Sunday, July 29, 2007

Pitfalls of Evangelism (6)


We often assume that if we do not preach the message to others verbally, we are not preaching at all. However, since the Message is a person, it is better for 'the other' to experience him relationally (through us), rather than propositionally (through our words). Also, as we have read in the previous posts of this series, we are often guilty of exploiting relationships by seeing friends and strangers as objects for conversion. We assume that the primary concern of the Church is evangelism and conversion of 'non-Christians', even when relationships are sacrificed or damaged in the process. However, is this justifiable? And more fundamentally, what should be the primary concern of the Church?

The Church is the icon or image of God to the world, so that through the life of the Church, the world can see God. But to be an image that reflects God, we need to know who God is. God is a trinitarian God, consisting of three persons in one Godhead, dancing perichoretically in perfect oneness in a perfect community. Thus, as the image of God, it is the goal of the Church to constantly strive towards this perfect oneness in our relationship with others, starting from within the Church herself.

However, the dream of God is greater than reconciliation between human beings. It is his dream (which will be fulfilled at the end of time) for reconciliation to also take place between God and man and between man and the rest of creation. Therefore, the Church must participate in this dream of God and be an agent of reconciliation in these three dimensions. Sadly, our sole emphasis (at least for the Protestant Church) on evangelism, which covers only one dimension of reconciliation (between God and man) had cause us to often sacrifice another dimension (between human beings, especially Christians and 'non-Christians'). Furthermore, the other dimension (between man and the rest of creation) is seldom heard of in the Church. How often do we hear issues of environmental and animal concern being addressed in the Church?

Therefore, the primary concern of the Church is relationship (not evangelism). The kingdomic Church is a community of relational messengers who dance together perichoretically towards perfect oneness with God, with one another (including people of other faiths) and with the rest of creation. When the Church participates in this Great Dance, the world will turn their eyes upon the Dance, and perhaps desire to participate in this Dance as well.

"By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."
Jesus Christ



Friday, July 27, 2007

No to Numbers

Not very long ago, I commented about Protestants' obsession with numbers and the negative implications this obsession has brought upon the Church and the Gospel. Perhaps the Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur, Most Reverend Murphy Pakiam (Auxiliary Bishop at the time of publication of this news article) could give us some wisdom regarding this matter. I took the piece of news from here:


KUALA LUMPUR (UCAN) -- Catholics in Malaysia should not be concerned about their small number, but with how to witness their faith and to dialogue with other religions, a Church leader says.

"It is not our great concern to increase the number of Catholics in peninsular Malaysia," but to emphasize witnessing of faith and interreligious dialogue, Auxiliary Bishop Murphy Pakiam of Kuala Lumpur said.

According to government census figures and the 2002 Catholic Directory and Ordo of Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei, Catholics make up a little over 1 percent of the 18.5 million population in peninsular Malaysia.

Despite this low percentage, the Catholic Church is in no hurry to go on an evangelizing spree to increase the number of its flock, Bishop Pakiam said in an interview with local Catholic media.

The bishop emphasized that evangelization in the country should not be "pulling people into the Church," but of Catholics becoming witnesses of the faith by their way of life, and letting God do the rest.

However, Bishop Pakiam stressed the need for the local Church "to dialogue with other religions, to build up relationships with people of other faiths and to see God's love extend to other people."

"Despite being multiracial, multicultural, and different from each other, we can still be united with our bonds of friendship. All these are binding us together. This is the beautiful sign what God can do for us," he added.

The auxiliary bishop noted that God's mission is to create greater love and unity. "That's why in our churches, we have Masses in different languages. It makes us Catholics realize that we are different, but we can be open and appreciative of each other," he said.

"We can rejoice about our cultural diversity and welcome it positively to express our oneness as children of our Father in heaven," he explained.

Catholics can be proud of their faith through worship, he said. "Faith is not only instructions in sermons, but also in coming together as a community to pray -- during Sunday Mass, in penitential service, charismatic prayer groups or retreats," he added.

The Catholic faith is "a communitarian faith," he said, adding that "because we have experienced faith, we are open to people of different religions and culture."

Among the three dioceses of peninsular Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur archdiocese has 92,660 Catholics, the largest number. It is followed by Penang diocese with 65,837 Catholics. Melaka-Johor diocese has the smallest number, with about 36,000 Catholics.


Thursday, July 26, 2007

Second Chance to Live

4 slash wounds and 20 stab wounds.

A girl's life was abruptly and brutally ended after 11 years of living, committed by a boy who was only one year older than her.

As a result of his action, the boy paid 4 years of his adolescence behind bars at the pleasure of the King. 4 years later, the court reaffirmed the conviction that he was found guilty of the murder but freed him. Reason? There was no law that prescribes a sentence for a child convicted of murder.

Found guilty but freed?

The Bar Council of Malaysia describes the verdict as a failure of the criminal justice system.

The mother of the daughter is stunned and must be suffering from another severe emotional setback. The thought of the boy paying 4 years of imprisonment in exchange of her daughter's life is simply unbearable.

As for the rest of Malaysia, many must be feeling furious over the inability of the system and sympathizing over the family of the girl.

What about the boy? Having spent the best of his formative years behind bars, he will be suffering from the repercussions of the imprisonment for the rest of his life. More importantly, he will be haunted by his guilt and will experience rejection by the society. This is a more torturous punishment than capital punishment, which would have been his fate if not for Child Act 2001.

Undeniably, we see injustice from the perspective of the family of the victim. Yet perhaps, from the perspective of the family of the boy, we see the remorseful boy experiencing grace, given a second chance to live.


My Chinese Symbol

After doing so many Western tests, I decided to do a 'Chinese' test for a change. Here we have it:

What Chinese symbol are you?

You're a peacemaker who can't stand violence or mean words. You are calm and love curling up with a good book in a tree on a clear day.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Pitfalls of Evangelism (5)


Preach the gospel at all times, if necessary use words.

St Francis of Assisi

Like persistent salesmen suffering from verbal diarrhea, we snatch every opportunity that we can find to preach the message verbally to others. However, since our pursuit of numbers has inevitably led to the lack of development in our character, people are unimpressed by our radical message when they see us living secular lives, bearing no difference from theirs. We are like salesman suffering from bad breath due to the lack of use of toothpaste, yet going around selling toothpaste to others who face the same problem. Using the words of Marshall McLuhan, "the medium is the message," others will not buy our product not because the toothpaste is ineffective, but because our bad breath causes them to conclude that the toothpaste is ineffective. Therefore, shouldn't we first tackle our bad breath before we help others to do likewise? Shouldn't we first nurture our being before we focus on our doing?

Other than that, are we not aware that the message is actually the Message, who is a person? As messengers, how do we help others to come to know the Message? Do we describe to others in propositional form (evangelism) our knowledge of the Message, or do we strive to embody the Message in our lives, so that when others relate with us, they may experience the Message personally through us?

One may say, "But if we do not preach verbally, others will not know the Message." This is precisely because we are not embodying the Message, that we need to use words to bring out the Message. It is certainly an easier path to take in preaching verbally, persuading others not to look at our lives but at the truth claims of the Message. By doing so, we can still keep on living a secular life under a religious cloak. However, if we want to embody the Message so that others can experience him, we are forced to come out from our religious cloaks, challenging ourselves constantly to give up our secular values and possessions in order to be that embodiment of the Message to others.

When we truly become the embodiment of the Message and allow others to experience the Message through us, I believe many will be interested to know this Message. Perhaps then, we as messengers can start opening our mouths.

To be continued...


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Fruition of Blogging

Those of you who have been following my blog faithfully will have noticed the recent surge in the frequency of my posts. I also wonder what's wrong with me. Perhaps it is the fruition of the commitment i made to blogging back then. Talk about fruition, I guess now is an appropriate time for me to review my blogging experience and see what fruits this experience has brought...

1. I can express more easily, freely and boldly in writing.
2. I can focus on a certain thought for a longer duration.
3. I think about issues all the time.
4. My English vocabulary has significantly expanded.
5. My thoughts on many issues are crystallized.

Thanks to blogging. A modern spiritual discipline indeed. Lastly, thanks to you faithful readers who are my ever source of encouragement to persevere in blogging.


Pitfalls of Evangelism (4)


It is an accepted rule (at least among Protestant churches) that the primary (sometimes, sole) yardstick in gauging the success of a church is its numerical growth. Hence, we often find statements such as this: "To reach xx members by the end of the year" appearing in the vision statement of many Protestant churches.

Churches are motivated and directed by numerical goals. Evangelistic programs, which are the primary activities of churches, are aimed at achieving the numerical goal. Take away these evangelistic programs, and churches will find themselves having nothing much to do. Take away the numerical goal, and churches will find themselves lost and unmotivated. (We need numbers to motivate us? How sad!)

Church members are busy involving themselves in evangelistic programs throughout the year. Such busyness in doing gives them a false sense of being good Christians. As the church members bring in new converts into the church, the converts are immediately forced to join the bandwagon and find themselves busy involving in evangelistic programs as well. Even though it may not be our original intention, but in reality we are actually bringing in more people into the church to become additional labour to bring more people into the church, and the cycle goes on and on.

We focus so much on outward actions in the form of evangelism and have often overlooked the more important aspect of our lives, our inner being. We are experts in evangelism but novices in the Christian way of life. Or perhaps, we naively assume that evangelism is THE Christian way of life, thinking that once we become Christians, our ultimate goal is to bring more people into the faith.

Such singlemindedness in evangelism has cause many to become disillusioned with the Church and with the Christian faith (and unfortunately with Christ), as if there is nothing else to the Christian life other than the endless pursuit of numbers. No deepening of the depth of the soul, no moulding of the character. Nothing but numbers. Shallow.

Is there more to our Christian life than numbers?

To be continued...


Monday, July 23, 2007

My Personality Type

After constant persuasion from Doulos, I finally but reluctantly agree to do the test. Here we have it:


Saturday, July 21, 2007

Addicted to Blogging?

Came across this at sunflower's blog and decided to have a go at it. I was expecting to get less than 50%. I was stunned by the result when I realized that I am only 3% less than her, who I know is a hardcore blogger!


Friday, July 20, 2007

Eight Random Facts

Tagged by Pei Ling.
1) Each player must post these rules first.
2) Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
3) People who are tagged need to write their own blog about eight things and post these rules.
4) At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
5) Don't forget to leave them a comment telling them they're tagged, and to read your blog.
As requested, proudly (really?) presenting to you:

1. Dan is a hardcore fan of Chinese food. Although he has the luxury of eating different kinds of food in his multi-racial and multi-cultural country, he is perfectly fine in eating Chinese food 365 days a year.

2. Dan is a nocturnal creature. In spite of earnest and countless advices, pleas, encouragements, pressures and threats hurled at him from all levels of society to convert into an early sleeper, he is still in the struggling (endless?) process of conversion amidst an unrealistically demanding student life.

3. Dan is a tortoise when it comes to articulating thoughts in words. Inevitably, writing blog posts takes up one big chunk of his time. The only reason he is still hanging on to it is that it helps him to write faster and better. When will the tortoise become the hare?

4. Dan obviously speaks better Mandarin than English. Yet, he is more comfortable in writing in English and reading English literature. (Isn't he a confused soul?)

5. In spite of his Reformed tradition background, Dan is very amazed and interested in Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism and strives to unearth the treasures from these older traditions in enriching his own.

6. Dan is a 100% soup lover. ("Hey, do you always have to talk about food?")

7. Until now, Dan has yet to master the art of chopsticks holding. Not that he cannot eat food using chopsticks, just that it is not the orthodox way of holding.

8. Lastly but most importantly, Dan lives in a community of friends.

I tag:


Pitfalls of Evangelism (3)


A salesman goes around hunting for potential customers, promoting his product to strangers, hoping that some out of the many will be attracted to the product. The primary concern of the salesman is not the stranger (as he does not know the person at all), but that the product can be sold to the stranger. Thus, the salesman uses his marketing tactics and verbal skills to entice the person to buy the product without the person first trying out the product. There will be some who would eventually buy the product, not because they had experienced the benefit of the product, but because they believed in the words of the salesman. However, for those who initially reject the offer, the salesman will continue to exercise his determination in persuading them. Inevitably, there will be those who would be irritated by the person, and perhaps, of the product as well.

Think about it: What kind of response will this person give if on another day, he meets another salesman who promotes the same product to him?

A Christian who conducts street evangelism goes around hunting for potential converts, sharing his gospel to strangers, hoping that some out of the many will be attracted to the gospel. The primary concern of the Christian is not the stranger (as he does not know the person at all), but that the gospel can be accepted by the person. Thus, the Christian uses his marketing tactics and verbal skills to entice the person to accept the gospel without the person first experiencing the gospel. There will be some who would eventually accept the gospel not because they had experienced the benefit of the gospel, but because they believed in the words of the Christian. However, for those who initially reject the gospel, the Christian will continue to exercise his determination in persuading them. Inevitably, there will be those who would be irritated by the person, and perhaps, of the gospel as well.

Think about it: What kind of response will this person give if on another day, he meets another Christian who shares the same gospel to him?

To be continued…


Thursday, July 19, 2007

As If We Care

HOORAY! Soon we are going to enjoy "blazing fast" internet access. From the current 2 Mbps service, our beloved Telekom Malaysia is moving to provide 100 Mbps access to homes in the near future...

Ya right, as if we care.

If Telekom Malaysia is incapable of handling simple tasks such as this, this and this; what is the point of trying to be ambitious and painting such a promising prospect?


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Pitfalls of Evangelism (2)


Sometimes when we engage in conversations with our friends, we wander (unintentionally or intentionally) into discussions of faith and religion. When we see our friends showing no sign of rejection towards such discussions, we get excited (without showing it) because we know that it is a precious opportunity for us to bring the person into our faith. However, when we engage in such discussions, it becomes clear that we do not have any interest in the faiths of our friends, and we are only interested in spitting out all that we know about Christianity in order that our friends might understand and believe. The discussion inevitably evolves into an imperialistic monologue.

Such an outcome is perhaps the result of our view of our friends. We often overlook the fact that they are just like us, adherents of a specific faith. We simply view them as non-Christians who are lost and are in dire need for salvation lest they face the fiery flames of hell. Furthermore, we think that since our faith is the only true faith that can bring others to heaven, there is no need for us to know anything about their faiths, which are rendered false and truth-less.

Our lack of interest in the faiths of our friends inevitably cause many to feel that we are arrogant, assuming that only we have something to offer to others to learn, and not vice versa. (Sounds imperialistic?) Perhaps Justin Martyr’s logos spermatikos can enlighten us in our view of other faiths, for what if there are truths to be found in other faiths as well, which can further refine or reinforce our understanding of the Christian faith? In my journey in exploring other faiths, I often find this to be true.

If we are so consumed by the mission to bring the person to Christ, we may eventually treat the person not as a friend, not as an equal; but simply as an object for conversion. Inevitably, our friends will no longer be willing to discuss faith or religion with us anymore, for they have come to realize that it will never be a discussion, but a monologue. Are we so naïve to think that others will want to continue to listen to us when we ourselves are not willing to listen to them?

Perhaps if we treat other faiths and religions with more respect, perhaps if we are willing to learn from their faiths through dialogues, perhaps if we treat our friends as mutual subjects in our journeys to God; our friends might then be able to see Christ in us.

