Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Goodbye, Blog

The following are excerpts from an interesting article entitled “Goodbye, Blog” by Alan Jacobs, a professor of English at Wheaton College.

“I thought that the blogs could provide an alternative venue where more risky ideas could be offered and debated, where real intellectual progress might take place outside the System. And sometimes this happens.”

“But this sort of thing happens all too rarely in the blogosphere, at least in part because of what Laurence Lessig calls the "architecture" of the online world, and more specifically of blogs. . . . Whatever one thinks about the structure of the internet as a whole, it is becoming increasingly clear that the particular architecture of the blogosphere is the chief impediment to its becoming a place where new ideas can be deployed, tested, and developed. Take, for instance, the problem of comments. . . . At the bottom of each post will be the hyperlinked word "comments," usually followed by a parenthesis indicating the number of responses to the post: click on the word and you get to see all those comments. That's where the real conversation is supposed to take place. And sometimes it does; but often it doesn't—or rather, the conversation just gets started and then peters out before it can really become productive. And this happens not because of inertia, but largely because the anatomy of a blog makes a serious conversation all but impossible.”

“Architecture is of course not everything here; human nature is at work too. I think first of the extraordinary anger that seems to be more present in the blogosphere than in everyday life. Debate after debate—on almost every site I visit, including the ones devoted to Christianity—either escalates from rational discourse into sneering and name-calling or just bypasses reason altogether and starts with the abuse. Partly this derives from the anonymity of blog comments: people rarely identify themselves by their real names, and the email addresses that they sometimes provide rarely give clues about their identity: a person who is safe from substantive reprisals is probably more easily tempted to express rage.”

“ . . . the blogosphere inevitably accelerates the pace of debate to the timetable of daily journalism. In terms of how they treat substantive ideas, blogs are not very different from newspapers: they present an idea and then move on, as quickly as possible, to the next idea.”

“ . . . the same problems afflict the intellectual and moral environments of the blogs. There is no privacy: all conversations are utterly public. The arrogant, the ignorant, and the bullheaded constantly threaten to drown out the saintly, and for that matter the merely knowledgeable, or at least overwhelm them with sheer numbers. And the architecture of the blog (and its associated technologies like rss), with its constant emphasis on novelty, militates against leisurely conversations. It is no insult to the recent, but already cherished, institution of the blogosphere to say that blogs cannot do everything well. Right now, and for the foreseeable future, the blogosphere is the friend of information but the enemy of thought.”

I would like to reiterate some points my friend Jenson had brought up in his post on blogging:

Problems with Blogs

Like all good things, there are flips sides. There are many disadvantages and problems with blogs. I agree with the preacher who criticised blogs and discussion boards. His criticisms were:

1) Although there are serious blogs written by those who wish to edify others, many blog writers are trying to influence others with ill-researched, ignorant, or superficial nonsense. They ought to be pupils and not teachers.
2) Many of the blog writers are flippant, i.e. their first thoughts are immediately put down in writing, and tend to be silly things anyway.
3) Many of these blog writers are keen to exhibit their opinions (e.g. "What is your take on this and that?").

I would expand on his points with 3 more points/examples:

4) They have become a vehicle for promoting novel ideas and/or heresies which years ago a Christian would never have heard about or bothered with. For example, Non-Lordship Salvation, Federal Vision Theology and others. Literature based on these novel ideas and/or heresies is scarce but their proponents are very vocal on blogs and discussion boards.
5) Many Christians are unwittingly sucked into these novel ideas and/or heresies due to a lack of discernment. I remember a person on a discussion board who learnt his Covenant Theology from another person on the board, instead of going to the Bible and sound Christian books. Soon after, he took his Covenant Theology too far and ended up with the Federal Vision Theology group - with presumptious regeneration, paedocommunion and all of that. Today he is advocating the use of incense in church worship - I think he will soon find his way back to Rome.
6)
The blog and discussion board culture has become a place to "let off" steam, wash dirty linen in public or just gossip.

To the aforementioned points, I would like to add the following.


Points to note for Christian bloggers:

1. Blogs are not places whereby one attempts to exhibit his/her knowledge or abilities - be it spiritual or secular. Remember Paul’s maxim, “Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth (1 Cor. 8:1).” If one thinks that he/she is equipped to edify the saints, do so in a godly manner, and avoid unnecessary ad hominem attacks and name-calling. Better still; edify your brethren from your own church as a priority. If one does not have the time to worship God and to serve in one’s own church, why bother spending time writing on blogs?


2. Be responsible for what is written on your own blog. If you are unsure with regard to the content or doctrinal integrity of your writing, try writing something else. Endeavor to ensure that what you write is edifying for your fellow brethren. “Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another (Romans 14:19).”


3. Remember your position as “fellow workers unto the kingdom of God (Col. 4:11).” Let the fruit of the Spirit be evident in your life, even in your writings and speech, and not the works of the flesh i.e. hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings etc (Galatians 5:19-21).


4. The blog is not the place to be prima donnas. If the Lord has endowed you with gifts, let these gifts be useful within the body of Christ. Be faithful in service and attendance in a faithful church. Assist the pastor and the leaders in various ways, and to the best of your abilities. If you think that you are exceptional in certain gifts, the church will know it very soon when you start serving.


5. Use the blog to encourage, to teach sound doctrines, and to edify. When good doctrinal discourses are impossible e.g. due to lack of time, lack of good contributions/comments from fellow bloggers, or from lack of knowledge, avoid unnecessary hurtful words and personal attacks. You are a child of God.

And I pray that I am able to adhere to good blogging habits stated above. By the way, I’m not saying goodbye to my blog just yet.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Wondrous Cross of Grace


"I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance (Luke 5:32; cf. Matt. 9:13; Mark 2:17)."

Tuol Sleng was a former high school in Phnom Penh prior to the Khmer Rouge regime (1974-1979) in Cambodia. It was converted into a prison and interrogation centre where at least 17,000 were tortured, and subsequently executed in a nearby field called Choeung Ek (also known as the killing fields).

The summary statistics for S-21 are as follows:

1975: 154 prisoners
1976: 2,250 prisoners
1977: 2,330 prisoners
1978: 5,765 prisoners

These figures, totaling 10,499 do not include an estimated 2,000 children who were killed. There are only seven known survivors of Tuol Sleng Prison, as the rest were executed at Choeung Ek.

Tuol Sleng (or S-21 prison) was headed by an individual known as "Brother Duch." He was a mathematician named Kang Keck Leu prior to his placement as commandant of the S-21 prison under the Khmer Rouge regime. My question to the reader is, "What should a Christian think, or perhaps even better, do when confronted with such an individual who is probably on par with the likes of Stalin and Hitler?"

Let me quote from Religion Today, April 1999:

"A man who ordered the deaths of 15,000 people reportedly has become a born-again Christian. Kang Kek Ieu, 56, admitted that he is "Duch," the chief torturer and executioner of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge, Reuters said. He directed the Tuol Sleng detention center in Phnom Penh, where people were taken to be tortured and killed during the regime's bloody reign from 1974 to 1979. About 2 million Cambodians died in purges and from starvation and overwork before Vietnamese troops invaded and drove the Khmer Rouge from power. Duch may have been the Khmer Rouge's most sinister figure. As head of the internal security force, he reportedly oversaw the interrogation and torture of suspected traitors. At least 15,000 people were shipped to Tuol Sleng, a former high school, where they were chained to beds, tortured into making false confessions, and executed in a nearby field. His name is on many execution documents, including one ordering the deaths of 17 children whose parents were accused of being spies. One day American missionary Christopher Lapel reportedly baptized Duch in 1995. "Lord, forgive what I did to the people," Duch said to Lapel, who did not know Duch's identity at the time. Duch has since been helping humanitarian groups at work in the country. A reporter with Hong Kong's Far Eastern Economic Review interviewed him for a story in the magazine's April 29 edition, Reuters said. Duch expressed regret over the killings and said he is willing to face an international tribunal. "I have done very bad things in my life," Duch said. "Now it is time to bear the consequences for my actions.’"

So Brother Duch is now a Christian, you say. But how did it happen?

Quoting from Facing Death In Cambodia by Peter Maguire:

"One of the strangest episodes in the Khmer Rouge breakup was the emergence of S-21 prison commandant Brother Duch. The former teacher who had overseen the systematic torture and executions of at least 14,000 people was living in Battambang and had become an evangelical Christian. Baptized by American Pacific College missionaries in 1996, Duch now worked for an NGO called the American Refugee Committee. British journalist Nic Dunlop had been fascinated by Duch and for many years carried Duch's picture whenever he traveled to Cambodia. When Dunlop saw a familiar-looking buck-toothed, rabbit-eared man in a village near Samlot in 1999, he was almost certain it was the former Tuol Sleng commandant. Duch introduced himself to Dunlop in English and said that he was a former schoolteacher from Phnom Penh named Hang Pin. The Englishman returned to Bangkok and traveled back to Samlot a week later with American journalist Nate Thayer to help him verify the man's identity.

