Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Right Direction of Pursuit

This is my personal summary of the expository preaching of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on James 4:11-17 on 26 March 2006

This passage teaches us on matters we ought to be satisfied and on what matters we ought to be dissatisfied. If not taken care of properly, we will behave wrongly. This makes the difference between contentment and self-satisfaction. Contentment is being satisfied with the right things while self-satisfaction is being satisfied with the wrong things. In material things, we ought to be contented. In spiritual things, we ought to be dissatisfied and always earnestly seeking like the deer pants for the water. Yet we often use this kind of thirst to go after material things.

We ought to have this infinite striving attitude to accomplish the standard God has set for us. The concept of perfection inside of us results in endless search for something more. This is the mark of humanity that reflects the truth that God's image is stamped upon us. Hence we can recognize the imperfection inside of us and will desire for perfection. If we lose this sense, even in our honorable status we are just like animals that are about to die. (Psalms 49:20)

Yet, we often do not realize our potential hence we excuse our laziness and forgive ourselves too easily. If we do not set high demand for ourselves, we will not progress. The past 40 years we see a lot of progress in all aspects of society, only the church is not showing much progress. The progress in the church is only in quantity, but not in essence, not in Christian ethics, not in fervency of evangelism, not in social concerns, and not in faithfulness to the Truth of God. We are too happy and satisfied with ourselves. Businessmen are very sensitive to the velocity of their progress but pastors, leaders, preachers and Christians are not as sensitive to the pace the Holy Spirit wants to lead them. If we do not catch up with the speed, we are already left behind.

In our pursuit of the Truth, we cannot judge others. When people fall, if we think we are standing and we are happy that this makes us look better, we have a very bad attitude. We should realize that we are one Body. If a co-worker is weak, the whole team is affected. How then should we treat our co-workers? We know there is Law. We know that disobedience to the Law is sin. But the Law is not meant for us to judge one another. When we see our brother falls, we need to realize that the summary of the Law is love. That means we correct with the hope that the person will repent and not do it again.

What we need today are not smart people, but great people. Smart people are very sensitive and able to spot errors very quickly. They are good but it is not enough. We need great people who not only tell what is wrong but are also able to correct our mistakes and build us up. There are plenty of smart people but very few great people.

James says that the One who passed the Law can judge us and can also save us. The God who gave us the Law also sent His Son Jesus Christ to fulfill the Law on our behalf. We need to understand this so that we have the right attitude towards God's commandment.

Verse 13 talks about another side of arrogance and humility. Arrogance here is expressed in our trust in our own strength and worldly wisdom while seeking the things of the world. It seeks the wrong things and does not rely on God at all. Our life is like a mist that disappears fast. We should not use our plan to take over God's eternal will. When we seek after the things of the world and we trust in our own wisdom, we will look down on the poor and on eternal things. Wealth can trap us in spiritual arrogance which we might not realize.

Humility on the other hand, takes care of righteousness, not profit. It seeks after the Truth endlessly and it says, “If God wills,…”. This means we submit our life to the control, command and guidance of God's will. When we learn to live before God, we have a true sense of existence.

The book of Ephesians reminds us 3 things about life on earth: no hope, no God and no heaven. This is a very sad state, yet these are the things sinners boast about. All such boasting is evil. We are in the constraint of time, yet we live as though time is in our control. We will be judged by the Law, yet we use the Law to judge and manipulate others. We will have to give an account to God one day, yet we live as though we will never see God. In our sin of arrogance, we lose all our reason.

The last verse says those who know the good they ought to do but do not do, sin. How is this connected to the earlier verses? The earlier verses say that breaking the law is sin. Now the chapter concludes with the highest standard that we sin not only in breaking the law, but in missing the mark. This standard is only found in Christianity. This is the concept of sin that surpasses all religions, all culture, all politics and all laws.

The last verse is connected closely to the theme in the book of James, that is, faith without works is dead. James emphasizes on our works and deeds as the proof to our faith. The difference in this verse is that it is not talking about the relationship between faith and works, but between knowing and doing.

The Scriptures speak many times on definition of sins. Stiff-neckedness is sin. Arrogance is sin. Whatever that is not of faith is sin. Breaking the law is sin. And finally, knowing good and not doing it, is sin. Under the demand of this verse, nobody can stand before God. This is the climax of Christian ethics, as it is not enough that we are passive in not breaking the law, but it requires us to be active in doing the good we know.

Yet we often escape our responsibility. We excuse ourselves because of our weaknesses. We excuse ourselves from helping others because of our own problems. But despite that, the more we know, the greater is our responsibility. After hearing this message, we have greater responsibility than those who have not heard this message. We need to learn to exist responsibly before God as a response to the grace He has given to us.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Whom Do We Submit To?

This is my personal summary of expository preaching of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on James 4:6-10 on 19th March 2006

In the last session, we learn that God has more grace to give us. James 4:6 says He opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. This means that often times the grace we could have received from God is constrained because of our arrogance.

When we count our losses, we often only count from what we have already gained. But the wise would think of losses in terms of what he has not gained but could have gained. This brings us to learn to have an attitude of responsibility towards the invisible world, which is a greater reality. This is the difference between how the Scriptures measure losses and how we measure losses. We think of time wasted as the amount of time that has passed. But the wise will think of time wasted based on whether over the years they live, they have received the grace they could have received, and whether the grace received have been applied as they could have applied. The things they ought to have received but not received, would be counted as loss.

The Scriptures says God gives us more grace. Yet we do not receive them often because of our arrogance. We should have gotten more grace but due to our pride we do not gain them. So we live our lives with significant losses that we never even realize. This is a very sad state. God's Word to Joshua is that he is already old but many lands are yet to be conquered. This means that those lands are promised to him and ought to have become his possession. God indeed has promised more than what we have received and the reason of our not receiving lies in ourselves. We need to learn to think in depth what we could have achieved in God which have been blocked by our unteachable spirit, arrogance, laziness and unbelief. However, we are extremely slow to such spiritual understanding hence we never quite know clearly what we ought to have achieved.

