Friday, January 25, 2013

An Open Letter to Brother Robert Judah Paul

Two days ago (Bishop Dr.) Robert Judah Paul is reported to say the following in response to Ibrahim Ali's calling for the burning of Bibles in Penang this Sunday:
"Burning the Bible is equivalent to burning churches and the churches have every right to bring it to their highest authority. [...] Christians will take to the street if our voices are not heard legally. Ibrahim and whoever are behind him are very narrow-minded and are not looking at the bigger picture."
My friends and I were taken a back by his statement. We think that what the Malaysian society and churches need now is clarity and not further confusion or provocation. For this reason, we have published an open letter to him on several websites. The most comprehensive one (with footnotes) is posted on Projek Dialog:
An Open Letter to Brother Robert Judah Paul
Living as a religious minority in a plural society is never easy. It is made even less easy when we as members of this minority try to make a difference to the society around us. Nonetheless, your love for the urban destitute and your work among them are known and can only be seen as a manifestation of Christ’s call for us to love our neighbors as ourselves.

We are nonetheless troubled by a quote attributed to you in Free Malaysia Today that “Christians will take to the street if our voices are not heard legally”.[1] What troubles us is the word ‘will’ because if ‘take to the streets’ means displaying our anger with placards and reacting with provocative slogans, we will not do that.

As part of the Christian community in Malaysia, we are, of course, alarmed at the call by Ibrahim Ali of PERKASA as well as the threat to organize a Bible Burning Festival in Butterworth on the 27th of January 2013.[2] We are nonetheless compelled to heed what our Scriptures clearly command us to do, to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger” (James 1:19).

We find it wise to take counsel in the statement of the Christian Federation of Malaysia, a body that represents more than 90% of the Christian community in Malaysia, who have, through Bishop Datuk Ng Moon Hing that “Christians are peace-loving people who will continue to seek peace and harmony across all religious groups for the well-being of our great country. We pray that good sense and moderation will prevail for all people in times such as these.”[3]

We also take heed of the warning from our fellow Malaysian theologian, Dr. Ng Kam Weng, who has counseled all concerned parties to avoid polemics.[4]

Similarly we note that politicians on both sides of the political divide like MCA’s Loh Seng Kok and YB Baru Bian who have come out not just to condemn Ibrahim Ali for his inflammatory and seditious call but also to exercise restraint with reference to the “Allah” issue. [5]
This is especially so during an electoral season where there may be irresponsible actors who would be more than happy to brew religious controversy for personal gain.

And to our delight, we take comfort and encouragement in the fact that our fellow Malaysians of different walks of life as well as faiths have stood in solidarity with the Christian community by issuing public statements condemning the Bible burning threat as well as making police reports against this.[6]

Our first call as Christians in the light of these challenges is to take to the prayer room rather than the streets. We ought not to add fuel to the embers stoked by the original provocateurs and become a party to the ‘bridge burners’.

We do not deny that Christ calls us to speak out against injustice and to confront ‘bridge burners’ as we continue our work as ‘bridge builders’ with all Malaysians. We stand, as we must, in solidarity with victims of injustice regardless of religion. We oppose, as we must, tyranny that terrorizes all communities in this country. But we must also act justly, with mercy and humility (Micah 6:8) and seek to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9), building bridges across communities.

These are trying times for Christians and other minorities in this nation. We call for Christians to be discerning and prayerful while modeling the way of Jesus in confronting these trials.

We urge Christian leaders to be in consultation with the relevant institutions like the Christian Federation of Malaysia and the Bible Society of Malaysia who have labored hard for the last 30 years to resolve the difficulties that have arose from the restrictions imposed on Christian worship in our national language, Bahasa Malaysia.

