The Methodist Church in Singapore celebrates 125 years of blessing
METHODISM FIRST SET FOOT IN SINGAPORE 125 years ago when Bishop Thoburn and three others arrived on Feb 7, 1885. Within two weeks, following evangelistic meetings, the first Methodist church was constituted on Feb 23. We have come a long way since then, through two world wars, colonial days and independence, and all kinds of changes and challenges. Today we have grown, by God’s grace, into a large community of Methodists numbering almost 40,000 members and a further 30,000 or so people.
When John Wesley, together with his brother Charles, established Methodism in the 18th century, it was a revival movement that spread rapidly and grew in depth. When John Wesley died in 1791 after 53 years of vigorous and faithful ministry, there were 70,000 Methodists in Britain, 45,000 in the United States, and 500 Methodist preachers. Today Methodism has a global presence with more than 70 million in the community. All this is reason for praise and thanksgiving.
Yet, even before he died, Wesley worried about the future of the Methodist movement. He had three key worries.
Wesley’s first worry concerned the eﬀects of growing wealth on the Methodists. He wrote in his journal: “I fear, wherever riches have increased, the essence of religion has decreased in the same proportion. Therefore, I do not see how it is possible, in the nature of things, for any revival of religion to continue long. For religion must necessarily produce both industry and frugality, and these cannot but produce riches. But as riches increase, so will pride, anger and love of the world in all its branches.”
Wesley was keenly aware of the dangers – the Methodists were taught to be frugal and hardworking, and this only made them wealthier. Wesley feared the poisonous eﬀects of wealth on the Methodists. Worldliness would creep in, and pride and arrogance would rear their ugly heads. Wesley saw the inevitable dilemma when he considered the dynamics of religious revival and its aftermath. Is there any solution to this? Wesley oﬀered one:
“We ought not to forbid people to be diligent and frugal: we must exhort all Christians, to gain all they can, and to save all they can … What way then (I ask again) can we take that our money may not sink us to the nethermost hell? There is one way, and there is no other under heaven. If those who gain all they can, and save all they can, will likewise give all they can, then the more they gain, the more they will grow in grace, and the more treasure they will lay up in heaven.” In other words, wealth must always remain a servant, and must be guarded against becoming an enslaving master. Centuries before Wesley, our Lord Jesus already gave the warning: “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” (Mt 6:24). It is possible that with the passage of time, Christians can replace God with money, and lose their first love, so much so that it would be true to say of them: “Even while these people were worshipping the Lord, they were serving their idols.” (2 Kgs. 17:41). The solution is to refocus on God with undivided hearts.
WESLEY EXPRESSED HIS FEARS further when he wrote: “I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit and discipline with which they first set out.” Wesley feared that the Methodists would become nominal in their faith and merely pay lip service to the Wesleyan emphasis on salvation and holiness.
The second fear of Wesley was that the strong connectional relationships within Methodism would decay over time. A year before he died, Wesley wrote to the people at Trowbridge who had rejected the preacher he had appointed to their society: “I have only one thing in view – to keep all the Methodists in Great Britain one connected people.” Wesley was worried of the covenantal relationships that Methodists and Methodist churches had with one another becoming of no value. He stoutly defended one of the hallmarks of Methodist connectionalism – itinerancy – the appointment of preachers according to the mission and needs of the larger connection. He wrote: “If itinerancy is interrupted, Methodism will speedily come to nothing.”
It appears that growing wealth weakens the connection, when wealthy units within the larger body begin to feel self-suﬃcient and act independently. As Paul, who wrote of the church as a body, says: “ e eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ ” (1 Cor. 12:21). Those who feel self-suﬃcient should think of those who are not and of the larger mission. And all should work closely together with one heart and voice to the glory of God.
Wesley’s third fear had to do with the heart of Wesleyan mission. He made it clear what it is when he wrote: “I look upon all the world as my parish; thus far I mean that, in whatever part of it I am, I judge it meet, right, and my bounden duty to declare unto all that are willing to hear the glad tidings of salvation. is is the work which I know God has called me to and sure I am that his blessing attends it.” e heart of Wesleyan mission was to save souls. “You have nothing to do but to save souls; therefore spend and be spent in this work,” Wesley urged his preachers. Evangelism is of critical importance to Methodism; we are to look out at the needy world instead of being inward looking, spending more on ourselves than on the church’s mission – to share the good news of Jesus Christ and to help those who are poor and needy.
Wesley’s fears and concerns about the future of Methodism remain freshly relevant in our day. As we celebrate our 125 th anniversary, let us be mindful of this as we reflect on our theme: Together in God’s Mission. Let us focus on God and not on our wealth or influence; let us move forward together in connectional unity, and let us be found faithful in God’s mission as we celebrate His faithfulness.