The End of Christianity in Tasmania?

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Theology and Culture

Stephen Baxter considers whether the church in Tasmania has separated from the mainstream of Tasmanian life.

In 1971, Tasmania was the most Christian state in Australia with nearly 9 out of 10 people identifying as Christian. Fast forward fifty years and that number has plummeted to just over 1 in 3. Those claiming no religion went from 1 in 20 to 1 in 2.

This seismic shift didn’t happen overnight. It was the culmination of a series of small cultural shifts day after day, year after year. The shift caught the church largely unaware and over the years it became separated from the mainstream of Tasmanian life.   

Looking Like Jesus?

The church has always been at its best when it resonated with the human condition. It started with Jesus, who met people with empathy and courage, as opposed to the religious leaders of his day who only increased their burdens. Too often in the 2000 years since, the church has looked more like the opponents of Jesus than Jesus himself. We failed to engage the real challenges people faced, and instead erected barriers. However, there have been times with the church was more like Jesus. 

How would the people of Tasmania view the church today? I fear they don’t see Jesus. This is a challenge. If the church remains disengaged from the mainstream we will continue our decline in relevancy and number. But it doesn’t need to be that way. We are people of the resurrection. The challenge before us is in fact a real opportunity. 

Now is the time to reimagine what it means to be the church for 21st century Tasmania. As we do, I believe there are three aspects worthy of our consideration.  

Is the church in Tasmania known as a source of audacious hope, radical community and fierce love?

Communities of Hope, Love and Faith

Firstly, it is important we reclaim being a community of hope. The church is God’s pilot project for the new creation. Imbued with hope through rebirth in the Holy Spirit, the church is not about reviving old dogma but birthing a lifestyle that is dynamic, alive and relevant.  

Secondly, reembody being a community of love. Being church was never about empty religious observance. It’s about humbly loving those around us through practical care, good works and social cohesion. Such love is always infectious.  

And thirdly, rebuilding a community of faith. Too easily we slip into reducing Jesus followers into spectators and consumers of church services. But the church was never meant to be reduced to that. We are a body of faith-inspired, spirit-equipped people participating in God’s mission together. Here we constantly pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” 

Is the church in Tasmania known as a source of audacious hope, radical community and fierce love?

If the challenges the church faces in Tasmania are seen through the lens of these realities, everything changes. No longer are we an institution on life support struggling to stay alive. In fact, we become the vehicle God uses to bring renewal to every area of life in our communities. 

Sure, it is uncomfortable and unpredictable, and will look very different from the church we’ve known. But that is no different than the message Jesus brought. Our calling is to be out ahead of the cultural tremors working to reshape of our world based on the dreams God for our community.   

The Alternative?

But what is the alternative? Simply fading away by surrendering to the status quo that rendered us culturally irrelevant in the first place? 

No, this moment of challenge is the opportunity. What if the church in Tasmania was known as a source of audacious hope, radical community and fierce love for each other? Wouldn’t that be exactly what Jesus would want of us?

Stephen Baxter is Mission Director for Tasmanian Baptists.

A turning of the tide?

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Demolishing Barriers, Crossing Divides

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Deep Thought

Easter has come and gone for another year. It’s a wonderful time to celebrate the heart of our faith—the death and resurrection of Jesus and the hope that comes with it.  

Now that Easter is over, it’s valid to ask, “so what?”

Sure, it’s a reassurance that death is not the end of it all, but what difference does it make to your life today, tomorrow or next week? 

At Hobart Baptist Church, on Resurrection Sunday, I focussed on the event recorded in Matthew, where the Temple curtain is violently torn, from top to bottom. This happened the moment Jesus died.  

The curtain was a massive fabric barrier made of purple, blue, and scarlet material, interwoven with fine linen. It was about 18 metres high and 100cm thick. Its presence was to set a boundary between the Holy of Holies, the most sacred space where God was present and humans were not, from the rest of the Temple.  

Although God put this barrier in place in the design of the tabernacle, now God sets about destroying it. That’s the significance of it being torn from the top. 

A Holy Place

The Jews thought they understood holiness, and the temple was central. Jesus, however, had a very different vision and that’s what got him killed. He was Immanuel, God with us, crossing that barrier that divides. Sure, God is holy, righteous and pure, just as the curtain illustrated, but not in a way that makes God distant and hateful of whatever is unholy. God is love, pure unadulterated love.  

Image of torn paper with quote: Jesus was Immanuel, God with us, crossing that barrier that divides.

But that’s not all. The gospel writers record a second important event. At exactly the same time Jesus died and the curtain was ripped, the Centurion executing Jesus had a profound “ah-ha” moment.   

As high-ranking officer in the Roman army, he had most likely witnessed hundreds of crucifixions. Yet, this one was somehow different, and he was deeply moved. 

This is profound. Not only because he responded, “Surely this man was the Son of God” (Mark 15:39), but because God met him in a most unholy place. Here, in a pagan setting outside the temple and the city while executing God’s specially chosen Messiah, God is still at work, demolishing the barriers, crossing the divides.  

Image of torn paper with quote: God the Centurion in a most unholy place. Here, in a pagan setting outside the temple and the city while executing God’s specially chosen Messiah

This changes everything and should change our tomorrows. The God who is there, who Jesus revealed through his death and resurrection, is most surprising. Contrary to our expectations… if God can meet the centurion while he supervised the crucifixion of the beloved son, God can meet you anywhere. Your ordinary life, no matter where it is at, is no barrier to God meeting you, if you are willing to meet God.  

This is a “so what” worth celebrating every day.

