Is it always wrong to coerce somebody’s conscience?

In their Ezekiel Declaration, three Queensland Baptist pastors, and now 3019 ‘Church Leaders’ who have signed their declaration[1], say that one reason why our governments should not introduce a ‘vaccine passport’ is that the ‘conscience should never be coerced’.

Really? There is no occasion where it is reasonable for a Christian to have to do something against their sense of right and wrong? I don’t think so.

‘Coerce’. ‘to persuade someone forcefully to do something that they are unwilling to do’[2].

‘Conscience’. ‘a person’s sense of whether a behavior is right or wrong.[3]

We cannot rely on our conscience to always match God’s view. This is because the conscience is from God, but it is not God. We are all on a continuum stretching from new birth to perfection. And sometimes we are not very far along. Or moving very slowly. Or even slipping backwards in an area.

An example: however much you believe in your right to protect yourself from harm, if you carry a weapon into church, that’s an illegal act, and you will be coerced. For the common good. I think the signatories would all accept that coercion in this case is something that is reasonable by God’s Word (Romans 13:4).

If your COVID test has come back positive, it is likely that you are highly infectious. Therefore, whatever your conscience tells you about how much freedom of movement you should have, you won’t be allowed to come to church. Coerced. For the common good. I think the majority of the signatories would accept this coercion too.

If you are COVID unvaccinated, you are at greater risk of catching COVID. Whatever your reason for not being vaccinated. And you might not know that you have it. And then you can pass it on. The government may therefore require you and your unvaccinated friends not to attend an indoor function at the same time as those of your friends who are vaccinated. Whether or not the government institutes this requirement, I can see how a person using the wisdom of the Bible can come to the same conclusion. Others using their interpretation of that wisdom will not come to the same conclusion. This shows that it is not black and white like the Declaration suggests.

The Ezekiel signatories say that

A government that endeavours to force or coerce an individual who is striving to honour God, will find that they only encounter resistance.

We should all be ‘striving to honour God’. The fact that one or more of us resists the Government’s ‘coercion’ may mean only that we need to get a better sense of what’s right and wrong.

Let’s get….Back to The Gospel.

 

 

  1. In between writing and publication the signatures were removed and this message substituted:
  2. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/coerce. Accessed 20 September 2021.
  3. Mangum, D. (2014). Conscience. D. Mangum, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, & R. Hurst (Eds.), Lexham Theological Wordbook. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press. Accessed via my Logos Bible Software, Version 9 (www.logos.com)

 

The Moses Statement: an unjustified request?

In an undated post on Cauldron Pool, three ‘Ministers’[1], a ‘Pastor’[2] and an Elder[3], recently ‘respectfully and dutifully’ urged our PM and the Premiers to “allow Christ’s church to gather together for public worship.” To date another 381 ‘church leaders’ have also signed ‘The Moses Statement’.

The body of the letter makes it clear that the subtitle ‘Let God’s People Worship’ is a reference to Moses’ repeated request to Pharaoh to ‘Let my people go’[4]. This occurred because God’s people, a great nation, were in soul-destroying bondage. They had no close relationship with God and no land of their own. Through Moses and a series of miracles, God not only delivered them out of slavery, but into a new relationship with Him. Huge.

What then is happening to Christians in Australia to justify the invocation of Moses?

Nothing. All that’s happened is that we have been stopped from gathering in our church buildings. Is this an action against churches? No. Against Christians? No. It’s merely part of a society-wide prohibition on gatherings because they are unwise on public health grounds.

Are we justified in seeking an exemption from restrictions on the grounds that God requires us to participate in ‘public worship’? If there is such a case, the authors have not made it. Including making no mention of the case for church leaders to protect their congregations from a disease that is highly contagious and potentially deadly.

Let’s get….Back to the Gospel.

 

 

  1. Robin Tso, John Forbes, and David Kerridge.
  2. David Lachman
  3. Thomas Eglinton
  4. As recorded in the book of Exodus in the Bible.

