Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Consumerism, Pragmatism, and a Christian's Status

This is my (not Mejlina's) personal notes of Elder Yong Teck Meng's sermon in True Way Presbyterian Church on 23 May 2010, when Rev Tong was unable to preach. It was preached in Chinese with English translation. The above-mentioned disclaimer applies to this post similarly.

We are the people that experience the era with a speed of changes that is the fastest ever. Especially those at my age. For example, you and I are those who see the birth of the television. From an era without TV to an era with TV. That's a big change. What is the underlying power behind these changes?

One of the main things that causes them is technology. Have you ever observed how it changes our lives, including our philosophies? There was once an article (published in China) that said 'We should not underestimate Americans' creativity. They are a people with very creative culture. Take for example the iPhone.' The writer of this article went on to assert that one's life is not worth living if he has not had an iPhone. Socrates stated that an unexamined life is not worth living, but this writer dared say one's life without an iPhone is not worth living!

Technology and its hardware truly have influenced our lives.

As a testimony to that, let me tell you something. Some time ago one of my relative related a story to me of how amazed he was when he saw an iPad in an Apple store in the US. He said, 'This is something you must have. Otherwise, I don't know how you can live. It is like, "Magic."'

I fully understand how he felt, as I used to work in a technology company like Apple. This kind of amazement comes about because people have come to the stage where it is possible to transform a piece of hardware into an experience that could be enjoyed, something that is 'metaphysical'. When you use that piece of hardware, it is able to shape the way you think and live.

We really have underestimated the influence from science and technology on our faith and our perspective on enjoyment. It has directed us towards certain philosophies in life that we could not detect. The most important of these indistinguishable philosophies is consumerism (消费者本主义). Through the selling and buying of these technology devices, the whole world is walking down the way of consumerism.

Even those deepest beliefs that we held on dearly while we were young are now no longer found. Even including communism, how many people today are willing to sacrifice their lives for their belief? We can find none today.

In Taiwan, one prominent person once mentioned that what people want today is gao qing (高清 - High Definition Television / HDTV), not qing gao (清高 - lofty ideals). This TV is so highly defined that it can show a picture so sharply as if it is real or three-dimensional. It makes people want to touch the object that it shows. Here we can see that technologically advanced devices are able to arouse people to desire an enjoyment rather than pursue high lofty ideals.

So today, people are no longer concerned about high or noble ideas or faith, they say that these things are no longer relevant in life. The worst is, not only have these devices brought us along the way of consumerism, they have also led us into pragmatism. We can see this from sayings like 'It doesn't matter whether the cat is black or white, as long as it can catch a mouse, it is a cat.'

Take for example gambling. Those of us the older generation used to be punished if our fathers knew we played a game of tikam (a sort of lottery game played in provision shops). My father would tell me, 'All sins start from gambling'. But now people are saying that gambling is sinful, but it is good - and this is because it creates jobs ?!

I had even seen an essay written by a primary 4 student at a famous school on why the casinos were good for the country, with one of the reasons was that they created jobs for his parents. After I wrote an email to the Minister of Education, the essay was pulled down. So you see my point, pragmatism has also influenced our education system.

Not only our education system has been influenced, our Christian faith too has been influenced. Christian leaders often exhort their church members to be reformed, to preach the gospel, etc but many people would respond, 'See whether I like it or not' or 'Hmmm, it doesn't seem to be beneficial to me.' Is this how a church is supposed to go about doing things? Based on the principles of consumerism?

Take another example - you and I know that we have never 'welcomed' newcomers to our (expository preaching) sessions [Note: 'to welcome' here means to ask newcomers to stand and get everybody present to clap hands]. But many churches do so. Some even present gifts to the guests. There are also guests who would not be embarrassed even if they were to come to the gathering asking for door gifts! Ought we not to come to church without the expectation to be greeted by hand clappings and presented with goodies? After all, we are sinners who are supposed to come to church!

I'm not saying that it is absolutely wrong to present door gifts to newcomers. But here we see how the way we think, the way we do things, and our view towards faith have been deeply influenced by consumerism. This is definitely not a biblical teaching.

Once when God's servant (Rev Tong) taught us Reformed Evangelical (归正福音) theology, one of the points were so that we would go from darkness to light. It is not something that can be said simply. In the reformed understanding, in Ephesians 1 the Bible says that before the creation of this world, God had already chosen all of us. This is unlike consumerist practices where people often think, 'I am the one who chooses you.'