Stephen Baxter

Stephen L. Baxter is Mission Director for Tasmanian Baptists

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Reason for Great Hope in a Broken World

Tas Baptists Mission and Leadership 2024 Stephen L. Baxter

Mission and Leadership Development

By Stephen L. Baxter, Mission Director, Tasmanian Baptists

Being a church leader in Tasmania is challenging. Whether a pastor or part of a leadership team, in either a paid or volunteer capacity, the issues faced can feel overwhelming. Yet, there is great reason for great hope.  

People do not think about or relate to the church in ways they used to. Where once they may have looked to the church for guidance and support, today most look elsewhere. 

In fact, for many, the church is the last place they expect to find welcome and care. Yet, across many of our Baptist churches in Tasmania, that is exactly what many people are receiving. There are so many opportunities. You can read about many of them in articles released via reCharge. 

Despite the good things happening, there are still challenges. Significantly, Tasmanians remain the least religious people in Australia according to the last census figures

There is great reason for great hope
There is reason for great hope

Many, no doubt, have been repelled by some of the extreme and reactionary versions of Christianity portrayed in the media. Despite representing only a small minority of people, every church is tarred with the same brush.   

While many have rejected religion, this does not mean they no longer believe in God. Religion is often associated with an institutional or external moral framework as a means to relate to God. In a very individualistic world, many don’t see the need of religion to go to God. 

These and many other influences mean that most Tasmanians are unlikely to come to our churches of their own accord. So, we must go to them. This is exactly what many of our churches are doing in many different ways.  

Their approach is to begin with a focus on the needs of their community and find what can be done to address them. There is a focus on building relationships, in one-on-one meetings, small groups and other activities where connection and community are the focus.  

This is why there is reason for hope. Our churches are adapting to the challenges of the Tasmanian community. The good news of Jesus still brings hope to the chaos of people’s lives.  

By being in the community, rather than waiting for them to come to us, we can be on hand when the moment arrives.  

For it is in times of significant life change, challenge or loss, that people are more open to hearing about truth, hope, meaning and purpose. The challenges before us in 2024, and beyond, call for adaptability and creativity.  

We have already begun the journey and God continues to guide us. May we have an openness to new ideas, to new ways of doing things, and to new ways of thinking so that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion” (Phil 1:6). 

Stephen L. Baxter

Stephen L. Baxter is Mission Director for Tasmanian Baptists

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Reason for Great Hope in a Broken World

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Converge 2023

Comnverge 23 - Anthea Maymard reports on the annual event where leaders from Baptist churches in Australia visit Canberra to advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves. This year's focus was the Myanmar crisis.

Advocating for Others

Baptist Leaders, Converge23

By Anthea Maynard, City Baptist Launceston

Converge is an annual gathering of Australian Baptist representatives in Canberra to advocate on issues close to the heart of our movement and the represent the 1000+ churches nationally.

This year, nearly 40 Australian Baptists from across Australia gathered for two days of lobbying and advocacy. Nicholas Alexander (Lifeway Devonport), Stephen Baxter (Mission Director & Hobart Baptist pastor) and I, Anthea Maynard (Team leader Launceston City Baptist) attended as delegates through the support and generosity of Tas Baptists.

Key Objective

The key objective was to elevate the ongoing and protracted crisis in Myanmar as a priority. We were asking for action from our elected representatives. Groups of four delegates from different locations met with members of parliament to introduce the situation. They then presented three asks and shared a personal story by a person from Myanmar.  With more than 20,000 Baptists from Myanmar in Australia, this is an important opportunity to support them. As well, we advocated as part of a wider, ecumenical effort (with the Catholic and Uniting Churches).  

Our campaign “We Must Not Forget About Myanmar” has postcards outlining the three asks to Senator the Hon. Penny Wong, Minister for Foreign Affairs. These postcards will be available through Baptist World Aid and Australian Baptist Ministries (see below). We hope that 20,000 printed postcards will end up on the desk of the Foreign Minister.

With different humanitarian crises happening around the world, the emergency for the people of Myanmar has fallen off the radar of the international community.  This is our opportunity to make a difference. The United Nations Humanitarian chief, Martin Griffiths recently said, ‘successive crises in Myanmar have left one third of the population in need of humanitarian aid’.

Justice beyond ourselves

This was my first experience of Converge. It was a unique opportunity to work alongside Australian Baptist representatives from diverse roles and locations to highlight the needs and recent experiences of the people of Myanmar.  It is my prayer awareness and support will grow, along with members of parliament noticing Christians advocating for issues justice beyond ourselves.

Anthea Maynard with Converge delegates and an MP
Anthea’s Lobby Group: Melissa Rule (BUV Head of comms), Biak Nei Xing (Coffs Harbour), Rev. Daniel Bullock (BUV Director of Mission and Ministries), Anthea, Sui Sangte Chung (Perth WA).

In my group, there were two delegates from the Myanmar Baptist community. Sui, from Perth WA, has recently graduated from nursing. She arrived in Australia as a refugee with her mother at the age of eight. Sui shared of her recent trip to some refugee camps on the Indian border. Sui encountered stories from elderly ladies who had fled their villages due to airstrikes. This year, airstrikes have increased dramatically in Myanmar to a current total of 289. Stronger, focused sanctions are needed to limit the capacity of the Junta to trade.

Biak was the other delegate, from Coffs Harbour NSW. She shared how her mother’s and father’s villages were burned to the ground in September this year. This was very distressing for her and her extended family.

The overall response by parliamentary representatives was engaging and positive. The Myanmar delegates were encouraged, and grateful to raise their voice with other Australian Baptists.

