Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Scholarship and submitted scholarship

Dr. James White did a Dividing Line podcast on the issue of scholarship, and how true Christian scholarship should be done in submission to the Lordship of Christ. You can watch it as below

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Say no to liberal ecumenism

In recent years, we have discovered that the activities of some churches and organisations are harmful to us because these groups violate the laws and regulations of the Chinese government which is neither beneficial to themselves nor to churches in China. These activities range from sending missionaries, conducting training programs in clandestine fashion, setting up denominational churches and tempting Chinese Christians financially to join these churches. These practices destroy the unity of churches in China and generate misunderstandings, as their reports on churches in China can be misleading. [Gao Feng, "Co-operation and Partnership in the Mission of the Church in China," in Michael Nai-Chiu Poon, Church Partnerships in Asia: A Singapore Conversation (CSCA Christianity in Southeast Series; Singapore, Trinity Theological College, 2011), 63]

The emergence of many new denominations, parachurch organizations and Christian sects is challenging because it has created confusion and misunderstanding among churches about a common witness. It wii be imperative for MCC [Myanmar Council of Churches -DHC] to co-operate with Evangelicals, Pentecostals and other small mission bodies to find ways and means to resolve the situation. [Stephen Than Myint Oo, "The Life and Witness of the Church in Myanmar: Past, Present and Future," in Poon, 89]

If there is one thing that irks liberal ecumenists, it is when missionaries that are not approved by them enter into their country and their territory to do church planting. In China, the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) churches, the "official" Protestant church, claims to speak for all Protestants in China. That there are millions of Chinese Christians in underground churches who refuse to submit to the TSPM undercuts their claim to ecumeneity of course, but liberal ecumenists, like liberals everywhere, are unconcerned about that inconvenient truth. In their minds, they are the only acceptable church and they represent ALL Christians in their region and/or country, consent of those they "represent" is not important at all!

In the case of Myanmar, evidently such a centralization of sorts (given the huge diversity in Myanmar) had occurred with the formation of the MCC. Just like the TSPM, they claim to speak for all Christians in their country regardless of what the normal people think.

All of such "ecumeneity" exists in most countries around the world. In Singapore, it is the NCCS (National Council of Churches in Singapore), which claims to speak for all Christians in Singapore. But of course, all they speak for are the mainstream denominations where the liberals hare ascendant, or where Evangelicals have capitulated in the matter of church governance and relations. The NCCS for example do not speak for me; I detest their very existence. The liberal ecumenical organizations tolerate at best and promote at worst a false gospel and a false Christ. Their very existence is to function as demonic counterfeits of true Christianity, to snare the unsuspecting and undiscerning away from God into a false religiosity in the name of true religion.

Since the TSPM and evidently the MCC represent the Antichrist in this time, they are not to be regarded as Christian institutions at all. They are irked by missionaries coming in unannounced to create trouble as it were. Well, as long as the missionaries are missionaries who believe in the true Gospel of Jesus Christ, I am all for them coming in and being "unhelpful" or "harmful" to these apostates! Let them "create misunderstanding," because the liberal ecumenical bodies have distorted the true biblical witness, so bringing in a true Christian witness is better than "uniting" around a false witness of heresy. For what has light to do with darkness, God to do with Satan?

Therefore, since the Southeast Asia region (and other regions too) has apostate liberal ecumenical bodies and churches around the region, Christian churches and missionaries should be interested in moving into these area and gain converts even through what those liberals would call "sheep stealing." Whoever attends those liberal churches may be a believer, but they need to be encouraged to attend a true church, while unbelievers within the liberal churches need to be called to repentance. The "churched" are to be targets for evangelism and discipleship as well. Since liberal theology does not save, those who follow it are just as lost as those from other religions. Believers in those churches are Christians despite them being in those churches, not because of it

So say no to liberal ecumenism, and liberalism in general. Have nothing to do with the false religion of liberalism. As John Gresham Machen shows in his book Christianity and Liberalism, Liberalism is another religion altogether, in contrast to biblical Christianity. While I cannot speak definitely of the status of Gao Feng and Stephen Than, both of them have to repent for their wickedness in promoting liberalism and liberal ecumeneity, or face the possibility of an eternity without Christ forever.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Ecclesiology and the lack of it (Update)

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Mt. 16:18-19)

Ecclesiology technically speaking is just a doctrine of the church. One can have low church ecclesiology, or high church ecclesiology. As long as one has thought upon the matter and formulate a doctrine of how the church relates to God and to the individual Christian, then one has an ecclesiology, technically speaking.

However, there is another way to understand ecclesiology, the biblical, more restrictive way. In the Scriptures, the Church is treated as an organism AND institution. Only in an institution can one has offices like elders and deacons, whose jurisdiction cannot be indefinite and unlimited as they need to know who they are serving. And in order for proper pastoral care and church discipline to work, or even just deciding on matter related to the local church, there must be membership in order for that to happen. Thus, the [Visible] Church in the biblical sense must be institutional in some sense. We further note that biblical authority flows from Christ to the church and then to the individual, and that is not Roman Catholicism! God gave officers as gifts to the church (Eph. 4:11), which imply that the authority does not come "from the bottom up, from members to the officers," but that officers of the Church derive their authority from God and not by popular consent. The Church is NOT a democracy! The members of the church are involved only for validation, not that they actually vote a person into office like how a citizen vote for the country's prime minister.

If that is the biblical ecclesiology, then any sect that does not pay attention to the institutional aspects of the Church are deficient in ecclesiology. It does not matter how much they talk about "the church," because they aren't really talking about the Church, the Church as God knows, loves and cares for through her ordained offices.

Thus, while the Brethren movement especially John Darby focuses on "the church," it can be said that his ecclesiology is little to non-existent, since he does not deal with the Church which God loves. While "schismatic" might be a strong word, the reality is not too far for those who spurn God's offices and His Church for a mere shadow of a Christian assembly. Let me put it bluntly: a group of Christians coming together is NOT necessarily a church. A group of Christians coming together for fellowship at Starbucks, complete with sharing devotions, is not a church. A group of Christians coming together at a member's home for worship and bible study, is not a Church. A group of Christians coming together to have a memorial "Lord's Supper" is not a Church. A Church is where God rules and reigns through the ordained ministers, elders and deacons He gave to His Church! No ordination, no Church! God may be present of course, since God is always present where two or three Christians come together for prayer (Mt. 18:20), but that is not the Church. God after all is omnipresent, so just because God works salvation through sharing of testimony does not make the gathering where the testimony is shared is the Church.

Thus, as far as I am concerned, and as I understand Scripture to teach, many of the low church brethren and the modern house church movements have little to no true biblical ecclesiology. On the extreme end of overt anti-institutionalism, the modern day house church movement in the West that used to be shepherded by people like Frank Viola (which are not the same as churches that meet in homes because of necessity in places like China) are no churches at all. They have no real offices and no ordained ministers, thus they are not real churches. Since they are not churches, their baptisms are invalid and their "Lord's Supper" sacrilegious, a mockery of the true sacrament instituted by Christ. To partake in such "Lord's Suppers" therefore is sin.

