It was the conviction of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, that a Christian’s mission on earth is to love God and to love our neighbours as we love ourselves (Mark 12:28-34). The former refers to love of a religious nature, involving the spiritual disciplines which include personal Bible study, prayer, joining in church fellowship, fasting, participating in Holy Communion, and worship services. These behaviours are norms of devout and God-fearing Christians, that we may continually express our love towards God.
However, these alone are insufficient to meet the standards of being a Methodist, as set by John Wesley. He asserted that one who loves God would bear practical fruit in his or her life, i.e. loving one’s neighbours. This involves reaching out to build interpersonal relationships and interactions with the community, naturally providing practical opportunities for Christians to demonstrate our views and positions with regard to current events and issues. Of course, our Christian standpoint and opinions must be based on Biblical principles.
This is explicitly stated at the very beginning of the section on Social Principles in The Book of Discipline (BOD) of The Methodist Church in Singapore (MCS): “Christian social responsibility is rooted in the teachings of the Bible. It is an integral part of the Gospel which the Church is expected to proclaim, uphold and follow.” (BOD ¶81.1)
In addition: “Since Jesus died and was raised from the dead for the redemption of all people, we believe we should live to help save humanity from sin and from every influence which would harm or destroy a person. All institutions and practices will be tested by their effect upon persons.” (BOD ¶82.4)
The Methodist Church’s participation in social action in Singapore dates back to 1885, alongside the start of the Methodist missionary ministry here. In the same year, a school was set up, not only to provide education, but also to help the locals break out of poverty. Today, the 13 educational institutions set up by the MCS continue to fulfil the Church’s social mission.
In the 132 years since its founding, our Methodist General Conference and local churches have established several institutions and organisations of social care and support. These include the Methodist Co-operative Society Ltd, Methodist Welfare Services, convalescent homes, hospices, family service centres, children’s care centres, seniors’ activity centres, tuition centres, free medical services, services for foreign workers etc.
Besides setting up these social service organisations and institutions, the MCS has also published our positions on important social issues, such as in the area of life sciences and the definition of family and marriage. As a founder member of the National Council of Churches of Singapore, the Methodist Church participates actively in national inter-religious dialogues and events in support of religious harmony. The Church works closely with other faiths in building the multi-religious society of Singapore.
Despite all that has been done, more concerted effort is still needed in many areas, such as helping the poor, needy and underprivileged. Many in our society have been unable to keep pace with Singapore’s accelerated growth and development, and have fallen behind. The rapidly aging population is also presenting new challenges to family and society; rising rates of those afflicted with dementia, and providing support for children with special needs are some of the social issues that the Church should also care about and take practical action on. It is clear that we cannot be complacent about our efforts thus far; many of our neighbours are still in great need.
“The Methodist Church must view the perplexing times and problems we face today in the light of the life and teaching of Jesus. Jesus teaches us to love our neighbours and to seek justice for all. Silence and passivity in the face of need, injustice and exploitation is to deny Christ.” (BOD ¶82.5)
How can you participate in social action?
There are many “loving our neighbours” activities and events organised by your own church that you can participate in. You can serve as volunteers, or form a team comprising professionals to serve those with special needs. You could become a sponsor and make regular donations as a practical contribution. You may even serve in the various councils and agencies of our General Conference, or on the boards of the Annual Conferences, or in the committees of local churches. As members of the Methodist Church, we can all participate in social action by giving generously during the Social Concerns Sunday every year.
Let us exhort one another with these Scriptures:
“But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” (1 John 3:17)
“…for he who does not love his brother (neighbour) whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:20b)
Bishop Dr Chong Chin Chung –
was elected Bishop of The Methodist Church in Singapore in 2016. He served as President of the Chinese Annual Conference for two quadrennia from 2008 to 2016.