The reporters found "Hang Pin" in the same village, and when he began to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, Thayer cut the sermon short: "I believe that you also worked with the security services during the Khmer Rouge period?" At first, "Hang Pin" tried to deny the charge, but he soon broke down: "It's God's will that you are here. Now my future is in God's hands." Unlike Pol Pot and the rest of the former Khmer Rouge leaders, Brother Duch admitted his guilt. "My unique fault is that I did not serve God, I served men, I served communism. I feel very sorry about the killings and the past. I wanted to be a good communist." When the journalist presented Duch with a memo he'd written, authorizing an interrogator to torture a prisoner to death, he apologized: "I am sorry. The people who died were good people ... there were many who were innocent." The former S-21 commandant admitted, "Whoever was arrested must die. It was the rule of the party." Duch said that he had had "great difficulty in my life, thinking that the people who died did nothing wrong."

One American Refugee Committee official was flabbergasted when Duch's identity was revealed to him before Dunlop and Thayer reported it in their respective newspapers in April 1999. "We are in a state of shock frankly. He was our best worker, highly respected in the community, clearly very intelligent and dedicated to helping the refugees." Duch accepted his fate, admitted his guilt, and took responsibility for his actions: "I have done bad things before in my life. Now it is time for les reprisals." Duch's pastor, Christopher LaPel, remarked: "Duch is so brave to say 'I did wrong, I accept punishment.' The Christian spirit has filled him to his heart. Now, he is free from fear. He is free -- not like Khieu Samphan or Nuon Chea, or other top leaders." Many Cambodians were confused by this western religion that appeared to allow for an absolution of horrible transgressions. A Cambodian working for another Christian NGO, fired for crashing a company car, observed: "That wall [into which I crashed] was fixed in one week. I was broke and they fired me. But Duch, he killed thousands and they forgive him. I don't get it.’"

When I was in Cambodia, a brother-in-Christ asked me, "If you are preaching to the natives in this war torn country, what would you say to them concerning the eternal destiny of those who died in Tuol Sleng, and the man who did these mass murders?" The truth is simple: those who died outside of Christ are outside his saving grace, while he who believes on Jesus will be saved (Romans 10:9-10, 13). He continues, "Are you going to tell them that their relatives and friends who were tortured and died of excruciating pains were condemned to hell, while the man who did this to them will be in heaven?"

These questions led me to reflect upon the beauty of the cross, a simple truth that we oftentimes tend to forget. Self-righteousness is a disease of the soul. If the sinner cannot escape from this disease, it is not an exaggeration that he may not be able to receive the gospel of grace. Are we better sinners than our neighbors? Remember the parable concerning the publican and the Pharisee, "And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner (Luke 18:13)." He who is able to correctly perceive his standing before the almighty, thrice holy God will never consider himself more righteous than his neighbor. "But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away (Isaiah 64:6)."

Unbelievers demand justice, but Christians should all the more desire grace. If we were to receive our due according to the justice of God, we would all be condemned as hell-bound sinners. When we hear the alleged conversion of the ex-commandant of Tuol Sleng, it is quite easy for us to be critical of his profession of faith. But give this critical attitude of ours a little more thought, and we will realize that it probably stems from our deep-seated self-righteousness, a bent that consider us as being more righteous than our neighbors. But how gracious it was for the Father to forgive our sins on account of the imputed righteousness of Christ the Son! Were we not deserving of hell fire? Were we any better sinners than "Brother Duch?"

God in His sovereign grace has chosen to save murderers like the Apostle Paul and King David, and adulterers like Abraham and Solomon. Will God turn away one who seeks refuge in the mercy of Christ our Savior?

And if Christ has forgiven us of our horrific sins, are we then not able to forgive our neighbors? If God is able to write off our deeds of evil against Him, who are we to withhold forgiveness from one who has been forgiven by Christ Himself? If it were not for the sovereign grace of God, we would have been fellow "commandants of Tuol Sleng," and probably worse.

This also brings us to remembrance of Christ’s lesson in Luke 7:47, "Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little." Let us peruse Barnes’ helpful comments concerning this verse:

"The meaning [of Luke 7:47] may be thus expressed: "That her sins, so many and aggravated, have been forgiven—that she is no longer such a sinner as you suppose, is manifest from her conduct. She shows deep gratitude, penitence, love. Her conduct is the "proper expression" of that love. While you have shown comparatively little evidence that you felt that "your sins" were great, and comparatively little love at their being forgiven, "she" has shown that she "felt" hers to be great, and has loved much." . . . He who feels that little has been forgiven—that his sins were not as great as those of others. A man’s love to God will be in proportion to the obligation he "feels" to him for forgiveness. God is to be "loved" for his perfections, apart from what he has "done" for us. But still it is proper that our love should be increased by a consideration of his goodness; and they who feel—as Christians do—that they are the "chief of sinners," will feel under infinite obligation to love God and their Redeemer, and that no "expression" of attachment to him can be "beyond" what is due."

So, fellow brethren-in-Christ, how do you see yourself before the perfect holiness of God? Do you, like the Apostle Paul, consider yourself to be the "Chief of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15)?" Or do you find yourself more worthy and deserving of God’s forgiveness than Brother Duch?

In this holiday season, let us remember that: when we were by nature children of wrath, God has by His sovereign will, goodness, mercy and love chose us from the foundation of the world to be saved in Christ Jesus. And we are, of course, no better than other sinners who need the Great Physician. So, as God had been merciful and gracious to us all, let us be merciful and gracious to our neighbor, and especially, our brethren-in-Christ. "As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith (Galatians 6:10)."

Prayer: Lord, let my words be spiced with compassion, my ears be filled with patience, and my hands be quick to pull the lost "out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh (Jude 1:23)." Amen.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Balancing the Christ-like Walk


Note: I wrote the following letter after considering the comments in this post of Wenxian’s blog.

Dear Wenxian, Daniel, and Jenson,

Re: Balancing the Christ-like walk

I hope I am not intruding into something private here. On the other hand, if it is private, it shouldn't be on this blog then. :)

When we deal with unbelievers and heathens, we ought to strive to preach the truth to them with love and patience. Should we condemn any of them as reprobates? Of course not! We do not know who is or is not an elect.

But what about disobedient, professing believers? I believe there must be a spectrum of attitudes to these brethren, and we must treat them at least as well as we treat heathens. Towards outright heretics who deny gospel truths and essential Christology, Titus 3:10 is the rule of thumb (e.g. modernists who claim that Christ is just a man).

There are times when disagreements do not concern issues pertaining to heresies (and let us NOT be quick to label anyone who disagrees with us as heretics). What should we do then? I think there must be a place where we can sit down and talk (e.g. Starbucks). If we cannot come to an agreement in the next ten years or so, do we “de-fellowship” each other? Yes and no. Let me give an example.

My ex-pastor used a lady preacher for the Chinese service for a few years, until she felt it proper to leave for her own congregation. I approached her before she left, and explained to her that it was not appropriate for her to preach on the pulpit. I subsequently talked to my pastor regarding this issue, and to the Session. All these were done with much time, waiting, and most of all, prayer. I never talked to her in a confrontational manner, and we left each other peaceably. I prayed that she would eventually understand what I meant. It is not that we hate each other, or that we have “defrocked” each other. I think, our different views on a serious doctrinal issue somehow kept us apart from further ministry together. So, in that sense, we parted ways, just as Paul and Barnabas parted ways (Acts 15:39, note different context). I cannot claim infallibility in my interpretation of Scripture, but I must act according to my conscience, which is bound by the Word of God. Did I “de-fellowship” her? No. I will still have coffee with her, or even begin Bible studies with her if she is so willing. Perhaps she might have changed her views by now even as we write!

No matter what we do, we must do it unto the Lord. Paul wrote, “For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's (Rom. 14:8).”

Sometimes churches part ways because of doctrinal differences, but they retain a certain amount of love, respect and concern for each other. Such parting of ways is not bad at all; it might even be essential for the work of the gospel. In other cases, it might even be necessary for us to separate from a heretical church. The separation of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) from its modernistic forefathers is an example. However, the Bible Presbyterians and the OPC subsequently separated not because it was an issue of heresy, but because they couldn’t agree on less serious issues e.g. the issue of liberty and alcoholic drinks, premillennialism etc. This separation is to avoid unnecessary, further disputes, and is for the sake of furthering the work of the gospel. I believe the OPC and the Bible Presbyterians are not swallowing each other’s guts!

What about myself? I have even written a critique of Bible Presbyterianism in the past year. Am I being hypocritical? To be honest with you, I never once hated, or even harbored a grudge against my church or my ex-pastor. I was disappointed that they couldn’t see what I saw, but I was never angry with them for not accepting my views. Do you know what my pastor told me before I left the church? He said, “I will consider supporting you if you ever start a church, even if you are an amillennialist.” But that was before I told him that I was leaving.

I will try my best never to do anything to hurt my previous church. Even if I were to publish the critique, my objective is only to convey what I have learnt, and not to put the Bible Presbyterian church in a bad light.

