Friday, October 29, 2004

THE NEW TESTAMENT MODEL OF MINISTRY

By Rev. Dr. Chen Zhuo Ren


Many of you must be feeling tired and exhausted. Do you know that suffering and willingness to suffer add up to joy? This is a very unique principle in Christianity. Today, we shall explore the model of ministry in the New Testament. After searching through the different books in the Bible and compiling the Scripture verses relating to ministry so as to form a single yet multi-dimensional theology of the Bible, the conclusion reached concerning the definition and overall principle of the term ‘model ministry’ is what we call ‘the New Testament Model of Ministry.’

Why do we need to discuss the question of ministry? The reason is because service is the third stage in the trilogy of a Christian’s progress in his spiritual life. Every Christian will experience these three phases in his spiritual walk. First he will experience Christ, then know Christ and finally, serve Christ. Let us say this aloud: Experience Christ, know Christ and serve Christ.

From the angle of grace, every Christian will first be bestowed grace, after which he will acknowledge grace and finally feel that the grace given him is a debt too great to repay. That is why we are not asked to repay grace but to be grateful for it. Let us say together: Given grace, acknowledge grace and be grateful for grace.

From the perspective of God’s truth, all of us believed in the truth first before we understand the truth and eventually we have to practise and share the truth. Let us say this together: Believe in the truth, understand the truth and practise the truth.

Which step is more important? All three are equally important. From the viewpoint of an individual that has been given grace and is thus saved, the first step is irreplaceable. As Christians, we must all begin by having faith, which is why Augustine’s principle on faith was such a defining moment in the Christian faith, placing it on an unshakable foundation. In my twenty years studying theology, I only started to realise the greatness of Augustine in my nineteenth year.

We pursue knowledge of Christ by faith. This is because our starting point as a Christian is about experiencing Christ, being given grace and believing in the truth. According to Paul, these are the things we experienced when we are still unbelievers or are unclear about our faith. As such, the first step in the trilogy of our spiritual journey must be passive. It is also external. Christians will always only sing the hymn ‘Amazing grace’, and not ‘Amazing faith’. If you know this hymn well, then you will understand why Augustine was known as ‘The Doctor of Grace’. This is because Christianity is about Sola Gratia – everything is about grace and everything starts from grace. Again, speaking from our experience of being saved, the first step cannot be missing. However, for the Chinese churches, I believe that the second step is an urgent issue that needs to be addressed presently and this is what we have to try to solve now.

Many Chinese churches always tell their believers: “You must listen to the truth and practise the truth.” The second step of the trilogy that I mentioned is missing. What is it? It is the understanding of Christ after knowing Christ; it is the acknowledgment of grace after receiving grace; and it is the understanding of the truth after believing in the truth.

If you have experienced Christ yet do not understand Christ, how are you going to serve Christ? If you have received grace yet do not acknowledge grace, how will you be grateful for grace? If you have accepted the truth yet do not understand the truth, what kind of truth are you sharing?

Therefore, the second step of the trilogy is what the Chinese churches have always neglected. It is so difficult to discuss theology in Chinese churches because they don’t like it. Chinese churches only believe in listening to the truth and practising it. However, they have forgotten that a lot of Scripture verses frequently remind us to truly understand the Lord. We must have a deep understanding of the God that we believe in. Unfortunately, we have totally neglected these scriptural instructions. That is why I believe the second part of the trilogy of faith is the issue that has to be urgently addressed in Chinese churches, especially the house churches in Mainland China.

What about the third step of the trilogy? If we consider it in terms of the progress of our spiritual life, or from the main messages of this seminar, the third step serves as a testimony for the Lord. It is an act of gratefulness and not repayment, I stress again, as well as an act of practising or sharing the truth. According to the main messages of this seminar, this is even more important. That is why we emphasise the reconstruction of faith, the reconstruction of morality and the reconstruction of ministry. However, the third phase here may not be the crescendo of our spiritual life, because a Christian most probably would have experienced such euphoria during the period of receiving grace.

The following step is what is called ‘consummation’. It is an effective action where having believed and understood the truth, a Christian cannot help but spread the word around. Even lifeless stones would do likewise after going through the same process! This is the inevitable step where a Christian, after being given grace and having understood it, is compelled to express his eternally thankfulness to God and serve him faithfully. In short, it is the logical conclusion of a Christian’s spiritual life, which is why Romans 12:1 has been translated in many English versions of the Bible as: “This is your reasonable or spiritual act of worship.”

