What is needed in the Protestant churches of New Zealand

About the author: Rob Scovell is a graduate of Edinburgh University with degrees in Astrophysics, Theology, and Mathematical Modelling. His interests are in political analysis and in bridging the illusory gap between Faith and Science. He is a classical liberal in a world where that position is under attack from both left and right-wing Identitarians.

* Important theological note: there are some very major theological differences and serious incompatibilities between Calvinism and Orthodoxy but there are significant parallels in the outworking in people?s lives in terms of discipleship, and it is those parallels I want to focus on here.

This article is going to be hard-hitting and not for the faint-hearted. I expect a lot of blowback from it but here goes anyway.

I decided to write this after two events over the Easter weekend.

I was away from home with extended family. We decided to go to the local Baptist church on Easter Sunday to see their Easter play. I left very concerned about the state of Protestant Christianity in New Zealand.

The Easter play, written and performed by a group of young people, purported to describe the salvation history of the scriptures leading up to the resurrection of Christ.

I face-palmed all the way through. The theology was all over the place. I realised why people outside the church get the idea that we Christians believe in ?an old man in the sky? because of the portrayal of God the Father in this play.

It played right into the caricatures of fedora-tipping sophomoric Internet atheists.

Then there was Mary: she was portrayed as a garrulous, nagging wife, cajoling poor Joseph as they sought a place to stay in Bethlehem.

Mary was said to have embodied the fruits of the spirit to the highest degree possible in a fallen human being. Where was the kind, gentle, loving Mary in this production?

In short, the entire play trivialised the Good News and made a joke of it. If Christians can?t present their faith with seriousness and care, how is the outside world supposed to take it seriously?

After the play there was a short prayer but it lacked any real content and there was absolutely no call to repentance and discipleship. Such calls used to be central to Baptist Church presentations of the gospel. When did they stop that practice?

The second event last weekend was that I watched an interview with Bishop Gavin Ashenden on Manx TV. He made the powerful point that there is a three-way battle for the soul of the West at the moment: Islam; militant secular Cultural Marxism; and Christianity. He said that Islam and Marxism are serious players and they don?t play nice, whereas Christians are the nice guys and not even in the fight.

It?s not a physical fight, of course. The command from our Lord is to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. It is non-negotiable. The use of the ?sword? is prohibited in no uncertain terms and is an absolute. But loving our enemies does not mean to give in to their demands: it means to hold strong until they have to persecute us to get their way, taking us all the way to martyrdom if necessary.

But how can anyone take seriously the kind of Christianity that now exists in New Zealand and the wider Western world? It is mostly a laughing stock, if we look at it objectively. The mainstream denominations are simply about ?social gospel?, and represent tired leftish viewpoints left over from the 60s and 70s. The evangelical churches seem to peddle cheap grace: instantaneous salvation and hyped up emotional states that allow people to delude themselves that they are experiencing the Holy Spirit.

Even worse are the megachurches that promote the prosperity gospel, promising financial blessings to Christians — and requiring huge donations in response. These ?churches? are businesses — reinforcing the opinions of sceptical cynics that churches are just there to make money.

There is no serious attention paid to repentance and the hard, austere, self-sacrificing life of discipleship. There is an implicit antinomianism in the practices of most of the churches in New Zealand today.

I received my theological formation in the stony city of Edinburgh, with its harsh cold winds from the North sea. There are many churches there of various degrees of Presbyterian puritanism, built on the teachings of Calvin and John Knox. For them, the Christian life is one of humility, repentance, discipleship, and acts of charity, because that life is what the Bible teaches. This is what is needed in the Protestant churches of New Zealand.

Why am I saying this as an Eastern Orthodox Christian? Because at the heart of Orthodoxy is the life of repentance, humility, discipleship and acts of charity that Calvin emphasised. I have to be realistic in understanding that the cycles of liturgical ceremonial in Orthodoxy feel culturally alien to most New Zealanders, so I am urging Christian believers in these islands to return to the form of Protestant Christianity with the strongest points of contact with Orthodoxy. The ideal, of course, would be to return to Orthodoxy as the fullest expression of the Christian faith of the Apostles, but I am realistic about the cultural barriers.

We need to take our faith seriously … and biblically … or we will simply be washed away.