Friday, May 09, 2014

Morals, and moralism

On a Singapore blog, an article was written in Chinese by the author with the title 不敬虔的世代, translated roughly as "A time of impiety/ disrespect." The problems that the author addresses are serious. The article begins with a lament about the current spate of corruption cases hitting Singapore, even with an allusion (without naming) to a megachurch pastor (i.e. Kong Hee) being charged with mishandling of church funds ("大型教会的牧师和领袖也因挪用公款而被控上法庭"). The author laments the decline of righteousness and integrity in Singapore society and the church.

In response, the author draws us to Psalms 90, and writes about the power and justice of God, calling people to repent of their sins, and (presumably for Singaporeans) to pray for ourselves, our churches and our country ("为我们的国家祷告,为我们的教会祷告,为我们自己祷告"). Here is where however I do have a bone or two to pick.

Graft in society, and even within the visible church, is certainly sin. However, the author seems to have the idea that righteousness should be the default setting in Singapore. Of course, in Singapore, by God's grace corruption has been rare. But the issue is this: Sin is sin, and sinners sin. While corruption is certainly wrong and sinful, the impression I have is a tone of astonishment that corruption actually has been found in Singapore. Allow me to interject and just say: Excuse me! Sinners sin, so why are you astonished that sinners sin? Of all people, why are Singaporean Christians astonished when corruption has been found out even in high places? Are Singaporeans humans?

This brings to mind the responses of Singaporeans to the 2013 Little India riot. By and large, Singaporeans were shocked to see an actual riot happening IN Singapore, with the blame being put on foreigners who bring their unruly ways to the orderly Garden City. Let me call this attitude what it actually is: Self-righteousness. I, We, Singaporeans are better, more civilized, than the Indian and Bangladeshi construction workers. We are better than other countries, we obey the law and so on. We took the providential care of God for our nation, and think that WE the people did it all. Honestly, the self-righteousness stinks!

What's even worse here is the remedy promoted in this article. Here is what the author wrote:

圣洁的主天天想起我们的罪!这是一件多么可怕的事。圣经说:若主究察罪孽,谁能站得住 呢?(诗130:3)我们每一个人最终都要照我们所行的受审判。行善的复活得生,作恶的复活定罪。圣经非常清楚的教导我们那些不肯悔改的人将被丢入那为魔鬼和他的使者所预备的永火里去(太25:41)。那里虫是不死的,火是不灭的(可9:48)。神是审判我们生命的主,所以我们要敬畏神祂,远离恶事。

当我们认识到自己的罪,最好是马上悔改祷告。这正是诗人的所做的。所以,诗90:12-17就记录了诗人的祷告。诗人求主指教我们怎样数算自己的日子,这不是求主让我们知道我们还可以活多少天, 而是因为知道我们的罪使主的发怒,知道我们的日子短少是因为我们的罪。所以,求主给我们智慧,使我们可以悔改,离开罪恶归向神。箴言1:7说:敬畏耶和华是知识的开端。

Here is my translation:

The holy Lord daily remembers our sin! This is a fearful thing indeed. The Scripture says, "If the Lord investigates sins, who can stand?" (Prov. 130:3). In the end, all of us will be judged by what we do. The one who does good will be raised unto life; the one who does evil will be raised unto condemnation. Scripture very clearly teaches us that those who do not repent will be thrown into the eternal fire that has been prepared for the devil and his followers. (Mt. 25:41). In that place the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched (Mk. 9:48). God is the Lord who judges our lives, therefore we should fear Him and flee from doing evil.

When we recognize our sins, it is best that we immediately repent of them in prayer. This is what the psalmist did. Thus, Psalm 90:12-17 records his prayer. The psalmist asks the Lord to teach him how to number his own days. This does not teach us to ask the Lord how many days we have left to live, but rather that it is because we know that our sins provoke the Lord's wrath, therefore we realize the brevity of our days is a result of our sins. Thus, we request for the Lord to give us wisdom, so that we may repent, flee from all evil-doing and turn to God. Proverbs 1:7 says, "The fear of Jehovah is the beginning of wisdom."

Repentance is certainly important in dealing with sin. However, if one thinks that repentance saves, then one has substituted the true Gospel for one of works-righteousness. But before we even go there, look at how this section begins. It says that the Lord remembers our sins, daily! Really? Here is what the Scriptures actually say:

“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered;
blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” (Rom. 4:7-8)

[On the New Covenant]
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah,
not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.
For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord.
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts,
and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’
for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.
For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” (Heb. 8:8b-12)

The blessing of the New Covenant is that God will forget the sins of His people. They are gone, not brought to mind. God does not stand over us as judge anymore, keeping a record of all we do wrong. God says, "I will remember their sins no more." How much clearer can it get?

I shudder when I read sentences that basically lifts Romans 2:6-10 out of context as if the text is meant to tell us how we are to be right with God. That sentiment is the sentiment of works-righteousness. It is, to put it nicely, not much different from the teaching of the Judaizers. To say that God is keeping track of our deeds, and then when we do wrong, we have to repent and turn away from sin in order to be right again with God, is well on the path towards salvation by congruent merit, by works (striving and repentance) not perfect but deemed acceptable by God.

This is not the Gospel message. This is moralism. This is legalism. It is fitted for self-righteous Singaporeans, who arrogantly think they have reached the standard of obedience and law-keeping. It is fitted for those who think themselves superior to the unwashed masses who toil in the hot sun all day for a pittance. The Gospel message is for the wretched, not for those who think themselves righteous. Singaporeans are no better than the people of the world, and it's about time we realize that. The Gospel is salvation by faith, not by works, not by faith and repentance, but faith alone. Repentance follows from faith but it itself does not save. There is no inherent virtue in repentance, for there is a worldly repentance that is damning (2 Cor. 7:10). Apart from true faith, you can repent all you want and you will still go to hell! You can repent till the point of self-flagellation and it will do you absolutely no good. Penance, which is merely the exaggeration of acts of repentance, was done away at the Reformation, because the Gospel does not have us to be saved by repentance.

Regrettably, this article is standard fare in Singapore "Evangelicalism." It is the type of drivel that I had to put up with in my growing-up years. It is a "gospel" that will make Pelagius proud. Regardless of what soteriology one holds to, if one's soteriology does not affect how one presents the Gospel, then it is merely abstract and good for nothing.

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