Category Archives: Church life

Training New Leaders – How?

One of the common features of our Reformed churches is the annual election for office bearers.  In some places, the process goes smoothly; there’s no shortage of qualified and available men.  In other places, especially in smaller churches, it can sometimes be a struggle.  The church I currently serve was in this situation in 2018.  There were older men who were qualified and experienced, but no longer able to serve.  There were younger men available to serve, but not qualified and definitely not experienced.  There’s nothing you can do about the older men, but there’s certainly something you can do about the younger. 

This was the genesis of our church’s Service and Leadership Training (SALT) program.  Our consistory developed this program to address the need for a new generation of qualified leaders, not only in the church proper, but also in our church community.  SALT is directed towards men aged 25-35, to equip them for service in terms of both doctrine and practice.

Investment

How do you motivate people to be invested in training offered by the church?  In some cases, individuals will be self-motivated enough to sign up for such training and then follow it through to the end.  However, my experience has been that there’s often an initial surge of interest in a program offered to everyone, but then that soon drops off and you’re left with a remnant. 

One way of addressing is this is to charge a fee for training.  Putting money towards something definitely motivates an individual to be more personally invested.  However, as effective as it might be, that’s not necessarily sending the right message in a church context.

There’s a better way.  The better way is to have the elders select the individuals for the training.  That’s what we’ve done with our SALT program.  For each training year, our elders have nominated approximately 5 young men between 25 and 35.  These individuals are selected on the basis of greatest leadership potential.  This approach has borne fruit in terms of completion of the training.  Over three training years, we’ve only had one individual not complete the training and that was on account of his moving inter-state.

Mentoring

There are two components to our SALT program.  The first involves one-on-one mentoring.  Each participant meets three times individually with me.  This is another reason why we keep the cohorts to about 5 – a total of fifteen meetings is feasible.

Essential to the mentoring is something called a Spiritual Growth Plan.  This was introduced to me by Dr. John Smith from CRTS as something they do with the seminary students in Hamilton.  We’ve adapted it for SALT.  The Spiritual Growth Plan has the participants identify their spiritual strengths and weaknesses, and asks them to develop a plan to address their weaknesses.  We go over this plan together at the first mentoring session, then in the two subsequent sessions we discuss it and there’s accountability for following through.      

Classroom Training

The second component involves approximately 2 hours in the classroom every two weeks.  In preparation for each classroom session, the participants are given assigned readings on the topics to be covered.  To help the readings are done, every participant is required to prepare a one paragraph summary of each reading.

The topics covered divide up into doctrinal and practical matters that are essential for church leaders.  In both areas, the teaching advances one step up from what the men would have received in their pre-confession instruction. This is the complete list of doctrinal topics:

  • Scripture and hermeneutics
  • Creation
  • Doctrines of grace
  • Regeneration
  • Justification
  • Sanctification
  • Covenant theology
  • Sexual ethics
  • Women in office

Here’s the complete list of (more) practical topics:

  • Personal devotions
  • Family worship
  • Ecclesiastical offices
  • Church Order
  • Ecclesiastical assemblies
  • Home visits
  • Counselling
  • Church discipline
  • Sermon evaluation
  • Evangelism
  • Union with Christ
  • Discipleship

Ample opportunity is provided for discussion and questions.  I try to use as many real life examples as I can.  We also have at least one “field trip” – in connection with learning about ecclesiastical assemblies, the participants attend a joint elders-deacons meeting.    

Finally, because “leaders are readers” (Albert Mohler), almost every session includes a number of recommended books to “build a leader’s library.”

Outcomes 

So, has SALT achieved its goals?  Since 2018, several SALT “graduates” have been nominated as elders or deacons.  Some have been elected.  Additionally, some are now serving in leadership roles in our Christian school association.  So, with thanks to God’s blessing, I think we can say it’s been working as we intended.

