Amidst all the rancour and toxicity issuing from a troubled USA, some questions to ponder and discuss. And some suggested responses…
Is racism ever okay, for Christians? No, it is abhorrent, and contrary to the New Testament Gospel (e.g. Galatians 3:28)
Is systemic racial injustice ever okay? No.
Is police brutality ever okay? No. Police are meant to uphold justice, not act with cruelty or injustice.
Is peaceful protest okay? Yes, and it can sometimes help bring positive change.
Is violent protest helpful? No. It undermines a cause, and deepens divisions.
Is the Republican Party or the Democrat Party the more Christian option? Both parties have some good people and good principles, and both parties have some policies, emphases, and tendencies which are less than Christian.
Are all Republicans Christian? Absolutely not.
Are all Christians Republican? No, very large numbers of American Christians (including many Afro-American and Hispanic Christians) vote for the Democrats.
Why did many conservative American Christians vote for Mr Trump? Because many of them were Republican voters already, because over the years the Republican Party had actively courted the conservative Christian vote, and because many Christians were particularly concerned about late-term abortion.
Do all Christians who voted for Mr Trump approve of everything Mr Trump says or does? No.Many have misgivings.
Is President Trump personally Christian? God alone knows his heart, or truly understands him.Politically, Mr Trump makes some pro-Christian statements, and supports some Christian agendas. But many of his own words and actions do not seem very Christian.
What does the Bible teach about universal human nature? That we are all made in the image of God, and we all reflect something of God’s goodness and glory. That we are all deeply flawed and marred by sinfulness, including selfishness, hostility, and self-deceit. That Christ is the way of love, forgiveness, peace, reconciliation, healing, and transformation.
Are American politics relevant and transferable to New Zealand? Thecontexts and dynamics are very different, and the crossover is limited.
Is there some racism and injustice in New Zealand? Unquestionably yes.
Have the police in New Zealand sometimes acted illegally, or with brutality? Sometimes, yes.
Is politicising Christianity good for Christianity? No, it is fraught with danger.
Is linking American politics with New Zealand Christianity helpful? No, not at all.
Would wearing MAGA (Making America Great Again) caps be a great and wise thing for New Zealand Christians to do? No. It would be confusing and inappropriate.
What is some great biblical advice for everyone, especially in times of ferment: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”.
Across Aotearoa, many churches will be delighted they can now freely begin to gather again in person. This is a great and welcome start, and we thank God for it (and also for God’s hand in keeping New Zealand relatively safe).
The Spirit of Christ unites all believers, even when we are physically isolated from one another, but believers coming together is a key aspect of what it means to be the church of Jesus. During this Covid crisis on-line church has worked well for quite a lot of New Zealand churches, if not for all, and many churches are likely to retain live streaming as a way of reaching out and of connecting with people who can’t get to church. But nothing beats actually gathering together.
Sure, there are still many challenges. A large number of bigger churches will not yet be able to meet fully. For those churches which do meet, the ongoing need for physical distancing and contact tracing registers may feel a bit awkward, in a fellowship context. On health grounds, some people may feel cautious about returning to church at least until Alert Level One. Some may feel that sitting on the couch and watching an on-line church service requires less time and effort than actually going to church. While many have experienced some spiritual refreshment in this time, others may have drifted.
“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place” (Acts 2:1). It is very special that the churches in New Zealand will be starting to come back together on the day of Pentecost, the day when we remember the birth of the worldwide church, and outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all believers, to empower us to live for Jesus and to proclaim him in word and action.
As we celebrate Pentecost this year, regardless of whether we are at home or in church buildings, let us all pray for a fresh and powerful outpouring upon the churches of Aotearoa, bringing us into a place of repentance and humility before God, deepening our faith in Christ and our love for God, filling us with his Spirit, and overflowing into a great spiritual transformation in New Zealand society.
As New Zealand slowly begins to re-open, a question many churches will be asking is, “How do we approach ministry in Level 2 and beyond?”