Street evangelism! You are next!

To be continued…


Monday, July 16, 2007

Respecting Other Faiths

I managed to unearth this reflection paper from my data bank which I wrote last year for my Christian theology reflection paper. Hopefully it can provide us with some helpful insights in the way we view other faiths and religions:

When a Buddhist friend invites us to attend a Buddhism learning class this coming weekend, it is more likely that we will decline his invitation without any hesitation. When a Muslim friend approaches us and intends to share with us the teachings from the Al-Quran, it is very unlikely that we will offer him a listening ear. Why do we respond so negatively to other religions?

The way we respond to other religions very much depends on the way we view and understand other religions. Very often, many Christians have this assumption that all the other religions and philosophies are created by the Devil and are intended to lure people away from Christ. Therefore, they are evil and contain no truth at all. As a result, consciously or unconsciously, we disrespect or worse still, despise other religions and try our very best to avoid having any contact with them. Because we assume that these religions are evil, we see no purpose in wasting our time to explore and understand their teachings. Therefore, when our friends of other religions try to share with us about their faith, we become insensitive and disrespectful towards them. We tend to change the topic of conversation every time they start sharing about their faith. When we attempt to share our faith with them, we are surprised and get offended by their rude response, but in fact, we are the ones who first give them this same response.

What should be our attitude and response when we approach other religions and their adherents? Perhaps Justin Martyr's Logos Spermatikos could provide us with some crucial insight into the kind of attitude that we should possess in approaching other religions and their adherents. Logos Spermatikos refers to the divine Word that bears seeds of revelation throughout human history. Through these seeds, the Word has made himself known to the pagans (through philosophers) as well as to the Jews (through prophets and writers of the Old Testament books in the Scripture) before his advent. Yet, these seeds of revelation are incomplete and are incapable of providing human beings an adequate understanding of the Word. But now, the Word has appeared incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ. Through Christ, human beings are given the privilege to have a sufficient understanding of the Word.

This concept provides us with an understanding that God’s revelation is not confined within Christianity, but is revealed in other religions and philosophies as well. Thus, it challenges our attitude towards other religions and philosophies. Since God has used other religions and philosophies to reveal himself, we should not view them as evil and contain no truth in them. On the contrary, we should possess an attitude of humility and respect when we approach other religions and their adherents. Imagine how disrespectful we will be in the eyes of our friends of other faiths if we try to impose our faith on them and persuade them to embrace our faith when we ourselves do not even know the kind of faith they are embracing. Therefore, let us first seek to understand their faith before we even start sharing our faith with them. When our non-Christian friends notice that we are respectful towards their religion and have a good understanding of their beliefs, they too will be respectful towards our religion and offer a listening ear when we share our faith with them.

Other than that, in the process of exploring other religions and philosophies, we may even be able to discover the revelation of God in them, which could serve as an entry point to introduce the Word in the person of Jesus Christ to the adherents of these religions. For example in Taoism, the word “Tao” can be used as an entry point to engage in inter-religious conversations with adherents of Taoism. “Tao” in Taoism is defined as an impersonal creative principle, whereas “Tao” in Christianity refers to a personal Creator. Using the definition of “Tao” of Taoism as a starting point, we can point our friends towards the definition of “Tao” of Christianity, thus showing him this “Tao” that leads to eternal life. In Hinduism, we find similarities in the doctrine of the Trinity. Christian trinity consists of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit which are three persons in one Godhead. The Hindu trinity consists of Brahma (Creator), Vishnu (Preserver) and Siva (Destroyer) and they are different manifestations of the same Supreme Iswara, who is also known as Saguna Brahman. Perhaps by using the Hindu trinity as an entry point, we may lead our Hindu friends to the understanding of the Christian trinity. As we continue to explore the teachings of other religions and engage in healthy inter-religious conversations with our friends, we will realize that there are actually many similarities between Christianity and other religions. Perhaps this further affirms the explanation that God truly sows his seeds of revelation in other religions and philosophies as well.

