Since retiring from my last formal denominational role on the founding Standing Committee of Generate Presbytery, (an orthodox evangelical oversight of some 100 mainly small country churches) I naturally survey my over 50 years in ordained ministry.
Here is one perception: The rapid replacement and overreaching power of secular entities of the needs, maladies and necessities of the human being over against Christian ministry. It is an issue of Ontology. That is, the health of the whole human being, created wonderfully in the image of God. The highest iconic object on earth. Pastors, ministers of the word, were once the ‘go to’ resource for trauma, and a great range of mental health conditions. I’m not against any attempts to help heal the souls but I believe we have ignored one resource not just in pastors but functioning local churches as effective powerful therapeutic communities.
I am saying we have bypassed a great deal of profound and competent help over the past forty or so years. Folk are weekly urged to see their health professional (yes many seem to have one, or more) or to phone a helpline. We need to expose and utilise the vast resources of the pastor/priest/minister.
When television started the stations closed for the night around 11pm with rostered ministers closing the day with spiritual reflection and prayer. Church Synods and the like were consulted by legislators before any social laws were considered. The moral-spiritual dimensions of the demography were indeed taken seriously. Nowhere would the challenge to leave one’s faith in a place of hidden privacy be uttered or considered. Faith was meant to be expressed in action, including in parliament.
No I’m not introducing an argument for church hegemony, the opposite. Rather an exhortation amongst us all who oversight and practice preaching and teaching of the ageless Scriptures, to pursue and fulfill our calling confidently and boldly into our churches and through into society.
We may need oncology, but we certainly need biblical ontology. One of our lay preachers is a retired surgeon, who serves on Hopenet executive, Neil McIntosh. He preaches and contributes on the team who write and send out hard copy orders of service across some of the scattered churches in our State and beyond as well as visiting and preaching.
He has performed thousands of operations during his life-time of surgery. But what he on the subject would be hard to understand in our medical science trusting culture. “But I believe without a doubt that my lay preaching has been more important and (hopefully) contributed more to the wellbeing of my listeners than all the surgical work I have done”. He meant of course not his ability to preach but the content, the Word of God which he offered. That which addresses the ontology, the ‘being’, the primary needs and condition of men and women, boys and girls.
Ministers of the Word, let nothing distract or stand in our way. Persevere, grasp the temporal as well as eternal import of the work, committed to us from heaven. Every text we open up, make clear and apply (the ancient method of Ezra. Nehemiah 8.8) imports value, indeed life into human society. Let us never allow our minds to think little of this work.
Yes, the Health industry has become a quasi-priesthood but the sicknesses in our nation are increasing, suicide is rampant, porn and substance addictions, neurotic illnesses loom over our populations like a darkening eclipse but with no light in sight.
The call to expound Scripture clearly, truly and passionately is the hope of the nation, make no mistake. Ordination vows are the highest vows uttered in our nation. At least the most telling for the good of nation building, if the truth of it would be uttered and its hearers would receive and hold it.
The famous eighteen and nineteenth century Awakening saw the masses frequenting small chapels across England or in class and society meetings to hear the Scriptures read and applications made to everyday life. So the yeast of humanising and transforming truth was kneaded into the conscience of a nation and from it missions were sourced and impacted tribes and cultures for good across the world. In our country Indigenous First Peoples celebrate on July 1st the most important date in their ancient pre-history, the ‘Coming of the Light’. When they joyfully recognized the fulfillment of their timeless spirituality in the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ transforming them from a culture of violence to peace.
The breakup of the Soviet Empire saw something different. The ‘Starets’, were the mocked and ‘useless’ old priests as viewed by the Marxists whose dwindling congregations of elderly women were looked upon as symbols of Christianity’s irrelevance. Suddenly at the fall of the coercive Soviet empire their faithfulness was rewarded with souls flooding into their churches thirsty for the Words of Life.
The Berlin wall came down in 1989 and Eastern Europe was lost to the Marxists because St Nicholas church in Leipzig preached and witnessed the gospel and went out with it onto the streets. The same in Romania when Pastor Tokesh rallied and led his people, and so in other Eastern bloc countries. The Word is the tungsten tip, it cuts through lies and takes the solution to human need right to the individuals and the nations heart.
The first Prussian refugees who came to our South Australian shores were convinced of the preeminence of the Gospel. Check their cemetery-museum in Klemzig. Like the Israelites who marched with the priests and ark before them, these first arrivals came with their pastor leading them. On arrival they built first a chapel before a hospital or any other utility.
The task today is becoming more dangerous. Devotion at a high level to this work of ministry may have formerly lost some parishioners, temporarily. Now hard-core secularists are busy sweeping aside the moral conservationists and attacking the safety fences and boundaries around human life. More than that, even criminalising those who would stand in their way.
These are the days for a deep refreshing of the ministry of the Word of God. A true knowing of the grace of Law and the grace of Gospel. The Redeemer’s grace which grants forgiveness with repentance, communion with confession, baptism with discipline, and faith with discipleship.
Wesley in his day knew it with his famous: “Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not whether they be clergymen or laymen, they alone will shake the gates of Hell and set up the kingdom of Heaven upon Earth.”
The church has been in this place many times through history. Today it must have its ministers like the school of the prophets in Elisha’s day, supporting each other bound together determined to utter this Word made flesh. At all costs.