Sunday, August 30, 2009

Islam & Christology

Excerpt from Kam Weng's summary of dialogue with Dr. Louay Fatoohi at the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies on August 13 2009.

"First I should give credit where credit is due. Dr. Fatoohi’s 800 page book, The Mystery of the Historical Jesus: The Messiah in the Qur’an, the Bible and Historical Sources (Kuala Lumpur: Islamic Book Trust, 2009) represents a major step forward in Muslim engagement with Christology. It is more sophisticated than the other big book “What Did Jesus Really Say? (600pp) written by Misha’al Ibn Abdullah Al-Kadhi in 1995 in that it tries to engage with critical scholarship.

Nevertheless, I can only conclude that Fatoohi’s book is seriously flawed. It is inadequate from the point of view of methodology when the Biblical sources are treated in abstraction and in isolation from their historical and cultural context. Since Fatoohi detached the Biblical texts from the historical trajectory of the life and faith of the early Christian community, he naturally took liberty with these texts. Without a comprehensiveness and consistent historical methodology and hermeneutics, Fatoohi ends up cherry-picking from critics who share his skepticism about the Biblical texts, primarily Geza Vermes and E. P. Sanders.

One symptom of Dr. Fatoohi’s flawed reading is his treatment of the so-called prophecies of Muhammad in the Bible. This is really a silly feature of simplistic Islamic apologetics that could easily be disposed off in 10 minutes. The way in which so many Muslims go about proof-texting the claim that Muhammad was prophecied in the Bible really makes them look naïve, if not desperate. I would recommend Muslims seriously abandon this fruitless venture.

However, I refrained from giving this Muslim apologetic a proper refutation since I was only given 30 minutes for my presentation. I decided to focus on more fundamental issues like typology and prophecies in the gospels to emphasize that the gospel teachings flow naturally from the Old Testament.

I cited R. T. France’s excellent Ph. D dissertation on Jesus and the Old Testament (Tyndale 1971). France’s gave a succinct explanation of typology:

“There is a consistency in God’s dealing with men. Thus his acts in the Old Testament will present a pattern which can be seen to be repeated in the New Testament events; these may therefore be interpreted by reference to the pattern displayed in the Old Testament. New Testament typology is thus essentially the tracing of the constant principles of God’s working in history, revealing ‘a recurring rhythm in past history which is taken up more fully and perfectly in the Gospel events’.

When the Gospel writers use typology, then, they are often not claiming to be interpreting the meaning of the Old Testament passages cited but rather showing how contemporary events are falling into a pattern so reminiscent of what God did in the past that they can explain the present only in terms of God’s acting again.”

Christian scholars are only happy to demonstrate that the faith of the early Christians was rooted in the Old Testament and map out a plausible historical trajectory between prophecy and fulfillment in the Old and New Testament, supported with details drawn from their historical context and social milieu. For a starter I refer to the classic work done by C. H. Dodd on The Apostolic Preaching and its Developments (1936). See also Paul Barnett two works: Jesus and The Rise of Early Christianity (1999); The Birth of Christianity: The first twenty years (2005).

In contrast, it is neither evident nor possible to discern a plausible historical trajectory between the Biblical texts and the later Quranic references to Jesus. At best, the Quran reflects more of the milieu of later apocryphal stories and post-biblical Judaism several centuries later, cf. Abraham Geiger, Judaism and Islam. In this regard, I must conclude that the Quranic Jesus can only be asserted dogmatically. It is a theological claim rather than a historical conclusion."

Report by Rev. Fr. Michael Chua, Ecclesiastical Assistant, Archdiocesan Ministry of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur

Here is the report posted on the website of the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Christian Perspective On The Palestinian-Israeli Conflict

The global community was rudely shocked by the stark reality of jihad on 11th September 2001 when hijacked planes crashed into iconic buildings that symbolize American economic and military power. In response to the specter of religiously-inspired violence, the subsequent ‘war on terror’ would loom large over the early years of the 21st century.

At the center of this worldwide unrest is the long-standing Palestine-Israeli conflict that continues to be a source of its political and religious impetus. Orthodox Jews honor Jerusalem as the city of peace that once housed the temple of Yahweh. Christians make pilgrimage to the Promised Land where Jesus Christ once lived, was crucified and resurrected. Muslims treasure the city as the third holiest site in Islamic history. With the establishment of the modern state of Israel in 1949, many adherents from these three major faiths have staked a claim in supporting or opposing it in the name of God or Allah.

However, the idea of ‘holy war’ is not unique to Islam. In the book of Joshua, a scriptural text embraced by both Jews and Christians, we would find the concept of Yahweh as a warrior waging battle against Canaanite deities and nations through His covenant people Israel in the conquest of the Promised Land. In some military campaigns, the Israelites were divinely decreed to utterly destroy an entire population of men, women and children (Joshua 6:18-19).

This raises difficult moral dilemma for sensitive believers as well as concerns that such warfare narratives may be used to justify violence and genocide today.

In this paper I would attempt to answer three questions: “What is Old Testament teaching and justification for ‘Yahweh war’ in the conquest of Canaan? How should Christians perceive the continuity and discontinuity of these Old Testament concepts in light of New Testament revelation of Jesus Christ? Finally, what are the resulting theological implications for how we understand the establishment of the modern state of Israel?”

Yahweh War and Modern Israel

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Chinese Calvinists Celebrate 500th Year with Weblog Conference

David Chong (aka hedonese) will be sharing on "What Is Reformed Theology?" (5 sessions) on every Friday in month of October 2009 at City Discipleship Presbyterian Church from 8.00 pm onwards. Do register at hedonese at yahoo dot com

Saturday, Feb. 21, 2009 Posted: 2:42:19PM HKT

From The Christian Post Singapore: "In commemoration of the unprecedented 500th anniversary of Protestant reformer John Calvin this year, Chinese Reformed churches in Singapore and Malaysia are about to embark on an equally historic initiative to stir up theological discussion among Chinese Calvinists on the worldwide web.

In what is called Chinese Reformed Evangelical Discussion Online or CREDO for short, 15 pastors and specialists of the Calvinistic branch of Protestant Christianity were invited to submit articles on Calvin�s thoughts and influences in the 16th and 17th centuries and explore their implications within Chinese churches today, according to the organisers.

�The aim of this conference is to foster theological reading habit and research discipline on reformed and puritans� heritages among Chinese theo-bloggers via the blogosphere,� stated Pastors Jonah and Lemuel.

The conference, which will run from May 4 to 8, will see essay contributions on nearly every theological field of study including biblical theology, Christian ethics, historical theology, pastoral theology and Christian culture.

During the five-day period, the dissertations will be published and comments from the online community encouraged.

Articles will cover topics including evaluating the New Perspective on Paul�s exposition of the doctrine of justification by faith alone, evaluating the Purpose Driven paradigm and recapturing the vision of the centrality of the gospel and the place and necessity of creeds and confessions in the modern church.

Contributors, who represent Baptist, Reformed, Reformed Presbyterian and Methodist denominations and various occupations ranging from church ministers and leaders to ministry leaders to apologists, include David Chong from the Agora online ministry, Daniel Chew and Pastor J J Lim and Linus Chua from Pilgrim Covenant Church in Singapore.

For more information, click here to visit the CREDO 500 website."

Edmond Chua

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Reducing Your Wasteline!

What can the Local Church Do as Creation Waits?

Alicia Jackson
July 2009
City Discipleship Presbyterian Church (CDPC) is by no means a mega church, or even a large church. Medium-sized, perhaps even “relatively small” may be more apt word to describe our numbers. So how much positive difference can a relatively small church make towards the welfare of the environment we share with hundreds and thousands of city folks? Well, significant actually.

Being the only administrator in CDPC gave me the opportunity to initiate projects that will benefit the church community. I have been (so far!) given the liberty by my senior Pastor Rev Wong Fong Yang to launch and implement any uncontroversial community projects I deem fit. One major occasion for that happened sometime in early 2008, when my cell group friends Ken and Shirene asked me a question that I probably would not have thought of that time: “Why are we using foam disposable cups which are bad for the environment”. Good question.

So why do we, and other churches indiscriminately dispose trash that will pollute the environment for hundreds of years? As the one responsible for purchasing and distributing foam disposables, I would say because it is convenient. It is cheap. It is much easier than cracking your head for a better alternative AND system that will cater to hundreds to users each week. It is strange looking back that the care of creation never once crossed my mind. We ARE throwing those cups in the DESIGNATED thrash bin using APPROPRIATE garbage bags tied up in the PROPER WAY aren’t we? It’s not like we are dumping our trash in the nearest monsoon drain are we? Hence we have fulfilled our due responsibility, right? Well, the question posed by Ken & Shirene opened up the possibility that no, we haven’t fulfilled our due responsibility to our society (let’s not separate society from environment as they are inter-related). In fact we are doing harm each time we throw those carefully tied up neat packages of foam cups and plastic cutleries into the municipal dump.

And so begin our journey to correct our ways. First, the foam cups will have to go. At first, the logical solution was to replace it with paper cups. However after some research, I discovered that the negative environmental impact from producing and transporting resources-intensive paper cups is probably worse than the foam ones. On top of that, paper cups are lined with layer of plastic for water-resistance which makes it not very recyclable either. Also, paper cups are not finger-friendly when holding hot beverages which are the staple of CDPC’s fellowship hall. This means we’ll also have to provide hot cup jackets which will add to the trash. At the same time, paper cups leave a less damaging rubbish trail compared to foam ones. Then again, they are more expensive. So what should we do? Which type to use? What about cost? These and more questions were faced in our quest for a greener CDPC.

Eventually, we decided to skip the biodegrable disposables and head right to reusables instead. Hence a 3-phased solution was implemented:

Phase #1: CDPC members were encouraged to use their own personal mug. This is done by selling personalised mugs at RM1.50 each to members in church over two weekends. Racks were set up for members to store their mugs. As the mugs were labelled with names of their owners, there isn’t any problem of unwashed and ill-treated mugs.

Phase #2: Foam cups are limited to 50pcs each week. Eventually, they were replaced by paper ones with reusable jackets made out of coloured foam sheets. These are mainly for visitors’ use.

Phase #3: Launched a 4-week countdown to “Zero Disposable Cups” using posters to remind church members to bring and label their own mug. After that, all disposable cups were replaced with designated “Guest” mugs for visitors.

12 months forward and I am proud to say that CDPC has since replaced our disposable cutleries and plates with reusable ones. We are also separating our waste (paper & plastic) and bringing them to the local recycling centre. True to the initial tagline “Reduce Our Wasteline” in the posters I set up during the early stages of our green journey, our thrash volume now has reduced significantly. Church members on refreshment duty can testify that they dispose much less number of garbage bags compared to a year ago. Surprisingly, it was a rather easy transition from disposables to reusables. Church members gamely cooperated and did their part without resistance. This only proves to show that Christians are generally aware of environmental issues and would do what is right, if steered the right way.

Our next project is in line with “Precycling”, which means proactive recycling by reusing resources and refusing new purchases unless absolutely necessary. I have recently set up an advertising board for church members to give away, lend or sell used furniture, appliances and baby gears. Hopefully this latest green project will take off and benefit the community. It will certainly benefit the environment by directing still good and usable items away from our overloaded landfills. Our other green efforts are choosing food items with less packaging and using reusable shopping bags.

Back to making a significant impact on the environment despite being a small body of people, I strongly believe that when Christians are motivated to be earth keepers in their local churches, they will eventually do it at home and at work. As they practice care for creation at work and in their day-to-day affairs, co-workers, neighbours, relatives, friends and even strangers are sure to notice and hopefully be influenced to do the same. If each Christian “converts” a handful of individuals by exemplifying simple acts like refusing plastic bags, separating their trash, leading a simple materially non-cluttered life, reducing their carbon footprints, imagine the overall exponential impact that will be made in our local society.

Peter Harris, Founder/Director of A Rocha, a Christian Conservation group, said during the the recent Biblical Environmental Stewardship Conference, that the environmental movement is really not about saving animals and plants. It is about changing hearts to CARE for this awesome creation that God has generously bestowed unto us. It is my hope that every Malaysian heart, beginning with the Christians in Klang Valley, will change in that direction.

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.
(Psalm 24:1)

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Top 10 Ideas To Care For Creation!

1) A Rocha Aug Top Story on Malaysian-Singapore Conferences
Video Report by Graham McAll (Spot yourself in the shots!)

2) Your Top 10 Ideas with the Most Votes!
After the speed round of brainstorming in groups, Alvin Ung got everyone to vote
on ideas which people felt were doable, a sign of our next steps towards creation care.

Did you know this was the #2 idea?!
"Pray and give thanks every morning for Creation."

What a wonderful practice!
I invite all of us to commit to doing this together till 18 Aug (1 month after 18 Jul).

3) Downloads: Audio recordings of the talks (note: the links expire on 10 Aug)

SESSION 1 (Miranda & Peter Harris)

SESSION 2 (Dr Graham McAll) "Climate Change, Health & Faith"

4) Join the Google Group: Biblical Environmental Stewardship Malaysia

"This group is a follow-up initiative to the A Rocha Conference
on Biblical Environmental Stewardship which was held on July 18 2009 in Subang Jaya.
It's a place where we can share our hopes, dreams, questions, answers and opinions,
and hopefully discover what God may be saying to us through it."

Those who wrote on the sign-up sheet at the end of the conference, I encourage you to carry on the conversation and nurture this newfound creation care community,
specially set up for you by David Bakewell (thank you!)

Thank you CDPC, Pastor Wong Fong Yang, Alicia, Ken & Shirene, Alvin Ung & David Chong making the the first A Rocha conference in Malaysia possible. And thank you everyone for coming, and desiring to participate in God's reconciliation of His world.

Thank you and God bless!
Melissa Ong
A Rocha International

Monday, August 03, 2009

Why is creation waiting for the Christians?

By Shirene Chen

The provocative title of A Rocha’s inaugural conference in Asia, “Why is creation waiting for the Christians?” is perhaps the most overlooked, urgent question to be asked in the Christian church today.

A Rocha is science-led, research-based Christian nature conservation organisation with projects in 18 countries. A Rocha means “The Rock” in Portuguese, a tribute to its humble beginnings in a field study centre in Portugal.

