I regularly hear words of alarm and outrage from some of Jesus’ followers who embrace a gloomy view of the world. Confession: I used to hold that viewpoint, too. It’s all tied into a futurist understanding of Revelation and Bible prophecy, which teaches that things will worsen until Jesus returns. I used to look for evidence that everything was deteriorating, but I eventually woke up because history and the present world tell a different story. For the most part, the world is a better place to live now than ever in human history.

And so, when I hear people say, “Every year, it gets worse and worse,” I find myself reacting to this so-called “Christian” form of outrage. Some of Jesus’ followers feel compelled to be incensed about something as fuel to keep their faith alive. I don’t believe this is an appropriate way for God’s people to live.

Amazing Insight

Consider what it would be like to build a church in a corrupt and dreadful place next to a temple that was dedicated to an idolatrous god that was worshipped by people having sex with prostitutes and animals. That story is reflected in Jesus’ incredible discussion with his disciples in Caesarea Philippi, near a mountainous region containing Mount Hermon, Israel’s largest mountain.

Matthew tells us that Jesus asked his disciples what people were saying about him. They told Jesus that people’s opinions were mixed, with some believing Jesus was John the Baptist reincarnated. Others thought Jesus was Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets who had returned from the dead.

Jesus then asked his disciples for their thoughts on his identity. Peter answered first, of course, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Play on Words

Jesus told Peter that his insights had a heavenly origin, “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

The Play on words in the original manuscript was between Peter (Petros), a rock that can be thrown, and Rock (Petra), a large mass rising from the earth. Matthew 16:18 could be translated as, “I tell you, Peter, that you are like a little stone, but on this massive mountain of the revelation of who I am, I will build my church.” The Church was and is established on the foundation of Jesus the Messiah.

The Worst Place

So, what are the gates of Hades that will not overcome Jesus’ Church? As mentioned, this conversation occurred at Caesarea Philippi, ancient Paneas, “The city of Pan.” In Jesus’ day, a temple to the goat god Pan was at the centre of town.

Pan received worship through intimate acts with goats. The court in public view outside the temple was called the Court of Pan and the Nymphs. Nymphs are creatures of fantasy, like elves or fairies and were thought to be a large group of inferior divinities. Today, the word can refer to a woman who suffers from hypersexuality, a mental illness.

Pan’s temple was set on the side of a gigantic rock face. Next to it was an enormous cave where the Jordan River originates and flows to the Dead Sea. The cave was called the “gates of Hell.” The priests of Pan would say that if you did not worship Pan to his satisfaction, he would open the cave and swallow you into Hell.

For the disciples, this was an evil place, and this is where Jesus says, on this rock, I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. In other words, think of the most formidable and least likely place to found a church; that is where the Church will thrive.

Worth Considering

I find it fascinating that of all the places where Jesus could initiate his Church, he chose that place. It’s a truth that resonates through the centuries right down to our time.

The Church has had the worst of things thrown at it. It’s been outlawed and oppressed, and its people persecuted and martyred. Sacred books and Bibles were burned or banned. Add to that the trouble we’ve brought on ourselves – immoral and abusive pastors and priests, Church splits, discrimination against minorities and selfishness, always wanting everything our way. It’s a miracle that the Church still exists, but here we are.

My encouragement to you is simple: while some awful things are happening in the world right now, the world is much better than it was. If you follow Jesus, Set your mind on things above, not earthly things. Jesus affirmed that His Church would be built on the rock where the darkest rituals occurred, and it would prevail. Live in faith, not fear and be encouraged.


In last week’s blog, I explored the principal theories offered to describe and define the atonement, what Jesus achieved on the cross. There’s one more belief that requires more space than I could have given it last week, so that’s the subject of this blog ~ the limited atonement theory.


The idea of limited atonement is a theological doctrine associated with Calvinism or Reformed theology. Limited atonement suggests that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was intended only for the salvation of a specific group of people who are “elect” or the “chosen.”

However, limited atonement is debated among Christians, and there are valid arguments against it. Like me, those who disagree with limited atonement argue for a broader understanding of God’s redemptive work and emphasise the universal scope of Christ’s sacrifice.


The concept of limited atonement is defended by its proponents through a series of clever arguments. For example, they say that the Israelite sacrificial system, the prototype of atonement in Scripture, consisted of offerings given to Israel alone by God, to be performed by Israel alone to God, and whose benefits applied to Israel alone to the glory of God. In other words, it was limited.

In the New Testament, the limited reach of salvation is supported by verses like Matthew 1:21, “Jesus…will save his people from their sins.” “His people” being the Jews.

John 10:11 is also quoted in support of limited atonement. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Jesus goes on to distinguish between those who are His sheep and those standing there who were not (v.26), suggesting that his atonement does not apply to them.

In Romans 8, while reflecting on Jesus’ death (32), Paul asks: “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?” (33) Limited atonement supporters use these verses to say that Christ’s death is restricted to the people God chooses, and not for everyone else.


While it’s true that the Jewish sacrificial system was just for Israel, God’s intention through Israel was that “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” ultimately, I believe, that blessing came through Jesus the Messiah.

Matthew’s statement that Jesus came to save his people from their sins is the same. One occasion, Jesus stated, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” He said this to a Gentile [Canaanite] woman who asked Jesus to heal her daughter. It’s a fascinating discussion in which Jesus banters with the little lady and draws out her great faith. He compliments her and heals her daughter showing that he did NOT just come for Israel but for Gentiles too.

Some of Jesus’ final words express this truth: “Go and make disciples of all the nations.” Nations (ethnos) refers to the world’s Gentile people groups. Why would Jesus instruct his followers to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” if, in fact, he only intended to save Jewish people? The gospel is universal in scope.


Rather than Jesus’ work being limited, it is the opposite. Here are some of my reasons for this belief:

God’s desire for all to be saved: The Bible repeatedly expresses God’s passion for the salvation of all people. For instance, 1 Timothy 2:4 says God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” The idea of limited atonement conflicts with this inclusive message.

The universality of sin: The Bible teaches that all humans are sinners and need redemption. Consider Romans 3:23 “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” If sin affects all people universally, Christ’s atoning sacrifice should likewise have universal significance. And let’s not forget the next verse, “and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Notice the word “all.” ALL have sinned; ALL are justified. Not a limited few.

God’s love for the world: One of the most well-known verses in the Bible, John 3:16, speaks of God’s love for the world and offer of salvation to all people.