So, what will be my thoughts if the Bible Presbyterian Church in Singapore would admit that they are dispensational? They are, after all, a solid, bible-believing, God-loving, and Christ-serving church. And I will love them as they are: a Presbyterian, yet dispensational, church. But this must not be confused with compromise.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Vincent

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Meekness and Rest


Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Matt.5:5a

Christians in Singapore are especially afflicted with the burdens of pride, artificiality and pretense. How many of us are actually worshipping the gods of our lives, and not the God of the Bible? Only God knows. While religion may be made a cover for our pretentious lifestyles and even ambitions, the narrow way is walked only by the faithful few. "Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven (Matt. 7:21)." May the mirror of God’s Word, which is able to reveal the dross within one’s soul (Heb. 4:12), convict our hearts of such burdens. And may we find true rest in Christ, and not in the position, prestige or honor of this world.

Meekness and Rest
by A. W. Tozer

A fairly accurate description of the human race might be furnished one unacquainted with it by taking the Beatitudes, turning them wrong side out and saying, `Here is your human race.' For the exact opposite of the virtues in the Beatitudes are the very qualities which distinguish human life and conduct.

In the world of men we find nothing approaching the virtues of which Jesus spoke in the opening words of the famous Sermon on the Mount. Instead of poverty of spirit we find the rankest kind of pride; instead of mourners we find pleasure seekers; instead of meekness, arrogance; instead of hunger after righteousness we hear men saying, `I am rich and increased with goods and have need of nothing'; instead of mercy we find cruelty; instead of purity of heart, corrupt imaginings; instead of peacemakers we find men quarrelsome and resentful; instead of rejoicing in mistreatment we find them fighting back with every weapon at their command. Of this kind of moral stuff civilized society is composed.

The atmosphere is charged with it; we breathe it with every breath and drink it with our mother's milk. Culture and education refine these things slightly but leave them basically untouched. A whole world of literature has been created to justify this kind of life as the only norm alone. And this is the more to be wondered at seeing that these are the evils which make life the bitter struggle it is for all of us. All our heartaches and a great many of our physical ills spring directly out of our sins. Pride, arrogance, resentfulness, evil imaginings, malice, greed: these are the sources of more human pain than all the diseases that ever afflicted mortal flesh.

Into a world like this the sound of Jesus' words comes wonderful and strange, a visitation from above. It is well that He spoke, for no one else could have done it as well; and it is good that we listen. His words are the essence of truth. He is not offering an opinion; Jesus never uttered opinions. He never guessed; He knew, and He knows. His words are not as Solomon's were, the sum of sound wisdom or the results of keen observation. He spoke out of the fulness of His Godhead, and His words are very Truth itself. He is the only one who could say `blessed' with complete authority, for He is the Blessed One come from the world above to confer blessedness upon mankind. And His words were supported by deeds mightier than any performed on this earth by any other man. It is wisdom for us to listen.

As was often so with Jesus, He used this word `meek' in a brief crisp sentence, and not till some time later did He go on to explain it. In the same book of Matthew He tells us more about it and applies it to our lives. `Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.' (Mat 11:28-30) Here we have two things standing in contrast to each other, a burden and a rest. The burden is not a local one, peculiar to those first hearers, but one which is borne by the whole human race. It consists not of political oppression or poverty or hard work. It is far deeper than that. It is felt by the rich as well as the poor for it is something from which wealth and idleness can never deliver us.
The burden borne by mankind is a heavy and a crushing thing. The word Jesus used means a load carried or toil borne to the point of exhaustion. Rest is simply release from that burden. It is not something we do, it is what comes to us when we cease to do. His own meekness, that is the rest.

Let us examine our burden. It is altogether an interior one. It attacks the heart and the mind and reaches the body only from within. First, there is the burden of pride. The labor of self-love is a heavy one indeed. Think for yourself whether much of your sorrow has not arisen from someone speaking slightingly of you. As long as you set yourself up as a little god to which you must be loyal there will be those who will delight to offer affront to your idol. How then can you hope to have inward peace? The heart's fierce effort to protect itself from every slight, to shield its touchy honor from the bad opinion of friend and enemy, will never let the mind have rest. Continue this fight through the years and the burden will become intolerable.

Yet the sons of earth are carrying this burden continually, challenging every word spoken against them, cringing under every criticism, smarting under each fancied slight, tossing sleepless if another is preferred before them. Such a burden as this is not necessary to bear. Jesus calls us to His rest, and meekness is His method. The meek man cares not at all who is greater than he, for he has long ago decided that the esteem of the world is not worth the effort. He develops toward himself a kindly sense of humor and learns to say, `Oh, so you have been overlooked? They have placed someone else before you? They have whispered that you are pretty small stuff after all? And now you feel hurt because the world is saying about you the very things you have been saying about yourself? Only yesterday you were telling God that you were nothing, a mere worm of the dust. Where is your consistency? Come on, humble yourself, and cease to care what men think.'

The meek man is not a human mouse afflicted with a sense of his own inferiority. Rather he may be in his moral life as bold as a lion and as strong as Samson; but he has stopped being fooled about himself. He has accepted God's estimate of his own life. He knows he is as weak and helpless as God has declared him to be, but paradoxically, he knows at the same time that he is in the sight of God of more importance than angels. In himself, nothing; in God, everything. That is his motto. He knows well that the world will never see him as God sees him and he has stopped caring. He rests perfectly content to allow God to place His own values. He will be patient to wait for the day when everything will get its own price tag and real worth will come into its own. Then the righteous shall shine forth in the Kingdom of their Father. He is willing to wait for that day.

In the meantime he will have attained a place of soul rest. As he walks on in meekness he will be happy to let God defend him. The old struggle to defend himself is over. He has found the peace which meekness brings.

Then also he will get deliverance from the burden of pretense. By this I mean not hypocrisy, but the common human desire to put the best foot forward and hide from the world our real inward poverty. For sin has played many evil tricks upon us, and one has been the infusing into us a false sense of shame. There is hardly a man or woman who dares to be just what he or she is without doctoring up the impression. The fear of being found out gnaws like rodents within their hearts. The man of culture is haunted by the fear that he will some day come upon a man more cultured than himself. The learned man fears to meet a man more learned than he. The rich man sweats under the fear that his clothes or his car or his house will sometime be made to look cheap by comparison with those of another rich man. So-called `society' runs by a motivation not higher than this, and the poorer classes on their level are little better.

Let no one smile this off. These burdens are real, and little by little they kill the victims of this evil and unnatural way of life. And the psychology created by years of this kind of thing makes true meekness seem as unreal as a dream, as aloof as a star. To all the victims of the gnawing disease Jesus says, `Ye must become as little children.' For little children do not compare; they receive direct enjoyment from what they have without relating it to something else or someone else. Only as they get older and sin begins to stir within their hearts do jealousy and envy appear. Then they are unable to enjoy what they have if someone else has something larger or better. At that early age does the galling burden come down upon their tender souls, and it never leaves them till Jesus sets them free.

Another source of burden is artificiality. I am sure that most people live in secret fear that some day they will be careless and by chance an enemy or friend will be allowed to peep into their poor empty souls. So they are never relaxed. Bright people are tense and alert in fear that they may be trapped into saying something common or stupid. Traveled people are afraid that they may meet some Marco Polo who is able to describe some remote place where they have never been.

This unnatural condition is part of our sad heritage of sin, but in our day it is aggravated by our whole way of life. Advertising is largely based upon this habit of pretense. `Courses' are offered in this or that field of human learning frankly appealing to the victim's desire to shine at a party. Books are sold, clothes and cosmetics are peddled, by playing continually upon this desire to appear what we are not. Artificiality is one curse that will drop away the moment we kneel at Jesus' feet and surrender ourselves to His meekness. Then we will not care what people think of us so long as God is pleased. Then what we are will be everything; what we appear will take its place far down the scale of interest for us. Apart from sin we have nothing of which to be ashamed. Only an evil desire to shine makes us want to appear other than we are.

The heart of the world is breaking under this load of pride and pretense. There is no release from our burden apart from the meekness of Christ. Good keen reasoning may help slightly, but so strong is this vice that if we push it down one place it will come up somewhere else. To men and women everywhere Jesus says, `Come unto me, and I will give you rest.' The rest He offers is the rest of meekness, the blessed relief which comes when we accept ourselves for what we are and cease to pretend. It will take some courage at first, but the needed grace will come as we learn that we are sharing this new and easy yoke with the strong Son of God Himself. He calls it `my yoke,' and He walks at one end while we walk at the other.

Prayer:

Lord, make me childlike. Deliver me from the urge to compete with another for place or prestige or position. I would be simple and artless as a little child. Deliver me from pose and pretense. Forgive me for thinking of myself. Help me to forget myself and find my true peace in beholding Thee. That Thou mayest answer this prayer I humble myself before Thee. Lay upon me Thy easy yoke of self-forgetfulness that through it I may find rest. Amen.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

A Short Reflection on Philippians 3:1b


“Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe (Php 3:1).”