Of course, this side of heaven, not all churches can match the ideal, although we are called to that ideal. Imperfections mar Christ's bride this side of glory. Yet, it is one thing to have an imperfect system with imperfect ordination standards and views, and another to reject ordination altogether. It is one thing to be low church, and another to be "no-church" and be fully anti-institutional. The former can be seen as struggles of the church militant, but the latter is betrayal of the church militant. Failure to see this leads one either to perfectionism with regards to ecclesiology, or to rejection of biblical ecclesiology altogether since it's unattainable.

Thus, when I mention that somebody or some movement has "little to no ecclesiology," I mean they have no true biblical eccleiology, in the second sense of the term. Some of course might have no ecclesiology in the first sense of the term, but for me there aren't really much difference between both senses of the term since the [Visible] Church that God loves is not being discussed anyway.

UPDATE: I was informed that Frank Viola is no more shepherding the Organic Church movement, although it does not seem he has changed his views on the topic, as he has stated here. Instead, the current leader if you will of the Organic Church movement is Neil Cole. With this information, I have modified the post accordingly

On Singapore Church History

I have compiled, edited and re-worked my articles on Singapore Church History. The full article can be read here: On Singapore Church History.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Pietism and Confessionalism

The sort of religion heralded by the revivals of the First Great Awakening is chiefly responsible for the triumph of a utilitarian view of faith. The itinerant evangelists of these revivals, as well as their successors, transformed Christianity from a churchly and routine affair into one that was intense and personal. The conversion experiences marked the beginning of this new form of Christian faith. But it was only the start. True converts were expected to prove the authenticity of their faith through lives that were visibly different from nonbelievers. Indeed, the demand for a clear distinction between the ways of the faithful and those of the world not only propelled many of the social reforms associated with evangelicalism but also provided the foundation for viewing Christianity in practical categories. If faith was supposed to make a difference in all areas of life, not just on Sunday but on every day of the week, it is no wonder that the emphasis in Protestant circles shifted from churchly forms of devotion to ones that should be seen in personal affairs, community life, and national purpose. In other words, the cycle of revivals throughout American religious history, inaugurated by the First Great Awakening, secured the victory of pietism within American Protestantism. Like it European antecedents, American pietism dismissed church creeds, structures, and ceremonies as merely formal or external manifestations of religion that went only skin deep. In contrast, pietists have insisted that genuine faith was one that transformed individuals, starting with their heart and seeping into all walks of life. (D.G. Hart, The Lost Soul of American Protestantism (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2002), pp. xvii-xviii)

Unlike pietist Protestantism, which attaches great religious significance to public life and everyday affairs, confessionalism situates the things of greatest religious meaning in the sacred sphere of the church and its ministry. (p. xviii)

Confessional Protestants resisted revivals in large part because the methods of evangelists and the piety expected of converts were generically Christian—sincerity, zeal, and a moral life. As a result, revivalism did not respect but in fact undermined the importance of creedal subscription, ordination, and liturgical order. In a word, confessionalists opposed revivalism because it spoke a different religious idiom, one that was individualistic, experiential, and perfectionistic, as opposed to the corporate, doctrinal, and liturgical idiom of historic Protestantism. (p. xxiv)

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Neglecting the past: Indigenous "theologies" and the Singapore, Asian Context

Broadly speaking, for the past sixty years conservatives have been striving with the ecumenicists for global influence. For instance, the conservative International Council of Christian Churches pre-empted the World Council of Churches with its own gathering in Amsterdam a few months before WCC was inaugurated. Again, they waged a 'battle' against the ecumenicists in Bangkok in December 1949 by holding a conference on their own to counter the 'East Asian Christian Conference' that was taking place in the same time and same city. World Evangelical Fellowship convened a 'Theological Assistance Program' Consultation in Singapore in 1970 at the launch of the ecumenical Theological Education Fund Third Mandate, and evantually set up the Asia Theological Association as an alternative to the ecumenical ATESEA body. Despite well-meaning intents, these ecumenical-conservative conflicts, made possible by huge American financial investment, are destructive for world Christianity. They leave a legacy of rivalry and social polarisation especially among vulnerable churches around the world. [Michael Poon, "Introduction," in Michael Nai-Chiu Poon, ed., Church Partnerships in Asia: A Singapore Conversation (CSCA Christianity in Southeast Asia Series; Singapore, Trinity Theological College & Singapore, Armor Publishing, 2011), xviii]

Are Western theological conflicts alien to non-Westerners? Those into indigenious theologies (third-world theologies) evidently think so. They accuse Westerners of bringing their theological conflicts and inflicting it on non-Westerners, causing needless and sinful division of the Church in the non-Western countries. In this excerpt from a book intended to promote local "grassroots" Asian ecumenism, Michael Poon repeats the same charge of imperialism against essentially the Fundamentalists. According to him, such conflicts, "despite well-meaning intents," "are destructive for world Christianity," and "they leave a legacy of rivalry and social polarisation especially among vulnerable churches around the world." To say that Poon wishes for the Fundamentalist movement to stop being Fundamentalist is an obvious understatement, and in his view they are sinning and dividing the Church.

Christianity is a religion of truth. It claims, and proves itself to be, absolutely true. This is not an Enlightenment concept, but it can be found throughout the history of the Church in pre-modern times also. If Jesus is the only truth, that means that no falsehood should be tolerated by those who claim to follow Him, for to follow falsehood is to not follow the Christ who is the truth.

Thus, with regards to the divisions in Christendom, the question to be asked is not whether these divisions are created by the West, but whether the divisions are due to disputes over what is true. Does the amount of melanin in one's skin has any bearing on whether "1+1=2" is true, or whether "Socrates is a man" is a true proposition? Of course not! Does the truth value of the proposition matter if one were to say in English that "All humans will die" and to say the same thing in Chinese "每个人都会死"? Does the truth value changes if an Englishman say "There is one God" and a Japanese say the same thing "There is one God"? Most certainly not! The truth values of absolute truth propositions are independent of language, culture, ethnicity and nationality.

Similarly, to say that these issues and divisions have their beginnings in the West has absolutely no bearing on whether non-Westerners should or should not adopt the divisions and take sides in the conflicts in Western Christianity. The question remains: Are these issues and divisions disputes over truth? If they are, then non-Westerners should deal with them, and don't be intellectually lazy to discount them altogether. In fact, by doing so, "those who forget history are doomed to repeat it," as Lord Acton had indicated.

The Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy is very important, because liberals or modernists deny cardinal doctrines of the faith like the Virgin Birth, the Deity of Christ, and many others truths. By partnering with the Roman Catholic Church, it also indicates that it denies the importance of the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone. Before the modernists came into the scene, the church was not split over these issues, but once they came onto the scene sprouting heresy, they split the church with their heresies.

Thus, it is very telling that Poon accused the Fundamentalists as being divisive. No, the divisive ones are the liberals like those in the WCC who promote and teach lies about the Christian faith. What they teach is destructive for world Christianity. The Asian Liberals who are re-inventing the faith through "indigenous theologies" are promoting division with their heresies. They are the ones who are promoting heresies and schisms against the true universal Christian faith, and it is those whom Poon should be rightly accusing of causing division instead of the Fundamentalists.

True Christianity is defined as the religion that conforms to the truth as Jesus is the Truth. Anything else is in error and promote division of believers away from Christ. Thus, when we come to theological issues, who the parties are and the location where any controversy occurs should be irrelevant for deciding who is correct. The side which does not conform to scriptural truths is the divisive side, which is normally not the side that is most cantekerous but the "peaceful" side of any conflict, as the experience of church history has shown (e.g. Athanasius' Arian opponents, the "peaceful" Amyraldians, the "loving" moderates opposing J.G. Machen).

