PRAY for the nation, but recognise that nations are penultimate realities, and avoid making God into a tribal God. This was the direction given by Bishop Dr Robert Solomon as he launched the national prayer movement styled “prayer@marketplace” on March 30, 2004 at a local restaurant.
Initiated by a number of Christian professionals, the inter-denominational movement seeks to bring Christians together to pray for the Republic of Singapore, its leaders and its people’s well-being. Already it has held several monthly prayer sessions in locations within the city. It is now under the sponsorship of the National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS).
Bishop Dr Solomon, speaking as President of the NCCS, explained that empires will roll in one after another and will pass on — only God is the ultimate reality. Drawing parallels from the history of Israel, he added that “Israel failed because it had treated God like a tribal god, a kind of divine mascot for protection”.
He said: “They thought that Yahweh will protect them as long as the temple was there in Jerusalem. But they failed to spread the Law that was given them. They failed to be faithful to God. Hence the exile.”
To his rapt audience of about 850 pastors and church leaders, he urged: “We must pray not only for our nation. God is the global God, a cosmic God. There is very much happening out there that is important to God.”
But the efficacy of corporate prayer depends very much on the quality of one’s personal prayer life, he went on to say, adding that “our corporate prayer is only as strong as our personal prayer”. In the practice of prayer, Daniel stands out as a role model for Christians. This Old Testament prophet can teach us many lessons about prayer, not least his faithfulness, consistency and spiritual stamina, said Bishop Dr Solomon.
Concluding his stirring exhortation to take prayer seriously, he challenged the assembled Christians there to launch the prayer movement to ask themselves a soul-searching question, “How serious are we?”
From the agreeing nods and appreciative applause that followed, it would seem that the response to the bishop was a resounding “Yes, we are!”
Lim K Tham is the Associate General Secretary of the National Council of Churches of Singapore
Value of church archives
WHAT is the value of church archives?
The recent work of the Rev Dr Tim MacQuiban, Principal of Sarum College in England, is a case in point. Because an early 18th century British Methodist society kept accurate records of its vital ministries, he was able to trace the attitude of early Methodists towards the poor in England and consequently apply important lessons for modern Christians.
The Rev Dr MacQuiban presented two lectures at Methodist Centre on March 26, during a visit to Singapore. Besides being a scholar, college principal and Methodist pastor, he is a trained archivist and librarian.
Meeting first at the Archives and History facility, he spoke to church archivists on the topic: “Historical Texts or Religious Relics: A Theology of Religious Archives and Books”.
Archival activity has an important role to play in the church’s theology, he said. The historical records are part of the dynamic tradition of the church. They record how God has acted in history. Without active record-keeping and remembering what God has done in the past, we are inclined to forget about God in the present, he said. Hence, archival activity ought to be a “prayerful activity”, he added.
As examples of good and bad treatment of archival material, he cited several biblical examples, including the two kings, Josiah and Jehoiakim. When the “book of the law” was discovered during Josiah’s reign it sparked a revival (2 Kings 22). However, when Jeremiah delivered a written record of his prophecies to King Jehoiakim, the king cut up the scroll and burned it (Jeremiah 36).
In a second talk on the same evening, addressed to the wider community, the Rev Dr MacQuiban spoke on the topic, “The Wesleyan Response to Urban Poverty in Britain and Ireland”. Drawing on archival material from the late 18th and early 19th centuries, he spoke in detail about a particular Methodist group, The London Strangers’ Friends Society (SFS), that spanned the years 1785 to 1840.
The society applied the meaning of Matthew 25:35-36 to the realities of England’s poor people – “I was hungry and you gave me food … ” Believing that there was no use offering Bibles without offering food, the SFS sought to place spiritual welfare alongside basic human need.
The Rev George Martzen is Minister Attached to the Bishop’s Office, The Methodist Church in Singapore.