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”
Believers who insist on observing the dietary laws given by Moses in the Book of Leviticus recoil at the idea of eating pork since they regard the pig to be ritually unclean. Abstinence from pork becomes a paramount symbol of religious commitment as their strong and instinctive sense of revulsion is accepted as the “feeling of rightness” that confirms a trustworthy “doctrine felt as fact.” Their friends may be bewildered as they wonder whether such an ancient scruple could serve as a benchmark of spirituality in modern society. However, it is advisable for these friends to approach this matter gingerly as their casual remarks could become a cause of offence.
But what if the set of scruples is based on a misunderstanding of Moses? This was the contention of the anonymous writer of the Epistle of Barnabas (70-135 AD). Continue reading “Pigs and Prayers & Epistle of Barnabas”
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?
Celebration is evidence of the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit. Continue reading “What is Biblical Celebration-Worship?”
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.
For Qoheleth, “a live dog is better than a dead lion”! Like most proverbs, the verse delivers truth with a punch. The despised, scavenging dog fares better than the King of the beasts? How can it be? Continue reading “A Live Dog is Better than a Dead Lion? (Ecclesiastes 9: 4) – Enjoying Life between Misery and Mystery”
I received a question from a reader of my previous post, “Only Saving Faith Promotes Saving Faith and Obedience.”
Question: “I would like to humbly request for further clarification with regards to the idea that “only right doctrine promotes saving faith”. “Does the statement imply that those who don’t have right doctrine are not saved.” The reason I ask is because this is the argument raised by church X that salvation is based on doctrine rather than on a belief in the person of Christ…However my concern is more for those who have a simple child-like faith and who are ignorant either because they happen to be unknowingly stuck in a church that deprives them of sound doctrine or because they happen to be uneducated. Do these people have saving faith without “right doctrine”?
Many church leaders have the impression that doctrine entails argument over abstract propositions that distracts Christians from focusing on more important spiritual exercises which build faith and relationships. To correct this false impression I pointed out MLJ’s insistence that doctrine is practical and that “there is an inseparable link between doctrine, spiritual experience and Christian obedience.” I was hoping that MLJ would add weight to my post which was written in a “rah-rah” spirit to get church leaders excited about doctrine.
I am aware of the possibility that the title of the post could be misread. Hence, your question, “Does the statement imply that those who don’t have right doctrine are not saved” does not come as a surprise to me. May I suggest that we read the title for what it affirms positively, “Right doctrine promotes saving faith” without implying the negative possibility, “No right doctrine means no saving faith”?
Some clarifications is in order:
First, while it is our duty to defend right doctrine, nevertheless, we should refrain from drawing definitive conclusions about someone’s salvation simply because of doctrinal difference. That is to say, our focus should be on critiquing wrong doctrine and not on judging people. Ultimately, to judge whether someone is saved or not is the business of God alone. We should humbly leave this matter to the holy God who is not only a God of truth and justice, but who is also a God of mercy. Continue reading “Are We Saved by Believing in Right Doctrine?”
Nowadays, doctrine is not much mentioned in churches. Words like “creeds” and “catechism” are foreign to the vocabulary of church leaders. In the absence of doctrinal teaching, it is not surprising that most Christians no longer understand what they are supposed to believe. Unfortunately, nature abhors vacuum – the consequence is not just doctrinal indifference, but doctrinal perversion. Liberal theology which was vanquished and banished from the Malaysian churches in the early 1980s now finds a ready audience among younger Christians who are not properly taught the faith of their forefathers. It is indeed what the Apostle Paul foresaw when he wrote, “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2Timothy 4:3)
Rather than giving an exhaustive list of new heresy that will one day become new orthodoxy in the Malaysian church, I shall just share the so-called “Apostate’s Creed’. Continue reading “Only Right Doctrine Promotes Saving Faith and Obedience”
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
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).”
Keller suggests three marks of genuine revival: Continue reading “Distinguishing “Revival” from “Revivalism”; Discerning True from False Prophets”
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”