 

No need to gather to meet Jesus: Matthew 18:20

It’s happened again. And I still get not only disappointed, but surprised. A Christian author with otherwise sound thinking misusing Matthew 18:20. This time it’s Brian Sanders in Microchurches: A Smaller Way[1]:

The challenge is, how will the church present itself to a world that is becoming more and more relationally isolated…The answer is to look to smaller expressions of church…We know that Jesus poured his life into just twelve men and that where “two or three gather” in Jesus’ name, he is there with them (Matt. 18:20)[2](emphasis mine).

No, Brian, this verse is no support for your argument for small churches.

It is not about knowing that Jesus is present when at least two Christians are together. I mean, stop, and think for a second: what does that mean for you on your own?

Reading the verse in its context[3] gives the lie to[4] this common mistake[5].

This is what precedes verse 20:

15 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

18 “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be[e] loosed in heaven.

19 “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.”

And the subsequent verse:

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

So, what verse 20 – For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” – is saying, is that when the church decides to remove a sinning brother or sister from the assembly, it is done with the authority of Jesus.

Discipline. Ex-communication. For some Christians, then, it’s time to recycle their dining room sign, buy a different notebook, reconsider buying these books, and consider a different coffee cup for a present.

Let’s get…back to the gospel. Don’t give up gathering [Hebrews 10:25].

 

 

  1. I got to this via his book Life in Intentional Community, sent to me by my friend Trevor Russell, Rocky Cape Company, and a leader in Detention River Christian Community.
  2. Sanders, Brian. Microchurches: A Smaller Way (p. 50). UG Media. Kindle Edition.]
  3. What respected guides Fee and Stuart identify as ‘the crucial task’ in [biblical] exegesis: “Essentially, literary context means first that words only have meaning in sentences, and second that biblical sentences for the most part have full and clear meaning only in relation to preceding and succeeding sentences” [Fee, Gordon D.; Stuart, Douglas. How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (p. 31). Zondervan Academic. Kindle Edition.
  4. The first meaning here: https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/give+the+lie+to.
  5. One of my favourite theologians, Craig Blomberg, agrees [Blomberg, C. (1992). Matthew (Vol. 22, pp. 280–281). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, accessed via my Logos library.

 

Church: don’t confuse the organisation with the organism

Roman Catholic teaching says that the true church is the visible organisation, the Roman Catholic Church, the church that descended from Peter and the apostles. Legitimacy for its local churches comes via the mother (outward, shell) organisation[1].

In contrast, the local church in the Bible, the ecclesia, gets its legitimacy from the Holy Spirit. It consists of a group of called out ones, an assembly. It’s not an organisation, but an organism[2]. (Yes, it may be organised, but that doesn’t make it an organisation – not as people usually think of an organisation anyway, something with structure existing independently of the people who are organised.) And since the Reformation, it will be marked by two practices: baptisms and the sacraments[3].

Unfortunately, when what begins as an organism, a few families in a home, grows, there will be pressure to create an organisation. And from then on, you have two ‘churches’: the organism, operating as God planned, and the organisation, being and doing what Caesar requires.

The first question then is whether you need this organisation. Do you really need to create something in addition to what you’ve got?

If you decide that you must participate in Caesar’s world further by creating one of his organisations to achieve the church’s purposes (worshipping God, building believers, sharing the Gospel, and doing good works[4]), how can you do that with minimal intrusion on the Biblical way of operating?[5]

Questions for both in-home churches and churches revisiting their governance to consider.

Let’s get…Back to the Gospel.

 

 