Yet we are extremely sensitive to our losses in material things. In material things, we are never satisfied. We always want more. But in spiritual things, our attitude is just the reverse. We are very satisfied with our poor spiritual state and are not very concerned to think of what God would want us to reach spiritually. So the things we do not need to seek, we spend all our life and effort pursuing while our spiritual state stay stagnant. We think just like the lawyers of the world that define ‘living right’ as simply not committing offence. However, the Scriptures say that if we miss the mark, we have sinned. God judges our sins not only from what we have committed wrong, but also from “hamartia”, that is, what we have not done.

Would God be satisfied with what we have achieved? Never. True contentment and self-satisfaction are two different things. When we are happy because we have achieved our own defined standard, we are self-satisfied. This is not a right attitude. God gives grace to the humble. The ‘humble’ here describes those who are never satisfied with their state. They never think they are perfect so they keep seeking and pursuing perfection. This is the attitude of perfection, like Paul who did not consider he has attained perfection so he kept pursuing (Phil.2:12-13). Humility is not the same as simply following the commands of others or having the attitude of a slave. It is a response toward God's infinite grace so there is no end to progress and all our lives we continue to be teachable.

In verse 7, James said, “Submit yourselves THEN, to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” This word “THEN” means that the previous sentence is the basis for the current sentence. How is submission related to grace and humility mentioned previously? It seems like a twist where it is not immediately obvious how humility is linked to our submission to God and resistance to the devil.

However, this verse tells us that the nature of our humility is revealed from whom we submit to and whom we resist. People who keep saying “No, no” to God are also those who always say “Yes, yes” to the devil. This is one aspect where we can see that the psychologies of the world cannot discern spiritual things. To illustrate, we can categorize people into two kinds, the intellectual and the unlearned.

The intellectuals tend to reject God. The basis of their rejection is not because of rationality, but because they are arrogant and treat all religions with contempt. Therefore they make the mistakes of treating faith as superstition.

The unlearned tend to accept when you share about God. But they receive more easily not because they are more humble, but because they are open to just about anything. Therefore they make the mistake of treating superstition as faith.

Faith however, is not superstition. It is not against reason, but it transcends reason. Many intellectuals fall into the trap of lumping the trans-rational realm together with irrational things. Yet they live very inconsistently because while on one hand they use their rationality specially to oppose God, on the other hand they never use their rationality to avoid many unwise decisions they make in life. They would carelessly walk into all kinds of traps and eagerly do illogical things although by basic reason they should not have done many things they do. Therefore rationality is not the reason they cannot receive God, but their arrogance is.

This comes to the issue of submission. To whom do we submit? We must submit to God. We are created in God's image so we have value system inside of us. We are beings capable of value. Whatever we value determine what we submit to. The Chinese have a way to express different levels of values.

敬佩 (jing pei) – to admire
敬爱 (jing ai) – to love
敬畏 (jing wei) – to revere
敬拜 (jing bai) – to worship

We can admire things that are good, but at a higher level of value, we love them. There are things so great that we come close to revere. Finally, when we reach to the highest level, we worship. This worship belongs to God alone. We can do this when we come to the realization of the qualitative difference between God and everything else that we cannot even compare Him with anything, but just to worship Him as the highest.

Kiekegaard came up with 3 kinds of important qualitative differences:

- Let God be God and let men be men
- Let Heaven be Heaven and let earth be earth
- Let Eternity be Eternity and let time be time

Things of qualitative difference are not the things we can compare quantitatively. Therefore we are making mistakes when we try to compare God with other precious things. He is the final Judge of all values and He is the ultimate Value Himself. We can only acknowledge Him as God.

Yet many logical errors are committed by intellectuals. They take science as the Truth while history shows that science is not the Truth. Many scientific theorems have been disproved and overwritten. But they despise God and submit their reasoning to the things that are changeable. Hence the Bible does not say without reason that God hides His will from the wise of the world and reveal it to the little children.

All reasoning from the devil is fake but all the words from God are true. There are two kinds of worlds. One is the world where things seem right but they are actually wrong. The leader of this world is Satan. The other one is the world where things seem wrong but they are actually right. The leader of this world is our Lord.

Since the beginning in the garden of Eden, Satan told Eve, “if you eat of the fruit you shall not die but your eyes would be open.” God told man, “on the day you eat you shall surely die.”

From the account it seems that Satan is right and God is wrong. Adam and Eve did have their eyes open and they did not die physical death immediately. God's Word speak of things spiritual and eternal which are hard to comprehend while Satan speaks of things of the flesh and temporal which are easier to comprehend, and therefore Satan's words seem more attractive to us. This is how we make absolute things relative and relative things absolute since the beginning. The battle between these two worlds (right seems wrong and wrong seems right) will continue until the Last Day when our Lord shall come again to separate the wheat from the tares.

We truly need to ask God for wisdom to discern true values and to segregate absolute from relative and to treat them accordingly. God is absolute, so we have to approach Him with an absolute attitude of submission. The name Satan means the Opposer, for he is the one who oppose God. So likewise, as he has resisted God, we have to approach Satan with the same resistance. When he uses skepticism, we should respond to his skepticism with skepticism. So we should approach the absolute absolutely and the relative relatively.

However, often times we do just the reverse. We use our humility to submit to Satan and use our arrogance to oppose God. Hence in this verse 7 alone, James tells us the direction of the cosmos war. We ought to submit to God and resist the devil. We need to rebuild our humility and our resistance on the right foundation.

If we have truly knelt before God, we will resist the devil. The key to spiritual power is a true knowing of before whom you kneel and before whom you stand in opposition. Our ministry has no power today because we are serving two masters. On one hand we claim to worship God but on the other hand we are serving many idols in our lives. The Scriptures teach us that if we resist the devil, he will flee from us. Therefore if we have truly resisted him, we are no longer trapped in fear but he flees in fear from us.

