Jesus meeting with Pilate still haunts us. Already he is religiously expendable, set up in a show trial and before long he will be politically expendable, just another human casualty at the hands of those in power. He dares to say that his kingdom is the kingdom of truth, only to have Pilate dismiss him with the question “What is truth?”
On Good Friday, the Son of God is just another face in the crowd of those who have dreamed of what human life could be, a threat to those in charge and another voice that can be ignored.
Yet, on Easter Sunday the Risen Christ shakes all the principalities and powers that blind us with their visions of power and wealth. He is the act of a God who wants to liberate us with living words and authentic life that rings true.
Jesus had said before Pilate: “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
In a time which values reason and argument and party, give us ears to hear those who speak the truth in the way of Christ.
“There is a voice I can trust.” In his company truth becomes shalom, peace; a peace with one another and a peace with God.
Rev Dean Drayton
President Uniting Church in Australia
Rev Drayton is available for interview on request
For some time various people have been telling me that I must read Don Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. So I did.
It does not pretend to be a great literary work, just a novel; a thriller about a Harvard professor in search of the Holy Grail. On the surface it is just another tale that captures your attention and holds it, as well as any John Grisham novel.
Its extraordinary success and controversial content, however, have made it more than a best-seller. Some critics are calling it a ‘phenomenon’. There are a number of web sites devoted to discussing Brown’s view of theology and history. There are TV documentaries that will be aired this year to examine the books claims.
The book promises to reveal secrets about Jesus, secrets long suppressed by the church and other religious organisations; secrets that debunk traditional and orthodox views of Jesus and early Christianity. While we live in a culture that is still fascinated by the person of Jesus, there is wide spread biblical illiteracy. Fewer and fewer people are able or equipped to discern fact from fiction. Moreover, the novel’s first page declares ‘FACT…all descriptions of art, architecture, documents and secret rituals in this novel are accurate’. Thus, most readers are likely to think that the book contains more fact than fiction. It is possible, unless challenged, Brown’s views will become mainstream, and the credibility of historic, authentic Christian faith will be further eroded.
Without going into much detail, here is a short tour of the seven deadly historical errors in the book, drawn from Ben Witherington’s excellent book The Gospel Code.
Error 1: The canonical Gospels, that is Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, are not the earliest Gospels, rather the earliest are the suppressed Gnostic Gospels such as the Gospel of Philip or the Gospel of Mary. This claim is made several times in the book, by the fictitious experts Teabing and Langdon. There is, however, no credible evidence to support such a view. The Gnostic Gospels were written in the late 2nd or even the 3rdcentury AD, while the gospels in the New Testament were written in the second half of the first century.
Error 2: Jesus is a great man, but was never proclaimed divine until the Council of Nicaea in the 4th century. This is patently false. Jesus is called ‘God’ (theos) seven times in the New Testament, including in John’s Gospel, and he is called ‘Lord’ (kyrios) in the divine sense on numerous occasions. All the Council of Nicaea did was formalise what the New Testament has clearly taught.
Error 3: Emperor Constantine suppressed the ‘earlier’ Gnostic Gospels and imposed the Canonical Gospels and the doctrine of divinity of Christ on the church. Simply not true. Neither the Western nor Eastern Church ever accepted the Gnostic Gospels, because they were clearly fictional. It was not a case of suppression, simply one of recognising the major historical flaws in the ‘late’ (not ‘early’) Gnostic Gospels. By 130AD most of the New Testament, as we have it, was seen as authoritative. Irenaeus reports this, as does the Muratorian Canon from the second century. Constantine certainly presided over the Council of Nicaea, but there is no reason to believe he shaped its conclusions. Certainly he helped spread Christianity, but he did not engineer the canonizing process.
Error 4: Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene. The New Testament is completely silent on this issue. Brown quotes the late 3rd century Gospel of Philip, but on further examination, this seems highly unlikely. The Gospel of Philip uses the term ‘companion’ which does not mean ‘spouse’. The suggestion of a ‘kiss’ in the Gospel of Mary, is the common ‘Holy Kiss’ referred to by Paul in I Cor:16. This is simply an early form of Christian greeting, not evidence of romance.
Error 5: Jesus must have been married since he was an early Jew. This argument again is flawed. Most Jewish men did marry, but several ancient Jewish authors attest to the fact that some early Jews were called to celibacy. There is no reason why Jesus could not have been one of them. (see Matt. 19. v10-12. for further reasons).
Error 6: The Dead Sea Scrolls along with the Nag Hammadi documents are the earliest Christian records. What a howler! The Dead Sea Scrolls are purely Jewish documents, there is nothing Christian about them. There is no evidence any of the Nag Hammadi documents existed before the late 2nd century, with the possible exception of the Gospel of Thomas, which is mid 2nd century.
