This week two very significant things have happened in New Zealand…
Covid 19 precautionary measures are tightened up
The Covid 19 threat, which is causing so much chaos and alarm around the globe, has led the Government in the last few days to take the wise step of banning inside meetings of over 100 people. It is also strongly advising “social distancing” to be practised at all times, even in small groups, as a means of impeding community transmission of the virus.
All this has huge implications for churches. Many churches are urgently cancelling worship services, arranging live streams, establishing more house groups, reviewing the safety of all their activities, and working out how they can best serve those people who are self-isolating, locked down, sick, or fearful and downcast.
Will this crisis and the sudden changes it has brought discourage and scatter the people of God, and weaken churches? Will it be hard to gather people back together, when the pandemic is over? Will some drift away? Or will these circumstances shake up the churches so that they become more faith-filled, more active, more prayerful, more compassionate, more engaged with others, more Christlike?
The New Zealand Christian Network urges churches to be both scrupulous and caring in the way they respond to the threat of this virus, and for the sake of our people and the wider society to observe the very best practices of protecting our people.
At the same time, we should be covering our nation in prayer, and asking the Lord to comfort and uplift the anxious, and to turn many people in our society from self-possession to humility and faith before the living God, who is alone our eternal hope.
See links below for many helpful resources on how churches may respond well to the challenges of COVID-19.
The Abortion Law Reform Bill was passed.
We regret the passing of this very unbalanced bill, which unjustly erased the human rights of unwanted unborn, and has removed all protection for them. The Abortion Law Reform Bill “decriminalised” abortion, but we believe it is tantamount to crime against nature, humanity, and God. We applaud all those who made a stand. We urge prayer for this nation, and for the underlying moral and spiritual myopia of which this is but another symptom.
The next week or so is a very critical time for our nation, with major life and death implications for generations to come. The New Zealand Parliament is in the final stages of voting on the Abortion Law Reform Bill, a bill which further liberalises New Zealand’s laws on abortion. The aim of the Bill is to make abortion simply a medical procedure for the mother.
The Bill gives no consideration at all to valuing the life of unborn babies, or to protecting them. The protections in the current legislation (which have proved weak) are swept away. The Bill assumes that unborn babies have no inherent human worth, and no human rights. The Bill would establish abortion on demand up to 20 weeks gestation. From 21 weeks through to birth, all that is required is the agreement of the medical practitioner (the one about to conduct an abortion) that an abortion is “reasonable” with regards to the health of the mother – but with no regard to the life of the baby. Presumably “health” will include her emotional wellbeing. Will this apply to cases of Downs Syndrome, or the wrong sex? Even a baby born alive after a failed abortion will not be safe: MPs have voted down an amendment that would have required the baby to be given medical care, rather than left to die.
Most Christian people do not oppose abortion under all circumstances, and feel compassion towards those women who have been in a very difficult situation and have agonisingly decided to have their baby aborted.
The New Zealand public needs to understand, however, that this Bill is very unbalanced: it entirely takes the side of the pro-abortion lobby, and completely disregards the intrinsic value of unborn human life. Regardless of whether or not unborn human babies are currently recognised in our society’s laws as fully-fledged “human beings”, they are still unquestionably human babies. Respect for the value of all human life is a basic building block of a safe society. Justice and compassion call out for the protection of the powerless and the voiceless. Christians – and many others – see every human life as a sacred gift of God, and the destruction of innocent lives as a terrible stain upon our nation.
We strongly encourage all Christian people to shake off apathy, to be constant in prayer, and to urgently contact members of Parliament and make known their deep concerns (be courteous, clear, well-informed, and brief).
Our nation recalls with sadness the appalling 2019 terrorist attacks on Muslim people gathered to worship. Christians continue to extend their love and sympathy, and utterly reject all hatred, racism, and violence. We believe that all faith communities should be able to gather freely, and without fear. We thank God that these horrible events generally helped strengthen our society’s commitment to living in peace.
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.
As 2020 gathers momentum, warm greetings from the NZCN leadership team.
The Lord alone knows what a year may bring: what calamities, what challenges, and what encouragements and breakthroughs.
Our world continues to be troubled by conflict, oppression, tyranny, greed, corruption, poverty, and a deepening climate crisis. And now a possible pandemic. In many countries, there is active persecution and violence against Christian minorities.
In Aotearoa, secularism has contributed to a diminished societal awareness of the true and living God, and a growing indifference towards Christianity. Many New Zealand Christians appear to lack full confidence in Christ and the Gospel, have privatised their faith, and seem preoccupied with less important things. Deep prayerfulness appears not as prevalent as it should be. Some churches are doing fairly well, but many are not. The whole New Zealand church appears to need a fresh spiritual renewing and reinvigoration.