Your fellow Malaysian pilgrims in Christ,
Yee Siew Meng (Theology student, Seminari Theoloji Malaysia
Wong Tien Li (Layperson, Friends in Conversation)
Steven Foong (TEE Student, Seminari Theoloji Malaysia)
Rev Sivin Kit (Pastor, Lutheran Church in Malaysia, PhD Student in Religion, Ethics, Society, University of Agder)
Rev Pax Tan (Pastor, Baptist)
Rev Ng Kok Kee (Pastor, Pentecostal, Theological Educator)
Rev Dr Lim Kar Yong (Pastor, Petaling Jaya Evangelical Free Church, Adjunct Lecturer, Seminari Theoloji Malaysia & Malaysia Bible Seminary)
Lim Swee Bin (Mother, Focus on Sarawak)
Lee Soo Choo (Layperson, Lutheran)
Kevin Thomas (Layperson, Baptist)
Joshua Woo (Preacher, Presbyterian)
Gina Phan (Layperson, Lutheran)
Freddie Acho Bian (Layperson, Sidang Injil Borneo Sarawak)
Eugene Koo (Layperson, Methodist)
Dr Samuel Ong (Cardiologist, Methodist)
Dr Alex Tang (Elder, English Speaking Presbytery of Malaysia)
Davin Wong (Layperson, Anglican)
Daniel Lee (Layperson, Brethren)
Chris Chong (Layperson, Friends in Conversation)
Bob Kee (Layperson, Lutheran)
Alwyn Lau (Layperson, Lutheran)
Adrian Pereira (Human Rights Activist, Catholic, Coordinator, Community Action Network
Rev Tryphena Law (Pentecostal, Social Concern friend, Pastoral Counselor, teacher)
Christopher Cheah (Layperson, Methodist)
Ramanathan M (Layperson, Lutheran)
Supported by Friends in Conversation (FIC)

[1] Quoted in Burn the Bible, and you burn the church, (Accessed 24 January 2013).
[2] At the time of writing, the police have begun investigations, Ibrahim Ali called up by cops,  and made a statement with reference to the notice to burn Bibles, Ignore Bible-burning rumour, say police,  (Accessed 24 January 2013).
[3] CFM Media Statement, Proposed Bible-burning an abhorrent act, (Accessed 24 January 2013).
[4] Ng Kam Weng, Resolving the Allah Controversy: Going beyond polemics and call for constructive dialogue, (Accessed 24 January 2013).
[5] Please refer to statements by Loh Seng Kok, MCA charges back at Ibrahim Ali over bible-burning threat,, and Baru Bian, The Allah debate, a plea for restraint , (Accessed 24 January 2013).
Please refer to the joint statement by Aliran, Sisters in Islam, Islamic Renaissance Front and Projek Dialog, Why Bible-burning poser is bridge-burning in multi-religious Malaysia , and a Statement by Kumpulan Sasterawan Kavyan (Kavyan) Jangan Bakar Kitab Suci as well as Police report lodged against Ibrahim Ali Bible-burning call, (Accessed 24 January 2013).

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Why get involved in church?

I forget how many times have I come across Christians who don't see value to get involve in church. Some of them don't even want to attend Sunday service. When asked why, they said that there is no point to do that because God is in us and we are the temple of God, hence no need to gather in a building to perform ritual. I've experienced this tendency myself. 

Someone once wrote that there are theologians who choose to read, contemplate, and write about ecclesiology on Sunday morning than participating in service. Ironic.

Regarding this matter, David Roach helpfully gives 10 reasons why get involved in church?
1. Gathering with a church encourages believers to love others and do good deeds (Hebrews 10:24-25).

2. A church is the main venue for using your spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:1-31). God has given you abilities and talents intended to help other Christians. If you’re not involved in a church, others are being deprived of what you have to offer.

3. A church helps keep you from abandoning the faith. According to the author of Hebrews, the antidote to developing an “unbelieving heart” that leads you “to fall away from the living God” is to “exhort one another” (Hebrews 3:12-13)—an activity that occurs most prominently in the church.

