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Presbyterian General Assembly Of Australia – Wednesday, September 11 #GAAus13

Part of being a national church with state and regional levels of oversight is that various bodies can be held accountable for their decisions. Today the GAA considered an appeal to bring the decision of one of our state bodies under review, and a petition seeking a recommendation of one of our national committees to placed under review. Those took up a fair bit of time, but responsible leadership welcomes accountability.
Rev Ligon Duncan preached a most affecting sermon based on 1 Kings 19.
Notes won’t do it justice. If it was recorded and turns up online please listen to it.
He unfolded these three points.
1. Even ministers who believe in the sovereignty can fail to believe that The Lord is God.
2. Even ministers who fight against idolatry can succumb to it.
3. Even when The Lord looks like he’s being hard on his servants you can be sure his provision is staggeringly generous and kind.

We continued to receive a number of reports and approve proposed plans by the respective committees for the next three years.
National Journal Committee, presented by Mr Duncan Parker spoke of the more widespread circulation of the now 20 page quarterly magazine, freely available in print or online.
Presbyterian Inland Mission: presented by Rev Rob Duncanson and Rev Stuart Bonnington, with a contribution from Padre Chris Woonings who spoke about the great need for biblical preaching in outback towns.

General and Mrs Hurley being thanked by David Cook


Defence Force Chaplaincy: presented by Rev Allan Harman making special mention of the high number of chaplains provided by the Presbyterian denomination, with a special address by Chief of the Defence Force, General David Hurley.

Rev Geoff Macpherson, representing Grace Presbyterian Church, New Zealand addressed the house.
Ballots were conducted to fill the various national committee positions for the next three years, with results being announced later in the evening.
Church And Nation: presented by Rev Stefan Slucki and Rev David Palmer who both spoke to a comprehensive report on a variety of ethical matters. Professor Patrick Parkinson of the Sydney Law School addressed the Assembly on the subject of concerns regarding religious liberty.
Reception of Ministers also presented a substantial report. Over a dozen men from other denominations were approved to be received as ministers of the Presbyterian Church of Australia upon the fulfilment of a variety of conditions.

Hopefully tomorrow business will conclude at a relatively early stage.
Everything is flowing along very smoothly.
David Cook is doing a wonderful job as moderator, and I hear his chaplains are giving adequate support.


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Welcome AP Magazine

Welcome AP magazine.

The last meeting of the Presbyterian Church of Australia authorised a smaller body (its Commission) to deal with a report about the future of our national magazine, Australian Presbyterian.
Today that Commission met and made the following decisions:
The resignation of Peter Hastie, longstanding editor of Australian Presbyterian magazine was formally received. Peter has resigned in order to take up an appointment as principal of the Melbourne Presbyterian Theological College.
A proposal to conclude the existing Australian Presbyterian magazine and commence publication of ‘AP’ a 16/20 page quarterly full colour paid journal which will include paid advertising was considered.
The new magazine will be supplied and distributed free to everyone who received either the old magazine and/or the catalogues of the Reformers Bookshop, a cumulative distribution of over 20,000 copies. Peter Barnes, pastor of Revesby Presbyterian will lead a new editorial and production team.
In addition a supplemental shared ‘flip-style’ magazine featuring the work of the Australian Presbyterian World Mission and the Presbyterian Inland Mission will be produced.
The Commission endorsed this project and have encouraged the new editorial and production team as they undertake the work-load of producing the new journal.

The Commission approving the commencement of AP magazine.


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Australian Presbyterian Magazine Available Online At Alliance Of Confessing Evangelicals

Congratulations to the team at Australian Presbyterian magazine for getting a shout-out on the Reformation21 blog.
AP is co-hosted at the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals website, and the February 2011 issue is available there as a pdf for immediate viewing.

Robert Brady writes:

Did you know that The Magazine of the Presbyterian Church of Australia is co-hosted at AllianceNet.org?  The February issue is titled “in the beginning” and offers articles titled:
Did you know that The Magazine of the Presbyterian Church of Australia is co-hosted at AllianceNet.org? The February issue is titled “in the beginning” and offers articles titled:
MORE THAN HISTORY: Historical facts are just the start of God’s revelation.
DUD RECIPE: Despite six decades of scientific effort, nothing’s cooking in Darwin’s kitchen.
A SURPRISING TESTIMONY: Corroboration of the Bible from ancient China
CLIMATE QUESTIONS: The science and politics are far from simple.
TRIUMPH IN WEAKNESS: The most encouraging of Christ’s many paradoxes
It also includes Bible study, news, book reviews, and prayer requests. If you enjoy this, encourage our brothers by emailing manager@ap.org.au.