I’ve had inquiries from several people about SALT.  The concept should be easily transferable to other churches.  In the beginning of 2019, I offered an intensive SALT course (without the mentoring) to a group of men in Cagayan de Oro, the Philippines.  The feedback was positive about that, so I imagine it could work elsewhere.  If anyone is interested, I’m happy to share all the materials I’ve developed.  My prayer is that what we’ve done here will perhaps help other churches in raising up another generation of faithful, well-equipped leaders who can serve the cause of the gospel.


The Greatest Threat to the Gospel Today

Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church, Michael Horton, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008.  Paperback, 270 pages.

In 1923 a stick of literary dynamite was tossed into American Christianity.  J. Gresham Machen published his response to the deformation of the church in his day, Christianity and Liberalism.  In this book, Machen decisively demonstrated that Christianity and theological liberalism are two entirely different religions.  The sad irony is that nearly 100 years later, Machen’s book remains relevant.  Only the names have changed.  Today’s greatest threat to Christianity is not called liberalism.

With this book, Michael Horton (professor at Westminster Seminary California and URC minister) has done for our generation what Machen did in his, surgically exposing the ultimate emptiness of much of what passes for Christianity in North America.  In fact, according to Horton, much of what calls itself Christian is simply missing the boat on who Jesus Christ is according to the Bible – that’s the essence of Christless Christianity.  Writes Horton,

Christless Christianity does not mean religion or spirituality devoid of the words Jesus, Christ, Lord, or even Saviour.  What it means is that the way those names and titles are employed will be removed from their specific location in an unfolding historical plot of human rebellion and divine rescue… (p.144) 

Christless Christianity means the trivialization of the Bible’s message of good news through Jesus Christ.

By its very nature and by the author’s admission, this is “not a cheerful missive.”  Horton incisively takes on the health and wealth pseudo-gospel of popular figures such as Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer as well as the postive thinking pseudo-gospel of Robert Schuller.  He rightly points out that while the erstwhile Emergent movement put its finger on various problems in American Christianity, the solutions it offered were no less problematic.  For instance, he critiques Brian McLaren, who “scolds Reformed Christians for ‘their love affair for the Latin word sola.’” (p.194).  More “Christless Christianity” isn’t the answer.

In the first chapter, Horton promised to follow this book up with a “more constructive sequel.”  In 2009 he delivered with The Gospel-Driven Lifeyou can read my review here.  Nevertheless, he does begin to offer constructive alternatives towards the end of Christless Christianity as well.  He calls for resistance to the trend identified in this book.  It all has to do with going back to the Word of God and what it says about us, about our ultimate problems, and about the solutions in Christ.  Horton writes:

A church that is deeply aware of its misery and nakedness before a holy God will cling tenaciously to an all-sufficient Savior, while one that is self-confident and relatively unaware of its inherent sinfulness will reach for religion and morality whenever it seems convenient. (p.243).

While this book addresses the “American Church,” I think many of us will recognize the same trends spilling over into Christianity elsewhere, including in Reformed churches everywhere.  Horton’s cry from the heart is one we all need to hear.

I have one slightly critical note regarding Horton’s perspective on worship.  He rightly notes that in much of contemporary American Christianity, people come to church to do something.  “Everybody seems to think that we come to church mostly to give rather than to receive.” (p.191).  Horton seeks to correct this by drawing attention to the ways in which public worship is about God ministering to us.  While this is a helpful correction, some balance is called for and that can be achieved through emphasizing the covenant structure of biblical worship.  Yes, God’s ministry of Word and Sacrament to us stands central in biblical worship, but reflecting the structure of the covenant also means that there’s a place for human response.  Horton has worked with that in A Better Way, but it would have been helpful to have it mentioned here also.

Obviously, my overall assessment is positive.  Five stars, ten out of ten, whatever you wish – this book receives my highest recommendation.  My prayer is that, unlike Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism, this book would be entirely irrelevant in 100 years.


Preview of FRCA Synod 2021

It’s another exciting synod year for the Free Reformed Churches of Australia.  This year’s synod is scheduled to be held starting on June 14 in Albany, Western Australia.  The reports for this synod are now publicly available here and I imagine other material will soon follow.  Let’s review some of the noteworthy items on the agenda for Synod Albany 2021 so far.  Since I’m delegated to this synod, I’m not going to be offering my views or opinions — what follows are just the facts, presented as objectively as possible.

