Preaching in Australia (III)
Robert F. Turner
In Australia a simile of absurdity is "like taking coal to Newcastle"--appropriate because this city of 233,967 people is built over a tremendous vein of coal. (One mine tunnel extends for five miles under the Pacific Ocean.) Steel mills and associated industries make this an important industrial center and sea port, just 112 miles north of Sydney, N.S.W. Among its many suburbs is Warner's Bay, wrapped about a beautiful land-locked cove, and home of a faithful church of the Lord. I came to Warner's Bay, March 15, 1971, for a seven-day "mission," and staved in the home the Australian preacher, Brother Harry Wyer.
In 1955 a few Australian saints began meeting in a home. With the encouragement and help of brother Rodney Wald (U.S.) and with financial help from the U.S., they built a suitable frame building on property given by one of the Australians. Then, for a "thumbnail sketch," one might say a second U.S. preacher built up a large "following" with much social "fellowship" and a soft sell; and the next U.S. preacher, with harsh and roaring tactics, tore apart the earlier work. There was a division, and a small number still meet elsewhere in the urban area. I am in no position to "judge" the situation, but offer this to impress the fact that one works with people, in Australia as in America; and neither socially-bought nor fright-driven 16 converts" can take the place of properly taught people who "turn to the Lord." We should add, willingness to cross an ocean does not make a qualified gospel preacher. But, despite the trouble, God's word had its effect, and a congregation of 32-35 saints now work and worship at Warner's Bay.
Many of these are members of a large Scotch family and the "Old country" "burrr" persists in their speech and customs. They like to argue ("Iron sharpeneth iron," a favorite proverb) and paid me a great compliment by saying, "Ay cud nae fault ye!" -- Though I suspected the slightest tone of regret in the voice. I hasten to add that the bark overplayed the bite. I loved the people, and adapted to their customs; and this is my advice to others--in the order named. 0 Cor. 9:19-23)
Let me take you through a part of the -Lord's Day worship, via my notes. Thirty-eight were present, with "Pop" Wotherspoon (80 years) presiding. He made one announcement, apologetically, closing by saying, "Let there be no more of this." Then we sang one song from a book (which had words only, no music) and Pop asked me to lead in prayer. He then read a poem-and all (except me-didn't know the tune) sang that. Then someone read from the Old Testament. Pop read another hymn, and we sang that also. Then we had a New Testament reading. Next, Pop moved into position behind the Lord's Table, and (with rrolling thunder) made a dramatic talk about the memorial feast. Following thanks for the bread, it was passed to worshippers, but each held a small piece of the bread until all were served, and Pop made a few remarks, and we all partook simultaneously. More rrrolling thunder, discussing the Blood of Christ; thanks; and this also was distributed but held until all could partake at once. Pop clearly stated that the Lord's Supper had ended; and following some remarks about stewardship, the collection baskets were passed. Pop then stated that I had been asked to bring a lesson from God's word, and would do so "after we have sung, from the heart, this song." And he walked majestically to his seat, singing "Do Lord, Oh Do Lord, Oh Do Remember Me!" Now "what can the man do that cometh after the king?" (Eccl. 2:12)
There were ten non-member visitors during the mission, several of whom came again and again. Two were baptized, including one Jehovah's Witness M woman with whom we bad had lengthy studies. The saints showed a marvelous interest in Bible study, and upon their request I met with them Saturday afternoon, for special consideration of congregational independence and the work of the church. Harry Wyer, who quit a profitable construction business to preach the word, is doing a fine job here. He deserves, and needs, more than the $55 to $60 per week he receives from this and other supporting churches. (With exception of $44 per month from an individual in U.S., all other support comes from Australia.) Problems remain in Warner's Bay (and in the world) but the ingredients for solution are there also, thank God.
Armidale is a University town; population 14,990 about 245 miles north-west of Newcastle, in a "high" country (west of the Divide) called the New England section. It is fruit and cattle country, and Brother Cecil Stone is a government fruit inspector. In understanding him and his story one gets a better look at the heart of the church in Australia.
