Thursday, October 15, 2009

1 identity in Christ?

Malaysia's current Prime Minister is busy lauding 1Malaysia as his vision for the multi-ethnic nation to be united. But we know that that is a political ploy and an empty rhetoric by the UMNO.

On a different arena, we have Christians, churches, and Christian leaders lauding somewhat the same concept: unity amidst diversity. The recent symposium involving 120 theologians across denominations and traditions organized by the World Council of Churches is pointing the right way in working towards unity. One of the participant, Rev. Marianela de la Paz Cot, emphasized,

"The concept of the people of God should be understood as something that releases us from our rigid positions as the institutional church to send us out on a journey... The Church is called to be one, but cannot understand that call from an exclusive or excluding perspective... We are the people of God, called to journey together, not to demonize and leave behind others because we consider them 'not one of us.' Revelation is polyphonic."

I am totally for this. I am caught especially by her concluding statement 'Revelation is polyphonic.' Yet on the other hand, we cannot deny that individual churches are still far from this pursuit.

Take a local example. The Methodist Conference, the largest Protestant denomination in Singapore, consists of three different conferences Chinese Annual Conference (CAC), Emmanuel Tamil Annual Conference (ETAC) and Trinity Annual Conference (TRAC). Although all three are under the same body, yet they are recognized as three different bodies within the Methodist organization.

Being Methodist, all three share similar, if not identical, set of doctrines. Nonetheless all three have different organizational structure and ministries that overlapped each other. The CAC's churches were set up to serve the Chinese-dialect speaking congregations, but now they have their own English congregations. The same goes to TRAC's churches. They were supposed cater to the English speaking congregation, but now they have their own Chinese-dialect congregation.

Though three are under the same conference, yet all adopted different payroll under different conferences. Given that ETAC is the smallest among the three, naturally the salary of their leaders and workers are lesser compared to the CAC and TRAC.

Another example is the three Anglican parishes around Potong Pasir area: Chapel of the Holy Spirit, Chapel of the Resurrection, and Church of the Ascension. All three are within walking distance, providing English and Mandarin services, yet run differently. That means there are duplication of ministries and hence duplication of expenditure.

No doubt each three respective bodies within the Methodist and Anglican church have considered to combine and to work together as an entity. Yet none of these attempt are successful due to monetary reasons and historical identity. Each parties failed to compromise and are not willing to give up their precious identity as if their identification is based on the local churches. At this juncture, what remains are politics: Who gets what, and says who?

What happened to all the preachings and talks about being one in Christ, having no identity except that which is in Christ? Are these Christ-talk or cock-talk?

So far I have only highlighted the disparity within 2 denominations. There are other denominations and hundreds of independent churches that are geographically located close together and conduct services simultaneously. A good example is City Harvest and FCBC which hold their Sunday services at Expo. Each occupies conference halls which are literally next to each other.

1 identity in Christ? Even within contemporary Christianity, hardly we have the right spirit to move towards visible unity (as contrast 'spiritual' unity). Is visible unity among diversity really plausible?

On the other hand, some say that we ought not to unite merely for the sake of unity, yet to think further about it, what's so abhorrent about that? At least Jesus didn't think that way (John 17.20-21).

But, who gets what and says who?

"For all things belong to you, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God." (1 Cor 3.21-23). St. Paul wrote that as a guide for his churches in Corinth. I think there are some wisdom to be harnessed for the use in our situation.

Now and finally we may ask, what is Christ's vision for his bride?

"I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me." (John 17.20-21).

Reflecting back to Malaysia's political scene. Racial politic as practiced by UMNO cannot achieve unity among the multi-ethnic community simply for its lack of such ontological impetus. Hence racial politic has forfeited itself. Equal rights across racial distinction is not a Western ideal but Christ's. The vision of an ontology of a united diverse community is, as far as our current phase of humanity is aware, a non-natural and self-transcending ultimatum posed against ourselves yet for ourselves.

Feel free to voice your disagreement and correction.

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