The Religious Situation in Australia

I hope that these few notes may give you some idea of the interesting and challenging religious climate in this vast land down-under.

Before the Reformed churches were organized in this land in 1951 there was not much “doing” within the various Protestant churches. Catholicism still has a strong grasp on the inland or country population. Many of the middle-class people who live inland from the coastal centers are well-informed, faithful Catholics. And yet, with all its strength, Catholicism in Australia is not nearly so active in national or community affairs as one might expect.

The largest Protestant church in the land, quietly but firmly entrenched as “the church of Australia,” is the Church of England, better known to yourselves as the Episcopal Church. Although this church claims many close formal ties with the “mother” church in England, it is locally very independent in outlook and practice. Outside of the Sydney metropolitan diocese and throughout Australia generally, the church of England is strictly high-church, fully Anglo-Catholic with all the emphasis on the liturgical aspect of worship. But within the Sydney diocese generally the various parishes of the churches of England are low-church and the ministers are either warm Evangelicals or convinced Calvinists. This—to us—was one of the wonders of this great land. Who would ever remotely imagine meeting an Episcopalian minister who is loyal to the 39 Articles of Faith, who was brought up on Calvin’s “Institutes,” who actually preaches from Scripture, and who dares to exercise discipline over the unfaithful in his parish!

There are many such Church of England clergy in Sydney. These men have been trained in a Diocesan College, Moore Theological College, and have sat at the feet of men who are genuine Biblical theologians, who frankly and openly take their stand on the Scripture teachings re-emphasized in the Calvinistic Reformation. Among men of this caliber are Archdeacon T. C. Hammond, and Bishop Marcus Loane. Just a short time ago the Reformed Church ministers of N.S.W., met for two afternoons of theological discussion with several professors of the Moore College. At those meetings our ministers presented a critique of the 39 Articles of Faith, while they presented a critique of Dr. Edwin Palmer’s booklet, “The Five Points of Calvinism.” The discussion centered primarily around the extent of the atonement, the sincere offer of the gospel, and the terminological tension “preservation-perseverance.”

Our discussions—three or four times a year—have brought to light the differences in our theological methods which appear to have a profound influence on the emphasis in our theology. We noticed by contrast how much our position depends upon logical deduction and how much their emphasis was directly traceable to Biblical exegesis. Our training excels in knowledge of Systematic Theology. Their training is based much more on personal knowledge and interpretation of the Scriptures. Such a training fosters intense loyalty to the Word of Christ, and it has produced men who, under God, are out to reform their whole denomination.

Other major historical Protestant denominations—Methodist, Presbyterian, and Congregational—are, practically speaking, of oue theological mind. Among the older clergymen, the old Modernism is still firmly entrenched, while the younger men are either, by way of reaction, vigorous evangelicals (who somehow or other end up on the Foreign Mission fields), or preachers of a philosophic type of religion. This last is presently being taught by the combined theological faculties of the Sydney University. Again, an interesting commentary on the influence of the theological college upon the theology and life of the church. All Methodist, Congregational, and Presbyterian theological students are taught all subjects, including “Theology” as one group, but they separate occaSionally for teaching in those matters upon which the y differ. k, a result, the churches of these denominations are literally empty. It has more than once been openly said to me that “the churches of this land have failed the people of Australia.” Note in this connection the almost “last-chance” attitude of many ministers toward the current Graham Crusade in Melbourne and Sydney. The silent hope is that Dr. Graham may somehow succeed in driving many people back to the defunct churches. Incidentallv the Graham Crusade in N.S.W. has already been a great success in catechising at least 10,000 poorly instructed church-members in the fundamentals of Protestant Christianity. The counseling instruction has compelled many to re-open their Bibles seeking anew the Word of God; there is evidence of much blessing among Protestant clergymen and church-leaders generally.

We hope to write later about developments within churches which are confessionally Reformed.

Dick C. Bouma 5th Ave., Corner Prince Street, Blacktown, N.S.W., Australia.