Friday, October 29, 2004

OVERVIEW OF THE 20TH CENTURY

OVERVIEW OF THE 20TH CENTURY

By Rev. Stephen Tong


For the first night of our Consultation, we will broadly canvass the major developments of the 20th century. With a firm grasp of the past, we would be better equipped to pursue a modern Reformation in our evangelical faith, ethics and missions. Later when we draw to a conclusion, we will analyse and anticipate the challenges of the 21st century on the final session. Armed with an overview of how past ideas have impacted our world, we can press ahead to seize the opportunities before us.

By the grace of God, you and I live at a momentous period in time. Standing at the threshold of a new century, we should not send away the passing century without insights gleaned from history. We should also brace ourselves with courage and alertness to confront an uncertain future before us.


The Philosophy of History

Time is but the moving image of eternity. God as Self-existent, necessary Being transcends space-time continuum. He is the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega and the Director of the Course of Time Who Was, Who Is and Who Is to Come. Many 20th century scientists have admitted that the universe is finite and therefore has a starting point. 1 This implies a Creator because nothing can bring itself from non-existence into existence. One of the uniqueness of the Christian faith among other religions is that we do not disassociate ourselves from the space-time continuum. Corporeal existence as God’s creation is not evil in itself and the physical realm is not dismissed as mere illusion. We have a tremendous responsibility to be faithful stewards in our present life in a temporal world. Even God himself manifested his glory among men in space-time by taking upon himself a finite, fully human nature. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Hence, the Christian relation to space and time exceeds the concepts of other religions in its relevance and realism.

As we step into the next century, we need to have a sense of our place in history. For not a single moment is out of God's sovereign rule. He is the beginning and the end of history. History is “his story” – the unfolding of his plan moving infallibly towards his ultimate purpose. In Isaiah 46:9-11, God says:

"Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other. I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please ... What I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned, that will I do."

Therein, lies the uniqueness of God's proclamation and revelation that supersedes human culture and ideology. In Eastern thought, history is circular. There is nothing new under the sun – only much activity, sound and fury but meaning nothing. In Western thought, history is a linear progression. For the Christian, history has a divine goal and purpose. Once time has passed, it would never be recovered. From that vantage point, temporal priorities should be ordered wisely and responsibly. Christians have a firm basis to know how to live in this finite world, guided by the light of eternity. It calls for wisdom in utilizing time.

We should cherish time for it will never return. The foolish use wealth as asset but the wise use time instead as asset. It is easy to exchange time for wealth but it is not easy to exchange wealth for time. It has been said: Time is the stuff that life is made of. There is not one whose time on earth is longer than his life. It is easy to use time to get money but can we use money to get time? Time is an image of eternity. No one's time exceeds his life for even our mortal life has been predetermined.

On Mars Hill, a group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were having a dispute with Paul. Some of them asked, "What is this babbler trying to say? He is bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean." Others remarked, "He seems to be advocating foreign gods." They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said:

"Men of Athens! ... The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. `For in him we live and move and have our being.'" 2

Note these words again:
He determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.

Man is a paradoxical being. He is confined in space-time yet possesses the potential for eternity. He is bound by temporality yet able to transcend his thoughts beyond the stuff of earth. God did this so that we may seek Him. We are bound in a finite frame but within us there is an infinite vacuum that only God can fill. Man is home sick and restless for his eternal abode in the Divine. This deep-seated longing for the infinite or God-shaped void may be suppressed but it can never be extinguished.


The First Millennium

At the close of the first 1000 A.D., man had great hope that a new dawn had arrived. Historians have called the preceding period "The Dark Age". The reason is this: Since the towering witness of Saint Augustine until the 11th century, no great thinker has arisen in the world scene. After the decline of the Roman Empire, political upheaval and economic instability ensued. Men concerned themselves with daily livelihood and the struggle to simply survive. There was no great philosopher whose thought transcends the temporal. A civilization without its intelligentsia is weak and to be pitied. So is the Church without Scripture-saturated and God-entrenched thinkers a lamentable tragedy. Today, the prevailing anti-intellectual climate in the Church can be attributed partly to the extreme fringes of the Charismatic movement. Spirituality and revival are commonly confused with hyped-up atmosphere and emotionalism without content. Doctrines are trivialized or ignored to the extent that present-day Christians are largely blind to the devious schemes of our enemy. Evangelicals no longer have the capacity to even comprehend the current world crisis, much less to provide a biblically informed solution to it. As a result, we have no discernment of the times like the sons of Issachar.3

In the United States, I was once preaching in English to a 3000-strong congregation. There was a lengthy singing session, which lasted for an hour. They stood and sang heartily for the entire hour! Were they not tired? Of course! When the preaching session commenced, they sat down and began to feel sleepy. I would never allow them to slumber. After the sermon, a reporter from the magazine "Christianity Today" asked me, "How were you able to hold the attention of such an exhausted crowd with both seriousness and light-heartedness?"

There is a common misconception that to preach with a sense of urgent gravity precludes a sense of humour. Or that delight necessarily means being frivolous. Well, our God is both serious about his truth and good-humoured! When His word is received with solemnity, the same is also pure delight to our souls. The Spirit of God would open our minds to understanding and our hearts to savouring the sweetness of that knowledge. He who inspired Scripture with eternal, propositional content would also restore our minds from the noetic ravages of sin. Far from committing intellectual suicide, Christians uphold and return reason to its proper role of receiving revealed truth. Thus shall we vehemently reject the prevailing cloud of anti-intellectualism today – that form of religion – still trapped in a drunken stupor!


The Dawn of the Second Millennium

In the 11th century, a light broke the darkness and illumined the world for many centuries. Saint Anselm emerged and contributed greatly to the development of the ontological argument for the existence of God, the doctrines of Atonement, Soteriology and the Incarnation. He started with the idea of God's existence to demonstrate the proof of his existence in the “Proslogian”. When such Scripture-saturated thinkers emerge, the Church would prosper from their light.

By the 13th century, the wisest scholars were Christians who greatly shaped the progress of Western civilization. Paris, Oxford4, Cambridge and Prague were among the first universities in the world. In the medieval university, theology was the Queen of sciences and philosophy was her handmaiden. There was in existence a unique, open academic system where ideas could be exchanged freely. Even Moslem scholars who had already experienced their renaissance were invited to lecture at Western institutions of higher learning. Through this contact, the extensive commentaries of Averroës5 on the works of Aristotle were translated and brought to Europe. His works profoundly influenced the Scholastic school of philosophy in medieval Europe and medieval Jewish philosophy. Western scholars prospered as a result of being introduced to Aristotelian logic and rational thinking by Moslem scholars.

However, why had Moslem nations subsequently lagged behind compared to the West? Today, no great industrial invention can be attributed to them. There is a close correlation between technological advances and the intellectual vigour of a society. Prior to Martin Luther's Reformation, Germany had not produced great inventions or instruments of advanced precision either. Why has that changed today? Why is Germany renowned for its precise and quality workmanship? We can note that the evangelical movement had restored the primacy of reason in place of the myriad of superstitions in many European nations. Swiss timepieces are not made in Lausanne or Zurich but in Geneva. This was the city where John Calvin applied his systematizing genius to Reformed theology. The role of reason and intellect were recovered during the Reformation movement. Whatever we do, we do it for the glory of God, not unto men. This kind of Protestant work ethics permeating the whole culture could not but spur greater heights in uncompromising excellence, creativity and productivity.

In the 13th century, the Moslems and Jews had their eminent intelligentsia. For the Jews, they had Moses Maimoneides. The Moslems had Averroes, a highly respected thinker. And Thomas Aquinas was the great intellect in Christendom. But why did Christianity prosper and with it, the Western civilization? Why were nations influenced by a Christian worldview enjoying superior scientific and technological advances? Subsequently, Aquinas found a more accurate and faithful copy of Aristotelian work on logic. He achieved the "classical synthesis" between philosophy and theology, where both played complementary roles in the quest for ultimate truth. Unlike integral Aristotelianism, he rejected the “double truth” theory that "what may be true in faith may be false in reason, what is true in philosophy may be false in theology."6 Differing from Anselm, Aquinas demonstrated the proof for the existence of God through the cosmological argument. As a result of development in logical reasoning, science and technological progress in Western civilization followed suit.7

Tragically, evangelicals today have largely forgotten this spiritual heritage. We are plagued with a sense of indifference with regards to correct doctrine, accurate interpretation of Scripture and the concept of right and wrong. “It does not matter as long as we love God!” was the oft-repeated excuse. Therefore, truth is often sacrificed for a form of pietism devoid of passion to be uncompromising and faithful to God’s revelation. We need to speak forth truth in love, not sacrifice truth for the sake of “love”. 8

After enduring more than 600 years of Dark Age, man anticipated a new dawn in the new millennium. We can look back from a philosophical perspective and examine in every century its peculiar characteristics and individuated movements since the Reformation. Even as the second millennium draws to a close, it is proper for us to conduct a brief evaluation of the preceding centuries.


The Age of Faith

The 16th century could be justly called the Century of Faith. The religious movement in Europe known as the Reformation called entire nations back to the authority of Scripture as the sole rule of faith and conduct. It was a return to that faith preached by our Lord and His apostles, led by the courageous Luther and Philipp Melanchthon in Germany, John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli in Switzerland and John Knox in Scotland. They were great Reformers who sought to rescue men from the stronghold of Rome and give them the Scripture in their vernacular languages. Luther, a German monk, courageously confronted the ecclesiastical authority with these immortal words, "Here I stand. I could do no other. So help me God!"

The Reformation uprooted the superstitions of Rome with her unhealthy preoccupation with icons and relics. But uprooting the false foundation alone would not do! There was a need to also reconstruct and edify the saints upon the true foundation. For that holy task, John Calvin was thus raised up by the Lord. With the mind of Calvin - keen in legislature, meticulous in his choice of words and utter dependence on the Bible - Reformed theology, which bore the mark of his systemic genius, was given form. In the aftermath of great tribulation in France, Calvin wrote a voluminous work with more than 8000 quotations of Scriptural texts with the objective to diligently strengthen, build up and vindicate the faith of his persecuted countrymen.9 It was an unparalleled statement and apologetics of the evangelical faith. The French philosopher, Will Durant said, "If I were to list the ten most influential books that changed human history, one of them has to be John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion". Until today, not a theologian has surpassed him in profundity of thought.