There is therefore nothing wrong with adopting and taking sides in "Western theological controversies." There is also nothing wrong with conducting theology in the same manner as theologians in "Western Christianity." In fact, there is something wrong in NOT doing so, for it is an attack on the catholicity of the Church. Somehow, the fact that Evangelical "Western theology" is not really Western at all passed them by. Augustine was hardly a white European, neither were most of the delegates at Nicea or Chalcedon either.

By rejecting the catholicity of the church, indigenous theologies are almost certainly wrong from the beginning. And we do not have to worry about the baseless accusations of division from the liberals. Those who are promoting heresy are the ones culpable, not us. Yes, there are many vulnerable churches around the word, as Poon says, so let's protect them from the liberals!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Singapore Church History: Contemporary Evangelicalism, Uniquely Singapore

The following year [1982 -DHC], the Full Gospel Christian Businessmen's Fellowship, in cooperation with just over 100 churches came together and sponsored a nationwide Gospel Rally. Billed as the pastor of the world's biggest church with over 200,000 members, the speaker Dr. Paul Cho Yongi-gi hailed from South Korea. By the time he arrived in June, 10,000 counsellors [sic], 1,500 ushers, and a 2,000 strong choir had been trained. For five evenings at the National Stadium, an average audience of 40,000 turned up to hear about God's word and to receive healing.

December 1985 saw another major evangelistic rally. The speaker this time was Reinhard Bonkke, well-known for his big tent evangelistic ministry in Africa. Sponsored by the Full Gospel Christian Businessmen's Fellowship, Church of Singapore and the Anglican Diocese, the campaign also received the cooperation of 68 other churches. For five nights, the meetings were held at the National Stadium. Total attendance came to 160,000. About 7,000 came forward for either salvation, rededication, healing or deliverance.

Even as the Bonkke mission was held, preparations were being made for another larger campaign. The speaker this time would be Argentinian evangelist Dr. Luis Palau. ...The sponsoring body was the Evangelical Fellowship of Singapore. ... In all, 11,902 persons registered decisions, 59% being acceptance of Christ into their lives. (Sng, 296-7)

Another organization which came to the fore in the 1990s was the LoveSingapore movement. Begun in 1995, largely through the initiative of Lawrence Khong, Senior Pastor of Faith Community Baptist Church, it spelt out five strategic goals for churches:-

  1. Unite the body of believers together
  2. Serve the community
  3. Establish a prayer cell in every housing block by the year 2000
  4. Launch a seven-wave harvest in 2001
  5. Churches to adopt unreached people groups across the world

Church leaders responded positively to these goals. Over the next five years, various activities were organized. Churches were encouraged to participate in them as they were able to. At its peak, about 150 churches participated in its activities.

5 August 1995 saw thousands packing Singapore's largest indoor stadium for a concert of prayer. Appropriately called Day to Change Our World, it was premised on the belief that before revival could take place in the city, the believers themselves must be united. ...

Five months later, 90 pastors gathered at Hotel Sofitel, Johor Bahru, for a four-day Prayer Summit. They came from different church traditions. Through tears, confession and reconciliation, walls of suspicion that had kept churches apart were torn down. As they committed themselves afresh to Vision 2001, the pastors agreed to divide themselves into 26 geographical networks, covering the whole of Singapore. They would continue to cooperate and pray for one another. Pastors would exchange pulpits on Sundays and they would meet annually at the Prayer Summit. Such was the support that by the year 2000, the Summit had attracted 683 church leaders. (Sng, 333-4)

And so we have arrived at the modern times. This author can remember quite a number of the more recent events, like LoveSingapore's campaign for Vision 2001, of which as a youth I had in ignorance attended those hyped-up meetings. Speaking of which, were the goals mentioned there achieved? 2001 has come and gone, and I wonder if all the revivalistic hype has actually achieved anything.

The concept of revivalism is alive and well in Singapore, and big rallies are not uncommon. Before every National Day (August 9) ever since I was a youth (around 1997), there was a big event organized called the Festival of Praise (FOP) (and lo and behold, the event still continues on in a way). More recently, there was the Global Day of Prayer event.

We can see from the speakers that quite a few of them are not Christians. Paul (David) Yonggi Cho is a Word-faith heretic. Lawrence Khong has at best violated Scripture by usurping the title of "apostle" and promoting the unbiblical G12 principles, which are basically a reworking of the charismatic Shepherding errors. The FOP used to have Hillsongs United for their big praise concert, while other times they had other bands like Jars of Clay or Delirious. In this present culture, I wouldn't be surprised if "Jesus Culture" is embraced by many in the Singapore churches, and I personally know the names of 3 Singaporeans who went over to study at Bill Johnson's Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry (BSSM), one of which is in some form of full-time ministry in a Singapore church.

What one can see therefore in Singapore in contemporary Evangelicalism is basically the large scale corrosion of biblical orthodoxy from whatever little they previously had. The Charismatic movement has become a cancer destroying the faith of many while convincing them they are still Christians. While biblical orthodoxy and vitality degenerate, the church has become bolder yet more and more deluded about its own health. Thus, when I said that Sng is triumphalistic, the actual situation of the church in Singapore bears this out. We are having rallies, boasting in our numerical growth, boasting in how God has been "so good to us" with so many conversions in Singapore, but all the while the rot within is destroying the churches, and none of the Singapore church leaders see that! My experience over the GDOP fiasco showed me Singapore church leaders like Rev. Dr. Alfred Yeo are blind. The blind leading the blind, and refusing to listen to godly rebuke. Is it any surprise that, unless God start working, I have no hope for the long-term health of the Singapore churches?

Singapore contemporary Evangelicalism is the church of Laodicea. We think we are rich, we think God is richly blessing us, we boast in our numbers, in our relative influence in society, in our big rallies, our numbers of decisions. We believe we are exceptionally blessed by God, more so than any other nation in the world. We take God's kindness in providing us good political leaders that prospered our country, and treat that as if we are suddenly the most favored nation in God's eye. We took God's mercy in rewarding our evangelism efforts, and see that as indication that we are on the right path spiritually. But we are poor and wretched. The voice of God to Singapore is the same exhortation to the church of Laodicea. Come to Jesus and admit our poverty. Repent of our manifold sins and wickedness and toleration and promotion of error!

The church in Singapore has never been strong, but the Singapore church leaders evidently think they are doing well. There is no contrition over their part in tolerating false teachings including all the nonsense brought in under the umbrella of the "Charismatic Renewal." There is no repentance for their hardness of hearts in their false ecumenism. And I know that none if any will listen, because that has been my experience. The only way they might listen is to be upstaged by a younger and emerging pastor. In other words, they will perhaps listen to results of church growth, but that's not guaranteed either.