The extent of Christ’s work is evident in John’s statement in chapter two of his first epistle. The entire chapter refutes the idea that Jesus’ death was in some way to appease God’s wrath against us. John writes, ” [Jesus] is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” Christ’s sacrifice is not limited to a specific group of God’s favourites. Everyone is welcome and worthy, including YOU.


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?

Where does the church belong?

During my four-plus decades as a Christian, and a member of the church, I have heard many declarations of who and what the church is and its rightful place:

We are to be “the head, not the tail.”

We are to rule and reign on the earth.

And take dominion.

Dominion theology, which I will write about in a future blog, is a politically-oriented doctrine that seeks to found a nation governed by Christians, Christian “values,” and understandings of Biblical law. In other words, the church rules society through the government.

But are any of these legitimate statements that describe the church’s role as laid out by Jesus? Let’s find out.

Jesus’ Example

Holy Week, beginning with Palm Sunday is an excellent time to explore the question of the church’s rightful place.

Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt on the first Palm Sunday, making an unmissable statement to first-century people. If Jesus were on government business, seeking to take control (dominion), he would have ridden the adult donkey, not the colt. If he had sought to overthrow Rome’s regime and found a new kingdom, horses and chariots would have been Jesus’ choice. But Jesus chose a colt, a donkey under four years old. What a statement!

The people treated him as royalty that day, spreading their garments and waving palm branches as they would for a king. A few days later, they demanded the release of Jesus Bar-Abbas (Jesus, son of god, abba) instead of the actual Jesus, Son of God. The crowd is fickle. Nothing has changed.

Imagine a grown man riding a small animal. No doubt Jesus looked anything but kingly that day, but he was making a point. The people, including his followers, expected a king to take charge, overthrow Rome, and establish his kingdom with Israel in control. When they didn’t get their way, they killed him.

Even after the resurrection, his disciples asked, “Are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” They still didn’t get it.

Jesus’ Teaching

Jesus did not come to be served but to serve. He taught and demonstrated this throughout his ministry. The night before his death, Jesus assumed the position of the lowest household servant and washed his disciples’ feet, saying, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”

On one occasion, two of Jesus’ followers talked their mum into asking Jesus if her boys could sit at Jesus’ “right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” The other disciples were miffed. Jesus used this amusing incident to get his point across. He spoke about how earthly rulers exercise authority by lording it over people. You know, taking dominion, being the head and not the tail. Jesus said, “Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave.”

The theme of servanthood then resonates throughout the New Testament.

Getting it Right

The centuries following Jesus’ resurrection have demonstrated what it looks like when the church gets it right – and when it forgets its rightful place and seeks to dominate. Christians and churches are to serve others, not control them. God doesn’t DO control, and neither should his people. Consider all the good in this world as a result of Christians taking their rightful place of servanthood.

“Over the centuries, the church has founded schools, hospitals and orphanages; Christians have campaigned for prison reform, better housing and an end to the slave trade; they have helped to establish a huge number of charities to support the poor, the underprivileged, prisoners and their families, the homeless and those seeking justice. Christians were involved in setting up many of the best-known charities, including Oxfam, the Salvation Army, the Samaritans and the RSPCA.”

Wherever there is poverty and injustice, you will find Christian people who behave like Jesus—serving others amid disasters and advocating for the voiceless in the corridors of power.

But, then …

But, when we forget Jesus’ example and take control instead of serving, we get it dreadfully wrong. Consider the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the witch trials as glaring examples. One of the worst things that ever happened to the church was Constantine declaring Christianity the Roman Empire’s official religion. The church took charge and became wealthy and powerful. And the world entered the Dark Ages.

More recently, “Christians” have committed child sexual abuse, and churches have covered it up to protect their power and reputation. We’ve sought to dictate and control what others can and can’t do and lobbied against the rights of people we disagree with. When we act this way, we cease to follow the example of Jesus, the servant, and society at large thinks less of Christians and the church. They take a step away from Jesus. The gospel suffers, and the church declines.

The Real Gospel

I want to be understood here. I am not saying that the Christian message is all about good works. But people deserve to see the genuine gospel in action. It is a message of God’s love for people and a desire for reconciliation without “counting people’s sins against them.” When we behave like we’re in charge, when we domineer and always want our way, when we seek to protect OUR rights above the rights of others, we cease to be like Jesus.

Let’s take up the towel and the basin of water and wash others’ feet. That’s the church’s rightful place.


I became a Christian in the late 70s, attracted by the love and grace of God that I saw in some Christian people I met while hitchhiking around Australia. But I was soon caught up in the buzz around the book of Revelation and Bible prophecy. The rapture and the end of the world were going to happen between 1983 and 1988, except they didn’t.

Then there was the satanic panic of the 80s and 90s, with over 12,000 unsubstantiated Satanic ritual abuse cases. The Left Behind series of books and films fed a generation of Christians an erroneous view of Revelation. The last few years, especially since the pandemic, have witnessed the rise of QAnon and a supposed Deep State cabal of Satanic Paedophiles manipulating the planet’s governments.

Wising Up

It has taken me many years to realise that some Christians lurch from one false prediction or plot to the next with minimal reflection. There appears to be little to no awareness that such-and-such prophecy was incorrect. They move ahead while stirring up more fear and outrage with whatever the latest conspiracy flavour happens to be.

A steady diet of certain media outlets feeds the fear and outrage. It saddens me to see Christian leaders and others go down the rabbit hole. I’ve watched it for over forty years. It’s unbiblical and un-Christlike. Jesus did not come to build a fearful, angry church; he came to create a victorious one. Christians, please wise up!

On THIS Rock

Matthew records a fascinating discussion between Jesus and his disciples in which he asks them what the public is saying about his identity. All the answers were wrong, but Peter was spot on, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

Jesus is using a play on words. Peter (Gk. Petros) means a small stone or pebble found along a pathway. A stone that someone could throw. Rock (Gk. Petra) refers to a vast mass of solid rock rising from the earth, such as a mountain or precipice. Jesus’ words could be translated as follows: I tell you that you are a little pebble, and on this gigantic rock, I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

The Gates of Hades

Hades was the god who presided over the underworld, called the house of Hades. It was believed to be the place where people went when they died. The New Testament adopts this name for the realm of the dead and pictures it as a large city with its gates representing its power.

In the first century, cities were fortified with walls and gates. On attack, the gates would be closed. The enemy would target the gates as the place of greatest vulnerability. Through the gates, the Army would seek to destroy the invading force.