As God’s stewards and modern evangelicals, we have to awaken to our responsibility to contribute to our culture, politics, legislation and the arts. Shallow evangelicalism has missed this by neglecting our cultural mandate and hope its meagre investments would reap generous returns. Our witness is seriously impoverished if we only preach the gospel but withdraw from engaging the world in other areas. Let us learn from biblical examples like Moses, Joseph, David, Jesus and Paul. Their wide range of knowledge astounded and even silenced their ungodly contemporaries. At evangelistic conferences, evangelicals have tirelessly talked about nothing else but fulfilling the Great Commission. But when targeted datelines have passed, the world population at large is still bound by godless presuppositions and ideologies. This trend repeats itself for decades.

Does that mean I am giving up? God forbid! I would never give up on the cause of the gospel. All that I do is for the proclamation of the gospel. But that goal would be thwarted if we fail to actively engage our minds in the marketplace of ideas and respond to the cultural mandate of our witness.

We know that Paul of Tarsus was the faithful missionary of the Gospel to numerous Gentile frontiers. Yet he was also well trained in the Greek philosophical thoughts and Jewish laws of his day. The same Paul who was zealous to preach Christ and him crucified was also able to diagnose man’s spiritual problem at the center of Areopagus. The evangelist who was most faithful in declaring the message of salvation was also the scholarly theologian who expounded on God’s sovereignty in predestination. He who was the least of the apostles, the “fool” for the sake of the gospel was also the most educated of men who turned the world on its head and gained the audience of kings.

I am by no means ashamed of the gospel but strive to call others to join me in this sacred task. The gospel is ever our foundation! The gospel is ever our central pursuit! However, evangelicals need a paradigm shift to communicate these eternal principles in the present cultural and philosophical context, speaking in the language that the world understands. Can we stand being despised as closet-Christians, unable to engage the enemy in the marketplace of ideas?

When I was younger, I used to admire those who held doctorates in philosophy or theology. But as I grew older, their titles ceased to impress me. When I was invited to a dinner with Edith Schaeffer, wife of Francis Schaeffer10, she said to me, "Stephen, in my country, professors in theology can be produced by the thousands but not many could labour for God."

Today, we also find seminaries obsessed solely with paper qualifications. But where is the spiritual power? Where is reliance on God? We are not sent by man to preach man's wisdom with man’s methods. In contrast, we need to practice a God-centred approach to ministry. God says, “Seek my face and my power! Preach my Word!” The gospel is the power of God for the salvation of all men. Its message is as relevant to men today as prescription of the right medicine is to a sick and dying man. And the Holy Spirit alone has the power of regeneration to bring men to a living faith in the gospel.


The Age of Reason

Now we come to the 17th century, which is called the Age of Reason. We find that in France, Rene Descartes sought a system of thinking based on deduction11 and intuitive knowledge.12 On the other hand, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (Germany) and Baruch Spinoza (Amsterdam) sought to explain the burning dilemma of how God is related to the world with regards to causality and how thought relates to action. Later, empiricists like John Locke, Francis Bacon, George Berkeley and David Hume in Britain emerged. In An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Locke challenged the cornerstone of rationalism about innate, intuitive knowledge with his famous “tabula rasa” or blank tablet. A baby is born into the world with a blank mind. All knowledge is learnt from experience through our five empirical senses and reflection. (a posteriori knowledge)

Some philosophers during this period sought to use autonomous reason to overthrow faith. For example, the sceptic David Hume in his argument that all our knowledge comes from sensory perceptions tried to discredit the law of causality altogether. According to him, the assumption of causality is guilty of logical fallacy (post hoc, ergo propter hoc13). We should pause and note that the law of causality was commonly used in the arguments for God’s existence. It is simply logical absurdity to suppose that an effect is without any antecedent cause.


The Age of Enlightenment

In the 18th century, the so-called Enlightenment period arrived. There was an unparalleled atmosphere of optimism in man’s ability to solve all his problems through science. Man was proudly lauded as the measure of all things. This naïve form of humanism was profoundly man-centred or anthropocentric. As a result, metaphysics and the supernatural were overlooked and neglected. That which is transcendental and eternal was scoffed at. Only that which can be proven in a laboratory and perceived inductively was considered real or worthy of study. As a result, divine miracles and providence were dismissed as myths. The value of religion was trivialized to the extent that led to moral bankruptcy.


The Age of Ideology

The effects of naïve optimism could be seen in the 19th century, called the Age of Ideology. During this period, ideologies and theories were developed and propagated under the garb of science. Even though it was poorly supported with scientific evidences14, the evolution theory15 was used to invade the realm of faith by the prophets of philosophical naturalism.16 Evolution was not only used to explain the biological origins of man; it had influenced man’s understanding in the development of religion, culture, politics and economy as progressing on a similar dynamic, evolutionary path.

Herbert Spencer (1820-1903), the British social philosopher applied Darwin's theory of natural selection to human societies. He argued that human progress resulted from the triumph of more advanced and wealthy cultures over their inferior competitors. Poverty was perceived as evidence of inferiority. In the early 20th century, social Darwinism was used to justify cutthroat, beast-like economic competition, racist and imperialist policies. Poverty-stricken nations were seen as “unfit”, unworthy of any aid.

Evolutionary thought even influenced liberal theology, arguing that Christianity is merely the highest stage of religious development. It is different in degree, not unique in kind compared to animism or polytheism. Actually, evolutionary philosophy is nothing new. It has existed since the earliest Greek philosophers first pondered on ultimate reality. They were divided into two camps, namely the philosophy of being and the philosophy of becoming. Parmenides believed that "Being is real. Change is illusory"; hence, his dictum, "Whatever is, is!" The opposing view was advocated by Heraclitus, who believed that "Becoming is real"; his dictum being, "All things are flowing. You never step into the same river twice!" The evolution theory embraced the philosophy of becoming. Therefore, we need to be sensitive to discern much of its metaphysical baggage hidden under the guise of objective science.


The Age of Analysis

We have noted that much of the script played out in the 20th century was written in the 19th century. Other products of the 19th century were logical positivism (Auguste Comte), Communism (Karl Marx) and existentialism (Karl Jaspers, Martin Buber and Soren Kierkegaard).

Existentialism was particularly popular among the young people. What is it? Atheistic existentialism (Friedrich Nietzsche and Jean-Paul Sartre) taught that there is no God and therefore, no transcendent purpose for human essence. Logically, there is only the “nothingness of human existence!” In the face of nihilism, man is forced to confront his dialectic dilemma: his finitude and quest for meaning. In that nothingness, existentialists tried to argue for some value for existence. Man is asked to create his own value and discover the meaning of existence by sheer resolve. We become authentic by making right decisions with a powerful act of will. But, why be authentic or courageously seek meaning when even all this is also ultimately meaningless?

In Holland, I met a young Dutch lady at a Billy Graham evangelistic crusade. As an Indonesian evangelist was preaching, she took great offence that he was bringing back the religion that her ancestors had brought to Asia. She made a lot of commotion and I decided to strike up a conversation with her. She asked me if I have heard of logical positivism and I replied in the affirmative. I said to her, “I know only a little. Are you referring to the thinking of Auguste Comte, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Professor Ayer and the Vienna Circle?” She smiled and nodded.

Just to digress a little, Comte believed that science was the key to reconstructing a new socio-political order. He argued that human development can be analysed in three stages.17 Each branch of knowledge passes through "three different theoretical states: the theological or fictitious state; the metaphysical or abstract state; and, lastly, the scientific or positive state." At the theological stage, events are immaturely explained by appealing to gods or God. At the metaphysical stage phenomena are explained by appealing to abstract philosophical categories. The final evolutionary stage, the scientific, involves abandoning any quest for absolute explanations of causes. The empirical sciences are the only adequate source of knowledge. Therefore all we need is to observe how phenomena are related and arrive at verifiable generalizations.

Coming back to my conversation with the Dutch lady, having established rapport with her, I continued, “If I am not mistaken, your most important axiom is “Anything that cannot be verified in a laboratory is not real.” Again, she replied in the affirmative. Then I asked her again, “Have you thought about this question before? Logical positivism itself could never be verified by science in an experimental laboratory”. She was surprised and answered, “I have never thought of this before. It is meaningful. It means something like...” I gave her some advice not to dismiss Christianity as unscientific and irrational without thinking deeply and humbly about the facts. I told her that what science informs us today might not be absolute because a new theory, which could explain the phenomena more adequately, could emerge later and replace the previous model. With that, she said, “Okay, I am going to think it over and over.” As we parted, I said, “Think wisely for the way of life cannot be guided by science alone.” Indeed, if empirical sciences are the only adequate source of knowledge, logical positivism itself could never be verified as adequate knowledge.

Nationalism18 was also a modern movement, which greatly impacted the world. Before the 20th century, the prophets of culture were music composers. A nationalistic musical style inspired by folk rhythms began to emerge in Russia, Bohemia and Czechoslovakia. In the 1830s, Mikhail Glinka paved the musical way for the Russian Five19 to break away from merely imitating the Italians or Germans. “Why don’t we establish our own unique symphony?” they reasoned. The Russian Five used the folk material extensively in their music – Balakirev's symphonic poem Tamara, Borodin's Polovtzian Dances from Prince Igor, and Rimsky-Korsakoff's Scheherezade were examples of Russian orientalism. Tchaikovsky, the first great Russian symphonist also made use of folk material primarily through his songs and piano music. In fact, on my flight to Kuala Lumpur, I had a chat with a music conductor who was due to perform Dvorak’s Seventh Symphony. His curiosity was evoked when he discovered that I knew the symphony. Much to his surprise, I told him, “I am also a music conductor!”