It’s easy to be scared of change. But in reality, the NZ church has already proven that it is more than ready to adapt to changing circumstances. Think about how the NZ church has innovated over the last 60 days, we’ve gone from:
FROM meeting in-person, TO meeting online
FROM leading our ministry teams in-person, TO leading our teams remotely
FROM having a stable financial plan, TO our finances now all up in the air
FROM having predictable staff roles, TO redeploying staff in new areas for which they were not trained
FROM having no previous idea how to do what we needed to do, TO now succeeding in making it all work
With that in mind, I suggest there are three realities to now help the NZ church continue on the path of innovation, for the sake of more effectively reaching New Zealand with the Gospel.
1. Online ministry is here to stay
Most of the people we want to reach are now online. The younger the demographic, the more true that is. Furthermore, it appears that many churches are actually growing at the moment. The reasons for this are multi-faceted, but one key reason is that online church has a much lower barrier to entry then in-person church.
This is not only true for guests. Think about families with young children getting ready for church, or seniors who are more vulnerable, or people who are sick. Online ministry provides a way for people to be involved when in the past they wouldn’t have been able to.
At the same time, it should not be treated lightly. Are you having a serious conversation about investing in new digital equipment? When adults join an online group, do you have a plan to help reduce the awkwardness and make them feel welcome? How might online group leaders take advantage of Zoom features like ‘Breakout Rooms’? How will people respond to the gospel if they are not at the church’s worship service?
2. While online ministry is here to stay, physical gatherings are the church’s calling
With all that said, it’s important to remember that physical in-person gathering is key to the church’s calling. In the New Testament the word for church (ekklesia) refers to how it is a gathering, a calling together. Moreover, God created an actual world, not a virtual world. God in Genesis declared that the actual world of creation is very good. God wants us to live in his good world, not just watch it on a screen. Resurrection, one of the central beliefs of Christianity, means the restoration of all things, not an escape to a non-temporal, non-corporal spiritual (virtual?) afterlife.
With that in mind, what are some questions that you should be asking before starting up your physical ministry? For starters, what adjustments will you make to the Lord’s Supper, baptisms, offering plate, meet and greet time, door greeting, or children’s ministry? How will you sanitize your building, before, after, and during church service? For example, should all doors be kept open to prevent spread of disease? How will you create a safe environment for those who are most vulnerable in your community? What about those who can’t meet physically but also don’t have the capability to meet online?
3. Churches need to help people make the transition from the online to in-person
Given that online ministry is here to stay, and yet we are called to physical in-person gathering, we need to carefully consider how we will move people from the relative comfort of the online experience to in-person encounters and fellowship.
Homegroups have always been a good stepping-stone to involvement in church life. It’s a smaller setting, and (at their best) are much less intimidating and much more welcoming. Here in New Zealand we will probably be limited to small gatherings for the foreseeable future. With that in mind, is it possible to encourage people to move homegroup from online to actual homes? Is it possible to have Sunday morning watch parties at different people’s homes?
There have been many times in the past where Christians could not gather in large groups, particularly in the early stages of the church. The outcome was a church body that exploded across the globe. This happened as a result of the intentional, meaningful fellowship and discipleship centred around the Risen Christ. There will be a strong desire to get back to normal. The danger is that we will re-embrace a model of ministry designed to reach a world that no longer exists. Let’s continue innovating and moving forward.
Some useful resources on this subject!
NZCN doesn’t necessarily endorse everything in them, but did pick up some good points from some of them
Churches sing ‘The Blessing’ over the UK’
An example of using technology and the internet to do mission.
The World Evangelical Alliance has put together a site with resources to help families, church leaders, national alliances, business leaders and health professionals. Check it out here >
The Opportune Time Ps David Dishroon
Romans 13:11-14 encourages us, as it did the the Jews and Christians in Rome in the late 55 AD – early 57 AD, to consider the drastic changes to the world we live in as an opportune time to do something.
This message was shared as a devotional thought during one of our weekly Pray As One NZ online prayer gatherings taking place 8-9pm on MONDAYS.
The outbreak of Covid-19 has created a global health crisis that has had a significant impact on the way we perceive our world and our everyday lives. This crisis has rapidly pushed us into the unknown and left many facing an uncertain future. However, it has been proven throughout history that New Zealand is no stranger to adversity. Time after time, New Zealanders have shown the ability to come together, with the desire to help one another demonstrating the resilience of the nation and this situation is no different.