Unlike Sng's note of triumphalism, I do not see a rosy future for the churches of Singapore, unless God works repentance in our hearts. The future of Christianity in Singapore does not look rosy, with Liberalism infecting large swaths of society. Perhaps God may use the bigoted liberals to chastise His church, or in time we will lose our lampstand and die.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Singapore Church History: The Charismatic Renewal

In December 1972, an event occurred in Bangkok that would have far-reaching consequences for the church in Singapore. Bishop Chiu Ban It of the Anglican Church was attending an international Christian conference when an overseas colleague handed him the book None O'clock in the Morning written by Rev. Dennis Bennett. Bishop Chiu immediately saw the contrast between the love and power revealed in the life and ministry of Rev. Bennett and the dry, heated, theological arguments that went on in the conferences. Not a person easily attracted to tongues and supernatural hearings, the Bishop nevertheless kept an open mind on those matters as he pored through the book. One afternoon, he prayed that God would give him the Holy Spirit in the same measure as he ha given to many others. ... (Sng, 272-3)

So began the Charismatic renewal movement in Singapore, began by a single bishop to the Anglican Church and beyond, a movement that has undoubtedly enliven many people's spiritual walks and brought about a revitalization in segments of the Singapore Church.

We however know that God can use a crooked stick to draw a straight line. This present author also was affected in an initial positive measure by some elements of charismatism. It was as my then pastor brought charismatic stuff into my traditional mainstream Presbyterian church that God used to bring me to repentance and faith in him. But that has hardly made me an apologist for the charismatic movement. Just because God has used the charismatic renewal does not mean that the movement is of God or approved by him. For this author personally, while the charismatic movement brought me to faith, the more I continued in there the more I began to lose my zeal and fall away from the faith.

We see in Bishop Chiu's account that what the Scriptures say has scarcely any importance at all. His whole "conversion" is all about the experience. Chiu's observation about the conference may or may not be true, because we do not know to what extent the conference is actually biblical. But let's just talk about the surface observations of seeing "dry, heated, theological arguments." Why is that a problem? Must everything be exciting?

Chiu's observations make him seem like a schwärmer, a term Luther used derisively against the Anabaptists who want to swallow the Holy Spirit "feathers and all.". Now, there are two possibilities here: Either the conference was unbiblical, and thus the dryness is an actual dryness, in which case the problem was not with theology but with the unbiblical nature of the teachings, or Chiu felt it was dry despite it being biblical, which implied he was looking for more beyond what God has revealed. Either option does not speak too well about Chiu and his reasons for wanting the "Holy Spirit baptism."

Much can be said about the unbiblical nature of the Charismatic movement, while appreciating it has recovered some elements of Scripture that were present in the Reformation but have been neglected by the modern church. But I disgress. What I would like to focus here is how the Charismatic movement has allowed manifold heresy to enter the Singapore churches. The Charismatic movement brought in the Shepherding movement in its incarnation of the Hope Church movement and the G12 moment. It opened doors for the entrance of the Word-faith movement through Rhema Bible School, which has links with the Methodist Church in Singapore, renting or sharing locations with Paya Lebar Methodist Church. It opened doors for the entrance of the heresies of Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, the Copelands, and many more. It has lastly made the Singapore church more receptive when Third Wave Charismatism arrived in the 90s in the New Apostolic movement, and the Vineyard movement. And the nadir of Charismatism in this era has come with the false apostle Bill Johnson and his "Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry," revivalist Todd Bentley and mystic John Crowder. Do I need to mention the growth of our popular home-grown heretic in the person and ministry of Joseph Prince, an antinomian Word-faith "preacher," which Sng spoke approvingly of (p. 335)?

Here is where the triumphalism of Sng hits the roof. Sng sees the church growing and getting better from the 60s onwards (actually from 1819 onwards). But what kind of progress it is when the Singapore churches are infected with heresy? Just go to any Singapore bookstore, and notice what books are being sold on the shelf. Look, if nobody wants to read heresy, nobody would buy those books and the bookstores would not stock them. Bookstores not owned by churches operate on the basic economic principle of supply and demand. If there is no demand for heresy, there would be no heretical books on sale. That these bookstores are earning money and selling trash is a sad indictment of the Singapore churches.

While liberalism is the great intellectual enemy of the faith, a case can be made that Charismatism has metastasized into the great popular level enemy of the Christian faith. The Singapore churches have raised up a bunch of people who think with their emotions, judge base on feelings, and have Matthew 7:1 as their favorite verse (out of context of course). Numerically the churches might be growing, but the nature of their faith is diminishing every day. The popular saying for shallowness is a mile wide and an inch deep. Singapore Christianity is probably 2 miles wide and a nanometer deep; that's how bad it has become, no thanks to the charismatic renewal.

Liberalism in Trinity Theological College

How does one know whether there is still liberalism in Trinity Theological College (TTC)? Here are some questions to be answered:

  1. Does TTC teach the Documentary Hypothesis (JEPD) as truth, and does not offer a sound and convincing case against said theory?

  2. Does TTC teach that Isaiah did not write "Second Isaiah" and "Third Isaiah"? Is the prophet Isaiah taught not to be the author of "First Isaiah"? Does he not exist as he is described in Scripture?

  3. Is the creation account in Genesis 1-3 taught to be a borrowing from pagan myths like the Enuma Elish? Are Genesis 1-11 to be considered as written in a mytho-poetic language and thus not history giving us literal facts of the past?

  4. Is the notion of "Q" a valuable concept to find out the "true" teachings of Jesus, minus the accretions added by later church tradition?

  5. Is the notion and practice of higher criticism valid in finding out the actual texts of Scripture?

  6. Is one taught there is no one "Scripture," but multiple scriptures and the catholic party won and suppressed the other scriptures?

  7. Is one taught that Roman Catholicism is a valid form of Christianity?

  8. Is one taught that contemplative prayer, either as found in Eastern Orthodoxy or as mediated in Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline, is a great spiritual exercise that Christians should be engaged in?

  9. Are Roman Catholic mystics like Theresa of Avila, Ignatius of Loyola, Henri Nouwen and Thomas Merton held out as devout Christians? Is Roman Catholic mysticism held out as a great example of piety?

  10. Is one encouraged to attend Taize-style "worship"?

  11. Is the inerrancy of Scripture denied in class by any lecturers? Or is inerrancy defined to have many shades and colors (e.g. partial inerrancy), and so by obfuscation someone can pretend to believe in *some form* of inerrancy while rejecting its intended meaning?

If a "yes" answer is given to any of them, then we know liberalism is alive and well in TTC. I am here omitting other heresies like the New Perspective on Paul since these are not classical liberal heresies, but I think this list is enough to prove my point.

Singapore Church History: Liberalism, Fundamentalism and New Evangelicalism

Meanwhile, a serious theological storm was brewing. The Singapore Life Church was a part of the Synod of the Chinese Presbyterian Church which in turn was affiliated to the Malayan Christian Council. Rev. Timothy Tow, Elder Quek Kiok Chiang and Deacon Hsu Chiang Tai, as commissioners from Life Church, sought to get the Synod to dissociate itself from the MCC because "not a few of the promoters and leaders of the MCC are modernists who do not accept the fundamentals of the faith, including the infallibility of the Holy Scriptures, the virgin birth of Christ, his bodily resurrection and personal second coming." Further, it was alleged that the "MCC is a part of the one world church movement promoted by the IMC and WCC which include in their membership the idolatrous Greek Orthodox and Unitarians who deny the deity of Christ. Membership in the MCC would thus make this Synod unequally yoked with such unbelievers in disobedience to the word of God" and "the MCC is part of the ecumenical movement promoted by the IMC and the WCC which are seeking a union of Protestants and Roman Catholics. This is undoing the Protestant Reformation and betraying the very martyrs of the Reformation." (Sng, 231)

The debate raged back and forth. Each time the motion for disaffiliation was presented at the Synod, it was defeated. The last battle was waged in January 1955 when commissioners from all parts of Singapore and Malaya met at Muar. Again the motion was defeated. Life Church English Service therefore decided to withdraw from the Synod. ... (pp. 231-2)

The opening of the Singapore Bible College — then called the Singapore Theological Seminary—climaxed one-and-a-half years of heart-searching discussions among leaders of Chinese-speaking pastors, now that their hitherto main source of supply from mainland China had been cut off. But the majority of the members in the Singapore Chinese Christian Inter-Church Union, the prime movers of the College, belonged to the larger denomination churches. At that time, these churches had already formed the Trinity Theological College. ... The question, therefore, that many Union members had to face was to what extent they should proceed to establish a new college without references to their own denominational leaders.

