Tuesday, June 27, 2006

New Series of Stephen Tong's Sermons

Dear all my transcript readers,
The expository preaching of the Book of James has ended 2 weeks ago. Rev.Stephen Tong will begin a new series on difficult topics of the Bible. The first topic is on Creation vs. Evolution and will begin from this Sunday onwards (expected to continue for one month).
I encourage those of you in Singapore to come and be blessed by all the apologetics series. To the rest who do not have the chance to come personally, I hope my transcripts will continue to be a blessing to you.

Below is the official announcement from STEMI.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Have you ever encountered difficult passages in the Bible? Are you looking for answers to difficult questions in faith? Introducing the weekly preaching session by world-renowned theologian-evangelist, Rev. Dr. Stephen Tong:

Difficult Passages In The Bible 2006

The Reformed Evangelical Expository Preaching Series, Singapore.
Date : Sunday
Time : 7.30pm
Location : Newton Life Church, 200 Keng Lee Road, S308410
Speaker : Rev Dr Stephen Tong
Interpreter : Elder Yong Teck Meng (Mandarin with English Translation)
Come and be part of this exciting seminar. Kindly help us publicize this event, and do invite your friends to attend.

Please contact us if you need more information.
God Bless.
STEMI (Singapore)
Tel : +65 63330511 / +65 98291320 (Mon-Fri, 9am-6pm)
Fax : +65 63330522

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Bring Lost Ones Back to God

This is my personal summary of the expository preaching of Rev.Dr. Stephen Tong on James 5:19-20 on 4th June 2006. Note: This is the last session on the book of James.

Pietism is a movement that came sometime after the Reformation. They emphasized on the things that were not emphasized during the Reformation. They believed that every Christian must have meditation and holy lifestyle, i.e. no habitual sin. Christians must search themselves and have a rich prayerful life. And Christians must be evangelical.

The Reformation placed emphasis in systematic theology after moving out of the Catholic Church. Because they were more focused on restructuring faith, they were not yet emphasizing on the spirit of evangelism. The negative effect was that this neglect caused a split within the Protestant churches later on.

There is no conflict in the doctrine of justification by faith alone and the need to do good works. Those who had been truly made righteous by God should be able to live lives in such a way as to be considered righteous before men. This is the special importance of the book of James in the Bible that expound on the relationship true faith and good works. Every Christian is to express their lives of faith so that their actions will glorify the Father before the pagans.

The last verse in the book of James exhorts us to bring back the backsliders. We need to preach the gospel to capture all men who are created by God but who are now in the midst of destruction. This is evangelism. But there are those who have received the Word of God but have already wandered from the Truth. They are now moving in their own way, no longer treasuring God, are sick of pulpit ministry and are now only interested in the world. We need to bring them back to God. This is revival.

The important part of our work is to bring back the lost sheep. Bringing a sheep (who is already a Christian) back is as important as preaching the gospel.

The Bible tells us that we should not forsake the assembly of the saints (Heb.10:25). Those who leave the flock can have a lot of reasons to cut themselves from the group, thinking that they are better than others. They could come back to God in the end, but would have wasted their life which could have been used to partake in God's purpose.

A person turns back because he is awakened. Psalms 23:3 says that God would awaken us to the path of righteousness (orthodox faith) for His name's sake. He opens our eyes to see how far we have wandered from the truth and with His love, He moves us to Himself.

People are made in the image of God but many of them are spiritually dead. Christians have been redeemed by Christ, but many of them are now living in sin. We need to bring back all these people.

When a person comes back to God, not only his soul would be saved, but this would also cover a multitude of sins. If he does not repent, he will become harmful to the society. Both righteous people and sinners have great influence in history. If we bring people back to God, a lot of opportunities for sin would be reduced and a lot of good works will be added to the society.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Session I - Natural Faith and Saving Faith

This is my personal summary of session 1 of Defense and Fight for the Faith by Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on 20th May 2006. It was live telecast from Jakarta to Singapore and was originally in Indonesian language. The summary is my personal translation.

In different generations throughout history, we see the development of apologetics in facing the challenges of that age. Apologetics therefore becomes the mark of saints’ faithfulness in defending the true faith. The young generation needs to be prepared to understand the things that are truly valuable. The most valuable thing is to know God's Truth. Hence defense and fight of the true faith becomes very important. It is the faith that is based on God's revelation (John 20:31), not based on one's own will.

“They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Acts:2:42

From the verse above, we see 4 aspects of church life:

1. Devotion to the apostle's teaching
2. Fellowship one with another
3. Sacrament
4. Prayer

None of these elements should be missing from a church, else the church is paralyzed. If all four aspects are done properly, the church will be healthy.

