We regularly awaken to the news of another mass shooting in the USA. Several people have recently been shot for simply arriving at the wrong house. They were mistaken or lost and killed or seriously injured. Add to that the mass shootings in schools, churches, and shopping malls, and it appears that America is highly unsafe.

My main concern in this blog is the people who follow Jesus, claim the Christian faith, are staunch defenders of gun ownership and the Second Amendment, and use the Bible to endorse their point of view. How does this align with the teachings of Jesus?


I want to be transparent about my emotions on this topic because I feel very passionately about it. It is also a cause of enormous frustration to me as the US appears unable or unwilling to act on this significant problem. While I am not anti-firearms per se, they should be strongly regulated. I acknowledge some people love hunting, but I’m not one of them. I struggle with the concept of killing animals and calling it a sport. I understand that sometimes culling is necessary, but there’s a big difference between culling and killing for fun.

I greatly appreciate our government’s decisive action to reduce the number of illegal firearms in Australia. After the Port Arthur massacre in 1996, our new Prime Minister, John Howard, introduced a gun amnesty in which 600,000 firearms were handed in. Gun deaths by homicide and suicide plummeted, and Australia has not seen the likes of Port Arthur since. The same cannot be said for the US.

Back in the USA

There were 647 mass shootings in the US last year. A mass shooting is where four or more people are shot or killed, not including the attacker. With this definition, shootings of under four people are not included.

In 2022, there were only 97 days when a mass shooting was not recorded. So far, in 2023, there have been 185 mass shootings. Last weekend saw eleven mass shootings, but we only heard about the worst one. There are so many that it’s not worth reporting on the smaller ones.

Why’s it Getting Worse?

The trend has risen sharply in recent years. In 2022, there were 44,290 gun-related deaths, a 31% increase on 2019. Nine of the ten deadliest mass shootings in the US occurred after 2007. There are several reasons for this:

Gun ownership is on the rise. And no wonder, there is so little regulation that even a 13-year-old can legally buy a gun. If you don’t believe me, watch this short clip from Bryant Gumbel’s Real Sports. US gun laws are lax, irregular, and ineffective. For example, US Federal law does not require that background checks be made on private sales of guns, including at gun shows or online. Regulations on the safe storage of firearms are also lax in some states.

A fractured society. America was already politically divided well before Covid-19. The Pandemic only made things worse.

Rampant Conspiracies. I know this firsthand as I’ve watched some dear friends descend the rabbit hole of ridiculous plots. They believe in a Deep State Cabal that controls the government. They love Trump because this Cabal does not govern him, so they want him back in power. They believe the Port Arthur massacre was a false flag operation, an excuse for the government to strip Australians of firearms so the government can control the masses. Senator Pauline Hansen peddled this rubbish just a few years ago. Many Americans (including Christians) buy into this and fear it is happening in the US.

Toxic masculinity. 98% of shooters are men.

Financial or personal hardship. Undoubtedly, the gap between the haves and have-nots is getting wider. And this resentment can fuel frustration and anger that can lead to violence. But people face these things in Australia and other countries without resorting to shooting others.

The Second Amendment

Christian Nationalism, a perversion of the Bible and the gospel, is sadly rising in the USA. I know several conservative American Christians who love their God and their guns. They view the US Constitution as sacred and defend their beliefs from Scripture.

The Second Amendment states, A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. The militia refers to the American people.

The Second Amendment needs to be amended. It was first enacted on 15 December 1791, long before semi-automatic weapons. Muskets were the order of the day. Muskets were inaccurate, had a 30-second reloading time, and couldn’t shoot as far as 100 metres.

Misquoting Scripture

Christian gun activists quote Luke 22:36 & 38 to defend their beliefs. Jesus told his disciples, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.” “That’s enough!” he replied. There you go. Jesus told his followers to buy weapons to defend themselves, so we should own guns. But is that what Jesus is teaching here?

Jesus is speaking to Peter and John just before his arrest. When Judas betrayed Jesus, his followers saw what would happen and said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” And one of them struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. Jesus said, No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him. (Luke 22:49-51).

Why did Jesus tell Peter and John to ensure they had weapons if they weren’t supposed to use them? Because those arresting Jesus came fully armed with swords and clubs (Luke 22:52-53), but Jesus didn’t want his disciples to behave that way. Impetuous Peter misses the moment and the message and gets it wrong again.