Error 7: The Church suppressed the ‘sacred feminine’. Brown contends God was organically a female deity. Nonsense. The God of the Bible is neither male nor female, rather God is Creator and God is Spirit (John 4:v24).
In Shakespeare’s King Henry IV, Part Two, the king rebukes Prince Hal, who is contemplating his father’s death and his own assumption of the throne, saying ‘Have you a ruffian that will ….commit the oldest sins in the newest kind of ways?’ There is nothing very new about the religious agendas underlying The Da Vinci Code. It is simply a bad amalgam of paganism and, strangely enough, old Gnosticism brought back to life by a masterful storyteller. It can be quite entertaining, but also misleading. We need to treat this book as what it really is – not historical fiction, but almost entirely fiction, at least when it comes to its assumptions and assertions about Jesus, Mary Madgdalene and early Christianity.
A fascinating read, but riddled with historical and theological distortions. Buyer and reader beware.
Darwin resident Sharon Davis has been awarded the prestigious Louis Ariotti Award for her role in developing aged care services in the Territory and the Kimberley.
The award was presented at the 8th National Rural Health Conference held in Alice Springs over the last 4 days. It recognises innovation and excellence in rural and remote health in areas such as research, policy, leadership and service development.
Mrs Davis is the Northern Regional Manager of UCA Frontier Services – the organisation that was founded as The Australian Inland Mission in 1912 by another legend in innovative care for Outback communities, Rev John Flynn (“Flynn of the Inland” – who appears on the $20 note).
“We have a great example to follow in our founder, John Flynn”, said Mrs Davis. “He was not one to take no for an answer when it came to the health and welfare of people in the bush. I hope I have been able to demonstrate some small measure of his passion in developing care services for the elderly in the Territory.”
Mrs Davis was nominated by the National Director of Frontier Services, Rosemary Young. “For over a decade, Sharon has made an outstanding contribution to the development of services for the frail and aged and to training those who provide that care in the remotest regions of the continent,” said Mrs Young.
“Sharon joined Frontier Services in 1993 at a time when there were very few services, residential or otherwise, for older Territorians. She became the strongest and most passionate advocate for a variety of aged care services to meet the needs she identified, particularly for older indigenous people.”
“She has been instrumental in the development of dementia services and has taken a lead in ensuring accreditation standards are flexible enough to accommodate culturally appropriate care and remote service provision.”
“Sharon has developed partnerships with indigenous communities, developed training programs that can be delivered to remote communities and developed innovative programs that allow elderly people to remain at home even in very remote communities. She has encouraged and enthused our staff to stretch the system to its limits to ensure provision of quality care no matter where it is to be delivered.”
“I believe Sharon Davis has been instrumental in changing the face of aged care in the Northern Territory,” said Mrs Young. “Ten years ago, services for the elderly were minimal indeed in the Top End and the Centre. Today, a full range of care services can be accessed in most regions in the Territory, and that is due in no small part to the tenacity of Sharon Davis who constantly insists on ‘thinking outside the square’ when it comes to ensuring quality services for frail and aged in Northern Australia.”
Sharon Davis will take long service leave this year and plans to spend the time in Chenai, India, where she will provide advice on the development of aged care services in a very different, yet equally challenging environment.
“I hope they are ready!” said Mrs Young.
Uniting International Mission would like to announce the arrival in Australia of the International Coordinators for the Young Ambassadors for Peace (YAP) program.
The Coordinators are committed and enthusiastic people who have completed the regular YAP training and are now recognised as leaders, responsible for coordinating YAP within their communities. The Coordinators at the conference are from Indonesia, North East India, Sri Lanka, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Thailand.
Their main priorities on this visit include;
1. Attending the first International YAP conference for Coordinators in Canberra.
2. Scheduled meetings with the High Commissioners from respective countries.
3. Discussions with AusAID staff.
In recent days there has been increasing discussion about abortion in the media. A number of persons have spoken on this matter. The President of the Uniting Church Assembly has today released a press statement that presents the Uniting Church position. The statement draws heavily on decisions taken previously by the Synods of NSW, Queensland, (as it then was) Victoria and Western Australia.
The Uniting Church believes that human life is God given from the beginning. We believe that all human beings are made in the image of God and that we are called to respect the sacredness of life.
We also believe Christians are called to respond to life with compassion and generosity.
When abortion is practised indiscriminately it damages respect for human life. However, we live in a broken world where people face difficult decisions. Respect for the sacredness of life means advocating for the needs of women as well as the unborn child.
