• Service times

    Services times are:

    Saturday night 7:30 pm for our Chinese/English service. (Pastor Daniel Choi.)

    Sunday 10 am for our English language service (Senior Pastor Jeff Whittaker).

    Sunday 11:30 am for our Chinese (Mandarin) language service. (Pastor Daniel Choi.)

  • Contact details…

    Physical and postal address:
    4 Inverary Avenue,
    Epsom,
    Auckland 1023,
    NEW ZEALAND.

    Email:
    epsombaptist@clear.net.nz

    Telephone:
    (0064 9) 6306010

    Contacts:
    Rev. Jeff Whittaker
    Pastor Daniel Choi

  • Church Officers…

    Church Treasurer: Ann Guan

    Church Secretary: Margaret Whittaker

    Church Deacons: Anne Bartley, Ian de Stigter, Kristy Choi, Willa Hui, Donglan Zhang and Alfred Zhou.

Noah, the flood, and violence…

The more prominence a topic is given in Scripture, then the implication is that the more important it is. On this basis, the Noahic flood and other material associated with Noah dominate the opening part of Genesis. From Genesis 5: 28 (where Noah is introduced), through Genesis chapter 10 (which lists Noah’s descendants), the emphasis yet is on the catastrophic flood out of which Noah, his family, and a sample of all flesh are saved.

Genesis chapter 6 is headed up The Wickedness of Humankind in my Bible (NRSV). And certainly humanity is condemned in verses 5 and 6 for possessing evil hearts. But, in verse 7, God admits to regret at creating not just humankind, but also animals, creeping things, and birds. From verses 11, it is clear that all flesh – that is human beings, birds, animals wild and domestic, and all creeping things – that draws breath is implicated in God’s critique of violence. Verse 12 and 13 describe all flesh as being corrupted, with the corruption being evidenced by violence. And so God decrees that all flesh must perish, with the flood being the chosen instrument of eradication. However, as Genesis 8: 21 acknowledges, the solution didn’t work.

This lumping together of all flesh as corrupt raises some fascinating questions, first about human culpability, but then about animal culpability. The recently reported anthropological finding of a pre-historic mass grave in which the bones show clear signs of human inflicted violence raises the question: Has humanity ever been anything other than violent, the Garden of Eden story notwithstanding? (I believe this finding contradicts the assertion of people like Karen Armstrong in ‘Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence’ who contend that human violence did not begin until the advent of settled agriculture.) Have carnivorous or omnivorous animals ever been anything other than predatory? Palaeontology doesn’t indicate that these animals have been anything other than predatory. As Science discovers that animals also exhibit sentient awareness of things traditionally only attributed to human beings, albeit in more rudimentary form, are animals then to be held to human ethical standards? Can animal life be different if humanity changes for the better as hinted at in Romans 8? Has Isaiah picked up on the implications of this in his vision of the peaceable kingdom (Isaiah chapter 11), imagining a human and an animal world without predation? Can a lion truly be leonine while vegetarian?

John August Swanson's rendering of Isaiah's vision of the peaceable kingdom.

John August Swanson’s rendering of Isaiah’s vision of the peaceable kingdom.

As various utopian visions in the Bible make clear, humanity is certainly aware that it could live differently, co-operating peaceably not just with other human beings but also with the rest of the created world. We describe this as the kingdom of God coming in its fullness. Advances in many fields – we owe a huge debt to science – means that we should be optimistic. But all of the foregoing discussion means that the peaceable kingdom, the utopian vision of Isaiah, cannot be brought about by attempting to eradicate violence with an imposed death sentence. In fact, maybe we are being shown that the peaceable kingdom can only be brought into being by sacrifice that puts human violence into the spotlight. That, of course, brings us to the cross of Christ…

Patterns in Matthew…

The middle chapters of the book of Matthew exhibit some fascinating patterns. Let me start with Matthew 11, and the incident where some disciples of John the Baptist approach Jesus with a query from John. John, they tell Jesus, is puzzled. It seems that John is no longer sure that Jesus is the One he thought. The puzzlement is because of the way that Jesus has been exercising his ministry. Jesus tells John’s disciples to reassure John by quoting some verses from Isaiah that back up Jesus’ unexpected ministry direction. In Matthew 14, these disciples of John are back, telling Jesus that John has just been executed by Herod. I see in this communication a sad challenge to Jesus; a suggestion from these disciples that somehow Jesus’ lack of solidarity with John is at least partly responsible for John’s death.