What to do next

Myanmar crisis

RAISE AWARENESS AT YOUR CHURCH Images and resources, available HERE
PRAY FOR MYANMAR Myanmar Prayer Sheet (450KB)
ADVOCATE FOR MYANMAR Email politicians; Order postcards INFO HERE >

Anthea Maynard

Anthea Maynard is the pastor at City Baptist, Launceston

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Converge 2023

Redeeming Redemption

Redeemng redemption

Being a Missional Movement

Redeeming Redemption

By Stephen Baxter

Have you ever thought about the cultural context of the word REDEMPTION?
For most people in Tassie, the word has little or no spiritual or religious meaning. Any association with God and his work in and through Jesus has been lost. But that does not mean it is unredeemable.

According to the latest census, most Tasmanians have no religion. Or so they say. The move away from religion, particularly among younger generations, has been observed for decades. For those still attending church it is clearly seen and felt every Sunday. Church attendance is no longer high on people’s priorities, and that includes those who claim to be Christians. That’s not to say people are not spiritual, they’ve just rejected institutional forms of religion.

Along with this rejection has come a significant loss of a biblical literacy, particularly among younger generations. The Bible stories and biblical words, once common knowledge in the community for believers and non-believers alike, are no longer familiar. This has set up a widening communications gap between the Church and the community, which the Church has seemed reluctant, or perhaps incapable of bridging. Notwithstanding a number of valiant attempts to bridge the gap with varying levels of success.  

The Bible stories and biblical words, once common knowledge in the community, are no longer familiar.

Modern-day usage

Redemption is one of those words that has lost almost any of its biblical meaning. For most in our community, the words ‘redemption’ or ‘redeem’ are associated with ‘gift cards’ more than anything else. They can be spotted in the aisles of the checkout of any large retail store.

More than likely, you have used them as a gift when you can’t think of anything else to give. And no doubt you have received one for the same reason. Many of them sit on our bedside tables, or take up room in our wallets, for months, until we get around to “redeeming” them.

A second, less common usage, has to do with making someone or something seem less bad. We talk of a person “redeeming themselves” when they do something good after they had a failure. We also point out “redeeming qualities” in someone or something that would otherwise be considered dull or mediocre.

So today, the words ‘redemption’ or ‘redeem’ have little association with God and his action through Jesus Christ. A quick search on Google reflects this, with very few mentions of God. And if it does, it is termed as if it is an antiquated use of the word.

But does this mean we should stop using the word ‘redemption’? Is it a lost cause? Or can we set about “redeeming redemption”? I believe so.

Biblical redemption

The first two chapters of Genesis give us a small glimpse of the world God first intended. A friend of mine describes living in Eden as living in “right relations”. It outlines a clear plan of how humanity is to relate to each other, the world around them, and to the God who made them. But things got messed up very quickly and relations – with God, with each other and with the earth – became strained and dysfunctional.

God’s response to this brokenness was a patient drawn-out process to do whatever it costs to set things right again. It reached its highpoint in the life of Jesus Christ, and continues to this day. This is biblical redemption: God reclaims the broken and sets it on a course to a renewed and completed wholeness.

This is the story of hope, where a miraculous restoration follows deep despair and total loss. This theme of brokenness and renewal, or human breakthrough after failure, is powerful and uplifting. It is the plot line of any great narrative whether it be a novel or a movie or real life. Just think of your favourite movie. Good Will Hunting, Star Wars – Return of the Jedi, Gran Torino, Les Misérables, Cinderella Man, Rain Man, I can only imagine, the Marvel series and so on. The story of redemption, it seems, is hard wired into our psyche.

Given the theme of redemption is so much a part of who we are, surely the potential power of the word ‘redemption’ remains, it just needs to be repurposed for our contemporary world.

It’s all about relationship

In the New Testament, ‘redemption’ basically has two aspects.

On the one hand we read of Christ’s atonement for the sins of the world, as in: “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3). On the other hand, we read of Christ’s victory over the powers of evil, as in: “we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. But … God sent his Son … to redeem those under the law” (Gal 4:3b, 5a, see also 2 Cor 4:3-5, Phil 2:8-11). The focus of the first is our relationship with God, while the focus of the second is our relationships in the world.

Both are critical for our understanding of redemption. However, historically, the church has emphasised redemption in terms of our relationship with God at the expense of our liberation into freedom as “sons of God”. By paying more attention to making things right with God we have neglected making things right with our neighbours, and significantly for younger generations, making things right with the environment.

Perhaps it is here the word ‘redemption’ can find redemption! Perhaps redeeming redemption is a thing after all.

Despite the brokenness of our world and the despair people feel, Jesus reminds us that at the heart of this vast universe is love, and that the great Creator has always and has never stopped loving us. Humanity is God’s great project and despite the havoc caused by sin, God’s heart was never hardened against us. Instead, it is our hearts that were hardened against God. Yet God, who is always ready to point out our “redeeming qualities” amid all that is dull, mediocre or severely broken, set about freeing us.

So, what is Redemption?

Redemption is God’s gracious act of releasing us from all the things that cause our hearts to be hard. It is a liberation from the slavery of bitterness, shame, rage and anger, and the powers that locked us into mediocracy, harmful habits, undermining attitude.

Through redemption, we are rescued so we might find our way back to life, to health and to living the way life was meant to be. It brings us back into right relations with God, with each other and with the world upon which we live.

Redemption is so powerful and wonderful that it can even redeem itself. At its heart, redemption is a gift. Jesus. He is God’s great “gift card” available for everyone. All we need to do is redeem him.

Stephen Baxter
Mission Leadership Director

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Redeeming Redemption

Expanding Horizons

Expanding our horizons

Deep ThoughtA bi-monthly feature in reCharge

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    Expanding Horizons

    Interpreting Genesis in this Era

    By Tasmanian Baptists Mission Director Stephen Baxter

    Just over a year ago, images from the James Webb Space Telescope were released with great fanfare. Orbiting around the sun, the telescope began to peer deeply into outer space, capturing infrared glimpses of distant stars, clouds and galaxies formed billions of years ago.

    With the Webb telescope we can probe the mysterious structures and origins of the universe in new and exciting ways. As its website declares, “We wonder. It’s our nature. How did we get here? Are we alone in the universe? How does the universe work?”

    Imagfe from the Webb telescope.
NGC 1433’s spiral arms are littered with evidence of extremely young stars.
NASA, ESA, CSA, Janice Lee (NSF's NOIRLab)
Image Processing, Alyssa Pagan (STScI)
Expanding horizons
    A barred spiral galaxy with a double ring structure, NGC 1433’s spiral arms are littered with evidence of extremely young stars

    Since the beginning of human life, generation after generation ask these questions. And we continue to ask them in our day even as, and because of, the amazing images the Webb continues to provide.

    Astronomers estimate there are some 100 billion stars in the Milky Way, the galaxy where earth is located. They also guess there is some 2-trillion galaxies across the known universe. That’s a lot of stars. Something like one septillion, or 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. With a number like that, no wonder we continue to ask who on earth are we are.

    Genesis remains adequate

    For millennia, the early chapters of Genesis have inspired millions. Its proposition that our existence came about through the action of a generous, wise, and benevolent Creator is literally awesome. Those introductory chapters of the Bible are a small and unique glimpse into the intentions and desires behind life as we know it.

    Generation after generation have returned to those words for inspiration. Each has brought their own interpretation, borne out of their desires and the limits of their knowledge. Today, in the light of our increasing knowledge through instruments like the Webb telescope, it is time to do our own work of interpretation.

    It’s not that Genesis is inadequate, for it remains God’s revelation to us. However, previous interpretations can seem somewhat inadequate in the light of recent discoveries.

    Is it possible to revisit these first few chapters of Genesis and retell the story of our beginnings in a way that captures and recaptures our imaginations, imaginations shaped by the images of the Webb telescope?

    Expanding horizons

    The first hearers of the Genesis story of creation had little sense of the size, nature, and scope of our world. Let alone the Universe. Over the following centuries as human knowledge grew, each generation reimagined the story of life in the light of their expanded knowledge.

    For example, when people did not travel far from their place of birth, knowledge was limited to, and dependent upon, the place where one lived and upon the information gleaned from visitors. When explorers returned with fascinating tales of distant lands, peoples and creatures, one’s appreciation of the world grew.

    When people did not travel far … knowledge was limited to, and dependent upon, the place where one lived and … from visitors.

    For those who wrote and compiled the Old Testament, their horizon was limited to the Middle East. By the time of the New Testament writers, it had expanded to the Roman Empire.

    Around the time of the Protestant Reformation, the horizon included Europe and parts of Asia and Africa. Then, there was the significant expansion through the nautical exploration of people like Columbus. And as well, through the proposal by Copernicus that the earth revolved around the Sun – not the other way around. The reformation/renaissance period became one of rapid discovery and change. This had a profound and transformative effect on every aspect of Western culture, including Christianity.

    Around the time of the Protestant Reformation, the horizon included Europe and parts of Asia and Africa.

    Our world today is amid a similar period of rapid change. Propelled by technology and space travel, today’s horizon has literally moved out of this world. We are the first generations in human history to look back at earth from outer space. This change of perspective is having a profound and transformative effect on the life of every person living on our planet.

    No wonder we are expanding horizons!

    We are all interrelated

    The 1972 photograph of the ‘Blue Marble’ taken by Apollo 17 astronauts perhaps best encapsulates this expanded horizon.

    "The blue marble" Apollo 17 Crew, Dec 1972
Expanding horizons
    “The blue marble” Apollo 17 Crew, Dec 1972

    This picture of a fragile, vulnerable, and isolated Earth suspended amid the vast emptiness of space, changed the world. As historian Robert Poole suggests,

    “The sight of the whole Earth, small, alive, and alone, caused scientific and philosophical thought to shift away from the assumption that the Earth was a fixed environment, unalterably given to humankind, and towards a model of the Earth as an evolving environment, conditioned by life and alterable by human activity, it was the defining moment of the twentieth century.”

    The ‘Pale Blue Dot‘ is a similar photo, and just as profound. The 1990 Voyager 1 spacecraft took it when 6.4 billion kilometres away from earth. This photo, together with the ‘Blue Marble’, signifies a defining moment in our expanding horizon.

    The pale blue dot, Voyager 1,
Expanding horizons
    The pale blue dot, Voyager 1

    In the light of this expansion, many old stories we told ourselves, about who we are, no longer seem adequate. The exploration of space, the insights of modern science, rapidly changing technology and the communication revolution, contribute to destabilising old metanarratives.

    Today, for the first time in human history, and despite the remaining differences in language, customs, worldviews and religion, there is a collective “knowing” that we all share the one planet, with the one history and the one destiny. Everything is interrelated, everything is dependent. We need each other. The future is ours together. We can no longer operate in isolation.

    A stark question for Christians

    Contemporary answers to the perennial questions of “Who am I?”, “How did we get here?” and “What does the future hold?” must take the insights of this expanded horizon into account. Any spirituality or religion appearing indifferent or ignorant to our ‘fragile’ world, or displays a reluctance to work ‘together’ for the future, is quickly dismissed. It is seen as out-of-date, inadequate, irrelevant and even dangerous.

    Any spirituality or religion that appears indifferent or ignorant to our ‘fragile’ world . . . is quickly dismissed as out-of-date.

    Christians today face a stark question. Is the story of creation in Genesis capable of giving an answer that will satisfy the yearnings of those who ask them in the light of the Webb telescope? I believe the answer is yes. But we will need to do some deep reframing.

    This is not a new enterprise. The Reformers had to do something similar when they encountered new discoveries and technological advances. They reimagined and reinterpreted the Genesis creation story of their day. Like them, we need to arrive at a narrative big enough and meaningful enough to recapture our imaginations. It will provide a new vision for what God is doing in our world.

    This is the task before God’s people who live in this moment.

    I pray God will enable and equip us to develop a spirituality/theology aware of these expanded horizons which is attuned to the spiritual longings of contemporary Tasmanians. Wouldn’t it be great if this new awareness enlivened searching hearts with the hope, love and joy found in Jesus Christ?

    Stephen Baxter

    Stephen Baxter is the Senior Pastor at Hobart Baptist, and is Tasmanian Baptists Mission Director.

    More Deep Thought

    The God of Bethel by Maddy Svoboda
    Being Family Together by Christa McKirland
    The Sound of Silence by Denise Stephenson

    RESPONSE from Craig Hawkins

    8 September 2023

    Mission Director Stephen Baxter’s “Deep Thought” article challenges readers to “retell the story of our beginnings in a way that captures our imaginations, imaginations shaped by the images of the Webb telescope”. He concludes that “…we need to arrive at a narrative big enough and meaningful enough to recapture our imaginations”.

    It is an incredible claim to suggest that the truth of God’s word is merely the product of how well we can imagine what it is saying. The idea that the Scriptures are confined by human imagination is a denial of the authority and sufficiency of Scripture.   God’s word is bigger and more meaningful than any human mind could have put together. When we treat it in this way, we open the door for compromise on a whole suite of fundamental doctrines. It also confuses passages that are clear in their meaning and suggests that clear statements can not be made in Scripture that are not open to reimagination sometime in the future.

    Stephen appeals to the Reformers who had to reimagine and reinterpret the Genesis creation story but fails to mention that they did so by “Sola Scriptura” – returning to scripture alone and NOT the faulty word of man. They were intent on using Scripture first to interpret the world we live in not the other way around.

    It should be no surprise then that Martin Luther concluded: “Now we know from Moses that about six thousand years ago the world was not yet in existence”.

    Augustine said as early as the 4th century AD:

    Let us then omit the conjectures of men who know not what they say, when they speak of the origin and nature of the human race. They are deceived too, by those highly mendacious documents which profess to give a history of many thousand years, though, reckoning, by the sacred writings, we find that not 6000 years have yet passed

    What has the James Webb telescope actually achieved? It has simply enhanced the Psalmists claim that the heavens declare the glory of God (Psalm 19:1). Did mankind really discover through observation of the 1972 ‘Blue Marble’ photo that earth hangs “suspended amid the vast emptiness of space” when the oldest book in the Bible says: “He stretches out the north over empty space; He hangs the earth on nothing.” (Job 26:7). Doesn’t that suggest the ancients were not limited by their own knowledge in expressing God’s truth, but rather through His divine revelation to us?

    Stephen’s opening statement that the universe “formed billions of years ago”, means that Genesis 1-11 cannot be taken seriously despite his claims that it can. The second that you invoke vast ages is the moment that you must accept that the rocks are billions of years old and that the fossil evidence of death they contain is a result of the actions of the Creator Jesus, not the result of Adam’s sin. Stephen has acknowledged that he sees no problems with billions of years of animal death prior to sin.

    Theologians must realise that the Big Bang is an attempt to explain the universe without reference to God. Science finally caught up with scripture just over a century ago and realised that the universe had a beginning so they concocted the idea of the Big Bang. It has many failings as a scientific theory but for Christians we accept that Jesus Christ is creator and that “He alone spreads out the heavens” (Job 9:8). Given that we do not even understand the physics of Jesus walking on the water, why do we think we can come up with the physics of his most amazing miracle – the creation of the universe? It is a special arrogance of mankind into which Christians should not be drawn.

    So Christians take heed of Paul’s warning:

    “20 O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called:21 Which some professing have erred concerning the faith.” (1 Tim 6:20-21 KJV)

    The Big Bang is false scientific babbling which Christians should avoid, relying rather on God’s power as expressed in Psalm 33:6

    By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth” (Ps 33:6 NIV)

    The claim that Old Testament writers were limited in their knowledge to the Middle East is also false on a number of levels. Firstly, mention of Tarshish (Europe), Cush (Africa) and the travels of Solomons fleet, abroad for 3 years, suggest much wider knowledge of the world.

    However, more importantly, the Scriptures come to us as a result of revelation.

    In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.” (Hebrews 1:1-2 NIV)

    In Exodus 33:11 we learn: “So the Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.”  

    Do we know more than Moses? Jesus himself gives us a stark warning about this: “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.” (John 5:46 NIV)

    The Hebrews 1:2 verse also highlights that God has spoken to us through His Son. When Jesus comments on marriage, that in the beginning God made them male and female, it actually means “in the beginning” not 13.6 billion years after it as Big Bang timeframes would currently require.

    Baptists have always been a movement who have highly prized the truth of Scripture. Spurgeon was one of few voices that opposed Darwin in his day. “If God’s Word be true, evolution is a lie. I will not mince the matter: this is not the time for soft speaking.” (Spurgeon 1886). It disappoints me to read an article in our Baptist news on such an important topic that includes no scripture references at all.

