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Letter from Australia

March 1999 | by Jim Cromarty

The true church here is alive and bearing fruit to the glory of God.

1999 is an important year for the ‘Land Down Under’ as we face a referendum, the result of which will affect our future in the long term. For some years the issue of Australia becoming a republic has been hotly debated, and this year the question will be resolved by referendum.

The great god ‘Sport’

It is summer time, and bush fires in the south have already claimed the lives of four young fire fighters. But there are other important matters which occupy the time and energy of our people. It is that time of the year when the great god ‘Sport’ stands tall. Our climate, sporting facilities and beaches provide delightful amenities to spend the many hours readily available to most citizens. Visitors to Australia see for themselves the degree to which Australians love their sport and idolise their sporting heroes.

The year commenced with a fine result in cricket — England was defeated in the test cricket series! Now we face several months of televised one-day cricket matches. Then there was the annual end-of-year Sydney-Hobart yacht race, which attracts boats from many countries. International tennis in Australia floods the TV, and there is the continual reporting of preparations for the year 2000 Olympic Games.

However, like the gods of the heathens, ‘Sport’ demands its sacrifices. Charges have been made against some leading overseas cricketers accused of accepting bribes, while several Australian team members have admitted accepting money in rather strange circumstances. Some members of the international Olympic Games committee have been accused of accepting bribes and an overseas tennis player has been accused of taking performance-enhancing drugs.

The Sydney-Hobart yacht race commenced on a beautiful summer’s day, but ended in disaster when the fleet sailed into winds exceeding 70 km/h. Six men lost their lives and two thirds of the yachts failed to complete the course.

Yes, the god ‘Sport’ demands sacrifices.

Religious structure

But is our situation any different to that in most Western countries? I believe we all suffer the same problems. Recently published statistics present some depressing figures. In 1997 suicides were up by 14% on the previous year. 2723 people took their own lives, the ratio between males and females being four to one. What is distressing about these figures is that suicide was responsible for 19% of all deaths in the 15 to 24 year age group.

Christmas, with all its hype and commercialism, came and went, and this year it was noticeable that when leading church figures were interviewed for their comments, those from the Roman Catholic Church took precedence over the Anglican Church. In a past generation the Anglican Church had the prominent voice.

Melbourne cathedral
see image info

Statistically, the religious structure in Australia is ever-changing. In 1947, 88% of the population claimed to be Christian. This figure dropped to 74% in 1991 and 71% in 1996. The number of real Christians is, of course, much lower than indicated in the above statistic. In 1996, 25% of the population (22% of those aged 20 to 24) declared they had no religion or failed to answer the question concerning religious affiliation. The percentage decreased as the age of the group increased.

Another surprising piece of information was that the Buddhists and Muslims were included in the ten largest religious groups in Australia. During the period 1991 – 1996 the number of Buddhists grew by 42% and Muslims by 35%.

Fashion parade

And what are we to do? The spiritual situation is depressing, but Christians know that the future of our nation (and of the world) is in the hands of Jehovah. This is our confidence. There are places of heartening spiritual growth but, sad to say, the leaders of the bigger denominations have largely failed both God and the members of their churches.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, called for shorter services, and punchy sermons with more relevance to modern life, in the hope of attracting more to worship services. A senior Sydney bishop of the Anglican Church agreed — sermons, he said, should be between fifteen and twenty minutes, relevant and up to date in content, but maintain the core Christian message. What an outcry there would be if a school proposed to teach its pupils mathematics in one or two periods of 15 minutes each week! Minimisation of the message cannot be the answer.

As I typed these words I heard an advertisement on the radio for a local church activity: ‘All are welcome to the fashion parade being held for the …’

So many of our churches have totally lost their way. They present themselves as pleasant social organisations with an interest in helping the underprivileged. It appears that they have lost sight of the great message that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.

The need for revival

How we need revival! Christians know that this is the answer to our problems. Yet, all is not doom and gloom. Australia is a vast land with wonderful opportunities. We have many fine Christian men and women and many churches are lead by men of integrity, motivated by love for God and the desire to see the name of the Lord Jesus Christ glorified. There is no doubt that the true church here is alive and bearing fruit to the glory of God.

Recently Rev. Andrew Stewart of the Glenmanus Reformed Presbyterian Church, in Northern Ireland, accepted a call to a congregation in the city of Geelong. He will be a real asset to the church in Australia. Andrew is well known for his contribution (on First Chronicles) to the Welwyn Commentary Series.

What God did for a jockey

1998 saw the conversion to Christ of Australian jockey, Darren Beadman (horse racing is very popular in Australia). He announced on TV his love for Christ and his intention to give up a financially rewarding career in the racing industry. He felt called to the ministry of a somewhat charismatic church. But a recent newspaper reported his love of Christ and his words: ‘No, I won’t be returning to the saddle’. His life now is filled with studies for the ministry, a host of speaking engagements, visiting Sydney’s Long Bay Jail where he speaks of Christ to the prisoners, conducting mid-week and Sunday worship services, and giving practical help to those in need.

What God can do for a jockey he can do for anyone. Australia needs heroes who stand firm for the things of God. Sad to say, our young people look up to the leading cricketers, footballers, golfers and tennis players. That is where the money is!

Australia is a wonderful country, has a great climate, a largely unified population and the prospect of a great future. But without God she will go the way of all nations that have turned away from the living God. Please pray for the blessing of God to rest upon the Land Down Under.

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