Nowadays, many believers are very unreasonable, because they have not consummated the last step of the trilogy of faith. For this reason, in today’s session, we want to discuss how we can refine our definition of a model ministry from the viewpoint of the New Testament.

Right from the beginning, the New Testament theological understanding of ‘ministry’, especially to Chinese churches, was the subject of a major error in translation, or rather, a difficulty in translation that could not possibly be solved. What sort of error is it? The word ‘pu ren’ or ‘servant’ in the Chinese Bible is actually ‘slave’ in the original manuscripts, while the English word ‘deacon’ should be translated as ‘pu ren’ (servant) as is used in the Chinese churches.

Allow me state a very simple equation to solve this cultural problem in translation. In the Chinese Bible, ‘pu ren’ (servant) should be paraphrased as ‘nu di’ (slave) whereas ‘zhi shi’ (deacon) should be substituted with ‘pu ren’. By doing so, everything would become so much simpler. We would no longer have the mistaken concept that only the apostle Paul, preachers or pastors who should be regarded as slaves of God; no longer would we hold on to the wrong concept that we are only ordinary believers, not slaves of God; and no longer would deacons regard certain portions of the Bible as meant only for them.

According to the original concept of the word expressed by Paul, ‘pu ren’ should be slave. What is a slave? A slave is a person who is absolutely obedient to God. What about the term ‘zhi shi’ mentioned by Paul then? ‘Zhi shi’ (verb form) is what we call ‘service’ in English. The word ‘shi feng’, which means ‘to serve’, had also been translated correctly by the Chinese churches.

So, whichever term that we choose to discuss, whether ‘deacon’, ‘service’ or ‘slave’, it should not be used as a label for a particular group of people. The whole concept surrounding these words should not just be reserved for a particular class, especially as a particular type of profession. That is why the New Testament churches adopted Martin Luther’s idea that all Christians are high priests, preachers and people who are grateful to God and who must share and serve Christ. Therefore, we can conclude that the word ‘slave’ in the New Testament is synonymous with ‘pu ren’ in the Chinese Bible, and likewise the word ‘deacon’ also means ‘pu ren’. Those who serve God are God’s loyal servants.

Now, let us turn our attention to ‘shi feng’ or ‘deacon’, which means to serve, to live and to work for someone. I have already explained this morning that the concept ‘for others’ is very rare in the Greek culture and other ancient cultures. The people of that time emphasised the concept of ‘self-cultivation’. Thus, we can conclude that the New Testament does not give emphasis to the ministry in the holy temple, but rather the corporate service of all believers. However, the New Testament does convey the concept of ‘shi feng’ as a church, but what is to ‘shi feng’ in the church?

‘Shi feng’ should not be equated with the word ‘ministry’ in English. If it is translated as ‘ministry’, then the word will have an undertone of professionalism. We must reject the professionalisation of the Christian faith, Christian theology and Christian ministry. I hold this belief to the extent that I do not regard pastoral work as a form of profession. This is because professionals are the product of training whereas pastors are actually called by God. This is why we must reject the professionalization and diversification of Christianity, until we reach an ultimate point where the characteristics of the church are unified and the highest discussion of culture, science and thinking are produced in the church. This is the climax of ‘shi feng’. ‘Shi feng’ is not merely distributing leaflets at doorways, neither is it collecting offerings because these acts are what we call ‘work’. The New Testament had clearly differentiated this by using different words.

So, what exactly is ‘shi feng’? The meaning of ‘shi feng’ is to serve. What is ‘serve’ then? Although the word literally means to serve man, but in Paul’s concept, the climax of our service is to serve the truth. Therefore, we can boldly say that the concept in the New Testament had achieved a breakthrough, which surpassed that of the Old Testament and the cultures of ancient civilisations. From then on, service had taken the meaning of serving through the Church. Only the Church is qualified to talk about serving because God’s grace rests with the Church. Only through the Church did the word of God become flesh and only the Church alone serves as a testimony of Christ’s resurrection. For these reasons also, although the Church is temporal, it is the only body that is qualified to serve simply because God had chosen it. Undoubtedly, ‘service’ is a responsibility that is to be taken up by the Church.