    Perhaps the thoughts of long-age astronomer John Eddy can shed light on why Christians get drawn into the idea of vast ages. He said:

    I suspect that the sun is 4.5 billion years old. However, given some new and unexpected results to the contrary, and some time for frantic recalculation and theoretical readjustment, I suspect we could live with Archbishop Ussher’s value of the earth and sun [6 thousand years]. I don’t think we have much in the way of observational evidence in astronomy to conflict with that”. (John Eddy PhD (astrogeophysics), Solar Astronomer, High altitude Observatory, Boulder Colorado. In Geotimes, vol.23 1978)

    It is important to note that Eddy states his belief in billions of years but admits that it is not because of the observational evidence. Rather, it is due to his underlying belief system upon which he then builds his picture of history. Christians are in the fortunate position where we can rely on the words of the one who was there at the creation of the universe and who told us what He did in His word.

    The James Webb telescope is an amazing example of human ingenuity and engineering that helps us explore the wonders of creation, but it most certainly does nothing to cause us to compromise our clear understanding of Biblical Creation.

    I want to sincerely thank Stephen Baxter for a frank and friendly discussion on this topic.

    Craig Hawkins
    The Point Baptist Church | Creation Research – Tasmania | Creation Discovery Centre Tasmania

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    June/July 2023

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    Expanding horizons

    Thanksgiving Service

    Marrawah Baptist - the people gathered for the final service on Sunday 5 February 2023

    Marrawah’s Grand Finale

    Celebration, thanks and farewell

    By Dan Evenhuis

    On Sunday 5th February 2023, Marrawah Baptist Church held their final service when 78 people squeezed in to give thanks. They took it out with a bang. You can watch snippets of the service via YouTube, below.

    Personally, my ministry started in Marrawah, and I had the privilege of MC’ing the service. A long time ago, I led the local youth group, and gave my first sermon in the mid-90’s. Patrick Bakes, who has been a regular speaker and encourager at Marrawah, shared a couple of songs.

    Ted Nibbs, who has also been a regular speaker at Marrawah for many decades, gave the final sermon. This was complemented by Stephen Baxter (Mission Director for Tasmanian Baptists). Both men spoke of the seasons of God’s work, and the sewing of seeds over the years, but also the courage to know when it is time to complete a chapter and see what God opens next. 

    However, the people worthy of note are those who kept this church functioning these recent, sparse years: Peter and Silvia Godman, and Ada Baldock.

    FROM LEFT: People gathered early; Pre-service morning tea; The building was packed out!; Speakers on the day.

    Seventy Years of Service

    Marrawah Baptist church began in 1953, and during our closing service one of the founding members, Miriam Godman, shared some of the history. Marrawah has grown and commissioned many missionaries, held thriving Girls Brigades, summer-clubs, hosted ‘GodStock’ (Christian Surfers of Tasmania camp), and was often the starting point for Bike for Bibles.

    Stephen Baxter reflected on the day saying, “It was my privilege, on behalf of Tas Baptists, to join the folk at Marrawah as they celebrated the faithfulness of God and to give thanks for the service of many people over many decades.

    “It was also a day of mixed emotions. Our Baptist work was the last remaining church to close in Marrawah. There was grief in that, but also hope and expectation for what God might do next.”

    Is there something else in the pipeline at Marrawah?  “Watch this space,” was all Stephen could say.

    The thanksgiving service at Marrawah Baptist was a sad occasion as the doors were closed for the last time. But please pray with us as we determine God’s will for Marrawah.

    Dan Evenhuis - Citywide

    Dan Evenhuis
    Executive Pastor, Citywide Baptist

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    February/March 2023

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    Thanksgiving Service at Marrawah Baptist

    GOD and Life in Tasmania

    Fresh wind blow, Tas Baptists, Stephen Baxter writes

    Changing Landscape

    Noticing the Deep Questions

    Tas Baptist’s Mission Director, Stephen Baxter, has had some time out to ponder and reflect from a distance. It’s amazing what a trip beyond Tasmania’s shores can do to shift your perspective!

    We are well and truly into 2023. Kids are back at school, church programs get underway, and life returns to its familiar rhythm. Jenny and I have just returned from a time in Spain to be with our daughter, Alice, and son-in-law, AJ, on the birth of their daughter, Koa.

    Alice, AJ and Koa, Christmas Day 2022
    Alice, AJ and Koa, Christmas 2022

    Spain, like Australia, is very secular. This got me wondering what God thinks about all these people going about their lives, without giving much thought to the deep and essential questions of life. The question was heightened by the fact that Alice and AJ are in Spain working with others in bring the good news of Jesus to Spaniards.

    My thinking has remained with me as I return to Tasmania.

    THE CHURCH: From Spain, to Tasmania, to Marrawah!

    Last Sunday I was with the Marrawah church as they celebrated their final church service. It was a day of celebration and sadness. As I looked at the pictures of the past, spoke with people, and heard their shared memories, it was clear that over the years God has been at work in special ways.

    But times change, and the church as it was, is no longer viable. Marrawah is a little picture of the church in Australia and Spain. It is no longer the centre of our communities like it was. However, that does not mean it is the end of the church. Rather, it is the end of a certain form of church that worked well for a season, and needs to adjust for a changing world.

    Because the world keeps changing, the church needs to be constantly renewing itself

    Stephen Baxter

    God has given everything needed through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. But because the world keeps changing, the church needs to be constantly renewing itself. As Germain theologian Helmut Thielicke put it,

    The gospel must be preached afresh and told in new ways to each generation, since every generation has its own unique questions. The gospel must constantly be forwarded to a new address, because the recipient is repeatedly changing his place of address.