In France, her new form of nationalistic music was influenced by music elements from Java. Like Chinese music, gamelan was also pentatonic. But a sixth tone was later discovered and incorporated into the emerging French nationalistic movement. The birth of nationalism blended folk songs and rejected Greater Germany’s imperialism from overwhelming Europe. It anticipated the modern nationalism movement.

After the Second World War, nations rushed towards independence and formed distinct political entities. The world became increasingly fragmented. Is the history of the United Nations (UN) more united? How many nations were founding members of the UN? And how many members do we have now? I would not be surprised if we have 600 members in the future. Unity is difficult whereas separation is easy. Nationalism seen in Kazakhstan and Pakistan, for instance, called for unity but unity under their respective banners. After 1989, even the mighty Soviet Union disintegrated into many separate states. Will nationalism continue relentlessly?

At the beginning of the 20th century, nationalism was the ideological nemesis of Communism. Communism was universal in the sense that it sought a utopian order of classless society. As we saw earlier, nationalism called for the creation of separate political entities. After the global war, many nations including China, which was, ironically, a very nationalistic country became Communist!

There is also something else worth noting. Last year, in Yugoslavia, the slogan of nationalism failed to unite. The Balkan conflict flared up along sharply ethnic lines. A race ideology superseded nationalism. This is a dangerous development as genocide based on racial origin violated basic human rights. It was the contribution of former U.S. President, Jimmy Carter that human rights issues should be treated as an international affair, not a domestic affair. For the Christian, human beings possess inalienable rights derived from God as the bearer of his image. These rights are not a concession or gift bestowed by the State. It remains to be seen how the world will respect inalienable human rights in the near future.

How do we describe the 20th century? Despite its unparalleled scientific advances, the 20th century can be justly called, “The Age of Folly.” Yes, it is true that more people have been educated; information is at our fingertips through the Internet; and more convenient modes of transport are made available. An agricultural economy can be transformed into an information-based economy, bypassing the industrialization phase. Yet along with it, there is a deeper spiritual emptiness and inner loneliness. Unrestrained competition exploits the weak and the poor. Affluence comes at the expense of social justice and responsibility. Corruption is rampant. Where are the lofty ideals of our Asian ancestors? Pollution threatens our environment and depletes the ozone layer to the detriment of our future generation.

Despite many scientific exploits, there is little original philosophical break through. The 20th century has been called the Age of Analysis. Relativism is touted as the only absolute. Despite its self-defeating logic, men continue to wax eloquence about the only absolute – there being no absolutes.

On the world stage, we have been merely acting out the scripts of the 19th century – evolution, materialistic naturalism, logical positivism, Communism, atheism and existentialism, each one having wielded influence over millions of people. There is science but no spirit. There is knowledge but no wisdom. There is understanding but no faith. We have superstructures without foundation, mobility without direction, phenomena without essence and purposes without Purpose. With our fragmented and specialized knowledge, we are unable to see how the particulars relate to universals. As a result, our quest for unity in the diverse disciplines had to be abandoned. For we have strayed from God, from whom, in whom and to whom are all things.


The 21st Century Challenge

As we draw to a conclusion, I want to issue a challenge to the new generation to rise up where the older generation has failed in the past. If we look at the trend in Church growth, Christian population is rising rapidly in Africa, Asia (China and Korea) and Latin America. Christianity seems to prosper in poor and less educated societies. However, in more developed and sophisticated nations, church attendance in most denominations has declined drastically. Does this mean that Christianity is only for the uncultured and uneducated? God forbid! Was not the Gospel sufficient and essential for both Greeks and barbarians? The need of the hour is for men and women who are able to discern biblical principles and diagnose the spiritual sickness of the present age. We need to read Scripture with one hand and the newspaper with the other to engage the hostile marketplace of ideas.

Beloved brothers and sisters, let us not become spiritual hermits who seclude ourselves in the ivory tower and remain ignorant of world events. We know that Christ is the answer to every human dilemma and yet we do not even know the questions. We are only content to be saved and wait for Christ’s return. Let us also not be immersed with the things of this world lest we forget God’s word and the centrality of the Cross. May God take pity on us!

It is tragic that at such an opportune time as this when the witness of Christ is available to 95% of world population our light is so dimmed. The pervading climate of anti-intellectualism and doctrinal illiteracy has taken its toll. We have quantity but where is the quality? Do the words of our pastors and elders command the respect of the world, besides their own flock? Are our seminary graduates today equipped to engage the enemy on their own ground? God is pleased to choose the foolish and the weak to confound the wise. In so doing, He displays His glory in the sufficiency of His grace.

My father passed away when I was three years old. My life struggles were aided with biblical principles. Until today, I have been granted the privilege to preach the Good News to millions of people. Some sympathized with me because at my age, I still have to travel to five countries weekly to preach. Nevertheless, I was not too keen with their idea of letting television and recorded tapes do the preaching, unless circumstances do not permit. This is because I believe in interpersonal relationships and the pleasure of answering queries in person. My passion is that a new generation of evangelicals would arise to also reach the intellectuals of our time. Now is the hour for the man. Where is the man for the hour? Who will go before us and confront the Goliath at the cultural frontiers? Do not be overwhelmed by the enormity of the task ahead. For the Lord is our Rock and our Shield! He who has been faithful in my life and ministry will also work mightily in yours to vindicate the cause of his gospel. To God alone be the glory!

______________________________

1 The Big Bang theory postulated that the Universe had a finite beginning.

2 Acts 17:18-28

3 1 Chronicles 12:32 spoke of "men of Issachar, who understood the times and knew what Israel should do".

4 Legend has it that Oxford University was founded by King Alfred in 872.

5 Averroës held that metaphysical truths can be expressed through philosophy (Aristotle) and through religion, presented in a form that the ordinary person can understand. He also wrote books on medicine, astronomy, law, and grammar.

6 "The Consequences of Ideas" by R.C. Sproul, page 68

7 A more in depth treatment of how Christian theism is essential to the scientific revolution can be found in the philosopher A.N. Whitehead's works.

8 Love rejoices with the truth (1 Corinthian 13:6)

9 But lo! while I lay hidden at Basel, and known only to few people, many faithful and holy persons were burnt alive in France. ... It appeared to me, that unless I opposed [the perpetrators] to the utmost of my ability, my silence could not be vindicated from the charge of cowardice and treachery. This was the consideration which induced me to publish my Institutes of the Christian Religion. ... It was published with no other design than that men might know what was the faith held by those whom I saw basely and wickedly defamed.

10 Schaeffer of L'Abri Fellowship was credited for having taught a whole generation of evangelicals to recover their mandate for involvement in culture, philosophy, social action, politics and arts. Reference can be made to his trilogy – Escape from Reason, The God who is There and He is There and He is not Silent.

11 Deductive reasoning moves from the universal to the particular.

12 An intellectual activity of such clarity and distinctiveness that leaves no room for doubt, e.g. a triangle has 3 sides.

13 For example, our perception that the sun rises after the cock crows does not prove any causal relations.

14 The debate on Intelligent Design in U.S. was reopened after a string of books by Philip Johnson and Michael Behe, amongst others.

15 Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859 in which he repeatedly used the word, “hypothesis.”

16 The cosmos is all there is, ever was and ever will be – a mechanistic system closed to divine intervention.

17 Logical positivism was taught in his major work, the six-volume Course of Positive Philosophy.

18 The ideology that the individual's loyalty and devotion to the nation-state surpass other individual or group interests.

19 Balakirev, Borodin, Cui, Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakoff

HOPE OF THE 21ST CENTURY

HOPE OF THE 21ST CENTURY



by Rev. Dr. Stephen Tong


Today, I would like to share with everyone some thoughts concerning the 21st century. Dr. Stephen Chen had pointed out to us three types of people who have different concepts of time and history. As for me, I categorize man into three categories from the viewpoint of history.

The first kind of people accepts history but offers no contributions and their actions count for nothing. They merely embrace the achievements of others during the historical process.

The second kind studies, examines and contemplates history. This group of people comprehends in greater depth the meaning of history and how history relates to them. If we learn from history, we will gain more wisdom. So, in addition to accepting history, those who fall under this category analyze, examine and explore history and therefore understand its direction and principles.

The third kind is of the highest level. They eliminate history and create new history. If all we do is merely embracing history, slipping in and out of the historical process quickly and rather inconsequentially, then we are no different than animals. But if we are able to glean wisdom from history and steer our life towards attaining a higher meaning, moving beyond history and creating new history, then we become people who transcend history. This is very important.

The history of Christianity enables us to see countless people who had altered the course of history. We observe the great saints, who had a superior level of direction in life compared to all the wise people in the world. Augustine’s thoughts and ideas of history changed the methodology of historical studies. His explanations of history also awakened the entire world to a new understanding of the meaning of reality and the existence of eternity.

If a person were to think that it doesn’t matter even if he commits wrongdoings in this life, since he has the opportunity to start totally anew, he would have no real sense of responsibility. This sort of thinking causes people not to take their spiritual life seriously. Augustine’s contributions, for one, extended far beyond what our speech can express. Essentially, his ideas were not original but rooted upon the principles of Scripture. It is the God of Scripture who reveals to us the truth about ourselves. This is the fundamental difference that arises when we compare the Christian God with other gods. He is the only true God. He distinguishes himself from the rest of the gods through the unique factors of history. For this reason, God declared that no matter what gods we were to compare him to, it would only make manifest all that is contained in Scripture. Indeed, Augustine’s discovery of his historical concepts marked a great change in world history. This in turn created a great influence in the direction of Christianity. Praise the Lord.

As a result of Augustine’s discoveries about Scripture, which led to his new concepts of history, Christianity was able to surpass other religions. Whichever sphere it may be, whether arts or technology, Christian countries having this influence of history displayed the achievements of the highest reality of life. Even the concepts of Greek, Indian or Chinese history could never match the concepts found in Christian history.