Service is by the church, of the church, but not for the church. The object of our service is not the church since it is temporal in nature. In the end, you will find that we are only serving a larger existence, i.e. God, through the church. The work of building up the Church is only a part of service. Eventually, what constitutes the climax of service is unifying the truths of the Bible.

Nowadays, we tend to focus unnecessarily much on practical work as means of serving. In this seminar, however, you would have noticed that none of the talks mention the ‘how to’ question. But if you were to attend training camps held during seasonal holidays, you will notice that the speakers tend to answer the ‘how to’ of evangelism, receiving grace or preaching. Are these camps good? Yes, they are. But these training camps are not able to build the faith of believers in terms of truth. They can only improve the techniques employed by believers. These are what we call ‘free ring-binders conferences’. You are free to participate in such conferences outside the boundary of the church, but please do not organise such conferences in the church. Today, we are trying to organise a seminar that can truly strengthen our faith and to achieve the objective of a church that can truly edify believers.

I rarely go out to preach, mainly due to my own concept of ‘service’. I have become increasingly convinced that preaching from church to church is not going to build up the Church. The preacher himself is only taking the seat of a supply preacher. Under the guidance of God, we have been trying to organise gospel rallies in America. I once pioneered a church in Chicago. Nevertheless, Seattle was too small for me, and I could not concentrate on my teachings. Later, God led us to the Bay Area in San Francisco, the most important industrial area in America.

There are two places that inter-continental missiles would definitely target should an attack on America take place. The first is Manhattan, New York, the cultural and finance centre of America. The second is Bay Area, San Francisco, where the Silicon Valley and the Biotech Valley, currently, is situated. These two areas are very important to America. We praise God because we are going to start a small church in the Bay Area, which we hope will gradually grow to be a church that truly exhibits the characteristics of a serving church.

In the New Testament, ‘service’ has never been in the form of work. The word ‘service’ never appeared in the four Gospels except in Luke 10:40, which recorded the story of Mary and Martha. Yet, in the following books of the Bible, the word ‘service’ appeared thirty four times. Why is it so? Why was the word ‘service’ non-existent in the four Gospels? The answer is very simple. The Son of Man had already come. Jesus had already come but had yet to accomplish his mission to fulfil the dispensation of grace. Remember this, ‘shi feng’ is to serve while ‘zhi shi’ is a steward of the house. Only when God has bestowed grace and given the truth, can we stewards have something to take care of. This is the reason why the word ‘service’ was not mentioned in the four Gospels. At that point, God had not even given us anything to take care of!

Later, the word ‘service’ as a verb frequently appeared in the books following the four Gospels, and often in the form of paradox. What is ‘service’ to John? To him, the word means to serve with our whole life. In John 12:24-25, it is written: “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

This is a perfect description of what ‘service’ meant to John. This is in fact, the culmination of service. It refers to a point where a person would unreservedly offer his whole life to serve God, not just serving him by means of work. Pursuant to that, Jesus said in John 12:26: “Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honour the one who serves me.” Therefore, in John’s concept, to serve the Lord is to follow the Lord. I reiterate again, service is not to serve by means of work. It even reaches a point where the New Testament may reject ministry-like service.

The New Testament churches of today particularly give emphasis to essential ministry and essential service, not serving through works of man. We must change our concept and revolutionise the usage of the word ‘service’ in the four Gospels. What Jesus said in Luke 22:27 is a challenge that the theology of ministry must confront: “For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.”

What did Jesus say about himself? The Son of Man did not come as one to be served, but as one who served. This statement turned the entire ancient concept of ‘service’ and superiority upside down. From then on, those at the top have to serve those below them. This is the revolutionising concept of John, and also that of the four Gospels. Jesus, having washed the feet of his disciples in John 13:14, declared: “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.” This verse clearly explained the dramatic change in moral concept. From then on, ‘to serve’ is not dominating others or place them under subjection, but to truly help others with God’s love and truth.

Finally, the word ‘shi feng’, as a noun, contains another meaning, i.e. ‘servant’, ‘caretaker’ or even ‘deacon’. This is the second stream of thought in Peter’s theology. To Peter, ‘service’ is easy to comprehend. ‘Service’ is effected through proclamation. As we mention this, we are reminded of Peter’s words in I Peter:

“The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone.

“You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead.”