Cecil Stone and his wife had been members of the "Associated" church (what we would call "Christian Church") but were dissatisfied with its growing central organization and social flirtations. In 1955 they came to Armidale and (there being no "Associated" church in Armidale) met with the regular Baptist church-then with a "break-away" Baptist church not affiliated with conferences. When, in 1959, this congregation "joined the union" they began worshipping in their home, intensified their private Bible studies, and continued their steady march out of denominationalism. Many missions have been conducted in their home, by American and Australian preachers; and the Stones have not been idle between missions. Their three daughters have been baptized, one Seventh Day Adventist, four Presbyterians, and one whose former affiliation is unknown to me. At the time of my mission there, only four of the Stone family and three others remain, others having moved away or died.
We rented the C.W.A. hall, and advertised via paper, radio, and personal calls. Eleven non-member visitors came, and there were questions, private studies, and a "roundtable" session among 16 college students; but no baptisms. It is hard to be discouraged, however, with the Armidale example before one's eyes. These people have come all the way out of denominationalism, are busy "growing in grace and in knowledge," and continue to teach their neighbors. They sorely need assistance in "outlook"-making their work more public-and we believe this first effort at using a rented hall will be repeated later, and bear much fruit. We consider this situation somewhat typical of the prospects in Australia-a small seed, with little strength now, but with tremendous potential. Armidale also presents a warning: viz., the gospel must be preached from housetops, as well as in houses.
Eighty miles north-west of Armidale, (120 miles via pavement) is the lovely town of Inverell, population 9,800. This is sheep and wheat country, rolling hills interlaced with gravel strata containing precious stones. Brother Us Burgin once lived here and preached for the "Associated" church. In August '59, having renounced the errors of that digression, he and brother Harris J. Dark (U.S.) came to Inverell and "taught more perfectly" those who would listen. The Oct. '59 issue of Truth in Love reports:". . . there have been 25 reclaimed from the Associated Churches of Christ, 2 transferred from Glen Innes and 3 have been baptized."
The same issue of the paper carried a copy of a letter which brother Burgin wrote to the elders of the "Associated" church (a letter never acknowledged) which stated in part: "Some of the members of the Church of Christ in Inverell are vitally interested in pure New Testament Christianity, and want to be members of the New Testament church only. That, of course, is the thing in which we shall be interested on this visit. In the interest of New Testament truth, and unity on that basis, we should be most willing and happy to meet first with you, and indeed with all the members of the church there, to openly discuss the difference between us, in the light of the Bible. With an attitude of honesty toward God's word, Christian love for one another, and an earnest desire for the truth, such a meeting could be profitable to all.
"It is known that the church there publicly claims to plead for New Testament Christianity. That is our plea. While we believe that you are in error, perhaps you believe we are. It is not possible for us both to be right in the things that separate us. We therefore have a duty to each other. If you can show us to be unscriptural in any point we shall gladly make the necessary changes. In being committed to New Testament Christianity we could do no other. Is that your attitude?"
This letter typifies the spirit with which New Testament churches were established throughout Australia. But the spirit must live in saints- continually. Apparently many were weak and sickly, and some sleep; for when I came to Inverell, only eleven saints could be found, eight of whom supported the mission. We met in the C.W.A. hall, and despite adverse arrangements (could only get the hall for Mon., Tues., Thurs., Sat., and Sunday) we had 15 non-member visitors, and visiting saints from Armidale. The Inverell church regularly meets for worship in a home, and the brethren seek to strengthen one-another. Brethren Phil Morr and Max Burgin (Sydney) were with me part time, endeavoring to rejuvenate this church and reach out f or others who might obey the gospel. Perhaps some who began to build in Inverell, did not first "count the cost" (Lu. 14:284), or failed to realize that "we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God." (Acts 14:22) God's cause has not failed-only people fail; and the faithful few can, with God, do great things. I see, in Inverell, a microcosm of certain stages of the church in this country; and I present it because I desire to paint an honest picture of the work as a whole.
Nor should we close without commenting that the spirit of the Les Burgin letter (which we greatly admire) needs rejuvenating among some liberal churches of Australia. Had I sent a copy of this letter, under my signature, to those liberal U.S. preachers who tried to stop my work in Australia, I wonder if I would have received a favorable reply or any reply? I wonder, but I sleep soundly.
(Next article-we go north, into the heat of Queensland, for three gospel missions.)
TRUTH MAGAZINE, XV: 37, pp. 8-10