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Seriously Bishop Brian!

Oh Brian, seriously! Brian Tamaki’s latest sermon statements concerning the earthquakes besetting NZ reveals the deep theological illiteracy of many NZ Christians. The idea he is espousing is an old one, going back to the earliest days of human religious understanding. It works like this—natural events need explaining. The answer, someone of us did something wrong to displease the deity(s). So, when an earthquake hit in ancient Greece, the gods were displeased. If an earthquake hit Israel, Yahweh was displeased. In response, the deity(s) caused the horrendous event as a warning and punishment. We find this all over the OT—sin leads to God’s specific judgment. They then jump to the particular sin and sinners that caused the event. They then blame them. In the ancient world, whole groups were shut out of cities for such things.

Now as we come to the NT, we find that Jesus utterly severs this link. Here are three examples. 

In Mark 2:1–11 there is a blessed suffering severely disabled man who is brought for healing. As one would expect from Jewish religious leaders, they interpret his disability as a judgment of God on his sin (or that of his parents). When he arrives, before all, Jesus declares his sins forgiven. This infuriates the Jewish leadership for two reasons. First, Jesus is a mere man and has no authority to forgive sins. For them, this is blasphemy. They are riled. Second, if the man is supposedly forgiven by Jesus, why is he still disabled? He can’t be forgiven if he is sick (because the two are intertwined). Jesus perceives their anger and thinking and asks whether it is easier to forgive the man’s sins or heal him. This is a trick question, as the Jewish leaders would see them as equally difficult because one presupposes the other. That is, if he is forgiven, he will be healed. If he is healed, he is forgiven. So, Jesus heals the man. This proves (to the Jewish way of thinking) that he is forgiven. The Jewish leaders do not perceive that God is among them but want to kill him. They cling to their false worldview despite their thinking being demolished before their eyes with a seemingly impossible event—the healing and forgiveness of such a man. This shows that, as John says of Jesus that Jesus did not come to bring judgment but to save (John 3:17). Jesus here puts a wrecking ball through the axiom that bad things happen because God is punishing us.

The second example is John 9:1–3. Jesus and his team of followers are walking around in Jerusalem. They come across a blind beggar, the worst of situations in the ancient world where there is no social welfare system like ours today. Demonstrating the standard thinking of their age, the disciples ask Jesus, “who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” There it is. The man is blind because of his or his parents’ sins. God is punishing him(them) then. Jesus’ answer directly exposes that this is false—“it was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” In one statement, Jesus clearly explodes the mythical direct link between suffering and judgment. The poor beggar is blind not because of sin, but so that God can display his glory in him. Jesus then heals him. The message here is that when we meet a person in such a situation, our call is not to judge them, but to help them with God’s mercy and compassion. It tells us through the direct words of Jesus that disability is not directly caused by God because of the sin of a person or their family, but so that God can glorify himself through him. Those of us who know those wonderful disabled people who refuse to let their disability hold them down can understand this. We see God in them and shining through them. Further, God’s glory is seen when humans respond to suffering not with judgement, but with merciful compassion. This is what we are called to do in an earthquake of when we bump into someone in need in any situation. We help them. Thankfully, this is the usual kiwi way. May it ever be.

The third example is Luke 13:1–5. At this time, some rebellious Galileans were killed by the Romans and the Roman Prefect Pilate mixed their blood with the sacrifices at the Temple. Jesus took this as an opportunity to again rupture the so-called link between personal sin and judgment. He asks those present, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered in this way?” In other words, did they suffer from the Romans due to their excessive sin? Surely, they were bad sinners that is why the bad stuff happened. Jesus answers, “no, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” So, they suffered this way, not because of their sin. He uses it as a warning to all people to turn from sins and live well to receive eternal life. He asks again, “Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?” This sounds like an earthquake situation, whereby a building falls on people—something we know only too well in our recent history (may God have mercy). Jesus answer, is again crystal clear, “no, I tell you.” Again, Jesus uses this as an opportunity to tell all listening that all need to repent, turn to God, and live well, to receive eternal life. 