Peter’s concept of ‘service’ was one of proclamation. Again, ‘service’ has nothing to do with hands and feet. Instead, it has everything to do with the mouth and heart. This is a non-workman-like, non-activity-like and non-ministry-like concept of ‘service’.

All these go against the grain of modern day ‘service’. Today, there are three elements that come into consideration when it comes to pioneering new churches – budgeting, building and planning. I told my church, we do not want these three elements. This is because we want to use the word of God, the truth of God and the love shared among us to build up our church. The church is laid on the foundation of God’s truth, not the planning of the human mind or the construction work of man. Frankly, if a church truly has the truth of God, people will surely flock to it.

There are two matters that greatly trouble deacons. Firstly, they worry that nobody will come to church. Even when people stream into the church, they are still worried. Why? This is because they find it troublesome to entertain the numerous questions raised by visitors: Who is this Triune God? Who is Jesus Christ? Why is he both God and human? Wouldn’t that add up to a 200% being? Doesn’t sound right. The deacons will reply, “Oops! Please ask the pastor!”

This is why we dread having new faces in church. We don’t know how to answer all their questions, and we also have to take the trouble to prepare meals and plan activities for them. Obviously, in today’s churches, we are not putting the focus on the word of God. Churches nowadays lack confidence when sharing the word of God. I always say that there is nothing to fear except fear itself. So, what have we to fear when it comes to sharing God’s truth? We are using the apostle Peter’s concept to build up the church – preaching. This is mainly outlined in the 1 Peter 1:12:

“It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.”

What is written in the text here? Does it not say in the original manuscript that to preach is actually to serve? This is Peter’s theological concept of service. To serve is to proclaim. Hence, genuine ‘service’ must have words spoken by the mouth. In other words, you cannot just be doing something physical, you must have an eagerness to pursue knowledge by faith to build up an understanding of that faith. You may not be a Sunday Bible teacher, but you must make known the truth through spoken words in your working environment. Service has a purpose, and this purpose can only be expressed by words. This is the reason why the aspects of thinking and speaking can never be excluded from ‘service’ in Christianity.

Relatively speaking, actions and deeds are silent. More often than not, words explain actions, not the other way round. Nowadays, people say ‘action speaks louder than words’. Well, I don’t agree with that. Why? If that is so, than it is highly probable that the most loving and caring people can’t be found in church. They portray impressive images of themselves in front of the television screen to show they are more caring and loving than others, but we know deep inside that their inner characters are full of flaws. The truth is that if you are not an evil person, you won’t be in church. And if you are not a self-confessed sinner, you won’t be in church as well.

Does the Church need to be caring? Does she need good deeds to complement her voice? Of course, she does. But what is more important is to preach. You must complement your deeds with your preaching as well as to practise what you preach! Our understanding of God and God’s truth is in fact the equivalent of our understanding of putting grace into practice. This is the true testimony of a Christian. So, although undeniably we have to be involved in social movements and social welfare, what is more important is to build up the faith.

The third step of this trilogy of faith is truly the pinnacle of New Testament theology. Jesus’ deeds and actions during his lifetime are our most original reference. Subsequently, it was up to the Holy Spirit to guide Peter, Paul and John to explain, interpret, systematize and preach his deeds. Jesus never said anything about being righteous through faith; he never said anything about the theory of salvation. It was Paul who brought these out through his epistles. That is why Paul’s epistles have such a significant purpose in the Bible, in order to interpret and explain the four Gospels. These explanations and interpretations are not relative; they are formulated through the guidance of the Holy Spirit and are absolute in nature.

The theology of service that was developed from Paul’s theology is truly the crowning glory of Christian service. We no longer refer to ‘service’ as a form of work. Rather, it is the person doing it. From the concept of ‘service’ as a form of human work to the understanding of it as directly relating to preaching, and later developing into Paul’s concept of ‘service’, there has been a philosophical turn around in subjectivity. No longer is it a question of ‘service’, but an issue of ‘servanthood’. It is not so much a matter of what you do, than the fact that you must first answer the question ‘Who are you?’ before proceeding to determine ‘What to do?’ Acts 1:8 laid down the command:

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

You will be witnesses for God. This is the most original and objective definition of the work we will do for God, and it is also the essence of Paul’s theology concerning ‘service’. How did Paul introduce himself as a minister of God? What kind of description or condition did he set for ministers of God? In other words, how are we going to define deacons from now on? We are told in 2 Corinthians 3:6: “He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant – not of the letter but of the Spirit…” God wants us to carry the burden as ministers of the New Testament. We are to be servants of the new covenant, not merely ministers of a local church.

