Monday, April 11, 2016

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.

No comments: