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Friday 5 February 2021

The Church Outlasted Nero And It Will Outlast Any Who Seek To Outlaw Its Teachings

For the progressive/regressive left it is always day zero. What I mean by this is that for the regressives history is always being revised, cast into a new light, or completely ignored, and we move forward from this day and whatever aspect of history they have just sought to delete from our consciousness as though what had come before is no more and does not matter. It is always day zero. If you have read 1984 you will be familiar with this concept. The past is being constantly overwritten by those who do not want to learn from it. It appears, from the outside at least, that this consistent blindness to history, and arrogance towards the past is being practiced by the Victorian government which has just decided to place itself squarely against the Church and the teachings of God’s word.

If you are not aware of what I am referring to, I am speaking about the Victorian government passing legislation making gay conversion therapy illegal, the Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill. You might think that this is a reasonable course of action for a caring conscientious government to take, banning outdated and potentially harmful practices, but the bill goes far beyond that. Indeed, do such practices even still exist in even moderate numbers in Australia?  

I have been in ministry for 10 years as a paid pastor, and for several years before that as a volunteer ministry worker. I grew up in various churches across various denominations, went to a Christian school, have been part of denominational and inter-denominational pastoral groups, been on Christian camps as a leader and attender, been to Christian conferences in two states and in other countries, and I don’t recall once, ever, seeing a conversion-therapy clinic, or small group, or anything of the kind advertised, or even hearing such a thing mentioned in any of those places. The only place I've seen this sort of thing talked about is on TV in American TV shows or Hollywood movies. This is simply not a significant aspect of the modern Church.  

So, the justification of this Bill makes no sense, until you read it and see they are making standard, orthodox Christian teaching and practices potentially prosecutable. As Mark Powell notes

a forbidden practise includes—but is not limited to—counselling or even offering prayer!” And to support this assertion, here is a quote from the law itself, section 3:

For the purposes of subsection (1), a practice includes, but is not limited to the following – a) providing a psychiatry or psychotherapy consultation, treatment or therapy, or any similar consultation, treatment or therapy; b) carrying out a religious practice, including but not limited to, a prayer based practice, a deliverance practice or an exorcism…[i]

Wait, does that outlaw prayer for certain individuals regarding sexual orientation? Just in case those applying this law were not sure how far this could be taken,

“…an Explanatory memo—which doesn’t hold as much legal weight as the Bill itself but that a Court may refer to the explanatory note—The Health Complaints Commissioner’s Report for the Government, adds this information:

Conversion therapy/practices reinforced homosexuality as a form of ‘brokenness’ and Church teachings that homosexuality is sinful.”[ii]

The Victorian government, at threat of fines or prison time, is seeking to regulate what the Church, and other religious groups, can and cannot say about sexuality, there is no other way to see this. (For more information on that read here and here). For obvious reasons these laws have Christians and other religious groups deeply concerned. But my intention is not to dwell on the devastating nature of these laws for religious freedoms and frankly the continuation of basic common sense. I would like to remind the government making these laws, that the Church has faced this kind of government overreach before and come out the other side stronger than ever.

If these leaders knew their history well they would know that seeking to stamp out Christian teachings through legislation has consistently failed. But maybe they don’t know this. Maybe they, like many people alive today, are modern supremacists, that is people who think we are by virtue of living in the present, superior to those who came before us in the past, and not prone to the same forces of human nature that past generations experienced. Too often we can think that we are in the end of history, that all that has come before is just that, history, and nothing else, and therefore can just be ignored. But to ignore the history of the Church’s peaceful resistance to government overreach is to ignore just how lovingly yet stubbornly the Church will consistently hold to the Word of God, when we are told to choose between state decree and God’s decree.

The current Aussie Church is in a pretty weak state, but remember the Church started off quite weak. In fact it consisted of only a handful of Jewish men and women who had just seen their leader crucified by the Roman’s at the behest of the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem. Most would have thought that was the end of the story, that this troublesome religious group were finished. But after seeing their risen saviour and hearing his mandate that they should prepare for power from on high to take the message about Jesus of Nazareth out into the whole known world, these men and women waited in prayer for that power to come,

12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey away. 13 And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. 14 All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers (Acts 1:12-14).

Then that power came. The Holy Spirit was poured out on these humble believers on the day of Pentecost and from this day forward they proclaimed the truth of God’s word and their testimony of Jesus boldly and courageously throughout all of Jerusalem, including in the temple. Indeed, the leaders of Jerusalem tried to stop these humble yet powerful Jewish men and women from proclaiming the truth several times. But they would not relent. They continued to proclaim the message of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, even though it was offensive to the ears of many of their own fellow countrymen. This passage from Acts 5 is particularly impressive:

25 And someone came and told them, “Look! The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people.” 26 Then the captain with the officers went and brought them, but not by force, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people. 27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man's blood upon us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Saviour, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him (Acts 5:25-32).

After being commanded not to preach in the name of Jesus, to not preach the truth of the risen saviour and all that follows from this, which includes teaching about sin, what is sin, and why we should all repent from our sins and turn to Jesus, the disciples responded in the only way they could, “We must obey God rather than men.” This has been the catch cry of the faithful Church ever since, and these words have boldly advance the kingdom of God around the world.  

You see, the persecution of Christians and commands to stop preaching their message continued after the Church spread out from Jerusalem. These 11 Jewish men and another unlikely Christian hero, the former Pharisee and persecutor of Christians, Paul, along with a handful of other believers took this small and apparently weak church from a small group of Jewish believers in one nation all the way to one of the largest multi-ethnic religions ever, that swept across every nation of their era. All because they were empowered by the power of God in them through the Holy Spirit. But they faced resistance all along the way. Emperors stood against them.

