Saturday, June 13, 2015

Some interesting readings on the question of whether Peter is an apostate ...

(1) Peter the Apostate?



Robert H. Gundry (currently Scholar-in-Residence at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California.) also has a new book (Peter -- False Disciple and Apostate according to Saint Matthew) on this issue to be published soon.

Friday, December 19, 2014

On Prayers (1)

How shall we pray?

Charles Spurgeon preached on this one Sunday morning in 6th Nov 1859:

       That is not prayer of which it cannot be said that there was in it a drawing near unto God. Come hither then with your supplications. I see one coming forward who says, “I am in the daily habit of using a form of prayer both at morning and at evening. I could not be happy if I went abroad before I had first repeated my morning prayer, nor could I rest at night without again going over the holy sentences appointed for use at eventide. Sir, my form is the very best that could possibly be written; it was compiled by a famous bishop, one who was glorified in martyrdom, and ascended to his God in a fiery chariot of flame.” My friend, I am glad to hear, if you use a form, that you use the best. If we must have forms at all, let them be of the most excellent kind. So far so good. But let me ask you a question, I am not about to condemn you for any form you may have used, but tell me now, and tell me honestly from your inmost soul, have you drawn near to God while you have been repeating those words? for if not, O solemn thought! all the prayers you have ever uttered have been an idle mockery. You have said prayers, but you have never prayed in your life. Imagine not that there is any enchantment in any particular set of words. You might as well repeat the alphabet backwards, or the “Abracadabra” of a wizard, as go over the best form in the world, unless there is something more than form in it. Have you drawn near to God? Suppose that one of us should be desirous of presenting a petition to the House of Commons. We wisely ask in what manner the petition should be worded: we procure the exact phrases; and suppose that in the morning we rise and read this form, or repeat it to ourselves, and conclude with, “And your petitioners will ever pray,” and the like. We do the same again at night, the same the next day, and for months we continue the practice. One day meeting some member of the House, we accost him and astonish him by saying, “Sir, I wonder I have never had an answer from the House, I have been petitioning these last six months, and the form that I used was the most accurate that could be procured.” “But,” says he, “how was your petition presented?” “Presented! I had not thought of that; I have repeated it.” “Ay,” he would say, “and you may repeat it many a long day before any good comes from it; it is not the repeating it, but the presenting of the petition, and having it pleaded by some able friend that will get you the boon you desire.” And so it may be, my friend, that you have been repeating collects and prayers; and have you ignorantly imagined that you have prayed? Why, your prayer has never been presented. You have not laid it before the bleeding Lamb of God, and have not asked him to take it for you into the sacred place where God abideth, and there to present the petition with his own merits before his Father’s throne. I will not bid thee cease from thy form; but I do beseech thee by the living God, either cease from it, or else beg the Holy Spirit to enable thee to draw near to God in it. Oh, I beseech you, take not what I may say for any censoriousness; I speak now as God’s own messenger in this matter. Thy prayer has not been heard, and it neither can nor will be answered unless there be in it a true and real desire to draw near to God.

Spurgeon, C. H. (1860). The New Park Street Pulpit Sermons (Vol. 6, p. 17). London: Passmore & Alabaster.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

My reflection on the 125th Anniversary Thanksgiving and Aldersgate Service of the Methodist Church in Singapore (3)

There is a danger with familarity. For church with a long history, we sometimes do not question exisiting practices. We may find it too familiar to notice that it is a problem. We may feel too comfortable to fix any problem. We may feel safe, very safe, and this can be problematic.
If we experience worship as safe, as something that never rocks our world or shakes us out of our normal habits of feeling, seeing, thinking, and behaving, we may be consoled but we shall never be redeemed. (Paul J Waldell, Becoming Friends)

When we feel too safe, we may stop praying. When we feel too safe, we may stop going to church. In James 1:2-18 (NIV), we are reminded of the purpose of trials:
2Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.
9The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. 10But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. 11For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business.
12Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

13When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. 15Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
16Don't be deceived, my dear brothers. 17Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

