Jesus and the Future – Matthew 24

It helps to look at Matthew 24 Mark 13 and Luke 21 side by side. Luke writing for his Gentile friend Theophilus put Jewish language into a form understood by Gentiles.

(a) Prediction Mt 24:1-3; Mk 13:1-4; Lk 21:5-6

(b) Questions Mt 24:3; Mk 13:3-4; Lk 21:7


(c) General Warnings Characteristics of the Entire Future Mt 24:44-8; Mk 13:5-8; Lk 21:8-11

(d) Specific Counsel for the Disciples (Mt 24:9-14; Mk 13:9-13; Lk 21:12-19) [Note Lk 21:12 – “But before all this”) Persecution/opposition will come as a result of their preaching, Lk v.12.

(e)  The Destruction of Jerusalem (Mt 24:15-22; Mk 13:14-20; Lk 21:20-24) [Note Luke 21:22 – “To fulfill all that is written”] Flee when armies surround Jerusalem to be instruments of God’s judgement: the end is not coincident with Jerusalem’s overthrow.

(f) Renewed warnings for “after those days” (Mt 24:23-28; Mk 13:24-27)

Christ’s return will not be on earth to be seen by a few but in the heavens to be seen by all.

(g) The return of Christ in glory (Mt 24:19-21; Mk 13:24-27; Lk 21:25-28)

Occurs immediately ‘after the tribulation of those days’ (Mt) ie the inter-advent period, and men are powerless before Christ’s glory.

(h) Signs of destruction of Jerusalem – act on them (Mt 24:32-34; Mk 13:28-30; Lk 21:29-32)

(i) No chronological signs and no date for Christ’s return (Mt 24:35-36; Mk 13:31-32

(j) The nature & importance of watching for Christ’s return (Mt 24:37-51; Mk 13:33-37; Lk 21:34-36)

To watch is not to know dates but to live in a godly way. Christ’s return comes in a time unexpected, in the midst of normality, and after what seems like delay.

Themes in the Book of Joshua

Caution: You have to read Joshua chapters 1 to 12.

The Book of Joshua is a lot more than about Joshua fighting the battle of Jericho, and it’s easier to understand than you might think – and personally challenging.

The book of Joshua really provides a fulfillment of the five books of Moses. It may be divided into two major sections chapters 1-12 cover the conquest of Canaan and chapters 13-24 the division of the land. As is typical of Hebrew history writing, a theological purpose shapes the form in which the narrative is given, and much is omitted about the conquest which should be included if a full record was desired. The importance of a form suited for a largely oral society is also reflected in the structure, a structure in which narratives are paired in different ways.

The content of the first half of Joshua’s book can be set out as follows:

Conquest of Canaan

1st phase – entering Canaan (chs 1-8)

1. Rahab spared 2:1-24

2. Jordon ‘stopped’ [Hebrew: ‘amad] 3-5

3. Jericho captured and burned 6:1-27

4. Achan put to death 7:1-8:29


2nd phase – conquering Canaan Chs 9-12

1. Gibeonites spared 9:3-27

2. Sun ‘stopped’ [Hebrew: ‘amad] 10

3. Hazor captured and burned 11:1-15

4. Canaanites put to death 11:16-23

If we now compare these pairs we see some very important points are being made.

1. Faith saves not physical descent

The book opens with encouragement to Joshua and the people to trust the LORD. The incident of Rahab, which often gets lost in arguments about her deception and lie, highlights that faith in the LORD brings deliverance. For all her personal hang-ups, and given her profession and Canaanite upbringing they’re not surprising, she risks her own life in order to save it . Hebrews 11:31 is right!
In the second phase the men of Gibeon also practice deception. But consider their position. They know the Canaanites are under the ban and that Joshua is obliged to kill them. They can’t simply go up to Joshua and ask to be spared. However, like Rahab, they are convinced that God is with Joshua. They therefore see no future unless they can secure a covenant with him. This they do by deception.

While their strategem is soon discovered they are safe because of that covenant. You could do worse than be a woodcutter or a water-carrier in Israel. The covenant with the Gibeonites was to be kept (10:6-7), and the LIRD avenged their slaughter by over-zealous Saul (2 Samuel 21). So the incident is not a warning to the church about receiving new members without enough enquiry, but a reminder that faith in the LORD is the key to blessing. As the Psalmist put it, he would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of the LORD than dwell in the tents of the wicked (Ps. 84:10).

2. The LORD acts for his people

On the way to Canaan the barrier of the Jordan river faces the Israelites. God removes this barrier by causing a blockage upstream so that the river is ‘stopped’ and the people can cross safely. From one viewpoint it’s a ‘natural’ event, but Biblically there is no such thing as a purely natural event for all is under the control and direction of the LORD. The incident recalls the earlier deliverance under Moses at the Red Sea, and the timing points to the hand of the LORD. It is he who gives them the land, not their swords or bows (Ps. 44:3).

Later Joshua is called on to save the Gibeonites from the Amorites. Joshua’s men must have been tired after their forced march the 30kms from Gilgal the night before, but they put the Amorites to flight. God sent a great hailstorm on the Amorites which killed many of them, and Israel gained a complete victory. This followed on Joshua’s cry to the LORD at midday (10:13) for the sun and moon to ‘stop’ (in context does this mean ‘to cease to shine’?).

It looks as though God answered Joshua by sending peculiar weather which included the severe hail and perhaps reflected the light of the sun and moon in a strange way, so that it gave respite from the heat to Joshua’s weary soldiers, yet light for them to continue their pursuit, while the Amorite army were struck by the storm which reduced it to a remnant easily finished off. Whatever the precise explanation it is clear that the LORD fights for his people.

3. The Capture of the Canaanite cities

The capture of Jericho is done in a peculiar way. Why the elaborate strategy? Even if we rejig the numbers of the Israelites to say the 18,000 fighting men John Wenham suggests (on the ground of translation error) we still have a significant fighting force. Jericho was not a very large place – a population of under 10,000 and a wall less than a kilometre long, according to the archaeologists. However, it was fortified and it represents the barrier to conquest. So what happens to it is the key to everything.

The soldiers, with the ark carried by the priests, go around the city every day, and on the seventh, which I reckon was a Sabbath, they go around seven times, and the walls fall at the blast of the trumpets. There is surely more than psychological warfare here. We have a picture of the overthrow of the kingdom of man on the great day which shall usher in the kingdom of God and the everlasting Sabbath. If this is right then the total destruction is fitting: fitting because the iniquity of the Canaanites was now fully developed; fitting because it pictures the Last Judgment in which all the wicked will perish, and the people of God enter into their true rest.

While certain other key Canaanite cities are destroyed, the Israelites were allowed to plunder Ai and also Hazor when Joshua destroyed them (chs. 8, 11).  Why is it we so often think God has nothing good in store for us?

4. Unbelief destroys regardless of physical descent

At first the Israelites are defeated trying to take Ai, a small place, and the problem is traced to Achan, who had taken plunder from Jericho. The sin of Achan is indeed serious. Although an Israelite he is not a person of true faith, and so perishes with the ungodly. If he had only trusted the LORD the opportunity to enjoy the bounty of Canaan would have been his as soon as Ai was taken.

Kings and great men of the unbelieving Canaanites are put to death (ch. 12), but neither are Israelites spared if they are unbelieving. If they do not trust their extraordinary God, if they do not rely on his covenant, they perish too.


So this little survey of the first half of the book of Joshua helps us see that there is much more here than a few bits of ancient history. The powerful message about safety only through faith in the LORD who had given his covenant to the fathers and proclaimed it through Joshua, is clear. And not all descended from Israel are Israel in truth (Romans 9:6).

‘These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.’(1 Cor 10:11)


John Calvin – the Man




An address by Dr Rowland S. Ward given on 24 October 2009

at Creek Road Presbyterian Church, Brisbane

John Calvin – a Frenchman who lived from 1509-1564 and was one of a number of notable Reformers of the Church.


Assessments of Calvin’s character have varied widely. In 1577 Jerome Bolsec called him “John Calvin of Noyon, a man among all others who were ever in the world ambitious, presumptuous, arrogant, cruel, malicious, vengeful, and above all ignorant.” He had a few other scurrilous comments which I don’t care to repeat here. Bolsec had left the Catholic Church in 1545 and for about 20 years flirted with Protestantism but was doctrinally astray. In fact he was banished from Geneva in 1551 over his denial of predestination. He rejoined the Catholic Church in 1561 and died about 1584.


Calvin’s successor at Geneva, Theodore Beza, praised Calvin as a champion of the truths of God but insisted he did not want to make Calvin an angel. He was indeed “hot tempered and difficult” he writes in 1565, shortly after Calvin’s death.


Although Calvin and Geneva received praise on all sides for the execution of arch-heretic Michael Servetus in 1553, later history is less favourable. Calvin is picked out as a tyrant and an unrepentant murderer.


So who was John Calvin?


Early life

Jean Cauvin or John Calvin as we commonly know him from the Latin version of his name he adopted as a young man, was born in Noyon in Picardy on July 10, 1509. The family had lived in the area for a considerable time, and Noyon then had a population of about 10,000. The economy was based on the Oise valley and was a centre of the grain trade. His ancestors were boatmen, but his grandfather was a barrel-maker, while his father, Gérard (1454-1531), became a clerk who rose to preferment in the church administration of Noyon through the protection of the bishop. Ultimately Gérard became a secretary to the bishop and then procurator of the cathedral chapter, so he had a background in legal and financial matters.


In 1497 Gérard married Jeanne Le Franc, a wealthy hotel-keeper’s daughter. She died when John was young, probably in 1515, leaving four sons – Charles, who was older than John, and Antoine and François, who were younger. Another Antoine had not survived infancy and François died young. There were two daughters from a second marriage, Marie being the only one we know about. Both she and Antoine were to help Calvin in Geneva later on. John’s mother was pious and devoted to the Roman Church. In his popular 1543 little book, A Treatise on Relics, John recalled that his mother took him to view some saints’ relics at a nearby abbey.


John’s father was capable, ambitious and well-connected but rather secular in his spirit, and anxious for the advancement of his family. We know little of John’s childhood. He grew up with close connections with the family of the brother of the bishop. John received some education at the Collège de Capettes in Noyon. In 1521 at 12 years of age he received a quarter of the revenues of the chaplaincy established to attend one of the altars in the cathedral, and about that time or a little later – 1523 is the usual date – he left home to study in Paris with a view to the priesthood. The initial course included grammar, rhetoric and logic, with arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music subsequently.


John Calvin grew up in a world that was changing. The question of reform in the church had been long mooted but Luther’s impact was very significant in France from 1519. In 1521 the theological faculty at the Sorbonne had banned Luther’s writings and the Parlement of Paris followed suit. The same year Jacques Lefèvre and his circle, which included Guillaume Farel and François Vatable, the Hebraist, had to leave Paris for Meaux, some 40 kms distant, where they enjoyed the protection of the King’s sister. But in 1523 the Sorbonne moved against them and the group dispersed. Jean Vallière was executed in Paris in the same year for his Lutheran ideas. It was a dangerous time. The religious choices you made could bring life or death.


The young Calvin was fortunate to have as one of his early teachers in the preliminary grammar studies the notable Latinist Maturin Cordier (c.1480-1564). He was a considerable influence on Calvin but was not then a Protestant as was the case later. His teaching method was simple and clear and focussed also on love for Christ. In 1550 Calvin was to dedicate his commentary on 1 Thessalonians to his old teacher who in fact taught in the Academy of Geneva in the last years of his life. Calvin also came to know the Cop family whose head, Guillaume Cop, was the physician to King Francis. So he was moving in reform-minded and influential circles.


Legal studies

Completing his Master of Arts in 1527 Calvin was entitled to proceed to one of the higher faculties – theology, law or medicine. However, at some point in 1527 Calvin’s father fell out with the church authorities in Noyon over the administration of the estate of two priests, and in fact he was excommunicated in November 1528. Gérard had had enough of theology and directed his son to study civil law instead, which also paid better, and so about the end of 1527 John proceeded to Orléans for his further studies. John had just received extra income from a further benefice. In Orléans his most influential teacher was Pierre de l’Estoile a master of French, and, like Cordier, a humanist scholar. He also met Pierre-Robert (alias Olivétan), a cousin, who was later (1535) to translate the Bible into French with a Latin preface by Calvin. Beza suggests that it was from Olivétan that Calvin learned the truth of the Gospel, but as yet there is no sign of change in Calvin’s Roman Catholic position.


In the middle of 1529 Calvin moved to Bourges to study under Andrea Alciati, the most eminent lawyer of the time. He exchanged one benefice for another at this time. Calvin seems to have gained development in language style from Alciati, but resented the Italian’s negative attitude towards the Frenchman l’Estoile. He also rapidly became proficient in Greek under Melchior Wolmar (1497-1561), a fine scholar with Lutheran leanings to whom Calvin dedicated his commentary on 2 Corinthians in 1546. The young Theodore Beza (1519-1605) was also a student of Wolmar at this time.


Gérard Calvin had been excommunicated late in 1528 and died in May 1531 aged 77, but Charles managed to negotiate a church burial for his father. Perhaps understandably Charles, who had become a priest, resented the treatment his father had received. He drew towards Protestant teaching after his father’s death, was excommunicated in 1534 and died in 1536. His body was buried under the town gallows.


After his father’s death John at age 22 was free of his constraints. He returned to Paris, studied Hebrew and moved in circles that were interested in reform. In April 1532 he published at his own expense a critical text of the classic work by the Roman philosoper Seneca On Clemency. This is the typical step of a man seeking to launch his career as a scholar. It was indeed a competent scholarly volume, but that was all, and it was not a success in the way John had hoped. It had no religious or political implications, although it was written while Calvin was staying at the house of a follower of Luther. In May 1532 he returned to Orléans, walking the 105kms, to complete his studies and graduate Doctor of Laws. Just two years later Calvin returned to Noyon and resigned the benefices he held, which effectively marks his abandonment of the Roman communion. We ask, what had happened?


The short answer is that we know very little because Calvin tells us very little. At some point in this 1532/33 period Calvin became a committed follower of Christ, but what had gone before had somewhat prepared the way. He had been simply a humanist interested in scholarly pursuits and moderate reform. However, in November 1533 Calvin’s friend Nicolas Cop, son of the King’s physician, gave an address in his capacity as the new rector of the University. Cop was perfectly capable of composing it himself and a complete copy in his writing exists. A partial copy of this address also exists in Calvin’s hand, and that he had some part in its composition seems clear. The address was hardly of an extreme character but the times were sensitive and it was regarded as Lutheran, and both men fled – Cop to Basel and Calvin to Angoulême in SW France and the du Tillet home where he made good use of the excellent library there.


Nearly 25 years later Calvin describes the turning around of his life in his Preface to his Commentary on the Psalms (1557) in this way:


“And first, since I was too obstinately addicted to the superstitions of Popery to be easily drawn out of that so deep mire, God, by a sudden conversion [or perhaps a better translation is ‘an unexpected conversion’, which also serves to emphasise where Calvin placed the initiative], subdued my heart (too hardened for my age) to docility. Thus, having acquired some taste of true piety, I burned with such great zeal to go forward that although I did not desist from other studies I yet pursued them more indifferently, nor had a year gone by when all who were desirous of this purer doctrine thronged to me, novice and beginner that I was, in order to learn.”


Calvin’s primary interest now is serving Christ wholeheartedly. Indeed, reminding us of Cordier, he calls himself a ‘lover of Jesus Christ’ but still he thinks his role will be that of a scholar not a public figure. He visits Noyon in May 1534 and resigns the benefices since he is not going on to the priesthood. He is clearly in the camp of the reformers and although never ordained as such he will be a teacher-pastor-scholar for the rest of his life.

Follower of Christ

The Preface of Calvin’s first book in the cause of Christ was written in Orléans in 1534 but the book was not published until 1542. Entitled Psychopannychia and dealing with the doctrine of soul-sleep advanced by the Anabaptists, it is logical to see it as reflecting Calvin’s own concerns as he contemplates leaving the Roman Church and joining the reformers. The reformers rejected purgatory and masses for the dead – how then is death to be understood? What is the place of Christ in time and eternity? How can the reform movement avoid degenerating into a sectarian position?


In October of 1534 there occurred the affair of the Placards instigated by Antoine Marcourt. Posters put up throughout France called the mass idolatry. It polarised the country, incensed the King, and resulted in persecution of the reformers. By January 1535 Calvin had retreated to Basel and provided a Latin Preface for his cousin’s translation of the Bible from Greek and Hebrew into French published in June that year. This was the first Protestant Bible in French. Calvin was a master French linguist and worked on numerous subsequent editions to improve Olivétan’s style.

At Basel also Calvin wrote the first edition of his Institutes of the Christian Religion published in March 1536 when he was not yet 27. In Latin, the language of scholars, it was dedicated to King Francis I in a 8,500 word preface vindicating the reformers’ Gospel with a view to changing the King’s persecution policy. The title infers instruction or education in the principles of Christianity is the object. It was printed in a compact pocket-size format. It runs to 146,000 words in English translation, and thus was about 20% shorter than an English New Testament. The book was an immediate success, meeting a great need for the reforming movement. Rearranged and several times expanded the final edition (1559) is five times larger, and thus about the length of a complete English Bible. The first French edition, translated by Calvin himself, was in 1541.


Geneva 1536-38

A few months later Calvin was passing through Geneva, a town of about 10,000 people, where Guillaume Farel (1489-1565) and Pierre Viret (1511-71) had introduced the reformation. Farel pressured him to stay at Geneva and help the reform which was not settled and secure. He put the fear of God into Calvin and Calvin stayed. At first Calvin taught the Scriptures but he played an important role in Lausanne’s acceptance of the reform through an extempore speech there. Soon he was taking a major role in preaching and re-organisation of the church in Geneva. A French catechism was produced in 1537. In January 1537 proposals were put to the Little Council that would give power to the preachers to bar the immoral or heretical from the Lord’s Table, allow the singing of psalms, provide for the instruction of children and regulate marriage. The first was the sticking point, for excommunication belonged to the Little Council, and it was not going to give it up, and especially not to these newly arrived Frenchmen. There were other issues of church practice that were difficult given the military alliance with Bern, and the close connection of religious and civil matters. Opponents of Calvin were elected in 1538 and he and Farel were expelled from Geneva, along with the blind preacher Corault in April 1538.


Strasbourg 1538-41

Farel became pastor at Neuchâtel and Calvin, at the persistent urging of Martin Bucer, and after a short stay in Basel, soon became pastor to French refugees in Strasbourg where reformation had come 15 years before. Here he was to remain, poor but happy, for the next three years. He preached several times a week to a receptive congregation of 4 or 500, and he was writing. In August 1539 a fresh edition of the Institutes, three times longer than the first, was published, followed by his Commentary on Romans, and A Short Treatise on the Lord’s Supper. A further significant work was his 15,000 word Reply to Cardinal Sadoleto. Sadoleto had addressed a flattering letter to the people of Geneva in March 1539 calling them to return to the Roman fold. This reply was written at the request of Geneva, where the situation was very unsettled, and was produced at short notice in September 1539. It was a masterpiece which comprehensively refuted the Cardinal, and, with a major change in leadership in Geneva, led a year later to an invitation to Calvin to return.


Meanwhile, Calvin was thinking of marriage. Writing to Farel in May 1539 he says:


“…I am not one of those insane lovers who embrace also the vices of those with whom they are in love, where they are smitten at first sight with a fine figure. This only is the beauty that allures me, if she is chaste, if not too fussy or fastidious, if economical, if patient, if there is hope that she will be interested about my health.”


In August 1540 Farel officiated at Calvin’s marriage to Idelette de Buren, the widow of Jean Stordier. The Stordiers had been converted from Anabaptism under Calvin’s preaching and became members of the congregation. Then the husband died of the plague leaving his wife and two young children. The marriage occurred a month later and became one of real love and companionship and spiritual support. It appears several children were born but all died at birth or shortly after. Idelette herself died in 1549.


Calvin had probably undermined his health by his intense study as a young man, and he was to suffer poor health all his life.

Recall to Geneva 1541

In 1540, the party that had banished Calvin from Geneva lost power and Calvin was eventually convinced against his will to return to Geneva on his own terms. He returned in September 1541 but far from becoming the master of the city, he had no civil judicial authority at all and was not even a citizen until 1559 when he was invited to become one. Until 1555 there was constant battle since all church decisions had to be approved by the Little Council. Many so-called ‘blue’ laws were operating long before Calvin came on the scene: dancing in the streets was prohibited in 1539, and card and dice playing was prohibited during preaching times and after 9pm before Calvin.


He resumed his pulpit ministry at the passage he had reached before his banishment, but otherwise made no reference to the past. Calvin managed to have some measure of reform for the church passed by the Little Council in November 1541. He established the consistory of elders and a plan of church discipline, but he could not secure the right of the church to operate it; this the Little Council retained. The records show a very significant effort at reconciliation and restoration by the consistory. It was supposed to be a place of confession not a court of law. However, the Little Council wanted control and made the elders quasi-public officials representing the Little Council and effectively criminalized offences, which was not at all Calvin’s desire. There was resentment by the well-to-do and the old Genevese families to the even-handed approach to discipline Calvin aimed at, and this resentment carried over to dislike of the French refugees who came to the city and eventually formed a majority. The independence of the consistory was only secured in January 1555.


Plague broke out in Geneva in 1543. The Little Council forbade Calvin to minister to the sick and dying and only one other of the pastors was willing to do so. Calvin gradually replaced the pastors who were serving when he returned with more suitable men. The pastors (commonly 9 to 12 men) met each Friday with their assistants for spiritual conference/Bible study to aid in guarding sound teaching, and then the Company of Pastors met by themselves afterwards for mutual admonition. Calvin published A Short Treatise on the Holy Supper late in 1541 to help people understand the Supper. Developing work he had produced in Strasbourg, in 1542 Calvin published The Form of Prayers and Church Songs, which included a number of metrical psalms principally by Clément Marot. The following year more psalms to the total of 49 were published, and the versification was ultimately completed by Theodore Beza over the next 18 years. Early in the same year of 1542 he also published a catechism in 373 questions and answers.


Calvin had begun his exposition of the Bible in Strasbourg where his Commentary on Romans was published in March 1540. A steady stream of commentaries on the rest of the New Testament except Revelation came from his pen between 1546 and 1555, usually in both Latin and French. The Old Testament commentaries were published between 1551 and 1563 beginning with Isaiah and cover also Genesis to Joshua and the Psalms. The commentaries are characterised by lucid brevity. The Institutes was intended to expound particular theological questions in depth. Lectures delivered between 1556-1564 without notes other than the Biblical text were taken down in shorthand and revised by Calvin and cover Hosea, the Minor Prophets, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Daniel and part of Ezekiel.


Calvin was engaged in a number of controversies as well as the struggle with the Little Council. In February 1555 supporters of Calvin were elected and the party who had opposed him were defeated. Their leader Ami Perrin fled the city in May following a riot that looked as if it were part of a coup d’état, and four others were executed for sedition.


Servetus 1553

One particular famous or infamous controversy may be noted, the execution of Michael Servetus in October 1553 for his denial of the Trinity and infant baptism. The law of the Empire considered he who denied the Trinity was acting to kill men’s souls and deserved death. Thus Thomas Aquinas advocated the death penalty for gross heresy not just denial of the Trinity.


On the part of the Church, however, there is mercy which looks to the conversion of the wanderer, wherefore she condemns not at once, but “after the first and second admonition,” as the Apostle directs: after that, if he is yet stubborn, the Church no longer hoping for his conversion, looks to the salvation of others, by excommunicating him and separating him from the Church, and furthermore delivers him to the secular tribunal to be exterminated thereby from the world by death. (Summa, Part 2 of the 2nd part, Qu. 11 Answer to Obj 3).


The Roman Church acted on this teaching in regard to Protestants, over 300 being burned to death during bloody Queen Mary’s five year reign in England (1553-58) for example. No Roman Catholic was ever put to death for his beliefs in Geneva, and few were the executions by Protestants of Roman Catholics for their faith in any case.


Servetus was a Spaniard influenced by Jewish and Islamic theology. He was a strange genius credited with discovering the pulmonary circulation of the blood but erratic and unstable. Servetus was a long-standing agitator of heresy, and in January 1553 had published his provocatively named Christianismi Restitutio (Restitution of Christianity). Calvin had had some acrimonious correspondence with Servetus some years earlier and knew where Servetus lived under an assumed name in SE France at Vienne, south of Lyons. Yet he had not acted against him although warning him against coming to Geneva or he would not leave alive. If Servetus had not been so outrageous in his language, and if the situation in Geneva had not been so perilous, I think the outcome may have been different. Certainly, if Calvin really had been the dictator of Geneva of popular mythology, Servetus would have been beheaded not burned.


A friend of Calvin in Geneva had written to a Roman Catholic cousin to the effect that in Geneva the Protestants were orthodox whereas it was not the same in Vienne where Servetus was working for the archbishop under an assumed name. Pressed for proof the friend in turn pressed Calvin, and with some reluctance, Calvin supplied evidence from Servetus’ handwriting of who Michael Servetus was, as Servetus himself denied that he was the man. Servetus escaped his prison in April, and in June was condemned and burned in effigy indicative of what would happen in reality if he was captured. The very next month five Geneva-trained Reformed preachers were burned at the stake in Lyons singing the 9th Psalm and reciting the Apostles’ Creed to attest their orthodoxy as the flames consumed them.


On 13 August Servetus was recognised in Geneva and arrested after a church service. While it was usual in Geneva to banish heretics, and, as Servetus was not a citizen, this would seem to have been the appropriate sentence, Geneva refused Vienne’s request that he be extradited. Perhaps the Spanish genius was under the delusion that he would find support from the old Genevan opponents of Calvin for he was now outspoken with no sign of the hypocrisy he had displayed in Vienne. Indeed, one of his printers in Vienne had formerly been an opponent of Calvin in Geneva, and a section of the Little Council of Geneva did support Servetus, including Philibert Berthelier.


Berthelier had been involved in a drunken brawl with threats against one of the preachers, yet the Little Council refused to prohibit him from receiving the Lord’s Supper. Calvin affirmed before the Little Council he would refuse to serve Berthelier, and the next day, 3 September, preached to that effect in defiance of the Little Council. However, Berthelier absented himself on the secret advice of some of the Little Council. Calvin felt this was a crisis point and that he would be expelled. His afternoon sermon on Paul’s farewell to the Ephesian elders, sounded like his last. It did not come to that because a middle group on the Little Council could see the difficulty they would be in if they did so.