In other words, yes, all people are sinners. We Christians are no different to anyone else in this regard. Such events come and go, hurting the righteous and unrighteous alike. Yet, they do not say anything particular about the sin(s) of the people in mind. To use the modern vernacular, “shit happens.” Jesus wasn’t the first to challenge this axiomatic link between bad events and God’s judgement. It is challenged in the OT wisdom literature. This is especially seen in Job, where Job’s friends are like Bishop Brian telling Job that it is his sin that caused his horrific experiences. Job stands his ground refusing to yield to their accusations. He is right. Bad stuff happened because bad stuff happens. Yet, in the end, he humbles himself before God.

What Brian and others show is their lack of theological understanding, which is tragic from any church leader. They have not learned the basic interpretative principles of reading Scripture. We begin theological exploration not with the Old Testament but with Jesus. What did he say and teach? What did those with him pass on from him? We then read the OT back through the lens of Jesus, and as we do, we see that Jesus came to clarify God and what he is really like. The ideas in the OT are clarified. One of the things that we find is that the axiomatic link between personal sin and horrific events is shattered. That is good news because when horrible things happen, we don’t need to go hunting around to find scapegoats for the bad events, people we can expose and ridicule. Crap happens. It is a busted world. We are mortal and vulnerable. Good people die young. Bad people prosper. Horrid things happen. We are all flawed. We all need mercy. We all need help. Jesus came to show us what that looks like.

And where is God in such situations? Is he is heaven throwing the thunderbolts with violent rage? Not in the book I read. No. God showed us what he is like and his attitude by coming among us as God’s Son made flesh—a person, like us. In fact, that is the story of Christmas which we will soon celebrate. He didn’t come on a chariot to destroy. He came as a baby in a manger, vulnerable. He didn’t grow up and start demolishing humanity for its sin. Aside from throwing a bit of furniture around because of the corruption in the Temple, he showed that God is love. When around the sinners of the world he did not harangue them for their depravity. No, he ate with them—the ultimate expression of concord in the ancient world. He was their friend, and they were his friends. The only people he clashed with were those who refused to hear his message and perceive what God was doing in him—the sort of people who assumed bad stuff happens because we sinned. No, Jesus went into the dark places to help, feed, and heal. He touched the untouchables. He refused to stoop so low as to hit people when they were down with messages of God’s wrath due to their so-called sins. He healed them with a touch. Then, he did the unthinkable. When he was arrested and unjustly tried and brutally crucified, he only showed compassion and love—even to those who engineered his death with their repulsive duplicity. He refused to unleash the wrath of God even when they killed the King of Glory. He did it to show us how far we are to go in love and compassion, not judgment and wrath—the point of sacrificial death.

As he lived this way, he showed us what God is like. God is not some Zeus-like figure, full of anger, smiting the bad guys! We don’t need to find the bad guys and vilify them. We don’t have to try and figure out which of their sins caused the problem. This is nonsense. What we should constantly be doing is looking in the mirror and assessing ourselves and seeking to be better people. Where we find suffering like our poor friends in the north-east of the South Island, we should be among them helping them, caring for them. If we can’t, we can send aid and messages of love and support. Actually, we see this from the good folk of the region including many churches who are horrified at this accusation made by the so-called Bishop. We see it from the religious and non-religious alike, and that is glorious. Rather than these accusatory sermons, why not a sermon calling forth the people of the church to give lavishly to aid efforts? Perhaps such churches can partner with other churches and aid groups down there on the ground who are actually helping those in pain and torment. Now that’s a message people might warm to. Jesus would be there among them, comforting, encouraging, and loving. He is not up in the hills moving the tectonic plates to destroy those heathen sinners!