Superficially, it would appear that these Union members desired to have a college directly under their control rather than to depend upon the Western-dominated Trinity College. But in fact, the matter went deeper and it represented a part of the subtle theological tension that existed between the theologically conservative Chinese churches and a liberal Western leadership. Traditionally, the Chinese churches had always been conservative. ... (p. 233)

The visits of Dr. Chia Yu Ming and leaders of the ICCC movement further reinforced the awareness of Chinese pastors to the issues at stake. They were bluntly told: liberal theology had engulfed many theological institutions in the West; many Western missionaries were liberals including some who were teaching at Trinity College; to send students to that college would be to have their faith destroyed; even with a Chinese department setup, they could not control the appointment of lecturers. (p. 234)

Across the world, the evangelical-liberal controversy affected not only the churches and theological institutions, but also the student world. (p. 235)

The various evangelical institutions that arose in the 50s shared a common feature: a strong commitment to the historic fundamental beliefs of the church a readiness to part way with liberal pastors and missionaries. But, on one important issue they disagreed: whether or not to encouraged Christians to separate themselves from churches that happened to be led by liberal pastors or which were directly or indirectly linked with the ecumenical movement. (p. 238)

While not raged nearly as bitterly as in America, the fundamentalist-modernist controversy raged in Singapore with the founding of the Singapore Bible-Presbyterian (BP) movement, and burned even lower with the founding of Singapore Bible College. The twin binaries existed alongside of each other for a time, with the Fundamentalist rejecting liberalism in Singapore churches for a time.

Yet, the emergence of a third side came about in the New Evangelical movement, linked with the various new evangelical parachurch organizations (Navigators, Youth for Christ, Campus Crusade for Christ, Varsity Christian Fellowship) and then the Billy Graham crusade of 1978. The New Evangelicals, while personally rejecting liberalism, do not call for separation from liberals on the ecclesiastical level. This attitude has more natural affinity with the predominant Asian mentality of avoiding conflict where possible. Alongside pietism's focus on individual piety, and corresponding denigration of ecclesiology, it is no wonder that most Singapore Christians would take the New Evangelical route.

Parachurch organizations were all the rage in the 60s and 70s, precisely because the youths rejected the liberalism in the mainstream churches (p. 267). In Singapore's anti-intellectual climate, liberalism has not been very viable, and in the long term has lose out to the New Evangelicals, who in time took over much of the leadership in the mainstream churches, unlike in the West. Liberals however are still present; they have not been utterly eradicated. It is therefore rather disingenuous for Sng to claim that recently liberal theology has stopped being a potent force in Trinity Theological College (TTC) (p. 352). The most charitable reading of Sng is that he has no idea what kind of nonsense is being peddled in TTC even today. Let's be blunt, to be educated in TCC is to be exposed to all matter of heresies and to be encouraged to apostatize from the faith, in the name of "ecumeneity."

The New Evangelical experiment in Singapore is similar to its expressions around the world, with the exception that it has managed to re-capture a significant portion of the mainstream. But its compromising character has continued. It is more likely thus to read Sng's assertion that evangelicals have no problems attending TTC not as saying something positive about TTC, but as conveying something about the growing compromise and openness with liberalism within Singapore (New) Evangelicalism.

We note also the parachurch route the youth have taken towards renewal in the Singapore churches. It is no surprising therefore that the low ecclesiology of the older generation is perpetuated in that generation, who are the current (older) leaders of the modern Singapore churches. With such a low ecclesiology, the witness of the church can never be strong. This applies to a certain extent also to the Fundamentalists in the BP movement. The dissolution of the BP Synod in 1988 was over ecclesiology, or rather a truncated ecclesiology that focuses only on the negative goal of separation (p. 312). By having half of a proper Presbyterian ecclesiology, the BP churches were severely imbalanced. Together with their non-confessionalism, it is not surprising that the BP movement splintered. After all, separation is not just separation from, but separation FOR. Having the former without the latter is a sure recipe for disaster.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Singapore Church History: War, ecumenism and the emergence of a new world order

The coming of World War 2 was disastrous for Singapore. The British severely under-estimated the might of the Japanese army. The invading Japanese hoarde swept down south through French Indo-China and down through Malaya, rapidly penetrating British-held territory. Within days, the Japanese army had arrived just across the Straits of Singapore in the Malayan state of Johore, forcing the British to blow up the causeway linking Singapore to the rest of Malaya, and preparing for the worst. The worst came as the Japanese crossed the straits under cover of night and proceeded with their invasion. After desperate pitch battles, the British finally surrendered on February 15, 1942. The next 3 years were a time of darkness under the self-proclaimed "liberators."

The Japanese were cruel, wicked masters. Knowing that the Chinese had supported China against the Japanese invaders, the Japanese engaged in a system of terror, picking people off at random for mass killings, and committing various atrocities against the majority Chinese inhabitants of Singapore. Seeing a pregnant woman, they would rip open the mother's womb, toss the baby into the air, and impale it on their bayonets, killing both mother and child in a most gruesome manner. Hardly a family exists which did not have a relative missing, gunned down in mass graves, tortured to death or just killed by the Japanese.

It wasn't any better for Prisoners of War, which basically includes many Europeans who could not flee in time from the Japanese, if they weren't sent to work on the Death Railway in Thailand which is almost a sure death sentence that is. The European church leaders, those who remained, by and large were caught as Prisoners of War and interned at Changi gaol (p. 190).

Church activities were generally respected and tolerated, although watched (p. 189). Fear and uncertainty clouded the environment. In this environment, the fist stirrings of ecumenism came into being, with the creation of a proposed albeit short-lived Federation of Christian Churches (p. 191)

It was during those times among the main denominations that the need to transfer leadership unto locals was pressed unto the European church leaders, instead of treating them as church plants indefinitely (p. 201). This led to the formation of Trinity Theological College in 1948 with the "initial support of the Methodist, Anglican and Presbyterian Churches" (p. 202). The ecumenical impulse, found all around the world with the cry "dogma divides, service units" (p. 203) resulted in the formation of national councils of churches in various countries. The Malayan Church Council was formed in 1948 to serve as uniting all churches in Malaya and Singapore (p. 219), while the National Council of Churches of Singapore was formed after Singapore's split from Malaysia in 1965.