On 22 September Servetus demanded Calvin be also put on trial and that either Calvin or Servetus be executed or otherwise punished. Hoping for a moderate reaction from other Protestant cantons, their opinion was sought by the Little Council but all were unfavourable to Servetus, and supported strong action without specifically indicating the penalty. Given Roman and Protestant opinion it was thus impossible for the Little Council to ignore acting against Servetus. On 26 October twenty of the 25 members of the Little Council were present. The first syndic, Ami Perrin, the leader of opposition to Calvin, argued for the release of Servetus but failed. The fear of disunity in the city and civil war swayed the Little Council and Servetus was condemned despite the majority not being supporters of Calvin. They showed their resentment of Calvin by refusing his plea that beheading be the form of the death penalty rather than burning. Perrin did not visit Servetus before his execution on 27 October. Calvin and Farel did, but to no avail in changing Servetus’ mind.


It is hard to avoid seeing the involvement by Calvin as in part motivated by a desire to clear the Reformed from the suspicion of heresy. Calvin’s was the lone voice arguing for the more merciful death by beheading. Farel thought that would be too lenient. Calvin subsequently defended the execution in writing against the criticism of a former friend and theologian, Sebastian Castellio. If anything, Calvin’s reputation advanced significantly following the action. Even Castellio, who is often quoted as advocating religious liberty and tolerance, after admitting he had not read Servetus’ writings, said that if he were indeed a blasphemer he deserved to die. The idea of toleration as we understand it was not something that existed for another century. While we do not endorse the action taken, which belonged to the times, – so says the memorial erected in 1903 by latter-day Calvinists – before we are too critical we might consider Roland Bainton’s comment in 1951: “We are today horrified that Geneva should have burned a man for the glory of God, yet we incinerate whole cities for the saving of democracy.”


[In England a Baptist turned Unitarian, Edward Wightman, was burned in 1612 for denial of the Trinity. The law against burning of heretics was passed in England in 1677. In Scotland the young and foolish Thomas Aikenhead was hanged in 1697. This was the last execution for blasphemy in Britain, but burning was the punishment for certain other crimes until abolished in 1790.]


The final years 1555-64

As already noted, in January 1555 Calvin’s supporters finally gained control of the Little Council, and when the insurrection was put down by the Little Council in May, a period of peace and prosperity followed. Calvin preached on average five times a week and gave three biblical lectures each week as well as writing numerous letters to churches and individuals throughout Europe. A plot to assassinate him hatched by the Duke of Savoy came to nothing, and the city experienced a much better public life. John Knox in 1556 stated of Geneva: ‘Here exists the most perfect school of Christ which has been since the days of the Apostles on earth.’


The Academy of Geneva was opened in June 1559 with Beza as the first rector for the hundreds of students from many countries. Geneva’s population was then at its peak of about 20,000. Calvin was able to secure excellent teachers including a number who had formerly taught in Lausanne. Through the academy many were instructed in the Christian faith and sent as missionaries to France and other places, others were prepared for public service. At the time of Calvin’s death there were about 1,500 students, the majority from abroad, and studies in theology and law were available.


Calvin was a pre-eminent preacher and about 1500 of his 5000 sermons survive since in 1549 a stenographer, Denis Reguenier, was appointed to take them down. He transcribed over 2000 in the next 10 or 11 years. The sermons are in expository form and full of good application. They, along with his many letters, give a much better picture of Calvin the man than some of his more scholarly publications. The final edition of the Institutes was completed also in 1559.


Calvin had never sought citizenship, which was normally purchased by foreigners, but at the end of 1559 he was asked to accept it, and graciously did so. The same day he suffered a serious outbreak of tuberculosis, and the next four years of his life were one of constant labour amidst gradual decline so that he became quite emaciated.


On 2 February 1564, he held his last lecture in the Academy and on the 6 February his last sermon. On 27 May 1564, Calvin died in Geneva. He was buried on 28 May without pomp, and at his wish his grave received no gravestone. So no-one knows anymore exactly where Calvin is buried. In his farewell speech of 28 February 1564, Calvin says in retrospect:


“I have had many weaknesses, which you had to bear, and all that I have done is itself at base worth nothing. Wicked men will no doubt exploit this statement. Thus I repeat once more that all my activity is worth nothing and that I am a wretched creature. I can, to be sure, say of myself that I have intended good, that my mistakes have always displeased me and the fear of God has taken root in my heart. You can confirm that my efforts have been good. Therefore I ask you to forgive me my wickedness. However, if there has been anything good, keep to it and follow it!”


He had accumulated virtually nothing in worldly goods and had declined to receive a higher salary than the other pastors. His will dictated a month before he died left 225 French Crowns and includes these words:


I, John Calvin, servant of the Word of God in Geneva, weakened by many illnesses … thank God that he has shown not only mercy toward me, his poor creature, and … has suffered me in all sins and weaknesses but what is much more that he has made me a partaker of his grace to serve him through my work … I confess to live and die in this faith which he has give me, inasmuch as I have no other hope or refuge than his predestination upon which my entire salvation is grounded. I embrace the grace which he has offered me in our Lord Jesus Christ and accept the merits of his suffering and dying that through them all my sins are buried; and I humbly beg him to wash me and cleanse me with the blood of our great Redeemer, as it was shed for poor sinners so that I, when I shall appear before his face, may bear his likeness.


“Moreover, I declare that I endeavoured to teach his Word undefiled and to expound Holy Scripture faithfully according to the measure of grace which he has given me. In all the disputations which I led against the enemies of the truth, I employed no cunning or any sophistry, but have fought his cause honestly. But, oh, my will, my zeal were so cold and sluggish that I know myself guilty in every respect; without his infinite goodness, all my passionate striving would only be smoke, indeed the grace itself which he gave me would make me even more guilty; thus my only confidence is that he is the Father of mercy who as such desires to reveal himself to such a miserable sinner.


“As for the rest, I desire that after my passing my body be buried according to the customary form in expectancy of the day of the blessed resurrection.”


Beza said: ‘It has pleased God to show us in the life of a single man of our time how to live and how to die.’ Who was Calvin? A man of great gifts who offered his heart to God promptly and sincerely. Yes, that, but more. A man who knew he was a sinner saved by grace alone, and who in consequence unreservedly served his Saviour.




Suggested Introductory Literature



E.M.Johnston, Man of Geneva (Banner of Truth, 1977)



Herman J. Selderhuis, John Calvin: A Pilgrim’s Life (IVP, 2009)



Wulfert de Greef, The Writings of John Calvin: An Introductory Guide

(Westminster/John Knox, 2008)

Rev William McIntyre (1806-70), Australian Presbyterian Pioneer


Rev William McIntyre (1806-70), Australian Presbyterian Pioneer

Rowland S. Ward



William McIntyre (6 March 1806-12 July 1870) was a Scottish-Australian Presbyterian minister and educator.



William McIntyre was the 5th son and 7th child of Duncan McIntyre and Catherine Kennedy, who were sheep farmers in the parish of Kilmonivaig, Scotland near Spean Bridge. He was proficient in Latin and Greek when he commenced at the University of Glasgow in 1823. He graduated MA in 1829, completed Divinity in 1832, and was licensed by the Presbytery of Dunoon. He taught in a Glasgow school conducted by his older brother Allan and was recruited for Australia by Dr John Dunmore Lang, who heard him preach in Greenock in 1837. He was ordained for Australia with his friend James Forbes by the Church of Scotland Presbytery of Glasgow on 29 June 1837. He was appointed Chaplain to some 260 immigrants on the Midlothian, which left Portree, Skye on 7 August 1837 and arrived in Sydney 12 December 1837.


Early Australian ministry

McIntyre was the first Gaelic-speaking minister in Australia and the immigrants who came out on the Midlothian mainly spoke that language. Lang falsely represented to Governor Gipps that Lord Glenelg had given public assurances that they would be allowed to settle as a group, which was contrary to the usual policy. Most became occupiers of small but productive farms on Andrew Lang’s estate on the Paterson River. Particularly from 1857 they began to move north as new lands were opened and formed the nucleus of most of the congregations that adhered to the Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia minority which remained outside the general Presbyterian union of 1864/65.


McIntyre joined Lang’s Synod in January 1838, taught at Lang’s Australian College, and acted as Lang’s locum tenens while Lang was overseas from January 1839 to March 1841. He facilitated the union of Lang’s Synod and the Presbytery which was accomplished in October 1840. McIntyre was called to Maitland in 1840, but was only settled there in September 1841 following a second call. On 3 April 1844 he was married to Mary McIntyre (1786-1872), the sister and heir of Peter McIntyre (1783-1842) by James Forbes. They made the Pitnacree Estate at East Maitland their home. Peter’s estate exclusive of runs and licence for over 280,000 acres (1,100 km2) of land was sworn at not less than £25,000, so Mary was exceedingly wealthy. There were no children and most of the money found its way into church and charitable causes in due time.


Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia

McIntyre led those who protested and withdrew to form the Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia in October 1846. He partly financed the first PCEA church in Sydney, the old Pitt Street Congregational Church purchased in 1846. A stone church still existing was opened in Free Church Street, Maitland in 1849. McIntyre was anxious to see a thoroughly orthodox and evangelistic Church but was hampered by the difficulty of securing recruits prior to the discovery of Gold in 1851 and the tensions between Highlanders and Lowlanders. In 1854 he recruited his brother Allan and James McCulloch, who had married McIntyre’s niece, for the PCEA ministry. McIntyre removed to St George’s Church, Castlereagh Street, Sydney and was inducted 20 February 1862. He served without stipend and saw the debt of £12,000 reduced to £5,000 by the time of his death.


Literary & educational work

McIntyre supervised the training of the first locally trained Presbyterian minister (J.S. White ordained by the Synod of Australia in 1847). He conducted a fortnightly paper The Voice in the Wilderness 1846-1852. His major literary work was an Exposition of the Sermon on the Mount published in Edinburgh in 1854. He established the High School of Maitland in 1855, took a number of classes, including Classics, acted as Headmaster without payment 1857/59, and made the school one of the best in New South Wales. As well as a number of booklets and pamphlets, McIntyre published The Testimony monthly 1865-70 until shortly before his death.


Attitude to Church Union

Scottish attitudes to colonial church union changed in 1857 and those of Free Church sympathy who stood apart from the union in Victoria in 1859 were refused recognition by the Free Church of Scotland in 1860 and 1861. McIntyre therefore contemplated union of New South Wales Presbyterians and thought he had secured a satisfactory basis in November 1863; it was certainly a better crafted basis than in Victoria. However, some of his natural Gaelic constituency would not contemplate union with those allied to the Established Church of Scotland. Those in Maclean seceded in December 1863.


McIntyre ultimately became convinced that while in theory the basis was satisfactory the use which the unionists planned to make of it was not. By receiving ministers from the various Scottish churches on an equal footing, the church became complicit in practical involvement in the errors of the Established Church, he held, and therefore compromised the PCEA testimony against Erastianism. He considered that this signalled an approach to truth that seemed capable of extension to other doctrines of the Westminster Confession of Faith. Ultimately 5 of the 22 PCEA ministers continued outside the union accomplished 1864/65, and several united who were not really in favour. It should be noted that the still-maintained practice of a capella psalmody in the PCEA was not regarded as an issue of principle on the level of the Erastian issue by McIntyre and his colleagues.


He was an able man, a solid if not winsome preacher. He was a man of firm principles of whom Sir Samuel Griffith, one time Premier of Queensland and the first Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, wrote: ‘On the whole he was a remarkable man, and his name deserves to be remembered as one of the foremost worthies of New South Wales.’

Were the King James Translators KJV Only?



Rowland S Ward

This is the title of an article on the web by a Dr Robert Joyner[1]. Let me use his title, and borrow liberally from his outline in summarising an answer.

There is a group today that is called the King James Only or the AV Only. This is because they insist that the King James Version (also called the Authorised Version) is the preserved Word of God and the only Bible for the English speaking people. They usually attack all other versions and delight in pointing out the errors in them.

I want to raise and answer the question, is this the position of the King James translators? If I can prove that the King James translators disagreed with the King James Only group in every point, then the KJV Only group does not have a leg to stand on. They base everything on the King James translators. The KJV advocates revere and lift them to the high heavens. They were superior translators, they say. You can see how inconsistent it is to be KJV Only and believe the opposite of what the KJV translators themselves believed.

In the original 1611 KJV there are eleven pages in the front called, THE TRANSLATORS TO THE READER of which copies are readily available on the internet.[2] In this introduction, the translators explained their philosophy and beliefs about Bible translations. I want to use their introduction, and show you that they disagreed with the KJV Only group in every point.

1. Scholarship affirmed

If you read THE TRANSLATORS TO THE READER, you will see that it is very scholarly essay with many references to earlier writers, with some praised for their translation work despite heretical beliefs. This is important because it shows the KJV men did not set scholarship over against belief in the Scriptures as do many KJV people today, or judge the value of translation by the personal beliefs of the translator.

2. The Hebrew and Greek texts must judge all translations

The KJV men believed the Scriptures were given by inspiration of God, and that all translations should be judged by the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts. Of course they no more had the very original manuscripts of the Scriptures than we have, but they had a number of copies to work from.

3. The KJV men did not believe translators were inspired or prevented from making mistakes

They were to work as scholarly men, depending on God, but could and did make mistakes.

4. They believed honestly executed translations were the word of God

All translations showed the fallibility of translators. Yet, as a speech of the Prime Minister translated into another language is still the PM’s speech, or a person may still be called handsome though he has a few warts or freckles, translations, even the poorest in English, were God’s word.