A Little History

The conversation between Jesus, Peter, and the other disciples occurs in Caesarea Philippi, a mountainous area close to Mount Hermon, the tallest mountain in Israel. The area was known as Bashan in the Old Testament and had a bad reputation. Sihon and Og, two kings of Bashan, had ties to the ancient tribes of Rephaim and Anakim (Deuteronomy 2:10–12; Joshua 12:1–5). Their kingdom’s principal cities were Ashtaroth and Edrei.

The ancients regarded the Rephaim as the spirits of slain warrior kings. Additionally, they believed that the twin cities were Sheol’s gates, the entrance to Hades. Jeroboam constructed a pagan religious complex in Dan, just south of Mount Hermon, where the Israelites worshipped Baal rather than Yahweh.

The Sons of God

People in Jesus’ time, including his disciples, perceived Bashan as terrifying and awful. Jewish tradition holds that the sons of God descended from heaven on Mount Hermon, ultimately corrupting humans by their offspring with human women (see Gen. 6:1-4).

These offspring were Nephilim (giants) and were considered ancestors of the Anakim and the Rephaim (Numbers 13:30–33). According to Enoch’s book, these giants’ spirits were evil spirits sent to dwell on the earth (1 Enoch 15:1–12).

To make the region even spookier, Caesarea Philippi had been dedicated to Zeus; a pagan god people worshipped at a religious centre built at the foot of Mount Hermon. Aside from the brief interlude during the time of Joshua through Solomon, the gates of hell were continually open for business.

The Rock and The Gates

The rock Jesus referred to in this passage was neither Peter nor himself. Jesus suggested the rock where they stood at the foot of Mount Hermon, the demonic headquarters of the Old Testament and the first-century world.

The Church that Jesus envisions in these verses is victorious. He was declaring war on Satan, sin, and death, the things he defeated by his death and resurrection. What Jesus is teaching in this discussion with his disciples is this:

Think of the worst or most challenging place to establish a church, and that’s where I’ll build mine. Find the hub of satanic activity, false religion, and superstition. I will build my church atop the gates of hell and bury them.

And that’s why I challenge the voices of fear and outrage from some quarters of the Christian church. And, if you’re caught up in these voices, I challenge you to stop feeding yourself defeatist drivel. Jesus built his church on a massive rock, saying the gates of Hades would not overcome it. Was he telling the truth? Jesus IS the Truth.

Last week, I posted a blog discussing three things Christians repeatedly say as if they’re scripture, except they’re not:

  • God helps those who help themselves.
  • We are sinners saved by grace.
  • Love the sinner and hate the sin.

I welcomed feedback, as usual, and suggestions of other things we Christians say that are not found in the Bible. And so, here are three more to ponder:

Everything Happens for a Reason

I imagine you’ve heard this statement many times. Maybe you’ve said it yourself. I hear people say this, especially in times of distress or grief. And it’s okay if you want to tell yourself this as a way to self-soothe, but don’t say it to another person to move them on from grief and loss.

Everything happens for a reason was first said by the philosopher Aristotle in the context of everything having a cause. And that’s true. Everything happens for a reason because something caused it to happen. But that is not how this statement is intended. It is a cliché designed to dismiss someone’s feelings. It is ultimately unkind and untrue.

Everything happens for a reason. Tell that to a parent who has lost a child or a man whose wife was seriously injured in a car crash.

Everything happens for a reason. Say it to a mother in Somalia whose children are dying from malnutrition or a woman in Afghanistan (or Iran) who has lost or limited rights because of choices made by male superiority.

In God’s world, a whole lot of things happen for absolutely no reason whatsoever. For no good reason, at least. Most suffering people endure is because of the poor choices of others or sometimes their own.

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God. Our God takes all the awful and weaves it into a tapestry of goodness. But that may not happen in this life. It may be one of those dreams that is only realised in eternity.

For more on this topic, listen to or watch my teaching on the good God and suffering.

God is in Control

Have you ever said, “Well, at least God is in control?” I have. And I’ve heard many people use this and other clichés in an attempt to find meaning in something awful. It’s an encouragement to ourselves that things will work out. But, sometimes, they don’t. Occasionally, our world remains out of control. What should we say about God, then? If God is in control, he isn’t doing a terrific job!

The fact is God doesn’t DO control. God created the heavens and the earth with the laws of nature and human free will. God does not usually control the laws of nature. When he does, we call it a miracle because it’s rare. God certainly does not influence human freedom. That’s why beautiful things happen in the world. That’s why awful things happen in the world.

While God doesn’t cause evil, neither does he use control to prevent us, or others, from doing wrong. God doesn’t control, but he does care. He loves and cares and wants to nurture those who’ve been wronged.

If God doesn’t DO control, how does he work? God works by consent, not control. Have you noticed that God will never force himself on you or manipulate you? God is loving and gracious, not violent and angry. As revealed in Jesus, God is neither coercive nor controlling but infinitely close and caring. Jesus will not force himself into your life or make you receive his love. But he does invite you to willingly consent to the offer of a relationship with God. He initiates, and we consent.

God surrendered control to natural law and human freedom when he created the universe. But God did not abandon his creation. He entered it by being born mortal. The man Jesus experienced all of life’s highs and lows. The Word became flesh to endure the depth and breadth of the entire human condition. In Jesus, God experienced our humanity, all of it.

Jesus completely identifies with your pain. He is present and co-suffers with you. He wraps your suffering with his divine love and brings healing to your soul.

God is not in control, but he is in charge. History is heading somewhere, and God is at the steering wheel!

God Will Never Give You More Than You Can Handle

Another platitude uttered by an uncaring soul who is uncomfortable with human suffering. Well, at least God will never give you more than you can handle. And the suffering one is left to ponder exactly how much more they can bear until God realises they can’t take anymore.

An appeal is made to 1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” But this verse is about temptation, not problems, sickness, pain, or suffering.

“God will never give you more than you can handle,” is wrong for two reasons. Firstly, it infers that God is the author of pain and suffering: “God will never give you more…” But we must not be deceived into thinking that God is anything but good. He is NOT the author of tests and trials (Cf. James 1:13-17).

Secondly, people frequently experience more than they can handle; that’s why we need counsellors, psychologists, pastoral care, prayer, treatment for mental health and other caring professionals. Thank God for loving people who can step in and lift some of the load when we encounter something we cannot cope with on our own.

I love the honesty of the Bible writers. Consider these words penned by Paul to the Corinthian Christians, “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” (emphasis added).