  1. From The Oxford Dictionary Church, Livingstone, E.A and F.L. Cross, Logos Bible Software, 17 May 2021Roman Catholicism. The term, which denotes the faith and practice of Christians who are in communion with the Pope, is used particularly of Catholicism as it has existed since the Reformation, in contradistinction to Protestant bodies. On its doctrinal side it has been characterized by strict adherence to tradition combined with acceptance of the living voice of the Church, which is held to expound infallibly the revealed truths contained in the deposit of faith. Whereas in the early centuries the Church had to clarify especially the great mysteries of the Trinity and the Incarnation, and in the Middle Ages doctrines concerning the relation of God and man through grace and the sacraments, post-Tridentine theologians have been especially concerned with the structure and prerogatives of the Church, the position of the BVM in the economy of salvation, and the function of the Pope as the Vicar of Christ on earth, culminating in the dogma of *Infallibility promulgated at the First *Vatican Council of 1870. In recent years there has been some reaction against the positions developed at the end of the 19th cent. and an attempt to bring the Church into closer communication with the modern world. This movement is closely connected with the Second *Vatican Council, with its doctrine of the *collegiality of bishops, the use of the vernacular in worship, and a more liberal attitude towards Christians of other denominations.

    From an external point of view RCism presents itself as an organized hierarchy of bishops and priests with the Pope at its head. This structure has been built up during a long history and rests its claims on the powers entrusted by Christ to His Apostles in general (Jn. 20:23) and to St *Peter in particular (Mt. 16:18 f.; Lk. 22:32; Jn. 21:15–17), as whose successors the Popes are traditionally regarded. Their supremacy over the Church, though sometimes contested by representatives of the *Conciliar theory and of *Gallicanism, was widely accepted in the W. from early times, as is shown by the appeals to Rome in the *Donatist and *Pelagian controversies of the 4th and 5th cents. Papal supremacy was positively accepted at the Council of *Trent and only slightly modified by the Second Vatican Council, which emphasized the position of the bishops. Acc. to RC teaching this hierarchy represents the Divine authority to whom obedience is due. Supernatural life is normally mediated to individual Christians by members of this hierarchy in the *seven sacraments. The emphasis in recent years on the part of the whole Church and the desirability of the participation of the community, e.g. in the administration of *Baptism, has not altered the essential position of the ordered episcopate and priesthood. An elaborate sacramental theology was developed by the Schoolmen and post-Tridentine theologians, and the sacramental system covers the whole life of RCs. The centre of the liturgical life of RCism is the Mass, which is regarded as a re-presentation of the redeeming work of Christ in His passion, death, and resurrection. Frequency of Communion has been encouraged by modern Popes, esp. *Pius X, and has been made easier by drastic relaxations in the *Eucharistic fast and by the introduction of *Evening Masses. Communion is, however, required only at Easter, and should then be preceded by the Sacrament of *Penance. Attendance at Mass on the other hand is compulsory on all Sundays and *Feasts of Obligation. Other devotions are left to the free choice of individuals and the traditional extra-liturgical exercises, such as *Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, the *Rosary, and *Stations of the Cross, have recently come to play a less prominent part in RC life than formerly. This development may be partly explained by the introduction of the use of the vernacular in liturgical worship obviating the need for popular services, and more particularly by the increased emphasis on the liturgical life of the whole Church which is reflected not only in the new *Missal and *Breviary but also in the customary arrangement of services at times convenient for those engaged in secular life. The reformed liturgy has laid stress on the centrality of Sunday and drastically reduced the importance of saints’ days. At the same time, devotion to the saints has been fostered by the large number of canonizations in modern times, such as those of St *Teresa of Lisieux and the *Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.

  2. The top meaning at www.dictionary.com: “a form of life composed of mutually interdependent parts that maintain various vital processes.” Here’s Kyper’s explanation, reported by John Halsey Wood Jr.:“In this address [Rooted & Ground], Kuyper offered an ecclesiological paradigm to meet the exigencies of modern society. The church, he said, was at once an organism and an institution. As rooted, the church had an inner organic life that flowed directly from the Spirit of God. The way to understand this aspect of the church was the various biological metaphors used in Scripture, especially the church as a body. This would also explain the familial character of the church. Whatever disestablishment may signify, the church was not a mere club but made claims even upon those born into its bosom apart from any deliberate choice. Nevertheless, the life of the church was not to be taken for granted, as perhaps a national church was prone to do. It must be deliberately built. The church was not only a body but also a house, and as such it was founded and built by human hands. This building had a solid outward form that shaped and protected the inner organism. “The church is called a multitude of priests, legitimated through birth but consecrated only through anointing,” he said.