Website

Synod 2018 mandated the Website Committee to design a new website for the FRCA.  This has been done and it just remains for Synod 2021 to give the green light.  In the meantime, you can find a preview of the new website at this link. 

Book of Praise

Our last synod also mandated the development of an Australian Book of Praise and, to that end, a Standing Committee for the Australian Book of Praise was appointed.  The Aussie church book is apparently at Premier Printing in Canada, but should be available by the time of Synod 2021.  It will officially be called Australian Book of Praise:  Anglo-Genevan Psalter.

Training for the Ministry

This is a significant report because these deputies were asked to develop a strategic long-term plan for an accredited Australian seminary.  The plan proposes to explore the possibility of an Australian affiliate of the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary. There are many unanswered questions about this route, but the deputies are asking for a new mandate which will see them finding the answers. 

The report also proposes that deputies be mandated to develop guidelines for a vicariate system in the FRCA.  This would see seminary graduates who originated in the FRCA being given the opportunity to have a one-year internship/vicariate in a local FRC congregation with an experienced pastor.  The proposed model is based on the practice of the Reformed Churches of New Zealand.

Ecumenical Relations

As happens at every synod, a lot of time is going to be spent on relationships with other churches.  Especially noteworthy at this synod will be a proposal from Classis North (originating from Launceston) to send observers to the next International Conference of Reformed Churches (ICRC).  The FRCA was part of the founding of the ICRC.  We left the ICRC in 1996, but this proposal suggests the time may be right to re-examine our involvement through a small step.

Within Australia, we have our Committee for Contact with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and Southern Presbyterian Church.  This committee is recommending that the FRCA continue discussions with the EPC and SPC with a view to eventually establishing sister church relations.  While the marks of a true church are in evidence with both the EPC and SPC, there do remain outstanding issues to discuss with them.  The committee is also asking the synod to clarify the status of a “Declaration” that was made by Synod 1986 with regard to “true church.”  Was that a general doctrinal declaration and therefore a form of extra-confessional binding?  Or was it simply a limited declaration meant to serve the narrow purposes of a discussion at Synod 1986 about the Presbyterian Church in Eastern Australia?  The answer has implications for moving forward with the EPC and SPC.                   

Outside Australia our closest sister churches are the Canadian Reformed (CanRC).  Among other things, our deputies were mandated to monitor developments in relation to Blessings Christian Church in Hamilton, Ontario.  In their report, the deputies noted that there were many efforts in the past three years to openly discuss and debate these developments within the CanRC.  They write that we need to respect the process of dealing with these things through the Canadian ecclesiastical assemblies.  Going forward, the deputies recommend that referring to a single church is not necessary or appropriate, because these developments are “part of a larger dynamic within the CanRC” (p.53). 

Geographically the Reformed Churches of New Zealand (RCNZ) are some of our closest sister churches, especially if you’re in Tasmania.  Our deputies were mandated by the last synod to keep urging the RCNZ to be vigilant with regard to the Christian Reformed Churches of Australia.  In their 2021 report, the deputies maintain that there is no need to continue doing this, seeing how as the RCNZ already do this on their own.  If we continue to make that a point of discussion it communicates mistrust, according to the deputies’ report.

Finally, there are two North American churches with whom we’ve been exploring a relationship.  Our deputies recommend that contact be continued with the United Reformed Churches and that a recommendation be made to Synod 2024 about a sister church relationship.  With regard to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), the deputies recommend not pursuing a sister church relationship at this time, not because of any issue with the OPC as such, but because of the practical difficulties involved.  They also invite recommendations from the churches about the merits of pursuing ecclesiastical contacts with the OPC outside the context of a sister church relationship.

Conclusion

There’ll be other items on the agenda.  In the weeks to come, FRCA consistories will be reviewing all these reports and the other proposals that have been submitted.  Undoubtedly, in due time, there will be letters from some of the churches interacting with some of this material.  This is good and fitting.  It shows that the churches care about what happens at our broadest assembly and they care about the direction of our federation.  I look forward to June!           