5. The KJV men did not believe in condemning other versions, nor did Jesus and the apostles

There were a number of versions in English in 1611 but the KJV men specifically state they are not condemning them. They believed these earlier translations had been raised up by God for the blessing of his people. In their own work they simply sought to make ‘a good work better’. The KJV men also affirmed that the Greek translation used in New Testament times was ‘faulty in many places’ ‘Yet which of the apostles did condemn it? Condemn it! Nay! They used it.’

6. The KJV men thought that fresh translations would be needed from time to time

The KJV men aimed to build on the labours of others and to try to improve them. They said earlier translations were good and they tried to make them better so England could have a common Bible. In some respects their task of revision rather than a completely new translation compromised accurate translation. They certainly had no thought that they were producing an inspired translation or one without mistakes. Indeed, no sooner was the KJV issued than a new edition was necessary because of mistakes, including printing errors, in the first. This new edition was published in 1613. In 1629 the Apocryphal books were omitted (there had been earlier opinion favourable to including these books for reading though they were not to be used to establish doctrine). Ussher’s chronology was added in 1701.

The version currently used has further updates in spelling and dates from 1769. Since then many words have become obsolete or changed their meaning, so the KJV does not fulfil its translators’ aim to produce a translation in the language of ordinary people, a translation which would be a common bible all could use.

In addition, further study of the Hebrew and Greek languages and discovery of more manuscripts means that more accurate translations can be made today, although the message of the Bible has not changed.

7. The KJV men frankly recognised translation difficulties and uncertainties

They wrote: “It hath pleased God in his divine providence, here and there to scatter words and sentences of that difficulty and doubtfulness, not in doctrinal points that concern salvation, (for in such it hath been vouched that the Scriptures are plain) but in matters of less moment.” The KJV men believed in putting varying readings in the margin. They also wrote: “Some peradventure would have no variety of senses to be set in the margin, lest the authority of the Scripture for deciding of controversies by that show of uncertainty, should somewhat be shaken. But we hold their judgment not to be so sound in this point.” The KJV men wanted people to be aware of places where the reading was uncertain lest people make too much of the passage, and they thought giving different possible readings was helpful rather than the opposite.


What a shame today that so many exalt the KJV translators to lofty heights and yet contradict everything they stood for when it comes to Bible translations. What inconsistency! You would be wise to stand with the KJV men and not with those who go contrary to the very translators they depend upon so much.

[1] It appears to be a section of Robert A Joyner, King James Version Only? A Guide to Bible Translations published by the author in 2000, but I’ve been unable to trace further information.

[2] Conveniently, on the site of the Trinitarian Bible Society, ironically a Society which in English language circulates only the KJV:




The Church of Scientology – An Appraisal

[Originally printed in The Presbyterian Banner, September 2007]

Scientology has attracted some high profile names, and received attention in the press over recent months. It makes extraordinary claims for itself. We need to be aware of its beliefs. We’re grateful to Dr.Ward for providing this summary of its teachings.

Scientology claims to be ‘the only religion that offers mankind a proven and practical path to freedom from the travails of the past and attainment of spiritual freedom beyond imagination. It is the only religion that offers personal immortality – now, in this lifetime. Because Scientology is the only religion that can answer such questions as who we are, why we are here, and what happens when we die, more people than ever are embracing it as their religion.’ []

Unlike Buddhism Scientology affirms belief in a Supreme Being. However, it does not describe the attributes of that Being, and so does not require one to worship such or to address that Being in prayer. Like Hinduism and Buddhism, Scientology believes in past lives but explains this differently from reincarnation doctrine. One returns not as another life form but as oneself but in a different body. Like Christian Science it addresses the negative in human experience but proposes to use a scientific technology to deal with it rather than deny its reality. Like Gnosticism it emphasises salvation through knowledge and supposes an essential hostility between the spirit and the material. It fits into the American emphasis on self-development.  On the more esoteric side it employs a story of intergalactic relationships that critics label pure mythology.

The first Church of Scientology was established in 1954 in Los Angeles, California, USA. Its founder was science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard (1911-86). He had previously outlined his philosophy in a best-selling book published in 1950 under the title Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. Hubbard ultimately wrote over 200 science fiction novels and 31 church related books. It is said that over 20 million copies of Dianetics have been distributed by the church. The imprint is New Era Publications or Bridge Publications.

Core beliefs
Scientology is defined as the study and handling of the spirit in relationship to itself, universes and other life. Through its activities and studies one may find the truth for himself, it is maintained. The term ‘scientology’ is explained as ‘knowing how to know’.

The church asserts that man is an immortal spiritual being or ‘thetan’ who has had many past lives (going back billions of years) in extra-terrestrial civilisations but is now trapped on Earth in a physical body and has lost his true spiritual identity. His capabilities are unlimited, but are at present greatly under-utilised. While it is held that man is basically good, he needs to escape from the impact of experiences in this or past lives that cause him to be unhappy, to act irrationally or with evil intent even though inherently he is good and highly ethical. As these experiences accumulate over time, they cause the thetan to become enmeshed with the material universe. He needs to become ‘clear’.

A Clear is a person who no longer has his own ‘reactive mind’ (that part of the mind which works on a totally stimulus-response basis, is not under a person’s volitional control, and is the source of man’s misery), and therefore suffers none of the ill effects that the reactive mind can cause. The Clear has no ‘engrams’ (false mental pictures) which, when restimulated, throw out false data. When a person becomes Clear, he loses all the fears, anxieties and irrational thoughts that were held down by pain in the reactive mind and, in short, regains himself. It is a stable state not subject to relapse.

A pre-Clear is a person who is on the way to being a Clear by means of receiving ‘auditing’. Auditing is a central practice of Scientology, and it is delivered by an auditor (‘one who listens’). Auditing is a special form of personal counselling by successive steps which helps an individual look at his own existence and improves his ability to confront what he is and where he is. In this process, auditors employ an electro-psychometer, or E-Meter, which could be thought of as a primitive lie detector. Through its usage, it is claimed, auditors help isolate areas of spiritual trouble or upset that exist below a person’s current awareness. Once brought to light, such areas can then be examined by the individual student. Until an individual is ‘cleared’, no matter how able he has become by virtue of earlier auditing, it is inevitable that he will sooner or later sink back into the re-active mind. That is why clearing is vital. Clear is total eradication of the individual’s own reactive mind.

While one can become free through auditing, this must be augmented by knowledge of how to stay free; knowing the mechanisms by which spiritual freedom can be lost is itself a freedom and places one outside their influence, Scientologists believe. Accordingly, members undertake an on-going study of Scientology principles, with the aim of improving conditions in every area of one’s life.

From this point one proceeds up ‘the Bridge to Total Freedom’ (as it is called) but by successive steps. One aims to be an Operating Thetan (OT). An OT is a person in a state of being above Clear, in which the Clear has become re-familiarized with his native capabilities. Basically one is oneself, and can handle things and exist without physical support and assistance. As man is basically good, a being who is Clear becomes willing to trust himself with greater and greater abilities. At the Operating Thetan III (OT III) level, one is introduced to details of some of the movement’s more esoteric teachings which underpin its philosophy but are withheld from those on lower levels and are commonly downplayed or dismissed by spokespersons. It is taught that 75 million years ago the Earth was known as Teegeeack, part of an interplanetary federation ruled over by the evil overlord Xenu, who was responsible for bringing thetans to Earth, putting then in volcanoes (this is the source of the volcano picture on Dianetics front cover since 1968) and blowing them up with hydrogen bombs. Their essences surround people and cause harm to them today.

Organisation and Finance
There is a bureaucratic structure with different levels. Some courses on the ‘Bridge to Total Freedom’ can only be taken at certain centres. Payment is made for courses and these run into many thousands of dollars at higher levels. In Australia the major series of 16 courses to ‘clear’ stage cost almost A$22,000 even ten years ago. Those who pay an annual membership ($500) in the International Association of Scientologists are able to complete the courses for about $16,000, while those who also undertake training over two years to become an auditor are required to make fixed donations of about $11,000. Scientology seems to attract the rich and famous. John Travolta joined in 1972. Media tycoon James Packer, through the influence of his friend Tom Cruise, a scientologist since about 1990, joined in 2002. Kate Ceberano, the singer, is actually a third generation Scientologist, as her grandmother had association with L. Ron Hubbard. Staff are paid a basic allowance plus a percentage from course fees, and in many cases need the supplement provided by extra part-time work in other occupations.

The Board of Religious Technology Center (RTC), was formed in 1982 as a non-profit organization to preserve, maintain and protect the Scientology religion and holds the trademarks and copyright of Scientology and Dianetics. RTC is not part of the management structure of the Church, nor is it involved in the Church’s day-to-day affairs.  Those who leave the Church of Scientology are generally monitored to prevent them becoming a ‘supressive’ for publicly criticising it.

A number of innocuous sounding groups are arms of Scientology. The Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) formed in 1969 is an arm of the church that seeks to investigate and expose psychiatric violations of human rights primarily because of what is regarded as its unscientific diagnostic system. Without decrying some useful activities of CCHR, critics suggest that this not only appeals to the deep distrust of psychiatry in parts of the population but also serves to give the impression that the Church of Scientology is not itself engaged in what many would regard as unscientific diagnosis and psychological manipulation.

Various groups, loosely called ‘Free Zone’ groups, practise Scientology outside the Church of Scientology, some claiming to predate the official founding of the Church, and all regarding the Church of Scientology has having deviated from Hubbard’s teachings. FANZA is the Freezone Association of Australia & New Zealand set up for the benefit of Australian and New Zealand’s independent scientologists and students of Hubbard’s philosophy.

The church and some of its leaders have faced government prosecutions as well as private lawsuits in some countries on charges of fraud, tax evasion, financial mismanagement, and conspiring to steal government documents. In response to these attacks, the church has insisted that it is a bona-fide religious organisation and that it has been the subject of government persecution and opposition by certain parts of the medical profession. A 1983 ruling of the High Court of Australia, and a 1993 report by the US Internal Revenue Service are pointed to by Scientologists as confirming their status as a genuine religious organisation. It currently has charitable status only in the USA and the UK. Critics think of it as a money-making organization, with reference to the Supreme Being having only a social function not a religious one. On the other hand there are many devotees who certainly regard it as a religion. Time Magazine May 6, 1991 had a highly critical cover story on Scientology.

In the mid 1970’s the Church claimed a world-wide following of 3 million, 20% of these in the USA, but a more objective estimate of active membership at that point is 50,000. By 1994, church officials reported that there were 13,000 church staff members ministering Scientology to some 8 million members through 2,318 churches, missions and related organisations in 107 countries. In 2006 the claim is 9 million in over 3,000 churches, missions and related organizations. We doubt the active membership is more than 150,000/200,000 worldwide, perhaps only half that. The number in England appears to be about the same as in Australia and 55-60,000 seems a likely figure for the USA. Considerable expansion is claimed in Eastern Europe and more recently in Africa.

The Hubbard Association of Scientologists International was established in Australia in 1952. Incorporation as the Church of the New Faith occurred in Adelaide in 1969. In 1972 its ministers were registered as marriage celebrants by the Australian Government and so it was able to operate as a church. In the late 1970s, the church in Australia claimed a national membership of 30,000, a gross over-estimate in my view (possibly a mailing-list figure). It is thought that the committed following was about 2,000 in 1986 and perhaps 4,000 in 1995 allowing for those enrolled in courses but who might not identify as Scientologists. The Census counted 1,490 affiliates in 1996, 2,032 in 2001 and 2,507 in 2006. I suspect the current core following is no more than 2,000 with up to 3,000 more in a
quite interested but looser relationship.

The Australian Scientology headquarters adjoin St George’s PCEA, Castlereagh Street, Sydney. They may be next door geographically but are poles apart theologically. Scientology is all about my essential goodness and saving oneself by knowledge and pseudo-scientific techniques according to the word of L. Ron Hubbard. Christianity is about God saving rebellious sinners by the giving of his Son according to the Holy Scriptures.

Law and Righteousness in Scripture and Confession

Law and Righteousness in Scripture and Confession

Address as Incoming Moderator of the Synod of the Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia
7 May 2007 by Rev Dr Rowland S. Ward

1. Consensus
It is obvious but often overlooked that the Westminster Standards, intended for the Christian Church in England, Scotland and Ireland, are very much consensus statements. That is, they endeavour to avoid deciding between different schools of thought which fall within the acceptable bounds of the Reformed faith, and they are often content to agree in practical conclusions even if there are different theoretical underpinnings.