Jesus wanted to show that they weren’t leading an armed rebellion, so Luke 22:36 is not teaching American Christians that they should own guns. Jesus teaches the opposite by telling Peter, “Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” That could be a prophetic word for the United States, a nation living by and dying by the gun.

I invite you to pray for the US and the American church. I wonder what will need to happen before the nation and some sections of the church come to their senses and act in unity to stem the shedding of innocent blood. How many more people will need to die before a change is made?

You may have caught the news that the Senate’s new president, Sue Lines, has said she would like to see the practice of opening the houses of Parliament with Christian prayers ‘gone.’

A Tradition

The custom of saying the Lord’s Prayer to open Parliamentary sessions in the Upper and Lower House of Federal Parliament has been a tradition since 1901. In recent years, an acknowledgement of traditional owners has also been included, the one Senator Hanson walked out of last week.

When the tradition of reciting the Lord’s Prayer began, over 90% of Australians identified as Christian; at the last census, 43.9% acknowledged the Christian faith. And an increasing number of Australians, 38.9%, report having no religion.

Compelled to Pray

Senator Lines told The Australian, “On the one hand we’ve had almost every parliamentary leader applaud the diversity of the Parliament and so if we are genuine about the diversity of the Parliament we cannot continue to say a Christian prayer to open the day.” Some leaders in the Labor Party, such as senators Penny Wong, Don Farrell and Katy Gallagher, have said the recital of Christian prayers should stay.

As Senate President Sue Lines, an atheist, is compelled to recite Christian prayers, I reflected on this from personal experience. As an atheist, which I was until I converted to the Christian faith, how would I have felt about being compelled to pray? The answer was simple. I wouldn’t have appreciated it.

Furthermore, if Christians protested and said that I should pray, it would make me think even less of Christians. I empathise with Senator Lines’ position.

A Solution

I believe an excellent way forward is a statement to be crafted and read that is based on the Golden Rule rather than the Lord’s Prayer:

“In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.”

The Golden Rule is one of the oldest life truths known to the human race. Jesus taught it, but it predates him by almost two thousand years and is found in all twelve traditional world religions, including Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Christianity.

The Golden Rule was first found in ancient Egyptian literature and quoted by some of the greatest philosophers, including Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Seneca and Philo. The age-old truth has now also been embraced by psychology. Modern social psychology refers to it as The Law of Reciprocity. When someone does something agreeable for you, you will have a deep-rooted psychological urge to do something nice in return.

Inclusion and Diversity

The principle of treating others as one would wish to be treated is the ultimate key to a fruitful and satisfying life. So why not create a statement encapsulating that truth and read it as an affirmation to open Parliamentary sessions in the Upper and Lower House of Federal Parliament? It would be a thoughtful framework for all decisions, and it makes a powerful statement of inclusion and diversity.

As much as I love The Lord’s Prayer, I wonder if this has become tokenistic or irrelevant to many people. I wonder about the efficacy of a prayer uttered by rote (or reluctance) rather than from the heart.

And Christians, let’s unite in prayer for Australia and our politicians ~ even those you didn’t vote for and don’t like. And more than anything, do to others what you would have them do to you.

In last week’s blog, “Should the church defy the Government?” I wrote the following: “It’s my opinion that the “evangelist” who wrote to me recently misses the point. It appears he’s bought into fear and conspiracies about a one-world government and an antichrist agenda. While these beliefs are widely held by many Christians today, they are based more on the Left Behind novels than on God’s Word. I’ll explore that in next week’s blog!” Well, here’s next week’s blog!

End-Time Predictions

When I became a Christian in the late 70s, end-time prophecy was all abuzz. Israel had become a nation in 1948, and according to a misinterpretation of Matthew 24:32-34, Jesus’ Second Coming would happen within one generation (40 years). That meant Jesus would be back by 1988. I thought I’d hit the jackpot becoming a Christian just in time. I devoured Revelation and Daniel, The Late Great Planet Earth, and all the prophecy books around. The planets would align on March 10, 1982, causing earthquakes, tidal waves, and violent storms that would lead to a natural disaster takeover by world governments. These events would see the rise of the antichrist and a one-world government, the Great Tribulation, and the return of Jesus. Nothing happened!

I have since learned that this is just one of many false prophecies of the end. Individuals and religious groups have been forecasting the end of the world for centuries. They really should give up. There’s no future in it!