This handbook aims to help with issues that have arisen during the Covid-19 crisis.
‘Unprecedented’. ‘Social distancing’. ‘Self-isolation’. ‘Community outbreak’. ‘Lockdown.’ These and other words have come to dominate our news feeds and conversations. A few weeks ago, the world was ordinary; now, it is different, unusual, unfamiliar. COVID-19 has turned into a global pandemic affecting every aspect of our lives. We have been turned upside down and inside out, and, understandably, are left feeling dazed and confused. People have died, more deaths will follow, travel is drastically restricted, and society is being changed. Life is different.
Typically, at Easter, Christians across the globe gather in churches to worship and celebrate the death of Jesus Christ on Friday and his glorious resurrection on Sunday. Despite the popular image of empty churches and dusty pews, churches in New Zealand are thriving and many have thousands of people turn up each week to worship God. But not this Easter. Not in Aotearoa in 2020. We are in the middle of a lock-down. But, while traditional church services are cancelled, this does not mean Easter is cancelled. Since the pandemic began to take hold, creative and compassionate responses to COVID-19 have come from across all strata of society, not least from church leaders. Easter is being celebrated in family bubbles around dinner tables, and, of course, en masse online. And the message of Easter is being lived out in all walks of life in acts of service, compassion, and care.
What is the meaning of Easter? What are Christians celebrating in the death of Jesus Christ and in his miraculous resurrection? And what does that have to do with COVID-19 and the problems we face in our real lives? Easter is about the ways in which God breaks down every barrier that exists in order to enter into the closest of relationships with us and make it possible for us to find our fulfilment, purpose, peace, and joy in him. In a world of fear and dislocation caused by isolation, sickness, and anxiety, we need to hear the words of joy again, and of peace, and of love. Easter speaks just these words over us.
In the Bible, we are told that Jesus, on several occasions, “tore open” the barriers that separate humanity from God. The language is deliberately active because the action is so forceful. Jesus died on a Roman cross and, as he did, the large curtain that divided the inner rooms of the Jewish temple was torn apart. This curtain was around 15 metres high and 9 metres wide and embroidered to represent the panorama of the heavens. In other words, it symbolised the sky, and the sky was understood by the people of the time as a barrier between this world and God. Jesus died, the curtain was torn apart and God’s presence flooded the earth. Seeing this, the Roman soldier guarding the cross of Jesus declared, “surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39). Jesus broke down the barriers between humanity and God. This is the Easter message.
Easter is part of a bigger story that began with Christmas. At Christmas, we remember Jesus’ birth, by the blessed virgin Mary. Mary is said to have found favour in God’s sight and was told that she would bear a child, who would be the Son of God. And, as it was in the sky-rending scenes at the cross, the pattern was the same: a physical barrier—in this case, Mary’s human form—was passed through by God, who filled the womb with his love and favour.
A further barrier-breaking is seen in the resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday. Here, the barrier is a massive stone that seals his tomb. The kind of tomb in which Jesus was buried was shaped like a house. At the entrance to the ‘house’ was a door—this time, a sealing stone. The difference between the tomb and a house is that a house and its door are designed to open while the sealing stone on the tomb is meant to be permanently closed.
The sealing stone at the tomb was a symbolic barrier between this world and the next. The women who first came to Jesus’ tomb witnessed this barrier removed—the stone had been rolled away—Christ had risen! He had left the tomb, departed from this world and, in doing so, tore the heavens apart and, once more, opened up human access to God.
And, finally, the upper room. We read that, after the resurrection, Jesus’ followers were all together in one room, with the doors locked. This signifies the impenetrability of another barrier. Jesus moved down from his heavenly state; he appeared mysteriously and reassured his terrified audience. In the absence of angels or a Roman centurion, it was the once-doubting disciple Thomas who exclaimed: “My Lord and my God!”
Easter Cross photo by Susanna Burton
COVID-19 is the latest in a long list of barriers in life. Fear, loneliness, panic, anxiety, and a host of other emotions lurk close to the surface for many people, and the Easter message is that God is not unaware of how we feel, nor is he passive in the face of such challenges. Christians are those who seek to follow God and to be barrier-breakers as well.