Hence, we keep looking forward, and contemplating the past and the future in the reality of the present, we determine how we can achieve that which we are capable of. This is a matter that eludes other religions without the truth from Scripture. Christianity therefore exhorts us to seize each and every opportunity in reality, and follow God's will for us in reality. The philosophers of the world would never be able to conjure with their own minds this kind of concept and thought.

Yesterday, we observed that when cultures are neglected, many people would live their lives in an irresponsible manner. That is why we see that in Hinduism, the higher levels of existence display no difference in reality. The values of materialism and hedonism stripped of any sense of responsibility are totally oppose to the teachings of Christianity. We can find all these in Scripture because God is willing to reveal them to us through his Holy Spirit. These tenets hold us to be responsible in the way we live, aided by God's grace. We work with eternity in mind so that our hope would not only be in this life. Shi Ke Kuo said that if the Christian's hope is not rooted in eternity, then what we believe is worse than that of the pagans. However, we are neither to be transfixed with eternity and neglect the present, nor are we to enjoy the present and forget eternity. The question we have to consider is whether we use the “now concept” and ask what is eternity or use the “meaning of eternity” to determine our responsibility now.

Christians should always bear God’s eternal throne in mind when they look at the world – the place of history, the responsibility of the present reality, and the fixation towards eternity. In this way, we will not be eliminated by time. Rather, according to God’s will, we subjugate time and history. This transcends therefore the saying by Karl Marx that, “Philosophy is not a subject to be discussed in the classroom, but a force to change history.” What he said was, “No revelation is forever, the eternal God’s plan is the blueprint, and the force to push us forward on earth.” Christianity should transcend Marxism. We should not only focus on reality and forget what God wants us to do. We should be beyond Nichai’s power, we should have more power as we have God’s power. We should be more then any philosopher, beyond truth realization. Because of this reason, we stand in the history process, at the stage when the 20th century is ending.

We have already analyzed this century and subjected it to some criticisms, but this is not enough. What power should we rely on and what wisdom should we have in confronting the 21st century? God is our greatest teacher. He reveals the principles of truth, which is the greatest teaching to us. History is man’s third teacher. God is our teacher, Scripture is our teacher and history is also our teacher. Marx made an unfortunate statement; “The greatest lesson from history for mankind is that mankind does not want to acknowledge the lessons of history.” This is very pitiful. History records so many human errors. History tells us that we can find wisdom from within, so that we do not repeat the mistakes. History tells us that men are overly confident, too proud and take history teachings too lightly. Often, we foolishly and childishly use our own optimism to walk our life journey. We should not be like that. Scripture also teaches us the same principle.

Scripture tells us that if we have some one to testify to us, we should learn from them at their level. The great saints had given us the oldest principles, which go beyond what humans fight for in the world. The failures recorded in Scripture, the basics of fallen, God’s will is never selfish, ……….. So we as Christians praise the Lord. God’s word surpasses all the lessons of history. It allows us to see the failures God judges from his throne and lets us see the encouragement God gives according to his will. We praise the Lord for that.

The 21st century is coming soon. We should consider from various aspects what lesson we can obtain. Actually, the progress of thought is the dynamic force of the whole of society. That is why I feel that the element of culture is important. I give it a special name, ‘the soul of society’. This doesn’t mean that culture has a soul, but just as the soul coordinates the whole movement of the body, in the same way culture determines the whole direction of society. Culture is made up of two levels. The first is ideas or thoughts, and the second, methods or actions. Ideas are all about the thoughts and perception within. Actions consist of directions, methods and plans. We can observe this in Scripture, where God says, “My ways are higher than your ways and my perception higher than your perception. This means that God’s will and God’s ways are higher than human cultures and the direction of societies.

Because of this, we should return to the truth of God. No matter how modern we are, we need God’s oldest revelation. God’s truth is really the only truth. This is a fact that time cannot destroy. We see that in every century, the Bible is discarded because people think it is old-fashioned. But the truth is that the Bible leaves each century trailing in its wake. No century can be said to be a new century. The Bible says, “I lead mankind, all centuries are behind me.”

When the 20th century ended, we can see the effects engendered by the Enlightenment movement, which people abhor today. We observe that humans are so limited. The only thing I regret is that the person who overturned the rational knowledge era of the Enlightenment movement was a non- Christian and not a Christian thinker. All that which was advocated by the movement was opposed as a result of the exploitation of human rationale. Pitifully, many non-Christians are faster in doing what Christians should do, until churches are left far behind the world’s culture.

In the history of China, the first to use texts were Christians. The first to use Western technology were Christians. The first to awaken China from her slumber and rebel against the Man Ching government, which was autocratic, conservative and outdated, was a Christian prophet. At that time, Christians in China saw and realized things faster. But later, Watchman Lee’s thinking and all the religions that focus on enjoyment and emotions as well as the Ching dynasty neglected the spiritual Christian, and as a result, Christianity in China was left behind.

Today, there are many who do not understand the Holy Spirit and this causes the worst indulgence. Christians are satisfied with praying in church and listening to sermons, feeling that they are with God. They give up being the light for God, testifying for him, preventing the degeneration of the world and shining in the darkness.

The 21st century is coming. I want to compare the Renaissance movement with the New Age movement. This is the second biggest movement in the past one thousand years. These three movements, including the Enlightenment, are secular cultural movements. The first is the Renaissance, the second the Enlightenment and the third the New Age.

The Enlightenment movement precedes the New Age movement, and is no longer popular now. This third movement easily affects all of mankind although Renaissance developed in North Italy. It greatly influenced European culture. But after a few hundred years, Renaissance became a model and other races in the world were affected by it. The heart of this influence is self-centeredness and giving-up the traditional belief of relying God. During the Renaissance, men put rationality in the center, and pushed religions to the edge. They place themselves in the centre and God in the periphery. They also treated ancient Greek culture as a model and viewed Christianity as some sort of distortion.

When the Renaissance was developing in Europe, Christianity’s craft art was considered square and antiquated. Byzantine’s culture and “square” culture brought caution, which was very serious. The format of open and natural expression was lost. Thinkers during that time were hoping to emulate the ancient Greek achievements. If mankind in the past managed this kind of achievements, why can’t we do the same now? That is why we need a renewal and revival. Revival is nothing more than to give life again to that which has been.

Renaissance is to return to the glory of the past achievements of the Greek and Roman era. Hence, we see that the end of Renaissance created the important figures of Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and Raphael. They picked up the expression of beauty, openness and natural elements of ancient Greek art. However, they treated God too lightly and relegate him to the backseat, place Scripture at the edge and put humans in the center. I think today I do not need to spend a lot of time to analyze this great but dangerous movement. We know that the Renaissance modelled the ancient Greek arts without reason. In reality, Greek art and craft have no meaning. Thus, it is pointless art in the old achievements of Greek culture. But then, Renaissance was influenced by Christianity. How could we go back to a pointless culture? This is a form of self-centeredness depression.

When the Renaissance ended, we saw an uprising against the powers of the Roman Catholic Church, and a return-to-Scripture movement. This movement, the most basic belief-in-God movement, was also a movement whereby Christian history should be modelled upon. The post- Renaissance movement originally had God in the background, and sought to overturn the violations against Scripture and the distortion of truth. For this reason, we see that after Renaissance, the movement was related to anti-Christ. Of course it didn’t oppose Christianity but rather the wrong Christianity.

The Enlightenment movement not only embraced rationality as its center but men were also slowly being assured of the power of rationality. Even after Kant’s criticism, rationality view morality as part of the whole of rationality. There was no way to escape the emphasis on man’s centrality. Kant himself was a thinker who did not want to accept revelation. And so, this second greatest human movement began just like that. Later, we see that men started to treat God’s ways as unnecessary and made a mockery of revelation, viewing it as something that could be dispensed with. This is how in the natural center, we find the explanation of self-accomplished rationality as the answer to everything. Because of this, we see that the result of the Enlightenment movement is that men became overly optimistic. They thought that when their self-confidence reached a certain stage, they would be matured and perfect, having no need of religion or God, and could be assured that humans are free.

But at the halfway mark of the 20th century, a lot of thinkers discovered that rationality is not absolute. In fact, rationality is limited. The first time I talked about this was in 1961. I used my message to state why rationality is not absolute and why we cannot rely on rationality to understand everything. Although I was not yet fully matured in my understanding at that time, I had already discovered that men could only comprehend under the light of God’s truth that they are limited. Until the end of the 20th century, history had been telling us that men no longer could use their own rationality to bring time forward. So when the 20th century concluded, we witness the third movement, the New Age movement.

Is this movement actually a more advanced movement? Absolute rationalists do not think so. This is because the New Age movement’s basic philosophy is pantheistic. It argues that naturalism is God, and vice versa. Everything is God and God is everything. Because of this, advocates of the New Age do not accept the transcendent God. Moreover, since rationality is not absolute, men must therefore find the direction of society from another aspect, and so they used their faith to determine the direction of man. The movement itself is a spiritual renewal movement. It is equivalent to rationality, as spirituality is made absolute. As a result, this movement marks the first time Western doors are opened to the East. This did not happen in the past. Before this, only a few people were curious about Eastern philosophy. One was Gottfried Leibniz, who wanted so much to be a Chinese and another, Arthur Schopenhauer, who considered Buddhism to be the world’s greatest religion although not a great movement.

Before this New Age movement, the Hindu god was the main structure of pantheistic belief. People do not say, “Human is the centre, God please go away”. Nor do they say, “I’m grown up, I don’t need you old man telling me anything”. But this movement says, “Human is God!” This is appalling. The result of absolute spirituality, not just to satisfy the needs of the spiritual, is the culmination of it to a stage where self is extolled as God. This movement is disguised in TV advertisements, and Christians are not aware of it. It is also present in many levels of our life, yet we do not realize about it. In many kinds of songs and advertisements, philosophy and fashion, this New Age spirit is there. Christians must therefore be wise and alert to know how to live for Christ. I don’t mean to say that in this new century everything is wrong. Every movement has its positive and negative aspects. In the New Age movement, because of the interest in nature, some people took on the appearance of being very biblical, for instance protecting the environment, in order that men could be part of nature. Everything is God and God is everything. Thus we must protect our environment and love nature, goes the New Age reasoning.