The Bible is replete with examples of people of faith who suffered more than they could endure on their own. Some of them died because of it (Cf. Hebrews 11:35-40). I believe one of the fundamental reasons Jesus formed the church is so that Christian people can support one another when life gets unbearable. I am very grateful for my Christian community, which is the source of strength and encouragement for people when life is intolerable.


In psychology, it’s known as the illusory truth effect: If you repeat a statement often enough, it will seem more likely to be true.

There are statements we Christians make that are not in the Bible, but because they’ve been repeated so often, they are believed to be accurate. So, I thought it would be interesting to explore some statements we regularly hear from Christians that have become believed to be true, although they’re not.

“God helps those who help themselves.”

The origins of this phrase go back to ancient Greece. The English version was first penned by Algernon Sydney, an English politician, in the 1600s. The idea in this statement is that if you want God’s help, you first have to show initiative. But the assertion falls over at the first hurdle.

Consider the very essence of the Christian gospel, which emphasises people’s inadequacy to “save” themselves by human effort. The law was powerless to save anyone because no one could obey the law all the time. And so, God took the initiative by working in Christ to reconcile the world to himself (2 Cor. 5:19).

People can do nothing to help themselves out of sin and its consequences. It took a divine act of unconditional love to achieve salvation, restoration, and forgiveness for all humanity. God didn’t help those who helped themselves because no one could. God helps those who realise they can’t help themselves.

The church has not done a great job of conveying this wonderful truth. Instead, the communication that rings out loud and clear is invariably a moralising message. We’ve told others what’s wrong with them and what they should not do. So much so that many people reason they’ll have to get themselves right first before they come to God (or church). This is the very antithesis of the Christian message.

The statement, God helps those who help themselves, makes us the source of help and strength. God is secondary and will surely appreciate our efforts, and then he will help us. But the Christian is to live a life of reliance on the grace of God and the Holy Spirit as our advocate.

The flip side is that God’s help doesn’t remove our responsibility. Praying and asking for God’s support doesn’t mean you sit on your blessed assurance staring into the heavens. Relying on grace and being empowered by the Holy Spirit, we use our initiative and God-given wisdom. For example, if you need employment, pray about it BUT THEN go out and look for work, knock on doors. God’s help does not remove our responsibility.

“We are sinners saved by grace.”

I heard this statement again today on a new worship album from a megachurch. “Lord, we’re just sinners saved by grace.” Nowhere in the Bible are Christians referred to as sinners, let alone as sinners saved by grace.

Someone may say, “well, the apostle Paul viewed himself as a sinner…” and they’ll quote 1 Timothy 1:15, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” But if you read on, you’ll discover that Paul was referring to his life before he became a Christian.

Paul wrote something similar to the Corinthian church: “For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” In the next verse, the apostle proclaims, “But by the grace of God I am what I am.” That is, by God’s grace Paul was no longer a sinner; he was now a saint. He did not deny that he was a sinner (past tense), but he lived in the reality of what Christ had made him (a saint). And this is what we’re called to do.

We could rewrite this phrase more accurately: “We were sinners, but we were saved by grace, and so are sinners no longer.” That doesn’t mean we’re perfect; far from it. But the New Testament Scriptures declare followers of Jesus to be saints and not sinners. A saint is a person who has been born into God’s family and is “set apart” as belonging to God. They then live a life befitting a person who belongs to God.

Christ-followers are to see themselves in the light of this truth because how we live our lives is determined by how we see ourselves. As Neil Anderson rightly asserts, “No one can consistently behave in a way that is inconsistent with how he perceives himself.” If I view myself as having the righteousness of God in Christ, I am more likely to behave righteously.

Jesus came to change sinners into saints.

“Love the sinner and hate the sin.”

Christians quote this as if it were a Bible verse right next to “cleanliness is next to godliness,” a well-known saying by John Wesley. But neither statements are in the Bible.

Each part of “love the sinner and hate the sin” is valid – God loves sinners and hates sin. But as a collective statement, it’s not correct.

The problem with “love the sinner and hate the sin” is that it is rarely meant. It is just a Christian-sounding platitude aimed at people whose behaviour we struggle with, whose sin we hate, and people we don’t love if we are brutally honest. This statement salves our conscience and makes us feel like we’re being Christian when we display unchristian attitudes towards others.

Of course, we can only know if we love the sinner by spending time with them and helping them when they’re in need. How do we feel about the drug addict with needle scars and missing teeth? What is our attitude towards homeless people who haven’t bathed or changed their clothes for weeks? Do we love the gay man or woman at work (or in our family), or do we merely tolerate them? Do we pretend to love people but then say derogatory things about them behind their backs? We only know the true nature of our hearts when confronted by someone with whom we struggle. And let’s be honest about our struggles rather than hide behind clichés like “love the sinner and hate the sin.”

Another reason this saying is so wrong is that the sinner and the sin are often inseparable. In other words, someone’s behaviour often defines them as a person, so when we say we “hate the sin”, the person hears “I hate you.” The Bible talks about loving people, period.

The statement “Love your neighbour as yourself” is found nine times in the Scripture – divine emphasis for a purpose. In Galatians 5:14, the apostle Paul says that this truth sums up the entire law. In James 2:8, this command is called “The Royal Law,” the preeminent truth that reigns over all truth.

Jesus illustrated how we are to love our neighbour as ourselves by telling the story of The Good Samaritan. Samaritans were hated and despised by Jews in Jesus’ day. The Samaritans were mixed-race Jews because they had intermarried with Gentiles and were considered worse than gentiles – the lowest of the low, the greatest of sinners. Jesus could not have found a more powerful illustration to prove His point. He didn’t teach “Love the sinner and hate the sin.” He taught, “Love the person like they were you.” May this challenge us to the core of our faith!

Maybe you can think of other statements quoted regularly by Christians but not found in the Bible. Feel free to add those in the comments section.





It may surprise you to learn that Christian fundamentalism is a relatively modern branch of the Christian faith. It started in the USA at the turn of the last century.

A Little History

In the early 1900s, a whole lot was going on, all at once. The world had experienced its first world war in which over 40 million soldiers were killed or wounded. In the final year of the war, the Spanish Flu pandemic broke out. The pandemic infected almost a third of the world’s 1.8 billion people. Fifty million died.

Add to this the growing prominence of Darwinian evolution, declining moral values, and well, people were having just too much fun. As the war and pandemic faded, the world bound into the roaring 20s. New forms of music, like jazz, were driving people to dance. Cars were rolling off the assembly lines. Women were ready to claim the vote, and African-Americans were eager to enjoy full citizenship, at long last. People were exploring new ideas and beliefs. Life was magnificently modern. And some Christians saw red!

Fundamentalism Begins

And so, a powerful counterrevolution began in some of America’s largest churches and Bible institutions.

On 25 May 1919, 6,000 ministers, theologians and evangelists came together in Philadelphia for a weeklong series of meetings. The men and women assembled there believed that God had chosen them to call Christians back to the “fundamentals” of the faith and prepare the world for one final revival before Jesus returned to earth. They called their group the World Christian Fundamentals Association.

Their leader? A Baptist pastor, William Bell Riley, said, “The hour has struck for the rise of a new Protestantism.” He described the inauguration of his organisation and the rise of fundamentalism as more significant than Martin Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany, 400 years earlier. No pride there, brother Bill! He was wrong, though.

White Privilege

The men and women at the conference were all white. African-American and Latino Christians were excluded entirely from fundamentalists churches and organisations. They taught that the Holy Spirit would soon turn the world over to the antichrist. This diabolical world leader would preside over an awful holocaust in which those true believers who had not already been raptured to heaven would suffer interminable tribulations.

They were kinda right and kinda wrong. A decade later, the Great Depression began. Ten years after that saw the start of World War 2. A diabolical world leader did arise who directed the wholesale slaughter of 11 million people (Jews, Gypsies, and gay men, amongst others).

Fundamentalism’s Appeal

Their appeal bore out of the fact that they matched up biblical prophecy with world events. Fundamentalists believed that the return of Jews to the Holy Land must precede the second coming of Christ. The British had captured Jerusalem in 1917 and declared Palestine a homeland for Jews. A fact that became a reality in 1948.

This attracted me to Christianity in the late 70s (along with God’s supernatural power). I felt like all of history had waited for Rob Buckingham to “get saved”. The planets would align in 1982, causing cataclysmic events on earth, the rapture, and the Great Tribulation. Antichrist would arise from the Common Market (EU) and take control of the world. Jesus would come back in 1988, a generation (40 years) after Israel became a nation. What happened? Nothing! I’ve reconstructed a much healthier (and more Biblical) approach to eschatology since.

Back to 1919

Fundamentalists associated evolution with last-day atheism, and they made it their mission to purge it from the schoolroom. They criticized how the fight for women’s right to vote was driving women out of the home. Shock horror! They worried that birth control was undermining the family. They were concerned about modern theological ideas.

The fundamentalist message resonated with hundreds of thousands of white Americans. The 1919 meeting in Philadelphia was just the beginning. Soon, fundamentalist magazines, Independent Bible institutes, annual conferences, and church-run radio stations sprung up to spread the Christian faith’s new design (the proper interpretation, of course).

Good qualities of fundamentalism

There are three things I appreciate about Christian fundamentalism:

  1. It presents a relevant and up-to-date faith – the very thing I found attractive in my early 20s. I’m very grateful to God for this and today strive to apply the Bible in a way readily received by people.
  2. It communicates a sense of urgency (the imminence of Christ’s return). The message stirs people out of spiritual lethargy with constant calls for action.
  3. It provides something solid that offers comfort and safety in tumultuous times. To fundamentalists, the Bible is simple, black and white, and straightforward.

The dangers of Christian fundamentalism

Although I was attracted to Jesus initially by the fundamentalist’s message, it also caused much damage in my life. Since my early days as a Christian, I’ve needed to deconstruct the negatives I’ll list below. It’s been a process that continues some four decades later. So, what are its main dangers:

  1. It is too simplistic. Everything doesn’t happen instantly by ‘decreeing and declaring.’ The Bible is not always simplistic (2 Peter 3:16) and easy to understand.
  2. It’s Gnostic (Gk. gnosis, “to know”). You’ll get the message from fundamentalists that “we know something you don’t know.” We see this at present with all the COVID Conspiracies. “Trust the Plan.” “We’re in; you’re out.” I’ve had close Christian friends tell me, in all seriousness, they believe the world is run by a cabal of reptilians. These satanic paedophiles drink blood and scheme to set up a one-world government with the antichrist. One friend talked at me for hours about this, totally unaware that he was boring me to tears. This is all gnostic rubbish!
  3. It’s Exclusionist. A century ago, people of colour were barred from their churches. Today, fundamentalists are opposed to anything to do with LGBTIQ people. It’s the same package with a different label.
  4. It’s always “against”. Christian fundamentalists actively worked against women’s right to vote. They were against alcohol (think the temperance movement of the 1920s). They’ve opposed evolution and some science (like climate change). Christian fundamentalists are against abortion, marriage equality, voluntary assisted dying, “boat people”, you name it. This blog is not a commentary on any of these issues. My point here is there’s a danger in being known only for what you’re against. What about the things Christians are to stand and speak for? Justice, mercy and faith (Matt. 23:23). Christian fundamentalism can obscure pure religion (James 1:27).
  5. It’s too political. Christian fundamentalists fight and lobby to preserve “our rights and freedoms”. While Christians have as much right (in some countries) to speak out like anyone else, we need to be careful that our main message – the gospel – doesn’t get drowned out in the process. In any case, fighting for “our rights and freedoms” is missing the point of the gospel. The Christian’s motivation should be the same as God’s, that of love: “for God so loved …” Love should be our impetus – love for God, one another, neighbour, and enemy. People will know we’re Jesus’ followers by our love, not our lobbying. Christian fundamentalists invariably miss this in their fight to preserve “our rights, our culture, our traditions.” They can appear prideful and self-interested rather than caring “for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4).
  6. It’s isolationist and nationalistic. Recently, we’ve witnessed this in the USA with Donald Trump and “Make America Great Again (MAGA)”. There’s no doubt that Christian fundamentalists had a massive influence over Trump. 81% of White Evangelicals voted for him in 2016 (75% in 2020). At the expense of other nations and needs, the focus on America created a vacuum that could have led to war as nationalism usually does. But that’s not a problem; Christian fundamentalists don’t mind “a good war”. They also like their guns and gas chambers. But they are pro-life. Don’t forget that!
  7. It’s fixated on the “end times.” They’re preoccupied with current events and live with a newspaper in one hand and Bible in the other. Some of them like to pick dates for the rapture or Christ’s return. They haven’t been right once! In the past 100 years, they’ve predicted the antichrist would arise out of the League of Nations, United Nations, and Common Market (EU). All wrong. Fundamentalists believed that in the end times oppressive governments will clamp down on Christians’ rights and freedoms.
  8. It’s captivated by conspiracies. Consider this quote: “The demand of the State will leave no room for freedom of thought, or independence of action in any direction whatsoever. The circumstances of the war have already furnished the machinery for this. Practically everything and everybody” would soon be under government control. Those words could have been about any bizarre conspiracy doing the rounds due to the COVID Pandemic. It was written by Evangelist W.W. Fereday a century ago. Christian fundamentalists are mesmerised by conspiracies about The Great reset, one-world government, antichrist, QAnon, Illuminati, microchips in the COVID vaccines, 5G, the long, boring list goes on and on.

