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.

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