I believe that in the New York discussion, a subject was not mentioned. It is about the environment. We see that in the New Age movement, the focus on nature especially led to thinking slowly becoming a form of healing, a type of natural healing. Everything is mixed-up in this movement. I am not saying that this is not good. It is good in many aspects but it is not good if we were to treat everything as God. Scripture states that God had created man to oversee nature, to repair and protect his creation and not to destroy, hate or abuse it. This is the lesson from Scripture. So the New Age movement has its positive side as well, similar to the scriptural injunctions. But there are also some who are totally opposed to Scripture too. Hence, we should use wisdom to analyze the New Age movement.

The 21st century is beckoning. Now, there are a great number of people who will act like those when the 20th century began, using a very childish optimism to anticipate its coming. From God’s eternal perspective, we know that the world will not get any better in the end but that we will face God’s judgment. Through God’s revelation, we realize that the final war cannot be avoided. That is why peace in the Middle East is but a mere illusion. We also see that people are getting involved in crimes more than ever. When Christ comes again, men are in a state where their faith is diminishing and their morality abandoned. So, as we understand the pessimism of this world, we should be more actively contributing to it positively.

The new century brings us remarkable technological achievements. Although on one hand, they provide us convenience, but on the other, they posed the greatest danger. We have invented cars, machines, air conditions, trains, airplanes and other inventions, but the very place we can stay in, we have destroyed to an unimaginative degree. In the future, the probability of people contracting cancer from the sun’s ultraviolet rays is greater than ever. And so, the world enjoys the fruits of technology and at the same time, suffers the negative effects of it. This is one grave threat.

The second danger is the deterioration of morality. Ever since the open society concept and Bertrand Russell’s marriage testing, we see that today in Western countries, very few girls and guys remain as virgins before marriage. Christianity has a heavy responsibility in this society of loose moral conduct. People may consider our holy living to be outmoded, but Christians treasure themselves as part of God’s kingdom. In this loose morality of the 21st century, we see that the dangers of it cannot be treated anymore.

Thirdly, we see that the world is being plagued by strange incurable diseases that are unheard of before. Discovered in 1979, many cases of AIDS could be found in America in 1981. Unimaginable as it may be, in the year 2000, more than one million people are victims of this danger in Thailand alone. The probability of people in South East Asia being infected with this disease defies calculation. A family in Singapore went abroad to work as the economy was recovering and managed to secure a good job. But when they were preparing to leave, they were asked to undergo a body check-up as required by law. The doctor discovered that both sons, aged 15 and 14, had AIDS. How did it happen? Both parents had the highest education. The fact is that the boys had sex with the Filipino maid employed by their parents. The maid contracted the disease from another alien working in Singapore. The parents felt so hopeless because of their beloved children. Isn’t this the danger for humans in the 21st century? We are moving towards such a century. This may not happen in Africa but perhaps very near where you stay.

If men do not fear god, they will have no future. It is not unlike the magnitude of harm nuclear bombs have caused us. Nuclear war may erupt at anytime, and if that happens, none of us can save the life of this earth. Humans first engaged in war with rocks, but now we have all kinds of bombs. The First World War ended when twenty thousand airplanes appeared in Italy. The Second World War concluded when atomic bombs exploded. But nuclear weapons and hydrogen bombs will ignite the Third World War. If there are still any survivors after the Third World War, the Fourth World War will probably start will rocks again. Humans destroy their own civilization with their own civilization. We build ourselves and destroy ourselves at the same time.

When every country possesses nuclear power, which nation can truly say she is stronger? When every country has nuclear capabilities, is this considered a blessing to mankind? On the contrary, when every country keeps nuclear bombs, there is a problem! Is it a matter of science or of morality? I can invent nuclear bombs, and that is science. And so, I can use nuclear bombs. Is this right or wrong? That is a question of morality. If humans do not apply moral principles in science, mankind will have no future. If they do not use God’s ways as their guide, mankind will have no hope at all! Hence, God is of the uttermost importance! We should use God’s wisdom to deal with morality, culture, civilization and science. Moreover, we must urgently reclaim the place of God without delay.

There are some wise men that calculate the length of a man’s life and his wealth. Society has become slave to money. Sometimes I feel very sad. If a preacher uses money to measure his service to God, then his motive is Marxism, which is money. And if he preaches against Communism, he is only a superficial Christian with communism at heart. If the world only chases after money, soon you will see many other valuable things in life being turned into slaves. The 21st century is in danger. We are facing all these now. Our children look healthy on the outside, but we do not know about the inside. No one can be sure how their child will turn out to be unless they educate their little one, since a child scarcely knows about God being supreme, greater even than his parents.

The Internet is junk. It is like an ocean full of many valuables, yet overflowing with lots of garbage. It destroys our children’s morality. The 21st century is indeed a scary century. Nobody can predict anything in it. And it is coming soon. What will happen to the light of Christianity? Do you still believe in Christianity’s power to present the truth of God to people? I do. Do you? I believe no human wisdom, science or evil power can thwart the truth of Christianity. When Jesus died and rose again, we gain all victory. If he were not resurrected, there would be no hope for the polity, society, law, people or religion. There would be no hope for this world. This is not a superstition but a certainty, not a dream but our task on earth. So, let us face the 21st century with an unshakable faith and complete our mission for God!

THE RECONSTRUCTION OF MORALITY

THE RECONSTRUCTION OF MORALITY

By Rev. Stephen Tong


Let us refer to Matthew 5:14-16: “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” We shall read another portion of Scripture, Matthew 7:21-23: “Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and perform miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”

Last night, we talked about Christianity as a religion of faith. Faith should be our appropriate response to God. Although the Bible states that our belief comes from hearing, that belief is actually the third level of faith. Because God has implanted the seed of faith in us, we are able to know that He exists. A person who comes before the Lord must first believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek Him.[1] This kind of faith will produce a heart that will harmonize with the world – the second level of faith. After we hear the word of God, it will produce greater faith in us – the third level of faith. It is a pity that many charismatic churches do not take the preaching of the word of God seriously enough. They prefer to stand for an hour and sing praises to God hoping that God will hear them rather than sit down to listen to God’s word. Any church that does not place proper emphasis on the word of God will end up having a weak foundation of the truth. Likewise, if a preacher does not preach the word faithfully, he will not be able to build up the faith of his congregation.

How is it possible that even after two thousand years, Christianity is still flourishing? Although countless Christians have suffered persecution and martyrdom, the Christian faith is still resolute. It is because of faith. Those who have a strong and firm faith will not be easily shaken. It follows that if Christians do not reconstruct their faith, the church will deteriorate and be corrupted within a single generation. Faith is very important and it is upon the holy word of God that we ought to establish our faith. Once we do that, we will be able to testify for God even in the midst of our trials and sufferings.

Last night, we talked about the danger that comes from without and the chaos that comes from within. We must oppose any anti-Christian philosophy and ideology that are a threat to our faith. Similarly, we have to oppose any heretical teaching that comes from within the church. We must not forget that the downfall and destruction of the Roman Empire was caused by internal corruption and not external forces. It is the same with the church. When faced with an enemy from without, the church has to be united and dependent on God. If the church is not faithful and obedient to the Lord, it will fall prey to its internal corruption. And if church leaders, pastors and preachers do not rely on the example of faith to instruct their flock in the word of God, there is every likelihood that within one or two generations, the church will collapse in the hands of Christians themselves. We can therefore see how important it is that our faith should be reconstructed.

Christianity is different from other religions as it is built upon the principle of faith. Does this mean that Christianity does not emphasize good conduct? Certainly not! If Christianity is a religion of faith, the means by which God saves man is not good deeds but faith. If that is the case, what sort of position does good conduct occupy in the Christian faith? The same may be asked concerning the foundation of ethics and the teaching of morality. Do they have a place in the Christian belief system? These are also the questions raised by many who have misunderstood Christianity. The failure of many Christians is due essentially to the failure of their conduct. Christians claim that they are saved by faith and not by works but does that mean that works are not important? Many Christians, as a result of the flawed understanding that good conduct does not matter, live lives that are worse than unbelievers. It is in view of this that we want to discuss the reconstruction of our morality.

The reconstruction of our morality comes after the reconstruction of our faith. The Bible declares that faith without works is dead.[2] Therefore having faith alone without works is insufficient. This is because faith that is not accompanied by works is a dead faith and a dead faith is not a genuine faith. If a person claims to have true faith, God requires him to manifest it through his conduct. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world”[3] and that is why we are to let our light shine before men so that they may see our good deeds. Unbelievers cannot see our faith; they can only see our deeds. If our deeds do not distinguish us from unbelievers, why should they believe that they also need Jesus Christ?

Today, one of the obstacles that hinder unbelievers from coming to the church is not people outside but Christians themselves. Because our lives are improper and our deeds not glorifying to God, unbelievers are afraid that if they become Christians they will turn out to be like us. That is the reason why Jesus said that we must manifest our good deeds before the Gentiles; like light that shines in the dark in order that they may give glory to our Father in heaven.[4] From this we can see that good deeds are very important. We must therefore avoid giving emphasis to faith alone and neglect works; doing so would be a grave mistake.

A person may ask, “What if I place importance on works alone and not on faith?” That would be another fallacy because no matter how good our deeds are it cannot justify us before the Lord. Isaiah 64:6 outlines very clearly that all our righteous acts are like filthy rags. No matter how good we are, our good deeds alone can never merit our receiving the salvation of God. There is no way we can earn God’s salvation by relying on our works apart from his grace. Just as good deeds cannot be the substitute of faith, good deeds similarly cannot take the place of God’s merit. Hence, we do not depend on our works or merit to be saved. Instead, we are saved through the grace of God. And this grace is given to those who have the faith to receive it.