Biblical scholarship in today’s world is considered to be the ongoing discovery of fresh perspectives and new interpretations of various passages of the Bible. The traditional meaning of Scripture must be reinterpreted according to novel discoveries in archeology, science or Near Eastern literature. This itch for publicity and respect amongst scholars finds its way into the pulpit at various points of spiritual troughs of the Church Age. The preacher of God’s Word is suddenly apprehensive of preaching from the familiar passages of Scripture. He must dig deeper into the wisdom of man, so as to apologize for the foolishness of the Cross. The congregation does not come under the conviction of the Holy Ghost, but under the spell of contemporary scholarship which the preacher attempts to draw from the latest journals and publications. Instead of feeding the sheep with the meat of God’s Word, the goats are fed with the fodder of positivism, pragmatism and secular humanism.

But God’s Word should never be too familiar for Christians, and familiarity must not breed contempt. Paul wrote, “To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe (Php 3:1b).” For the Apostle “to write the same things (ta auta graphein)” to the Philippians, probably concerning the matter of “rejoicing,” is not grievous. The usage of the present active articular infinitive indicates “the going on writing of the same things.” Paul is obviously not weary of ongoing repetitions of the same things. It is, indeed, not irksome or tiresome for Paul to repeat the same things to the Philippians, simply because it is safe (asphales) for them. The reiteration of certain truths is sometimes the best safety measure against error.

According to Matthew Henry:

1. Ministers must not think any thing grievous to themselves which they have reason to believe is safe and edifying to the people.

2. It is good for us often to hear the same truths, to revive the remembrance and strengthen the impression of things of importance. It is a wanton curiosity to desire always to hear some new thing.

I have observed that, sometimes, by the countenance of the congregation, the impression is conveyed that church members are very “familiar” with the message being preached on the Lord’s Day. The incessant yawns and the constant quibbles, which often occur at the back aisles, may be misconstrued as an overenthusiastic response to the sermon so much so that the congregation begins to open their mouths in prayer. Children might appear to be so delighted with the pastor’s preaching that their parents allow them to run amok.

As a reminder to all, we should not be inattentive whenever the pastor preaches the same message, or the same passages from the Bible. Faithful is the minister who hammers away at the same warnings and the same exhortations to the backsliding congregation, in a bid to draw them back from perdition and error. Faithful is the minister who refuses to acquiesce to the congregation’s demand, and feed the sheep according to their needs. Faithful is the minister who preaches only the pure Word of God, and expounds on the precious, eternal truths of the Bible for the edification of the saints.

And if the sermon contains those “same things,” it is not tiresome for the minister, but is safe for us all. We do not need to listen to church growth theories, or how Paul changes his perspective every decade or so according to the whims of certain scholars. The unchanging, unerring Word of God is our all-sufficient source of heavenly wisdom and knowledge.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, deliver us from the itch for novelty and scholarship. Help us to be faithful to your Word, even if it cost us members and mammon. Thou must increase, and I must decrease. Amen.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Thou shall not Plagiarize


I was reading an interesting article by Tim Challies on "plagiarism in the pulpit" today. He was discussing how certain ministers utilized the sermons of other preachers, and passed them off as their own.

Tim wrote:

Of course we would be remiss to read about this issue and to neglect asking why pastors feel it necessary to preach other peoples' sermons. I'm sure that in some cases pastors are simply lazy and are looking for a way to avoid what can be a long, tedious task. But in many cases I suspect pastors preach these sermons because they feel their congregations will demand a certain quality and a certain level of entertainment that they cannot provide. The spirit of pragmatism lives in the church today and I know of many pastors who have succumbed to it. They feel that their congregations will be better served by a sermon that is witty and contemporary than by a pastor who absorbs himself in a week-long study of the Bible. Some churches expect far too much of their pastors, demanding that they be leaders and entertainers more than preachers. Some pastors are not allowed sufficient time to adequately prepare their sermons. In many cases, the pressure for plagiarism may well originate in the pews and not in the pulpit.

Of course, plagiarism involves at least a certain degree of dishonesty on the part of the plagiarizer. But this issue is not only plaguing ministers in the pulpit, but also certain lay leaders and teachers of God’s Word. I believe Tim’s perception, that certain ministers resorted to plagiarizing sermons because of their desire to please the congregation, is rather accurate. In such cases, "the pressure for plagiarism may well originate in the pews and not in the pulpit."

Despite Tim’s article on this issue, I am still rather perplexed as to why a teacher of God’s Word must resort to plagiarizing the work of other Christians. If the congregation wants to listen to "Chicken Soup for Itching Ears," and refuses a steady diet of God’s Word, should the minister or teacher change his feeding methodology? Should he then acquire the scraps and offal from animal farms to feed the humans in the church? Perhaps, the proverbial "congregational" squeeze of the wallet is sometimes too difficult to bear. The minister usually has a large family to start with (say, wife and six children), and coupled with an already minimal sum of monthly allowance (for some Reformed ministers at least), a "tightening" of his salary might even mean a tightening of his belt, more gastric ulcers, and tattered pants for the Lord’s Day worship. This does not apply to pastors of megachurches, as their earnings can even be substantially more than that of plastic surgeons. I know that in Singapore, a certain pastor’s house has even a lift to carry him up and down his multistorey bungalow. Now, that is definitely better than my church’s building! As a matter of fact, my church does not even have one. We are currently renting a room to worship in.

Furthermore, if the minister were to preach systematically from the Bible, I believe there will never be a lack of biblical text to preach from. Unless, of course, such passages from the Word of God are deemed boring, unentertaining, and banal. The true child of God should desire the sincere milk of God’s Word, not the fermented and spoilt milk from the world. If the congregation is indeed averse to listening to sound preaching, feeding them the poison of human philosophy and carnal wisdom will only worsen their spiritual illness. Entertaining sermonettes limited to 30 minutes - peppered with a few jokes along the way - would not do these folks any good. What they need is the sound preaching of God’s Word, not exhilarating punch lines or motivating speeches.

Even among bloggers, there may be a temptation to plagiarize another’s ideas, or even words. Whether one is a lay leader, Christian writer, or theologian, it is generally good policy to give due credits to the sources one uses. Even if one is using the ideas, and not exactly the thought-flow or words of another writer, it is good to include a footnote stating the original source.

On the another hand, the fact that two writers present similar ideas in their work is not always necessarily plagiarism. Certain concepts are so widely known that, to put these ideas into one’s writings without quoting the original source may be acceptable. For example, Covenant theology has its roots in the works of Caspar Olevianus (1536-1587), Scottish Theologian Robert Rollock (1555-1599), the church fathers and, of course, the great reformer John Calvin. To use the concepts of Covenant theology in one’s theological writings without actually quoting the original sources (in this case, the writings of, say, Caspar Olevianus) is absolutely acceptable. This is because any theologue would know that the originator of Federal theology is not the writer in question. If, however, the source of such ideas is not widely known, the onus is upon the writer to ensure that due credits are given to the author of these concepts.

A further note of warning to budding writers: paraphrasing another’s writings does not make those ideas yours. Even in academic writings, plagiarism is sometimes rampant. I have read books by high profile academics who sometimes utilizes the concepts of another theologian, which were presented in some obscure journals, without ever giving a single clue as to the original sources. Paraphrasing another author’s writings might make it more difficult for the reader to "google" search for the original quotations, but the truth will eventually find you out.

So readers, do your own research, and quote all the original sources in your writings, okay?

PS: As I am currently going through the draft of my writing project, I am particularly conscious of this "plagiarism" issue. So, in a way, I am directing this post to myself first and foremost.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Another Reason for the Lack of Spiritual Discernment: The Doctrine of Balaam


Balaam is a popular name in the Bible, but I am not suggesting that the reader should name his son Balaam. Balaam is mentioned by name three times in the New Testament: once by Jesus (Rev. 2:14), once by Jude (Jude 11), and again by Peter (2 Peter 2:15). Our Lord adjured the church in Pergamos to repent of “the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.” Both Peter and Jude lamented that false teachers had gone in “the way of Balaam (Jude 11, cf. 2 Peter 2:15).” In this post, I will briefly reflect upon how this “doctrine of Balaam” is closely related to the lack of spiritual discernment in some churches today, although I am aware that the context of these passages has to do with false teachers.

So who is this Balaam? According to biblical records, Balaam was the son of Beor, a king of Edom (Genesis 36:31-32). He settled in Pethor, beyond the river Euphrates in Mesopotamia (Numbers 22:5; Numbers 23:7; Deut. 23:4). By the way, this place is actually quite far from where I live in Singapore. Having a widespread reputation of being able to prophesy and to pronounce a curse or blessing on people, he was called by Balak, king of Moab, to curse Israel (Numbers 22:5-6). It is fortunate for us that Saddam Hussein was not alive when Balaam was developing his career in Palestine. No one could have predicted what Hussein will require Balaam to do for him - with much cash, of course.

As we have read in the Bible, King Balak (not Hussein) and his minions tempted Balaam repeatedly with filthy lucre and honor to betray Israel. Balaam finally yielded; he taught Balak how to tempt Israel to sin so that God would curse them Himself (Numbers 22:7,17-18; Numbers 24:11-13; Numbers 25:1-18; Numbers 31:16; Deut. 23:4-5; Joshua 24:9-10; Neh. 13:2; Micah 6:5; 2 Peter 2:13-16; Jude 1:11; Rev. 2:14). Finally, to cut the story short, Balaam returned to his home after having gained a reward by teaching Balak to ensnare Israel in sin (Numbers 24:25; 2 Peter 2:15; Jude 1:11; Rev. 2:14).