Herman Bavinck on Women in the Church

Herman Bavinck (1854-1921) stands with John Calvin and Abraham Kuyper as one of the greatest Reformed theologians.  He’s renowned for being biblical, confessional, and incisive.  It’s been especially the publication of his Reformed Dogmatics in English that’s brought him to prominence in our day.  Biographies by Ron Gleason and, more recently James Eglinton, have certainly helped as well.  However, most of Bavinck’s corpus remains in Dutch.  Eric Bristley’s Guide to the Writings of Herman Bavinck illustrates the vastness of this corpus, listing hundreds of his articles and books. 

I want to introduce to you one of these untranslated works, one that was controversial in its day, and still bears some relevance for today.  In 1918, Bavinck published his book De vrouw in de hedendaagsche maatschaapij (Women in Contemporary Society).   It’s a comprehensive look at questions Dutch society was wrestling with in the early 20th century, particularly under the influence of first-wave feminism.  It deals with what Scripture teaches about women and how biblical teaching applies today, but also surveys church history – Bavinck’s typical approach.  In what follows, I’ll summarize what he says in his chapter about women in the church.  I’ll be simply reporting what he writes.  In other words, this is only descriptive and not analytical/critical.

“Women in the Church” is the title of chapter 10 of De vrouw in de hedendaagsche maatschaapij, the second-last chapter of the book.  It begins with the pre-Reformation church, noting the role of nuns in Christian philanthropy.  During the Reformation, some efforts were made to reorient this kind of diaconal service among women, but these efforts were hardly successful.  In some areas, efforts were made to have deaconesses, but the Synod of Middelburg in 1581 decided that it was not advisable to reintroduce the office of deaconess in the Reformed churches of the Netherlands.  In exceptional circumstances such as a time of plague, however, the work of deacons could be done by their wives or other women.  According to Bavinck, this happened in places like Middelburg, Utrecht, Amsterdam, and Emden.

Bavinck then turns his attention to a historical overview of women as pastors/preachers.  He notes that the Salvation Army was among the first to give a prominent role to women as church leaders.  This was owing especially to Catherine Booth, who co-founded the Salvation Army with her husband William.  Catherine Booth argued for the right for women to be preachers alongside men.  Others who pioneered women’s ordination were the Quakers, Congregationalists, Universalists, Unitarians, Methodists and, in the Netherlands the Mennonites and the Remonstrants.

Bavinck evaluates all these developments as being unbiblical.  He notes that Christ entrusted the ministry of the word to men, first to the apostles, and then to pastors and teachers.  The apostolic church never had any official ministry of the word and sacrament by women, nor any government of the church by women.  The apostle Paul said that women are to be silent in the congregation because to do otherwise would violate the natural order grounded in creation.             

Bavinck has a more positive evaluation of women serving in a general diaconal role.  In fact he says, the church “cannot do without women in this work.”  This includes things like Sunday school, care for the poor and the sick, care for the elderly, the support of pregnant women, and more.  He doesn’t think these activities need to be directly under the oversight of the church as an institution, but the church does have the calling to promote this kind of work where women use their gifts.

That leads into a discussion of the active role that women can play in missions.  He notes some figures for women serving on the mission field.  According to his figures, 160 women from America were serving as missionary doctors, and 2458 as “sisters in the mission” (zendingszusters).  Canada had 23 and 220, while Australia and New Zealand 2 and 94.  He also draws attention to the role that “missionary women’s associations” play on the home front, promoting and supporting the work of missions around the world.  Bavinck presents all of this in a positive light. 

Finally Bavinck comes to the controversial topic of women voting for office bearers in the church.  He begins this discussion with an overview of where things stand:  he notes that there are many churches in America, Australia, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, and Switzerland where women vote.  He points out that it was discussed and defended in the Netherlands as early as 1898 by Abraham Kuyper, as well as by pastors A.D.C Kok and C. Lindeboom.