The conference, held in the City Discipleship Presbyterian Church (CDPC) in Subang Jaya, Selangor on 18 July 2009 consisted of two parts. In the first part, Peter Harris, the founder and director of A Rocha taught the biblical foundation for Christian action in creation care. In the second part, Dr. Graham McAll, a family doctor in England, presented scientific evidence that climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century.

So why is creation waiting for the Christians? Or put another way by Peter, “Although more and more, the environment is on page one of our newspaper, it is rarely on page anything in the Christian news.”

Peter explains that our neglect of creation is an example of the disconnect between what the bible says and what we do that can be traced back to the times of slavery in the southern states of America in the 17th to 19th century. At the time, Christian slaveholders, unwilling to give up their slaves, supported the institution of slavery and inhumane practices.

There is also the telling story of John Newton, the converted English slave-ship captain who read his bible on the decks while slaves perished beneath his feet.

Since then, the split between private faith and public affairs exists in the church and the bible is relegated to speak only on strictly “spiritual” matters.

Today, Christians are not connecting what the bible says to what we are doing to creation. We have allowed the “consumerism DNA to infiltrate the church, creating a genetically modified church preaching a genetically modified gospel.”

Three biblical pillars for creation care

What does the bible really say about creation care? Peter gives a framework of three biblical pillars.

1) Psalm 24:1
The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.

The earth is the Lord’s and we ought be accountable to the One who owns it. Yet we have lost the sense of whose world we live in. By using the word “environment”, we tend to think of the material world as what is around us, and put ourselves, idolatrously, in the centre of it.

Christians should learn to use the word “creation” more instead of “environment” because “creation” is the biblical perspective that puts humans as part of God’s created world together with the plant and animal creation. Because the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, we are to value all of God’s handiwork including the non-human part of it.

One consequence of the utilitarian, human-centred view of creation is the tragic fact that we only know 4% of the plants on the planet and we stand to lose 50% of them in next 50 years through climate change and loss of natural habitats.

Psalm 104 speaks of the extraordinary range of species that God has made in His wisdom. But we are behaving like children who burn the library of their father without reading the books.

2) Hosea 4:1-3
Hear the word of the LORD, you Israelites,
because the LORD has a charge to bring
against you who live in the land:
There is no faithfulness, no love,
no acknowledgment of God in the land.

There is only cursing, lying and murder,
stealing and adultery;
they break all bounds,
and bloodshed follows bloodshed.

Because of this the land dries up,
and all who live in it waste away;
the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky
and the fish in the sea are swept away.

3000 years before the advent of the environmental movement, Hosea bleakly described symptoms of our ailing creation and the root cause of it. He showed us that our broken relationship with creation is the result of our broken relationship with God.

People think that the environmental crisis is only about saving plants and animals but the core of the problem is actually about changing human hearts. What changes the human heart? The secular environmental movement is angry, depressed and radical because it has no answer to this question. But the bible gives us an answer and a hope.

3) Romans 8:19-22
The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.

Sermons on this passage seldom deal with the idea that the creation is groaning and there is hope for its liberation from decay. Why is this idea often neglected? Peter offers one possible reason – the church is afraid of getting the gospel mixed up with pantheism.

But the bible wants us to talk about creation. Psalm 148, written at a time when Israel is surrounded by nature worshipping religions, puts nature in its rightful place. In the psalm, all of nature sings praises to God “for he commanded and they were created” (v.5).

Creation is groaning because our relationship with the Creator is broken. While the old Adam broke our relationship with God (Gen 3), the new Adam, Jesus Christ, came to restore our relationship with Him (Romans 5:12-21). Therefore, those in restored relationship with God, the children of God, are to bring healing and wholeness to creation.

Awakening the sleeping giant

All over the world, Christianity has allowed the secular green movement to provide leadership in the field of creation care. Peter urges us that “most effective environmental campaign is to teach the bible because the church is the world’s largest NGO!”

In Asia, Christian leadership in this area is paramount because a large treasure trove of biodiversity is still concentrated in this region. However, our green landscapes are fast disappearing, falling to the same destructive forces – climate change, pollution, over-harvesting - that have wiped out the natural habitats in the West.

God has purposes for where and how we live (Acts 17:26-28). Peter believes that the Asian church can speak where the Western church cannot. If the Asian church gains the vision of creation care, it can lead and rouse the global church, the sleeping steward, to wake up before it’s too late and respond to the biblical call to be responsible earth-keepers.

Putting God’s word into action – an A Rocha project in Kenya

Arabuko-Sokoke Forest in Kenya is the largest remaining remnant of coastal forest that once spanned the East African coast from Somalia in the north to Mozambique in the south.

It is home to a great variety of mammals, amphibians, insects and birds including rare species such as the tiny Sokoke Scops Owl and the peculiar Golden-rumped Elephant Shrew.