In the forty years since my conversion, I’ve come to realise the interpretation of Scriptures relating to the antichrist, one-world government, and the rapture are often misunderstood or misinterpreted. The vast majority of evangelical and Pentecostal Christians hold beliefs about these things based more on the Left Behind books and movies than Scripture. That, my friends, is not a good way to study the Bible.

A Shaky Foundation

Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins wrote the 16 Left Behind books between 1995 and 2007 and sold 80 million copies. The books are based on a dispensationalist interpretation of Bible prophecy, a relatively modern invention developed in 1827 by John Nelson Darby of the Plymouth Brethren, and spread widely with the 1909 publication of the Scofield Reference Bible. Darby went on to be the founder of the Exclusive Brethren cult after George Mueller (and other Brethren) challenged him about some of his unbiblical doctrines. Charles Spurgeon also claimed these teachings were false. And so, much modern understanding of Bible prophecy originated from a heretical cult leader and popularised by books and movies. This is hardly a good foundation for understanding God’s Word!

Who is the Antichrist?

So, what about the antichrist and one-world government? Let’s explore antichrist first. There are four references to the antichrist in the Bible, and they are all found in John’s letters:

“Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour” (1 John 2:18). John continues by explaining what he means by antichrist, “Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son” (1 John 2:22). The antichrist(s) was already in the world of John’s day (1 John 4:3), and was not some figure who would appear two thousand years later. The antichrist was any person who did “not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh” (2 John 1:7).

1 John was written to encourage Christians who had been expelled from synagogues for their faith in Jesus; the Messiah. The synagogue was the heart of the community and so to be excluded was a terrible punishment. Because of this, some Christians had denied Jesus’ messiahship so they could be welcomed back by family and friends. John reminds Jesus’ followers that such people have left the church and “have gone out into the world.” By their actions and their words, they are antichristos (one who opposes Christ).

Anyone who opposes Christ is the antichrist. But these people have nothing to do with the Beast in Revelation 13 who is often, mistakenly, called the antichrist. The Beast is not a person – people rarely crawl out of the sea sporting seven heads with ten horns! The Beast is the Roman Empire, which, amongst other things, persecuted God’s people, especially during the reign of Nero. Nero Caesar’s name has a numeric value of 666. It could be said that any world system that stands opposed to, and persecutes, followers of Jesus is an antichrist system.

One-World Government

As for a one-world government and currency, the Bible is entirely silent. Sometimes Daniel’s prophecies, as well as some chapters in Revelation, are interpreted that way. These interpretations buy into Darby’s dispensationalism, which misinterprets Bible prophecy. In Daniel chapter 2, King Nebuchadnezzar has a dream. In this dream, God reveals the kingdoms that will follow Babylon – Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. These same four empires are also outlined in Daniel’s vision recorded in Daniel 7.

Dispensationalists insert a time gap (dispensation) between the fourth kingdom – Rome – and the end times before the Second Coming of Jesus. They say there will be a revived Roman Empire in the last days, and the antichrist will rise up to rule it. The European Common Market (now the European Economic Community or EEC) was said to be the Beast’s kingdom’s forerunner. As mentioned before, this is not sound Biblical interpretation.

Daniel 2 tells us, “in the time of those kings [of the fourth kingdom], the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed” (44). During the reign of the Roman Caesars, God would set up His eternal kingdom, the kingdom of God, or, of heaven. God did this through Jesus Christ who taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done. On earth as it is in heaven.” The kingdom of God is not a geographical location. It’s wherever God rules in the hearts of people. As this rule is extended, the world becomes a better place, and that’s precisely what we’ve been witnessing for two millennia. The world is better than it was, but not as good as it will be.

The Sign of the End

“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” Personally, I’m not looking for an antichrist, although there have been and will be many who oppose Jesus. I’m not waiting for a one-world government, a great tribulation, or a cashless society. There will continue to be wars and rumours of wars, famines, pandemics, and earthquakes. Christians, and people of other faiths, will face persecution. But the end won’t come until every ethnic group has an understandable presentation of the good news about Jesus. At that time, Jesus will return, and his people will gather to him.

“According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so, we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words (1 Thess. 4:15018).