From this passage, we learn:
  • The good that has come from trials.
  • The comfort we can have in trials.
Familiarity can be a double-edged sword. It can be both useful and dangerous. We can easily develop familiarity today, for example,
  • With those teaching the Word of God ("He no longer impresses me"
  • With the message of the Word itself ("I've heard that many times before")
Reading bible is beneficial. It helps us to be familiar with the bible. Familiarity of the Bible can help us to better understand God and grow spiritually. However, familiarity of the Bible can also cause us to grow cold to it. We stop doing what God reveals to us in the bible!! Like the psalmist who is aware that he doesn't often feel or see wonderful things as wonderful, we may also pray Psalm 119:18 each time we go to the Bible: "Open my eyes that I may behold wonders in your law." The point of this prayer is that there are wonders everywhere in the law, in the Bible, in the instruction of God. We need to ask God to help us see the wonders in the bible. We need to be free from the familiarity that breeds contempt. For instance,
  • The better we know people, the more likely we are to find fault with them. - The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy
  • If you know someone very well or experience something a lot, you stop respecting them. - The Free Dictionary
  • The more you know something or someone, the more you start to find faults and dislike things about it or them. -
When we know a person very well, we may not even believe them! As Matthew 13:54-58 tells us:
And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, 54 and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that were astonished, and said, "Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? 55 Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?" 57And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household." 58And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.

The people listening to Jesus were knew Him. They were familiar with Him as they were His relatives and friends. At first they were impressed with Him, the way He talked and the wisdom and clarity of His words. Later on, they started to doubt what he said. Are we guilty in the same why today ? Are we developing the familiarities today with those who teach the word of God in Truth and Love? Do we allow our familiarities today to breed contempt, no longer appreciating the word of God or those who teach and preach it (taking them for granted)? We need to be careful here, as Matthew 13: 58 reminds us

And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.
Jesus, may our familiarity with you lead us not away from you, but closer to you.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

My reflection on the 125th Anniversary Thanksgiving and Aldersgate Service of the Methodist Church in Singapore (2)

On 22 May 2010 (Saturday), many Methodists from the three annual conferences (representing the three language- English, Chinese and Tamil) gathered at the Paya Lebar Methodist Church to worship and praise God for His 125 years of faithfulnes. The sermon on that day was "Jesus prays for us", and one of its main theme is the unity of the church.

Physically Together, Spiritually Separated?

Similar to many denominations in Singapore (such as the presbyterians, anglicans and lutherans), the Methodists do not have a centre location for worship. Instead, Methodists worshipped at various locations around the island. As the Rev. Dr Chong Chin Chung pointed out in the 125th anniversary dialogue (held on 21 May):
In order to have a testimony of unity and togetheress and to make optimal use of resources, members of an organisation must strive to work as one. This is all the more true of The Methodist Church in Singapore -- a connectional church.

I believe a connectional church is much more important than having a giant mega church in one location. Do we really need a giant mega church (a central gathering point) where thousands of Christians gather to worship God. Parking problem! Construction cost! Travelling time! Convenience? I think we go to Church for various reasons, but the main ones are to praise God and give thanks to Him. If we choose a church because it has a nice building and it is a hip to place to be in and seen, then something is obviously wrong with our spirituality.

Praise is born from wonder and gratitude for the goodness of God. Praise is evoked by thanksgiving for the unending generosity of God and amazement for the saving deeds of God. But prayers like this seem to be common: Thank you God for richly blessing us with so many people in our church. Help us grow, help us to extend your kingdom ... ...

Not that this prayer is wrong, but it certainly has some problem. In con trast, we seldom hear this type of prayer: Thank you God for blessing the churches in Singapore.
In genuine praise and celebration our attention is drawn to God, not ourselves; in fact, it is exactly this attentiveness to God that frees us from such enervating preoccupation with ourselves. (Paul J Waldell, Becoming Friends)

I think there are some things more important than having a big church that can sit a few thousand people. Spiritual togetherness is more important! Having a big church building doesn't mean anything. Of course, if there are both (Spiritual togetherness and a big church building), then it is truly God's blessing. If there is
big church building but no spiritual togetherness, we better start examining our spiritual conditions. We better start examining the quality of the sermon, fellowship, ... ... The pastor or minister should be the leader of a community of faith who is summoned to call that community to greater faithfulness in discipleship. He should  not be a salesperson trying to market a product (blessing) to a congregation. But we sometimes hear pastor saying: If you tithe, God will bless you.

Though this may not be the exact words, but the essense is there. This prayer makes God look like a businessman who gives blessing in return for money. Of course, tithing is important, but we should not tithe, thinking that we would get blessing. We tithe because we are grateful for all God has done.
When worship becomes captive to consumerism, you need a God people will like and a message they are willing to buy. Instead of telling a congregation they must grow in conformity to Christ and see their lives as an ongoing conversion of heart, in consumerist Christianity it is the gospel that must conform to the needs, interests, and fancies of the congregation. (Paul J Waldell, Becoming Friends)

Sad to say, there are pastors who seem to be using this sort of convoluted theology (prosperity theology) to make Christians tithe. This is a disturbing truth. Some Christians/ pastors also base their evangelism on this sort of misleading theological understanding--- God is portrayed as the God of fortune! Rather than using money to 'lure' non-believers to become Christians, I think how we live our life is even more important.  As William Lane Craig reminded us in the concluding chapter (titled "Ultimate Apologetic") of his book Reasonable faith, the ultimate apologetics is "Your life!"