Mida Creek, adjacent to the forest is home to one of the most productive mangrove ecosystems on earth and is a significant feeding ground for internationally important migrating birds including Crab-plovers and a small population of Greater Flamingos.

However, the forest and the creek are being threatened by over-harvesting by local people as a means of earning money, largely to support their children's education.

To break this human-wildlife conflict and poverty cycle, A Rocha Kenya has developed eco-tourism facilities in the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest and Mida creek and channels the funds from eco-tourism into scholarships for secondary school children who would otherwise be unable to afford the school fees.

Called the Arabuko-Sokoke Schools and Ecotourism Scheme (ASSETS), this project has encouraged the local communities to value their natural habitats because they benefit directly from their conservation.

More information on ASSETS:

A Rocha resources for churches - A Rocha’s main website with case studies of projects around the world, audio sermons, videos and books. - tools for churches to integrate creation care into their worship, teaching, building, land, church management and mission. - resources to live out the biblical understanding of creation care in everyday lives. - A Rocha’s carbon offset climate change programme.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Salt And Light For The World

Download Sermon Audio here

Matthew 5:13-16 "You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. 14"You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

Good morning church! We have just started a series of sermons based on one of the greatest sermons ever preached - the Sermon on the Mount as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew. Last week, Rev Wong preached on what it looks like to be people living under the Kingdom or the Rule of God, to be a people who follow after Jesus as King. We found out that those who inherit the kingdom of heaven are the poor in spirit, meek, merciful, peacemakers, they thirst and hunger for righteousness, the pure in heart. Here Jesus is laying down what it means to be blessed under His Kingship and what this alternative way of being human looks like.

When Mahatma Gandhi was once asked about how to solve the problems between Great Britain and India, he picked up a Bible and opened it to the fifth chapter of Matthew and said: "When your country and mine shall get together on the teachings laid down by Christ in this Sermon on the Mount, we shall have solved the problems not only of our countries but those of the whole world."

He’s onto something there. When Gandhi put into action his non-violent struggle for the independence of India, it inspired civil rights movements all over the world. Yet the Sermon on the Mount is not just about Jesus telling people to be nice to each other. There’s a bit of that, of course, but you don’t need to go up the mountain to learn that. Some monks or spiritual gurus climb up the mountain to get away from the worries and problems of this world and devote themselves to a life of meditation. But others go up the mountain for less peaceful reasons.

Historian NT Wright gives us some background: “In the time of Jesus, the hills above the Sea of Galilee also used to be the hangout (or lepak place) for holy revolutionaries, for outlaws ready to fight the pagan Romans and bring in the kingdom of God - by force if necessary. Up in the hills there are caves; a generation before Jesus, some of the revolutionaries had been smoked out from these caves by King Herod”.

Many first-century Jews were expecting a Messiah who would pick up the sword and ride out to destroy their enemies like Aragorn in the movie LOTR. And there were many wanna-be messiahs like that … They usually ended up dead (crucified on a Roman cross). In any case, this kingdom of God business is really quite dangerous. It comes with a stern warning: Don’t try this at home.

Given this historical background, you can imagine when Jesus first gave the message we now call Sermon on the Mount, saying things like “Repent! The kingdom of God is at hand”, he would have looked like someone gathering followers for a new movement, inviting people to sign up for a great cause. He was calling his hearers to a new way of being Israel, a new way of living as God’s people for the world. It would have felt more like a political rally than a philosophical lecture today.

But how will this kingdom of God come about?

Try to imagine (if you can) just how radical Jesus’ message was to his original audience when He says: “Yes, the kingdom of God is here. Yes, the LORD YHWH Himself is come at last to usher in His divine rule over all the earth. But who are the blessed people entering into this Kingdom? They are the meek, the peacemakers, the poor in spirit, the merciful, those who mourn, those persecuted for righteousness…”

You can almost hear His audience go: “Hello? What’s going on here? Are you sure Jesus didn’t say “Blessed are the war-mongers… Blessed are those who are strong, brave and violent for they will kick the Roman army out of Israel forever?! And what’s this business about turning the other cheek? No way. We should be the ones giving out persecution, not receiving it!”

But to Jesus, the way of the Kingdom is not through waving the sword (or waving the keris in our Malaysian context). The way of the kingdom is through bearing the cross. God’s kingdom turns the values of this world upside down and inside out. Yet it’s the only way to live. It’s the only way to be the people of God. The Sermon on the Mount is an exciting and yet dangerous manifesto for change in the world. Jesus did not go up the mountain to escape the world’s problems. Instead He is starting a revolution. But it’s a revolution of love. The Kingdom of God is here as a present reality today. And it’s subverting the world order as we know it.

