Wednesday, March 01, 2006

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.


At 4:07 AM, Blogger The Hedonese said...

"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."

Er... is there a mistake here?

Descartes is a Catholic Christian, rite? And Spinoza a Jew? Is it accurate to say they despise the Bible? :)

At 2:45 PM, Blogger Mejlina Tjoa said...

Thanks for pointing that out, Dave. I wrote the point down when he preached, as it shows the direction of rationalism, but as a listener I did not know the background of these philosophers that much.

Yet in overall, it could be possible. I mean, even Christians can despise the Bible through their attitude and treatment of the Word though they might not realize it or admit it. They might have great religious heritage related to the Bible, but here rationalists' writing was indeed against the Scriptures. Probably that's what ST meant when he said they despised the Bible.

At 11:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just one note on Descartes, he was a Christian and he no way did he despise the Bible as far as i know.
He was a rationalist who believed that reason alone was able to prove the the existence of God. Probably ST was emphasizing on the importance of faith as opposed to reason alone durung the Enlightenment.Thks


Post a Comment

<< Home