But a lot of us live as though our faith confession and our lives have no relationship with each other. Christians truly need to learn to connect all things together so that the Word of God is what we believe, and what we believe is what we think, what we think is what we say, and what we say is what we do. If we live this way, we have power.

Verse 8 is another absolute promise. It says that if we come near to God, He will come near to us. In James 1:5, James says that if we ask for wisdom it will be granted to us. Here is another promise that God will come near those who come to Him. How do we come to God? The following verses 8-10 teach us to humble ourselves before Him and to grieve for our sins.

The direction of humility is important. To whom are we humble? To the rich? To the powerful? To the clever? We need to be humble before God.

God will not forsake us when we humble ourselves before Him and He will lift us up. We ourselves are the reason for our weaknesses, not others or our circumstances.

Monday, March 13, 2006

What Do We Fight For?

This is my personal summary of exposirory preaching of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on James 4:1-6 on 12th March 2006

James was describing the situations that often happen in the church. He traced the reasons to the root. Where do all the quarrels and fights come from?

Fighting spirit is something we ought to have. Put in the right place, it causes progress in humanity. Put in the wrong place, it causes a lot of destruction. This is true for an individual, for a church, for a family and for a nation.

James says that selfish desire is the root of all strife. The book of Ephesians says that our selfish desires are in battle with the Holy Spirit.

When we are still living in sin, Satan does not look at us as his enemies because we are under his control. God also does not look at us as His enemies because He uses His love to bring us back to Him. Therefore, our lives as human beings can be quite peaceful in this sense. We can live as we like without strict constraints.

However, when we are saved, the real battle begins within us. It becomes a very difficult life. We are constrained in whatever we do. When we follows our selfish desires, the Holy Spirit within will rebuke us. When we follow God, our flesh will resist. So, true Christians live in this tension as long as they are still in this world.

God gave Israelites the promised land but He did not drive out all the Canaanites and left the land empty for the Israelites to take possession. Implicitly this gives us a very important Christian principle which is often neglected by Christian leaders and parents today. If we do not understand the necessity to fight and always want to have things easy and smooth, we will lose all our fighting spirit and cannot progress. When Joshua was old, God still told him that a lot of land was yet to be conquered. Here we can see that God is never satisfied with our fighting spirit. Yet few churches talk about what they have not done, but often talk a lot about what they have done. If we keep looking forward and want to do the things we have not done, we have a young fighting spirit. But if we keep looking backward and talk about the things we have done, we have a very old spirit, ready to move to the grave.

Hence, there is no question that fighting spirit is a necessity. The question is more on the issue of what we are fighting for. Today, the problem is we do not define our battle properly. We fight against our own brothers because we cannot tell the difference between brothers and enemies. We cannot tell because we do not treat the absolute as absolute and the relative as relative. This is especially the problem with postmodern world we live in which always uses a relative spirit to respond to the absolute, and absolute spirit to respond to the relative. This results in confusion in a lot of the movements today.

James shows how a lot of our fights arise from selfish desires. This brings us to a serious issue that we are not willing to fight for important things but are always eager to fight for our personal things. It shows that our lives are still very centered on self. In chapter 1 James has said that self-centeredness would give birth to sin which results in death. If our lives are really so self-centered, then all our fights and prayers are useless. Achievement of our selfish needs is not relevant to God's eternal will. The prayer the Lord Jesus taught us is the true content of prayer. Surely God knows our need and will provide for us. If we still keep asking God for our personal needs instead of seeking His kingdom when God has provided for our basic needs, it is a sign of greed. Prayer is a very sacred exercise. Yet we would use the most precious religious tool for our selfish ends. Do we not express our selfishness, jealousy, hatred and doubts in our prayers instead of praying in line with God's will?

Christians have the habit of putting their theology in the fridge. When Mohamed was made fun of, Muslims produced social upheaval in many countries around the world. When Jesus Christ is made fun of, Christians produced another book. When we lose our fighting spirit, all knowledge becomes cold. We need to defreeze it and be set on fire again. Reformed theology is reformed theology. Movement is movement. Yet now churches only fight among themselves and do not declare war against Satan.

What is the most important content of your prayer? That is the reflection of your spirituality. If your prayer is the will of God, you are standing right in the battlefield with God and are walking with God.

We need not fight those battles we do not need to fight. But we must fight those battles we need to fight. If we do not fight the battle that we should, we are compromising. If we fight the battle we do not need to fight, we are impulsive. In the same way, we do not need to try to get the things we do not need to have. But we need to get the things we need to have. If we try to possess the things we do not need, we are greedy. If we do not try to get the things we need to have, we are stupid.

God is a jealous God. He is jealous of evil, not of good. God Himself is the Truth, Righteousness, Goodness and Holiness. So if you become more holy, God will not be jealous. If you become more righteous, more truthful, God is not jealous. If we are friends with the world, we are enemies with God.

Peter talks about being partakers of divine nature. It means to escape the corruption of the world so that we can have a part in God's holiness, love and righteousness. The starting point we see in 1 Cor.1:30 that say Christ has become our salvation, wisdom, righteousness and holiness. After we are saved, we can partake in divine nature.

When you truly understand God's Word, you will taste how His wisdom is far above all the philosophies of the world. The worldly philosophies do have their values you can learn from, but when you truly understand God's Word, you will see all their limitation and you will see how glorious His wisdom is above all.

James 4:6 has a sudden twist after he talked about God's jealousy. He said God gives more grace, and He opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Who are the proud? Satan and all that follow him. Who are the humble? They are those who submit to God and His eternal will. They are those who are always teachable and in infinite search for the Truth of God. The moment we stop looking for teachers (anyone who has something good we do not have regardless of their status and age), we start to fail.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Selected Q&A during Reformed Seminars

Here are some selected questions and answers with Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong during the Reformed Evangelical Seminars and his sharing with the Indonesian youths in GRII between 24th to 26th February 2006. I selected those that I think embed very important principles that would consolidate our thinking, deepen our meditation and set correctly the direction of our learning. I personally translated and also re-wrote some questions to better suit the content of his answers because sometimes he gave some very good content which might not be directly related to the initial questions asked.