Let me give you some examples:
(1) In framing the Form of Presbyterial Church Government it was not found possible to agree about the theory of eldership since most of the English had no experience of eldership. Passages we think are a biblical basis for eldership were applied exclusively to the pastors. Consequently, the compromise was reached which gave a place to elders without requiring that they be regarded, as they were by the Scots, as true presbyters.
(2) When preparing the Directory for the Public Worship of God the longest and most difficult debate was over whether it was essential to the observance of the Lord’s Supper to be seated at a table. The Scots insisted on this, the English thought sitting in the pews was in order, and neither gave way. So, after more than two weeks debate (!), they agreed a compromise. The relevant section of the Directory reads: “…the table being before decently covered, and so conveniently placed, that the congregation may orderly sit about it, or at it, the minister is to begin the action…” The words ‘about it’ allowed for reception in the pew, and the words ‘at it’ for reception at the table.
(3) In framing the Confession the approach appears to reflect the infra-lapsarian order of decrees, that is, God’s election logically follows the decree to permit the fall. However, the supra-lapsarian position of some members, which viewed election as logically prior to the decree to permit the fall, and thus emphasised God’s sovereignty but ran the risk of suggesting God created men in order to damn them, is not condemned. [In fact, as Derek Thomas has shown, the language is deliberately framed so as to allow each party to have its own sense.]
(4) Similarly, while justification has two parts – the non-imputation of sin and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness – the phrasing of WCF 11.1 allows for some difference of view on imputation since the Reformed did not always express this in terms of the imputation of Christ’s life of law keeping (active obedience). Among other ways of stating it was the view that we are counted righteous by virtue of union with Christ in his sacrificial death and justifying resurrection without reference to Christ’s own perfect life (although of course that  qualified him to be the perfect sacrifice for us).1
(5) In the basic structure of the covenant theology enshrined in the Confession there is some variation. WCF 7.1 seems to suggest man was created in an uncovenanted state and after his creation received the covenant of works/life, but WCF 19.1 appears to conflate the law written on the heart and the covenant arrangement of Genesis 2 as if he was created in covenant. Similarly, WLC 93 suggests a promise of life is attached to the keeping of the law written on the heart, but WCF 7.1 suggests the reward could only come by God condescending to enter into a post-creation covenant.  Even the question of the covenant of redemption distinct from the covenant of grace is left undecided by the WCF.  These studied ambiguities reflect the fact that a developed covenant theology was only 50 years old and would need another 30 years to reach a greater clarity on some points. It was sufficient for the purpose of a consensus creed in the 1640s to maintain the basic contours. Richard Muller puts it this way: ‘…the brief definition found in the Westminster Standards represents not a strict finalization of a dogma rigidly propounded, but a historical marker in an ongoing development. The formulators of the doctrine allowed for a significant flexibility in terms and definitions…’ 2
(6) Incidentally, while the precise nature of the creation days was not under any discussion in the 1640s, and no challenge from wider knowledge had arisen to give cause for it, one can note the careful lack of definition of the length of the days beyond the language of Scripture.

These remarks are useful I think as they serve to keep us from a kind of approach that treats the Confession as the final word or the always adequate word. The Confession is not Scripture. Nevertheless, we confess that its doctrine is Biblical.

2. Commitment
However, just because the Confession is a consensus creed does not mean that we can take bypaths off the highway it represents. It hardly accords with belief in a consensus creed to be magnifying issues not in it, something I hope our experience a generation ago with versions of Scripture has taught us. By the same token, what is in a Confession is what is important, and we need to be much in the main things it sets forth. If we affirm doctrines as Scriptural we need to maintain them. This is not to anathematise those Christians who differ from us, or even to regard as not Reformed those who have a different viewpoint on some matters which we hold, but it is to uphold the integrity of those who have taken vows before the Lord.

To ensure this we must train our students well, not simply in systematic doctrine but in historical context. Our Confession and Catechisms must not be museum pieces, reverenced but not used. Some 50 years ago the late Rev Arthur Allen of Sydney PCEA did much to contribute to recovering our self-conscious Reformed character by importing copies of our Standards which were not then readily available in Australia. We had slipped a bit and it can happen again.

If the passing of time can also result in various traditions about the Confession’s meaning arising, it is also important to be aware of how people can use some perfectly proper lack of definition to bring in, inadvertently or deliberately, revisions of the doctrines we confess.

In the conservative Presbyterian churches in the United States there has been considerable ferment on the subject of justification and related doctrines. The controversy is complicated by a lack of adequate understanding of the Confession and of Reformed orthodoxy from the classic period. You have a man like Dr Meredith Kline seeking to uphold the Confession’s teaching of a covenant of works yet explaining that covenant in terms of a merit based legal scheme foreign to the Westminster Divines. You have Norman Shepherd rightly wanting to emphasise the filial relationship between God and Adam yet denying the legal and a covenant of works. In some respects they divide the truth between them. Add into the mix the debate over the New Perspective on Paul (NPP), and the recent prominence of Federal Vision teaching, and you can see how confusing things can get. Discussion is made no easier by those who are motivated by a bitter hostility to the OPC for other issues and see the current issues an easy target for more of the same. Again, ordinary believers may be easily alarmed either because they do not adequately grasp that the faith that alone justifies is never alone, or because they see that there is indeed a very real threat to the stability of a crucial Christian doctrine.

The Orthodox Presbyterian Church has published a Report on Justification received by its 2006 General Assembly, while the Presbyterian Church in America has prepared a Report for their General Assembly later this year. In Australia the influence of N.T.Wright’s advocacy of a new perspective on Paul, particularly in Anglican circles, is evident. In Hobart one Presbyterian congregation recently lost several families who among other things have been influenced by the Federal Vision. It is probable that the impact will be less in rural areas, but we can expect some impact even in our own circles. The Presbyterian Church of Victoria discussed the New Perspective at its Commission last week. We can expect to hear more of it in coming days.

I thought therefore to try and outline some of the issues connected with the present ferment, with a view to gaining some benefit from the challenge to long established doctrine. It does not hurt us to think through our doctrines in the light of challenges which come from other believers, however mistaken we may consider them. In this way we may extract some advantage from controversy, even though in most respects the challenges were raised centuries ago and refuted then.

3. Contendings
Particularly over the last 30 years there have been voices raised suggesting a new look at Paul’s theology which has resulted in the school of thought known as the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) although there are variations so we might more accurately speak of new perspectives. The more relevant formulation of the NPP for us is that advanced by N.T.Wright, currently the Anglican Bishop of Durham, and a man who far from being a liberal actually has definite evangelical and Reformed credentials and is surely on the side of the angels, even if we think him muddled or plain wrong on some matters.

The main features of the NPP may be summarised the following way.

Luther read Paul in the light of his controversy with Rome’s teaching on merit and his own troubled conscience, and the Protestant church has tended to read Paul through Luther ever since. But Paul was not concerned with teaching on merit, since Judaism was not a merit-based religion, nor was Paul troubled by an introspective conscience.

Reading the NT against his understanding of Judaism in that period, Wright claims that the big question was, ‘How would God vindicate the covenant people of God seeing that they lived as it were in exile under Roman rule rather than ruling over the nations as God had promised Abraham?’ Justification for such a person carried the meaning of ‘being vindicated’ or ‘in the right’, and God’s ‘righteousness’ meant his ‘covenant faithfulness’ and ‘righteousness’ in regard to a human being means ‘membership in the covenant.’

For Wright, God had showed his faithfulness in Jesus who fulfilled the covenant promise God made to Abraham and took the curses of the covenant due to Israel. Jesus was the faithful representative Israelite who dealt with sin by paying the price for it. Before Jesus’ resurrection loyalty to God’s covenant was seen in faithful observance of boundary markers such as circumcision, food laws and Sabbath, not in a legalistic self-righteous way. Now it is seen in faith in the risen Jesus, thus opening the way for the inclusion of Gentiles. Those with such faith are among the people of God who will be vindicated before the world at the climax of history. The problem Paul confronted was not self-righteous legalism on the part of the Jews but their insistence that Gentiles observe the Jewish boundary markers of the ceremonial law.

For Paul justification was not about one’s position before the bar of God’s justice but about one’s inclusion among the people of God. The judge was addressing the question ‘Who are God’s people?’ not, ‘Who is righteous in God’s sight?’  It was an ecclesiastical issue not a matter of declaring a person righteous before God. Further, in the law court the judge does not acquit a guilty person by reckoning someone else’s righteousness to him. If he is in the right he is declared to be so. Thus, if he is among the covenant people he is in the right and will be vindicated on the basis of his entire life at the end. This vindication is not a declaration of moral uprightness but that the person is a true member of the covenant.

So far Wright and the New Perspective.

4. Critique
There are some things we can agree with right away.

(1) Judaism was/is not a merit based religion in the teaching of the OT. God set his love on Israel according to his gracious election and not according to what Israel deserved. The law was given to a redeemed people.3 Jews did not doubt they were God’s people. The chief issue in their eyes was remaining in his covenant with him – staying saved, if you will.

(2) We readily acknowledge the great significance of the inclusion of the Gentiles in the people of God without the necessity of observing Jewish distinctives. The true Israel is not replaced but expanded by the inclusion of believing Gentiles. This was indeed the mystery hidden in earlier times (Eph 3:6).

(3) We need to recover an emphasis on the significance of the resurrection of Jesus for Christian faith and life and not treat it as a mere appendage to the atoning death of Jesus.

(4) We should not underestimate the excessive individualism in much of evangelicalism today which discounts the importance of the church as the people of God and fosters an inner-personal religious experience neglecting the call to loving communal service here and now. (Indeed, without denying the element of truth in the terms the NT does not call on people to receive Christ as ‘personal Saviour’, but calls on us to turn from our own sinful ways and acknowledge Jesus is now Ruler of the world, the only source of life and salvation.)

But on certain key issues we reject Wright’s formulation.

(1) Although the OT faith of Israel was not merit based but rooted in the electing grace of God, the practical reality of law-keeping for salvation can easily be present, as we know in our personal experience and also from the NT. Roman Catholicism is not a religion of merit either, but emphasises the necessity of God’s grace, yet in effect human merit was very much to the fore in Luther’s day as it is in our own.  Neither Paul or Luther were combating those who held to a crass version of salvation exclusively by works. We need to be careful of caricatures, yet the NT is first hand evidence of attitudes, and much was clearly in the category of self-righteousness.

(2) The NT shows that Judaism was heavily influenced by the idea that law keeping was necessary to secure God’s intervention for the nation’s restoration. In this light, Paul’s quite opposite emphasis – that God has acted already in Jesus Christ so that the life of real obedience flows from the crucified and exalted Jesus – is naturally set in the sharpest contrast to law keeping as the means of salvation.4

(3) While understanding NT Judaism correctly is important, discussing justification in the context of vindication before the world rather than before the bar of God’s justice – which is the overall context of Scripture – is fundamentally flawed. Paul’s views are formed by Scripture and in fact there are no references to rabbinical sources from the Second Temple period is his writing. Thus Paul’s teaching of the pervasive depravity of humanity is not typical of NT Judaism or of Judaism today either. Further, neither the later Augustine or Luther or the other magisterial Reformers regarded Romans 7 as the struggle of a person with an introspective conscience seeking justification, but as expressive of the conflict in the already justified.5

(4) Ordinarily, ‘righteousness’ is what one ought to do, and is set over against sin, which is what one ought not to do. The one who does righteousness is righteous (1 Jn 3:7). The good spelled out in the law is what Jews and non-Jews alike must do and all will be judged accordingly (Rom 1:18-3:20). Understanding righteousness as covenant faithfulness just does not fit in many contexts.

(5) There is also a righteousness which is extraordinary. It is ‘from God’ (Rom 3:21; 1 Cor 1:30; Phil 3:9), it is a ‘gift’ (Rom 5:17) and enables God ‘to be just and yet the justifier of whoever believes in Jesus’ (Rom 3:25-26) since it is through the obedience of Christ that sinners are made righteous (Rom 5:19). Wright may say, as he does say, ‘Righteousness is not an object, a substance or a gas that can be passed around the courtroom.’6 Yet there we have it in Scripture as God’s gift grounded on Christ’s obedience, and all the cries of ‘legal fiction’ cannot remove it. Consequently, the reality of imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believer, however absurd it may seem, is not an unbiblical category although there may be different ways of stating it, some more adequate than others.

(6) In Scripture justify/justification is mostly law court language, a declaration one is righteous and thus it is the opposite of condemnation (Prov 17:15; Rom 5:16; 8:34). In salvation contexts it is not a declaration of righteousness at the end of a process of moral renovation, but it is the declaration of righteousness before the bar of God’s justice here and now. It is a once-for-all-time declaration of a right standing with God so that peace with God is enjoyed now (Rom 5:1), and the wrath of God will not be experienced in the future (Rom 5:9).

(7) If we speak, as we may, of a future justification, then it is only the public recognition of what is granted in God’s grace in this life now when we come to faith in Jesus Christ. Wright’s view appears to be that Christ’s death and resurrection sets his people free from the guilt and power of sin, and the work of the Spirit enables them to conform to the God’s law so that in the end a favourable verdict is secured and they are vindicated in the Judgement. While Wright rejects the merit of the believer’s life since his good deeds are wrought through the Spirit, yet it is hard to escape the view that in the last analysis the focus is on our own covenant keeping.7

In reviewing the NPP Michael F. Bird’s summary is very much to the point: ‘Paul’s entire conception of Christ, the law, and salvation is mystifying apart from the assumption that he also attacked a form of grace-works synergism that was implicit in the attempt to force Gentiles to adopt a Jewish lifestyle.’ 8

It is also helpful in discussing these issues to recognise the value of biblical theology so that we do not tend to treat the benefits received from Christ as successive links in a chain, as we sometimes seem to do in our systematic analysis.9 Rather, the union and communion the believer has with Christ is manifested in many benefits, as the Larger Catechism puts it. These are not links in a chain accessed one after the other but are complementary – distinct from each other yet inseparable, since Christ cannot be divided and those united to him share in all his benefits.10 To the same effect is Calvin’s comment concerning union with Christ: ‘We do not’, he says, ‘contemplate him outside ourselves from afar in order that his righteousness may be imputed to us but because we put on Christ and are engrafted into his body – in short because he deigns to make us one with him. For this reason we glory that we have fellowship of righteousness with him.’11

This approach enables us to more convincingly say that the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believer is not a legal fiction but a benefit of union with Christ, and that justification by faith does not render sanctification unnecessary, since both justification, including imputation of righteousness, and sanctification are each among the benefits that are ours by virtue of our union with the crucified and risen Saviour. Thus, John ‘Rabbi’ Duncan rightly states: ‘Justification by faith is the meeting-point of many doctrines, a rallying centre of theology; but it is not the foundation doctrine.’12 That it is the meeting point of many doctrines makes the NPP so significant in its potential impact. Duncan also says that the Person of Christ is fundamental, and we might add, that union with Christ is at the heart of any Biblical doctrine of salvation. We ever need to remember that we are not saved by believing in justification by grace through faith, but we are saved by believing in a Person.