Balaam went astray because he “loved the wages of unrighteousness (2 Peter 2:16, Jude 1:11).” He taught aberrational doctrines for reward (Rev. 2:14). He compromised God’s Word and betrayed God’s people for physical benefits, temporal gains and personal honour. This is the error of Balaam, and tragically, some churches have followed in his fungal footsteps.

In the worldly sense, compromise brings great dividends. The rejection of false teachings and teachers will greatly narrow the number of churches with which one can cooperate. “Loving” acceptance of all sects, cults and denominations would guarantee the unending contribution ($$$) and cooperation (even more $$$) from such organizations. By being accommodating to errors and deviant doctrines, and by pandering to the lowest common denominator in their confession of faith, these leaders would establish better rapport with a wider range of institutes and churches. For them to be “narrow-minded” and unyielding would only mean forsaking friends, “open doors” and financial help.

Do you want to know what Balaam’s maxim is? As the saying goes, “Maintaining a conspiracy of silence with an inclusivistic philosophy is the ultimate strategy for sustaining profit margins.”

Therefore, discernment has to be abandoned if one wants to be a successful clergyman in today’s churches. Perhaps it is time to purchase donkeys for these compromising leaders, and preferably, talking ones.

Yours truly,

Balaam’s Ass

Monday, November 06, 2006

Reincarnation in the New Testament

Answer

Some well-meaning Christians insist that we are not to judge another’s position in Christ. But unless we affirm universal salvation, we have to make this kind of judgment when witnessing to the lost, don’t we? When we preach Christ to, say, a Buddhist, aren’t we assuming that he, being a Buddhist, does not know Christ as Savior? And unless we make some kind of judgments based on the Bible, we can never discern truth from error.

The quotes from my previous post were taken from the following book:

James Morgan Pryse, Reincarnation in the New Testament, new ed. (Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, 1997).

ISBN: 1564594513

In fact, the entire book is available online for your reading pleasure, whatever that might be.

In theology, words alone are not very helpful, unless these words are stringed together as propositional truths. Likewise, terms such as “sin,” “Christ,” and “repent” are quite ambiguous unless these words are explained.

To reiterate my point, orthodox sounding terminologies do not mean much, unless one defines what is meant by those terms. I had previously mentioned that this writer believes in Jesus, original sin, the resurrection, the vicarious atonement of Christ, heaven, hell, the sacrament of baptism, and salvation by faith. The reader is welcomed to call him a Christian, but I for one will see him as a Theosophist. And this is what he calls himself.

As a Theosophist, James Pryse was also the founder of the Gnostic Society in Los Angeles:

“The Gnostic Society has existed in Los Angeles since 1928. It was founded by noted author James Morgan Pryse and his brother John Pryse for the purpose of studying Gnosticism and the Western Esoteric Tradition generally.

After the establishment of the Ecclesia Gnostica in the United States, the Gnostic Society has united with the Ecclesia and is now functioning as its affiliated lay organization. Neither the Ecclesia Gnostica nor The Gnostic Society have a formal, dues-paying membership. The activities of both are open to all. Free will offerings are accepted.”


The reader can excuse himself for being unfamiliar with theosophical terminologies, but he must not presumptuously embrace any orthodox sounding lingo as Christian. Perhaps Pryse is, indeed, “growing in grace and knowledge” of some god. Unless the reader deems Theosophy as part of orthodox Christianity, I wouldn’t advice the reader to consider joining this society. And yes, I know membership is still free of charge.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Again, it’s nothing personal, really.

As conversion is not merely an existential, but also an intellectual, assent to scriptural revelation, I had mentioned in my previous post that the seeker has to understand and embrace certain salient doctrines to be considered a Christian. The apostle Paul pronounced anathema upon those, even if it were an angel from heaven, who would preach an alternative gospel. Saint John warned that we must not have any fellowship with those who deny the doctrine of Christ, and I would add, God. The Apostles and the Antenicene fathers battled furiously with the Gnostic heresy. Councils were held to repudiate erroneous teachings on God, Trinity and Christ. Even the Council of Orange felt that the doctrine of anthropology was important enough to label Semi-Pelagianism heresy.

But it seems that there is a growing latitudinarianism pervading Christendom today. The narrow way is now getting broader to accommodate men of diverse faiths. Those that mock the Reformed doctrine of justification are now considered respectable scholars and friends of the gospel. In prominent American seminaries, these “respectable scholars” teach others, who would be future pastors and shepherds, to preach this false gospel in Presbyterian churches. They utilize the lingo of the cognoscenti to mesmerize the students, while the laity dribbles at their every word with wide-eyed stares and adoration. In the meantime, the masses sit at the feet of Cain and beg for his scraps to be thrown to them.

But I am comforted to receive an interesting comment on my previous post. Jim Swindle from http://vineandfig.blogspot.com/ gave me the following helpful suggestions:


“Hello. I just found your blog.

Maybe my thoughts will be useful here.On the Day of Pentecost, I'm virtually certain that not all of the thousands who were saved believed all of the things listed in the original post. Were they Christians? Well, that word wasn't invented yet, but it appears that the great bulk of them were true believers.

Still, as time went by, they needed to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ." They needed to mature spiritually.

Some of us take longer than others to mature, and each of us matures faster in some areas than in others. When I became a Christian, I was not a Trinitarian. I wasn't anti-Trinitarian, either. I just hadn't thought deeply about that matter until I was going door-to-door evangelizing and came to the home of some Jehovah's Witnesses. They challenged me on the issue. Through study and insight from the Lord, I came to believe that they were wrong.

It was not until a year or two later that I came to believe in the inerrancy of the Bible (that is, inerrancy of the original manuscripts and sufficient providential preservation of the text for us to have full confidence in every spiritual truth in the Bible).

Now, many years later, I'd agree with you concerning all of the items on your list, except perhaps number 17. I believe in election and in predestination and also that we are commanded to believe. I'm not quite sure how all of that fits together.

I believe the original post was correct in establishing a distinction between what someone believes, and what someone believes after correction.

May the Lord guide you and me and your other readers into a deeper knowledge of himself through [the real] Jesus.

I hope some of this helps.”


I can agree with the general thrust of Swindle’s comment. Young believers may not know the details of various fundamental doctrines, but their basic understanding is sufficient to bring them to the knowledge of God. I had previously clarified that my list of aberrant doctrines is NOT MEANT TO BE A CHECKLIST TO DISCERN WHO IS CHRISTIAN AND WHO IS NOT. Somehow, many readers misunderstood my intentions, and seem to think that I am propounding that one has to adhere to the whole list in order to be saved.

A Cordial Response to Swindle’s Comments

There are certain premises for us to consider. According to Acts, on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem, “there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven (Acts 2:5).” Jews and Gentiles proselytes were there in Jerusalem on Pentecost for a particular purpose, and that purpose is not a city tour, a sightseeing excursion, or shopping at Palestine’s largest mall. These devout men, both Jews and Gentiles, are there for the Feast of Pentecost. They are proselytes of Judaism, and they had prior knowledge of the God of the Bible. They were acquainted with the Old Testament, and had expected a Messiah to come, the Son of David.

Peter, in his sermon on Pentecost, preached about the deity of Christ, His resurrection, the need for repentance and turning from sins to God. “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36).” He said, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call (Acts 2:38-39).”

By the time of Pentecost, the word “repent” has already acquired the nuance similar to that used by John the Baptist and the Prophets. “Now, therefore,” says the LORD, “ Turn to Me with all your heart, With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning (Joel 2:12).” Likewise, John preached, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance (Matthew 3:7b-8a).” Repentance must produce fruits; in the same vein, an alleged repentance without visible fruits is dubious.

Did Peter’s gospel agree with that of the “free-grace” teachers? Or did Peter propose a fresh, new perspective on the gospel of Christ, which leads to a sarcedotal religion in our days? Besides, the recipients of the Gospel were not heathens without any prior knowledge of the Law and the Prophets. They did not receive the Good News with the presupposition that the Bible (that contains this Gospel) is capable of error.

Seekers today are seldom initiates of Second Temple Judaism. They have little, if not zero, knowledge of God. Most Singaporeans and Americans today believe that we came from primordial slime some three billion years ago, and that our ancestors were probably arboreal monkeys. How many of them will understand the biblical meaning of “sin,” “Jesus,” “God,” and “repent?”

While I agree that sanctification is progressive, and varies from Christian to Christian, certain biblical truths have to be assented to before the person can indeed be called a Christian.

Imagine the following scenario:

Tommy hears the Four Spiritual Laws and prays the sinner’s prayer, “Lord Jesus, I need You. Thank You for dying on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life and receive You as my Savior and Lord. Thank You for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. Take control of the throne of my life. Make me the kind of person You want me to be.”