War is a severe type of trial, and it tests the churches and Christians. Indigenous Christians in their trials began to wonder if their prior differences were worth dividing over. Why should they conform to Western denominational differences, especially if said Western denominations don't even believe their distinctives anyway (like for example Reformed Theology in the Westminster Confession of Faith). Is what divides Christians the fault of foreigners, who impose their distant doctrinal disputes onto the inhabitants of an unsuspecting populace who have no ball in the fight? Lastly, the zeitgeist around the world after the war was one of independence from colonial masters, with the Europeans tired of maintaining their empires anyway. Around the world, the first inkling of the rejection of Western thought was put forward forcefully, and with it the impetus to de-Westernize the church and her theology. The West's slightly patronizing tone towards her "children" didn't exactly help matters also.

The Singapore churches were spared the worst of such anti-imperialism, although liberals moved headlong into so-called "Third World theologies." But the very fact that these questions arise show the poverty of theological understanding throughout the world, not to mention on ecclesiology. It speaks volumes that after more than a hundred years of church planting, most church plants are bereft of basic theological understanding.

The sad fact is that things have not improved much since the independence of Singapore. Singapore Christianity is just as intellectually pathetic and theologically ignorant now as then. Sadly, few learn from history and history repeats itself, all over again.

Singapore Church History: John Sung and revival

The revivalist John Sung is a big name in the early 20th century East Asian (Chinese) Christian scene. A Chinese by ethnicity, Sung was used mightily to reach many Chinese with the Gospel in the East Asian region.

John Sung was someone passionately devoted to the Gospel after a disastrous season of studying at the liberal Union Theological Seminary in the US. The liberal attack on the Christian faith nearly destroyed him, until he turned back to the faith of his youth. Union Seminary had him confined to an asylum after he began calling for his professors to repent of their heresy, and he was only released after the intervention of the Chinese consulate (Sng, 174).

Sung returned to China in 1927 fired up for God and the Gospel. He was so passionate he threw away most of his academic accolades in his trip back to China, resolved to live only for Christ (p. 174).

Back in China, Sung threw himself into the work of an evangelist. Almost single-handedly, he brought in the greatest revival (a true old-school revival, as opposed to Charles Finney's so-called revival) within Chinese churches both in China and in the dispora. His arrival in Singapore resulted in the conversions of many, as Sung preached Law and Gospel calling people to repentance for their sin. To say that Sung turned the Chinese community upside down is probably not too much of a stretch.

As someone who has been burned on liberal theology, Sung is most resolutely against liberalism of any sort. Unfortunately, without a viable intellectual alternative, Sung veered towards some form of pietistic anti-intellectualism, which is where conservative Chinese Christianity has been left. As a revivalist, Sung is focused on evangelism, which means other aspects of theology is left undeveloped, leaving the default anti institutionalism alone.

These sort of mixed blessings will attend to subsequent renewal movements, namely the New-Evangelical renewal following the emergence of the evangelical parachurch organizations (Youth for Christ, Varsity Christian Fellowship, Navigators, Campus Crusade for Christ in the 1960s) (pp. 262-3) and the Billy Graham crusade in 1978 (p. 277-83), the Charismatic renewal of the 1980s, and (perhaps) the current wave of revivalism promoted by organizations such as the Love Singapore movement.

Singapore Church History: Early growth of denominational indigenous churches

The various traditional church bodies took root in Singapore as the modern missionary movement surged throughout the world. Despite its general disorganization and lack of ecclesiology, God has been pleased to use it to grow his Church in the midst of pietistic chaos.

The Presbyterians

We have mentioned about the beginnings of Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church and Glory Presbyterian Church. Orchard Road Presbyterian was a church began by Scots who used to worship at St. Andrew's Church but who preferred a church ruled by Presbyterian Church Order. The Scots soon formed their own church which is now known as Orchard Road Presbyterian Church (pp. 69-70).

Other Presbyterian churches were founded later. Glory Presbyterian ran into problems due to moral failure within the leadership and among the members, and it took Rev. J.A.B. Cook from the English Presbyterian Mission who was sent in 1882 to discipline those who were sinning (pp. 100-101). As that church became healthier, a couple of members who lived in the Ponggol area (North-East) decided to branch off and they founded Bethel Presbyterian at Serangoon. Another group split off and eventually formed a church near Prinsep Street (Central) that became the Singapore Life Church. Lastly, a few Hokkien speakers split off to form a group that became Jubilee Presbyterian Church (Central West) (pp. 101-2).

As it can be seen, God is definitely working to advance His kingdom, yet we also note that the churches were functioning like Congregationalists in setting up missions and new church plants, thus showing us forth the weak ecclesiology that has plagued the Singapore Presbyterian churches.

The Anglicans

Official Anglican missions came out of St. Andrew's Church, as the Residency Chaplain Rev. William Humphrey in 1856 was burdened with the "spiritual needs of the Asian population" (p. 73). We have seen how Sophia Cooke was involved in schooling, and schooling became an important part of Anglican missions, alongside gospel meetings (p. 75). The St. Andrew's Mission was set up, with Rev. William Henry Gomes appointed as its superintendent in 1872 (p. 74). Out of that mission came the Church of St. John, and St. Andrew's school (p. 148).

While no one can accuse Anglicanism of a weak ecclesiology, Anglicanism has its own problems due to the latitudinarianism in the parent church in England. While the Singapore Anglican church remained evangelical, its tradition of tolerance works against its ability to stand as a strong witness for biblical Christianity.

The Brethren

The weak ecclesiology of the Presbyterian mission can be seen in the beginnings of the Brethren church, where a group of Presbyterians defected to the emerging Brethren church.

The Brethren movement began as a British phenomenon when a group of people broke away from the Anglican State-Church in England because of dead formalism within the latter. As a group that supposedly focuses only on the Gospel and "vital Christianity," the Brethren movement is anti-institutional at its very core and a logical conclusion of the Evangelical minimalism that disregards issues like ecclesiology. Philip Robinson, a Brethren, came to Singapore in 1857 as an assistant in a commercial film (p. 76). After some time, he decided to form a brethren gathering and the gathering first met with him and seven believers at Bencoolen Street in 1864 and it was named the Mission Room.

Around the same time, Tan See Boo, a Chinese convert who came from Amoy in China, arrived in Singapore in 1856 to aid the Presbyterian mission (p. 71). In 1866 however, See Boo and the congregation he was in charge with left the Presbyterian mission for the emerging Brethren mission (p. 72, 78), which invigorates the Brethren missions which had by then gotten their own church building at Bras Basah (Central) called Bethesda Chapel (later known as Bethesda Gospel Hall) (p. 77). See Boo brought along a lot of Chinese who formed the nucleus for the Chinese Gospel Hall (p. 78).

The growth of the Gospel everywhere is to be celebrated. Nevertheless, weak and unbiblical doctrines and practices have consequences. In this case, the weak ecclesiology of the Singapore Presbyterian Church was evident in the defection of See Boo and his congregation. The Brethren movement of course, while certainly proclaiming the Gospel, contributes to the problems of Singapore Christianity because of its weak to non-existent ecclesiology.

The Methodists

The founding of the Methodist Church in Singapore was due to Charles Phillips, who came to Singapore in 1864 upon joining the army (p. 84). In the beginning, he was involved in generic evangelical mission work through visiting the prison and hospitals and proclaiming the Gospel, partnering with other evangelicals like Sophia Cooke (p. 85). In 1883 however, he set up a chain reaction that led to the establishing of the Methodist Church in Singapore. Hearing of the Methodist work in India, he wrote to Bishop Thoburn, Methodist missionary in India, to send missionaries over to Singapore. Methodist missionaries soon arrived in 1885 (p. 85). They began their characteristic Gospel meeting and the converts from that meeting formed the nucleus of the first Methodist church (now Wesley Methodist Church), with Rev. William Oldham remaining as its first resident missionary (pp. 105-8) while the others returned to India.