In 1947, William Bell Riley lay on his deathbed. An aspiring young evangelist sat at his side. The veteran fundamentalist told the rookie preacher that God had destined him to lead the fundamentalist movement forward, to take the mantle from Riley. The young evangelist was Billy Graham. After World War II, Graham and his fundamentalist allies began calling themselves “evangelicals”. Today, some Evangelicals are also fundamentalist, but certainly not all.

I have massive respect for Billy Graham and his clear call to millions who responded to the gospel. But when it comes to fundamentalism, I have grave concerns. Many people have walked away from the church (and Jesus) because of its legalism and condemnation. Others have simply not joined a church or been attracted to its message. Ultimately, fundamentalism is a “different gospel—which is really no gospel at all” (Gal. 1:6-7)

Amongst the various resources I’ve used for this blog, I’d like to particularly acknowledge Matthew Avery Sutton, a professor of history at Washington State University. He has written extensively on this subject.

When I think of this blog’s title, it reminds me of the wicked witch’s words in Judy Garland’s Wizard of Oz. Remember her? She with the green face paint, pointy nose, and high-pitched voice? The scene is found towards the end of the film. The witch attempts to set fire to Scarecrow, and Dorothy gets a bucket of water to extinguish it. The water splashes over the witch at “which” point she starts to disintegrate. “You perfect brat. Look what you’ve done. I’m melting, melting.” Complete with hissing steam and shrieks, the wicked witch decomposes until she is no more. Ding dong …

I’ve felt like that, too, as some aspects of my faith have melted over the years. I’ve experienced the pain of being confronted with some long-held beliefs no longer ringing true. It took a while to realise that I’m not alone in this. Many followers of Jesus have felt the same, and I’m receiving an increasing number of emails from people telling me of their experiences.

Defining the Terms

What is deconstruction? A quick check of synonyms includes analyse, critique, review, and decompose. I love the last one, and it’s true, some of our tightly held beliefs probably do need to decompose and provide much-needed compost for healthy growth.

Blogger Mark Hackett defines deconstruction as “the systematic pulling apart of one’s belief system for examination”. Reconstruction means to rebuild, restore, and renovate. We mustn’t confuse this process with Christian Reconstructionism (an ultra-right-wing fundamentalist view of the Bible and society – like The Handmaid’s Tale).

Deconstruction is nothing new

Although this concept is seen as a current trend, we notice this process in the New Testament Scriptures. Consider how the early followers of Jesus had to deconstruct their attitude towards Gentiles (Acts 10, 11, & 15). God dragged them kicking and screaming away from pride in their nationality and religion and helped them reconstruct a healthier faith that made room for non-Jewish people.

I dare say every generation since has had to deconstruct something. Consider how the church has grappled with slavery, women’s rights, interracial marriage, and divorce and remarriage.

Today’s church needs to deconstruct a faith that excludes people who are “other than heterosexual”. LGBTI+ people have been ostracised and wronged by the church for centuries, but the Holy Spirit is now leading us to say, “enough is enough”. God loves everyone. Jesus lived, died, and rose again for all. Each person, whatever their sexual orientation, should be welcomed into Jesus’ church. It’s time for Christians to reconstruct a healthier, more inclusive faith.

Here are some tips I’ve found helpful during healthy deconstruction and reconstruction:

Don’t try to pull the whole building down in one hit.

Deconstruction is more like a renovation than a demolition. I’ve spoken to some people who’ve become disillusioned with their faith, destroyed the entire thing, and walked away from Church, God, and Jesus. That’s such an unnecessary tragedy. Consider this message I received yesterday, “Got to be honest, there’s a pervasive feeling of absolute devastation and betrayal at the loss of what I used to think and was taught to believe to be true. When I started to remove parts of the altar, started asking questions, started to get really honest and stand for myself and my family, the whole temple crumbled.”

Demolishing your faith will lead to a crisis of faith rather than a healthy process.

View the process as a healthy progression to maturity

Life begins with the simplicity of infancy. As we grow, life naturally becomes more complex. The same is true for Christians. When we first believe, we are encouraged, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation” (1 Peter 2:2). There’s something wrong if when we’re older, we still only want just milk.

Some of God’s people are like adults in high chairs (Hebrews 5:12 and 1 Corinthians 3:1-3). I encourage you to see the process of deconstruction and reconstruction as a healthy progression to maturity.

Hold fast to the truth that never changes

When you renovate a house, you don’t remove the foundation. It’s the same with your faith. The foundational truth of the Bible needs to remain firmly in place.

The Christian Creeds summarise the great doctrines of Christianity. The first creed was a simple statement written by St. Paul, “Jesus is Lord” (Romans 10:9). That’s a good starting point.

The Nicaean Creed** is a marvellous summary of the basic tenets of the Christian faith.

And remember the things that Jesus called, “Most Important” ~ Love the Lord your God, love your neighbour as yourself, and “in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). In Jesus’ parable of the wise and foolish builders, the house that “had its foundation on the rock … did not fall” (Matt 7:24-27).

Don’t deconstruct everything before you reconstruct something

You don’t want to be left in a vacuum. I’ve found that deconstructing one thing at a time works well. My first experience of this was as a twenty-something in Bible College. I’d spent my first Christian years in a rather legalistic church. In my first year of Bible College, the Holy Spirit started hammering it out of me. It was painful and frustrating. At times I felt angry. But God is faithful.

Since then, I’ve deconstructed (and reconstructed) my view of the genocide passages in the Bible, hell as eternal conscious torment, and the futurist interpretation of Revelation, to name a few.

The process has required loads of thought and reading*, heaps of study, discussions with people who hold differing views, and wrestling through various (sometimes conflicting) Bible texts. I’m sure this process will continue for the rest of my life as my faith keeps growing.

