Friday, October 29, 2004

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!

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