The Singapore Methodists moved the most into education as outreach, beginning with Anglo-Chinese School, and then founding Methodist Girls School (MGS) and Farfield MGS (p. 111-5, 149).

Methodism suffer from the same problems as the Brethren but their ecclesiology was not as anti-institutional. The problems that Methodism brought were the problems inherent to the Evangelical movement as a whole, coupled with John Wesley's focus on the experiential and antipathy towards Calvinism.

Singapore Church History: The beginning

Singapore is a small city-state that was founded as a modern city by Sir Standard Raffles of the British East India Company in the year 1819. It later became an official British crown colony when the company was dissolved following the events of the Sepoy Mutiny in India in 1857. The indigenous population was a bunch of Malay fishermen. After its founding, migrant workers from places like South China and South India arrive at its shores, seeking to make a living.

The British East India Company was all about business and profits. While Britain was supposed to be a "Christian" country at that time, the early 19th century was a time of nominalism within the main established churches in Britain. The Evangelical movement officially began with the 18th century 1st Great Awakening, and it was Evangelicals who brought the Gospel over to Singapore's shores. At that time however, Singapore was treated as a stepping stone unto the big target of Western missionaries: China [Bobby Sng, In His Time: The Story of the Church in Singapore 1819-2002 (3rd Ed.; Singapore, Bible Society of Singapore & Singapore, Graduates' Christian Fellowship, 1980, 1993, 2003), 39]

The story of the churches in Singapore began, as most missions do, in Europe. The rise of the Evangelical movement which led to the modern missionary movement resulted in missionaries going across the globe to proclaim the Gospel. Sng however begins his introduction of the Evangelicals with a most inaccurate though widely held view of the background of the Evangelical movement. In his words, "beginning in Germany, Christians reacted against the deadwood of excessive religious formalism and intellectualism" (p. 26). That is typical pietist propaganda which is partially true, as it applies to the state of the German state church which has lost its way. The problem outside Germany however is that confessionalism was entering its last gasp, not because it failed, but because men grow tired of it in light of the supposed new knowledge coming in from the Enlightenment. Within churches that were historically committed to the Reformation, deconfessionalism in Europe eviscerated the Reformed church of its witness, in the name of being "relevant" to the new Enligtenment scene. In the non-confessional churches especially the partially Reformed English church, the via media idea of the Laudians resulted in the arid desert of the Anglican church of that era. In other words, the real problem that formed the background for the growth of the Evangelical movement was not "excessive religious formalism and intellectualism," but rather a lack of strong biblical confessional orthodoxy.

Evangelicalism, as a reaction against nominalism while misdiagnosing the problem, creates its own set of problems, and all of these will accompany the missionary enterprise as they move out in faith to share the Gospel. In the case of Singapore, Evangelicalism has resulted in the disorganized origins of the churches in Singapore at the very beginning, a sign of the general weak ecclesiology of the Singapore churches up to the present day.

As I have mentioned, the British East India Company came to make money not to make converts. They weren't too bothered with Evangelical missionaries, as long as they did not interfere with their profit-making [Stephen Neill, A History of Christian Missions (The Pelican History of the Church volume 6; Baltimore, MD: Penguin, 1964), 232]. That said, Raffles became sympathetic to the missionary cause, more because of humanitarian reasons at least at the beginning (Sng, 34-6). Evangelical missionaries began to come to Singapore on their way to China. In the aftermath of the First Opium War, the door to China was opened in 1842 to foreigners, and missionaries departed in droves for China (p. 50).

Not all missionaries left for China. One prominent missionary who stayed was Benjamin Keasberry and his wife Charlotte. Keasberry began the pioneer work of starting the Presbyterian Church, in the Malay work at the Malay Chapel in 1843 that is today Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church, Singapore's oldest Presbyterian Church (p. 52). His work was directed primarily to the Malays. The increased number of immigrant Chinese however resulted in him reaching out to Chinese through his preaching in a village in Wayang Satu. The emerging work resulted in a preaching station at Bukit Timah that became Glory Presbyterian Church, the oldest Chinese-speaking Presbyterian church that began in 1862. Those two churches would become Keasberry's legacy. His Malay work however was mostly a failure, partly because of his failure to recruit from the Malay converts for ministry to the Malays (p. 55). Straits-born Malay-speaking Chinese slowly replaced the Malay outreach over time.

On the Anglican side, perhaps the denomination with the greatest support from the State, St. Andrew's Church (now St. Andrew's Cathedral) was built in the 1830s mainly for Europeans (p. 69). One prominent platform for outreach towards Asians lie in schooling. Chinese Girls' School (as it was then called) was set up in 1842 by LMS (London Missionary Society) Mrs. Samuel Dyer and Ms. Sophia Cooke took over in 1853 (p. 62). The school became a depository for orphans and girls from troubled homes, and Cooke nurtured them into future wives for Chinese men especially pastors.

Cooke was not unconcerned over the plight of Chinese male immigrants either and set up ministries to reach them, as well as a ministry to adult women (pp. 67-8), which reached out to many. Dying in 1895, her legacy lived on in the school and it was renamed St. Margaret's School later (p. 69).

The examples of Benjamin Keasberry and Sophia Cooke show the devotion of Western missionaries to reach Asians for Christ. Certainly, we are thankful for God's working through them. As much as we ought to appreciate their devotion and labor however, we also ought to learn from their mistakes. We see Keasberry's failure to bring in workers from among the Malay converts, such that the Malay work died together with him. Cooke served whole-heartedly and blessed many and brought many to the Gospel, but at her death, no one was found to fill her shoes. Both of them were focused on saving souls, yet both of them did not do much to establish a proper church. It is obvious why Cooke as a woman could not have done so, but then she brought up her girls to serve as Bible women. In other words, from the beginning of the Chinese church, women were enrolled as workers too, which says a lot about the ecclesiology (or lack of one) that has been promoted in the Chinese churches by Western missionaries!

Keasberry was a Presbyterian, yet the two churches he set up had no real understanding of Reformed theology or Presbyterian polity (Keasberry functioned like a bishop overseeing the Malay work, with no Malay convert elders serving alongside him). The focus was on the Gospel and that only. Similarly, Cooke contributed to the unbiblical development of traditional Chinese Protestant ecclesiology (i.e. the "Evangelical" ecclesiology that arose in Chinese churches due to the modern missionary movement). Both of these developments show the weakness of the Evangelical missionary movement in Singapore, and in fact, all around the world. Under such a mixed blessing, the churches of Singapore developed and grew.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Singapore Church History: Introduction

As someone brought up in Singapore and who grew up in the Singapore church environment, knowing the history of the Singapore churches would make for some interesting reading, even though I have by and large separated myself from them. My crushing disappointment in the level of compromise and the lack of discernment and fortitude of the Singapore churches in general disgusts me, and thus I no longer consider myself part of it, even if I were to stay in Singapore. After all, just look at the broad spectrum of Singapore churches, the so-called "Evangelicals" who joyously join in the apostate Global Day of Prayer events. As far as I am concerned, Singapore churches are compromised by heresy within the churches, and partnership with heretics and trans-national heretical movements without, and a false piety that values toleration of heresy in being "nice" and non-confrontational rather than standing for the truth of God.