Here is where I see the pattern start. Jesus immediately seeks to find a place to withdraw to. To me it seems that he wants to mourn for his cousin John, but also to reflect on the question: Is the way I’m doing ministry the right way? But, Jesus is sought out by crowds of needy people, and ends up ministering. Healings, exorcisms, teaching… These call him out, and he pours himself out for the people. And then comes controversy, arguments with various persons and groups whom Jesus has managed to annoy or threaten, In response, Jesus again seeks a lonely place in which to pray. This then is the pattern. 1) Attempted withdrawal. 2) Ministry to the crowds who won’t leave him alone and seek him out. 3) Justification of his ministry approach as he ministers the all sorts of needs. 4) A controversial engagement with those – including his disciples on occasion – who challenge Jesus and what he is doing. And then the pattern repeats. Interestingly, along the way Jesus’ understanding of the scope of his mission is enlarged, extended. The encounter with the ‘Canaanite’ woman is a key to this process. And, rather than being a strange stand-alone story, I see the transfiguration from Matthew 17 as another attempted withdrawal similar to that that Jesus will make in the garden of Gethsemane just prior to his own execution.

transfiguration-of-Jesus

Chapter 16 introduces a twist. By this time, Jesus realises that, although his approach to ministry has developed in a direction quite different to that of John the Baptist, he cannot and will not escape John’s fate. Death lies ahead for him as well. And so, in verses 24 – 28 of Matthew 16, Jesus is described as challenging his followers with the fact that following him will require that they live with the cross as a daily threat or reality.

And how might that be lived out? Chapter 18 has Jesus teaching his disciples on how to live together as the community of his people, what taking up one’s cross on a daily basis might involve in the reality of everyday life. I’m about to preach on Matthew 18 this coming Sunday. What a challenge!

Confession and the Kingdom…

Following is a piece written by Dr. Martin Sutherland, Academic Dean and Vice-Principal at New Zealand’s Laidlaw College, and member of Epsom Baptist Church.

The scene in Matthew 11:2-6 where John the Baptist sends his disciples to quiz Jesus has always intrigued me. John came preaching a ‘gospel’ of fire and repentance and then endorses Jesus as the one to consummate this visitation of God. But all Jesus seems to do is heal people! Has John backed the wrong horse? Jesus responds by pointing to signs which are clearly associated with the Messiah, but John must still have been left wondering.

Any doubt is removed by the end of chapter 12.

In a series of unprecedented and unmatched incidents, Jesus provocatively takes the argument to the Pharisees. He flouts the Sabbath rules over plucking grain (1-8) and then healing a man at the synagogue (9-14). Each time it is as if he has deliberately set up a confrontation. He thumbs his nose at the religious authorities and then embarks on a mass public campaign of messianic healing (15-21). This is too much for the Pharisees. They brand him as devilish (24). The situation is now, literally, irredeemable. Jesus not only destroys their logic but brands them arch-blasphemers, a nest of snakes. The unforgiving are now the unforgivable (31-32).

Just to make clear the enormity of what he is doing Jesus even declares a new society, a new family (46-50). Nothing of the old order continues the same. This gospel forces choice. It turns the world upside down. Jesus will be a branded man hereafter. John has his answer.

This is clearly a key moment in Jesus’ public ministry. Crucially it all turns on his first response to the Pharisees. What does God want? Law? Purity? Sacrifice? Only if they are expressions of mercy (12:7). But this chapter forces us to think far deeper than outmoded customs and rules. Jesus drives to the basic building blocks of community. Even family is denied any absolute place. All must be subsumed under this radical gospel of mercy and love.

The church is called to be that new community, no longer defined by law and ritual or even natural loyalties. Sadly, our natural default is to become a new version of the Pharisees. Here confession is crucial. Why is it that we have a tradition of laying our self open to the mercy of God? Surely;, because as individuals we are conscious of our own failings; but it’s also to remind us of our corporate sin. It is easy, too easy, too comfortable, to settle back in the warm bath of clear-cut religion – religion with rules, with payment, with sacrifice, religion where we can maintain our default power structures under a veneer of spirituality. This isn’t the gospel. The gospel breaks rules, forces choice, challenges assumptions.

When we come to confess, we open ourselves to the disruptive possibility that the Holy Spirit might actually make something new of us. Be careful what you wish for.