Two days ago, Dr. Stephen Chen made a very important statement. He said that we have to rely on faith in order to receive the grace of God. What then does faith represent? Faith is like a broken bowl in the hands of a beggar. When we receive God’s grace, it is as if we are holding a broken bowl for Him to fill it with His grace. As an analogy, the broken bowl by itself cannot satisfy our hunger. It is also unable to spare us from the destiny of death. However, if filled with rice, the broken bowl can be the source of life to us. It is the same for those who come before the Lord in faith. Our faith is like the broken bowl, like hands stretching out for help. However, the mere stretching of hands cannot save us; because grace does not come from us but from the throne of God.

It is by faith that we can receive new life. And new life ought to produce a new way of living. That is the relationship between faith, grace and works. We cannot depend on faith alone in order to be saved. Rather, we are saved through faith by receiving God’s grace. After we have been saved, the new life that we received would result in a new manner of living. This new pattern of living is the manifestation of God’s grace. It follows that works do not precede God’s grace. Instead, it is the result of grace.

If we were to make a comparison between the theology of Paul and the theology of James, we will discover important differences. Paul may be regarded as the apostle of faith. This is because he talked so much about faith, more than the rest of the apostles. On the other hand, Peter may be regarded as the apostle of hope as he urged believers to look forward to the arrival of the new heaven and earth where righteousness awaits. He gave hope to those who were in tribulation. If Peter is the apostle of hope and Paul the apostle of faith, then John is known as the apostle of love. This is because John said we must love one another. If we do not love one another, we are not dwelling in the Lord. John is the one who talked most clearly about love than the other apostles. When John was young, he was a very bad-tempered person – called “the son of thunder” as he was also very fierce. When he was old, he was full of love, compassion and patience. It was the power of the Holy Spirit that transformed such a person like John.

History recorded that during his older days, John built many churches and made many disciples. Although his memory and physical strength was slowly weakening, people still invited him to preach. When John preached, he would surely preach one particular sermon: “You must love one another, you must love one another. You little ones must also must love one another.” John was the oldest apostle at that time as the rest of the apostles have been killed. Actually, John was the youngest apostle among all of the Lord’s apostles. But because the rest of the apostles were killed one after another, he was the only one left. When John became old, there was only one sermon that he preached: “You must love one another”. That is the reason why we regard him as the apostle of love.

How about the apostle James? The James that I am referring to is not the brother of John, but the brother of Jesus, who wrote the epistle of James. We call James the apostle of works because he kept stressing on the importance of works. Paul said that we are justified by faith but James said that we are justified by works. Both James and Paul also talked about the need to have faith and good works. However, the two of them had totally different emphasis. James said that we cannot be justified without works but Paul said that if we rely on works alone, it is impossible for us to be justified. And James said that we must have faith before we can be justified. Paul also said the same thing. But then James said that we must rely on works and not faith to be justified. Because of this, many people said that the teachings of these two apostles are in conflict. But both the epistles written by Paul and James are listed in the Bible. Does that mean that the doctrine that the Holy Spirit revealed to Paul was different from that which He revealed to James? Could it be that in spite of conflicting doctrines, the church still placed the two epistles together when they canonized the Bible? I do not believe that was the case. Even Martin Luther had some misunderstanding regarding this matter. Luther thought that the book of James could not be harmonized with the other epistles in the Bible. The reason was because he used the gospel as the standard to examine the importance of every other book in the Bible. In view of this, we need to now discuss how to harmonize both the theology of Paul and James.

Paul talked about faith; James also talked about faith. Paul talked about justification; James also talked about justification. Paul talked about works; James also talked about works. What should we do when both of them speak differently? We must pay attention to what kind of works James was talking about and what kind of works Paul was talking about. The works that Paul mentioned is the pride of gaining salvation by keeping the law – this was the pride of the Pharisees as well as that of the Judaism. They thought that they could be saved by just practising and obeying the law of Moses. Paul made it clear that such an undertaking was impossible because no one can be justified through works. This is because the law does not save us; rather we are cursed and condemned by it. We may ask the question: “What then is the purpose of God giving us the law? Why did he give the law if men cannot be saved by it? Throughout history, many people have discussed this issue. According to the understanding of the whole Jewish culture, the purpose of the law given by God is to require men to obey it. That is why the Jews keep researching and expanding their knowledge of the law. In the course of their history, the Jews have compiled a total of 612 laws. Without doubt, the most important of these laws is the Ten Commandments. Apart from the Ten Commandments, there are many other commandments as well. Since there are 612 laws, it is very difficult for the Jews to survive and live under such a legalistic system. How would a person know whether his actions and conduct today have violated even one out of the 612 laws? Therefore, the more the Jews studied the law, the more they find themselves bound by them.

If the law causes death and condemnation, is the purpose for God giving the law so that men would obey it? Some disagree. Watchman Nee, in his book “Twelve Baskets” made a very strange statement: “ The purpose of God giving the law is for men to break it” Such a statement, although creative, has the dangerous implication of attributing to God a wrong motive. How could God purposely cause us to break the law? That statement therefore cannot be accepted. If the law given by God is not to be obeyed or to be broken, what then is the purpose of it? This is a very serious question. I discovered the answer in the chapter 7 of Romans. The purpose God gave the law was to let us know that it is impossible for us to keep it and to make us realize that our sinful nature has totally separated us from God. The law also manifests the nature of God; namely that he is good, holy and righteous. Hence, the whole law, when summed up in its totality, will reflect these three natures of God.

Our God is a God of goodness, a God of holiness and also a God of righteousness. As a God who is good, he will not purposely cause us to break the law. As a God who is holy, he will discipline us so that we can share his holiness. As a God who is righteous, he will judge us when we go against his commandments. When the law manifests God’s nature to us, its functions will automatically be made evident. What are the functions of the law then? When we come before the law, we realize that we are not good, unholy and unrighteous. That is why Romans 3:19-20 tells us that it is through the law that we become conscious of sin and know that we are sinful men, so that every mouth may be silenced and the world held accountable to God. When faced with the law, we are unable to defend ourselves and have to be judged by God. The 3 attributes of God will silence our mouths and open our minds so that we become conscious of our sin and bow before the judgment of God. These are the 3 passive functions of the law.

What are the active functions of the law? The New Testament tells us that the law has set us free. I was very astonished by this statement. How can the law give freedom to man? Those who study the law will know that where there is law, there will be bondage and no freedom. However, God has a different perspective. His purpose of giving the law is a good one. God has given the law in order to give man freedom, protection and security in life. Secondly, the summation of the law is love – a concept found only in the New Testament. Submission to the law itself is also love. Because God loves man, he gave the law to man. A mother will say to her child, “Do not hang around with bad guys. Do not do this and do not do that.” Her commandment comes from love. In the same way, when God says, “Thou shall not commit adultery; thou shall not kill; thou shall not steal; and thou shall not give false witness, ”including other commandments, all of these come from His love for us.

When the Pharisees asked Jesus which was the greatest commandment in the Law, he responded to them immediately by saying that that the first and greatest commandment was to, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”. The Jews are very familiar with this statement. Similarly, if I were to ask you, you will also respond immediately. This is what the Hebrews call “shema”. What is “shema”? It is the true essence of the Bible as well as the golden verse of the Bible. This can be found in Deuteronomy 6:4. The verse begins with the phrase, “Hear, O Israel”, or in other words, “You must listen”. The Hebrew culture was a culture derived from hearing the word of God whereas the Greek culture was one derived from seeing and observing the creation of God. “Hear, O Israel” or “Shema, O listen”.

For the past ten years, I have continued preaching without fail because, by God’s commandments, the children of God have to listen. What should we listen to? We have to listen to the word of God. “Hear, O Israel”, “Shema, listen”. Your God will watch over you, the Lord your God is one. The most important word there is “Eluhinu”, which is not singular or dual but plural. In English, there is singular and plural but in Chinese, they do not exist. Singular and plural are found also in Greek. However, in Hebrew, it is different because it has singular, dual and plural. “Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is one.” – the word used is not singular or dual but plural. But how can “one” be plural? Does plural constitute three or five or some other figure? I contend that plural means three. The reason for this is the countless passages in the Bible that makes use of the number “three”. For example, it is stated, “Holy, holy, holy,” which is three times. We can also see it in, “the Holy Father, the Holy Son and the Holy Spirit” – which is the trinity of God. Even though the word “trinity” is not stated in the Bible, it is one of the clearest revelations of God himself in the Bible.

When we say, “the Lord is one”, there is, in fact, two Hebrew words for “one”. The first “one” is a “one” in itself while the second “one” is a “one” in unity. The “one” that is used in relation to God in that verse is the latter “one”, the “one” in unity. This is a very important word. When the Pharisees asked Jesus which was the greatest commandment in the Law, He replied by saying, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” The second was to, “Love your neighbour as yourself”. When Jesus was asked regarding the greatest commandment, he answered them with two commandments instead. Why? This was because the Law came from God, so it could not emphasize only the first one and neglect the other. We are not here referring to the 612 laws, but the two aspects of the Law; one aspect is to God and the other is to people, that is to love God as well as people. This then is the summation of all the laws.

A person who knows how to love God and man has already obeyed all the other commandments of God. If a person cannot love others whom he can see, then he will not be able to love God who is invisible. In the same way, a person who cannot receive love from God will also not be able to love others as himself. When the Pharisees asked Jesus which was the greatest commandment, he could not simply separate those two commandments. Therefore, in the New Testament, we are able to see the active functions of the law and not its passive functions. In the passive functions of the law, we are only able to see the goodness, holiness and righteousness of God, which ultimately put God beyond our reach. But in the active functions of the law, as we ponder about the revelations in the New Testament, we will praise God when we realize that the law was given to set us free, to teach us to understand the word of God, to obey it through love and also to point us to Jesus Christ to seek grace from him.