Bavinck notes that the issue did not seem to be a pressing one in the Netherlands of his day.  Unlike in other countries, men were actively involved in Dutch church life and there didn’t seem to be any desire to have women voting for office bearers.  He writes that, with such indifference, it would be foolish to press the issue.

However, he notes that if we discuss it in principle, “there is little ground to condemn it.”  Bavinck argues that women are equal members of the church with men.  They have just as much an interest in having good office bearers as the men do.  Because of their nature as women, they tend to actually have quite a great deal of interest in religious matters.  Moreover, there are large numbers of widows, women married to “religiously indifferent men,” or women married to men who belong to another church.  Without being able to vote, such women are all stripped of the opportunity to have an influence on church life. 

Bavinck strengthens his argument by noting that while women under the authority of their husbands in the home, as church members they receive the same benefits and should receive the same rights.  He notes that young male communicant members who still live with their parents are subordinate to those parents, but yet they have the right to vote.  This is unfair.  Bavinck says the injustice becomes worse because women are allowed to raise objections to the election of an office bearer – yet they cannot vote.  Then he notes that the vote in the church is not an exercise of power.  The congregation only points out its preferences for office bearers; the consistory is responsible to call and appoint.

He maintains that there is only objection with any weight:  if women can vote in the church, it will not be long before the church will be forced to have women standing as candidates.  In other words, women’s voting will lead to women’s ordination. 

But Bavinck notes that this is an argument from fear.  It is an argument that often persuades fearful minds concerned about novelties in the church.  However, he points out, if the Scriptures are so strong that women may not serve as office bearers, then we have nothing to fear.  The clarity of the Bible should prevent any such development.

He then points out that it’s not unusual for people to be able to vote and not be able to stand as a candidate.  One does not follow from the other.  The requirements for eligibility to vote are often different from the eligibility requirements to stand as a candidate.  In the Dutch situation of his time, a public servant, clergyman or teacher was not allowed to be a candidate in a city council election.  Writes Bavinck, “Thus eligibility to any office in Scripture is bound by certain requirements, 1 Timothy 3; but no such limits are placed on the power to vote.”

Finally, Bavinck comes to a brief discussion of Scripture.  In Acts 1:15, in the meeting of the 120 people to replace Judas as apostle, women were certainly there (Acts 1:14).  True, Peter addresses the gathering as “Men and Brothers.”  That was common practice and it still was in the church of Bavinck’s day.  Even though they were present the sisters were never mentioned.  It’s therefore uncertain as to whether or not the women present participated in the process.  Other passages like Acts 13:3 and Acts 14:23 likewise do not shed any light.  Bavinck concludes that while Scripture limits the offices of the church to men, there is no definite and clear statement about who may vote.

Indeed, it seems to Bavinck, in the ancient church women were not excluded from choosing bishops or making contributions to other ecclesiastical matters.  He points out that, in his day, in Germany there were Roman Catholic congregations where independent women had long been allowed to vote on the choice of a pastor.  Similar situations occur in the Netherlands, he says, proving that women have not always been excluded from the voting process in the congregation just because they are women. 

In his biography, Ron Gleason describes the reception of this book (pp.415-416).  It was especially the matter of women voting in the church that led to some negative evaluations by men such as Dammes Fabius and Seakle Greijdanus.  Gleason relates that Abraham Kuyper wrote his last letter to Bavinck about this book and indicated that the two of them had significant differences on the subject.  However, a footnote surmises that these differences may have been about women’s suffrage in civil society.  Given how Bavinck asserts that Kuyper defended women’s voting in the church, Gleason may be correct.

(Note: I haven’t yet read James Eglinton’s biography and what he may have to offer on this – it’s on my list of must-reads for 2021.)            


Submission for Tasmania Law Reform Institute

The Tasmania Law Reform Institute (TLRI) recently released an “Issues Paper” addressing “possible reforms to Tasmanian law to respond to sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) conversion practices.” They requested public feedback via their website. My public submission to the TLRI is below. I urge other Bible-believing Christians in Tasmania to also make submissions. The development of this kind of legislation could have dire consequences for our churches, our families, and our Christian schools. The deadline is January 7, 2021.