1. Romans 13 says we have to obey and submit to government authority. And then we talk about reformation that Christians are to judge even politics. How then do we reconcile between submission to authority and revolution?

By understanding the principle of authority from God's Word.

a. All authority belongs to God so God is greater than His authority
b. All authority belongs to God so all authority are instituted by God
c. All authority belongs to God so all authority will be judged by God
d. All authority belongs to God so God can remove present authority and replace with a new authority according to His will.

Many authorities like to teach only part b) but we have to teach the principle of authority in totality, which includes God's sovereignty, our submission to authority, the accountability of authority and God's will in rising one and putting down another. As we can see, part d) gives a way out of our human limitation to view things at higher level where the seeming contradiction between submission and revolution is reconciled.

2. I see many things are wrong in churches today. Can I start a revolution?

First, beware if you want to start a revolution. Every revolutionist thinks that he is better than the existing system he is trying to overthrow but history testifies that often times the revolutionists might end up worse. Hence do not think that your objective is achievable. You need to be extremely clear if it is God's will so your foundation has to be solid and you also need to have a clear understanding of your generation. Every generation has its own spirit that controls and directs it, which is its culture. It's what I call the soul of the society.

What is the spirit of this age? It is pragmatism. It is very dependent on profit and loss. This is the era of market forces. People define value system based on what the market demands. Young people do not want to hear about Trinity but on pragmatic things like how to love one another and build families. Quantity replaces quality. Men-centeredness replaces God-centeredness. The perceived needs of men replaces the sovereign will of God.

If you ask me what is needed for churches in Singapore, I would say firstly probably we need 20-day preaching rally to re-teach the basics of Christianity all over again.

3. How should we disciple a new young Christian?

First, teach him to reverence God. Old Testament comes before New Testament. Compare the attitutes of the Chinese and the Jews. Chinese are very pragmatic and treat God with this kind of attitude. When bad things happen they give up their faith. But the Jews are so rooted in fear of God that when they face great persecution and disasters they cling even more tightly to their faith.

Next, guide him to understand the whole system of reformed theology. How long? Think of it day and night. Meditate of God's guidance throughout history. And in our generation, be bold and fight.

Many kids after 11 years old find the church boring, at age of 14 find no role models in church, and at the age of 17 onwards begin to have both rational capacity to think in depth which many pulpits cannot supply their need, and on the other hand they also have worldly desires which draw them into the world. We cannot wait until the enemies take over us and then we begin fighting. The greatest spirit of reformation is the attitude to always be reforming. Wherever we are, we need to keep reforming ourselves back to the Bible.

"God is Love" has been too superficially explained. A leader who can guide people into true fear and love of God is a precious treasure.

4. What kind of church should we build?

On building churches, if people with orthodox faith do not want to start churches and leave the job to those who are not qualified, they have given up the right of the firstborn and are bounded by their own limitation.

First, establish the right theology foundation in the church.
Second, establish the elders and deacons in the church. They must be people who truly understand God's Word and His eternal will. If we do not have such people yet, wait expectantly for God's timing.
Third, train the church to love preaching the gospel. A church must be both theologically founded and evangelically fervent.

5. Is democracy really the fruit of Reformation? What about democracy that existed before Reformation? What about the French Revolution?

Different democracies do exist and they are based on different foundation. There are 3 kinds of democracy:

a. Athenian democracy where decision is merely is based on majority votes
b. French revolution where the masses would get what they want by force and violence
c. Christian democracy that is based on the foundation that human beings are made in the image of God

The last type of democracy is the fruit of Reformation that truly honors human rights and dignity. You can do a history study and discover that those countries that are dominated by Protestant influence are more democratic and turned into democratic nations earlier than countries that are dominated by Roman Catholic influence. As an example, you can compare North America (Protestantism) and South America (Roman Catholic Church) and evaluate which country observes human rights more.

6. How should I preach to a Buddhist or a free-thinker?

This question can be discussed in a long series. If you want to preach to a Buddhist, you should learn about Buddhism so that you know about Buddhism more than he knows. You will realize that most of the time people who claim to be believers of a certain religion do not really know the essence of their religion.

Ask a person who claims to be a free thinker, what is a free thinker. Is he sure he is really thinking freely? Let him explain to you how free his mind is. You will discover that most of the time people cannot answer you. Then you can tell him what you know. The concept of free thinker actually came from Voltaire who decided that our thinking should not be bound by anything, especially religious authority.

In this way, if you study very hard and you show clearly that you know what he knows although you do not hold the same faith, and yet he does not know what you know, you are a step ahead of him and it is more likely he will listen to you. But if you do not know what he knows, and he knows about your faith more than you do, then you have lost. So we have to be very diligent in our learning so that we have better standing and opportunities in preaching.

7. How should we learn so many things?

I lost my dad when I was three. I came from a humble, despised and poor background with very little opportunities to learn. My dad did not know a single musical note, how do you think I learn all that? You ask how I come to where I am today... seek, ask and knock! Keep seeking, keep pursuing.

8. What are the stages of learning?

a. Informative learning. This is where you learn all the terminologies, definitions and facts. It is merely to let you know what is what. This is the most superficial and simplest stage of learning. Unfortunately, many pulpits stop at this level so the congregation basically keeps receiving only information.

b. Comparative learning. After informative learning, you can begin making comparison between the things you study to see their similarities and differences. You learn to segregate all the phenomena.

c. Analytical learning. Here you ask the question why and try to understand the essence of the phenomena you see.

d. Critical learning. This is where you learn to make critical judgement of what is good and what is bad. You evaluate what is lacking in your predecessors. People with such power to critique are generally despised by their generation who are still bounded by their current tradition, but will be admired by the future generation.

e. Contributive learning. Here you begin to create as you learn. You not only learn the content of what people have invented, but you learn how they invent.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

PART I: Introduction to Reformed Evangelical Movement

This is my personal summary of the seminar of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on the Future of Reformed Evangelical Movement on 23rd February 2006 (Session 1)

If a person does not see where value is, he would not be diligent with his life. But those who have seen and understood and yet do not respond are the rebellious.

