This Easter, St Andrew’s Cathedral in Sydney had the privilege of broadcasting an Easter ‘service’ on national television. We were given 44 minutes for a one hour program that would include advertising. As it turned out the ads were frequent, and more than one person contacted the Cathedral to express their disappointment with the content of the ads.
The first commercial was for ‘dial a psychic’—a steal at $1.99 for a phone consultation! Other ‘sponsors’ included life insurers, a well known Australian children’s charity and, of course, the Nine Network itself—promoting some of its content for ‘mature’ viewers.
It was first annoying, then humorous. … The kaleidoscope of messaging typified the struggle to communicate the gospel amid the myriad voices in the market place of ideas.
It was first annoying, then humorous. I doubt that the editors were being deliberately provocative or disrespectful. But the kaleidoscope of messaging typified the struggle to communicate the gospel amid the myriad voices in the market place of ideas. They seemed to give a window on the spiritual battle for hearts fashioned by God to know, love, serve and enjoy him but which are instead distracted, anxious, ignorant and lost.
There’s no doubt that the placement of commercials throughout the one hour broadcast meant that the ‘flow’ of the service was disrupted in a way that is inconsistent with the purpose of Christian gatherings—to hear the word of God and respond together in song, prayer, mutual encouragement and service. But, let’s face it, a TV broadcast is not a Christian gathering. While we certainly hoped that many Christians would tune in and be encouraged by the broadcast, we were not under any illusion that we were in church, but rather, the ‘public square’. We were not welcoming viewers into the Cathedral, viewers were welcoming us into their living rooms.
The strongest precedent I can think for this is Paul’s speech (not sermon) offered in the forum of Athens in Acts 17. In that context, the gospel of the risen Christ was not a privileged message—less privileged in many ways than it is in contemporary Australia. I doubt that Paul was the only speaker. There may have been many voices speaking at the same time. Probably hearers wandered around the forum, dipping in and out as the rhetoric of the orators caught, held and then lost their interest.
Some thought he was a ‘babbler’, some thought he was an advocate of ‘foreign gods’. No privilege, no special deference, no captive audience. But he preached that God ‘has set a day when he will judge the world by the man he has appointed—giving proof of this by raising him from the dead’ (Acts 17:31). And, as Luke records, although ‘some sneered’, others wanted to hear him again and ‘some believed.’
No privilege, no special deference, no captive audience. But … as Luke records, although ‘some sneered’, others wanted to hear him again and ‘some believed.’
So, despite the challenges, we are delighted to have been given an opportunity to broadcast on Easter Day. In these days of the Coronavirus ‘lockdown’, we have been excited to hear anecdotal evidence that some who are not yet followers of Jesus are turning online to discover more about him. Wonderfully, on Easter Day, we had a chance to be a part of that; to speak the truth in the modern forum with all its confusion, distraction and error.
I pray that the Lord, by the power of his Spirit, would bless the faithful preaching of his word as he did in Paul’s day; that he would bring many to repentance and faith in his Son. I am prayerfully anticipating the testimonies months from now, that begin with the words, ‘During the coronavirus emergency, I decided to check out my local church online …’