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Public Submission for Tasmania Law Reform Institute

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Conversion Practices

1.0   Introduction

I am Rev. Dr. Wes Bredenhof.  I have served as the pastor of the Launceston Free Reformed Church since September 2015.  Previous to that, I served two churches in Canada.  I have a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Alberta (1996), a Master of Divinity degree from the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (2000), and a Doctor of Theology degree from Reformation International Theological Seminary (2010).

I am called to be a preacher of the good news of Jesus Christ.  My calling is to show love to everyone I can by first explaining the serious trouble all of us are in.  I am like a medical doctor who explains the disease so the patient can understand the need for treatment and be persuaded to take it.  The serious trouble we all face is that we are all under God’s just judgment for our rebellion against him.  God is infinitely majestic and if you rebel against infinite majesty, the appropriate penalty is infinite too.  However, in his mercy and love, God has provided a way for this judgment to be averted.  God sent his Son Jesus Christ to live and die in the place of anyone who would turn from their rebellion and believe in him.  Jesus Christ lived a perfect life in the place of all who trust in him.  Jesus Christ suffered and died on the cross to take the punishment of all who have faith in him.  Jesus rose from the dead, proving that God accepted the sacrifice he made.  There is now a way to eternal life and my calling is to show that way to everyone I can.  Because I love God and I love people, I preach Jesus Christ as the Saviour of rebels like me.  This is what is most important to me and to the church I serve.  I have prepared this submission because this is what is most important.         

Recently I was involved as an expert witness at a case before the State Administrative of Tribunal of Western Australia.  The case involves a couple from another Free Reformed Church (Baldivis, WA) who were denied the opportunity to be respite foster carers for children ages 0-5 because of their religious beliefs on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI).  I prepared a report for this matter testifying to the religious beliefs of the Free Reformed Churches of Australia.  This report is attached to this submission as Appendix 1.  I attach it in order to demonstrate that there are Bible-believing Christians in Tasmania who have the potential to be affected by any proposed legislation regarding SOGI conversion practices.  This report also demonstrates that our beliefs are historic Christian teachings based on what the Bible says.

I also respectfully provide this submission to alert you to the fact that Christian churches like ours will not change our practices.  Our ultimate commitment is to God and our ultimate authority is the Bible as God’s inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word.  Because we believe what the Bible says, we do respect those in authority over us.  The Bible teaches us to pray for those who rule over us (1 Timothy 2:1-2).  The Bible teaches us to submit to our government (Romans 13:1).  We do all this gladly.  However, if there is a conflict between what God teaches in the Bible and what the state legislates, we will always follow what the Bible teaches.  We cannot compromise on that.  Because we love God who first loved us through Jesus Christ, we will be steadfastly faithful to God and to the Bible.       

2.0   Background and Terms of Reference

I note that the inquiry was initiated by peak Tasmanian LGBTQA+ stakeholder bodies and representatives.  This appears to have slanted the inquiry in a particular direction, one that is only sympathetic to LGBTQA+ concerns.  The Terms of Reference bear this out.  It is assumed from the start that all SOGI conversion practices (as defined by the working definition) are to be viewed as harmful.  The rest of the Issues Paper is consistent with that assumption, making it almost a foregone conclusion that Tasmania must do something about SOGI conversion practices. 

3.0   Inquiry Process

The Issues Paper was prepared by research staff guided by an independent Expert Advisory Group.  I note that this includes “a member of a community of faith” (p.xiii).  In the Acknowledgements (p.xiv), the Expert Advisory Group is thanked by name.  Rev. Jeff Savage, Uniting Church pastor in Hobart, is mentioned.  Was such a choice intentionally aligned with the bias mentioned above in 2.0?  What if the TLRI had selected a Presbyterian pastor instead?  Ideally, the Expert Advisory Group should have included several members from a range of communities of faith, including Bible-believing Christians and even non-Christians.  For example, Hobart has a growing Islamic community – it might be helpful to hear their perspective.        