    Moreover, these two, the hidden mystical life and the outward form, were not to be separated, but existed in a reciprocal dependence….” [Introduction—Abraham Kuyper and the Challenge of the Church, Rooted & Grounded: The Church as Organism and Institution, Abraham Kuyper: Collected Works in Public Theology, 2015, Lexham Press, Bellingham, via Logos Bible Software, 17 May 2021.

  3. For example, Grudem, Wayne, Bible Doctrine, ed. Jeff Purswell, Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester, 1999, page 369.
  4. For example, Grudem, page 373.
  5. An ABN (Australian Business Number) begins the journey. But do you really need one? At least ask the question.

 

I’m not speaking to you: Matthew 5:14-16

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus told his disciples that they were ‘the light of the world’:

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill can’t be hidden. 15 Also, people do not light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand. Then it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine so others can see it. Then they will see the good things you do. And they will bring glory to your Father who is in heaven [NIRV].

This now applies to present-day believers. But to whom is he speaking?

In today’s world of the individual, a world in which an ‘unchurched’ Christian is both common (and accepted[1]), it is unsurprising that a Christian hearing or reading this passage would think that Jesus is talking to them. As an individual. And, in my experience, that’s what most do[2].

But that’s not correct.

Unfortunately, English makes no distinction between the singular and plural ‘you[3]’. Unlike the original language, Greek. And in the Greek this ‘you’ is plural.

Could he have been using ‘you’ in the sense of you all, each one of you individually? The context says otherwise.

The Jews of the day knew the idea of the “light of the world” well. They knew that the plan was for Israel to be a light to the nations. For Isaiah had prophesised:

Here is what the Lord says to me.

“It is not enough for you as my servant
to bring the tribes of Jacob back to their land.
It is not enough for you to bring back
the people of Israel I have kept alive.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles
[NIRV].
Then you will make it possible for the whole world to be saved.”

So, who is the plural ‘you’, today, under the New Covenant? The ecclesia, the local ‘church’, that’s who[4]. The local Christian community[5]. It is they who have replaced Israel as the Lord’s intended vehicle[6] for the ‘good deeds’ that ‘bring glory to God’[7].

As a local ‘church’ we are something (a light to the world), so we must go and do something (‘good deeds’). How do you think we are going with that?

Let’s get…Back to the Gospel.

 

 

 

  1. It is God’s plan that every believer be part of a local church [for example, Acts 2:42-47]. The power that is described in Ephesians 1:19-22 that is ours – God’s mighty strength, his immeasurable power that raised Christ – can only be fully expressed collectively.
  2. And I did. Thanks to John Dickson (The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission, Zondervan, 2010) for putting me straight.
  3. ‘You’ (or ‘ye’) is the consistent translation of the original language.
  4. It is not a shared role: The “you” is emphatic in the Greek text, so that we might translate it “You, and you alone are the light of the world.”
  5. That Jesus is talking to us as the local church is supported by the wider context of the New Testament. See, for example, Ephesians 3:7-10 (NIRV): “I now serve the good news because God gave me his grace. His power is at work in me.  I am by far the least important of all the Lord’s holy people. But he gave me the grace to preach to the Gentiles about the unlimited riches that Christ gives.  God told me to make clear to everyone how the mystery came about. In times past it was kept hidden in the mind of God, who created all things.  He wanted the rulers and authorities in the heavenly world to come to know his great wisdom. The church would make it known to them.”  See also 2 Peter 3:17. 2 Peter was written to an unknown but specific group of believers. NIRV again:  “Dear friends, you have already been warned about this. So be on your guard. Then you won’t be led astray by people who don’t obey the law. Instead, you will remain safe.”
  6. The Greek also tells us that the local ‘church’ is now, not sometime when they are ready, and a definite, not a maybe.
  7. From the article in the first link:

 

Transformational Prayer Ministry (TPM) wants to redesign how we do church

Ed Smith, the inventor of Theophostic Prayer[1], thinks that everybody, in every ‘church’ in the world, needs his invention[2]. Never mind what kind of prayer it is, can any invention of man warrant such a claim?