If you’ve never read a copy of AP, or haven’t read one for a while, here’s a good way to access our national magazine.


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November Australian Presbyterian – boy meets girl

For a change it’s me who is late writing up Australian Presbyterian. The November issue has been in hand for a while now.

Richard Phillips, senior minister of Second Presbyterian Church in Greenville, South Carolina, is the subject of the feature interview.
Among a lot of other experiences, he and his wife, Sharon, recently had a book published under the title of ‘Holding Hands, Holding Hearts.
The interview ranges over issues such as the absence of ‘dating’ as a biblical concept, the difference between male and female expectations, the idea of being intentional about finding a marriage partner, personal maturity, intimacy outside of marriage, the need for shared faith with a marriage partner, and finishes with specific advice for young men and young women.
The feature article is complemented with pieces from Mark Powell, written as ‘Father To Son’ with ten points he’d like his son (and all young men) to know as they contemplate marriage; and Sheryl Sarkoezy writes ‘To My Daughters’ passing on the observations of one who has been involved vocationally teaching many young women.
These two articles are succinct, simple, heartfelt and practical in their advice.
Bruce Christian provides Bible Studies on Isaiah 33-39 and Jonah.
A couple of local items are mixed amongst four pages of news items from around the world.
Murray Capill, principal of Reformed Theological College, Geelong offers a piece on idolatry. Idols look legitimate, demand we offer them that which should be offered to God, and grow. They also fail us. Capill provides practical teaching about how to be free and to avoid such snares.
David Palmer offers a personal overview on the outcomes which are part of the Victorian Government’s revisions of the Equal Opportunity Act. Though the proposed changes are not as invasive or proscriptive as was feared there are still concerns that will need to be addressed and worked through. Palmer gives good credit to those various bodies who worked to bring about a better outcome than may have been expected.
The letters page contained a deeper interaction with various issues than is often the case. One letter in particular expressed thoughtful disagreement with the position presented by the interviews in the September issue. I think the letter writer believes that various social justice issues can be included within an understanding of Gospel proclamation. I would think the position of our church really places those issues as outworkings of the good news, not as core to its proclamation and saving work.
Perhaps related to this concern is the back page article in which Charles Woodrow muses on a personal experience with people who identify as Christian in Africa, but do not identify the work of the Lord Jesus Christ as being what makes them a Christian. He prays that God will raise up those who will proclaim the Gospel to work in addition to those who are seeking to alleviate suffering and bring social stability.

Past issues of Australian Presbyterian are available online, three months after original publication. The pdf of the August issue can be found here. My review of that issue is here.


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October Australian Presbyterian – Sexual Revolution

Australian Presbyterian was late again this (last) month. I blame it on daylight saving.

First things first, the format changes continue to be refined this month.
The absence of news from Australian Presbyterian Churches for the second month in a row may mean its gone for good. The various state publications have probably brought this about.
An expanded news section is included. I wonder about the longevity of this section. Online sources mean that monthly news has probably been circulating for awhile and loses any sense of currency. Most of the items are sort of timeless, but of those that indicate a date, the most recent seems to be August.
I know that lots of Australian Presbyterians are probably behind the demographic curve as far as getting online in a pro-active way, but in the next year or two news will probably give way to more articles.

The articles this month are heavy going. This seems to be a trend as well. If the state publications are going to cover all the lighter stuff, the national journal seems intent on carving out a reputation as a place for serious theological interaction.