Furthermore, exploring and learning from other religions not only help us to engage in healthy inter-religious conversations, it can also further enhance and complete our understanding of the Word. Throughout the history of the Church, Christian theologians and philosophers have appealed to other religions and philosophies in helping them to understand the Word in a clearer and better way. For example, Augustine of Hippo appealed to many Platonic concepts in finding solutions to major problems in his formulation of the Christian doctrines. Thomas Aquinas, the great theologian during the era of Scholasticism, recognized how Aristotelian intellectualism was of great help to the study of philosophy and theology. We need to rediscover the spirit of humility and generosity as exemplified by these theologians to be willing to explore other religions and philosophies in helping us to better understand the Word.

Humility and respect towards other religions and philosophies are virtues that are dying in the Christian community. We need to once again challenge our attitude and approach towards other religions and their adherents. Only by doing so, I believe, will be we able to enjoy healthy inter-religious conversations with our friends of other religions, and also will we be able to understand the Word in a better and clearer way.


Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Price of Diversity

In my recent post, I wrote that the Church must take the initiative to break the boundaries of race, language and culture by bringing people of such differences together into one faith community. Amusingly, it only dawned upon me on last Thursday that this is actually happening right here in my seminary!

Every Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, students of different races, languages, cultures and nationalities gather here as one faith community to worship the same God. The services are conducted bilingually, either two of English, Mandarin and Bahasa Malaysia. Although the services are conducted bilingually, the languages that are being used are not alien to me. Thus, I never felt impatient for having to listen to the message and the interpretation, because the interpretation was beneficial in reinforcing my understanding of the message.

Yet, it was not until last Thursday that I finally felt the inconvenience of diversity. The speaker, who was from Hong Kong, spoke in Cantonese (a Chinese dialect), a language that was unintelligible to me. Each time after the speaker said something, I had to wait for the interpreter to finish her sentence before I could understand what was being preached. It was a test of patience and concentration for me as it was naturally frustrating to listen to a language that I could not understand. This experience also gave me a foretaste of the inconveniences that will emerge within a diverse faith community. Although this was a rare experience for me, such is not the case for many other students who could only understand English or Mandarin. My Thursday experience helped me to realize that they are constantly paying the price of diversity each time they attend these bilingual services.

Other than that, it is noteworthy that during that Thursday service, there were students who could not understand both Cantonese and English (e.g. Indonesian Chinese). Thus, the message that was being preached was totally unintelligible to them. How beautiful it would have been if there was not only one, but two interpreters to interpret the Cantonese message into English and Mandarin. The service would have been much longer, but it would have been a beautiful picture of the Kingdom, where the whole community is willing to sit through the lengthy service, appreciating the languages and cultures of one another in spite of their inability to understand.

Having said that, is the Church willing to pay this hefty price of diversity, bringing people of such differences together into one faith community, thus reflecting the borderless Kingdom of God?

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Sunday, July 08, 2007

Unequal Dialogue

It happened one week ago. However, I had to wait until yesterday before I could talk to them about it. Even so, I was thinking through this issue throughout the past week, contemplating about the kind of approach I should adopt in handling this sticky issue.

I know what I will do. When I confront them, I will unleash my wrath and pronounce judgment upon them, expecting my faithful allies named Remorse and Guilt to compel them to repent. If that is not enough, I will adopt scare tactic by threatening to tell the pastor and their parents about it. Lastly, to be sure that they have truly repented, I will force them to make a promise not to repeat their doings.

It does not take much experience to predict the outcome of the confrontation. Surely they will listen to my "preaching" and make the promise of non-recurrence at the end of the dialogue. But will they feel penitent? Most probably not. On the contrary, they will be extra careful in concealing their doings from now onwards, making sure that no one is watching them when they perform their acts.