From now on, we will not be judged by our conduct, but instead be saved through faith. With the dispensation of God’s grace, God gave man a heart of flesh and blood so that he will repent and return to God. What should we, as caretakers selected by God, be taking care of? Not just a church but also the words of the New Testament. In 2 Corinthians 11:23, it is stated: “Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more.” Paul was a servant of Christ. We must be aware that in Paul’s epistles, he always begins by humbling himself as a servant of Christ. What does ‘servant’ here mean? A slave! Do you remember the equation I quoted at the beginning of the seminar? Servant is slave and deacon is servant (in Chinese). If you understand this, then you will also have a fresh insight to New Testament theology. These are what Paul said:

“Paul, a servant of Christ and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God’s elect…” (Titus 1:1)

“Paul, an apostle – sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father…” (Galatians 1:1)

How did Paul introduce himself? He always introduces himself by way of his direct identity under God. Why did he use the term ‘slave’? This is because a slave is totally submitted to God. If so, when then can we use the identity of a ‘deacon’? It is used when you are doing something or taking care of some matters. The main scripture to support this is Colossians 1:7: “You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.” ‘Servant’ here should be slave while ‘minister’ should be servant. From Paul’s choice of words, when it concerns relationship with God, he is a slave, but when it touches on relationship with people or his work, he is a minister. Paul said that he is even more a servant of God than others. He is not only a servant for Christ, but also a servant for God.

When Paul was finally at the climax of his ministry, he declared in Colossians 1:23 that he had become a servant of the gospel. It is clear that he was not serving a church of any specific locality, be it the church in Philippi, Ephesus, Colossians or any pagan church. He was, in fact, a servant of the gospel. Of course, Paul also mentioned in Colossians 1:25: “I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness.”

Finally, as we again view the concept of ‘service’ in its totality with this scripture in mind, we can see that even if it is narrowed down to within the framework of a church, it still remains a mission of spreading the truth of God outwards. Therefore, there has to be a breakthrough in the concept of ‘service’. Ultimately, there has to be a realisation of who and what we are serving. This can be summed up by 2 Corinthians 5:18-19: “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”

Therefore, being a messenger of God is just like carrying out a direct fatherly advice from God to reconcile man to him. This is ‘service’; the model ministry that we desire to see. Finally, what is ministry again? It is to take good care of God’s truth and to spread the word everywhere. This is Paul’s concept regarding this issue.

Hence, there has to be a revolution, or rather a reformation in the church. We must draw a line between church ‘service’ and ‘service’ in the New Testament, and then proceed to compare, analyse and reform. The most original form of service is what I call ‘essential service’, not the sort of activism that we practise today. In the church at present, even more so in society, there is the mentality that something physical needs to be done to solve a problem. In truth, it is simply better sometimes to do nothing, because when we act without having a full comprehension of the matter at hand, we are just acting irrationally.

Charismatic churches have a tendency to add something more to the word of God. Some of our brothers and sisters are inclined to call the time of worship ‘praise and worship’. It sounds nice, but I disagree. It is simply impossible. If we call that period of time ‘praise and worship’, then the sessions after that will not be considered as acts of ‘praise and worship’, especially when it comes to sermons. No wonder Charismatic churches tend to neglect the aspect of preaching. Essentially, the whole of a church service is an act of ‘praise and worship’. The whole service is an act of praising as well as an act of worship. The time for singing hymns should be called just that, and the time for preaching should just be known as preaching. We cannot overrule God’s work by human concept and activity. This is the reason why we must return to the roots, to the most original form of service.

What is the secret to the most original form of service then? Pure faith. Here, I want to highlight two key words: Purity and power. Purity produces power. Nowadays, pollution control is quite a big issue in China. The natural environment is polluted; even genetic storages can be polluted. If that is the case, our faith is even more polluted. We should suggest an environmental protection for the Christian faith to eliminate the pollution in church, so that a pure faith can be preserved. If you do not understand the statement ‘purity produces power’, you can check the price of pure gold. It is very expensive. I am not trying to convince every Christian to study theology and doctrines. No, that is not what I mean. But, everyone should try to understand the basic beliefs of Christianity. The effort to understand the essentials of the faith will produce a revolutionary influence.