Peter Jones returns to provide commentary on the cultural and philosophical background to the sexual revolution. I think the main focus of his comments is that those driving the changes in societal morality and standards are doing so because they are influenced by a pagan worldview. It rejects objective perceptions of identity and replaces them with subjective ones. This worldview is seeking to assert itself as the dominant one and is hostile to Christian views of truth and authority.
David Palmer follows up with an article on the contemporary efforts to either redefine or marginalise marriage. His contentions are that these efforts are again part of a philosophy that wishes to break down objective notions of roles and indentities within gender. Marriage needs to be defended as a biblical standard. It also needs to be lived out with truth and integrity because it is a vital part of human well being. Accepting other standards will be to the detriment and damage of society collectively and individually.
David and Roslyn Phillips support this with an article pointing out the lack of a scientific basis to prove that homosexuality is genetic. As a condition that is a product of environment, experience and nurture we can then engage with those who support it about the extent to which they wish to influence society to live and love as they wish. Philosophically the only limits are those which society can bear. And they want society to bear pretty much anything.

Bible Studies from Bruce Christian on Romans 1-8 would have been handy three or four months ago.

An Age article by Barney Zwartz is included. This is harrowing reading. It concerns the personal story of a family devastated by the abuse that one of their own suffered at the hands of a clergy member. It is not a Presbyterian story, and for that reason I was a bit uncomfortable as well. Sadly we have our own stories. Hopefully these sorts of articles confirm our efforts to eradicate abuse and take the necessary steps to bring about an accountable culture in which it cannot happen.

The letters page deals with the hardy perennial of creation, but also expresses a different tangent with letters of appreciation to the editorial team. Well deserved.
Book reviews and a reflection by Peter Barnes round out the issue. Peter encourages us to be resolute yet gracious in expressing our Christian convictions. As someone with plenty of convictions I’m sure Peter gets lots of practice. His good reputation around the place seems a testimony that he practices what he preaches.

Past issues of Australian Presbyterian are available online, three months after original publication. The pdf of the July issue can be found here. My review of that issue is here.


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September Australian Presbyterian – X-IANITY

What do you get if you remove Christ from Christianity is the question raised and answered by September’s Australian Presbyterian.
We get a spiffy upgrade to the magazine’s layout this month. It is very easy to read, which is important for a text-heavy magazine.
Michael Horton is the lead interview, which is appropriate as one of his most recently published books is ‘Christless Christianity’. He identifies that within US evangelicalism there are definite strands that actively de-emphasise the redemptive work of Christ, while others continue to affirm that work but elevate other lifestyle issues alongside it in practical importance.
The names mentioned, such as Robert Schuller, Joel Osteen and Brian McLaren, would not generally be known by many Australian Christians (very few in my neck of the woods), though they have presences on the internet and their books are freely available.
This should not detract from the value of Horton’s evaluations, but without some effort at evaluating whether these teachings are manifesting themselves in Australia it feels a little abstract.
Peter Hastie (the issues editor of AP, and the person who interviewed Michael Horton) makes an attempt at providing an Australian perspective with a personal reflection on the presence of theological liberalism in the life of the Australian Presbyterian Church in the second half of the twentieth century. While the teaching emphasis of Schuller, Osteen and McLaren claims for itself a continuity with evangelicalism, it is actually the child of liberalism, the strand of Christian thought that rejected the atoning death of Christ, His divinity and the authority of the Bible.
Demonstrating that every new heresy is actually an old heresy, Hastie turns to the Middle Ages theologian, Anselm. Anselm’s work Cur Deus Homo (Why God Became Man). His writing defines human need and God’s provision of salvation, an old antidote to a current deviation in Christian thought.
Peter Barnes visits perennial heretic Benny Hinn. Hinn has been so thoroughly discredited that you might wonder why a new article is neccessary. Still, some poor (poorer) folks are paying to keep that jet in the air.
Peter Jones (founder of Christian Witness to a Pagan Planet) provides a summary article again outlining how the movement which tries to present itself as promoting ‘Jesusanity’ (my term) instead of Christianity has really replaced our Lord and Saviour with an ill-defined figure who is more like Bono from U2 than the Jesus of the Bible.
Bible Studies by Bruce Christian focusses on Colossians.
For the first time I can remember the News section contains no articles on Australian Presbyterian Churches. I hope this is because their local news editor was on Long Service Leave.
John Wilson (theological lecturer from Melbourne and all-round good-bloke) gives a powerful testimony of the power of the Holy Spirit applying the Word preached in Africa. Best part of the magazine, and an excellent counterpoint to the powerless gospels which are being evaluated in the front of the magazine.
A couple of reprinted articles point us to the power of the Gospel to redeem present suffering and give us hope for an eternal future. Themes which non-gospels always struggle to deal with, because they have no power.