Even though we know that such an approach will lead to such an outcome, yet isn't this how many parents respond when they find themselves in such a situation? When parents find out that their children had done something wrong, more than often they will suffer from verbal diarrhea, rebuking, condemning, preaching and nagging at their children over the wrongdoing. The children will have no opportunity to respond, because parents often assume that whatever the children have to say are mere excuses. It is a lecturing monologue.

Then, they become puzzled when they see their children ignoring their warnings and willfully persisting in their wrongdoings. Yet, parents often ignore the fact (ignorantly or deliberately) that underlying these external conducts are deeper, unseen issues. Most of the time, the external conducts will cease when the deeper issues are resolved. Thus, rather than keep bombarding at the external expressions of the problem, parents need to patiently listen to the struggles of their children and journey with them in battling the issues.

However, it is not enough for parents to listen, for it can be just a top-down dialogue, where parents listen in order to advice. This happens when parents see their teenage children as ignorant, foolish, immature and needing constant nagging and scolding lest they fall out of the boundaries of rightness. When children engage in such dialogues, they will eventually stop talking, because the parents are hearing but not listening.

In order for children to be willing to allow their parents to be co-travelers in their journey, the parents need to treat their children as equals, as adults who are given freedom to choose, to make mistakes, and to be responsible for their choices. When parents view their children as the "other", the dialogue will become an equal dialogue, where parents listen in order to understand. When parents come in this posture of listening, the children will be more than willing to open up their world to their parents.

"What happened to the youths in the end?"

I chose not to scold nor judge them. I chose to treat them as adults who have the freedom to choose but at the same time, to be responsible for their own actions. They responded positively by revealing to me the root issues that resulted in their actions. We talked for 2 hours. At the end of the discussion, they took the initiative in telling me that they were repentant for their actions.

It was a good start. My primary concern for now is not that they may repeat the offense, but that they will continue to be honest with me and allow me to journey together with them in handling those deeper issues.


Saturday, July 07, 2007

Pitfalls of Evangelism (1)

The Church is the one institution that exists for those outside it.
William Tyndale
16th century Protestant Reformer

As Protestants, we are constantly preoccupied with the salvation of those outside the Church. We spend much of our resources in organizing evangelistic programs, creating endless opportunities and platforms to bring non-believers to our faith. On a personal level, we are often taught, sometimes commanded, to grab hold of every possible opportunity to share the gospel verbally to our friends who have not embraced the faith, yet.

It is of no wonder why we hear messages such as this coming from the pulpit, “How many people have you brought to Christ this year? This month? This week? When you go to heaven, won't it be great to see people whom you have brought to Christ lining up to thank you for bringing them to Christ? How pathetic it will be if there is no one in heaven waiting to welcome and thank you when you arrive there?”

Why are we so preoccupied with evangelism and the salvation of others? This is very much affected by our understanding of the eschaton. In our understanding, when Christ returns, he will bring the Church to heaven. On the contrary, those who are outside the Church will be banished into the eternal flames. Based on our heaven-hell eschatology, our primary mission in the world is to pull as many people as we can out of hell and into heaven before time runs out. We do so by grabbing every opportunity to verbally share the gospel to as many as possible, hoping that some out of the many will accept the gospel, say the sinner's prayer and receive the assurance of eternal life in heaven.

Unfortunately, our single-mindedness in evangelism has caused us to overlook the unChristian-ness of many of our evangelistic methods. Let us take a closer look at evangelistic rallies. Let's say Daniel, a Christian, wants to invite his friend to an evangelistic rally, how does he convey his message? Can he say, "Sam, I want to invite you to an activity in my church this coming Saturday night. We have invited a famous Christian to come and share about our God. I hope that after listening to his sharing, you will be more interested to know about our God"? Certainly not! Such an unwise approach would definitely put him off. So what should Daniel say? "Sam, this Saturday night I want to invite you to my church, got free dinner, some more can meet new friends le! Come la!" If Sam were to ask Daniel what will be going on on that night, he will answer, "Nothing one la, just sing some songs and listen to some nice stories lo." Although some may say that Daniel is being misleading, many others will say that he is just being tactful, and it is not wrong as long as his intention is good.

