Friday, December 02, 2005

Evangelical Futures In Malaysia

Dave: I heard a Malaysian leader defined an evangelical is "someone who loves Jesus", which comfortably includes Muslim apologist Shah Kirit into the fold. Find this article quite helpful from Graduate Christian fellowship

Evangelical Futures in Malaysia
By Tan Kang San

Evangelicals are the fastest growing segment in Christianity. Patrick Johnstone estimated that, by 2025, 83% of the world's Evangelicals could be in the non-Western world. In Malaysia, Evangelicals probably constitute more than 65% of the 2 million
Christian populations. We have different types of Evangelicals. Some are members of congregational churches such as Brethren, Baptist or Free Churches. Others are associated with mainline denominations such as Methodist, Anglican, Presbyterian and Lutheran churches.

Today, rapid growth among Evangelical communities comes from Charismatic groupings such as Assembly of God and other independent Charismatic churches. We need to note that the emphasis on the role of the Holy Spirit, healing and celebrative worship are no longer a denominational feature but permeates many churches in Malaysia.

Who is an Evangelical?

There are six fundamental convictions which define an Evangelical.
They are set as follows:

1. The supreme authority of Scripture as the source of knowledge of God and a guide to Christian living.

2. The majesty of Jesus Christ, both as incarnate God and Lord, and as Saviour of sinful humanity.

3. The Lordship of the Holy Spirit.

4. The need for personal conversion.

5. The priority of evangelism for both individual Christians and the church as a whole.

6. The importance of Christian community for spiritual nourishment, fellowship and growth. (Kantzer, K.S and Carl Henry, 1990, 56-72)

Are you an Evangelical?

An Evangelical is characterised by his or her commitment to follow teachings of the Bible. The bible is not only a theological sourcebook but a guide for spiritual and ethical behaviour. An Evangelical worships Jesus, attracted to his Majesty, and is sensitive to the voice of the Spirit. Evangelicals acknowledge the nature of the fall, that humanity, left to ourselves, cannot find redemption from sin. Thus, we are in need of Jesus as Saviour. Many Christians recognize the need for evangelism but not all would regard it as important or essential. Such a passion for the lost and long term commitment for the spread of the Gospel to other people groups must characterise Evangelicals. Finally, Evangelicals are not lone rangers, or empire builders with no accountability or sense of belonging to the local church.

Evangelicals are not just members of "semi-fictional communities"; professing love for the universal church but bear no responsibility toward loving service for God's people locally. One's Evangelical identity is define through these apostolic beliefs (on bible, Jesus, Holy Spirit, sin and church) held by Christians over time and space.

The Future of Evangelicalism in Malaysia

1. Orthodoxy

There are three threats within Evangelicalism which historically wiped out the church: secularism, fundamentalism and disunity. The church was never defeated by external persecutions but often through internal divisions. Secularism occurs when Christians imbibe the values of the world rather than being a counter-cultural community. Extreme reactions against secularism in the church gave rise to fundamentalist movements. Fundamentalism cannot be equated with
orthodoxy. James Hunter explains:

Orthodoxy as a cultural system represents what could be called a 'consensus through time' - more specifically, a consensus based upon ancient rules and precepts derived from divine revelation.. Fundamentalism is orthodoxy in confrontation with modernity. (Hunter 1990, 57)

Shades of fundamentalism occur when Christians adopt a separatist mentality called the Elijah's syndrome, "I am the only One left" that is true to God. In contrast, orthodoxy is fuelled through the devotional reading of scriptures, namely, reading the bible with a plan to obey His personal word.

2. Engagement

Evangelism is essential to the future of the church. Evangelism, defined as the proclamation of the gospel message, is a subset of mission. Mission is broader, for it includes social concern, cross cultural witness and apologetics. Church history has shown that whenever the church turns inward- preoccupied with self-preservation or self-needs, the lamp-stand will be taken away (Revelation 2:5).

Churches in Yemen, Iraq, Turkey, and Europe disappeared when mission is not central to the life of the church. Evangelism without discipleship leads to shallow Christianity; while local witness without equal concern for cross cultural mission will also result in the disappearance of the church from the pages of salvation history.

Today, about 300 Malaysians are sent by churches or mission agencies serving cross culturally in other lands. This figure represents about 0.0003% of the 1 million Evangelicals. By Asian standards, the Malaysian church is lagging behind in her contribution to world missions. Professor Andrew Walls drew the lesson that "Christianity lives through the crossing of cultural boundaries."

Whenever the church only works only for her members, the church will disappear.

Another aspect of engagement is the church's willingness to change with changing contexts. We must recognise that 21st Century Malaysians have changed in their needs, habits and mindsets. Where the bible does not prescribe the length of sermons, type of songs or music, and church governments, the church must change with the times. How can the church be more responsive to the secular world without compromising the gospel? That is a much needed skill for future leaders. The
criteria for godly leadership is unquestionable, however, we also need leaders who are attuned to the changing culture.

3. Contextual Theology

The future of the Evangelical church in Malaysia will eventually be decided by her theology, defined as "thinking clearly about God in order to love Him." Majority of Christians in Malaysia has an indifferent attitude to theology, a result of anti-intellectualism mindset dominant in some circles of Evangelicalism in Malaysia. Part of the causes of this anti-theology is contributed when Asian seminaries do not contextualize theology. Theology becomes ivory tower stuff, with no relevance to present day and local issues. The church pastor then decides theology is unimportant, and discourages potential candidates for pastoral ministry from theological training.

However, when leaders do not think clearly about how to be God's people in this land; when leaders are ill prepared to encounter the philosophical challenges of Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism, then the future of the Malaysian church is at stake.

Likewise, when the church is unable to offer an indigenous sense of identity to her young people and when the church continues to offer simplistic answers to complex problems, the next generation of believers will become nominal Christians.

David F. Wells comments on the task of theology today:

It is the task of theology, then, to discover what God has said in and through Scripture and clothe that in a conceptuality which is native to our own age Scripture, at its terminus a quo, needs to be de-contextualize in order to grasp its transcultural content, and it needs to be re-contextualized in order that its content may be meshed with the cognitive assumptions and social patterns of our time. (Wells 1993, 128)

What is the future of Evangelicalism in Malaysia?

The future is bright when we reaffirm and live out Evangelical essentials, when there are genuine engagements with society's problems and needs, and when contextual theologies are thriving and alive! At the same time, we must be concern when the church loses her world denying faith in orthodoxy, or world affirming faith in engagement. These two polarities are best inter-sected when theology is contextualized to local situations; resulting in a scripturally based and context sensitive faith.

References and Suggested Readings

Hunter, James D. 1990. "Fundamentalism in its global contours," in N.J. Cohen, The Fundamentalist phenomenon. (Grand Rapids: Eerdsman ).

Kantzer, K.S. and C.F. H. Henry, Evangelical Affirmations (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990).

McGrath, Alister. 1994. Evangelicalism and the future of Christianity.
(London: Hodder & Stoughton).

McGrath, Alister E. 2002. The future of Christianity. (London: Blackwell Publishers)

Walls, Andrew F. 1996. The missionary movement in Christian history: Studies in the transmission of faith. (Maryknoll: Orbis Books)

Wells, David F. 1993. No place for truth, or, Whatever happened to Evangelical Theology? (Grand Rapids: Eerdsman)

Graduates' Christian Fellowship
20 B Jalan SS 21/35
Damansara Utama
47400 Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia
Tel: 03-77272962 Fax: 03-77267250


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