27 November 2007

December 2007

by Rod Benson

In September the Theological Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance published “The Philadelphia Statement,” biblically grounded and theologically rich, with a strong emphasis on the kingdom of God, and collaboration with God in mission.

Surprisingly for a non-Catholic statement, it urges social and political consensus “with all who seek peace and the common good,” and calls individuals and groups “to participate in actions and programs which aim at overcoming social evil and which enhance the common good.” This is a huge task, but there will be disagreement on what constitutes “evil” and “good.”

The Statement also makes strong claims for the integration of evangelism and social justice:

(a) “Both evangelism and social action are essential dimensions of the gospel”;
(b) “[The church ought to] bear witness in life, word and action to the power of the gospel to transform lives and societies”;
(c) “The notion of a purely privatized faith in which the gospel only affects individual, personal or family life but has no wider implications for society must be rejected as inadequate”;
(d) “We must commit ourselves to the common life of faith and action which will lead to a transformation of the world in which we live.”

This is compelling, but why do so many peak evangelical gatherings feel the need to issue statements advocating integral mission?

First, evangelicals have often been unfaithful to the biblical witness, and to generations of pastors and theologians who have sought to apply the biblical teaching on social justice.

Second, evangelicals are often guilty of promoting radical individualism and pragmatism at the expense of communitarianism and a serious commitment to radical discipleship. Taken to extremes, these ideologies threaten the integrity and viability of ministry and mission.

Third, evangelicals have often failed to find effective ways of engaging the political process. Often the articulation of public policy options leads to conflict, degenerating into slanging matches, stony silences or standoffs.

Until we all address these issues, evangelicals will be criticised as socially irresponsible, and will need to be reminded by scholars of the radical and holistic nature of the gospel.

Rev Rod Benson is Director of the Centre for Christian Ethics at Morling College, Sydney.
November 2007

by Rod Benson

Despite much media preoccupation with youth and youthfulness, Australian society is rapidly greying. Soon one in four Australians will be over 60 years old. Younger adults will feel increasing pressure to care for older citizens, and fund their health and lifestyle requirements through taxes. Politicians will feel strong pressures as they listen to the perspectives of ageing people and consider just responses. Similar pressures face church leaders.

Age-related change occurs throughout the life cycle, but in Australia “ageing” is culturally assumed to begin between about 55 and 65 years, often coinciding with retirement. Ageing impacts people in diverse ways and can be unpredictable and stressful. Life experiences, attitude and psychospiritual factors all have a bearing on one’s outlook as the existential “autumn” and “winter” of life set in. For some, ageing can be crushing and soul-destroying experience.

Scripture accepts the transitory nature of youth and reflects frankly the problems and issues we face as we age. At the same time, it presents older persons as dignified, venerable and wise; longevity as a reward for virtuous living; and advanced age as a gift from God. Early Christian communities were led by “elders” – older men and women who possessed a wealth of knowledge and skill built over a lifetime of experience. Ageing community members received special respect and care, and developing leaders were coached and mentored by their elders, including the pastoral care of older persons.

Throughout Scripture, life involves positive development and change, and the idea of permanent retirement is unknown. Ageing is divinely intentional and part of what it means to be a human person. The capacity to “do” things is not the definitive measure for determining someone’s worth and value.

To reflect on passages such as Genesis 3:19, Exodus 20:12, Proverbs 3:1-2 and 16:31 is to recognise how far we have drifted culturally and theologically from the image of ageing as a sign of wisdom, long life as a symbol of blessing, and grey hair as glorious.

What can you, and your church, do to swim against these cultural trends that threaten to swamp and impoverish our community life?

Rev Rod Benson is Director of the Centre for Christian Ethics at Morling College, Sydney.