I often illustrate the law as a x-ray doctor. For instance, when the x-ray shines on you, it will reveal to you that you are suffering from stage-four tuberculosis and that your internal organs have rotted away. When you see the x-ray report, you will realize that you are going to die soon. After this, you will go and see your doctor and say to him, “Doctor, I have come to see you now. I know I am going to die and that is why I regret to see you.” The doctor will say, “Never mind. Although you regret about seeing me, I must still tell you that half of your lungs have been destroyed. However, I have another doctor who works together with me. His name is Dr. Grace, the salvation of God. Please bring along your report and go and see him.” The intelligent person would feel terrified at the report but the foolish person would back to his village because he thought that no one was as smart as him to think about going to town to take an x-ray. When the villagers heard what he said, they were frightened. “You have been to that hospital? You have taken the x-ray? You have seen the doctor?” When the doctor tells you that you are going to die, there is nothing to be proud of.

When the Jews have the law, they became proud and boastful. How foolish of them to do so. The law never told them to be proud; instead it said to them, “You are going to die.” “Now, go over there and see Dr. Grace. Bring along your x-ray report. The doctor will tell you that he knows you are suffering from stage-four tuberculosis. He will give you some medicine.” Now, the first doctor can only examine and diagnose your sickness. It is the second doctor who can cure it. The former can be likened to the law whereas the latter can be regarded as the gospel. Therefore, the law examines sickness while the gospel cures it and the law diagnoses sin while the gospel overcomes it. Now we can understand the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Strangely enough, although the Jews have the law, they did not cry or feel sad but instead became proud. “Only we Jews know the law. Everyone else, the Chinese, the Malaysians and the Singaporeans do not know the law. Only we Jews know it. We are humans but you are dogs.” God will say to the Jews, “Are you out of your mind? I have given you the law in order for you to realize that you should die because of your sins and corruption. Instead, you became proud.”

In the Old Testament, there are two ministries. The first is the ministry of the Law and the second is the ministry of the Prophets. The law makes man conscious of his sin so that he will be humble. In the case of the Jews, not only were they not conscious of their sinfulness and not humble, they opposed God and became proud instead. Through the second ministry, God sent his prophets to the Jews to tell them, “You are sinful. You have disobeyed the law and you should not be proud.” But the Jews replied, “How dare you say that to us? We will kill you”. Although they have the law, the Jews did not repent but killed the prophets, thinking that they were wrong. After they had killed all the prophets, God said, “Enough. I will not send you any more prophets.”

How long was the period between the Old Testament and the New Testament – during which there were no prophets? It lasted for 400 years. In fact, there are two “400 years” in the Bible. This “400 years” is a whole number. The first one was actually 430 years although we use the whole number 400 years. The first 400 years refer to the period when God did not heed the cries of the Jews when they were held captive in Egypt. After God brought them out of Egypt, there were 40 years of testing. To be precise, it lasted for 38 years. Later, between the conclusion of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament, there was another 400 years period in which God would not send any prophets to them. Only after that did God give them Jesus Christ. Day and night, they cried out to God, “Lord, please send us the Messiah. We want Christ to come.” God replied, “Do you truly want Christ to come?” So God sent Jesus Christ to the Jews but because he did not fit their expectations of what the Messiah should look like, they killed him. It is therefore not surprising that even until today, the Jews kept on killing people. Even the Son of God was killed by them. As a result of that, the gospel was spread to all the Gentiles.

My dear brothers and sisters, Jesus Christ said, “It is not possible for the blood of the prophets to be shed outside Jerusalem.” What does that mean? Only the religious leaders dared to commit such a great sin as murdering God’s prophets. Village folks only dare to steal chickens but only the highest judge who knows the law will break it purposely. When Jesus was on earth, he rebuked the hypocritical Pharisees and scribes who had the Law of Moses and yet went against the word of God, trampled it under their feet and pretended to be godly. The Lord’s rebuke was aimed at the church leaders and religious leaders, more than any other people. Not only so, Jesus will also rebuke future church leaders in the same way he did towards the church leaders and religious leaders in the New Testament.

Matthew 7:21 warns us that not everyone who says, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of God. In the future, there will be many people who will cry out to Jesus, “Lord, Lord, I will heal sicknesses, drive out demons and perform miracles in your name.” This is especially true at the conclusion of the 20th century. Today, there are many people who use God’s name to heal sickness, drive out demons and also perform miracles. Using the name of God, they will use the breath from their mouth and“slay”people, causing them to fall to the ground. People will be amazed and thought that God had spoken mightily. Let me tell you that many of these phenomena are the works of evil spirits disguised as the Holy Spirit to deceive Christians who have no biblical foundation. The Lord will say to those people who call on Him, “Although you heal sicknesses and drive out demons in my name, I will tell you plainly that I never knew you and away from me, you evildoers.” We can observe therefore that Jesus mentioned both the importance of morality and works. We are to manifest our good works before men. Why do we need to do that? Why did Jesus teach us in such a manner? Did Jesus not say that when we do good deeds, we should not disclose it? Let me tell you that the world needs to see the true conduct of Christians because it is impossible for them to see our faith. For that reason, the morality of the church has to be reconstructed.

Let us now consider again the theology of Paul and James. What did Paul mean when he said that we cannot depend on works to be saved?” The works mentioned by Paul referred to the works of the Pharisees who were proud of the fact that they practised the law. But Paul said that it was impossible to be justified by this type of works. He who seeks to be justified by practising the law will end up being entangled in sin. That is because the curse of the law and the wrath of God, which is manifested through the law, would come upon us who are unable to truly practise the law. Therefore, every time I talk about works in terms of Paul, it is this aspect I am referring to. On the other hand, when James talked about works, he was not talking in the same breath as Paul. What then is James talking about when he mentioned works? For James, works refer to the good fruits that are produced by faith. So we have to be careful when we read the Bible. The same term “works” can have two different meanings. In the case of Paul, it means the pride of the Pharisees whereas in the case of James, it means the manifestation of the true Christian.

Secondly, when Paul talks about justification, an analogy can be made of a person who has been convicted of a crime and sentenced to imprisonment by a judge. Later, when it was discovered that he had been wrongly accused, he was pronounced innocent and released. That is what justification is about. When Paul mentions justification by faith, it excludes any attempt to rely on our good works as the basis of salvation. Rather, we have to rely on our acceptance of the salvation of Christ, so that in God’s mercy, we will not be regarded as sinners. Martin Luther had a unique understanding of this matter. To him, faith is the acceptance of the acceptance. What is the meaning of such an acceptance and how do we accept the acceptance? Luther’s answer is this: “Although you cannot accept it, you must still accept it.” This is something difficult to understand. A man as evil and sinful as I, Jesus would still receive and accept. How is that possible?

Have you ever experienced being very deeply in love with a person? Although you love her very much, you know that it is impossible to win over her affections. If one day she tells you that she accepts your love, you probably will be very startled. In your heart, you will be asking, “Is she really sincere or is she fooling with me?” Later, when she says, “I want to get married with you”, you may be doubtful. “Could it be that my friends are playing an April fool joke on me?” you wonder. As you go to her house to look for her, you are still doubtful and trembling in your heart. Upon arriving, you knock on her door and she opens it. When you see her face, you feel like running away. Nevertheless, you ask her the question, “Is this the letter that you sent me?” although at the same time you are thinking, “Surely that is not possible.” To your surprise, she says, “Yes, I was the one who sent it to you,” and your heart starts to melt. “Is it really for me?” you ask again. “Yes, it is. I want you to marry me,” she replies. Immediately, you fainted. After you regain consciousness, you ask her, “Was I dreaming of you just now?” She says, “No, you were speaking to me all along.” Still finding it hard to believe, you ask her, “Do you truly want to be my wife?” She replies, “Do you believe me or not?” “I am not sure if I dare to believe,” you answer. “Well, if you do not believe, you can leave right now,” she remarked rather angrily. Very quickly you reply, “I believe.” Much to your relief, she answers, “Alright, I will marry you then.”

We are not worthy and we deserve to die because we have sinned. We should be sent to hell and be judged and suffer eternal death. But by the grace of God, we have been saved through the death of Christ, cleansed by his blood that was shed for us. “Lord, do you truly accept me?” we ask God. “Yes, I accept you,” God replies. So, I accept the fact that God has accepted me. This is called the acceptance of the acceptance. Such is the greatness of Luther’s understanding – the acceptance of the acceptance. What is the salvation that we have received? It is the fact that God has accepted me, a sinner. I therefore have to accept this fact - that God has accepted me. He did not despise me but has forgiven me. This is what justification by faith means.

Paul says that we cannot be justified by works because our works are neither sufficient nor capable of justifying us. For example, Dr. Mochtar Riady was invited to give an address in this conference. The organizing committee deliberated on the appropriate souvenir that should be presented to him since he was such a wealthy man. If we give him too much, we may not have enough but if we give him too little, he may not accept it and look down on us. Hence, it was difficult for the committee to decide, as Dr. Riady was not an ordinary person. It was not our money that brought him here; rather it was God’s providence. Therefore, we must not misunderstand that by merely relying on our good deeds, we can be saved. God will ask us. “What good works are you talking about?” No one can earn God’s grace by his conduct. This is what Paul is saying: “We are not justified by works.”

Although we are not dependent on works for our justification, it does not mean that we can conduct ourselves improperly. Some Christians are like that. When you tell them that something is free, they will take it for granted and simply waste and squander it. I will not forgive this type of people who have such an attitude. If you do not take this conference seriously – which have been so painstakingly organized and with so many prominent speakers from around the world coming to speak – but adopt a lackadaisical attitude, I will not invite you again in future. Fortunately, your performance was very good. The chairperson told me that 99.5% of those who registered attended the conference. Even though I announce that those who are tired – due to the exhausting schedule of four sessions a day – can take a nap in the evenings, almost everyone stayed on and did not miss the evening session. In view of this, I may consider holding future conferences in Kuala Lumpur again.

A person who has a sense of appreciation will not take something for granted although it is free. Whenever something is free, people will be attracted to it. For instance, between the day sessions, which require conference fees, and the night sessions, which are free for all to attend, naturally there will be more people coming for the latter. We cannot squander the grace of God, because everything is not free. If something is free for you, surely somebody had paid the price. This ballroom that we rent is not free. Every Monday when we have our Bible exposition in this ballroom, expenses are incurred for the air ticket, hall rental, organizing fee and letters of notification. Nothing is free. God forbid us from thinking that because something is free, we can simply do what we want with it? Many Christians are like that. They think that since Jesus has died for them, they can simply live as they please. How can we squander our lives according to our own whims and fancies when Christ has endured such tremendous suffering for us?