What is reformed?

It means to return to God, to the Truth. It means to have the right thought system, the right faith, the right ministry, the right pathway. God says that He will inspire us and leads us into the path of righteousness for His name's sake. The Reformation is a movement that returns to the Scriptures and is modeled after the historical Jesus Christ.

The term ‘reformed’ reminds us that Christianity must have orthodoxy. It demands us to be built upon the Scriptures truth and to hold onto the teaching of the apostles.

Which one then truly summarizes the teaching of the apostles? Not only Charismatics have deviated, even important evangelical leaders have deviated.

The mark of a true church is faithfulness to the true teaching of the Scriptures. This is not an issue of arrogance, of luxury, or of disputable matters. This is a matter of absolute necessity. When the church no longer stays faithful to the Scriptures, she opens the door for the enemy.

But where do we draw the line? Absolute teaching cannot be compromised. Relative teaching needs not be insisted upon. When we make the absolute relative, we make even the enemies our brothers. When we make relative absolute, we make brothers our enemies. But who decides what is absolute and what is relative?

This has to do with our approach, whether we are God-centered or man-centered. One example is our approach towards music. Do we want to teach others to appreciate those great music written for God or we just want to let people sing whatever they like?

(Personal Note: Ultimately knowing the absolute and relative is presupposition because it can only be known by God’s Revelation. On our side here, having the heart to see God as God and men as men is the starting point of the right spiritual understanding and hence is the beginning of knowing what is absolute and what is relative.)

We wonder at the growth of charismatic and contemporary churches because they cater to what the masses want. We excuse ourselves saying because we are orthodox we can never have big crowd. However, we should ask ourselves why only the charismatic churches can reach out to all kinds of people? It is not that there is not answer for us, but that we have not found the answers yet. We have surrendered before we fight. There's more unbelief and belief in our hearts and many church leaders have blinded themselves.

Reformed evangelical movement consists of two main forces. Our faithfulness to God is internal, but it has to express itself externally in brave battles. A dog that can bite is better than a sleeping lion. So many people are sleeping in their theological study. Karl Marx said that philosophy is not confined in the classroom but is the power to change human history. If Christians understand this, they will be able to engage in real battles and face the enemy. When we are in our comfort zone, we are sleeping and are unaware of our enemies.

We need to be courageous. We cannot forsake our courage. We cannot replace humility with fear. We should not compromise before we even try.

Martin Luther was just one humble monk who had to face the challenge to destroy the entire system that had been established for 1000 years. Imagine the kind of courage and power he needed.

God said to Jeremiah that He would send him to do the work of destruction and the work of rebuilding. God used Martin Luther to destroy the wrong system and used Calvin to build a correct system. They never taught any new doctrines but only made known what had been given to the Church since the days of the Apostles.

Calvin wrote a masterpiece of Institute of Christian Religion while Martin Luther established the 5 Solas.

Sola Scriptura

We cannot mix God's Word with men's words because His Word is eternal Truth revealed to us. Human philosophy is reaction towards God's general revelation and is a product of fallen reason.

While Augustinian theology influenced Calvin a lot, there's a difference between Calvin and Augustine. Augustine gave a lot of place to philosophy at the same level as the Word of God while Calvin, though he quoted human philosophy, never gave them a place equal to the Scriptures. So when Calvin expounded on God's creation, salvation and revelation, he found his source in the Scriptures alone.

Sola Fide

It is reliance on the faith that is given to us. Many people, especially the charismatic believers, teach that it's our faith that causes God to work. However, the faith meant by sola fide her is the faith that comes from hearing the Word of God, not our own faith. Christian faith is not the same as self-confidence. On God-given faith alone we can rely on.

Sola Gratia

We are all unworthy recipients. “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” It is not bound by our work, but it is all by His grace. (Rom.6:23)

Solus Christus

Only in Jesus we escape judgment and made righteous, made the children of God, and receive all spiritual blessings.

Soli Deo Gloria

All these given to us are not for self-glory, but to the glory of God alone.

So these 5 solas are the core values of true Christianity. False teaching would not hold in these 5 solas. In false teaching, we hear men's words, see men's faith, men's strength, men's identity and men's glory.

Not many people can understand the essence of reformed evangelical movement and even less people are willing to pay the price to stand up for it.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

PART II: The History of Reformed Evangelical Movement

This is my personal summary of the seminar of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on the Future of Reformed Evangelical Movement on 24th February 2006 (Session 2)

This is not only our comprehension of the Truth but has to do with our attitude towards ministry. Movement is a power that brings direction in history. What we want to receive from this seminar is not just another set of knowledge, but to understand God's will and to receive God's guidance so that we can partake in His purpose.

Who among us will work together with the Father? Many people think they are doing God's work but in reality only a few number of people can grab hold of God's historical direction and be obedient to the Holy Spirit's guidance.

Many people speak in the name of God but the spirit of lies cover the churches such that people are not speaking the Truth and cause many to be deceived, just as of King Ahab's day where all the prophets prophesied lies except one. If we listen carefully to what is being preached and observe closely the attitude of the preachers and the themes they choose, we can see that it is based on the imagination of what the congregation wants and not on God's Word. Many people are seeking for visible results and not concerned about God's eternal will.

Martin Luther went against the one Catholic Church during his time. Up to 13th Century, many wrong teaching has seeped into the church. There was emphasis on relics, fear of punishment and hell fire. This resulted in formulation of doctrines that are not related to the Bible. The building of St.Peter Basilica needed a lot of funds so rich people were allowed to become dominant. Wrong teaching prospered where the rich were respected and God was put aside. Social hierarchy was built up.

Augustine had great influence on the Roman Catholic Church, on Martin Luther and John Calvin.