4. A church helps you defend Christianity against those who attack it. When Jude told the early Christians to “contend for the faith” (Jude 3), he directed his instruction toward a group of believers, not a scattering of lone-ranger Christians. Answering challenges from coworkers, friends, and family members is always easier when you can ask fellow church members for help and wisdom.

5. A church is a great venue for pooling resources to support missions and benevolent works (2 Corinthians 8:1-7; 3 John 5-8). Your money combined with that of fellow church members can do a lot for Christ.

6. A church helps its members maintain correct doctrine (1 Timothy 3:15). You might begin to adopt unbiblical ideas without realizing it yourself. But you probably won’t adopt unbiblical ideas without someone at your church realizing it, and they can help you get back to the truth.

7. After your family, a church is the best group of people to meet your physical needs in an emergency (1 John 3:16-17; 1 Timothy 5:3-16).

8. A church supports you when you face persecution (Acts 4:23-31; 12:12-17). You may not be imprisoned for your Christian beliefs like the apostles were, but a church family is still a great source of comfort when you face stinging words or unfair treatment.

9. A church is where you can be baptized and take part in the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 28:18-20; 1 Corinthians 11:17-34; Ephesians 4:4-6). These two ordinances are a vital part of any believer’s walk with Jesus.

10. A church provides the setting for corporate worship (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). Though it’s a blessing to praise God alone, there is a unique joy that accompanies singing God’s praises with an entire congregation of Christ followers.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Theological considerations on the present 377A issue

How certain Christian communities interpret the current debate on whether to repeal 377A or not is not doing good to the society or the Church, methinks.

They have come to see this as a "battle" for God. And I'm not sure if God wants this case to be his battle. While we are deciding over this matter, there are several theological considerations to bear in mind:

1) The Church is to be the salt and light in the world, and seeks the welfare of the city. So at certain times and on certain issues, it is taken for granted that the Church should be involved in the country's legislation. For eg. the criminalization of infanticide, which was common, through Christian influence in the Roman imperial court. So the question the Church needs to decide is to discern whether consensual-non-heterosexual-sex-between-adults is an act so sinfully intolerable that it should be criminalized like infanticide?

2) The demarcation between the Church and the world will never be clear until Christ's coming again. Hence the weed and wheat are existing together (Matt. 13). This is the Church condition. If the Church herself is not entirely pure and perfect in knowledge and conduct in this present age then perhaps this parable can serve as the guiding principle for co-existence not only among the worldly and the godly in the Church, but also between the Church and the world.

3) Notwithstanding the Church condition, our theological position on homosexuality must constantly be negotiated based primarily on our reading of the scriptures. We should recognize the main texts related to this matter and should not re-use defunct interpretation or irrelevant passages (eg. the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah is primarily homosexuality despite Eze. 16:49-50). To me, the main texts are Lev. 18, 20, 1 Cor. 6, and Rom. 1 vis-a-vis 1 Cor. 11:14.

4) How (1), (2), and (3) above be connected to each other. For example, if we have come to conclude from (3) that the homosexual act itself is sinful, then we have to link it to (1), whether is such act so sinfully intolerable that it should be criminalized even among the non-Christians? If so, then should the Church also advocate for the criminalization of all acts considered sinful, such as adultery and abortion? On the other hand, if our reading of scriptures conclude that homosexual act itself is NOT sinful, does that mean we should decriminalize it despite there are many acts that are not sinful but are crime such as jay-walking?

May God help us to discern over this issue.

Update (23 January 2013): Yesterday, the Attorney-General's Chambers has issued this statement: "All parties are therefore advised to refrain from making any public comments on these matters that are sub judice, pending final determination by the courts. (The AGC) takes a serious view of any statements which are sub judice and will, if necessary, act to protect the integrity of the administration of justice." It is therefore important for me to clarify that this blog post is not a comment on the court proceeding on the case, but a comment on how certain local Christian communities are interpreting their social activism.