Norman Shepherd
Another part of the current confusion relates to the teaching of Norman Shepherd who was groomed as the successor to Professor John Murray at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and taught there 1962-81. Shepherd noted that Murray had not dealt with the statements about being justified by works found in the Epistle of James. His own endeavour to deal fairly with this material led to a significant reworking of the traditional understanding of covenant and justification.13 I think it rather clear that the influence of Berkouwer, under whom Shepherd did some post-graduate studies, is evident, since Shepherd came up with the idea, that is found in some Dutch Reformed theology, that the covenant of works is wholly gracious and that any concept of work or merit in the covenant relationship, whether with Adam, Christ, or believers is alien to Scripture. Like the Torrance brothers he stressed the filial and the obligation of love and faithfulness on the part of both God and man in the covenant. He rejected a covenant of works and posited a covenant of grace. The life Adam received and the life he was promised are not clearly connected with an obedient probation. The obligation in the covenant today is the same obligation Adam pre-fall. In short Christ has achieved forgiveness by his death, but it is easy to suppose we are put in the situation where our covenant faithfulness is the way to salvation. Shepherd does not affirm the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believer, while his faith/faithfulness language makes it east to suppose a dual instrumentality of faith and works for salvation. It’s not a very satisfactory formulation.

Federal Vision
The Federal Vision (also known as the Auburn Avenue theology from the church in Louisiana where it came to prominence at a pastors’ conference in January 2002) has many similarities with NPP and with Norman Shepherd. Leading persons include Steve Wilkins, Doug Wilson, Rich Lusk, James B. Jordan and Ralph A. Smith. It is not a monolithic group, but generally shares an interest in the Trinity as the pattern for the divine-human relationship. As with Shepherd there is one covenant of grace beginning pre-fall with Adam. There is a high church emphasis, including in liturgy and sacramental practice, which deviates in some measure from Presbyterian principles.14

5. Conclusion
Looking now to a review of these teachings it is easy to see that one’s view of the God’s relationship with Adam pre-fall impacts on our understanding of justification. That some have rejected a covenant of works altogether may in part be attributed to reaction from poor formulations. While our Confession is not full it does give the major contours. In regard to the first covenant with man, we affirm that it was one arising from the divine benevolence and required the obedience of Adam as the pathway to life. We should not represent that relationship as one in which Adam was a servant who could attain sonship by obedience,15 any more than we should represent it as working for wages.16 Rather, Adam was the created son of God (Luke 3.38) who would receive his inheritance of life in the pathway of obedience, not because he deserved it but because God is good and desires to crown his son’s life with abiding blessing.

Adam’s disobedience plunges the race into misery. To bring redemption both full satisfaction for sin and the accomplishment of perfect obedience will be necessary. We cannot do this but Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God in our nature, can and does, so that we may receive in him the promised inheritance as a free gift. Our sins are not counted against us but are imputed to the sinless Christ and he pays the price for them, while his righteousness is imputed to believers.

We may locate this imputed righteousness in the obedient law-keeping of Jesus Christ (what has been called his active obedience) rather than in his obedience in his death (what has been called the passive righteousness since it involved suffering). This is the traditional form enabling us to say that justification is not simply God treating us “just as if I’d” never sinned but also “just as if I’d” fully obeyed, which, in Jesus, is true. We may speak of this as an alien righteousness, wrought outside of us by Christ, so long as we also remember that this alien righteousness is ours along with all other saving benefits by virtue of union with Christ.17 Theologically we are on the mark but biblically we should locate Christ’s righteousness in the vindication he received in his resurrection. The crediting of righteousness is intimately lined with the resurrection of Jesus from the dead in Rom 4:24 and so we immediately go on to read that ‘he was handed over to death because of our offences and raised to life for our justification’ (Rom 4:25). If Adam brought condemnation for all through his one act of disobedience, Jesus by his one act of righteousness/obedience – his obedience to the command to die which summed up the whole course of his life – has gained justifying life (Rom 5:18-19). Rejected of men, but accepted by the Father, he is now the Righteous One.   ‘God made him who had no sin was made sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God’ (2 Cor 5:21).

This is our faith. Here is our confidence.


1 The omission of the word ‘whole’ before ‘obedience’ when the Assembly was revising the Thirty-nine Articles in 1643 was regarded as leaving room for such views. While not accepted at that point, the word is omitted in the corresponding section (11.1) of the Confession in 1646.  Note Chad B. Van Dixhoorn’s (reluctant) conclusion that the consensus was intended in his PhD noted in J.R.Daniel Kirk, ‘The Sufficiency of the Cross’ SBET 24.1 (2006) 35-39; also in Justification: A Report from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (Willow Grove, 2007) 141-145, in which, while recognising Van Dixhoorn’s conclusion, reliance is also placed on the customary sense given in the OPC as determining that the imputation of Christ’s active obedience is required in the OPC. (J. Gresham Machen’s famous dying words, ‘Thank God for the active obedience of Christ, no hope without it’ are relevant, as he was the key leader of those who founded the OPC.) Note the interesting debate on justification in September 1643 outlined in Chad B. Van Dixhoorn, A Day at the Westminster Assembly (London: Congregational Memorial Hall Trust (1978) Ltd, 2005), especially p. 23. In the Independents’ revision of the WCF called the Savoy Declaration of Faith and Order (1658) one sees a very explicit insistence on the imputation of Christ’s entire life of obedience as well as his death.
2 Richard A. Muller in R.A.Muller & R.S.Ward, Scripture and Worship (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2007) 70.
3 Cf. the answer to Shorter Catechism 44: ‘What does the preface to the ten commandments teach us?’
4 This point is well made by a former supporter of the NPP in Francis Watson, “Not the New Perspective” – an unpublished paper delivered at the British New Testament Conference, Manchester, September 2001. accessed 5 Jan 2004.
5 One might note the essentially similar positions on justification in Augustine, Luther, Calvin and Wesley outlined in Stephen Westerholm, Perspectives Old and New on Paul (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004) 3-87.
6 N.T.Wright, What St Paul Really Said (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 1997) 98.
7 Notice the comment of Herman Ridderbos: ‘Every attempt to make certain reductions from the absolutely unanalytical character of this justification of the ungodly, whether understanding justification as an anticipatory pronouncement on the ground of the subsequent ethical transformation of the ungodly, or by looking on the judicial aspect of the work of God in justification in unity with the ethical aspect of the work of God in sanctification, indwelling, etc., must be rejected as a violation or obscuring of the specific significance of Paul’s pronouncement.’ Paul: An Outline of his Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975) 174-175:
8 Michael F. Bird, The Saving Righteousness of God (Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2007) 112.
9 Hugh Martin (1821-85) sagely observes: ‘Now it is surely injudicious and impolitic for defenders of the faith to discuss any scriptural doctrine, and particularly to profess to do so fully and exhaustively, outside of any greater category to which the doctrine properly and natively belongs. For by doing so they place it in a position of unnecessary danger, and assign to themselves a greater difficulty in defending it than Scripture assigns to them. The Atonement in its Relation to the Covenant, the Priesthood, the Intercession of our Lord (Edinburgh: Knox Press, 1976) 9-10.
10 So Richard. B. Gaffin, Jr, ‘Biblical Theology and the Westminster Standards’ in WTJ 65 (2003) 173ff.; also Robert Letham, The Work of Christ (Downers Grove 1993) 177ff
11 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion [trans F.L.Battles] (Philadelphia: Westminster 1960) 3.11.10.
12 John M. Brentnall, ‘Just a Talker’ Sayings of John (‘Rabbi’) Duncan (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1997) 102.
13 In a letter to Allan M. Harman 19 December 1980 Shepherd so explains the origin of the controversy that began in 1975.
14 On true Presbyterian principles of baptism see my review of L.B.Schenck’s The Presbyterian Doctrine of Children in the Covenant in The Confessional Presbyterian 2 (2006) 181-184. On worship see my essays on The Directory for the Public Worship of God in R.A.Muller & R.S.Ward, Scripture and Worship (Phillipsburg: P & R, 2007) 85-140.
15 As in the theologies of J.H.Thornwell and of  R.L.Dabney.
16 As in Charles Hodge and Abraham Kuyper.
17 R.B.Gaffin, op. cit., 178

Review: Robert L. Reymond’s A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith

By Robert L. Reymond (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998), xxxvi + 1210pp.,
hbk., $AU75 approx.


Reviewed by Rowland S. Ward, Reformed Theological Review, August 2001

Considering that some 60 systematic theologies have been published in the last 20 years, another volume is not surprising. However, this book is both substantial in size and orthodox Reformed in content. Reymond taught theology at Covenant Seminary, St Louis for more than 20 years and more recently at Knox Seminary in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Reymond’s work challenges the market niche occupied for more than a generation by Louis Berkhof. Berkhof’s work is now about 65 years old and perhaps due for retirement. Reymond gives us both warmth and exegesis, elements not so prominent in Berkhof’s work. In this regard he begs comparison with Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (1994). Grudem is Baptistic, moderately charismatic and pre-millennial, although he writes with a view to the whole spectrum of the evangelical community, so the market is not quite the same as for Reymond’s book. Reymond, as perhaps befits a Presbyterian enthusiast, largely follows the structure of the Westminster Confession and is post-millennial. Both books run to more than 500,000 words plus indices.

Reymond’s work is characterised by extensive exegesis of key passages. A 128 page introduction is followed by over 300 pages on God and his works of creation and providence, a similar number on election, covenant and the work of Christ, some 170 on the Church and the means of grace, and over 100 on eschatology. There are good indices.

First, the book is orthodox and Calvinistic. It involves much direct interaction with the text of Scripture. For example, the discussion of Romans 1:3-4 in the context of the Trinity occupies 8 pages (pp.238-245). He advocates the two natures view rather than two successive stages in the history of the eternal Son. He makes the case with clarity and grace although not convincing this reviewer. His discussion on Philippians 2:6-11 extends to 11 pages.
Second, it has an American orientation. It most frequently cites theologians in the Princeton and Southern Presbyterian tradition, although it breaks with the Princeton evidentialist whilst also criticising Cornelius Van Til, and, like Gruden too, has relatively less interest in European and British theological thinkers. You won’t find Moltmann mentioned and Pannenberg receives only several passing references. Similarly, subjects like dispensationalism, still influential in the US context, receive considerable attention.
Third, the work reflects independence of judgment and some indiosyncracies. For example, Reymond, while recognising infra and supra-lapsarian views of the order of divine decrees are defensible, argues for a modified supralapsarian order. His extended discussion of Philippians 2:6-11 seeks to remove the difficulties he perceives in explaining the kenosis by positing a movement in Christ’s self-emptying beginning not from the Son pre-incarnate in eternity but from the already incarnate Son. This is surprising exposition, to put it very mildly. A comment (p.417) that ‘breath of life’ in Genesis 7:21-22 applies only to humans is interesting and grammatically possible, I would say, but has minimal support among the commentators as the meaning in the context.
Fourth, Reymond interacts with some current issues rather unevenly. For example, the question of human freedom as raised by Clark Pinnock, is covered extensively on pp. 346-381. However, the important subject of the image of God is covered briefly and rather inadequately on pages 427-429. Summaries of the positions of influential modem thinkers lile Moltmann and Pannenberg would have been very helpful.

Unquestionably the book is a useful resource, but I could have wished it were better. It is overly long, which may reflect its origin as class lectures. Its emphasis on exegesis is a good step although the execution could be improved. Personally I would have been more succinct in the exegesis, citing standard commentaries for much of the detail and concentrating on the significance of the conclusions. I would also provide some kind of historical framework to help the student appreciate past approaches and current views in context. On the whole Grudem’s work will appeal more to the average student as it is more user friendly and has a more pronounced devotional tone. Unhappily, given the price of either book, few students will buy both.

Review: Refuting Compromise

by Jonathan Sarfarti (Master Books, 2004)


Review by Rowland S. Ward written 2005

This book was given to me to review by one who said it was a bit out of his field. Its subtitle is self-explanatory – “A Biblical and Scientific Refutation of ‘Progressive Creationism’ (Billions of Years), as popularised by Astronomer Hugh Ross.”

I would also plead incapacity to assess many of the arguments drawn from scientific disciplines. Indeed, I question if much of the material is appropriate or necessary for the popular defence of the Biblical doctrine of creation. Obviously Dr Sarfarti of Answers in Genesis thinks otherwise.

Recently, a 16 year old known to me had to give a talk at Boys’ Brigade on why the earth was young. Not being as dogmatically difficult as I am he duly went to the AiG website as recommended by his BB leader. But he found the arguments far too technical. In the end he fell back to the general position that the world did not come from nothing, nor did it create itself, but it was made by God (Hebrew 11:3). Exactly when it was made is not told us in the Bible and is not all that important except that man is quite recent, was made in God’s image, but rebelled against him bringing death into the human family (Romans 5:12).