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

A few weeks ago, I received an email from a guy who calls himself an Evangelist. He wanted to challenge me about Bayside Church, and other churches, closing down services during the Global Pandemic. He wrote:

What about God’s word “do not forsake the gathering together of the saints and do so more as the day draws nearer”!! We have already obeyed man over God and now discovered it’s all a lie to take. [sic.] Freedom from the people and increase fear and the control of the government to usher in one world order. Please challenge people to fight injustice and choose God Over man including church. Pastors should not have closed their church’s. So many people look to you ??? Don’t be a coward brother !! Set example Expose injustice and ungodly anti christ agenda

I get quite a few kooky messages, most of which I ignore, but I thought I’d address this one as it contains so many fallacies that are being spread around at present. Fortunately, in Australia “there appears to be little or no appetite to go against the various Public Health Orders in each state. Our largest churches such as Hillsong are meeting online, and church leaders have committed their networks to understand and follow the rules, seeking advice from Health Authorities where something is unclear.” (Quoted from Eternity Newspaper).   I believe the Australian church has got it right.

Meanwhile, in the USA

In the USA, there’s been a slightly different approach. Even though most churches have abided by government guidelines, a small, vocal group of pastors has “begun to bristle at government-imposed restrictions on their worship.” (Quoted from The Atlantic). 

Some have reopened; others have sued for their right to gather, claiming the restrictions are unconstitutional and a threat to religious freedom. A few others refused to shut down at all.

History Repeats

Sadly, much of this is history repeating itself. During the 1918-19 Spanish Flu Pandemic, many of the same measures were put into place that we’ve seen during COVID-19. Face masks, social distancing, personal hygiene, and closing of places of public gathering. While most people complied, some saw this as some sort of insidious agenda of State control and bucked the system. It was the second wave of the Spanish Flu that killed the most people. One thing we learn from history is that we rarely learn from history!

Churches that sue for their rights and their religious freedom do nothing to advance the good news of Jesus. The Gospel calls Jesus’ followers to “not [look] to your own interests, but each of you to the interests of the others” (Phil 2:4).

The Spanish Flu wasn’t a threat to religious freedom, it was a threat to public health. COVID-19 is the same. After 1919, churches and other public gathering places were reopened once again, and the world moved into The Roaring Twenties. Closures, wearing masks, and social distancing were temporary measures aimed at bringing communities through a health crisis with as few casualties as possible. Same today!

Some churches bristle because they are not deemed “an essential service” like liquor stores! As a Christian and a pastor, I think the church is essential, but I know I stand with the minority. The closure of church gatherings is not about being essential. It’s about restricting the congregating of people and the spreading of a very contagious virus. Whatever you think of liquor stores, people don’t congregate there.

Church at Walmart

In the US, a church group recently decided to resist the trend and have a service at a Walmart pharmacy to protest that pharmacies were open but churches were closed:

The singing of my African American brothers and sisters is stunning, and I hope no one was infected with COVID-19. Only time will tell. It should be remembered, though, that when people sing (or talk loudly like preaching), they spray out a shower of secretions. According to fluid physics expert Professor Con Doolan, these aerosol particles remain suspended in the air, potentially spreading coronavirus. If you’re standing too close to an infected person when they cough or sing, you could breathe in the particles they have projected into the air (see article). 

And so, while I see so many people cheering on this church, if their actions cause sickness and death are they really singing God’s praises? Would God be pleased or saddened by the behaviour of his children?

Other churches who defied the US Government faced significant backlash from neighbours. One woman stood outside a church and held up a sign that read, “you killed my grandma.” Is this the testimony of the Gospel the church wants to communicate to a world that God loves and for whom Jesus died?

Listening to God not Man

The most well-known church to defy the government is John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church in California. 

Their statement is convincing on the first read with lots of scripture verses to enforce their argument.

Itt’s important to remember that the church is not being restricted by Government unnecessarily. For example, no one is telling churches and Christians not to preach the Gospel as the authorities did to Peter and John: “So they called the apostles back in and commanded them never again to speak or teach in the name of Jesus.”

If the Government ever banned us from speaking and teaching about Jesus, I would respond in the same way the apostles did: “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than God.”

This not the case today even though Grace Community Church says it is. All churches can preach about Jesus and teach God’s Word. There are no restrictions placed on us in this regard.

So, that’s what we’re doing at Bayside Church, and we’re seeing people come to Jesus and grow in their faith. We’re helping the underprivileged with groceries and cooked food. Church members are keeping in touch with one another and serving one another. The church is alive, healthy, and vibrant.

It’s my opinion that the “evangelist” who wrote to me recently is missing the point. It appears he’s bought into fear and conspiracies about a one-world government and an antichrist agenda. While these beliefs are widely held by many Christians today, they are based more on the Left Behind novels than on God’s Word. I’ll explore that in next week’s blog!

