Need to know how the church should respond to cultures
THERE is a need to consider how the church should respond to the cultures existing in Singapore. Stating this at an international conference for Chinese church lead-ers, Bishop Dr Robert Solomon said “Stephen Neill has provided for us a helpful classification of cultural customs – some customs which can-not be tolerated by the church; some customs which can be temporarily tolerated; and some customs to which objections need not be taken.
“But before we can use this scheme to examine our own Singa-pore cultures, we need to look deeper at the underlying assumptions of our various cultures. In other words, what are the basic worldviews of our dif-ferent cultures? – Chinese culture, Malay culture, Indian culture, and popular modern culture.”
Bishop Dr Solomon was giving the opening lecture, “Church and Culture”, at the World Methodist Evangelism Institute’s Chinese Leadership Conference at the YMCA on Aug 19, 2004.
The seven-day conference, from Aug 18 to 24, was organised by the institute, which is part of the World Methodist Council, and jointly hosted by the institute and The Methodist Church in Singapore. It was attended by about 110 participants from 11 countries – Australia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, the United States and Singapore, which had a 16-member delegation.
The theme of the conference was “That the World May Know Jesus Christ”.
Conference speakers included Dr H. Eddie Fox, World Director of World Methodist Evangelism; Dr Winston Worrell, Director of the World Methodist Evangelism Institute; Dr George E. Morris, Hankey Senior Professor, World Methodist Evan-gelism; and leaders from the region. The opening and closing services were held at Wesley Methodist Church.
The conference had several segments — lectures, follow-up discussions called “Discover Sessions”, and faith-sharing sessions.
As the sharing of the Christian faith was a vital element of the conference, all the delegates were given either a copy of The Faith-Sharing New Testament With Psalms, prepared by Dr Fox and Dr Morris, or a Chinese version translated by The Methodist Church, Hong Kong and printed by the World Federation of Chinese Methodist Churches. In addition, the Chinese-speaking delegates were given a copy of a book entitled Faith Sharing, which was translated by The Methodist Church in Taiwan.
In his lecture, Bishop Dr Solomon referred the participants to some questions that had been asked in the past:
■ Filial piety, especially the issue of ancestor veneration: How far can we go?
■ The case of the dragon motif in Chinese art: Demonic or cultural?
■ How can we communicate the Gospel in a culturally relevant and congruent way without losing the truth of the Gospel?
■ What features in our Singaporean cultures can we as Christians affirm?
The Bishop said that the Christian life must be lived in a particular culture; it cannot be lived in a vacuum.
He added that Revelation took place within the context of a particular culture. The Bible was written in historical contexts – from the ancient Israelite to the later periods of Palestine under Roman rule and Greek cultural influences.
Bishop Dr Solomon reminded the participants to remember three theses:
1. We are in the world. We must ex-amine how the world shapes our lives, beliefs, values, and lifestyles.
2. We are not of the world. We are to be prophetic in not following the ungodly ways of the world as well as condemning and resisting evil in the world.
3. We are sent into the world as evangelists and priests. We are to preach the Good News and minister to people in need.
These theses can be subsumed under the theological vision of transforming culture through the Gospel, he said. “If we are not in our culture we cannot do it. Neither can we if we are ‘of the culture’. We cannot do it also if we are not sent into the culture.”
In the light of this reflection, he said, there is a need to consider how the church should respond to the cultures existing in Singapore.
In another lecture, Dr David Wu, Assistant General Secretary, Congregational Mission Initiatives Evangelisation and Church Growth, said now is the time for Chinese Christians to step up the task of evangelising the world.
He based his assessment on four reasons – Chinese Christians have attained economic stability, spiritual maturity, wider social interaction, and a level of competence in the English language, the “universal language”.
He said: “The Chinese Christians have attained Christian maturity, which requires the work of the Holy Spirit, in their spiritual journey, and they now feel confident to respond to God’s calling in their lives.”
New York-based Dr Wu, who was addressing the issue of “Reaching Beyond the Chinese Boundary”, pointed out that “Chinese are entering the mainstream of society within a given country, whether this country be in the West or the East”.
“Chinese churches are springing up not only in big metropolitan cities but also in suburban areas all over the vast land in the US and in Asia,” he said. But more needs to be done, he said. While Chinese Christians have “crossed the boundaries” into many lands, and in many fields such as science and technology, medicine, commerce, sports and the arts, they still have a long way to go in the field of Christian witnessing.
“How can we inspire and impress Chinese Christians to have the desire, willingness and courage to reach beyond the boundary of the Chinese?” That is the challenge, said Dr Wu, who believes that the time to take up the mantle is “here with us”.
Commenting on the conference, Dr Fox said: “The participants have been very receptive, and my prayer is that when they return home to their various countries, they will share with their people what they have gathered from this conference.
“We are really excited to see what is happening in this region. This is very significant because Asia is a place of great challenges, and it is very important that the Methodist Church does its part in spreading the Gospel.”
Added Dr Worrell: “There was total commitment to carrying out Christ’s Commission. It was a very good conference, and I was very impressed with the cross-cultural co-operation to spread the Gospel.”
Peter Teo is the Editor of Methodist Message.
Chinese Christians have attained spiritual maturity, wider social interaction, and are thus confident in witnessing for Christ