Australia is changing. From same sex marriage, to euthanasia; from gender fluidity to eroding religious freedoms: we’re experiencing seismic shifts in public morality and worldview. The Australia of today is not the same as the Australia of even five years ago.
This raises a variety of challenges for Christians and churches. Challenges that we must face if we’re to survive – let alone thrive – as God’s people in modern Australia.
And so, here are 8 things I’ve thought about that Christians should grapple with, if we’re to meet these challenges. This list is not exhaustive – much more could be said – but these are issues I’ve reflected on in recent months.
1) Christians Need to Develop a Biblically-Based Political Theology
We should not adopt or assume secular political worldviews.
I noticed some confusion among many Christians over how to respond to the recent same-sex marriage survey. Mature Christians were saying things like: ‘we live in a secular country, and so Christians shouldn’t force our views on others.’
It’s a popular view. But it’s undergirded by an unbiblical view of the relationship between politics and religion. It’s based on a ‘map’ of politics and religion given to us by the secular Enlightenment of the 18th century. Namely, that the public square is for politics, whilst the private domains of church and home are for religion (even if we maintain the boundary between them is porous).
But such a view is nonsense.
This so-called secular division between politics and religion is an ideological ploy. The public square is nothing more or less than a battleground of gods. And the church is a political institution inhabited by citizens of heaven who bear a distinctly political message: Jesus is King.
And so, Christians need a political theology shaped by the Bible, not by secular ideologies.
(You can read more of the implications of such at a political view here.)
2) Christians Should Develop a Confident Voice in an Increasingly Hostile Public Square
Silence is not always golden.
The temptation to shut-up and not preach the culturally jarring parts of God’s word have increased, and will continue increasing. (Especially if the current Dean Smith bill on SSM is passed.)
Churches will be tempted to ‘shut-up’ for fear of coming across as ‘unreasonable’ or falling afoul of ramped up hate-speech laws.
But we must not be cowed into silence – either by the state, or by our culture.
As Christian scholar Luke Bretherton explains:
The state oversteps its proper limits when it seeks to determine when, where, and in what voice the church may speak. Conversely, the church falsely limits itself when it only acts and speaks within the conditions set for itself externally.’
The church must speak the gospel to a dying culture, whether they want to hear it or not (cf. 2 Tim 4:2). And Christians must be prepared to speak up for justice, for the good of our neighbour, especially the most vulnerable – even if we’re legally pressured not to.
3) Christians Should Learn How To Live As an Increasingly Despised Minority On The Margins Of Australian Public Life
Being on the fringe brings certain pressures.
We’re increasingly a despised minority. Mainstream culture has officially left us and our (so-called) ‘bigoted’ views behind. And so, we need to learn how to live as a despised minority.
Among other things, we’ll need to get used to being seen as weird, unreasonable, even dangerous (especially when it comes to our views on sexuality).
It will mean losing many of privileges, and at times even our human rights. Campus Christian groups, Churches meeting in public school halls, and perhaps even funding for Christian school & charities will come under increasing pressure.
And when these things happen to us, will we live as a grace-filled minority, like the original readers of 1 Peter? Will we be gracious to those who attack us? Instead of retaliating, will we follow in the footsteps of Christ, who ‘did not revile in return [and] did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly’ (1 Peter 2:23)?
Are we going to live open and honest Christian lives, even though we come under pressure: knowing that God often uses our controversial lives to bring others to Himself? (cf. 1 Peter 2:12)
Or will we grow discouraged? Will we give in and go with the flow?
4) We Should Joyfully Grab Hold of the New Opportunities that Come With Being a Despised Minority
Yes, there are pressures. But there are also opportunities.
Minority status doesn’t just bring new pressures: it also brings new opportunities. For one, we stand out a lot more when we faithfully live the gospel. People take notice – in a way they might not have noticed when mainstream culture had similar views and ethics (cf. 1 Peter 2:12).
It also forces us to trust in God in ways we might not have otherwise. After all, if identifying yourself as Christian risks bringing suspicion upon you at work, then you’ll need to depend on God a lot more. This will be wonderful for our godliness – even if our social standing suffers.
