Preaching in Australia (I)

Robert F. Turner
Burnet, Texas

This is a report of work and observations during a "Preaching tour" of fourteen weeks in the land "down under." Traveling alone, I left San Antonio, Texas January 18, and returned to that airport May 3, 1971. Three days were spent in Hawaii-preached at the Leeward church on Wednesday night-then, losing Friday at the International Date Line, I arrived in Sydney, N.S.W., on Saturday, January 23. The home of Americans Phil and Pat Morr became my Australian "home" in theory; but actually I lived out of a suitcase, roaming over.6,000 miles within Australia. A great debt is freely acknowledged to American preachers and their families, who welcomed me into their homes, tried (not always successfully) to steer me out of blunders in the Australian speech, and customs, and always did far more work than I in "reaching out" for lost souls. Conservative U.S. preachers now working in Australia are: Philip A. Morr, P.P. Box 52, Caringbah, N.S.W. 2229; Jim Sasser, P.O. Box S-93, So. Wagga Wagga, N.S.W. 2650; Bill Hall, 98 Rathcown, Reservoir, Vic. 3073; and Tommy Poarch, 4 Boldrewood Parade, Reservoir, Vic. 3073. Phil is in greater Sydney, Jim is in Wagga Wagga, and Bill and Tommy are in metropolitan Melbourne.

Australia is almost as large as the 48 United States, having an area of nearly 3 million square miles; but its population of only 12,030,820 is -chiefly found in the southern and eastern costal belt. My work was done in Tasmania, Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland--something like saying eleven gospel meetings, from Houston, Texas, via Atlanta, Georgia, north to Bangor, Maine. Much country, including large cities, was missed; but there was enough experience involved to give me some right to make a few comments. It is hoped that the story will unfold itself, giving you some of the "flavor" of the country and work.

I worshipped in Sydney (Port Hacking church, Miranda) on Jan. 24, and preached at both morning and evening services. There will be more about this church in its turn, but a few "first impressions" are in order: viz., the custom of a "presiding" brother, who sits at a table on the platform, and calls each step of the service; the great attention and solemnity given the Lord's Supper; and the surprising fact that when we sang the closing song, and prayed the final prayer, everyone sat down. There was no clatter of books, no rush-for the door, no sudden burst of clacking tongues. The experience, oft repeated in Australia, left this hurried Texan pleasantly surprised.

Wollongong, N.S.W.

This is an industrial city of ca. 163,000 people, beautifully located on the east coast about 45 miles south of Sydney. It is at the foot of mountains which, in places, push their tree-covered cliffs boldly into the Pacific Ocean. The church here consists of five saints, who meet in the YWCA Hall for worship. Bros. Morr and Max Burgin (an Australian preacher from Sydney) take turns meeting with them, and worked with me throughout the "Mission" Jan. 25-31. There were only two non-member visitors during the week, but visiting saints kept things going. One night there were 35 present. We followed-up several outside contacts, one of whom was later baptized (Apr. 15j through the efforts of bros. Burgin and Morr. A one-hour radio interview, with questions from the audience, gave us good publicity, and the spirit and determination of the brethren seemed lifted. They now have plans to conduct Bible studies in an Old Folk Home in Wollongong.

Melbourne, Victoria

This is a Queen-like city of 2,319,700 people, 602 miles south of Sydney. The Keon-Park church which invited me there had only five members, plus bros. and sisters Hall and Poarch, from the U.S. They had been meeting in a school building, but had purchased a dwelling which, by this time, has been converted into an auditorium with a few class rooms. The mission (Australian "meeting") was conducted in the Preston Town Hall, Feb. 2-12, where we were greatly encouraged by visiting saints from Heidelberg, Footscray, and Glenhuntley -- other congregations in the city. (Australians are both independent and conservative by nature, and sectarian efforts on the part of liberal U.S. preachers to keep Australian saints from hearing us, seemed only to whet their appetite.) We had 36 non-member visitors, many of whom returned often, and there was scarcely a night without a lengthy "Question" session following the sermon. Here I baptized my first Australian convert - a thrilling experience. In the future he and his wife may serve as the beginning of a new congregation in his part of the city -- in fact, midweek Bible studies are already being conducted in his home.