In the early centuries of the Church, Christians stood out amongst their contemporaries for their response to the epidemics that swept through the Roman world. Julian the Apostate, the last pagan Roman Emperor, wrote during the mid-fourth century that “the godless Galileans care not only for their own poor but for ours as well.” This social response led to Christians sacrificially serving their neighbours. We have many accounts of Christians entering plague-ridden cities to care for the sick and, in doing so, helping to contain fear and the spread of disease. The response to COVID-19 has been no different as people from all walks of life have stepped in and stepped up to help.
Many are asking the questions: What will life look like after COVID-19 has passed? How will social interactions change? What will the new world look like? Will we simply return to our old ways or will we re-think the ways we live and interact with each other? This Easter, Christians are actively looking for ways to follow God through what, previously, were barriers but are now open doors, to find ways to serve, to love and to care for one another. What God has done for us in Christ, we want to do for others.
In a context of ‘social distancing’, Christians, like others, practise physical distancing while maintaining social proximity via streamed worship services, virtual communion, care packages for those in isolation, online socials for youth and young adults, and numerous zoom calls. A myriad of other examples could be given for ways in which the Easter message is being lived out in a COVID-19 world.
What will the life look like after the pandemic? Crises like COVID-19 tend to shake the assumptions of societies, and it is here where Easter speaks to us, telling us to care for one another, to check in on our neighbours, to call those at risk, and not to let barriers—self-imposed or other—prevent us from living lives of meaning and purpose. Easter tells us that God loves us, cares for us, and will stop at nothing, not even the death of his Son, to break through any barrier that separates us from him. Easter reminds us that, in the future—after the pandemic—love, goodness, peace, and hope will remain.
Covid-19 has put up barriers between us: We are homebound. Most of us can no longer be in our usual work, educational or leisure spaces. Outside of our bubble, we ensure there is at least a 2-metre distance from others. But God has no limits and offers us a new perspective. He can be with each of us exactly where we are, even as we are locked down into the boundaries of our homes and local environments. God can break down barriers and he can be with us both now, wherever we are confined, and into the future, with whatever the future will bring. This is the hope of Easter.
As Auckland Church Leaders, we welcome you to join us this Easter season. We have online services happening all over Auckland.
Paul Allen-Baines Congregational Union of N.Z.
Rev. Ross Bay Anglican Bishop of Auckland
Pastor Tak Bhana Senior Pastor, Church Unlimited
Pastor Paul de Jong Senior Pastor, LIFE
Pastors Jonathan and Robyn Dove Senior Pastors, Greenlane Christian Centre
Most Rev. Patrick Dunn Catholic Bishop of Auckland
Majors Ian & Liz Gainsford Divisional Leaders, The Salvation Army
Jaron Graham on behalf of the Church of the Nazarene
Brett Jones Interim National Superintendent, Wesleyan Methodist Church
Pastor Sanjai Kandregula Executive member, Assemblies of God NZ
Pastor Brian Kelly Senior Pastor, Calvary Chapel
Pastor Nich Kitchen Mountainside Lutheran Church
Dr Stuart Lange National Director, NZ Christian Network
Kok Soon Lee Auckland Chinese Churches Association
Pastor David MacGregor National Director, Vineyard Churches
Andrew Marshall National Director, Alliance Churches of New Zealand
Very Rev. Anne Mills Dean, Auckland Cathedral of the Holy Trinity
Steve Millward Moderator, Northern Presbytery, Presbyterian Church
Pastor Bruce Monk International Overseer for Acts Churches & Equippers
Pastor Sam Monk Senior Pastor, Equippers Church & Acts National Leader
Pastor Peter Mortlock Senior Pastor, City Impact Church
Rev. Te Kitohi Pikaahu Anglican Bishop of Te Tai Tokerau
Pastor Lui Ponifasio on behalf of the Christian Community Churches of N.Z.
Pastor Boyd Ratnaraja National Leader, Elim Churches
Pastors Dean Rush Senior Leaders, C3 Church Auckland
Pastor Jim Shaw New Life Churches Executive team
Bishop Brian Tamaki Senior Minister of Destiny Churches International
Pastor Allan Taylor Northern Baptist Association
Pastor Ben Timothy President, North New Zealand Conference, Seventh-day Adventist Church
Rev. Graeme R. White Auckland Synod Superintendent, Methodist Church of N.Z.
The New Zealand Christian Network, the alliance of evangelical churches, organisations and individuals in Aotearoa New Zealand, commends the New Zealand Government for its leadership in our time of COVID-19 crisis. We agree that all New Zealanders must do what is necessary at this time to unite against the virus and slow its spread.
We also commend the many churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, marae, clubs and societies who have sacrificially agreed to abide by the Government’s temporary restrictions to keep us all as safe as possible during this period of moderate risk. We pray that the risk does not increase further.
We are thankful for technology that can help keep us connected at times when we need to be physically distant. Physical proximity is an important part of our communal Christian faith, but we also believe in a God who is not limited to our material world and is present everywhere at all times. For thousands of years this belief has been a comfort to those who find themselves isolated from their faith communities. Billions of people around the world today who follow Jesus continue to find in Him tangible peace in times of terrifying trial.
We implore leaders of churches who plan to continue gathering in larger groups to urgently reconsider. We cite Singapore and Korea as cases where community transmission of COVID-19 was greatly amplified by attendance at large church services. Churchgoers are not immune to illness, let alone a virus as dangerous as this one.
Christ-followers need to be socially responsible, to love God by loving our neighbours. There is nothing to fear in love. We encourage all Christian leaders to consider carefully the way the Apostle Paul’s pleaded with the believers in Philippi (Philippians 2:3-5): “Do not proceed out of selfish ambition or vein conceit, but concern others better than yourselves… look not only look to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” For this is the way of Christ.
We urge all New Zealanders, including Christians, to turn towards God and to be much in prayer about our situation.
The New Zealand Parliament legalised euthanasia this week by 69 votes to 51, pending the outcome of a referendum next year. On paper, The End of Life Choice Act 2017 looks restrictive. Its architect, libertarian MP David Seymour, claims it permits “one of the most conservative assisted dying regimes in the world.”
Opponents say it is full of loopholes, which would make it like every other piece of euthanasia legislation in the world. Indications are that, once such a law is in place, nobody much cares about how it is working.
As National MP Chris Penk said at the final debate: “The question is not whether some people will die in the way the bill allows, but whether many people could die in a way that the law does not allow.” That is what has happened in the Netherlands and Belgium.
Hospices won’t be exempt
The Act allows assisted suicide by a lethal dose of drugs, either self-administered or administered by a doctor or a nurse practitioner. This option would be available to New Zealand citizens or permanent residents aged 18 and over who have been diagnosed as terminally ill and having less than six months to live.
Originally, the Act also covered people with “grievous and irremediable” conditions, which could apply to depressed and disabled persons, but this was dropped by Seymour to garner more support from MPs.
Conscience protection for doctors and nurses was added. They are not obliged to participate in any part of the assisted dying process or suffer any penalties for opting out. However, an attending practitioner with a conscientious objection must tell a patient that they have a right to ask the group administering the scheme for the name and contact details of a replacement doctor or nurse.
An amendment drafted in consultation with Hospice New Zealand that would allow organisations to opt out without risking losing public funding was voted down.
Other efforts to address weak provisions concerning safeguards and accountability were shut down in successive debates by members impatient to get the bill passed.
The beautiful-young-woman-with-a-tumour factor
In the end, Seymour got 69 of the 120-member Parliament on his side. However, to get the eight votes of the New Zealand First Party members (led by Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters) he and supporting MPs had to accept the party’s demand that the Act go to a referendum. It will be one of at least two proposals the public can vote on alongside next year’s general election, the other being the legalisation of recreational cannabis.
It has taken four attempts, starting in 1995, to get euthanasia across the line in the New Zealand Parliament. Its success this time is in keeping with social trends such as secularisation, but also owes a lot to the advocacy of Wellington lawyer Lecretia Seales, who died of brain cancer in 2015. As an attractive, clever 42-year-old tragically facing death, she has done for euthanasia in this country what another beautiful young woman with a brain tumour, Brittany Maynard, did for the cause in California.
