Category Archives: Church/Ecclesiology

a prayer for those within empire

Last weekend I ran an event for TEAR Australia called “Come Out, My People!”: Learning to Journey Out of Empire. It featured, among others, my friends Wes Howard-Brook and Sue Ferguson Johnson speaking about the reality of empire in the Bible and in the world. They spoke about the need to discern God’s call to come out of empire and embody an alternative way of life.

This is a prayer I composed for the evening. It is a prayer for those of us living in the midst of empire who are trying to follow God’s call out of it. All present prayed it together, and I thought it may help others who are trying to live in God’s shalom amid the brutality of empire.

MCA

———-

Brueghel Tower of BabelCreator and Sustainer God,
we cry out to you from Babylon,
from empire built upon the land of people both like us and different to us,
from empire made possible by the murders and injustices of past and present.

We recognize that you have called us out of empire.
Out of a spirituality of domination and oppression.
Out of a story of exclusion and competition that leads to violence.
Out of the worship of false gods that demand our praise and obedience.

You have called us to be part of a radical alternative to empire.
Called to a spirituality of shalom and justice.
Called to the biblical story of embrace and welcome that leads to peace.
Called to the worship of the God that raised Jesus Christ from the dead.

And you have sent us into empire, in the world.
To witness to another way of justice, mercy and faithfulness.
To transform the slave economy that violates the bodies of both rich and poor and the earth itself.
To take the time necessary in a speed-addicted world to be friends, lovers, parents, carers, gardeners, advocates and peacemakers.

Creator God, our refuge and strength,
we confess we are complicit in the evils of our age.
Breathe on us as we commit ourselves to the way of Christ individually and as a community
to live in your story for the world;
to take up the heavy cross that we cannot bear alone;
to struggle for peace and justice;
to seek fullness of life for all creation;
to pray for your kingdom come.

Amen.

Matt Anslow, July 2013
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the church as alternative politic and way of life

The following is a sermon I preached in my community on Sunday 28 July, 2013. I have been asked by quite a few people to post it, so here it is.

The first two paragraphs of this written version of the sermon have replaced a much longer section in which I told my story of being hurt by the Church in greater detail. I shared this story with my community, and I feel that it should remain there. I hope the remainder of the sermon makes sense, even without this background story, and that it is helpful and challenging for people.

MCA


In some ways it is a strange thing for me to speak about the Church, particularly for those who know my story well. In recent years I have experienced a fair amount of pain at the hands of churches, not least because of my theology, but also due to personal relationships.

I do not say this to evoke sympathy. I do not want it. My story is merely a description of a part of my life, the seemingly inevitable experience of the ugly side of the Church. Indeed, my story is by no means the worst experience of the Church and many others, including some in my own community, have lived through far more terrible injustices. Such people have too often been left hurt, with deep scars and a lingering distrust of “the Church”.

So why would I want to talk about the Church? Read the rest of this entry

beauty and the beast: empire in the book of revelation (part 4)

Other parts of this series:

Part 1—Revelation in Context
Part 2—The Beast: Might and Power
Part 3—The Prostitute: Seduction and Luxury

Part 4—The Lamb: The Witness of the Cross

In the previous parts of this study I have discussed two of the malevolent characters in Revelation, namely the Beast and the Great Prostitute, representing on the one hand military might and violence and on the other luxury and economic exploitation respectively.

These are powerful critiques on the part of the author. But critique and challenge are not enough for faithful discipleship—we also need to embody an alternative. With this in mind, what positive model does John give us to follow? What hope do we have in the midst of a world of violence and greed?

OUT OF EMPIRE: THE LAMB AS A MODEL THEN AND NOW
We must remember that in Revelation Rome is simply the then-current manifestation of empire![1] Though John himself was not envisioning future empires, such as those in our time, the images can nonetheless be indirectly applied to them because the phenomenon of empire is, as John knew, an ongoing reality. The challenge for us is to identify empire and “come out” of it.

