A matter of faith
Those of you who have known me for some time are aware that I am rather partial to things Scottish. The country, its beauty and inventive people were illustrated in a recent series of television programmes that screened on the Choice channel. In the course of the presenter’s journey of discovery he visited the Hebridean Islands, which included one particular town, where our denomination enjoys a monopoly. It being Sunday he found the place completely devoid of any commercial activity. Young Presbyterian worshippers returning from church were steadfast in their faith when questioned on their Christian devotion. This brought back fond memories of my own early experiences under similar circumstances and the consequences of not adhering to the rules. The custom in rural Afrikaner society made no provision for recreation and light entertainment on the Lord’s Day, apart from church attendance, a hearty midday meal followed by a rest period for adults and quiet contemplation, which could include listening to serious music. On one particular occasion the temptation for us young ones in not observing this prescription in the construction of a bridge over a shallow pool resulted in my unplanned encounter with the water surface. This resulted in the ruination of my best outfit and a sore bottom to remind me of the importance of Sunday observance. I am inclined to favour a total rest day and question the demands many people make on themselves to exhaustion in activities, which while not in the manner of gainful pursuit, often lead to over indulgence and excessive physical activity that far exceed normal rest and recreation.
Another matter that caught my attention was the financial success of one particular new age Christian movement that accounted for a total annual income of $9.16m of which $5.35 consisted of donations spread over two congregations. It reported salaries and wages to 62 full-time and 43 part-time staff totalling $3.94m which by my conservative reckoning averages $46,470 per employee. What prompted the publicity was the sale of the pastors’ house to the value of $1,88m in an upmarket location. Rather than feeling envious I regard this as a commercial success story that can serve as an example to many corporate executives. In this case the assumed self-appointed pastors take advantage of their previous business experience, which they have transferred successfully into a faith based community of adherents. Their highly entertaining form of engaging with their congregations are far removed from traditional models that fail to attract and inspire younger prospects in search of spiritual experiences. I discussed the phenomenon of faith based commercialism with an elder in a prominent Pacific Island Church, which is experiencing the effects of the charismatic movement with a loss of parishioners and decline in income. While I do not deny the value of any form of religious inspiration, I regard any radical departure from the teachings and example of Christ as not becoming latter day ministry and worship.
Questions have recently been raised about New Zealand’s claim to be called a Christian country. This was in some part caused by the unfortunate resistance by a small minority of parents of children attending a suburban school, who complained to the Human Rights Commission on the grounds of discrimination. It was a pity that the Board of Trustees caved in to these demands and as a consequence deprived the majority of pupils of voluntary attendance of extra-curricular religious education. In our eagerness to embrace multi-culturism, in spite of the bicultural specification in the Treaty of Waitangi, it is easy to lose sight of the founding principles of our country. Both the Anglican and Presbyterian churches played a meaningful role in the settlement and conversion of the indigenous tangata whenua. The Christian faith found expression in many of our institutions and continues to provide the foundation for our constitutional and judicial systems. The challenge in all this lies in educating newcomers to Aotearoa New Zealand with the intention to make it their permanent home that this aspect of their citizenship is not negotiable.