A church needs to be faithful to the apostles’ teaching because it is the foundation of Christian faith. A church also needs to fellowship one with another. There must be love and not self-centeredness that only wants to shows oneself to be great. There is no Christian sign when there is no love, because Jesus says the world will know we are His disciples if we love one another. A church also needs to always remember Jesus’ death through the holy sacrament. Finally, prayer is the deepest expression of human heart in sincerity towards God. Therefore, if we pray for self-centered things, we sin greatly. In prayer, we need to be seeking God's will and not our own will.

The Scriptures teach us to observe our life and our doctrine. A life of good works is not the criteria for justification, but is the fruit of justification. We are justified by faith alone. Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). We are born again by faith, and this new life also can only be walked by faith.

But what is faith?

For a person who does not understand, faith is seeking God's grace instead of God Himself. For a true believer, faith is seeking understanding. Faith is the basis of right understanding of the essence of grace. It seeks to understand why grace is given and who is this Giver. Faith looks at the grace of God and says, “I have seen something.” Knowledge asks faith, “Please tell me what you see.” So faith becomes the source of our understanding.

Paul said, “I know WHOM I believe.” Faith is not in a set of doctrines, but is in a Person. Hebrews 12:2 says to set our eyes on Jesus Christ, who is the Author and Finisher of our faith.

There are a few levels of faith. The first one is the natural seed of faith which God plants in every human heart regarding His existence.

The existence of God is the REASON we believe or do not believe in God. The existence of God is NOT the result of us believing or not believing in God, rather it is the CAUSE we discuss about His existence.

God does not exist in the realm of proof. Whatever that is used to prove God is far too small. He surpasses all methods of proof. Anyone who wants to prove God's existence is too daring. Those who wanted to kill Christ were too brave. Christ whom they tried to put to death instead rose again and swallowed death itself. In the same way, God simply transcends all evidence. We cannot use the microscope to see the stars or a knife to cut the light.

Then we say God exists. What is the foundation? The foundation is God's revelation of Himself. When we talk about human beings trying to prove God's existence, we are making ourselves the initiator. However, God is the Initiator who has willingly revealed Himself to us and only because of that, we know He exists.

Aristotle is a Greek philosopher who gave argument about God's existence. In 12th to 13th century, Thomas Aquinas developed the ontological, cosmological and teleological arguments of God's existence. This is called the natural theology.

It is not that we are not allowed to prove, but simply it is beyond us to prove God's existence. So the question is not, “How do we prove the existence of God?” Instead, the question is, “How does God reveal Himself to us?” It is through His Spirit. He is the Spirit of Truth. The Catholic faith believes that rationality is sufficient to prove God's existence. Is rationality really enough? No need Revelation?

Someone once said that those who argue using natural theology have made two logical leaps:

1. They assume that the world is created by God.
2. Is the Designer and the Creator the same? Which God?

It is not that we are defending Christianity. If Christianity is wrong it has to be corrected. We have to defend the Truth. But because the Truth is in Christianity, we become Christians. If we are merely following, we only have the container but not the content.

Soren Kiekergaard of Denmark said that the more we debate on the existence of God, the more we are insulting Him. We should ask Him directly. However, here Kiekergaard is still putting human beings as the seekers. Reformed theology is higher as it presents God as the Seeker of the lost sinners. It is a different realm where God is the center.

In 20th century, Bertrand Russell challenged Christianity saying that it assumed God does not need to be created. If the universe needs to be created by God, why is it that God does not need to be created and can exist by Himself? How do we know that the universe must be created instead of existing on its own?

The natural faith implanted in our heart gives us the basic knowledge of God's existence. That is why we know God exists. A person who says he does not agree that God exists is honest. A person who says he does not believe that God exists is not very honest. A person who says God does not exist is dishonest. “If there is no God, I can do everything.” This is the basic motivation for people to oppose God's existence. They suppress the truth in their heart (Romans 1:18-19). Why trying so hard to disprove something that does not exist? That is something logically unsound to do. “An atheist is a theist in reverse.” He is a person who wants to suppress the truth of God's existence because he does not like the fact that God exists.

The existence of God is not the product of human proof. This faith is in every human heart, and is not “the faith that comes from hearing the Word of God.” This is the faith mentioned in Hebrews 11:6, the faith that enables us to seek God.

God is not lost, why do we seek Him? In reality, God seeks us. We never seek after God. A lot of people think that they are seeking God in their religions, while in reality it is not God they seek, it is His blessings. We seek money, success, children, job, healing, etc. We are all big liars. We seek everything except God and we use our religion to shut Him out of our lives. Therefore, those with religion are potentially worse than those without religion as with their wrong concept of religion, they would be more daring to sin. Woe to those who wear the mask of religion to commit more evil!