    Fresh wind, B L O W

    On the day of Pentecost God did a new thing and the church was born. Whenever we celebrate that day, it is a reminder of the need for constant renewal. A quick survey of church history reveals just that. The Holy Spirit is at work renewing the church from age to age, enabling and equipping it to be the church of its particular age. May it be so here in Tasmania.

    Returning home, this is my prayer for Tasmanian Baptists, and I encourage it to be yours too: that God would blow a fresh movement of the Holy Spirit through us, that we might be vibrant churches with a revitalised theology finely attuned by the Holy Spirit to the changing needs of a changing world.

    Let me encourage you to join me in praying this prayer.

    Stephen Baxter
    Stephen Baxter, Senior Pastor

    Stephen Baxter
    Mission Director
    Tasmanian Baptists

    FIND OUT MORE about the Mission and Leadership Development Team and how they can support you and your Tasmanian Baptist church.

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    February/March 2023

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    God and Life in Tasmania

    How Did We Do in 2022?

    How did we do in 2022?

    Leadership and Growth

    Wins for Tasmanian Baptists

    During 2022, the Mission and Leadership Development Team were very busy, supporting Tasmanian Baptist churches.

    So … how are Tas Baptists going? Read on to find out.

    Click for a MaLD Reflection
      Mission Director


      On the Front Foot

      As I look forward to 2023 it is with great hope and with a deep sense that significant challenging times lie ahead of us. These challenges are reflected in the significant change to the religious landscape of Tasmania over the past 20 years.

      • The latest Census figures show how those nominating as “Christian” has dropped from 69.9% in 2001 to 38.4% in 2021; and over the same period, those nominating as “no religion/secular belief” has risen from 17.2% to 49.9%.
      • In the five years between the 2016 and the 2021 Census, those of “no religion/secular belief” overtook “Christian” as the largest religious grouping.

      This is such a dramatic change, I’m sure I cannot fully appreciate what it means for our mission and ministry. Nevertheless, I’m convinced God has been preparing us for this moment.

      God has been preparing us for this moment. Stephen Baxter
How did We Do in 2022?
      How Tasmanian Baptists are responding

      These changes have not caught us by surprise. More than a decade ago we deliberately embarked on transitioning to become a mission-shaped movement. More recently, our focus has been on building a team of new generation pastoral leaders. Although there is still more to do, we are making significant gains.

      So, where to from here?

      The Tas Baptist Council is currently in the middle of a review. They want to listen to our churches in this moment, and hear from God, to clarify our next steps. It is hoped a report will be ready to present to next year’s Mid-year Assembly in May.

      My encouragement to us all is the words God spoke to Joshua, “be bold and courageous”.

      Given the changing nature of society, complete with some significant economic challenges thrown in, I suspect the years ahead will be quite demanding and tough. Yet, God is with us, and this turns any threat into an opportunity. We are not caught on the backfoot, but are instead progressing with confidence.

      So let us move ahead full of faith, hope and love.

      Stephen Baxter

      Stephen Baxter

      Mission And Leadership Development


      Focus on Joy

      Every year feels big (and small) when thinking about church, community, and leadership.

      It’s like thinking about family. There is no winner. Just the time-period of a year spent sustaining a community, growing leaders, deepening relationships, and dealing with setbacks.

      I find it simultaneously rewarding, and challenging. As well, it is easy to let the setbacks dominate any discussion, because they are the easiest to remember. 

      Which is why at the end of every year I focus on what brought me joy. 

      Tas Baptist Pastors and LEADERS’ Musters

      Courage | Presence | Proximity

      I loved our March get together in Hobart, and our discussions on Courage. They set me up for the year in so many ways. I particularly loved our end reflections, and conversations I had with many, as we mutually encouraged one and other.  

      As the year has gone on, our conversations around Presence (Burnie) and Proximity (Launceston) have felt large. It feels like it is a constant conversation at the moment, where we are calling each other into presence and authenticity.

      We are calling each other into presence and authenticity. Michael Henderson
How did We Do in 2022?

      It brings me joy to spend time with you.

      How we have carried courage, been present, and responded to our calling is something that gives me great hope as we head into 2023.

      Blessings and Grace and Peace to you this Christmas.

      Michael Henderson

      Michael Henderson

      Mission And Leadership Coach


      God’s Invitation to You

      As I reflect on 2022 …

      There is a deep, quiet, and joyous sense of gratitude in my spirit about our Tasmanian Baptist community and what God is doing among us.

      This year I have had the privilege of noticing an increased sense of team among our pastors, and walking alongside people as they courageously choose to follow God and his ways. I have seen an increase in bravery and vulnerability, understanding of self and of God, and a willingness to listen to and follow the promptings of Holy Spirit.

      There is a stirring that God is doing something fresh, and we get to participate and co-create. No doubt there will be more challenges ahead, but what a privilege this is!

      God is doing something fresh. Jenna Blackwell.
How did We Do in 2022?
      As we turn to 2023 …

      I sense an invitation for us to know God better through the presence of Holy Spirit.

      There is an invitation to find guidance for better ways of engaging. To find guidance to better engage with our communities and those around us with hospitable love and transformational grace.

      I sense courage (bravery + vulnerability) and deep friendships will be integral to leaning into the kingdom of God, with patience and perseverance. I also sense an invitation to lovingly and prophetically speak into younger generations. To pull down the barriers in ourselves and our faith communities as we learn to know God and each other afresh.

      Questions for you to ponder …
      • What is God’s invitation to you for 2023?
      • What does it look like for you to carve out time to dwell in God’s presence?
      • Who are the safe people that you can increase vulnerability with?
      • How can you build relationships with people of different generations?
      Jenna Blackwell

      Jenna Blackwell

      FIND OUT MORE about the Mission and Leadership Development Team and how they can support you and your Tasmanian Baptist church.