All Christians need to think seriously about how to understand God. All revelation of God (the gods), including the Old Testament, are partial when put alongside the coming of God the Son. He defines who God is. And he does not look like the wrathful god who is proclaimed by many Christians. They simply have not grasped the essence of Christianity—JESUS! He is not like this. He calls us not to be like this. If we choose to believe in him, he empowers us not to be like this. He spurs us all on to be people of love, compassion, and mercy, being prepared to go the extra mile for all others who suffer burdens. This is Christianity in action.

As a passionate Christian, it hurts me to hear another one naming the same God speak so ignorantly. I apologise on behalf of the church to all who are personally hurt by such false ideas. Our God is not this wrathful cosmic beast smiting humankind for their sin. Rather, he is reaching out to us in love, justice, mercy, and compassion to show us the way of love. Let’s keep doing this. To the people of the South Island, may the Lord bless you and keep you. Kia Kaha. Our prayers and thoughts are with you.


Unknown said…
Well written Mark.
It would be wonderful if such an article would be published by the NZ Herald (and perhaps other papers).
...I remember when a wonderful gentleman called Garth George used to write similarly considered articles in the NZ Herald from a Christian perspective.
...May be you would send this one to them and see what happens?
Thanks once again for writing from a correct Christian perspective, after carefully and prayerfully considering various scriptures.
Lance Hawken.
Unknown said…
Mark, just a quick comment - Brian was NOT referring to Monday morning's earthquakes specifically. His sermon was the previous Sunday morning. Ironically, all the huff and puff about it is only serving to identify his utterances as PROPHETIC. But, as we all know, it's not uncommon rhetoric for the more fundamentalist set. It sounds horrific out of context, but PLEASE would Christian responses take into account the timing of his message.
That is all.
Bless ya mate.
Unknown said…
Thanks Mark for your thoughts

I don't agree with Brian Tamaki's position - that 'sexual perversion' leads to earthquakes (if that is a reasonable summary) - but to be fair, he isn't saying that things happen to individuals because they individually sinned. He is saying that things happen to the nation, or to the collective, because we collectively sin. This is a theme that many of the OT prophets repeat and it doesn't seem incompatible with the sayings of Yesus that you quote.

Of course, what they are usually talking about is not people's sexuality - which is a minor concern in the Bible - but things like injustice, oppression, exploitation.

I have no doubt that we do suffer collective consequences for our collective failure to maintain a right relationship with each other, with the earth, and with God. Climate change is an obvious example. However, this has nothing to do with who we sleep with.
Mark J. Keown said…
Thanks Jay. Yes, and if Brian is prophesying, then logically, we would say that he would then attribute the earthquakes to specific human sins such as the ones he is speaking of. So, it is irrelevant. I could say on any given Sunday that a bad event will hit the earth because of sin. Bad events happen often and there is a pretty good chance of a hit. And, even if it is true, why that area? Makes no sense. Whether it is common or uncommon, it is time that they were challenged for their supposedly Christian proclamation.

Thanks Nandor. I would agree with your comment concerning justice, oppression and exploitation. We do pay the collective consequences for our failures. I am not quite sure how these earthquakes would fit that, not that you are suggesting that they do. We may slightly disagree on sexuality as the Bible is pretty uniform on it. However, it gives no basis for singling out any group and repudiating them and blaming them for natural events. I find that disgraceful as is racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression. I find it repugnant.

Richard said…
I'm not sure I agree that Jesus severs the link between sin and God's specific judgement...I think he complicates and subverts the way it is understood but he clearly doesn't dismiss it entirely ...doing so would make much of Jesus' own warnings of coming judgment seemingly unintelligible (Mark 13, Matthew 24-25), not to mention some fairly scary parts of the N.T like Annanias and Saphira or the mention of "Jezebel" in Revelation 2:20-24.

