The Church has Lost its Voice

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The Church has Lost its Voice

4 May 2016 Hits:4162

I had an interesting conversation with some friends last week during which one of them shared about a Christian gathering they’d attended. I was aware of the meeting, but was unable to go so I asked how it went. My friends told about the guest speaker, a conservative evangelical American guy, whom I’d heard at a conference the week before. (When I refer to him as a conservative evangelical I’m referring to his faith not his fee. Apparently he speaks for $US23,000); to quote Kylie Minogue, “I should be so lucky.”

My friends mentioned that during his speech the presenter stated he believed “the Church has lost its voice”. I thought it was an interesting statement – as well as a huge judgement call – so I asked what he meant. Apparently it boiled down to two ethical issues on which, in the speaker’s opinion, the Church has not been vocal enough – abortion and same-sex marriage.

It’s important to understand the speaker’s cultural and religious background at this point. To a conservative, evangelical from the United States these are the two most important ethical issues. This guy had made similar comments at the conference I attended the previous week. He called them the biggest “hot button” issues of our time. It struck me how little research he had done into the culture of Australia in general and specifically into the Australian church. He brought his own cultural baggage with him and then proceeded to lecture us on our failings.

Let’s pause a moment and consider what it means to “lose your voice”. We’re coming into the colder months here in Melbourne, a time when people tend to succumb to all sorts of ills and chills that can include laryngitis – inflammation of the larynx, typically resulting in huskiness or loss of the voice. I’ve had it a few times and, for a preacher and a radio announcer, it’s never good! When you lose your voice you can’t speak, or you speak in a whisper that’s hard to hear. That’s the inference in the statement, “the Church has lost its voice”. We’ve either failed to speak or not spoken loudly enough. People haven’t heard the church speak enough on these issues (abortion and same-sex marriage) and we have thus failed in our mission.

The speaker’s premise is flawed for a few reasons. Firstly, I think the church in Australia has, by and large, made its point very clear on these two issues. I’ve read plenty of blogs, heard sermons and watched media reports on the church’s stance on these things. If you were to ask the average Aussie what the church believed on these two ethical issues I don’t doubt that they would have a very clear answer – we’re against both!

Secondly, I call into question the choice of just two ethical issues as the “hot-button” issues of our time. I don’t doubt the relevance and importance of the matters the speaker mentioned. I just question his narrow perspective. Considering the emphasis in the Bible, I believe the most important issue for Christians is addressing the causes and relief of poverty. This is mentioned over 2000 times in Scripture. In Jesus’ teachings he emphasised the “Law of Love” – love of God, love of self, love of neighbour and love of enemies. He particularly applied this to helping the disadvantaged – those in need of the basic necessities of life (food, drink, shelter, clothing and company – especially for those who are sick and in prison). The church has not lost its voice on these issues and neither should it. We need to keep speaking out for (and working towards) justice on behalf of the poor, the widows and orphans, the asylum seekers, the homeless, the abused, as well as those living with disability or mental illness. Let’s not lose our voice on these things.

Thirdly, it’s vital that in speaking out on ethical issues the Church doesn’t lose its voice on its core message. After all, God so loved the world that He didn’t send a committee – or a political lobby group – He sent His Son so that “whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” The core message of the church is a message of grace, forgiveness and reconciliation with a God who loves people.

One of the most impacting books I’ve read this year is Philip Yancey’s Vanishing Grace in which he offers some sage advice for Christians and churches that desire to speak into culture. Yancey warns that the church risks “losing its central message” if it tries to Christianise any nation. He says, “When the church accepts as its main goal the reform of the broader culture, we risk obscuring the gospel of grace and becoming one more power-broker. That is how many in the secular world view us now, as a right-wing conspiracy intent on passing laws against them. In the process, they miss the good news of the gospel, that Christ died to save sinners, to free us from guilt and shame so that we can thrive in the way God intended.”

In his second letter to the Corinthians the apostle Paul made it clear that the church’s core message and ministry has to do with reconciliation: “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.” The church loses its voice when it spends an inordinate amount of time moralising – literally counting people’s sins against them – when God did not send His Son for such a purpose. Our core message has to be Jesus’ message – the Son of God who had a particularly soft spot for sinners. Remember, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” So Church, Christians, let’s not lose our voice!