On the Roman Catholic Church, his main influence is his book on the City of God where he believed that the Kingdom of God would be established on earth. Like a small seed, it would continue to prosper. When Christ first came, it was a very humble beginning. But later on all the kingdoms of the world would become the kingdom of God and His Christ, quoting from Revelation. Based on this, the Catholic Church believes that the Church is the Kingdom of God and everyone has to be ordained by the pope. In 7th Century, already Islam rose to rebel against the Church. A few centuries later the church reached its golden age, but now only the Vatican city with 1000 population is left as the Roman Catholic Church's territory. The Roman Catholics have erroneous view of God's Kingdom.

Augustine's influence on Luther is on the justification by faith alone. The revelation on our justification has been there all along but was only understood much later when Martin Luther emphasized this. Light is shed differently in different generations.

Augustine's influence on Calvin is on the sovereign will of God. Calvin went very deep into the content, which is the reason why reformed pulpit is very solid. Augustine said faith enables us to see the promised land. Knowledge asks faith to tell him what faith sees. So Augustine said, “I believe in order to know. I know in order to believe.” Nobody studied so clearly the relationship between faith and knowledge this way.

John Locke had some contribution when he said that we could not define realms dualistically as reasonable and unreasonable. These are not exhaustive. There is a realm that is neither reasonable nor unreasonable, but it is above and beyond reason. When trans-rationality is mixed up with irrationality, we have a lot of ignorant intellects who dismiss profound truth as irrational. One of the greatest discoveries is to explain how faith and knowledge connects.

The greatest university systems in the world are started by Christians and are built to pursue deeper understanding of the cosmos. In those early days, theology was considered the queen of knowledge, the foundation to influence all other areas of studies. Today's universities are very different as they are no longer respectful to the Word of God. They lose their root and take God as redundant.

Calvin teaches how grace and the sovereign will of God cannot be separated. Grace comes first before everything, even before our response to grace. The whole world has God's eternal will embedded in it. The will of God is greater than everything else, except God Himself. In Christ, all knowledge is to be found. Calvin's whole theology is founded on this principle. This is the beginning of reformed movement. It is based on solid structure and is the movement with the purest motive in history.

Calvin's teaching on predestination, the sovereignty of God, the doctrines of grace and God's eternal will form the structure of reformed theology. It replaces the fear that there is no salvation outside the Church (visible Catholic Church, not referring to Invisible Church). The doctrine of predestination is important as it is a quantum leap that leaps above all human principles. But few people ever come to that stage. Most people find their identity from human principles and tradition. Scriptures have a lot of leaps where we are transcended beyond human limitation.

One example is how can Jesus be both King and priest? In the Old Testament, kings only come from Judah's tribe while priests come from Levi's tribe. We can't say that Mary and Joseph are from Judah and Levi's tribe so that settles it. This is a very careless way of interpreting the Scriptures. The Old Testament is clear that when a Levite is married to another tribe, the levitical priesthood is lost. Similarly, kingship is lost when Judah's tribe marries another tribe. Yet the prophet Zachariah mentioned that both would be reconciled (king and priest). What did he mean?

In Hebrews it is expounded that Jesus was ordained under the order of Melchizedek, not the order of Levi. Melchizedek is a greater and higher order than Levitical priesthood, such that even Abraham paid a tithe to him. Aaron, the first Levite priest from Levi's descendent was only born 500 years after Melchizedek's encounter with Abraham.

John Calvin was able to grasp the leaps in the Bible. The doctrine of predestination is very clear from Eph.1:1-10. It is possible that many understand wrongly and become lazy. It is also possible that many who never come to the stage of understanding it remain very obedient and diligent. But those who truly understand have great power in ministry.

With John Calvin's theology, finally he saw that there are only 2 types of religions, theology, faith, churches and pulpit, that is, God-centered (theo-centric) or men-centered (an­thro­po­centric) ones.

True God creates men. False gods are created by men. True God seeks men. False gods are sought by men. True God made men in His image. False gods are made in the imagination of men. God-centered religion is based on God's revelation, will, and initiation. Men-centered religion is based on men's pursuits and imagination.

God-centered theology is based on God's power and revelation. Men-centered theology is based on men's own ideas and imagination.

God-centered faith comes from hearing God's Word. It is faith that has relationship with the Truth. Men-centered faith comes out of our own will and fallen self-confidence.

God-centered church is built upon the will of God, based on the teaching of the apostles. Men-centered church is built on human ambition and sees men in the center of the church.

God-centered pulpit preaches on the eternal will of God. Men-centered pulpit preaches to please men and talk about things that people like to hear.

The aim of reformed movement is to bring all things back to God-centeredness so that the Church would see the glory of God and not the glory of men, hear the voice of God and not the voice of men, understand God's eternal will and not engrossed with current affairs and our fallen reason. It brings us to become responsible Christians before God.

PART III: Position of the Reformed Evangelical Movement

This is my personal summary of the seminar of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on the Future of Reformed Evangelical Movement on 25th February 2006 (Session 3)

In all God's creation, the world is the center of the universe. It is the focus of the material world where life is. In this created world, human beings are the center of creation because they are the only beings that can understand and do God's will. Among all these human beings, God's chosen ones, the Church, is the focus of His will. Therefore the society sees the Church, and the Church sees God. The Church is God's will within God's will. In the Church, there is a group of people who truly understand God's grace, not merely receiving salvation, but deeply understand God's eternal will. These people will move history because they work with God and expand God's kingdom. They are God's will within God's will within God's will. The call of reformed evangelical movement is glorious and honorable because it is a solemn invitation to participate in the work of the Holy Spirit to lead people back to God.

A reformed church is built upon reformed theology and is one of many denominations. It is one part of reformed evangelical movement but is not the same as it. The reformed movement is a movement to bring the whole Church back to the teaching of the prophets and the apostles. It is not a denomination but an attitude to call upon the Church to return completely to God's eternal will.

Most Christians only want grace and are not seeking the Truth. They are very faithful to an anointed leader they like. So there are many cases of the blind leading those who are blinder than them. Who should teach God's Word? It is not those who have ambition to be church leaders but it is those with orthodox faith and understanding. Churches must be built upon the foundation of the Revealed will of God.

