In the debate about school Scripture and Ethics Classes in NSW, I haven’t heard much about the historical background to the current arrangement between the State and churches. And I think that understanding this historical background would moderate a lot of the antagonism toward school scripture.
You have to understand that it was not always the case that the State was involved in education – that is only a relatively modern phenomenon. And this is certainly true in the early days of the colony of NSW! Back then the government was not at all interested in education – it was busy managing the business of a penal colony. And it was actually the churches who took up the role of educating children. They did this as they saw a great social need which they could serve – though education certainly wasn’t the main job of churches.
The important role that the churches played was not resented – but was in fact recognised and appreciated by those in government – and even supported. Since the early days the governor himself saw the need for churches to receive assistance from the government in the task of running schools, and this was formalised in the 1820′s with a Corporation which provided for the running of church schools. This was particularly necessary in a convict colony with only a small number of free settlers.
The colony began with strong Church of England roots – but also grew to include Presbyterians, Methodists and especially a large number of Roman Catholics. These denominations all began their own schools, not wanting other denominations to influence their children. This led to a profusion of schools – a few of them good, but more often these schools were small and badly run, even when the schools received a pound-for-pound subsidy from the government.
By the 1840′s the churches were struggling to run the profusion of churches in the colony. Under Governor Fitzroy the colony adopted a system modelled on the Irish National System. The majority of church schools would now be consolidated and looked after by the state, which promised to provide a general education that would be acceptable to all denominations, and in return the churches were allowed to come in during school hours to provide special religious education (SRE) according to their own denominations. This arrangement was enshrined in legislation.
However not every school transitioned to the government – the churches continued to maintain a few of the best schools, which continued to receive some government subsidies in the same way they had since the early years of the colony. Some of these schools exist today as the private church schools.
Today we have a situation where not many people understand the historical background of education in NSW, and think it is an abominable intrusion into public schools that should be free from religion. A lot of this feeling is based more on an understanding of the American arrangement of church, state and public schooling, rather than the history of education in NSW. We must remember that from the early years of the colony, schools were operated by the churches, and not by the state. And the public schooling system we know of now was only possible because denominations were assured they could teach Scripture during school hours (SRE).
SRE was never meant to be a threat to people of opposing religious beliefs. That is because the Roman Catholic priest, the Methodist minister, the Anglican minister could all come in and conduct instruction in their particular religion to children of their parishoners. And for the rest of the time all those kids could all receive the same general education. If anything, the arrangement between the state and the churches failed to foresee a time when there would be a militant, vocal atheist minority in the community. But even now, there are arrangements that take this into account – children can simply go to non Scripture.
Opponents of SRE would want to see SRE disappear from public schools. However this would mean that the government would be reneging on an arrangement which made our public school system possible in the first place – and which would arguably return control of public schools back to the churches!
A new subject called Moral and National Education will be introduced across all grades from Primary 1 through to Secondary 6, and will make up 3-5% of a student’s curriculum. The Hong Kong Education Bureau says that the subject is designed to instil national pride and belonging, and has released the curriculum guide as well as some teaching resources. However protesters are alarmed by its contents and see this as a move to influence younger people towards a more pro-Communist party stance.
The programme was to have begun in all schools across Hong Kong this year, but due to strong reaction, the mandatory introduction of the subject has been pushed back to 2015.
The announcement of the 1997 British handover of Hong Kong to China led to an estimated 10 percent of the population taking up citizenship in places like Canada, the United States, and Australia. This led to the huge wave of migration that we saw in Australia in the late ’80s and ’90s. See the following graph (click for larger version):
The relative stability and prosperity of Hong Kong since 1997 has meant that Hong Kong has seen a steady trickle of returnees going back to live and work there – perhaps as much as 30% of those who originally left. And this returnee trend has been felt in some Cantonese ministries here in Sydney.
However the prospect of this subject being taught in all schools from 2015 is likely to stem that flow of returnees – and some are talking about it creating a new wave of migration out of Hong Kong, particularly among young families – a wave of migration similar to the one we saw in the late 80′s and early 90′s. Emily Lau of the Hong Kong Democratic Party says here that, “some parents are talking about withdrawing the kids from the schools. Some are even talking about emigrating.” Moreover the central government is unlikely to be greatly troubled by this, as any exodus will only mean greater control over the governance of Hong Kong will pass to mainland Chinese who are increasingly looking to relocate to Hong Kong.