Rob Buckingham

Senior Minister

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5 replies on “The Church has Lost its Voice”

anthony daltonsays:

Can’t remember when I’ve heard such sage words Rob. Well said!

richard frank warnersays:

Hi Rob. I’ll speak for you and maybe against you (not harshly!) if necessary.
Your little article relating to Eric Metaxus’ message in Melbourne (why you don’t mention his name I don’t know) in my opinion is unnecessarily critical and divisive. About 1500 people endured a barrage of opposition to enter the building (including myself and friends) to be stirred and inspired to “Make a Stand” for God’s Values in our deteriorating nation. your remarks are more narrow than his – considering you never attended! Eric did not criticise the church – he was gracious, empathetic and encouraging. I for one (and I know of many others) left the meeting extremely inspired and motivated to follow our forebears of the likes of Wilberforce and Bonhoffer – to be unashamed of our faith and stand for Christian Values – even if it does take a life-time. I was most discourage by your comments. It would be good for you listen to the message and rewrite your article.

Rob Buckinghamsays:

Hi Richard,

Thank you for your comment on my blog. In response…

Why I didn’t mention Eric by name was because it wasn’t necessary in order to communicate my main concern ­ that the Gospel Message can be damaged and obscured when we don’t engage with ethical or political issues in the right way.

As a Christian and a pastor what message do you MOST want Australians to hear – the message of the Gospel or the message that you are against something? What was the number one message God communicated through His Son? What was the number one message Jesus gave His Church to communicate with a world He loves? If that message is damaged or obscured by the way Christians and churches engage with the world then we are not doing our job as Christians. We have been given the ministry & message of Reconciliation (as I outline in my blog) but I suggest that the church has lost its voice on this message because we have spoken more loudly and more often about the things we’re against. That is what my blog is about.

While over two-thirds of Australians believe in God, more than 40% of Australians believe Jesus rose from the dead, and 90% believe He is a real historical person, only 15% attend a church at least once a month (Centre for Public Christianity, Sydney). While it’s evident that most Australians have some sort of spiritual belief, the vast majority doesn’t see the church as a valuable part of their spirituality. Some of the fault for this must be laid at the feet of the church itself. I’m sorry you feel this message is critical or divisive. I feel that it is crucial that we address this in our nation. God loves Aussies and Jesus died and rose again for every one of them and they all deserve to hear the clear and simple Gospel message.

I didn’t attend the ACL meeting but, as I mention in my blog, I heard Eric speak several times at a conference the week before. I wasn’t particularly impressed with him as I felt he brought his cultural baggage with him and didn’t seem to be aware of the uniqueness of Australian culture. Maybe the 80 or so people who attended the ACL seminar were inspired by him. If so, that’s great as long as they’re inspired to make the Good News known amongst Australians and to engage ethically and politically on issues that are much more prevalent in the Word of God such as justice on behalf of the poor, the widows and orphans, the asylum seekers, the homeless, the abused, as well as those living with disability or mental illness and so on. I feel the church has made it’s voice very clear on same-sex marriage and abortion. I’m not saying we shouldn’t speak out on these things but it appears to me that the ACL has become a one or two issue organisation and has, as a result, lost some of it’s voice to Christians like myself.

It’s a shame that you were discouraged by my blog. That was not my intention. My intention was to encourage the church to make the Good News its focal message. I won’t be re-writing the blog. I stand by everything I wrote and that’s why we have a comments section. People are free to disagree and to engage in a respectful dialogue. Hopefully this will lead to a greater understanding of one-another in the Body of Christ.

Warm regards in Christ,

Rob

Andrew Mooneysays:

Couldn’t disagree more Rob, the by and large is publicly asleep! And afraid to voice what is acceptable and what is not, what is normal and what is not! What will be tolerated and what will not! Our role as carriers of Christ, In Christ and He in us, is to be Salt and Light to a lost and dying world. Jesus said they shall know the truth and truth shall set them free!!! Without truth, there is no reason for Grace and forgiveness, mercy and repentance the core of the Gospel. Eric Metaxas rightly said the longer we are silent on these very important issues the more we relinquish our God given rights to freedom and put our next generations into such peril , we no longer stand for those who cannot stand for themselves either with knowledge or with ignorance. If we united and went public on these issues as a church as a whole, we would change the course of the history of this great Nation Australia. Where many of our families bleed and died to give these very freedoms that are slipping through our fingers. Jesus said go into all the world and preach the Gospel !!

Rob Buckinghamsays:

Thanks for your comments Andrew. Your last statement is the reason I wrote the blog: “Jesus said go into all the world and preach the Gospel!” My blog doesn’t say we shouldn’t engage on ethical issues it says that we need to be careful that when we engage we don’t cloud our main message – that is the Gospel of Jesus. To be “Salt and Light to a lost and dying world” is exactly what Jesus has called His people to be. Jesus told His followers that they were salt and light already. The result of this would be that people “may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” It is the church’s / Christian’s GOOD DEEDS that are salt and light – not our ethical or political engagement. It is good deeds that attract sinners to the good news of Jesus and ends with them glorifying God. That’s the “voice” the church must focus on in order to impact any nation or community.

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