So what is the faith spoken in Hebrew 11:6? This faith is part of common grace. It is the faith that enables us to come to God's presence to hear His Word so that we can receive the faith that leads to saving grace.

The second type of faith is the faith that comes from hearing the Word of God. This is the saving faith. We need to hear the right preaching of the Word of God. If the foundation is skewed, the more we build, the more skewed the building becomes. The Scriptures say, if the foundation is destroyed, what can the righteous do? If foundation is not correct, we will need to destroy everything and rebuild!

The third type of faith is the faith that is given as a special grace in ministry. This is a special anointing God grants to His servants to that they can carry out extraordinary works God has called them to do.

The forth type of faith is the faith that comes through walking out the Word that has been heard. It is faith in daily living.

When we talk about defending the faith, what faith are we talking about? It is to defend the orthodox faith that is faithful to the apostles' teaching. The Apostles' Creed summarizes the basic tenets of Christian faith. Unfortunately, many churches today do not even recite it anymore. If we do not acknowledge it, how can we defend it?

There are those who perform miracles in Jesus' name but Jesus would not acknowledge them on the last day. Hence phenomena cannot be the mark of true faith. Then there are those who seem to live right but actually they are living in sin. Then there are those who teach right doctrines but their lives do not correspond. It is very beautiful to see those who have both correct doctrine and life.

Session 2 - The Essence of Christian Faith

This is my personal summary of session 2 of Defense and Fight for the Faith by Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on 21th May 2006. It was live telecast from Jakarta to Singapore and was originally in Indonesian language. The summary is my personal translation.

From the last session, we discuss about 4 types of faith. The second and forth type are the faith that comes by hearing the Word of God. We are saved by faith, and after we are saved, we walk by faith.

What about self-confident faith that thinks God will answer whatever we ask? This is the faith that comes from self-confidence that is already tainted with sin and is mixed with the belief that God is omnipotent so one could use God's power to achieve whatever he wants. However, God's sovereignty cannot be robbed by human will. He is indeed omnipotent, but He is also sovereign in His will.

A true faith believes that God is Almighty, receives the salvation of Jesus Christ, believes and follows the guidance of the Holy Spirit to journey through the abundant life in Christ.

The greatest gift of God the Father to the world is the gift of His One and Only Son so that the world could be saved through Him. The greatest gift of God the Son to His Church is the gift of the Holy Spirit so that the Church could be guided to live abundantly according to God's eternal will. The greatest gift of the Holy Spirit is to bring the Word of God from heaven down to earth so that the people of God could understand His will. Therefore, true faith is faith in the Trinitarian God.

God has His eternal will. God created the world. Christ came to earth for His work of redemption. The Holy Spirit reveals Christ. We see that God is Creator, Redeemer and Revealer. These are the three important aspects of God's works – creation, redemption, revelation. How do I know that God has eternal will? It is through His revelation. Therefore the works of the Revealer enable me to understand God's creation and redemption. And it is through faith alone we can understand God's revelation (this is the difference between Christianity and other religions). The Holy Spirit regenerates our hearts and brings us to Christ through the Scriptures. And Christ brings us to the Father.

Reformed apologetics work in the direction where God is the Center, the Initiator who reveals Himself, rather than men proving God.

What then should be the focus in apologetics (defense and fight for the faith)?

The Old Testament conceives the New Testament. The New Testament fulfils the Old Testament. The Old Testament prophesies about the New Testament. And then New Testament realizes the Old Testament.

Of all that have been prophesied in the Old Testament, all have been fulfilled in the New Testament, except the eschatos (the last days).

When the disciples were on their way to Emmaus, they were really downcast because Jesus had just been crucified 3 days before and His body was now missing. At this state, Jesus met them and went through the Torah and all the Prophets with them to expound what the Scriptures prophesied concerning Himself (Luke 25:25-27). At such a dispirited state, His disciples were taught of God's eternal will in the Scriptures concerning Christ.

Christ had to die before He was resurrected. Christians have to see both the glorious Christ and the suffering Christ. Jesus corrected their faith. To people who were so downcast, Jesus could rebuke them for their slowness to learn. However, today many churches simply pluck out verses from the Bible to find stuffs that people want to hear. Spiritual revival happens when we begin to understand that the essence of Christian faith is centered on the Person of Christ.

Christ's sufferings are absolute necessity. It follows that the absolute necessity of the sufferings of Christians in order to prove our faith also needs to be seriously considered. The Christ who died is the Christ who rose again.
God's intervention through significant events of history shapes Christian faith. What are these events?

Christ was born, Christ lived a perfect life, Christ was crucified and died, Christ rose again, Christ ascended to heaven and Christ will come back again.

Everything has been fulfilled except His second coming. All these ‘kairos’ (significant moments in history that has connection with God's eternal will) became the framework of our Christian faith. So the history is not moving blindly but is working out God's eternal will.