Thursday, June 03, 2010

My reflection on the 125th Anniversary Thanksgiving and Aldersgate Service of the Methodist Church in Singapore

As a church with a long history, it is inevitable that the style of worship undergo some changes. For those who have been in the (Methodist) church for decades, the change/ transformation should be evident. For instance, we see less hymnal, less organ, and more 'praaise songs' being used. As a Methodist, regardless of the change, I think we need to let (God through) worship transforms us. We change the style of worship, but are we changed? Nobody should enter into worship and remain unchanged. Put differently, if we worship faithfully, those who knew us in our “former lives” should hardly recognize us in our new lives.

But are we really changed? Are we portraying Christ in our lives? Are we leading a life that is pleasing to God? As one author puts it:
In sham worship we are the center of attention, not God, and God is admitted into worship only insofar as God is useful to us. […] sham worship is not only dishonest but it is also a colossal waste of time.
True Christian worship allows God to work on us, sanctifying us, gracing us, purifying, renewing, and reforming us; indeed, doing all that is necessary to make us new creatures in Christ.
This is why from the beginning the church has described this startling transformation as a death and rebirth, as a burial of one way of living, thinking, perceiving, and acting and a resurrection into a radically new king of life that is gracious and abounding in hope because it is life in, with, and according to Christ. (Paul J Waldell, Becoming Friends

A transformed/changed life produces correct living. While correct doctrine (orthodoxy) is important, correct living is also important (orthopraxy). A transformed/changed life (a "broken and contrite heart") shows God's transformative grace within us. A Christian who has a changed life love his brother. If we don't love our brother, it shows we have not been transformed. If we don't love our brother, it shows the love of God is not in us. Thus, by loving one another shall the world know who God's people are.

What part does worship play in the renewal/transformation of a Christian's life? Worship allows God to work on us, sanctifying us, gracing us, purifying, renewing, and reforming us; indeed, doing all that is necessary to make us new creatures in Christ. Does Charismatic worship produces renewed lives? This is not an easy question to answer. We are in no position to judge, and only God knows. But if we are really truthful to ourselves, we should ask ourselves, how has God transformed me? How am I different from my “former lives”?  Most importantly, do we love our brother? Many Christians have no problem with the first two questions, but the third is not easy to answer (if we are truthful)!

A renewed life is worth more in the eyes of God than being in the so called "correct" worship. We can be in the "correct" worship, but has a untransformed life (initially). However, true Christian worship can eventually lead us to a transformed life. In contrast, "incorrect/false" worship does not lead to a transformed life. However, it seems more Christians are placing an increasing focus so much on the entertainment value of the worship service that we fail to realise the importance of the content of the worship service. Many traditional mainline churches may not have the type of 'power-packed' and energising worship one may find in a megachurch, but the content is more or less biblical. Not that megachurch teaches entirely unbiblical doctrine, but the prosperity theology expounded can certainly be detrimental to the Christian life. A theology that focuses on the material things in life is unlikely to produce changed life! Very often, it seems Christians act no different from a non-Christian.

The correct/ true  Christian worship should be one that allows God to work on us, sanctifying us, gracing us, purifying, renewing, and reforming us; indeed, doing all that is necessary to make us new creatures in Christ. If there is no Christian life, it shows we do not know God, and there is no point being Christian. If there is no Christian life, we are not true Christians. As Miroslav Volf puts it,
There is something profoundly hypocritical about praising God for God's mighty deeds of salvation and cooperating at the same time with the demons of destruction, whether by neglecting to do good or by actively doing evil. Only those who help the Jews may sing the Gregorian chant, Dietrich Bonhoeffer rightly said, in the context of Nazi Germany ... Without action in the world, the adoration of God is empty and hypocritical, and degenerates into irresponsible and godless quietism.  (Reflections on a Christian Way of Being-in -the-World)
When church members quarrel over worship styles, something is wrong. When we seek to change the style of worship, we should should ask ourselves:
  • Is our current style of worship wrong (non-biblical)? If not, why change?
  • What is our motive for changing the worship style? So that it can entertain us?
We need to remind ourselves that:
When liturgy becomes entertainment, our worship becomes as trivial as our lives. The aim of such liturgies is not to unleash the power of God in our lives and in our world but to keep God as safely remote as possible precisely because we fear what any real encounter with God might bring. In short, when the dynamics of our entertainment culture determine the shape of our worship, we manipulate God so that God becomes pleasing to us instead of us becoming pleasing to God. (Paul J Waldell, Becoming Friends)

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Methodist Church in Singapore- 125th Anniversary Thanksgiving and Aldersgate Service

Today, the Methodist Church in Singapore celebrated its 125th Anniversary Thanksgiving and Aldersgate Service at Paya Lebar Methodist Church.