Whatever the case may be, I gladly raise my hand to be involved in any future work in this area.  If the TLRI would care to understand the concerns of Bible-believing Christians and how they may be affected by prospective legislation, I would certainly be willing to have such a conversation.  The TLRI should act in good faith and genuinely aim to be as inclusive as possible.  That would mean not excluding sincere Bible-believing Christians.                    

4.0   List of Questions

I have read the entire Issues Paper as background to the questions asked for this consultation.  Some of the questions assume from the outset that all SOGI conversion practices (as defined by the working definition) are harmful.  These questions (by design?) exclude Bible-believing Christians and are, therefore, impossible for me to answer.  I will only answer four of the questions.

4.1   Question 1

After considering the background and working definition (see [1.3.23] on page 13), in your opinion, what are and are not ‘sexual orientation and gender identity conversion practices’?

In my view, the definition of SOGI conversion practices, for the purpose of this consultation, should be narrowly limited to extreme acts that would normally be described as torture – such as non-consensual electroshock or aversion therapy.  However, it should then be proven that such practices take place in Tasmania – the Issues Paper acknowledges in 2.3.1 that there is no data on this question.   

Additionally, I would ask the TLRI to give consideration to reviewing 1.2.8 of the Issues Paper.  In particular, the Paper speaks of “false claims” and “false publications.”  Does preaching from a Bible passage addressing SOGI constitute a “false claim”?  Does asking a parishioner to read a Bible passage addressing SOGI involve a “false publication”?  The TLRI ought to recognize that the Bible does speak about these things, for example, in Romans 1:26-27 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.  Will a consequence of SOGI conversion practice legislation be that the Bible is considered to be a “false publication” which ought somehow to be proscribed?  That seems to be the direction of the Issues Paper. 

Moreover, the presupposition behind 1.2.8 needs to be justified.  The presupposition is that there are false claims and there are true claims.  The language of the Issues Paper is not even provisional about such claims, but rather appears to be grounded on absolute certainty.  However, by what objective standard are we to determine which claims are true and which are false?  The Issues Paper seems to presuppose further that science is the objective standard by which truth is determined and distinguished from falsehood.  Science appears to be the ultimate authority for the Issues Paper.  In Christian terms, we would say that science is “the Bible” here.  However, what do you do when your “Bible” contradicts itself or needs to be constantly updated?  How would you be able to have absolute certainty about what is true or false with such a “Bible”?  In the nature of the case, there is scientific research calling into question some of the claims in the Issues Paper.  In 2016, the journal The New Atlantis published an extensive review of social scientific research regarding SOGI issues.[1]  There is no unanimous scientific consensus on these issues.  So how can the Issues Paper so boldly insist that some claims are false while implying that others are true?  Such absolute claims require a transcendent objective standard.

Finally, in this section of the Issues Paper, there is no discussion about the inherent nature of sexual orientation and gender identity.   For example, are these concepts rooted in biology, are they social constructs, or something else altogether?  More to the point, are they inherently fixed or can they change?  If they can change, what factors might be involved?  Are allowances made for changes in any direction?                  

4.2   Question 3

Have you been involved in or offered, or are you aware of, any forms of SOGI conversion practices in Tasmania?  If so, what were the effects on you, or the person exposed to them?

As evidenced in Appendix 1, our church preaches and teaches what the Bible says, including what it says about sexual orientation and gender identity.  We do this out of our ultimate commitment to God, our love for him, and out of love for the people around us.  We counsel accordingly.  We pray publicly and privately accordingly.  According to the working definition the Issues Paper provides, we are involved in SOGI conversion practices.  We make no apologies for that.  Moreover, as stated above, this is non-negotiable for our church since we believe what the Bible says.  For us to do otherwise would be unloving and disingenuous. 

4.3   Question 4

Do you think that Tasmanian law should be changed to address SOGI conversion practices?  If so, should this be through comprehensive reform, amendment or both (a hybrid)?