The Near Future

Once this current crisis is over, restrictions will be eased, and small gatherings will once again be safe. Before the resurgence of COVID-19 in Melbourne, Bayside Church was about to restart gatherings of up to 50 people. Many of our Connect Groups were already meeting in-person, and we were looking at doing some meetings outdoors with more significant numbers. If the current restrictions work, we should get back to that in a few weeks.

While church buildings are an incredible asset, we need to remember that the church is people, not buildings. I appreciate the excellent facility that Bayside Church works from and gathers in, but it’s important to remember that the church did very well for the first three centuries with no building at all.

During this pandemic, Christians are blessed with technology that helps us stay in touch with one another. While this ultimately is no substitute for in-person meetings, it’s better than nothing.

During the Spanish Flu pandemic, some pastors wrote letters and Bible studies for their congregations and posted them in letterboxes. Today we meet on Facebook, YouTube, and Zoom. I’ve had Bayside Church people tell me they have never felt so connected with Christie and me and with their church.

The building may be closed, but the church is open!

History reveals that Christianity rarely flourishes when it has the power.  Consider the first few hundred years of the church’s existence.  The Book of Acts tells of a church that exploded in growth especially when persecution scattered the believers.  “The spread of the Christian church in its earliest centuries is one of the most amazing phenomena in all of human history.” [1] The church was on the edges of society and took up Jesus’ mandate to love and serve those who were also marginalised.

Justin Martyr, an early Christian theologian, wrote to Emperor Antoninus Pius describing Christians as follows: “We formerly rejoiced in uncleanness of life, but now love only chastity; before we used the magic arts, but now dedicate ourselves to the true and unbegotten God; before we loved money and possessions more than anything, but now we share what we have and to everyone who is in need; before we hated one another and killed one another and would not eat with those of another race, but now since the manifestation of Christ, we have come to a common life and pray for our enemies and try to win over those who hate us without just cause.”

Christians met together in close-knit communities and lived out their faith in their daily lives.  They were known for their honesty and integrity in business dealings, care & prayer for the sick, and for looking after widows and orphans.  By the year 250 A.D., Christians were feeding more than 1,500 of the hungry and destitute in Rome every day.

Emperor Julian (“the Apostate”), who was no friend of the Christian faith, said that Christianity “has been specially advanced through the loving service rendered to strangers and through their care of the burial of the dead. It is a scandal that there is not a single Jew who is a beggar and that the [Christians] care not only for their own poor but for ours as well; while those who belong to us look in vain for the help we should render them.”

The early Christians were often scorned and ridiculed.  They had no government approval, political power or official support but they lived out the Gospel, the Good News about Jesus Christ and, by the end of the First Century, there were an estimated one million believers in the Roman Empire.  Christianity continued to grow throughout the next two centuries as it started to get more organised; something that became necessary once Christians realised the Second Coming of Christ was not as imminent as the apostles believed it would be.

But everything started to change for the church in 312 A.D. when Constantine and his troops marched towards Rome to do battle with Maxentius.  Constantine’s army was smaller than that of his opponent, and so he sought divine help.  The historian Eusebius wrote, “So, he sought his father’s God in prayer, pleading for him to tell him who he was and to stretch forth his hand to help him. As he prayed (it was a little after noon), Constantine had an absorbing vision. He saw the sign of the cross emblazoned across the sky and the words “In hoc signo vinces,” “In this sign, you will win.”  Constantine was struck with amazement, along with his whole army (which also witnessed the miracle). That night in his sleep it was confirmed: this was the Christ of God he was dealing with.  Constantine accepted the vision. He adopted the sign. He had the cross inscribed on his soldiers’ armour. He went into battle. Even though his forces were outnumbered, he won.” [2]

The irony of this was that a pacifist Christian Church would receive its right to exist through a political and military conquest; and it would never be the same again.  Constantine eventually made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. Unbelievers flooded into the church, but many did not convert, choosing instead to bring their pagan practices into the Church. Being a Christian was now the fashionable thing to do.  The church became diluted in spiritual power as its prestige increased and, with political power, the church became the oppressor as much as it had been the oppressed.  For the next one thousand years, the world entered the Dark Ages which included the Crusades and the Inquisitions (the latter not entirely ending until the 20th century).