If we are called to come out of Empire, what does this mean exactly? What models does John give?

I want to suggest that John offers us very strong models, but unfortunately they are often unacknowledged or ignored. One of the most important images is that offered as an alternative to the powerful and monstrous Beast and the seductive and inebriating Prostitute: The Lamb in Revelation 5. Read the rest of this entry

commodifying the radical

Consumer Jesus by Banksy

The Olympics draw near to us, and on Australian television screens we are confronted with an advertisement for the Games featuring a truly horrifying rendition of the classic Australian ballad “Waltzing Matilda”.

The gruesome transplantation of Waltzing Matilda into a corny, overblown, adult contemporary pop song is an affront to Banjo Paterson’s work – the narration of an itinerant worker setting up bush camp by a billabong, thieving a stray sheep for food, being confronted by the police and the sheep’s ostensible owner, committing suicide and haunting said billabong.

Whatever we make of the story of this swagman, we should surely conclude that the version currently on rotation is a world away from its more radical intent.* And this is not even to mention the commercialisation of the Olympic Games…

These are merely examples of a more widespread phenomenon – the commodification of the radical. Read the rest of this entry

churches unite!: getting our priorities straight

Yesterday Christian leaders from a range of denominations in Sydney, including Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and Baptist, joined together in a show of unity.

So what has the power to unite the largest branches of Christianity in Australia?

Is it global poverty and the recent deferral of Australia’s foreign aid commitments? No.

Youth homelessness? No.

Problem gambling? No.

Youth suicide? Australia’s failure to sign the ban against cluster bombs? The danger posed to the Great Barrier Reef and other natural beauty by mining companies? Australia’s role in unjust wars in Central and South-West Asia? Closing the gap on Aboriginal life expectancy?

No.

Australia’s treatment of refugees? Wealth disparity? Racism? Climate Change?

No, no, no and no.

Instead these Christian leaders united to oppose same-sex marriageRead the rest of this entry

jesus’ wilderness testing as a paradigm for christian vocation

Is it problematic that it is so often impossible to distinguish the social visions of most Christians from their political party of choice?

Over the weekend I went on retreat to heaven (i.e. Cudgee) with friends from Melbourne. One of the things that we discussed at a number of points was the story of Jesus’ wilderness temptation in Matthew 4.

In this story we see Jesus, the one who was sent to change everything, being offered the apparent means to enact such change and solve many of the world’s problems – material possessions, religious power and political power. Rather than accepting such earthly power, Jesus rejects it – it is simply not the way of the kingdom of God.

Jesus instead chose a different way, a way in which people were invited into the life of God in the world, not coerced by power. This Way was not grasped by those in power, and this incomprehension continues today.

Christians are called to continue this mission, one of embodying rather than enforcing, of inviting rather than inciting, of compassion rather than control. It is the way of love.

What does this Way embodied by Christ mean for Christian engagement with modern politics, with the centre of power? Read the rest of this entry

the best ways to fight poverty – really???: a response to mark galli

The following post is a response to an article in Christianity Today entitled “The Best Ways to Fight Poverty—Really” by Mark Galli (editor). It is worth reading Mark’s article before launching into mine.

The Better Ways to Fight Poverty – Really: A Response to Mark Galli

In Christianity Today’s February issue Cover Story, “The Best Ways to Fight Poverty—Really“, Mark Galli offers a thought-provoking sketch of the current state of global poverty and a generous critique of action on poverty within the Church.

Galli’s insights, however, are undermined by a number of critical flaws, notably his understanding of development, global poverty trends and the intersection of eschatology and Christian and ecclesial practice. Perhaps most concerning is Galli’s interpretation of poverty and Christian action within the biblical narrative.

There is no doubting Galli’s concern for Christians to engage with the poor. “It would be foolish to stop caring for the poor,” he says, “We are not called to obey Jesus only if our efforts are guaranteed to make a difference.” To that I say, Amen.

