Christians both within and without the Australian Christian Churches are excited and encouraged about the formation of the ACC. As one who writes from outside the ACC, I share in the anticipation of what God can do in and through this new alliance. But at the same time I have some fears – fears that the ACC will go the way of so many other Christian movements in the past, gravitating toward an inward-looking, bless-me-club mode instead of an outward-looking, dynamic force of social upheaval. I continue to be reminded of the words of Acts 17:6, where it talks about the early church as having “turned the world upside down” (KJV). So much of Christendom today cannot be described in such terms. Too often it more closely fits the warning of Paul in Romans 12:2 of letting the world squeeze believers into its mould (Phillips translation).
What do I mean by a “dynamic force of social upheaval”? Surely being a church committed to evangelism must be part of the equation. But not in the sense of getting a few more souls to heaven, while letting society continue to crumble. Instead I think of the challenge to be salt and light. Now when Jesus spoke those words in Matt. 5 he did not preface the discussion by saying “Hands up all those who would like to be salt and light”. Instead he said we are salt, we are light. It is part of our calling as Christians. It is part of our job description.
But Jesus warned that the attributes of salt and light could be wasted or rendered useless if not used properly. Salt serves a negative function. It is to prevent deterioration, decay, rot. On the other hand, light serves a positive function. It illumines, it exposes, it reveals. Christians are to be actively involved in both functions. We are to act as a moral preservative in society. And we are to set a standard of righteousness in a sin-darkened world.
Martin Niemoller was a decorated submarine commander in WW I, an ardent nationalist and a pastor in Germany. At first he welcomed the rise to power of Adolf Hitler. Later, however, he realised that Hitler was heading the wrong way, and he became an outspoken critic of Hitler and Nazism. While most churches and church leaders acquiesced to the leadings of Hitler, Niemoller protested his anti-Semitic and anti-Christian tendencies. For this Hitler had him imprisoned. Said Hitler to Niemoller: “I will protect the German people. You take care of the church. You pastors should worry about getting people to heaven, and leave this world to me.”
Unfortunately too many Christians today are heeding Hitler’s advice. Many Christians have set up a false dichotomy between spirituality and earthly activity, between the church and this world, between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of men. As a result we are seeing society becoming further and further corrupted and secularised. The church is losing battle after battle with the world, and it is largely our own fault. We have opted out of our responsibility to be salt and light in the world. We have refused to be the Good Samaritan that Jesus urged us to become. We have refused to occupy till He comes.
My challenge to the ACC is for it to become a genuine source of salt and light in this very dark and unsavory world. More specifically, I encourage the ACC to raise up, both nationally and on a state-wide basis, spokespersons who can proclaim biblical principles into the secular arena. Other denominations have such spokespersons, people who are regularly called upon by the media to comment on hot social and ethical issues of the day. Tim Costello of the Baptists comes to mind. Catholic and Uniting church representatives are also often heard in the nations’ media.
I believe it is time for the Pentecostal/charismatic wing of Christianity in Australia to have such a voice as well. Indeed, over the years as I have taught at Pentecostal and charismatic schools, I have challenged my students to do just that. Where is an AOG voice who can speak out on such issues as drug-injecting rooms or the spread of gambling machines? Where is the COC voice who is heard on prostitution or human cloning? Where is the ACC voice that can give an articulate and informed response to questions of genetic engineering, homosexuality or euthanasia?
Now I realize that such a role is not an easy one. As someone who has been in the front lines, who has dealt with the media for a number of years, I know that it is a difficult and often thankless task. Yet it has to be done. If Christians do not speak out on such issues as abortion, pornography or drug abuse, who will? If Christians do not defend the institutions of marriage and family, who will?
Part of this challenge must also extend to the educational institutions associated with the ACC. I challenge the Southern Cross Bible Colleges and Harvest Bible Colleges and Tabor Colleges of Australia to think prophetically in this regard. And the first step must be to provide proper classes on ethics. Not just several weeks out of the year, but a whole semester – at least – devoted to helping our future Christian leaders think clearly about the ethical, moral and social issues that make up the headlines of our daily newspapers, talk back radio and television chat shows. As Pastor Alun Davies once remarked to me, most students will not graduate from Bible College only to go forth into the world to be asked about whether they are dichotomists or trichotomists. Instead they are much more likely to be asked what they think about the latest social/moral issues of the day. The question is, will they be ready?
In 1 Peter 3:15 we are told (commanded) to always be ready to give a reason for the hope that lies within us. While the hope of salvation may be in view here, certainly it includes the willingness to be ready to give a non-believer an honest answer to an honest question – any question.
Thus it is my prayer and hope that the ACC will take seriously its role in society, and raise up a generation of young believers who can answer their next door neighbour, can answer the cab driver they ride with, or even answer the ABC reporter who may knock on their door. Society desperately needs a prophetic voice, conversant with the issues, well-read and well-prepared to make a difference, to offer an alternative voice to the secular, negative and destructive voices that tend to dominate the media.
This is my challenge to the ACC. Who will take me up on it?