Do you know when the Roman Empire started to crumble? Your history textbooks will say that it occurred when Emperor Constantine adopted Christianity as the national religion. Is it so? Of course not! The destruction of the Roman Empire and the dissolution of the slavery system started with the commencement of the New Testament age. In the book of Philemon, Paul told Philemon in verse 16 that Onesimus was sent to him “no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord.” This was said not in the flesh, but in Christ, in whom your slave is your brother. The Roman Empire was built on the foundation of the slavery system. Slaves provided mass labour for the construction of the majestic Roman roads and architecture that we see today. How was the slavery system dissolved? Not by works of man, not by revolution, but by the words spoken by Paul here, which in other words, was the original form of ministry – a proclamation strongly emphasised by Paul.

What I am saying today is not that everyone must be shut up in the church to learn theology. When you truly understand what faith is, your faith would be used in different areas of learning and produce great influence in that sphere, which in turn brings us to two main challenges that we must face today. The first is to inspire professional and intellectual Christians to uphold the faith that is of utmost purity. I won’t use the word ‘theology’ to describe ‘pure faith’, because some may choose to call it a dispensation approach, etc. Whatever you chose to call it, the bottom line is that each individual has something to offer. But which is the really real since there are so many diverse ones? It is the theology produced by pure faith, or rather what is left of pure faith.

Today, every member of the church, especially those who are professionals, must be fully equipped. I always worry about the church. There are three aspects of the integration of Christian belief. The first aspect involves Christians who occupy high-ranking positions in high-tech companies. They contribute the money they earn to the church. This is what we call the integration of offering. Is it good? Of course! With these offerings, the church will be able to go about business as usual. The second aspect is work. I have always felt that it is a waste of human resources to use ministry workers who work in biotech companies to distribute leaflets in the streets. They should be conducting theology classes instead. Of course they will say that they do not know anything about theology. This is more the reason why they should learn theology.

In my church, I hold theological discourses before Sunday services. We discuss topics such as the doctrine of salvation and Christology, with a subtopic of how to prove that Jesus is Christ. Soon, we are going to have courses on topics such as the theory of predestination, Holy Spirit and God. In this manner, we are going to build up the faith, one by one. Some brothers and sisters complained to me: “We really dislike your teachings because we do not agree with what you say, yet we cannot deny that your teachings are right.” Some would say: “We have been Christians for so long, now it feels like we are starting from scratch again.” Praise God! Not for me, but because the truth of God still remains in this world and in the church.

What is the main purpose for the existence of the church? It is to reform faith to its original purity. In this connection, is the act of building churches bringing lost souls back to Christ? Yes, borrowing a verse from Ephesians, “until we all reach unity in the faith…” Churches nowadays do not bother very much about their level of knowledge of Christ. Be it Jesus, the Holy Spirit, God or other spiritual matters, as long as people are coming to church, to them, everything is fine.

We cannot afford to have such a lackadaisical attitude, especially those we have been trained and educated scientifically. I always insist that we cannot use science to prove the existence of the truth. I suggest a name for such a form of learning – the science of truth. This is because truth is an independent form of learning in itself. It is very different from culture and science. This is also the reason why from a theological point of view, we have reservations about the usage of analogy in Christianity. For example, you cannot explain God by comparing him to our parents. In America, there are parents who are hooked on cocaine. There was a case in which a couple, after getting themselves high on cocaine, stuffed their children into the oven and cooked them to death! Is God to be equated with such parents? By no means! We can but only say that the noblest form of earthly parental love is comparable to that of God. Things on earth must be measured in relation to God, not the other way round.

Similarly, we cannot view truth as just another subject of learning such as science, culture and philosophy. I hold to this belief so strongly that I even have reservations about the works on theological science by the famous Scottish scholar, Dave Torrance, in relation to pure faith. Why do I believe so? For example, the light of God uttered by Jesus is not the same as the light defined by physics. The ‘light’ mentioned in the Bible is neither light waves nor light particles, which is why we cannot explain it with modern physics. The word ‘Bible’ in Latin is soi generus. It is in a category of its own and not comparable with worldly culture. We have to ask ourselves: What is true integration about? Not money, not work, but our thinking. I would rather prefer that engineers, entrepreneurs and lecturers in the church integrate their faith in their thinking.