Worship Leader: Rev Dr Jonathan Seet
Interpreter: Rev Dr Niam Kai Huey Aldersgate Service
Preacher: Bishop Dr Robert Solomon

The sermon title is ‘Jesus Prays for Us’, based on scripture text John 17:20-27. In the sermon, the bishop raised several interesting but important points:
- As a 125 year old church, if the Methodist Church in Singapore is to undergo a spiritual checkup, how will our condition be like? Are we too old to walk properly? Unable to bend our arms? Blocked spiritual vessels and arteries? Too comfortable. Too complacent. A sleeping giant?

- Church growth rate is getting lower! Growth is smaller than the population growth. As such, methodists are decreasing! Root of the problem: Is the Methodist Church getting too institutionalized and clerical? Treat pastors as employees, pastors also see themselves as employees, thus affecting church growth. A result of pastors with high education level? Probably not, there is no evidence for this, but we should be careful not to let knowledge hinder us from evangelism. The bishop emphasized the need and importance of theological education. TTC is important!

- Succumb to worldview and culture. He gives examples of churches in America (Fundamentals, evangelicals, mainline churches, etc) influenced by secular worldview. Many Christians succumb to worldly trappings and fall into a mixed world view; professing a belief in Jesus, but living secular lifestyles, "Secular" means "denoting attitudes, activities, or other things that have not religious or spiritual basis." (Oxford American Dictionaries)

As for ecclesiastical order, I remembering reading in Responsible Grace, where the author Randy L Maddox highlighted this point:

What is the end of all ecclesiastical order? Is it not to bring souls from the power of Satan to God, and to build them up in his fear and love? Order, then, is so far valuable as it answers these needs: and if it answers them not, it is nothing worth. (Letter to John Smith, 1746)

Saturday, April 03, 2010

All messed up ... a chance for media sensationalism

 Pope Benedict XVI, the 265th and current Pope, by virtue of his office of Bishop of Rome, is the head of the Catholic Church and, as such, Sovereign of the Vatican City State. The recent church sex abuse scandal, I believed, has caused him much headache. No one is without fault (not that I think he is at fault in the handling of sex abuse scandal), but he is fortunate to have the support of the cardinals and catholics. Archbishop Cardinal Daniel DiNardo (a leading church figure in North America and also plays a key role in the church's anti-abortion efforts), for instnace, strongly defends Pope Benedict's handling of sex abuse scandal.

As the church celebrates Easter, it labors under one of the darkest clouds over it in recent memory. Pope Benedict XVI, who once headed the church agency responsible for defrocking priests, has come under fire recently because his agency didn't defrock a Wisconsin priest who sexually abused children decades ago. He has also been criticized for his handling of European sex abuse cases when he was known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.
Now, top Catholic officials are on the offensive, attacking media outlets for allegedly sensationalizing the accusations and reporting what the Vatican has called inaccurate information.  (DiNardo puts his weight behind pope)
Pope Benedict was previously archbishop of Munich to Rome, who later head the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the powerful office that among other things investigates clerical sex abuse.
Besides Cardinal  DiNardo, we see support from other cardinals as well:
Cardinals across Europe used their Holy Thursday sermons to defend Pope Benedict XVI from accusations he played a role in covering up sex abuse scandals, and an increasingly angry Vatican sought to deflect any criticism in the Western media.

The relationship between the church and the media has become increasingly bitter as the scandal buffeting the 1 billion-member church has touched the pontiff himself. On Wednesday, the church singled out The New York Times for criticism in an unusually harsh attack. (Cardinals defend pope on church sex abuse scandal)

On the local scene, we have ...

At CHC (City Harvest Church), Jack Neo, one of their celebrated church members, an illustrous movie director and producer, had affair with a young actress.

Singapore's Lighthouse Evangelism Church Pastor Rony Tan made fun of Buddhism and Taosim, and was called up by the Singapore's Internal Security Department (ISD).

The above three incidents show the powerful (or destructive) role that the media can play. Though the Jack Neo's case is of course on a much smaller scale,  we see the local newspaper (such as Lianhe Wanbao)  being just as destructive. Media Sensationalism (shameless voyeurism?) ... why has the church and christians become the target of media sensationalism? Is it because we are perceived to be good, kind-hearted people. If we do something wrong, it would immediately be publicise and sensationalised.