If this happens, the implications for ministry would be huge. While it seemed as though the future of Chinese ministry lay in Mandarin ministry, suddenly it appears that there may be a lot more work for Cantonese ministries all over, as new families migrate and look to find their feet, build friendships, and join churches. Cantonese ministries have done very well in the past in growing the gospel through relational networks – it remains to be seen if the current young Cantonese families in Chinese churches will be as evangelistically minded as the previous generation were.
It also means that Sunday schools and second generation ministries may need to prepare themselves for a new wave of Chinese youth joining youth fellowships and English ministries. The danger for these ministries will be complacency, as youth fellowships will grow because of transfer growth – and not because of true gospel growth.
And it would also mean that the involvement of Chinese churches in schools ministry, already necessary on account of Mandarin migration, will likely become even more important in coming years.
It’s a crisis for for economists who have seen the sudden collapse of financial systems and institutions they thought were very strong. And it’s such a crisis that governments have been pumping billions of dollars into economies to prevent them from stalling.
And it’s also a crisis for retirees and those close to retirement who have suddenly seen their retirement savings disappear almost overnight, or their retirement plans placed on hold indefinitely.
For these people, their whole lives – their worldview – will have changed dramatically.
But for many others, it’s hasn’t really been very much of a crisis…
Oh sure, some of us may have been fearful of losing our jobs, or have even lost jobs. It’s a crisis on that level – but it’s not actually been a very great crisis in the end.
Because those of us who are still relatively young and marketable, we believe we still have a long time to build up our wealth – we are not really all that worried!
You see, our world really hasn’t changed very much. In reality, many of us will still trust in wealth! In a few years many of us will still be investing feverishly like we were before. In a few years many of us will still look eagerly for the stockmarket to again increase our wealth inexorably. Once we know our jobs are secure, many of us will get right back into looking for that next promotion to take us higher and further in our careers.
In the end, the Global Financial Crisis will not have shaken our same basic trust in wealth. Yes, it will have been an inconvenience – it may have put our plans on hold for a few years, and it will definitely mean higher taxation for many years to come!
But for most of us, the GFC won’t really have taught us that wealth is unreliable…
10 Whoever loves money never has money enough;
whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.
This too is meaningless.Ecclesiastes 5:10 (NIV)
Glebe Point Road has become littered with empty shopfronts since the financial crisis hit, with at least 12 businesses shutting down. Signs in empty windows reveal that many have been locked out by landlords impatient for rental arrears.
An Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry survey yesterday showed small businesses experiencing the worst conditions in 13 years, with most pessimistic about economic growth in the year ahead. Falling demand from customers and difficulty obtaining credit from banks were the top impediments in the March quarter.
How do the different generations respond to the religion question on the ABS census? The following graph shows you how people represent themselves by age from the 2006 census (click graph for larger version stored at Photobucket).
The above graph is in terms of age of individuals. This next series of graphs shows you how generation groups as a whole tend to respond to the religion question.
Think Australia is reached? these graphs show just how far behind we really are – and also how we need to prepare ourselves for in evangelism.
Large sections of all generations still identify themselves as Catholics – believing that we are saved by faith plus works. And in Galatians Paul urgently wants people to know that such a gospel is a different gospel – one that is not a gospel at all (Gal 1:6-9).
Not only that, large segments of the younger generations identify themselves as ‘no religion’ (particularly Gen X, Y and the iGeneration).
And across the board, non Christian religions (eg. Buddhism, Islam, Mormonism) is actually quite a small percentage.
These graphs show that there is clearly a lot of work to do! And it also shows that in terms of preparing ourselves for outreach, it is still particularly important to sharpen ourselves to speak clearly about (a) Roman Catholicism, and (b) atheism/agnosticism. Though how we speak about these things might change because of generational differences…
[PS: any other observations you can make of these graphs? ]
In chapters 26-28 God addresses the nation of Tyre on the cost to the North of Jerusalem – and one of the interesting things about this section is what God has against Tyre. If you read those three chapters, it becomes clear that Tyre is a very cosmopolitan place. They are heavily engaged in international trade, and people from a whole catalogue of nations come to Tyre to do trade with her (eg. 27:12-23). Tyre is famous for its trade.