I’ll finish with an encouraging message I received today on Facebook. It’s from a woman who, along with her husband, was a vibrant part of Bayside Church for years. They relocated to the USA a while ago, but we stay in touch, and they often watch Bayside Church Online and Tuesday Night Live (TNL).

She says of last night’s TNL, “WOW!! Just so much to dive into with this Ps Rob! You mentioned that you started your personal deconstruction a decade ago. My deconstruction started when we first came to Bayside and were under your leadership and teaching … 17+ years ago. I remember the moment sitting in church service thinking, uh-oh, hold on girl it’s about to get real! It was a true deconstruction that made my brain hurt, but, BUT, at the same time the Holy Spirit was speaking to my heart, ‘It’s ok. You can trust him as your pastor and teacher’. And praise God, Ps. Rob, I have never looked back, and the Lord continues to deconstruct and reconstruct. Keep on keeping it real!”

Useful Resources


** The Nicaean Creed

We believe in one God,

the Father almighty,

maker of heaven and earth,

of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ,

the only Son of God,

begotten from the Father before all ages,

God from God,

Light from Light,

true God from true God,

begotten, not made;

of the same essence as the Father.

Through him all things were made.

For us and for our salvation

he came down from heaven;

he became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary,

and was made human.

He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate;

he suffered and was buried.

The third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures.

He ascended to heaven

and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again with glory

to judge the living and the dead.

His kingdom will never end.

And we believe in the Holy Spirit,

the Lord, the giver of life.

He proceeds from the Father and the Son,

and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified.

He spoke through the prophets.

We believe in one holy universal and apostolic church.

We affirm one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

We look forward to the resurrection of the dead,

and to life in the world to come. Amen.

One of the things I’ve enjoyed doing this year is the weekly “Tuesday Night Live” on Facebook and YouTube. I began it back in April when it became clear that churches were not going to meet in-person for some time. I considered this one way I could stay connected with our people, encourage them through the global pandemic, and teach the Word. The feedback I’ve received from many people has been overwhelmingly positive. I plan to keep it going!

Last night, I was asked this question, “Hi Rob, do you think that the churches should test s116 of the Constitution for the free exercise of religion. Given the constraints of lockdown?” It’s a good question.

Looking at the Constitution

There are four prohibitions on the Commonwealth in this section of the Australian Constitution:

  • Establishing any religion
  • Imposing any religious observation
  • Prohibiting the free exercise of any religion
  • Requiring a religious test as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.

I take it that point three is in the questioner’s mind in light of religious restrictions because of the global pandemic.

Now, I’m no lawyer, but there are a couple of apparent things. Firstly, no religion is being prohibited in Australia. Yes, there are restrictions on people congregating in buildings, but churches are not banned. No one is telling Christians to stop preaching the Gospel. As I’ve mentioned many times over recent months, buildings are closed, but the Church is open! At Bayside Church, we’ve seen some amazing things happen this year as people have come to faith, grown in their faith, connected in creative ways, and reached out to those who are struggling. No one has forbidden us!

Secondly, the Constitution is a Commonwealth document, and these prohibitions apply to the Commonwealth and not to the States. The Constitution contains no direct protection from State laws, which may restrict religious freedom. Defense of religious liberty is deliberately left to the States by the Constitution’s drafters. Indeed, the drafters’ primary purpose in section 116 was not to protect religious freedom, “but to preserve the States’ exclusive powers to regulate religious practices and local affairs.”

And that’s what we’ve seen this year – State governments enacting restrictions for the greater good and protection of the entire community. Indeed, this is what followers of Jesus want their governments to be doing. The safeguarding of people’s welfare.

Around the World

Around the world, people have and are enduring significant imposts in their life because of this virus. A fact that was brought home to me last week as we prayed for my friend and colleague, Pastor Wayan Dwije, from C3Bali. Wayan passed away from COVID19 last Thursday. He was 50 years old, fit, and healthy, with no underlying health conditions.

Now is certainly not the time for the Christian Church to get litigious and demand its rights. Public church gatherings, where people congregate, sing, hug, shake hands, kiss, and lay hands on each other, are a hotbed for high risk of transmission of COVID19.

There have been some places in the world where COVID19 has been yet another excuse for authorities to harass Christians. For example, in North Korea, Pakistan, and Egypt. While this is not the case in the West, closures of church gatherings have been unsettling for people used to significant freedoms. We could endure our workplaces, pubs, restaurants, gyms, schools, and hairdressers closed, but our Churches? That felt like it was going too far for many of us. It felt like the last loss of community for many.

Some people across Australia are joining international counterparts and demanding Churches reopen and increase the services’ numbers. States like NSW have now increased the number allowed in places of worship up to 300 people or one person per 4 square metres of space, whichever is less. There’s a gradual easing of restrictions in Victoria, and we expect more good news this Sunday.

I don’t believe a global pandemic is a time for the Church to flex its muscles and demand its rights. The Bible says that love “does not demand its own way.” As you’d be aware, Christie and I have lobbied the government many times on various issues. We are in regular contact with our State and Federal MPs on several matters. But lobbying the government over our desire to meet physically during a global pandemic does not feel like the sacrificial love to which Jesus calls us.

Jesus spoke to his disciples of the Roman oppressors by saying if a Roman soldier demands you go with him for one mile, keep walking and take a second. What would going the second mile look like for Christians in Australia?

To me, that means acknowledging that religious gatherings have contributed to the spread of COVID19. We know from actual experiences that the incidence of aerosol droplets emitted in the air can spread COVID19 dramatically. In one famous case in Skagit County, Washington, 61 members of a choir met for two and a half hours of practice and conversation. That meeting resulted in 53 cases, three hospitalisations, and two deaths. Before the choir meeting, the county of 129,205 people had recorded just seven cases. Since that choir practice, 1224 people have acquired the virus, 104 hospitalised, and 23 have died.

Is this the kind of testimony we want for the Christian Church?

We have seen the example of the South Korean churches who have defied government restrictions. A third of all COVID-19 cases confirmed in the greater Seoul area came from churches who refused to stop meeting. One person in South Korea has infected more than 5,000 people in a sizeable three-church cluster in one congregation.

These stories are repeated across religious communities of multiple faiths who have defied government orders not to meet in Iran, Malaysia, the USA, and India. I grieve that the Church has inflicted a virus on people by demanding its rights. Should not the Church spread healing?

Lee Man-hee of Shincheonji Church apologised publicly over the virus’s spread, but it was too late. The South Korean outbreak has triggered a public backlash in the general community against Christian churches. 

