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Letter from Australia

November 1999 | by Jim Cromarty

I write this letter in the comfort and security of my study. We have just returned from three weeks holiday at a small seaside village called Lennox Head. It was just Val and I and the dog. There was no telephone in the house where we were staying and I didn’t turn on my laptop.

During the sunlight hours Val and I (and Wags) spent many enjoyable hours wandering along the sandy beaches. The many spare hours I spent reading volumes from the Welwyn Commentary Series. They are fine devotional reading, which I heartily recommend to all.

While there we visited two country schools at which I taught many years ago — Iron Pot Creek and Repentance Creek (where I was converted in 1958). We met several of the ‘children’ I taught and it was good to talk over experiences of many years ago.

Australia today

The football fever is over and cricket is about to commence. Australia has defeated Russia in the semi-finals of the Davis Cup. Summer will soon be with us and the beaches will become the popular haunts for most people.

Sport is the religion of many people and we have the right climate for such a way of life. Olympic fever is starting to spread, with the realisation that in just under one year the world will be watching the opening ceremony.

While we enjoy these conditions, Australian troops, with others, are in East Timor, risking their lives to bring peace and order to a land that has suffered social and political unrest for many years. The troops and relief organisations have discovered evidence of widespread killings, torture and destruction, by people with little regard for their fellow-man. When we read of what has happened in Timor and other parts of the world, Christians have no difficulty believing the doctrine of original sin. We pray for our soldiers, that they might restore Timor to a place of security and peace. And we pray for the spread of the gospel in the Muslim countries to our north.

Gambling life away

Socially, Australia faces the same problems as most Western nations. A recent report on divorce shows that marriages are falling apart at a very fast rate. 51,288 couples divorced in 1997, giving the duration of an average marriage as 11.1 years. This means that our divorce rate is the third highest in the Western world, after USA and Great Britain.

A report on Australian gambling habits has highlighted the many social problems caused by this industry. The report has shown that 2.3% of the population (330,000 people) can be termed ‘problem gamblers’. This small group lost $3.8 billion and caused public expenditure of $5.2 billion as a consequences of their activities — this being the cost of bankruptcy, counselling, courts, gaols, divorce and separation, depression and suicide.

In New South Wales 10% of State income is derived from taxes on the gambling industry. While politicians see the social problems, they are unwilling to reduce gambling outlets since this would upset their budget.

The Prime Minister, Mr Howard, has labelled gambling ‘a social evil’. When asked why Australia, with 1% of the world’s population, had 21% of the poker machines, he replied: ‘This is an achievement of which I am ashamed … I think gambling is a significant social evil in Australia and there is no point in beating about the bush when you have got a situation where we gamble twice as much as the Europeans and the Americans’.

Happiness is …

Despite these and other social problems, a recent study indicates that the vast majority of young people long for a happy life. A compiled ‘wish list for today’s teens’ elicited such desires as:

‘Long happy life, with a happy family who love each other’.

‘To repay my parents for all they have given me’.

‘To be happy for the rest of my life, no matter what I am doing, just as long as I am doing something that I love doing’.

‘For my dad’s horses to win a few races, and go in the Melbourne Cup one year’.

‘Find happiness in anything I do’.

‘Normal family life … in a suburb … a few kids. Good children, not the kind that nick off and kill someone’.

‘More money than I can spend — so no financial problems’.

‘Perfect health for me, my family and my friends for the rest of my life’.

‘A successful career in whatever I choose’.

What is missing is so obvious — there is no reference to God and the Christian life.

The state of churches

However, the state of many churches would turn young people away from attendance. The Anglican Church suffered a bombshell recently when a senior bishop admitted to committing adultery fifteen years ago. (Such things happen in all churches, including Evangelical ones.)

Some time ago I commented on a jockey (attending a somewhat charismatic church) who professed his faith in Christ and gave up his lucrative work to study for the ministry. How sad to see him now returning to his old profession. His change of heart has brought shame on the name of Christ.

We should all be praying for such people that, through study of the Scriptures and the prayers of God’s people, they might be won to the Reformed faith and become monuments to the saving grace of God.

The influence of Rome

The Anglican Church has recently received a report from a committee it established thirty years ago. The remit of the committee was to work with Roman Catholic theologians to investigate the possibility of union. The head of the Anglican Church in Australia is reported as saying: ‘Anglicans may be prepared to accept the authority of the pope to teach infallibly on matters of faith and morals, but not without changes in the style of papacy’.

The committee concluded that ‘the bishop of Rome offers a specific ministry concerning discernment of truth which flows from Christ’s promise that in matters of faith his church can never err from the truth’.

Not all Anglicans said ‘Amen’ to these statements. Dr Peter Jensen, Principal of Moore Theological College, said that the commission’s conclusion was ‘astonishing’ and ‘would create a profound crisis for the Anglican Communion’.

Politically, the Roman Catholic Church has infiltrated the corridors of power in a way unthinkable fifty years ago. I noticed a comment in a well-known newspaper: ‘Catholics are now secure inside the strongholds of power — not just the Labour Party, but the Coalition too. The Jesuits educated four of John Howard’s cabinet. Tim Fischer [ex-Deputy Prime Minister] was another Jesuit boy. This strength of [Roman Catholic] representation around a conservative Cabinet table would have been unimaginable even 20 years ago’ (Sydney Morning Herald, 31 July 1999).

Pray for revival

In spite of everything, we have much for which to thank God. There is food on our tables, a good degree of harmony amongst our citizens, a lovely climate and a vibrant Christian church — small in number, but alive and promoting the glory of Christ. Nevertheless, in the light of all these things, we need to pray for the church in Australia, that it might be revived.