In the Gospel passage we read just now, Jesus used two metaphors to describe the influence that His followers would have on society: "You are the salt of the earth; you are the light of the world." If we live our lives the Jesus way, according to the vision laid out in the Sermon on the Mount, we will make an impact in a spiritually decaying culture. If we become who we were meant to be, we cannot help but be shining light to a world surrounded by darkness.

Will you sign up for this movement? Will you be part of this revolution of love?

John Stott puts it this way: "Jesus calls his disciples to exert a double influence on the society - a negative influence by arresting its decay and a positive influence by bringing light into its darkness. For it is one thing to stop the spread of evil; it is another to promote the spread of truth, beauty and goodness." — John R. W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on The Mount.

John Stott and Tim Keller are two Christian leaders who have reflected deeply on how the church can be salt and light in the world today so I’d like to draw out three implications from these metaphors based heavily on what they have written:

The First Implication is this: Be radically different, don’t compromise

In the old days, people do not have a fridge (or refrigerator) so salt was used primarily as a preservative. Salt prevents food from going bad or rotten and slows down the process of decay. But if salt is mixed with sand, for example, it is no longer effective as a preservative to delay corruption. It has become useless and gets thrown out on the streets.

In a similar way, as salt of the earth, the church has a preserving influence in a spiritually decaying society. Every day we read of depressing news in the papers, how crime rates, sex scandals, corruption cases and racial tensions have gone from bad to worse. The more rotten the world becomes, the more it stands in need of salt.

But to do that, the Church needs to maintain her integrity as salt of the earth. If it has compromised its purity or gets mixed up with worldly values, then it loses its saltiness and is no longer of any use.

In every culture, there are always areas where we would find tension or opposition against Kingdom values and also areas in culture where we would have find some common ground. For example, in the rural Muslim heartlands of Kelantan, what Jesus taught about sexual purity in the Sermon on the Mount would make a lot of sense. But they would find Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek and love your enemy quite hard to swallow.

In the more urban, more liberal places like Bangsar or Sri Hartamas, what Jesus taught about non-violence and forgiving your enemies may be easier to accept. But what He taught about sexual purity would seem strange, even offensive. “Wah! Look lustfully also cannot ah”. So they would have a problem there.

That tells us something important: The gospel (because it is God’s word) will never fit in perfectly well with any human culture including our own. And it is always tempting for us to downplay or ignore the offensive parts and harp on the bits we find easy to digest. So as we spend some time exploring the Sermon on the Mount in the next few weeks, we need to allow ourselves to be confronted again and again by the challenge of Jesus. There are some parts that are easy to accept – that’s great, but don’t stay there. Move on. You’d also find there will be parts, especially those parts of His teachings that are hard to accept – we need to slow down and let them challenge and transform us again.

Because if we just pick and choose what we like to hear and ignore those that challenge our lifestyles, we run the danger of domesticating the gospel. That means we water down the gospel to fit nicely into our own biased cultural baggage. Instead of being countercultural, we have compromised with the world. We have lost our saltiness. Our gospel has become too small and too tame. And too lame

Sometimes in our eagerness to be ‘relevant’ and ‘reach out’, it is tempting for us to be so attracted to the surrounding culture that we downplay the centrality of the gospel and stress more on an emotional fix or self-help advice. Some may even downgrade the importance of truth in the name of cultural engagement.

But to be salt of the earth, we must live as a radically different kind of community. Not just as individuals. Jesus says we are "a city on a hill" that reflects God's glory to the world. We are called to be a countercultural community within the earthly city of Kuala Lumpur. And the way we treat sex, money, success and power should point to an alternative (and more authentic) way of being human.

For example, when it comes to sex, our Malaysian culture either makes sex into an idol or we have a phobia of sex. I came across a local magazine slogan that says “In Lust, We Trust!” instead of “In God We Trust”. That’s making sex into an idol. Malaysian politicians say crazy things all the time but one f’ler said something like this: “Ladies, you must cover up your face or else the guys can’t control themselves! And it’s all your fault!” That’s phobia of sex. But the Kingdom people should be different. It avoids both extremes of hedonism and prudishness. It is a community that so loves and cares for its members that sexual purity makes sense. Because sex is so precious, we do not cheapen it but rather celebrate it in the context of an exclusive, self-giving commitment. That means abstinence outside of marriage and faithfulness within marriage.

Regarding money, the Kingdom people encourage a radically generous sharing of time, energy and resources to social justice and the needs of the poor, the immigrant, and the physically weak. Jesus’ Kingdom turns the world upside down: You must die to live. You must lose to gain. Weakness is strength. Joy in the midst of suffering. Love those who persecute you. Pray for those who hate you. It is not the strong or the violent who will inherit the earth, but the meek.

Which brings us to the question: Are we radically different like that? Or are we just the same? Are we worshipping a Jesus who only exists to provide us with health, wealth and comfort? Are we transforming culture or are we just conforming to culture?

