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!

No comments: