Sun, Jul 14, 2019

The fruit that we bear


Sadly, we all know about the horrific and systematic abuse of children in the Catholic Church…

and in the Anglican Church.

The ‘Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse’ has made that chillingly clear.

But the scope of the Royal Commission was much broader than just Catholics and Anglicans.

Some of us may be aware of abuse that transpired…

as well…

in a number of Uniting Church Schools…

and within the Salvation Army.

But one notable case examined by the Royal Commission––

which hasn’t received nearly as much publicity––

involves the huge, Pentecostal “Hillsong Church”.

The father of Hillsong’s founder, Pastor Brian Houston––

who was, himself, a Pentecostal pastor––

sexually molested a number of young boys…

including one, routinely, for about five years during the nineteen seventies.

In nineteen ninety-nine…

Houston’s mother reported her husband’s abuse to the Assemblies of God denomination…

to which both her husband’s church and Hillsong then belonged.

At the time, Brian Houston was the national president.

When his father confessed to the abuse, Houston suspended him from ministry… 


it is alleged…

he then used his position, as national president, to cover it up:

writing to member churches telling them not to make the allegations public;

so that his father was allowed to retire quietly.

The abuse was never reported to police.

The Royal Commission concluded that Brian Houston…

and the senior executive of the Assemblies of God…

failed to follow their own protocol for handling sexual abuse allegations;

and they formally censured Houston for covering it up.

He is still under investigation by the New South Wales police.

Meanwhile, he continues to lead the Hillsong Church.

And, just this week, at the Hillsong Song conference…

in Sydney…

Brian Houston shared the stage with Prime Minister, Scott Morrison…

and the two prayed together publicly.

Morrison has previously referred to Houston as a “mentor”.

And, despite having delivered the apology to victims of sexual abuse in parliament…

Morrison has never commented on Houston’s involvement.


Now, in raising this, I don’t want to comment on the behaviour of Houston…

let alone his father.

At this point, I’m more interested in the behaviour of Scott Morrison.

As Prime Minister, Morrison has made a big deal of his faith––


among other things…

this whole push for renewed “freedom of religion” legislation.

In his maiden speech to parliament, he asserted:
“faith is personal, but the implications are social––

as personal and social responsibility are at the heart of the Christian message”.

And I would want to ask Mr Morrison:

what sort of message does it send by appearing on stage with Brian Houston?

What sort of message does it send to the victims of clerical sex abuse?

How is this a demonstration of the “social responsibility” that––

you rightly claim––

is “at the heart of the Christian message”?

And while I would like to ask him the same sort of questions in regards to his attitude to…

and his actions towards…

asylum seekers…

that’s another whole story.

In one sense, it all illustrates the profound dilemma of the place of faith in the public sphere.

For his part, I’m sure Scott Morrison would argue that he is living out the “social responsibility” of his faith.

And, I have no doubt, he would probably point to his championing of religious freedom…

and his opposition to marriage equality.

And that, in a nutshell, is the dilemma.

There are widely divergent ideas about what it means to live out our faith publicly.

There are competing claims about what the “social responsibility…at the heart of the Christian message” involves.


And yet, in a sense, that’s nothing new.

It’s been going on since Christianity began.

And it’s the primary issue underlying the letter to the Colossians.

In this letter, the author––

writing in the name of Paul, but some time after Paul has died––

is addressing a difficult time in the church’s life.

Many of the first generation of Christ-followers have now died.

The return of Christ––

which had been expected in that generation’s lifetime––

hadn’t eventuated.

So, they were going through a process of reassessing.

There’s a shift in their thinking about the end times.

Indeed, rather than thinking about salvation in temporal terms…

they have begun to think in spatial terms––

the beginning of what would lead to the warped obsession with ‘heaven’.

And they’re also having to think more intentionally about how they live in the world.

And in that context…

there were increasingly divergent views and beliefs competing for acceptance.

There appears to be a group at Colossae obsessed with heavenly visions and such matters…

which they emphasised at the expense of earthly and material things.

In part, that led them to advocate a form of asceticism.

But it also manifested in a concern for ritual.

In a sense, they focussed on––

if you like––

the purely spiritual;

which they also understood in a more personal rather than corporate or communal sense.

Their faith was more personal and spiritualised…

and much less concerned with practical engagement with the world around them.

The author of our letter is trying to counter the influence of this group––

which he considers to be dangerous.

He begins…

in our reading this morning…

commending the Colossian church for their faith which…

he suggests…

is manifest in “the love that you have for all the saints”.

Indeed, he notes that their faith has been “bearing fruit”.


in contrast to the overly spiritualised and personalised faith of this divergent group––

he commends them for a faith that is practical;

one that is marked and characterised by love for others.

And he expands further on this as our reading progresses.

He prays that they would “be filled with knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding”.

And the Greek word translated here as “knowledge” is one that usual carries moral connotations.

He wants them to be filled with the ‘moral knowledge’ of God…

so that they would “lead lives worthy of the Lord”…

and “bear fruit in every good work”.

In other words…

the author argues…

our faith is to be seen in the way that we live––

in the fruit that we bear.

But also, conversely, how we live reveals the nature of our faith.

What we do, demonstrates what we believe.

What we do in God’s name, speaks of the God whom we worship.

And the author expects that the way that they live––

the fruit that they bear––

will involve “every good work”.

In other words, he expects that the way that they live will reveal the nature of God…

and, especially, the nature of God’s love.

Or, to put it another way…

the way that they live will reflect the light of God…

not the darkness of this world’s evil…

from which, the author claims, we have been liberated.


What this means for us, today––

is that how we live ought to speak of the love and light of God.

That is the “social responsibility…at the heart of the Christian message”.

How we live ought to reflect and reveal the love and light of God.

If what we do is not good, loving, or life-giving––

if it is not, ultimately, Christ-like––

then it is not of God;

no matter how much we profess to be ‘people of faith’.

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