NT Wright almost took away my simple Christmas joy in his article: The Revolutionary Politics of the First Christmas. He writes, The Christmas story in Luke’s gospel climaxes with Jesus in a feeding-trough because everywhere else was full. Matthew’s version ends with Joseph and Mary whisking the baby off to a foreign country because the authorities wanted to kill him. Putting these together, the heart of the story is precisely Jesus the homeless asylum seeker.
The original, historic Christmas stories are about power. They are about the kingdom of God breaking in, dangerously and unexpectedly, into the kingdoms of the world. [I read it that NTW here has in mind political systems in contrast to the kingdom preached by Jesus in his ministry]
Protestant devotional literature was once well-served by popular writers like E. Stanley Jones, Eugene Peterson, Philip Yancey, Gordon MacDonald & J Oswald Sanders but today they are fading from the scene. The writers who are taking their place are eclectic in their approach to “spirituality.” Some are inspired by writers like Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen and Jean Vanier who wrote from the tradition of Roman Catholic spiritual theology while others betray traces of New Age spirituality. Not surprisingly, the word “spirituality” has also proven to be an amorphous catch-all word. Nowadays, a lot of what goes as Christian spirituality is actually some form of syncretism mixed with disturbing and unorthodox theology (e.g. Richard Rohr). But to be fair we need to judge modern spirituality writers on a case by case basis. For example, the rediscovery of “spiritual disciplines” (c.f. Roger Forster & Dallas Willard) has been helpful to Protestants looking for “handles” as well as a map of spiritual progress in their devotional exercises & spiritual formation. Continue reading ““Old Wine” Spirituality Remains the Best”
Celebration in Contemporary Worship These days it is not uncommon to come across worship meetings where song leaders vigorously urge the congregation to freely give praise to God in the name of celebration. The songs chosen in these meetings seem to engender a euphoric, if not jubilant mood. Emotional spontaneity becomes palpable with lines of bodies swaying along to the loud beat of the drum. The high point of celebration-worship comes when members are urged to ‘sing in the spirit’ as they follow cues from the musical team giving notes of ‘chords progression’. The crescendo is rounded off with a flourish of ‘clap offering’.
It would be churlish to doubt the appropriateness of celebration-worship today. Christians who have been battered throughout the week need to be emotionally and spiritually recharged, and what better way to recharge them than through celebration in church worship? Indeed, many visitors to church testify that they come because they are attracted by the celebrative spirit of our services. Who can resist the contagion of joy?
Why is it the case that our local churches have avoided addressing the issue of homosexuality from the pulpit even though homosexuality has become (1) the defining social issue for many young people today, (2) an opportunity for virtue signaling for academicians, and (3) the celebrated cause championed by media celebrities and social activists in the West?
Perhaps, many church leaders hesitate to speak as they do not have adequate knowledge of the psychological and social scientific aspects of homosexuality. Their hesitation is exacerbated when the traditional Christian understanding of sexuality is challenged by sophisticated Western liberal theologians who offer novel readings of the Bible which purportedly support the case for homosexuality. Finally, church leaders are afraid of being accused of lacking pastoral sensitivity, or worse, being judgmental should they uphold the orthodox biblical teaching of heterosexual marriage.
Nowadays, churches seem to focus most of their energy and resources to cater to the needs of the younger generation. The constant search is for new leaders who display youthful enthusiasm, energy and organizational skills. Meanwhile, the older Christians are expected to fade gracefully into the background. Presumably, they should feel contented now that they are free to graze peacefully at green pastures beside still waters.
The reality is that many of the older Christians feel lost and displaced, especially when they find it hard to adjust to church services where the steady and reverential flow of liturgical worship is displaced by overpowering loud and repetitive music, and where the reflective homily is supplanted by motivational talks – all in the quest for relevance to contemporary culture. Continue reading “I Like Autumn: The Golden Years with Calm and Contentment”
Dog-Thoughts as we enter into the Year of the Dog: Part 1
Better to be a Live Dog than a Dead Lion
There are times when life disappoints us even to the point of despair. Ecclesiastes 9: 3 confirms our fears: “This is the miserable thing in all that is done under the sun: One fate comes upon all. Moreover, the human heart knows its full measure of misery and folly during life—and after it, they join the dead.”
It is good at such times to take heart the counsel given by Qoheleth, the author of Ecclesiastes.
9:4 But whoever is among the living has hope;
a live dog is better than a dead lion. 9:5 For the living know that they will die, but the dead do not know anything;
they have no further reward—and even the memory of them disappears 9:6 What they loved, as well as what they hated and envied, perished long ago,
and they no longer have a part in anything that happens on earth.
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.
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
Of late, the Malaysian Church seems to have gained the favor of global trotting ‘prophets’ and ‘apostles’ who fly in preaching about revivals and supernatural encounter, and promising material prosperity to the faithful. What are we to make of these ‘prophets’ and ‘apostles’?
Tim Keller’s article on “Kingdom-Centred Prayer” offers a good starting point on how to evaluate these visiting ‘prophets’ and ‘apostles’. According to Keller, a spiritual revival, or renewal, “is a work of God in which the church is beautifed and empowered because the normal operations of the Holy Spirit are intensifed. The normal operations of the Spirit include conviction of sin (John 16:8), enjoyment and assurance of grace and of the Father’s love (Rom. 8:15–16), access to the presence of God (John 14:21–23; 2 Cor. 3:17–18), and creation of deep community and loving relationships (Eph. 4:3–13).”