The president of the Bible Society of Singapore, Bobby E.K. Sng, has written a history of the Church in Singapore from 1819-2002. I am sure he attempted to be neutral in this writing of Singapore's church history, but, this side of post-moderneity, we know there is no such as absolute neutrality. Sure enough, the church history by Sng is progressivist and at times triumphalistic, almost hagiographical in nature. All "renewal" efforts by all kinds of churches are noted positively. Growth in numbers is the only good thing to be celebrated in this account of Singapore's history. A growth in Roman Catholic adherents is treated positively alongside growth among charismatics, or growth in baptists. Even Trinity Theological College has undergone a makeover in Sng's portrayal, so as they are seen to be a force for good in Singapore and the surrounding nations.

In the next few posts, I would like to look at the major episodes mentioned in Sng's portrayal of Singapore church history, and comment on it. Sng comes at the task from an essentially Neo-evangelical point of view, but I will come to the task from a Reformed point of view. I would like to point out the various problems in the Singapore church history narratives and the consequences they have had or will have on the Singapore churches.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Compatibility and gender role robots (ADD)

Normally, I do not do posts regarding relationship issues. After all, what does a single man who has never been in a serious relationship with any girl know about relationships? I prefer to stay in areas I know and am comfortable with, and relationships are not one of them.

Recently, a fellow seminarian and friend who is from the same batch as me, Anna Smith, has responded to an article by CBMW (Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood) president Owen Stratchen that plays down the notion of complementarity. I am not an avid reader of TGC stuff, so I have to check out the original piece after reading her aticle, but I think that what Stratchen says is correct. Anna however disagrees. According to her, disregarding complementarity reduces men and women to mere gender role robots, which is the main thrust of her critique.

Now, I do think that Stratchen probably overdid things when he gave the impression in his article that being sinners means that no two sinners are compatible. Now, that said, there is in a sense that being sinners, no two sinners are compatible, and there is another sense in which they are not. In the sense that sinners look for compatibility as looking for one's soul mate who is absolutely perfectly compatible in every way, that is an unrealistic goal which cannot happen because both parties are sinners. But if one is not looking for absolute compatibility but relative compatibility, then of course two sinners can be compatible with each other. The problem here is that Stretchen gave the impression in the immediate paragraph that sin means any type of compatibility is impossible. It is only in the context of the entire article that we know what he actually is driving at. In other words, I think Stratchen could be more careful in his wording.

Nevertheless, I do think Stretchn is right about compatibility in the sense that the modern quest for compatibility in the finding of an absolute ideal fit, one's "soul mate" if you will, is problematic on many counts. Anna's critique here lies in a misunderstanding of what Stratchen is driving at. This can be seen in what she thinks Stratchen is saying a person is:

Person = sinner + socioeconomic status + physical attractiveness + commitment to biblical gender roles (he thinks that the first obliterates all hope of true compatibility and the next two aren’t stable, so the last one is your only hope)

The thing is I just do not see Stretchen reducing all people to such reductionistic equations. Rather, what I perceive him to be doing is to hit back against the idea that worships compatibility as being the esse (the essence) of any true loving relationship. Since part of such compatibility would lie in a person's socio-economic status and physical attractiveness, and these two are mutable, couples who start off "compatible" might become "incompatible" if either of these changes, and thus they might claim "incompatibility" as a supposed cause of their marital breakdown.

So why do I think compatibility is way over-rated? We note here that this idea of compatibility is a very modern concept. The ancients do not have the luxury of looking for "compatibility." Whether it is arranged marriages or marrying the first person you fall in love with, the issue of compatibility is seldom taken into consideration. After all, survival is what is important, the bearing and transmitting of the family name to children who can help out in the fields is important, the creating of business and political alliances is important. Romantic love itself is quite a modern concept. To the ancients, you love who you marry, not you marry who you love.

And if one is looking for a "soul mate," then one normally expands one's criteria in order to sieve out and discover this creature that will somehow complete her. The seeking of romance and absolute compatibility becomes all-encompassing in the quest to finding the almost-perfect spouse. Sure, for a Christian, she definitely knows her spouse will not be perfect and does at times sin against her, but she has the expectations that such will be relatively minor infractions, and that she will feel the same feelings of love towards him everyday as in the day they first confessed their love for each other.

This quest for this kind of compatibility harms true biblical marriage, and it is at this place that I think Stratchen says that the acting out of gender roles is more important. It is far more important that husbands and wives can honor and love God and love each other in the ways prescribed by God, than in trying to feel the glow of compatibility. It is far better EVEN in marriages that God be honored, than whether we feel loved and completed. If God is to be honored in the wife patiently bearing up and praying for her husband's neglect of her, rather than claim incompatibility over such neglect and thus file for divorce, then the wife is to patiently bear this burden up.

So no, we are not gender role robots, but then nobody is making such a claim. But we are not followers of Eros the god of love either. Yes, it is good if one can "click" with the other person, and generally one looks for such an emotional connection with a prospective spouse. But such should not be made the final arbiter for marriages. Rather than pining over the seeming lack of compatibility and looking for one's soul mate for years upon years, it is I think more biblical if one settles for more practical criteria rather than sticking to an all-too-likely unattainable ideal. And then when one's soul mate does not arrive after years of searching, they whine to Kevin Deyoung to attack single men for not dating them.

ADD: Anna has done a follow up to her piece. You can read it here.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

The Young Adopted Messiah

[last post on the topic here]

My last post on the movie "The Young Messiah" was based on the trailer of the movie. At the time I wrote that post, the movie was not yet out in the theaters. Since it was based on a trailer, I thought it best if I would look at the movie itself so that I would definitely not mislead anyone by mis-interpreting the movie based upon a short trailer.

So one afternoon I decided to watch the movie. The movie was not as gnostic as the trailer would have us believe. Jesus did not kill a boy; the Devil did, while it was resurrecting a dead bird, not creating a bird from mud, although both scenes were at the seashore and the actions of scooping up the mud and scooping up a dead bird are virtually identical. That said, such changes do not really mitigate against the Gnostic error, which is to creates myths about the "missing years of Jesus." And altering some parts of the Infancy Gospel does not in any way exonerate the charge of gnosticism, just that it is now gnosticism-lite instead.

My earlier critique of having an Adoptionist Christology still stands. In fact, the movie is even more explicit in its promotion of Adoptionism. Jesus did not know he was God, that he was the Son of God, or that he was born to die on the Cross, through most of the movie. In fact, Joseph and Mary hid the knowledge of events surrounding his birth from the boy "Jesus" of the movie. Jesus only came to realize his status later in the movie. The boy "Jesus" does not even know why he could perform miracles. All of these are proofs of Adoptinism. Even the kenotic theory will not have the young Jesus not knowing he is God!

Besides the major error of Adoptionism, one can add the ahistorical nonsense of James being Jesus' cousin rather than his brother (pandering to Roman Catholic superstition), and of course the ridiculous scenes of Roman soldiers on the temple grounds (that would have caused a riot immediately). Overall, this movie is as bad as I thought it would be, and certainly should not be promoted to Christians