Again, we must question ourselves: Is there such a thing as Christian science? Most of us wouldn’t even have heard of the term except that it refers to a heretic cult in America. Is there such a thing as Christian physics, or Christian chemistry, or Christian biology? If not, why then is there Christian literature? What about Christian philosophy or Christian music? How do we define all these? If man were to come out with a definition, surely anything produced by a Christian would be given the label ‘Christian’. Music written by a Christian would be called Christian music. Is this true? Not really. Some Christians produce very unchristian music. Is there such a thing as Christian economics? How are we going to answer all these questions? This is the reason for my asking scientists and engineers to contribute their thoughts in church, so that we can integrate them with the pure Christian faith. As people of God, let us integrate human thinking with the understanding given to us by God’s grace and enlightenment.

In the past, the easiest place to spot Chinese people in North America and South East Asia was in church. Thinking along this line, we hope that people will come to church because the church can offer the highest level of thinking. Wouldn’t you like to say ‘amen’ to this? Amen! We really pray that God will reform our thinking.

There must be a revolution in Christianity. The challenge that our fellow ministry workers face now is to build up knowledge in all respects because we are preaching to modern people. Preaching is not an identity but a role. We may all be Christians, but only preachers assume a more unique role in God’s eyes, because the preacher has to convey the truth perfectly.

The foundation of John Calvin’s church was based on the New Testament. In a church like that, pastors and deacons can fully utilise the truth and wisdom to carry out their functions properly. I really hope that intellectuals and non-intellectuals alike can use various methods to bring more people to Christ completely.

I always tell the deacons in my church that if I can try to read up on James Watson’s double helix, why can’t they do the same and read about Karl Barth. They tell me that it’s too hard. Honestly, which one is more difficult? I find their stuff complex too. Why can’t they try to read up on Calvinism, or books written by the best theologians?

Therefore, Christian intellectuals and professionals must accept a common theology. We need to reach a stage where we long to develop a form of theology called post-academic theology. Theology can no longer just remain within the boundaries of Bible colleges. It must spread beyond the walls of churches and seminaries and be integrated with the various courses and subjects of learning in the universities, and later proceed to challenge them at their own game. This is the true ministry of a Christian.

All these can be summarised into three slogans.

The first is for Christ. Why? Because our faith originates from Christ. Without Christ, there wouldn’t be Christianity.

The second is for China. In your case, it is for Malaysia. We must bring the eternal grace of Christ to our respective world and sphere of living. The question that we need to ask is how.

The third slogan is for the church. Only through the church are we able to spread the gospel.

Without doubt, all we are doing is for Christ and for China. We should not be speaking in terms of ‘the gospel can save a country’. This is because the concept of country is very abstract. I believe that the gospel can save China, and even the world. This is the promise of God. But how is the world going to be saved? If God is to save a country, then surely he will start by saving some of her people, like you and I who are fortunate to have God’s grace upon us. In other words, we have to restructure our concept of saving the nations. If we say we are for China, we must not place China before Christ in our slogan. We must say we are for Christ before we are for China, not the other way around. If we were to apply the concept of dissection of philosophy to analyse the Chinese word for China, ‘Zhong Guo’, the emphasis is on the word ‘Zhong’ (middle). Today, a lot of Chinese stand in awe of the word ‘China’, which in English means central kingdom. We think that we are a great people, to the extent that we declare the 21st century to be China’s. I have never felt comfortable with this. Are the Chinese truly great? Yes, I agree, but please let us not be arrogant. We must not take too much pride in our nationality instead of our nation because it is upon the foundation of nation that we are going to draw a clear line between ourselves and the various ‘isms’ such as post-colonialism.

Nations are truly the product of modern culture. Nation states are a reflection of modernism. The final frontier yet to be conquered by post-modernism is the concept of nation. But are the terms ‘nation’ and ‘country’ relative? Can the concept of ‘nation’ be globalised like language, culture, literature and music? It is clearly impossible. This is because ‘nation’ has its roots in the Bible. God is the one who allows nations to exist. God separated man from one another to form different races. Every country has its own purpose in God’s plan. This is expressed in Romans 13:1: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.” Even the highest authority in this world must submit to God because he is merely a steward. So, the concept of ‘nation’ is not relative. If all nations were to be dissolved, then what are we to call the place that we place our feet on? This would be a utopian state that can never exist. Therefore, there is good reason for us to be patriotic to our country. We must also continually pray for the well being of our nation and serve God faithfully in our nation.