Therefore, on that fateful night, Sam followed Daniel to his church, thinking that he was just attending a social dinner. Everything seemed to be fine throughout the whole night until a person started giving a long speech. Sam began to smell something fishy because the speaker kept on promoting and bragging about the Christian God. When he came to the end of his speech, the speaker said, "Anyone of you would like to accept this God as your saviour and Lord, please raise your hand." By now, Sam had come to know the whole truth, but he was unaware that the worst is yet to come. The speaker continued, "Those who have brought your friends here, do talk to them and encourage them." Before he could find an opportunity to escape to the washroom, Sam was already surrounded by Daniel and a few other men who were well-dressed with tags labeled "USHER" clipped on their shirt pockets. They spent about fifteen minutes talking, explaining, encouraging and persuading him to accept their God. Angry Sam refused to give in, and they had no choice but to give up their mission...

Certainly, in most evangelistic events, there will be those who will respond to the altar call and receive Christ. Not only will they not blame us for misinforming them, but will thank us for inviting them instead. Yet, how about the many others, who like Sam, felt cheated and betrayed? After this event, what will they think about Christians and the Christian God? What will be their response if we were to invite them to another Christian event, even if it is not an evangelistic event? More importantly, what will become of the relationship between Daniel and Sam?

Perhaps in our eager attempts to bring others to Christ, we have brought them to a distorted Christ and further lead them away from the true Christ.

How about personal evangelism and street evangelism?

To be continued...


Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The Great Pretenders

They had been standing at the same spot for some time now. Behaving like amateur thieves, they were nervously waiting for the right moment to execute the perfect manoeuvre. While waiting for the right time to act, the thinner one, who acted as the "watchman" of the duo, stealthily looked to and fro at the direction of the table where the rest of the group were seated. After being sure that the coast was clear, he swiftly signaled to his accomplice to act. After receiving the signal, his accomplice, who was the "executioner", quickly approached the target and accomplished his task.

The two youths succeeded in acquiring a few sticks of cigarettes without the knowledge of the rest. Well, at least that was what they thought. Unfortunately for them, several youths within the group, including the youth leader, witnessed the whole scene without the knowledge of the secretive duo. When the two returned to their seats, the youth leader put on an oblivious look and asked, "Where did you go?" Before the "executioner" could open his mouth, the "watchman", who was clearly the mastermind, rushed to answer, "We just went for a walk lah," obviously fearful that his accomplice might say the right wrong words. These young bloods must have thought that they had pulled it through. Little did they know that their secret act had already been exposed...

It does not take the brain of a genius for you to discover that the youth leader in the story is none other than yours truly. Time and time again, as I experienced similar scenarios such as the aforementioned story, I feel amused yet irritated by the fact that these youths could be so ignorant to think that I would be stupid enough to believe their blatant lies.

However, these encounters with the youths led me unexpectedly to an embarrassing but valuable realization: "Don't we treat God in the same way too?"

Throughout the week, we, who call ourselves Christians, adopt a secular lifestyle and readily replace Christian principles with secular values and secular wisdom once those principles become unrealistic and impractical. We specialize in offering silly excuses and lies to God in attempting to justify our wrongdoings. We willingly offer our God-given resources to the three gods of the world: Money, Sex and Power. At the end of the week, we dressed nicely in our religious cloaks and gather with other Christians in participating in the religious rituals of the institutional church, assuming that all our wrongdoings have gone unnoticed (even by God) for yet another week. The next day, we happily return to our secular lifestyle, and the endless cycle goes on.

Above all these, we constantly affirm ourselves that we are already saved (in the Protestant understanding): the obtainment of eternal life in heaven.

Who are we really fooling: God or ourselves?

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