Yet, nowadays churches will not interfere with other churches. They are free to develop their own thought system. The secular government does not bother as capitalist society give freedom to churches. So in this kind of circumstances where there is no more inquisition or religious courts to judge heretics, Satan raises up many false teachers.

The two main responsibilities of reformed evangelical movement are the Gospel Mandate (a work towards the saints in preaching the gospel outside the church) and Culture Mandate. Culture mandate is the call to illuminate the entire world based on God's Word. It might not bring people to Jesus Christ but would reveal the fact that Jesus is Lord over every aspect of life including philosophy, Science, medicine, politics, economy, arts, history, etc. It is the call to be the light of the world to represent God in the world.

When did Christianity give up the Culture Mandate? It happens because of the concept of false spirituality which traps Christians in dualistic thinking that separates spiritual from secular life.

When we examine closely, there are not that many systems of Scriptures interpretation that have been established. The first one is the Roman Catholic system. The second one is the Eastern Orthodox that broke away from Roman Catholic Church in 1033. Many other systems that developed before that like Arianism and Nestorian did not really stand. In Medieval time, there were also many attempts to establish different systems like realism and mysticism but they did not get realized.

In 14th Century, the works of Aristotle suddenly became very important and had great influence on Islam, Judaism and Christianity. The greatest intellectual thinkers believed they needed to know Aristotle. This is the beginning where faith became secular like the rise of natural theology (formulated by Thomas Aquinas earlier) which developed apologetics that was based on Aristotle. The Roman Catholic Church mixed the Word of God with the works of Aristotle. By the end of medieval age, the Renaissance movement began.

Is Renaissance of the Church? It was a movement within the Church in North Italy and the renaissance people were Christians, like Leonardo Da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo who brought art to its height. On one hand, they were moving away from Christianity and on the other hand Catholic Church welcomed them.

In 16th Century the Reformation movement revamped the entire existing system and established a great theological system. After the Reformation there was Enlightenment movement. These 3 great movements were like a sandwich and are the 3 important foundation of modern understanding as they inherit different value systems.

The Renaissance was sick of Christianity and the constraint of religion in restricting human freedom. They were against the religion which was against nature and was only waiting to go to heaven. They asked why they must follow the Church and why they must kill creativity. So Renaissance was an expression of emotion and freedom that tried to get out of the Church. There were only 2 themes of art namely Biblical themes and Greek mythology. The Church needed great art work to let people see visuals because they did not read Scriptures. Hence the most talented artists were hired to paint for the Church. However, humanism had begun. There were no more halos on the saints in their painting.

Leonardo Da Vinci had 4 main themes in his painting:

1. God is not the center of the universe. The focus is on the human world.
2. Heavenly faith is not the most important. Life on earth is most important.
3. Heaven is not our hope. Our hope is in the world.
4. Faith is not through the mystical things but should use reason to explain.

For the first time, Renaissance brought about humanistic victory that cried we do not need to follow God.

When we compare Renaissance and Reformation, their motives are totally different.

In Renaissance, man has dignity. Why must we be suppressed by religion? Why do we not follow the great examples during Roman times? It wanted to go against the Church. It is secular and men-centered and is modeled after the Greek. It finds human potential in themselves.

Reformation on the other hand, is not really against the Church but rather is against the decadence of religion and the wrong interpretation of the Scriptures. It raged as the Church had covered the glory of God. It wanted to get back to biblical faith. It is God-centered and is modeled after Christ. It finds human potential as beings made in the image of God. It is the most faithful movement for God's glory.

100 years after the Reformation, many hearts waxed cold. Other than a minority that truly understood, others were lost. Justification by faith was abused as reason for passivity and decadence. Holland and Germany saw the rise of rationalism while England saw the growth of empiricism. During the Enlightenment, the concept of free thinkers began as people who did not want to be bound by religion. In 19th Century, logical positivism, communism, sociology, evolution and psychology had developed.

It is God's grace that the Church is still preserved till today. But God wants to preserve a group of people who truly understand His eternal will. The reformed system within Protestantism is the truest system. All the greatest thinkers in the Protestant heritage had walked the reformed movement, even the Baptist, Anglican and Methodist movement. It is a great and honorable invitation for us to wholeheartedly join.

PART IV: Direction of the Reformed Evangelical Movement

This is my personal summary of the seminar of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on the Future of Reformed Evangelical Movement on 26th February 2006 (Session 4)

Many churches who like to preach the gospel have very shallow content. Reformed evangelical movement has gospel flame with solid theological content. Reformed church is just one part of reformed evangelical movement.

The 3 movements – Renaissance, Reformation and Enlightenment – have something in common, i.e. they are dissatisfied with the Church. Why would there be dissatisfaction? It is because God has given the concept of perfection in men's hearts as they are made in the image of God. Men used this image engraved within to judge the Church that is supposed to be the representative of God and so found a lot of dissatisfaction.

Renaissance discovered that the Greeks and Romans had great achievements in architect, arts, arithmetic, etc. although they did not know God. They had very high aesthetic understanding of nature. People wanted to revive such art so they were in opposition to the Church as they wanted to move backward to the past. Before the Renaissance, there were already gothic art but it was not creative. It was very constrained and had great emphasis on piety. Renaissance wanted to follow the example of the Romans and the Greeks. Because the Church was an important place where music could develop, there were a lot of great music accomplishment during Renaissance. But only after Reformation music is brought to its greatest height. Bach and Handell produced masterpieces of Baroque music, which later on inspired Mozart and Beethoven.

The motive of Renaissance is secular as it is humanistic. But the motive of Reformation is purest in the history of mankind as it is God-centered and pleasing to God. It wants to return completely to the Scripture, to the faith, to the grace of God, to Christ, all for the glory of God. The Church finds back its original essence, its foundation that cannot be shaken. So on one hand the Reformation is dissatisfied with the Church, on the other hand it finds the correct position to stand.