The idea that God has judged and continues to judge the nations, almost always by giving them over to their sin and its results, seems something that I think is undeniably affirmed by both the Old and New Testament. And again, sometimes, on very rare occasions, we see God doing stuff which looks a little bit like "zapping" individuals for specific sins. On the other hand, judgement is usually mediated via God's covenant with Israel and the nations relationship with that specific convenant. Judgement is usually not cast down simply at discrete individuals or a specific class of people (i.e people called "sinners") but at leaders who themselves represent and lead nations. We also see judgement occurs in surprising ways which confound and challenge even the prophets natural sense of what is just (e.g Habukkuk) and other circumstances in which the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper. But don't think we can simply pit the whole old testament against itself or assume each book is creating some kind of theodicy/animism which explains exactly why everything happens.

As you suggest, what Jesus challenges in a number of passages is that their is not a straight forward cause and effect pattern between sin and God's judgement. Furthermore, the claims of those who think they are righteous and think that supposedly "wicked sinners" will go free are almost invariably turned upside down. But does that mean that God does not still judge the nations, sometimes even in specific ways? I don't think we can say that this doesn't happen unless we want to somehow suggest God has changed or that much of the both OT and NT is somewhat invalid as revelation. What I think is problematic is for anyone to simplistically claim that they can interpret and understand God's working in the world in the manner that Tamaki and others like him (Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell come to mind) claim.

The real problem I have with Tamaki, other than his attempt to single out entire groups of people as being responsible for world events, is what claim to authority he actually has to make these claims? He's making a claim to be a kind of prophet and given his awful track record, he clearly isn't one... If anything he is simply a false prophet and charlatan who deserves to be called out as one.
Unknown said…
Jesus paid for the consequences of our sin on the cross. End of story. That's a key part of the tremendous love gift of Jesus' life and the Cross - God having his Son live on earth and dying to redeem humanity from the consequences of their sin, forevermore. The Old Testament Church was under the law. Under the new covenant, the law. We are now the sons of God, not slaves to sin (see Galatians 4:4-10, and the whole tone of the book of Galatians). Christ came to set us free. If choose to go back and live under the law, we are denying what Christ did for us.
Unknown said…
Sorry, one sentence there doesn't make sense. I meant to say 'Under the new covenant, the law has lost its authority'.
Anonymous said…
Hi Adrian, Isn't a gift only a gift when it is received?
And surely we can't (and shouldn't) go on sinning because we've been forgiven...

Hi Nandos, thank-you for pointing out that this actually happened before the earthquake, I have watched the full service (found it on if you want to check it out yourself) and the part about the earthquakes certainly seems to be a departure from what he was preaching on ...

I guess that what most people don't want to acknowledge is that there is a God who loves them, who sent His son to die for them in their place - because if they admit this, they will have to re-evaluate how they are living their lives.

God doesn't have big or small sin. Sin is sin. And, yes, sin has it's consequences . . .

Finally, I believe the bible says that if you must judge someone, do it by their fruits & Destiny Church is certainly right now helping a lot of men turn their lives around for the better... (even the media acknowledge this).

The battle is not of flesh and blood...