And it will help us better identify with – and support – God’s marginalised churches overseas who often have it much worse than us.
5) Our Churches Should be Ready To Welcome Refugees From the Sexual Revolution
It’s encouraging to see many churches growing in their ability to welcome and minister to people who are same sex attracted, transgender, and otherwise struggling with their sexuality. Sadly, this hasn’t always been the case.
But as mainstream culture adopts a radically different view of gender and sexuality (based on a different understanding of personhood), there’ll be much fallout. People will get hurt. They’ll struggle in ways they might not have otherwise. And so churches need to be ready to welcome these refugees from the sexual revolution. We must be prepared to share our lives and the gospel with them – pointing them to the hope and satisfaction found only in Christ Jesus.
6) We Need to Understand the Relationship Between ‘Social Action’ and Gospel Proclamation
They are distinct but inseparable activities.
I’ve heard Christians says that we shouldn’t concern ourselves with what goes on in wider society – instead, we should just get on with preaching the gospel. According to this line of thinking, we shouldn’t get too interested in questions over politics and public policy: it’s just like rearranging deck chairs on the sinking Titanic.
While our primary calling as Christians is to share the gospel and make disciples (e.g. Matt 28:19), it’s not our only calling. We’re also commanded to love our neighbours, and do good to them – be they Christians or non-Christians (Gal 6:10). This involves practical acts of service (e.g. Jas 1:27, 2:14-17).
And as people living in a democracy with political responsibility, it also means engaging with public policy, even if it’s only occasionally.
Yes, gospel preaching and social action are different activities. Yes, gospel proclamation takes priority. (I think my tribe of reformed evangelicals understand that well.) But they’re both inseparable to those who would live out the fruit of the gospel.
So, on the one hand, we mustn’t fall into the trap of thinking social and political action is the same as gospel preaching (it’s not). But nor should we think that disengaging ourselves from society and its needs is a godly way of living.
We need to do both – even as we prioritise gospel proclamation.
7) We Need to Remember This World Is Not Our Home
So let’s stop treating it like it is.
Recent political events can leave us feeling discouraged. We might wonder what’s happening to our world. We might fear for the future – especially for our kids and grandkids.
Yes, we might be concerned. But we shouldn’t be surprised.
As author Paul Tripp puts it:
The heaven that we all long for is yet to come. We live in the uncomfortable moment between the glories of our justification and the glory of our final union with Christ for eternity.
And where do we live in-between? We live in a world that has been, and continues to be, devastated by sin.’
And so it’s foolish to depend on this world for our hopes, dreams, joys. It’s going to disappoint – sometimes badly. We shouldn’t live for the Australian Dream, but for the Kingdom that cannot be shaken.
The sooner we realise this, the better off we’ll be.
8) We Need to Get Better at Dialoguing Across Differences
American author Rosaria Butterfield points out that that since SSM was legalised in America, the vitriol in public discourse has increased – not just from advocates of SSM, but also from many Christians. When attacked with vitriol, these Christians responded in kind.
But is attacking our attackers a God-honouring response?
Not at all.
There is a better way – a ‘most excellent way’ – and it involves seeking first to understand, and only then to be understood. It means being quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry (James 1:19).
Sure, not all our opponents will want to engage and discuss. But some will. And by sitting across from those who think differently – breaking bread with them, hearing their point of view – we will often gain opportunities to share our worldview. Sharing our hope. Sharing our lives. And sharing the gospel (1 Peter 3:15).
Jesus: the One Who Rules Even Over Opposition
We don’t know what the future holds. But we know that increasing cultural and even legal opposition is likely.
And yet, we mustn’t get discouraged. Christ Jesus is still Lord. And we’re still His rescued people.
 Jonathan Leeman Political Church – The Local Assembly as Embassy of Christ’s Rule (Downer Grove, IL: IVP, 2016), 14.
 Luke Bretherton, Christianity and Contemporary Politics: The Conditions and Possibilities of Faithful Witness (Maldan, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), 54. Quoted in Leeman, Political Church, 16.
 Paul Tripp, Lost in the Middle – Midlife and the Grace of God (Wapwallopen, PA:Shepherd Press, 2004), 61.