This however would not satisfy either side in the debate covered by this book. Ross is happy to confidently allow the large time scale commonly recognised (15 billion years for the universe and 4.5 billion for the earth), and to interpret the creation days accordingly. He believes God has progressively populated the earth, with man a recent arrival perhaps 60,000 years ago.

Sarfarti insists the universe was created in six consecutive, normal-length days about 6000 years ago, and that human sin brought a curse on creation so that animal death as well as human death is due to Adam’s sin. And of course he insists on a global flood about 2500 BC which destroyed all vertebrate animals and people not on Noah’s boat.

This is a large book (400 pages) and marshals some material via charts in a helpful way. In my view Sarfarti demonstrates sufficiently the problems with Ross’ approach in its bearing on Scripture. However, the weaknesses with Sarfarti’s approach in its bearing both on science and Scripture are not conveyed in this book, because that is not the book’s aim, while the author is so single eyed that opposing arguments and their supporters are frequently dismissed by demeaning references to compromise.

Dr Douglas Kelly of North Carolina writes the foreword in the gracious way of the Southern Presbyterian gentleman that he is, and assures us that Dr Sarfarti does not want to question the sincerity, character or faith of Christians who differ from him. In my view Sarfati fails conspicuously in this area. Indeed, even your reviewer rates a guernsey (p.77) because, says Sarfarti, though (unlike Ross) I get the Hebrew pattern of Genesis 1 right, I have “a long history of vexatious opposition to the view that Genesis is straightforward history.” Vexatious means either frivolous or malicious. Whatever you pick, it’s not very nice (nor accurate!).

This is a book for the true believer. Although he may not understand all the arguments, he will be reassured that any other view is a matter of compromise. The unfortunate tendency will be that faithful ministries that do not toe the line will be viewed with suspicion. A furtherance of the confrontational and separatist outlook we are accustomed to associate with the fringes of the American Bible-belt seems inevitable in the nearer term.

Overcoming evil with good – the two Dannys vilification case

Rowland Ward writes on the Melbourne Religious Vilification case
From The Presbyterian Banner [PCEA Magazine] Jan/Feb 2005 pp. 5-8.


On March 9, 2002 at Full Gospel Assembly in Surrey Hills, Victoria, Catch the Fire Ministries
Inc. [CTFM] ran a public seminar entitled Insight into Islam with Assemblies of God pastor
Daniel Scot of Queensland as speaker. Between 200-250 people were present, including at
various times during the day and unknown to the organizers, three recent Islamic converts
from the Australian community. The topics addressed by Pastor Scot were:

10:00am to 12:00 noon: What is Jihad, and the affect on the future of Australia?
1:00pm to 3:00pm: The Bible versus The Qur’an;
3:30pm to 5:00pm: How to witness effectively to a Muslim.

Scot was born of a Christian family in Pakistan in 1951 and was a mathematics teacher for 12
years when he became the first person accused under Pakistan’s Blasphemy law in 1986. He
was able to come to Australia in 1987, the year he secured a BTh from Gujranwala Seminary
in Pakistan following 10 years part-time study. A Presbyterian (ARP) in Pakistan, Scot became
an AOG pastor about 1995. He certainly knows the Qur’an.

The Catch the Fire Ministries President is another AOG Pastor, Danny Nalliah, who also edits
the organization’s Newsletter sent to 4000 people. Nalliah was born in Sri Lanka in 1964,
prayed over by the late Frank Houston of Sydney at age 12, and later responded to the call to
Christian service. He married in 1987 and served the underground church in Saudi Arabia from
1995-97. In obedience to ‘an encounter with Jesus’ on 21/7/1997 he came to Australia and set
up Catch the Fire Ministries. He does not appear to have formal theological qualifications.
However, he claims Jesus appeared to him in a dream on 9/4/2002 to assure him that a
proactive church would stop the coming disaster of the Islamisation of Australia.
Pastor Scot presented as the authentic interpretation of Islam an interpretation that would be
recognized by the Saudi-based Wahhabists and their sympathizers, but which is not held by
the majority of Muslims. A legal case resulted when three recent Muslim converts who
attended the seminar complained and their cause was taken up by the Islamic Council of
Victoria. The fact that in some respects the complaints were engineered doesn’t alter the fact
that one should not vilify others. On the other hand it might indicate motives for the complaint
are more complex.

We might well think the experiences of the two pastors coloured their presentation, but that
does not justify the breach of the 9th commandment involved. Or we might think instilling fear
and alarm was good for fund-raising, and appealed to people whose insecurity is such that
they cannot move beyond the self-imposed boundary of fear of those who are different. If so,
this only adds to their culpability. But whatever, Pastor Scot went over the top, and so did
Pastor Nalliah in the CTFM Newsletter. A civil action was not necessary to show that.

Gross misrepresentation of others on religious or racial grounds is not something Christians
should turn a blind eye to. Where were most Christians when Hitler was demonizing the Jews?
Let’s not repeat that failure. Which leads one to ask about accountability in the Christian
community. The ‘Christian Right’ in Australia has generally attacked the judge’s decision, and I
have serious criticisms myself. But if we ask for Muslims to counter extremists should we not
set an example ourselves. [Or is that like asking the Roman Church to excommunicate IRA
terrorists?] The two pastors, however sincere and well-meaning they may be, are not
ornaments to the Assemblies of God, and have brought evangelical religion into disrepute.
One recalls that the town clerk of Ephesus quieted a riotous crowd by reminding them that
Paul had neither robbed the temple nor blasphemed the goddess as he preached Christ (Acts
19:37). I believe that the AOG should counsel the two Dannys and rebuke them appropriately.
Do we want to understand our Muslim fellow-Australians and win a hearing for the claims of
Christ, or not? All the protestations of love for Australian Muslims means little if they are
vilified. By vilification I do not mean that they feel offended (a very subjective thing), but that
the beliefs typical of Australian Muslims are seriously misrepresented.
The legal position
The Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 1901, which came into force on 1 January 2002, has
the following objects
‘(a) to promote the full and equal participation of every person in a society that values freedom of
expression and is an open and multicultural democracy;
(b) to maintain the right of all Victorians to engage in robust discussion of any matter of public interest or
to engage in, or comment on, any form of artistic expression, discussion of religious issues or academic
debate where such discussion, expression, debate or comment does not vilify or marginalise any person or
class of persons;
(c) to promote conciliation and resolve tensions between persons who (as a result of their ignorance of the
attributes of others and the effect that their conduct may have on others) vilify others on the ground of
race or religious belief or activity and those who are vilified.’

Section 8 provides that:
‘(1) A person must not, on the ground of the religious belief or activity of another person or class of
persons engage in conduct that incites hatred against, serious contempt for, or revulsion or severe ridicule
of, that other person or class of persons.’

Section 9 provides that the person’s motive in engaging in such conduct is irrelevant, but
Section 11 provides that a person does not contravene Section 8
‘if the person establishes that the person’s conduct was engaged in reasonably and in good faith –
(a) In the performance, exhibition or distribution of an artistic work; or
(b) In the course of any statement, publication, discussion or debate made or held, or any other conduct
engaged in, for –

(i) any genuine academic, artistic, religious or scientific purpose; or
(ii) any purpose that is in the public interest; or

(c) In making or publishing a fair and accurate report of any event or matter of public interest.’

There is a further exemption (Section 12) for private conduct. This exemption does not apply
in relation to conduct in any circumstances in which the parties to the conduct ought
reasonably to expect that it may be heard or seen by someone else. The Seminar was a public

The Judge considered that ‘there is a balance to be struck between free speech which is the
right of all Victorians to engage in robust discussion, but that such a freedom is not to be
abused’ but was in fact abused. In substance I believe the Judge was right. Scot read and
explained sections of the Qur’an and the Hadith. The vilification was not at that point, as some
Christian commentators seem to imply, but in that he did not qualify his explanations so as to
allow sufficiently for other viewpoints among Muslims. It was like a person explaining the Old
Testament according to a strong theonomist/reconstructionist position, saying that that
viewpoint was characteristic of all true Christians, and that they hid their real views until they
could get into a position to impose them.

But does the legal action help anyone, least of all the ICV?
The legal case
In a hearing brought on behalf of the three Muslim converts by the Islamic Council of Victoria,
the ICV case was initially rejected but was heard on appeal to VCAT in a case which took
months and concluded last March. Shortly before Christmas (17/12) Judge Higgins found for
the complainants. His 140 page extremely poorly proof-read judgment is at
<>. I have also read the 110 page transcript of the lecture by Dr
Mark Durie which all recognized as accurate. Orders for remedies are to be made shortly. An
appeal has been indicated.

The legal representation for CTFM was not of the highest order, and the attempt to introduce
the Rev Dr Mark Durie, an Anglican priest in Melbourne, as an expert witness was bungled,
both because the Judge considered he lacked such a qualification and also had sought to hide
his active involvement in the preparation and management of the CTFM case (para 351). One
wonders, though, how independent and expert some of the witnesses for the ICV were.
Indeed, do you need to be involved in inter-faith discussions to be qualified as the judge
seems to suggest? Surely a religious faith and teaching can be described accurately by those
who are not adherents of it.

The judgment
The Judge summed up the seminar thus:
‘Pastor Scot, throughout the seminar, made fun of Muslim beliefs and conduct. It was done, not in the
context of a serious discussion of Muslims’ religious beliefs; it was presented in a way which is essentially
hostile, demeaning and derogatory of all Muslim people, their god, Allah, the prophet Mohammed and in
general Muslim religious beliefs and practices. Time and again this occurs and, on any view, produces a
response from the audience at various times in the form of laughter.
Pastor Scot, during the course of the seminar, made statements –
(1) that the Qur’an promotes violence, killing and looting;
(2) that it treats women badly; they are to be treated like a field to plough, “use her as you wish”.
Further, in Hadith Bukhari, women, dog and donkey are of equal value;
(3) that domestic violence in general is encouraged;
(4) that Muslims are liars;
(5) that Allah is not merciful and a thief’s hand is cut off for stealing;
(6) that Muslims are demons;
(7) the practice of abrogation that is cancellation of words from the Qur’an and the Hadith solely to fit
some particular purpose or personal need;
(8) that Muslims operate a silent six jihad, which is the use of business connections; using money to
induce people to convert to Islam, and the training of Muslims in Madrassihs and the statement there are
millions of people right now under training in these schools, implying a threat to Australia;
(9) that Muslims have a plan to overrun western democracy by the use of violence and terror, and to
replace those democracies with oppressive regimes;
(10) that people study for six to seven years and they become true Muslims, and we call them terrorists,
but they are true Muslim; they have read the Qur’an, they have understood it and they are now practising
it, that is the connection between the Qur’an and terrorism;
(11) Muslims intend to take over Australia and declare it as an Islamic nation;
(12) Muslim people have to fight Christians and Jews, humiliate them and fight them until they accept true
(13) Muslims in Australia are increasing at substantial rates and have influence or control over the
migration of people to Australia. Figures are quoted which are wrong. It is said the figures are produced
by the Bureau, implying the Bureau of Statistics, whereas they came from a different source, and that
they are increasing at a rate which was incorrect.
There are many other references to the Qur’an and Muslims who are said to follow its teachings. The
seminar was not a balanced discussion. It was a process of taking literal translations from the Qur’an and
making no allowance for their applicability to modern day society. The ordinary, reasonable reader would
understand from the public act that he or she was being incited to hatred towards or serious contempt for
or serious ridicule of a person on the ground of race.’ [I assume the last word should actually be ‘religion’
RSW]. [pp. 234-5]

The Pastors did not say that all Muslims are extremists. Obviously they are not. Indeed, the
pastors emphasised that most Muslims are ignorant of the Qur’an. It was certainly painfully
obvious that the converts who complained knew little of it, and even an expert witness for the
ICV, a Catholic priest, had only read parts of it. Scot’s aim was to explain what the Qur’an
really taught, and therefore what true Muslims should believe, and in that respect he did a
sufficiently accurate job for the Judge to state: ‘I find that Pastor Scot failed to differentiate between
Muslims throughout the world, that he preached a literal translation of the Qur’an and of Muslims’ religious
practices which was not mainstream but was more representative of a small group in the Gulf states.’
(Summary of Reasons, #8)

One doubts the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia think their view small and unrepresentative (more
on this below). It was also noteworthy that the mere quotation of certain verses from the
Qur’an by Scot in the hearing was objected to by counsel for ICV, a strange reaction given
Muslim reverence for the text. Of course, one can understand that there are statements in it
that are somewhat embarrassing for moderate Muslims. This embarrassment is not easily
dismissed by reference to the circumstances of the 7th century. Will these verses be omitted
from Australian mosques in future?