In chapter 28 the Lord God outlines why judgment will fall on Tyre – and it is primarily because of her pride (28:1-5). However there is also something else. Several times, God also condemns them for the way in which they conducted their trade. Here is verse 16, where he mentions the violence of their trade:
you were filled with violence,
and you sinned.
And verse 18, where God also condemns the unrighteousness of their trade:
in the unrighteousness of your trade
you profaned your sanctuaries;
The thing about commerce, business and finance type jobs is we figure they’re generally pretty upright. As long as you’re not doing anything illegal, the way you do business is a neutral thing in terms of Christianity.
However Ezekiel 28 warns us that this isn’t always so – in the case of Tyre at least, they conducted their trade in a way which God charaterises as violent and unrighteous. Perhaps it was the way in which they took advantage of people in their commerce. Or the way in which they leveraged their superior position for gain at the expense of others. We can’t really tell, but it is possible for the way we do business to be so violent as to incite God’s anger.
Might there be business practices today that would fall into this category? I would imagine so. I don’t know enough about the business world to say what they are, but this is probably something that Christians who work in the finance and business world need to consider carefully – instead of merely following the ways of the business world. Sure, that may be the way to maximise shareholder value and please your boss – but just because there are no laws against it doesn’t mean it is alright.
Would God consider your company’s business practices violent? or unjust? Would God consider what you do on a daily basis violent? or unjust?
You may not have come across a great deal of Christian critique of today’s financial systems and practices. But that doesn’t mean that Christians in the business world should be content with ignorance and uncertainty. Instead, you should be troubled that business practices could be seen as violent, or unjust in God’s eyes. And be all the more eager to think through God’s perspective of modern business practices.
[ PS: read any good Christian critiques on the business world? ]
One of these indices is the Power Distance Index – a measure of how close, or how distant a relationship superiors like to have with their subordinates, and that subordinates like to have with their superiors. My friend at Tsun-Am-I recently posted a link to a very useful website that shows you the PDI of various countries.
So a high PDI country is one where people prefer, or are used to having a large power distance between a teacher (say) and the students. These countries are Malaysia (104), China (80), Indonesia (78) and the Phillipines (94). And so the norm in such countries is for leaders to be highly respected, for people not to ask embarrasing questions, for students and subordinates to listen.
However low PDI countries are those which prefer, or are used to having a small power distance between the boss and the workers. These countries are Australia (36), New Zealand (22), Ireland (28) and the Austria (11). The norm here is for leaders to be accessible, to be at the same level as their subordinates, to be open to challenge and suggestions.
This is all about expectations, about what people are used to, what they have had modelled for them again and again during their formative years – and which they then take with them into their working life. And of course individuals will be different, but on the whole this gives you an insight into some of the conflict that can happen in a ministry training situation, or in a second-generation church.
Conflicts can happen when people who are born overseas (say Hong Kong with a PDI of 68, or Malaysia with a PDI of 104), starts to interact with those who are born or raised in Australia (with a PDI of 36). After a short while, those who are used to a higher PDI will find those who are used to a lower PDI to be disrespectful, disobedient, and to take an overy casual and relaxed approach to important things. However those who are used to a lower PDI will find those who are used to a higher PDI to be controlling, talking down to them, distant, making decisions for them without really consulting them.
One of the things that list of countries does is it immediately makes someone question the inherent rightness of their own culture. Are you really going to argue that a PDI of 68 is correct? what about 74, or 66? And are you really going to say that whole countries are wrong in their approach? Of course not. This is just our cultural preference. And what we, and in fact all cutlures need to do, is to submit our culture under the lordship of Christ. To allow our culture to be tested and transformed by the gospel – and love those from other cultures, whom God has also brought into his kingdom.
There are other differences between cultures that Hofstede has written about, which are really worth investigating for ministry (such as Individualism, with Australia at 90 and Hong Kong at 25). You can see them all from the link posted above!
[ PS: how close would you prefer your bosses / teachers to be with you? ]
But what should we do about terrorists – apart from protecting ourselves against them? Do we hate them back? hope the Americans deal with them?
