It’s the Church.
It’s been a big week for discussing religious freedom in Australia. There has been some shrill commentary about how the government is moving to stop us talking about Jesus. This concern is disproportionate to reality. And it’s directed at the wrong target. The biggest threat to the church talking about Jesus isn’t the government. It’s the church.
The discussion launched this week when a story in ‘The Australian’ sounded alarm bells about a Queensland state government crackdown on religion in state schools. It cited a government review of Religious Instruction in our schools. For those who took the time to read this review in full, there is not a lot in its contents to be concerned about. The media coverage was an overreach and the subsequent online discussion a tad hysterical.
Certainly, some concern is warranted.
The review contained one paragraph – which The Australian picked up and ran with – warning about activities that would lead to evangelism in the school yard. Indeed, this part of the review was sufficiently concerning that our church published this article in response, including an example letter that could be written to Education Minister Kate Jones. We hope such responses led to this media release from the Qld Government, titled ‘No change to religion in Queensland state schools.’
There is a place for concern.
There is a place to write letters to the Government. There is a place for watching developments in this space and to be ready to again respond with our concerns. But should the government be the main focus of our concern? Is it the biggest threat to our freedom to talk about Jesus? I’d suggest, rather it’s the church – ourselves – that we should be concerned about. Indeed there would be a great irony in fighting for freedom which we already have. Wouldn’t it be tragic to fight for freedom we don’t actually use. Let me list a few ways:
- We have the freedom to read the Scriptures in our own language and feed on the gospel of Jesus. Yet we love an argument about which translation is superior, however unread.
- We have the freedom to pray to the Lord of lords and King of kings, yet utter more words about what the government is doing or not doing.
- We have the freedom to gather as God’s people every Sunday. Yet we are often content to do so just once or twice a month.
- We have the freedom to invite others to church, yet only make occasional use of this freedom.
- We have the freedom to welcome people into our houses for meals and gospel conversations, yet hospitality is a dying ministry.
- We are free to live Spirit fed lives of love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against these things there are no laws.
- We have the freedom to give generously to expand the work of the gospel in our city and in our world, yet we rarely give in a way that reflects the true value of the gospel.
- We have the freedom to talk with people in our lives – relationships grown in family, school, Uni, workplaces and community group setting, yet it’s not the government stopping us talking about Jesus more.
- Most ironically, we still have many more opportunities to teach Religious Instruction in our schools than we’re filling. We are fighting for rights and freedoms we do not use.
Let’s enjoy our freedom to pray, talking to God about our government.
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.- 1 Timothy 2:1-2.
And let’s enjoy our freedom to evangelise, talking to people about Jesus.
Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. – Colossians 4:5-6
In 1985 I was in Grade 11 in a Sydney Government School, when I was hauled into the Principal’s office for ‘proselytising’ other students. Not having heard that word before I denied it vehemently! I had been a Christian for a short time and yes, I loved talking about the gospel with other students. Thankfully, he agreed with me that it might be hard for me to edit out of all my conversations the thing I held most dear, and that it might be impractical for him to monitor all of them. I recall that my Christian friends and I – faced with this threat to our freedom – utilised it all the more. That memory serves as a rebuke to my current complacency.
Let’s use the enormous freedom we presently have to talk about Jesus. Perhaps we might lose some freedoms in coming years. Perhaps that is what will be needed to awaken us from our slumber.
Creek Road Presbyterian Church, Brisbane