We reject two extreme positions: that abortion should never be available; and that abortion should be regarded as simply another medical procedure.
It is not possible to hold one position that can be applied in every case because people’s circumstances will always be unique.
It is important that women have the space they need to make an appropriate decision after careful consideration. The current abortion laws allow women to do this in whatever circumstances they face.
Women must be free to discuss their situation before they make a decision. The Church needs to be a place where such discussion can happen. We can offer spiritual, moral and pastoral support to a woman at this time.
Whilst we encourage our Ministers to remind people of the sacredness of life, the Church’s role should be to offer care and support leading up to and following a decision, not stand in judgement.
The Uniting Church is disturbed that recent comments could imply that women make the decision to have an abortion without proper consideration. Most women who have abortions do so only after a great deal of searching and anguish. There are a range of well informed spiritual, medical and emotional support services available to women and it is offensive to imply that these decisions are made lightly or without access to suitable consultation.
The decision to have an abortion is not just a moral issue but a social one. While the current debate attempts to pass moral judgement on the act itself, it ignores the many emotional, physical, financial and social issues that often create a situation where a woman is forced to consider an abortion.
The Uniting Church hopes that those engaged in this debate do not lose sight of the complexity of the issues.
Rev. Dr Dean Drayton
President Uniting Church in Australia National Assembly
Rev. Drayton is available for interview on request
A range of small group Lenten studies are available for UCA members to access this year, including a series from the Synod of Queensland, the Presbytery of Tasmania, a series from the NSW Synod’s ELM Centre for Lay Ministry and one from the Catholic Education Office targeting Christians from different traditions meeting together.
ELM Centre studies
Queensland Synod Lenten Studies 2005 series
Experiencing Jesus, is now available for use by small groups in congregations for study and reflection during Lent. They may also be used at other times during the year. The series of five studies will open up Biblical reflections on different ways people experience Jesus through change, healing, freedom, a second chance and real purpose. The studies will work best for small groups but may be used by individuals. These studies are provided free and can be photocopied for each member of your congregation or group. Congregations might encourage existing groups to study this material or plan to establish short-term groups which can meet in the time leading up to Easter. The studies are available for free download at http://www.journey.ucaqld.com.au/specialsynod/lentstudy05.php
"One Light, Many Journeys"
Date: Friday 25th of February 2005
Place: Woolley Common Room, Woolley Building A20, Science Road, University of Sydney NSW 2006
9.00 - 9.30 Registration.
9.30 - 9.40 Welcome and Introduction by seminar convenor
Dr Christopher Hartney.
Morning Session: Overviews
9.40 - 10.10 Professor Garry W. Trompf: (Professor in the History of
Ideas, University of Sydney) "The Interface of Religion and Politics in
Australia: An Overview."
10.10 - 10.40 Mr John Nijjem: (Department of Philosophy, University of
Sydney) "The Unholy Family; a Theological Critique of Christian
10.40-11.10 Reverend Elenie Poulos (National Director Uniting Justice
Australia [Uniting Church]) "Christianity and 'Family Values' Discourse."
11.10-11.30 Morning Tea
Mid-Morning Session: From the British and American Models to the
Australian Family Movement.
11.30-12.00 Dr Christopher Hartney (Lecturer, Studies in Religion,
Sydney, Department of History, UNSW): "Owning the concept of 'family' from the American Family Foundation to Fred Nile, The Festival of Light
and on to Family First."
12.00-12.30 Dr Carole M. Cusack (Chair, Studies in Religion, University
of Sydney): "Bellah's Second Model of Religion's Future and contemporary Australia."
12.30-13.00 Ms Frances Di Lauro (Postgraduate, Studies in Religion): "On Christian Particularism and Australian Politics: Positioning the
'Secularity' of Family First."
Afternoon Sessions: The Australian Case
14.00-14.30 Ms Amber Sparrow (Griffith University), "A New Kid on the
Block: Political Representation of the Christian Right in Australia."
14.30-15.00 Dr Marion Maddox (Victoria University, Wellington) "Religion
Under Howard and the Resurgence of Christian Politics"
15.00-15.30 Afternoon Tea
15.30-16.00 Professor John Warhurst (Professor, Political Science
Discipline, ANU) [reading a paper by] Haydon Manning (Flinders
University) and John Warhurst (Australian National University), "The old and new politics of religion [in the 2004 election]"
16.00-16.30 Mr Philip Quadrio (Philosophy, University of Sydney) topic:
16.30-17.0 Final Comments and Discussion.