Bob Sinclair said…
I agree. destiny church has gone where other churches have failed. They have touched the lives of those in Sth Auckland and other places in NZ that others have had no impact on. I dont agree with everything Bishop Brian says (Im a baptist no less!) but I have to acknowledge how the Lord has used him over the last 38 years here in NZ. Remember that this sermon was for members of the church he pastors.The reason it went viral was that a significant earthquake hit just some hours later. its certainly captured the nations attention. (Both the earthquake and the sermon!) before we go knocking Brians theology, try listening to some of David Wilkersons sermons, or was he a false prophet also.Just saying :-)
Anonymous said…
Hey Jay and many others who mention that Brian spoke before the earthquake and so could be prophetic. He very specifically spoke about the Christchurch earthquake as occurring due to what a sinful city it is!he named people and institutions in positions of influence and their sins. eg cardinal of chch cathedral in homosexual relationship with British person who brought gay marriage to NZ as being reason the cathedral was demolished!seriously Brian alright!sexual sin has natural consequences both physical and psychological but oh dear,if this wasn't so sad it would be funny. Saddest thing is that his congregation will be taking it as the gospel.
jules33 said…
Great article - thank you on behalf of all Christians (except Brian Tamaki LOL) I totally agree send it to NZ Herald for them to publish !
Grahame said…
Sadly, there is a substantial number of people and churches who embrace theological illiteracy......
Carey Clow said…
It not quite a simple as Mark suggests. Jesus didn't server the link between sin and consequences short or long term, he severed the link between sin and religious condemnation and indifference by people who should be carriers of God's love and mercy. Jesus own mercy reconnected people with love and grace without disconnecting the unrepentant and unresponsive from the weight and threat of judgement both imminent and eternal. Consider John 3:17 etc. and also John 5:14 - Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” Remember also in Romans 8 that creation is burdened by and groaning under the weight of sin and is waiting - almost desperately as it were - for the sons of God to bring evidence of God's good kingdom. In saying that, it's naive of Bishop Brian to draw such a line of sight between current NZ earthquakes and our currently secular nature as a society. - Carey
TJ Consultant said…
It's simple the whole of creation is groaning and travaiLing waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God.
If you choose to go your own way your at the mercy of the elements
maggieb said…
Excellent response. Deception comes when we don't have a grounding in the word and new covenant.
Adam Marshall said…
A passionate Christian should not be using vulgar 'modern vernacular', and then publically displaying it.
Anonymous said…
1. Love the Lord with all your heart.
2. Love your neighbor as yourself.
3. Do NOT under any circumstances use modern English phrases or contribute in any way to the evolution of the English language.

Have I got the order right?
Anonymous said…
Well said Bob Sinclair. I too dont agree with everything Brian Tamaki says but one thing I want to say is, he is BOLD, and does it not say in the bible...Be BOLD for I am with you says the Lord!
Mark J. Keown said…
Hey Adam. Check out the meaning of skybalon from Phil 3:8. You will find that Paul uses the same word in Greek.
Cheers. Mark.
Mark J. Keown said…
Passion is good. But misguided passion is bad and even dangerous. Paul says this of the Jews at his time in Rom 10: "Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge." Passion can be good or destructive. When we have passion with false theology we have danger. We know this from history and theology. Satan has immense passion. Hitler had passion. Stahlin had passion. The leader of North Korea has passion. False cult leaders have passion. Passion without knowledge is not helpful.
Adam Marshall said…
Hello Mark, thank you for your reply, I have done an extremely quick look at the word skybalon (σκυβαλα), I believe the word means "refuse (excrement/dung)" - it is used once in Phil 3:8 as you stated. I believe to take this as an example to use profanity/offensive language is misguided and wrong - for this word to be used as an example, there would need to be more occurrences of Paul and others using this word - there aren't any.

Moreover, Paul teaches against this:
Ephesians 5:4, Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.

He also teaches against offending your brother 1 Corinthians 8:13

Paul would be a hypocrite if he indeed as suggesting it is ok to use words such as you have done in Phil 3:8,

We are in the world, but not of it.

We are supposed to becoming more and more like Christ everyday, I do not believe using language like that is doing this, would Christ speak as such?

As fellow Christians, we are also supposed to sharpen each other.

In reply to Anonymous - You have the first two commands in the correct order, but see my above reply to Mark in response to your 3rd.
Mark J. Keown said…
Reminds me of the time that Tony Campolo got up and said, "I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a shit. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said shit than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night."

