In “Social Action is Integral to Methodism”, Bishop Dr Chong Chin Chung emphasised that it is not enough for the Methodist to be committed to spiritual disciplines such as Bible study and corporate worship. The Methodist must also obey the command of the Lord Jesus to love their neighbour (Mark 12:28–34).1
Bishop Dr Chong reminds his readers that this is also the requirement of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, who tirelessly stressed that our love of God must be “incarnated” (enfleshed) in our loving acts for our neighbour. Wesley, writes Bishop Dr Chong, “asserted that one who loves God would bear practical fruit in his or her life, i.e., loving one’s neighbours.”
As The Methodist Church in Singapore (MCS) looks back at 135 years of its history, it can certainly be thankful to the Lord for the contributions it has been able to make to society and nation-building. It has established no less than 15 educational institutions and numerous social and humanitarian services such as the Methodist Welfare Services, hospices, family service centres, free medical services and services for foreign workers.
Reaching out to the poor, the underprivileged and the disenfranchised may be said to be part of the DNA of the people called Methodists.
Since his student days at the University of Oxford, Wesley had made it his regular practice to visit the sick, the poor and those in prison, and repeatedly encouraged his followers to “frequently, nay, constantly to visit the poor, the widow, the sick, the fatherless, in their affliction.”2
One of the prevalent misconceptions about the poor in Wesley’s day is that the poor only have themselves to blame for their predicament. But Wesley strenuously rejected such prejudiced and contemptuous stereotyping: “So wickedly, devilishly false is that common objection, ‘They are poor, only because they are idle’.”3
However, Wesley also knew that ministry to the poor and underprivileged can only be sustained if undergirded by a robust theology that is firmly grounded in Scripture, tradition, reason and experience. Based on his profound understanding of the Scriptures and the writings of the early fathers of the Church, Wesley was able to offer new insights to familiar theological themes, which we will look at briefly.
Firstly, Wesley emphasised the relational aspect of holiness by wedding—indeed, by interpreting—it as love. “What is holiness? Is it not, essentially love? The love of God and of all mankind?”4 Holiness, for Wesley, has to do, not just with personal piety, but must be understood as love for God and our fellow human beings.
This is the basis for the Wesleyan concept of “social holiness”, a term that expresses well Wesley’s understanding of the relational dimension of holiness in contradistinction to the “solitary religion” of the “mystic divines”.
Secondly, Wesley refused to secularise the Christian’s “works of mercy” but always regards them as spiritual work and even as a sacrament, a “means of grace”. The sacramental understanding of the Christian’s ministry to the poor is important because it underscores the presence of the Holy Spirit who, through the humble work of human hands, enables those in need to truly experience divine love, mercy and grace.
Although MCS has done much to reach out to the poor and needy in society, much more can (and must) be done, as Bishop Dr Chong reminds us. “Despite all that has been done,” he writes, “more concerted effort is still needed in many areas… Many in our society have been unable to keep pace with Singapore’s accelerated growth and development, and have fallen behind.”5
So, let us put our hands on the plough and let us serve our Saviour and Lord, Jesus Christ, by serving our fellow human beings!
1 Bishop Dr Chong Chin Chung, “Social Action is Integral to Methodism,” Methodist Message, 31 July 2017.
2 John Wesley, The Works of John Wesley (Nashville, TN: Abingdon), 12:302.
3 Ibid, 2:280.
4 Ibid, 12:277.
5<.sup> Bishop Dr Chong, “Social Action is Integral to Methodism.”
Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor at the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity (http://ethosinstitute.sg).
“Soundings” is a series of essays that, like the waves of a sonogram, explore issues in society, culture and the church in light of the Gospel and Christian understanding.
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