Chair: Chris Hartney
This is a statement by the National President of the Uniting Church in Australia, Rev Dr Dean Drayton, following a meeting with the Minister for Immigration, Senator Amanda Vanstone, in Adelaide on Friday, January 7, while he was attending the National Christian Youth Convention.
A baptised member of the Uniting Church was forcibly deported from Baxter Detention Centre on the night of January 3, the New Year’s Day public holiday.
I immediately emailed both Senator Vanstone and the Prime Minister to express the Church’s disappointment at the decision
I was able to meet the Minister Vanstone personally while I was in Adelaide for the National Christian Youth Convention to personally explain the concerns we had.
I was encouraged by the meeting. The Minister was gracious, warm and open to our concerns.
Neither the Minister nor the immigration authorities will reconsider material which has already been examined in any case. But we have authenticated and documented the conversion of some asylum seekers who are baptised members of the Uniting Church.
We believe this should be considered ‘new information’ and so allow a new stage in their applications for humanitarian visas, permitting the Minister to consider them on a case by case basis.
The Minister also left the way open for further communication between us, which we appreciate.
It is my fear that members of the Uniting Church who are forcibly returned will face persecution and possible death at the hands of fundamentalist Islamic governments or groups.
Religious persecution is a reality in many parts of the world. It is expressly prohibited under the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, and as President of the Uniting Church in Australia, I have a duty to see that members of our church are not persecuted for their faith. This is not matter of choice, but one of deep pastoral responsibility.
As I said at the National Christian Youth Convention: “We are most concerned about former Muslims who have converted to Christianity being forcibly returned to fundamentalist Islamic countries.
“It’s hard for Christians in these countries. It’s even harder for people who have converted from Islam to Christianity. Under Islamic law they are seen as apostates – people who are traitors to Islam. In some countries this may be punishable by death.
“The Minister acknowledged that the Uniting Church has been careful and thoughtful in the way we have authenticated people’s conversions.”
Please pray for people on the Eyre Peninsula. We particularly pray for those who have lost loved ones. Please also pray for the small congregation at Wanilla, and for the ministry teams at churches like Port Lincoln, and Tumby Bay as they offer pastoral care.
The Moderator of the Uniting Church SA, Rev Dr Graham Humphris, has Written a pastoral letter to church members in the affected region in which he says: "It is in this awful situation that we, as part of your extended family known in the Uniting Church in South Australia, want you to know that we are grieving with you, praying for you and wanting to stand by you and support you in any way that we possibly can."
The President says that in this Sunday of mourning he makes the sad request to our congregations to now include at least one member of the Uniting Church who died in the fires and remember the many other families who are grieving in Southern Eyre Peninsular and beyond.
The Associate Director of the aid and development arm of the Uniting Church in Australia will travel to South India and Sri Lanka on Saturday to visit partner churches in areas affected by the Tsunami to assess the situation and coordinate where appeal funds are most urgently needed.
Uniting Church Overseas Aid, a member of the Australian Council for International Development, launched its Tsunami appeal last week and has already given $30,000 to its partner churches in the region to help them deliver medical assistance, food and water, clothing and counselling.
UCOA Director, Rev Laurie Fitzgerald said the Uniting Church has received many reports from its partners in the region since the Tsunami hit and launched its appeal a week ago to assist in the region.
“The Uniting Church is actively engaged in the region affected through our partners the Church of Christ in Thailand, the Church of South India (including the Jaffna Diocese in Sri Lanka), the Church of the North India Diocese of Andaman and Nicobar Islands and the Communion of Churches in Indonesia.
“The Uniting Church Tsunami Appeal will deliver funds directly to our partner Churches in the region and utilise their existing infrastructure buildings, equipment and local knowledge. Our experience is that churches are experienced in delivering aid assistance because in times of crisis they find themselves as a first port of call for those affected by natural disasters.”
Rev Fitzgerald said local Churches were already playing a vital role following the Tsunami.
“In South India people witnessed the tsunami swamp Chennai’s main beach. More than 1,500 people disappeared. The Bishop of Madras, Rev Dr V Devasahayam, reports that many people are homeless and that the Church alone is caring for 14,700 homeless people.
“While we have been able to express to our partners the deep sense of concern and compassion in the hearts of members of the Uniting Church here in Australia, most importantly we have been able to send assistance that has been used to provide relief assistance.”
“Our appeal will provide funds to allow this to continue and this visit will help us understand the need on the ground to ensure all money goes where it is most needed,” Rev Fitzgerald said.
Tax Deductible donations can be sent to: Uniting Church Overseas Aid - Tsunami Appeal
PO Box A2266, Sydney South 1235, NSW or made by phone by calling toll free 1800 998 122.