No, not if it will prevent people who want to seek Christian, Bible-based help with their sexual orientation and gender identity from getting the help they desire.  Human dignity is most honoured when individuals are allowed choice as to the assistance they want.    

Also, Tasmanian law should not be changed if it will conflict with the sincerely held religious beliefs and practices of people like me and the members of my church.

4.4   Question 9

Are there any other matters that you consider relevant to this Inquiry and would like to raise?

The federal government has indicated its intention to introduce a Religious Discrimination Bill.  Surely it would be reasonable for Tasmania to wait and see what this bill entails and how it may impact SOGI conversion practice legislation. 

Also, I believe it would be reasonable for the TLRI to engage in more comprehensive community consultation before moving forward.  TLRI especially needs to understand the concerns of Tasmanian Christians around religious freedom.  I am confident many pastors and churches would be willing to discuss this with the TLRI.  Such a reasonable step could go a long way towards preventing unnecessary legal conflicts in the future.

There may also be far-reaching unintended consequences for such legislation, especially as regards parents and Christian schools: 

Appendix 1 was submitted as an expert witness report in a case involving a Christian couple who wished to be foster parents.  Their religious beliefs as they relate to SOGI resulted in Wanslea Family Services determining they were not fit even to be respite foster carers for children ages 0-5.  The WA State Government intervened in the hearing and supported Wanslea’s position.  The couple involved have their own natural children.  Would not consistency demand that Wanslea and the WA State Government hold that this couple are not fit to have any children in their care?  I would urge the TLRI to give careful consideration to the consequences of any proposed SOGI conversion legislation – will this require the government to remove children from the homes of Christian parents who hold to what the Bible teaches about SOGI?  Will this result in a new “stolen generation”?

While it is not operated or governed by our church, members of our church community operate a Christian school in Launceston.  This Christian school is also unreservedly committed to what the Bible teaches about SOGI.  The children who attend this school are taught accordingly, because their parents want their children to be taught in a way which corresponds with their Christian faith.  In fact, the parents have all made public vows to this effect – this is taken very seriously in our community.  There are several similar Christian schools throughout Tasmania.  The TLRI ought to give careful consideration to the consequences of any proposed SOGI conversion legislation as they relate to Christian education.  Will it continue to be lawful for Christian parents to have their children educated in a context where the teachings of the Bible about everything are communicated and honoured?  Or is this legislation going to have the consequence, intended or otherwise, of destroying Christian education which follows the teachings of the Bible?

Finally, I would urge the TLRI to give due consideration to the recent Bell v. Tavistock case, decided by the High Court in the United Kingdom.  This case illustrates the harm that may occur when children and young people are pushed towards gender transitioning.  Furthermore, it opens up the question of whether a government adopting SOGI conversion legislation might be held liable under similar circumstances.            

5.0 Conclusion

Thank you for this opportunity to contribute to discussions around this potential legislation. 

Let me conclude by reassuring you that my concern and that of my church community is not to oppress or injure anyone.  We are not motivated by hatred or animus – quite the opposite.  Rather, we sincerely believe that following what the Bible teaches leads to human flourishing.  This is a genuinely held religious belief.  There are many examples of individuals who identified as gay or lesbian, but, when they became Christians, they found a different identity which gave them joy and peace.  They identified with Jesus Christ.  They became disciples of Jesus, committed to following him as Lord in every area of their lives.  You can research some of their stories for yourself:  Sam Allberry, Jackie Hill Perry, Rosaria Butterfield, and Becket Cook.  They did not become Christians because of some extreme form of SOGI conversion practice (like electroshock therapy).  It happened just because someone talked about the Bible with them and prayed with them – and the Holy Spirit worked through that to change their lives.  That is simply what we aim to do in our church.  In other words, we strive to carry on in the historic Christian tradition as Reformed Christians have done for centuries.

If you so desire, I would welcome the opportunity to add to this submission in person or in writing.    

Submitted respectfully this 17th day of December, 2020

Rev. Dr. Wes Bredenhof

Free Reformed Church of Launceston


[1] https://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/introduction-sexuality-and-gender