The third movement, the Enlightenment, is also self-centered. It also wants to get away from the Church because of dissatisfaction. In the 17th century, intellects found their expression of arrogance. They thought humans were already mature and no longer needed God. There are different intellectual movements like the empiricism in England, pioneered by people like Berkeley, David Hume and Francis Bacon. Empiricists believe that everything is known by the experiences and sense we have. Francis Bacon used induction scientific method the broke away from Aristotle philosophy which is also the beginning of modern Science. There were rationalists like Rene Descartes in France and Spinoza in Holland who believed that everything came from human thoughts. They despised the Bible and emphasized human honor and power.

Enlightenment movement has great influence over human history the past 300 years. Only in the 20th century people began to discover that there is too much arrogance and reason simply does not have enough power to critique everything. People begin to question, if Reason can judge God and faith, who then can judge Reason?
So in the midst of 20th century the world entered into post-modernism which marked the discovery of the limit of reason. The pendulum swings to another side now where there is emphasis on the spirit. This is where the New Age Movement comes in as it is not really using reason as the final tool. But both modernism and post-modernism are man-centered.

In the Renaissance, God is no longer in the center but man is. In the Enlightenment, it's not only men-centered but men declare that they do not even need God for reason and pursuit of life. In post-modernism, men become their own god. So we live in the most arrogant era.

We float with the rest of the world and follow market demand. When churches follow market forces, they will compromise a lot and begin to measure success based on numerical growth. So they lower the standard of music and pulpit ministry. They do not care to give God the best music and they do not seek God's eternal will, but seek what most people want so that people will come. This causes the emergence of prosperity theology. Profit and loss become important while orthodoxy becomes unimportant.

So we have two important forces that threaten orthodoxy in this era:

1. 19th Century liberal theology that goes against Biblical principles. The liberals do not believe the Bible is the Word of God, the virgin birth, the death of Christ and His atonement, His resurrection and His second coming. When all supernatural is removed, what is there left to the faith? Only Jesus' morality becomes the value of Christianity. His lordship is gone. So they just look at Jesus as a good moral standard to follow. This is historical Jesus versus the Christ of faith. Liberals believe that in ancient times people had made Jesus who was a mere man to be God. They do not believe in the supernatural but use rationality to judge everything supernatural.

After the World War I, the Church declined in attendance. The Presbyterian in USA lost 1.3 million people. The Church that does not believe in the supernatural has no power in pulpit and the faith has become similar to Confucianism or Buddhism that only talks about morality and ignores the lordship of Christ.

When the congregation grows old, only 1 out of 100 youths would attend the church. They are no longer worthy to be called a Christian country, but just western culture. The churches are controlled by unbelievers and even pastors who preach on pulpits might not be believers. This makes reformed movement very difficult. In Renaissance, at least those who went against the Church still believed in God. But the liberals do not believe in God.

2. Mid 20th Century witnessed the growth of charismatism. There was only one person who started the Charismatic movement in 1901, and only 5-6 people in 1905 in Azusa Street. In 1989, the number has grown up to 238 million people. This is the denomination that grows the fastest in one generation. They believe that they hold on to the apostolic teaching while the traditional churches do not have apostolic faith. The apostolic faith in their understanding, refer to the following phenomena: miracles, healing, exorcism and tongues.

Churches have become very structured and traditional in 20th century. When the liberal theology sinks in, most people are not aware of it. When the charismatics first started people looked down on them because their number was few and they were mostly poor people. But they grow so fast that many traditional churches are turning towards them. Two to three generations ago, the greatest people in our society are in our denomination (reformed/Presbyterian) while the charismatics consist of people from lowest class of the society. However, 80 years later, the descendants of the charismatics take up important positions in the society. Now the orthodox churches are empty.

We need to have Christian spirit that worries about the state of the Church, to be anxious for the house of God. The greatest phrase that could ever be said by a youth, was said by Jesus Christ when he was only a youth and was also the only phrase he spoke that was ever recorded when he was a youth: “Don't you know that I have to be about my Father’s business?” We have ambition to be rich and we are people who get used to material comfort. But who will set great plans for God's kingdom and sacrifice himself?

We see that within the church, the charismatics are misinterpreting the faith while outside the church, the liberals are destroying the faith. Who will represent the true faith? We need to return to the essence of the faith and with absolute spirit to establish God's Word on earth. We need to use the Word of God to critique philosophy, wrong theology, culture, literature, psychology, etc. so that God is Lord in all things. This is the call of Culture Mandate.

Who is the Church? It is the saints, those who are elected in Christ before the foundation of the world. It is the home of the Eternal God, the place where the Truth is defended in all generations. When Christians no longer hold on to the Truth, it is no longer like the Church.

So we need to build the right faith, the right thought, action and ministry. The Gospel Mandate is our responsibility to the world. But the situation today is that many who know reformed theology are not burdened to preach the gospel while there are many evangelical movements that have no good foundation. Those who know theology refuse to preach and those who preach do not know theology. The crazy people are not knowledgeable while the knowledgeable refuse to be crazy. So we have those who are good in quantity but bad in quality. Those who have the quality are not interested in quantity.

The general principle of growth in the Scriptures is by preaching the gospel, not by immigration or population growth. So we must preach the gospel. Predestination guarantees that people will be saved and our preaching will bear fruits. Preaching does not convert people but only exposes those who have been predestined.

We need to be strengthened internally and expand externally. We need to be rooted downwards and grow upwards. Reformed theology is based on Scriptures so become our solid foundation. It's like the skeleton while our evangelistic fervency is like the flesh. The skeleton without the flesh is scary while the flesh without the skeleton is just a mass that cannot stand. So we need both. But there is one more thing we need. That is the blood that flows through our entire body. This makes us living beings. Our whole body is an organic system. The Church is the Body of Christ. The structure is based on theology and the fervency is the flesh. And the blood of Christ flows so it is not a mechanical thing, but we live by the Holy Spirit.

We need to deeply understand theology and boldly preach the gospel. The world and its desires pass away but those who do the will of God will live forever.