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      November/December 2022

      Christmas Events Tasmanian Baptist churches celebrate! (from 14th December)
      Deep Thought Dec 2022 The Change Makers by Melissa Lipsett BWA
      CROSSOVER Christmas Resources Helping Baptists share Jesus at Christmas
      AROUND THE CHURCHES November 2022 Find out what’s been going on!
      ANNUAL ASSEMBLY Anthea Maynard reports
      FAMINE In the Horn of Africa Be Informed by Baptist World Aid

      NEWS: November 2022 | December 2022

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      How did We Do in 2022?

      How did We Do in 2022?

      Does God Really Care?

      Does God really Care? The earth

      From the Mission Director

      Does God Really Care?

      Our emphasis on ‘heaven’ has neglected earth, and turned it into an incidental waiting room for the afterlife.  (Does God Really Care?)

      That’s an important question I was asked recently. It was asked not out of personal concern, but about the future of planet earth. They had attended church for a time, and had heard “the Good News”. But from their perspective it didn’t sound like good news at all because it seemed to have little to say about environment, and survival of humans.  

      There are many in our community who feel the same. The way we tell the story of Jesus just seems irrelevant to their key worries.

      Sometimes our telling of “the Good News” is heard as “believe in Jesus and get a free ticket out of earth to heaven”. When it is heard that way, God sounds disconnected, detached and quite disinterested in what happens in our lives, here on earth today.

      Our emphasis on ‘heaven’ has neglected earth, and turned it into something like an incidental waiting room for the afterlife.

      Setting to Rights

      This is far from what Jesus taught. In his book Simply Christian, N. T. Wright states, “Despite what many people think … the point of Christianity is not ‘to go to heaven when you die’ [rather it is] to put the whole creation to rights”[1]. Paul says the same things when he writes, God’s purpose is “to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.[2]

      However, this is far from what Jesus taught. In his book Simply Christian, N. T. Wright states, “Despite what many people think … the point of Christianity is not ‘to go to heaven when you die’ [rather it is] to put the whole creation to rights 
(Does God Really Care?)

      God’s purpose is “to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

      Ephesians 2:10 (NIV)

      Paul’s focus is not on getting from earth to heaven. In fact, it is the other way round — it is about getting heaven down to us.

      If we think of all the things that go wrong in the world, it’s easy to picture a huge gap between heaven and earth. But that’s not how the Bible describes it. Heaven is not a long way away; it is very close.

      In fact, Jesus was always on about seeing what God was up to in the world. He often declared the “kingdom of heaven has come near”.[3] But despite all his miracles and healings, people struggled to see it.

      An inquisitive religious teacher Nicodemus came to see Jesus. Although impressed by what he saw in Jesus, he wanted to know more. Jesus said to him that, “no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”[4] To observe and understand what Jesus was on about, to see God’s kingdom at work, Nicodemus needed a new set of eyes.

      “To observe and understand what Jesus was on about, to see God’s kingdom at work, Nicodemus needed a new set of eyes.

      Change Your Mind!

      Think Beyond: (Does God Really Care?)

      And it wasn’t just Nicodemus. We all need a new set of eyes.

      Jesus announced, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Mt 3:3, 4:17). The English ‘repent’ isn’t a great translation of the original Greek, metanoia. But at least it’s better than the Latin translation (Vulgate) which reads, “Do penance! For the Kingdom of heaven is at hand!”

      Martin Luther was sure penance was not what Jesus meant, and translated metanoia as ‘change your mind,’ which is better than our ‘repentance’.

      Metanoia comes from two Greek words, metá meaning “beyond” or “after”, and noeō meaning “perception”, “understanding” or “mind”. So, an even better translation is perhaps “think beyond”. This means Jesus was saying, “prepare yourself for what is about to come—open your mind, your heart, your eyes.”

      Future Potential

      Jesus’ emphasis was not on the failings of the past, but upon the potential of the future

      The Good News is not that Jesus has come to whisk us away to heaven. Rather he came to reunite heaven and earth. His purpose was for heaven and earth to interlock and overlap. To be woven together in a vibrant tapestry which Paul calls “the new creation”[5].

      Jesus didn’t come to make us sorry for our sin, although that is a helpful part of the process. Instead, he wanted us to be excited by a fresh start. His emphasis was not on the failings of the past, but upon the potential of the future.

      God deeply cares about the future of our world, and that is exactly why Jesus came. He calls us to a new life focussed on love for each other in the power of the Spirit. If we all lived that way, then the future of the earth would be ensured. Surely, this is Good News, and surely this is what our world needs to hear.

      Stephen Baxter

      Stephen Baxter
      Mission Director
      Tasmanian Baptists

      [1] (p. 217).
      [2] Ephesians 2:10
      [3] For example, Matthew 3:3, 4:17, 10:7
      [4] John 3:3
      [5] 2 Corinthians 5:17

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      October/November 2022

      October/November 2022

      CHRISTMAS IDEAS For Baptists from Crossover
      AROUND THE CHURCHES October/November 2022
      ANNUAL ASSEMBLY Report by Anthea Maynard
      FAMINE In the Horn of Africa Melissa Lipsett, CEO Baptist World Aid
      PRISON MINISTRY By Cameron Brett of Prison Fellowship Tasmania
      DEEP THOUGHT The Sound of Silence By Denise Stephenson
      SCHOOLS MINISTRY: Mustard Lives Transformed by Jesus
      CHURCH PROFILE: Newstead Baptist
      October 2022 NEWS | November 2022 NEWS

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      Does God Really Care?