Some people often accept invitations to church because there are so and so goodies during traditional Chinese celebrations in church (i.e. they choose to go after analysing the benefits that they would receive). Or they believe because they say I have been pestering them, and after so doing ask me not to pester them anymore. This is how we often think.

This is one reason that when it comes our Reformed Evangelical movement's teachings like 'we have to be reformed' or 'we have to preach', we often think that it is one of many choices-it is something for me to choose. In the society, people often said, 'So long you like it, it's good for you.' Many people also like to think that values in life is relative. 'If you believe, they are good for you. No need to talk about lofty ideals.' Just last week, there were many people who attended the Pink Dot Event (a homosexuals' gathering), implicitly declaring that their way of life is their choice (not to be subjected to others' point of view) and that they do not recognise absolute moral standard.

Therefore unless we truly understand the true essence of our faith, we would be easily swayed by the patterns of this world. We would be looking passively from the side, with a consumeristic point of view at God's servant (Rev Tong) preaching all over the world: 'You go, go and preach, we will always support you. We will pray for you from the side, but you must also remember to pray for us before we pray for you.' Right from the time we believed in God we thought it was our choice to believe. This is not a biblical teaching.

Things are surely not that simple. In the reformed understanding, Jesus Christ preached not only about salvation but also the kingdom. For those of us who belong to him, our identity has been totally transformed. We now belong to God's kingdom. So when we consider our responsibilities, we should do so not based on the choices that we have but based on our identity as citizens of God's kingdom. We do not belong to the world, we only live temporarily in the world. There are many teachings in the Bible that are consistent with this, for instance, the teaching that says we only temporarily live in this world.

If life is smooth sailing for you so far, then something is very wrong. Sundar Singh once mentioned that once when he went to a village to preach, all the dogs there went to bark at him upon seeing his arrival. Why did the dogs bark? Because he did not belong there. The dogs are protecting their territory in this way. It's the same with us today. Dear brothers and sisters, are you feeling comfortable in your place today, because no worldly dogs are barking at you, although you supposedly belong to the kingdom of God? Consider our identity carefully.

In this area, our understanding towards our faith is really far from our Creator's Word. Rev Tong often remarked that the more he preached, the more he felt he had not understood the Bible. Many times we look at the teachings of the Bible, we look at them from the consumeristic point of view. We can see this from our questions such as 'Do I want to believe this?'

Yesterday I went to preach at a church and heard this song. I really wonder, why today many people are so pessimistic, that they compose a song like this:

I am not a perfect person.
I am not special at all, make me more special.
Oh God, make me better to be able to go to the world.

The fact is, among billions of people in the world, God has elected you and you are saying that you are not special at all?

In China I like to stand in the busy streets. Many of them look like me and can easily be my brothers. I will then wonder why out of so many of these people, God called me? John 10 clearly said 'The shepherd calls his own sheep by name.' Among the billions of people, God called, 'Yong Teck Meng, come out.' I just listened to His voice and came out. How can this be? I do not know. I can only accept this by faith.

Only when we understand our faith in this way then we can understand why Rev Tong is so fervent. Because this is not a choice, it is about the transformation of our life/awakening of your mission in life, from darkness to light. This is what being reformed truly is. It involves repentance, it involves returning back to God.

When we are involved in a ministry like this, it cannot be something hypocritical. Because it is not based on consumerism. We can see that Rev Tong is not too concerned about organisation structure because he will move according to the direction determined by the Holy Spirit.

If we serve God recognising that our status has been transformed in Christ, you will realise that many things will fall into place based on the biblical teaching, just as many things cannot be faked. That's why in Mat 9:36, we see Lord Jesus, upon seeing many people, he had compassion on them-it is a sense of grief that cannot be faked. The Lord also said that we are to enter the kingdom of God like little children-such innocence cannot be faked either.

In USA, John Piper wrote a book, 'Brothers, We Are Not Professionals.' In many things we cannot claim to be professional. E.g true love, in our fervency in serving God. It is something that comes from the inside of our heart. Just like what we see in Mat 9:36, that kind of compassion naturally flows out from Jesus' heart.

Dear brothers and sisters, this is what it means to be salt and light of the world. Our Lord did not say that we need to be changed into salt and light, he said, 'You are the salt of the earth. ... You are the light of the world.' Your status has been truly transformed. You are no longer sons of darkness, you are now sons of light. We cannot look at the world from the consumeristic point of view.

I am not saying that our thinking would be transformed overnight. We may take a long time to grow as Christians, but we must never see things from the perspective of consumerism.

