the abolition of slavery of African Americans in mid-nineteenth century America. That hymn became a rallying cry for that crusade. It is however just as applicable today to different forms of bondage: we remember refugees in detention centres and those enslaved to addictions.

St Paul writing in 2 Corinthians 3:18 expresses it this way:

“And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another….”
Charles Wesley in his hymn Love divine, all loves excelling [TIS 217] prayed that we would be changed from ‘glory into glory until in heaven we take our place’.

May the transforming love of the transfigured Jesus continue to shine upon us, reshaping our whole life and mission.

Alan Ray
Mont Albert, VIC

Vengeful or loving God?

Regarding the November centre-spread ‘The Future of Faith’, Christianity is not about telling people how to live religiously. It is about relating how the man Jesus lived out his Jewish faith with an open mind and how, in doing so, he doomed himself to be crucified by the religiously correct.

His crucifixion had nothing to do with him being a sacrifice to a vengeful God. It had a lot to do with him not letting down his friends nor betraying the creative spirit which motivated him. If, as Hugh Mackay is quoted as saying, the Uniting Church is the fastest shrinking denomination, it is because we have gotten rid of the vengeful God to be feared, but not replaced him, or her, with the One who is totally loving.

We see the face of God’s total love in what Jesus did rather than in his teaching. John had come calling for repentance, not sacrifice, for the forgiveness of sins of which baptism was a token.

When John was imprisoned Jesus had gone to Galilee to take his place. Like a good Jew he attended synagogue on the Sabbath but found himself having to reinterpret the Scriptures. Repairing to the house with his first disciples he found the lady of the house sick in bed with a fever. Breaking all protocols Jesus went to her, took her by the hand and raised her up to health. She ministered to them.

Then the sun went down, the Sabbath was ended, and all the ‘little people’ who had been excluded from the synagogue came out and gathered at the door of the house. It had been a busy day but Jesus found himself impelled to welcome them and healed many with diseases and mental illness.

We are not guaranteed a place in heaven by nibbling his flesh and sipping his blood at Communion; but if we breathe in the spirit of Jesus with every breath, then his kingdom on Earth may come a fraction closer. At the Last Supper Jesus was commissioning us to continue his work of being open – to new ideas and to others.

Neil G Cameron,
Meredith, VIC

Still uniting?

I am disappointed that the Major Strategic Review did not address the issue of whether it is time to for the UCA to more urgently pursue its original uniting intention. Perhaps it was thought that this is a matter more appropriately pursued by Assembly. However, in 1977, many lay people were excited by a vision for the future set out in the Basis of Union, which is: “The Uniting Church declares its desire to enter more deeply into the faith and mission of the Church in Australia, by working together, and seeking union with other Churches”. Forty years on, we seem to have settled comfortably into the status of being another denominational variant. I believe we should take up this challenge again with new enthusiasm. Or should we accept reality and designate ourselves the United Church of Australia?

William Rush
Kooyong VIC

Selling our past

Having resided in Moonee Ponds/East Keilor area for over 70 years – and in my childhood and youth attended Moonee Ponds/ Gladstone St Methodist/Uniting church – I have sadly once again witnessed the desecration of yet another one of our own houses of worship.

A booklet written by the past editor of the Essendon Gazette in 1982, Mr Syd Smith, records the history of Methodism commencing from the planning of a church in 1882 through the next 100 years when thousands of people, young and old, attended services worshipping God in these beautiful surroundings.

In an era where Christians overseas are punished for their beliefs and even murdered and different forms of buildings are being erected to worship in a completely different way, surely we can expect that features of this architectural gem have been retained? “Leadlight windows will be admired and the community will be able to observe how sympathetically treated the development has been handled, especially with a cafeteria where once the congregation gathered for worship” is a hypocritical comment. To our way of thinking it just makes a mockery of what our ancestors planned over 100 years ago.

While our beginning commenced over 2000 years ago in a humble stable and the Christian message was discussed and learnt around a lake there have always been surroundings that helped worshipping feel more peaceful and reverent in the beautiful buildings our forefathers so proudly provided for our worship. Sadly, the townhouses will not keep faith as declared. The cross is no longer seen for miles around from the steeple but yet another expensive residence has made its appearance in suburban Melbourne.

Vivien Jones
Keilor East, VIC

God’s coal

Having read your article ‘Power of Good’ (Crosslight July 2016), I would like to make comment. Having lived in the Latrobe Valley all my life and been the beneficiary of brown coal all that time you realize that when the sun goes down or the wind doesn’t blow there is no renewable energy. Where does industry get its power from when this happens?

We have already lost a lot of our industry either going to China or just closed down because it is uncompetitive. If you close our power plants down you will destroy our industry altogether as well as put a lot of people out of work. You cannot have any industry without there being a downside. The power industry has been good to the Valley over all these years. God put the coal there for a reason and it is up to us to make the best use of it as possible.

You know no gain without pain. I think you need to have a look at your logic.

Colin Kent
Latrobe Valley

Notes of love

I would like to share something that has brought me a lot of comfort, joy and laughter over many years since the loss of my beloved husband.

At the memorial service for my husband our minister, Rev David Webster, produced Post-It notes and invited all those present to write a message of remembrance of my late husband. He then stuck those notes in a book and presented it to me.

I return to this book time and time again, often laughing at the humorous comments as well as drawing much comfort and fond remembrances from those who wrote the notes. And those not signed are a challenge as to the identity of the writer.

I thank David for this unique and thoughtful gesture.

I am writing this to encourage other ministers to maybe take up this idea and hopefully bring the same comfort that I have experienced.

M Morrison

Pensions OK

Apparently 10 per cent of aged pensioners will have their pensions reduced, following recent pension adjustments. This must be heart wrenching to those pensioners.

However, these pensioners can supplement their pension reduction from their investments, the level of which is causing the pension reductions.
Further, once these pensioners have used their investments down to the applicable level, they can then qualify again for the full pension.

The government says these adjustments are necessary to sustain our welfare system into the future.

Robert Parry claims (December Crosslight) these pension adjustments, “will destroy the retirement plans of thousands of present and future retirees”, when in fact the 10 per cent of pensioners affected can end up living on a similar dollar amount as they were before.

David Stannard
Chartered Accountant

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