Conversely, racism and nationalism, especially Americanism, are foolish. Such ideologies should not be adopted in any nation because we have a higher principle to attain – the truth of God. In other words, the concepts of nation and culture that Christians should be trying to construct must be a breakaway from their traditional understanding.

We must avoid from confronting or comparing our Chinese culture with the prevailing culture of our locality, or even try to blend them together. This is because we now have a third identity as the people of heaven. We should be trying instead to evaluate Chinese culture with the truth of God as our yardstick, and then proceed to challenge our own culture. Indeed, it is our ambition to alter the Chinese mindset by the power of the gospel.

To regard ourselves highly simply because we are Chinese would contradict the truth of God. Only when we set as our benchmark the truth of God, would we be able to find a foothold in this world, regardless of where we are, to spread the gospel. This is the main reason why I must return to America on November 5, the final church service before the presidential elections. I need to share with my church members about Christianity and politics. The Christian position on this issue is to adopt a stance of neutrality. Whether Republicans or Democrats, we as Christians do not pursue their causes and as such, we do no take sides with any political parties. Instead, we must be like Paul, continually unveil revolutionary ideas, awaken the human mind and become the very revolutionising soul and spirit of the nation. This is the true political stance of a Christian, to pray for the peace of the nation and for God’s mercy upon the nation.

Let me ask you again, what are the challenges that Malaysia is confronting? What are the theological issues that Malaysia needs to address now? What are the cultural challenges that Malaysia has to deal with? Only you Malaysians have the answers to these questions. How will you face these challenges? Not by your own strength, not by activities or campaigns, but by having a church of pure faith. This is the last piece of the puzzle of our slogan, ‘for the church’. Yes, the church is temporal. It is not the object of our service. But the reason why we are setting up churches is precisely because God has chosen the church to fulfil his purpose. We must commission more full-time workers because only through the Church can we spread the gospel in its entirety. No matter how excellent one performs in his field of work, it is not the same as labouring for the church. I am deeply concerned over this matter.

The church is very crucial to our ministry. It is the urgent issue that has to be addressed now. The effort to reform Christianity is in fact the work of reforming the church. We must revolutionise and reform the church to its true path. This responsibility falls on the shoulders of full-time workers. Is God calling you today? We know that we are all servants of Christ. Ministry workers are not special people; we still retain the same identity as the sons and daughters of God. It is just that we have different responsibilities to attend to. Hence, the church is chosen by God and more full-time workers are sent out for the purpose of spreading the gospel to different places.

I understand that there is a cyber city in Malaysia. Does this cyber city need the gospel? Are there people involved in sophisticated technology in the church? Can the church meet the needs of such people? How is the work of the gospel faring in the varsities? These are areas where Christians who are properly trained in theology are needed for the task of evangelism.

Finally, we must also not forget to search ourselves. Do you hear God’s calling when you come before him? If God is speaking to you, please do not refuse. If you do not hear his voice, do not be frustrated.

One of the fellow workers in my church is a professor of biochemistry. He set up a biotech company on his own. He is a descendant of the Lee family church. His parents are leaders in the family church. I asked him: “Do you want to be a preacher?” He answered: “Yes, because I hear God’s calling.” Then I said to him: “If so, you must make preparations to terminate your company.”

Many people argued that it was a waste of talent for him to become a full-time worker. He could have been a testimony for God in the field of science and technology and once his company is public-listed, he would be able to earn millions of dollars that could be contributed to the church. This is foolish. I retorted: “Yes, the church needs such foolish people.

When a person rejects God’s calling, no matter how much money he makes and contributes, he is still working for the Lord at the lowest level of faith. But if he concentrates on studying theology, coupled with his scientific background, not identity, he can contribute much more. Although there are many Christians who share the gospel from their background as scientists, it is still insufficient! It is only by integrating the knowledge of science with theology to construct a theology of science, can we truly contribute to society and leave a lasting influence on both Eastern and Western society. This is more the reason why we need to raise up more ministry workers because only they can truly bear the truth within them and proclaim it to non-believers, thus bringing thousands and millions of souls to God.

Have you heard God’s voice in this Consultation? If you sense his calling, please do not refuse. However, if you do not hear God’s voice, don’t be frustrated. Let us pray.
















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