Galli, however, goes on to suggest that such Christian engagement with the poor is meant to be personal, in the sense that it should not attempt to go beyond the level of individual charity into the realm of “national and global initiatives”. In other words, Galli does not believe it is the task of the Church to attempt to end poverty, but merely to bind the wounds of those who must endure it. Read the rest of this entry

reflections on piper’s “masculine christianity”

Hello readers! It’s nice to be back on board life.remixed after a week of work travel – apologies for the gap.

Since I’ve been away for a little bit this post will be reflecting on an event from last week. Though it is a little old, I feel that this event deserves some treatment, particularly since I have been asked about it a number of times.

On Wednesday last week the Christian Post ran a story entitled John Piper: ‘God Gave Christianity a Masculine Feel’. It reported that Piper, at the 2012 ‘Desiring God’ Conference (which he founded), declared “God has given Christianity a masculine feel.”

The full transcript of the sermon records that Piper, speaking to a room full of pastors, backed up this claim by saying:

God has revealed himself to us in the Bible pervasively as King, not Queen, and as Father, not Mother. The second person of the Trinity is revealed as the eternal Son. The Father and the Son created man and woman in his image, and gave them together the name of the man, Adam (Genesis 5:2). God appoints all the priests in Israel to be men. The Son of God comes into the world as a man, not a woman. He chooses twelve men to be his apostles. The apostles tell the churches that all the overseers—the pastor/elders who teach and have authority (1 Timothy 2:12)—should be men; and that in the home, the head who bears special responsibility to lead, protect, and provide should be the husband (Ephesians 5:22–33).

The sermon goes on, concentrating largely on the ‘masculine’ life of 19th-century English bishop John C. Ryle. I will refrain from quoting it at length (click the link above for the full text). Much has been written on other blogs, so I will simply offer some points of interest as to why I think Piper’s claims are simplistic, exegetically sloppy and ideologically-driven. Read the rest of this entry

sickness and healing (part 1): “sin causes sickness”?

Yesterday I went to the Sunday gathering of a church affiliated with my old church, of which I was a member up until a few months ago.

I had a great time. It’s a reasonably small group (40-50 adults), and with lots of old friends present good times were had all ’round.

The preaching topic for the day was healing. My friend Barry was sharing with us, and noted that in his experience this topic, more than any other, caused division in the church (even more than tongues). I’m not sure if it’s the most divisive issue, but I take Barry’s point about its divisive potential.

In the course of the morning Barry got us to break up into groups to discuss the issue of healing – What is it? Does it still happen today? What about when people don’t get healed, etc. etc.

I wasn’t planning on writing about healing on this blog, but following the group discussions and the subsequent public reflection a number of people asked me to write a post on it.

It turns out one post has become two. I could never hope to comprehensively outline healing in two posts of course, though I will speak into two concerns that were raised throughout the morning that people discussed with me; the first was a claim made that sickness and disease has to do with sin (this post), and secondly that if people are not healed and they die they are in fact healed because “they go to be with Jesus” (next post).

“Sickness and disease is related to sin”? Read the rest of this entry

mental disability and praying for logie awards

Last night I went along to a church service with friends while staying in Brisbane. The group I joined was made up of 60% people with mental disabilities.

I was told that a number of the people present had previously attended particular Pentecostal churches, but having been prayed for for healing over varied periods of time without success some had been ostracised by these communities.

If order and predictability were what someone was after in a church service this was not the place for them – some congregants danced alternatively in the middle of songs, other shouted out comments during the proceedings and one blessed soul prayed that God would make them famous and give them a Logie* award. Two members even declared their marital engagement during the announcement time, though I was told that this was a regular occurrence, often between different people.

In the midst of such “chaos” I must tell you that I sensed the presence of God more potently than I have in a long time. Read the rest of this entry

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