In the 1930s Germany was a “Christian” country, and what a disaster that turned out to be. Two-thirds were protestant and one-third Catholic, and the church, by and large, supported Hitler.  We often wonder how a Holocaust can happen; one way is when the church finds itself in bed with politics and demonising groups of people.  Jesus told His first followers that all power was given to Him, and He was empowering them to “go and make disciples of all the nations.” [3] He didn’t tell them to Christianise countries, nor to lobby governments to enforce morality. Jesus’ way is subtler; the inward transformation of individuals who desire to work together in a community and manifest heaven on earth in their everyday lives.

The one thing we learn from history is that we rarely learn from history.  Some churches, church leaders, and Christians are still hell-bent on political power mongering and the Gospel is always the loser.  Consider the recent survey in the USA showing 14% of Christians have left their churches since the last election because of their clergy being too political, especially by endorsing Donald Trump. [4] In the United States, almost a billion dollars is spent every year by so-called Christian organisations on lobbying politicians.  The same takes places in Australia albeit on a much smaller budget.  One can only wonder at the impact that money would have if it were used to help the poor, to spread the true gospel of Jesus, and to speak out for those who have no voice as the Bible asks us to: “Speak out on behalf of the voiceless, and for the rights of all who are vulnerable.  Speak out in order to judge with righteousness and to defend the needy and the poor.” [5]

Whenever the church tries to get its way through political power, the Gospel message always gets drowned out.  In fact, the only countries where Christianity is still growing is where the church and Christians work humbly, and sometimes secretly, on the margins of society; like Nepal, China, and the UAE. [6] Most of these countries are in Asia and Africa and many in Muslim majority nations.  In 2015, mission organisation Operation World named Iran as having the fastest growing evangelical population in the world, with an estimated annual growth of 19.6 percent. [7] In North America, Europe, and Australia the church is shrinking.  In these countries, the church’s position on ethical and moral issues is well known, but people don’t understand the gospel message because it’s been drowned out by all the other things they hear from us.  This needs to change!  People need to discover the gospel, the good news about Jesus Christ.

Richard Rohr sums all this up so well, “Christians are usually sincere and well-intentioned people until you get to any real issues of ego, control, power, money, pleasure, and security. Then they tend to be pretty much like everybody else. We’re often given a bogus version of the Gospel, some fast-food religion, without any deep transformation of the self; and the result has been the spiritual disaster of “Christian” countries that tend to be as consumer-oriented, proud, warlike, racist, class-conscious, and addictive as everybody else-and often more so, I’m afraid.” [8] Confronting words and sadly true.


[1] https://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1-300/the-spread-of-the-early-church-11629561.html

[2] https://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/301-600/constantine-11629643.html

[3] Matthew 28:19

[4] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2017/04/11/yes-many-voters-left-their-congregations-over-trump-so-what-else-is-new/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.67201ab554bd

[5] Proverbs 31:8-9

[6] https://www.christiantoday.com/article/which-country-has-the-fastest-growing-church-in-the-world/95924.htm

[7] https://discipleallnations.wordpress.com/2013/08/25/the-top-20-countries-where-christianity-is-growing-the-fastest/

[8] Richard Rohr, Breathing Underwater


A few weeks ago, I taught a vital message at Bayside Church titled, “Is the Bible really true?”  I encourage you to listen to the podcast. [1] In this message, I teach that the Bible contains many different kinds of truth ~ truth as fact, truth as meaning and truth as life.  In other words, there are some things in the Bible that, while not factually accurate, are full of meaning. Jesus’ parables are a good example of this.

I believe Paul’s statements in Romans 13:1-7 fall into the category of “Truth as meaning” rather than “Truth as fact.”  If “there is no authority except that which God has established,” we seem to be in deep trouble.  Consider Hitler’s government for example.  Adolf Hitler was Chancellor (and then Fuhrer) of Germany from 1933 to 1945 during which time his reign of terror included the well-known Holocaust of six million Jews.  In addition, Hitler was directly responsible for the murder of “more than five million non-Jews including Gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, blacks, the physically and mentally disabled, political opponents of the Nazis, dissenting clergy, resistance fighters, prisoners of war, Slavic peoples, and many individuals from the artistic communities whose opinions and works Hitler condemned.” [2] Notice the reference to dissenting clergy.  This infers that there were some clergy, and Christians, who did not dissent and were thus complicit in the slaughter of millions. But did the dissenters disobey God and His Word so clearly spelled out in Romans 13?

