Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Reformation and the Singapore culture

Ecclesia reformata et semper reformanda secumdum verbum Dei
(The Church reformed and always reforming according to the Word of God)

Over at the TGC website, there is a single article by Don Doriani entitled "Reformation Then and Now, Here and There," which I guess is supposed to coincide with Reformation Day. In it, a reference is made to my home country Singapore, complete with a picture of the city skyline. While I guess the post is meant to show the relevance of the Reformation in a non-Western context, the article does not in my opinion do justice to the situation in Singapore and the Singapore Church, not to mention its rather lame attempts at relevance to the culture.

Now, the question asked of course is a valid one. Singapore does not have a similar history to the West. Yet what was the Reformation all about? The Reformation has two main principles: the material principle of Justification by Faith alone apart from works (Sola Gratia sola fide), and the formal principle of the authority of Scripture alone (Sola Scriptura). Now, certainly there are other matters of importance including the reformation of worship and the reformation of church governance, but these flow out of these two main principles. The crux of the Reformation is the right way of salvation and the right authority for the faith. Notice here that the issue of Sola Scripture is about the supreme authority of Scripture, not the mangled version of "me and my Bible in the woods" idea prevalent throughout Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism, sometimes known as Solo Scriptura.

If we actually look at the Reformation this way, then the Reformation has relevance regardless of culture. Churches everywhere always need to be reminded of the Gospel of Justification by Faith alone. Churches everywhere need to be reminded of the supreme authority of Scripture. It matters not the cultural context, for it is in the nature of Man to add works to one's justification, and to subconsciously or consciously reject the authority of Scripture by paying heed to the "insights" from other authorities that are not in line with Scripture, normally masked as the introduction of something complementary as an additional aid to Scripture.

Doriani's piece in my opinion does not do us a favor in the way it portrays other religions. Now of course in multi-religous Singapore, religion is a sensitive issue, and for sure Doriani would have gotten in a lot of trouble if he were living in Singapore. But besides that, the whole comparison of Buddhist practices with the sale of indulgences is rather inappropriate because it is false. Now, I am no expert in Buddhism, or even the syncretistic mix called Chinese Buddhism, but I doubt Buddhists buy "garden deities" to get their ancestors out of hell or reduce the years in purgatory, or the Chinese hell. As a Christian, I do think it is necessary to say that Christianity is the only true religion, but is making this flawed analogy the best way to try to portray the relevance of the Reformation, by stretching analogies to attempt to link the times of Luther to the Singapore cultural context? How exactly is God glorified when the truth is stretched in not representing the beliefs of other religions correctly? Doriani should be relieved he is not in Singapore or writing primarily to a Singapore audience, otherwise the secularists will begin their witch hunt immediately.

Doriani wants to show the relevance of the Reformation to non-Western places like Singapore. Why not stop perpetuating condescending views concerning the host culture and stop trying to be "relevant" when it only betrays ignorance? Notice also that the Reformation is first and foremost a Reformation of the Church, not for example on dealing with the enemy Turks in the 16th century. You want relevance of the Reformation to Singapore? How about going for the problems within the Singapore churches? For indulgence, go for the prosperity gospel hucksters in the persons of Joseph Prince, Kong Hee, and the Rhema Bible Institute in Singapore. For the denigration of Sola Scriptura, go after the promotion of Contemplative Prayer and the "Spiritual Disciplines" of Richard Foster, or the growing popularity of prayer labyrinths, charismatic visions and trances, or the promotion of Taize in Trinity Theological College. With regards to the Gospel, go after the moralism preached in the Singapore churches where pastors preach law and ethics almost every Sunday without giving rest in the glorious truths of the Gospel. Then go after the antinomianism of Joseph Prince and his gnostic Word-Faith idea of "confessing your righteousness not your sins." Is that enough relevance for anyone, for Doriani?

It is so very easy to speak about the "relevance of the Reformation" and talk about other religions. But judgment begins at the house of God (1 Peter 4:17). I am sure Doriani has good intentions, but this kind of "relevance" is a stumbling block to the world, and smacks of hypocrisy. The Church needs to reform itself and sorts out its mess first, instead of pointing fingers at the world. Physician, heal thyself! Yes, the Singapore Church needs reformation, but it does not help anyone when the answer is framed with a finger pointing outside while the Church suffers from internal rot. The Singapore Church is sick with all matter of false teachings, chief of which is apathy for sound doctrine. We do not NEED lectures for Reformation per se, but for people to actually ask themselves what they need to reform, for "faith without works is dead," and listening about reformation without reforming oneself only adds condemnation for knowing the truth but not doing it.

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