Perhaps this is the place to mention that many of the churches in Australia are the result of "breaks" with the "Associated" Church of Christ - what we would call the Christian Church. The "issues" were the preaching of "Faith Only," development of social activities on the part of the church, the "Association" of congregations in "Conference" and collective works, and - to some lesser extent - instrumental music. Twenty years ago, give or take, an inflow of U.S. preachers contacted these independent souls from the associated church, and assisted them in establishing new congregations. A paper, Truth in Love, was published from Melbourne, (beginning May, 1956) which had an influence for good; and much of my impression of this period is taken from back issues of that paper. I have talked with many Australians who learned the truth concerning congregational independence and the "social gospel" from early U.S. preachers apparently more conservative than later replacements; and from fighting their own battles with practices of the "Associated" church in Australia. (It is significant that the last issue of Truth in Love published by Tom H. Tarbet - Dec. '59 - was a special issue on "Scriptural Organization," containing reprints of articles by C.R. Nichol, W. Curtis Porter, Harris J. Dark, and conservative articles by others.)

Then, as digression developed in the U.S. and more liberal preachers replaced the men in Australia' social activities were brought into the churches, the Ivan Stewart "Campaigns" were introduced, and the promotional "band wagon" rolled. Some Australians climbed on the wagon, but others were dismayed, and some developed a distinct distrust for American preachers in general. It just isn't Australian, to say nothing of "Christian," to dress up a fat song-leader in a huge Texas hat, take his picture, and call him the "Hoss Cartwright" of the church. Current liberal preachers in Australia have greatly underestimated the ability of the Australian saints to think for themselves. Many of these people came out of the "Associated" church on their own initiative, at great personal cost. They seem to appreciate brotherly help, but they do not need "oversight" from elders of a sponsoring church in America, nor do they want it. They rightly resent being told who they can hear, what they can read, and who they cart "fellowship." And I may add, they have just as much right to resent my trying to fit them into my mold, whatever that is. I rejoice that they seemed hungry for God's truth.

In addition to the baptism, and seed sown for the future harvest, a far-reaching result of the Melbourne mission is the fellowship of saints in the city. This was greatly enriched and strengthened. All churches (except the N. Baldwyn, where Jack Hardcastle (U.S.) and Peter Shea preach) encouraged the work. I preached on Sunday afternoon at the Glenhuntley church, and used the Heidelberg baptistery. Bro. Bill Hall has been invited to teach a regular class at Heidelberg on Wednesday night, and Footscray has asked Bros. Bill Hall and Tommy Poarch to preach for them as opportunity can be found.

When I published (in Plain Talk) my plans for going to Australia, several liberal churches and preachers in the U.S. tried to upset those plans. Claude A. Guild, U.S. preacher in Brisbane, put out a mimeographed letter saying, "It is by request of my elders in Ft. Worth, Texas (Rosemont church) that I caution you about some planned activities for Australia. Robert F. Turner, Burnet, Texas is coming-etc." The copy of this letter in my possession, sent to a brother in Rockhampton, Queensland, is signed by bro. Guild, and has an additional handwritten note at the bottom: "I hope you can stop the plans for Rocky for this man." It may have worked with some, but I know of many who resented the whole matter. I made no reply in kind, and make this public here only because it is important in understanding the over-all picture of the Australian work at this time.

Australian saints are God's people, not American pawns. They have formed churches, not "missions." (Don't confuse their use of "mission" for our word "meeting" as indicating they call the local church a "mission." They do not.) They feel no inferiority to American saints, nor is there any reason why they should. It is a tribute to their good balance and virtue that they do not consider themselves superior, after some of the antics they have witnessed from us. As one Australian preacher wrote to me, "I have come to similar conclusions as you on these things because I believe them to be the truth as God's word teaches it. I have been coerced by none." And so may it ever be!

(Future articles will continue the story of the cause of Christ in Australia, with observations taken on this recent trip.)

TRUTH MAGAZINE, XV: 34, pp. 10-12
July 8, 1971