First notably Nero, who was known as a foolish leader of Rome, and is not remembered fondly by Christians or pagans, sought to stamp out the Christian faith in Rome. This persecution was devastating, and tradition tells us that it claimed the lives of both Peter and Paul, along with many other faithful believers. But it failed to stamp out this Holy Spirit empowered movement. Then came other persecutions.

Even a so-called noble pagan, like Marcus Aurelius, who is remembered as a great emperor by history, because he saved Rome from vast barbarian invasions and governed Rome better than many other of its leaders, rose up against the Church, seeking to stop its rapid growth. Yet he too failed to stamp it out. We read this in Foxe’s Book Of Martyrs about the persecutions that happened un Aurelius,

The cruelties used in this persecution were such, that many of the spectators shuddered with horror at the sight, and were astonished at the intrepidity of the sufferers. Some of the martyrs were obliged to pass, with their already wounded feet, over thorns, nails, sharp shells, &c. upon their points, others were scourged till their sinews and veins lay bare, and after suffering the most excruciating tortures that could be devised, they were destroyed by the most terrible deaths.

Germanicus, a young man, but a true Christian, being delivered to the wild beasts on account of his faith, behaved with such astonishing courage, that several pagans became converts to a faith which inspired such fortitude.[iii]

There are many accounts in this era of Christians being so brave under persecution, that they converted many pagans, just on that testimony alone.

For three centuries at various points the Roman Emperors sought to stamp out the Church, or reign it in, or force it to moderate its message about Jesus with persecution. But this all ended with the Roman Empire bowing to Christ, rather than the Church of Christ bowing to the Empire.

Since that day many leaders in pagan and Christian nations have sought to overcome the Church. There were the medieval persecutions of the famous Bible translators in the later Middle Ages. There was the attempt of the Church of Rome to crush the resistance of men like Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, Menno Simons and others. There was the persecution of the Non-Conformists in England, including the Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Baptists and Quakers. One notable example is John Bunyan who spent years in prison for his unauthorized preaching, during which he wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress, which is a wonderful story illustrating the Christian walk and life, and battle with temptation during suffering and persecution.

Wherever the Church has gone in the world it has faced opposition of all kinds. Sometimes in pagan lands, sometimes in pagan lands turned Christian, sometimes in Christian lands that have turned back to paganism, as we now are witnessing here in Australia. Over and over again bold and faithful Christians have said as the apostles said, “We must obey God rather than men.”

As Christians we believe in submitting lawfully to our secular leaders on secular matters and matters of state. We recognize their authority to make good laws for the good of society and understand how important this is. Give unto to Caesar what is Caesars and unto God what is God’s, is an important principle we live by. We work hard to be good citizens in society. We believe in praying for our leaders and for their good and for their salvation. We believe in living peacefully among those whom we disagree with. We respect our leaders and understand they have a difficult job. We also believe that when anyone contradicts God’s word that we should obey God over that man, or woman, no matter what authority they claim.

We must obey God rather than men. Our conscience will not allow us to do otherwise. No, we don’t do this perfectly. No, we don’t always get this right. But it appears that the Victorian government is seeking to command churches about what they can and cannot teach on issues that go to the heart of Christian truth about manhood, womanhood, and sexuality. As Christians our ultimate authority on this issue is God and his word. We have to obey him. We have no choice in this matter.

The West went through many tribulations and troubles before it enshrined in its laws, and its civilizational conscience, the necessity of allowing people to live according to their conscience. This is a settled issue in Western history. Those of us who know history do not want to have to see society learn all of these lessons again. But for those for whom history is always being revised and renewed and for whom we are always in day zero, I guess they will have to learn again that the Church does peaceful resistance better than anyone else. Because we really do believe in God and what he says and how he says we should live.

Right now, the Australian Church is as weak and flabby as the audience at an e-sport event. But the Church only began with a handful of men and women who were afraid, until they realized: God is on their side, and he wanted to empower them to achieve his good in this world. We Christians want to live peaceful and quiet lives, it is who we are and what we would like to do. But we cannot allow human authorities to tell us what we can and cannot teach from God’s word. Only God has the authority to command his people on that.

We hope and pray that leaders who seek to command the church to ignore their conscience on religious issues would relent, but we know that if they don’t, well then we look to women like Blandina:

The principal of these martyrs were Vetius Agathus, a young man; Blandina, a christian lady, of a weak constitution; Sanctus, a deacon of Vienna; red hot plates of brass were placed upon the tenderest parts of his body; Biblias, a weak woman, once an apostate. Attalus, of Pergamus; and Pothinus, the venerable bishop of Lyons, who was ninety years of age. Blandina, on the day when she and the three other champions were first brought into the amphitheatre, she was suspended on a piece of wood fixed in the ground, and exposed as food for the wild beasts; at which time, by her earnest prayers, she encouraged others. But none of the wild beasts would touch her, so that she was remanded to prison. When she was again produced for the third and last time, she was accompanied by Ponticus, a youth of fifteen and the constancy of their faith so enraged the multitude, that neither the sex of the one nor the youth of the other were respected, being exposed to all manner of punishments and tortures. Being strengthened by Blandina, he persevered unto death; and she, after enduring all the torments heretofore mentioned, was at length slain with the sword.[iv]

If we must be persecuted for holding to the stable teachings of God’s word, then at least we will make sure that we peacefully stand strong and firm on that word. The Church has weathered that storm before, and the Church still stands strong today. No leader has legislated the Church’s teachings out of existence, they have tried, but the Church has always risen again, just as its founder and saviour did as well.

List of References:


[ii] ibid

[iii] Foxe, John. Fox's Book of Martyrs Or A History of the Lives, Sufferings, and Triumphant Deaths of the Primitive Protestant Martyrs. Kindle Edition.

[iv] Ibid.     

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