The context in which Paul said shit was parallel to this. He was repudiating the false theology of Judaizers who could not read the OT and had a deficient Christology. So, if is ok for Paul it is ok for me. Who cares about the flock being led into false teaching? All that matters is that we don't say 'dung.' I could bore you with other NT examples and the many examples of crass language used by the Prophets. Indeed, many. All rhetorical to make a more important point about the violation of God's word. But, hey, if that is all that concerns you. God luck with that.
Anonymous said…
As a person who is graduating from Laidlaw College in 2 weeks time I find that your tone and attitude is lacking Mark. First of all, if you believe the word to be an acceptable word but your fellow brother in Christ does not, why would you proceed to use it 3 times in your next comment at the offense of your brother? Secondly, both Christians and those of the world recognise that word to be offensive and as Adam Marshall has stated the Bible tells us that we are not to use coarse language. If you think that the word is acceptable then why not continue a civil discussion with the person instead of ending your reply with "...if that is all that concerns you. Good luck with that."? Disappointing to say the least.
Mark J. Keown said…
Sorry to have disappointed you with my attitude and tone. If the word used is offensive when quoting a very common phrase and for a theologically rhetorical argument, I presume Paul has also offended you. The writer of Eph 5 is also the writer of Phil 3, and like the prophets and Jesus, he on rare occasions uses a swear word to make a point. Paul urges us to 'imitate me.' I am doing this in the same vein. Why would my imitating Paul cause you concern? I am indeed being obedient to Scripture. If you read through my tens of thousands of words written on the blog, you will find very few if any other such swear words and only to make a similar point. So, while I am sorry you are disappointed, in that I am following the writer of 13 letters of the NT, I am intrigued by your offense. As a person who has studied at Laidlaw, I am a little surprised, considering the many instances in Scripture when far greater people than me said very offensive things--prophets, Jesus, and Paul. But, as I said, I am sorry to have not lived up to your expectations.
Anonymous said…
Hey Mate, Can you help me, I have a speck of dust in my eye, can you help me get it out ?
Cheers Steve Watson, The dirty filthy rotten sinner ,,,me that is..!
Anonymous said…
EVERYBODY stop saying Shit..! Oh damn now you made me say it ! Oh my Buddha !!
Dung ok Poos... borderline.. Stinky poos? well dunno... Didn't Jesus describe people as sheep ?? I wonder why that was...Signed..Steve Watson The dirty rotten filthy sinner...
Father Ron said…
Mark, bless you for righting the record - of God's love being primary over the world's judgement. This, surely, is what is meant by 'Gospel' Good: News for all.
There will always be false prophets - not unknowm in religious circles today. A fear-based message is not Gospel. It does all Christians good to remember the words of Jesus: "They will know you're my disciples by your love" - not by your capacity for judgement. We are ALL sinners - redeemed by Christ. Alleluia!

Keep up the good work. Agape
Anonymous said…
An interesting discussion. Often error in biblical interpretation and teaching comes from taking a truth and extreming it. Rightly dividing the Scriptures ofen involves holding truths in balance. A right balance brings honour to God. Righteousness/judgement vs love/forgiveness must be viewed together in balance. The cross is where all these met together and God displayed His attributes of glory. The holiness of God and the love of God were both displayed at the cross. No one would ever imagined that God would judge sin in this way. Is God still a just judge? Yes of course. Is God still a loving father? Yes of course. Would God use an earthquake to judge a city? He could but it is presumption and self righteousness when we think we can decide God's judgement for others. Who do we think we are that we can decipher the judgements of God? The rain falls on the just and unjust. At times people of God suffer while others prosper. Anyway I agree just as the cross displayed the glory of God so does the person of Christ. There will be a second coming where all things will be consummated and the final judgements of God will be worked out. Until then because we are in a fallen broken world there will be earthquakes, wars and other disasters that happen to the just and unjust alike.
fury12 said…
"There will be a second coming where all things will be consummated and the final judgements of God will be worked out."


Unknown said…
Thank you for the article . still im confronted with the paradox of what you say re no link between a persons sins and judgment and the story of Ananias and Sapphira acts 5 where there was the "affectus judgment of God" and in that case a clear case of greed and untruths. ...Im reminded of chesterton quote "“Christianity got over the difficulty of combining furious opposites, by keeping them both, and keeping them both furious.”

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