In the 1930s Germany was a Christian nation. Two-thirds were protestant and one-third Catholic.  Jews accounted for less than 1% of the population.  And yet the Christian community was by and large complicit with Hitler, being persuaded by the Nazi Party’s statement on “positive Christianity” which read: “We demand the freedom of all religious confessions in the state, insofar as they do not jeopardize the state’s existence or conflict with the manners and moral sentiments of the Germanic race.”  [3]

In July 1933, Hitler’s first year in power, a German pastor, Joachim Hossenfelder, preached a sermon in Berlin’s most important church – the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. His text was Romans 13:1-7 and he reminded the congregation of the importance of obedience to those in authority because “The authorities that exist have been established by God.”  This appeal to the Bible as “Truth as fact” led much of the Christian church to either support Hitler or not to resist him.  This same appeal to Romans 13 was used to back the slave trade and apartheid.  It is still used in support of capital punishment, and was recently quoted by US Attorney General Jeff Sessions to justify the Trump Administration’s immigration policy of separating children from their families.

A few verses later in Romans chapter 13 Paul wrote, “The commandments…are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbour. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.” [4] Love does not condone torture and murder, it doesn’t imprison and starve, and it doesn’t separate children from their parents. True Christian love does no harm to anyone.  So, let me say this loud and clear…

Any time the Bible is used to justify the mistreatment of people in any shape or form, the interpretation of the Scripture is wrong!

So, what is Romans 13 all about?  When we interpret it as “Truth as meaning” rather than “Truth as fact” all becomes clear. The apostle was speaking directly into the political climate of his day.  Emperor Claudius, who was in office from A.D. 41 to 54, ordered all Jews to leave Rome around A.D. 51.  According to the Roman historian Suetonius, Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome because they were rioting on account of someone named Chrestus (Christ) – apparently referring to disputes between Christian and non-Christian Jews.  Luke mentions this historical fact in Acts 18:2, “Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome.”  Claudius allowed the Jews to return around January A.D. 53, and four years later (A.D. 57) Paul wrote his letter to the Roman church while he was spending three months in Corinth.

It’s with this historical backdrop that we can understand what Paul meant by what he wrote in Romans 13.  Nero was now in power, and Paul encouraged the church not to unnerve the political authorities with any more disputes with non-Christian Jews in case they were all ejected once more from Rome.  If this happened, it would have an adverse outcome for the church and the Gospel in the City of Rome, and so Paul encouraged the Roman Christians to do the right thing and not to rebel.  He also taught them to pay their taxes and live lives of respect and honour.

Whilst this encouragement generally holds true today, Romans 13 is not to be used as a justification to mistreat people or to say and do nothing in the case of government injustice.  Christian people are to obey the laws of the land unless they contradict God’s laws.  We are to pray for our government leaders, and respectfully challenge them when they act in a way that brings harm to others.  As Charles Colson wrote many years ago, “If truth retreats, tyranny advances.”



[1] https://baysidechurch.com.au/message/is-the-bible-really-true-ps-rob-buckingham/

[2] https://www.socialstudies.org/sites/default/files/publications/se/5906/590606.html

[3] The Nazi Party’s statement on “positive Christianity” Article 24 of the 1920 Nazi Party Platform: “We demand the freedom of all religious confessions in the state, insofar as they do not jeopardize the state’s existence or conflict with the manners and moral sentiments of the Germanic race. The Party as such upholds the point of view of a positive Christianity without tying itself confessionally to any one confession. It combats the Jewish-materialistic spirit at home and abroad and is convinced that a permanent recovery of our people can only be achieved from within on the basis of the common good before individual good.”

[4] Romans 13:9-10


Dear Supreme Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

I have been so encouraged of late to see such sincere developments occurring between your nation and south Korea, as well as the United States of America.  I’m excited about the outcome of the upcoming Summit between you and President Trump later this month or in June.

Like many people around the world, I’ve been extremely concerned at the heightened tensions, over the past few years, between the DPRK and other nations.  The missile tests, threats of retaliation and all-out war have been alarming.  And so, we are heartened to see this willingness by all parties to sit down and have constructive talks that could lead to peace.