Creation is the starting point. The last day is the consummation point. In between this linear progress of history, there is an intersection point in between, the Incarnation. The Apostles’ teaching is centered on Christ Jesus, His birth, His holy life, His death on the cross, His resurrection, His ascension and His second coming. This is the focus of our apologetics.

So Paul said, “I know WHOM I have believed.” The center of faith is not a list of doctrines, but is on a Person in history, Jesus Christ.

General apologetics fight for the truth of God's existence. This can also be done by other religions that believe in the existence of God. But the focus of Christian faith is Christology and the Church is fighting for this.

There are many outside the church but they are God's children that are yet to be saved. At the same time, there are many devils' children inside the church but they are in sheep's clothing. Who will become the defender of the Truth?

Why do we have to defend the Truth? Does the Truth need to be defended?

Actually, there is no need to. God does not need to be defended. Like the lion in a cage, we do not need to defend that it is a lion. Just let it go free and it will prove itself to be a real lion. However, God calls us to defend the Truth because He loves us so that we who are unworthy might have a part in His eternal will as we work with Him. It is a great comfort God gives to us that He actually entrusts us to do such great work. Therefore, do not come to ministry with any other motivation. God can see our heart.

Session 3 - The Challenges to the Fight of Faith

This is my personal summary of session 3 of Defense and Fight for the Faith by Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on 21th May 2006. It was live telecast from Jakarta to Singapore and was originally in Indonesian language. The summary is my personal translation.

Jude 3, 20, 21 exhorts us to contend for the faith once entrusted to the saints, to pray in the Holy Spirit and to keep ourselves in the love of God.

We need keep ourselves in the right faith, the faith that is centered on Christ. We have to preserve, defend and fight for this faith that has been given to us

There are a lot of elements that are difficult to accept in Christology.

- Born of a virgin? How can that be?
- Lived a perfect life?
- This one death alone could atone for humanity's sin?
- He resurrected from the dead?
- He ascended to heaven with in His physical body?
- He would come again? It has been 2000 years!

All those true facts of history need to be defended because they embed within them the secret of salvation. The virgin birth of Christ shows that He is fully human, and fully divine. He was born of Virgin Mary, a human mother, by the power of the Holy Spirit, so He is divine. He lived a sinless life so He is qualified to die for our sin. Because He is the Son of God, His life is special and His blood could atone for the entire humanity. He resurrected as the firstfruit of those who have fallen asleep (dead) and in this is our hope beyond this temporal life. He ascended to heaven with a physical body so in the same way we would meet with Him in resurrected physical body. He will come again so all the injustices in the will would be settled some day. All our hopes are rested in the mystery of all these significant historical events in the Person of Christ.

All our rights are not thrown to us from heaven without battles. The Church would be persecuted. Jesus said He had sent us like sheep in the midst of wolves. This is the situation of Christians in the world so we should not hope that we will live an easy life. It will take sacrifices and battles. It is a very cruel situation however the Lord also gives us comfort and does not live us alone to die, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32)

How can we fight without the presence of the Holy Spirit with us? Christians today face the greatest challenges in history from different aspects. Many Christian leaders compromise at the moment of danger and still fool Christians by showing their faithfulness. Will we fight?

Where do the challenges come from?

1. Persecution from political power
2. Attacks from religion
3. Ridicules from philosophies of the world
4. False teaching in church

The first 3 challenges are external, while the last one comes from within the church community. There are those who think they are very smart and rational who do not believe in resurrection so they attack their own faith. There are others who only want peace and do not bother to fight to defend the right faith. In Acts 15:1-2 there was a dispute regarding circumcision being one of the criteria for salvation. Instead of giving in, Paul fought for the faith and it resulted in the first theology consultation in Jerusalem. Today people do not want consultation but just want to compromise. And people still distort the things that have already been settled, like the divinity and humanity of Christ. The challenge of Gnosticism had been there since the days of the apostles and this wrong teaching decayed and developed continually throughout history. The gospel of Judas, the gospel of Thomas and the Da Vinci Code are the descendents of Gnosticism. Another challenge is relativism that does not hold the absolute. Paul and John fought hard against wrong teaching like legalism, rationalism and relativism in the church during their days and established very solid apologetics for the defense of the true faith.

The defense of the true faith involves two aspects:

1. Active aspect where we debate, oppose and be vocal to stand for the Truth
2. Passive aspect where we receive all the persecutions and die for the Truth

We need both aspects of defense today. What should we do? If we have the faith, do we fight for it? Do we ask ourselves whether we should fight for it? Do we know how heavy is the responsibility to stand for the Truth and what kind of price we have to pay? Christians must have the courage to die for the Truth.