Paul says, “We are justified by faith.” Martin Luther says, “Faith is the acceptance of the acceptance – to accept that Christ has accepted me.” Does that mean we can simply behave then? No. God says, “You must read the book of James.” What does the book of James say? It says, “You must be justified by works.” On one hand, Paul says that we are justified by faith but on the other, James says that we must be justified by works. Which should we follow?” Let me put it to you: It is by faith that we are justified. Nevertheless, after we have been justified, we must manifest our good works so that people can see our righteousness. When James talked about faith, it is the confession of the lips: “I believe in Jesus.” So sweet is our lips and all the religious terms and cliché that we utter. I am very afraid of religiously spiritual people who speak spiritual cliché. Every statement of theirs gives the impression that they are very close to God. I nearly did not become a Christian because of them. It is strange that in this world there is a person by the name of Stephen Tong who is a Christian. It is stranger still that he can become a pastor. Throughout my life, the people that I esteem as well as despise the most are Christians. Equally, those that I admire as well as look upon with contempt the most are pastors. When I meet a pastor or elder, I will not simply accord him my respect unless I know he is a good pastor or elder. Likewise, when I meet a Christian, I will not think much of him unless I know he is a dedicated Christian. There are too many nominal and Sunday Christians around.

Why do I dare to criticize such people? It is because of the teaching of the Bible. What does the Bible say? “You use your lips to come close to me but your heart is far away from me. You worship me in vain. You do not have to worship me. You do not have to come to me. I hate you.” These are God’s words. In the book of Isaiah, God said, “ I hate your sacrifices, I hate your Sabbath. Even though your sacrifices are like the flood from the river, I will still hate you because you do not cease from sinning.” Isaiah 1:10 exhort us to hear the word of God and listen to His law. Therefore, we must cease to commit sin and do good works. Does God need your money? Does God need your sacrifices? Does God need your providence? It is because God had mercy on me that he gave me the opportunity to preach and made it possible for me to have a ministry. When God gives you the opportunity to offer your tithes to him, it is because he has mercy on you so that you will know how to honour him. It is not because he needs you. All your money cannot be taken into heaven. Rather, it is to be used for those who are in need.

We should not be proud. We must be humble before the Lord. Who we are today is all because of his grace. “Lord, I thank you. You have saved me and forgiven me. How can I repay you?” No one can repay the grace of God. God have mercy on us. How do we put God’s grace into action? It is by our good works, which are manifested to others. Jesus declared, “You are the light of the world.” The world that we live in is filled with darkness. The world needs our light because we are the light of the world. This is the cultural mandate of the Christian; to show forth a good behaviour, good life, good conduct and good deeds so that we can reveal to the world that the living God is dwelling within us. Because we have new life in us, we must manifest a good way of living; new behaviour and new conduct in order to glorify our God in heaven.

My dear brothers and sisters, the Bible clearly tells us that a Christian must have good conduct. That is the reason why there is a difference between the exposition of James and Paul. James says that we must have good works and then we will be justified. Faith alone is not enough. On the other hand, Paul says that works alone cannot save us. Are these two different? No, there is no conflict. The meaning that Paul is trying to get across is that our good works cannot earn the salvation of God. We can only receive this salvation by faith – justified by faith before the Lord. It is through faith and not our conduct. In contrast, James is emphasizing that we must also have good works and not merely confessing with our lips, “I believe, I believe”. This is because genuine faith must be manifested by works. And faith without works is dead. The good deeds that we do are not for God to see, since He looks at the inner heart. Rather, they are for men to see since they look at the outward appearance. Our good deeds manifested before men will be justified by men and not by God. Therefore, justification by God is through faith but justification by man is through conduct.

Sadly, many Christians do not understand these principles. 100 years after the Reformation began by Martin Luther in 1517, around the year 1620, Christianity in Germany became corrupted. The German Christians drank, gambled, committed adultery and did according to their own wishes. Why did that happen? They thought that works alone could not justify them since no one’s conduct was good enough before the Lord. Thus, they arrived at the misconception that since they were saved by faith, their conduct was no longer important and they could simply behaved as they wished. God’s heart was broken. This situation gave rise to the “Counter-reformation” theology of the Roman Catholic Church. Amongst other matters, it laid down the warning that anyone who dared to say that a person could rely on faith alone without depending on works in order to be justified would be severely punished. The Roman Catholics looked upon Christianity with disdain; so too the rest of the world. As a result, Christianity fell into a great darkness.

Why is it that for such a long time, Christian churches are not able to testify to the world? Why is that when Christians invite unbelievers to church, many would not go? The last few days, I have made the point that there are some Christians who are very loud in church but when they go outside, they are ignored. Why is that so? It is because their behaviour is bad and their conduct corrupted. How can they glorify God?

My dear brothers and sisters, do we need to be reconstructed in our morality? Absolutely! The question before us is how do we reconstruct our morality? Unless we have new life, we will not be able to have a new pattern of living. Some will say, “I want to turn over a new leaf and be good.” Others will say, “I do not want to be a Christian now but later, after I have become a little better.” When will we become good? Let me tell you that we are better when we are sick compared to when we are healthy. The sicker we are, the better we are. When we are healthy, we do all sorts of evil – some gamble and others look for prostitutes.

Do we know when we are good? We are better when we are sick compared to when we are healthy and we are even better when we are dead compared to when we are sick. So, if a person were to say that he would become a Christian only when he has become better, let it be known to him that he would only be good when he has died. I would be sorry to tell him that he would not be able to repent after he has died. There is no possibility of repentance because after a person has died, he has only to wait for judgment. Today, we must come before the Lord and repent. Those who have not received Christ should receive Christ today. And those who have believed in Christ should repent today. May God forgive our sin and grant us a holy life, so that we will be able to reconstruct our faith and morality. If we are not regenerated, we cannot have new life. It is only after the Holy Spirit has breathed new life into us that we can begin to produce the fruits of the Spirit in our lives.

When we talk about the reconstruction of faith and morality, this reconstruction does not depend solely on religious effort or self-cultivation. In Sao Paolo, there was someone who said to me, “I often tell my children that they should not go to places that are bad. When I say that, I would tremble because I frequented those places. Nevertheless, as an elder person, I have to discourage them from going.” As for himself, the man confessed, “I have no other way. Inwardly, I have no way.” There was once Rev. Lai Zhun Duo asked his father, “How do I stop gambling? Father, can you help me?” When his father heard this, his father cried. The young Rev. Lai had not seen his father shed tears before. His father never shed tears, only sweat. “If my gambling habit can be stopped, I would have stopped it long ago. Until today I still cannot change, how then am I able to help you?” Rev. Lai’s father replied. This is a very honest confession. Many people rely on their own strength and physical effort to change. Surely, they will fail.

My dear brothers and sisters, there was a story of a father who frequently went out to look for prostitutes in the middle of the night. One cold night, he left his house and walked in the snow towards his destination. When he reached the prostitute’s place, he looked behind to see whether there was anyone watching him. Usually, when he sees none, he would quietly thank God. However, when he turned back, he saw his 16-year old son following him about 100 metres away. He put on a serious face and scolded his son, “Why are you here? Go home!” The father thought that he could still use his authority as a father to command his son. He did not expect his son to reply: “Dad, do not shout. These 2 months, I have been following you. I know you come here very often. No matter what you say, I will no longer listen.” Does the father still have the dignity to teach his son? Is he still qualified to be a father? If you are a father, let me tell you that you must repent now, while your children are young and have not grown up. If not, you will lose them forever. If the Holy Spirit touches you today, you must not hesitate but quickly repent. Otherwise, you will not be able to resist the Devil the next time if he confronts you with a greater temptation. Pastors and preachers who are lazy and do not preach the truth properly must repent. Deacons and elders who serve the Lord with ulterior motives have to repent. Church leaders who accept and make use of false and deviated doctrines to facilitate church growth must repent as well. And Christians who refuse to evangelise also have to repent.

We need to have our morality reconstructed. Only when our morality has been reconstructed will the church have the authority of holiness and the dignity of goodness and righteousness. When a person lives a holy life, he will have a special authority that others would dare to despise. When a person lives a truly righteous life, he will have a righteous authority that others dare not take lightly. And when a person has true motives and personality, the words that he speaks will be filled with power.

My dear brothers and sisters, I know that I am a servant of God. If my morality is contradictory to the word of God, I will not have to wait for anyone to point his finger at me because I myself will not dare to come up to the pulpit. Today, we are servants of God. We must be alert and live trembling before the Lord. By relying on His power, we shine forth our light to the world. When I look at the life of Rev. Daniel Rao, I am very touched. He has worked with the youth for countless years. The youth looked at the example that he modelled as they mature, one generation after another. Every batch of students graduate after 4 years, but Rev. Rao laboured in the university for 40 years. He has seen generation after generation of students graduated over the years. When he was over 60 years old, people still respect him. Some of his students who have obtained the highest doctorate awards in the world formed a fellowship under him that consisted of more than 200 lecturers in order to testify for the Lord.

Many years are like a day. This is the kind of people that the world is not worthy of. This type of churches and preachers must surely have the power to witness. Are you willing to become like them? Do you want the church to have the power of holiness – sacred, righteous and good; a church with morality, patience, truth and the presence of God? When people see our morality, they will give glory to God from deep within their conscience. Although they do not believe outwardly, their conscience will tell them that what they see is the church of God, the servants of God and the children of God. Tonight, are you willing to say to the Lord, “O Lord, revive me. Reconstruct me. Use your holy fire to consume me. Cleanse me with your blood and fill me with the Holy Spirit.” Are you willing?


[1] Hebrews 11: 6
[2] James 2:26b
[3] Matthew 5:14a
[4] Matthew 5:16