If Scot had been more careful, valid points concerning the Qur’an and the Hadith could have
been brought out rather effectively, since much of what Scot said is in line with classical
Muslim teaching. Mind you, the Judge gives the impression he doesn’t always grasp the
context or that he makes mountains out of molehills. Is point 1 above incorrect? One can
affirm it as a fact while fully acknowledging that most Muslims today are peace-loving. Under
point 5, the judge seems to have got it wrong: Allah is merciful only after atonement by
cutting off the hand. At point 6 Scot described how certain demons are called Muslims – he
didn’t say Muslims are demons. The drafting of point 8 is hopelessly unclear (although the
evidence in the case makes things clearer). Under point 11, the claim was not expressly
denied by the ICV (see further below). At point 13, Scot had claimed an increase in Muslims in
Australia from 202,000 to 350,000 between 1996-2001. The real figures are 202,000 to
280,000. However, Scot was doubtless quite right to state that much higher figures are
commonly (but in my view wrongly) claimed in the Islamic community (as in other migrant
communities). Even if the rhetoric of ‘control’ was over the top, was Scot’s carelessness really
vilification? Importantly, the Judge seems quite ignorant of Islam as it exists in Australia,
makes no use of truly independent and objective experts and gave no attention to the stress
on reaching out in love to Muslims which featured in the seminar.
But where will such disputes end? The Age published a piece on 30/12 arguing that belief in a
caring, all-powerful interventionist God sits ill given the apparently wanton destruction
wrought by the tsunami. Its tenor can be gathered by my response printed in the issue of 1/1:

‘If Catch the Fire Ministries and its pastors were justly found to have vilified Muslims because they
attributed to all true Muslims the views of extremists, then perhaps Kenneth Nguyen (Opinion 30/12)
should be charged with vilification for an exposition of Christian views on God’s role in natural disasters,
which is quite unrepresentative of what we actually think. At a time when many are hurting and when
your agnostic columnist has nothing to offer, might we have a little more respect for theists, and
particularly for Christians whose central conviction is that God intervened in our sorrow and pain in the
Cross of Christ?’

The ability to launch a case that can cost mega-bucks to defend, is surely a dangerous tool. It
has the potential to be an inhibiter of freedom of speech. The well-known commentator Terry
Lane, ex Church of Christ pastor turned atheist, thinks ‘two ridiculous systems of religious
superstition and myth went head to head’ in the Victoria Civil and Administrative Tribunal
[VCAT] hearing. He makes the point that ‘Vilification is simply a word, like blasphemy,
obscenity, sedition or contempt, used to lend some sort of mystical weight to censorship of the
powerless by the powerful.’ In part he has a point. Do we need specific religious vilification
laws to control religious slander? I doubt it, especially when motive is irrelevant under such
The pastors’ credibility
The judge’s assessment of the credibility of the pastors is damning: He found Pastor Scot’s
evidence was ‘evasive, inconsistent and exaggerated.’ He also said of Pastor Nalliah, ‘I found
his evidence with regard to the newsletter of 2001 nothing short of a refusal to accept what he
had written and what he meant by those comments. The document speaks for itself. His
answer to questions in cross-examination and general demeanour were totally
unsatisfactory…(p.120). In my view, he was not subjectively honest and the newsletter, when
viewed objectively, does not satisfy me that it was engaged in ‘good faith’ (p.139).

Islamic credibility
In the hearing the ICV was at pains to reject the Wahhabist line of interpretation as at all
typical of mainstream Islam, and was anxious to stress the need for contextual interpretation
of Qur’anic texts cited by the defendants. As already mentioned, the hearing brought out how
little most Muslims know the Qur’an, and how the Hadith [traditional interpretations] are more
significant although also variable, there being no Pope in Islam to determine all issues.
One finds it very interesting that no Muslim cleric was called to speak on spiritual matters on
behalf of all Muslims. The judge said he thought the only inference he could draw is that such
witness may have been adverse to the ICV’s interests (para 379). I imagine this is correct,
since there are wide differences in the very ethnically and sect divided Islamic community, but
any criticism of the Qur’an would not be acceptable. My guess is the ICV are the more
articulate, liberal and progressive trying to hold a diverse community together, and presenting
the best face. That’s understandable of course.

[In 1991 there were about 70 different countries of birth of Australian Muslims. Although most
Arabic speakers in Australia are Christians, about 40% of the Muslim community was Arabicspeaking
and 25% Turkish. Regular mosque attendance was estimated at about 15% of adult

The Judge took the view that the interpretation of the Qur’an by Pastor Scot ‘represented the
views of a small group of fundamentalists, namely, Wahabbists [sic], who are located in the
Gulf states and who are a minority group, and their views bear no relationship to mainstream
Muslim beliefs and, in particular, Australian Muslims.’ One wonders just how true this is: as
one instance, Saudi Arabia has a population of some 23 million and Wahhabism is the official
position, and is exported significantly to other countries, financed by petro-dollars. Is there ‘no
relationship’ to mainstream beliefs? On some estimates ‘fundamentalists’ are 25% of Muslims
in some Islamic societies where inequality and poverty breed extremism. [Bin-Laden is merely
the extreme form of Wahhabism unpalatable to the Saudis themselves.]

Back in the October 2001 issue I suggested that Christianity cannot claim endorsement of
violence by its founder but Islam can, and that is one (only one) of the reasons bin-Laden has
appeal to many Muslims. There is a connection, however much many or most Muslims do not
wish to make it today.
As a beginning, we need honesty and clarity. In the November 2001 issue of The Presbyterian
I noted that I had found the Islamic Information Centre to be a cell of Taliban
supporters. They get a brief mention in the trial but are dismissed as of no account. May be
so. But what about the presentation in June 2003 by two very fine Muslims at the Knox
Interfaith Network
(covering the City of Knox) of which I was then Secretary and am currently
Chairperson? After giving a presentation which stressed the peaceful nature of Islam and
belief in the rights of the individual, and emphasized that all the bad things Westerners
perceive are not true Islamic teaching but cultural or other corruptions, we were invited to
avail ourselves of literature on various subjects. It seemed very reassuring at first glance.
Closer inspection of this literature, produced in Saudi Arabia, indicates it is written on the
presupposition that rights are controlled by shari’a, that is Islamic jurisprudence. Thus of
course there is no freedom to criticise or deny the prophet: that merits the death penalty
under all versions of shari’a law, as far as I know. Further, Saudi money has funded schools
and mosques in Australia.

It’s a bit of an enigma really. It seems that the Qur’an is not a closely understood text in
Islam, and, when it is, it needs much reinterpretation to avoid conclusions unpalatable in the
modern world. The Hadith (traditions) are variable, while the actual practice of Islam where it
is dominant generally has many bad elements/corruptions, and non-Muslims have a secondary
status as dhimmis. So what is true Islam? Is it a short creed (the Five Pillars), with allegiance
to a particular leader more significant in practice than the example and teaching of
Muhammed? Is that why Islam even in the Middle East is so faction ridden?

In this light, or lack of light, what are we to make of the Media Release by various Islamic
bodies including the ICV dated 6 November 2002 ‘Message to all the extremists of the world’?
[see] It’s dated shortly after the Bali bombing. I would like to
think it embraces a commitment to freedom of religion but it does not state this. Rather, it
affirms such things as ‘never in our name or in the name of any religion or God, can you ever
be aggressive, unjust or hurt innocent people;’ and ‘there is no political, religious, racial,
ethnic or ideological position that can justify victimizing the innocent and the defenceless.’ It
adds, ‘This statement reflects mainstream Islamic teachings in every way and it is based on
the Quran. There is nothing in it which is open to challenge. This is what Islam clearly teaches
and what the overwhelming majority of Muslims believe.’

I’m glad to see this statement, but the signatories are not affirming rejection of shari’a law in
favour of a pluralistic society with a secular constitution such as in Turkey. They are not saying
that they think the death penalty for apostasy is hurting ‘innocent’ people, and that they are
opposed to it

The ‘Message’ does not identify Islamic terrorism by name but speaks generally of all
extremists and particularly ‘the random killing of unarmed and innocent people whom you
cannot identify and are not fighting you.’ That’s quite a limitation which you can take as you
like. It’s hardly condemning the Palestinians, is it? And maybe it is condemning the Americans
in Iraq. And one notices one signatory is the Sydney-based Mufti Sheikh Taj Aldin Alhilali, a
man of some note for extreme statements both here and more recently (March 2004) in
Lebanon. So there are credibility issues for the ICV which should have been explored, and
which suggest the judgment is unsafe. It’s an ‘evasive, inconsistent’ perhaps even
‘exaggerated’ statement, is it not? Is it a form of dissimulation, akin to Jesuitical practice,
called taqiyya in Islamic jurisprudence?

Similarly, the answer by Mr Solimon for the ICV to the allegation that Muslims aimed to
establish an Islamic state was quite disingenuous. (para 188) Why don’t they state plainly
that they would love to see Australia an Islamic Republic (as I’m sure they would) in which
there would nevertheless be complete freedom of religion? Is it because an Islamic Republic in
most/all examples does not allow the kind of freedom of religion that this country stands for?
Perhaps the ICV people stand for progressive Islam, but can’t be too open because their
communities are not yet liberal enough?

Second, Islam appears to have a singular incapacity for public self-criticism. Public criticism of
Muslim by Muslim is rare, since there is a tribal mentality. It has to change if we are to see
progress. The reluctance to make unequivocal commitments hurts the cause of good relations.
There is real diversity in the Muslim community. In private I have heard serious criticism by
Muslims of almost every Islamic regime, yet I do not hear that publicly.

Open debate
Third, while vilification of anyone is objectionable, anti-vilification legislation is hardly the ideal
way to deal with it. The Islamic representatives, at our Knox Interfaith Network meeting in
December 2003, agreed that religious differences are not resolved in this way. Do we need
religious vilification laws? Perhaps, but they need to be clear and limited. There is no ‘true’
race, but there is truth and error in religion, and freedom to debate it is fundamental.
Interestingly, Amir Butler, executive director of the Australian Muslim Public Affairs
Committee, wrote in The Age June 4, 2004 that he had changed his mind on vilification
legislation. Public Islamic lectures now seemed always to include Christians taking notes, he
says. ‘These laws have only served to undermine the very religious freedoms they intended to
protect….Who after all would give credence to a religion that appears so fragile it can only
exist if protected by a bodyguard of lawyers?’ Elsewhere he writes: ‘If we believe our religion
is true then we are required to believe that others are false.’ Just so.
Christian leaders need to remember: “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my
brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1). And,
more particularly, “Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:21).
The pastors were careless at best, and deserved a rebuke. Still, the judgment does not seem
safe or fair, and thus it is unlikely to further the professed aims of the legislation. Some
modification of the Act is desirable.



The decision was given on 17 December 2004, there was a hearing concerning remedies on 4 May 2005 and the sentence was given 22 June 2005. It required the publication of a statement essentially the same as that submitted by the ICV in the CTFM Newsletter, on the CTFM website (for 12 months) and in advertisements in The Age and the Herald Sun on a Saturday and a Monday over two consecutive weeks, all by 31 August 2005. Also that within 30 days the respondents make an undertaking to the Tribunal that they will not make, publish or distribute in Victoria any statements or information that have the same or similar effect as those found by the tribunal to have breached the Act.

An application for judicial review had been lodged and a direction hearing was heard on 21 April 2005. The matter came before three justices of the Court of Appeal in August 2006, and was unanimously allowed on 14 December 2006. The Court held that VCAT had wrongly interpreted Section 8 of the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act, the basic section that sets out the offence of religious vilificationl. The Court gave orders that the Tribunal orders re ‘penalties’ (advertisement, not saying similar things) be set aside, and that the matter be sent back to VCAT to be heard by a different judge with no new evidence. The Court ordered that the costs relating to the previous Tribunal hearing and the next one be decided by the Member who hears it. The Court also ordered that the Islamic Council of Victoria pay half of the costs incurred by Catch the Fire Ministries and the pastors in conducting the appeal.

Back at VCAT, the parties agreed to go to a mediation prior to the re-hearing to see if the case could be resolved. The case was finally resolved at a Mediation at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal on Friday 22 June 2007. If mediation had not resolved the complaint it would have gone to a re-hearing at VCAT in December 2007.

The ICV has agreed to withdraw the complaint. A media release was issued as follows:

VCAT Media Release
Human Rights Division – Anti Discrimination List – VCAT Ref: A392/2002
Friday 22nd June 2007

Joint Statement of the Islamic Council of Victoria Inc.,Catch The Fire Ministries Inc., Daniel Nalliah and Daniel Scot

The Islamic Council of Victoria (the ICV) has reached an agreement with Catch the Fire Ministries, Pastor Daniel Scot and Pastor Daniel Nalliah about the complaint the ICV brought in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT), concerning what it alleged were acts of religious vilification in contravention of s 8 of the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 (Vic).

Although some of the terms of that agreement are confidential, the parties have agreed to make this joint public statement.

Notwithstanding their differing views about the merits of the complaint made by the ICV, each of the ICV, Catch The Fire Ministries, Pastor Scot and Pastor Nalliah affirm and recognise the following:

1) the dignity and worth of every human being, irrespective of their religious faith, or the absence of religious faith;

2) the rights of each other, their communities, and all persons, to adhere to and express their own religious beliefs and to conduct their lives consistently with those beliefs;

3) the rights of each other, their communities and all persons, within the limits provided for by law, to robustly debate religion, including the right to criticise the religious belief of another, in a free, open and democratic society;

4) the value of friendship, respect and co-operation between Christians, Muslims and all people of other faiths; and

5) the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act forms part of the law of Victoria to which the rights referred to in paragraph 3 above are subject.

Issued by: Clare O’Dwyer, VCAT Media Liaison

Perhaps the only positive out of this unhappy affair is that the variuous other states and jurisdictions recognised the complications in religious vilification area, and in some case declined to legislate. The Victorian Goverment made some minor amendments to the legislation which have the effect of limiting somewhat the scope for frivolous and and expensive to defend complaints such as that in the case of Fletcher v. Salvation Army. VCAT is no longer obliged to hear a matter declared frivolous by the Equal Opportunity Commission.
Dr Rowland S. Ward is minister of
Knox Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia,
Wantirna 3152 Victoria, Australia
Te: +613 9720 4871