Who we are

You are here

Shortly before He ascended into heaven our LORD and God and Saviour Jesus Christ gave this commission to His followers: “All authority on heaven and earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations (Gk. ‘all ethnicities’), baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

This is then reinforced with Jesus’s exhortation in Acts 1:8 at His ascension;“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

But to reach the nations (‘all ethnicities’) the Gospel had to be brought to them in their own heart languages, they had to hear it in their own tongue.

President Nelson Mandela, who died in late 2013 in South Africa, understood all about heart language when he said; "If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to a man in his language, that goes to his heart."

The day of Pentecost is a dramatic expression of the new mission given to Jesus' followers and its international, interracial, and intercultural scope.

 Acts 2:1-11 says: “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly from heaven there came the sound like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?” And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians , Medes, Elamites, and the residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs – in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another “What does this mean?”

The Christian faith is essentially relational; it is about entering into a personal relationship with God through Christ, loving God with all our heart…and our neighbour also (Matthew 22:37-39). And so to understand it properly we need to hear it explained in the language of our own hearts, our own relational language, our own tongue.

That is why Christians, including my own ancestors in England, have worked hard at the task of the translation of the Bible and the Gospel into people’s heart languages. To date we have translated the Gospel into 2,798 different languages. There are 518 complete translations of the Bible and the work continues even today.

We should never underestimate the power of language and culture to trap us and limit us.

Judaism has a sacred language – Hebrew. Islam has a sacred language – 7th century Arabic. But Christianity has no sacred language and yet at times Christians have forgotten this. The Western mediaeval Church and its scholars trapped the Bible in Latin and it took the courage of some brave people like Wycliffe, Tyndale, Coverdale, Luther and others to break out of that and put the scriptures and liturgies back in to the language of the ordinary people. 

Some Orthodox traditions have trapped their liturgy in forms of Slavonic, Georgian, Greek and Classical Arabic that people no longer speak or understand,  - a dead language has become sacred! A whole theology of worship has been developed to justify this as a heavenly language of worship. The divine service of the communion of the saints united with the heavenly worship by the use of a special language that transcends the divisions and limitations of living earthly languages. This special language is of course generally only known by the priests. While this idea contains an insight about our unity in Christ the cost of this to evangelism and generational transmission of the faith has been very high for many branches of Orthodoxy, with whole generations now missing or having little understanding of their faith because the language of their worship is not understood by them and is not reaching their hearts.

I grew up in a Church that was still stuck with the Elizabethan English of the Book of Common Prayer and the King James Bible, beautiful  but no longer spoken except in Shakespearian theatre companies! What a joy it was for me as an 11 year old to be able to buy and read my first copy of the New Testament in a language that I understood. It is an instrument that God has continued to use to change my life as He speaks to me in the language of my heart.

We know that the Aramaic-speaking Jew in the first century was accustomed to recite his prayers in Hebrew, not Aramaic. Similarly, Muslim worshipers always recite their traditional prayers in the classical Arabic of seventh century Arabia. Both Judaism and Islam have a sacred language. Christianity does not. This fact is of enormous significance.

It follows that if there is no sacred language, there is no sacred culture. All of this is an outgrowth of the incarnation. If the Word is translated from the divine to the human and becomes flesh, then the door is open for that Word to again be translated into other cultures and languages.

The primary task of the Church is mission – to speak the Gospel to all the nations. That is why communicating the Gospel in peoples heart language is a strategic priority for the Church. 

We are saved by grace not race!

Every ethnic church that is planted in a dominant host culture like Australia, whether Greek, Russian, Serbian, Romanian, Middle Eastern, Chinese, Korean, Iranian, Tamil, etc., must plan ahead for its young people whose life will be shaped not only by the ethnic church but by the host culture in which they will be educated and the new language and culture they will absorb. The ethnic church must be willing to embrace change in its language, and create parallel services and youth groups in the language and style their children will be immersed in through their school and popular culture. If it fails to do this it will lose the next generation, a sad pattern we have seen repeated over and over again in immigrant churches. This strategy must be insisted upon. Thankfully the Antiochian Orthodox Church is allowing this to happen with an increased amount of English in their services and some parishes like out own with full English-language services on all occasions.

Behind the command of Jesus in Mathew 28 lies the greatest dream of all, the brightest, most holy and most precious vision of all, which is the ultimate purpose of the Gospel - the reconciliation and unity of all things to God. This plan, that arises out of the heart of God’s love for His broken world, is to reconcile us to Himself through Christ, and then with one another in a unity that will never again be broken by prejudice, fear, pride, racial ambitions, war and conflict. It will also restore to harmony the very creation itself from its brokenness, as Saint Paul expresses it so majestically in Romans 8:18-28, and make us once again its responsible stewards. This great purpose will lift from us the judgement of confusion and division laid upon us at the Tower of Babel because of our vaunting pride and rejection of Gods authority, creating a rich unity in diversity. This is one of the great goals of the Kingdom of God.

The great prophetic visions in the Old Testament speak of a day when all the nations lay down their weapons, gathering in a great celebration of unity and peace.

Micha 4:1-4 “They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not rise against nation, nor will they train for war anymore”

Isaiah 25:6-8 “On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine – the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace from all the earth. The Lord has spoken”

As we think of our suffering Church in Syria today we long for the realisation of Isaiah’s vision and hope.

And then the final great vision of the book of Revelation.

Rev. 7:9-10 “After this I Looked, and there before me was  great multitude that no one could count, from every tribe and nation, people and language, standing before the throne and the Lamb……they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the lamb.’”

When the people, gathered in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost from all over the Mediterranean, North Africa, and the Middle East, heard the disciple’s speaking in the power of the Spirit in their own languages, they called out “What does this mean?” Peter answers them in the words of the prophet Joel;“In the last days I will pour out my spirit on all people…..and everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Acts 2)

“What does this mean?” This is a foretaste of the final fullness of the kingdom of God, the ultimate purpose of the Gospel, that one day God will unite all people from all nations and all tongues who have put their trust in Christ in a great unity of love and peace in the fully consummated Kingdom of God.

Blessed Augustine in his book “The City of God”, written as the old order of the Roman Empire was disintegrating in the 5thcentury, describes the disunity, conflict and rivalry of the nations as the fragmentation of Adam. “Adam lies scattered over the earth…..he has fallen. Having been broken to pieces, as it were, he has filled the universe with his debris and disunity. However, God’s mercy has gathered together from everywhere his fragments and by fusing them in the fire of his love, He has reconstituted their broken unity.”

The focus of that fire of love is in the incarnation, life, teaching, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension of our LORD and God and Saviour Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The followers of Jesus at the Good Shepherd Parish believe we are called to speak the Gospel to the nation of Australia in the heart language of the Australian people.

Anyone who feels similarly called is welcome to join us in this strategic task, as is anyone who is seeking to enter into a personal relationship with God through Christ, by hearing the Gospel in the language of their hearts, and responding with the same in worship to God.

Our congregation is already made up of people from various backgrounds (we currently have people from American, Australian, Egyptian, English, German, Greek, Irish, Italian, Japanese, Lebanese, Palestinian, Romanian, Russian, Serbian and South African backgrounds) who are united by a common desire to worship God with all their heart, mind and soul, in the heart language of the Australian people. Already we are experiencing what heaven will be like.

Rev. 7:9-10 “After this I Looked, and there before me was  great multitude that no one could count, from every tribe and nation, people and language, standing before the throne and the Lamb……they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the lamb.’”

Fr Geoff Harvey
Parish Priest