Terms such as ‘sin,’ ‘Lord,’ ‘Saviour,’ and ‘God’ are quite meaningless unless they are defined clearly. Tommy claims to believe in the God and Christ of the Bible, but he has never read the Bible all his life. So, when Tommy says he loves Jesus, while lacking any further knowledge concerning who this Jesus is except that He died for sins, can we truly claim that he understood the Jesus of the Bible? Likewise, if this “believe” is only a mental agreement with the Four Spiritual Laws, without any sincere or genuine repentance, can Tommy be considered born-again? Furthermore, without knowledge of the attributes of God, His holiness and holy hatred against sin, will Tommy understand what ‘sin’ really is? Does Tommy truly understand what is meant by the term “sinner?”

Jehovah Witnesses and Mormons will have little problems praying the sinner’s prayer to “receive” Christ. Both will similarly desire the love of this loving God, who is hoping to give sinners a “wonderful plan” for their lives. Perhaps this plan includes getting rich and successful. I doubt Jehovah Witnesses and Mormons will have problems with the Four Spiritual Laws. According to the Four Spiritual Laws, Jesus is Lord and Saviour, but what about being fully God and fully Man? On the other hand, will we (like the Mormons) get eternally pregnant and produce zillions of spiritual kids in heaven? Or perhaps Jesus is only a begotten God, but He is also the Lord and Saviour according to the Arian understanding.

Quiz Time

There is also another person who would pray the sinner’s prayer, but his understanding of several theological terms is very different from that of orthodoxy. Let us peruse abstracts of his writings:


The "original sin" was the descent of the soul into the material world, and the generation of physical bodies, man being thenceforth a God dwelling in the animal form.

"Resurrection" (anastasis) is any ascent from a lower to a higher state of existence, whether of individual man or of the entire race. Rev xx 5, 12; John v 29. As relating to the Aeon, or world-period, the "first resurrection" is the awakening to spiritual life, during the cycle, of the "just men" who have been "made perfect"; while the "second resurrection" is "that of all mankind at the close of the world-period, when they are "judged every man according to their works".

"Salvation" is freedom from the bondage of rebirth. Jesus is represented as a Saviour in that he taught and exemplified the right-conduct that alone can emancipate the soul from the material, animal existence, and awaken it to the realities of the spiritual life.

"Faith" is intuitive knowledge, the dim reminiscence which the soul retains of its pristine state; true faith, instead of being but ignorant opinion, is the beginning of spiritual wisdom, "an assurance of things hoped for, a proof of things not seen". Heb xi I.

"Righteousness" is right-conduct, the perfect performance of duty in the light of a purified conscience.

"Baptism", or lustration, is a ceremonial rite of purification, symbolizing successive degrees of initiation into the divine Mysteries. The exoterist, or "earthy man" (choïkos), when he first comes to recognize the reality of the spiritual life, becomes a "believer" (pistos); by the lustration of Water he becomes a "psychic" (psuchikos); by that of Air (pneuma), a "spiritual person " (pneumatikos); by that of Fire, a "perfect man" (teleios); and by that of Blood (ether), a full Initiate or Christos. "My little children, of whom I am again in travail until a Christos be formed in you." Gal iv 19

The "Atonement" is the union of man's purified human self with his spiritual and divine Self; it is "vicarious" in the sense that the sinless spiritual Self is incarnated for the salvation of the animal-human creature formed " of the dust of the ground " - that is, evolved from the elements.

"Regeneration" is the ‘birth from above’ when the soul, freed forever from the prison of clay, puts on its "first garment" - the deathless glorified body of the Initiate.



So, in summary, this writer believes in Jesus the Lord and Saviour, original sin, the resurrection, the vicarious atonement of Christ, heaven and hell, the sacrament of baptism, and most of all, salvation by faith. And I can confidently say he will pray the sinner’s prayer.

Will the reader tell me whether this man can rightly be called a Christian? Or maybe we should not judge him, because he is “growing in grace and knowledge of the Lord and Saviour.”

Multiple choice answer

A) He is probably a young believer, and needs to grow in grace and knowledge of Christ.
B) He is a bona fide Christian. Why did you ask?
C) He is a theologian, and you shouldn’t question his Greek.
D) He is a young believer, and needs to be led to the Truth.
E) He is not a Christian, and someone needs to preach the Truth to him.
F) Thou shall not judge. That’s the eleventh commandment.

The reader may choose more than one answer. I will inform the reader later as to the name of the writer, and which book I quoted from.

PS: Please do not google search for the writers name.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

An update for this blog

Dear Readers,

As some of the bloggers in Christian blogosphere might have realized, I do not have the time to write proper posts in the last few weeks (that’s terrible, terrible, Vincent). I am trying to finish a writing project, which has really taken too long to complete. I am glad to have completed the final chapter, and presently, I am going through the entire project and rewriting certain chapters that I deem as poorly written or analyzed.

I believe my (preliminary?) research has taken me into a very controversial and, perhaps, novel area of study in the arena of current dispensational-covenantal dialogue. With regard to the subject of contemporary theology, the definition of a dispensationalist has evolved through the last few decades, partially due to the helpful academic contributions of our progressive dispensational brethren. In defining the sine qua non of Dispensationalism, Dispensationalists have inadvertently drawn a line of demarcation, which Reformed theologians should not cross. To embrace this sine qua non would mean a redefinition of one’s hermeneutical-theological grid, which is definitely not similar to that of Reformed theology. The ramifications of this sine qua non would also be apparent in one’s ecclesiology and eschatology. Therefore, one cannot embrace this sine qua non and continue to maintain the designation of Reformed. This is because, by definition, a Dispensationalist is one who adheres to this sine qua non.

I have referred to Bible Presbyterianism in Singapore as the archetype of such a theological dilemma, and via this writing project, I intend to encourage our Bible Presbyterian brethren in Singapore to consider a redefinition of their theological-hermeneutical grid. So, in a nutshell, this is what I am working on.

In my study of Bible Presbyterianism, I am absolutely convinced that this system of theology would greatly benefit the theological community if it acquires the necessary impetus in its definition and development, as well as an existential evaluation of where within the dispensational-covenantal continuum it should place itself. Although Far Eastern Bible College describes itself as a Reformed seminary, its adherence to the sine qua non of Dispensationalism might confound further dialogue between dispensational and Reformed brethren. For the sake of ongoing and future theological developments within Dispensationalism and Reformed-Covenantal theology, it is paramount that proponents of each school of thought are precise and candid with their self-appraisal and appellation. Surely, no sincere and godly theologian would want to appear to be ambiguous or worse, confused. But I am confident that Far Eastern Bible College will continue to develop its system of theology in a direction consistent with the sine qua non, and arrive at a comfortable zone within the dispensational-covenantal continuum.

I would like to express my gratitude to those who have agreed to proofread the manuscript for me. The Lord willing, I should be able to submit the manuscript to them by the end of this year, and if not, by early 2007. I have multiple reservist (military) obligations to fulfill in the next few months, which might cause a resultant suspension of my scheduled writing. Coupled with compulsory lectures to attend on weekends - which are actually the most productive time for me to write - there is the likelihood of a delay in the completion of the manuscript. Nevertheless, my aim is to complete it within these 2 months.

Once again, thanks for dropping by!

Yours truly,
Vincent Chia

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Does Food Get in the Way of Social Cohesion?

After reading the article “Does God get in the way of social cohesion?” in Insight, Straits Times (Saturday 21st October 2006), I felt I have to express my insights with regard to this intricate, and especially sensitive, issue in multi-racial and multi-religious Singapore.

The caption of the article reads, “Singaporeans seem more religious these days. Will it lead to social enclaves as they mix and mingle more and more only with those who share their faith? By Li Xueying and Keith Lin.”

Daniel has voiced his thoughts concerning this article in this post of his. And I do applaud his “no mincing of words” approach. But I intend to be a little more politically correct in this blog of mine, lest I get put behind bars for expressing my thoughts too directly.

Tell me; are there any legal ways of expressing yourself in Singapore other than to write in parables? Unfortunately, I am not good with concocting parables. So, I wrote what I suppose would turn up in a fictional newspaper in Singapore in the near, or perhaps distant, future. And please do excuse me if things don’t turn up the way I have described.

Does Food Get in the Way of Social Cohesion?

Heterophilic Insights, The Straight Times 21st Oct 2016.

The following are quotes from the aforementioned article:

At work, if increasingly devout Gluttons use lunchtime for mastication sessions, when will they find time to sit with those of different interests in the coffee shops?

When a person becomes more gluttonous, he is likely to spend more time on activities at his place of eating. He or she may end up hanging out with gluttons from the same hemisphere when doing non-masticatory activities such as baking and social drinking. This leaves less time to interact with those of other interests.

“The increase in repast ardor,” says Institute of Grub Studies academic Lai Ah Beng, “will lead to weakening social cohesion only if gluttons are aggressively consuming their favourite grub everywhere, competing for tables in coffee shops by deriding each other, and if recipe interpretations are exclusivist, self-righteous and/or extremist.”

And it is this that has the most-revered Mr Yas Man (aka Mr Sycophant) worried. The former Chief Executive Officer of the Gluttons Anonymous of Singapore (GAS) speaks of the rise of what he calls ‘exclusive consumerism’ in Singapore since the 1970s.

“There is this prevailing ‘consumerism’ which calls for consumption of even animals that are close to extinction, and the claim that they have the one true recipe and the only way to cook a particular dish,” says the Yas Man, also a member of the Immediate Relieve of Antagonism (IRA).

