I have always wondered how does City Harvest Church (CHC) administer itself as a functioning organization as well as a church? This is a theological question as much as a query over the power play within the church.
Being influential over 30,000 people is power-ful. Revolutions started with much lesser number of people than that. Jesus had only twelve to start with. The abolition of slavery in the eighteen century England was carried out by the Clapham Sect. The re-instatement of theistic belief in the analytic philosophical tradition was pioneered by a few epistemologists belonging to the Reformed tradition.
As a church, the controlling principles for the organization is outrightly theological whether one is aware of it or not. Church management, and thus the deliberation of power within the church, is a specific subject in ecclesiology. The church's mission, which is often known as the driving motive of the church, is a subject of eschatology. The very message that the church is given to testify in the world throughout history is a subject of systematic theology.
My point is simply this: Theology is the soul of the church. If the soul is vague, the church is superficial. When the soul is wrong, the church is deluded.
That is the reason why, to my discernment, CHC is going through what it is going through right now. Blogpastor was previously contemplating why is "all this happening" to CHC? And I think Blogpastor is not alone. Many must be wondering over the same question. And this post is a suggestion to answer that question.
My relationship with CHC and other similar Christian organizations is always in a form of an engagement. These organizations are huge and influential. Theologians (including theologian-wannabes) are always on our toes to discern the work of God in the world because it concerns God and his creation.
Hence we are sensitive over public and private matters involving the Christian community, the socially identifiable people who are representing God and his Christ. Therefore it is natural for me personally to try to understand the currents that are sweeping over CHC out of interest as much as out of concern.
After much that has surfaced in the past two months (co-owning Suntec Convention Center, plagiarism, CAD investigation), we can now have a better sense of how everything within CHC is connected.
Theology as the soul of the church.
The founder of CHC, Kong Hee, got his theological degrees from questionable institution. However, that does not mean one’s theology is weak. On the other hand, there may be good theologians who come from institutions that are lesser known too. So one’s formal theological education does not guarantee one’s theological acumen. So Kong Hee’s degrees do not say much about the quality of his theology. We have to examine his theology to find out.
His theology on ‘Cultural Mandate’ is regretfully flimsy and dubious. Cultural Mandate, as a movement to cultivate active contribution among Christians to the flourishing of the society, is wrongly understood and propounded by Kong Hee. The integrity of the movement is blurred in Kong Hee’s misrepresentation of it.
He got the right tagline (‘Cultural Mandate’) but the wrong content. Not to mention his mistaken theological interpretation on Biblical passages that he uses to support his wrong content. Therefore it is not a surprise that Kong Hee urged his congregation of 30,000 to reiterate to one another, “Knowledge is power,” during a service dated 23rd August 2009 at Expo. To the Christians, knowledge is not power; Christ is. Kong Hee’s theology of knowledge and power have been so confused with foreign philosophies. In this case, those of Michel Foucault.
During a dialog session with one of the founding members of CHC, Wu Yu Zhuang (a.k.a Mark Goh Yock Tuan), I noticed a flimsy understanding of Christian’s engagement with cultures permeates not merely the members but also the leaders. Kong Hee’s over-simplistic understanding of ‘culture’ flowing through the organization from top to bottom. I asked Wu Yu Zhuang how does CHC understand the term ‘Cultural Mandate’ and how does the church measures ‘relevance’?
In reply, he said that CHC is being relevant to culture by the casual clothes the pastors wear, the personal styles the leaders adopt, the contemporary worship songs the church uses for their weekly services. (Even until today, I am not sure if Wu Yu Zhuang answered my questions, assuming that he understood it in the first place.)
CHC’s mistaken perception of the ‘Cultural Mandate’ is serious because that is the vision that drives the church in the past recent years. That translates there are about 30,000 people who are being deluded over a mistaken ideology. And each week, these people are being fed with this wrong idea again and again. (My best friend Steven Sim has a wonderful contribution to our understanding of 'Cultural Mandate'. Perhaps the CHC community should look into that.)
Besides having a skewed theology on ‘Cultural Mandate’, Kong Hee’s theology on prosperity is also questionable. There are many, like Stillhaventfound, sympathise Kong Hee,
“I personally believe Pastor Kong Hee is innocent - this is relating to the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) investigations. I do so because I believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt. I’d be surprised if a pastor like him was out to make money. I believe his vision for God’s kingdom trumps his desire for person gain.”At first glance, such kind statement is seemingly appropriate to make. And it is especially so when it concerns another Christian brother. Yet I think that statement is not fair to Kong Hee and misrepresents him.
The statement distinguishes between Kong Hee’s personal monetary aspirations from his vision for God’s kingdom, as if the latter has nothing to do with the former. To put this another way, this view suggests that the preacher of prosperity teaching is not really working around wanting to get rich but he is sincerely carrying out God’s work which has no regards to the preacher’s own personal wealth-fare. I think this distinction is false.
To those who study Kong Hee’s theology, we recognize that Kong Hee’s personal monetary aspirations and his vision for God’s kingdom have been confusingly intertwined. This is seen in his own writings. Here are two examples:
1) [The people of God--Jeremiah 29.5-7) were not to be antagonistic as a community but to seek the peace and prosperity of the world God had placed them in, knowing that if their city prospered, they too would prosper. (Link)Kong Hee’s theology allows him to pursue his personal monetary gain precisely as his vision for God’s kingdom. So I have no doubt that Kong Hee is a sincere man in his pursuit. That he firmly believes in what he teaches. Yet we have to be clear that the sincerity in one’s belief does not justify the wrongness of that belief. Sincerity also does not turn heterodoxy into orthodoxy. The Lausanne Theology Working Group has produced a rather fair statement examining the mistaken notion of prosperity teachings, like those of Kong Hee. Kong Hee is sincere and wrong.
2) [Most Charismatics] believe that prosperity is God’s plan for the believer simply because of the abundance of Bible texts to support that. Take for example, 2 Corinthians 8:9 says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.” The word, “rich” (Gr. plouteo) means to become financially wealthy and increased with goods. For most Charismatics, success and wealth are means to help the poor, better society, and fulfill the Great Commission. (Link)
Kong Hee’s and his cronies’ approach to power-play.
“The beauty of a democracy is that human rights and freedom can be pursued for the common good of all.” That was what Kong Hee wrote in his reflection on the relation between religion and politics.
Though he did not comment on church’s polity, yet that statement shows that democracy is the best political system to him, as it guarantees the “common good of all.” However, Kong Hee does not exercise democratic polity in his own church. The power distribution in his organisation is structured in a way that secures Kong Hee’s and his cronies’ access to executive authority.
It is stated in CHC constitution that not all its members have the right to attend annual general meetings. “Only executive members--such as pastors, the board of directors and cell group leaders who have served at least three years--are entitled to do so,” reported in Todayonline.com.
I gathered from the dialog session with Wu Yu Zhuang that CHC distribution of power is centred on the church’s board. The ordination of reverends and pastors, the visible leaders in the church, has to be approved by the board. Kong Hee is part of the board. According to Wu Yu Zhuang, the board members are all disciples of Kong Hee. In other words, though we are told that it is the board that governs the church, yet on deeper level, it is rather apparent that the entire structure of governance in CHC is centred on Kong Hee. (Wu Yu Zhuang, as one of the founding members of CHC, regards Kong Hee as an “apostle.”)
It is expectable that people project themselves differently at places where they have no or less authority. Kong Hee’s comment on religion and politics was done with the context of him being a subject under the authority of the state. His unhesitant endorsement of democracy makes sense since democracy’s distribution of power is to the demos (the people) of which Kong Hee is one. The endorsement seems like Kong Hee’s attempt to secure a meagre slice of power for himself in the face of the overarching authoritative state.
Is Kong Hee a person who, be he consciously or sub-consciously, crave for authoritarian control? One can never be sure. Yet when we look at Kong Hee’s own governance of his organization, there is no more talk of democracy. At CHC, it looks more like a monarchy. And we know that accountability is vague under such polity. It is not too stretching to see this as a case of one man controlling the teaching and the executive authority of the church.
Overall, the persona of Kong Hee is vital to CHC as a functioning organization. What CHC is today is largely due to that one person. The mistaken theologies of 'Cultural Mandate' and prosperity propagated by Kong Hee are running deep in the congregation. He is the cornerstone that sustains the church. Unless CHC is open to accountability to the wider public (both to the theological institutions as well as the demos) rather than its own 'governing board', it is still a wonder whether can the CHC community be turned around to be a lesser deluded church. But that would mean the leadership of the church has, for the past decade, been circulating and promoting false teachings within the body of Christ. Though this will be a drastic acknowledgment on the part of CHC, yet it will not be irredeemable. Divine grace as well as the wider body of Christ are always around to build CHC up again.