D. Clair Davis’ one-sentence summary of 2000 years of Christianity is succinct, spot on, and sobering: “There is a tendency to lose Jesus.”
The counsel of an older man has kept my faith in good stead since I was young and gay:
“Don’t let the excitement of youth cause you to forget your Creator. Honor him in your youth before you grow old and say, “Life is not pleasant anymore.” (Ecclesiastes 12:1)
Now that I am older and hopefully, a little wiser, my fervent prayer to God is that by his grace I may faithfully and passionately testify to his goodness and glory. If the flame is not continually fed, how can it keep burning till the end?
O God, from my youth you have taught me,
and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.
So even to old age and gray hairs,
O God, do not forsake me,
until I proclaim your might to another generation,
your power to all those to come. (Psalm 71:17-18)
Many social critics have ridiculed Azril Mohd Amin, CEO of CENTHRA for his ignorance when he called for Evangelicalism to be outlawed in Malaysia [Outlaw Evangelicalism in Malaysia, says Islamic Coalition]. Some even questioned whether Azril is intellectually competent to address the issue when he confuses and conflates such elementary terms like “Evangelism” and “Evangelicalism”.
“Evangelism” refers simply to the sharing of good news that “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:19) In contrast, “Evangelicalism” refers to the trans-denominational global movement which emphasizes the divine inspiration of the Bible with its central message of Christ work of atonement on the cross, and the necessity of experience of conversion.
In any case, the ignorance displayed by Azril is easily remedied by giving a concise history of Evangelicalism which includes many distinguished thinkers and social reformers. Continue reading “Evangelical Essentials: Correcting Ill-Informed Muslim Activists and Fitnah Against Christians”
A careful study of the Bible would confirm that while there may be succession of apostolic doctrine and apostolic ministry, nevertheless, there is no succession of apostolic office for the Church. Lest some people accuse me of prejudice against the so-called New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), I quote from the excellent position paper given by The General Council of the Assemblies of God (USA), “Apostles and Prophets”:
It is also clear that while the apostles (with the elders) were established leaders in the Early Church, there was no provision for their replacement or continuation…It is instructive, however, that nowhere in the New Testament after the replacement of Judas is any attention given to a so-called apostolic succession…It seems strange that apostles of Jesus Christ, concerned about faithful preservation of their message (cf. 2 Timothy 2:2), would provide for the appointment of overseers/elders while ignoring their own succession if such were indeed to be maintained.
In fact, there are certain exegetical hints the apostles of Jesus Christ are not to have successors. In 1 Corinthians 15:8, Paul listed all the Resurrection and post-Resurrection appearances of Christ and noted “last of all he appeared to me.” While some disagree, the statement is most commonly understood to mean Paul looked upon himself as the last apostle to whom Christ appeared.11 If this is the correct understanding, only the Twelve whom Jesus personally called and those He commissioned in His post-Resurrection appearances made up His original apostles…It is difficult to escape the conclusion of Dietrich Müller: “One thing is certain. The N[ew] T[estament] never betrays any understanding of the apostolate as an institutionalized church office, capable of being passed on…
Since the New Testament does not provide guidance for the appointment of future apostles, such contemporary offices are not essential to the health and growth of the church, nor its apostolic nature
Continue reading “No Succession of Apostolic Office in the Bible – The Claim of New Apostles is Unbiblical”
Prologue: Every age has its own characteristics. Right now we are in an age of religious complexity. The simplicity which is in Christ is rarely found among us. In its stead are programs, methods, organizations and a world of nervous activities which occupy time and attention but can never satisfy the longing of the heart. The shallowness of our inner experience, the hollowness of our worship, and that servile imitation of the world which marks our promotional methods all testify that we in this day, know God only imperfectly, and the peace of God scarcely at all…If we would find God amid all the religious externals, we must first determine to find Him, and then proceed in the way of simplicity. [Tozer, The Pursuit of God]
We Christians must simplify our lives or lose untold treasures on earth and in eternity. Continue reading “Let’s Cultivate Simplicity and Solitude (A.W. Tozer)”
God Is Sovereign over Our Ministry
I have always felt strangely attracted to Jeremiah. The other prophets may share visions of God’s transcending majesty and deliver awe-inspiring oracles of God (Ezekiel and Isaiah) or triumph over hostile persecutors (Daniel), but they seldom disclose their inner selves. Not so with Jeremiah; he laid bare the emotional conflicts of a man who was chosen to bear the Word of God to a stubborn and rebellious generation even though he was personally least inclined to do so.
Jeremiah’s prophetic mission was characterised by immense sufferings. He was physically abused, locked in the stocks and even left to die in a cistern. He experienced the pain of total ostracism as his kinsfolk whom he loved dearly plotted against his very life. He was denied friendship and the joy of marital companionship. Seldom was the price of prophetic mission extracted so severely as from this sensitive soul. Continue reading “Experiencing God’s Sovereignty: A Meditation on Jeremiah 18:1-10”
My unassisted heart is barren clay,
That of its native self can nothing feed:
Of good and pious works Thou art the seed,
That quickens only where Thou sayest it may:
Unless Thou show to us Thine own true way No man can find it:
Father! Thou must lead.
[Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564). Translated by William Wordsworth]
I. Seeking God: Psalm 42:1-2*
These days, it is popular for Christians to attend seminars that feature foreign speakers who share their expertise in innovative worship and prophetic ministry that promise to kindle higher spiritual experience. However, eager and hungry souls who hanker after such promises may be disappointed, after having tried all these spiritual innovations to find that God remains an inference, a temporary trip rather than an ever present reality. It is no wonder the quest for that spiritual fads and fashions remains a phenomenon among churches today.
Other Christians may confess to a sense of spiritual jadedness resulting from a style of worship characterized by wooden routines of dead tradition that suffocate the longing soul (‘ritual murder’). Perhaps a better way is found in contemporary worship offered by big modern churches that are epitomes of visionary leadership, congregational enthusiasm and certainly organizational sophistication. Surely God is pleased with the impeccably organized programs and the awe-inspiring music that fosters energetic and enthusiastic worship? Continue reading “The Pursuit of God: Simplicity and Surrender”
“Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14)
It is encouraging that many Christians are actively engaging social-political issues to build a better society. Their coordinated and concerted efforts have gained them publicity and respectability; indeed, they may have won new ‘friends’ in the high places of political power. On the other hand, the elements of ungodliness, be they militant gays, permissive postmodernists or cynical atheists resolutely resist and reject any effort to infuse Christian values into society at large. Some religious extremists even threaten the safety and well-being of churches. These forces seem determined to plunge society headlong to self-destruction.
It remains an open question, then, as to whether the Christians will succeed in arresting the disintegration of society. It will be easy for Christian social engagement to wane when the unbelievers persist in hardening their hearts. Christian activism must be backed by Christian holiness if the recent gains are to be lasting. We must heed J.C. Ryle’s warning in his classic book, Holiness* that “Sound Protestant and Evangelical doctrine is useless if it is not accompanied by a holy life. It is more than useless: it does positive harm. It is despised by keen-sighted and shrewd men of the world, as an unreal and hollow thing, and brings religion into contempt” (p. xxi). Or in J.I. Packer’s words, “Credible opposition to secular ideologies can be shown by speaking and writing but credible oppositions to holiness can only be shown by holy living.”/Keep in Step with the Spirit (Revel Pub 1984), pp. 102-103./ Perhaps this is what Heb. 12:14 means: “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” Continue reading “Holiness and the Social Witness of the Church”
Related Posts: Worship of God and Ways of Man and I Find it Hard to Worship God in Church
Without doubt Christians in Malaysia are filled with a sense of foreboding as Islamic authorities seized the Alkitab, the Courts through unreasonable judgments effective curtailed their freedom of religion and the Prime Minister failed to censure aggressive Islamic NGOs for their slander and threats against the Malaysian Church.
It is heartening to see many Christians turning to the Lord in times of social crisis, seen in their fervent prayers in revival meetings. Crisis however brings up the best or the worst from us. Christian worship and revival meetings can become either an avenue of psychological escapism or a platform for spiritual renewal and social engagement.
Middle class Christians may be tempted to compensate their sense of social impotence by turning to other-worldly spirituality. Hence, a surreal emphasis on spiritual power in some revival meetings and a tendency to rally around men of charisma or self-styled apostles and prophets, if only that anxious believers may have a ‘touch’ of omnipotence mediated to them. Unfortunately, such focus on ‘touching’ spiritual power can distract believers from building genuine relationships based on shared lives to ensure the members of the community of faith will stand in solidarity with one another in the face of hostilities.
Spirituality then becomes a form of social-psychological pathology as distressed Christians seek consolation in the pie in the sky, resulting in personal resignation, passivity and indifference towards social engagement. Some find solace in cloistered personal piety; others delight in claiming victories in the heavenlies; and still others yearn for abundant material blessings – all without requirements of mutual accountability within the community of faith. Pre-occupation with revival meetings provides convenient excuses to the Church as it retreats from its holistic mission of witness and responsible engagement with an unbelieving, if not hostile world.
These observations are not meant to disparage current revival meetings but to challenge Malaysian Christians to recover the full dimensions of holistic worship adequate for strengthening personal spiritual formation and building community relationships and forging shared vision for social engagement. Given the present crisis I shall focus on holistic worship and social engagement with an unbelieving world. Continue reading “Christian Worship in Times of Crisis: Escapism or Engagement with the World?”
Related Post: I Find it Hard to Worship God in Church
Ralph Martin describes worship as “the dramatic celebration of God in his supreme worth in such a manner that his “worthiness” becomes the norm of living.”/1/ Few Christians would dispute with such a concise and balanced statement. What it means in reality is another matter, however, since we do not worship in abstraction. Week after week we go to a church and get involved with ¬people in a worship service. Worship services assume diverse forms. They appeal to people differently and obviously meet different needs. People may express disappointments over some aspects of their worship meetings and may even suggest improvements. Nevertheless, they keep going back faithfully to their church worship meetings. The reality of God must have been experienced and their needs must have been met somewhat, regardless of occasional complaints. I shall bear in mind such human expectations as I try to crystalize some thoughts about three different forms of worship. Continue reading “Worship of God and Ways of Man”