“But no one recipe has the monopoly on absolute truth. Each recipe can claim to be the true concoction, but we don’t have the complete recipe, therefore we need to have a dialogue with one another in continuously seeking the full culinary truth.”

Chocoholic leader Brother Milky Belgian, also of the IRA, shares the concern, noting the “growth of fundamentalist sects within our gluttony groups, which are normally quite understanding.”

Says the deputy chef of St Joan of Arc’s Restaurant: “If you have really exclusive ideas about culinary truth, it sometimes can lead to great misunderstanding, that because I belong now to a school of cookery that is true, everyone else that doesn't belong to my restaurant, cafe, coffee shop, whatever, is false . . . that something is wrong with the rest of humanity, something is wrong with the rest of the gluttons of Singapore who do not subscribe to my gastronomic passions.”

“It's very simplistic thinking, but the trouble is that you're dealing with a lot of young people who consume enthusiastically with fervour everything they're given.”

The problem of an exclusivistic interpretation is not confined to Gluttony. Prof A. Sot highlights the presence of some “extremist bibbers who want to minimize contacts with non-bibbers.”

Does God get in the way of social cohesion?

Insight, Straits Times 21st October 2006

The following are quotes from the aforementioned article:

At work, if increasingly devout Christians use lunchtime for prayer sessions, when will they find time to sit with those of different faiths in the coffee shops?

When a person becomes more religious, he is likely to spend more time on activities at his place of worship. He or she may end up hanging out with friends of the same religion when doing non-religious activities such as volunteer work and social activities. This leaves less time to interact with those of other faiths.

“The increase in religious fervour,” says Institute of Policy Studies academic Lai Ah Eng, “will lead to weakening social cohesion only if religions are aggressively competing for members by deriding each other, and if religious interpretations are exclusivist, self-righteous and/or extremist.”

And it is this that has the Reverend Yap Kim Hao worried. The former Methodist bishop of Singapore speaks of the rise of what he calls 'evangelical Christianity' in Singapore since the 1970s.

“There is the prevailing conservative theology which calls for conversion of people of other faiths and the claim that they have the one true faith and the only way to salvation,” says the Rev Yap, a member of the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO).

“But no one religion has the monopoly on absolute truth. Each religion can claim to be the true faith, but we don't have the complete understanding, therefore we need to have a dialogue with one another in continuously seeking the full truth.”

Catholic leader Brother Michael Broughton, also of the IRO, shares the concern, noting the “growth of fundamentalist sects within our religions, which are normally quite understanding.”

Says the deputy principal of St Joseph's Institution: “If you have really exclusive ideas about truth, it sometimes can lead to great misunderstanding, that because I belong now to a school of thought that is true, everyone else that doesn't belong to my denomination, church, temple, whatever, is false...that something is wrong with the rest of humanity, something is wrong with the rest of the citizens of Singapore who do not subscribe to my religious belief.”

“It's very simplistic thinking, but the trouble is that you're dealing with a lot of young people who embrace enthusiastically with fervour everything they're taught.”

The problem of an exclusivistic interpretation is not confined to Christianity. Prof Alatas highlights the presence of some “extremist Muslim Singaporeans who want to minimise contacts with non-Muslims.”

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Reformed Lawsuits? An Update.

Are Lawsuits Amongst Believers In Vogue?

After reading about Mr Lim Seng Hoo and his lawsuit against the pastors of Calvary (Pandan) Bible Presbyterian Church in Singapore, it is distressing to peruse yet another article concerning the well-known Ligonier’s Ministries, and their defamation suit against a Mr Frank Vance. By the way, it’s Brandon (from Simply Christian) who alerted me to this issue.

Quoting from the post in Ministry Watchman:

“I find it incredible that the Reformation Study Bible, which R.C. Sproul is the General Editor for, clearly condemns the practice of Christians suing Christians, because of the disgrace that it brings upon the church, and how it ruins the church’s testimony for the Lord Jesus.

In the commentary for 1 Corinthians 6:7 the Reformation Study Bible says:

“Nevertheless, if the Corinthians understood the serious implications of all the improprieties in their church, and if they appreciated the qualities that should characterize believers (cf. 12:4-7), they would much sooner bear injustice than bring disgrace upon the Christian community by publicly exposing their misdeeds in the civil courts.’”

Frank Vance, the defendant, writes:

“RC Sproul’s good pastor friend John MacArthur certainly seems to understand why Christians shouldn’t sue Christians. In his Study Bible John MacAurthur says:

6:1 Dare. Suing another believer in a secular law court is a daring act of disobedience because of its implications related to all sin — the displeasure of God: a matter against another….

6:4 …the basic meaning is clear; when Christians have earthly quarrels and disputes among themselves, it is inconceivable that they would turn to those least qualified (unbelievers) to resolve the matter.

6:5,6 Shame. Such conduct as suing a fellow believer is not only a sinful shame, but a complete failure to act obediently and righteously. Christians who take fellow Christians to court suffer moral defeat and spiritual loss even before the case is heard, and they become subject to divine chastening.

6:7 why…not…accept wrong? …Christians have no right to insist on legal recourse in a public court. It is far better to trust God’s sovereign purpose in trouble and lose financially, than to be disobedient and suffer spiritually.

One of the reasons that we as Christians shouldn’t “dare to go to law before the unrighteous” is because it’s a lot like disrobing in front of strangers, or as others have put it, “it’s like airing our dirty laundry for the whole world to see.’”

This is all so shameful for the Church of Christ. I do wonder who is having the last laugh.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Nothing personal, really.

I have a couple of questions for myself, and perhaps someone out there can help me with answering them.

Background

I was reading a post by Daniel, when I came across a comment from brother Jenson that might cause a little storm in my brain’s teacup, whatever that might be. Brother Jenson wrote:

“I say this with good-will, but with Biblical separation, one has to do it carefully and graciously. Not all believers have reached a level of maturity to be able to handle criticisms and some will inevitably say ‘that is your interpretation!’ when you confront them with a topic as big as ‘Justification by Faith’.”

Of course, Jenson’s comment must be read within the context of Daniel’s post. At first reading, it seemed that I had a little difficulty understanding the second sentence of Jenson’s comment, especially when he “appeared” to have said that believers may not “have reached a level of maturity” to understand “a topic as big as ‘Justification by Faith.’” Having known Jenson better than this, I am sure this is not what he is trying to insinuate. But again, this post brought certain thoughts to mind.

When does a seeker becomes a true believer of biblical Christianity?

Perhaps I can better frame my thoughts in the form of another question:

Can one be considered a true believer if he believes in any one of the following, and yet refuses to change his mind about it (i.e. repent) at a particular point in time? Let me know what you think.

Using simple terminologies:

Soteriology

1. Salvation is not by faith alone.
2. Salvation is not in Christ alone.
3. Salvation is not by grace alone.

Christology

4. Jesus is fully God, but not man in any sense.
5. Jesus is fully Man, but not God in any sense.
6. Jesus is a kind of god, but he is not exactly like the Father in terms of Godhood.
7. Jesus didn’t really rise from the dead.
8. Jesus didn’t really die. He appeared to have died.

Theology

9. There is one God, but not three Persons.
10. God does not know everything in advance.

Theology of the Word

11. The Bible becomes the Word of God when a believer reads it. But this “Word” or “Truth” defers from believer to believer.
12. The Bible is not inerrant or infallible. In other words, the Bible contains errors here, there, and everywhere.
13. The Bible is not the inspired Word of God. Only the message is inspired.

Eschatology

14. Christ is not coming back.
15. Christ really came back, but only spiritually, invisibly.

Anthropology

16. Man is not fallen. He has the innate ability to perfectly keep the Law of God.
17. Man needs Jesus, but he also needs to help himself. God does not help a man who does not help himself. A man must exercise his ability to believe.
18. There is no such thing as original sin. Man is born sinless.

Kindly take note that some of the aforementioned doctrinal points are actually heresies.

Clarification: I am not saying that such a person is not saved. What I am saying is that, can such a person be considered a true believer, if he holds to any of the aforementioned doctrines. Of course, if such a person refuses to be taught, and persists in believing a heresy, he can truly be named a heretic (Titus 3:10).

Again, none of us know who is an elect and who isn’t. I was from a Romish church, and I did believe in salvation by works. This brings us back to the original question: If a person does not believe in “justification” by faith alone (like myself back then), can he really be considered to have understood the gospel? If not, then is he a true believer in biblical Christianity at that point in time? This is, of course, from Man’s point of view.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Let’s Break That Guilty Silence

Note: I have yet to post further with regard to reasons for the lack of discernment in the Christian church today. But before I burden you with my perspectives, I would like to commend to you the following article by one of my favorite preacher and writer, Aidan Tozer.

In the following article, he decries the spiritual cowardice so inherent within contemporary Evangelicalism, and rightly calls it sin. Therefore, one further reason for the absence of discernment today is not the lack of understanding, but the lack of moral courage to stand up for what is true, and the preoccupation with a shameful, cowardly lust to please man rather than God.