If all the Christians in Malaysia were to suddenly disappear today, would anyone notice? Would it have big, small or no effect whatsoever on Malaysian society? What do you think? Are we salty enough? Am I?

The Second Implication is this: Be creatively engaging, don’t isolate

You know, darkness is not a thing. It has no force of its own. Darkness is simply the absence of light. When light is turned on, darkness is gone. The very presence of light dispels darkness. As light of the world, we reflect God’s truth to a world in darkness through word and deed. “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven”
So just being different is not enough, the kingdom community must also be in touch with the society at large. Salt does nothing good if it stays in the saltshaker. Light does no good if you hide it under a bowl. It has to permeate the darkness. If we isolate ourselves in our own little corner, separated from the rest of the world, our light won’t reach anyone else.
There’s a famous saying: “The only thing needed for evil to prosper is for good people to do nothing.” All you need to do is to fold your arms and do nothing. And darkness will have its way.

But in the past, the church at her best has been a fine example of how the gospel can transform and reform a society like ours. During the Great Awakening revival under such men of God as George Whitefield, the Wesley brothers, William Wilberforce, Lord Shaftesbury and others, the gospel was faithfully preached, churches were planted and people were inspired to take up social causes in the name of Christ. The proclamation of the gospel (in word) and the demonstration of the gospel (in deed) have always come naturally together.

Let me share a story how this can happen. You can watch it in action in a movie called “Amazing Grace”, based on the life of William Wilberforce. Wilberforce was a Christian Member of Parliament in Great Britain who worked all his life to abolish slavery of African people. (By the way, human trafficking and modern-day slavery is not a thing of the past, it’s something happening at our own doorsteps. Even in Malaysia!)

Wilberforce first launched his campaign for abolition of slavery in 1787 and lived to see it finally succeed in 1833 (just three days before his death). That’s 46 years in total! His life reminds us that social justice is a long, painful marathon. It’s not a 100 meter sprint. For the first twenty years, he suffered nothing but defeats, rejection from friends, insults from enemies, physical illness and even threats to his life. And it’s so easy to burnout.

But social justice is a community project, not a solo effort.

Fortunately for him, William Wilberforce has a group of friends who work and walk together with him. This famous small group was nicknamed “The Clapham Sect” or “The Saints”. They shared a deep conviction in the evangelical Christian faith, a long-term commitment to a social cause and a lifelong spiritual friendship. Won’t you like to be part of a cell group like that?

What’s more amazing is that in their lifetime, this little platoon of committed believers managed to start a Missionary Society, a Bible Society, they promote agricultural reform to supply affordable food to the poor, prevent cruelty to animals (RSPCA), promote Sunday school education, prison reform, improve harsh child labor conditions and championed the freedom to preach the gospel in India! It’s simply amazing… It’s both word and deed. And the impact of their work can still be felt today. So don’t underestimate the power of small, committed groups to start social change.

It’s not necessary to use political power (we don’t need to start any “Christian Rights Action Force” movement called CHRISAF). We don’t need to wait until there’s a huge Christian population to make a positive influence in society. Small groups of committed people empowered by the gospel can make a significant difference where we are!

We may not do exactly what Wilberforce did but just imagine what we can do if each small group in church creatively commits ourselves long term to at least one social cause that we are passionate about? Be it Makasih, education for orang asli village, advocacy for environmental care, evangelism amongst the surrounding student population and so on.

Let’s continue to open up the windows and let the light out! If you are not part of this revolution yet, sign up today. Talk to the pastors how you also can help out.

The Final Implication is this: Be influencers for the common good, don’t be narrow

Being salt and light implies that Christians can and should influence the wider society. Salt hinders bacterial decay. Light dispels darkness. We cannot create a perfect society today as suggested by the “social gospel”. But we can improve it.
The moment we say that, however, some people will cringe with fear. “Uh-oh. Are you trying to impose your Christian values on everybody else? Please keep your faith private ok... Keep it at home. Don’t bring it out in public.”

Well, there are many public issues that call for our prayer and action today like the ban on the word Allah in our Malay language Bibles. That has serious impact on our bumiputra brothers and sisters in East Malaysia. And the famous Lina Joy case, church buildings being demolished and yes, we need to speak up on such issues. But if we only get worked up over ‘Christian’ issues and do not care or speak up for our fellow Malaysians who are not Christians, then our social agenda is too narrow and too inward looking. We need to be influencers for the common good of all, regardless of race, gender, social class or creed. This is very much in line with our CDPC anniversary theme last month - “Loving Our City”.

Tim Keller says it so well at this point I may as well quote him in full. He says: “Christians should be a community radically committed to the good of the city as a whole. We must move out to sacrificially serve the good of the whole human community, especially the poor… the ultimate purpose of redemption is not to escape the material world, but to renew it. God's purpose is not only saving individuals, but also inaugurating a new world based on justice, peace, and love, not power, strife, and selfishness.