Ms Seales, who had worked for the liberal-minded Law Commission, applied to the New Zealand High Court for a declaration that she had a “right” to assisted suicide under the NZ Bill of Rights Act. She failed at court, but succeeded in the public domain where the support of her husband and family and influential figures such as former Law Commission chief Sir Geoffrey Palmer – not to mention massive and sympathetic media attention – emboldened politicians to have another go at legalising euthanasia. Seales died peacefully of natural causes in June 2015 and in October Seymour lodged his member’s bill. In December that year the New Zealand Herald declared Lecretia Seales “New Zealander of the Year”.
Tens of thousands of opposing public submissions binned
The Seymour bill was drawn from the ballot in June 2017 and had its first reading in December. It then went to a select committee of MPs for study and to receive public submissions. More than 39,000 submissions were received, 90 percent opposing it. Over four months touring the country the committee heard over 2000 oral submissions, of which 85 percent were opposed. These included the majority of medical associations and individual doctors and nurses who addressed the committee.
In addition, a grassroots effort saw published a number of excellent video testimonies from people who had faced a terminal diagnosis or lived with a severe disability, as well as professional commentary on the issue. One of the people appearing in these videos, Clare Freeman, who became tetraplegic at 17 and attempted suicide, addressed hundreds of opponents in front of Parliament on Wednesday as MPs prepared for the final vote. She recounted how a psychiatrist suggested that she could get help to end her life overseas.
[mom_video type=”youtube” id=”rEBa891eRpw”]
All of this has counted for very little with the majority of our political representatives. The public opinion they fear is the referendum looming at the election next year and the debate that will precede it. As NZ Herald writer Claire Trevett commented today: “Few MPs will want to take the lead in that debate – for few will want to be defined by it and have it overshadow their campaign.” That is probably truer of those supporting the legislation than those against it.
The “misinformation” spectre
Supporters have already raised the spectre of “misinformation” to ward off inconvenient publicity about euthanasia and the End of Life Choice Act itself. In fact, Minister of Justice Andrew Little (a supporter) is so concerned that the public may be misinformed and misled that he has talked about setting up a unit in the Ministry of Truth – sorry, Justice – to monitor advertising campaigns. This applies also to the cannabis referendum.
Following an interview with Little, however, the NZ Herald reports, “Teams in the Justice Ministry will prepare neutral, factual information for each referendum and make that publicly available, but they will not be tasked with calling out misinformation.” The Minister expects things to get “ugly” and expects the worst of social media, but has indicated that complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority are the way to go for disgruntled members of the public. He will simply do what he can to “call out misinformation.”
It would be foolish to think that the public is already well informed (and could only be misled by further debate), although politicians and the media regularly invoke opinion polls that show a level of public support for euthanasia of around 70 percent. If the public is generally ignorant, what is the value of a poll that asks a superficial question such as, “Parliament is considering passing a euthanasia law that would allow terminally ill patients to die with the help and approval of their doctors. Would you support it?”
Of course people should be allowed to die. Of course doctors should do what they can to ease their symptoms and reassure them as they die. Aren’t they, don’t they already? Yes. But the euthanasia movement fosters the deceitful idea that people are being kept alive against their will by extraordinary means.
Three-quarters of Kiwis don’t know what ‘choices’ the Act allows
A poll commissioned by Euthanasia-Free NZ and released early this week showed that, despite the legislation being around for four years, the great majority of the public do not know what “choices” the End of Life Choice Act would legalise.
* 70% thought it would make it legal for people to choose to not be resuscitated, when people can already ask for such a request to be added to their medical file.
* 75% thought that the Bill made euthanasia available to terminally ill people only as a last resort, after all treatments have been tried to control their pain.
“However, the Bill does not require an eligible person to have tried any pain relief or palliative care before requesting a lethal dose, or to have a consultation with a palliative care or pain specialist to find out what options are available to them,” says Euthanasia-Free NZ.
Like the Act’s supporters. this group is concerned about the referendum. “We doubt that another year would be long enough to allow the public to become adequately informed about the Bill’s content, amid contentious debates on cannabis and the general election,” says its executive officer Renee Joubert. “We are concerned that a referendum result may not reflect the public’s true sentiments.”
There seems, indeed, a real possibility that the cannabis referendum, being a more grass-roots issue (so to speak) and therefore given more media time, will eclipse that of euthanasia. The best we can hope for in any case is a change of government.