Let’s Break That Guilty Silence
by A. W. Tozer

Taken from Aidan W. Tozer, God Tells the Man Who Cares (Cumbria, UK: OM Publishing, 1994), 176-180.


One of the great saints of the past, in a well-known hymn, calls on his tongue to break its “guilty silence” and praise the Lord.

The logic behind the stanza is that if it is right to praise God it is wrong not to praise Him and for that reason the tongue that is silent is sinful. Dr. R.A. Torrey taught that, since the greatest commandment is to love God, the greatest sin is failure to love Him. Such sins as not praising and not loving are called “sins of omission” because no positive act has been committed. The guilt lies in what is not done and might be designated as passive guilt rather than active. But though passive, it is nonetheless real.

Under the law of Moses a man could incur guilt by keeping still about some evil he knew was present in the camp of the Lord, and in the New Testament James tells us bluntly, “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins” (James 4:17). Is it not a serious thought that many clean-living, decent persons, against whom no overt act of wrongdoing can be charged, may yet be deeply guilty and inwardly stained with the sin that does not show, the sin of silence and inaction? There are moral situations where it is immoral to say nothing and basely immoral to do nothing.

The Bible has much to say in praise of prudence and circumspection, but it has nothing but condemnation for the coward. It is plainly taught in the New Testament that the soul that is too timid to own Christ before men on earth will be denied before the Father who is in heaven (Matthew 10:33). And in the book of the Revelation the fearful are classed with the unbelievers, the murderers, the whoremongers, the sorcerers, the liars, and all are relegated to the lake which burns with fire and brimstone (Revelation 21:8). Obviously moral cowardice is a sin, a grave and deeply injurious sin.

The fear that keeps us quiet when faith and love and loyalty cry out for us to speak is surely evil and must be judged as evil before the bar of eternal justice. The fear that prevents us from acting when the honor of God and the good of mankind call for bold action is unalloyed iniquity. God will not overlook it and, if it is persisted in, He will not forgive it.

The sinfulness of silence and inaction is more than academic; it is sharply practical and may impinge upon the soul of anyone of us at anytime. Let a moral situation shape itself so that righteousness demands speech and action, and theory becomes practical fact instantly. We have but to keep still and sit tight to become guilty of real sin.

A Political Example: Communism

The world situation today is such that sin by silence may be more widespread than at any other time in the history of the world. For the first time in human history a shockingly wicked ideology has been organized into a world conspiracy, shrewd, cruel, inhuman and fanatically determined. Of course, I mean international Communism, the devil’s most cunning and most effective imitation of Christianity to date. It is as if the boiling cauldrons of Gehenna had sprung a leak and the noxious vapors had entered the brains of men and turned then into moral cavemen without any conscience or any sense of common decency. They appear to be possessed and morally demented to a degree known nowhere else on earth. These men, though numerically few, yet constitute a threat to the world so grave, so deadly, that nothing else on earth can be compared to it.

Standing as we do under the shadow of such a mighty evil, how can any informed person be still? How can any member of the non-Communist world be indifferent as he sees every value that differentiates man from the beasts being destroyed and every spiritual quality that makes life worth the living being extinguished? The statesman who refuses to take sides has already taken sides. His tolerance has made him a traitor to his own country and to the human race.

A Spiritual Application

Serious as all this may be, there is something more serious still. It is the failure to take sides and to speak up when the enemy stalks into the very sanctuary and pollutes the holy place. Precious as human values may be, such values as freedom and decency and the dignity of the individual, divine values, are infinitely more precious. As high as is the heaven above the earth so great are the spiritual treasures revealed to us by the inspiration of the Spirit and secured to us by the blood of the everlasting covenant. The wisdom of God contained in the message and practice of the redemptive revelation is above a king’s ransom. “For she is more profitable than silver/ and yields better returns than gold./ She is more precious than rubies;/ nothing you desire can compare with her./ Long life is in her right hand;/ in the left hand are riches and honor./ Her ways are pleasant ways,/ and all her paths are peace” (proverbs 3:14-17).

At this hour in world history the state of religion is such that the church is in grave danger of losing this priceless treasure. Her gold is being turned to copper and her diamonds to glass. The religion of Cain is now in the ascendancy - and marching under the banner of the cross. Even among those who make a great noise about believing the Bible, that Bible has virtually no practical influence left. Fiction, films, fun, frolic, religious entertainment, Hollywood ideals, big business techniques and cheap, worldly philosophies now overrun the sanctuary. The grieved Holy Spirit broods over the chaos but no light breaks forth. “Revivals” come without rousing the hostility of organized sin and pass without raising the moral level of the community or purifying the lives of professing Christians. Why?

Could it be that too many of God’s true children, and especially the preachers, are sinning against God by guilty silence? When those whose eyes are opened by the touch of Christ become vocal and active God may begin to fight again on the side of truth. I for one am waiting to hear the loud voices of the prophets and reformers sounding once more over a sluggish and drowsy church.

They’ll pay a price for their boldness, but the results will be worth it.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Reasons for the Absence of Discernment 2


A Compromising Spirit

Another reason for the absence of discernment is the attitude of compromise. This is the spirit of New Evangelicalism. It is the “criticize not”, “judge not”, “let’s be positive” and “just love everyone” philosophy. In contemporary Christianity, the irenic spirit of New Evangelicalism is so pervasive that the term “Evangelical” is almost synonymous with “New Evangelical.”

This philosophy of neutralism and compromise is naturally appealing to the carnal mind. Who would like to “reprove and rebuke (2 Tim. 4:2-5)” others when he can appear to be amiable, obliging, and agreeable? Who would choose to be a pungent, unpopular preacher when he can be the fashionable, positively loving pastor? Deviant doctrines are quietly tolerated in the name of love. All criticisms of questionable doctrines are quickly undermined as negativism and pharisaism. It is of little wonder that the spirit of biblical discernment is despised and even labeled as “narrow-mindedness,” “bigotry,” and “judgmental-ism.”

Let me recount an incident as an illustration. In a church I visited, there was a discussion on the issue of “househusband” during Sunday School. The pastor preached on the topic of God-ordained roles for Man and Woman, and subsequently elucidated the subject of biblical Fatherhood and Motherhood. The discussion group appeared to be fairly agreeable with the pastor’s teachings, which are, of course, according to the Word of God.

However, when the pastor was away to preach to a mission church the following week, another discussion group gathered after Sunday Service to reevaluate what was discussed the previous week during Sunday School. An elder of the church asked, “So, everybody agree with what was taught last week?” What subsequently followed was a torrent of disagreements and repudiation of the biblical views taught by the pastor last week.

Some proposed that it is good for a “well-qualified” woman to work outside the home, and to bring in the bread and butter, especially if the husband is unable to acquire a lucrative salary (for example, if the husband is a road-sweeper or hygiene officer). Others commented that if the husband is doing home-based work (e.g. Web-based work), he can be the “househusband” and take care of the children, while the wife earns extra salary outside the home. After all, why “waste” the wife’s qualification, and allow an incapable husband to earn the meager “few dollars?”

But the Bible is very clear as to what the roles of the husband and wife are. The husband is to be the provider, protector, and spiritual leader of the family. The wife is to submit to the husband’s authority, and to be a “keeper at home (Titus 2:4-5).” The father is never meant to breastfeed the kids, and neither is he endowed with the necessary glands for that purpose. Apparently, pragmatic concerns inundated biblical guidelines, and the opinions of men are elevated above the Word of God.

I was absolutely astounded as to why an apparently “doctrinally sound” church (I would like to refrain from naming this church, or stating its ecclesiastical associations) would succumb to such a compromising spirit and pragmatic philosophy. If church elders could not even figure out what the biblical roles for father and mother are, how can they lead the home, let alone the church? Most likely, the leaders know what these roles are (according to the Bible), but they would rather please men than to glorify God and to uphold His Word.

When a brother-in-Christ spoke up vehemently against these unbiblical views of Fatherhood and Motherhood, he was criticized as being “unloving” and “judgmental.” By associating any form of discernment or criticism with such pejorative terms, the leaders are covertly stifling the testimonies of these faithful brethren.

Also, the leaders hinted that he should not “despise” his weaker brethren who adhere to such alternative views. It was also declared during a discussion group that all views are correct, and that we should not “judge the views held by other brothers and sisters.” A session member even commented that a mature Christian would be able to “accept” and “love” another brethren, including his erroneous views. He insinuated that a mature Christian would not criticize others, let alone “judge” the other brother-in-Christ.

My reply is this, “A mature Christian will seek to please God rather than men, and will endeavor to honor God’s word rather than men’s mere opinions and preferences. A mature Christian will care for his brethren’s spiritual welfare, and will correct him if he is wrong. The failure to correct serious doctrinal errors, especially the failure for elders to do so, is tantamount to spiritual murder!”

In view of such a careless attitude to doctrine and truth, it is of little wonder that churches infiltrated by the irenic spirit of New Evangelicalism will inevitably follow the slippery slope down to greater compromise and spiritual privation.

May the Lord help us in this age of error.

Note: As I am trying to invest my after-work hours to research my project and writings, I have only my lunchtime to write for my blog. So do excuse me if there are any errors in my posts.