Ignoring the fact that the Bible gives us what we should do in order to grow and honour our Lord, Ed wants TPM added to the spiritual disciplines described in the Word. And not as something that can be chosen by a ‘church’ member if they feel like it, but as something much more invasive: first, he says that TPM should be so ingrained in the nature and way of operating of their ‘church’ that it will be impossible for them to avoid; second, he says that TPM should be the default way for all of us believers to interpret our ‘daily life experiences’.

And all of this is from something that didn’t exist until 1995.

Here it is in the words of Ed and his son:

Our long term vision for TPM is to equip churches worldwide to incorporate the basic concepts and principles of Transformation Prayer Ministry into the “DNA” and culture of the Church, so that members may learn to naturally and spontaneously apply TPM to their lives as a spiritual discipline. By knowing and embracing TPM they will be able to willfully and intentionally cooperate with what God is doing in refining their faith/belief, as they submit themselves under “the mighty hand of God” (1 Pet. 5:6) and thereby “be trained” by His discipline that will produce the “peaceful fruits of righteousness” (Heb. 12:11)[3]

You can read more of their ‘…Vision for the Worldwide Church’ in their training manual, The Essentials of TPM.

Now this wouldn’t matter if they were the aspirations of somebody unknown, for a product that is unknown, but this is not the case with Ed Smith and Theophostic. A quick look on the internet shows that its being used all over the place. [Edit: link added 8,03.2021].  For instance, it’s been in the assembly I attend for many a year, and I have every reason to believe that it is still available[4]. And when it is spoken of around me, it is only to tell of its good results, and to recommend it as a solution to things in the past causing present troubles.

I don’t know what you think, but for me, let’s get…Back to The Gospel.

 

 

  1. Recently it rebadged itself and freshened up the approach, but the basic tenets remain. It’s now called ‘Transformation Prayer Ministry’ or ‘TPM’.
  2. The Essentials of TPM, Ed M. Smith and Joshua A. Smith Second Edition 2019, page 313, downloaded 5 March 2021 from https://www.transformationprayer.org/tpmstudyguide/.
  3. The Essentials of TPM, page 313.
  4. From the Safe Ministries Policy and Procedures document on the website 5 March 2021.

 

Why I’m going to stop going to church

Two facts:

  1. King James had the word ‘ecclesia’ translated in his English Bible (KJV, 1611) as ‘church’. This encouraged people to continue to think that this was a building.
  2. The primary meaning of ‘church’ today is as a building[1].

The issue: ‘ecclesia’ does not mean a building.

Success for King James. Success for the institutional church. Failure for what God clearly wanted.

Let me explain.

The Greek word that the translators for King James faced was ‘ecclesia’. This did not mean a building; it is best translated ‘congregation’ or ‘assembly’. They were the ‘called-out ones’, those who had joined the new kingdom announced by John the Baptist.

But this would have changed the meaning from the Bible at the time[2], a building, into something to do with the people. And that would give the people the power. Rather than the King. Unacceptable.

So, King James told his translators[3]

The old ecclesiastical words to be kept, as the word church, not to be translated congregation.”

And it has stuck to this day[4]. So instead of thinking of a section of the Body, we think of a building. With all sorts of negative consequences for the proper functioning of the Body[5].

Change has got to begin somewhere. For me, I’m going to try and stop saying that I’m going to ‘church’. Instead, I will say ‘We are part of an assembly called Vision, meeting at a place in Fyshwick.

Let’s get………Back to the Gospel.

 

 

  1. Put the word ‘church’ into a Google image search and you get a page full of buildings.
  2. William Tyndale’s translation, the first English translation from the Greek. (Wycliffe’s Bible preceded him, but it was a translation from the Latin Vulgate.)
  3. Andrews, E. D. (2019). History of English versions of the bible. Cambridge, OH: Christian Publishing House.
  4. The top selling English translations all translate ‘ecclesia’ in Matthew 16:18 as ‘church’.
  5. See, for instance, https://tedsherwood.com/are-our-churches-too-inward-looking/.