To be honest this is a heavy read. I can skip through it in an hour or so, because most of it is familiar. If you’re not, take the time to work through the September Presbyterian and appreciate anew the power and the uniqueness of the authentic Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.


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August Australian Presbyterian – Reforming The Church

The slow barge, pack mule and carrier pidgeon have come through again.
The August Australian Presbyterian examines the theme of Reforming the Church. While the Protestant Reformation is primarily associated with the issue of salvation by grace alone through faith alone there was also a tremendous amount of reform in the life of the church itself.
In a era of emphasis on individualism and personal experience the church is becoming increasingly atomised. As the primary vehicle through which the biblical message of salvation is to be proclaimed to the world, this atomisation could serve to threaten the purity of the Gospel as unity and discipline fall by the wayside.
The feature interview this month is with Mark Dever, lead pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington D.C. Dever has seen that church grow by a balanced mixture of faithful biblical teaching, conservative worship and purposeful body life. All elements which are considered culturally out of favour, especially in a liberal city like Washington.
Dever’s interview is fascinating, not so much for what he says, because much of that will be very familiar to those of us versed in historical reformed church practice. What is encouraging is the simple firmness with which he maintains the need for local churches to maintain orthodoxy and discipline in their practice, as well as their doctrine.
As an aside, I find it interesting that the Australian Presbyterian Theological Colleges all affirm conservatism in their practice of church life and worship, inviting visiting speakers who also represent that conservatism, while many pastor and congregations continue to forsake these practices. Australian Presbyterian’s themes and interviews demonstrate this contrast as well. All the authors of articles are mature in age and or conservative in outlook. Frankly I agree with with their positions, this is not a criticism of these bodies. I just wonder how major streams within our denomination’s life go pretty much unrecognised by these bodies.
Complementary articles by three other U.S. preachers are included. The venerable John MacArthur warns that biblical preaching that fails to invite sinners to repent and trust Jesus’ sacrifice for the forgiveness of their sins is deficient. I have seen services at which ‘altar calls’ have been given and ‘salvations’ recorded when all that has happened is that people have been invited to come forward and seek God. MacArthur’s words resonate.
Richard D. Phillips, whose work editing and contributing to the book Precious Blood I appreciated, surveys Jesus’ words of commendation, warning, admonition and invitation to the seven churches in Revelation. A living, growing church will find elements of all seven of these churches relevant to their circumstances at various times and should always remain conversant with Christ’s proclamation.
As a change of pace Leland Ryken provides a precis of a funeral sermon preached by the puritan Thomas Brooks. Christians live well when they keep their death in focus.
We’re a bit light on for local news this month, but congratulations to Ian Smith as his appointment as principal of the Presbyterian Theological Centre, Sydney.
It was also good to see the advertisement for the pastoral position in my neighboring parish here in South Australia.
David Palmer and Ben Saunders provide an adapted version of a paper presented to the panel reviewing exemptions in the Equal Opportunity Act 1995. The actual paper can be downloaded here. David and his colleagues are doing excellent work in this area.
The letters page in AP has struggled for years. Some times it just seems to descend to ad-hominem attacks strung out over some months. I can’t see a lot of value in publishing letters where someone defends themselves against comments made by someone in response to something originally published months ago. If that sounds confusing, I feel sorry for anyone reading AP for the first time and opening up at the letters page.
Again, as an aside, some sort of forum where people of reformed conviction in Australia could exchange views would be welcome. Some guys in Victoria tried a forum a few years ago and the original Australian Presbyterian website also made an attempt. The problem is that the fewer the contributors, the easier it is for one or two difficult contributors (cough>trolls<cough) to make it an unpleasant place to visit.
Book reviews are useful, but the choices often seem esoteric.
Peter Barnes closes out the issue with a position paper that opposes the idea of a Bill of Rights for Australia. A lot of his criticism is based on negative outcomes in other places (and in the case of the Victorian Religious Tolerance Act, right here) and the thought that no Bill of Rights guarantees absolute freedom, it simply provides a framework by which our freedoms are limited in the interest of a greater good. Who determines that greater good? With a Bill of Rights, no longer the people through their elected representatives, but the judiciary and the legal system. Is it cynical to point out that judges and lawyers seem most in favour of such a Bill. It's probably my imagination.
So there you go, that's August, bring on September.