In September New Zealanders will vote on referendums about legalising marijuana and allowing voluntary euthanasia. Parliament will shortly be voting on significantly liberalised abortion legislation which contains no regard for protecting the life of an unborn child.
So, all in all, is this a year in which Christians should plan to be complacent, and live and act just the same as before? Would a better starting point be to ask: what can we each do differently – individually and together – to make a real difference?
Also included in this newsletter are:
Resources about Waitangi, which reflected significant Christian influences
Waitangi Day isn’t just a national holiday. It marks the birth of our nation. Although the Treaty remains a mystery to many, it appears that people are starting to realise that knowing about the history of Aotearoa-New Zealand is fundamental to calling ourselves New Zealanders. Last September, the government announced that NZ history will be taught in all schools by 2022 and will be compulsory from years 1-10, and from year 11, schools will choose which subjects their students are required to take.
How much of NZ’s history are we acquainted with? Particularly our Christian heritage and the role the church and early missionaries played in helping form this nation. See our special Waitangi section below, with links to some articles and resources you may wish to peruse.
Top musical Māori artists joined forces to produce a visual album showcasing the live recording of eight moving and uplifting waiata whakamoemiti (gospel songs).
Information on many opportunities, invitations and events coming up soon
Rounding out the newsletter is an extensive list of opportunities, invitations and events coming up soon. Please take the time to check them out. There is something for everyone, including those in ministry, and information about some critical matters currently before Parliament.
Amid the continuous spread of the Corona Virus, now called COVID-19, the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) calls for churches to join in prayers for the millions affected directly and indirectly.
WEA Secretary General Bp Efraim Tendero said: “We have been following with concern the news of the outbreak and spread of COVID-19 over the past weeks, first in China and then internationally, and we know that many among our constituency have already been praying for those affected. We would like to now specifically call on churches and individual believers to take time to pray for God to intervene in this crisis and stop the virus from spreading any further.”
COVID-19 has already infected tens of thousands and claimed some 1,400 lives. “We are expressing our condolences for those who have lost loved ones and pray for speedy and full recovering for those still suffering of the disease,” Bp Tendero commented and added: “We are also conscious of the very challenging situation of the millions who have been under quarantine for weeks in affected Chinese cities, and the increasing worry about the economic situation that will affect many individuals and families even when the health crisis will be long gone. Please join us in prayer as a global family of believers who are concerned for our brothers and sisters in Christ, their loved ones and beyond.”
Specifically, you can pray for:
the wisdom of governments as they respond to the immediate crisis, first and foremost the authorities in China where the situation is most severe;
the virus to be contained and new infections to rapidly decline;
the speedy development of an effective vaccine;
strength and hope for those most affected in Hubei province to persevere despite the ongoing lock-down of their cities;
those who already are or soon will be affected by the emerging economic consequences of the health crisis, especially those whose livelihoods may be threatened because of losing their jobs.
“We are saddened by the daily increasing numbers of infected people and those who lost their lives due to the virus and pray with urgent heart for a fast turn-around of the situation, but we also hold onto hope in our loving God who intervenes in visible and invisible ways in times of tragedy,” Bp Tendero said. “We are thankful for a much speedier response to the current virus than what had been seen in the past; we are grateful that the vast majority of infected people are experiencing full recovery; and we pray that God’s presence and his all-surpassing peace and comfort would be with those who have lost loved ones. Together with the Psalmist, we pray: ‘Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him.’” (Psalm 62:5)
Concert organist Martin Setchell plays the Toccata on Joy to the World from his 3-Piece Suite, on the Rieger organ in the Christchurch Town Hall, New Zealand.
Acoustic Version of ‘Joy To The World‘ (Joyful, Joyful) from Phil Wickham’s new album ‘Christmas’
The Lord is come, the Lord is coming!
Isaac Watt’s famous carol Joy to the World candidly notes that our human existence is full ‘sins and sorrows’. The world has seen plenty of both this past year, not least in the Christchurch terrorist attacks and in the recent volcano tragedy. But the song-writer exultantly declares the joyful reality that ‘the Lord is come’: the Saviour of the world has now entered this world, bringing the priceless wonders of God’s love, grace, and truth. That is indeed cause for joy. For all who on earth who ‘receive her King’, there is reconciliation with God, new birth, peace, and a confident anticipation of eternal life.
Inspired by Psalm 98, Watt also looked ahead to that time when the Saviour shall return, in all glory and power, and there will be no more sin or sorrow, and the whole of creation shall be filled with the glory of God and shall sing the praise of God. So remember the big picture: the Lord is come, and the Lord is coming!