So Christians work for the peace, security, justice, and prosperity of their city and their neighbors, loving them in word and in deed, whether they believe what we do or not. In Jeremiah 29:7, Israel's exiles were called not just to live in the city, but also to love it and work for its shalom—its economic, social, and spiritual flourishing. The citizens of God's city are the best possible citizens of their earthly cities.

(Listen to this, I love this part) This is the only kind of cultural engagement that will not corrupt us and conform us to the world's pattern of life. If Christians go to urban centers simply to acquire power, they will never achieve cultural influence and change that is deep, lasting, and embraced by the broader society. We must live in the city to serve all the peoples in it, not just our own tribe. We must lose our power to find our (true) power. Christianity will not be attractive enough to win influence except through sacrificial service to all people, regardless of their beliefs.”

Wow! In other words, our cultural engagement must be shaped by the cross. It is sacrificial giving in the service of others. With no strings attached.
Remember the movie Lord of the Rings? The Dark Lord Sauron puts his own evil power inside a magical Ring to rule over the world. Whoever has the Ring will have great power, so powerful he can even beat the Dark Lord. Many people want to use the Ring of power for good, but eventually they themselves become corrupted and wanted the Ring for themselves. Like Gollum who became a twisted, little dark lord himself: My precioussss… Those who keep the ring for themselves shall lose it.

So what’s the solution? The good guys got a peace-loving hobbit named Frodo to do the unthinkable. His mission: “Carry the ring of power to Mount Doom and destroy it.” By doing so, Frodo is saving the world through weakness. He’s not using the ring of power but destroying the ring of power. That’s the only way to beat Sauron.
The story reminds us of our Lord Jesus who instead of grabbing power with an army of angels chose instead to carry the cross for the sake of others. Those who lose their lives shall find it. He saved the world through weakness and self-sacrifice. In the same way, true spiritual power for the church comes when we renounce coercive power and bear our cross and follow Christ instead.

A few years ago, there was a flood in some parts of Johor and some Christian volunteers were helping to distribute food/clothing to flood victims still trapped in their homes. One Christian guy saw that there is a village that was not yet covered so he said: “Let’s go there!” To his shock, some other Christians told him, “No la, it’s a waste of our time. There’s no use going to that community because we are not allowed to preach the gospel to them. It’s better if we go to this other village (mostly Chinese) because after we distribute the food we can preach to them also”. In my personal view, that’s too narrow!

Yes, the good news is the power of God unto salvation. We should not be ashamed of the gospel. Although evangelism and social action belong together (hand-in-hand), neither is a means for the other. They are equal partners. Our good works should be an expression of genuine love for our neighbor who is in need. And love doesn’t need to justify itself. It is not a means to another hidden agenda. There is no string attached.

We share the good news because we love people. As we genuinely minister to physical needs, we will find opportunities to minister to their spiritual needs as well. But we don’t show love to people primarily as an excuse to evangelize. If they don’t respond or listen to the gospel, does that mean we stop loving them?
Our social agenda must not be narrowly defined, but broad and embracing enough to include the city as a whole. That’s why we should care for issues like environmental conservation, eradicating poverty, abolishing human trafficking, and defending the human rights of women and children and so on.

A friend Marvin Wong wrote: Christian involvement in society is therefore not a part time activity that we engage in after our main task of evangelism is done, but an integral part of our overall Gospel witness. It would be inconsistent for a Christian to claim to love one’s neighbor as oneself and yet remain passive and silent when the same neighbor is in need or treated unjustly.

So here’s the big story: The Creator God has created human beings in His own likeness but they have rebelled against His loving rule. As a result, our fellowship with God is broken. Then the Creator God sets in motion this plan to rescue these rebels by blessing Abraham as the father of a great nation so that they in turn will be a blessing to all the nations of the earth. The nation of Israel was born and then redeemed from slavery in Egypt. The creator God established a covenant with Israel and appointed Israel to be a light to the Gentiles so that through its witness, the surrounding nations will come to know God and His ways. But Israel has failed her calling again and again through disobedience and unfaithfulness.

Now enter the Messiah, the King Himself has come to usher in the Kingdom of God. He will renew, restore and transform the heaven and the earth so that every part of creation is filled with the glory of God. But His kingdom is also a present here-and-now reality. God’s redemptive, missional plan is still moving forward.

His redeemed people are to live today as if the future is already present. The way we live are to be signposts pointing forward to what God’s kingdom in its future fullness would look like. The church is like a movie preview: We are to display some teasers/highlights from the full movie so people go: “Wow I wanna go see the real show”. Coming soon to a planet near you!

Will you sign up for this movement of God for the world?
Will we choose to follow a safe Jesus who exists to provide us with health, wealth, comfort, and happiness? Or do we want the real thing even when it costs us a great deal?

Let us pray…