In Matthew 5, Jesus tells his followers to love those who hate them, and pray for those who persecute them. Well, these terrorists certainly hate Christians. So do we love them? and how often do we really pray for them?
To that end, there is a relatively new website called Adopt a Terrorist for Prayer (www.atfp.org), which provides a database with profiles of over a hundred terrorists (all Islamic ‘extremists’). Some have been captured, while others are still at large. But all hate Christians, and are very far away from the gospel – at least, in human terms. The idea is that you or your Bible study group choose a terrorist, and pray for their conversion.
Sounds impossible? Then remember the apostle Paul, who was once a persecutor of Christians, breathing out murderous threats against them. And how Jesus appeared to him, and turned him into his apostle to the Gentiles… So why not Abd al-Aziz Awda, of the Islamic Jihad? or Khaled Mashal, chief of HAMAS’ Syrian branch?
It’s also been encouraging to see how Christians affected by terrorism – particularly US soldiers who have an active faith – have responded to the website. Often with deep humility and prayerfulness!
[ PS: hope you had a great holiday - our Bible study group had a picnic in a park! ]
This generation, for example, is the only one that cannot remember a time without the Internet influencing their information and relationships – and that has had a significant impact on them. This generation has also more wealth and options laid out before them than any previous generation before them.
What then are the features of Gen Ys? and how must our ministries adapt to reach this next generation for Jesus?
Here is a table I put together earlier this year for discussion with the pastoral team at our church.
|Characteristics of Gen Y||Challenges for Gen Y||How churches must adapt|
Easily go from one thing to another. Not committed to organisations or events, but to people.
|Must learn that discipline is the means to joy in Christ.||Don’t force Gen Ys to confirm to the church’s preexisting culture.
Affirm that organisations – even churches – are not perfect.
Put the emphasis back on people and mission, not organisation.
Rejection of the modernism of their parents; adoption of postmodern tastes and thinking.
Feeling as the new way of thinking.
|Must know that God’s ultimate revelation is found in the Bible.
Must learn grammatico-historical exegesis.
|Express the one truth in forms that appeal to postmoderns.
Let go of the organisational structure and rigidity of modernism.
Help them critique other views.
Free access to information (eg. Wikipedia), democratisation of news (eg. blogs), unprecedented exposure and access to pornography.
|Learn a robust Christian worldview.
Learn a Christian view of sex.
|Realise that churches can no longer control congregations by withholding information.
Help them to critique other views.
Teach about sex and pornography.
Friends are their new family/tribe – yet at the same time a depersonalisation of relationships (eg. Facebook friends).
|Learn godly relationships to parents, government and other authority figures.
Godly relationships with friends (eg. forgiveness, welcoming others).
|Model and explain godly relationships to authority figures.
Help build Christian networks of friends.
Looking for meaning in life through pleasure and fun.
|Must know contentment is ultimately found in Christ.||Show them that their ultimate joy is found in Christ.|
Think they have the right to luxury and expect to have the good things in life.
|Servanthood, the cost of discipleship.||People around them must show their joy in giving.|
Interest in environmental issues, climate change, etc.
|Not only to be concerned about renewable energy etc., but the spiritual dimension of the earth’s groaning.||Don’t unnecessarily annoy Gen Y where it can be helped (eg. lights, photocopying).|
The focus of this article is obviously Gen Y. In all of this I’m not assuming that Baby Boomers, or Gen Xers, have gotten it entirely right, or that Boomer or Gen X culture doesn’t need to be critiqued by the gospel. Not at all!
The gospel critiques all cultures – and calls on people of all generations to turn to him. And as they do so, the people of each successive generation will find different things they struggle with.
[ PS: can you think of other things you'd add to that table? ]
Well some members of the SCCCA English committee (and particularly Ernest Chiang) have updated that list and transported it across from Google Documents, into Google Maps. And here it is what it looks like (click on the map to go to a larger version stored at Photobucket):
There are now over 100 churches on the map, up from the 80 on the previous map. Notice how Ernest has colour-coded churches for the different regions. Please note also that this is a very broad classification of churches – it includes charismatic churches, health-wealth-prosperity churches, Vietnamese churches, Indonesian churches and even a Unichurch!
[ PS: can you see your church missing? ]