The Second Mile

Going the second mile means we will seek to strengthen and not damage our witness. If the community feels that Christians are selfish, what will they think of Jesus’ call to serve? If we cause undermining of public health messages, how will people respect our messages? Suppose our actions lead to infections and deaths. How will this impact our relationship with non-church members and government authorities in the future?

The desire to place our rights over others could destroy our credibility and witness in Australia. Let’s admit it; the Christian Church is already on the nose with many in this country for our failure to protect children from abuse. Will we now be known for selfishness amid a pandemic?

Going the second mile means finding effective ways to serve that are outside our buildings. I have mentioned previously that the Church in Australia has never closed. Bayside’s facility is not our Church. It is one place in which we gather and work. But the Church is still open. We are running discipleship courses and praying for the needy. We are supporting the persecuted Church and feeding the hungry. We have helped supply thousands of meals during the last seven months. Bayside Church has been supporting prisoners, the sick, and the elderly in Melbourne and as far off as Indonesia, Zambia, and South Africa throughout 2020. That’s second-mile Christianity.

I love gathering with God’s people to worship. But the Church is more than a weekly meeting in a building. To follow Jesus means taking a step of love to God and others, not just for ourselves. I invite you to walk a second mile with me as we explore safe and creative ways to gather, worship, connect, care, and love others as we love ourselves.

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!

If you reflect on life right now, I’m sure you’d find a mixture of good and not so good. For example, I’m enjoying the slower pace of life, even though my workload has increased. On the downside, people have lost jobs, businesses have closed, and some people are doing it tough. There’s also the question of what’s on the other side of the COVID Crisis.

This question has led me to dig into history (I LOVE history) and see what happened after previous pandemics. By writing this blog, I am not intending to downplay the negative side of COVID-19. I acknowledge that people are getting sick, dying, losing work, experiencing loneliness, and myriad other adverse effects. But every cloud has a silver lining, and that is borne out by history.

A Look Back in Time

For example, the Antonine Plague (165-180), which may have been Smallpox, ended the Pax Romana and destabilised the Roman Empire, but also led to an increase in the popularity of the Christian faith. In unstable times people look for something firm to cling to. I pray this will be true of the current crisis too.

The Black Death (1346-1353) wiped out half of Europe’s population and changed the course of Europe’s history ending the feudal system. With so many dead, workers were harder to find. This led to better pay and conditions. Survivors also had access to higher-quality bread and to meat. Not as much land was needed to grow crops for a diminished population. So, more land was dedicated to livestock. These changes led to an increase in health and lifespan. The labour shortage also contributed to technological innovation. 

“The taste of better living conditions for the poor would not be forgotten. A few decades later, when lords tried to revert back to the old ways, there were peasant revolts throughout Europe and the lower classes maintained their new freedoms and better pay.”

“A new class rose from the ashes of the old society — the free citizen.”

The Black Death became the catalyst to improve hygiene and introduce quarantine procedures. Although the Black Death would reappear about once a decade, outbreaks were much smaller because of lessons learned and practices implemented. Mobility increased, and, for a time, wars ceased.

The Lasting Effects of an Epidemic

Isaac Chotiner, the author of Epidemics and Society, says, “Epidemics are a category of disease that seem to hold up the mirror to human beings as to who we really are. That is to say, they obviously have everything to do with our relationship to our mortality, to death, to our lives. They also reflect our relationships with the environment.” He goes on to explain that Pandemics remind us that what affects one person affects us all. In the current pandemic, we are experiencing a greater sense of social cohesion that we’re all in this together.

Chotiner speaks about the end of chattel slavery in the New World as a direct result of the yellow fever pandemic. “When Napoleon sent the great armada to restore slavery in Haiti, the slave rebellion succeeded because the slaves from Africa had immunity that white Europeans who were in Napoleon’s army didn’t have. It led to Haitian independence. Also, if one thinks from the American point of view, this was what led to Napoleon’s decision to abandon projecting French power in the New World and therefore to agree, with Thomas Jefferson, in 1803, to the Louisiana Purchase, which doubled the size of the United States.”

Pandemics, as with all crises, see an increase in creativity with art, music, books, movies, and plays all springing from themes of social solidity, life and death, pain and sorrow, and even comedy. Indeed, the Black Death paved the way for the Renaissance and the Reformation, as well as the rise of a Middle Class.

What About the Environment?

Then there are the environmental benefits. According to one study published last year, European colonisation killed so many people in the 16th and early 17th centuries that the reduced human footprint in one hemisphere of the planet may have actually led to temperatures dropping in a period of global cooling. 

While I’m not suggesting that this tragic loss of life was a good thing, it is interesting how we humans have such a vast and often destructive influence upon our environment. Already in the current pandemic, photos have circulated online about the transformation of cities, countries, and rivers due to decreased human activity. Whether this has long-term benefits awaits to be seen, but it’s astonishing to witness a “decrease in the level of global air pollution, water pollution has begun to clear and natural wildlife is starting to appear as if they are coming out of hiding.” “Air pollution provokes around 8.8 million premature deaths which has led experts to believe the reduction in pollution may have helped save more lives during the coronavirus threat, especially in China.” The current pandemic has taught us that we can change our behaviour and that the environment responds quickly to some love and care. The entire world can benefit from these changes.

What the Church Can Do

Today, “We are starkly facing our fragility and mortality,” according to Cristina Bicchieri, a professor of philosophy and psychology from the University of Pennsylvania, and an expert on social norms. “During our wars, our enemies were 3,000 miles away.” Today, Bicchieri said, the foe is fighting us on our own soil. “And that is a much different experience.” She stressed that some good can be derived from hard times: “We are spending more time with family, and we can rediscover the important things that made us families in the first place. In the end, that can bring positive feelings we take with us as we learn to survive this unusual moment.”

Historian Gary Ferngren points out that the only care for the sick during a smallpox-like epidemic in 312 A.D. was provided by Christians. The church even hired grave diggers to bury those who died in the streets.

For centuries, Christians have extended hospitality toward minorities and the potentially infected. This is a central expression of the Christian faith and undergirds the practice of modern medicine. There was a time when people did not unconditionally take care of the sick. The word hospitality (from which we get hospital), comes from the Latin lospes meaning “host” or “guest.” The first example of a hospital arose from medieval monasteries. These institutions were centred around the principle that to serve the suffering stranger was to serve Christ himself (Mathew 25:31-46). May we emulate their care and concern for others during the current crisis.