In all the things that need to be discussed and agreed to, I do hope that there will also be room in your country to consider greater freedom of faith.  According to Cheong Seong-chang of the Sejong Institute, “Kim Jong-un has greater visible interest in the welfare of his people and engages in greater interaction with them than his father did.”[1]  I think it’s admirable that you show interest in the welfare of your people, but I’d like to ask you about the welfare of people of faith, especially Christians like me.  There are between 300,000 and 500,000 Christians in the DPRK.  In 2014 the group Aid to the Church in Need published a persecution report which figured that some 50,000 Christians might currently be in the DPRK’s penal camps. [2]

I’ve read that Christians endure “violations of the right to food, life, freedom of expression, freedom of religion or belief, freedom of movement, as well as various violations associated with prison camps. Torture and inhuman treatment, arbitrary detention, discrimination, and enforced disappearances.”[3]  If these reports are correct, then they breach Article 12 of your Constitution which provides for freedom of religion.  I’m aware that there are five State-sanctioned Churches in Pyongyang.  May I encourage you to allow more churches to open and flourish in your country?

I realise that Christianity is viewed in the DPRK as representing the West, notably the USA, but I’d like to challenge that.  The Christian faith was born out of Judaism which originated in the Middle East.  The Bible is, in fact, an Eastern book and contains much that reflects the values of Asian culture.

The vast majority of Christians are peaceful people and are not in any way a threat to your country.  We uphold the law of the land, we are hard workers, we are not subversive, and we respect and pray for our leaders.  Christians are taught to “do to others as you would have them do to you” – the Golden Rule that is also one of the key tenants of Buddhism and Confucianism, the two biggest religions in your country.

Despite persecution, it is reported that Christianity is actually increasing in the DPRK.  That has been the story throughout history.  Many countries and empires have tried to stamp out the Christian faith over the centuries, but all have failed.  May I encourage you to see Christians as your friend and not your enemy?  The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea will be all the better for it.

Kind regards,

Rob Buckingham

Senior Minister, Bayside Church Melbourne



[1] Song Sang-ho (27 June 2012). “N.K. leader seen moving toward economic reform”. The Korea Herald. Archived from the original on 3 July 2012. Retrieved 28 June 2012.

[2] https://www.forbes.com/sites/dougbandow/2016/10/31/north-koreas-war-on-christianity-the-globes-number-one-religious-persecutor/#1f9866b56e37

[3] http://www.csw.org.uk/2016/09/22/report/3263/article.htm


Now I don’t doubt that some retailers are struggling and I understand their call for GST, customs charges and duties to be added to online purchases under $1000.  However, a Productivity Commission Report found the cost of tax collection would exceed revenue raised.  The Federal Government’s retail task force is still examining this issue.

Australians are not going to stop buying certain goods online.  Each household only has so much discretionary money and although we try and buy Australian, we also need to make wise financial decisions.  So, Australian retailers have some work to do to encourage us to buy from them.

In recent weeks I’ve needed to update my wardrobe for Bayside TV.  I’ve chosen to buy the clothes in local shops but it’s been a very mixed experience.  In general the department stores offered atrocious service.  One in particular had three staff members standing around talking while customers were waiting.  I asked them for help but was told they worked in another department and so could not assist me.  When I asked who could help me I was told that someone would be there shortly.  Fifteen minutes later a staff member arrived.  In the meantime customers had walked out.  I had planned to spend more in that store, but chose not to because of my experience.

The best service was given in the smaller boutique shops although that was not always the case.  One men’s clothing shop I went into had some really nice shirts but the girl “working” there spent ten minutes talking to a friend on her mobile phone.  She didn’t once acknowledge me. I had several hundred dollars to spend and I would have spent it in that shop but I walked out and bought the shirts elsewhere.

Good service has got to be the number one key to the survival of Australian retail.  No wonder Apple is now the world’s most valuable company.  You walk into an Apple store and a friendly person comes to you straight away, asks your name and how they can help you.  The service is amazing – and so are the products.  If good service isn’t offered why shouldn’t we buy online?  What value is added by shopping in a store?

And so, as a shopper, I give this advice to retailers:

• Train your staff well so they know how to serve well.  And give your staff incentives for good results.
• Give something for nothing – a discount voucher or frequent shopper bonus; buy two get one free or discounts for large purchases.
• Develop online buying yourself. If people want to buy your products online why not give them the opportunity.
• Keep up to date with current trends, innovations and technology. Remember Kodak, the company that pioneered the digital camera was eventually brought down by its failure to invest in its own ground-breaking invention.  It became a fossil because it came to a point of change and failed to make the transition.

It’s not good enough for retailers to complain about competition and expect the government to bail them out.  It’s time for all retailers to realise the world has changed and to do the hard work of remaining competitive and give us, the shoppers, good reasons to buy from you.