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?
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”
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).”
Prologue: Every age has its own characteristics. Right now we are in an age of religious complexity. The simplicity which is in Christ is rarely found among us. In its stead are programs, methods, organizations and a world of nervous activities which occupy time and attention but can never satisfy the longing of the heart. The shallowness of our inner experience, the hollowness of our worship, and that servile imitation of the world which marks our promotional methods all testify that we in this day, know God only imperfectly, and the peace of God scarcely at all…If we would find God amid all the religious externals, we must first determine to find Him, and then proceed in the way of simplicity. [Tozer, The Pursuit of God]
God Is Sovereign over Our Ministry
I have always felt strangely attracted to Jeremiah. The other prophets may share visions of God’s transcending majesty and deliver awe-inspiring oracles of God (Ezekiel and Isaiah) or triumph over hostile persecutors (Daniel), but they seldom disclose their inner selves. Not so with Jeremiah; he laid bare the emotional conflicts of a man who was chosen to bear the Word of God to a stubborn and rebellious generation even though he was personally least inclined to do so.
Jeremiah’s prophetic mission was characterised by immense sufferings. He was physically abused, locked in the stocks and even left to die in a cistern. He experienced the pain of total ostracism as his kinsfolk whom he loved dearly plotted against his very life. He was denied friendship and the joy of marital companionship. Seldom was the price of prophetic mission extracted so severely as from this sensitive soul. Continue reading “Experiencing God’s Sovereignty: A Meditation on Jeremiah 18:1-10”
My unassisted heart is barren clay, That of its native self can nothing feed: Of good and pious works Thou art the seed, That quickens only where Thou sayest it may: Unless Thou show to us Thine own true way No man can find it: Father! Thou must lead. [Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564). Translated by William Wordsworth]
I. Seeking God: Psalm 42:1-2*
These days, it is popular for Christians to attend seminars that feature foreign speakers who share their expertise in innovative worship and prophetic ministry that promise to kindle higher spiritual experience. However, eager and hungry souls who hanker after such promises may be disappointed, after having tried all these spiritual innovations to find that God remains an inference, a temporary trip rather than an ever present reality. It is no wonder the quest for that spiritual fads and fashions remains a phenomenon among churches today.
Other Christians may confess to a sense of spiritual jadedness resulting from a style of worship characterized by wooden routines of dead tradition that suffocate the longing soul (‘ritual murder’). Perhaps a better way is found in contemporary worship offered by big modern churches that are epitomes of visionary leadership, congregational enthusiasm and certainly organizational sophistication. Surely God is pleased with the impeccably organized programs and the awe-inspiring music that fosters energetic and enthusiastic worship? Continue reading “The Pursuit of God: Simplicity and Surrender”
“Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14)
It is encouraging that many Christians are actively engaging social-political issues to build a better society. Their coordinated and concerted efforts have gained them publicity and respectability; indeed, they may have won new ‘friends’ in the high places of political power. On the other hand, the elements of ungodliness, be they militant gays, permissive postmodernists or cynical atheists resolutely resist and reject any effort to infuse Christian values into society at large. Some religious extremists even threaten the safety and well-being of churches. These forces seem determined to plunge society headlong to self-destruction.
It remains an open question, then, as to whether the Christians will succeed in arresting the disintegration of society. It will be easy for Christian social engagement to wane when the unbelievers persist in hardening their hearts. Christian activism must be backed by Christian holiness if the recent gains are to be lasting. We must heed J.C. Ryle’s warning in his classic book, Holiness* that “Sound Protestant and Evangelical doctrine is useless if it is not accompanied by a holy life. It is more than useless: it does positive harm. It is despised by keen-sighted and shrewd men of the world, as an unreal and hollow thing, and brings religion into contempt” (p. xxi). Or in J.I. Packer’s words, “Credible opposition to secular ideologies can be shown by speaking and writing but credible oppositions to holiness can only be shown by holy living.”/Keep in Step with the Spirit (Revel Pub 1984), pp. 102-103./ Perhaps this is what Heb. 12:14 means: “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” Continue reading “Holiness and the Social Witness of the Church”
I have a confession: I used to look down at the piddling goat. It is too weak to pull a plough or give milk in abundance like the cow. It cannot serve as a beast of burden like the lowly donkey, the transporter par excellence for farmers and armies up till World War II. It is too small to give people a ride, much less match the magnificent horse bearing a conquering king. It is more than useless. It is a nuisance as it eats up anything, including the vegetables in the garden or even the lovely flowers left behind for our dearly departed at the cemetery.
No wonder many Chinese couples avoid having babies in the Year of the Goat. However, these couples may change their minds after watching National Geographic documentaries. They will be filled with admiration for the amazing feat (pun intended) of the surefooted and plucky goats frisking with abandon at the narrow edges of vertical cliffs.
Without doubt Christians in Malaysia are filled with a sense of foreboding as Islamic authorities seized the Alkitab, the Courts through unreasonable judgments effective curtailed their freedom of religion and the Prime Minister failed to censure aggressive Islamic NGOs for their slander and threats against the Malaysian Church.
It is heartening to see many Christians turning to the Lord in times of social crisis, seen in their fervent prayers in revival meetings. Crisis however brings up the best or the worst from us. Christian worship and revival meetings can become either an avenue of psychological escapism or a platform for spiritual renewal and social engagement.
Middle class Christians may be tempted to compensate their sense of social impotence by turning to other-worldly spirituality. Hence, a surreal emphasis on spiritual power in some revival meetings and a tendency to rally around men of charisma or self-styled apostles and prophets, if only that anxious believers may have a ‘touch’ of omnipotence mediated to them. Unfortunately, such focus on ‘touching’ spiritual power can distract believers from building genuine relationships based on shared lives to ensure the members of the community of faith will stand in solidarity with one another in the face of hostilities.
Spirituality then becomes a form of social-psychological pathology as distressed Christians seek consolation in the pie in the sky, resulting in personal resignation, passivity and indifference towards social engagement. Some find solace in cloistered personal piety; others delight in claiming victories in the heavenlies; and still others yearn for abundant material blessings – all without requirements of mutual accountability within the community of faith. Pre-occupation with revival meetings provides convenient excuses to the Church as it retreats from its holistic mission of witness and responsible engagement with an unbelieving, if not hostile world.
These observations are not meant to disparage current revival meetings but to challenge Malaysian Christians to recover the full dimensions of holistic worship adequate for strengthening personal spiritual formation and building community relationships and forging shared vision for social engagement. Given the present crisis I shall focus on holistic worship and social engagement with an unbelieving world. Continue reading “Christian Worship in Times of Crisis: Escapism or Engagement with the World?”