Bearing this in mind, let's now examine Matthew 9:35-38. Faced with the overwhelming amount of work to be done, it tells us 'Ask the Lord of harvest to send workers', not to find co-workers or new methods. This stands in great contrast to how we see prayers today. We tend to see it a formula. Is this how the Bible looks at this matter? No, absolutely not.

Nowadays as I pastor the English congregation in RECS, I am often asked 2 main questions by Rev Tong:

1. 'Do you pray fervently for your congregation?' (not 'Do you use this or that method?')

Prayer is very important. Everywhere in the Bible we are told to pray. A person that prays much will be lead by the Holy Spirit to do much spiritual work. But often we treat prayer like a shopping list.

My daughter has a friend who would pray before her meals, 'Same as yesterday. Thank you. Amen.' This is definitely not how we should pray. The Bible tells us in many places that were told pray fervently, not just repeating 'Same as yesterday.'

There are many things that we have to do. We are told to pray. From the pragmatic and consumeristic point of view, prayer does not seem to be efficient use of time. But the Bible tells us to do so, because this is the work of the Holy Spirit.

We also need to pray because it leads us to go out and do something for our society. Jesus at his preaching in a synagogue (in Nazareth) said, '... the opposed will be liberated ...' This tells us that as Christians, there is a need to do something with social influence! It's important to do relief work to the poor. It's one of the marks of a real Christian.

By praying, we will also be led to be sensitive towards godlessness and evil. For example the casino. We should be concerned that the casino is now standing on our country's soil.

There is a Christian farmer in Henan that I once met. He loves the poor so much, that he will take any poor man that he can find and put them in his house. His wife and him will care for them by selling their possessions and using the money buy daily provisions for those they take in. This they do, without external support! I think seeing this man's work was a rebuke sent by God to me, that in comparison to this man I was really, arrogant.

Dear brothers and sisters, if we just keep listening to sermons passively, study the Bible but we ourselves are not transformed, do not act upon our faith, and do not pray and grow, we are really far from the truth. Because this world is indeed full of darkness and a great number of people need the gospel of Jesus Christ and our care. We should kneel down and pray that God will send us, as true prayer will compel us to act upon our faith.

2. "Do you have joy?"

Many people have the perceptions that as reformed Christians, we must look sombre with long faces. This picture probably comes from pictures of John Calvin looking sombre or the word 'elders'. But this is not what the Bible teaches.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-17 says, 'Rejoice always, pray without ceasing,...' Joy in the spirit is very important. The fruit of the Holy Spirit is love, joy, and peace. This is the mark of the Holy Spirit.

If we are truly God's children, joy will overflow our hearts. This kind of joy is different from the consumerist's joy. Like in 1 Peter 3:15, people will be amazed and ask, 'How can you be so joyful?' All kinds of joy in the world cannot be compared to the joy that comes from the Lord. This joy will be very apparent as a result of walking in the path of the Lord.

Realising that our status has been changed, that we have been called by God, now the question we need to ask is, 'O Lord, what do you want me to do?' We need to kneel down and ask this in prayer. Just like when I met that Christian farmer in Henan, I just couldn't ignore what I had seen, I had to kneel down and ask God what He wanted me to do.

Struggle with this question in your 'wrestle' with God. That at the end of our lives we would not return to God empty-handed. The Bible is very strict on this. The letter to the church in Laodicea in the Book of Revelation tells us that our Lord Jesus would 'spit out' this church because it was neither hot nor cold. It would be with such disgust that our Lord would look at those who did not fervently work and bring glory to God. May we not be one of those that our Lord would spit out.


At 10:15 AM, Blogger Mejlina Tjoa said...

Thanks for the post, Jeffrey. Talking about technology changing the way people do things, the other day I just read a news that a priest is contemplating to do the sacraments online, i.e. people can partake of communion and say "Amen" in front of their PC, and baptism can be done via facebook.

At 1:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No way Catholic church will allow that the sacraments be performed online.

In contrast with Protestant which are decentralized, Catholic is centralized around the Magisterium Teaching (Pope), so what a liberal priest say means nothing if contrary to Church teaching.
[liberal catholics are those who disobey the (past and) present Pope but loyal to 'imaginary future pope', they think they have to reformed the church to prepare ways for their 'imaginary future pope'. 'The future pope' which always be in the future and never become 'present'. ]

To illustrate how ridiculous those quotes are, it is like a marriage couple do 'the stuffs marriage couple do online'.



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